Category Archives: review

And one more for The Egg!

The Vintage Egg is my one and only foray into short stories, and it just received a fabulous 5/5 star review:

acflory writes some great sci-fi, and though I’ve read her novels, this was my first experience with her short stories. Her imagination and polished writing skills never disappoint, and these six stories are original and entertaining. My favorite tale was broken into two parts—The Vintage Egg and Egg Run—which bookend the other offerings. I also thoroughly enjoyed The Christmas Roast. I read this collection in under an hour and highly recommend it. A great peek at acflory’s writing talent.

I’m happy-dancing my way to the kitchen now for some lunch. Have a great day or evening. 🙂

cheers
Meeks


“Liars and Thieves” by D.Wallace Peach

I had a feeling this book would ruin my sleep…and it did. “Just one more chapter” kept me awake until 3am, but it was worth every minute. My Amazon review is going to start with a great big 5/5 stars, but you guys will get a sneak peek, followed by some information from the author herself. Let’s begin!

Liars and Thieves, by D.Wallace Peach

‘Liars and Thieves’, the first book in the Unravelling the Veil trilogy introduces us to the three main characters: a female Elf named Alue, a male Changeling named Tallin, and a half-cast Goblin-Elf known as Naj. But this is no cookie cutter ‘quest’ story. The three start as enemies and continue as enemies for most of the book because their races dislike and distrust each other.

We learn about those races, as we learn about the three main characters, and I have to tell you that the world building is deep. Each of the three races have unique magical talents, but the one thing they all have in common is their dependence on Savan crystals to power their societies. And guess who controls the mining of the crystals?

The Savan crystals can only be found in the Goblin’s territory, and comprises a large part of their trade along with mechanical devices that are powered by the crystals. In theory, this gives the Goblins a great deal of power, but these Goblins are not your stereotypical villains. Far from it.

In Liars and Thieves, the Goblins are the cool, calm rational ones who revere reason and logic above all else. They trade the crystals to the other races but keep supply to a minimum because they don’t trust the other races not to abuse the power the crystals provide.

As the story progresses, you realise that the Goblins are right. Alue the Elf is not a bad person but she is arrogant and impulsive, especially when she’s angry, which is a lot of the time. In many ways, she is a fitting representative of her people who seem to believe that they have the right to take what they want simply by virtue of being Elves.

The third race is represented by Tallin, a Changeling who can transform himself into any animal, or insect, for which he has learned the ‘pattern’. He uses his ability to spy on the Elves for the Changeling Queen. The Changelings believe that it’s okay to subtly spy on and manipulate the Elves because the Elves have proved that they want the natural resources that belong to the Changelings – and are prepared to cheat to get them.

Like three countries in our own world, the three Races in ‘Liars and Thieves’ have an accord that defines boundaries and lays down rules to help balance the needs of the three Races. But this is no dry historical treatise. We learn all of this world building through the characters and their interactions with each other. As we learn about them, we learn about their world, and the process is seamless.

That process is also utterly compelling. As I said in the beginning, I lost sleep because of it, and now I’m itching to find out what happens next. I’ve enjoyed all of D. Wallace Peach’s work, but this one has really, really hit the spot for me.

And now for some info about D. Wallace Peach [Diana to her friends], and the answer to a question I asked her about her writing process.

Author Bio

D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill.

Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked.

Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, bats, owls, and the occasional family of coyotes.

And now for that question. I asked Diana whether she created the plot to suit her characters or created the characters to drive the plot, or a bit of both. This is what she said:

Great question! Thanks for asking. I think there are three parts to the creation process for me. I start with the concept—a spark of inspiration bursts into my brain. In this case, a story about how untruths and biases start an avalanche of blaming and retaliation that spirals out of control and nearly destroys the world. The end of the world based on nothing real.

Seconds after the concept, the characters scramble in. Some are gung-ho. Some are wary. And some, like my goblin, would rather not participate. All of a sudden, their personalities are showing and taking over.

The plot is a work in progress as the concept turns into action and the characters tell me who they are. My outline of the plot lays out all three books, but it changes continually as the characters make choices and become who they are. I love that creative part of writing.

Thanks for indulging my curiosity, Diana. I think that balance between the characters and the world and the plot is part of what makes ‘Liars and Thieves’ such a joy to read. Oh, and…Diana’s writing is beautiful. At times it almost flows like music. At other times it’s as sharp as a shiny new pin.

If you want to see what else Diana’s up, you can find her on her blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

You can also find her at:

And last, but most certainly not least, you can find ‘Liars and Thieves’ via this universal book link:
http://a-fwd.com/asin=B08FGQ2W3Q
Or click on the picture of the book. It will take you to the same web address.

I’m recommending ‘Liars and Thieves’ to anyone who loves to read, irrespective of genre. A good story is a good story is a good story! Enjoy. 🙂

Meeks


When a foodie needs some time out…

It’s been a stressful time in Australia lately, and I feel as if I’ve been either horrified, or scared or angry or all three since well before Christmas. To say I needed some time out would be a gross understatement, so the last couple of days I’ve retreated to books. Or should I say, one book in particular : The Quiche and the Dead.

I gave The Quiche and the Dead 5/5 stars on Amazon and left this review:

I read lighthearted mysteries when I’m feeling down and need a pick-me-up. Well, The Quiche and the Dead did more than just lift my mood, it left me in awe of the author’s imagination, writing skills, sense of humour and…cooking ability!

I mean, really! A murder mystery that actually makes some [subtle] social commentary? has realistic dialogue? has main characters who are instantly recognizable and come across as real people? has secondary characters who aren’t 2 dimensional plot devices? is well written and edited? and does all this whilst making you want to try one, or all, of the pies featured in the story? Oh, and has a tight plot and excellent pacing?

Frankly, I was going to give The Quiche and the Dead 5 stars even before I reached the final page, but then I finished the story and discovered that the author really did know how to cook and had provided recipes for all the pies in the story!

Apologies if that was a spoiler, but I’m a foodie and intend to try those recipes in my own kitchen. In fact, I intend to buy more of the Pie Town series in case there are more goodies at the end. And for the story, of course. 🙂

Would I recommend The Quiche and the Dead…you bet, with bells on!

Drat, just realised I forgot to mention the cat! Seriously, buy this book and read it!

cheers

Meeks


The Lost Valley – my review on Amazon

I wrote about Jennifer Scoullar’s latest novel here, and so I thought you might be interested in the 5 star review I left for it on Amazon.com:

I’ve read a number of Jennifer Scoullar’s novels now, and I’ve enjoyed all of them, including Fortune’s Son, book 1 of The Tasmanian Tales but…The Lost Valley turned out to be something a whole lot more.

This is the most powerful story Scoullar has ever written, imho, and her characters almost jump off the page, they ring so true. Tom, the gentle twin who dreams of flying like a bird. Harry, the troubled twin who’s desperate to reclaim the family fortune lost by his father. And Emma, a working class girl who dreams of becoming a doctor in pre-World War II Australia.

Life, and the war, turn all their dreams upside down and inside out, especially when Kitty, a gorgeous Hollywood starlet walks into their lives. But weaving through the entire story is a thread of quiet joy – the secret of the Lost Valley.

I can’t say anymore for fear of spoiling it for everyone, but I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Scoullar’s attention to detail and obvious love of the Australian bush, make the storytelling sing, but it’s her characters you’ll grow to love. All of them, well except for maybe one. Her you’ll hate. 🙂

Disclaimer: I received an ARC copy of The Lost Valley but would happily buy it for myself it’s that good.’

If you’ve read The Lost Valley, please leave a review on Amazon. And please follow Jennifer while you’re at it. It makes such a huge difference to a writer, not just because it helps us sell our work, but because we don’t actually get feedback all that often. I don’t think there’s a writer alive who doesn’t get a thrill when someone says ‘I like this’. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


How to print a paperback – #KDP vs #CreateSpace

So far, I’ve only used CreateSpace for my print-on-demand needs, but today I thought I’d check out the new, Amazon KDP print option as well.

To access the KDP print option, you have to be registered with KDP. If you’ve already published your ebook[s] with them, simply log in and click on your Bookshelf. Click the book you want to print and you will see an option to create a paperback for that book:

The next bit is pretty slick. If your book is already available as an ebook, most of the setup information will be inserted automatically [taken from the ebook setup]. The bits that aren’t are fairly self-explanatory. But what if you’re a brand new author thinking of printing a book for the very first time?

First Impressions

Not knowing where to start, I decided to watch some videos provided by KDP. I can only assume the makers of the videos assumed new authors would already know about trim sizes etc., because they skipped a whole heap of stuff to do with the pre-print part of the process.

Next, I decided to check out the two templates offered by KDP. One template only had the formatting instructions, the other had dummy text to make it easier to see what went where. As with the CreateSpace templates, everything is manual with lots of copy-pasting. Meh. A bigger problem I found was with section breaks etc. There are only about 10 example chapters in the template. So what do you do if you’ve got more than 10 chapters in your own book? You can keep adding chapters, of course, but if you accidentally delete the section break [which is not visible] the whole thing falls apart.

Finally, I had a look at the written instructions for the Basics. It’s pretty bare bones and assumes that authors will be familiar with Word processes and formatting, but otherwise they were okay until the section on page numbers. The following is copied straight from the website:

  1. Go to the first page of your first chapter.
  2. Depending on whether you want your page numbers in the header or footer, double-click on the header or footer. This will open the Design tab.
  3. In the “Navigation section,” click Link to Previous. This will prevent page numbers from showing up on your title, copyright, and table of contents pages.
  4. In the “Header & Footer” section, click Page Number and choose where you want the page numbers to be.

For Steps 3 and 4 to work, the manuscript must already contain a section break separating the chapters from the front matter [Title, Copyright, Table of Contents etc]. I checked back over all the previous instructions to make sure I hadn’t missed something, but no, none of them even mentioned a section break much less instructions on how, and why, to add one.

This is a glaring and costly mistake because, if there is no section break:

  • the ‘Link to Previous’ option will be greyed out, i.e. unavailable,
  • a page number applied at any point in the manuscript will cause page numbers to be displayed on each and every page…including the front matter.
  • any Headers – e.g. Author Name, Book Title etc – will also appear on each and every page…including the front matter.

If you are going to provide instructions for something, those instructions have to be as clear as possible and accurate. My guess is that the instructions conflated the section breaks in the templates with the instructions on doing everything from scratch. Unfortunately, this kind of slip can lead to massive frustration on the part of authors, and a failed project.

A little further down, the instruction for creating a PDF of the Word file suggested authors use the File/Save As option. This is one of the ways of creating a PDF, but it assumes the author will know about file types and how and where to change them. In Word 2016, it’s a lot easier to use the File/Export option which takes you straight there.

Next, I thought I’d check out the cover creator option on KDP. First I watched the video walkthrough. From what I could see, the Cover Creator app. is very similar to the one used by CreateSpace. The video tutorial, however, is more of an overview than a real guide, so I decided to give it a try myself.

The layout and some of the functions are definitely slicker than the Cover Creator app provided by CreateSpace. But. It soon became obvious that KDP’s version is still a beta. The following are the problems I found after just a few minutes of play:

  • there are only 11 templates to choose from [CreateSpace provides 30],
  • if you choose one of the free, KDP images as the first step in the process, you can ‘start over’ and choose another template, but you can’t go back and choose another picture,
  • if you do want to choose another picture, using the Back button on the browser will take you back to the KDP bookshelf, and yes, you have to go through the first page of the setup all over again,
  • if you exit via the Cover Creator ‘Close’ button, you exit all the way out of KDP and have to log back in,
  • if you decide to use your own image, there is no template that allows for a ‘free’ cover [in the CreateSpace version there are 2]. This is what I mean:

 

As you can see, my cover image includes interesting fonts and colour choices. When I brought it into Cover Creator, however, I ended up with the default template version plastered over the top. And there was no way I could get rid of it. Horrible. If you are going to use your own cover image, make sure it’s the correct size for the trim size and contains NO WRITING.

Overall? I think the KDP print-on-demand process needs more work. I’ll give it a skip, at least for now.

 

Meeks

 


The Bone Curse – out on March 27th, 2018

Do you believe in Voodoo? I don’t, and yet I had no trouble suspending disbelief as I read Carrie Rubin’s The Bone Curse.

For the record, I won a pre-review copy from the author.

The story begins in Paris where Ben Oris receives a small wound from an ancient bone. Ben’s best friend, Laurette, fears that some sort of evil has entered his his body through the wound, but Vodou is no part of Ben’s world and he dismisses her fears, even as people close to him begin to sicken with a mysterious illness.

To add some context, Voodoo is Hollywood, Vodou is the belief system of Haiti. It has good and evil spirits, just as most Western religions have angels and demons. More importantly, it has practitioners who actively believe. That counts for a great deal when Ben’s ordered, logical world turns upside down. First his ex-lover gets sick, then an ex-girlfriend, and finally the woman who birthed him.

Nevertheless, it’s not until Ben becomes a father and fears for the life of his newborn son that he begins to wonder if there’s more to Vodou than he wants to believe. What follows is a fast paced race against time as he tries desperately to save those he loves.

I wasn’t sure if I liked Ben Oris at the start, but as the story progressed, I found myself empathizing with him more and more. Not just because he was a Doubting Thomas like me, but because he slowly evolved into someone capable of putting others’ lives ahead of his own. As he began to care, so did I.

I can’t say any more for fear of spoiling the whole story, but I devoured The Bone Curse in under two days and I strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a fast paced, medical/psychological thriller that makes you think.

The book will not be published until March 27, but you can put it on pre-order here:

Most definitely 5 stars.:)

cheers

Meeks

 


The City of Bones by Martha Wells

When asked, I’ve always said I prefer science fiction to fantasy because of the possibility, however remote, that some part of the story might be true. Or become true. Some day. Yet if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I do love sci-fan as well.

To me, sci-fan is pragmatic fantasy in which the real and the unreal blend seamlessly to create impossible worlds that we nevertheless accept as possible. Dune, by Frank Herbert is probably the best known example of sci-fan, closely followed by Tad Williams’ Otherland. And then there’s Robin Hobb’s Farseer saga. It’s more fantasy than science, and yet the life-cycle of the dragons is no more unbelievable than the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies.

Well now I have a new sci-fan author to add to my pantheon – Martha Wells.

In The City of Bones, Wells tells the story of a young Krismen called Khat. He’s part of a species that was biologically engineered to survive in the Wastes after the land burned and the seas boiled away. But there are human survivors of the destruction as well, and the two species exist in an uneasy alliance against the deadly creatures of the Wastes.

Khat lives in Charisat, a human city, making a precarious living as a relic trader. Relic traders are like a combination of archeologist/palentologist/anthropologist, with a bit of a conman/thief added in, and relics are fragments from the lost world of the Ancients.

That would have been more than enough to grab my attention, but Wells weaves in history, politics, conspiracy, intrigue and a bit of classic who-dunnit to make the story an absolute page-turner. I loved it.

If you like sci-fan too then I strongly recommend The City of Bones.

The Kindle version is $2.25 on Amazon and there’s a paperback as well. 6/5. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 


The best historical who-dunnit…EVER!

Okay, I know the title of this post is a little over the top, but January must be the month for brilliant books. Seriously, I’ve just finished ‘A Star in the Sky’ and I’m in awe of the author’s talent. Under the ‘Look Inside’ you’ll find the review I just left for ‘A Star in the Sky’ on Amazon. 5/5 of course.

Not only does the author, Zichao Deng, [d.z.c. for short] make the world of the ancient Mayans come alive in all its barbaric splendour, he’s also created a murder mystery which could only have occurred in that time!

This is no ordinary murder disguised with a thin vineer of history. Every clue, every backward step, every twist and turn of the plot is woven out of the facts of that world:

  • The man who died was poisoned,
  • The poison was the same poison as used on darts, but he was not shot,
  • In fact, there did not appear to be any way for him to have been poisoned at all,
  • The politics of the situation could have seen the death explained away as ‘magic’, but
  • The female doctor who is charged with investigating the death refuses to allow either politics or superstition to get in the way of the facts, or logic.

And, like the very best who-dunnits, the clues are there all along, but the great reveal doesn’t happen until the very end. In fact, there are two reveals and the second is even more astonishing than the first.

‘A Star in the Sky’ kept me reading when I should have been doing other things, and that was despite not dumbing down the names and Mayan words sprinkled gently throughout the story.

I love alien sounding names, so I had no trouble with the female doctor being called ‘Lady Tz’unun’. I likewise had no trouble with the name of the Queen – Sak K’uk – at least, not inside my own head. As a reader, all I wanted to do was identify the character, so who cares whether my pronunciation was accurate or not? And those names were part of the reason I knew I was not in Kansas any more.

Another thing I loved about ‘A Star in the Sky’ was the richness of the characters. Lady Tz’unun may be the Sherlock Holmes of the story, but her servant Three Rabbits, plus the Queen’s councillor, the Ti’sakhuun are all part of an ensemble cast that just work, individually and as group. The story is finished but I still want to know more about them, and I definitely want to know more about their slice of history.

I sincerely hope that Zichao Deng has more murder mysteries for Lady Tz’unun and her team to solve. Simply brilliant.

My review won’t go live on Amazon for a few more hours, so I’ll just leave you with a concept drawing done by the author himself:

a-star-in-the-sky-concept-drawing

You’re welcome 😀

Meeks

 


The Communion of Saints – a review

I haven’t done a review in a long time, but I finished The Communion of Saints last night, and I simply had to review it.

But first a little background. Communion is the third novel in the John Ray series that began with Hope Road and continued with Father and Son. My reviews of Hope Road and Father and Son are here and here. It’s been a long time between drinks, but the wait was worth it. Here is the review I just posted on Amazon:

Like ‘Hope Road’ and ‘Father and Son’,  the first two John Ray thrillers, The Communion of Saints is that rare beast: a character driven genre novel. And like its predecessors, Communion is brilliant.

The Communion of Saints can be read as a standalone novel because the author weaves enough prior knowledge into the story to make the character and motivation of the protagonist  realistic and satisfying. Nevertheless,  I highly recommend that you read the earlier novels first.

Why? Because all three novels are character driven thrillers, and it’s the character of John Ray, the protagonist, that sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages.

John Ray is the last surviving member of a crime family. He’s the white sheep, the one that broke away and tried to live a straight life. But it’s hard to remain divorced from your past when you see your brother shot to death in front of your eyes. It’s even harder to stay detached when the Law tries to lay every nasty crime at your door.

After the gruesome death of his father, the old crime boss, John Ray tries to start afresh. He gives his business away and takes a job as a lowly lecturer’s assistant, but he’s shrivelling up inside.

Enter Detective Chief Superintendent Shirley Kirk. She needs John’s help. Or, to be more exact, she needs the help of his historical links to the underworld because someone is making allegations of child abuse against an institution to which they both have ties.

In the process of unravelling truth from lies, John discovers yet more about his own past, none of it good. He also becomes a suspect in two murders, simply because of who he is.

The plot is tight, with no ‘what the…?’ moments, and the prose is elegant, painting a vivid picture of the characters and their world without ever being flowery or pretentious. But the true joy of Communion is in the characters. Not even the walk on/walk off characters are two dimensional. All of them possess a vitality that makes them feel real, no matter how minor.

As for John Ray and Shirley Kirk, they’re real people to me.  I care about them. I’d like to meet them, talk to them, spend time with them. More importantly, they are people I will not forget.

I cannot think of greater praise for an author’s work.

Something I didn’t write in the review was that I wondered whether I’d still have a wee bit of a crush on the charming rogue, John Ray. The answer is yes. He’s still a bad boy with heart, and we know how women like them. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 


#Cloud storage & #sync.com…….or a positive tech post for a change!

After coping with the security issues of Windows 10, it was such a pleasant surprise to find an ‘app’ that is unabashedly security conscious! And yes, Sync.com, I’m talking about you. But first, a quick word about the problems that sync.com solves: storage, backup and version control.

Normally, when you create a file on your computer, you save it to your computer – i.e. onto the harddrive inside the physical ‘box’. If you’re super organised, you may also save that file to an external harddrive or USB device, as a form of ongoing ‘backup’. Belt-and-braces type people might save that data to a DVD as well, giving them multiple backups in case of disaster.

But all of these various types of storage have one, critical downside – a change made in one copy of the data will NOT be reflected in the other copies. If you have 3 copies of a particular file, you will have to manually update each copy.

There is also another issue that can be a nightmare – version control. Let me give you an example. Every time I work on my WiP [work in progress], I save it to my desktop, and then I copy it to my USB device. The latest version from the desktop always over-writes the version on the USB. Obviously, this is so I always have at least one copy of my work no matter what happens [e.g. the house burns down in a bushfire or some other catastrophe].

But what if I have 2 computers and want to add to my WiP on both?

That is the problem I’ve been struggling with for the last few days: there’s no point having the laptop if I don’t use it for my work, but if I do use it while I’m away from home, how do I keep the versions straight?

My fear is that if I continue with the USB device, sooner or later I am going to get the latest version of the WiP wrong. In a moment of madness or tiredness or distraction, I’ll over-write the wrong copy and then I’ll be up the creek without a paddle. Enter cloud storage.

Like the USB drive or DVD etc., cloud storage saves your files outside your pc, usually in a server on the other side of the world. The file is ‘up-loaded’ to the cloud via your internet connection, and once it’s there, you can access it from any computer device you choose. You can also share that file with others if you wish.

For me, cloud storage means I can work on my WiP at home and have it synced to my laptop so if I go out, I can continue working on the WiP where I left off.

Lovely concept, right?

Unfortunately, the grand-daddy of cloud storage – Dropbox – showed that cloud storage can be hacked, and most reviews I’ve read say their security has not improved much if at all since then. Now, I’m not working on anything ‘naughty’ that I need to hide from anyone, but privacy is very important to me, and I would die if I lost four years worth of work through someone else’s ‘oopsie’. So no Dropbox.:(

I was trawling through the umpteenth review/comparison of cloud storage offerings – there are heaps of them! – when I came across Sync.com. And guess what! The thing that sets sync.com apart from the rest is its security. 🙂 Plus it’s Canadian, so not subject to some of the, um, government sponsored hacking found over the border.

And now for the acid test – does sync.com work?

Yes, yes, it does. 🙂

The two screenshots below show my desktop and the laptop. They’ve been synced via sync.com and the test files I used have shown up on both computers with only a very short delay – approx. 20 seconds or thereabouts.

sync com screenshots

So now I know the system works, and thankfully, getting it to work is really simple too.

How to use Sync.com

  1. First, register for the sync.com free, 5 GB plan: https://www.sync.com/install/
  2. Then download the installer to the first pc. Install Sync to the first pc using the account name you setup in step 1. Part of the setup process is the creation of a folder called ‘Sync’.
  3. Now, download and install the Sync installer to the second pc. Make sure you have a ‘Sync’ folder on the second pc as well.
  4. Drag and drop [or copy/paste] a file into the ‘Sync’ folder on the first pc.
  5. Wait 20? seconds and you will see that the file now appears in the ‘Sync’ folder of the second pc as well.

The Sync presence on your pc is minimal. If you need to do something with the actual app., you can find it inside ‘Show hidden icons’ on your taskbar:

sync taskbar icon

All other work is done on the website itself. Once I’ve worked out how to share files with friends, I’ll detail that in a separate post. For now, I’m really happy with my new way of working.

Last question: was finding and installing Sync as easy or convenient as using the default OneDrive cloud storage app offered by Windows 10?

Simple answer: no. Installing and learning how to use Sync didn’t take me long, but it still required some time and effort on my part, the payoff, however, is more than worth it:

  • I have an excellent cloud storage app.
  • It has excellent security features, and
  • I am in control, not Micro$oft
  • oh…and Sync is free [unless I want heaps more storage]

By contrast, I pay for the ‘convenience’ of Windows 10 by handing Micro$oft my privacy on a plate. No contest.

cheers

Meeks

 


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