Review: Mom’s Perfect Boyfriend

By Crystal Hemmingway

Genre: Romance/ Science Fiction/ Comedy

Publisher: Galbadia Press

Edition: Paperback

Release date: June 2019

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ 1/2

Crystal has trouble saying no to her lonely, single mother. For 25 years, it wasn’t a problem. But when one small mistake leaves Crystal jilted, homeless and unemployed, she has to move back in with the one person who caused it all: her mother.

Goodreads blurb

I received an early reviewer’s copy of this from Galbadia Press, via Librarything. Romance is not my usual genre-of-choice, but I was intrigued by the structure, so I applied for a copy.

Look, I need to say up front that this is a very silly story with more than one unbelievable plot thread. But it’s meant to be lighthearted and a little comical, so I’m not holding the silliness against it.

The novel is written in the form of emails, text messages, letters, journal entries and snippets from the protagonist’s fiction stories. As with “Illuminae”, this format took a little while to get used to, but after that I liked it. There is a lot going on here – a broken engagement, family drama, career changes, androids (!) and the protagonist’s forays into writing not one but two novels: a fairytale retelling and an erotic tale about dinosaurs (yes, really). To be honest, I could have done without the dinosaur erotica, but I quite liked the rest. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, but at least I was never bored.


My main problem is that while the novel as a whole is written competently enough, the excerpts from the protagonist’s “novels” are very amateurish, which was an odd choice, especially given the ending.
It’s a very quick and easy read and an original set-up, although quite predictable after that. And if you’re looking for a romantic hero to swoon after, you won’t find him here. The romance element is actually pretty slight.

I was wavering between 3 and 3.5 stars, but in the end, I had a fun time with this, actually staying up an hour past my bedtime to finish it, so 3.5 stars seems fair.

Names and Labels

I’ve taken the title of this post from one of the chapters of Madeleine L’Engle’s book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.

L’Engle makes a distinction between naming something or someone, and labelling them. Naming, she says, gives us wholeness and freedom to be who we are; labelling reduces us, controls us, limits us. “If we are pigeonholed and labelled we are unnamed.”

It is a profound chapter in a thoughtful and inspiring book and it got me thinking about naming. Or, rather Naming. The capital letter is important. The first story I ever read about this kind of Naming, what you might call true Naming, was The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip, way back in the 1970s when it first came out. I absolutely adored the idea that if you know the true name of someone or something, you fully understand it. Or, to put it another way, if you fully understand it, you already know its true name. Then I read A Wizard of Earthsea by the wonderful Ursula Le Guin. Written even earlier, it took the concept to a whole new level. I’ve read many other fantasy stories based around the idea of true names having power in the decades since then. Every one of them has brought me joy. Another exceptional one, of course, is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

I like to think that when God tasked Adam with naming the animals, it was this kind of naming. He Named them truly, because he saw and understood them as they really were, fully themselves, in a way none of us have ever been able to do since. Somehow I doubt he gave them labels such as pest or livestock or invasive species.

So what does all this have to do with writing? Back to L’Engle:

To write a story is an act of Naming; in reading about a protagonist I can grow along with, I myself am more Named.

As writers, if we want to truly Name our characters, we need to know them. Not just their appearance, their personality or their abilities, but their deepest hopes and fears, their strongest motivations, the values at the very heart of them. This takes time and work, as our characters slowly reveal themselves and their stories to us. But it’s essential work if we want our readers to fully engage, to “grow along with them”, as L’Engle says. And it’s deeply satisfying work, too, I might add.

The opposite of this is to simply label the people who make up our stories: the Hero, the Villain, the Love Interest, the Comic Relief. These labels are useful shorthand when we’re thinking about the broader sweep of our tales, but if we reduce our characters merely to their labels, if they’re not real, true, living, breathing, fully formed people to us, their creators, they won’t move and transport our readers, either.

A final word from L’Engle:

Stories are able to help us to become more whole, to become Named. And Naming is one of the impulses behind all art; to give a name to the cosmos we see despite all the chaos.

As a writer, I want to Name each and every one of my characters, even the minor ones, because they don’t know they’re minor. And as a reader, I want the characters whose worlds I enter to be fully Named by their creators, too, so that as I grow along with them, I too will be more Named.

Review: Fight Write

How to write believable fight scenes

By Carla Hoch

Publisher: Writer’s Digest Books

Edition: Kindle, Paperback

Release date: 11 June 2019

Source: Netgalley digital ARC / paperback purchased by me

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.

I was only a quarter of the way through the digital ARC of this book when I went online and bought a paperback copy for myself. I already knew this was a reference book I wanted on my shelves. I imagine I’ll be dipping into it often.

I know nothing about fighting in real life and up until now I haven’t included many physical fights in my novels. This is partly due to my ignorance and partly because I don’t find long descriptions of battles and fights very interesting to read. But when this book came up on Netgalley, I thought it might be of some use on those occasions when I just couldn’t avoid writing about an aggressive physical encounter. I didn’t really have any expectations beyond that: a few tips to help me avoid looking stupid when I was writing fight scenes. I certainly didn’t expect to be blown away by what Carla Hoch has done here.

She has combined knowledge from the fields of physiology, psychology, sociology, statistics, language, as well as martial arts, battle strategy, and even law, into a handbook specifically tailored to the needs and concerns of fiction writers. And if that makes the book sound dry and academic, it isn’t. Hoch writes in an easy-to-understand style, with plenty of examples to illustrate her points. In fact, her tone is so casual, and at times even jokey, that it grated on me occasionally in the beginning. But this is a very minor criticism and doesn’t diminish the usefulness of the book in any way.

And that usefulness goes beyond fight scenes. There is good information here for deepening characterisation in all kinds of situations. For instance, one chapter, entitled Pre-Incident Indicators, details behaviours that can signal predatory intent and lead to an aggressive incident. This was gold. My mind went immediately to the villain of my current novel in progress, a manipulator who does end up perpetrating violence. I was pleased to realise that I had instinctively included some of the behaviours mentioned by Hoch in early appearances of the character. But I noted down a few other gems to sprinkle through relevant scenes. It was at this point that I bought the book.

The remaining three quarters of the volume contains detailed information about Fighting Styles, Weaponry and Injuries. I’ve never felt the desire to know how it sounds/looks/feels to be stabbed, but some day, I may need to know exactly that to write a realistic scene. Carla Hoch has my back.

Hoch doesn’t restrict herself to describing human conflict either. In the section on Fighting Styles, alongside many forms of martial arts, she includes points to consider if your character is fighting a robot, an alien or a mythological creature. There is even a short section on Psychological Warfare.

I unreservedly recommend Fight Write to writers in any genre who want to create vivid, realistic, heart-pounding fight scenes that also add richness both to plot and characterisation.

What I Read in July 2019

A Month of Murder and Gardening

I only put four books on the reading list for July and I ended up reading three of them, plus three others. I only read in two genres: crime/thriller novels and gardening books. My ratings range from one star all the way up to four. No five-star reads this month. Hopefully August will deliver at least one. Here’s what I read in July.

INTO THE WATER

By Paula Hawkins

Genre: Thriller

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . . .

This was a difficult book to rate. In the end, I had to give it four stars because it is very well-written, structured and plotted. And yet…

Here’s the thing. I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, it left me feeling quite down and a bit depressed. This is not the result I want from reading fiction, especially on holiday.

And so, it’s a hard book to rate. Honestly, I think the quality of the writing deserves a full five stars, but my enjoyment level, apart from revelling in the prose, was probably closer to two.

THE BUMBLEBEE FLIES ANYWAY

By Kate Bradbury

Genre: Non-fiction – Memoir- Gardening

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Finding herself in a new home in Brighton, Kate Bradbury sets about transforming her decked, barren backyard into a beautiful wildlife garden. She documents the unbuttoning of the earth and the rebirth of the garden, the re-wilding of a tiny urban space.

Honestly, this was a cover pick. I was in my library, returning a few books and not intending to borrow any more (ha ha) when I spotted this sitting face forward on a shelf. I walked past and then stopped and turned back. I think it was that bumblebee, glowing so golden on a wintry grey July day. Although it was the cover image that caught my eye, the subtitle made me pick it up: A year of gardening and wildlife. I absolutely love any kind of gardening memoir. Add wildlife and it’s even more alluring. This one came on my winter holiday with me.

The blurb doesn’t really describe this book very well. It’s true as far as it goes, but there is a lot more here, from many passionate denunciations of the way we’re treating the planet and the wild things that share it with us, to detailed descriptions of the private lives of bumblebees, various birds and other wildlife, to accounts of the author’s own private life and difficulties during the time she was re-wilding her garden. I would have preferred a little more gardening and a little less about Kate’s personal struggles, but overall I thoroughly enjoyed this and it has really inspired me to do a little re-wilding in my own backyard, Australian style.

THE IMMORTAL PRUDENCE BLACKWOOD

By Stephanie Grey

Genre: Historical Murder Mystery/ Thriller

Rating: ⭐

This was a digital ARC from Netgalley and I was looking forward to it. It’s the story of a search for a serial killer in Washington DC in 1947, with a twist: one of the detectives is Prudence Blackwood, an immortal who seeks vengeance for those murdered by history’s most notorious serial killers.  That sounded like a terrific premise and should have made for a really fresh take on the thriller genre. Sadly, it didn’t work for me at all. It reads like a second or third draft rather than a polished novel. The story covers several timelines, and in each case it felt like I was reading a detailed outline rather than being thrust into the action. My emotions were never engaged with the characters either. And on a line-by-line basis, the phrasing is often quite awkward. A disappointment.

THE COLOUR OF BEE LARKHAM’S MURDER

By Sarah J Harris

Genre: Murder Mystery/Thriller

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐1/2

Jasper is not ordinary. In fact, he would say he is extraordinary…Synaesthesia paints the sounds of his world in a kaleidoscope of colours that no one else can see. But on Friday, he discovered a new colour – the colour of murder.He’s sure something has happened to his neighbour, Bee Larkham, but no-one else seems to be taking it as seriously as they should be. The knife and the screams are all mixed up in his head and he’s scared that he can’t quite remember anything clearly.

I had high expectations of this novel, and for the first third, Harris more than met them. I was confident I was reading a five-star book. I loved the character of Jasper and the way he sees the world. His relationships with his mysterious neighbour and his struggling father were interesting and unpredictable. The slow revelation of information was intriguing, the writing immaculate.

And then somehow the novel just bogged down. And it stayed mired through the entire middle section. There was too much repetition, too many scenes where nothing happened and we didn’t even learn more about the characters.

I persevered in the hope that it would get better. And it did. The final quarter was great, and I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it. Looking at the novel as a whole, I think at least eighty of its over four hundred pages could simply be cut, and should have been. The novel would be much stronger and nothing important would be lost.

I’m not sure if the final revelation is meant to come as a surprise but if so, it was too heavily flagged, at least for an experienced reader of mysteries. I didn’t mind that, though. I just wish the novel as a whole had lived up to the promise of its first hundred pages.

SLEEPING MURDER

By Agatha Christie

Genre: Murder Mystery

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Miss Marple’s last case, Sleeping Murder, was written over 30 years before it was published and sees Miss Marple solve her final mystery.

Soon after Gwenda moved into her new home, odd things started to happen. Despite her best efforts to modernise the house, she only succeeded in dredging up the past. Worse, she felt an irrational sense of terror every time she climbed the stairs. In fear, Gwenda turns to Miss Marple to exorcise her ghosts. Between them, can they solve a crime committed many years before? 

Well, it’s a Christie novel, so of course they can. I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of this one, devouring it in one day! The first part is so much fun, following Gwenda as she arrives in England and finds the house, etc. Things have certainly changed a lot since the forties – a seven bedroom house is “not too big” (just average I guess. 😉) 
There are co incidences galore, but the novel is just so charming, I don’t care. It also gets so complicated at one point that I remember when I first read it I started making notes to try to get my head around it. But Christie irons it all out beautifully in the end as usual. One of my favourites, and a real treat for the final novel of Mission Marple.

GARDENING IN TIME

By Caroline Boisset

Genre: Gardening

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was a charity shop find while I was on holiday: a hardcover gardening book for $2, a bargain I wan’t going to pass up. It was a very fast read, with more illustrations than text, and not much of the information was new to me. But it was enjoyable and did give me a few ideas and things to think about when planning future plantings. It gets four stars because I think it would be really useful for someone who hasn’t had much experience with planning for seasonal effects and hasn’t already read thousands of pages on the subject.

So that’s my month of Murder and Gardening. Not too bad overall: an average rating of only 3 stars, but with four 4-star books. What did you read in July? Any 5-star recommendations?

Review: Into the Water

By Paula Hawkins

Genre: Thriller

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

In the last days before her death, Nel called her sister. Jules didn’t pick up the phone, ignoring her plea for help. Now Nel is dead. They say she jumped. And Jules has been dragged back to the one place she hoped she had escaped for good, to care for the teenage girl her sister left behind. But Jules is afraid. So afraid. Of her long-buried memories, of the old Mill House, of knowing that Nel would never have jumped. And most of all she’s afraid of the water, and the place they call the Drowning Pool . . .

This was a difficult book to rate. In the end, I had to give it four stars because it is very well-written, structured and plotted. And yet…

Here’s the thing. I didn’t enjoy it. In fact, it left me feeling quite down and a bit depressed. This is not the result I’m aiming for when I read fiction, especially on holiday. And yet…

Paula Hawkins is such a beautiful writer. From the very first page, she created a mood that was just perfect for this story. Dark, melancholic, with an air of menace and mystery. The village, the Drowning Pool, the river itself, all so real and so atmospheric. The characters, too, even though there are so many primary ones, are all such individuals that I quickly felt I knew them. Although, of course, we can never fully know anyone else, which is one of the well-developed themes of the novel. And yet…

There is a lot of darkness here, and a lot of abuse and violence, both in the present and the past. Not graphic in any way, but deeply disturbing, at least to me. And very little hope, even at the end, when I really needed it. Paula Hawkins doesn’t seem to think much of human nature, especially male human nature. And she doesn’t seem to believe there is much chance of us flawed creatures ever forming truly satisfying relationships, of any kind. I’m not saying she’s completely wrong, I’m just saying that I like a tiny ray of light with my darkness. Especially, as I said, on holiday.

And so, it’s a hard book to rate. Honestly, I think the quality of the writing deserves a full five stars, but my enjoyment level, apart from a bit of revelling in the prose, was probably closer to two. Four seems fair.

Oh, and if you’re wondering, no, I didn’t guess the solution, not totally, but it didn’t really feel like that kind of book, anyway. Less an intellectual puzzle and more an exploration of the things people do to each other and themselves, and why.

Have you read this novel, or Paula Hawkins’ other thriller, The Girl on the Train? What did you think?

QLTR August 2019

Once again, as I do at the end of every month, I’ve taken a big breath, dived deep into my stack of books and come up with some volumes I’d Quite Like To Read over the next several weeks. This time, I broke the surface clutching six books. August is the last month of winter here in Australia and I wanted some reading material that I was already pretty sure I’d enjoy, to see out the last of the winter, especially as I’ll be heading back to chilly Bathurst after two weeks at the coast. Here are my picks and the reasons I chose each one.


1.ONCE UPON A RIVER

By Diane Setterfield

GENRE: Literary Fiction

A dark midwinter’s night in an ancient inn on the Thames. The regulars are entertaining themselves by telling stories when the door bursts open on an injured stranger. In his arms is the drowned corpse of a little child. Hours later the dead girl stirs, takes a breath and returns to life. Is it a miracle? Is it magic? Or can it be explained by science? Replete with folklore, suspense and romance, as well as with the urgent scientific curiosity of the Darwinian age, Once Upon a River is as richly atmospheric as Setterfield’s bestseller The Thirteenth Tale

I bought this quite a while ago, straight after I finished reading The Thirteenth Tale. I loved that book so much and this one sounds just as good. Plus, the cover is lovely.


2. HABITAT: A practical guide to creating a wildlife-friendly Australian garden

By A B Bishop

GENRE: Non-fiction – Gardening

I’m pretty excited about getting my teeth into this book. After I read Kate Bradbury’s The Bumblebee Flies Anyway in July, I was inspired to make my own garden more wildlife-friendly. Her book is set in England, so I needed a resource for Australian wildlife and preferably for a similar climate to my own. This book seems ideal. Even better, my library has it available. If it’s as good as I hope, I’ll probably buy my own copy later on for future reference. And if I read it in August, I’ll be all ready to start putting some of it into practice this spring.


3.MOM’S PERFECT BOYFRIEND

By Crystal Hemmingway

GENRE: Romance

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 think this might fit the bill. It even has an android in it (sci-fi crossover- awesome).


4.WALKING ON WATER

By Madeleine L’Engle

GENRE: Non-fiction – Essays – Christian – Writing

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.

I’ve been looking forward to reading this, the second non-fiction selection this month. 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’m really interested in what L’Engle has to say about the connection between her faith and her writing. It’s quite a short book but I suspect it will pack a punch.


5.EMBERS OF WAR

By Gareth Powell

GENRE: Science Fiction

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 have never read any of Gareth Powell’s work. In August, that is going to change. As soon as I saw the words “warship…Trouble Dog…she…misfits” I was already hooked. It sounds epic and action-packed. Should be a nice change of pace from the other books on my August list.


6.MISS MARPLE’S FINAL CASES

By Agatha Christie

GENRE: Crime – Detective – Short stories

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 almost over. This is 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. My library has this book available now, so there’s nothing stopping me from completing my mission. This will be the only book this month that is a re-read for me.

I have a good feeling about all my picks for August. What are you looking forward to reading in the next month?

#WIPpet Wednesday – July 24, 2019

This week I’m joining WIPpet Wednesday for the first time. 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 Green Haelan. I’m also writing a first draft of the sequel, Skal Singer.

I’m going to share an excerpt from Green Haelan. Today is the 24th day of the 7th month so I’ll be sharing 24 sentences from Chapter 7.

The scene centres on one of my secondary POV (Point of View) characters, Kelan, a teenage boy who knows less about the world than he thinks he does (imagine that😉) and is also not quite as skilful as he judges himself to be. In this scene, he’s fallen into the hands of a band of thieves camping in the forest. But he has a cunning plan. While they’re all asleep, he’s going to steal one of their horses and escape. Everything goes smoothly right up to the point when he mounts the horse: it bolts. The excerpt begins at this point.

Excerpt

He fell forward onto the mare’s neck and banged his nose. His sweat-slick hands grabbed at her mane as they raced flat out down the track. He clenched the coarse hair tightly and hung on. His heart was thumping as if it would burst out of his chest. He had no way of slowing this stupid horse down. The rope was dangling loose, out of his reach, slapping against her legs and maddening her further. All he could do was stay low, hold on and pray it didn’t tangle around something and bring the mare crashing down, killing them both.
At least the bolting mare wasn’t trying to leave the track, but if she didn’t stop soon, they’d be out of the forest and onto the road. He held on with hands and legs, bracing himself as well as he could for whatever might happen next. Once out in the open, the horse might swerve suddenly to the right or left, or she might stop dead. There was no way to know. All he could do was hold on. He could see the road now, straight ahead. His fate would be decided in a few seconds.
Miraculously, his mount began to slow down. Suddenly there were no more trees and they were out on the broad road in the full moonlight. The mare trotted to a stop. She dropped her head, puffing and blowing. Kelan was panting, too. He forced his fingers open. Still lying prone, he reached down with a trembling hand for the dangling rope.
“Get down.” The voice was low and thick with anger.
Kelan whipped his head around to see Niall Crawley striding towards him, sword in hand.

So Kelan is in trouble, and it’s not the first or last time, either.