Why My Current Favourite Book Is A Twitter Thread

I love Twitter, I really do. Some of my favourite books in recent years were ones I picked up because people were raving about them, or I followed the author on Twitter and became interested in their writing. If you’re looking for a community, guarantee you’ll find one on there, just by looking at hashtags like #amreading, #amwriting, #WritingCommunity, etc. Twitter, I think, can be one of the most useful tools for an author who wants to connect with their audience, and Susan Dennard has done this in a really interesting, unique way.

For those unfamiliar, Susan Dennard is the author of two series, Witchlands and Something Strange and Deadly, and of course more information can be found on her website. Recently, she posted something intriguing on Twitter, something that read like the opening to a novel told in second person, including a poll at the end, indicating it would be down to followers to choose what the MC did next.

Choices were made and the story has advanced. With every step, the options get more difficult, with consequences becoming more, well, dire, and potentially disastrous. But take a quick look at the replies and it’s easy to see how invested people – including me – have become in Winnie’s story, and the world of The Luminaries.

And a whole fandom has built up around this. Susan does an excellent job of drip-feeding information to people hungry to find out more, leaving people speculating. What is the locket? Which family would I belong to? Why did this thing happen?

What choice is least likely to get me killed?

There is a fandom and community, people sharing theories and trying to persuade others to pick the right choice, lest we end up dead. And avoiding death seems to grow more and more difficult.

Thanks to the brilliant Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style thread, there is now a hungry, waiting audience, ready for when Susan Dennard decides to release a book about these characters. There are teams, there is speculation, there is a love interest that has a fanbase completely divided. To me, seeing this story unfold feels like being part of e-mail groups as the Harry Potter books were being released, but even better thanks to us, the fans, being able to control the story. And I think many people are going to feel worse now about screaming at characters for making ‘stupid choices’, after seeing what sort of trouble a character can get into when a collective group is making the decisions.

Overall, I am thoroughly loving The Luminaries, and eagerly await every daily installment (usually when I’ve just finished work – it feels like a reward for a hard day!), wondering what sort of mess we’ll be in now, hoping it’s something we can recover from. And if you haven’t joined us yet, it’s not too late! Go check out the thread, catch up, and cast your vote.

We could seriously do with all the help we could get.

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The Queen of The Tearling – Erika Johansen [Books]

queen of the tearling.jpgDear friends,

One thing I want you to understand, is I will never disguise my feelings about a book on this blog. I will, however, always try to find the good in something. But if I say I liked a book, I liked it. If I gush about how great it is, I absolutely loved it. If I disliked it, it’s going to be clear. And if you felt differently about a book than I did, I would love to hear from you – I’m always open to discussion.

That said, if you passionately love this book and cannot hear a bad word said against it, it might be a good idea to turn away now.

I did not like this book.

I struggled with this book, and it is one of those rare times I considered rethinking my do not DNF policy.

The Queen of the Tearling is about Kelsea, a young woman in the Tearling, who due to her heritage, has grown up isolated with no one around but her foster parents. One day, a group of men come to whisk her away to the capital and crown her queen. But they are being pursued by the Caden, a group of assassins hired by her uncle, who wants her dead before she can be crowned.

So far, so yeah this sounds interesting, right?

It didn’t take me long into the book to discover I probably wouldn’t like Kelsea. She feels really bland, and makes massive judgements about the people she sees. Speaking of which, the book is very, very focused on appearances. All the men in the guard are handsome and young, despite the fact most of them have been in the guard since Kelsea was a child. People seem to age really slowly in the Tearling, for some reason – actually, almost every man (except the bad guys or slightly-bad-guys) are described as handsome. Kelsa herself keeps moaning about how plain she is, but I really don’t understand how one would think themselves plain if they’ve never seen anyone else? Also she has no mirrors, just sees herself reflected in water, and that’s not really a great one to judge appearance?

I’m not saying Kelsea has to be beautiful, or even ugly. But it just reads a bit odd, and honestly, the plain female hero obsessed with books…it’s been done. A lot. And Kelsea doesn’t really add anything to it at all.

Oh! And one of the men in her guard happens to be black. We know this, because Kelsea seems him and IS SHOCKED. She has (gasp!) never seen a black man before. But…she’s never seen ANYONE before? Like, again, her whole life has been lived in complete isolation. Oh, except in history books. She remembers that.  She has definitely seen black people in history books about…the slave trade.

And (I might be misremembering) I can;t recall anyone else’s race being mentioned again. So either he gets a special mention for being the first, or…no one else in the Tearling is black? I don’t know, but considering it’s the future, and people are descended from the Brits and Americans, it would be REALLY BLOODY WEIRD not to have anyone else who isn’t white. Speaking of which, why British-American? What happened to the other countries? Oh, except Europe. Because they came separately and have a completely different country right next door. Coincidently, all the doctors and medical supplies were on the same ship, which sank. So medicine is poor.

Which brings me to some other points. They made a crossing, from somewhere, but to WHERE, EXACTLY? Is this a different planet? Or did they find some other continent, and kill whoever lived there? None of this is explained or hinted at, and there’s really not a lot of indication as to why things have regressed so much. Don’t get me wrong – I love when worldbuilding makes you think you’re somewhere else, but it turns out (GASP) it’s the future! The problem is, this doesn’t do that. There is literally no reason to not explain these events, or where they are. It’s outright stated – not even hinted at – that this is in our future. There’s mention of Harry Potter and The Hobbit. Revealing that this was another planet would have made it more interesting, I think, but maybe that was revealed and I missed something? I dunno.

And why do people live for so long?

The book builds up the mysteries of who is Kelsea’s father and who is The Fetch but there is literally no pay off to these. To any of these! Three huge questions and by the end of the novel none of them were answered. If one of them was, I’d have found that mildly satisfying, but them all being left makes me feel like it’s a ploy just to get people to read the next one.

Honestly I could rant about this so much more, but I’m not going to. I wanted to like this book. I really, really did, but I struggled so much and as you can probably tell from the above, there were a lot of things that just nagged at me.

I would definitely not recommend this book, unfortunately. But that’s just me, and looking on reviews, it seems to be a book you either love or hate, and of course this is all just completely and utterly my own opinion.

Still, if you have read this book, I would absolutely love to know what you thought. And I promise my next review will be less ranty.

The Fever King – Victoria Lee [Books]

 

the fever king

Before I get into this, I just want to mention I received this book from Ashleigh (@edwardanddamon on Twitter), after winning it in one of her monthly giveaways. You should definitely go check her out because she’s awesome.

In a future version of the USA, Noam, the bisexual son of undocumented immigrants, survives an outbreak of a disease that leaves some survivors with the ability to do magic, although what kind of magic varies from one person to another. He is taken to a training centre, and put under the watchful eye of the charismatic, mysterious Calix Lehrer, former king, alongside Calix’s ‘son’, Dara.

I wanted to like this. Maybe my expectations were a little bit too high, but the premise sounded brilliant, and the writing itself is good – certain sentences were a joy to read, and some scenes were really gripping. But by the end, it just felt like there was too much crammed in, too much going on. The cast of characters is a little too big, filtering in and out, the other students a little flat compared to the actually well done characterisation of Noam and Dara.

Calix himself just read as untrustworthy, and it was hard to see why Noam trusted him so much, why he felt so willing to go along with everything.

Plot-wise, again, there were some really good elements here, but a lot got crammed in, and the moment one thing picked up, the plot seemed to take a sharp left turn into something else. There were some confusing moments, some really ‘huh?’ moments, and the ending…the ending to me just felt a little contrived, a touch rushed, with everything being a little too coincidental at certain points, and confusing at others. More than once, I found myself going back to reread a paragraph or two.

This is definitely not a bad book, nor is it badly written. The fault – to me – lays in too many ideas jammed into a fast paced scenes, with slower, meandering interruptions throughout where the students do nothing but sit around, repeated quite often, when it feels like the pace should be faster, coupled with too many characters. I really would have liked to have seen more of their training, maybe an example or two of their classes, and what life was really like for the students in this school, rather than just skipping over the interesting parts to show them in the same room or in Calix’s study.

Now, the important question. The Fever King is the first in the series, named Feverwake, and at the end I had to ask myself – will I read the next one?

The honest answer is… (drum roll please) probably yes, actually. Like I said, Lee isn’t a bad writer, and I think the next book will likely show lots of improvement, plus, by this point, I do feel invested in the story. So maybe, despite the things I disliked about it, the book has done its job, after all.

The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School – Kim Newman [Books]

drearcliffAfter Amy Thomsett’s mother finds her floating on the ceiling, Amy is shipped off to Drearcliff Grange, but rather than squash this strange ability out of her, Amy learns more about her abilities, while her and her new found friends are tested in various ways.

They face off against The Hooded Conspiracy, before a new girl arrives at the school, bringing with her a strange new way of doing things.

I thoroughly enjoyed Kim Newman’s novel, about strange, powerful girls who can do strange, wonderful things in a strange, creepy school. The book reads very much like the old pulp novels, mixed with the great British boarding school novel tradition. The characters are likeable, though a bit numerous, and it was fun to read the clever ways the girls came up with to get themselves out of dire situations.

Newman has a gift for immersing the reader in the time period, as evident in Anno Dracula and Drearcliff, and a solid love for whatever literature he is using as a base for his work. Drearcliff isn’t Hogwarts, Miss Peregrine’s or Xavier’s School. These girls aren’t witches, Peculiars or mutants. Some of them don’t have abilities, but may have other skills. Some just have interesting family backgrounds, but a few, like Amy, are Unusual. In the girls of Drearcliff, Newman has created a brand new batch of teens with abilities, with his own twists. The main core all feel fully fleshed out, though when it came to some of the more background characters, I did find myself losing track of who was who, now and then, especially as a couple of the girls had similar sounding names.

But overall, I really did enjoy this, including the more Lovecraftian aspects filtering in throughout the novel. The novel is set in the 1920s, with the girls using exclamations such as, “Crumpets!” and with that time period in mind, there’s an interesting parallel as the Black Skirts slowly infiltrating the school, mirroring the rise of fascism in Europe.

Some things aren’t as clear as they could be, and some of the characters can get a touch grating, but the clarity feels like a purposeful choice, and Amy Thomsett is enjoyable enough to counter the others.

The Secrets of Drearcliff Grange School is a fun, creepy, enjoyable read, with masterful use of language and a solid sense of place and time. Definitely one for fans of more subtle but fantastical horror, and a good twist on the British school literary novel.

Star Wars: Tales of the Bounty Hunters [Books]

c_tales_bhuntersI like Star Wars, and have done since seeing the original films as a teenager. I was excited when the new films were announced, loved TFA, TLJ, and Rogue One, sort of enjoyed Solo (I guess), but it was only in the last couple of years I watched the prequel films. (Which kind of left a bad taste in my mouth)

But until now, I had never actually read a Star Wars book.

My BF has an extensive library, including quite a lot of the Star Wars novels. He did want me to read one originally linked to the prequel films, but I shot him down, pointing out if I didn’t like the first one I read, I likely wouldn’t pick up the others, because life’s too short to waste on books I don’t enjoy.

Anyway, I ended up reading Tales of the Bounty Hunters, and it was actually a good place to start. Even if some of it is now invalidated by both the prequels and sequels, but even though it’s no longer ‘canon’ to Star Wars, it was still enjoyable.

The collection of short stories, edited by Kevin J. Anderson, was released in 1996. Before the prequels, before the Disney films, before…well, before I’d ever seen Star Wars. (It was a simpler time) Each story focuses on a different bounty hunter, but all contain one key scene – the moment when Darth Vader sends the hunters out to find Han Solo.

Bounty-Hunters

Therefore I Am: The Tale of IG-88

This was a good story to start the collection. It’s not the best, but it’s compelling enough, watching the assassin droid advance and ‘evolve’.

Payback: The Story of Dengar

I really liked this one, and it had me completely rooting for Dengar, wanting to see him succeed in some way, though not in the way he wanted to.

The Prize Pelt: The Tale of Bossk

First things first, Bossk is not a likeable character. So it’s good that this story gives us two completely new characters – a human and a wookie, who offer to help Bossk hunt down Solo and, more importantly, Chewie, as Bossk desperately wants his pelt. Works nicely, and I think I’d have rather seen a film with these two characters than Solo.

Of Possible Futures: The Tale of Zuckuss and 4-LOM

I found this to be kind of sweet. Zuckuss is gravely ill, and 4-LOM is constantly trying to learn new skills – the latest being that of ‘intuition’, which he hopes to learn from Zuckuss. But the bond between them, I think, also teaches 4-LOM a bit of empathy, as they try to gain enough credits to pay for Zuckuss’ treatment. This and The Prize Pelt are my two favourite stories out of this collection.

The Last One Standing: The Tale of Bobba Fett

Maybe because there’s so much ‘weight’ to the character of Bobba Fett, but this, to me, was the weakest story. Not because it contradicts anything that came after (I am more than happy for that to happen) but because it just felt at odds with what little we knew of Fett in the original films, and parts of it felt a bit…mundane. I think I would have preferred to see Fett continuing from the end of Payback, but instead we get a short story that spans decades, jumping forward to relevant points. This version of Fett is obsessed with ‘justice’, but that justice seems awfully dependent on the Empire’s view of black and white, rather than any internal moral compass. It felt a little weak.

bounty-hunter

Overall, I really would recommend this book, if you like Star Wars. If you’re a fan of the prequels OR don’t want to get into the now non-canon extended universe, however…maybe give it a miss? All I can say is, I really enjoyed it, despite knowing nothing about these characters except their brief on-screen appearances in the original films.

Why I Love Short Story Anthologies

And no, I’m not just saying this because I happen to be in a few. I’ve enjoyed anthologies and collections since I was a teenager, picking up any book I could get my hands on. At the time, I read a few horror ones, and fell completely in love with short stories.

In terms of writing, short stories and novels come with their own difficulties. A novel has time to meander a little, to slowly build up the world and its characters. Yes, there should be a connection from the moment you start reading, but I think most readers are happy for a little leeway on this. A novel can flash back and forth between past and present, allowing deep glimpses into characters and why they might be the way they are. The main trick with a novel is to keep the reader completely invested for 50K+ words.

It’s easier to keep a reader interested in a short story, but there’s obviously a lot less room to play around. Character and plot have to grab the reader from the first word, and what could be a flashback scene in a novel, to explain an important turning point in the MC’s childhood, must become a single sentence in a short story.

Good writing amazes me, no matter the length, but something about a fantastic short story just feels different from reading a brilliant novel. To me, a novel is like a TV show; more time, more depth, more subplots. Characters A & B can study moral philosophy & ethics, while Characters C & D can fall in love without even realising they’re doing it.

the good placde
I might be a little bit in love with this show

A short story feels more like a film. Less time to really delve into the characters, pace needs to remain high, and the focus should be on one MC, maybe two or three at a stretch, if done well. And that’s not even going into POV.

Good writing is good writing but it does feel like all too often the short story gets overlooked. Yet it is everywhere. Online fiction magazines, in-print mags, short story competitions and anthologies. Personally, I like in-print magazines and anthologies (not to mention author collections). I love reading short stories, and one of my favourite things about anthologies/magazines is discovering new-to-me writers.

I remember picking up horror anthologies as a teenager – Mammoth Books springs to mind, but there were a number of others buried among my brother’s Horrible Histories, Goosebumps, and Point Horror books. I devoured them. In my early twenties, I read collections by Stephen King, and later, after finishing the Song of Ice & Fire series, I picked up Dreamsongs by GRRM. After that, I started Wild Card.

The last few days, I’ve been reading issue 60 of Black Static, containing stories from Carole Johnson, Tim Lees, Ray Culley and Stephen Hargadon. My favourite story, by far, is Johnson’s Skyshine (or Death by Scotland). It does everything a good short story (or, in this case, novella) should do. Captures you from the moment you start reading, keeps a tight hold, and doesn’t let you go. And Skyshine feels very much, in a good way, a story for the #MeToo era, as a young woman struggles with how, exactly, she is supposed to deal with men who make lewd comments as she walks past. (This issue is actually from Sep – Oct 2017, meaning the story predates the movement)

As soon as I finished reading it, I looked up Johnson on Amazon, and added to my Wish List more of the anthologies she has been featured in.

It’s something I find myself doing often with short stories.

I’ve been doing it while listening to old episodes of Starship Sofa, or Tales to Terrify. Especially if I can find an anthology with the story that’s been read on the podcast.

Novels are like new worlds, but short stories are the gateways to those worlds. Anthologies (and podcasts, of course) are a great way to discover new authors, or even reading where some favourites started. They’re samples, in a sense, and when they work, they work so brilliantly well, it’s hard to not want to instantly read more by the same author.

Do you have any favourite anthologies, or any authors you discovered through anthologies? Let me know! I am, after all, always looking for me to read.