Author: Nicky

Thursday Thoughts

Posted July 3, 2014 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

Today’s Thursday Thoughts (hosted by Ok, Let’s Read) are on “reading conditions”. Taking a tiny snippet of that post to start me off: Do you love rain when you’re reading? Are you able to listen to music while reading? If so, how?! I can’t for the life of me do that. Are you the kind of person who falls asleep while reading? What time of day do you read?

I like the sound of rain in general, but it does add a special cosiness to reading. It can cover up traffic noise, dogs barking, etc, and just surround you in a cocoon of noise that doesn’t demand your attention. For a morning in bed with a book, there’s nothing better. I like it in a car, too, when I’m a passenger, though then it makes me sleepy and makes it harder to focus on reading!

I only listen to music while reading when there’s something I need to block out. Like that dog barking. Generally I pick something unobtrusive by virtue of being very familiar but not too beloved: Sarah McLachlan works because I can let that just be soothing sound, but Dar Williams doesn’t because I want to sing along. Soundtrack music isn’t always helpful — the Captain America or Lord of the Rings soundtracks are too distinctive, somehow. The Mass Effect 2 soundtrack worked well, though.

I can’t fall asleep while reading. I sometimes get to the point where I can barely keep my eyes open, and I have fallen asleep with a book or my ereader on my chest, but there’s always a moment where I realise I’m too sleepy, and close the book before I close my eyes.

Otherwise, I read anytime, anywhere. I read while standing up at the eye clinic I volunteer at; I read in bed before I sleep; I read with my feet curled under me on my sofa; I read standing up by my shelves because a book hooked me in fast; I read while I’m chatting on my computer. Kobo actually has badges/awards for reading multiple times at various times of the day, and I have them all, even the late night/early morning ones.

When I was a kid, I always wanted to read, even when we were seeing family I hadn’t seen in ages. Guess I always had a very easily drained social battery. Anyway, there’d inevitably come a time when I’d go and seek out my quiet spot — and I was a creature of habit, it didn’t vary. At my nan’s house, it’d be the front room. That was often a little bit cold so there’d be huddling, and eventually I’d usually ask for the gas fire to be put on. Then I’d toast myself thoroughly. The good part of that — quite aside from eating up all the books I had with me — was that my nan’s dog would come on through looking for me after a while and often stay, putting his head on my feet to encourage me to stay put. (Mum says they could tell he was looking for me, because he’d push on the door to the passage between the rooms until someone let him through. He didn’t go to the front room if I wasn’t there.)

At Grandma and Grandad’s house, my place of refuge was the stairs. It was kinda close enough to hear people talking in a general buzz, but not so it was distracting. I got a lot read there. When I was being disturbed too often, I sometimes hid myself in their shower room. It was tiny, but so was I.

Actually, I quite liked stairs at home, too. There used to be a kind of magic in stacking up a bunch of Enid Blyton books and reading my way up and down the stairs. Read a chapter? Down a step. (Or up.)

I don’t really have any habits like that anymore. I just read whenever I can snatch a minute, which doesn’t always work well on the bus (I get travel sick easily). I used to read in school under the desk in maths, because that’s where I could get away with it (sorry, Mr Carter). I’d read while walking between classes if I could.

In short, reading conditions: preferably continuous and uninterrupted. Comfort optional.

(N.B. Due to the number of posts already today, I’m not going to do a Throwback Thursday post this week.)

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Blog tour: Carrie Patel’s The Buried Life

Posted July 3, 2014 by Nicky in Giveaways, Interviews / 4 Comments

People who already know my blog will know I’ve been excited about this book for a while, because I was involvedPhoto of author Carrie Patel, smiling (very tangentially) in acquiring it at Angry Robot (read all about it!). I’m amazed by how fast the actual release has come around: it doesn’t seem like that long since I met the team. Anyway, when the blog tour for The Buried Life was announced, of course I asked for a slot — I’ve championed the book since the start! (My review will arrive shortly. I intended it to be ready by yesterday, and then I somehow missed that it is now July. To prove that, I just typed “June”, the first time.)

So here’s Carrie Patel, graciously answering my chatty nosy questions!

Hi Carrie, it’s great to have you touring on my blog. I voted for The Buried Life in the acquisitions meeting I attended back in October, so it’s exciting to see it all ready to hit the shelves. It feels like it’s been no time at all, to me, but how’s it been for you?
Did you have to spend much time editing and tweaking it? Does it feel real yet?

Hi Nikki! Thanks so much for hosting me! The last several months have been busy and exciting—between getting ready for this release and working on the next book, the time has definitely flown. Fortunately, The Buried Life didn’t require too many edits, so I’ve been able to focus on writing the sequel. It’s still pretty surreal, though—I attended my first convention as a speaker last weekend, and sitting on the other side of the table felt unreal!

After my visit to Angry Robot, people were very keen to know things like how much input authors have into the cover designs of their books. I don’t actually know the answers, so what’s that whole process been like for you? Did you make any suggestions, or did it just appear like magic?

It’s funny that you ask, because it seems that the question of cover design comes up a lot. At the start of the process, Angry Robot asked me for any particular styles, images, Cover of The Buried Life by Carrie Pateland comparable book covers that would fit with the story and the atmosphere of The Buried Life. As I understand it, that’s unusually collaborative—many authors don’t get any input on cover design.

So, I sent Angry Robot a hodgepodge of images and reference covers that seemed to evoke a certain tone. My main request was not to feature the main characters on the cover. I don’t have an incredibly specific sense of visual aesthetics—I was more looking for something that hit the right mood or conveyed a certain atmosphere—but John Coulthart’s cover art was exactly what I was hoping for.

I know this is your first (published?) novel, so I just wondered how  long that process has been for you. Were you always gonna write, or did The Buried Life knock on your door and take you by surprise? How many hoops have you had to jump through?

I always wanted to write a novel, but The Buried Life took me by surprise. I’d played around with a few concepts before, but none of them had really stuck. Writing The Buried Life began as a kind of progressive experiment—the first draft was a challenge to see if I could finish a book, and each new revision was a test to see if I could fix it up for publication.

The revisions were probably the most important part of the process, and I learned a lot from having to analyse and edit my work like that. All in all, the process took a few years, but a lot of that was just time between revisions, which allowed me to come back to my drafts with fresh eyes and a new perspective. I wouldn’t want to take that long on future books, but the first time around, it was certainly useful.

Is there a character in it who you’d like to be more like? Or maybe even less like?

My husband (rightly) accuses me of being a little too type-A, which is a very “Malone” quality. I’m goal-oriented by nature, so I can sometimes lose sight of other things when I zero in on a goal. I’d love to be more like Sundar! He’s driven but kind, and he maintains a sense of humour in the face of adversity. He’s perceptive about people because he’s genuinely interested in them.

When I’m writing, I know that things sometimes come together in ways I wasn’t expecting. Did you have anything like that? What surprised you most while you were working on it?

The manner in which Jane’s and Malone’s stories came together and commented on one another surprised me. I always wanted to write them both as protagonists and perspective characters, but I don’t think I realized until I was well into the process how different the two characters really were and how much that affected their respective conclusions at the end of the story. I love perspective and the idea that two people recounting the same set of events can tell completely different stories, and that came through for these two characters in a surprising way.

What’s the most difficult part of writing, for you? Is it something in the process of writing (getting started, editing, letting other people see it) or is it on a narrative level (being mean to your characters, not letting them run away with the plot…)?

Getting a good plot foundation can be difficult, and yet I often have a hard time pushing forward with a book like The Buried Life (or its in-progress sequel) until I have that. I take lots of notes and make spreadsheets of characters, motivations, events, and themes, but there comes a point at which I’ve written just about all I can about the story without actually having written it. Figuring out what’s missing and how to plug a gap in the plot, or give a character a more solid motivation, can be difficult.

What media has influenced you in your writing? From just making you want to write to something that sparked some of the themes and ideas in The Buried Life — I’m interested in any kind of influence, and obviously I know you’re a narrative designer, so it certainly doesn’t have to be books.

Books were the biggest (and first) influence for me. When I was in school, I couldn’t go anywhere without one. I’d read on the school bus, in the car, and at restaurants if my parents let me get away with it. I did get in trouble (at least once) for reading under my desk during class. While I’ve enjoyed stories in many media, novels have been the most significant influence, and certainly the one that pushed me to write The Buried Life. There’s something uniquely personal about novels and the experience of reading them.

I don’t know how many people read the acknowledgements pages of novels, but I always like to. So who’s behind you, behind The Buried Life, who have you really got to thank for getting this far?

My husband, Hiren Patel, has been immensely supportive of my writing. His encouragement, and his focus in his own work, has pushed me to keep improving mine. Also, I might never have finished the first draft without Josh Sabio and Will Moser, two friends of mine who read it in college as I was working on it. Knowing that someone was waiting to read my draft was a huge motivation.

When I got more serious about revisions, my critique partners, Jacqui Talbot, Michael Robertson, and Bill Stiteler, were great about offering the feedback I needed to get The Buried Life the rest of the way there. I’d thank my agent, Jennie Goloboy, and the Angry Robot team, including Lee Harris, Mike Underwood, Marc Gascoigne, and Caroline Lambe, for taking a chance on a debut.

Finally, I thank my family—my parents, Richard and Jackie, and my sisters, Julie and Sydney—for their love and support.

Six word blurb of The Buried Life for newbies. Go!

Sinister conspiracy in an underground city.

Thank you for answering my questions, and I hope you have a whale of a time promoting The Buried Life. Congratulations!

Thank you so much! It’s been a delight to have you along from the beginning of this crazy ride!

So, everyone: don’t forget that The Buried Life is coming out in August. Preorders are a great push for any book, and you might want to consider doing that through an indie bookstore. Once it’s out, it’ll be available DRM free through Angry Robot, but also on major ebook sites for convenience.

One of the great things about Angry Robot (and Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, when we still had them) is their willingness to take on debut authors. Let’s give them no cause to regret it!

In the meantime, I have my own copy already, so here’s another giveaway — comment here with a link to somewhere you’ve promoted this blog post (twitter, your own blog, facebook, tumblr, any mention counts) and you get an entry. On the day the book is released, I’ll draw a winner and buy them a copy via The Book Depository (or a retailer of your choosing that can take my order and deliver it to you). If there’s significant interest, I’ll pick two winners, so you increase your chances by spreading this to a wider pool of people.

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Review – The Brain That Changes Itself

Posted July 3, 2014 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman DoidgeThe Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Doidge

Content note: discusses some examples you may interpret as animal cruelty.

I have pretty mixed feelings about this book. My main response, I guess, is “read with caution”. There are some parts which are reasonable, well-founded, and which don’t seem to be driven by any bias. Talking about the ways to help people recover from strokes would fall under this category; I was actually a bit surprised that all of the information about brain maps, and the brain’s “use it or lose it” approach to neuronal real estate, was actually considered surprising or controversial. I thought that aspect of neurobiology was fairly clear to people in this day and age. Certainly, the idea that you can expand areas of your brain by using them, and lose abilities by not practicing them, seemed to me obvious. The book was written in 2007, so I expected an understanding of brain plasticity to be the norm, not the underdog.

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What are you reading Wednesday

Posted July 2, 2014 by Nicky in General / 0 Comments

Responses to emails and posts and such still pending. Sorry. On the bright side, emails have gone out to all the winners of my Strange Chemistry/Exhibit A giveaway, and all the books are ordered apart from one, so at least I’m doing something.

What have you recently finished reading?
The Brain That Changes Itself (Norman Doidge), which was… very problematic for me. Full review will be on the blog tomorrow, but I found some of his attitudes repugnant, despite how interesting the actual topic is for me.

What are you currently reading?
Many things, as usual, but most notably The Righteous Mind (Jonathan Haidt), which is very interesting so far. It’s actually an expansion of concepts I came across in my moralities class on Coursera, with a lot of overlap with things the professor of that course, Paul Bloom, already mentioned. But it’s nice to read it laid out in such a detailed way, and from another perspective. I haven’t knee-jerked yet, but I can confirm I am definitely very WEIRD (White, educated, industrialised, rich, democratic) in my responses to this kind of thing: of the various moral “receptors” Haidt mentions, I am most pinged by care/harm, and least affected by sanctity/degradation — although I also lack some other interesting features (for example, people who are easily disgusted tend to be politically, socially, etc, conservative: I’m very much a liberal) which are more universal.

And second most actively, Evil Dark (Justin Gustainis). I wasn’t incredibly won over by the first book, despite finding it fun. It’s a bit tropey. I mean, there’s even a fridged wife. But the detective character is actually showing some ability to adapt to changing situations, even when it goes against his deeply held feelings, so I’m intrigued by that.

I’ve also started, if barely, Kameron Hurley’s new book, The Mirror Empire. So far, there’s too much to hold in my head to have made any like/dislike decision yet. I’m intrigued by the gender system and how that works grammatically and socially in this world.

What will you read next?
I’m planning to read The Moral Landscape (Sam Harris), as his views are often touted as the opposite of Haidt’s. (This is another thing that makes me somewhat odd: I have not decided based on the fact that I like Haidt so far that I will dislike Sam Harris; I know he’s considered intelligent and thus will give him a chance.)

Other than that, no plans. I would say I’m somewhat limited by the books I brought with me on my visit to my parents’, but I have my Kobo with me and that’s stocked up like you wouldn’t believe, so that’s not really true. Still, I’m trying to limit myself to the books I’ve brought here or left here before. Some Ngaio Marsh is likely on the horizon.

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Waiting on Wednesday: Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft

Posted July 2, 2014 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

Wednesday again, and time for Waiting on Wednesday!

I’ve been watching for tweets about this one like a hawk. I haven’t loved every Cherie Priest I’ve read, but I’ve appreciated and enjoyed them all, and I’m excited about this one.

Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one….Cover of Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny.

But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness.

This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.

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Top Ten Tuesday

Posted July 2, 2014 by Nicky in General / 2 Comments

This is gonna be a really quick Top Ten Tuesday post, because it’s now very early on Wednesday, and I’m a very sleepy Nikki. I’ll be commenting on other people’s posts tomorrow; for now I’m just turning in my work, doing this post, and going to bed!

So this week’s theme is ten classic books, either favourites or going to read. I’ll go with ‘going to read’, and pick from the Fantasy Masterworks series by Gollancz, because I actually a) own a bunch of those already and b) need to finish reading them.

  1. The Book of the New Sun, by Gene Wolfe. I already know I enjoy Gene Wolfe’s work, even if it’s prone to making my head spin with the complexity/weirdness. I’ve had these books for a while now, since I read some really good reviews of them; now it’s just getting over the fact that I know it’s going to make my head spin!
  2. Little, Big, by John Crowley. I’ve been meaning to read this for even longer than I’ve been meaning to read Gene Wolfe. I think someone recommended it to me back when I read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I’m not sure if it’s actually similar, or if there’s just similar themes, or if this person just knew I read a bit of everything anyway.
  3. Suldrun’s Garden, by Jack Vance. Yet another that I’ve been meaning to read forever. I think I originally picked it up just because of the reference to Lyonesse, wondering if it was Arthurian at all. Since then I’ve just heard it touted as some of the greatest fantasy ever. I doubt it’s going to topple my favourite (go on, guess), but that’s a promising lead-in.
  4. Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirlees. This list is mostly showing me how far behind I am on my reading list, since this is another I’ve been planning to read for ages. I’ve actually glanced at the first few pages before, and it looks like fun…
  5. The Compleat Enchanter, by L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. This hasn’t been on my list that long — just sense I read 100 Must-read Fantasy Novels, I think. I like parallel world stories.
  6. The Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison. Tolkien was a fan. Next?
  7. Was, by Geoff Ryman. I keep looking at this and feeling unsure. It being based on linkages between people based on L. Frank Baum’s Oz books gives me pause.
  8. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, by Patricia McKillip. I love Patricia McKillip, I don’t care what she writes about, I’m gonna read it. She writes so beautifully, and creates really interesting worlds.
  9. Replay, by Ken Grimwood. This intrigues me because when I was a young teen, my mother prompted me for a story with a similar plot. I’m wondering if she ever read this and the idea just stuck in her mind, or if it was a coincidence.
  10. Time and Again, by Jack Finney. Time travel! And an author I admire recently mentioned this on twitter — I can’t remember who, but I know it brought the book to mind again. I think I already own a copy, so that’ll shuffle it up the list.

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Review – Hard Spell

Posted July 1, 2014 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Hard Spell by Justin GustainisHard Spell, Justin Gustainis

Hard Spell isn’t the best thing I’ve ever read, but it was fun — fairly typical in some ways, for urban fantasy, but still, compelling enough that I finished it and have grabbed the second book from my TBR pile. There’s a lot of male gaze-y stuff going on, with a couple of blatant male fantasy characters, but there are some surprises too — the main character starts with some prejudices pretty well fixed, but he’s able to change with the circumstances, which makes for a pretty satisfying end.

Overall, the plot is nothing new, but the writing is solid and it avoids shoehorning in sex and romance as the most important thing, which other urban fantasy can fall afoul of. In fact, that’s not a thing at all here — the leading lady in Stan Markowski’s life is his daughter, Christine, if anything. He does have a tragic past, etc, which all sets up how the story works out, but at least that all hangs together coherently. There’s some cool world building done on the premise that supernatural creatures are a part of the world for good — SWAT teams exist, but mean something else entirely, for example…

This is a pretty ambivalent review, I know. It’s pretty much a “hey, Gustainis, better impress me next time” kind of review.

Rating: 2/5

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Mental Health Awareness Month: Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Me

Posted June 30, 2014 by Nicky in General / 8 Comments

There have been some great posts over at Uncorked Thoughts on Mental Health Awareness Month. Reading Leah’s post about her anxiety made me want to put together something about mine, because it’s important, and because people like me so often feel alone. It takes over and makes everything ten times harder.

If you’re not in a great place yourself right now, read this with caution. There’s a lot of health detail. If you’re just here for the books, feel free to skip this!

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Review – The Snake Charm

Posted June 30, 2014 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Snake Charm by Laura LamThe Snake Charm, Laura Lam

Another review of this said that you can read it without having read Pantomime and Shadowplay, but I’m not sure of that; I think I might’ve preferred to start with those two, after all. Still, it gives a nice taster of the world and some of the things that’re out there — and, I gather, some of the characters. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Drystan, and exploring this world more.

I did feel like I was at a disadvantage, though, not knowing the world already. You can pick up on the key terms/concepts — Vestige, Lethe, Drystan being the son of some high-class family — and maybe it’s just my love of world-building, but I felt like I wanted to know more before reading this, to appreciate it more, and maybe how it fits in with the novels.

Ah well, definite impetus to get on with it and read Pantomime and Shadowplay!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Movement

Posted June 29, 2014 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Movement by Gail SimoneThe Movement, vol. 1: Class Warfare, Gail Simone, Freddie Williams II

I decided to get this one on the strength of the fact that a) it’s Gail Simone, and though I don’t like DC that much, I do like her work and b) I was fascinated by the diversity of the team line-up. They’re all different — characters of colour, a girl with a wheelchair, an ex-cop… they all have different backgrounds, different motivations, and the same goal that they have to struggle against the world and each other to achieve.

Much as I love Billy Kaplan and company (Young Avengers), that aspect never came through the way it did here. These guys feel more real. I know it’s a criticism often levelled at DC, that they focus too much on trying to be dark and gritty. Well, this is, but it’s also relevant in a way that I’ve never found Batman to be: this is a group of young people getting together against injustice. Not supervillains: injustice. Crooked cops who beat poor people and POC because they can. The whole system of privilege and disprivilege. It’s a team of heroes for the Occupy Movement, for the 99%, for the disenfranchised.

And I enjoy the way they play off each other. The chirpy brightness of Vengeance Moth, the righteousness of Virtue, the struggle between Katharsis and Tremor. Mouse’s crush on Tremor is sweet. I like the fact that — like the Occupy movement itself — they aren’t of one accord, and they aren’t perfect people. Katharsis wants to beat people’s faces into pulp, while Vengeance Moth gives them hamburgers and doesn’t see the risks.

My one problem so far is that Vengeance Moth’s power takes her out of the chair. That’s twice now for Gail Simone, that I know of: Barbara Gordon gets out of the wheelchair to be Batgirl again after that stint as Oracle, and then Moth gets tipped out of the chair and suddenly can fly. It’s great to have superheroes in wheelchairs, and it’s great that Simone doesn’t limit them or think they’re incapable as too many people do, but… I wanted Moth to fight from the wheelchair if she had to.

Let’s have some badasses be badass while still in their wheelchairs, yeah? And let’s not have any miraculous cures as though they need them to be really badass. If only my AU roleplay Steve Rogers was canon somewhere (had polio, in a chair, still fights, maybe has to work a bit harder for the respect he deserves but never gives up, never puts up with any bullshit).

Still, overall, I really loved this. I like the art a lot. And I can’t wait for the second TPB, so I’ll be hitting Comixology in hope pretty darn shortly.

Rating: 5/5

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