Month: December 2016

Another Supplement, and Imminent Price Changes

Recently, I’ve written and published three short fiction supplements to the Herbert West Series.

A fourth, titled “One of the Fourteen,” will be available in the usual ebook stores on January 1st.

The plot in brief: Dr. Francis Dexter arrives in London intending to atone for wrongs committed by his former self, Herbert West. A chance meeting in a pub leads to disturbing revelations by a veteran of the Great War, and forces Dexter to relive a terrible journey in the black region between death and life.

The intention behind the Supplements was to fill in the corners of the main series and explore some of the plot points in more detail. Readers of the story that inspired my series — H.P Lovecraft’s “Herbert West, Reanimator” — may recall that West’s reanimated corpses were all flawed, due to lack of ‘freshness’ or to imperfections in the reanimating fluid. Disaster ensued. I used this premise in a more subtle way in my novels. The transformation from amoral scientist Herbert West to wounded healer and physician of last resort Francis Dexter is the underlying theme of all four novels.

“One of the Fourteen” is set in the autumn of 1936. Francis Dexter (formerly known as Herbert West) is living in London, England, volunteering his services at a charity clinic and cultivating a willingness to atone for the misdeeds committed by his earlier self. He is given an opportunity to do this, but it’s not a simple process and results in a harrowing inner journey.

Also in the next few days: look for price reductions on a few of the ebooks of the Herbert West Series, and wider availability of the first three Supplements — which, incidentally, will be priced at Free. Look for them in the B&N, Kobo, Apple and other ebook stores, and don’t hesitate to inform Amazon of the lower price.

Image designed by Audrey Driscoll, with Canva.

An Almost Local Author Book Review: Adventure on Whalebone Island by M. A. Wilson

A while ago I decided to write reviews of some of the books in the Emerging Local Authors Collection at my public library. There were strict geographical criteria as to what constituted “local.” Michael Wilson, the author of Adventure on Whalebone Island, lives outside of the defined area, but I think I can bend the rule (this is my blog, after all), to include a resident of British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, where the book is set.

whalebone-island

The book is aimed at 8- to 12-year-olds. Here is a brief description:

Ryan and Kendra have come to Maple Harbour on the BC coast to spend their summer holidays with their aunt and uncle. They’re expecting a leisurely holiday swimming and playing on the beach with their cousins Claire and Nathan. Claire, however, has other ideas – exploring islands in her sailboat and searching for sunken treasure. But what’s hidden on mysterious Whalebone Island? Have the four of them come across a secret that others don’t want discovered? Join these four intrepid adventurers and their fearless dog Meg in the summer escapade of a lifetime!

The story is simple and straightforward, with the main focus being a series of adventures. The children get re-acquainted, go swimming, sailing and enjoying the natural world. In the course of these activities, each of them has to deal with challenges involving self-confidence, getting along with others and learning new things. The action intensifies when they start looking for a sunken boat and survive a storm at sea, seeking shelter on Whalebone Island. While camping on the island, they encounter unexpected hazards presented by a group of criminals. Each child must call upon their inner resources to extract themselves and each other from dangerous situations.

The characters are sufficiently distinct from one another to give most readers someone to identify with. The situations are realistic and plausible, but the world in which these kids live is essentially a safe and secure one. There is no family dysfunction, corrosive personal anxiety or urban grittiness. This is a sunny adventure, perfect for entertaining its intended audience, who may also vicariously enjoy a lot of good food while reading about the meals and treats partaken of by the four adventurers.

The elements of this book — pre-teen children on a summer holiday, small sailboats, camping on an island, a quest for treasure, unexpected hazards — necessarily reminded me of Arthur Ransome’s books. Adventure on Whalebone Island may be favourably compared with those classics, incorporating the key elements in a present-day setting on the coast of British Columbia. One difference is these children inhabit the same world as the adult characters. There is no attempt on their part to create an alternate reality like the kids in the “Swallows and Amazons” stories. This is not a fault, but having made the comparison, I thought it worth mentioning.

The illustrations, by Vadym Prokhorenko, are notable for their elegant simplicity.

Further information, including purchase links, may be found at the website of Rainy Bay Press.

This review is based on a review copy of the ebook version.

Book Review: The Song of Narne by Bill Fitts

Bill Fitts The Screaming Sword

In a significant genre change from his Needed Killing series (“cozy mysteries with a Southern flair”), that feature amateur sleuth James Crawford, author Bill Fitts has turned to the realm of fantasy with two novels — The Screaming Sword and Sokhal’s Star. They are the first two books in Song of Narne, a promising series intended for young adults, but entirely suitable for not-so-young adults as well.

Bill Fitts Sokhal's Star

The necessary elements of classic fantasy are present — a perilous quest in a land of mountains and plains, an old, dangerous city, a lost empire, an ancient library, a wandering people who hold a tradition of prophecy, an artifact of power. And characters of all kinds — soldiers, thieves, assassins, merchants, magicians both good and evil. And cats. Cats are more than incidentals in these stories; they take an active role in furthering the plot.

The story centres around the young mage Kenrad and his faithful companion, reformed thief Blumgar the Fat. Kenrad must contend with a tragic loss in his childhood, and the development of powers he neither fully understands nor controls. He carries an artifact of power which is, unbeknownst to him, sought by an evil magician. Blumgar is always at Kenrad’s side to protect him from dangers and to ground him in the earthy matters of life — food and drink, companionship and humour.

Three over-arching elements become evident as one reads — the peril of magic, the Song of Narne, and a mental discipline necessary to those who seek knowledge and understanding. Magic isn’t simple or easy in these books; it is elusive, perhaps damaged, and feared by most. The Song of Narne emanates from nature, and when perceived and interpreted by skilled women called Listeners, it may reveal the future. The Listeners employ a meditation technique called Omeras to connect with the Song.

The principal characters, and many of the secondary ones, are fully developed, realistic and memorable. Their interactions are conveyed in lively dialogue, often presenting essential information about the world they inhabit and its history. It’s easy to feel at home in this world, and engaged with its peoples. Ordinary, non-magical activities of trade and commerce, travel and camping, strategy and the use of arms are worked into the plot in ways that are interesting and informative.

Fitts carefully crafts each scene to introduce settings, situations and groups of characters, moving from place to place, but clearly building up a mosaic which becomes increasingly complex and interesting. The reader is never at risk of losing track of the plot threads or becoming confused.

The author has supplied an extensive glossary of characters, places and concepts. In the best fantasy tradition, there is a map of the lands in which the books take place, but I found it a little hard to read the place names on my e-reader. Displayed on a computer screen, it was perfectly legible. A direct link to the map in the table of contents would help a reader easily find it when needed. (A colour version of the map is available on the author’s website).

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis will enjoy these two books and hope for more. I suspect there will be more, because there remain many enticing loose threads at the end of Sokhal’s Star. The books must be read in order, starting with The Screaming Sword; although subplots are resolved at the end of each one, elements introduced in Book 1 are necessary to enjoy Book 2.

Information about the books and their author is available on his website.

This review is specific to the ebook versions of these books. I received free copies with no expectation of reviews.

Slush Day!

For the past several days, news media have been preoccupied with Preparing for the Big Snow Storm, amplifying weather forecasts into a news story. A lot was made of a shortage of domestic salt and “ice melt” in local stores. It’s true that after a fall of ice pellets, rain and snow a few days ago, an inch of ice resulted. A few hardy souls (moi included) got out on Tuesday to crack and shovel. No salt needed, and a good workout to boot.

But there was no Big Snow Storm last night, not where I live, anyway. An inch or two of snow fell overnight, followed by rain. By daylight, it was a pretty typical West Coast snow scene, as exemplified by this 3-foot tall snowman across the street from me.

It looks as though someone roughed up the little guy and stole his carrot nose. One of our urban deer, perhaps?

It looks as though someone roughed up the little guy and stole his carrot nose. One of our urban deer, perhaps?

This morning, I dutifully went out and shovelled the slush off the sidewalk in front of my place, making sure there was a slush-free canal along the gutter so the water from melting snow would flow to the drain. Melting may be short-lived, however. Environment Canada is predicting low temperatures of -8 degrees C (18 F) for next week. I’ve noticed that they tend to err on the dramatic side, so have my doubts whether it will be this bad, but…

But perhaps I should lug my pots of pelargoniums (non-hardy geraniums) inside. I’ve resisted doing that so far, because they are a nuisance indoors all winter, taking up too much space, getting leggy, catching aphids (from where, I ask), and generally looking terrible by spring.

So I muffled the pots with old bath mats and toilet garments (those sets of fuzzy fabric designed to be wrapped around toilet tanks and seats for some mysterious reason*), and draped a sheet over all. With luck, it won’t prove to be a pall for dead pelargoniums.

Will the sheet protect the pelargoniums from Jack Frost?

Will the sheet protect the pelargoniums from Jack Frost?

Otherwise, the only plants whose survival I worry about, should temps drop as low as predicted, are Convolvulus sabatius, a nice little blue cousin of the evil bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis, and, strangely enough, Gaura lindheimeri. I’ve had a hard time wintering that one over, even though it’s said to be hardy to Zone 6.

White Christmases are rare here, so the predictions of continued cold weather (due to an outflow of arctic air along the valley of the Fraser River) have some (but not all) hopeful that this might be one of those years.

A snow of yesteryear -- not at Christmas, unfortunately, but February 2011.

A snow of yesteryear — not at Christmas, unfortunately, but February 2011.

 

*I’m thinking I could write a blog post about this.

DIM* Winter Wreath

We had a couple of inches of snow the other day — actually, a combination of ice pellets, rain and snow. Breaking up and removing the resulting ice crust from the sidewalk reminded me of serious snow shovelling when I lived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (where winters are serious).

That inspired me to remove the autumn wreath I had put together for Halloween and assemble some Christmas type greenery.

Autumn wreath, 2016

Autumn wreath, 2016

 

Christmas wreath, 2016

Christmas wreath, 2016

 

Everything is natural and from my garden, except the sparkly silver fake poinsettia thing. Otherwise: English holly, western red cedar, English ivy, variegated ivy, Senecio “Sunshine” foliage, Clematis vitalba seedheads and a sprig of rosemary. Old items included for sentimental/superstitious reasons: brown maple leaf from the autumn wreath, old dried rosehips and a peony seed pod (sans seeds). Everything is jammed into a base of Clematis armandii stems held together with garden twine. I’ve been using it for years.

Because there is no moisture-holding material such as moss, I don’t expect this creation to stay fresh until the new year, but I can always replace and refresh withering stuff if I feel like it.

*DIM = did it myself