Monthly Archives: June 2014

Wednesdaymeter by @DeanCarnby

Wednesdaymeter by Dean Carnby – 4 stars

An eggplant wails, a ladder breaks, and the guise of civility shatters.

A professor of festival studies, a potato hunter, a deadly career counselor, and a part-time terrorist are struggling to retain their sanity in a magically mundane city. Their carefully laid plans fall apart when they meet Mr. Pearson, an everyman who suspects a conspiracy of evil polygons behind his company’s absurd practices.

Theirs is a world in which people use raw produce and wasted time to alter reality. If it were not for the stringent safety standards on fruits and vegetables, the citizens would live in misery. Most live a life of willful ignorance instead, desperate to avoid facing the threats surrounding them. Festival season is about to begin, but the colorful banners cannot hide the tragic past any longer.

This book is well written, full of entertaining characters, and highly imaginative. It follows the exploits of a group of people as they seek to make sense of their world.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really understand most of what took place. The characters struggle against mind- and soul-crushing conformity that’s wrought a mind-boggling array of overreaching regulations and safety standards. How and why they pursued the struggle left me confused in many places. There’s another world superimposed on the ‘real’ one, there’s magic gained from using plants in one fashion or another, there’s a second magic system that runs by draining colors from objects, there’s some kind of folding magic or skill, and more. Each part lacked enough explanation for me to wrap my head around it sufficiently.

Putting all of that aside, I found the writing itself well done without being compelling. I didn’t have to force myself to read it, but I didn’t churn hungrily through it. The story requires thought and contemplation to get through, and it left me exhausted after short passages.

The characters amused me with their personality clashes and bizarre ideas. I can’t say I fully grasped why they did the things they all did, but I can say they had entertaining thought processes and conversations while carrying them out.

I recommend this for people who like cerebral dystopian fantasy. It’s not a quick read, but if you go into it expecting weird, you won’t be disappointed.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Writer’s Block – #amwriting

I do not, as a general rule, suffer from the condition commonly referred to as ‘writer’s block’. There is never a time when I cannot think of anything to write, or when I am so thoroughly disinterested or stumped that I cannot carry on with a particular story. That said, I do get stuck for a variety of reasons in one project or another.

1. New! Exciting! While I’m working on one project, I frequently have other, unrelated ideas. Most of the time, I can jot down a few notes and get back to what I was working on. Once in a while, the new project engulfs my brain and becomes Glenn Close with a pot full of pet rabbit: it won’t be ignored. Unlike a demanding toddler, it needs to be indulged until I’ve got enough to go back to the original project.

2. Stress. I’m actually a pretty laid-back person most of the time. Very little riles me up to the extent I actually get “stressed”. When it does happen, I obsess over the thing stressing me, and lose the ability to focus on anything remotely creative. I even find it difficult to sit still long enough to read books, and wind up playing stupid, mindless games instead of working. When the stressor is significant, it can take a while to get back on track.

3. Stuck! This is as close as I get to real ‘writer’s block’. There are times when I’ve done something wrong in the story, something that, deep down in my subconscious, I know needs to be changed. Non-strenuous exercise, like walking or riding my bike (on the trainer, not on the streets – it takes too much brainpower to ride on the streets), will normally tease out the problem. Switching to another project for a while can work, too.

Remarkably, being sick doesn’t affect my ability to write. In fact, it makes some parts of my brain go into creative overdrive, cranking out ideas faster than I can take advantage of them. Maybe it has something to do with being miserable. Suffering, so they say, builds character.

For those who suffer from the real deal, I recommend exercise, talking out your ideas with friends, and doing stream-of-consciousness writing. Remember, the only way to really be a writer is to write words. Lots of words. They don’t have to be good, they just have to be written. Making them good is what editing and revision is for.

Meet My Character #Bloghop

J.C. Mells, author of Napoleon: A stand-alone novella (The Pierced Series Book 5) invited me to participate in a blog hop, which is awesome! This particular one is, as the title suggests, about a character in an upcoming book. I’m supposed to pass this on to others, but no one I contacted to pass it on accepted, so this leg ends with me. Alas.

The Greatest Sin #2 will be out before the end of the summer. In this installment, we learn more about the world of Tilzam, pursue a mystery, and delve further into Chavali’s story.

1) What is the name of your character?

Chavali Blaukenev was born and raised among a clan of nomadic entertainers. They live in wagons, always moving, never stopping in the same place twice. The Blaukenevs are a peculiar people in the world, with an olive cast skin tone not seen in any other population on Tilzam, a language unrelated to any other known tongue, and an accent that always marks them as foreign wherever they go. Chavali herself was chosen to be her clan’s Seer – a position of authority and respect – at the age of 10, by the previous Seer. She assumed the title and duties at 15, when her predecessor died.

2) When and where is the story set?

The Greatest Sin is a fantasy series, taking place in a world called Tilzam. The societies of the world function on a technology level roughly equivalent to that of the Renaissance, with magic. Cities have water treatment. Rural areas don’t. Magic has stunted innovation in technology, fulfilling the need for lighting and relatively swift transportation.

3) What should we know about him/her?

Chavali was once a fortune teller. As she puts it, she was a professional liar with the purpose of parting fools from their coins. Her relationship with honesty is complicated, generally following the principle that family is important, and everyone else is not.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?

In this installment, Chavali’s problems are mostly interpersonal. She has no control over who she works with, and must learn to deal with people she doesn’t like in order to accomplish the mission.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?

Most of Chavali’s goals can be summed up as Survival, Self Improvement, and Family. She’s coming to terms with her situation (I won’t spoil it if you haven’t read book 1, The Fallen, yet), and trying to fit into it.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

The working title is HARBINGER. We’re still waffling about whether it’s really appropriate or not.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?

At this point, the closest I can get is Summer 2014.

🙂

 

The Baker of Brennan #21

Rose sat in the tavern, several woman huddled around her. Most of their husbands and brothers had run off to join the Sheriff in his search for Scott and whatever killed that man in the sheep pen. Not her stepmother, of course. Catherine sat in the corner, flanked by her four younger children, secure in the knowledge that her husband wouldn’t go anywhere near anything remotely dangerous. Kent, on the other hand, did run off to help, though Ben promised to watch out for him.

Feasting peasants in a tavern by Adriaen Jansz Ostade

Feasting peasants in a tavern by Adriaen Jansz Ostade

True to form, Kevan strolled in, smiling to himself. He wore his party clothes – the best pants and shirt he owned – and seemed surprised to find everyone so grim. “Ladies,” he said with his hands out to welcome himself, “there’s no use worrying. Whatever is going to happen, it’ll happen whether we clench up in concern or not. Karen! A round of drinks!”

Behind the bar, Karen stopped cleaning to distract herself and sighed. “He’s got a point.”

“Come here, Kevan.” His wife patted a seat beside herself. “Sit with us.”

He plastered on a doting smile that Rose felt confident was fake and glided to her. “Of course, my wife.”

Rose rolled her eyes and didn’t watch him put an arm around her, pull her into his lap and kiss her. She heard it, though. “There are rooms upstairs,” she spat out.

“Oh, Rose.” Kevan let his lips drift down Catherine’s neck, nibbling and eliciting a soft moan from her. “Always so sour. We’ll see what you’re like once Scott has dipped his wick in your wax.”

Clenching her jaw so hard it hurt, Rose twitched her arm. She wanted to slap him, but stopped herself to avoid accidentally clipping her step-mother. When she saw his hand slipping up to grope his wife, she grunted in disgust and turned away. The man had no shame. From the way half the women here watched with eager eyes and parted lips, she suspected he routinely bedded all of them behind their husbands’ backs.

Karen brought around a tray of small cups filled with amber liquid. Rose reached for one, then pulled her hand back. Getting drunk wouldn’t make anything better. She wanted to be sharp when they finally found Scott. And they would. Not only that, but he would be alive. Something prevented him from coming home, that’s all. Maybe it would be an injury to his leg, something he could recover from with a few days of rest, or a creature he had to hunt down for killing that man.

“Are you sure?” Karen fixed her with stern appraisal. “It’ll take the edge off.”

Rose nodded. “I’d rather keep my edge.” She glared at the ceiling when Catherine moaned again. If this kept up, she’d lose her temper completely. Jumping to her feet, she headed for the door. “I’ll be in my kitchen if anyone needs me.” Before anyone could object, she strode out and to her bakery, intent on doing something productive and vigorous to occupy herself. Kneading bread dough would do the trick.

She grabbed her starter dough in the flickering light of a single candle and added to it, slapping the sticky glob around in frustration. She didn’t like sitting on her hands while Scott could be in mortal peril. If she found her way into danger somehow, she felt confident he would come looking for her in his armor and with his sword in hand. Put the shoe on the other foot, though, and the most deadly thing she could offer an attacker was a face full of pepper.

Maybe she could fashion a suit of armor out of bread.

The idea made her laugh, which made her cry. She didn’t want to cry. “This isn’t fair,” she told the dough, blinking away the tears and swiping a sleeve across her face. The bread, predictably, didn’t answer. It did help. Several minutes of kneading the dough later, she dropped it into a bowl and draped a towel over it. Come morning, it would be in fine shape, and she could make cinnamon rolls. That thought on her mind, she turned to mixing up the cinnamon filling and set that aside, too.

After all of that, she stared at the door for several minutes. Occupying herself should have fixed the problem. Someone should have found him in that time. Did she need to despair some more before he would come back to her? Was there some kind of quota amount of that she had to do?

The back door banged open. Kent flung himself inside, breathless and panting. “Found. Hurt. Bad. Home.”

Rose’s heart surged into furious pounding and she ran faster than she’d ever run before. For once in her life, she didn’t care if the bakery got locked up against children hunting free sweets. She didn’t even shut the door, leaving it for Kent to handle. The dash didn’t take long, yet it still offered plenty of time for her mind to conjure horrific images from the mere four words Kent gave her. If only she’d stayed home instead of going out!

The door slammed shut on its spring as she turned the corner. Huffing and puffing, she darted to the door and yanked it open. She found Ben, splashed with blood, carrying Scott under the armpits. Finley had his feet. Scott’s head lolled, and he’d been wrapped in a blanket. Rose covered her mouth in shock at seeing him to helpless.

“He’s alive, Rose.” Ben and Finley heaved him onto the couch, draping him across it. “Sent for Moira already. You want us to stay or go?”

Rose blinked and realized she needed to breathe. Sucking in a breath, she nodded and hurried to his side, brushing muddy and bloody hair off of his face. “Go ahead.” Their boots and the opening and closing of the door happened someplace so far away she barely noticed. “How long were you out there, hurt and hoping someone would come find you? I’m so sorry I didn’t go looking sooner. I always think of you as so capable. But you’re human, just like me. And listen to me, saying ‘always’.”

Someone touched her shoulder and she looked up to see Moira, the town’s midwife. She had the most skill with healing, and a little bit of magic for emergencies. Without a word, the older woman placed her hand on Scott’s forehead and closed her eyes. She took two deep breaths and opened them again.

“I can do some, but he’s in bad shape. Rose, go get some water, warm if you’ve got it, and a few towels. We’ll clean him up and put him to bed, and I’ll come see him tomorrow again.”

“He’ll be alright?” She hated how much she needed to hear Moira agree. Her whole world shouldn’t hinge on whether this man lived or died, on whether he’d be crippled or not.

“I think so, yes.”

Rose got up and ran for the kitchen.

Book Review: So Now What! by @gjgfh_g

So What’s Next! (So What! Stories #2) by G.J. Griffiths – 3 stars

Molly Pearson is a young Biology teacher with two passions in her life: a strong commitment to protecting wildlife; and a desire to encourage the children in her classes to feel the same enthusiasm for Nature.

When her class decide they would like to restore the school’s neglected and vandalised nature corner her hopes are raised and challenged at the same time. The hurdles that she meets along the way will include bullied and bullying pupils, as well as the expected ones of finance and willing manpower.

But leaping those fences does not prepare the ambitious Molly for a dramatic fire and the confusion of a new passion in her life, in the form of Oliver Shrimpton. Will he become that significant someone, or is he just another obstacle for her to overcome?

This story is difficult to categorize. It doesn’t really have a plot in the usual sense, and the main character is more the school than it is any one person. In addition, it covers a great deal of time, about two years. There is a huge amount of infodumping through the book. Each character that gets focused on has his or her background explained.

Various small plots come and go, including a schoolboy crush, bullying and juvenile delinquency, depression, and a heart health issue. They manage to intertwine in some places, but aren’t all complementary and seamless. The conflicts they create don’t have satisfying resolutions, and each one is suborned to the overall message of nature conservation to the point that important parts are glossed over.

Perspective in the narrative shifts unexpectedly, and I got confused about whose head I was inside several times. In several cases, the opportunity to see things from a particular character’s point of view felt squandered. The depression section especially seemed like it was wasted. The characters didn’t seem to have been chosen to show how they think and feel, but rather to display what they experience. This isn’t always true, but it happens a lot.

As a minor complaint, the author chose to bleep out all the ‘vulgar’ words with ellipses, resulting in words like ‘b…r’ (It’s written in British English). The self-censoring is jarring and confusing, as I had to pause at some of them to figure out what word the author declined to show. It seems amateurish to do that, and I would have preferred to see either the proper word or a watered-down word if this is intended for young people.

All that said, the book is overall pleasant. It has a positive message about ecological conservationism, and explains the ideas from the point of view of science and wonder. Expect a rambling tale that wishes to express love for nature and the natural world.

I recommend this for people who want a slice of real life story without hard edges.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Baker of Brennan #20

Rose paced. She sat and stood and sat and stood. When her stomach growled, she poked at her dinner without taking her eyes off Scott’s for more than five seconds. How dare he go missing? Was it really so difficult to just not do something stupid, or get attacked, or manage to have a tree fall on him, or slip in some mud and hit a rock and crack his skull open-

If she didn’t stop thinking along those lines, she’d drive herself insane. Scott was not dead. She did not just spend two months falling for him so he could go off and leave her. “Goddess bless,” she whimpered to the empty kitchen, “what if he got spooked and ran off?” In many ways, that would be worse. At least if he got injured, it wouldn’t be something he did on purpose to avoid her.

Her stomach churned, and she set the half-eaten pie aside. She snapped her head up when the house creaked, heart pounding and chest tight. It wasn’t the door, and she covered her face. “If your goal is to make sure I really want him, I think we’ve solved that question. Give him back, please.”

No answer came, and she found herself pacing without remembering taking the first step. An eternity later, she forced herself to stop pacing. It accomplished nothing. Waiting accomplished nothing, too. Grabbing her cloak, she tossed the door open and strode outside to… To do something instead of nothing.

With a firm nod to herself, she plunged into the near-dark gloom of twilight, headed for the tavern. Everyone would be there, and Karen would know as much as anyone else. The walk took her past other homes, none of which had any signs of activity. Between two of them, she caught movement as she passed. Something thrashed about in the tall grass the Coopers never bothered to keep tamed.

Patch of grass by Vincent van Gogh

Patch of grass by Vincent van Gogh

She stopped and peered that way. “Hello?” It could be a loose sheep or goat. Or, her mind helpfully supplied, a feral boar or wild bear. One that might have gored Scott and dragged him back to its lair for later dining. He could be alive right now, bleeding to death in a cave. Instead of speaking again when she got no answer, she clucked her tongue like the shepherd did to call the sheep in.

A sheep trotted out of the grass to her, baaing its distress to her. At once, relief and despair crashed over her. Then she noticed a long smear of blood on the ewe’s wool. Scratching its head, she bent to get a closer look, and made out a rough hand shape, one that had been swiped across it. She sucked in a breath and froze.

“Rose?” Sheriff Ben’s voice startled her enough that she jumped and upset the animal. “I thought you were going to- What’s wrong? Why do you have a sheep?” When she didn’t – couldn’t – answer, he approached and saw the blood. “Where did you find it?”

Still too stunned to speak, she pointed and watched Ben tromp to the grasses. He kept going and disappeared from sight. Her heart stopped. If something could take Scott, it could take Ben, too. In a blink, her feet forced her to follow him, as if one doughy baker could make all the difference between life and death for two trained and hardened men.

“Rose,” Ben hissed, “what are you doing? Go to the tavern and send down anyone willing to help.”

“If he’s here, I want to see him.”

“And here I thought you were sensible,” he grumbled. She suspected he didn’t mean for her to hear that. Too bad.

The words shook her out of her fear and let her focus on something besides the blood and what it might mean. “Don’t be an ass.” For good measure, she cuffed his arm. “That’s my Scott out there. Don’t you go getting all-” Unable to think of the proper word to put there, she waved her hands growled at him.

“Fine, fine.” In the swiftly gathering dark, she could almost make out a smirk, though it could have been a grimace. “Just keep quiet.” The scrape of his sword as he pulled it from its sheath made her stumble. A few more paces into the tall grass, a groan slipped past them on the breeze. He froze and held out his empty hand to make her stop.

If that moan didn’t come from Scott, Rose would eat her best loaf pan. It meant he was alive, but hurt. She desperately wanted to run to him and glared at Ben’s hand, preventing her from doing so. Except it didn’t. His hand held no real power over her. Shoving him aside, she hurried forward, not caring about the noise she made.

“Scott? Can you hear me?” She ignored Ben’s string of curses behind her and kept running. Another grunt kept her going past the fence of the paddock that sheep must have escaped from. Ahead, she saw where one of the beams had broken, leaving a hole big enough for the animals to wander through.

Ben caught up and grabbed her arm, yanking her hard enough that she spun and hit the ground on her side. The tumble surprised her and scrambled her head. Lifting her head, she shook it and looked around. Just inside the fence, Ben crouched or knelt over something.

“Is he okay?”

“Rose, go to the tavern right now and get help.”

“Is he…?” She gulped and her eyes burned.

“This isn’t him.”

A fistful of grass helped her clamber to her hands and knees. “I heard him.”

“This man is dead, Rose. You didn’t hear him.”

“Scott. I heard Scott.”

Ben huffed in annoyance. “Rose. Get your head on straight. Whatever killed this man is still out here, and you aren’t equipped to deal with it. Tell everyone we need the militia.”

“But-”

“No,” Ben roared. “Every second you argue with me is a second I could be spending looking for Scott. Go! Tavern, now.”

Rose sniffled and got to her feet, then ran off as quickly as her feet could carry her. If he died because she refused to go when Ben first told her to, she would never forgive herself.