Sunday, 5 March 2017

Book Review

Riven: The Hero Rebellion Book II

by Belinda Crawford

(Pub: Odyssey Books, 2016)
 


I was so pleased to be able to finally start Riven. I loved book one, Hero, and really hoped that book two would be as good.  Riven exceeded my expectations in every way.

Life for Hero has not become any easier.  She’s having to deal with the psychic fallout from her actions in book one and Fink, her ruc-pard, is having issues all of his own, which are worsened by his need to protect her.

Crawford sets a cracking pace in this novel right from the outset which doesn’t let up until the very final scene, after which you are left desperately wanting book three.  We have more of the action packed street racing and the dangers that are involved with these technological whiz kids with their exploding drones, Hero still has a criminal streak with her penchant for hacking into the colony’s computer systems, new mysteries surrounding her family’s past arise, people still want to “examine” her brain in a lab and she and Fink are turning marginally homicidal. I loved it!

What I enjoyed particularly was that this is turning out to be a series where the characters are actually growing and changing.  They face difficult emotional challenges and moral dilemmas that they struggle with.  Hero doesn’t always make the right choice; she often acts using instinctively and aggressively without thought to the consequences. Her friends are placed in a position where they must choose between friendship and what they believe is right.  There is real fallout for them regardless of the choices they make; learning to deal with this we see the characters mature and change.  I think this is one of the hallmarks of a great story.

Crawford’s world building is excellent there is just the right blend of description and action.  I found everything easy to visualise.  The tech side, at times, feels familiar for the genre, but also has its own unique twists.  (Although I found this familiarity a good thing, because it meant that I wasn’t left struggling to comprehend these aspects at the expense of reading enjoyment.)

Although this is YA novel there is so much to enjoy here regardless of what age you are.  (In fact I think advanced MG readers would enjoy this as well.)

I couldn’t put it down – five stars.


 


https://www.bookdepository.com/Riven-Belind-Crawford/9781922200662/?a_aid=TracyMJoyce
https://www.kobo.com/au/en/ebook/riven-the-hero-rebellion-book-two
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/riven-belinda-crawford/1124694092?ean=9781922200662


Friday, 3 March 2017

Learning To Live With Limitations.


I’m really in two minds about this post, you see I don’t normally talk about my health, unless it’s with good friends. I’ve certainly never written about it. It’s not something that should really be anyone else’s business and it’s not something I want to trade on, but I’m feeling guilty. Guilty because I’m late, again, with meeting my next deadline and guilty because I know there are readers wanting my next book. I’m assured by friends and fellow authors that this will help people understand the wait for my book. So here goes.


A little while ago I went into the State Library, wrote all day and got lost in my world – it was wonderful. I haven’t done enough of that in the past 12 months.

The next day, my voice was gone – reduced to a whisper. My arms and legs felt like lead weights were attached to them and concentrating was an effort, my mind was mush.  All I wanted to do was sleep.

This is not unusual – for me


Why?

Well, I have multiple auto-immune disorders. One of the hallmarks of many auto-immune disorders is fatigue - amongst other things.


Me & Bubs - The best pony ever ;-)
I’ve lived with an auto-immune illness, myasthenia gravis, since the age of three – you’d think by now I’d have my “shit” together in terms of balancing my life, but no….not yet… You see, luckily, my childhood illness went into remission. I was still supposed to be careful and not get tired, but I was determined to break free of the "cotton wool" existence I'd had to live as a child, so I lived in defiance of my limitations & was extraordinarily fortunate to be able to do so.

However, slowly the “wheels started to fall off” my dream run and my stamina began to decline, just a bit at a time. The result being that I never really thought too much about it. There was always an excuse and with each little decline you make adjustments and continue pushing on – a wonderful head in the sand mentality. 


Auto-immune disorders are insidious beasties, they creep up on you. Several more auto-immune disorders joined my merry little collective. I took my meds, listened to the doctors (kind of), adjusted my schedule (a bit) and carried on. So basically I was still in defiance and denial mode. Then, heartbreakingly, after 25 years I stopped horse riding, because by the time I’d groomed and saddled the horse I was too tired to ride.  Horses were my buddies and my relaxation.  They were my wings, my freedom and they gave an extremely shy teen the confidence to talk to people and make friends. Then they were gone - I had to move on.  Next I stopped archery. Finally I had to stop working.

One door closes and another opens – I started writing. It was the best choice I could have made and meant I was pursuing a childhood dream. Yay me! I think that without writing, at this point, I may have felt a bit miserable, but I didn’t – occasionally I was angry, but on the scale of things I’m still very lucky and anger seemed a wee bit self-indulgent. So I gave myself a good mental slap, pulled my socks up and got on with it.

2015 was the year that I was trying to do everything right. By that I mean, trying to write my next book, trying to do all the social media stuff authors are expected to do, trying to attend as many conventions with my publisher as I could, trying to do as many markets as I could with my fellow authors Belinda Crawford, Jenny Ealey and Carl Sundstrom. I had a contract, I actually had readers, I had an obligation to get things done and get a handle on EVERYTHING. (It didn’t help that I’m a tad obsessive).

I can remember being on a panel at a convention during this time and being so tired that I “zoned out” while a panellist was speaking. It became obvious that I’d not heard what was said. I apologised and explained that I was exhausted but received a damn good “stink eye” from the other panellist. (Lesson here folks is don’t f*!*ing judge.  Just because someone looks well or has no obvious disabilities don’t assume that everything is ok or easy for them.)

Anyway back to the end of 2015: In a guilt ridden panic I pushed myself to get Asena Blessed (book 2) done by the end of the year, while promoting the first book every weekend. Of course something had to give and it ended up being my health – I physically “crashed and burned.”

No more head in the sand. After a much needed lecture from my specialist, I re-prioritised things. Essentially 2016 was a year of rest and recuperation and learning to pace myself. I began to learn to ask for help from friends and accepted that I couldn’t do EVERYTHING. (My publisher is an angel. I could not have asked for a better home for my work than with Odyssey Books. I think she knew before I did that all was not well with me.)

Finally now, in 2017, I’m starting to get back to the fitness levels I had in 2015. My energetic days are starting to outweigh the days of exhaustion. I’m on the right track – I think. So, I’m prioritising the promotions I attend, and the conventions I do. If there’s a panel at the end of day, then you won’t find me on it, late nights are out. (I used to ignore this one, despite my social anxiety, because people get offended when you don’t attend things.) 

Gucci & Harrie
I've had to give up things, but throughout the course of our lives, many of us will have to give up something.  There are people in far more dire circumstances than me.  I know I'm so very lucky – I've the love and support of my husband and family, great friends and, while I may not have horses anymore, I've got two crazy dogs who are my near constant companions.  My friend, Belinda Crawford, has plans to get me back on a horse at some point – after all this time, it'll be hilarious. With a light draw weight, I might get back to archery at some point – I've got "noodle strength" arms at the moment. 

You know what? I'm just happy to go with the flow, pace myself, feel well and do what I can, but writing is at the top of the list.  Writing gives me the wings I've lost.

In the end, I guess I’m both apologising for a delay in my books, as well as asking for your patience and understanding. The books may take longer than you’d like, but they are coming and they will be worth waiting for.  


I’ve gone on more than I intended and probably bored people. I’ll have to cull this a bit.

Cheers,

Tracy


PS (Actually I had it culled nicely and thanks to Belinda's suggestions the damn thing grew longer....blame Belinda!)

I think this clip sums it up nicely:





Monday, 20 February 2017


Book Review


The Cardboard Spaceship

(To The Brave Crumbling Sky, Book One)

 

by Matthew Snee & Gregg Chirlin

(Published July, 2016 by Creativia)


When I received the review request for The Cardboard Spaceship, the author described it as “a mind-bending adventure in the style of say Theodore Sturgeon mixed with Douglas Adams. It's inspired by old pulp writers, and while humorous in parts, it is also very sentimental.” He was not wrong.

I’m not a big reader of science fiction and I have not read Theodore Sturgeon, though I have read Douglas Adams and I am aware of the style of the old pulp science fiction novels and I guess that The Cardboard Spaceship is written in this vein.  

The novel centres on a writer, Lewis Darby, nearly 40, who still lives with his mother.  In the evenings Lewis goes down into his basement, sits in a cardboard box, and pretends he is a starship commander.  

Lewis meets Jennifer, a beautiful young woman, who insists she is a fan of his work, and just wants to chat.  

The gormless, slightly love-struck, Lewis doesn’t seem to have an in-built radar for stalker types and so, naturally, his fortunes take a bizarre turn for the worse in which he discovers the veiled reality of  life on earth and the possible impending demise of both himself and the planet.  (Although to be truthful things would have been much worse for him had Jennifer not arrived.)

Jennifer, it turns out, is a space traveller, with a specific mission:  to find Lewis, save him, and enlist his help in stopping the destruction of not just earth, but the universe.

From here on out, this is a madcap adventure that I could only describe as Lewis Carroll in space.  I kept waiting for the Cheshire Cat to appear with directions or the Mad Hatter to save the day.  After my first WTF moment I just decided to adopt the same approach that I have when I watch super hero movies – I stopped thinking. 

The result – I really liked it.   
I just smiled, laughed and enjoyed what was a bizarre adventure.

My main quibbles with this story were stylistic.  At times the writing was simple and was a classic example of "telling" rather than "showing", yet at other times the story flowed very well. Therefore, some sections I raced through and some sections dragged. I was left wondering if this was a by-product of this being a collaborative effort and a poor blending of the different styles of each author.  


Over all this is an enjoyable story and could be read by the MG audience through to adults.

3 Stars.




 






Monday, 9 January 2017

Author Interview


Lauren Dawes is the Australian author of The Helheim Wolfpack Series (Half Blood, Half Truths, Half Life & Half Caste) and The Dark Series (Norse gods & dark elves)  
Both are urban fantasy with "hint of paranormal romance" and "you won’t find any friendly vampires in between the pages of her books; just blood, teeth and violence."



Was writing your dream job? 
I had a few ‘dream jobs’ as I was growing up, but I can say with absolute confidence that being a writer wasn’t one of them. It sounds strange, doesn’t it? Most people aspire to be writers all their lives, but I wasn’t one of them. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always enjoyed writing and being creative. I remember doing a piece for my ancient history class at school and I wrote it from the POV of a young Pompeiian girl. Nobody else in the class had done it that way, but I liked the idea of being fully immersed in this fictional girl’s world.

I really started writing seriously after being in the workforce for a few years. I found it a good way to escape from everyday life. I’d also started reading books for pleasure again at this point. During university, I couldn’t stomach the thought of reading another book, but once I began commuting to work, I couldn’t wait to step into 1920s Japan and read about geishas, or a fantasy land conceived in a brilliant author’s mind. The more I read, the more ideas and characters started to bubble in my mind. That, really, was when I wanted to pursue a writing career.

I actually quit my full-time job to do just that.

What is your writing routine?
At the moment, I snatch a few minutes here and there. I’m a mother to a busy two-year-old, a wife and also a self-employed editor and proofreader. I have very little time for myself, but I do try to squeeze in some writing when my daughter naps, or in the evenings. Before my daughter, I was writing whenever inspiration hit me, sometimes churning out 5000 words in an afternoon.

Whenever I do get a chance to write, though, I always have music playing. Usually it’s (embarrassingly) country music when I’m writing more romantic scenes and then more aggressive music when I’ve got some kick-ass fight scenes on the agenda.

Have you always been interested in the urban fantasy / paranormal genre? Is it your preferred genre? Can you see yourself writing in another genre?
I love the urban fantasy and paranormal genres. What appeals to me most is the seemingly normal setting of a city or suburb, and having these supernatural creatures roaming around, walking among us. Wouldn’t it be amazing to think that a werewolf or a Sidhe could be serving you coffee or packing your groceries? In my Dark Series, I really played with this idea – I have Valkyries who run a bar and club.

I’d like to try writing a dystopian novel (in fact, I have already started one), but I’m trying to finish up the final Helheim book at the moment, so maybe after that is done, I’ll tackle that.
Where did the idea for the Helheim Wolf Pack series come from? ie Did you see what was out there and knew you could do better?

I don’t want to name any names but there are a few authors out there (vampires do not sparkle) who had shot to fame with terribly written books and ridiculous movie franchises. I’ve always been a fan of Anne Rice, and with the release of Twilight, I was horrified to see that vampires had been reduced to ├╝ber-matriculating, angsty vegetarian teens.

Maybe it was egotistical of me to think I could do better, but I think I set out writing a book in an attempt to rewrite the wrongs of Twilight. I got the idea for Half Blood (the first in the Helheim Series) while out for a walk. Indi (the main character) just popped into my head, and as I walked, she developed and so did the other characters.  It took me three years, eight revisions and a number of rejections from agents and publishers to really refine her and the story, and get it to a place I liked.



What do you think makes your series different from the others in this genre?
Whenever I have an idea for a book, I try to think of ways to make it different – often by doing the complete opposite, or by putting a twist on it. In Half Blood, Indi is a half vampire/half human hybrid. Instead of being targeted by werewolves (as many might think would happen), she is actually coveted by werewolves – her blood is the only thing to allow them to survive and thrive.

Are there writing topics which are taboo for you? Anything you won’t write about?
I don’t think there are any taboo topics for me, really. I’ve written about rape, torture and sexual sadism in my books, all of which are considered ‘taboo’. More and more authors are willing to tackle these topics (and more!) and I do that in my own way too - not simply for shock value as some might use it. I use them to add new layers to my characters, to give them motive for their actions.

What is your current writing project?

I’m working on the final Helheim Wolf Pack book titled “Omega”. It’s Brax’s story and I know a lot of people have been hanging out for it.



Website       Blog      Amazon Author Page       Goodreads

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Sunday, 8 January 2017

Creating Strong Characters

This is part of a guest post I wrote for author Lauren Dawes' Blog.  
To read the full post click here: 


I was asked recently how I go about creating strong female characters.  The question took me aback, you see I don’t set out to create “strong female” characters – just diverse, believable characters of either sex.  (BTW I think characters should be “strong” regardless of gender and the term strong characters implies far more than their mere personality traits, but I’ll get to that…)



This question actually made me sit down and count the characters in my book. I had no idea how many women I’d included in Altaica and Asena Blessed.  The preponderance of female characters within my stories is most certainly due to the women around whom I grew up.  My mother was a woman capable of doing any of the farm work on our family farm that my father did, worked long hard hours and still found time for her children, despite her own exhaustion – super woman?  Yes, she was.  My grandmothers were both a huge influence on me too - their stories were far from easy and deserve their own novels.  My family is not unique.  These stories of strength, resilience, compassion and love are all around us and not just amongst women.

Let’s start talking about strong female characters? Well, what does that really mean?   Does it mean populating our writing only with female characters who are tough kick arse types?  No - of course not.  Yet too often I think the notion of strong female characters is seen only in this light.  Are these characters fun to write? You bet?  But you know what? They’d never reach the heights of popularity of characters like Katniss Everdeen, Rose Hathaway or Celaena Sardothien and Alanna of Trebond without having more substance to their characters than their astonishing combat skills.  What about characters like Hermione Granger, Scout, Hester Prynne, Jane Eyre, Anne Shirley?  (Yep I’m digging into the archives, but hey they’re all strong female characters!)  

The full post is up on author Lauren Dawes' Blog.  So if you want to read my ideas regarding: 

  • What makes a strong character?
  • Characters should be strong regardless of gender 
  • How to create convincing characters

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Book Review


Songlines

(The Sentinels of Eden, Book One)

by Carolyn Denman

(Pub: Odyssey Books, 2016)

Firstly, I must confess that I know the author, but this did not affect my review. If I had not liked the book, I simply would not have reviewed it or rated it. 

Initially, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to buy Songlines, let alone review it.  I was worried that I was going to read yet another YA novel involving angels with the usual love triangle thrown in. (Please get me a bucket I’m going to be sick!).


Yet, when I heard the author’s tagline for the book I was intrigued:

“Cherubim, the Garden of Eden, plus a flaming sword and all set on Australian sheep farm.” 

I thought, “Maybe this will be different.” 

You know what? It was - I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Songlines centres around a teenage girl, Lainie, who lives on a sheep farm with her Aunt Lily and their farmhand Harry – an aboriginal elder. Lainie’s best friend is Noah, a boy she’s known since childhood and who lives on a nearby farm. They are both in their final year of high school in the nearby town of Nalong. Lainie’s nemesis, a boy named Ben, also attends the school and his violent outbursts over the years have earned him the nickname Bane. The book opens with Lainie experiencing a troubling premonition about her aunt confronting mining surveyors on their property. Her prescience and feelings of imminent danger escalate and through them she, Noah and Bane discover that the world around them is far different than they believed and their roles in it are beyond anything they could imagine.

What I loved about this book was its characterisations and its setting. It was a delight to read a fantasy novel set in rural Australia and Denman captures what it’s like to be an Aussie kid going to school in a small country town. Having been a farm girl who went to a tiny high school in rural Victoria, these sections resonated very strongly with me and I found myself smiling as I read these passages – they ring true as do the sections depicting life on the farm.

The pacing for the novel is steady, but it doesn’t race along and one of the benefits of this is that Denman has time to develop her characters in depth and as such they are easy to relate to. Their motivations, their hopes and their angst are all explored. Though most of this is written in the first person, from Lainie’s POV, there are sections that are written in the third person from other character’s perspective and this works really well. I normally loathe reading first person stories and if I enjoy them then it’s proof of good writing. The “voice” of Lainie is a blend of naivete, farm girl practicality and confused and hurt teen, but it reads as, or rather sounds, uniquely Australian. Denman does this through clever use of the vernacular and colourful metaphors which made me smile a lot. However, this is not done to such an extent that it will prove troublesome for international readers.

Beyond the religious aspects of this tale, this is a coming of age story for all the teens involved in it and there other messages about personal freedom, environmental protection, dealing with loss and grief, facing fears, taking responsibility and ultimately embracing destiny despite the costs.

The end was satisfying and definitely made me want to see what’s next in Denman’s The Sentinels of Eden series.

4 Stars.