Embers of War – Review

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Published by Titan on 20th February.

Ever since I heard Gareth reading from this book I’ve been waiting for it to come out. I was very lucky to receive an ARC from Titan before publication.

He’s given himself a difficult task here – a multi 1st person POV (at least 6 narrative voices), including the ship Trouble Dog and an alien called Nod. It’s worth noting that this is the first book in a trilogy – so has the added complication of giving enough of the universe away to be interesting but not too much so that you don’t feel you want to explore more.

There is a fabulous conceit here that an ancient alien civilisation carved an entire solar system (called the Gallery) into planet-sized sculptures that have since, in the absence of any knowledge of their true function, become a tourist destination.

When a starliner visiting the Gallery is shot down with acclaimed war poet Ona Sudak on board the Trouble Dog, a reclamation vessel, is sent to provide aid. We follow Sal Konstanz and her crew as they dash across the universe on a mission of mercy.

This is a space opera that the author has tackled with gusto and evident enjoyment. He’s very good at keeping you turning the pages and I predict that this will be a very popular series.

What’s happening

One month into 2018 and already time seems to be flying past. I’ve been working on Seven Deadly Swords – responding to the latest edit, and that’s coming along. I’ve also been writing the first draft of Certainty of Dust and writing a few short stories – some speculatively, some in response to requests. I think I’ll have more published this year than last but at this point I am standing at the bottom of a mountain of words that is daunting to climb…

I have already launched one book this year: The Hotwells Horror & Other Stories –

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This volume pays tribute to the memory and talent of David J Rodger, presenting a number of his short stories alongside new stories by friends and admirers; tales we believe would have raised a crooked smile

All the proceeds from the sales of this book will go to the charity Mind.

Talking about charity I have a story in another charity anthology, Voices Along the Road, which will be launched at Weston-Super-Mare Literature festival on 23rd February. Details on Facebook here:

Also in February is a Small Press Big Stories event at Forbidden Planet on 24th where you can come and meet the authors of many small press books, buy their books and get things signed. On the same day, just around the corner in Foyles, is an SFX event which if you’re clever about timings you could also do. I’ll be attempting to appear at both – one in my capacity as a forthcoming Grimbold author and the other with my LitFest hat on.

Further afield and a few months away is Llandeilo Litfest where I’ll be appearing alongside the Bristol Climate Writers on Sunday April 29th. More details of that one when I get them.

I’m hoping to get a few short stories published this year and be in a few anthologies but time to work on shorts is tight whilst there is still substantial amounts to do on both novels.

 

Review Memento Mori

As discussed in other blog posts Birlinn are releasing all of Muriel Sparks’s novels this year on the hundreth anniversary of her birth and they sent me the first 4 for review, as well as Appointment in Arezzo, a new biography.

Next up for review is Memento Mori

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Described by David Lodge as ‘her first masterpiece’, Memento Mori opens with a telephone call and the words ‘Remember you must die’. Over several months, a circle of elderly men and women receive similar calls and everyone becomes a suspect. As the investigating police inspector muses: ‘Death, when it approaches, ought not to take one by surprise. It should be part of the full expectancy of life. Without an ever-present sense of death, life is insipid. You might as well live on the whites of eggs.’ While immersed in the indignities of old age, dementia and death, this novel is both profoundly compassionate and entertaining.

This is one of the 22 novels written by Muriel Spark in her lifetime. All are being published by Polygon in hardback Centenary Editions between November 2017 and September 2018.

This gives you an overiew of a lost world, that of being old-aged in the 1950’s as Sparks’s cast of characters are a bunch of septagenarians (and older). The plot device of the mystery calls is the thread that is meant to draw you through the book, as per the murder in Robinson.

For me this one didn’t work quite so well, as the characters just didn’t grab me as well as those in the first two books. Although there is plenty of Sparks’s ascerbic wit the novel somehow felt more dated than the first two. I’m not sure why this is.

It is full of great lines though like:

“Being over seventy is like being engaged in a war. All our friends are going or gone and we survive amongst the dead and the dying as on a battlefield.”

or

“Mrs. Anthony knew instinctively that Mrs. Pettigrew was a kindly woman. Her instinct was wrong.”

Apparently Sparks had to look after an ailing grandmother and this gave her lots of material for the book. It is unflinching in its depiction of the vicissitudes of growing old and post-war anxieties about class and death. As such it’s an odd little book and it’s difficult, at this remove, to see what a lot of the fuss is about – like it is hard for me to understand exactly what was so scandalous about putting washing out on a non-prescribed day of the week…

My least favourite of the books so far. But still an entertaining read.

Next up is The Ballad of Peckham Rye

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Book Review – Robinson by Muriel Spark

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Book Two of the Year of Muriel Spark. I was sent 4 Muriel Spark books by Berlinn as part of a Year of Muriel Spark. I actually read this last year but have only just got round to reviewing it.

Bound for the Azores, a plane crashes onto an isolated island somewhere in the North Atlantic. January Marlow is one of the three survivors – and the only woman. She wakes to find herself being cared for by Miles Mary Robinson, the island’s reclusive owner and bibliophile. Muriel Spark’s second novel is a vivid tale of manipulation, sexual tension and – possibly – murder.

This is one of the 22 novels written by Muriel Spark in her lifetime. All are being published by Polygon in hardback Centenary Editions between November 2017 and September 2018.

This is an odd little book. I enjoyed it more than The Comforters although it seems to get some bad reviews in various places. I guess that setting the book up to be a mystery doesn’t help, as mystery readers will find that it isn’t one that conforms to the tropes of mystery writing.

Obviously it is meant to echo Robinson Crusoe (or perhaps Swiss Family Robinson) and pre-GPS, pre-globalisation it is easier to strand your characters on a remote island and have them await rescue for many months than in the modern day. But again the castaway element, although it provides the lead character some sense of cabin fever also seems to not be the point of the story either.

The development of character, and the relationships between them. Especially the contrast between superstition and Catholocism (Spark was a Catholic convert) is the main driver of the plot. The plucky female alone on an island of men holds her own, and comes out on top generally, which is nice.

There’s lots to like here but I feel that later works will hold up better. Talking of which it’s time to start book 3: Memento Mori

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Booklanche!

If you’ve followed along you’ll have seen that I read 200 odd books last year and hardly dented the TBR (To Be Read mountain). This is because I am a bookaholic. I see a book I’d like to read one day and my palms start sweating and I must have it – even though I have run out of space on my shelf of books that I haven’t yet read.

January is no different.

So far.

I did quite well at Christmas, didn’t add too many books to the list. Then my birthday happened, and I was taken to Hay-on-Wye and did I mention the sweaty palms?

That little spree, birthday gifts plus being let loose in 2nd hand booktown, added over twenty books to the pile (22 to be exact).

Twenty may not sound too many (I mean I read ten times that many last year) but that’s in the first week of 2018. My aim this year, as I’ll probably read less (as I have two books to deliver to my publishers) is that I’ll read more books than I buy this year. And I’m already at 5 books read which means I stand at -17. Which at 2017 rates is still more than I read in a month some months:

January 16
February 17
March 15
April 22
May 36
June 18
July 22
August 9
September 20
October 20
November 13
December 13

(I don’t know what happened in May – I think I may have travelled a lot with work which means burning through books on trains and planes)

My other aim this year is to at least clear the hardbacks from the TBR – all 31 of them. And, of course, I aim to beat my discoverability challenge totals from last year.

Anyhow, back to the writing.

 

 

2018 – Book One: The Hotwells Horror & Other Stories

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David J Rodger was a Bristol based author that I did my first BristolCon Fringe with. When he sadly passed away we were planning an anthology of mine, his and Thomas David Parker’s work. When he died I mooted the idea at his funeral that myself and Tom should carry on and do a book in his honour. This is that book (it wouldn’t have happened without a new third member – Chris Halliday).

The book pays tribute to the memory and talent of David, presenting a number of his short stories alongside new stories by friends and admirers, tales we believe would have raised a crooked smile.

All proceeds from the sale of the book go to Mind

Bristol Mind aims to promote a positive view of mental health and provide services that are accessible, relevant and empowering to the people using them. Our services aim to contribute to mental and emotional wellbeing and to reduce stigma and discrimination.

There will be a book launch on Saturday 13th January at the Golden Guinea and I hope to see you there. If you’re on Facebook let us know youre coming here

If you aren’t in Bristol, or can’t make it you can buy an eBook on Amazon. The paperback will be for sale there very soon too.

End of year round up -Reading

I’ve done so little writing this year (but a lot of editing) that I find that I’ve caught up slightly on my reading. In 2016 for comparison I read 90 books in total – 9 were rated Brilliant, 9 were unfinished (I always read at least 50 pages before deciding to ditch a book) 15 were written by women, 17 were ARCs, 21 were eBooks and 51 were bought in 2016.

2017 Stats:

totals

To explain the ratings:

Unfinished is self-explanatory, life is too short for books you can’t get on with, 50 page rule applies and then on the discard pile it goes

Average is a rating for books that are just that, an average of the genre, not a book I’d recommend

Good is a rating for books I enjoyed and would happily tell people I enjoyed

Books rated Brilliant are ones that I think have a certain spark that sets them apart, ones that really chimed for me at the point of reading or ones I think everyone should read. I’ll come back to those books at the end and tell you what really shone for me this year.

You can already see that I read twice as much this year (although a larger % of Unfinished books)

by gender

This year 26% by women compared to last year’s 16% so better but still woeful – a lot of the books on the TBR (see next stat) are by men, that is slowly changing as I buy more women writers.

TBR

Acquired means that I either bought the book, was given it outside of birthday/Xmas or grabbed it as a freebie at a Con.

ARCs are books I’m sent by the publisher to review

I read more off the TBR (To Be Read – books bought prior to 2017) than new shiny books -that’s an improvement on previous years.

category

I read a lot less Graphic Novels this year, I’m not sure why -maybe I’ve just caught up on the many series and standalones? I used to read 1 Non-Fiction for every 3 Fiction books. As my own writing progresses this seems to be reversing, if you count the short stories then Non-Fiction is only just behind Fiction.

format

The 1 multimedia book I “read” was ‘It must have been dark by then‘ a book/audio/walk/physical encounter. This was fascinating and if you have the chance to experience it you really should.

I read more books in 2017 than 2016 but yet read fewer eBooks, not sure why.

I won’t do a breakdown by month except to note that I read 36 books in May and only 9 in August. No I don’t know why – I expect that August was busy and I was away at a few cons and May I was procrastinating from editing and writing…

nationality

I read books by authors of 25 different nationalities (not all are shown on this graph), with the majority being from the UK or USA with the next largest category being European countries. This is not a surprise.

So about those Brilliant books. No spoilers from me – just go read them.

missives

The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley

book thief

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

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Shane by Jack Schaefer

ode

The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry

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City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett (although less enjoyable than the first two still well worth a read)

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Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

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The Lst Days of Jack Sparks by Jason Arnopp (being made into a film by Ron Howard which should be good)

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Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer (this was a second read for me and if anything it was better second time round – this time I used the additional material on the website. I hear there’s a new verson coming too)

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How to Build a Universe by Brian Cox and Robin Ince – I listened to the audiobook which I think added a whole new dimension (no pun intended) to the book. Not sure it would have been as good as a straight read…

And that’s it. 2017 in a nutshell. In 2018 I really should read a lot less and write a lot more!

May 2018 bring you all the books you deserve to read.