Wednesday, 20 December 2017

And so the year comes to an end…

It’s that time of the year again, time for retrospection. It has been a long year in many respects, but I’ve been happy with my year as an author-publisher. There were some highlights, like visiting WorldCon in August, and not so bad lowlights that they would pull the entire year down.

I began the year with a bang by publishing two P.I. Tracy Hayes books that I’d written back to back at the end of the previous year. It was an intensive writing period and after it my brain needed time to recharge. Not that I realised it at first. I tried to write both of my ongoing series, Two-Natured London and the next Tracy Hayes book, but both got stuck after a few chapters.

Instead of pushing doggedly on, I decided to write something completely different. I’ve had this idea of a book brewing at the back of my brain for a long time, and I gave it a try. The project occupied my time suitably for most of the summer, and the writing process was interesting, not least because I aimed at a longer book than what I usually write. I almost finished the book too, reaching the climax of the story before I ran out of words. Basically, something went wrong with the plot somewhere along the way, and until I’ve figured out what it is and fixed it, I can’t finish the book. So far, I haven’t done it.

But the side project worked its magic on my brain and I managed to start writing the next Two-Natured London book again. It was going well too, until I absolutely had to write the fourth Tracy Hayes book – my brain is weird that way. This time the stars aligned and it took less than a month to write it from the first chapter I’d managed in the spring. P.I. with the Eye came out in November and sold nicely enough for as long as the price was only $0.99. Now it’s slowed down a bit. But more important than the sales for me was the knowledge that I’d managed to see through one project this year from start to finish.

After the book was published, I didn’t instantly return to the sixth Two-Natured London book. Instead, I had an idea for a collection of Christmas stories set in the Two-Natured London world, and set out to write them. I’ve never been all that interested in writing short stories, but these I found easy and fun to write. In no time at all I had six stories that make a nice little book. Since I started the project so close to Christmas, it’s been a race with time to get them out before it, but I think I can make it.

The only lowlight of the year has been this blog that I haven’t managed to update with the same regularity than before. Mostly I’ve recapped the books I’ve read. It has been fun, but hasn’t provided enough posts. Still, all in all, the year has been good. Two books written and four published. The next book is well under way and will come out early next year. I can retire for the holidays and rest until the next year. Thank you for following my year and I hope to see you next year too.


How do vampires spend Christmas? My short story collection Moonlight, Magic and Mistletoes, a Two-Natured London Christmas Special has six short stories, all of them sweet, Christmassy and romantic. The opening story, Escape on a Moonless Night, is the longest and is set in in 1660s France. In it, we learn more about the past of the vampire lord Alexander Hamilton, the leader of the warriors of the Crimson Circle. He’s forced to flee after marriage negotiations turn sour, and he’s not fleeing alone. In other stories we meet old and new characters from the Two-Natured London books, and follow how vampires, humans, and shifters find love and Christmas magic in the unique two-natured way. I’ll add a link to the collection here the moment it comes out. Stay tuned. Until then, you can read the opening chapter here.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Reading recap: November

I had a great reading month in November with six books finished, and only one of them from my reading list. Two books by Max Gladstone and two by Gail Carriger, with Nalini Singh and J.D. Robb thrown in the mix.

The Craft Sequence series by Max Gladstone continues strong with Last First Snow that takes place twenty years before the events in Two Serpents Rise. The story is about the last effort of old gods of Dresediel Lex to defend themselves against the new craft rulers, namely the King in Red. The uprise is led by Temoc, the last priest of the old gods, and father of Caleb who was the main character in Two Serpents Rise. Temoc becomes a reluctant leader of an uprising of people of Skittersill that the developers want to claim. Unlike the earlier books, which were crime mysteries, the story reads kind of like an epic fantasy with a build-up to a final battle, only it takes place on one city square and is mostly fought on negotiating tables. We also get Temoc’s side of the story of how he ended up losing his son and why Caleb hates him, which was kind of bittersweet to follow, knowing the outcome. Temoc was already my favourite character in Two Serpents Rise, and he was my favourite here too. We also get to meet a much younger Elayne Kevarian who turns out to be a more interesting character than she appears in the other books. All in all, a great book.

Last First Snow by Max Gladstone

Romancing the Werewolf by Gail Carriger was a completely different beast. A shorter M/M romance between two of my favourite characters from her Parasol Protectorate series, werewolf alpha Biffy and his newly returned beta Randolph Lyall. The London pack has relocated to Greenwich with curious consequences: babies start showing up on their doorstep. Some hilarity ensures, all too soon sorted out to my tastes. Also the romance itself resolves pretty fast and easily, considering the two of them had been waiting for decades. But it was a wonderfully uplifting book and I enjoyed it greatly.

Romancing the Werewolf by Gail Carriger

Naked in Death by J. D. Robb, the first book in her In Death series, was a bit of an impulse read after I found it cheap in a second hand bookshop. I’ve heard good things about the series, but I guess I should’ve started reading it back in the 90s when the series began. Now the futuristic world the book is set in feels dated and marred my enjoyment of the crime story. That too fell short. Some of her books written as Nora Roberts from that same time have had much better crime stories that kept me in their grips from start to finish. Also the love story between the main characters felt boring and I have no intention of reading through the twenty odd books the series has to see how it develops.

Naked in Death by J.D. Robb

The Sumage Solution by G. L. Carriger – i.e. Gail Carriger – starts her new adult urban fantasy series with a lot of sex, mostly of the same sex kind. It’s about a werewolf pack that relocates to San Francisco where they can be what they want, that is, openly gay. Set in present time, it sort of ties in with her Parasolverse world, and the differences are explained in the book. This new world has more mages and the love story is between one with daddy issues and a werewolf with issues with mages. Max was more complex and interesting of the two, though annoying at times, whereas Biff was more one dimensional. And the HEA felt like a happily for now, but since there will be more books in the series, well see how that’ll go. I’ll definitely be reading those too.

The Sumage Solution by G.L. Carriger

A must read the moment it came out was Cherish Hard by Nalini Singh. I love her two urban fantasy series, and the contemporary romance series of bad-boy rockers was good too, if not as captivating. Cherish Hard is a start of a new Hard Play series that ties with the Rock Kiss series and tells the story of Sailor Bishop, whose brother Gabriel was the main character in Rock Hard. Sailor is a gardener with great plans for the future. He meets Ísa, who has plans too – not to be overlooked by people she loves. It takes a while for them to have their plans align, and all of it is wonderful to read. I’m eagerly waiting for the next book.

Cherish Hard by Nalini Singh

Four Roads Cross, book 5 in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence series, returns to the place and people of the first book, Three Parts Dead. The city of Alt Coulumb is slowly becoming aware that their moon goddess Seril is still alive and that her gargoyle protectors are back too. Not everyone is happy, and the most upset of all are all the investors whose money depends on Kos Everburning, the main god and spouse of Seril. They force what is basically a huge stress test on the gods: should Kos lend soulstuff to save Seril, it would make him an unreliable investment and void all the millions of investments that rely on him, thus bankrupting Alt Coulumb. A complicated plot is needed to save the city and the gods. All characters from the first book are back, the craftswoman Tara Abernathy who is mostly responsible for saving the day, Abelard the monk-technician, Cat and Riz, and the gargoyles. Even Caleb makes an appearance. It’s a great book, made better now that I was more familiar with the world and the differences in governance and theology between the different parts. Made it easier to follow everything.

Four Roads Cross by Max Gladstone

That was my reading in November. One more month to cover, but I can already tell that I didn’t manage to cover my reading list, as I deviated from it a lot. But I got some great books in their stead, so I’m not upset.


In other news, Tracy Hayes, P.I. with the Eye is now available on all platforms and as a paperback too. And since it took forever for it to show up on iBooks and B&N, I’m extending the opening sale with a week, so that those who prefer to shop there can have the book with only $0.99 too. The sale ends on Sunday, December 10. Dont miss.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Working with the editor: a case study

Editing has been on my mind lately, as I’ve been preparing Tracy Hayes, P.I. with the Eye for publishing. As a happy coincidence, Delilah S. Dawson had a lengthy tweet chain about the topic too, prompted by her annoyance with aspiring authors unwilling to make changes that editors suggest to their books. Her response, in short, was that no author escapes the changes, so you’d better get used to them from the start. Her notes are useful to read in full.

She was speaking from the point of view of a traditionally published author who has more than one set of editors making suggestions and demands, all of which strive to make the book as good as possible. She doesnt claim its easy to let other people to have their say, but that its necessary.

Listening to one’s editor is even more crucial for self-publishing authors, as we lack the gatekeepers of traditional publishing. If you’re lucky, you find one who understands your writing, and who isn’t afraid to tell you how you can improve it. If not, you have the annoying task of finding a new one.

I’ve been working with the same editor, Lee Burton from Ocean’s Edge Editing, since 2012. We pretty much know what to expect of each other by now, but that doesn’t mean the process of fixing the manuscript is a shoe-in. There are different layers to the edits, all of which demand careful attention.

Mostly in my case, it’s about the correct use of language. I use incorrect grammar and words, in this case British English words instead of American, which there were more than usually. In my defence, I’d been writing another book right before this one in British English. He also suggests words that might fit the style better, but these are always suggestions. The final decision is mine. However, I always think them through carefully. Sometimes he has misunderstood my meaning and made suggestions based on that, which in itself is a reason to make changes to my writing. Clarity is the key.

It’s also about sentence structure. Lee likes tighter sentences than I do, hears a different rhythm than I, so he makes quite a few changes there. Sometimes I agree with his changes, sometimes I don’t. Being my own publisher, I can make my own decisions about them. That doesn’t mean I make the right choices, but I have to own them.

Then there are the larger issues of plot, characters and pacing. The greatest fear the new authors seem to have is that the editor forces them to make changes they don’t want to one or all of these. We’ve all read about authors who have been told to add a romance plot to a thriller, or change the point of view from the first person to third, all to make the book sell better. Delilah S. Dawson has good comments about that in her twitter rant too. Mostly it’s about what’s comfortable to you. Everything is negotiable, if you can make a good case for yourself.

Usually, though, editor’s suggestions spring from the manuscript itself, to make it better. Editor doesn’t tell you exactly how to fix the pace or the plot, and then expect you to follow their suggestion to the letter. They challenge you to read your text with different eyes. This time I’d managed to pace the book well, but if needed, Lee points out where the pace lags, or if a scene isn’t quite in the right place. I’ve only ignored his suggestion once. He found the ending of one of my books abrupt, but I didn’t change it, and the first reader to review the book made a scathing comment about it. In my defence, a year later, I still don’t know how I should fix it.

And then there’s a lot of fine tuning. This time round, it concentrated on the first paragraph of the book. Every author knows that the opening sentence and paragraph are crucial, so I’d really put some thought into them. I thought I’d nailed them too. Imagine my dismay, then, when the first thing I see opening the edits were two lengthy comments about the opening paragraph. In short, Lee didn’t think it worked at all.

This is the original opening:

I was trying to keep a tray-full of champagne flutes from gliding to the floor when the thief struck. Not me, or Mrs. Snobby-as-fuck I was serving would’ve got her jewel-adorned cleavage doused with champagne -- or the sparkling white wine the glasses actually contained, and about which she’d been complaining to me for the past five minutes.
I was sorely tempted to soak her anyway.

Lee didn’t like the transition between two different kinds of ‘struck’, figurative and literal. He didn’t like the pacing of the paragraph either, with one short and one long sentence. I thought he was wrong, so I moped a little. Then I rewrote the paragraph to this:

I was trying to keep a tray-full of champagne flutes from gliding to the floor when things went south. Not the tray, or Mrs. Snobby-as-fuck I was serving would’ve got her jewel-adorned cleavage doused with champagne -- or the sparkling white wine the glasses actually contained, and about which she’d been complaining to me for the past five minutes.
I was sorely tempted to soak her anyway.

But Lee liked this version even less. It removed the hook of the thief, and he found ‘went south’ to be a cliché. In his words: The issue as I see it now is that by removing the connection between the second and the third line (the struck pun), we have to find a new way to get from the good hook to the lady. The issue is made difficult as we're introduced to the idea of there being a thief and a robbery, but then we're taken back in time thirty seconds to the conversation with the Snobby-as-fuck lady, and then walked forward in time until the fire alarm goes off, so it would probably be useful to – in place of the pun – acknowledge the time gap, and then switch up the circumstances around how Tracy comes to the idea that she could use a good dousing with champagne. Something like...

And then he gave me a number of suggestions of how I could fix the issue.

I spent an hour or so going through his suggestions, trying to fit them into the paragraph and into what I wanted to say. I consulted my sisters who didn’t like my earlier versions, so I kept working on it. Eventually, it turned out like this:

I was trying to keep a tray-full of champagne flutes from gliding to the floor when the thief struck. I was serving Mrs. Snobby-as-fuck at the time, and contemplating her impressive, jewel-adorned cleavage with fascinated horror. I was kind of hoping one of the milling guests at the upscale party would nudge me from behind, so that I could “accidentally” douse her with champagne -- or the sparkling white wine the glasses actually contained, about which she’d been complaining to me for the past five minutes. But no one bumped into me.
I was sorely tempted to soak her anyway.

This, finally, found everyone’s approval, though Lee would’ve wanted to remove the last sentence of the first paragraph too. That one I kept though, as it serves as a bridge to the punch-line.

All of this took more than a day – though mostly because Lee and I live in different time-zones. It wasn’t an easy process, but it was a necessary one. I think the opening paragraph is stronger because of the changes, but I would never have thought to make them. So, an editor is definitely necessary – and nothing to fear. It’s not always easy to let go of words you’ve carefully chosen, but if you do, you can get something better in return.

What do you think, did the first paragraph improve or not?

Tracy Hayes, P.I. with the Eyes comes out later this week. Until then, the first book in the series, Tracy Hayes, Apprentice P.I., is only $0.99. Don’t miss!

Monday, 13 November 2017

Tracy Hayes is back! With a sneak preview.

As I promised last week, this week’s post is about my writing. Coming up later this month – the date isn’t set yet, but I’m hoping around US Thanksgiving – is the fourth book in my Tracy Hayes detective series, Tracy Hayes, P.I. with the Eye. For those who haven’t met her yet, Tracy is a Brooklyn waitress who, after losing her job, becomes an apprentice to a PI. All sorts of shenanigans follow. Adding to the mix is Tracy’s family, two brothers and a sister, with their problems. If you want to read the previous books in the series, you can do so here, here, and here.

In today’s post, I have the description, the cover, and the first chapter for you – though still unedited. I hope you like them. And stay tuned for the publication date so that you won’t miss Tracy Hayes, P.I. with the Eye.

What do you think of the cover?

Thieves and baby nappers, Tracy is here to catch them.
It’s Thanksgiving Eve, but Tracy isn’t happy. She’s back to waitressing, a thief ruins a perfectly good party – lousy beverages notwithstanding – and she fails to apprehend the culprit. As the sole eye-witness, she is needed by the police, but she has a more important case to worry about. Babies have gone missing in her parents’ neighborhood and the police have no clues. And then one is found dead.

Tracy sets her sights on finding the baby-napper while juggling a family Thanksgiving, a jewelry thief, and two gorgeous men. And all this with a shining black eye. Who said being an apprentice P.I. would be easy?

Chapter One

I was trying to keep a tray-full of champagne flutes from gliding to the floor when the thief struck. Not me, or Mrs. Snobby-as-fuck in front of me would’ve got her jewel adorned cleavage doused with champagne. Or the sparkling white wine the glasses in fact contained, about which she’d been complaining to me for the past five minutes.

I was sorely tempted to soak her anyway.

It wasn’t just her complaining that irritated me, or the fact that her dress, which she was too old and portly to wear, cost probably more than I made in a year. It wasn’t even solely that it was the night before Thanksgiving and I should’ve been at my parents’ house helping Mom prepare for it instead of serving pretense champagne and hors d’oeuvres to who’s who in Brooklyn – and probably half of Manhattan as well.

No, it was the misery of being back to waitressing after three months as a private detective. Worse yet, my body had naturally activated the muscles needed to hold the large trays hours on end while wearing high heels. I had been waitress extraordinaire once, and it was as if I’d never stopped. Even my attitude became subdued as befit a person in servile position.

Not exactly my natural state.

The only thing that saved Mrs. I-know-champagne-when-I-taste-it from getting a bubbly white bath was the knowledge that this was only a temporary assignment. I wasn’t back to waitressing for good. I was undercover for a case. And I couldn’t mess this up, or my boss would be very upset.

And when Jackson Dean, my boss at Jackson Dean Investigations, became upset, he got angry. Then he would yell at me, which would upset me. It wasn’t so much the yelling that did it – he was entertaining to watch – but the knowledge that I’d earned his anger. I’d been on a roll this past month and preferred to continue my winning streak. He’d only yelled at me, like, once or maybe twice, if you count the time I slept in and forgot to show up for our morning jog. He’d run two and a half miles from his home in Marine Park to Midwood where I live, in rain, just to vent his aggravation to me.

That’s dedication.

“What is your name, girl,” Mrs. Real-champagne-has-tinier-bubbles demanded in a haughty tone you didn’t often hear outside British period dramas.

“Jessica, ma’am.”

It wasn’t. My name’s Tracy Hayes, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. I was undercover, after all. However, why I gave her the name of my former roommate eluded me. Especially since it wasn’t the name I’d picked for this job. I’d chosen Henrietta Fern, for those curious, a name that had caused Jackson infinite mirth. His undercover name was Dean Jones, which totally lacked imagination in my opinion, but which he’d said was easy to remember in a tight spot. I guess he was right.

Don’t tell him I said that.

Jessica and I had parted in nasty terms about a month ago when she’d moved away with some of my furniture without asking my permission. I’d retaliated by confronting her in front of her date, one Thomas Thane Westley, a tech start-up millionaire and – incidentally – the host of the party tonight.

He hadn’t remembered me when he briefed Jackson and me about the evening, and Jessica was no longer his girlfriend, so I hadn’t had to face her here. But perhaps I’d been subconsciously bracing for the encounter and the name just popped out.

“Well, Jessica, why don’t you scurry into the kitchen and bring me proper champagne,” Mrs. I’m-too-important-to-be-served-inferior-stuff suggested with an arrogant sneer. I widened my professional smile from polite to indulgent, as if it was my privilege to serve her, and said “Right away,” without the least intention of doing so and turned to leave.

That’s when the fire alarm went off.

The entire roomful of people froze when the loud beeping started. The large loft apartment had an open floor plan – only the kitchen at the back and the bedrooms on the mezzanine were closed off – and the sound echoed from the high ceiling and bare redbrick walls, making it impossible to detect where it came from.

“Is that the fire alarm?” the woman demanded affronted, as if it was a personal insult to her.

“I’ll go investigate.” I pushed the tray at her and she instinctively accepted it. Then I dashed off as fast as I could in my high-heels, ignoring her protests.

I located Jackson in the foyer at the foot of the curving metal and glass stairs leading up. I’d forgotten he was wearing a suit tonight, so it took me a moment to spot him, as I kept looking for a man in a black T and jeans. I barely recognized him in his James Bond getup and I startled when my eyes landed on him. He looked good.

Don’t tell him I said that either.

“What’s going on?” I asked, raising my voice to be heard over the noise.

“Fucked if I know. I’ve been keeping an eye on these stairs the whole evening. No one’s gone up, so it can’t be the safe’s alarm.”

The reason we were undercover was to protect the host from being burglarized. There had been a series of break-ins into the finest homes of New York the past month, mostly on Manhattan and always during a party like this one. While the house was filled with people and the hosts busy, the thief snug in, broke into the house safe and left with whatever they’d contained. The police had no clues.

Thomas Thane Westley hadn’t wanted to take chances. “I don’t have valuables in my safe, but I do keep some important papers there.” So he’d hired us to keep an eye on the guests. The police assumed that the thief either impersonated as a guest, or was someone from the upper echelon of society to get an invitation.

Since Mr. Westley didn’t want to ruin his first big party after listing his company by bringing in the cops, he’d selected us. “I doubt I’ll be targeted, since the thief seems to know when there are valuables in the house, but better safe than sorry.”

It seemed he’d been wrong. And that spelled trouble for us if we couldn’t handle the situation.

The irritating beeping continued without anyone seeming to be able to do anything about it. “I think it’s the fire alarm,” I said to Jackson who nodded, sweeping his gaze over the guests who were looking at each other in indecision, wondering if the situation was serious enough to merit evacuation and leaving a perfectly good party.

“But what caused it? And is it genuine?”

“I’ll go check the kitchen,” I said, assuming that if there was a fire, the kitchen was the likeliest source.

I’d barely taken a step towards the other end of the room where the kitchen was, when there was a sort of ‘whoosh’ sound and the sprinklers began to spew cold water on us. It cut off the beeping, so I took it as an improvement. Not so the others.

Screams and curses filled the air, and the guests began to mill towards the front door, their heads pressed down and hands lifted over their heads to protect their fine hairdos, as if it would help against the determination of the finest sprinkler system money could buy to extinguish all fires. In mere moments everyone and everything was drenched and the floor was swimming.

Jackson took instant charge. He was a former cop, so he was trained for it, and he was the kind of person who naturally assumed he was the one you should listen to when things went ape-shit. He rushed to open the door out of the apartment and began to issue orders about orderly exit and telling people not to use the elevator. I don’t think anyone paid any attention. They were in too much of a hurry to get out of the cold water raining on us.

I wanted to flee too. I didn’t have a death wish and a house fire was one of my least favorite ways to die. But I didn’t see or smell any smoke, and since I was wet anyway, I couldn’t get more miserable than I already was. My clothes weren’t expensive and a few drops of water wouldn’t ruin them.

Instead, I retreated on the stairs to get out of the way of the people pushing towards the door. Water was dripping down my face and into my eyes, but I got a good look at how Brooklyn’s finest treated each other in a crisis situation. It was pretty ugly. I wouldn’t trust any of them with my back. There wasn’t a woman so old and feeble that she wouldn’t be pushed out of the way by a strong younger man. I was about to dash over to the woman when she bashed the man with her handbag. She clearly didn’t need any help from me.

The crowd was thinning, but not very fast – the door wasn’t wide enough for such a disorderly exit. But they were consistently pushing to the same direction. All but one man, who was calmly heading to the kitchen.

Now, he could’ve been a man blessed with more than common sense who had realized that the place had to have a second exit through the kitchen that no one else was taking. But there was something in his studied nonchalance that was calculated to keep people from noticing him that instantly put my Spidey senses on alert. Or whatever senses private detectives have.

I considered my course of action for as long as it took me to slip off my high heels. Then I pushed into the exit throng, as heedless of their well-being as they were of each other’s. I’m average height and half the Brooklyn Nets seemed to be among the guests, judging by how they towered over me, but what I lacked in vertical reach, I more than made up with the sharpness of my elbows. They met their targets unerringly, and in no time at all I was through the milling people. The floor clear before me, I took off at full speed – or as fast as I was able to through the water – after the man who had already disappeared into the kitchen.

Behind me, the first shouts erupted: “My necklace!” “My wallet.” And then, the inevitable: “Did that girl take them?” “Stop that girl!”

But I couldn’t pause to tell them they had the wrong person, because I now knew I had the right one. Sliding on the wet hardwood floor, I pushed through the swinging doors into the kitchen, only to see the man exit through the open back door.


That was the first chapter of Tracy Hayes, P.I. with the Eye. Tell me what you thought of it in the comments.

Monday, 6 November 2017

Reading recap: October

I got back on my reading track in October with five great books. Well, technically I finished the last one in November, but it was in the small hours of the morning, so I’m counting it to this month. As has been my habit this year, some of the books were outside of my reading list, some from it.

I started the month with a great young adult book called Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John. It tells about Piper who ends up as a manager of the up and coming – hopefully – band called Dumb of her high school, mostly on dare, but partly because her parents have raided her college fund to pay for a hearing implant for her baby sister and she wants to get rich fast. It would’ve been a good premise as is, but the twist is that Piper is deaf, so she has no idea if the band is any good or not. Also she has zero knowledge of the music the band is interested in, or music in general. The book is kind of an emotional roller-coaster with both the band and her family offering her plenty of opportunities for personal growth. And she mostly learns from them too, but not before creating quite a mess. The only parts that felt a bit glued on were the trips to the past music scenes of Seattle where she lives, presumably to teach Piper about it, but mostly, I felt, to show the readers how much the author knows about it. But I can forgive that, because Piper was a wonderful character and the author had taken great pains in imagining what it would be like to be deaf in the world of the hearing and not be discouraged by it.

Five Flavors of Dumb by Anthony John

In sharp contrast with the first book was White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout, also about a high-schooler, Layla. She, too, is different from her friends, she’s part demon, part gargoyle, but since she can’t talk about it with them, her school friends are sort of add-ons to the story instead of part of her life. She’s not really accepted at home either among her adoptive caretakers, who are full gargoyles and hunt demons.  The story is basically about Layla finding out about her roots, why she is the way she is, but since it’s the first book in a series, nothing conclusive is said about it. There’s a love story too, between Layla and a demon who claims to help her against demons who hunt her, but for a book with such a name, it was disappointinly chaste and lame. I found the book tedious and too long, and ended up skipping a bit. But the ending was good.

White Hot Kiss by Jennifer L. Armentrout

My best readings of the month were two books in Max Gladstone’s Craft Sequence series, Two Serpents Rise and Full Fathom Five, which are books two and three in the series. Gladstone has created an amazing fantasy world were soul stuff is currency that can be accumulated and saved in banks, and which is used for all kinds of transactions that bind the countries, the people and the gods. The world is divided to countries with and without gods, the Gods War having killed most of the gods in the former. They are ruled by craft users, sort of magicians, but more like lawyers who negotiate intricate contracts to bind the world to their will. But gods haven’t completely disappeared and it’s the theme in both books.

Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

In the first book, Caleb Altemoc who works as a risk manager for a water company – basically – is sent to investigate why demons are infesting the water reservoir. It starts a long and complicated crime mystery where dormant gods play a role too. And things aren’t made any easier by the fact that Caleb’s estranged father Temoc, the last living priest of the former gods, is the prime suspect. In the second book, set in a far-off island, idols that are used for storing soul stuff for companies that need gods but do not want them, start gaining consciousness and becoming gods in truth. Like in all the books in the series, this isn’t a theological or metaphysical problem, but an economic one and requires complicated action to save the entire world from a financial ruin. Easiest solution would be killing the emerging gods, but the main characters, a beggar and thief Izzy who’s become an unwitting priestess of the gods, and Kai, a priestess-accountant who creates the idols, have other ideas. A couple of characters from the first book make an appearance too. After three books, it’s evident that this is definitely a series unlike anything out there, both big and small at the same time, an amazing world combined with characters that feel real.

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

I ended the month with one of my all-time favourite urban fantasy series, Charley Davidson by Darynda Jones. The Trouble with Twelfth Grave is already book twelve, but the series is still going strong – though sadly soon to end. We pick off where the previous book ended, Charley’s husband Rey returning from a hell dimension as an evil god. Charley isn’t discouraged by it – she’s never discouraged by anything, she’s too ADHD to think that far ahead; she tries to prove that her husband is still somewhere inside the evil version of him. But a series of gruesome deaths that might be done by him dampens her spirits a bit. After all sorts of shenanigans, the true killer is found, but it only delivers a kick-in-the-gut twist that ends the book in a cliff-hanger.  It was a good book, though not quite as funny as most of the previous ones. And now we have the agonising wait for the next one.

The Trouble with Twelfth Grave by Darynda Jones

That’s my recap. But I’ve done more than just reading, I’ve been writing too. Coming up next week, cover reveal and an excerpt of the fourth Tracy Hayes book, Tracy Hayes, P.I. with the Eye. Stay tuned. And if you haven't read the earlier books, you can start with Tracy Hayes, Apprentice P.I.

Tracy Hayes, Apprentice P.I. by Susanna Shore

Monday, 9 October 2017

Reading recap: September

After a dismal August, September turned out to be a slightly better reading month, but only because I cheated. I finished four books, but I read only two of them properly. The other two I had to skim to finish them. I should probably have stuck with my reading list, as that didnt fail me. Also, technically, I finished one of the books in October, but since it took me most of the month to reach the end, I’ll write it down as one for September.

First of the books I began to read was Railhead by Philip Reeve. It’s a young adult book – sort of, I guess, though I never figured out how old the main character was – with an interesting premise that hooked me from the start. A distant future where interstellar travel is done by sentient trains jumping through gates between worlds, and a petty thief who loves to travel on them. He’s lured into stealing something important and everything goes wrong, plunging the entire system into chaos. With such an interesting story, I should’ve managed to read it, but I got stuck half-way. I skimmed the book to the end – fairly carefully – and the story was good to the end and the characters turned out to be more than what they appeared at first. So I think it was a good book. We just weren’t a good match.

Railhead by Philip Reeve

The first book of the month that I actually finished was a stable in my reading diet: the latest Stephanie Plum by Janet Evanovich. Turbo Twenty-three was, as the title suggests, 23rd book in the series, and better than the previous couple of books in the series have been. The crime story was suitably mysterious, the funny bits weren’t a repetition of the same-old, and the author had finally stopped pretending that Stephanie will ever choose between her two lovers, and just allowed her to enjoy the ride. If this trend continues, the series might return to what it used to be: laugh-out funny.

Turbo Twenty-three by Janet Evanovich

The best book of the month by far was, as always, the latest Nalini Singh paranormal romance. Archangel’s Viper is book ten of her Guild Hunter series and told the love story of Venom, a vampire with the poison of snakes running in his veins, and Holly who has been forcefully made a vampire by an insane archangel. Most of the book dealt with Holly’s trauma and her emergence from it, which gave the love story space to grow. I liked the characters and I liked how they were together. The only complaint I have is that the book was slightly out of balance, as the first two thirds of the book was devoted to hunting down the person who wanted to kidnap Holly, which then was completely discarded in favour of a different plot. But since the book otherwise had a satisfying conclusion, I forgave it.

Archangel's Viper by Nalini Singh

Last, and definitely least, is City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte, which is a pseudonym for writers Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch. The premise was so promising that I borrowed the second book in the series with the first: a musicologist, Sarah Weston, is invited to Prague after the death of her mentor, only to be caught up in a time-travel mystery. Only, the book had almost nothing to do with it. There was a mystery story that wasn’t about time travel, or interesting for that matter: a US senator who didn’t want her KGB past to come to light. Presumably everything that took place in the mysterious castle where Sarah was invited to, was done by people working for the senator, but I can’t be sure, because I began to skim after reading about half of the book. Nevertheless, that was the most straightforward of the plots, though it only became clear at the end of the book. Then there was a hunt for everything Beethoven, a hunt for a golden fleece, and a really lame love story. At about half-point the book got to the time travelling, which was done by a drug that caused one to experience the energies of the past as if one were there – though how the people of the past were able to react to the energies of the future, I have no idea. Add to that a cast of characters that weren’t in any way interesting – including a long-living dwarf and a blind child prodigy whose role in the book I really didn’t get – and a travel guide’s worth of historical details of Prague and Beethoven, and you have a mighty mess in your hands. Nothing that was told in the set-up of the book had anything to do with the rest of the book, including the death of Sarah’s father, and only one of the plots got some sort of conclusion. I don’t know why I wasted as much time with the book that I did. Needless to say, I will not read the next book.

City of Dark Magic by Magnus Flyte

And that was my reading. I really hope October will turn out to be better.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Reading recap: August

August was my worst reading month so far and I only managed to finish two books. I have no excuses other than that I was busy working. I did start two more books, but I didn’t manage to finish them in August. And even though I read eight books in July, I’m now two books behind the schedule in my reading challenge of fifty-five books. I’ll have to step up. As has been my habit throughout the year, one book was from my reading list and the other wasn’t.

First book was Ride the Storm by Karen Chance, the long-awaited next chapter in her Cassandra Palmer urban fantasy series of time-travelling Pythia and her entourage of vampires, demons and mages. One vampire and one mage in particular. As always, it was a wild romp through space and time – at times a bit too wild. The first part of the book was constant tumbling from crisis to battle and back with no breathers or plot development in between, as if the author was afraid that the reader will get bored if something earth-shattering isn’t constantly happening. At this point of the series it’s getting exhausting though. I’d like some moments of reflection and recap. At least the plot-line we’ve been following for the past three books came to a conclusion – after an endless battle that took most of the last third of the bookand Ms Chances two series finally converged in a fairly meaningful fashion. Still, it was an entertaining book and I’m happy to continue reading the series.

Ride the Storm by Karen Chance

Second book of the month was Our Dark Duet by V.E. Schwab, the second and last book of her Monsters of Verity duology, and third book of hers that I’ve read this year. The duology is set in some post-apocalyptic future where demons come to exist every time humans commit murders. The first book introduced Kate, a daughter of a human monster controlling the demons, who was trying to seek her father’s approval with catastrophic consequences, and August, a demon who was struggling to become as human as possible. In this conclusion of their stories they’ve both changed, August maybe more, as he has embraced his demon side in order to fight demons. Together they prepare for a final confrontation to defeat the greatest demon they’ve yet encountered, one that thrives on human emotions. It was a hefty book, yet nothing much seemed to happen. The plot sort of meandered on until the final battle. It wasn’t as emotionally engaging as the first book either, but the ending was satisfying. And even though it was only a duology, the story has room and characters for more books too. I’d very much like to read those.

Our Dark Duet by V.E. Schwab

And that was my reading. I’m hoping to do better in September, but it’s not looking good so far. There are great books from my reading list published this month that I’m looking forward to reading, but I’m still pressed for time. And when I have free time in my hands I haven’t been reading. I’ve been binge-watching Lucifer on Netflix – and I’m not even ashamed to admit that on a blog post about reading. It’s a great series. And do I sense a demon theme in this months post...?

Monday, 4 September 2017

My #worldcon75 experience

Here’s the long overdue report from my day at the WorldCon 75, my first ever time attending. The event was held on August 9-13 in my home country, Finland, so it was a once in a life-time chance to experience it with a minimum trouble. I originally thought to attend the entire five days, but life intervened in the form of work, and so I could only attend on Saturday. I tried to make the most of it by planning a full day.

Storm Trooper welcoming me to WorldCon 75.

I arrived at the conference centre about fifteen minutes after the doors opened at nine in the morning, and the queue was already at least fifty metres long. It caused me a few palpitations until I figured it was the line for people who hadn’t purchased their day passes in advance. I had, so I just walked past, trying not to look gleeful. Half an hour later I felt bad for all those people when it was announced that the day was sold out, which left most of them outside. The queue for pre-purchased passes was three persons long, the shortest line for me the entire day. I should’ve enjoyed it.

My day pass.

The first order of business was to get a cup of coffee, but the nearest café in the lobby had a line so long I wouldn’t have made it to the first panel of the day at ten. I didn’t despair, but located the only other open restaurant, an Indian place that also sold coffee, and had my cup there with a minimum fuss. Thus fortified, I set out to find the room for the first panel.

Now, I’d come prepared. I’d printed out all maps of the conference centre and marked the correct rooms, but I hadn’t taken into account my inability to decipher the maps. It took me twenty minutes to find the correct room. To my shock – even though I knew to expect it – the queue led far away from the room around a couple of corners and then some. Resigned to not getting in, I took my place in it anyway. And it was worth it, as the room turned out to be – well – roomy, and I got a good seat.

Bad Romance panel.

The first panel was called Bad Romance. I’d chosen it because I write romance and I don’t want to write it badly, but also because Max Gladstone was on it. He doesn’t strike me as a romance writer, but I like his Craft Sequence fantasy series and wanted to hear him. He turned out to be worth the queuing.

The panel had a hiccupy start as the chair didn’t show up, but a member of the audience volunteered to moderate. She turned out to be Julia Rios, who had won a Hugo Award the previous night for Uncanny Magazine and had partied till four in the morning, but she still managed to be a great moderator. Not only did she keep the conversation flowing, she also managed to live tweet the panel. As a whole, the panel was good and funny, though I didn’t learn anything I hadn’t known before.

Second panel of the day, Beyond the Dystopia, started right after the first ended. Luckily, the room was easier to find and it was large enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend. I didn’t even have to queue, though I had to settle with a less than stellar seat. The topic was interesting and even though the panellists didn’t have anything world-shattering to offer, it gave me some food for thought. And Joe Abercrombie was on it and he’s always funny, despite the gloomy topic.

Beyond Dystopia panel.

Then it was time for a quick lunch – only a short queue as I went for a slightly pricier option to avoid it – and deciding which panel to attend next: Authors and their Cats that would’ve had Robin Hobb on it, or Colonialism and the Space Opera. I chose the latter, mostly to avoid the long queue of the first. My tactic wasn’t entirely successful and the line was as long as at the first panel – it was in the same room – but this time I knew I’d get in and didn’t panic. I even managed to assuage the person queuing behind me that we would get in.

The panel was very interesting, even though it didn’t have a chair and everyone just spoke of what they wanted. Two historians told their view and two authors from colonialized countries, Aliette de Bodard with Vietnamese background and JY Yang from Singapore offered their personal experiences of colonialism. The question of language and narrative, i.e. who controls language controls narrative, was very interesting. And since the collective recommendation of everyone attending was Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, I think I’ll have to read it too. 

Colonialism and the Space Opera panel.

My first true moment of queue came next: I wanted to see a panel that had George R.R. Martin on it and I only had about fifteen minutes to make it to the correct place on the other side of the conference centre. You can guess it: the room was almost full already when I got there and the line that snaked up and down the lobby outside it had almost as many hopefuls still. If I’d been sneaky – and I did consider the option – I would’ve attended the Authors and their Cats panel that was held in the same room and then remained on my seat, but I’d chosen differently. I gave the queue a chance anyway. I didn’t get in. But I wasn’t too sad: I’d had a close-up glimpse of the man himself on my way to the venue when he walked past me. Later I took a photo when he was signing his books.

The queue to see a panel with George R.R. Martin on it.

With some unscheduled free time at my hands, I went to check up the vendors’ area where the book signings took place too. Another long queue waited there for Martin to show up for his signing two hours later, and next to it, a line for those who wanted to have an autograph from Robin Hobb, which was almost as long. I’d thought to attend the latter signing, but gave it up then and there. I know queueing is part of the con fun, but it’s not for me. The line for Max Gladstone’s signing was almost empty, as he was finishing his appointed hour, but I got cold feet and didn’t go to have his autograph either. In my defence, I only have his books on Kindle and had nothing to get the autograph on.

So I checked the wares instead. There weren’t as many vendors as I’d hoped for and no one sold anything I wanted to buy. The greatest disappointment was the booksellers. There weren’t many to begin with and they only sold mainstream bestsellers that everyone there probably already had, regardless of the genre. Only at the second pass later that day I managed to locate three books that I bought, though mostly because I felt I had to have something to remember the con by. I went to have a cup of coffee instead. The café closest to the vendors was almost empty, in contrast with the one in the lobby that had constant queues.

My loot.

And then it was already time for my last event of the day: an interview with Joe Abercrombie. The queue there was long too, but everyone fit easily in and I had a nice seat. The Finnish interviewer seemed dry and humourless at first, especially compared with Abercrombie, but he warmed up later too and the interview turned out to be truly funny. That Abercrombie is funny, always amazes me, as he is the self-appointed Lord Grimdark, which he told started as a joke that everyone took seriously. But I guess you can’t be grim all the time.

The queue to see Joe Abercrombie in the same lobby as in the photo above.

Interview with Joe Abercrombie.

After the inteview, I made a quick visit to the signing area to get a glimpse of Robin Hobb signing, and managed to see George R.R. Martin too. Both handled the long queues with affable routine that was both impressive and swift. For all the queuing, each person got maybe twenty seconds with their idols, if that. I think it was good I didnt spend my day waiting for that.

People lining for a Robin Hobb signing.

Robin Hobb.

George R.R. Martin.

That was my con experience. Lots of interesting topics and even more queueing. I didn’t have a chance to socialise with other con-goers – I didn’t even pause to photograph the few cosplayers there were – mostly because I’m not good at small talk, but also because everyone was busy finding their next event and didn’t have time for chats. A few people stopped me to compliment me on my T-shirt though, so that’s something. I’m fairly sure the social side of a con happens at evening parties, but sadly I didn’t have time to stay for any of those. My train home left before the evening was over. Still, I had a great day, if long; twelve hours including the travelling time. I doubt I would’ve had energy for any evening activities anyway. I wish I’d had a chance to attend the whole con, but one day was better than nothing. And who knows, maybe I’ll attend the next time the WorldCon is held in Europe.

My con T-shirt.

Did you attend? Share your experiences in the comments.