Friday, 11 May 2018

Sherwood Rogue by Kristi Cramer

Well, what a lot of fun this was. The tale of Robin Hood and his Merry Men reimagined, and in a totally different way. The story is told through the eyes of a 21st century American girl living mostly in the wilds of the US to escape her difficult family life. After an ill-advised call to the universe, a portal opens up and she steps through it, straight into Medieval England. 

This kind of premise shouldn't really work. If you're any kind of cynic you may think it doesn't, but it was a hugely enjoyable read with a strong female character holding her own with a band of ruffians who don't realise at first she is a woman. It's a YA book with a difference. Medieval times were bloody, mucky and brutal, and Cramer doesn't shy away from that. The story is well-researched, giving the legend due justice as well as a fresh new twist. 

There is romance, but it doesn't really kick in until halfway through. The strongest aspects of the story occurred in Sherwood Forest, when the robbing the rich to feed the poor was taking place, as well as the practicalities of living in hiding. Kay's eventual love interest was beautifully handled, as it didn't veer into the romance tropes, which would have been so easy to do. 

And the ending was beautiful and totally unexpected. Yes, you have to remember this is a fantasy time travel novel, but the writing and historical detail were so good, it was easy to forget at times.

In short, definitely worth a read, with a great female role model and a cast of beloved characters. Well played!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Imagining characters, their looks and sexuality

As a reader, picking up a book and falling in love with the characters, what do you see? Chances are, the author and the reader see entirely different things.

I am both, an avid reader and a writer. As a novelist, I obviously have a definite idea of what my characters are like. I've nurtured these people, molded them, shaped them and given them personality traits, likes and dislikes, foibles, sexuality and dress sense. Some of these things are immovable, otherwise the story would not exist, but others, such as their looks, are really in the hands of the reader. They can transfer their own desires onto each character and make them who they want to be, to a certain extent.

In The Cloud Seeker, Cat is in her forties, curvy, with long, unruly hair and dirty feet. That way, I have let the reader decide whether she looks like your sister, your mother, or the woman you see in the mirror each morning. She is every one of us, a flawed, strong, warm and capable woman, attractive to some and not to others, but most important of all, is learning to live with her past mistakes and be comfortable in her own skin.

In Closer Than Blood, the setting is corporate Manhattan. A woman with unruly hair and dirty feet would definitely have a story to tell, but that wasn't the story I had in mind. Pagan Freemantle is very different to Cat but again is every one of us, a normal woman, this time with the responsibility for her child, and trying to keep her marriage together in the face of persistent attention from a man she shouldn't love. Okay, so not everyone wants to be pursued by a man whose idea of a Valentine's present is a Glock 17. Politically incorrect? Undoubtedly, but this is fiction. The reader takes what they want to take.

They have full control, even down to how they see the main characters. For example, this is how I wrote Frank Mancini in Closer Than Blood.

He was tall. Most men were to her but he seemed to fill the apartment in a way that left no room for light. He had dark hair and cheekbones that looked as if they had been carved from marble. And his eyes! Man, those eyes chilled her blood. They were as hollow and cold as ancient caves, and the pale blue of an Alaskan sky. As she looked into those icy depths, the fine lines around them spoke of too many late nights, too much alcohol, and far too much violence.

I had King Of New York's Christopher Walken in mind when I wrote that, but someone else might read it and immediately think of Liam Neeson, Justin Trudeau or Tom Cruise (or maybe not...) Ryan Gosling and Dominic Cooper are also up there, apparently. I don't see it, but hey, if it works for them, why not?

Heterosexuality is not a given

This is something I've learned through my growth as a storyteller. One doesn't have to conform to heteronormative ideals all the time. Over the years, Frank Mancini's (Closer Than Blood) character has evolved. I started the book in 1994, but didn't actually publish it until 2015, after a five year hiatus and a few more years of fiddling around, modernising it, and making Frank's character pansexual. He always was, but I hadn't recognised it as such until a couple of years back. Until then, I didn't even know his brand of sexuality had a name. I always assumed he was bisexual, but that seemed too small a box to fit him in. And at the time, it didn't fit the story. After all, he was in love with a woman, so that made him straight, didn't it?

Not necessarily.

I've found that accepting these fluid ideas of gender and sexuality lead to far more interesting and challenging characters to write. Having written straight M/F erotic romance for years, and enjoying every moment of it, it was exciting to have a whole new world of potential characters opened up in front of me. 

There are pitfalls though, and it is easy to fall into the trap of creating dress-up dollies if one isn't careful - just trawl through some of the MM Romance genre and you'll see what I mean. As writers we have a responsibility not to reenforce stereotypes. That's a whole massive topic and one I'm not going to go on about on this post, but I wanted to address it. Have fun with your characters, whether they be LGBT or people of colour or any race other than your own, but remember they are a real community of people whose issues are different to yours and they need to be acknowledged. This isn't a lecture, but it's an important point to consider.

I didn't set out to make Vardam (Euphoria - out in August 2018) nonbinary, but as an extraterrestrial, they didn't conform to heteronormative standards either. Having never attempted sci-fi before, I was keen to at least get the basics right, before disappearing off into la-la land with the plot. One thing was a given, they had to have tentacles. 

People like tentacles. I don't know why, but they do. So fine, I've given Vardam tentacles, which they use for hunting and gathering, illustrating their feelings and at times, controlling recalcitrant humans. Some people also like the "built like a brick shithouse - but blue" thing when it comes to aliens, but that's where I draw the line. Nope. Vardam looks like an alien, thinks like an alien, moves like an alien and talks like an alien. In order to facilitate communication, I've had them be with humans for six months before the story begins. Yes, they are attractive to look at, or at least they are to my main character, which is most important. Whether they are attractive to people reading the book, is up to them. I'm not asking people to fall in love with Vardam, but emphathise with them, and believe that they and Professor Kurt Lomax may possibly find some kind of emotional connection. 

In Euphoria, there are straight relationships, gay relationships, questioning and nonbinary conundrums. It isn't rammed home, but it's there. It's normal. These are normal people getting on with life until an extraterrestrial arrives and shakes them all up. And I love that. 

I hope you do too. 

Euphoria will be out in August 2018!


Monday, 2 April 2018

Book Review: Love, Laughter and Lots of Dogs by Ellen Whyte

This was an adorable, very English romance by the ever-reliable author, Ellen Whyte. It does what it says on the tin, and there are plenty of canine antics around the two personable leads, Kelly and Cory. 

The story is told from both of their points of view, clearly stated, and contains witty dialogue as well as likeable supporting characters.

The set pieces of an English village and Manor House are well written and convincing. 

Not one for cynics, but those who love a good clean romance, intelligently written. 

This was a relatively quick read at 135 pages. 

Monday, 19 March 2018

Love, Laughter and lots of Dogs by Ellen Whyte

Your chance to pre-order this gorgeous new romance from fellow author, Ellen Whyte! Release date 27th March 2018. Buy links and my review are below.

Love, Laughter, and Lots of Dogs
Ellen Whyte

Kelly Taylor’s homemade pet treat business is taking off. Even better, utterly yummy Lord Cory Winthrop, the man she had a teenage crush on, asks her out for dinner.

Back on a lightning visit home, Cory Winthrop runs into his childhood friend, Kelly. Captivated by her happy nature, he becomes determined to win her heart.

However, finding true love is never easy. Kelly worries she may not fit into Cory’s spectacularly glamorous lifestyle. To complicate matters, Cory’s banking career is at a crossroads, and his evil ex is about to come rocketing back into his life.

Will Cory and Kelly be able to overcome their difficulties and live happily ever after?

A warm, light-hearted small town romance with a curvy girl and a very hunky billionaire banker. Featuring Hamish, the adorable rescue puppy.

Friday, 16 February 2018

Book Review: Lander by J. Scott Coatsworth

The scene was set in Book 1: Skythane, and the danger with second books is that the plot can fall a little flat, but that is not the case here. Wisely, the author has created another world out of the old one, with the occupants of Oberon and Titania having to get used to their new reality.

Not everyone is happy with this new world order, and conflicts from the last book rear their ugly heads. The good news is that Quince makes a discovery laced with tragedy, and Xander and Jameson’s fledging relationship suffers a knock when an old flame arrives on the scene. Amidst all the fantasy elements, there is a good old human story of love, of struggle and torn loyalties.

I loved how human these characters are. Having got to know them in the first book, I really cared about their various predicaments. There is an element of fairy tale as well as sci-fi, which stops the plot from being too tech-heavy, with panoramic scenes to enable the characters to spread their wings. And it had a very welcome dash of corporate intrigue which was a great foil to the fantasy element. It is a very visual book, as the last one was, and painted in vivid colours. I could definitely see the climax being directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) It had that kind of cinematic feel.

The story lagged slightly in the middle of the book, but soon picked up again when Jessa, Jameson’s former fiancee, is thrown into the mix. She could have been given a bigger role, as she was a strong character, but I loved her kick-ass feistiness. The big message of this novel seems to be “seize the day” although it never actually says that. It was done beautifully and it’s hard to say which book I enjoyed more, the first one or this one. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the next in the series.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

New Release! Lander (Book 2 of The Oberon Cycle) by J. Scott Coatsworth

 Today is Release Day for Lander, J. Scott Coatsworth's epic second instalment of the Oberon Cycle!! See below for an EXCLUSIVE excerpt, and find buy links as well. My review will be coming very soon....

Author Name: J. Scott Coatsworth

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press

Release Date: Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

Format: paperback, ebook

ISBN: tba

ASN: tba

Price: tba

Story Type: novel

Word Count: 90700

Cover Artist: Anne Cain

Genres: Sci Fi, MM Romance

Pairings: MM, also includes FF

Tropes: second chances, ex lovers

Keywords/Categories: Wingfic, Gay, LGBT fiction, Queer Sci Fi

Series Title: Oberon Cycle

Position (Number) in Series: 2

Necessary to Read Previous Books: Yes

Other Books in Series Available for Review?: yes

Book Blurb

Sometimes the world needs saving twice.

In the sequel to the Rainbow-Award-winning Skythane, Xander and Jameson thought they’d fulfilled their destiny when they brought the worlds of Oberon and Titania back together, but their short-lived moment of triumph is over.

Reunification has thrown the world into chaos. A great storm ravaged Xander's kingdom of Gaelan, leaving the winged skythane people struggling to survive. Their old enemy, Obercorp, is biding its time, waiting to strike. And to the north, a dangerous new adversary gathers strength, while an unexpected ally awaits them.

In the midst of it all, Xander’s ex Alix returns, and Xander and Jameson discover that their love for each other may have been drug-induced.

Are they truly destined for each other, or is what they feel concocted? And can they face an even greater challenge when their world needs them most?

The Oberon Cycle: Book Two

Series Blurb:

Xander is a skythane man whose wings have always been a liability on the lander-dominated half world of Oberon.

Jameson is a lander who has been sent to Oberon to find out why the supply of the psycho-amoratic drug pith has dropped off.

What neither knows is that they have a shared destiny that will change the two of them - and all of Oberon - forever.

Exclusive Excerpt from Lander

Quince struggled up the slope toward the cliff, trying to see far enough ahead to find a protected spot where they could rest.

Venin let her put an arm on his shoulder, supporting her. She was grateful for the kindness.

She’d considered flying, but the rain and wind were still heavy enough to make that a really bad idea. She’d been lucky to get off with just a sprained ankle in her last fall. What if she broke a wing?

For a brief moment, the rain let up.

Quince looked into the gray sky and then back the way they’d come. The shimmering air parted to reveal the ruined valley, half-filled with water from the storm.

She hoped Xander, Jameson, Kadin, and Alia had survived. “The prophecy never mentioned a flood,” she grumbled and turned back toward the ridgeline.

Venin laughed. “Prophecies are notoriously vague. Let’s keep going. We’re almost there.”

He seemed solid and steady. She needed both at the moment, though she’d never admit it.

They resumed their climb as the rain descended again in heavy sheets. Venin helped her clamber over slippery logs and boulders. She’d scraped up her knees several times, and the blood now flowed freely down both legs along with the rainwater. Her cuts were small enough to pose no immediate danger of blood loss, but she’d be lucky if they didn’t get infected.

At last they reached the white cliffs that ran along the south side of the valley. She stared up to the point where the limestone disappeared into the mist and rain above. “Which way?”

Venin shrugged.

“West it is.”

They found a rock hollow about a hundred meters along the cliff face, with an overhang deep enough to give them respite from the rain. Quince pulled out her pulse pistol and used the laser sight to provide enough light to check for inhabitants. There were whipcats up in the mountains, and who knew what else. Luckily the hollow was empty, with a deep loam of leaves and dirt to provide them with some cushion.

“It’ll work.”

“Looks like heaven to me.” Venin let her go in first.

She stooped and made her way under the protection of the cliff.

She was itching to return to Gaelan. The shift had many practical consequences, including the fact that OberCorp now shared a world with Errian and Gaelan, the skythane nations. The corporation was a clear and present danger to both, and the denizens of the Slander wouldn’t be far behind. She had promised Rogan a shitload of pith, after all, that she’d failed to deliver.

They’d have to do something about all those things, and figure out how to shift the damned Oberon half of the world back to its own universe once the flare was over. Otherwise the misplaced landers would soon take over all Titania—Erro now—and the skythane nations would never be the same. It looked like she was going to be needed, after all.

Until the storm passed, they were stuck.

She opened her carry sack and pulled out some more of her rations, and Venin did the same. She was still hungry. It had to be late afternoon, maybe? She’d lost all track of time in the rush from the Mountain and during the storm.

She took a bite of the remainder of the bread and dried fruit they’d brought with them. The bread was soaked through, but it filled her stomach with nourishment, and for that she was grateful.

They watched the rain fall outside.

“I’ve never seen a storm come up so hard and fast.” Venin chewed on some bread.

She offered him her canteen.

He shook his head and held up his own. “I brought something stronger.”

“What is it?”

“Mothrot, my mother called it. It’s a home-brew liquor, and it’ll take the sting out of just about anything. Want some?”

“Yes, please.” She had a lot of sting to lose. She took the flask and sipped it. It was about the vilest thing she had ever tasted. “Oh my gods, what’s in this?” She stared at the canteen with disgust.

He laughed. “Wait for it.”

“For what?” Then a warm feeling of contentment began to spread through her gut and out to her fingers and toes. “Oh man, that’s nice.” She looked at the canteen with new appreciation. “What’s in it?”

Venin grinned. “You don’t want to know. Splash a little on your wounds too. It’ll kill just about anything.”

She did. “Damn, that burns.”

He winked at her in the dim light. “That’s how you know it’s working.”

An errant breeze blew a splash of rainwater into the rock hollow. Quince laughed. “I imagine this storm is all the atmosphere on the split side of both worlds, forced out by the shift. Unintended consequences and all.”

Venin nodded. “There’s a whole mountain-sized pile of rubble out there that could fit under that header. What happened back there?”

Quince shook her head. “I don’t know. Something new. I still don’t understand how Morgan vanished. Or what he was.”

“Maybe a sneach?”

Quince shook her head. “I thought so at first too. But now…. He had his own agenda. But he helped us when we needed him most.” She could still see him, there between Xander and Jameson, pulling the worlds together. Then vanishing as if he’d never been.

“There are stranger things than we know in the world.” Venin held up his flask. “More ’rot?”

“No thanks. That little bit did the trick, I think. Tell your mother thanks for me the next time you see her.”

“Wish I could. She’s been dead three years now.”

Well, shit. “Sorry.”

He squeezed her shoulder in response.

They sat in silence for a while. Quince pulled out a clean, damp shirt from her carry sack and used it with some rainwater on her legs, wiping off her wounds as best she could. They were shallow—mostly just scrapes, but she longed for some warm water and soap to truly clean them out. The mothrot would have to do, for now.

City life had made her soft. Time to harden herself up again.

Buy and Review Links



QueeRomance Ink:

Goodreads Link:

Friday, 26 January 2018

I'm now on Wattpad!

Because I'm between manuscripts, and not really ready to get stuck into another big one, I have a little time on my hands to make mischief. This doesn't mean I'm not writing. Oh no. It just means I can have some fun with some fan fiction. 

So I've created a Wattpad account, which you can follow via the link below. I'd love some followers! You can read excerpts from my books, as well as indulge in shorter stories teased from my (frankly) odd imagination. 

And I haven't even got to the tentacles yet....

I will be adding more as time goes on, but in the meanwhile, here is the latest, a short story based on What Could Have Happened Next to Henrik Hanssen in Holby City. There will be more in the future. No tentacles involved.

And here's a lovely picture of my latest muse.

Just because.