Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Finding Fraser, and a New Short Story (and Contests)

Another mini review to add to last week's batch!

A couple of nights ago I finished Finding Fraser by k c dyer.

I met Jamie Fraser when I was nineteen years old. He was tall, red-headed, and at our first meeting at least, a virgin. I fell in love hard, fast and completely. He knew how to ride a horse, wield a sword and stitch a wound. He was, in fact, the perfect man.
That he was fictional hardly entered into it.
At 29, Emma Sheridan's life is a disaster and she's tired of waiting for the perfect boyfriend to step from the pages of her favorite book. There’s only one place to look, and it means selling everything and leaving her world behind. With an unexpected collection of allies along the way, can Emma face down a naked fishmonger, a randy gnome, a perfidious thief, and even her own abdominal muscles on the journey to find her Fraser?
What people are saying about Finding Fraser:
"Jamie Fraser would be Deeply Gratified at having inspired such a charmingly funny, poignant story--and so am I."
--Diana Gabaldon, author of the New York Times Bestselling Outlander series
"I loved this book. It transported me to a Scotland I wished I'd grown up in. Everything about it is a delight, and it's all authentic—the environment, the characters, the dialogue and the sheer enjoyment of it all."
-- Jack Whyte, best-selling author of, most recently, The Guardians of Scotland series
"Finding Fraser is an absolute must-read for any Outlander fan. The story is both hilarious and romantic, as well as guaranteed to have readers turning the pages until the wee hours to discover if the heroine finds her very own Jamie Fraser."
-- Laura Bradbury, author of the best-selling My Grape Escape series

It's not difficult to read on the Kindle app when I've got such a fun book to read! Emma's adventures and her growing love for Scotland make me want to visit the country all over again -- especially as I still haven't been further north than Edinburgh!

You don't need to have read Outlander to follow Emma's journey, though some of the insider references are fun to spot. Emma even has a real web presence, sharing blog posts and photos from her trip.

Does she find her Jamie? I won't give anything away... If you're in Vancouver on 11 June, you can attend the Finding Fraser launch party! And if, like me, you're many miles away, you can always live vicariously through the Finding Fraser tweets:

As for my own writing, the best part about setting goals for ROW80 (the writing challenge that knows you have a life!) is adjusting goals as new events crop up. This week I've shelved all other goals (typing Larksong and transcribing Wallace's correspondence, mainly) in favour of something entirely new: a short story!

Neil Gaiman tweeted about a contest the other day. The Word Factory in the United Kingdom is hosting a fable-writing competition, based on an opening line supplied by Neil:

The deadline is 30 June. I wondered if I would have any time to write a story, and also wondered whether I could even have a decent idea in relation to governments. Then, that night, I had a dream... I love it when story ideas come from dreams. This one was perfect. I started scribbling as soon as I woke up.

I was 1,000 words into the story before I reread the fine print on the contest. Hidden in the middle of the page are the three words "UK entry only". Argh!

But now I've reached 1,800 words. I'm about 1,000 words away from the end. I must finish. And today I realised -- I can submit it to the Surrey International Writers' Conference contest! Perfect timing. Especially as the deadline for this contest is only 18 September.

My submission in 2013 was shortlisted! We'll see what happens this year...

Someday I'd love to attend Surrey. In 2012, I even hosted a virtual Surrey International Writers' Conference, over on the CompuServe Forum (where else?).

As far as revamping my goals goes, I'm also hoping to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo in July! We'll see about this one, as we're expecting houseguests in the middle of the month. But I find NaNo a great way to draft story ideas I'd like to explore.

Have you entered any contests recently?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Mini Books Reviews and Actual Progress on ROW80: Camp NaNoWriMo!

Mini reviews!

One of the many things I need an intern for is to collate and catch up with all the book reviews I should be publishing. I find it easiest to mention the books I liked best (or books I didn't like at all) on the blog. This doesn't necessarily help the authors, but I have such a backlog that it would take a few hours to go through the blog and transfer the reviews (which often necessitates adding text or changing the format) to Amazon and Goodreads. I also feel guilty that I haven't reviewed every single book I've purchased on Amazon (whether it's the, .de, .fr, .ca, or .com site)!

The trouble is, because I've been reading since long before the Internet, I find my Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing profiles are not an accurate representation of all the books I own, have read, and have enjoyed. LibraryThing comes the closest, but there I have over ten accounts, and also a second job for my intern -- since I created those catalogues, I've obtained at least 500 more books!

However, a blog review and praise on social media is better than nothing. Zan Marie has a great feature on her blog that helps this situation -- mini reviews!

The following aren't so much reviews as a jumble of thoughts on the last four books I've read.

Mother Tongue -- The Story of the English Language by Bill Bryson

A light hearted journey through the history and usage of English. This is a good introductory text for someone who hasn't read anything about English before. Bryson's writing style is generally easy to read and usually makes me laugh out loud a few times, especially when he's making snarky comparisons or exaggerations.

His comment that it was odd for Tolkien to be involved in a history of English usage struck me as strange, since it seems so obvious to me that Tolkien was an expert in philology. Based on that, too, I don't find it weird, as Bryson did, that one of the words the Romans had for the male member was worm -- anyone who reads Tolkien knows that worm (or wyrm) refers to a dragon-type creature, and not an earthworm. Another oddity -- not referring to George Orwell at all in a book about English! Given Bryson's personal history, it's no surprise that he focuses on the United States and the United Kingdom. But I would have appreciated more Canadian facts and references. (There are a few Australian ones.)

Overall, however, this was an interesting book: I learned some new facts, got to roll some words around on my tongue, added three more books to my wishlist, and -- as it led me to Google Bryson -- I found out that he has a new book about England, The Road to Little Dribbling, coming soon! I also remembered an old post of mine called I love the English language, where I shared a sentence I wrote using all the words I could on the World Wide Words list of weird words. In alphabetical order! Here's how it begins (the weird words are capitalised):
Abigail and her Attercop Absquatulated with my Bezoar, the Blackguards, and it was utter Balderdash because they were Bankrupt so I couldn’t Blackmail them, the Blatherskites, and I was so filled with Blood and thunder that I Bloviated and wrote a Bodacious Blurb about the Boondoggle, upon which they called me a Bootless Brobdingnagian and a Cad, and then Cadged my Didgeridoo – such Cheapskates they were that they rode down a Cataract instead of hiring a Charabanc down to the Cadastral of Cockaigne; what a Cockamamie way to travel I called out, and tried to perform a [continues here]...

The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury

I just learned, thanks to Wikipedia, that the edition I read was missing one story (at least). That's a shame. I love Bradbury's simple and understated yet powerful style, especially in Dandelion Wine and Fahrenheit 451.

Unfortunately, I had some trouble with The Martian Chronicles. It's not a novel, but a loose collection of episodes that roughly flow into each other based on the dates. The dates, though, cover 1999 to 2026, and because they cover the current period, it's hard to willingly suspend one's disbelief. Wikipedia notes that there's an edition of the book that advances the dates by 30 years. That really doesn't help, however, and might make things worse; the trouble is that some things just don't make sense in terms of the future. It's possible to imagine that you're reading about another planet (since we know more about Mars now and there doesn't seem to be any water on there, let alone inhabitants) but it's hard to ignore things like people with no training and no physical preparation simply getting on a rocket and flying to another planet, stepping out and breathing the atmosphere. The chapter featuring groups of little children running around makes no sense even in the internal chronology because it implies that the first men to arrive and build up the cities brought their kids with them only one year after the first expeditions, whereas in another scene it's made very clear that the first men were working men and the only women there were "the ones you'd expect" (i.e. prostitutes).

And that's part of the other problem. We certainly haven't reached full equality across the planet by any means, but the lack of women in any other role than housewife, and the entire chapter called "Way in the Middle of the Air", about a racist white man, made me feel sad that Bradbury, in the 1940s and 1950s, couldn't imagine that humans might be just a tiny bit more advanced in the future.
The issue of nearly all the Martians dying from small pox within a few weeks after exposure to the first expeditions from the United States was all too poignant and sad.

Come, Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie
and Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott

It's surprising that, as much as I love Agatha Christie, after over 20 years of being a fan, I still haven't read all her books. I checked a bibliographical list the other day and calculated that if I read each one once (skipping only a handful -- the one or two Poirot novels I've reread often and the two Mary Westmacott books I've already read), at one book a week it would take me two years to read them all. Add this to the list of "someday I will..."

Come, Tell Me How You Live is an amusing anecdotal account of a few seasons at archaeological digs alongside her husband Max Mallowan. The sense of emptiness in the Syrian desert is palpable (another poignant thought, given current situations in Syria) and Christie evokes the charm of the people and the trials and excitements of travel and of an archaeological dig in the 1930s with a smooth and nostalgic style. She makes me want to go back in time and travel with her!

Absent in the Spring is set in the same locations. The novel is amazing, from a writer's point of view, because nothing happens. There are few conversations, except in flashbacks, and most of the novel is the thoughts and memories of the main character during a few days when she is stuck in the middle of the desert waiting for a train.

The story flows, the flashbacks are easily interposed, and there's never a sense of being stuck (i.e. in the narrator's mind). The build up to the emotional climax and again, when the resolution comes (I won't give away the ending), is very well paced. Another aspect Christie does well -- through the flashbacks, and the conversations with the other characters, the reader gets a more well-rounded view of the main character, rather than simply the character's own thoughts and opinions. Little words and phrases can carry so much weight!

Now I'm on another Agatha Christie kick, of course, so I'm reading Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks by John Curran.

The Hook Up by Kristen Callihan
The first book in Callihan's Game On series, available here!

There's a lot to love in this book. For one thing, I wish there had been books like this around back when I was reading VC Andrews. Instead of depraved sexual matter (thinking about My Sweet Audrina still makes me feel squicky. What a horrible way to treat a little girl, instead of helping her through a traumatic event), I could have been reading steamy romances between characters who - despite the flaws they see in themselves -- are strong, opinionated, and in control. I loved the witty banter (though the casual swearing seemed a bit overdone), and the fact that both lead characters study hard and read poetry. If I'd read this back when I was a teen, I especially would have loved the whole taking-care-of-an-injured-strongman scenario. And the variety in the kissing and the sex scenes is really well written -- there's no sense of repetition in the writing at all -- each time feels just as exciting as the first.

There seemed to be a slight imbalance in the steamier scenes -- they were all concentrated at the front of the book, and there were fewer at the end, especially around the climax. The climax itself might not have been strong enough in terms of raising the stakes between the characters. However, anything I say with regard to timing should be taken with a grain of salt, as I didn't get to read this book in my usual fashion at all. I find reading on screen jarring enough as it is, and this difficulty is compounded at the moment by the fact that I read in bed after the baby goes to sleep, and so I don't get to read as casually and for as long as I'd like (the books I read during her naps or on the walk to work are paperbacks, and I'm more used to the flow of those reading sessions). Since I'm such a stickler, and read with a pen in hand 99 per cent of the time, I also find it frustrating not to be able to mark typos! (There are a few here; Zepplin for Zeppelin and so on...)

The gradual reveal of the characters' back stories is very well done. Now that I think back, the setting is also very smoothly written -- the story takes place on a college campus in the United States, and is heavily centred on characters whose lives revolve around college football. Yet not once did I feel confused or out of my depth. Rather, I felt I understood where the characters were coming from and why they made the choices they did. The secondary characters are also well realised; it's always fun to read a book where you feel like you've known the main characters and their friends for a long time, and you're not struggling to remember who's who. The story is told alternately from Anna's point of view and from Drew's point of view; the male voice seemed very strong; I hope male readers would agree!

Speaking of Drew Baylor, who has the same initials as I have, this happened the other day:

Thanks, Kristen! Looking forward to reading The Friend Zone!

As for my own writing, and checking in for ROW80, I actually got some writing done the other day! Typed up three more pages of Larksong. Then I realised I'd had a chance to do that because I hadn't worked on the Wallace transcriptions that weekend. There doesn't seem to be time for both in the same day.

One decision I've made, though, is to stop feeling guilty about editing. I have to finish typing Larksong and the as-yet-untitled NaNo 2014 story about spies in WWI. After that... it seems best to keep writing, while the ideas are there, and leave all the editing for later. Next project, then, is Camp NaNoWriMo in July! I've already signed up, and hope to explore the story of Brother Arcturus and his adventures on Columbus' second voyage.

What have you been reading lately?

Will you be attending Camp NaNoWriMo? We could set up a cabin!

Don't forget to vote in WRiTE Club!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Spring in Geneva, a Photo Interlude

Another busy week! I didn't advance far on my main ROW80 goals of editing and transcribing, but I've been reading a lot and hope to feature another round of ZanMarie-inspired mini book reviews next week!

In the meantime, spring!

view from the dock at Nyon

me at the United Nations!

peacock in the botanical gardens

view in Nyon

a sideways door (she said ruefully - I rotated the photo, I swear!)

cat in Yvoire, France

Chateau de Coppet, where Lord Byron once stayed


Hope you're having a lovely spring!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Acronym Soup Day! A to Z Reflections, ROW80, WRiTE Club, and IWSG

You might not want to hear this but yesterday I had the perfect idea for a theme for next year's A to Z Challenge!

If I had all sorts of extra time, I could begin scheduling my posts today.

That would be a special form of madness, no? Plus it would remove some of the spontaneity and excitement from the event. In any case, I should focus more on writing and editing! I've had two story ideas in the past month -- this is fun, but not conducive to editing the already-completed novels.

One of my ROW80 goals for this round was simply to survive the A to Z. I did better than expected! Not only did I manage to post every day, but I also (thanks to a couple of days off work) caught up on all the comments here. Of course, I'm still busy making the rounds of many other participants... At last count, I had about 50 bloggers still to visit, plus (unbelievably) 60 others that I still owe visits to following my blog blitz day!

It seemed to me there were lots of fresh ideas for A to Z themes this year. Blogging is alive and well!

This is perhaps a good thing to keep in mind on Insecure Writer's Support Group Day. I worry that not having a regular cycle of editing will somehow loosen my writing muscles, but I forget that other writing -- not just the novel -- is good exercise too! Blogging, brainstorming, everything counts.

And I managed to submit a short piece for WriTE Club, which starts on 18 May! Here are the rules:

Come early and vote often!

Thank you to all the organizers and hosts of the A to Z.

I hope everyone had a great time visiting the A to Zers!

Books I'm Reading and Finished Books

  • The Making of Outlander by Tara Bennett
  • Testament of Experience by Vera Brittain
  • Zoom sur Plainpalais by Corinne Jaquet
  • beta read! (JB)
  • ***Reading At Intervals***
  • Sophie's Choice by William Styron
  • The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw
  • Burning Sky by Lori Benton
  • 12 Anne and Avonlea books by L. M. Montgomery (skimming/reread (this was free on Kindle!))
  • Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford
  • Istanbul Noir (Akashic Books anthology)
  • The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien manuscripts edited by J. D. Rateliff
  • The Jerusalem Bible
  • ***Finished Books***
  • The Children of Men by P. D. James
  • A Daughter's A Daughter by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
  • A Girl From Yamhill by Beverly Cleary
  • Sunlight by Margaret Rucker (poem; floating in a cocktail glass)
  • Save the Cat by Blake Snyder
  • Preface to The Hobbit, by Christopher Tolkien
  • Ilk Defa... by Beste Barki (essays)
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (essay)
  • The Moon and I by Betsy Byars
  • The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson
  • Rogue Warrior by Regan Walker
  • Beauty and the Beast by Villeneuve
  • Black (what was this? I don't remember!)
  • Dance of the Jakaranda by Peter Kimani
  • Thomas the Tank Engine by Rev. Awry (26 book collection)
  • beta read (Born to Run by RB)
  • The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay (poem; reread)
  • The Kraken by Alfred Lord Tennyson (poem)
  • Android's Dream by John Scalzi
  • The Mysterious Tadpole by Stephen Kellogg (reread)
  • Yashim Cooks Istanbul by Jason Goodwin
  • Miniatures by John Scalzi
  • Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain
  • Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter (illustrated by Quentin Blake)
  • All or Nothing by Rose Lerner (short story)
  • Merry Christmas, Emily (board book)
  • Extra Yarn by __ and Jan Klassen
  • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  • The Outlandish Companion II by Diana Gabaldon
  • The Outlandish Companion I, Revised by Diana Gabaldon
  • MacHinery and the Cauliflowers by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Dileas by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • The Gold Watch by Alistair MacLean (short story)
  • betty, butter, sun by Monica Byrne (short story)
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them screenplay by J.K. Rowling
  • The Very Cranky Bear (Scholastic)
  • various haiku by R. Wodaski
  • ongoing rereads of most board books listed last year!
  • see the 2016 list and statistics at
  • see the 2015 list and statistics at
  • see the 2014 list and statistics at
  • see the 2013 list and statistics at
  • see the 2012 list and statistics here
  • see the 2011 statistics on
  • see the 2011 list at
  • see the 2010 list at
  • see the 2009 list at
  • also in 2009 at
  • see the 2008 list at
  • also in 2008 at
  • also in 2008 at