Ninth Step Station – a review

My third ‘cloak and dagger’ read of 2019 was a new approach for me – serialized fiction released in episodes week after week. The publishers, Serial Box offered me an ARC as I had read and reviewed a novel by one of the four writers, back in September 2017: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi. I am grateful and glad I agreed to read the ARC for Season 1 of Ninth Step Station.

Ninth Step Station: The Complete Season 1

(Ninth Step Station Series #1.1-1.10)

by

Malka Ann Older (Goodreads Author), Fran Wilde (Goodreads Author), Jacqueline Koyanagi (Goodreads Author), Curtis C. Chen (Goodreads Author)

A local cop. A US Peacekeeper. A divided Tokyo.

Years of disaster and conflict have left Tokyo split between great powers. 

In the city of drone-enforced borders, body-mod black markets, and desperate resistance movements, US peacekeeper Emma Higashi is assigned to partner with Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda.

Together, they must race to solve a series of murders that test their relationship and threaten to overturn the balance of global power. And amid the chaos, they each need to decide what they are willing to do for peace.

Review 4.4 stars

I was pleased to receive this serialised fiction as an ARC from Serial Box Publishing as it was an exciting read.

This police procedural set in a near future Tokyo consists of ten engrossing episodes written by different authors, including at least one, Jacqueline Koyanagi whose debut novel I’ve read and reviewed.

The style is reminiscent of US crime series, but with its own interesting approach as the sense of an imminent future pervades but doesn’t take over the plots. This could be ‘tomorrow’ with China occupying part of Japan and a sector of Tokyo, and with the US playing what is meant to be peacekeeper. Ninth Step Station has some fascinating characters, interesting plots, futuristic tech and very real political intrigue.

US peacekeeper Emma Higashi (Japanese-American) is assigned to partner with Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda at Nine Step Station, one of the key TMP stations. The cases they are tasked with solving are standalone, but there are overarching events that carry through the novel/series with the usual TV-style cliff-hanger to lead into Series 2.

The crimes in the ten episodes vary from suspected suicide and domestic violence to assassination and terrorism with differing levels of technological involvement such as body-mods, drones, data mining, and data sleeves – all realistic evolutions of existing tech. The data sleeves especially play a key role in enabling people to instantly communicate and interface – although this is also a city troubled by regular power-cuts/blackouts. However, the war and the gangs/Yakuza make solving crimes challenging with some data irretrievable and some information obscured by human evasiveness.

Each of the writers gives an individual feel to each episode, yet together they create a seamless story with consistent and evolving characters, a realistic-feeling Tokyo post-occupation and those building overarching events. The TV-style structure means the episodes are formula to some degree, but they are enjoyable – although not as complex as some mysteries I read.

Both the two main characters and the supporting players are distinctly portrayed, and there are developing attributes and discoveries as the episodes unfold. The misunderstanding and conflicts arising between the two protagonists due to cultural differences, personal secrets and political agendas create a more complex relationship than an instant crime-fighting partnership and that relationship has room to grow. I was also pleased to see that the issues of gender bias and sexuality were addressed – although not as suspected.

Not knowing Tokyo, I assume that the world-building does build on the present city, although I realise that the format only allows the setting to receive less attention than the stand-out characters who are what will pull me back here.

I look forward to the sequel as there is plenty to build on in Ninth Step Station.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

What Child Is This – a review

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I fell behind with my reading during NaNoWriMo in November, although I did finish Book 2 in a fantasy trilogy, but my review of that is pending my reading Book 2.

After my November focus on writing, this month has seen me focused on a beta read – and my WEP/IWSG contribution.

However, I have been reading a novel as well, plus the short story that earns today’s Thursday Creation Review as this was seasonal with an uplifting message.

 

WhatChildIsThis

What Child Is This

by

Rhys Bowen

Christmas during World War II is a time for small miracles in this bittersweet short story by the New York Times bestselling author of The Tuscan Child and In Farleigh Field.

Jack and Maggie Harris are adrift on ravaged streets during the London Blitz. Their home is gone. They have nowhere to go and nothing left to lose. With only the memories of their greatest loss—the death of their child during a Christmas years before—Jack and Maggie settle in a seemingly deserted mansion for the night.

Inside they find shelter, warmth, and a bit of cheer. They also discover a surprise. Now, in the darkest of times, the unexpected compassion of strangers will make this Christmas one to remember forever.

 

Review 5 stars

As the festive season drew on, I was treated to this wonderful Christmas read – an Amazon First Reads free with my Prime membership, but I would have willingly bought this.

Set during one of the darker moments in Britain’s history, when the country was locked in the midst of WWII, this short story paints a snapshot of the London Blitz. An image of a time when people tried to remain strong and strive to be positive – as these characters do.

Jack and Maggie Harris are bombed out of their home in the East End, already scarred with the loss of a child during another Christmas. Their unfolding attempt to find shelter, warmth, and a bit of cheer on Christmas Eve was uplifting – light in the darkness.

I liked all the background detail of the period which echoed what I knew of the Blitz from other books and my own research. Having lived in and explored London, I could envisage where this occurred.

And I related to the characters, who, even in this tight tale, rang true with reactions and emotions that added to the story’s magic. The main characters especially had understandable flaws within their positivism.

The ending was a reward for all – including this reader – and it had me smiling and feeling festively satisfied.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

The Ragged Edge of Night – a review

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NaNoWriMo might be my focus for November but I am making time for this Thursday Creation Review as this book seems timely with a strong message.

RaggedEdge

The Ragged Edge of Night

by

Olivia Hawker

For fans of All the Light We Cannot See, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, and The Nightingale comes an emotionally gripping, beautifully written historical novel about extraordinary hope, redemption, and one man’s search for light during the darkest times of World War II.

Germany, 1942. Franciscan friar Anton Starzmann is stripped of his place in the world when his school is seized by the Nazis. He relocates to a small German hamlet to wed Elisabeth Herter, a widow who seeks a marriage—in name only—to a man who can help raise her three children. Anton seeks something too—atonement for failing to protect his young students from the wrath of the Nazis. But neither he nor Elisabeth expects their lives to be shaken once again by the inescapable rumble of war.

As Anton struggles to adapt to the roles of husband and father, he learns of the Red Orchestra, an underground network of resisters plotting to assassinate Hitler. Despite Elisabeth’s reservations, Anton joins this army of shadows. But when the SS discovers his schemes, Anton will embark on a final act of defiance that may cost him his life—even if it means saying goodbye to the family he has come to love more than he ever believed possible.

Review 5 stars

Although the pace was slower than many of my usual reads, the setting of a rural village in World War II Germany made for an underlying threat that drove the story forward. The pace matched the reality portrayed.

The influence of Hitler and his Nazis seeped into the story, although the main protagonist Anton Starzmann was building a new life with Elisabeth Herter, a widow with three children in rural surroundings. His past as a Franciscan friar, whose pupils have been ‘relocated’ by the SS, haunts his gradual attempt to take a stand against the Nazi evil.

Early on he hears a conversation that becomes fundamental:

“Her companion is quick to answer, quick to defend. “It’s only this: I’ve never seen God. Why should I credit Him for a blessing, or leave Him any blame? Men are quite capable of destroying the world on their own, as we can plainly see. They don’t need any help from above.”

Anton observes that he hasn’t met Hitler, but the Fuehrer’s evil exists – and he resists. The musical instruments of his condemned pupils become central to that stand, and not just in their re-use – far better than what the Nazis plan for them.

“I’ve heard the Party are paying good money for brass. The Schutzstaffel want it for casings—ammunition.”

I wondered if music could foil the savage beast and, in a way, it became a means to take a stand. I shared the fear that the resistance within Germany and the village of Unterboihingen, called the Red Orchestra would be exposed and killed.

It didn’t matter that I knew the outcome of WWII as I didn’t know whether anything about that resistance. It’s a sad fact that it became easier for others to see all Germans as evil. Having had a German girlfriend, I know that isn’t true. And this book confirms that there was a lot of good alive, and people trying to survive.

The characters from Anton to minor characters come alive as the story builds and I became invested in their lives.

The village and its surroundings are beautifully described, and the language is so evocative of the hard but special life that Anton and his new family are living. The war rages and the nightly bombing of nearby Stuttgart threaten behind the village life that attempts to continue, using lessons and practises of the past. Barter replaces money – as it did in many countries.

There are highlights to enrich the children’s lives like precious Easter eggs, chocolates and simple handmade gifts.

The end and the impending terror draws closer when a ruthless act forces a final act of defiance.

The story resonated so much with me that I was pleased to discover that it is based on real events. And that makes it relevant to today when Neo-Nazis are on the rise everywhere.

But as the author says:

“We are Widerstand—resistance—you and I. No force can silence us, unless we permit silence. I prefer to roar.”

This book was an Amazon First Reads free with my Prime membership, and even if I’d paid the proper price The Ragged Edge of Night would be a recommended must read.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

Method Acting For Writers – a review

Thursday_horizons

I had intended to post today’s Thursday Creation Review last Thursday, but cold ravaged our household. The younger members of the family recovered within a day or so, but us old folk are still recovering ten days later. I’m forcing myself to write this as the book deserves a good review, although it will be late and briefer than usual.

MethodActingForWriters

Method Acting For Writers: Learn Deep Point Of View Using Emotional Layers

by

Lisa Hall-Wilson (Goodreads Author)

Are you struggling with writing characters readers care about? Critique partners, editors or agents saying you need to write vivid emotions? Do you want to write deep scenes and emotional arcs into your stories to keep readers engaged and turning the pages?

Writing deep point of view is like handing your reader a virtual reality headset; it’s dynamic, visceral, and immediate. This intimate and emotive style of writing resonates with contemporary readers, if you’ve got the guts to “go there” with your characters. This writing skill isn’t difficult to master, but it requires a shift in how you tell stories and sometimes those shifts don’t seem intuitive.

What Will You Learn?
• Eliminate unnecessary telling
• Create immediacy
• Effectively use internal dialogue
• Understand and use subtext
• Strategies to make words pull double duty
• Create unique character voice
• Tap into your emotive memory (just like actors do)
• Learn tips from psychology to write emotions with visceral authenticity
• Learn layering and blending techniques for writing emotions
• Identify and eliminate author intrusion
• Learn effective pacing strategies to intensify emotional impact
• Recognize POV breaks
• Know when not to use deep point of view
• Recognize areas where you’re not going deep enough
• Learn what an emotional story arc is and how to employ it

Take this deep dive and get back to writing FAST! Put Deep POV to work on your whole novel (or just key scenes) for an emotional punch readers can’t resist.

Review 5 stars

This short but excellent book was everything that I’ve needed as a struggling advocate of deep POV. I’d attempted to go deep a few times over recent years and tried to use guidance in online articles. Sometimes my writing felt as though it was getting deeper, other times it felt like another failed attempt.

Now, at last, I have a convenient guide on my desk. And as I was reading her book, I was writing another short story, and, with Lisa Hall-Wilson’s guidance, phrases traced salt-runs on my cheeks.

Okay, that’s more purple than deep, but this gem of non-fiction was full of so much immense value that my current writing makes me feel more confident. From simple ways to eliminate unnecessary telling and ways for going deeper, to creating voice and layering emotions, there are so many simple techniques to help a writer tackle deep point of view,

I felt that I was ready to delve far more in my writing with every page I read and I wrote. For me, this was essential and invaluable. (Apologies for weird phrases pulled from a catarrh-addled brain.)

I won’t remove a star for the lack of page numbers as there is great advice on every page. And it doesn’t end there as Lisa Hall-Wilson has a Facebook page – Confident Writers – and she runs courses and offers online help.

Where Did My Kindle Files Go?

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Apologies for today’s Thursday Creation Review not being about anything creative as such. Well, it is about Kindle files and those are books so that counts. Doesn’t it?

Last week, I wrote that my Kindle had died a few weeks ago, so I had to revert to ‘my pile of reconstituted trees’.

I had hoped that the 500+ Kindle titles on my Amazon UK account would transfer to my Amazon US account and be accessible with my US-bought Fire 7 when I updated my address. That was not the case – my UK-bought titles remained behind. I can access them via Kindle Cloud – great news as most of the research books I access from my PC are UK-acquired ones. (The Cloud is no use when I want to read away from my desk.)

Amazon stopped me buying a new device from their UK site to send to my US address – hence the new Fire. I am presuming that my wife’s UK-bought Kindle has the UK books on it – we just need to find it’s ‘safe place’.

Ringing Amazon Customer Services seemed to be the best solution. Maybe they could make the transfer or amalgamate the accounts.

I spoke with two helpful people in Bangalore, India who explained exactly why my UK-bought content cannot be accessed with US-bought devices – ever. Basically, bought Kindle content is tied to the account of the device – and to the ‘household/family’. Therefore, my UK-bought Kindle was acquired from the Amazon UK site which is tied to my AOL UK email address. Accessing that device here in the US was no problem so I could read any of the 500+ books over here in the US – when my old Kindle was working.

I use a different email for my Amazon US account and all content bought via that account appears on any device bought on that account. My Fire 7 is linked to my US account, where it was bought, and this device contains nineteen US-bought titles. However, that means US-bought reference books aren’t on the Cloud.

Seeing the pattern?

“Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

Not exactly what Rudyard Kipling meant, so maybe I’ll try this apocryphal quote by George Bernard Shaw:

“England and America are two countries separated by the same language.”

Or create a new amalgamated version:

“Oh, Amazon UK and Amazon US are two monoliths separated by the same rules so never the twain shall meet.”

George Bernard Shaw Painting; George Bernard Shaw Art Print for sale

 

After that light entertainment, back to the programme.

There are some solutions.

Number 1: if I had just a single Amazon account, then I could change that into an Amazon account in another country. If I’m right, my problem is having two active accounts with two separate emails. Two different emails make me two different people.

Bottom line: if you are planning to move to another country, talk to Amazon first about taking your content with you. DON’T CREATE A SECOND ACCOUNT BLINDLY.

Rhif 2: follows on from that email observation – and it’s my cray-thinking so not based on fact. If different members of a family with different emails can be a ‘Household’ and share books, why can’t my two email personalities? Question to Amazon Customer Services.

Numéro 3: I can purchase a new device with my US account as a gift. The recipient then links it to their own Amazon account – my wife just gifted her grand-daughter in that way. So, Roland US can gift Roland UK a Kindle/Fire? Question 2 to Amazon Customer Services – once we find my wife’s Kindle and see if it still has the 500+ books on it.

My fear is that by updating my address, I dismantled our ‘Household’ so there will be no content. No content = No Household for Roland UK to join. I have also noted that every time I now want to buy a Kindle title on my UK account, it won’t let me and says to go to the US store. That means any gift cards from my UK family are worthless for now.

Número 4: Amazon Customer Services did throw out one solution, although it was one that they were unable to implement. The technical guy in India said that my ISP might be able to set up a network that would give my US device access to my UK content. A solution I’ll be pursuing once others have been investigated.

For now, I have e-books on my Fire and at least eight paperbacks lined up to be read and reviewed. Hopefully, that means that the Thursday Creation Review will be back to normal next week.

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POSTSCRIPTS

First postscript: One of the comments on Amazon raised the question of whether a writer faced similar restrictions selling books. I believe that there are no restrictions of this kind. For writers, Amazon allows one to sell almost worldwide. However, I am reading that the market beyond Amazon is far greater. So, don’t go the Amazon exclusive route. I did and I’m rethinking my strategy for my Snowdon Shadows series.

Second postscript, or Ail bostysgrif: I am intending to submit an entry for the 2018 Annual IWSG Anthology Contest. However, I’ve strayed outside my comfort zone as the Genre is Young Adult Romance with the Theme of Masquerade. I have one beta-reader perusing my attempt, but it would help to have input from at least one other person.

Any beta-reader volunteers, please? Yn ddelfrydol siaradwr Cymraeg.

EveMyles-Sparkle

Joseph Barnaby – a review

Thursday_horizons

When my Kindle died recently, I had to revert to my pile of reconstituted trees and so today’s Thursday Creation Review is the most recent paperback I finished. Beyond that, I will be reviewing a book that I’m reading – drum-roll – on my new Kindle Fire 7.

That new acquisition was a problem as almost all my 500+ Kindle titles are on my UK account – and Amazon stopped me buying a new device from their UK site to send to my US address. So, the new Kindle is linked to my US account which has only a couple of dozen titles – enough for now, even if some are in my paperback collection.

Anyway, time for this review.

NOTE: book release on October 5th 2018.

 JosephBarnaby

Joseph Barnaby

by

Susan Roebuck (Goodreads Author)

Stand by your beliefs – even if it means going to the end of the Earth.

By standing up for his principles, horse farrier Joseph Barnaby lost everything. Now, when a personal vendetta goes too deep to fight, he escapes to the Portuguese island of Madeira where he finds work on a small farm only accessible by boat.

The balmy climate and never-ending supply of exotic fruit, vegetables, and honey make it sound like paradise. But, for Joseph, it’s the ideal place to hide from the world.

Not everyone is prepared to give up on life’s misfortunes. The local fishing village has its own surprises and the inhabitants of Quinta da Esperança have more grit in them than the pebbled beach that borders the property.

Review 4.6 stars

When I discovered that the main protagonist was “horse farrier Joseph Barnaby”, my ears pricked, and the Portuguese island of Madeira made this a Must Read. When I won this excellent novel in an Advance Giveaway from author Susan Roebuck – but with no obligation to write anything about Joseph Barnaby – the book moved to the top of my reading pile.

The exact reason why Joe Barnaby escapes his life with horses in England is carefully revealed in flashbacks that felt at moments like a Dick Francis mystery. In contrast, his new life working on a small farm near the fishing village of Quinta da Esperança became a wonderful romance with both the island and with a young deaf woman, Sofia – although there are obstacles thrown in their path, including Joe’s past.

For me, the romance worked, and I was swept along; plus, the horseracing mystery spurred my ‘detective’ skills. I began to suspect what might have happened as the clues were slipped out, and the resolution satisfied me – as did the romantic denouement.

I must admit that there were some minor moments where my equestrian brain questioned the odd bit of phrasing, but slight, and even as an equestrian journalist, I have made mistakes. I was interested in the way that Riding for the Disabled featured – having personal connections to that inspiring movement.

The settings were vividly described, and I was immersed in the story because of those descriptions – and through the wonderful cast.

There were some great characters, from the main protagonists of Joe and Sofia to the supporting cast, from memorable fishermen to the two principal antagonists. The latter were not as devious as the ones that challenge my brain in crime novels, but they displayed traits that kept the protagonists challenged. Sofia’s bees are characters themselves as well as an inspirational community. And I must mention Ed the donkey – just read and find out.

One woman was elusively mysterious, adding a clever thread to the story that wove through so many elements – I’m avoiding spoilers here. I want to say that there are a few clever threads, from the island’s past to the medical themes.

Sofia’s deafness seemed to be understood by the author and sensitively handled – adding to my engagement with the character. How others interacted with her was well contrasted, with some signing, others lip-reading, and those frustrated by her.

This novel was the perfect combination for me – horses and romance in a Portuguese setting. A strong 4.6 stars and a recommended quick read.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars