jacey: (blue eyes)
So this 2014's reading suffered greatly from all the writing that I needed to do. i find it almost impossible to read while I'm writing a first draft - unless it's non-fiction. Stories providre a distraction and might, subconsciously also provide influence. In oprevioius years I've read and blogged between fifty and sixty books. This year I didn't even manage twenty, though as an excuse I offer the notion that the two George R R Martins and the Jilly Cooper probably add up to six or seven books between them.

Favourites of 2014 were the Scott Lynch Gentlemen Bastards books, though very honourable mentions go to Pratchett for Dodger, Patricia Briggs for Night Broken, the eighth Mercy Thompson book, and Tom Pollock for The City's Son. I don't buy many books on writing techniques, but the three Donald Maass books are excellent and being non-fiction didn't clash with the writing I was doing in parallel with reading.

Books read and blogged (in reverse order):
jacey: (blue eyes)
Following on from the events in Kitty Takes a Holiday, Cormac is in jail and Kitty is living with her lawyer and new-made werewolf, Ben.

Kitty and Ben are drawn back to Denver when Kitty's mom is taken ill, which puts Kitty back in a confrontation situation with the pack (and alpha) that she fled from less than a year ago. She's also landed in the middle of a vampire takeover bid and it seems that Arturo, Denver's current master vampire, is using the werewolf pack as foot-soldiers. There's also a new vampire player in town (or rather, passing through) and some hints at vampire politics and a wider supernatural plot that will likely resurface in a future book.

Kitty as usual is just trying to get by, but ends up taking the initiative when her family is threatened.

This is unexpected in that Cormac, pretty much set up as Kitty's reluctant love interest in previous books, is now out of the running and Kitty has mated - in every sense of the word - with Ben. I miss Cormac, though he is still in it - being visited for advice. Vaughan's Kitty books are fast reads, but always absorbing. Kitty is an excellent character and this sees a major development in her story arc as she has to face the werewolf couple who bullied her when she was first turned and who killed her best friend TJ in the first book.

Recommended, but probably better to read the series in order.
jacey: (blue eyes)
When sixteen year old Anna's father is dying in Naples he arranges for her to be married off to a sea captain in Nelson's navy. Henry Duncannon is a penniless officer estranged from his good family, who is more or less forced into the marriage of convenience. Within half a day Henry and Anna are separated as Henry heads back to sea, leaving the marriage unconsummated and Anna under the protection of Lady Hamilton. But war is flowing through Europe in the shape of Napoleon's armies and soon Anna is left alone - with her faithful maid - and determines to make her way using her only skill, music. She takes up singing in an opera company. It's six turbulent years in war-torn Europe before Anna and Henry are reunited and the love story truly begins.

This is a book in two halves - the opera years and the regency romance and both have theitr appeal. Ms Smith says that the novel came about because she originally intended to novelise the journals of Betsey Wynne, and, indeed, there's lots of rich detail in here and an underpinning of authenticity. The story is a slow-burn romance despite the early marriage of convenience. Anna survives post-revolutionary France, a theatre fire, touring with the opera company which at times is nore hazardous than the Battle of Trafalgar. Possibly more terrifying still is Anna's introduction to Henry's English family and the woman who spurned him for his older brother.

Packed full of ideas, but not falling into the trap of unlikely melodrama this is an engaging read. Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I really admire Karen Traviss' writing and so the opportunity to revisit some of her early short stories in this book was not to be missed. Thirteen short stories including some classics such as 'Suitable for the Orient' and 'Does he take Blood?', and my personal favourite, 'Evidence' which is the powerful tale of how an  archaeologist interprets/misinterprets the evidence in the find of an alien burial on a remote planet, with particularly devastating consequences. All the pieces have speculative fiction content, mostly science fiction, some of it social, some of it alt-historical, some of it alien/extra-terrestrial and (unusual for Traviss) a smattering of fantasy. All of it speculative in the widest sense of the term.

Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I really *really* wanted to like this book. The blurb was superb and it sounded like immense fun, especially  "bravely going where they really shouldn't...". As it turned out there was much to recommend it, with Captain Hadrian Sawback plunging into a series of ever more improbable and impossible Trekkie-type situations and trying to sleep his way around every female member of his crew. (This guy has no concept of what constitutes sexual harassment.)  It was, however, relentless, and I found I could only read it in small chunks. It works excellently on the level of a Star Trek spoof, but less well in its own right. I know I'm not comparing apples with apples, but as Star Trek spoofs go it doesn't generate the affection that Galaxy Quest manages so effortlessly.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I'm a big fan of Pratchett's discworld and although this book is set in London in the early years of Victoria's reign, the feeling is very Ankh-Morporkian, or maybe that should be that Ankh Morpork is very much based on London. Dodger lives in the Seven Dials and makes his living as a tosher, i.e. trawling through the city's sewers, true Roman relics, for valuables that have been washed away down the city's drains (at this stage more for rain water and detritus than personal waste). He's a geezer, known by and knowing all the likely coves in his orbit and he's not above finding the odd item that the owner didn't know was lost, however, Solomon, his landlord, friend and mentor, far from being a Fagin character, strives to keep the lad on the straight and narrow.

And indeed, Dodger's not a bad lad, though he's no soft touch, except perhaps where the vulnerable are concerned. Emerging from his sewer one night he sees a scuffle, an attempted murder maybe, and rescues a young lady who has been severely beaten up, possibly a young lady of quality by the ring on her finger (which amazingly Dodger leaves there). Close by, a certain journalist named Charlie Dickens grows interested in the happening and thus begins an adventure to rival anything the Discworld has to offer. The stews of London, the Peelers, nobby gentry, Solomon's wisdom, Onan the (very) smelly dog, a lethal assassin, Benjamin Disraeli and even Queen Victoria herself are all in the mix, plus Dodger's attempts to find out who is trying to harm the young lady that he's rapidly falling for, and a plan - which doesn't go entirely... err... to plan. Dodger's wry voice is appealing and his view of his surroundings and the people who inhabit them is amusing if not laugh out loud funny. A lively read. Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Though it's getting long and drawn-out I'm sticking with A Song of Ice and Fire because I love so many of the characters (mostly the original ones that GRRM hasn't killed off yet), but can't help wondering how and when it will come to a conclusion. A Dance with Dragons runs alongside the previous book exploring (mostly) a different set of characters, but there are some frustrating cliffhangers at the end, leaving some characters in an 'are-they-alive-or-dead?' scenario and, of course, no follow-on book in sight. We're moving steadily towards a confrontation between Targaryan and Lannister with a side order of Baratheon in the struggle, but if GRRM is going to tie it all up neatly I reckon it will take at least another two books.

Characters explored include Arya, Bran, Daenerys, Jon Snow (which is perhaps the most interesting story arc going on here as he continues his relationship with the Wildlings) Cersei, Tyrion (my favourite character because he's brain, not brawn), Theon (who might just be about to redeem himself) and his sister Asha. We also get some viewpoint from Davos Seaworth, who has not quite managed to capture my interest. There are new characters, such as Quentyn Martell, who is charged with finding and marrying Dany and bringing her dragons to Dorne, and a new Targaryan player about to make a bid for Westeros. (Trying to avoid major spoilers, here.)

So, A Dance With Dragons is more of the same. If you liked the previous books in the series, you'll like this one, too, but there's no way this is a stand-alone, so don't start here. As a few other people have mentioned in reviews, A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons are really two halves of one very long book since many of the story arcs parallel each other.

Bonus happening: at last someone gets to ride a dragon.
jacey: (blue eyes)
A short adventure for the Third Doctor as he's struggling to get 'home' to Sarah Jane after suffering a fatal radiation overdose (which will cause his regeneration into the Fourth Doctor). The Tardis dumps him into the perfect English village where, it seems, his ailments are (temporarily) cured. But all is not as it should be. Daily wellness parades and a terrified queen presents this doctor with one last problem to solve. Written by Joanne Harris (Chocolat) this is an elegant little story, but shorter than I would have liked.
jacey: (blue eyes)
The story of Etta, put-upon widow and grandmother, whose generosity of spirit was abused by her domineering (wealthy) husband who left her at the mercy of her uncaring, grasping children due to the terms of his will. When Etta's home is sold out from under her and she's installed in a cramped little house close to her son and daughter-in-law, she's expected to be cook and full-time nanny for her spoiled brattish grandchildren, but the village into which she's propelled has a cast of interesting characters and--because this is, after all, a Jilly Cooper novel--romance eventually blossoms, and not only for Etta. On the way Etta rescues Mrs Wilkinson, a battered, half-starved thoroughbred filly, who turns out to be a courageous little National Hunt racer. Etta and Mrs Wilkinson save each other, and the filly is a catalyst redeeming or condemning (each according to their worth) a whole cast of characters. Or maybe that should be cariacatures--because this is, after all, a Jilly Cooper novel. It's long, complex and tremendous fun featuring a few recurring favourites such as Rupert Campbell-Black.

Cooper's immersion in the world of jump racing is complete and very believable and I absolutely trust that she has the details of the sport accurately depicted. It's well researched, but not laboured.

Jilly Cooper is not a subtle novellist--her plots are twisty, her characters larger than life--but she delivers page-turning, emotion-packed stories, perfect for a bit of self-indulgent reading when you really should be getting on with something else, but, oh, never mind. Just one more chapter.
jacey: (blue eyes)
A great insight into what makes a novel rise above the competition to 'break out'. Donald Maass is the head of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, so he knows what he's talking about. (I'll say right now that one of his younger agents, Amy Boggs, is my literary agent, but I don't know Mr Maass personally.)

This book contains some great practical advice divided into chapters on such things as: Premise; Characters; Stakes; Plots and Advanced Plot Structures, and such hard-to-pin-down elements as Theme. Well worth reading for any novellist striving to improve (and that's most of us!)

I read this and the Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook in the wriong order, but having finished this I'm now hankering to go back and take another look at the Workbook.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I confess I should have read 'Writing the Breakout Novel' before going on to the workbook. That had been my intention all along, however it was thwarted by putting down WTBN and not being able to find it again, so I picked up the workbook first. What an excellent and concise book with short, apposite chapters using a number of examples from 'breakout' books, both genre and non genre to illustrate techniques for deepening character, layering plots, finding the right first and last lines. Each chapter contains an explanation followed by an exercise.

This is not a book offering shortcuts, in fact it encourages authors to go back through their finished manuscripts and revise a lot of the things they already thought were pretty darn good -- because they can always be better. It's not offering a formula. There is no formula, there's just hard work and many, many tweaks to bump up the quality of your book. In fact there are 34 worksheets, each one asking you to consider one aspect of your novel, pull it out, tweak it and slot it back into place.

Yes it's going to take time to do all that and no, I didn't do the worksheets, but I did find points where I thought, 'I can do that right now!' I certainly applied some of the principles to the book I was just on the point of delivering to my publisher and will have it all in mind while writing the first draft of the work in progress. I hope to have time, then, to apply some of the principles in more depth as I go through the editing process.
jacey: (blue eyes)
This is half a book, the companion volume to A Dance with Dragons and therefore only has half of our beloved characters in it, those still remaining in Westeros. We don't get to see anything of what's happening north of the wall, neither do we see what's happening to Dany and her dragons. Regular viewpoint characters include: Jaime Lannister, Samwell Tarly, Arya Stark and Sansa Stark. New viewpoints go to Queen Cersei, Aeron, Asha, and Victarion Greyjoy, Brienne of Tarth, Areo Hotah, Aerys Oakheart, and Arianne Martell.

Of course this book is seriously lacking any Tyrion Lannister viewpoint and the cliffhanger we left him on at the end of A Clash of Kings is not resolved. It's almost surprising to realise that while Cersei has such a lot of on-screen time in the TV show and is instrumental in quite a lot of plot, that she's not been a viewpoint character before. Now we see her descent into instability fuelled by the loss of Joffrey, the desire to protect Tommen and the resentment that her daughter Myrcella, has been sent off to Dorne where Cersei can't protect her. Cersei makes some really bad choices, but bad choices make for good fiction.

We also get Jaime's viewpoint and having started out as the king-killer who is prepared to toss young Bran Stark out of a high window in order to protect his incestuous relationship with Cersei, we see a transformation. Martin might make a hero out of Jaime yet, a respectable one if not a flawless one.

We get to follow the two Stark girls as they each make their own (very different) way in the world, Sansa with Littlefinger finally learning a few street smarts, and Arya out on her own to learn about death and how to inflict it. At one point Arya frustratingly crosses paths with Samwell Tarly on his journey to take elderly and ailing Maester Aemon Targaryen to safety, but neither recognises the other. That's two of Jon Snow's siblings Sam has met without being able to let Jon know they are still alive.

Through Brienne of Tarth's wanderings across war-torn Westeros in search of Sansa we get to see the effect of the War of the Five Kings on the people and the countryside. Sadly we lose all element of tension in Brienne's quest because we know she's looking in all the wrong places.

There's a subplot about the throne of the Iron Islands which honestly didn't excite me, but I'm prepared to concede this may well weave into other plot strands later.

Altogether, while not my favourite book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, it's certainly still a must-read. I've only got A Dance with Dragons to read now and then, like many longstanding fans, I'll be eagerly waiting for George to finish the next one.
jacey: (blue eyes)
In the third outing for Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen the bondsmages finally catch up with them, but not in a way Locke was expecting. Instead of instant death he finds that the immediate problem he was left with at the end of the second Gentlemen Bastards book is solved by none other than the mother of his old enemy The Falconer.

Much against their will, Locke and Jean are hired to fix an election in Karthain to the benefit of one faction of bondsmages. There are rules. They have funds, which they must spend or lose, and they are to stop at outright murder. All other dirty tricks are allowed.

There is a problem, however. There always is when Locke's around. The opposing faction has hired Sabetha, Locke's lost love, previously mentioned, but never met. Sabetha, like Locke and Jean, was brought up as a Gentleman Bastard by Father Chains. She has all of Locke and Jean's skills and a streak of utter ruthlessness. What's more she's not tongue tied and helpless in Locke's presence as he is in hers.

It's an interesting situation. While Sabetha gets the jump on them, initially, Locke is vividly reminded of their shared past and so we get two stories: the election and the rekindling of Locke and Sabetha's relationship, and the story of their childhood and the first flowering of shared passion.

And who wins the election in the end? You'll have to read the book to find out, but suffice it to say there's bound to be another book – which is good news.

Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Breq was a space ship, the Justice of Toren, equipped with enough power to destroy planets and enough ancillaries to invade and conquer 'uncivilised' worlds in Radch 'annexations', however now she's just Breq, human (more or less) and alone despite her memories. She's the last surviving ancillary (corpse soldier) of the One Esk division, of Justice of Toren, and she has a self-imposed mission.

There are two stories here, the one happening in the now, and the backstory that led up to it. In one Breq is alone, in the other, she's an omnicient AI running a ship full of ancillaries and human officers.

The action opens on an icy planet when Breq, in pursuit of an artefact she needs to complete her mission, comes across Seivarden, once a lieutenant on Justice of Toren a thousand years before. Old habits die hard and without really justifying it as an act of kindness Breq rescues Seivarden and ends up acting as a nursemaid. Seivarden is a recovering junkie, driven to dark places after jumping the intervening millennium in cryo-stasis and waking up in a universe that seems to make no sense.

Breq and Seivarden hardly seem to like each other, but their paths intertwine, at first almost accidentally and then with growing reliance.

To be honest the beginning seemed a bit slow because there are so many ideas in here and the set up requires an understanding of the way all Justice of Toren's ancillaries are a part of the central ship's intelligence, each one fully aware of the whole. But once I got over the initial strangeness I found that Leckie does a marvellous job of writing this without making it too confusing for the reader. One Esk comprises twenty linked individuals and each one is referred to as I, but it works.

Pronouns are confusing too, at first. Everyone is referred to as she, whether they have a curvy or straight physique, and you get very few clues as to what gender individuals are, which actually works well in this context. Breq has problems with pronouns in the non-Radch worlds because she can't get the hang of gendered pronouns and sometimes makes the wrong call.

As an adjunct of an AI you'd expect Breq to have no emotions, and, indeed, she can and does carry out instructions from her superior officers even if that means going against her personal feelings. It's one of these actions that she's forced to carry out that drives the plot and we do discover that Breq has feelings, she just doesn't express them in quite the same way as we might expect.

This is a book with big ideas, that doesn't sacrifice characterisation for ideas and though Breq's future seems inevitable, we find that there are choices which depend on personalities as well as logic.

Intelligent, thoughtful, complex and engaging, this is one of those books that you end up thinking about long after you've read the last page and closed the volume. It deserves all the awards it's up for.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I don't read comics, I have some difficulty identifying characters from the drawings – whether that's a fault in the artwork or a fault in my perception is a moot point. However I'm a Firefly fan and a Joss Whedon fan and this full colour hardback seems to be the only way to get this story, so I splashed out. It's a beautifully presented with extras such as the pre-production memo for Serenity (the movie). And I can more or less tell which character is which, so a win for the illustrator, Will Conrad.

The story bridges the gap between the last episode of the Firefly TV series and the beginning of Serenity, the movie. It sees the return of Agent Dobson, with a grudge, and the Hands of Blue. It leads up to the departure of Inara and Shepherd Book and leads into the (unnamed) agent who becomes the antagonist in the movie. The story is hardly complete in itself, just a brief episode in the lives of Serenity's crew, but it does fill a hole – and anything Firefly is fine by me.

NHot a good starting point for Firefly, however, so if you haven't bought the boxed set TV series (and why not?), doo yourself a massive favour and  buy it now. Watch the TV series, watch the movie and then fill in the gap with this.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I really enjoyed the first Gentleman Bastards book, The Lies of Locke Lamora. This one picks up where that one left off – though some of the story is told in flashback and you gradually piece together everything that's happened. Locke and Jean are out on their own, exiled from Camorr, bitterly missing dead comrades, running a major con against the powerful owner of what appears to be a mega-casino, a heavily-guarded elderglass tower full of many ways to part fools and their money. The scam is almost complete, but then fate and politics intervene in equal measures. Repercussions from their clash with the evil bondsmage, The Falconer, in the first book start to catch up with them, while the ruler of the city decides that they are the perfect people to go out and stir up a pirate rebellion on his behalf, and he takes drastic measures to ensure their compliance. Scam collapses in on scam and Locke and Jean are all at sea – in more ways than one.

Scott Lynch is an author not afraid to be cruel to his characters. Both Locke and Jean are put through the mill, physically and emotionally and the ending, while a win of sorts, is bittersweet as it leaves them in a precarious place ready for the next book, Republic of Thieves, which, of course, I had to buy for my Kindle immediately.
jacey: (blue eyes)
All the fuss about the book passed me by, which is a pity because this is excellent. Now I'm torn... do I read the other two books in the trilogy first or wait for the movies and read the books afterwards? The movie was pretty faithful to the book, though the book adds a little clarity to the reasons behind some of the motivation and decisions taken.

Direct comparisons with the Hunger Games are going to be difficult to avoid, you only need to check out the reviews that say: move over Katniss and make way for Tris. Well, in a way it's a fair comment, but there's more going on her than a knock down-drag out fight to the bloody and bitter end. Beatrice (Tris) is a member of Abnegation, one of the five factions of a future dystopian Chicago a hundred years or more after some unnamed war. Everyone is shoehorned into one of the five factions which are based on their signature character trait. Abnegation are selfless and therefore the governing faction. Dauntless are brave; Erudite are intelligent; Candor speak the truth, and Amity are peaceful. Those who don't fit are factionless, i.e. homeless, jobless, worthless street-people.

But the Divergent don't fit either. They are a little bit of everything and as such regarded as dangerous, maybe because they have the capability to do a little joined-up thinking. Anyone found to be Divergent is likely to end up dead.

When tested at 16, Tris doesn't fit into any one faction and, warned to keep that information to herself, chooses Dauntless over her birth faction of Abnegation, thus beginning a gruelling training programme to learn how to be brave, physically and mentally. It's difficult, but she eventually makes the grade due to her own efforts and the tough-love attitude of her instructor, Four.

But that's only part of the story. Erudite is plotting to overthrow Abnegation and a smear campaign is followed by a coup which Tris must thwart to prevent her family being murdered and her friends unwittingly becoming murderers.

This includes elements of a love story (though it's not really a romance) and political intrigue while exploring the tropes of identity, destiny and self-determination. It's a rights of passage story with some tightly written action set-pieces and some interesting character studies. Four, as the love-interest, has secrets that are only gradually revealed.

It's written in first person present, which actually works in this case.  Tris at times seems older than sixteen and Four seems way older than eighteen. More like eighteen going on twenty-eight. I look forward to seeing how both characters develop in the next book.

jacey: (blue eyes)
Life is never dull when VW mechanic and coyote shapechanger Mercy Thompson's around. Now Mercy Thompson-Hauptman after marrying the Alpha of the Tri-Cities werewolf pack, she is still not getting her happy-ever-after, though by and large it's not her fault. This time Adam's ex-wife, Christy, comes back on the scene, fleeing for her life from an ex-boyfriend turmned stalker who [spoiler] turns out to be not only supernatural but also almost invincible.

The invincible enemy, however, is not Mercy's real problem. Adam's ex is a real piece of work who undermines Mercy's position in the pack at every available opportunity and plainly wants Adam back. And as if that wasn't enough the son of Lugh wants his magic walking stick back, but Mercy gave it to Coyote who, as usual, is proving elusive and trickster-ish.

Oh yeah, and Mercy's got a brother, kinda, sorta...

Another great outing in Patricia Briggs' excellent werewolf series. Urban fantasy at its best with not only werewolves but coyote shape-changers, vampires, fae and... that stalker. I just dropped everything to read this as soon as it arrived and I was not disappointed.
jacey: (blue eyes)
There are books on writing and there are Books On Writing. This is one of the latter. It would be tempting to say: if you only read one book on writing make it this one, but - hey - I haven't read them all.

This is not for the beginner, it's for those who already have a grasp of the basics and probably it helps if you've already completed at least one novel. This book doesn't tell you how to write, or even how to write a novel, but it does tell you how to write a BETTER novel. The cover says it offers 'passion purpose and techniques to make your novel great' and largely I think it delivers on that promise.

It talks about character, pivotal scenes, voice, verisimilitude, humour and tension as well as that all important sense of place that comes with great world-building - but not just boring old description, rather it concentrates on seeing the world through the eyes of your characters, imbuing description with meaning. And finally it talks about the fire in fiction, weaving your passion into your words.

There are exercises at the end of each section. If you have a piece of writing you're working on, you can even use this as an instant editing tool.

Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
A gritty, smelly, enthralling original which races around a hidden version of London introducing an assortment of bizarre nonhuman characters here in a supporting role from the pavement priests (living statues entombed in marble) and the street-lamp dancers (the orange and the white forever rivals), to the nursemaid/teacher composed entirely of rubbish, rats and maggots. And then there's the villainous Reach – the Crane King, his ever growing menace lurking in his enclave at St Paul's.

A book of monsters, street-magic and miracles, where wild train spirits menace unlucky pedestrians and a tarmac-grey boy, Filius Viae, feral crown-prince of this London, is all that stands between Reach and the memory of his long-absent mother, London's goddess, Mater Viae.

Wildcat graffiti artist, Beth Bradley, betrayed by her best friend, Pen, after an incident at school and let down by her severely depressed widowed father, goes on the run, befriends a feral ghost train and meets the City's Son, Filius with whom she has more in common that with her own family and friends. But Fil has a problem. His goddess mother hasn't been seen since he was born and without her influence to keep Reach in his place the Crane King is expanding his territory and on the hunt for Filius.

Beth throws in her lot with Fil, but things get a lot more complicated when Pen and Beth's dad get involved as well.

April 2019

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