QLTR* March 2020

*Quite Like To Read: full explanation here, if you’re interested.

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I’m hoping to read six books in March: five fiction and one non-fiction. Two are digital ARCs from Netgalley, two are books I bought for myself, and the other two are from the library. The genres cover: fiction writing, historical crime fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and romance. It feels like a nicely balanced, varied group, and I’m looking forward to all of them.

Here are the blurbs:

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BIRD BY BIRD
By Anne Lamott
Genre: Non-fiction/Writing


A step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.
If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life.

This is a classic writing craft book that I’ve been wanting to read for years. I bought myself a copy and can’t wait to get into it.


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HOSTAGE TO FORTUNE
By Sarah Hawkswood
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction

January 1144. Hugh Bradecote does not want his betrothed heading off on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Edgyth at Polesworth, but the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy and his entourage of monks seem Heaven sent as escorts, right up until they are captured by a renegade who wants his forger out of the lord sheriff’s cells; a renegade who loathes the Benedictines, and kills for pleasure.
Against a backdrop of a hard winter and even a frozen River Severn, Bradecote and Catchpoll are struggling to rescue the clerics, and Christina, before a psychopath does his worst, the lord sheriff loses patience, and Bradecote cracks under the pressure.

I absolutely love reading stories set in Britain in this time period, and the blurb reminds me irresistibly of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries. Should be thoroughly enjoyable.


LEVIATHAN WAKES
By James S.A. Corey
Genre: Science Fiction

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe. 

I have been holding off watching The Expanse on Netflix until I’ve read this series, and am determined to at least start this in March (it’s LONG).


THE MAD SHIP
By Robin Hobb
Genre: Fantasy

The Farseer trilogy continues the dramatic tale of piracy, serpents, love and magic. The Vestrit family’s liveship, Vivacia, has been taken by the pirate king, Kennit. Held captive on board, Wintrow Vestrit finds himself competing with Kennit for Vivacia’s love as the ship slowly acquires her own bloodlust. Leagues away, Althea Vestrit has found a new home aboard the liveship Ophelia, but she lives only to reclaim the Vivacia and with her friend, Brashen, she plans a dangerous rescue. Meanwhile in Bingtown, the fading fortunes of the Vestrit family lead Malta deeper into the magical secrets of the Rain Wild Traders. And just outside Bingtown, Amber dreams of relaunching Paragon, the mad liveship …

I buddy-read the first book in this series, Ship of Magic, back in January with a group on Goodreads and loved both the novel and the experience of discussing it chapter by chapter online. And now I’m ready to do it all over again with the second book. Can’t wait to see what happens to all my favourite characters.


THAT NIGHT IN PARIS
By Sandy Barker
Genre: Romance

Note to self: don’t sleep with your flatmate after a curry and three bottles of wine… especially if he’s secretly in love with you and wants you to meet his mum.
Cat Parsons is on the run. She doesn’t do relationships. After ten years of singlehood even the hint of the ‘L’ word is enough to get Cat packing her bags and booking herself onto a two-week holiday.
A European bus tour feels like a stroke of genius to dodge awkward conversations at home. But little does Cat realise that the first stop will be Paris, the city of love itself.
Joined by new friends, Cat has got two weeks, eight countries and a hell of a lot of wine ahead of her. As they discover hidden treasures and the camaraderie of life on the road, will Cat find a new way of looking at love?

I read One Summer in Santorini, which was a fun, light romance with terrific travel vibes. So I requested this second book from Netgalley and was so pleased to be accepted to receive an ARC. I’m expecting more travel, more romance and no doubt more enticing descriptions of delicious food.


THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR
By Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Genre: Science Fiction/Romance

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space. 


This sounds so unique and intriguing. I’m a sucker for time travel stories and time travel agents? Even better. Plus, it’s nice and short, an important factor this month with two huge tomes in the list.


So that’s what I’m thinking I might Quite Like To Read in March. How about you?

Mini Experiment: Two Golden Hours

THE CONCEPT

I don’t know where the original “two golden hours” concept came from, but I first came across it in regard to writing here.
Dr Jane Genovese had been impressed by a seminar called “Turbocharging your writing” run by Hugh Kearns from ithinkwell.com

Hugh then talked about the idea of nailing your feet to the floor to force yourself to write for “Two Golden hours”. He then warned us that during the first 45 minutes of this process, most people experience some level of anxiety and discomfort. It’s common to have thoughts such as “I can’t write this”, “I rather be doing something else” or “This is really hard…”. This is completely normal but often what happens is people think that something is wrong when they experience this anxiety. They think that because they’re finding it hard to write, perhaps they should stop and often that’s exactly what they do. Big mistake. “If you just hang in there, the anxiety will eventually disappear” said Hugh Kearns.

SLOGGING THROUGH THE MUD

At the time I read this, I was faithfully showing up at my desk at 6am each morning, with two hours at my disposal and the manuscript of Skalsinger open on my laptop, but it was like slogging through mud. My word count for the past week had averaged out at:

155 words per hour! 😧

Something needed to change, and drastically, or the final 10% of this first draft would take months to finish.

Enter Two Golden Hours and another writing Mini Experiment.

Hugh Kearn’s rules were simple:

  1. Write early in the day
  2. Use a dedicated place
  3. Close the door
  4. NO internet at all! Pull out the cable if you have to.
  5. Nail your feet to the floor and stay there, no matter how mentally uncomfortable you get
  6. Ignore your inner critic and just get the words down

Simple, but not necessarily easy.

A MODIFICATION

I did modify this experiment by including short breaks. I saw a Twitter post to this effect by Kelly Gardiner and asked her how she broke the time up. She does 25-minute writing sprints followed by 5-minute breaks to stretch, go to the bathroom, walk around, etc. But no internet! This made sense to me. So I had my plan. How did it go?

Minutes 0-25
Task: plotting/planning/making notes/ brainstorming
Notes: I found a plot hole and worked out what needs to happen next
Words added to manuscript: 0

1st break: drank water, stretched

Minutes 30-55
Task: Begin the new scene, which will be mostly dialogue
Notes: after a slow start, the words began flowing quite well, and I was surprised when the timer went off.
Words added to manuscript: 314

2nd break: bathroom break, then sat quietly. Realisation surfaced that the scene needs more conflict; I need to add a third character.

Minutes 60-85
Task: rewrite the scene, adding the third character
Notes: I felt it was working well.
Words added to manuscript: 212

3rd break: walked around the garden. Lots of ideas buzzing around my head, including how to end the scene.

Minutes 90-115
Task: complete the scene
Notes: the words felt like they were coming more slowly, but I pushed and completed the scene almost right on the timer.
Words added to manuscript: 289

CONCLUSION

As I spent the first 25 minutes just planning, I added 815 words to my draft in 75 minutes, equivalent to

652 words per hour!😊

This is a massive improvement on the past week, and suggests this method really works for me.

WHAT NEXT?

  • I’d like to plan ahead next time so I can try actually writing for the whole four sessions and see what that does to my word count.
  • I also think it could be valuable to do some single Golden Hours, just two 25-minute sessions with a break in the middle.
  • The breaks were useful and I would definitely keep them in. They were short enough that I stayed in writing mode, but they gave me enough distance from the task for new ideas to arise.
  • I’m sure that what made the biggest difference was excluding all activity on the internet during this time. Not exactly a surprise, but now I’ve proved what an effect it has on me personally, I know what to do. Can I do it, though? We’ll see…

Have you tried this or any other methods to maximise the productivity of your writing time? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


GREENHAELAN

My debut fantasy novel, Greenhaelan, is now officially published!

I first began writing this story in 2014, with nothing but a title, a character – an Australian gardener named Sara – and a vague idea of transporting her to a place where magic was real. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved the idea of travelling through a wardrobe, a hidden gate, or a swirling vortex, to a completely different world. So I sent Sara on that journey and followed her to see what happened. Back then, I could never have envisioned what this small germ of an idea would become. It’s been a magical and wondrous journey for me too, sometimes tough, often joyful, but always absorbing. I hope readers will feel the same.

Greenhaelan is available in Kindle Ebook and Paperback from Amazon worldwide. Just click on the link below:

Greenhaelan (Chronicles of Algarth #1)

The story:

Self-employed gardener Sara Martin has known from childhood that gardens are enchanted places. But she never expected the magic to be literal.

Miraculously swept away to a landscape dying in the grip of an ecological disaster, Sara discovers that the enchantment is as real as the danger. And when a forbidden healing power manifests in her, she is forced to question everything she has built her life on.

Uncertain how far she can trust her outlaw companions, pursued by an enemy intent on her destruction, Sara must decide how much she is willing to risk for a place and a people that are not her own.

And she will be forced to face the question: what is the price for choosing a safe, little life?

Some responses from early reviewers on Goodreads:

Greenhaelan is an adventurous debut with a unique world and magic system that is sure to be a hit with Fantasy readers.

L.A. Webster has done a great job in weaving a compelling world, interesting characters and an ecological mystery that draws the reader in.

There’s magic and adventure and politics and intrigue, and I love how it all culminated at the end.

With incisive comparisons to the modern world, Greenhaelan is a cautionary tale about what could happen to our planet if we don’t take care of it. An engrossing read that seamlessly mixes reality and fantasy.

If you’d like to secure a copy for yourself or someone you know who loves fantasy, mystery and wonder, here’s the Amazon link again:

Greenhaelan (Chronicles of Algarth #1)

Review: The Book of Candlelight

By Ellery Adams

Genre: Crime/Cozy Mystery

Published: January 2020

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


In the new Secret, Book, and Scone Society novel from New York Times bestselling author Ellery Adams, the rain in Miracle Springs, North Carolina, has been relentless—and a flood of trouble is about to be unleashed . . .
As the owner of Miracle Books, Nora Pennington figures all the wet weather this spring is at least good for business. The local inns are packed with stranded travelers, and among them Nora finds both new customers and a new friend, the sixtysomething Sheldon, who starts helping out at the store. Since a little rain never hurt anyone, Nora rides her bike over to the flea market one sodden day and buys a bowl from Danny, a Cherokee potter. It’ll make a great present for Nora’s EMT boyfriend, but the next day, a little rain turns into a lot of rain, and the Miracle River overflows it banks. Amid the wreckage of a collapsed footbridge, Danny’s body lies within the churning water.
Nora and the sheriff both doubt the ruling of accidental drowning, and Nora decides it’s time for the Secret, Book, and Scone Society to spring into action. When another body turns up, it becomes clearer that Danny’s death can’t be blamed on a natural disaster. A crucial clue may lie within the stone walls of the Inn of Mist and Roses: a diary, over a century old and spattered with candle wax, that leads Nora and her friends through a maze of intrigue—and onto the trail of a murderer . . .

This is the third book in the series, and as I hadn’t read the previous two, I struggled for a little while separating out Nora’s female friends. But once I had, I enjoyed this thoroughly. It’s another cozy mystery with a bookshop at the centre of it, which is fast becoming one of my favourite set-ups. There was plenty of mystery here, too, in addition to the central crime, and one twist that I didn’t see coming at all, but which was very satisfying.

The Book of Candlelight is a feel-good read with enough genuine emotion to keep it from feeling superficial. If you’re a fan of cozy mysteries, I recommend it. (But maybe read the first two books first!)

I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

QLTR* February 2020

*Quite Like To Read: full explanation here, if you’re interested.

I’ve chosen a background of rain clouds, because that’s what I’m hoping to see a lot of this month in my drought-stricken Australian regional city. I’m also hoping to read seven books: four fiction and four non-fiction. As I’ve already started three of them, this doesn’t seem like too many, even in a month when I’m trying to prioritise my own writing and publishing.

CONTINUE READING

Review: BLACKBIRCH The Beginning

K.M. Allan


Genre: YA Fantasy
Release Date: 17 February 2020 (pre-orders available now)
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Welcome to Blackbirch. It’s a place no one forgets. Except for Josh Taylor.
The fatal car crash took more than 17-year-old Josh’s parents. It stole his memories and returned him to his birthplace, Blackbirch, a tourist town steeped in a history of witchcraft.
Amongst friends he’s forgotten and a life he doesn’t want, Josh is haunted by nightmares so believable he swears the girl in his dreams is real. Kallie is so captivating he ignores her blood-stained hands, but he can’t overlook the blue glow summoned to her skin.
Kallie says it’s an ancient magic they share and a secret worth hiding, because as Josh discovers, they aren’t the only gifted ones.
To restore his memories and find the true cause of the car accident, he must learn what’s real. And what secrets Blackbirch has buried in its woods.

From the very first page, this novel established a genuinely creepy and mysterious vibe that never let up, ramping to a climax that was action-packed and satisfying, and at the same time left me wanting more of these characters. Fortunately, there are several books to come in the Blackbirch series.

CONTINUE READING

Cover Reveal: Greenhaelan

Chronicles of Algarth #1

I am thrilled to reveal the cover of my fantasy novel, Greenhaelan, designed by the very talented (and endlessly patient) Katya Dibb.

Greenhaelan will be released on 20th February, in Ebook and Paperback, and will be available from Amazon and other online stores.

And now, without further ado, here it is!

Beautiful, don’t you think?

Self-employed gardener Sara Martin has known from childhood that gardens are enchanted places. But she never expected the magic to be literal.

Miraculously swept away to a landscape dying in the grip of an ecological disaster, Sara discovers that the enchantment is as real as the danger. And when a forbidden healing power manifests in her, she is forced to question everything she has built her life on.

Uncertain how far she can trust her outlaw companions, pursued by an enemy intent on her destruction, Sara must decide how much she is willing to risk for a place and a people that are not her own.

And she will be forced to face the question: what is the price for choosing a safe, little life?

If that sounds like something you might enjoy, you can add it to Goodreads here.

Pre-order links will be available soon.

Review: Don’t Read the Comments

Eric Smith


Genre: YA Contemporary
Release Date: 20 January 2020
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.
At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight. 

It’s been a long time since a book made me want to stand up and cheer, or literally set my heart thumping, or brought tears to my eyes. This one did all three, not just once, but over and over.

CONTINUE READING