Thursday, 24 May 2018

Book Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

MAGIC BITTER, MAGIC SWEET by Charlie M. Holmberg
3 Stars
Verdict: A strange way to bake a cake.

Note: I listened to the audio-book for this one, which was a new experience for me.

Maire is a baker who can infuse her creations with emotions, enriching the eater with love, happiness, luck, strength - anything she puts her mind to. She only has memories of the last four years, and so doesn't know how she acquired this skill, and is happy to work in a small shop, selling her cakes for little or nothing. When marauders raid her village and turn her into a slave, Maire meets Allemus, a strange man who can see the magic in her and wants to use it in bizzare and nefarious ways.

I think chapter one was my favourite. I loved the descriptions of the magical cake baking and the emotions it involved. The idea is simple yet beautiful, and created a world of ideas which I couldn't wait to explore.

Most of the rest of the book I found...odd. There were bits to enjoy here and there, like the Hansel and Gretel references, but these things weren't plot related. In fact, the plot spun in circles for a while, only picking up again at the very end where the learn who Maire truly is and what happened to her.

I struggled to get Allemus. He's a very uncomfortable character to read about, seemingly mentally disabled, but also abusive and inconsistent. Sometimes he acted like he needed Maires approval, and other times he turned vicious. He helped terrible people and did terrible things without a sense of motive, and his personality felt flaky at best. This was only somewhat answered in the end.

What slowed the pace for me was the repetition and use of the amnesia trope. Mare kept asking the same questions, thinking about the same things, saying the same lines over and over. Perhaps it's easier to read over than to listen to, but I found it a little irritating, especially as there are characters who do know what's going on, but decide not to say anything.

So who is Mare? Where did her magic come from? There wasn't a lot to go on at first, but it all came together in the end. Again, I struggled a little because I didn't think she was a very interesting character. She was too nice and simple, and as I didn't understand Allemus, I wanted to know more about him instead.

The ending felt like another weird turn to me. It felt like a different story, but I liked it. It answered the key questions, and made sense of what felt like a mess, although I'm still uncertain about Allemus. There's also a huge jump which I can't help wondering if it would have been better to speed up the first half the book and then show more of the resolution.

So it didn't pan out how I expected, but it was an okay book overall.

Source: Amazon kindle unlimited.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Book Review: Secondborn

SECONDBORN by Amy Bartol
2 Stars
Verdict: Hard to connect.

Although Rosella is royalty, she is also secondborn in a society that only has room for firstborns. At eighteen, Rosella's rights are stripped, her last name is changed to 'Sword', and she is sent to the front line to serve her country.

This one started strong and had a lot of creatives little ideas - the black and red disks for the medical bots, the fusion blades, the secondborns' surnames changed to 'Sword' - but it never really set itself apart from the dystopian mass in terms of plot, characters, and setting. At times it felt like the Capital in Hunger Games: blue lips, interviews with a girl sent off to die, special outfits designed for the occasion, face of the rebellion...Other times, it felt all over the place, and it never really came together to form a coherent story.

Things kept happening that didn't fully make sense. For example, Rosella's mother orders her to die, but once she escapes the building, life goes on as if the last scene didn't happen. It reminded me of GTA video game mechanics - stay low, and your star rating will drop, and the police will no longer care that you just ran someone over. Another nonsensical example is how all the soldiers are supposed to get a hair cut, but not Rosella, because someone decided they liked her hair. I can't even work out why that was in there - it just felt odd.

One more example. I never really understood why Agent Crow was allowed to murder and torture people. I know secondborns were supposed to have fewer rights, but I found it hard to believe he could get away with the things he did. While his steel teeth and lust for torture paint a fearful picture, I never understood his interest in Rosella, either.

Most of all, I struggled to connect with Rosella. At times, she was an emotionless robot, only doing what she's been programmed to do. I get that this is somewhat on purpose - that Rosella's secondborn upbringing has taken the fight out of her - but it would be easier to connect to the book if Rosella still had emotions in these scenes. Or the echo of these emotions. Perhaps her anger or regret was being pushed down, but it was still there, or she openly despises herself for pleasing them, or that she used to feel humiliated but now is numb. Instead, she seems happy to be a robot, and yet lashed out at other times. I couldn't work out her character. 

Other bits started to put me off towards the middle of the book. The whole 'let's make a weapon sexy' was plain cringy, and felt very low key for a plot point so far into the novel. A year then passed with nothing happening, meaning the tension leaked of the story entirely. After that, it just never peaked. I'd struggle to write a full synopsis for this books, as nothing stood out. Things happening here and there, and eventually it ended. 

I felt excited for this book at first, and a lot seemed to happen at the start, but I lost interest around halfway. It has some creative world-building concepts in it, but the story didn't stand out enough for me.

Source: Kindle lending library.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Book Review: Ready Player One

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline
4 Stars
Verdict: The most predictable book I wouldn't be able to write.

The hunt is on to find the egg, hidden inside an endless virtual world known as the OASIS, and shrouded in eighties references. Whoever finds it will inherit the creator's empire and entire fortune, which naturally means an evil corporation is playing dirty to win the contest. However, it's Wade, a poor orphan obsessed with OASIS's creator, who finds the first key. Game on!

This had a slow start, probably because of the predictable plot and generous heaps of exposition and references. At first, Wade talked a lot about OASIS without being able to explore it, but it's clear that's where the story is going. It didn't help that I correctly predicted the first 100 pages with ridiculous accuracy, or that the prologue tells us how the story will kick off, but Wade is in no hurry to get there. I knew the hoops we'd need to jump through for the rest of the main plot, so it felt slow going most of the time.

The details in this book are insane. This is a proudly nerdy book, a history lesson in early video games and 80's film and music. Sometimes the detailed descriptions were too much; a whole chapter describing the character's routine and equipment was too much information for me - I just wanted the hunt to continue.  But then again, the details are what make this book special. Unique. It only could be written by Ernest Cline.

The predictability ended on level 3, for a little while anyway. This section starts with an impossible puzzle, a risky plan, and real mix up of what was happening before.

So I enjoyed learning about the world, even if I did also feel impatient to get going somewhere. And it's still an entertaining read, even if it's very guessable.

Source: Gift!

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Book Review: To Kill A Kingdom

TO KILL A KINGDOM by Alexandra Christo
5 Stars
Verdict: A killer little mermaid retelling.

Lira is a murderous siren known as the Prince's Bane, for each year she steals the heart of a promised ruler to add to her collection. Her horrid mother, the sea queen, enjoys tormenting her, and thinks that the mercy Lira shows her victims makes her unfit to rule the sea.

Prince Elian is a siren killer. He travels the seas with a band of misfits - similar to a pirate, minus the plunder, pillaging, and general illegal behaviour - but one day must return to rule Midas. He finds his impending duties suffocating, but when he hears  whispers of a relic that could kill the sea queen herself, he barters his freedom away to find its location.

When Lira washes aboard Elian’s ship with legs instead of fins, the pair are thrown together in a quest to find the second eye of Keto, a powerful crystal strong enough to kill the sea queen.

So it’s a little mermaid with a dark twist, with the myth of Midas worked into Elian’s kingdom.

Everything about this book is simple yet strong, from the smooth yet beautiful prose, the small cast of well-fleshed characters, and the clear concept: find the eye of Keto, kill the sea queen. The overarching plot is fairly predictable as soon as the pieces are set up, but the journey is laced with surprises, and there’s plenty of action, romance, and magic to enjoy throughout.

The dual POV works well for this tale, because both characters are compelling to read about. Elian is heroic, charming, and good with a sword, a leader by example and someone who enjoys humour. Lira is a brilliant anti-hero, a murderer but not at heart. She plots the kill the prince to steal the crystal, and that keeps the tension throughout.

I did struggle to keep up with the logistics in the water action scenes. There’s more focus on the atmosphere of the action than the details, so I chose to go with the flow on this one.

Another weakness of the story is the promise of a anti-hero POV at the start which couldn’t be maintained throughout, or perhaps the timeline of the whole transition. Lira’s character arc and Elian’s ability to forgive are rushed - considering how fresh some of Lira’s kills were - but for the sake of an awesome story, the emotional journey has been accelerated. With the length and pace of the book, I think this sacrifice isn’t detrimental but it is noticeable.

On an editorial note, I would recommend adding the narrator's name to the beginning of each chapter. While the two main characters are very different, their narration style overlaps heavily. It seems like a simple addition that doesn't do any harm but could possibly do good.

Source: With thanks to the publishers via

Friday, 27 April 2018

Writing Festival 2018: Round Up

Well, that's it for another writing festival. I hope you've all enjoyed the mix of posts.

A huge thanks to all the contributors. I'ts been a pleasure working with all of you and reading all of your writing tips and experiences.

Below is the full list of fabulous article, interviews, and other bits and bobs. Also, the two book giveaways will be running to the end of April, so hop on over and enter if you're interested!

What does it mean to be a writer? by Jason P. Crawford
How to Send a Manuscript in a way that gets you Read by R.A. Black
Liar Liar Pants on Fire by Kathryn Hewitt
Combating Sadness with Creativity by N.M. Mac Arthur
How not to Murder your Writing Partner by John Gunningham
Success as an Author by J.P. Jackson

Author Interviews
Milo Maia
Ryan Eric

Giveaways, books to read, open critiques
Beta-reader classifieds 
Open Critique: Obscurity
*Daimonion by J.P. Jackson Giveaway
*A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett Giveaway

*The giveaway close midnight on the 30th of April!

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Beta-Reader Classifieds

Below is a list of manuscripts which the authors would very much appreciate some feedback. Take a browse and if anything takes your fancy, drop me a line in the contact form on the right. I'll connect you with the author, and you can take it from there! Alternatively, follow the link to the story where provided and send the author a direct PM.


by Milo Maia
Dark Fantasy
21,000 words

Reader to focus on: Characters and plot please, with a keen eye on pacing.

Siggi is an ageing warrior, searching for an artifact that will preserve her youth and stave off a fatal magic-eating disease.

Siggi is a warrior and a mythology scholar looking to preserve the twilight of her fighting years by hunting down a legendary axe. The only problem is the axe is buried beneath a sacred mountain that warps time; the closer she gets, the quicker she ages.

Take a peek!

by Ellen FairyBlue
Werewolf/General fiction
50,000 words

Reader to focus on: The story as a whole

This is a story about two siblings on their journey to find love and acceptance.

Parentless Elizabeth Cobalt has a difficult role in life as an adolescent. A role that seems to result in her play-along personality front for her grandfather, unwanted popularity as the future leader, and a possible loss at true love. Besides that, she has taken up the task of the responsibility of keeping her kid brother, Sebastian, her secret, from her prejudice grandfather.

With Sebastian being eleven, it's only natural that he wishes to explore. His exploring and  inexperience of survival was one sure way to keep the young leader-to-be on her toes. Growing up is never easy, especially when he has no playmates to help him on his way, and he is alone for most of his life.

Follow Elizabeth on her journey to care for a child and maintain her duties among her pack while dealing with the possibility of an all out battle against the local vampire clan.

Take a peek! 

(Tales Beneath a White Moon #2)
by Ellen FairyBlue
50,000 words

Reader to focus on: Story as a whole.

The story of two siblings on their journey to find love and acceptance.

Sebastian, as a young adult, life has gotten more difficult. With keeping his existence a secret, he must now keep a even greater secret that threatens him. This time, the threat takes the form of a young girl name, Raina Segal.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, is now on a mission to bring about a change for her werewolf family and the community of vampires living on the other side of Sackville City. Will she be able to?

Follow Elizabeth and Sebastian experiences in finding acceptance and love.

Take a peek!

by @minusfractions
Science Fiction
55,000 words
Reader to focus on: I have a specific set of questions I would like to send to readers (via google doc or something else that suits them)

A cyberpunk mystery and a dynamic duo's struggle with power.

Burdened with powers that he can’t control, Daud’s mind is flooded with information. He flees to the city of Eosa in hope of a fresh start, but as a renowned information broker assigned to the strangest murder in centuries, it’s far from what he gets. By his side, friend and fellow officer, Cimile, who can no more control her powers than he can his.

The murder is just the beginning. Attacks, memory theft and corruption plague Eosa, and they all come from a common cause. Determined to stop it, Daud tries to put his newfound powers to good use. But that means figuring them out first.

Take a peek!

by Cier Ryland
88,000 words

Reader to focus on: The plot and characters

Max Kaline is a young hunter who wishes to get revenge on all faeries after the untimely death of his parents. However, he soon comes to find that he is destined for greater things outside of what he once thought he knew.

Maximus D. Kaline is a young redhead who attends Titanium Corps Academy, a school designed specifically for hunters. However, these aren't your typical hunters. These 'hunters' go out to fight one kind of chaotic enemy to the world. Faeries. On his quest to understand them, as well as become the strongest of hunters in order to avenge his parents - who previously fell to the demise of a powerful faerie named Malechor, Max soon learns more than he wanted to about the world and himself.

When the death of his friend’s father comes into question over the whole school, the headmaster begins to bring in a new type of people tasked with finding the killer. These people are called ‘Cardinals’, and their sole job is to find and eradicate a certain type of people known as the “de’Navra”. The de’Navra are half-faerie and half-human and have been known to be formidable opponents, easily taking out hunters and humans alike before. When his innocence as a normal hunter is questioned, Max begins to find that he may not be so different from the de’Navra after all, and a group of them even wishes to protect him out of all the other hunters!

Take a peek!

Monday, 23 April 2018

What does it mean to be a writer? by Jason P. Crawford

It’s a rhetorical question (something writers are fond of, except when we’re not), one that no one is expected to answer definitively. The word means different things to different people, and each person’s definition is, of course, valid for them. But as someone who is (in his own mind, at least) a writer, I wanted to throw my hat into the ring and plant my flag.

As a writer, I write things. That’s the simplest part of the definition and easiest box to check. I put words down from my brain into a format that other people can interact with. Specifically, I write fiction, ghostwrite, and edit others’ works. I’ve published seven novels and two short stories. But is that enough to consider myself a “writer?” Is there some other, more technical quality that needs to be achieved?

Perhaps monetary success. Maybe writers can call themselves such when they can pay their bills with their work…or at least one of them. On some months, that’s true – I might make enough off my books to pay my internet bill for the month, or take my family out to dinner. Most of the time, that’s not the case. So that’s not it, at least for me. It might be for you.

Acclaim? My books have solid reviews, each with an average of over 4 stars on every outlet they’re available. There aren’t a lot of them – my best has 37 – but those do make me happy. I check my books every few days to see if a new review has popped up, and the good ones make me smile while the bad ones make me think. Both are appreciated. But do they make me a writer?

Your answers to the above are your answers, obviously. I can’t tell you whether or not you’re a writer, or your friend is, or your cousin. And I don’t have to. All I need to know is what it means to me: that I create stories that people enjoy. That I, as the first reader of my own work, smile and laugh and have to walk away because the emotions are getting so high I need a break. That my wife, who graces me with her talents as my alpha reader and primary editor, gives me the go-ahead after grueling weeks of editing, cutting, and rewrites, telling me that the story is ready.

I am a writer because I write. That’s the truth of it.

Jason P. Crawford

Jason P. Crawford was born in Louisiana in 1981. His writing career began in 2012, when he sat down for some “writing time” with his wife and sister-in-law. He has always been fascinated by the magic in the real world, leading him to focus most of his efforts on urban fantasy and science fiction. 

In addition to publishing his own work, he has spent time as a freelance writer, preparing articles and ghost-writing for others. In addition to Chains of Prophecy, Jason has completed The Drifter, a story about gods walking in the world of men, as well as Dragon Princess, describing the Princess Amalia Therald’s true heritage and her struggles to live up to it. His life as a husband, father, and teacher (as well as hardcore gamer) have opened up and nurtured a wealth of imagination and given Jason a tendency to flights of fancy, and those flights give rise to his work.

My book review blog, Beyond the Curtain of Reality: