Sunday, 22 July 2018

Lev Butts Reviews Fields of Gold: The Orchid and the Rose by Jim Stephens

I'm a sucker for coming of age stories and good World War II dramas (one of my favorite WWII stories is Herman Wouks' duology The Winds of War and War and Remembrance). Jim Stephens' Fields of Gold: The Orchid and the Rose is both, and it is really well done.

The novel tells the story of Matt Weldon, a spoiled and arrogant young American who finds himself in London on the eve of war. He very soon falls for a mysterious woman he meets at a party. Shortly after this, he must decide between her and the girl from his past as the forces of history sweep them in its wake. This dilemma, played against the backdrop of the world at war, forces Matt to mature in ways he never expected, to learn the value of hard decisions, and to appreciate the effects such decisions have not only on himself, but others.

Is the story perfect? Of course not; few books are. There are places that might use a bit more editing: words that need consistent spelling, sections that tend to retell the same stories, and incidents that may seem unnecessarily gratuitous. But this, for the most part, is a matter of opinion. I found most of the scenes other reviewers deemed gratuitous to be effective attempts to establish historical touchstones, thematic parallels, or effective ambiance. Most of the retold stories are slightly different versions from other points of view, so that we generally get a new interpretation of the events on subsequent retellings.

For me, the novel has two major aspects for recommending it: Stephens is adept in his historical research, and it shows in his ability to weave a fictional story around the historical details of the 1930's and 40's. Secondly, he experiments with his points of view: some sections are told in third person, others in first, and others through letters exchanged between the main characters. (Anyone who has read my work knows I am particularly interested in how a story is told as much if not more than what the story actually is, so I appreciate a good point of view shift).

Fields of Gold: The Orchid and the Rose is available in paperback and eBook here.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Plots and Plotting written by Diana Kimpton

Plot and Plotting - How to create stories that work

Author: Diana Kimpton

Firslty a little about the author and her credentials for writing this title. Diana has been an author for almost 30 years and in that time has written more than 40 books, lots of articles and some scripts. So she has a lot of knowledge to share.

I wouldn't normally read this type of book from cover to cover, but would read a section I felt relevant to the writing issue I was struggling with at the time. However, I believe you can always learn new things. So, I decided to read from start to finish. Some elements I knew would be new whilst others would be a refresher. I'm glad I read the entire book. It's set out in clear, logical sections and written using easy and clear language. I definitely learnt new skills/ideas and have already put some of them to good use. 

For example, I've used some of the ideas in the writing classes I teach. I've also used the idea of mapping out (literally drawing a map of where my story is taking place) to help me write my latest work in progress (another collection of short stories). I was working on a chase scene and as I started to write I realised that I should follow Diana's suggestion and should draw a map to ensure the route taken made sense. This map has been so helpful that I've used it to assist me in writing all the stories in my latest work in progress and it may even make it into the book as an illustration    

A great book full of insights and ideas useful for new and experienced authors alike. 
Reviewer - Lynne Garner
Author of the following short story collections: Ten Tales of Brer Rabbit - Ten Tales of Coyote - Anansi the Trickster Spider - Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Murder by the Book by Debbie Young (reviewed by Bill Kirton)

The fact that this is a “Sophie Sayers Village Mystery” indicates from the start that the book will belong to the section of the crime genre labelled “cosy”. And yet its opening lines introduce us to two shadowy figures indulging in some far from cosy violence which results in one of them falling to his death down the village well. Thereafter, we’re introduced to a cross-section of the inhabitants of the village of Wendlebury Barrow and learn in entertaining detail of their relationships, interactions and some relatively harmless secrets. The distance between that opening violence and the minutiae of their everyday lives couldn’t be greater. It’s obviously a deliberate juxtaposition on the part of the author which, by setting the violence in a simple, unthreatening context, increases its dramatic effect and, simultaneously, the reader’s curiosity. That curiosity is sustained very cleverly throughout the book because there’s no indication until very late in the narrative of either the identity of the two people involved or the nature of the dispute which leads to the killing. Instead, the two threads of normality and violence are drawn together by an innocent and apparently unrelated celebration the villagers are planning, which eventually creates the circumstances for the killing and gradually reveals the victim and the potential motives of several of the characters with whom we’ve become familiar. As we near the climax, our suspicions are made to fall on some of these same innocents in succession before the final revelation and resolution. The writing is assured, the characters well drawn, and the various plot lines are often very funny. It’s a highly entertaining and probably addictive book – addictive because these are people with whom you’ll want to spend more time.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Best Murder in Show by Debbie Young

Best Murder in Show: A Sophie Sayers Village Mystery
Author: Debbie Young

Genre: Crim, Thriller, Mystery, Women Sleuths, Romantic Comedy

This is the first in a series of books that introduces us to our lead character, Sophie Sayers. Sophie has made a huge change in her life and moved to a village in the scenic Cotswolds. She's inherited a cottage from her great Aunt May, who was a successful writer. Sophie intends to use this opportunity and become a writer herself, but things don'ts go to plan.

Our story opens with the village carnival and a dead queen. This leaves Sophie and everyone else in the village asking questions. Was it murder? If so, who did it? Why? Almost everyone is a suspect. 

A thoroughly enjoyable read which reminded me of the TV shows Rosemary and Thyme, Agatha Raisin and Miss Marple. Today these are classed (apparently) as 'cozy crime' or 'cozy mysteries' due to the lack of explosions, car chases and gratuitous violence. It's a well written book which contains some lovely descriptive writing and  strong characters. Some of which I'm sure most of us will recognise in some form or another from our own lives. 

It's not often that I enjoy a book enough to make me want to get the next in the series, but on this occasion book number two (Trick or Murder) is already downloaded and waiting for me on my Kindle.

Reviewer - Lynne Garner

Writer of the following short story collections: Ten Tales of Brer Rabbit - Ten Tales of Coyote - Anansi the Trickster Spider - Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Christopher Uptake by Susan Price

Christopher Uptake By Susan Price

Genre: Historical, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Historical fiction isn't normally something I'd read. However, as the theatre (one of my first jobs was as a wardrobe mistress) and the setting is Cambridge (I went to university there) I felt I had to give it a chance.

Set in Elizabethan England the story follows the turbulent life of Cristopher Uptake. Sent to university he quickly discovers the rules and the boredom of student life means he's soon drawn to the excitement of the streets of Cambridge and lure of the theatre. With very little money but some talent he luckily finds a patron in the form of the wealthy Edmund Brentwood. However, this brings a determined spy hunter knocking on his door. Christopher is given a choice, betray his friend or lose his life.

The story is told in the first person (a POV I typically find difficult to follow). However, because it's so well written I found myself thinking just another chapter. The bonus was I didn't see the end plot twist coming.

In my humble opinion, this book is well worth a read.

Reviewer - Lynne Garner

Writer of the following short story collections: Ten Tales of Brer Rabbit - Ten Tales of Coyote - Anansi the Trickster Spider - Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Wolfsong by Enid Richemont

Wolfsong by Enid Richemont

ASIN: B00846FYX0 (ebook)
ISBN: 978-0744530988 (paperback)
Age group: 14+

This story revolves around Ellie, Ellie's best friend Amy, Ellie's mother and friends. The main part of the story takes place whilst they're enjoying a holiday in a dusty old mansion in Brittany, France.

Ellie doesn't want to go on holiday with her mother. She and her best friend Amy had other plans for their summer. However, Ellie is surprised to discover Amy wants to, "Why not," she said. "It's abroad and cheap." 

When the group arrive at the mansion everyone picks a room. The room Ellie picks has an old image of a young man above the bed. 

'Over the bed there is a portrait - a romanic, black and white photograph of some young man, slightly misted at the edges and mount inside a big oval frame.'   

Soon, all Ellie can think about is the stranger in the photograph. Who is he? What was his name? What life did he live? She then starts to hear the howl of wolves in the mansion grounds. 

I don't want to spoil the rest so to find out what happens you'll have to read to book.

There's some lovely use of language to describe scene, feelings, smell etc. which draws the reader in. 

The story is told in the first person, typically a POV I don't enjoy. However, when written well it works and this is the case for this book. 

Reviewer - Lynne Garner

Writer of the following short story collections: Ten Tales of Brer Rabbit - Ten Tales of Coyote - Anansi the Trickster Spider - Hedgehog of Moon Meadow Farm

Friday, 26 January 2018

Lena's Nest - by Rosalie Warren

It's not easy to write an original science fiction story about artificial beings given the rich history of this subgenre. Robots have been our constant literary companions since Karel ńĆapek's 1926 play, (R.U.R), Isaac Asimov's noble machines and beyond. Rosalie Warren, however, pulls it off with aplomb in her close-up and personal psychological scifi thriller, Lena's Nest.

And it feels on the leading edge of today's fast-changing AI research. Lots of robot sci-fi novels - even the classics - give but a wave of the hand to the scientific and technological derivations of their sentient mechanical creations, be they benign or monstrous. Lena's Nest, however, explores the fundamentals of artificial life - including the ethical and psychological considerations - without compromising the novel's compelling narrative. This no doubt results from the author herself being computer science professional with expertise in linguistics, psychology and artificial intelligence.

Ms.Warren, uses her expertise to draw characters and tell a good story, while never burdening it with gratuitous didactic details. We're on Dr. Lena Curtis' side from when she awakens from a prolonged coma - or at least believes so - on page one following a serious auto accident.

Lena, like the author, is a computer scientist specializing in robotics. Up until her car crash, she had been developing ethical protocols for artificial intelligence and robotics programs, never realizing that her work may have dramatic impact on future society. We relate to Lena as a woman and mother, not simply a scientist -- from the start. Coming out of her "coma," Lena reunites with her children and family and tries to sort herself out, only to notice strange, dreamlike anomalies.

The narrative is intimate and juicy - an eerily somatic trip through the protagonist's inner space that doesn't slow down. You feel Lena's fears in nightmarish fashion: for example at the opening of Chapter 19: "The terror was like nothing she had ever known. Lena had previously thought that the worst hell she could suffer was that of seeing her children hurt ... but this was unbelievably worse. It threw her into pure, self-focused, primal horror. She had believed she no long had a body, but her heart was pounding now, thumping harder with every beat. Her abdomen was full of ice-cold fear and her brain teamed with... What?"

I'll sidestep spoilers and keep mum on further plot details. Suffice to note that  Lena's Nest becomes a suspenseful journey through our myriad states of consciousness - natural and artificial. Lena faces existential choices at every turn - between romantic and familial love, being in- or out-of-body, life or death. How would you like to suddenly be confronted first-hand by future generations really think - or forget - about you? Would you rather live as a synthetic being in a brave new world divorced from past life, or dwell among those you love in an idyllic-but-illusory bygone reality? Could you get used to existing in a totally alien, artificial body? Are you the total of your memories, or more? Would non-existence be terrifying or serenely appealing, given these choices?

Like all compelling science fiction, Lena's Next takes us on a wild adventure beyond the boundaries of everyday existence while raising consciousness about the underlying psychological, social and philosophical issues of our own, present and uncertain realities.

- Umberto Tosi, author of Our Own Kind, Ophelia Rising. High Treason, and Milagro on 34th Street.
 He has been a member of Authors Electric since May 2015.