Den of Shadows – Christopher Byford Review

The Gambler’s Den weaves its away across the desert… But will it stop at your station?

While fighting off poverty in the blistering desert heat a travelling casino offers one night of solace. One…

The Gambler’s Den weaves its away across the desert… But will it stop at your station?

While fighting off poverty in the blistering desert heat a travelling casino offers one night of solace. One night to forget all your troubles. But once on board there is more to the show than meets the eye: enter Franco, the elaborate ringleader, Wyld the stowaway thief and Misu the fire breathing showgirl.

In a kingdom ruled by the law Franco ensures his den remains in line, ruling with an iron first. But when he’s faced with saving the fate of the train, and those on board, he may be forced to break his own rules. Life on the den isn’t just a job but a way of life. And now you’re about to find out why!

Welcome to the den…

Why did I pick this up?: Comparisons to the Night Circus, a train running across the desert with an elaborate ringleader aboard? Sounds like my cup of tea.

Good points: The Gamblers’ Den is a Vegas on wheels, but better. Beautiful descriptions of the casino, the show they put on for the customers, everything. The flamboyant manners of the characters are exactly my style, and it’s got such a unique premise that the idea swept me along immediately. It’s one of those ideas that as a writer I wish I’d thought of first!

Quibbles: It takes a long time to get started. And I mean a long time. I was wondering what was going to happen well into the fourth and fifth chapters of a twenty chapter book. And, beautiful as it was, it failed to catch me and make me desperate to read more, something I look for in books I add to my shelves.

Overview (TL;DR): A beautiful book with an exciting premise that just missed the mark for me and my shelves. Someone else may find it exactly to their taste.

-K Hart

I got an interview with Holly Evans, author of ‘Stolen Ink’!

“Who’s our first client?”

He curled his lip and looked up from his sketchbook. “Some prissy boy in an expensive suit.”

I read Stolen Ink a while ago, and absolutely LOVED it, and I’ve been lucky enough to get an interview with the author, Holly Evans. If you haven’t already, read this book. There will be links at the bottom of the page to the author’s Amazon page and Twitter for anyone interested, and you really should be. I reviewed ‘Stolen Ink’ here. I’m also now reading an ARC of the second book in this series, Blood and Ink, which is shaping up to be as good as the first! (review coming soon). Holly Evans has also written a series called Infernal Hunt, which is on my to-read list! So, without further ado…

1) What influenced and inspired you to write your novels?
Stolen Ink really came from my love of tattoos. I think they’re an incredible art form. I have two at the moment but I have plans for four more.
There are so many subconscious influences and inspirations buried in there. My fae come from the Celtic and Norse mythology, there are twists of course, but I adore the predatory tricksters that they had there. None of the fluffy Disney stuff. The really tight friendship between Dacian and Keirn (also the one between Evie and Elise in the Infernal Hunt books) comes from my friendship with my bestfriend. We’ve been through thick and thin, we’d do anything for each other. The city and setting comes mostly from Prague as I was living there when I wrote the IH books and Stolen Ink. It’s such a gorgeous, multi-faceted city. There are so many layers to explore, it’s hard not be inspired there.
I think one of the big things that influenced the books was the fact that I see a lot of people saying they don’t see enough platonic relationships in books. There’s so much focus on rivalry and romance. I wanted to show the strong familial and friendship bonds. That came through more in the IH books, but there’s plenty of time with Dacian and co. yet.

2) Most writers put themselves into their characters, to an extent. Out of your own characters, were there any in particular that you felt you identify with more than others? Were there any that you found yourself particularly liking or disliking as you wrote them?
I really love Vyx. She’s such a fire-cracker! She’s strong, self-assured, and yet still very definitely feminine. She loves her pretty dresses, she has quite a strong maternal instinct (as can be seen in her cooking for the hopeless boys), but she’ll still stare down an alpha wolf shifter. She isn’t the combat model so to speak, but that doesn’t take away any of her strength or fire, if anything it adds to it. And she doesn’t compensate for her lack of combat effectiveness with feminine wiles or overt sexuality because she’s very much asexual. She’s so much fun to write. Don’t get me wrong, I love kick-ass woman, Evie and co were fantastic to write, and my favourite women in fiction are all kick-ass, but Vyx is wonderful. She makes me smile so much.
As to those that I put myself into… Up until Stolen Ink I made very sure to strip out every scrap of myself from my fiction. I allowed something of myself to creep into Isa though. I have an abusive past and some of that came through with him. I like to hope that I have Isa’s strength. I identify with Dacian a bit as well, that feeling of wanting a quiet life but the gods just won’t quite allow it lol.

3) If you had a day in the world of Stolen Ink, what would you do and where would you go? Who would you be in that world?
That’s so hard!! I’d love to go up into the skies with the knowledge merchants. They enjoy such freedom flying around the world trading information and using their wits and wiles to get all they can from the world. I think I’d like to fly over Northern Africa and some of the magical cities over that with them. To see the cultures that are so different to my day to day life.
4) Are there any bits of worldbuilding that never made it into the book that you’d love to share with everyone? If so, what?
There’s so much! This world is huge. I’m planning another 4+ series in this world so there’s a lot left to explore and share yet. I adore the knowledge merchants, they’ll be shown in Blood & Ink. There’s another branch to the dreamwalkers that’re very cool too, I have a series planned with one of those as a protagonist. Where Ben was very much half in the dream world with his bright colours and vacant expression, the other branch is more military. They’re kick-ass investigators. Oh! And I want to share the non-magic cities where they have magical creatures in zoos to stare at. The ethics and views around that will be fun to look into. To see how they view magic so very differently to Dacian and co. There’s so, so, much left to share! I could go on for pages, but I think it’s best put into the books.

5) If there was something you want people to get from the books above anything else, what would it be?
Hmm. I think it’s probably the importance of your chosen family. The people that you pull around you, that you choose to give your all to. The relationships with those people are so important. As I mentioned above I think those relationships are quite often put aside in fiction, but, as scary as it is to open up to people and establish those bonds, they’re life-savers (literally) when you have them. Dacian has trouble trusting people, but the people around came through for him. When he opens up a bit more he’s so much happier and freer. It’s terrifying to do that, to take the risk, but it’s absolutely worth it. It’s also worth putting our efforts into those bonds and being the best friends that we can be. It makes our lives richer.

6) What’s your next step? Tell us a little about the next thing you are planning to work on.
I’m currently writing Ink Bound (Ink Born 3). That continues Dacian’s story. After that I’m starting a new series, Hidden Alchemy. That follows the bisexual treasure-hunting alchemist Kaitlyn Felis. That’s set in the same world as Dacian and there will be a couple of cameos from Kaitlyn in Dacian’s books and vice versa. That’s far more an Indiana Jones type of book. I want to capture the adventure that I feel in the Stardust movie. Once those two series are established I’ll start my next series in the ink world. There are a few options for that, the dreamwalker I mentioned above, a blood magician, and there’s an air elemental that’s been calling to me for a while too. We’ll see what happens!

So, thank you to the wonderful Holly Evans for the interview, and for anyone who wants links to her work, here you go!
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Holly-Evans/e/B01ESEZALC
Twitter: Http://twitter.com/KhaosFoxe
-K Hart

 

Red Right Hand – Levi Black Review

Charlie Tristan Moore isn’t a hero. She’s a survivor. On a night when her demons from the past are triggered, she arrives home to something even more harrowing-an attack by three monstrous skinhounds, creatures straight out of nightmares. She fights but is outmatched. Just as hope seems lost, in sweeps The Man In Black, a rescuer even more monstrous and unlikely, dressed in a long, dark coat that seems to have a life of its own and with a black-bladed sword held in his terrible, red right hand.

Her rescue comes at a cost. She must become his new Acolyte and embrace a dark magick she never knew she had inside her. To ensure she gives it her all, he takes her friend and possible love, Daniel, in thrall as a hostage to her obedience. The Man in Black, a Lovecraftian chaos god, claims to be battling his brethren gods, other horrors who are staging an incipient apocalypse. But is he truly the lesser of all evils or merely killing off the competition? Either way, will Charlie be strong enough to save herself, Daniel, and possibly the entire world?

I really liked this book in the end. Lovecraftian monsters, a ‘heroine’ with a survivor attitude and a hell of a kick. I usually like ‘mysterious guy/girl turns up out of nowhere’ stories, too, and this one fits the bill. For me, it was a short, easy read with enough to keep me reading on and enough characterisation to make me decide who I liked and who I didn’t, which is pretty key for me. I probably will read the next one, but it’s not a must like some others I’ve read. I’d be willing to wait a little.

-K Hart

Writing Tools: The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols

Progress on Alternate: 10% ?

This isn’t a review, exactly, but it’s something I’m going to put in the book reviews section. I own a lot of encyclopedias (I always feel like the plural should be encyclopediae) of various things for use when I’m writing, and the Element Encyclopedia series has been pretty good to me. I’ve recently been reading through the ‘Secret Signs and Symbols’.

A lot of people who often write genre pull on real religious, magical, or spiritual traditions as well as history and folklore and so on… I find that having a good background in these things really helps when you’re trying to make a story flow. While this series, and in particular the book I just read, isn’t detailed, it’s a good thing to flick through to see what it is that you might have to look up, research, or simply consider in more detail.

I think every writer should have a collection of books on weird and wonderful real life things as well as fiction. I have books about various religions, magical practises, cults, biographies, historical figures I took an interest in, unsolved mysteries, weird facts… and so many of them are stories in themselves. I feel like I have a bookshelf full of inspiration.

-K Hart

Possible Side Effects – Augusten Burroughs Review

Progress on Alternate: 48,229 words

Current Review:

Now I’m going to start by making it very clear: I adore Augusten Burroughs. I love his wit, his intelligence, and his odd, down-to-earth honesty, even when what he’s talking about sounds strange and unbelievable. I love that he doesn’t shy away from talking about things that make him (or, hell, other people) feel uncomfortable.

I think my favourite thing right now about my re-read of Possible Side Effects is a quote that feels so much like my current situation, in its own way (minus the smoking), that I can’t help but include it in this review:

“I understood at once, I am not living, but actively dying. I am smoking, living unhealthily. I’m shutting down. I need to go the other way, inside. And it was so clear to me what I was doing. It was suddenly perfectly clear. I understood, I need to write. Live here, in my words, and my head. I need to go inside, that’s all. No big, complicated, difficult thing. I just need to go in reverse.”

Possible Side Effects is a collection of little anecdotes. Odd happenings, parts of his life that others might get a kick out of. Who knows if all of it is true. But with the arch humour that he shows, I wouldn’t be surprised if every bit of it was. I think people who have felt odd or unusual for some reason would do well to read this book. Just because those little details, those little moments said so frankly, can be really oddly cathartic from the pen of some strange man who lives miles away.

Not to mention making you smile. But smile in a way that’s less ‘oh, look at that funny thing’ and more ‘oh dear, I know this person, I’ve seen this’. I recently reposted a tweet about liking to read books that hold up a mirror to society. Augusten Burroughs, in his own way, often does that. He’s so unafraid to be odd or unusual that it feels like we can see bits of the world around us in how he talks.

-K Hart

The Spirit Eater – Rachel Aaron Review

Another book read. Can you tell I need things to occupy me right now? – Ha!

Anyway, since I reviewed the second book of this series (although admittedly not the first!) I thought it was about time I reviewed this one too. I will note, however, that I can’t yet review the two remaining books in this series because for once, I haven’t read them! I have actually purchased them and they will be on their way to me shortly. In the meantime, I have no doubt I will wait on the edge of my seat.

Like the last, this is a re-read of mine. Right now I am reading my way right across my bookshelves piece by piece in my spare time, and it’s great fun. Picking up books and KNOWING that I already like them. Also, as anyone who knows me can attest, I have very large bookshelves, so this will last me quite a while.

The Spirit Eater takes us further into the depths of Eli’s world. But more than that, it starts to unravel the mysteries of Nico, and in the process seems to risk unravelling her. I love Nico, as a character. And seeing this real in-depth exploration of her, and why she’s there, what this means to her… all I can say is there is a bond between these characters that I think works wonders for the story.

We’re also introduced to the type of character that I always laughingly say is ‘my type’. A very elaborately dressed, morally-grey character. This, by the name of Sparrow. I pinpoint this character just because there is something about his characterisation (I will give no spoilers, you will have to read it for yourselves) that I think is absolute genius. Rachel Aaron, well done.

Along with Eli’s quips and the lighthearted stance these books often take to their storytelling, we begin to see a lot more of the true seriousness of this world. Demons, worlds falling apart, spirits, forces. It’s a quick read, and worth it.

So, again, fantasy fans… take a look. Rachel Aaron does a lot of fun things with her work, and personally I’m still looking forward to receiving the rest of this series. I’ve been waiting so so long, dammit. It’s time.

As a final edit, for anyone who is interested, at the time of writing this blog post I am 16,126 words into the novel I am currently working on, Alternate. This is beginning to feel like the last draft I will do, but I’ve said that before… Once I have done this, I will have to look for beta-readers. But for now, I am simply well on my way to completion.

-K Hart

Alternate, The Spirit Rebellion, Book Reviews… god this title is getting long

Still here. Still around. I apologise profoundly for that.

I’ve recently been put in a position where I really need things to occupy my mind. So, in true writer fashion, I am working solidly on this nightmare of a novel.

So, in order to make MYSELF stay on track, I’m also going to be writing about the writing process right here. Stay tuned if you want real writing talk, basically. As far as I know (despite the fact that I am as always a confused technophobe), you can see my progress on my wordcount here: Alternate

If you’re into that, go for it. Maybe yell at me if I get behind.

The other thing is that I want to talk more, now I have an abundance of time on my hands, about what I’m reading. So, right now, I am about to delve into the second book in Rachel Aaron’s Eli Monpress series, The Spirit Rebellion. This is a re-read, but I realised to my utter horror I have never reviewed it before. So eventually, I shall be doing that!

This blog needs a purpose. It needed clearing out, the dust shifting, and the old references removed. I apologise to anyone who now finds particular posts missing. But I think it’s time this thing had a clear path. And dammit I’m going to give it one.

-K Hart

 

 

Fashion, sewing machines, and how to be a writer when you look like a character from an old novel

So, I have been getting VERY interested in making my own clothes lately. I have always had an odd taste in fashion – it tends to be rather dandified, with a lot of lace and frills and gorgeous detail. These are my clothes, the things I wear when I go out. But the internet can only provide so much. I have had some excellent finds, and done a lot of accessorising and playing around, even customising items of clothing by hand in order to get the look I wanted. Now, I’m running out of options. Short of paying a fortune, there just isn’t that much call for looking like some sort of androgynous fop these days.

Then, I was gifted a sewing machine. A Singer sewing machine, no less. And a world of my own clothing designs has opened up to me. This will help so much with what I do… not just in making my own clothes, but in writing several of my characters who… wait for it… also make their own clothes. But it’s TIME CONSUMING. And so is writing novels, and trying to use social media (because heaven knows I still have no idea how to use that consistently and/or properly).

I thought it was time to set myself some rules, and share them with the general public.

  1. Writing comes first. It’s one of the rules I’ve sort of always had, but university, jobs, life, other things always end up getting in the way. If I have a novel idea, that’s the time to drop everything and go running to the nearest notebook.
  2. Sew things that are worth sewing. I have a house full of objects I have made in my knitting adventures that will never have a home or be useful to anyone. Most recently, I found that a friend’s cats enjoyed the mouse I knitted and happened to send them – this is perhaps one of the few times my knitting has ever had a purpose beyond occupying my fingers, and made me think about creating things for a purpose. I love artsy, crafty stuff as much as the next person, but having a house full of it at the end? Not really my cup of water (or, you know… tea. If I drank caffeine). So when I’m working on sewing projects, it’s important for it to have a purpose. As much as I find creativity relaxing, it needs to GO SOMEWHERE.
  3. Write things that are worth writing. This one is something every writer should bear in mind, really. But it’s not something I think about too often. I’ve written for so long that it’s just something I do… like breathing or giving incredibly scathing looks to people who don’t walk fast enough in the middle of a busy London street. But it is important. You don’t have to put in your work a bunch of allusions to political unrest, or war, or anything like that, but you do have to have something to say. By writing, you should be saying SOMETHING. Even if that something is, to borrow a little from Chuck Wendig at terribleminds (please do go check him out, he’s great!), just ‘hey, look at this cool steampunk wombat!’. (Now I’m wondering if he ever got around to writing about a steampunk wombat. I could do with that sort of insanity in my life).

So, those are the important things, really. Life, for me, is about purpose. About doing something with my time on this earth that MEANS something. So… I’m going to make sure my writing says ‘hey, look at this stuff! Look at the way human nature is so freaking weird! Look at the wombats!’.

– K Hart

And, just a link to read Chuck Wendig’s blog (because I couldn’t mention him and then NOT share it). This is one of my favourite posts he ever made. As a genre fiction writer primarily, reading this made me grin like a madwoman all the way through: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/10/22/25-reasons-i-fucking-love-genre-fiction/

 

The New Year is coming!

2016.

Good lord.

I’m not even sure where half of my time is going these days. It should be on working, and writing, but hey. I’ve done a lot of that, too.

I’ve got some pretty important New Year’s Targets. They’re not going to be Resolutions, because barely anyone keeps their New Year’s Resolutions.

First one is, I want Alternate finished. It’s finished now, to some extent, but I want it to be at a place where I feel like it’s done. Like I’m happy for it to be seen by people.

Second, I want to get something else written. One of the many backlog of stories that need finishing or editing in my large file.

Third, I want to let nothing stop me from writing, and writing well, this coming year.

And fourth, I want to start doing some book reviews up here. I read so much, but talk about each book so little. It’s about time I started.

Not sure if I can keep all of these, but hey. It’s worth a try, right?

-K Hart

Dead blog, Kerouac, and getting behind

I find I quite enjoy this sort of vague, empty silence I have going on here, so I shall continue using it. This blog, now, for all its views and interest in the past, seemed to die out when I myself took time out. My Twitter, on the other hand, is slowly gaining support. I don’t know how the internet works – I don’t know if that’s a normal thing, if people are leaving WordPress behind for some new platform, or if it’s just me. But I quite like it. It feels more genuine. Writing for the sake of writing a record as opposed to writing for views or the interest of others.

I’m reading Kerouac right now. Re-reading is the correct term, really. The Town and the City. One of his older works, and not his best… but then, the worst of Kerouac reads like the best of many writers today. Each time I read, I am reminded of all of the day-to-day things we miss or pay little attention to because we’re too busy, or we’re not looking in the right direction. Kerouac looked everywhere, saw everything…

An incredible writer.

With my own writing, my Pacemaker plan tells me I am running far behind on my project, caught up in the other aspects of my life which, unfortunately, come first. But thanks to Kerouac, I’m not sure I’m so alarmed about this anymore. I’m focusing on what I need to do.

In the new year, I have plans. With any luck, I’ll also have the time to complete them. And maybe then I’ll be doing things that draw interest once more. For now, I think I like my silence.

– K Hart