Saturday, 29 April 2017

#Review: A Feast For Crows


A Feast For Crows by George R R Martin




I just knew this book would get my brain in a swirl and I was so right. There were sections I loved and sections I groaned my way through.  This book is full of journeys, physical and metaphorical. Sam’s sea voyage to Braavos and beyond, Brienne’s fruitless search for Sansa, Myrcella’s trek across the Dornish desert, Arya’s ‘journey’ within the temple at Braavos.

I loved all the extra detail about Samwell’s journey to Oldtown with Maester Aemon which the TV series only skirts over. I equally loved seeing John Snow grow from a young boy consumed by uncertainty into a youthful though excellent Lord Commander of the Nights Watch. I worried for the decisions I knew this new responsibility would impose on him. But I needn’t have feared. John Snow, having seen his father’s style of command, knows that every good leader must make hard choices and he makes them despite his youth.

I confess I was a little irritated by Samwell’s constant fears but am aware that for a lot of people this is a reality of life. I suppose I keep hoping that despite his ever present anxieties he will prove to be one of John Snow’s best assets. I found Brienne’s search for Sansa equally annoying and felt as though Martin was wasting time getting to the point. Uncertainty is a keyword in Brienne’s existence and Martin hammers this point across. I can’t help feeling there could have been a better way to achieve this aim.  At the end of the book I was still disgruntled about how Brienne is led to where Martin needs her to be.

The section of journeying I most enjoyed was that of Arya’s experiences in the temple. When I watched the TV series I remember feeling dissatisfied by the disjointed aspect of these segments and wanting more information on events. The chapters in the book have fulfilled my need to know more as they spend enough time delving into Arya’s thought process. As I’ve mentioned before, I feel this is an area which film will always find difficult to replicate.

However, there are many new characters introduced into the mix in A Feast For Crows. This expansion of the plot into territories readers are not acquainted with has its down side. It took me a long while to place new characters in context with what I already feel I know well. To some degree I felt like there were too many new characters and I wasn’t entirely sure if they really needed to be a part of the story. Some sections detailing family history in order to clarify the rights of heirs I also found quite tedious. I understand the need for the clarification but just found it wearisome.


I’m looking forward to moving on to A Dance with Dragons 1 as I’m hoping it’s going to clear up much of my disgruntlement.





Friday, 21 April 2017

#Review: Equal Rites


Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett




This book deals with the fact that often a prejudice can be reinforced by the very people we assume would be fighting it. Pratchett demonstrates this through the character of Granny Weatherwax.  I’ve read some of the Tiffany Aching books in which she is remembered for her wisdom and practical kindness. So it is a great pleasure to finally meet her. I simply love Granny Weatherwax’s pragmatic no nonsense approach to life, probably because in many ways she reminds me a great deal of a less cosmopolitan version of my mother. Though my mother claimed to be feminist she sometimes perpetrated very non-feminist ideals.  Granny certainly behaves in this way and supports a system of a male dominated sphere of learning because that is how it has always been. Thankfully, Pratchett uses the character of Eskarina and her magical staff to readjust Granny Weatherwax’s views.

Introduced into the mix is the wonderfully nerdy figure of Simon the wizard apprentice. He is a character plagued by his stammer and almost constant hay fever. Despite this, he’s endearing and wonderful because he’s too intelligent for his own good. The dynamics between the wizards and Granny had me clutching my sides yet again.


As we travel to Ankh-Morpork with Eskarina, we see the comings and goings of the Disc World through her eyes and ears. Since they are the eyes and ears of a nine year old, we are made acutely aware of how strange the world is, regardless of whether it a fantasy one or not. Eskarina asks difficult questions and makes adults uncomfortable because they know their words and actions are often covered by a film of deceit or delusion.  Eskarina’s character challenges us to see who we really are and decide whether we can live with ourselves or alter our world view and be more open to what is constantly new and changing in our world. 

So now, for me, it's on to the next book in the series. Will you join me in my journey through the Disc World?




Tuesday, 11 April 2017

It's Blog’s 5th Birthday


This month my blog is 5 years old.




It seems like only yesterday my toddler was a squalling babe in arms. The exact moment of conception can be pinpointed to when I stepped into the upstairs room of a former chandelier shop on Tower Bridge Road. I believe the insemination date can be pinned down precisely to the first Saturday of April 2013. What pray tell was I doing in the upstairs room of a former chandelier shop? I was there to do an Emily Benet blogging course naturally.


You can stop looking so pleased
with yourself Emily, you devious
woman you.
 My marvellous friend Sydney Blake was meant to be there you see. Unfortunately a family crisis prevented her from attending. So I went in her place, just to take notes and eventually feedback on the ins and outs of what it takes to put a blog together.  But silver tongued Emily Benet made this blogging business all so very enticing. How could I possibly resist the allure of it?  Before I knew where I was, a seed had been planted in what turned out to be very fertile mind muck and much was now germinating. 



The blog’s first year and a bit was a ramble through the jungle of my erratic mind.  Together, the blog and I cantered through my fantasy landscape of Faetaera where one of my favourite creations, Sprax, resides.  We celebrated our first Christmas, interviewed writers and tried to understand Avoiditis Scriptoris (writer’s block to the average human being).


Sarah Pennock


As my blog-baby turned 2, I embarked on an incredible project with my artist friend Sarah Pennock and was so enthralled by how her drawings brought my words to life that the blog and I felt compelled to share them with the world in general. So we did.




By our second Christmas we had interviewed several people - including poets, shared tons of Sarah’s artwork with our readers, tried to make people understand the complex process of gift giving and had reminded our adoring public that we were not the Scrooges people made us out to be. Unlike the Queen, we were experiencing that almost extinct and rarely seen beast, Annus Fantasticus.


Shortly after toddler-blog’s 3rd birthday she began to display the tantrums so common in this age group. There was a soap box rant and grumbles about things not favoured. On my part attempts at discipline were made. A naughty step procedure was implemented and thoughts of calling Super Nanny in for extra assistance but suddenly social media was waving a red flag in our direction. A diversionary tactic was successfully employed.



By the time toddler-blog turned 4 she was becoming vocal about local.  She helped me tell the world why I love living in Herne Hill. Then she joined my cause in highlighting the shockingly short-sighted view Lambeth Council has towards Carnegie Library and libraries in Lambeth in general. It was shame on Lambeth all round and still is.



Our audience, which was initially based mainly in the UK with a few friends and family in Canada and Australia, has now moved into the US and beyond. We now average 1000 Pageviews a month. This is small potatoes in the world of blogging but I am nonetheless enormously proud of how far we’ve come since we started out at a modest 300 views a month.





To celebrate blog's 5th birthday I'm giving away FREE e-copies of Book 1 in my YA Science Fiction series. This offer is limited to 5 days from 10 - 14 April. So don't miss out.





My, toddler-blog has certainly grown. Together we’re looking forward to birthday number 6 and all the other birthdays after that. Together we’re maturing and finding out where we sit in the world.


Thank you Sydney, thank you Emily, thank you all my guest bloggers. And finally, thank you toddler-blog for letting me find my voice.




Friday, 7 April 2017

Easter Surprise




So I’m launching another book this Easter. It’s a collection of vignettes related to characters from Six Dead Men and its prequel, Palindrome. I can’t call this a collection of short stories because in truth the pieces are really a moment in various characters’ lives. As these character snapshots link the two books in The Robert Deed series, I’ve decided to call it Six Degrees.


And how exactly did this collection come about?


Well, when you write a novel, peripheral characters often ask you to tell their side of the story.  At times their voices are so loud and persistent in your head that they are hard to ignore. This was indeed the case with characters from both Six Dead Men and Palindrome. So Six Degrees was born out of this. But it also grew out of my desire to play with the short story form while trying my hand at Flash Fiction. I’ve since sent two of the stories off to Mslexia’s annual short story competition and now have nails bitten down to the quick.



In these vignettes several peripheral characters tell the reader what they think of the Deed family (mum – Rowena, Dad – Arthur, son – Robert). Sometimes the Deeds get to say their piece too. For those who have read Six Dead Men and are intrigued by the hints there in – well, if you like to be tantalised, read the vignettes I say. Be warned – there will be laughter and there will be sorrow. Tissues are optional.


There is also an inkling of things to come in Palindrome (due to be launched Easter 2018) in which we will see Robert Deed as a young boy growing up in a town a short distance from Edinburgh, Scotland.

So, when you get your copy of Six Degrees, as one of my favourite poets would say: read it wid de whole of yu eye.

Six Degrees will be available to buy through Amazon from 
Easter Monday (17 April 2017 GMT)




If you wish to become a member of my Advance Reader team with all its associated perks please contact me via the contact form in the sidebar.

Friday, 31 March 2017

The Italian Job




So, every year I set myself various challenges. This I do primarily to stop myself from getting bored and also to give myself something to do in between writing, reading, teaching and dancing.  This year, as readers of this blog will know, I’ve decided to learn Italian.

Step 1:          Come down from my crazy Christmas high which was created by spending way too much time with fantastic friends, eating great food and generally imbibing outrageous quantities of mulled spirits.

Step 2:          Run around the house screaming in panic as I realise I’ve set myself yet another insane challenge.

Step 3:          Take several deep breaths of lavender aroma therapy oil then trawl through the internet to find a site to help me complete my challenge.

There was of course Babble. I shied away – the biblical image the name invoked was too strong and made me envisage failure even before I’d begun. Then there was the very useful Foreign Office site which provides a wealth of resources but contains a lot of information about official names for foreign office staff and the types of uniform worn by the armed forces, as well as formal and informal forms of address for these particular people. I decided this was possibly not the right site for me. So I went on another search and finally found Duolingo.


Duolingo kindly informs me of my progress on a daily basis. Now, 3 months along, it tells me that my knowledge of Italian stands at 34%. I distrust the algorithm as I’m certain my knowledge is nowhere near that capacity. In my estimation it’s probably more like 25%. The hardest thing I’m having to deal with is remembering vocab. Thank heavens for the flashcards.


For some reason my brain refuses to learn question words and I’m constantly referring to my set of post-it notes. Duolingo has a system which allows you to translate from Italian to English and vice versa. I can do this fairly quickly but cheat as I can check word meanings. I'm also an ace at the multiple choice component on the site. But the minute I attempt the timed exercises I bomb out. The days of the week elude me. So far I’ve only managed to secure Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Mmmm, I wonder if that has anything to do with the fact that together they make up the weekend. I leave you to decide.



Am trying to self-test as I go, but I’m not very strict with myself. I bet my students would be a whole lot tougher on me and direct me to LEARN all that vocab I keep forgetting.



One of my favourite sentences to date involves a monkey and jam which I just know I’m going to be using a great deal when I next travel to Italy. Another tells me that a snake is eating a spider – the law of the jungle played out even in an Italian lesson. But I’ve also learnt a crucial directive in Italian and I put it to you now folks.


Leggi I miei libri.


I don’t need to say much more. As an author it is the only Italian sentence I need to communicate my desires. I confess I’m tempted to leave the lessons at this point and not bother any more. However, I plan on persisting since I’ve still got to learn how to ‘blow the bloody doors off’.





Friday, 24 March 2017

#Review: Señor Vivo & The Coca Lord


Señor Vivo & The Coca Lord by Louis de Bernières


Incredibly, I first read this book 19 years ago. The main reason I felt the need to revisit Señor Vivo & The Coca Lord is because I was recently asked who my favourite literary couple is. Anica Morena and Dionisio Vivo instantly came to mind. The first time I read this book I vividly remember reading a particularly dramatic moment while on the bus and bursting into tears. A man came over to console me and was thoroughly disgusted that my outburst was related to fictional characters. I didn’t call him a Philistine, but I thought about it.

REVIEW



It’s funny this book. The humour jumps out at you through the dialogue and descriptions of ridiculous situations at the highest levels of government. The book overflows with deep insights about human nature but more particularly, the mind-set of the villain. But lurking beneath the humour is the weight of governmental corruption and how its collusion with the villains infests every aspect of the personal including the well-being of communities.

I was devastated all over again when I saw Anica battling with her love for Dionisio against the certain knowledge that her family were in danger while she remained with him. Because I came to the book with foreknowledge I was expecting the shock and horror of the episode which changes our main character Dionisio Vivo’s naïve attitude so completely. When I first read the book the surprise of the event hit me like a bullet ripping through flesh. Now I see the mastery of the writing style – lulling the reader into a false sense of security as Dionisio unwittingly outmanoeuvres his opponent’s every move. But de Bernières slams home the point that life is not a fairy tale where our hero always beats the villain. This second reading of that one earth-shattering event in Dionisio’s life was as heartrending as it was on the first reading.  The power of it lies in the matter of fact account of what happens alongside the dramatic irony of Dionisio’s lack of knowledge.

My favourite descriptions in the book are those about daily life in the fabled city of Cochadebajo de los Gatos. I find myself wanting to move here so I can spend my days doing exactly what I love while having the opportunity to stroke the amazing black jaguars whenever I like.

During the reading of Señor Vivo & The Coca Lord I was reminded of how much I loved reading several of de Bernières’ novels so I’m planning on rereading yet another – Corelli’s Mandolin. If you have as yet not read one of Louis de Bernières’ books, I recommend that you start with this.


Friday, 17 March 2017

#Review: The Light Fantastic


The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett




The Light Fantastic is just that – light. The reading journey is an easy one with plenty of laughs along the way.  We are back with our unlikely hero Rincewind and his task of keeping the tourist Twoflower alive. As in the first book (The Colour of Magic), Twoflower makes this job an arduous one for Rincewind as he regularly finds himself in DEATH’s company. Rincewind, though shy of DEATH, often passes closer to HIM than he would like.

The Luggage, another favourite of mine, continues to feature heavily and gives excellent value for money. But now other characters enter the story to delight and entertain in a manner so very appropriate to Pratchett. I can now add Cohen The Barbarian to my list of favourite Pratchett characters. His toothless wisdom had me rolling so much in my bus seat on one particular journey that I missed my stop.

As the ‘event’ which gives this book its title gets ever closer, Pratchett intersperses paragraphs about Great A’Tuin between the action sequences. This can be a little disconcerting at first. But it serves as a reminder to the reader that something momentous is about to happen. And it does.


As I closed the cover I was left with a sense of satisfaction combined with a great need to know what else the Discworld has to offer. So I’m very glad there are 39 more books to go. Onward.