Review: The Flower and the Serpent

By Madeleine D’Este

Genre: Fantasy/ Supernatural/ Horror

Release date: 4 December 2019 (pre-orders available now)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

CREEPY AND WONDERFUL…

I’ve just finished reading an ARC of The Flower and the Serpent by Madeleine D’Este and I am still feeling blown away.

The story is set in a high school in Hobart, Tasmania, where a group of students are rehearsing for a production of Macbeth. The dark history of the play is well-known, and D’Este’s setting – on school grounds haunted by past evil – plays perfectly against it. Imbued with a sense of creeping menace, the novel is genuinely frightening at times, but the characters are never overshadowed by the horror.

And it is the characters that shine so brightly here. Each has their own voice, their own hopes and fears, their own shadow and light. Every character rings true, from ambitious, driven Violet to shy, self-effacing Lila. Practical Holly and logical Angelika are a delight. And the teacher, Mr Ravenswood, is such a brilliant creation. With every character, D’Este forces the reader to look beyond surface judgements, to the true depths of the human heart and soul.

Which is not to say the plot is unimportant. It’s a fantastic story, that twists and turns in surprising ways that are never gimmicky. The climax had me on the edge of my chair, and it totally delivered.

Bottom line: if, like me, you love Macbeth, you’ll adore this. If you despise Shakespeare and all he stands for, you’ll love it anyway.

Trust me.

COVER REVEAL – CHRISTMAS AUSTRALIS: A Frighteningly Festive Anthology of Spine Jingling Tales!

My first cover reveal! And this one is especially thrilling for me because I’m one of the authors!

Christmas Australis: A Frighteningly Festive Anthology of Spine-Jingling Tales brings together eight stories that reflect the Australian experience of Christmas: a summer celebration, typically spent at the beach or under the air conditioner, eating seafood and tossing down icy drinks. But even under the bright Aussie sun, darkness might be lurking…

Over the past five months, I’ve spent many early-morning hours with a group of wonderful Australian writers via our Twitter hashtag #6amAusWriters. My first thought, when they invited me to submit a story to this anthology, was: “But I’m a novelist! I’ve never written a short story, and I don’t know if I can do it.” To be honest, that was also my second and third thought. But my fellow #6amAusWriters were having none of it. They persuaded me to try, and I am so glad they did!

Like a good box of Christmas chocolates, there’s something for everyone in Christmas Australis, whether you are a fan of contemporary stories, sci-fi, fantasy, noir or even steampunk. I’m proud to be included in this amazing collection.

The contributors are V. E. Patton, Darren Kasenkow, Emily Wrayburn, Lyn Webster (that’s me!), Andrew Roff, Natasha O’Connor, Madeleine D’Este and Belinda Grant

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Here it is!

The fabulous cover was designed by Cassi Strachan at Creative Girl Tuesday. Thank you so much, Cassi!

My story is called Christmas Bells, and it’s a character-driven fantasy set in the world of my novel, Greenhaelan (coming February 2020).

To Sara, the annual blooming of the Australian Christmas Bells in the mountains near her home has always signified joy and hope.

But how can the sight of them here, in this frightening alien land of confusing magic, be anything more than a reminder of everything she has lost?

You can find out more about the other stories on the Amazon Page.

Right now, the book is available for pre-order for the discounted price of $2.99 USD.

Reserve a copy before it goes up to $3.99 on release day, November 11!

Use the button below to add it to your Goodreads TBR shelf.

Needless to say, this anthology would make a fabulous Christmas present! 😉

WWW Wednesday

Hello, my friends!

Happy Spring if you’re in the southern hemisphere like me, and Happy Autumn/Fall for you northies.

I am so busy at the moment getting my first novel ready for publication in February (yay!) and learning all about categories, keywords, mailing lists, cover designers, formatting, etc etc that I don’t have time for a long post today. So the WWW Wednesday tag seems ideal.

This tag is hosted on Taking on a World of Words It’s easy to do, just answer the three questions below!

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What am I currently reading?

Sarah has had enough of men. It’s time to rekindle her first true love – travel – so she books a sailing trip around the Greek islands with a group of strangers.

I don’t read many romances, but this has been a lot of fun so far. Hoping to get back to it this afternoon.

From award-winning author Gareth L. Powell, the second book in the critically acclaimed Embers of War space opera series.

I really enjoyed the first book in this series, but for some reason I’m having a bit of trouble getting into this one. Not sure if it’s the book, or just that I’m not in the mood for sci-fi. Time will tell.

In a world where suburban nature is declining and diversity is shrinking, Habitat is a practical guide for those of us who want to encourage insects, reptiles, frogs, birds and animals into our garden.

I’ve been wanting to read this for quite a while, and had a copy on reservation at my local library. I waited two months, and now apparently, the copy has disappeared. So I bought my own. And it is absolutely gorgeous. The photographs! I mean, I bought it for the information, but the pages are truly stunning. I suppose that technically, I haven’t read any of it yet, but looking at the pictures counts, right?

What did I recently finish reading?

Inspiration and practical ideas from popular Gardening Australia presenter Sophie Thomson’s very own patch.

Yes, another Australian gardening book – it’s spring here, after all. This one was from the library. It was a fast read and I enjoyed it, but it’s not one I’ll be re-reading or buying for myself.

What do I think I’ll read next?

IT HAPPENED FAST.

THIRTY-TWO MINUTES FOR ONE WORLD TO DIE, ANOTHER TO BE BORN.

This is a massive novel and the first in a trilogy, but @sandybarker assures me the characters are great, the books left her wrung out and breathless and the prose is wonderful. So I’m in!

So, that’s it, WWW Wednesday done.

If you’ve participated in this tag recently, leave a link and I’ll come and have a look!

Slumping and Pleaping

What’s the opposite of a slump? This blogger needs to know. Because for the past month, I’ve been in a Reading Slump, but a Writing – something else. The opposite. I looked up antonyms for “slump” but it wasn’t helpful: ascent, increase, rise, success, blessing… none of them work.

So, in order to say what I want to say, I’m hereby inventing a new word. If it’s good enough for Shakespeare, it’s good enough for me. From this moment onwards, the opposite of “slump” shall be “pleap” (peak level of enthusiasm and productivity). There. Problem solved.

Now, on with this post. Friends, I have been in a reading slump. In the entire month of September, I read two and a half books. TWO. AND A HALF. If you’re interested, here they are, with my ratings.


This was the half. I started it in August and finished in September. I enjoyed it quite a lot. ⭐⭐⭐⭐




I read all of this one. Inspiring, especially the photographs. ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Miles Vorkosigan is always entertaining. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

As you can see, there was noting wrong with the books. There just weren’t very many of them. I seldom felt like reading. But here’s the thing: I edited over 30, 000 words of my novel. 30,000. To a state I’m finally happy with. A writing pleap if there ever was one. I do not believe these things are unconnected.

It’s a ratio (or a see-saw): the more I write, the less I read. Looking back over the past year, this seems to hold true every month. My most productive reading times are my least productive writing times. It seems there is a limit to the number of words I want to engage with over a period of time. When I reach that limit, either reading or writing, a slump occurs.

So, what to do? Ration my reading and writing time until they balance nicely, neither of them slumping nor pleaping? Everything in me cries out against this logical, but bland approach.

I want to pleap. I need to pleap. I love pleaping. And at the moment, I’m especially loving my writing pleap.

Sorry, reading. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait in the wings for now. You’ve had many a year of pleaping in the past, after all.

Now, it’s writing’s turn to shine.

Pleap on, fellow readers/writers!

#WIPpet Wednesday – September 18, 2019

This week I’m joining WIPpet Wednesday again. WIPpet Wednesday is a blog hop wherein writers share an excerpt from their current WIP (Work in Progress) that somehow relates to the date.



What I’m sharing today

I have two WIPs going right now. I’m making final revisions to the first one, a medieval portal fantasy called Greenhaelan. That’s where my excerpt is coming from today.

As it’s the 18th day of the 9th month, I’ll be sharing 18 sentences from Chapter 9.

The final man was slim and dressed in black. His hand rested lightly on the hilt of a half-drawn sword. He looked Kelan over and grinned, sliding the sword back into its sheath.
“Put up your arms, friends. It’s only a little mouse hiding in the hay.” His voice was an amused drawl.
The other three obeyed him, but their expressions were still wary. They obviously didn’t share their companion’s sense of humour. The older man in particular was scowling like a bulldog.
The one in black stepped closer. “What’s your name, little mouse?”
After everything Kelan had gone through this morning, this was too much. It was one thing to be attacked or even killed; it was quite another to be laughed at and called a mouse. He knew he might be in danger, but he didn’t care. He lifted his chin and glared at the man.
“What’s yours?”
The stranger laughed. “So, the mouse has teeth.”

Kelan is only a secondary character in this novel, but he’ll be getting his own book later. From my point of view, he’s both the easiest character to write about and also the most fun. Seems like somewhere inside this middle-aged woman, a teenage boy is struggling to get out and be heard. Patience, Kelan. Your turn will come.

Mini Experiment: Eavesdropping in Cafes

I’ve been hearing quite a bit recently about a technique to help writers improve their ear for dialogue and gather a plethora of shiny new ideas for stories at the same time: eavesdrop on private conversations in public places.

Now, the first thing I want to make clear to you is that this whole idea goes against all my natural instincts. When I’m alone in a public place, I would prefer not to be able to hear other people at all. If there was such a thing as a portable cone of silence, it would be tucked away in my handbag right now. My usual first move when entering a cafe is to look for the table that is as far from the nearest actual human beings as possible. I don’t want my valuable coffee-drinking/reading/ writing/Twittering time interrupted by random bursts of conversation that have nothing to do with me.

However, never let it be said that I am not willing to suffer for my art. And therefore, I embarked upon another Writing Mini-Experiment this week, with the aim of visiting two cafes, listening to as many random conversations as possible and scribbling any interesting bits down. Here are my results.

DAY 1

The cafe: busy, old-fashioned, comfy, not the least bit trendy or edgy, but good service and a nice view of the park.

The time: 3.45pm

The order: Warm and Spicy Tea (apple, orange peel, rosehip, hibiscus, cornflower, clove, cinnamon, anise, pepper)

Notes: I chose a table between two already-occupied ones and almost immediately realised I had made a newbie error. Whitney Houston was warbling from a nearby speaker, asking me how she’d know if he really loved her. She was getting quite worked up about her dilemma and hers was the only voice I could make out clearly. I strained my ears and hoped the next selection would be a soft ballad, but alas, Dolly Parton seemed determined to put her case to someone named Jolene, and she wasn’t being quiet about it. I had also sited myself too close to both the kitchen and the coffee machine. Sounds were emanating from both.

While I waited for my tea, one of the grey-haired ladies at the table to my left momentarily raised her voice:

The hardest year I ever had was my first year here, and I kept thinking, I’ve been teaching for ten years, why is this so hard?

Teachers. I know all about teachers, having been one myself for decades. Nothing new for me to work with there.

I drank my pretty pink tea from my pretty floral cup (delicious, by the way, good choice) and kept my ears open, trying to tune into the conversation at the table to my right, which was occupied by a teenage girl in a school uniform sitting opposite two women (mother and aunt, perhaps?)

During a blessed break in the music, the teenager said, clear as a bell,

I’ve noticed when I’m feeling really nervous , really scared, you know, my feet cramp up.

Well, it was an interesting bit of information, but did it take me anywhere?

The music started again just as one of the two women answered her phone. She raised her voice slightly and I listened avidly to what seemed a promising beginning. Unfortunately, she lowered the volume again and all I caught were short snippets between lengthy pauses.

…why would he even say that?… why not just let me have a go and … awful place to be … it all comes back to … and then why did he lie to me … and then he said … I’ll stand back and …”

Now this sounded like the real deal – who was “he”? What had he lied about? Where was the “awful place”?

Could I do anything with this? Sadly, I concluded I could not.

And now Leo Sayer was declaring that I made him feel like dancing. I finished my second cup of tea and left him to it.

Result: disappointed but still hopeful about tomorrow’s foray.

DAY 2

The cafe: quirky, arty, a slightly younger, professional crowd.

The time: 10.30 am

The order: a Flat White Coffee on Almond Milk and a late breakfast of Zucchini and Haloumi Fritters with Labneh (hey, it’s for science, all right?)

Notes: This was more like it. I settled onto a banquette seat in a corner, surrounded by closely packed tables, three already occupied. The music was appropriately subdued and the kitchen and coffee machine were far, far away.

A man and a woman in their thirties were chatting right in front of me and I could hear every word. I took out my notebook. The man was speaking.

When they get into that situation, don’t get me wrong about this, the thing is, like, that’s the thing, you know, that happens.”

Okay, real dialogue, unscripted, sure. But not otherwise terribly useful. I stopped taking notes and kept listening. They were work colleagues,  having  a conversation about arranging shifts, rosters and break times. And yes, it was every bit as boring as that sounds.

I turned my attention to a second couple, middle-aged, wearing workout gear. They were talking animatedly, in tones too low for me to hear a single word. Why did people have to be so considerate of others, I thought with irritation. Where were the colourful loudmouths when you needed them?

My order arrived. The fritters looked a little overdone, but in fact weren’t. They were delightfully crispy on the outside, moist and tasty inside. Sharp, garlicky labneh, perfectly oozy poached egg, delicate sprinkling of dukkah… but I digress.

Work-out gear woman stood and walked out. Had they had an argument? Or  was she simply on her way to do a little shopping? I would never know. Casually glancing over my shoulder, I saw her erstwhile companion take out his phone and begin scrolling.

The occupant of the table diagonally opposite me was alone and typing on his laptop. A fellow writer perhaps. I wished him well, but he was useless to me.

Ah, now, someone was being led to the final unoccupied table in our little enclave. An elderly man. Perhaps he was waiting for someone. Perhaps his advancing years had resulted in partial deafness and they would both have to shout. But no. He gave his order to the server and unfolded a newspaper. I may have sighed.

I finished my food and drank my coffee, both excellent, and my only consolation for another fruitless hour.

Result: an even more promising start, but in the end a washout.

 

CONCLUSIONS

1.Overhearing other people’s private conversations is harder than you might expect

2. Even when you can hear them, they are mostly boring

3. In the unlikely case they are even slightly interesting, you won’t be able to hear them properly

4. Warm and Spicy Tea is the bomb and Zucchini and Haloumi Fritters are an outstanding choice for breakfast

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER ACTION

When visiting cafes alone in the future, embrace previously preferred option of sitting in splendid isolation and pretending no other humans are present. Alternatively, invent portable cone of silence.

What I read in August 2019

I read six books this month, with an average rating of 4.25, probably my highest average ever. As a reading month, August was all about quality over quantity. Here are the books, from lowest to highest rated.

MOM’S PERFECT BOYFRIEND

By Crystal Hemmingway

Genre: Romantic Comedy

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

A smart romantic comedy about mothers and daughters, and the hilarious consequences of a white lie. 

I received this novel as an Advanced Reader Copy through LibraryThing. I don’t read many romances, but I was in the mood for something light, fun and even a bit silly and I thought this might fit the bill.

Well, it did and it didn’t. My full review is here, but briefly, it’s a bit of a mish-mash with a lot going on, some of it quite odd and a lot of it unbelievable. But it’s original, a quick and easy read and I had fun with it, even staying up past my bedtime to finish, so 3.5 stars seems fair.


EMBERS OF WAR

By Gareth Powell

GENRE: Science Fiction

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The warship Trouble Dog was built and bred for calculating violence, yet following a brutal war, she finds herself disgusted by conflict and her role in a possible war crime. Seeking to atone, she joins an organisation dedicated to rescuing ships in distress.When a ship goes missing in a disputed system, Trouble Dog and her new crew of misfits and loners are assigned to investigate and save whoever they can. Quickly, what appears to be a straightforward rescue mission turns into something far more dangerous.If she is to survive and save her crew, Trouble Dog is going to have to remember how to fight.

I’m a bit embarrassed that as a keen reader of sci-fi and someone partial to the occasional space opera, I had never read any of Gareth Powell’s work until now. This one seemed like a good place to start, being the first book in his current trilogy. And it was. I am completely hooked on this story and I can’t wait to read the next volume, Fleet of Knives.

So, then, why didn’t I give this book 5 stars? If I was judging it only on the plot, I would have. The concepts? Tick. And if I was rating it on how much I enjoyed the final hundred or so pages, again, yes. Such a satisfying conclusion.

Here’s the thing. The story is written in first person, from multiple points of view. No problem, but if you do this, the points of view should be distinct. This was the case with Trouble Dog and Nod, but the voices of the three human characters were just too similar to each other. They had terrific backstories that differentiated them, but their voices didn’t reflect this, which gave their narration an inauthentic feel, leaving me wanting more.

Still, a solid 4 stars and a guarantee I’ll be reading the next book very soon.


MISS MARPLE’S FINAL CASES

By Agatha Christie

GENRE: Crime/ Detective/ Short stories

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A collection of Miss Marple mysteries, plus some bonus short stories…First, the mystery man in the church with a bullet-wound…then, the riddle of a dead man’s buried treasure…the curious conduct of a caretaker after a fatal riding accident…the corpse and a tape-measure…the girl framed for theft…and the suspect accused of stabbing his wife with a dagger.

Mission Marple is over. This was the final volume, the last stories Christie ever wrote about Miss Marple, her elderly village lady sleuth. It’s been a truly enjoyable journey and I’m so glad I joined in.

This was a perfect way to complete the mission. I really like the variety of the stories, some more successful than others, of course. It was also a sort of reunion collection of many characters from the Marple novels and I had a great time meeting some of my favourites again. I devoured the whole book in one sitting. 



THE BEE FRIENDLY GARDEN

By Doug Purdie

Genre: Non-fiction/ Gardening/ Wildlife

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Bee Friendly Garden is a guide for all gardeners great and small to encouraging bees and other good bugs to your green space..

Ever since I read Kate Bradbury’s book last month, I’ve been plotting and planning ways to make my garden more wildlife-friendly. I borrowed this book from my library and thoroughly enjoyed learning all about Australian native bees: their variety, usefulness, requirements to thrive and the kinds of garden additions that will encourage them to visit my patch and to stay long-term. It’s more a reference book than one to read cover-to-cover. So, of course, I read every page.😁 The illustrations are lovely, too.

FIGHT WRITE

By Carla Hoch

Genre: Non-fiction/ Writing

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

In Fight Write you’ll learn practical tips, terminology, and the science behind crafting realistic fight scenes for your fiction. Broken up into “Rounds,” trained fighter and writer Carla Hoch guides you through the many factors you’ll need to consider when developing battles and brawls.

My full review of this very useful handbook is here. The short version is that I was only a quarter of the way through the digital ARC before I ordered a paperback copy. I’ve already referred to it twice in the last two weeks. A keeper for my Writing shelf.



WALKING ON WATER

By Madeleine L’Engle

GENRE: Non-fiction/ Essays/ Christian/ Writing

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

In this classic book, Madeleine L’Engle addresses the questions, What makes art Christian? What does it mean to be a Christian artist? What is the relationship between faith and art? Through L’Engle’s beautiful and insightful essays, readers will find themselves called to what the author views as the prime tasks of an artist: to listen, to remain aware, and to respond to creation through one’s own art.

Madeleine L’Engle’s middle grade fantasy novels delighted me so much as a child and teenager. I loved her settings, her characters and the emotion she was able to convey to me as a reader. I didn’t know she was a Christian and the books aren’t overtly Christian in any way, although they are spiritual. Now that I’m an adult, a Christian myself and a fantasy writer, I was really interested in what L’Engle has to say about the connection between her faith and her writing.

And what she has to say is absolutely brilliant and inspiring. I made copious notes as I went through this small volume and I know I’ll be re-reading it. Here are just two gems:

If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.


Each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says, “Here I am. Enflesh me. Give birth to me.”

But the whole book is a casket of precious stones, almost every line worth quoting.

I hope September will be able to live up to August in the reading department!

Your turn! What did you read in August? Any 5-star recommendations?