Good Riddance, 2016

Happy New Year! 2016 is almost over, thank fuck, and 2017 is just around the corner. So I thought I’d do a year in review. 

The Good

As much as 2016 was full of shit (more on that later), some good things did happen this year. 

  • I published a book. Yes, finally! Weltanschauung was published in November, & has been pretty well-deserved. I participated in a blog tour, hopping around the blogosphere. I ran a Goodreads giveaway, and 1277 people entered. And most of the reviews have been positive. So I’d chalk that up as a win.
  • I got married. It was a small affair, with a tiny number of guests and minimum fuss, but we tied the knot in September. I also showed the patriarchy what’s what by keeping my surname. Small acts of defiance!
  • I fell back in love with make-up. Seems a small thing, but make-up is such an incredible thing. It can boost your confidence, and it’s fun! I also started taking better care of my skin. 
  • I’m getting my finances in order. This is a long-term thing, but we started organising ourselves and taking steps towards our 5-10 year plan. I feel pretty good about it. 
  • I read some amazing books. Seriously, 2016 may not have been good for a lot, but it really was an excellent year for books. 

The Bad

Of course, a lot of celebrities died this year. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher. But it also seems like everyone I know lost someone close to them, or lost a job, had health problems, or just generally experienced something negative.

  • We lost my partner’s Nan. And a huge loss it was. Still is. She was a fantastic lady, intelligent, always kind & thoughtful, & she welcomed me with open arms. 
  • Relationships broke down. I made a promise to not let things slide anymore, to stand up for what I believe in, and sadly, that resulted in a few arguments. I’m glad to be rid of certain toxic relationships, but the way things went down wasn’t pleasant. 
  • I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. I’m glad I was finally diagnosed, but it’s never good to be saddled with a chronic illness. The middle of 2016 was dominated by my health. It took a while to get used to the medication, and things were just difficult for a while. But I’m slowly getting to a point where I’m not in a constant zombiefied state, which is good. 
  • Brexit, Trump, & other anti-feminist crap. 2016 was a year for fighting bigotry. There were many times when I just felt exhausted by it all. 

Onwards & Upwards

I think I’m going to take a step back from blogging, to focus on different aspects of my life. I’m closing The Bandwagon to review requests until further notice, as we just can’t keep up with the demand, but we’ll still be open to smaller projects, such as author interviews. 

So what am I looking forward to in 2017? 

  • Health. Once again, this is a huge focus for me. My medication is currently working fine, I’m seeing a physiotherapist semi-regularly, & I got the go-ahead to start yoga. I’m going to keep eating well and doing what I can to get stronger, without pushing myself too hard. 
  • Well-being. This follows on from health. When you have a chronic illness, it can be difficult to measure up to what people might expect. You might have to cancel plans, or decline an invitation, because you simply can’t handle it. And that is perfectly okay. It’s been difficult to strike a balance between accepting my limitations and striving to get out more, but I’m getting there. 
  • Career. My career is going to be moving in a completely different direction in 2017, & I’m excited. 
  • Travel. When I’m able, I want to travel more. We’ve got a trip to York & Edinburgh planned, & we want to do more long weekend breaks. They’re perfect as they’re not too taxing, energy-wise, and more affordable than longer holidays. 
  • Feminism. I’m going to keep fighting the good fight. I’ll keep striving to be a better, more inclusive feminist, & keep smashing that patriarchy. 
  • Friendships. I need to keep in touch with friends, whether that’s online or in person. I need to be better at keeping friendships going. 
  • Writing. I’m going to keep writing, when I can. Some Girls Do is still in the pipeline, & I’m hoping to have it finished by this time next year. 

What are your resolutions for 2017? Are you keen to see the back of 2016?

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Wise Phuul by Daniel Stride

Ryan Collins reviews Wise Phuul by Daniel Stride.

Many thanks to the author for providing a free review copy.

Walking corpses and black-market liquor: the quiet life.

Telto Phuul, Necromancer and Library Clerk, likes his days safe and predictable. Not for him the intrigues of the Viiminian Empire, a gothic monstrosity held together by sheer force of will.

Until the Empire’s dreaded secret police come knocking. Caught in a web of schemes in the diseased heart of Kuolinako, the underground Imperial capital, Telto can trust no-one. Not the Northern theocrats who abhor Necromancy, and certainly not the Grand Chancellor, whose iron-fisted rule has kept the old order alive that little bit longer.

When one false step means torture and disappearance, this journey will change our Necromancer forever.

Family, friendship, and social class lie at the heart of powerful storytelling. Stride delves deep into the hearts and minds of his characters, revealing moral fortitudes that are perfectly balanced with personality flaws and desire for self-preservation. Engaging, subtle and provocative, this is fantasy steampunk that deserves to be read again and again. Wise Phuul is the story of one man’s journey to save himself, his friends, and (by coincidence only), his society.

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I was very excited to learn that this book was being published. Daniel Stride is an insightful writer, with some interesting things to say about the fantasy genre. As such, I’ve been eager for the chance to read this debut novel for myself.

Far and away the strongest aspect of Wise Phuul, for me, was the world. The cultures, histories, traditions, and taboos all have an authentic and multi-layered feel that lends credibility and nuance to the story. The political machinations and interplay of the various powers and forces within the world are a major driving point for the plot. While in the beginning there is a lot to keep up with, it all clicks together fairly smoothly about a third of the way through the book, and the story just takes you away from there.

The only downside to this is that it feels like a lot of the world-building is spoon-fed to the reader, and some of the early dialogue is a bit expositional. I typically absorb details better through natural immersion into the author’s world, which in this case, is a very compelling one.

Stride’s post-industrial fantasy world has a gritty, almost dirty feel to it. This seeps into the reader through the prose like a slow decay, sucking you in and refusing to let go. Necromancy being the primary form of magic in the story is the perfect mirror to the tone of Stride’s world. The fantasy trope of the evil necromancer is overturned in a world where taboos surrounding death and magic still play a major role in the story.

Overall I found Wise Phuul to be an enjoyable read. The characters are believable and compelling, with a wide and diverse range of personalities, and the writing is clever and insightful. Some bits were a bit slow going, but it’s an excellent introduction to a world that I hope to explore again in the future.

Amazon | GoodreadsGoodreadsDaniel Stride | @strda221

 

The Shattered Crown by J.W. Webb

I review The Shattered Crown by J.W. Webb.

‘You ride into peril, Corin an Fol!’

Those are the words of the witch at the ford. Corin an Fol, mercenary, brawler, womaniser and drinker, ignores them and thus finds himself caught in a tangled web of sorcery, intrigue and dark prophesy. 

When the High King is murdered and his broken crown goes missing, Queen Ariane suspects the wily hand of Caswallon the sorcerer. She forms a secret council and rides out to find the Oracle of her Goddess, to see if her worries are proved right. But Caswallon is onto her and the noose tightens fast around the young queen.

Corin an Fol returns to his village seeking solace in drink. Instead he finds an old contact waiting for him who persuades him to join Queen Ariane in her fight against Caswallon. And so, like the queen, Corin an Fol is snared by the sorcerer. Our boy has a big sword and bad attitude, but is that enough to survive the hordes Caswallon sends against them?

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The second in The Legends of Ansu series, The Shattered Crown can be read without reading the first book, Gol, and it stands well on its own. I suppose it would fit into the grimdark fantasy category, alongside the likes of Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercrombie. The Shattered Crown is dark, gritty, adult fantasy.

I can take or leave grimdark, if I’m honest. Sometimes it’s too gratuitous or brutal, but sometimes the author gets it right. Webb gets it right. He strikes a balance between violence and story, and the characters, particularly Corin, are immediately engaging. There are some Strong Female Characters (I know), but they play their parts well. A lot of (male) grimdark fantasy writers get their female characters all wrong, but Webb manages to create realistic women, who also kick arse and take names.

The Shattered Crown promises to give fans of Game of Thrones something to sink their teeth into between GRRM’s books (and the TV series!). It isn’t for the faint-hearted.

J.W. Webb | Goodreads | Amazon

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The Emblem Throne by Jeffrey L. Kohanek

James McStravick reviews The Emblem Throne by Jeffrey L. Kohanek.

Journey on a magical quest to save the world…

As they strive to become Masters within the Ministry, Brock and his friends resume their training at the Academy, an institution founded on magic, science, knowledge, law, and combat. They soon discover an expansive web of conspiracies and deceit within the Ministry, hidden behind a veil of benevolence and piety. The exposure of one of those secrets forces Brock and his friends to flee the institution with their lives in the balance.

Joined by a fierce Tantarri warrior, the group embarks on a quest to locate a mysterious throne that has been lost for centuries. Guided by the cryptic words of an ancient prophecy, and backed by a forbidden magic that they are still learning to wield, they journey across the continent to save humanity from extinction.

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Back in July of this year, I read and reviewed The Buried Symbol by Jeffrey L. Kohanek, and I really enjoyed it. If you haven’t already done so, you can read my review here. When it comes to second books in a series, I am always wary whether they are going to live up to the first book. I am glad to say that The Emblem Throne very much lives up the expectations set out by The Buried Symbol.

The Emblem Throne picks up shortly after the end of The Buried Symbol, and we are quickly drawn back into the story as the characters discuss and think on what happened at the end of The Buried Symbol. I found this extremely useful because there have been many times when I have read a previous book in a series months before reading the current one, and I find it hard to remember certain elements and consequences. This method not only shows us the characters processing what happened, but is also used as a way of helping the reader remember what occurred.

One aspect of the book I thoroughly enjoyed was being able to delve deeper into each characters’ background. I don’t want to discuss this too much as I think these scenes were a joy to read, and I don’t want to give out spoilers. What I will say though is that the interactions that occur not only help you discover why a certain character acts the way they do, but ait lso helps you understand their reasons for wanting to join the academy.

The aspect that intrigued me the most is that we learn more about a particular rune, its source and what its capable of. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about it because this was one aspect I wanted to see more of in “The Buried Symbol”. The characters wanting to learn more about it also naturally helps progress the story and the characters themselves because we see the lengths the are willing to go to find more information.

The only slight issue I had with the book was that there were certain scenes I felt were rushed, and, due to this, I had one or two occasions where I felt that maybe I had missed some information or a particular scene due to something occurring so quickly. I think if these scenes were drawn out a bit more or more information was given, then it would go towards strengthening an already great book. Thankfully though  this only happened once or twice, and I don’t think it derailed the general flow of the book.

All said and done, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and was really excited to get back into its world. I think the book flows very well. If you enjoyed the first book then I would highly recommend you pick up this one as well, as it gives you a lot more information on certain elements from the first book and improves on them. If you haven’t yet read The Buried Symbol, then I would highly recommend you do so.

Jeffrey L. Kohanek | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook

Ask The Author: A J Dalton

Metaphysical fantasy author A J Dalton drops by The Bandwagon to talk about his writing process.

A J Dalton (the ‘A’ is for Adam) has been an English language teacher as far afield as Egypt, the Czech Republic, Thailand, Slovakia, Poland and Manchester University. He has lived in Manchester since 2003, but has a conspicuous Cockney accent, as he was born in Croydon on a dark night, when strange stars were seen in the sky.

He is currently published by Gollancz, with whom he has put out the best-selling titles Empire of the Saviours (2012), Gateway of the Saviours (2013) and Tithe of the Saviours (2014). He maintains the Metaphysical Fantasy website, where there is plenty to interest fantasy fans and there is advice for aspiring authors.

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What inspired you to start writing?

Ha! I blame the parents. They had me reading fantasy (Blyton’s Magic Wishing Chair and Roald Dahl) from the year dot. Then my mum got me Raymond Feist’s The Magician when I was 15. After that, it was nothing but fantasy for me. Curiously, Scott Lynch was converted by precisely the same book. Mr Feist clearly has a lot to answer for! My parents also encouraged me to write, and so did the local school. I then wondered if I could turn my passion for reading and writing fantasy into something I did for the rest of my life, so a job. I’ve been pursuing that crazy idea ever since.

What do you wish you’d known about the publishing process?

Yes, knowing a bit more would have saved me many years of heartache, I think. I might even have got the big publishing deal a sight earlier too. First off, I had to self-publish, because no one seemed to want my zombie novel (Necromancer’s Gambit) back in 2008. Then Twilight hit the cinema and ‘dark fantasy’ was born. Necromancer’s Gambit started selling in silly numbers. Based on the sales figures for that trilogy, Gollancz gave me a three-book deal for my new stuff, which started with Empire of the Saviours.

What do I wish I’d known before? Well, I wasted a decade or two submitting as a first-time author to mainstream publishers and not knowing that the material was largely going on the ‘slush pile’ unread. The publishers were getting hundreds of unsolicited manuscripts a week, you see. What I really needed was quantitative evidence of commercial potential (e.g. sales stats, or proven audience size on Facebook, etc) to accompany the chapters of my books (qualitative evidence) that I was submitting to publishers. Hard numbers will make publishers pay attention and convince them to spend time actually reading what you send them – they’re running a business after all. So, I wish I’d known much sooner that self-publishing or writers’ forums are a great way to build the numbers you need.

Beyond that, I wish I’d known how the whole industry worked much more. The problem is, there’s no central information point on such things. I had to work things out by a lot of trial and error, and by asking a lot of questions. I share pretty much all I know on my website, because I understand and sympathise with what other writers are going through. I also advise/steer aspiring authors.

Which authors do you look to for inspiration?

Hmm. It’s important to know what’s current/popular in your genre – as that’s probably what publishers are looking for. It’s also important to know the classics in your genre – as they really set the standard to which you should aspire. So, I read a lot of fantasy. I’ve read a fair bit of Peter V. Brett and Mark Lawrence, to get a grip on current ‘grimdark fantasy’. And I still read Raymond Feist and Greg Keyes, since ‘epic fantasy’ is making something of a comeback. If you don’t know your sub-genres, then you should look into that. They’re outlined/defined on my website. Or I have a history of fantasy coming out with Luna Press in April 2017, called The Sub-genres of British Fantasy Literature (based on my PhD research).

What advice would you give to aspiring writers? 

I would advise aspiring writers to work out what genre they’re writing in from the very start – otherwise, they’ll produce something rambling and crossover, which publishers really aren’t interested in. Then, it’s important to help the reader engage with the lead character by giving that character a moral dilemma/problem that the reader will be interested in seeing resolved. The lead character should attempt to resolve the problem and FAIL. They then need to spend time dealing with the negative results. They should learn from their mistake and grow/develop. Then they should encounter a similar problem/dilemma, one which they are now equipped to resolve. If you follow that sort of model, you will have a tight plot that is compelling. It’s not entirely necessary for the reader to ‘like’ the protagonist, just as long as the problem/dilemma is credible, recognisable, different and challenging. Or your money back.

empire-cover-finalTell us more about your book(s). 

Well, I’ve got The Sub-genres of British Fantasy Literature coming out in April 2017, as I said, which is an overview of (and user-guide to) both historical and modern sub-genres of fantasy. I’ve also just put out a fantasy title called I Am a Small God, which follows the tale of an assassin-god attempting to bring down the various pantheons of gods around the world. Then back in Sept 2016, I did a collection of fantasy tales for Kristell Ink called The Book of Angels. Lastly, if you want a big fat fantasy series, then you could do worse than starting with my Gollancz title Empire of the Saviours. Hey, I did my best!

Why so much? Well, I’m genuinely into the fantasy genre, and amazed by how it continues to develop – it’s creatively engaging. And full-time authors on average these days make less than £11K a year, which really isn’t much to live on. It’s therefore important to have a range of titles out there. Every little helps. But once I get the film deal, who cares!

What are you currently reading?

Sheesh. I’m reading the Booker Prize Winner. It’s The Sellout, by Paul Beatty. Sometimes I dip into prize-winning literary fiction to see what the standard is and whether it can help my own writing. But The Sellout is a tough read. There’s very little that’s compelling in it plot-wise. It’s a bit of a monologue/rant. Yes, it’s an important book, as it describes the American experience for people of colour, but I’m not sure it’s really for me.

What’s next for you?

Now that’s a good question. I’m never entirely sure. I’ve got a few novels and ideas (Lifer, Dragon God, Lundun Child, Warrior of Ages, etc) being considered by mainstream publishers, but it takes forever for them to come back to you. The publishing industry has had a tough time in recent years, and they’re all quite risk-averse. Look at Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings. It was rejected by dozens of publishers, but ultimately won the Booker Prize. It seems that even writing a brilliant novel doesn’t mean you’ll immediately get another publishing deal. There’s a lot of waiting around involved in being an author. My agent recently placed a novel for another of her authors – but only after 27 straight rejections.

Oh, I did forget to mention that the follow-up to The Book of Angels is nearly done. It’s called The Book of Dragons and should be out April 2017. Everyone likes dragons, right?

For more on Dalton’s published works, click here, or visit his website.

Good As Gone by Amy Gentry

I review Good As Gone by Amy Gentry.
Many thanks to the author, publisher & NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Thirteen-year-old Julie Whitaker was kidnapped from her bedroom in the middle of the night, witnessed only by her younger sister. Her family was shattered, but managed to stick together, hoping against hope that Julie is still alive. And then one night: the doorbell rings. A young woman who appears to be Julie is finally, miraculously, home safe. The family is ecstatic—but Anna, Julie’s mother, has whispers of doubts.  She hates to face them. She cannot avoid them. When she is contacted by a former detective turned private eye, she begins a torturous search for the truth about the woman she desperately hopes is her daughter.
 
Propulsive and suspenseful, Good as Gone will appeal to fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, and keep readers guessing until the final pages.

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I love a good thriller. Something that keeps me guessing, keeps me on my toes, confuses and scares the hell out of me. That’s a sign of a good book. Good As Gone really is as good as the popular thrillers that have come before it – Gone Girl, The Girl On The Train, Before I Go To Sleep, and so on. One night, Julie, thirteen years old, is kidnapped from the family home. Her younger sister, Jane, saw a man holding a knife against Julie’s back, pushing her out of the house and out of their lives. Jane, eight years old and terrified, didn’t alert her parents for an hour, until it was too late. Julie is gone.

When Julie returns, she’s full of stories of rape and abuse, of being sold to drug lords in Mexico, of absolute horror. Good As Gone reminded me of Only Daughter (which I loved. See my review here), and the BBC series Thirteen, whereby a lost/kidnapped daughter returns to her family. It doesn’t take long for Anna to suspect that the 21-year-old woman who’s appeared on her doorstep is not really her daughter. But who is she? What has she lived through? And what does she want?

Gentry uses multiple points-of-view to tell this story. Anna, in first person, and Julie, and Jane in third-person. Also, Julie’s story is told in reverse – it starts with the woman in Anna’s house, and goes back through her life, her multiple identities, tragedies, and abuse. To keep this review relatively spoiler-free, I can’t say much more, so you really need to read it. Good As Gone will confuse and haunt you.

I also wanted to touch upon Anna, and how she’s clearly written by a modern, feminist author. There are snide remarks about her going by her “maiden name”, and she corrects people several times when they refer to her as “Mrs”, instead of “Dr”. These small additions make Anna more relatable, and I wanted to tip my hat to the author for including these very real scenarios that women face every day.

Goodreads | Amazon

The Thunder Beneath Us by Nicole Blades

I review The Thunder Beneath Us by Nicole Blades.

Many thanks to the author for providing a review copy.

To the world, Best is a talented writer rising up at an international style magazine, girlfriend of a gorgeous actor, and friend to New York City’s most fabulous. Ten years ago, Best and her two older brothers fell into a frozen lake. Only Best came out. And after years of covering up the past, her guilt is destroying every facet of her seemingly charmed life. It’s all unravelling so fast: her new boss is undermining and deceitful, her boyfriend is recovering from a breakdown, and a recent investigative story has led to a secret affair with the magazine’s wealthy publisher.

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The Thunder Beneath Us tells the story of Best, an accomplished writer, and how a dark secret from her childhood continues to haunt her. Best suffers from survivor’s guilt after her two brothers died after falling through some ice, and she continues to carry that guilt around with her. This is rich fiction, compelling and thought-provoking.

Best’s pain feels real, raw and haunting; Blades writes with a steady hand. The writing is fresh and concise; the characters deep and realistic. You might not like Best, but you don’t have to like a character to be affected by them. And believe me, The Thunder Beneath Us will affect you. Blades is talented AF, and I’m looking forward to whatever else she comes out with.

Amazon UK | Goodreads