Quick Review: INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE BRITISH PEOPLE DURING THE EMERGENCY by Jason Hazeley & Nico Tatarowicz (Quercus)

HazeleyTatarowicz-InstructionsForBritishPeopleDuringEmergencyUKA very amusing handbook for these interesting times

An indispensable handbook to see the nation through lockdown, breakdown and meltdown.

As Britain enters a period of tremendous upheaval, your government has requested that everyone immediately undertake a series of life-style changes that may test the nation’s resolve.

Most of it is simple common-sense, but common-sense may be new to you, especially if you are young, wistful or an imbecile.

Indeed, it should be noted that much of what is to come in the weeks and months (and months) ahead will be new to us all. But let us remember that, not so long ago, the same was true of pesto.

We must not lose heart. With stoicism, courage and a substantial supply of alcoholic fortification, we will pull through this together and emerge from it a stronger (or weaker but more experienced) nation.

Sir Clement Apricot-Wilson,
Permanent Secretary
The Department of Unforeseen Circumstances

I was pre-approved for this on NetGalley, and decided to give it a try on a bit on a whim. I’m very glad that I did, because this is at times very funny. As it turned out, this book is just the antidote for these strange and difficult times I was looking for. Very enjoyable. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Worldbuilding Interconnectivity” by Amber Royer

RoyerA-C3-FakeChocolateI think bats are one of the coolest animals – and one of the most maligned. Look at their faces. They’re basically flying puppies, and many species can eat up to 8,000 insects in a single night. We used to have a small colony of Mexican free-tail bats in a tree across the street from our house, and we never had mosquito issues. It broke my heart when the neighbors cut down that tree and the bats moved.

And when you talk about chocolate, and the ecosystem where it’s grown, it’s hard to ignore the importance of bats. Cacao trees grow fruit in pods with thick, waxy outsides, pineapple scented pulp, and purple-brown seeds that eventually can become chocolate.  Bats are one of the animals with the patience to chew through the pod to get to the sweet pulp. They disperse the seeds, helping propagate new cacao trees. Meanwhile, other bats are busy eating insects that otherwise might harm the trees. And still different species of bats are pollinating other plants in the same ecosystem, such as banana flowers. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Five Books That Inspired Me to Be a Writer” by Laurence MacNaughton

MacNaughtonL-AuthorPicPractically every human being, at some point or another, has closed the covers on a satisfying book and thought: I should write a book like that.

That initial burst of inspiration is quickly followed by nagging doubt. Do you have what it takes to write?

After all, knowing how to write is only half the battle. The other half is finding the inspiration, the self-confidence, the grit to actually write something worth reading. And the fortitude to stick with it through months or years of rewrites, revisions, and rejection.

It’s not easy. But it can be done. The best advice on toughing it out comes from those who have cranked out hundreds or thousands of pages of prose, and shared their hard-earned insights on what it’s really like to be a writer. Here are five books about writing that inspired me most. Continue reading

Guest Post: An Annotated Chapter of PURE CHOCOLATE by Amber Royer (Angry Robot Books)

RoyerA-C2-PureChocolateFirst chapters are hard, you guys. First chapters of sequels – doubly so.

And first chapters for a ‘verse where you’ve built in complicated linguistics and alien cultures with questionable morality? Well… you still have to start somewhere.

There’s a balance with sequels. You don’t want to bore the reader who just finished the previous book, and you don’t want to stall getting started telling the story to re-cap what is now backstory. But you don’t want to people to feel like they walked into the “middle of the movie” either.

I’ve been a writing instructor for UT Arlington for the past eleven years, so I’m sure if some of my students read this, they’ll get a kick out of seeing me pick apart my own work instead of theirs.

Some of what I’m about to say will be bordering spoiler territory, but I’ll try to keep it vague.

Continue reading

Quick Review: IN OTHER LANDS by Sarah Rees Brennan (Big Mouth House)

BrennanSR-InOtherLandsAn often amusing and sometimes moving subversion of entrenched fantasy tropes

Elliot doesn’t want to fight, keeps saying the wrong thing, and is definitely the grouchiest human in fantasyland.

Sometimes it’s not the kid you expect who falls through to magicland, sometimes it’s… Elliott. He’s grumpy, nerdy, and appalled by both the dearth of technology and the levels of fitness involved in swinging swords around. He’s a little enchanted by the elves and mermaids. Despite his aversion to war, work, and most people (human or otherwise) he finds that two unlikely ideas, friendship and world peace, may actually be possible.

I picked this up for my partner when it was released last summer, and she devoured it (and has since read it multiple times). This past week, we started listening to the audiobook on a drive back to the city, and I really liked what I heard: it was funny, a little gonzo, and I enjoyed the way Brennan played with classic genre tropes (and all that in just the first two hours). When we got home, I immediately started reading the book. It’s been a long time since a novel made me laugh out loud, let alone do so multiple times or consistently. In Other Lands did just that. It is not, however, just a funny book: Brennan has also written a story that often packs an emotional wallop. Continue reading

Upcoming: KILL THE FARM BOY by Delilah S. Dawson & Kevin Hearne (Del Rey)

Dawson&Hearne-KillTheFarmBoySo, this novel may have my favourite fantasy title ever. I can’t actually think of one that amused me as much before — although, Magic Kingdom For Sale, Sold and many Pratchett titles have been favourites for a long while. I hadn’t heard about Kill the Farm Boy until a few moments ago, when B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Tweeted about it. Written by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne, here’s the synopsis:

Once upon a time, in a faraway kingdom, a hero, the Chosen One, was born… and so begins every fairy tale ever told.

This is not that fairy tale.

There is a Chosen One, but he is unlike any One who has ever been Chosened.

And there is a faraway kingdom, but you have never been to a magical world quite like the land of Pell.

There, a plucky farm boy will find more than he’s bargained for on his quest to awaken the sleeping princess in her cursed tower. First there’s the Dark Lord who wishes for the boy’s untimely death… and also very fine cheese. Then there’s a bard without a song in her heart but with a very adorable and fuzzy tail, an assassin who fears not the night but is terrified of chickens, and a mighty fighter more frightened of her sword than of her chain-mail bikini. This journey will lead to sinister umlauts, a trash-talking goat, the Dread Necromancer Steve, and a strange and wondrous journey to the most peculiar “happily ever after” that ever once-upon-a-timed.

Kill the Farm Boy is due to be published by Del Rey in North America, in July 2018. (At the time of writing this, I couldn’t find any information about a UK release.)

Also on CR: Interview with Lila Bowen (2016); Interview with Kevin Hearne (2011); Reviews of Kevin Hearne’s Hounded and Hexed

Follow the Author, Dawson: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Follow the Author, Hearne: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Some Quick Audiobook Reviews…

audiobookreviews-20170102

A quick round-up of six recent audiobook listens. Mostly, very good.

Featuring: Carrie Fisher, Frederick Forsyth, Anna Kendrick, Trevor Noah, Graham Norton, Nikki Sixx

Continue reading

Review(ish): SERIOUSLY FUNNY — THE ENDLESSLY QUOTABLE TERRY PRATCHETT (Doubleday)

PratchettT-SeriouslyFunnyUKAn indispensable, but by no means exhaustive collection

‘I’ll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there’s evidence of any thinking going on inside it.’

The most quotable writer of our time, Terry Pratchett’s unique brand of wit made him both a bestseller and an enduring, endearing source of modern wisdom. This collection is filled with his funniest and most memorable words about life, the universe and snoring.

How does one review a short book of quotations? I’m not going to include my favourites from the book, as that might defeat some of the purpose of other people picking it up. To be sure, the book is both funny and profound; clever and witty. It made me miss Pratchett (even though I never met him, but feel like I was getting to know him through interviews and 20+ years of reading his fiction). It certainly made me laugh. It made me wonder why there weren’t more quotations from Death. It made me want to read all of the Discworld novels again. It reminded me of how much I love his novels.

This is a must-have for all fans of Terry Pratchett. It may also inspire newbies to check out some of his work. (Start with Guards! Guards! — I’ve bought it for five different people, all of whom became avid Pratchett fans.)

Highly recommended. Seriously Funny is out now, published in the UK by Doubleday.

Feel free to share some of your favourite Pratchett quotations in the comments, if you like.

Guest Post: “From Funny Book to Fleshy Series: The Finn Fancy Evolution” by Randy Henderson

HendersonR-AuthorPicWriting a fantasy series is a strange and daunting process. Over the course of transforming a single book into a series, I personally realized that rather than planning a whole series in advance, there were some basic things I could include that would allow a series to create itself.

First, sometimes writers plan ahead. Sometimes, we make s#!te up as we go along. Often we do some combination of the two. This applies to books, but also to entire series I’ve learned.

For Finn Fancy, I didn’t plan to write a series. I wrote some chapters for fun, which got turned into a finished book because an editor expressed interest. That book got purchased as the first in a series. Did I have a series? Not really. I had a book. And a few one sentence concepts I’d written out after finishing that book for potential sequels. Continue reading

Review: ANGRY OPTIMIST by Lisa Rogak (St. Martin’s Griffin)

RogakL-AngryOptimistPBDisappointing, NYT-bestselling bio of Jon Stewart

Since his arrival at The Daily Show, Jon Stewart has become one of the major players in comedy as well as one of the most significant liberal voices in the media. In Angry Optimist, Lisa Rogak follows his unlikely rise to stardom, from his early days growing up in New Jersey, through his years as a struggling stand-up comic in New York, and on to the short-lived but acclaimed The Jon Stewart Show, before at last landing a job as host of a half-hour comedy show that at the time was still finding its footing amidst roiling internal drama.

Once there, Stewart transformed The Daily Show into one of the most influential news programs on television today. Drawing on interviews with current and former colleagues and with new material on his departure from The Daily Show, Angry Optimist reveals how Jon Stewart has come to wield incredible power in American politics and changed how the news is reported along the way.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is one of the most influential television series of the past couple of decades. Like many people, I first took notice when segments from Indecision 2000 went viral: the blend of hilarious satire and sharp observation was a winning combination. Despite the host’s denials, The Daily Show was a real force in American politics, often providing more news and media analysis than actual, professional news channels. Jon Stewart, however, has remained something of an enigma, however – fiercely private, most of us have only had the occasional magazine profile to inform us of what might make the host tick.

It was with great interest, therefore, that I started reading Angry Optimist. A quick read that, while entertaining, left me disappointed. Continue reading