#IWSG – Spring Inspiration

IWSGBadge

Another month and another IWSG post. Well, not just any month but the Blogging from A to Z Challenge month, so I managed to write 26 posts and got them scheduled on the correct days. But enough of that – I’ll post my reflections on the Challenge next week – this is an IWSG monthly past.

May 2 question – It’s spring!

Does this season inspire you to write more than others, or not?

Of course, Spring inspires me – to get outside and soak up the sunshine. And yes, Spring is here, and the little grey cells are sparking – despite the MS. Okay, I have my struggles with the misfiring nervous system, and my brain loses direction and thoughts. I forget what I am doing, my fingers hit too many wrong keys, and my body must sleep sporadically or suffer the painful body-wrenching attacks.

Officially, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Spring arrived on March 20, 2018. That means that the Spring Equinox must have set all those A-to-Z posts in motion.

I’ve even used the last few days to devise a cunning plan. Did Baldrick help with that?

Baldrick_thumbnail

The cunning plan: to write a review once a week of one of the books I’ve read and failed to review here. Those reviews will be scheduled for every Thursday.

However, I reserve the right to write other posts – if motivated.

What about the deviously cunning Fates Maelstrom plans? Not abandoned or shelved but extended.

I wrote draft one of Book 3 in the Snowdon Shadows series for NaNoWriMo last November. Then I started editing Fates Maelstrom in December, developing all the ideas needed for the final draft prior to beta-reading.

That has led to Goth Patrol, a short story about the main protagonist, policewoman Sparkle Anwyl and how she lost her first love and joined the CID. I’m starting on another short, Face Trash, her first case as a detective, fresh from police college. Call these stories ‘character research’.

Or should I publish those stories first?

That’s what Spring does for my devious brain – seeds seeking fertile soil.

[One problem: I need a friend to sit with and chat, face-to-face over a pint or a meal. I lost that when I moved four years ago.]

**

The awesome co-hosts for the May 2 posting of the IWSG are E.M.A. Timar, J. Q. Rose, C.Lee McKenzie, and Raimey Gallant!

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting! 

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

 

 

A Journey of the Heart – a review

This is the second Book in the When Women Were Warriors fantasy trilogy and when I reviewed the first book, The Warrior’s Path , I was excited to read Book 2. I wasn’t disappointed.

Journey of the Heart 

A Journey of the Heart (When Women Were Warriors #2)

by Catherine M. Wilson

A Journey of the Heart Book II] shows the same strong storytelling ability of the first book. The language is still almost musical and wraps its sweet spell around you. Storylines that were just starting to grow in the first book are also very well developed here. Intrigue and conflict are fleshed out and take some surprising twists. All that I had hoped for, reading the first book, begins to bloom. “–from a review by Kate Genet on the website, Kissed By Venus

“Catherine Wilson creates a magical sense of place, and of belonging to that place. Within that, she also tells how it feels to not belong. Ms Wilson ‘s is a tale of bone wisdom. It whispers of what we remember when we sleep at night and dream. It calls us to remember that women had, and still have, a wise and powerful place in the world.”–from a review on the blog, The Rainbow Reader, by Baxter Clare Trautman, author of The River Within

“In this book, we see Tamras world open from the House of Merin and its immediate environs into the lands beyond its borders. She meets other peoples, whose ways are different from those she knows. Similarly Tamras inner life expands as well: the feelings within her blossom into the romantic love that will be the linchpin her life will hinge on “–from a review by Charles Ferguson on the Goodreads website

In Book II of the trilogy, Tamras ‘s apprenticeship as a warrior isn’t turning out quite the way she expected. Her unconventional choices lead to her crossing swords, almost literally, with Vintel, the war leader of Merin ‘s house. She finds herself embroiled in a power struggle she is doomed to lose, but the loss sends her on a journey that will change her destiny and decide the fate of her people.

 

Review 5 stars

When Tamras continued her journey ‘when women were warriors’, I slipped back easily into her world again as the characters and settings were familiar from Book 1. As was the writing, which continued to weave its spell over me.

The rhythm that Catherine Wilson chooses continued to remind me of an oral storyteller. Once again, the beautiful poetic phrases kept me reading and held my attention throughout.

As events at Merin’s House and on the northern frontier unfold, Tamras faces crucial decisions and discovers her real friends – and the conflict with Merin’s war leader Vintel intensifies as does her relationship with Maara, the warrior that she is apprenticed to.

Love is the central theme to this book and the trilogy. Not just romantic love but the emotion that is special and deep, that ties people together and gives them life but also hurts. Love is explored in a multitude of ways – mother/child, siblings, woman/woman, warrior/apprentice, wife/husband, first loves. The writer helps the reader feel the intricacies of the emotions involved, never rushing the scenes where characters interact with dialogue, glances or caresses.

Although women are central to the tale and women hold the main warrior role, this is not a simplistic role reversal. Some reviewers, mainly fellow men sadly, have missed the fact that there are warriors at Merin’s House who are men. In modern society, women wanting to fight was frowned on until recently, to the extent that some disguised themselves as men. In contrast, this world-building portrays a more balanced society where such strict divisions are not present.

The reader experiences the battle emotions and reactions as Tamras has her first encounter with the raiding northern tribes. In most cases, the reactions are rooted in respect between fellow warriors and apprentices, and even between rivals.

However, this world is realistic with characters that have been slaves and that issue is gradually explored as the revelations paint a complex world and the war that created much of the backstory emerges into view. The reader discovers more about Merin and her fellow elders as well as her importance to Tamras.

Caring for others has many angles – and complications – as Tamras learns…with love playing its complex role. Once again, there are lessons at every growth point regardless of age and previous experiences. How does one wield that delicate position called ‘Power’ and what is the nature of that ability? The novel is filled with crucial questions for Tamras and the reader – challenges.

The characterisation continues to be rich and the central characters grow as events unfold. Some learn, and others just react, although motives are cleverly revealed – but not too soon. Tamras’s path got clearer but rockier as the mid-point of the trilogy was reached. From there onwards, lines are drawn as the inner and outer conflicts simmer. There will be a climactic clash but as in other great epics, that is being set up with physical and psychological skirmishes that test characters.

There is more great wisdom here, and there are ancient tales woven into the whole – fireside storytelling within a saga. Tamras, especially, told stories that she had learnt while growing up – tales that are told in the style of oral ‘tales of yore’. These add to the magic of the novel, and to the sense of an older world more in touch with its roots.

All the events and revelations set up Book 3 neatly, so A Hero’s Tale has moved top of my ‘Must Reads’ list. Although I’m reading the trilogy on Kindle, I have just ordered the paperbacks to place on my bookshelf alongside my prized copies of The Lord of the Rings.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Diversity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

For The Winner – a review

Strong women seem to be one of the threads running through my reading currently, not only because of my writing but also because I have been fascinated by heroic women for decades. Eowyn in The Lord of the Rings was one of the first in my teens, although Atalanta, the heroine of For The Winner captured my imagination when I read Greek myths from my childhood onwards.

ForTheWinner 

For The Winner (Golden Apple Trilogy #2)

by Emily Hauser (Goodreads Author)

Some three thousand years ago, in a time before history, the warriors of Greece journeyed to the ends of the earth in the greatest expedition the world had ever seen.

One woman fought alongside them.

Abandoned at birth on the slopes of Mount Pelion, Atalanta is determined to prove her worth to the father who cast her aside. Having taught herself to hunt and fight, and disguised as a man, she wins a place on the greatest voyage of that heroic age: with Jason and his band of Argonauts in search of the legendary Golden Fleece.

And it is here, in the company of men who will go down in history as heroes, that Atalanta must battle against the odds – and the will of the gods – to take control of her destiny and change her life forever.

With her unrivalled knowledge and captivating storytelling, Emily Hauser brings alive an ancient world where the gods can transform a mortal’s life on a whim, where warriors carve out names that will echo down the ages . . . and where one woman fights to determine her own fate.

Review 5 stars

Emily Hauser’s second novel in the Golden Apple Trilogy, For the Winner, is a reimagining of the myth of Atalanta and the legend of Jason, the Argonauts and the search for the Golden Fleece.

The opening vividly portrays Atalanta being abandoned as a baby on the slopes of Mount Pelion, but she only discovers what happened when she is eighteen – although her father’s identity is not immediately revealed to her.

I knew some of the mythology but loved the way that Emily Hauser retold the tales and early on learnt to expect clever sidesteps. As with many myths, there are different versions and interpretations in the surviving tales so there was room to ‘reimagine’ and this novel is an excellent retelling.

Atalanta is a strong determined heroine from her opening scenes, an athletic warrior with rounded emotions. But she has vulnerabilities and insecurities that she needs to resolve over the course of the novel. In a world dominated by men, she must disguise her identity as a woman to prove herself more than a match. But she is tested at every turn of the adventure and learns quickly who to trust and who to beware of.

This main part of the novel is written in the First Person POV, so the reader gets drawn deeper into the character’s life and head. Having Atalanta tell her own story, without the male assumptions of the ancient tales, made the words stronger and more realistic. This was a motivated woman at every step of her epic journey,

As in many Greek myths, For The Winner shows the Gods and Goddesses on Mount Olympus, especially Zeus and his wife Hera, constantly plotting and trying to interfere in human affairs – not to mention sleeping around. Emily Hauser crafts humorous scenes, written in the Third Person POV, portraying them as petty and riven with human frailties – just as expected from what I knew. I was reminded of those Classical Greek writers that chose to portray the Gods in this manner and this thread kept me amused.

I was interested when this thread impacted on the main adventure, and a few times asked, “Where is Artemis when Atalanta needs her?” She prays to this huntress goddess and the answer would be a spoiler of sorts, so read this excellent book and find out if any immortals aid her.

The Ancient world of this Greek period comes alive in the writing and clearly, Emily Hauser has done extensive research. Her author’s notes at the end of the book provide valuable insights into the legends, the historical and archaeological evidence for them as well as identifying many of the places. She is an academic and classicist, but she resists overwhelming the reader and the novel is alive and rich.

For me, I knew that the legendary foot race was inevitable, and I loved the clever resolution to the ‘male plot flaw’ in the legend. It had me grinning, and I was fascinated to read in the author’s notes that this was a ‘starting point’ for reimagining Atalanta’s motivation. At last, the legends make sense.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

Love Story, with Murders – a review

Having discovered the quirky and dark Welsh detective Fiona Griffiths in Talking to the Dead, I had to read Book 2 in this unique series. I didn’t regret it and Book 3 beckons. [For my review of Book 1 see: https://rolandclarke.com/2016/04/11/talking-to-the-dead-a-review/ ]

Love Story

Love Story, With Murders (Fiona Griffiths #2)

by Harry Bingham (Goodreads Author)

The second novel featuring recovering psychotic DC Fiona Griffiths opens with as intriguing a pair of murders as you could imagine. Firstly, part of a human leg is discovered in a woman’s freezer, bagged up like a joint of pork. Other similarly gruesome discoveries follow throughout a cosy Cardiff suburb, with body parts turning up in kitchens, garages and potting sheds. And while the police are still literally putting the pieces together, concluding that they all belong to a teenage girl killed some ten years earlier, parts of another body suddenly start appearing, but this time discarded carelessly around the countryside clearly very shortly after the victim – a man – was killed.

Mysteries don’t come much more macabre or puzzling than this. Who were the two victims, and what connection could they have shared that would result in this bizarre double-discovery?

But that’s only half the story. The most gruesome moments are much more about Fiona and her curious mental state. There is a complex and very clever double mystery here, and what makes the story unique is the parallel unraveling of Fiona’s own mystery, and it’s her voice, established precisely in the first book but given even freer rein here, that makes it so compelling.

Review 5 stars

In this second novel in an engrossing series, DC Fiona Griffiths is once again challenged to apply her strange talents to solving a case or maybe it’s two cases. This DC is not like others and this is one of the winning formulas that Harry Bingham gives to the character.

With her personality traits being at times psychotic, the first person POV works as we discover more and more about Fiona’s past and about the cases. She has more than murder to handle and she needs to act off-piste to get things done and progress the cases. The violence, in the victim’s remains or the action, is not excessive or overtly gruesome, but some fans of the cosy approach might baulk at it. Fiona doesn’t, of course.

At this stage in her policing career, Fiona still has things to learn, often things she recognises and ignores at her cost – but what better way to keep the plot moving and the reader guessing. Her relationship with her fierce boss, DI Watkins, is unexpected and interesting – the secondary characters are all well portrayed, especially the DI. There are sub-plots surrounding some of them and these all add to the story.

Fiona’s attitudes are unusual but her flippancy and willingness to think her mind are what makes her unique – and believable. I wouldn’t want her to be ‘normal’ and boring – in fact, people aren’t when we get to know them properly as some of the characters prove over time.

The settings from Cardiff to the rural areas of South Wales are all vividly evoked, and through Fiona’s senses, so, we also discover more about her in the words she uses. Having lived in Wales – North Wales – there were descriptions that stirred memories – for instance:

“The valley narrows as it climbs. Pasture and snippets of woodland on the valley floor. Green fields pasted as high up the mountainsides as technology and climate can take them. The flanks of the hillside are grizzled with the rust-brown of bracken, humped with gorse and hawthorn, slashed with the rocky-white of mountain streams.”

Anybody that has negotiated Welsh roads will recognise the ones that Fiona needs to take on her rural investigation. Throughout, the settings felt realistic as did the way that the plot unfolded. Nothing is ever neat in a Fiona Griffiths case – nor in reality.

You never know what Fiona is going to do next, so the reader needs to keep going – and believing in her and the author. Fiona keeps the tension going with her decisions and actions. I was on the edge of my seat as I read, hoping that Fiona would survive – even if I knew there were sequels. That takes good writing to bring about.

I loved the Welsh attitude, even if not all Welsh people are as forthright as Fiona in saying, “Twll dîn pob Sais.” Later in the novel, she repeats this as a thought and translates -” Every Englishman an arsehole”.

After a stimulating ride for my head, I am ready for the next book, having recommended the first two without reservation – well, if you want a cosy mystery series look elsewhere. I want more of Fiona and her different approach to policing, to life – and I want to know what is at the heart of her behaviour, to discover more about her past.

Note that this was released in 2014, so, this comment from Fiona had me wondering if Harry Bingham was going to get tweeted by the US President;

“My newfound clarity allows me to look at the pole-dancing platform too. It’s got all the class of a Las Vegas casino personally styled by Donald Trump”

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

*

UPDATE: This review had to be edited for Amazon, as it was rejected in this version. I wonder why. Where did I stray from their guidelines? I removed three paragraphs in the hope that might evade the censors – 1. the comment about Englishmen; 2 &3. The paragraphs about Trump. Was it the profanity or the reference to the Twitter Man?

 

Messandrierre – a review

July 5th saw the launch of Angela Wren’s Merle, the second novel in the Jacques Forêt crime series, about which I will post about next.  So, I knew that I needed to re-visit Messandrierre where I first encountered Angela Wren’s intelligent investigator, Jacques Forêt. This release of Merle is a chance to expand on my initial review of Messandrierre.

Messandrierre

Messandrierre (Jacques Forêt #1)

by Angela Wren (Goodreads Author)

Sacrificing his job in investigation following an incident in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a Gendarme in the rural French village of Messandrierre.

But, as the number of missing persons rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined, Jacques won’t give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case.

Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?

Messandrierre – #1 in a new crime series featuring investigator, Jacques Forêt.

Also in the series:
Merle (#2)

Review 5 stars

I enjoyed every page of this mystery, so read the novel twice. The pace suited the setting that felt as real as the memorable characters. Messandrierre may not exist – or maybe it does. The Cevennes is my favourite region in France, and Angela Wren captures the nuances perfectly. The location came alive so much that I was convinced that I had been there.

The people felt real, from the principals of Jacques and Beth to all the secondary characters that made up the vibrant picture of a French community, and the wider area beyond. Each one had their idiosyncrasies, and some had secrets that added clever threads and red herrings to the mystery.

The plot developed steadily with the additional plotlines adding to the investigation. Jacques is not exactly alone in unravelling who is responsible for the disappearances that set the case simmering.

Messandrierre neatly built to a climax, that I guessed but not in the manner it happened. I was tricked into a bit of wrong thinking a few times – on the first reading. On the second, I saw how Wren had created her cunning red herrings – or should I say harengs rouges.

This novel is a mystery that I highly recommend for those that don’t need a fast-roller-coaster ride and want to savour the story. I also recommend Messandrierre for those that like indulging in exploring the France off the beaten track – but don’t expect a tame tourist guide.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

Dragonoak: The Complete History of Kastelir – a review

As my writing begins to touch on diversity and minority rights issues, I knew that I should expand my reading. This novel is my first fantasy that I’ve read that is willing to move beyond the narrow taboos of modern society.

Dragonoak

Dragonoak: The Complete History of Kastelir (Dragonoak #1)

by Sam Farren

After being exiled to the farmland around her village, Rowan Northwood takes the only chance at freedom she might ever get: she runs away with a passing Knight and doesn’t look back. The woman cares nothing for Rowan’s company, but nor does she seem perturbed by the powers that burn within her.
Rowan soon learns that the scope of their journey is more than a desperate grasp at adventure. She breaks away from the weighty judgement of her village, but has no choice but to abandon her Kingdom altogether. Sir Ightham’s past leads them through Kastelir, a country draped in the shadow of its long-dead Queen—a woman who was all tusks and claws and great, spiralling horns.
Hiding her necromancy is no longer Rowan’s greatest challenge, and what leads them across Kingdoms and through mountains is a heavier burden than she ever could’ve imagined.

 

Review 3.5 stars

I was drawn to read this book as the blurb, and the reviews promised an engrossing fantasy novel where diversity was the norm. I found the opening intriguing with a fascinating backstory trickled out, not dumped on me. Rowan Northwood as a narrator is driven to leave her village by the attitude of the people that saw her as a healer until they discovered her hidden power.

Her journey is one of discovery, about the world that she only knows from her brother Michael’s stories and about other people. However, she is not the protagonist as that is Sir Ightham, a female knight that is well-portrayed as the norm. At first, Rowan is intrigued and inspired by Sir Ightham, but as she discovers more about the knight, a real attraction grows. Personally, I found it difficult to relate to such a distant protagonist, but I kept reading knowing that through Rowan, I should discover more.

Many of the characters are not the fantasy norm exactly. This aspect of the world-building delivered, as did the world beyond Michael’s books, and this element kept me wanting more. The third intriguing character was an asexual called Rán, whose race, the pane, were central to the story – I must avoid spoilers and say little more about that.

When Rán appears, Rowan calls her ‘she’ and for the rest of the book Rán is a ‘she’. But the pane are asexual or transgender, and the pronoun for them individually is ‘they’. However, once I had adapted my mindset to using this gender-neutral pronoun, confusion set in. Why was Rán ‘she’ but other single pane were almost all ‘they’? What about this sentence:

A handful of younger pane crept up on us. Their leader, a girl with the first signs of a right horn showing, inched her way to the steps. I raised a hand to wave and they shrieked, scattering like ants.

I kept reading engrossed in the story – but after researching ‘gender-neutral pronouns’. Other elements threw me, like the treatment of the horses that grated with everything I knew as a retired equestrian journalist.

The jigsaw remained complicated and unclear – well to Rowan as the narrator but not the protagonist – but eventually, after some unnecessary scenes of excessive world-building, the plotlines took shape through new arrivals, encounters and interruptions. The mysterious quest remained unclear.

More began to grate. Some reviews had mentioned there were “a few typos”, but those would have mortified me if my writing had so many. I had to keep re-reading sentences and amending them. Anyway, back to worrying about the horses – but the focus is now on the Queen. A new intrigue so I’m not giving up. I want to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Rowan is an observant narrator, even if it’s hard being an observer that senses so much. First-person POV is hard, but the reader gets to feel with the main character – although she’s not telepathic. So why the sentences that stray into the omniscient? Confusing and yet avoidable. But enough of that ‘writing style’ nonsense, there’s a mystery to resolve and here comes the next twist.

Finally, in the latter part of the novel, Rowan discovers more and events move faster. I began to find too many loose threads, and it was too late in the story to resolve many of them in time. At least, the central romance reached the next level – but romance is always ongoing.

Much better, according to the author it seems, to add other threads and keep the reader wanting more and let us forgive the cliff-hanger ending – Tolkien did that in Lord of the Rings, so it’s justified. Correction – not in the same way. Reading that trilogy in the 1970s, a glimmer of hope kept me questing, but this time I’m letting Rowan struggle on without me.

Dragonoak would be a good diversity fantasy if not for all the early draft failings like the pacing crisis, first-person omniscient POV, excessive typos and unnecessary scenes. At least, the author can edit the Kindle version one day. For now, I’m off to try a ‘diversity’ SF novel. Perhaps if there is a second edition, then I might join the journey and enjoy some of the inspiring prose.

But not looking at them wasn’t enough to banish them from my mind. Whatever they suffered seeped into the air, following me through busy streets, as though the shadow I’d felt last night had returned to claim me.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Structure – three stars

Readability – three stars

Editing – three stars

Style – three stars