Research Obsessions

My mind is a greedy, hungry beast and it craves knowledge about all sorts of things. I can get obsessed with learning about certain things and can spend months just hunting down books and webpages on a single subject.

Nominally these research obsessions are in service of books yet unwritten: ideas in the formative stage that need to be fed on the genuine texture of peoples and places and times in order to come to fruition. However this excuse doesn’t justify the myriad and varied tangents that by research takes me down. In truth I love knowledge for its own sake. I’m an addict.

My current research obsession is 1930s Paris. The city of lights in a dark, dark time – between the Wall Street Crash and the Second World War. It is a time and place filled with interesting (and controversial) people, and a lot of them are women: Elsa Schiaparelli, Wallis Simpson, Coco Chanel, Anais Nin, Josephine Baker. I get the feeling that this current obsession will last quite a bit longer.

52Under2: UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn

The book I am reviewing this week for 52Under2 is UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn. It is about 62000 words long and available on Smashwords for $0.99. (Correct at time of this review. The author’s blog indicates that the price might go up later.)

Congratulations to Ms Hahn on the release of her novel.

While there were stronger covers and better excerpts in my shortlist, I picked UnEnchanted to read this week mainly because of the premise: fairy tales coming to life and victimising the young descendent of the Brothers Grimm. I’m not deeply familiar with Grimm stories other than the main/popular ones, but I knew enough about them to know that there was a great deal of material for the author to mine, and I looked forward to seeing how she would do it.

Initially, I struggled with this book. There are quite a few distracting elements: POV switching on a paragraph-by-paragraph basis, tense switching, a character depiction that I found a little offensive, and a multitude of the kind of spelling and grammar mistakes that a spellcheck program won’t catch.
(I noticed my own favourite mistake among them – ending a verb in ‘es’ instead of ‘ed’ (e.g. ‘she raises’ instead of ‘she raised’. With the keys ‘S’ and ‘D’ right next to each other I do that all the time and spellcheck won’t spot it. I found so many of these when proofing my own novel that I lost count.)
All of these elements only really felt distracting to me in the first part of the book. The reason for this is that I found UnEnchanted quite slow-paced to begin with. While dramatic events do occur in the first half of the book, a lot of it is taken up with establishing the romantic relationship between Mina and her crush.

At about the 60% mark I realised that this was probably going to be a series of novels rather than a one off, at which point the slow pace made a little more sense. And as Mina is told there are almost 200 Grimm tales for her to survive, so this series has the potential to continue into many more novels.

Once I passed the 70% mark things began to heat up. Events started to come together more. A time and place for the final showdown emerged – a fairy tale ball, of course – and the tension mounts as Mina gets closer to this event. There’s even a teaser for love triangle potential in future books of the series.

Because of the spelling, punctuation and grammar problems in the book I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving it more than 2/5 stars. But the series has potential and, judging from the author’s Upcoming Projects page, if you like this book you shouldn’t have too long to wait for that sequel.

52Under2: Week 1 Shortlist

Week 1 of my 52Under2 book reviews.

These are the Top 5 books that caught my eye on Smashwords this week and I’ll be reviewing one of them in depth later in the week.

Into the Mist: Silver Hand by Steve Finegan
The  cover of this book looked good and, despite the slightly messy look achieved by having three different fonts, it got me interested enough to read the blurb. I found the idea of an epileptic hero, whose epilepsy gives him special abilities, quite tempting. Unfortunately when I went to read a sample the links on Smashwords were covered by an image and I couldn’t get  taster.
The author has also released this book as a podcast, which I might give a try at some point, as I’m always on the lookout for stuff to listen to while at the gym.

The Shadows in Between by Nicole T Smith
This book is tagged as a paranormal romance, but the cover is a bit different from what I’ve come to expect from a lot of books in this genre (a complete lack of black background for a start). It was this difference that made the book stand out enough for me read the blurb. Though I wasn’t clear immediately what flavour of paranormal was in this romance, I put it on my shortlist of books to read excerpts from.
The excerpt reveals some pretty good writing. The main reason I won’t be buying and reviewing this novel is that the paranormal flavour is ghosts and that’s just not my preference. But if ghosts are your bag, give it a try.

Children of the Gods – A Chosen Novel by Monica Millard
Another one where an attractive cover pulled me in. I liked the image, though I found the font a little bit difficult to read without zooming in. The cover got me to the blurb where I found another interesting/tempting story concept.
The only thing that turned me off the idea of reading this book was a spelling mistake in the Extended Description. (Shallow of me I know, but sometimes it’s all in the details.)
The author also offers a free short story eBook set in the same world as a prequel. Give it a try to get a taste of what the novel has to offer.

Monstrous by Ty Simmons
The cover of this novel reminded me of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments books, which I must admit is one of the reasons I added it to my shortlist. This book is well blurbed (is that a word?) The short description is succinct and gets you interested, then the long description fills in more detail and introduces more characters without giving too much away.
Reading the excerpt, you get straight into a suspenseful situation and it was compelling enough for me to keep reading for a while. This book is definitely going on my TBR pile, but it’s not the one I’ll be reading and reviewing this week.
And the reason for that is that I really wanted to read this next book instead.

UnEnchanted by Chanda Hahn
I love this story concept. A descendent of the Brothers Grimm being threatened by a story. Even though the writing in the excerpt wasn’t the best out of all of these, the concept was interesting enough to make me eager to read this book and see what the author does with it.
I’m off to download this book and I’ll post a review of it later in the week.


52 Under 2 Book Reviews

This is something in the nature of a New Year’s Resolution, but those are made to be broken so instead let’s call it a Manifesto – because that sounds cooler.

This year I will read and review 52 self-published eBook novels on this blog.

One a week = 52, so far so easy. The ‘under 2’ part comes from these restrictions:

  1. The book must cost under £2
    That’s about $3.12 at today’s exchange rate – I’ll call it $3 all year for the sake of making it easier on myself.
  2. The author must have under 2 books published on Smashwords.
    I know technically ‘under 2’ means 1 and I will be aiming for novels that are an author’s debut, but I will make an exception for authors who have self-published exactly 2 books if the book in question sounds tasty enough. Why? Because this is where I am as a writer, and I want to show some love to those who are in the same boat as I am, sailing towards the same dreams.
Other restrictions:
  1. I discover the book myself.
    Sorry, I don’t take review requests. Part of what makes this interesting to me is searching for a book or books to read and figuring out how the author managed to lure me in to reading. In this publishing climate that’s almost as important as what’s between the covers.
    There are plenty of book reviewers who will take review request and add a novel to their TBR pile. I’ve discovered that a lot of them are quite backed-up and might take a few months to get to a novel. Which leads me to…
  2. The book was published the preceding week.
    Yup – I only want it if it is hot off the metaphorical presses. Why?  Because you’ve written a book, you’re excited about it, you hit publish, and then…
    So some folks might get a thousand sales straight off the bat (and congratulations to you, you awesome-writing, super-marketing machines), but many will sit on tenterhooks watching for those early sales and feeling a stab of joy every time the counter goes up. I want to stab people… with joy, that is. Hmm, I’d better go back to the beginning of that metaphor and start again.
    I think it’s just nice to know, once you’ve put yourself out there, that someone is paying attention. And it might mean more early on, than when an author’s focus has moved to constructing the next story.

Discovery: I haven’t refined this yet, but I think my book discovery mechanism will be to search Smashwords for books in YA, SF, fantasy, or a combination of the above, that have been published in the preceding week and, based on the cover and the blurb, build a shortlist of 5 books that I might like to read. I can then use the sample/excerpt facility to pick from this 5 my book for the week.

I’ll post information about the other 4 books that I didn’t choose to review as well, in the hope that that might spur someone else to read and review them. Though just because I didn’t choose to review a book on a given week, doesn’t mean I won’t read it ever.

So that’s the plan; wish me luck.

Etched Offerings

This week was a good week. I went from being an unpublished author to being twice published (OK – the second of these was self publishing, but still exciting).

More exciting is having been chosen to be published alongside many other talented fiction writers in Etched Offerings, an anthology of pagan-flavoured fiction.

The anthology is available on and Smashwords.

There are some awesome stories in this collection. Read as a group it is interesting to see the threads and themes that run between stories. One theme that I noticed in quite a few of the stories was the theme of ‘searching’, most often for answers, sometimes for love or for a killer. In most cases the search is rewarded, though not always in the way you’d expect.

My favourite stories in the anthology are the two that lean most heavily towards a specific genre.

Wolves, by Cory Thomas Hutcheson, is an out and out ghost story. The lights go out, a blizzard closes in, strange things start to happen.

Worst Place to Be, by Trevor Curtis, feels like pure noir. The hard-drinking paranormal PI is recruited onto a case by an ice-cold, well-dressed dame – he just knows it’s going to mean trouble.

My own story, Empty Places, is a story of a contemporary family going through a sad time, but it ends with hope.

Hurry to Smashwords and get yourself a copy. It’s worth the price to sample all of those talented writers.



Heartweed: Final Chapter

This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.

Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading. 


Chapter 36

Artie ducked from the tourist-crammed street into the alley. She pulled the broken lock from the iron gate and slipped through it, replacing the lock to keep up appearances. A glance around told her that she was safe from curious eyes. Eyes that would doubt themselves if they saw her disappear through the glamoured door.
Artie clattered down the stairs into the cellar where it had all begun. Her footsteps echoed in the empty stone chamber. Gorth and come back at some point after Matthew and Blue’s attack and removed his mysterious boxes.
He had come back for his merchandise, but he hadn’t responded to any of her emails. And why should he? Their deal was concluded. His interest in her had been only business. But every day when she checked her inbox at the cafe a lump of hope formed in her chest, right above the place where her heart should be.
He had left the camp bed. Artie crossed the room to sit on the edge of it. She had turned the mattress over before sleeping on it. The side that was brown and stiff with her blood faced the floor. Artie tossed a handful of change – the last of her cash – on the floor next to the empty brown bottle.
Out of magic potion. Out of defenses. Out of time.
She fished a heavy, green plastic bottle from a carrier bag and stared at it. The dry-dust voice of Lord Threat echoed through her head.
Cutting the parasite from her chest  and burning it or administering certain poisons. These are the only sure ways to destroy one.
Weedkiller would probably do the trick. At that thought the parasite squirmed; Artie slapped it down reflexively. Slowly she unscrewed the safety cap from teh bottle. Her eyes lingering on the dark branching shapes growing under the bare skin of her arms and hands.
The harsh smell of the chemical made her stomach clench. The parasite squealed, but the sound was distant and tinny – coming in over a bad connection. She raised the bottle to her lips. One quick motion would send the murderous liquid burning its way to her stomach.
Her hand began to shake. Tears of frustration formed in the corners of her eyes. She could do this. She had to. She woke screaming from dreams of what it had been like when the parasite had completely taken her over. She wouldn’t go back to that again.
Artie closed her eyes. “Three… Two… One… Go.”
She couldn’t make her hand move. Artie howled in anger. Part of her wanted to blame her inability to drink the poison on the parasite’s influence. The rest of her knew the truth: she was a coward.
She just didn’t want to die.
Artie rocked backwards and forwards, her eyes fixed on the wall opposite, trying to work up the mental momentum to go through with it. Something moved on the wall. She blinked, frowning. Her rocking stopped.
“I can see you, you arsehole.”
Artie flung the bottle at the wall. It turned end over end, painting viscous streaks of green over the stone floor, before striking the wall next to Blue’s head. He didn’t flinch.
“How long have you been there?”
Blue stepped out of his glamour of invisibility. “I have been popping in and out over the past couple of weeks – to keep an eye on you.”
Artie made a face. “That’s creepy.”
“I thought you might see me and speak to me.”
“I don’t see magic stuff very well any more.” Artie shook her head. “It helps keep the parasite down if I don’t use any of its abilities. So no visuals unless I concentrate.”
“And no strength unless you need to break a lock. And no speed unless you need to steal something.”Artie could swear she saw a smile on the tall faerie’s face, if only for a moment. “Also even if you had seen me you would not have asked for help, because you are stubborn to the point of idiocy.”
Artie gaped. His words roused so much anger in her that it choked her, preventing her from retorting.
“You knew we had more of this.” Blue’s voice took a softer tone. He crouched in front of her and picked up the empty brown bottle. “In fact, Birtta has been working on an improved formula. Why did you not come to us for help?”
His peculiar face was close to hers. his eyes were deep wells, but, unlike before, the water at the bottom seemed warm. Artie found herself unable to meet those eyes. She shrugged.
“Come back with me now.”
“So you can look after me? Make it all OK? Isn’t it Matthew’s job to make that offer?”
Blue’s face broke into a real smile. “Maybe Matthew is tired of you throwing him across the room every time he tries to talk to you. But he will be there. He has agreed to work with Birtta and me towards our mutual goal.”
“What’s that?” Artie chuffed. “Faerie crime-fighting?”
“Yes. I would like you to join us.”
Artie’s head snapped up; Blue’s face was utterly serious.
“Are you not, in the parlance of your culture, a superhero?”
“Me?” Artie’s laugh was strong and bitter. “I’m… I’m terrified. I’m broken. I’m going insane or dying or both.”
Blue stood. “As I said, Birtta has an improved drug to keep the heartweed subdued. She is eager to work on a cure for you. Until that comes we can keep you stable”
“And if you can’t?”
“Then I will do for you what you are afraid to do for yourself.” Blue stretched out his hand. “Or are you too in love with the idea of being a martyr to your brother? It is easier than living with your choices.”
Artie glared up at Blue with slitted eyes. He looked calmly back.
“Are you at the end of your story or the beginning?”
Artie reached up and gripped the offered hand. She pulled herself upright and squared her jaw at Blue.
“OK. Count me in.”