Monday, 29 April 2013

Hope's Reign

Selina Fenech is one of my favourite creative minds of today. Her fantasy artwork first captivated and inspired me at age 12, and now almost a decade later I still follow her endeavours. So I was so excited when, a few years ago, she announced her debut fantasy novel, Memory's Wake. I read it as soon as it was released and it remains one of the best indie books I've ever had the pleasure of falling into.
The sequel, Hope's Reign, is due out in early May, and I've got butterflies again - I really can't wait to read it! The cover was revealed today and all I can say is WOW. As with Memory's Wake, Selina's magical artwork graces the outside, and I'm looking forward to the new batch of illustrations that will be inside! There's also a blog tour of Memory's Wake, and a giveaway going on for the release - check out the link below to see what's on offer!
Hope's Reign
10TH MAY 2013

Born in 1981 to Australian and Maltese parents, Selina lives in Australia with her husband, an unnamed cat, and a lorikeet who’s far too clever. During her life Selina has found ancient Roman treasure, survived cancer, had knights joust at her wedding, been mugged for doughnuts and eaten every bizarre and wonderful food put in front of her. And now, she’s also written and published a novel.

It’s an undeniable truth that Selina Fenech has been lost to the realms of fantasy since she first laid hands on books. Faced with overwhelming heartache that our own world wasn’t so full of magic and adventure, Selina did the only thing she could. She began creating her own worlds of magic by painting and writing.

Then one day, the other children told her that books weren’t cool. Selina turned away from books and writing and submerged herself in her visual art. She became a successful fantasy illustrator, supporting herself with sales of her art that now have a worldwide following. Australian readers will recognize Selina’s fairy and fantasy artwork from bookmarks available in most major Australian bookstores. But the desire to tell stories remained. Because books are cool. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.




Sunday, 28 April 2013

Review: Blood & Ice by Robert Masello

4 / 5 STARS
In this haunting and suspenseful thriller, Robert Masello delivers an adventure that spans continents and centuries—a spellbinding story that ranges from Victorian England to a remote antarctic research station, where an ancient glacier yields a shocking prize it has held captive for nearly two hundred years….
Journalist Michael Wilde—his world recently shattered by tragedy—hopes that a monthlong assignment to the South Pole will give him a new lease on life. Here, in the most inhospitable place on earth, he is simply looking to find solace . . . until, on a routine dive in to the polar sea, he unexpectedly finds something else entirely: a young man and woman, bound with chains and sealed forever in a block of ice. Beside them a chest filled with a strange, and sinister, cargo.

Now, in a bleak but breathtaking world of shimmering icebergs, deep blue crevasses, and never-ending sun, Wilde must unravel the mystery of this doomed couple. Were they the innocent victims of fear and superstition—or were they something far darker? His search will lead from the barracks and battlefields of the Crimean War to the unexplored depths of the Antarctic Ocean, from the ill-fated charge of the Light Brigade to an age-old curse that survives to this day.

As the ice around the murdered lovers begins to melt, Wilde will have to grapple with a miracle—or a nightmare—in the making. For what is dead, it turns out, may not be gone. And here, at the very end of the known world, there’s nowhere to hide and no place left for the living to run.
I first read Blood & Ice last year in more-or-less one sitting, and recently re-read it. And I have to say that I enjoyed it about as much as the first time. It's one of those stories that seems to have either a beginning that's way too long or an ending that's way too rushed, given the overall length of the book itself. This is a fairly sizeable novel - I'm quite a fast reader but it still took me a while to finish. It's got its share of plot holes and loose threads as well. However, saying that, it's also one of those stories that, despite its shortcomings, you can still enjoy it. If you're interested in the angles it takes.

What drew me initially to pick up this book is the beautiful cover image, but when I turned it over to look at the blurb, I realised that the things it was about were all right up my street. There was the Victorian era and Crimean War, polar environments, marine biology, plus a couple of vampires. That's what I mean about being interested in the angles - the subjects of this book, which I just mentioned, are things I love reading about, be it fiction or non-fiction. A couple of the more science-based points are things which I even studied for my BSc and MSc degrees, so I could really get stuck in with the level of descriptive detail the book reaches. You get a very vivid idea of how scuba divers manage to work underneath the polar ice cap; the grandeur and excitement of a day at a 19th century horse race. However, to someone not as interested in these subjects, I can admit they may seem a little overwhelming.

If this book is picked up purely for the vampire aspect, I can predict disappointment, because so much of the story relies on other things. To me, having read many vampire stories, it was like a breath of fresh air to find something that wasn't ripping off either pure horror or pure romance. I wouldn't say it was a perfect balance of the two, but there were certainly an acceptable amount of both. The vampires don't really make a proper appearance as undead blood-drinkers until you've gotten through a few hundred pages, and even then it doesn't turn into a full-blown scenario. In some places, it almost felt like the idea of vampires was there for convenience and to add an interesting paranormal dash, into what is essentially a half historical-fiction and half science-based story. The background to the vampire 'source' is very sketchy and not really explained, which I found disappointing. But even though these first vampires are only in the book for an incredibly short time, what little I read of them I found somewhat intriguing, because of the way they're presented as scavenging animals rather than the suave coolness which seems to be the modern stereotype.

What I did really enjoy though was the way the two parts of the story run alongside each other for the first half of the book, until the time when they both clash. One moment we're in present day Antarctica with a group of marine scientists; the next we're in Victorian London or Crimea. It's done, for the most part, over a couple of chapters per timeline, so it doesn't get too dizzying jumping from one to the other. Each narrative gives enough time to get to know its characters, and although some are a little two-dimensional, others are fleshed out well. One of the defining features of Blood & Ice that I remember is the very interesting and complicated relationship between our Victorian couple, Sinclair and Eleanor. Their introdiction in the prologue is mesmerising, and watching the two of them meet and change throughout the book really stuck with me. If you strip away all the sometimes-stifling detail and ignore the slow parts, the way Sinclair and Eleanor work is the centre of the story for me.

So, to sum up, Blood & Ice isn't the best vampire/science/historical book I've read, but it's far from being the worst, either. I'd read it again, just not for a while, because all the dust and loose threads need to settle.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Staccato in Minnesota and Missouri... and back to work for me!

It feels so good to be able to say that at last! My spend-loads-of-hours-researching stage is drawing to a close and beginning to melt into the type-until-the-keyboard-is-worn-out stage. I haven't done any proper writing since last autumn, so now I've started work on the first draft of a new novel, it's such a great feeling. Anyone would think I'm a junkie for writing or something! Well, some folks need coffee; I need words. But chocolate is always welcome too, of course!
Anyway, while I'm here, I just wanted to throw out a word to anyone who's near Elk River, Minnesota. Staccato Publishing's very own Jacinta Maree has flown all the way over from Australia, and both she and HK Savage will be at Reading Frenzy Bookshop on Tuesday evening! If you like the sound of meeting them, make sure you check out the website by clicking on the link below! Tickets are essential but they only cost $10 so it's definitely worth it!
And, if you can't get to Elk River, check out the RT  Booklovers Convention happening at the Sheraton Hotel in Kansas City, Missouri from 1-5 May! Staccato Publishing will be there; you can meet HK Savage and Jacinta Maree, and there will be a load of goodies from the other authors too!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Anglesey, and an alien planet!

Well, it’s been a very interesting and tiring week for me! I’ve been away on a field trip with university and haven’t really stopped to rest since Monday morning. I spent four days out on Anglesey – for everyone who doesn’t really know northern Britain, Anglesey is an island at the most north-westerly point of Wales. I’ve been going there to do field work since I was 14, but I think this trip was probably the last time I’ll do it. So, with that in mind, it was great to go back to so many sites I’ve studied over the years for one final trip down memory lane!
The days were interesting, to say the least! In four days, we visited a forest, salt marsh, sand dune system, wetland, rocky beach, limestone pavements, a Bronze Age settlement, and heathland. We also went to an abandoned mine, where the water bodies are so contaminated they are almost pure acid. And on basically every occasion, we were blown all over the place by gale-force winds. On the last night, the wind was so bad, we even lost power in our hostel and couldn’t get much work done – all that we did manage was done by torchlight!
Anyway, I’m back now and did a presentation today to wrap up all the work. I’m very tempted to just go away and sleep it all off because it’s been a VERY tough week! But I have an awful lot to do and I’d rather get all that out of the way before I let myself relax. Otherwise I know it will be an even bigger chore to motivate myself again! But at least now I get to stay inside until these gales blow themselves away... I just hope there will still be some trees left in the north west by the end of it!
I tried to take photos of everywhere I could – the only day I refused to risk my camera was on beach/salt marsh/wetland day, as we had an evil combination of wind and horizontal rain! But to make up for it, there’s a filming location that’s been used in Planet of the Apes and Doctor Who – no points for guessing which one!
Din Lligwy: bronze age settlement
Newborough Forest
Parys Mountain: abandoned copper mine
Anglesey Geopark rock clock
South Stack, Holy Island
Holyhead Mountain, Holy Island
Plas Lligwy

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Blindsighted Wanderer book trailer

The first video is finally up on my Youtube account: the book trailer for Blindsighted Wanderer!
Overall it took me roughly nine hours to make - the video itself wasn't too tough, but a few weeks ago I created three new artworks especially for the trailer, which were quite time consuming! I'm very happy with the result though and now I can share it with all of you!
Hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

A little update

Hi, everyone,

I just wanted to share a bit of news. It’s nothing scary but it will probably limit how much time I spend online. It’s one of the reasons why I haven’t been doing that much for a few weeks anyway, but now I can actually put a name to things at last!

I’ve had trouble with the tendons in my right wrist for nearly three years now – I have absolutely no idea how I damaged them, but every now and then it gets very painful and I need to strap my wrist up so it can’t be bent or twisted. It’s annoying but I got on with it. A few days before Easter I noticed a lump just under the heel of my palm and went to the doctor to get it checked out. It’s a small ganglion cyst, something that can be caused by excessive repetitive strain – which makes sense because of the amount of stuff I use my right hand for. If I’m not typing a story I’m typing some assignment, or drawing, or photomanipulating, shooting arrows, practising karate, writing in general, randomly climbing trees...

In order for the tendon to heal I need to not use my right hand if I can help it, which means – surprise, surprise! – no excessive, repetitive movement! So all those things I love doing are either off-limits or left-hand-only, at least for a while. Hopefully if I can rest it well enough, the cyst will go away by itself; and I’d rather that than it get larger and need surgery!

So, like I said, nothing scary or serious but it means I’m going to limit the amount of time I spend online, and try to stick to typing with my left hand. At least after a few weeks/months of this I’ll probably be more-or-less ambidextrous!

Hope everyone’s having a good week!

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Charity book auction for Autism Awareness

Hi, everyone!
I just wanted to spread the word about a wonderful cause that's going on throughout the month of April. My good friend Tammy from Tam's Two Cents has organised a charity auction in order to help raise money for Autism Awareness. This is a charity which helps to privide support and better public services for all sufferers of autism and Asperger's syndrome, as well as their families.
There is a lot of stuff up for grabs in the auction, including signed paperbacks from twelve brilliant authors, posters, bookmarks, and much more!
 For more information, a complete list of available items, and to enter your bids, please visit the blog post over at Tam's Two Cents HERE . Some of the items are international and others are US/Canada only, so make sure you know you can recieve something before you bid on it! The auction is running from April 1st - 30th.
And don't forget, April is Autism Awareness Month, so even if you can't join in the bidding, you can always do something of your own to help.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Review: Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Keysen

In 1967, after a session with a psychiatrist she'd never seen before, eighteen-year-old Susanna Kaysen was put in a taxi and sent to McLean Hospital. She spent most of the next two years on the ward for teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital as renowned for its famous clientele -- Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles -- as for its progressive methods of treating those who could afford its sanctuary.

Kaysen's memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a "parallel universe" set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties. Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.
I haven’t read a story like this one for a while, but I was intrigued when I heard about it. When I first found it in my local bookshop, I was quite surprised at the length of it; at just over 100 pages it was a very quick read and I finished it in a few hours. My instinctive reaction when I picked it up was a bit flat, but I still read it with vigour and I did enjoy the story it was telling. It’s not told in chapters as such, but more like a series of short essays that either details a character, event, or theory that exists outside of the story. Keysen presents some interesting points about the nature of both the diagnosis of her illness and ‘sanity’ in general, especially in the concept of “mind vs brain” which I found particularly interesting. There is a good contrast between so many “parallel worlds” – a key yet subtle underlying theme throughout the book, which is executed very well. There is the contrast of patients with staff; hospital with outside world; sane with insane.
The parts I was a little disappointed with were concerned mainly with the length. Although I do generally prefer books that are thicker, I don’t have a problem with short ones so long as they reach a certain level of meatiness and depth. Girl, Interrupted didn’t really feel as though it hit this level for me. If there had been a little more depth to the characters, to the time devoted to the “narrative” rather than the “theories”, then I think I would have enjoyed its style more. The “theory” sections, in which Keysen questions diagnoses and perception of mental illness, is certainly enlightening. And they do work as separate from the main narrative, as I think if the two had been interspersed, it would have diluted the power of each and perhaps alienated the reader. However, there seems so much of both in such a short book, that it can be easy for the two to equally overwhelm.

Saying that, I did enjoy Girl, Interrupted and would read it again. It’s a quick read, but that’s nice in its own way: it’s been a while since I’ve had a book at the kind of length to read in one, letting the story flow naturally and not have to necessarily stop for anything that would interrupt it. I also liked how the title comes from the painting Girl, Interrupted at her Music. That’s a nice extra layer that helps to sum everything up well at the end.