Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Three Crows Magazine: The First Issue

I've got a bit of self-promotion incoming here, because I've actually worked on this (reading, editing, interviewing).

And I love what it turned into. Love the stories. Love the cover. Especially the cover. Look at that wonderful art.

Much of it can be found on the website.

The first issue features six short stories, two interviews and two reviews.

Alex, the founder and editor-in-chief, spoke with Anna Smith Spark about her new book, The Tower of Living and Dying. The interview can be found here. Anna writes grimdark fantasy with a literary twist and is probably already on your radar if that's the kind of fiction you enjoy.

The other interview is with one of my favourite authors, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and if you think the interviewer sounds a bit nervous, it's because it's me, and I was! Audio and transcript can be found here. We talked about his books and the craft and the fact the man loves spiders.

Alex has since interviewed RJ Barker, author of the Wounded Kingdom. Fantastic fantasy trilogy, with a disabled protagonist and a wonderful coming of age story. The interview can be found here.

Three Crows Magazine reviewed The Tower of Living and Dying by Anna Smith Spark, and The Mere Wife by Maria Dahvana Headley.

Check out our fabulous cover artist, Cze Peku.

The six stories range from sci-fi to urban fantasy.

The Animals of Ure by Daryna Stremetska which can be read in either English or Ukrainian (the original is Ukrainian) is an SF story about two men landing on an unknown planet to hunt an animal for their king's zoo. Read it on the website!

Deciding Vote by Michael Kellichner can be read here. It's a fantastic story, well worth checking out, and captured my attention from the very start.

High, High Country by Brandon Daubs is a haunting story told in a way that made me shiver more than once. It's unusual and offers great tension.

Diplomatic Immunity by Daniel M. Kimmel can be read here. This piece is pure fun and made me laugh. Humans and aliens, ready to meet in person. What could go wrong? I think this may have been my favourite, simply because these days uplifting and humorous fiction means a lot to me.

Folk Hunters, by Kate Karl Lanier is about a girl hiding from monsters on a train.

Fathom by J.S. Rogers offers a team of scientists exploring an ocean. And there's nothing out there, or is there?

Check out the magazine:

Buy the 1st Issue:

If you happen to check it out, let me know what you think. We're currently working on the second issue.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Resources for Writers: How to Write Books

There's a few dozen how to write books out there and many are worth your time, some aren't.

Don't let the rules restrict you. But learn the rules, know the rules, so you're aware you're breaking them. Rules are there to be broken, but they're also there for a reason.

Stephen King talks a lot about adverbs and how they shouldn't be used, but Stephen King uses adverbs in all of his books. It's definitely better to write, she runs, than to write she walks quickly.
However, sometimes, adverbs matter.

Which is why I personally find it important that as a writer you read about the craft, and learn what works for others.

On the other hand, don't be afraid to figure out your own process, your own style, and your own voice. When I first read "On Writing" and other books, I ended up stifling myself. A desperate attempt to follow all rules and produce quality writing. I blocked myself. I suffocated myself.

Don't let the books keep you from writing. Write, write, write. Read, read, read. Those are the two things that will improve your craft.

If you like King's work and write, give On Writing a try. I felt like the man spoke to me, and it is a book I treasure to this day.

Invisible Ink and Story are two books that taught me a lot about structure and how to build a story from scratch. They both talk about themes, messages, reveals, plot structure etc. They're geared towards screenwriters, but I found the advice invaluable.

In fact, if I were only allowed two books about writing, I'd probably choose these two books.

Honorable mentions for two books I thought were helpful, but that I've not yet been able to fully incorporate into my process. Take Off Your Pants teaches you how to outline. I am really bad at outlining, I mostly write organically, and just go with the flow...but I try. And 2,000 to 10,000 teaches you how to write faster but better at the same time. Only, it involves plotting and outlining, and as we've just established, I'm bad at both.

However, I'd still recommend these books to a beginner. Much of the info in those two books are probably known to people who have been writing for years.

If you're thinking about self-publishing then this book teaches you the basics, but it also quite simply reveals that the most important part of the process is to write, write, write. Oh and also: work, work, work.

NaNoWriMo is around the corner. Who is with me?

What books on writing would you recommend? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Book Title: The Library at Mount Char
Author: Scott Hawkins
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: I own a Kindle copy

Goodreads, Amazon UK 
Plot: Carolyn's not so different from the other people around her. She likes guacamole and cigarettes and steak. She knows how to use a phone. Clothes are a bit tricky, but everyone says nice things about her outfit with the Christmas sweater over the gold bicycle shorts.
After all, she was a normal American herself once.
That was a long time ago, of course. Before her parents died. Before she and the others were taken in by the man they called Father.
In the years since then, Carolyn hasn't had a chance to get out much. Instead, she and her adopted siblings have been raised according to Father's ancient customs. They've studied the books in his Library and learned some of the secrets of his power. And sometimes, they've wondered if their cruel tutor might secretly be God.
Now, Father is missing—perhaps even dead—and the Library that holds his secrets stands unguarded. And with it, control over all of creation.
As Carolyn gathers the tools she needs for the battle to come, fierce competitors for this prize align against her, all of them with powers that far exceed her own.
But Carolyn has accounted for this.
And Carolyn has a plan.
The only trouble is that in the war to make a new God, she's forgotten to protect the things that make her human.
What did I think?

4.5 Stars.

If you think the plot sounds weird, then that's because the plot is definitely weird. This isn't your average novel. It's complex and requires attention, but the pieces will start to click into place after a few chapters or, well, at the very least towards the end of the book. Be patient. You'll get your answers.

The story is dark, bleak, confusing and at the same time wondrous.

There isn't a single dull moment in this book. From epic lion battles, to savage dogs, to zombies and psychotic characters, The Library at Mount Char offers everything.

It's compelling. Despite its horrific moments, it's incredibly compelling, and I couldn't put it down. Hawkins didn't just write a unique book, he's also got an unique voice. I especially enjoyed the way he managed to inject humour into the darkness.

The characters are all odd, some downright terrifying, but well developed and fleshed out. Hawkins has a vast imagination. I'm a tiny bit terrified of the man, now.

I don't want to say too much because I believe some books should be enjoyed knowing as little as possible, but this is one I would have never discovered without the invaluable recommendations I get from fantasy friends through Goodreads.

It's one of the most unique books I've ever read, and it's also one of the more darker and more terrifying ones. I'd definitely classify it as horror to a certain extent. I recommend it to people who love horror, fantasy and are looking for a bit different.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Novella: Initiate (Guild of Tokens #1) by Jon Auerbach

Book Title: Initiate (Guild of Tokens #1)
Author: Jon Auerbach
Genre: Urban Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: E-book review copy provided by the author

Amazon UK, Goodreads

Plot Summary: The Quests are real, the rewards are real, and the dangers are unimaginable.When Jen Jacobs stumbles upon the Quest Board during a late-night programming binge, everything changes.
The rules of the Board are simple:
Complete a Quest, get a token.
The harder the Quest, the more tokens you earn.
Get enough tokens, and you level up.
Except the Quest Board isn't in a video game. It's real.
Jen's first Quest is simple enough, but when she receives her first wooden token, the sense of achievement is unexpectedly addictive and she vows to grind her way to the top of this real-world game, no matter what the cost.
As Jen crisscrosses New York City fetching more random items, slaying dragons (well, sewer rats), and meeting a host of Questers, she soon discovers a hidden underworld dating back to the city's very inception.
And when a simple task delivers Jen into the arms of a ruthless Quester with a terrifying agenda, the game becomes one not only of levels, but of life-and-death.
Thank you, Jon Auerbach, for providing me with a review copy of this book. Also a big thank you goes to Esme over at the Weatherwaxreport for setting up TBRindr.

What did I think?

3.5 Stars.

This series shows a lot of promise.

It's a quick read, and I quite enjoy the idea of reading a series of novellas in this world. It feels a bit like watching a TV show, and this one has an interesting premise.

I am an avid gamer. Completing quests in the real world sounds appealing, though I wouldn't want to slay sewer rats, so maybe this game isn't for me.

Unfortunately, this first book suffers from some issues. It's a very simple plot, and Auerbach doesn't offer a lot of world building, and so far his characters feel rather flat. I'm imagining this will change as the series grows. I'm hoping especially Jen will get to develop in the next instalment.

The story is straightforward with simple, uncomplicated prose, but emotionally I did not connect with the world quite yet.

I think these books could turn into an excellent series if Auerbach takes care to develop his world and characters and with time will add layers to the story, sort of like Jim Butcher did in the Dresden Files.

Recommended to urban fantasy fans.
The next instalment will be out in September.

You can find Jon Auerbach's website here and join his newsletter here, to get updated whenever he releases a new book.

Sunday, 26 August 2018

Sunday Post (32) - Rain, Grey, Miserable

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted by Kimberly @ Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

If you participate (and you totally should because the community is amazing) don't forget to link up and if you leave me a comment, I will definitely check out your blog.

The Rules can be found here. And this week's post can be found here.

Just as summer started, it feels like it's almost over again. In the south of England, it's grey, there's rain, and of course this is our Bank Holiday weekend and we've got Monday off...fabulous, because I get to spend it curled up with a book on the sofa.
Last week was our anniversary, and we celebrated by going climbing, then for sushi and on Friday we biked into London along the canal and had a wonderful day in the sun. As you can tell, my girlfriend is an outdoor person. If it would have been up to me: books and coffee.
This is some of the sushi we had. It was amazing, and I think it's one of my favourite foods.

My own writing

I published a little, silly piece on Friday that was written inspired by a prompt. The prompt was: robot dinosaurs. Read it here. Let me know what you think.

Lately on my blog

Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang. Amazing and wonderful debut. Fantasy. Starts out as YA but quickly turns into a pretty horrific read. It's a great read, but please check out the trigger warnings.

Review: Paternus: Rise of Gods by Dyrk Ashton. Dyrk Ashton is an indie author and this book left an impression during Mark Lawrence's SPFBO in 2016. It came third. It's fantasy, filled with mythology and packed with action.

Review: The Fire Eye Refugee by Samuel Gately. A quick fantasy read by an indie author. At its heart a mystery and tackles important themes like a refugee crisis.

Review: Manna City by Geoffrey Pierce. Another quick read. Science Fiction this time. A post-apocalyptic story with interesting characters.

Review: Existence Augmented by Channing Whitaker. This one is a novella. It's science fiction and has a bit of a Black Mirror feel to it.

Review: Stillwaters by Yvonne Anderson. I quite enjoyed this coming of age tale written in the style of a memoir. It's fantasy, not set on our world and offers an intriguing voice.

Review: Before I Let Go by Marieke Nijkamp. This one was from Netgalley and sadly a disappointment.

Bright Ruin is the third book in the Dark Gifts trilogy by Vic James and a fantastic conclusion to this YA fantasy.
The Tropic of Eternity by Tom Toner is the fantastic third book in the Amaranthine Spectrum. It's a space opera, but it's so much more. This one is for people who enjoy world building and don't mind uncovering a world bits by bits.
And finally, Sorcerous Rivalry by Kayleigh Nicol. I'm not a fan of romance but this m/m fantasy was a delight to read.

Kings of Paradise by Richard Nell is a SPFBO contestant this year, and a fantastic fantasy read. One of my favourite reads this year so far.
Palom by L.L. McNeil; the first book, Moroda, is also a contestant in this year's SPFBO and Palom is the second book in her World of Linaria series. Dragons, air-ships and sky pirates and an uplifting fantasy in these times filled with grimdark.

I hope everyone has as great week. Have our dog waiting for my girlfriend to come home, sitting patiently on the stairs in front of our door as a pick me up.

Friday, 24 August 2018

Fiction Friday (2) - Creaky

Note: This is a silly piece written for practice.


by Olivia Hofer

Jay heard the creature before she spotted it.

It creaked in the corner under a desk, hidden behind two boxes. She pushed one to the side with her foot. It was heavy, filled to the brim with parts of a disassembled Tyrannosaurus.

Jay sighed. She'd been told that all AI had been turned off prior to the arrival of the clean-up crew, and that all they were required to do was find the dinosaurs, take them apart, stuff them into boxes and prepare them for removal.

Another creak, followed by a small squeak. "Turned off, my ass," she muttered. She definitely wasn't paid enough for this. Jay approached the corner, pushed the other box to the side and knelt.

Under the table sat a small raptor, its front leg bent at a weird angle, its head cocked sideways. It observed Jay with small, beady eyes, its tail curled around its hind legs.

She hesitated, waited for it to pounce and use its teeth, but it kept dangling its front leg, a miserable expression on its face.

"You were supposed to have been turned off," said Jay softly. She patted the raptor's head, and it showed her pointy teeth in return. "Woha, just trying to help." It cowered and pushed its bottom lip forward as if pouting. A guttural sound emerged from its mouth.

"I'm sorry little guy, but the park is being shut down."

The raptor lifted its leg once more, moved it back and forth as if to draw her attention to the broken joint. "Let me see," she said. She pulled on the small foot and clicked the joint back into place. "One moment." She retrieved a small bottle of WD-40 from her toolbox. She oiled the parts, bent the leg a few times and smiled. "There you go. All good."

The raptor jumped, inspected its leg and nipped her arm with enthusiasm. Its feathered neck glistened in the dim overhead light.

"Ouch. Look, it's not my fault the park is being shut down. Besides, you're not the only one experiencing a dreadful week."

The raptor whined softly, sat on its hind legs and pressed its head against her shoulder. A soft feather tickled her elbow. "My boyfriend ghosted me. Didn't even have the decency to break up with me, and now I'm talking to a robot dinosaur while working minimum wage. At least, you had a good run. I've seen you in the papers. You were a hit. Everybody loved you."

Jay thought the raptor attempted to smile, but that couldn't be. It wasn't made to smile. "It's not your fault people weren't visiting. Turns out no one is interested in perfectly safe creatures pretending to be dangerous when everyone knows they can be turned off by flicking a switch."

The raptor made a noise that sounded like a gasp and ducked.

"You didn't know you could be turned off just like that?"

It shook its head.

"See, I didn't know I could be ghosted just like that. One day he was living with me, and I cooked for him, the next day his stuff is gone, and he changed his number."

She absentmindedly stroked the raptor's head. The skin felt smooth under her touch. It purred. "You like that, don't you?"

It opened its mouth wide, exposing a row of impressive white teeth and a pointy tongue.

"I guess, I got some space at home with Brad gone."

Jay thought she saw a flicker in the raptor's eyes. "And you don't eat much, do you? Or at all, considering you're made of plastic or something."

It clucked much like a chicken and Jay laughed. "I will call you Creaky. Because of your gammy leg." She clapped. "We'll have so much fun."

Behind her, the door opened and slammed into the wall. "There's a time for breaks, but it ain't now."

Jay turned to face her boss. Spotting the raptor, he frowned and approached. “They told me all machinery had been turned off.” He grabbed it by its neck and ripped the head off. The cabling ripped with a sickening crunch, and Jay winced.

He gestured towards the boxes. "Once you're done, go and help Remy over at the museum. I'll load the truck." He wrinkled his nose. "I can't wait to leave. This place gives me the creeps."

He yanked on the raptor's legs before throwing the parts into an empty box.

Jay watched as he trudged out of the room, then turned and looked at the raptor's cabling dangling from its neck.

"Farewell, Creaky," she mumbled and proceeded to disassemble a Stegosaurus.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Paternus: Rise of Gods by Dyrk Ashton

Book Title: Paternus: Rise of Gods
Author: Dyrk Ashton
Genre: Fantasy
My Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥
Source: I own a Kindle copy

Goodreads, Amazon UK

Plot: Even myths have legends. And not all legends are myth.
When a local hospital is attacked by strange and frightening men, Fiona Patterson and Zeke Prisco save a catatonic old man named Peter--and find themselves running for their lives with creatures beyond imagination hounding their every step.
With nowhere else to turn, they seek out Fi’s enigmatic Uncle Edgar. But the more their questions are answered, the more they discover that nothing is what it seems--not Peter, not Edgar, perhaps not even themselves.
The gods and monsters, heroes and villains of lore--they’re real. And now they’ve come out of hiding to hunt their own. In order to survive, Fi and Zeke must join up with powerful allies against an ancient evil that’s been known by many names and feared by all. The final battle of the world’s oldest war has begun.
What did I think?

3.5 Stars.

Paternus is an exciting story, with a very fast-paced plot and accessible prose.

It just did not quite work for me. I'm interested in the sequel, and definitely will keep an eye on future releases of Dyrk Ashton, though.

Let's get the negative out of the way first. This reads a bit like it should actually be a movie. The narration hops from character to character, changing the point of view frequently, sometimes mid-paragraph. I found that a bit jarring. This is best enjoyed with popcorn, sitting in a cinema. As a book it just did not quite work. At least for me.

Others love this one, so if the premise sounds intriguing, give it a try.

Onto the positive.

Of course, what I described above, makes this novel unique. I highly enjoyed Ahston's fight scenes, and thought his narrative style was captivating.

Ashton's idea and world building are amazing. The visuals are captivating, and I think we can expect many great stories from Ashton's imaginative mind. The world building is intricate, filled with bits of world religions and various mythologies. I can't imagine the number of hours the author must have put into research.

When I say it's filled with world religions and myths, I mean, there's everything: from Chinese mythology to the Norse gods. There's Baphomet, and Ao Guant, there's Minotaur and Tengu. Just to name a few.

If mythology is at all what you're interested in, pick it up. Paternus is filled with it like no other book I've ever read.