Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Review: A Note From an Old Acquaintance, by Bill Walker

A Note From An Old Acquaintance, by Bill Walker

Paperback: 360 pages
Publisher: iUniverse (June 11, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1440133336
Rating (1 to 5 *): *****

Book Review

Brian Weller is a best-selling writer, although an attack of writer’s block has slowed him down a bit. He is living with the pain of losing his wife and son in an accident, and his wife has been in a coma for two years. He is trying to move on after she finally passes and is thrown off balance one day when he receives an email with the subject line “A note from an old acquaintance.” It proves to be from none other than Joanna Richman, a woman with whom he had shared a brief, but deeply memorable affair fifteen years before.

The reader is transported back in time to when he met her—when she was engaged to her now husband, Erik Ruby. We watch as Brian and Joanna fall instantly and madly in love, but Ruby soon finds out about them and sets about to end their fling. He makes Brian an offer Brian cannot refuse, sending him packing. In the present day, neither Brian nor Ruby has forgotten about the agreement they made back then—but Brian and Joanna are still drawn to each other after all those years. Brian decides he must see her again and arranges a book tour that will take him back to Boston, where she still lives. Unfortunately for Brian and Joanna, nothing gets past Ruby, and he isn't about to lose Joanna again.

Bill Walker’s A Note from an Old Acquaintance is a sweetly written romance that does not read like a romance—it is far deeper and more poignant. The characters are easy to fall in love with—or hate, as appropriate. Although a touch overly dramatic at times and there is a bit of a moral struggle since Joanna is cheating on her fiancĂ©/husband, the story is well written and an enjoyable read, drawing the reader into the love triangle, rooting for the star-crossed soul mates who are torn apart by the rich and powerful—though somewhat righteous—enemy.

Stay tuned for an interview and guest blog with Bill Walker!

An author-provided copy of the book was provided for this review.

Author Interview: Colin Harvey

Author Colin Harvey is celebrating three upcoming book events: April 29 sees the UK release of Damage Time, Winter Song comes out in the US in May, and Damage Time will follow it in June. Let's learn a little about him!

Jennifer Walker: Tell us a little about each of your books coming out: Damage Time and Winter Song. What are they about?

Colin Harvey:
They are two very, very different books for which I think Angry Robot deserve more kudos than they've had credit for. To buy anything that's not in a series is rare nowadays, but to buy TWO standalone and very different novels takes considerable cojones. About the only thing that they have in common is that they're both SF.

Winter Song is set about a thousand years in the future when Karl Allman is ambushed in a distant star system and crashes on a remote colony world. By this time humanity has split into various factions, of which the two major ones are the Pantropists and the (Terra)Formers. One believes in adapting the human body to local planetary conditions (so for example to breathe methane), the other believes in adapting the worlds to make them habitable for human beings instead. Karl survives but is stranded. He is nursed back to health by the settlement's outcast, Bera, who has disgraced her family. Karl is desperate to get home because after years of trying to conceive, his wife is pregnant and close to delivery.

Damage Time is set in New York in 2050; Detective Pete Shah is a specialist in the Memory Crimes Division, dealing with attacks on victims whose memories are ripped and posted on the net. Shah becomes involved with a mystery blonde, before the criminals turn on him, and the hunter finds himself the hunted. I don't want to say too much about the story itself for fear of spoilers!

Jennifer Walker: What inspired the stories of Damage Time and Winter Song?

Colin Harvey: Winter Song started after a visit to the oldest settlement in Iceland, at Borganes. I watched an interactive display of the early years, including the story of Egil, one of the early settlers, who became this semi-mythical character in Egil's Saga. In modern parlance, this guy was a truly nasty piece of work, murdering under truce and generally behaving like a psycho. But his life was a heck of a story, and I thought about how much the unreadability of the prose in the Sagas puts readers off, and how much we lose by not understanding them.

Damage Time arose from a series of panels at the Glasgow Worldcon in 2005, covering life in the next fifty years. And I had some vague idea of being able to download memories as we do videos. And after about three and a bit years, the two ideas gradually converged -- as they do. While writing a novella called DisplacementI began to read James Howard Kunstler as well as books about Peak Oil. These are scary books, because they confront the Emporer's New Clothes Syndrome -- that we don't have unlimited resources, and that we're still behaving as if we do, while all the time supposedly sensible people rejoin with "Don't be so depressing. We'll develop something; fusion, fission, whatever."

Jennifer Walker: Are any of the characters, situations or events based in reality?

Colin Harvey: The world of Damage Time is based on a number of trends that we're already starting to see -- the spike in oil prices in 2008 is (I believe) just a foretaste of what the world faces when the oil starts to run out; when viruses become ever more resistant to antibiotics; when the sea level rises and intensive farming starts to break down. I wove some actual events such as the US Embassy Siege in Tehran in 1980 into the general history, to ground Shah in reality.

While none of the story of Winter Song is grounded in reality, the novel was kick-started by the death of a friend, and Englishman who settled in Iceland, and who I never really got a chance to get to know as well as I would have liked. His death, and the deforestation of Iceland between the 9th and 13th centuries are at the emotional core of the novel.

Jennifer Walker: Tell us about other writing projects you have--past, present and future.

Colin Harvey: I mentioned a novella called Displacement, which became the core of my first collection last year. It features four other stories, two of which are unpublished and which are linked and which --if they're read in the right order-- alter the reader's perception of the over-arching theme. I'm not sure how much readers of Plain Tales Well Told will like them, since I tend to experiment more at short length, but I'm proud of them. And I edited Future Bristol, an anthology which punched so far above its weight it's unbelievable.

For the future, I plan a return to the universe of Winter Song with Ultramassive, which has space pirates, romance and black holes -- though not necessarily in that order! And I'm working on a sort of thematic follow-up to Future Bristol, which will have a wider geographical spread and some new authors, plus a couple of writers from the first anthology.

Jennifer Walker: What is (are) your favorite genre to read?

Colin Harvey: SF by some way, with crime a distant second. I'll read most forms of fiction and non-fiction, but it's those genres I return to time and time again.

Jennifer Walker: How did you become an author, and how did your publishing journey begin?

Colin Harvey: I started writing when I was nine, stopped when I was seventeen, before beginning to write again in the late 1990s. My first novel and short story were published in 2001 by micro-presses and sank without trace. Swimming Kangaroo Books picked up my novel Lightning Days in 2006, and published three more of my novels --including a revision of my first one-- as well as four other books. Then I sold Winter Song last year to Angry Robot.

Jennifer Walker: Tell us about your family. Are they supportive of your writing?

Colin Harvey: My wife is my family since our families are scattered, and she's absolutely behind me. When I fret about being away at cons, whether we can afford it, or because she's on her own, she just says 'go.' She's been arguing I should go to Worldcon, which is in Australia this year, despite the fact that it falls the day after her birthday, so I'd have to be away then.

Jennifer Walker: What is your opinion of the publishing industry today?

Colin Harvey: It's tough, and getting tougher to earn a living from. And even when you think you've made it, things happen -- it resembles more and more a game of giant Snakes and Ladders. Very few aspiring writers think beyond their first novel; they should. I think every aspiring novelist should have three more ideas for books in mind at any one time. The one they're writing, the next one, and an alternative should that one be rejected.

Jennifer Walker: Do you have any hobbies?

Colin Harvey: I'm a great armchair sportsman, but for exercise I tend to take our dog --a cocker spaniel-- and head for the hills. I also like to cook (I love spicy food) and watch films or feature length TV. A particular favourite is the Swedish language version of Wallender, Henning Mankell's detective: It's bleak but brilliant.

Jennifer Walker: If you could meet any person, living or dead, for lunch tomorrow, who would it be?

Colin Harvey: Just one? That makes it tricky!

I'm going to pick L. Sprague de Camp, who was a great early SF writer (in August 1939 he was bigger than Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein combined) and who lived to the age of 93. He was a great traveller and a polymath to boot, so we'd have loads to talk about.

Thanks to Colin for stopping by! We'll have some reviews and guest blogs coming up in the near future.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Guest blog with Josi Kilpack 2

You may have read Josi Kilpack's last blog, when I reviewed Devil's Food Cake. Here are her thoughts on learning to write...don't forget to read my review of Lemon Tart from yesterday!

Guest Blog by Josi Kilpack

Within my process of learning to write, I can attribute a great deal of my education to becoming a critical reader. Up until I began writing, I had been a voracious reader for many years, reading anything I could get my hands on. I finished nearly every book I picked up and very rarely did I not like a book. However, after writing my first story I realized there was an actual craft; a set of skills necessary to write the right way just as there is a craft to architecture or painting. I already read books on parenting, marriage, cooking, and personal finance; certainly there were books out there that taught someone how to write. In fact there were, but beyond non-fiction books on novel writing there was also the realization that every novel I picked up was an instruction manual in disguise. I quickly found that by studying the way an author told their story I could learn a thing or two about the craft and get my reading fix in the process. So, instead of just reading for entertainment or edification I started reading to learn the craft of writing, the structure of fiction, and how to best develop characters people would want to read about for three hundred pages. I would finish reading a book and ask myself what I liked, what I didn’t like, what I would have changed. Did I like the ending? Did I relate to the characters? Were there any parts of the story that could have been stronger, were some things overstated? It was rather fascinating to dissect plots and characters, holding each piece up to the light as I studied it from a new perspective. I then tried to bend and mold the elements I learned into my own stories.

But, something happened through these exercises; something I hadn’t expected. Once I was critically evaluating the elements of a book it became harder and harder to get lost within the pages. Whereas I used to finish 98% of every book I picked up, I soon found my percentage dropping farther and farther as I found more and more storylines that, for one reason or another, I just didn’t like. These days, I probably only finish 1/3 of the books I pick up. The downside of the development of this critical reader who is consistently reading over my shoulder, is that it’s not always easy to find a good book. When I’m reading it’s hard to turn off my “internal editor” and let the story sweep me away.

The upside is that when I like a book, I really, really like it. Another benefit is that reading is very much an educational experience for me. Not only am I learning about whatever time period, culture, or person the story features, I’m also learning about the book’s structure, character development, plot, and basic usage of words, dialogue, and description. Since I only get captured by great books, I figure I’m getting the best education I possibly can. It’s not uncommon for me to be reading and stop in order to scramble for my notebook where I write down a certain word I liked, or a sentence structure that had great texture, or I jot down a character idea that was triggered by the story. Then I run back to the book and get lost once again. In this sense I’ve learned to write from some of the great writers of my time—Sue Graphton, John Grisham, Mary Higgins Clark, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, John Shors as was as some of the classic writers such as Mary Stewart, Agatha Christie, and Edgar Allan Poe. What better teachers could a writer want? And they’re all available for nothing more than a library card.

There are days when I pine for the reader I once was, the reader who was happy with anything over 200 pages, and yet in the long run the sacrifice of that part of who I was, has made room for another part of me that even a year before I wrote my first novel I didn’t know existed. It’s an amazing journey, these lives we live, and a fascinating vista when we stand on the verge of who we are and look back at where we’ve been and all the people who helped us get here. Once we can look over what we’ve done, we can then turn and face the horizons of where we are going. It’s my core belief that regardless of who we are and where we want to end up one day, good books will lay that groundwork one way or another. I know it’s been true for me.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Book Review: Lemon Tart, by Josi S. Kilpack

Lemon Tart: A Culinary Mystery

Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Deseret Book (March 4, 2009)
ISBN-10: 1606410504
Rating (1 to 5 *): *****

Review of Lemon Tart

Sadie Hoffmiller is a pillar in her community. A much-loved teacher, chair of fundraisers and involved in charitable works. She is also the keeper of the spare key to every house in her neighborhood, knower of all the goings-on and incurable busy body. When her morning of making homemade applesauce is interrupted by several cop cars whizzing past her house into the circle in which she lives, she has no choice to investigate and is saddened to learn that her friend, Anne Lemmon, has been murdered and her son is missing.

Sadie wants to help the police solve the murder of her friend and find the missing toddler, but while one of the detectives on the case, Cunningham, is receptive, Madsen is hostile from the very beginning. Sadie feels she has no choice but to investigate on her own, following up on leads she gains through less-than-honest means. Soon, she learns that Anne was not the person Sadie thought she was, and that Sadie’s fiancĂ© and brother are somehow involved in an unsavory way. Desperate to find the truth, Sadie faces a constant threat of being arrested or worse, but she knows she cannot stop until she solves the case.

Readers might recall my review of Kilpack’s more recent book, Devil’s Food Cake. As with that one, Lemon Tart shares several recipes of delicious treats that appear in the story—with the addition of some great homemaking tips. The story itself is delightfully complicated, offering new surprises at every turn and keeping the reader guessing up until the very end—just the way a mystery should be written. While some of the characters seem a little unnatural in their actions and attitudes at times and Sadie is sometimes frustrating in her self righteousness, it all feeds into a fun read that is hard to put down.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Author Interview: Larriane Barnard/Larion Wills

Meet Larriane Barnard (AKA Larion Wills), author of numerous books, such as Evil Reflectionsand Mark of the Sire,among others.

Jennifer Walker: Tell us a little about your favorite book(s) you've already published.

Larriane Barnard:
I think of all those that I have published, Thirteen Soulsand Looking Glass Portalare my favorites. Looking Glass, I'm sure, was inspired by science fiction pieces like Star Wars and Star Trek, though I honestly don't remember what in particular started me off on it. It's full of strange creatures, aliens, and other humans in a story of suspense. Thirteen Souls, can't remember what started me off on it either. I do remember that after I had the first draft done, I watched a documentary on HBO that gave me a lot to flesh out some of the story. The cover has a male slave in chains to give you an idea what that background is. They are opposites in genre, one without romance to speak of, current time, but thousands of light years away. Thirteen Souls is also current time, with history woven in and hot romance and suspense.

Jennifer Walker: Are you working on anything new?

Larriane Barnard:
Of course, lol. Since I hand write the first drafts, I'm currently biting my tongue and typing a contemporary into my computer to polish it up. I have two polished, several that need some final polish, and I'm looking for publishers for all of them. Not to mention swinging back and forth about looking into finding an agent. Anyone want to comment on the pros and cons on the latter, information would be appreciated.

Jennifer Walker: Are any of the characters, situations or events in your stories based in reality?

Larriane Barnard:
Historically, yes. As to my day to day life, only one has personal characterization. I have a hearing impairment and I gave one character one, filling in some of my own experiences for people to become more informed--while reading a mystery--on what that means, not only for the hard of hearing but for those around them. I've got to tell you, yelling at me does not help. It only distorts the sounds more, making them even more difficult for me to recognize.

Jennifer Walker: What is life like for you when you write a novel? Are you crazy, reclusive, like to write in cafes, etc.?

Larriane Barnard:
Reclusive without a doubt. Don't talk to me, don't call me, just don't do anything to interrupt my train of thought. Mind you, that's how I'd like it, not how my husband and dogs understand it. Dogs must go out occasionally, and hubby does need his dinner.

Jennifer Walker: What is (are) your favorite genre to read?

Larriane Barnard:
Romance with mystery and suspense, just about any time period.

Jennifer Walker: How did you become an author, and how did your publishing journey begin?

Larriane Barnard:
My publishing history began with some false starts and nearly giving up. I send out a bunch of submissions, expecting rejects after what I'd read on how hard it was to be accepted. Form letters, btw, that tell you pretty much nothing. I followed guidelines I'd looked up, but still didn't have any way of knowing if they didn't like something about my presentation or what I'd written. One person took the time to edit a few pages before she sent it back. I took one look at all those red marks, threw my hands--and the pages--into the air and told my husband I would never be able to learn all of that. But it meant so much to me after letting it simmer for a few days, I gathered the pages up and began to study them. Most of those marks were for the same things, some bad writing habits that weren't really that hard to correct. Time was all it took. I went through several of my books, The Knowing
and Looking Glass among them, and hit the internet again. I happened upon an ad for a new company whose preferences fit The Knowing. The rest, as they say, is history, ten published books later. That tells you how I became an author, not that I was a 'closet writer' for years before I attempted to publish at all.

Jennifer Walker: Do you have a "day job", or do you support yourself with your writing?

Larriane Barnard:
I'm a 'spoiled' at home wife, with a husband who does the worrying about supporting us. Good thing, too.

Jennifer Walker: What is your opinion of the publishing industry today?

Larriane Barnard:
Competitive, oh yes, especially in the ebook market with how easy and inexpensive it is to establish a website and produce the product. Unfortunately there are those who abuse that, setting up, pulling in the authors, and keeping the money for themselves until it all catches up to them, then they just disappear. Some advice: look at well established companies with a good track record and ask around, friends in the business and people you've met on the loops (privately), what they've heard about them. I would also advise you look for those that have editing, which goes a long way to tell you what quality they produce. I am not saying that those who don't would be dishonest, but not having an editing staff is cheaper and tends to lessen the polish of the finished produce. After editing my own and doing editing for others, I know how important a good edit is to produce a quality product. No matter how many times I go through, there are mistakes I've missed and fresh eyes see what another is likely to overlook. Paying for editing is an added expense to any company, but I believe the results are worth it. Another way to judge a company is to examine what they're putting out. Excerpts can give you a good idea of their quality and purchasing at least one of their stock will show you how their product is presented. I've downloaded books that were priced as a full book but were barely a novelette and many with formatting all over the place.

Jennifer Walker: Do you have any interests or hobbies outside of writing?

Larriane Barnard:
The normal stuff: family, pets, and I love to shop garage sales. At home, reading and TV. I have a DVR, which make it possible to record and watch at my convenience those things that I'm interested in.

Jennifer Walker: Do you like to travel? Where is your favorite place to go?

Larriane Barnard:
I do like to travel, but we manage it so seldom, most vacations involve family visits. One thing nice about being a writer: Have laptop, will travel. I usually have the battery charged when we leave here, work on whatever until it fades out on me, then dig into the sack of books I brought along. He does the driving, can you tell?

Thank you to Larriane Barnard/Larion Wills for stopping by!