Book Review – Hidden City by Alan Baxter

Baxter_HiddenCity.jpgAnother book review for the year. This time, another ARC for Alan Baxter‘s latest novel Hidden City. Here’s the blurb:

When the city suffers, everyone suffers.

Steven Hines listened to the city and the city spoke. Cleveport told him she was sick. With his unnatural connection to her, that meant Hines was sick too. But when his friend, Detective Abby Jones, comes to him for help investigating a series of deaths with no discernible cause, Hines can’t say no. Then strange fungal growths begin to appear in the streets, affecting anyone who gets too close, turning them into violent lunatics.

As the mayhem escalates and officials start to seal Cleveport off from the rest of the world, Hines knows the trouble has only just begun.

I have read two of Alan’s novels so far (the first two books in the Alex Caine series) but also have his collection Crow Shine on my ever overflowing To Be Read Bookcase. With Hidden City, Alan keeps up the rapid pace of his previous novels, but this time is mixing urban fantasy, detective noir and horror. What struck me from get go is how much this book reads like one of Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files books, although with a much more violent, apocalyptic and sweary bend. I love Harry Dresden, and felt that Hines felt quite like the character although at an earlier stage than Dresden was in his first apperance. Hines’s connection to the city plays well through the novel, giving Hines some great character development.

Another part that reminded me of Dresden was the relationship between Hines and Abbey, quite similar to the Dresden and Murphy relationship. The characters bounce off each other, making each of them relatable and well rounded.

The story itself hits the ground running and never lets up, even with the many plots running through. There are some quieter moments, letting the characters really shine and then in the second half, the action and horror really ramps up. It’s also here where the connection between Hines and the city of Cleveport develops.

As I don’t like the spoil anything, all I can say is that ending was quite good, I had to read it three times as the pace just doesn’t slow down.

Another fantastic read from Alan, which makes me want to finish off the Alex Caine series and read his short story collection.

Hidden City is released February 20th and is availalbe through Amazon, Book Depository, Booktopia, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound.


Book Review – Faerie Apocalypse by Jason Franks

Franks_FaerieApocalypse.jpbTo kick off my first book review of the year, I am reviewing Faerie Apocalypse by Melbourne based author Jason Franks. Faerie Apocalypse has been published by the Australian arm of IFWG Publishing. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Jason in person at an Oz Comic-Con event a few years ago, having made contact via Facebook beforehand. When he placed a call out for an ARC of the novel for a review, I jumped at the chance. This is the first novel I have read of his and had no idea on what to expect (I do have a copy of Bloody Waters on my Kindle to read at some point).

Just prior to reading the novel, John Scalzi tweeted a photo of the novel in a pile of books and then posted a blog entry on the development and ideas behind the novel. Go on, take a ganger over here and come back when done.

Done? Great. It saves me some time on explaining the plot.

Jason wastes no time throwing you into this new Realm. From the get go, he uses the common fantasy trope of The Quest but as the story progresses, the usual rules don’t apply. Jason does a great job at subverting this idea, having the citizens of the Faerie Realm well aware of quests and that only mortals from our own world perform these. Without going into spoiler territory, this idea further develops with another character.

Speaking of characters, the idea of using descriptors rather than names took some getting used to. Once you get past this though, the story really flows. Only a handful of characters are actually named, but with good reason, which once again heads into spoiler territory.

Jason’s prose style is short and sweet, painting the world in broad brush strokes, but also fine enough detail where warranted. I could easily imagine the landscape of the Faerie Realm whilst reading. Maybe a little more character descriptions may have helped, but it also allows the reader to form their own ideas on how they do look. The style used also allows the story time to move along at a cracking pace. With each sitting, I found I had read significant chunk each time. There are moments that are violent, but the short prose allows that broad brush stroke without it being so vividly brought to life.

The ending is also, like the prose style, one that is shorter, as in there is no aftermath of the events that unfold, no coda or epilogue. He gives a satisying conclusion without the needlessly drawn out endings that a lot of fantasy novels or films (I’m looking at you The Lord of the Rings) tend to use, nor how the events change the characters and their outlook on how life is different. You can make up your own mind on this.

All in all, a book I thoroughly enjoyed reading over five sittings. Highly recommended.

Faerie Apocalypse is available through Amazon, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Book Depository, and Booktopia.

2015 – A Year in Review

2015. Well, a year of many changes. I had the short story published at the start of the year. Moved back to Adelaide. Started a TAFE course and a new job.

Not a great deal on the actual writing front but what I have written for TAFE has been well received (except for the Write Articles for Publication subject which was quite painful, but also gave me a greater respect for those who work in the journalism industry). But TAFE, oh TAFE, what a ripper you did just before our last assignment was due. In short, due to budgets and other factors, TAFE decided to end the course I have been studying. TAFE gave us the option to exit with the Diploma at the end of Semester 1 in 2017. Now this left me in a place that for the topics I really wanted to do as electives, that was pretty much impossible to gain the Advanced Diploma with a full time work load, which from day 1 TAFE stated was impossible to complete. After much frustration and looking at other options, I let the deadline to register for next year pass me by and decided to not continue with the course. I didn’t see the point in doing the subjects and only receiving a Certificate of Attainment, or exiting with a Diploma that turns out isn’t even recognised nationally (I was under the impression when I enrolled, the course was recognised nationally). With this, I’ve become quite disillusioned with TAFE and won’t recommend anyone studying through them for any Creative Writing course they do offer.

On the positive side, the short story I wrote for the TAFE course is being expanded upon at the moment, reinstating a whole section that I had to cut out from the original version due to the word count length. Since starting work on it just before Christmas, another 1000 words have been added and quite a lot more to come.

On the reading side, I managed to read 23 books for the year. I burnt through the rest of the entire The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. Some books have been fantastic to one or two being in the okay range. Highlights for me included the last few Dresden novels particularly from Changes onwards, Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence was a real find (one I was interested in reading but was hesitant to pay full price until I found a second hand copy), Leviathian Wakes by James S.A. Corey (quite possibly my favourite of the year, a true SF novel that did so much world building and told a fantastic story, which the TV series The Expanse is based upon), and The Martian by Andy Weir, which packed so much fun and real science into a brilliant novel.

So bring on 2016, which I hope to have more written and more books read.

Awards and Best Of’s

Right, I admit that I have been quite slack at keeping this blog up to date over the last 6 months or so. Lack of time and commitment to keeping it up to date.

To kick things off, the first semester for the TAFE course went well, with both subjects (Edit and Present Manuscripts, and Introduce Writing Styles, Techniques & Conventions) resulted with Credits. Very happy with those results and I really enjoyed doing the Edit and Present Manuscripts subject. I certainly learnt from that one and have started to use those skills in helping editing written works. The second semester kicked off a few weeks ago, the subjects this time being Write Articles for Publication 1 and Write Fiction 1 – The Short Story. By the end of the semester there will be another short story written that will be ready to send it to a publisher for submission. I have chosen an idea that I have had floating around for a while to write, albeit merged in with another idea.

And now onto the topic for today, I submitted my story in the From Out of the Dark anthology to both the Aurealis Awards and The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror 2015. I was approached by Talie Helene via Facebook about The Year’s Best for 2014 but as I didn’t have anything eligible to enter for it, I passed on that opportunity then but kept it in mind that I could submit for the 2015 edition. As the story was published in January of this year, it is eligible to be submitted for this anthology.

The Aurealis Awards are the top awards for genre fiction written in Australia. I previously submitted the Endgame story for the 2010 Awards. It is a tough competition, but it is worth a shot entering it in. I don’t think it will get to the point of being short-listed, but happy just to try.

My actual time for writing has been few and far between but have managed to do some more plotting and writing down of ideas for various projects. I have made some progress on the Flannery: Agent of the Empire Steampunk series, where most of the plotting and ideas has been done, as well as increasing the word count on the first story to just over 4,000 words. The short story turned into a novella is slowly making progress. I recently purchased the Kindle version of this book and have found it a great read so far for building the foundation of my own little Steampunk universe. The idea for 3 novellas has now expanded beyond that and will be similar to the Bernard Cornwell Sharpe series of novels in that they can be read in any order (although the exception would be books 1 and 2 as book 1 will end on a cliff-hanger). This expansion allows me a chance to really play around with the characters and mix up a lot of the tropes featured in Steampunk stories.


What resources do you have in your own collection?

As part of the Advanced Diploma of Arts (Professional Writing) that I am now undertaking, there are a number of resources that are required and a number that are recommended. In discussion with other writers, I have had some options as well. The first one that any writer needs is the Style Manual for Authors, Editors and Printers. I have already referenced this several times in the first assignment for the ‘Edit and Present Manuscripts’ subject. It covers not only punctuation, spelling and grammar, but other topics such as design and publishing. Well worth the $50 for a paperback edition, or less if you can find it second hand.

Dictionaries! There are so many out there on the market these days, just don’t go for the cheapest option on the shelf. A fellow writer (Amanda J Spedding) recommended a good Oxford Dictionary. She uses the word exsanguinate as the basis of selecting a good one. I had a good hunt around but the cheapest for brand new was around the $70 mark, so I headed to my favourite second hand book store and picked up a hardcover edition of the Oxford English Reference Dictionary for $20 along with a copy of the Collins A to Z of Grammar and Punctuation.

Last but not least, another invaluable resource is the Collins Dictionary for Writers & Editors. This one covers what needs to be capitalised and common mistakes where it should either be one word or two words. I had a flick through and learnt that the word Gestalt is meant to be capitalised, but can be lowercase but this is less common. If you are looking at becoming an editor, highly essential!

The number of resources for any writer these days is growing. Google is your friend when it comes to searching for anything, along with Wikipedia for a basic overview on a given topic. Even dictionaries are available for free or a small paid subscription online. I also recently picked up a copy of a Steampunk book, out on the cheap at the local book store to use as research for the Ravagers story (was previously titled The Never Ending Pilgrimage), which I am rewriting for a submission. The story is going through an extensive rewrite to change from a future setting to a Steampunk one and has been an excellent resource. The short was around 1,700 words and is now nearing the 3,000 mark with more to come, expanding to a novelette/novella length.

So what resources in your collection have you found to be invaluable?


2015 – The Year Ahead

So 2015 is upon us well and truly. It’s already 11 days in and I’ve received two awesome pieces of news. More on that shortly. With 2015 comes a new year with many changes ahead.

First off, my family and I are moving back to Adelaide this month, so it’s been a mad rush of packing the house to move in the next few weeks. Writing time has been almost non-existent. It has meant that I am leaving a job to unemployment for hopefully a short while. If no work does come up, at least after doing job applications each day I can spend some more time writing!

I have decided to set myself some goals for this year. My biggest goal is to completed the first draft for the zombie novel which I started in 2012. Last Thursday night, I did crack the 50,000 words of the planned 75,000. Now this novel is aimed at the Late Young Adult range, it does have some swearing and graphic scenes.

My second goal is to complete several short stories (aiming for a minimum of 5) and send them off for submission. I completed another short story for consideration for another anthology late last year that got rejected. Have decided to expand it, adding more to it and then send on to another market.

My third goal is to read 20 books this year. I’ve gone back to using Goodreads to keep track of which books I have and set the goal through the iPhone app. So far I have completed 2 books (admittedly, the first one I started in September last year). The most recently finished is Bound (Alex Caine #1) by Alan Baxter. Was a brilliant read.

Now onto the news. I received an email that my application for the Advanced Diploma in Professional Writing has turned into an offer of acceptance. I should hear from the TAFE in a few days.

fromoutofthedarkThe second piece of news is that the story I sold last year has been publication and is now available! The paperback edition is available through Amazon whilst the ebook is available through Smashwords. When I saw the list of other authors appearing in the anthology, I was pretty excited. The contents are:

  • Gene Stewart – Eschaton’s Fate
  • Tony Shillitoe – Hope
  • James O’Keefe – Light in the Darkness
  • Alexander Zelenyi – In a Room Empty For You
  • Rob Bleckly – The Grim
  • L.E. Bodillo – The Dead Kind
  • Mark Rookyard – Between the World
  • Victoria Dylan – Out in the Dark
  • Jason Andrew – Fading Light From a Dying Star
  • Gregory L. Norris – Fleeing into the Darkness of Disaster

Having my own story appearing right after Tony Shillitoe is something to be very proud of as he is quite a well known Australian author.

With many thanks to Robert N Stephenson for publishing this piece. I have known him for quite a few years now. He has a new book coming out this month, which I am really looking forward to reading. It will be available through Satalyte Publishing from January 30th 2015.

So some great news to kick the new year off and some goals set to achieve. Let’s see what the rest of the year brings.

2014 – A Year in Review

I have seen a few other authors do this on their own sites, so thought I would do the same. 2014 has been a productive year. I have managed to write something every month, with a rough estimate or around 50,000 or so total words over that period. Most of the year was spent working on my eventual submission to the From Out of the Dark anthology. The hard work paid off with it being accepted for publication. It should see it out for sale sometime early this year. There was also a very late submission for another anthology that closed on the 31st December. I am yet to hear back on it, as at last count there were nearly 1,200 submissions. Hopefully my story will stand out from the rest and be accepted.

The Writers Group has grown in membership, plus joining forces with the local ABC Open Project representative. Daniel has been great with this, giving us some great tips on writing not only fiction, but also on writing for real world and online. We put on another Word Art exhibition, this time at the Berri Library. The number of hits on our blog went up considerably with the use of QR codes on each artwork and respective written piece.

This year I plan to finally finish off my first novel plus a horror novella. In the mean time, I am currently packing to move back to Adelaide, which means I will be saying farewell to the Riverland Creative Writing Group at some stage. Hopefully, I will also be accepted into the TAFE course that I applied for in November.

On the reading front, to aid with being familiar with horror tropes, I have started to gather a small collection of horror novels, particularly works by Stephen King. A total of 9 books were completed, also nearly finished The Stand by King. The total was less than the previous year of 13 but as most of them this time were quite lengthy, it balances out.

All in all, a good year and hopefully 2015 will be bigger and better.