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I am a bad, bad person

January 10th, 2014 by

Actually not a truly bad person, just one who is currently letting things get away from them a bit. Contrary to my most solemn promises to myself I haven’t been blogging recently and there is so much that I seem to be falling behind on: book reviews, my feed reader, etc.

Social media is work. Oh, sure, it all seems fun until you realise that you are spending hours per day trying to keep up with everyone and everything. Without regular interaction with your network and chosen channels it all just dies. I tend not to use my mobile for social media (a result perhaps of being of a certain age-related social demographic, and enough said about that), so commenting and participating and posting at my PC all take time away from actual work. I’ve tried to narrow the places that I invest time in: I don’t just repost images, so Tumblr seems a bit pointless, I’ve always hated Google +, the only thing I use Facebook for is keeping up with friends in the States and the daily dose of racist stuff that my family posts. I read certain gaming sub-reddits, but the community can be pretty toxic (which applies to most game forums as well).

Bah, all of you tire me out. GET OFFA MY LAWN.

Things that I’ve done, or not done, since the new year:

  • I’ve been reading a metric buttload of books and trying to review some of them
  • I’m behind on leaving reviews for talented author friends. I loved your books but I’ve been bad and lazy, but that will be rectified.
  • I’ve been working through a backlog of covers for all of the wonderful, patient people who were willing to wait for me to finish my two months off.
  • That two months off? It was supposed to be for writing, but we had a personal/financial disaster and were thinking of other things. That pesky RL! The bad thing is, I haven’t written a lot since.
  • I will start writing again.
  • I started a project over the holidays of doing freehand painting, which I want to continue with after I’ve worked through the backlog.
  • I was late to the party on shows such as Dexter and Breaking Bad, and am almost finished with Dexter – I’m down to the last three episodes wherein it apparently goes all to hell. /cry
  • I’ve been playing a bit of Warcraft (having resubbed for a month or so), but basically am in a current state of meh about most games.
  • I haven’t gone to Paris, nor learned to speak Japanese, nor created anything worldshaking.


Anyway, back to work. If you didn’t realise it, this is a pathetically obvious attempt at work avoidance, so it’s back to the salt mines. The art mines. Whatever… :)

Learning to Paint

December 18th, 2013 by

One of the reasons for my (somewhat interrupted) hiatus, aside from wanting a stress-free month for writing, was to regain my happy thoughts about my artwork. I’d grown bored with the style of cover work that I was doing, and wanted a chance to start again with a fresh outlook.

I’ve recently come to a realisation, though…it isn’t so much my work that I was bored with, but the style of cover currently in vogue (at least in the area that I most often work in, which is fantasy and young adult). You see the same stock used over and over, and there are genres of cover that I personally dislike such as bare male torsos. I mean, I’m a big fan of fit, sexy men, but I hate bare abs covers. Girls in pretty dresses have come and gone, as well as Big Face covers. So much of it, though, just looks the same.

Illustrated covers have fallen out of vogue for the most part, and photomontaged covers using commercial stock reign on self-published books. Obviously, part of this has to do with cost – illustration is definitely not inexpensive. I think it also has a bit of an old-fashioned vibe, especially on fantasy covers (who doesn’t remember the greats such as Frazetta, Rowena Morrill and Jody Lee?). There are books that have used “designer-y” graphic covers to good effect, and there are also stunning painted covers such as those done for the Expanse series by artist Daniel Dociu. That kind of crazy genius talent is rare, however.

What I’ve been trying to do in these last few days is to learn how to paint. I do paint on covers, of course…but although I’m great with colour and shadow and highlight I absolutely suck at the bones of an image. I can’t draw. This is a real problem, and I want to go back and take my teenage self who refused to take any art classes because everyone was trying to push me into it…and I want to just smack her. “Oh, no, everyone says that I should be an artist so I’ll refuse. I’m going to travel and write.” Well, guess what? You didn’t, and now going back and learning to draw properly is a bitch.

I’ve been posting the speed-paint images that I’ve done recently to Twitter (sorry guys!!!) in an effort to stay honest. I won’t post them here, as at this point they’re pretty sucky. But I’ll work on it until they’re not so sucky and hopefully someday they’ll be good enough that I can consider them to be professional enough for covers. Even though everything feels horrible right now, and it’s embarrassing to show anyone these rough little sketches, eventually they’ll morph into something worthwhile.

It’s never too late to rectify the mistakes of your past. :)


Review: At Least You’re In Tuscany

December 16th, 2013 by

Let me tell you a story about my mother. We’ve always had a very fragile relationship due to my headstrong attitude as a teen coupled with her conversion as a born-again Christian when I was fourteen. Turbulent teenage years do not mix well with someone who thinks that you are a bad person who is on a slippery slope straight to hell. In any event, my sisters all won gold stars for being good little churchgoers and I took my black marks and ostracism and the time my mom called her pastor to come and exorcise me (true story) to my sullen little teenage heart, living for the day when I could finally leave – which I did two weeks after graduation, giving up all dreams of university. It was the first time I ever saw my Dad cry.

But I’m not bitter. :)

Anyway, back to my review, which should be about the book and not about me. A year or so before my mother died of ALS I came home to visit, and she had a movie that she wanted both of us to watch. That movie was Under the Tuscan Sun, loosely adapted from the memoir by Frances Mayes. If you haven’t seen it, it is the story of a middle-aged woman who makes an unexpected purchase of a Tuscan villa during a holiday in Italy, and her misadventures in adapting to her new life. It’s uplifting and very romanticised, as one would expect, and I was quite touched that my mother (the woman who actually thought I’d been possessed by demons) thought that it related to my life in England.

Under the Tuscan Sun was about a rich writer affluent enough to decide on a mad whim to move to Tuscany. I, on the other hand, moved to England with the husband whom I’d met and fallen in love with in the States. We managed to buy a terraced house in the North (or Midlands) area of the UK. We scrimp and save and turn off lights. We did all of our house improvements (such as they are) ourselves. It is cold, drafty and an elderly lady was beaten to death in her home by children just up the street from us. It isn’t Shameless, but it sure as hell isn’t Tuscany.

I was very touched that she thought it was though, and watching that movie together made me feel much closer to her.

At Least You’re In Tuscany is a very different book. It is the story of following your dreams, taking a chance, and what happens when you are not a rich writer with tons of cash, friends and resources. It is about the difference between your dreams and the actual reality of moving halfway across the world without a safety net. In the end the author is successful, and we cheer her on through the entire book. She isn’t immediately welcomed into the hearts and homes of the quaint and quirky stereotypes that populate the other book; she does make some friends, but it takes a long time and she realises that she’ll never be totally accepted as one of them. The section about her very lonely, hungry Christmas spent with her elderly dog is very touching, and if you’ve ever tried to retain a shred of hope when sitting down there at cold rock bottom you’ll be able to relate.

And always, her motto for herself when things get darkest and misfortune strikes, is “At least you’re in Tuscany.” No matter how bad things are, how poor she is, and how infuriating Italian bureaucratic red tape turns out to be…at least she is finally there.

Running through the novel is an intense love of an adopted country, a passionate desire to belong to a place very foreign to you – which is something that I can somewhat relate to. Granted, moving to England is much less of a shock than moving to Italy, but I’ve still felt the wonder of actually being here and also the pain of missing everything and everyone back home.

At Least You’re In Tuscany is very funny, well-written, honest and worth reading. I look forward to Jennifer Criswell‘s next book.

Review: Frost Hollow Hall

December 11th, 2013 by

Book reviewI recently read this via Netgalley and I very much enjoyed it. How could I resist a YA Victorian ghost story?

Tilly, the young heroine of the story, is strong-willed and resourceful, determined to solve the mystery of Frost Hollow Hall. Haunted by the vision of the heir of the Hall, who saved her from drowning beneath the ice of the frozen lake where he died, she resolves to unravel the circumstances around his death. I loved the character of Tilly, from the bleakness of her impoverished, broken home to the backbone that she shows when she manages to obtain employment as a housemaid at the big house, determined to play detective and solve the mystery. The spookiness of her nocturnal forays into the house, chasing a spirit which is obviously not at rest, were full of tension – as a child it would have really given me the shivers in places.

The book is about love both hopeful and hopeless, sadness, and loss. There are so many losses in the book, both in Tilly’s threadbare world and also in the big house. It is also about redemption and healing, quite beautiful and moving without being cloying.

The only thing I wasn’t as charmed with was the colloquial dialect in places. I think that is difficult to handle well without irritating the reader, and every time she she said “I in’t done” whatever, it brought me out of the story a bit. But that is sincerely my only negative about this book – aside from that small thing, it was well-written, believable and very suspenseful, quite a charming book.

Amazon US | Amazon UK

From Amazon:

The gates to Frost Hollow Hall loomed before us. They were great tall things, the ironwork all twisted leaves and queer-looking flowers. And they were very definitely shut.

Tilly’s heart sinks. Will’s at the door of their cottage, daring her to come ice-skating up at Frost Hollow Hall. No one goes near the place these days. Rumour has it that the house is haunted . . . Ten years ago the young heir, Kit Barrington, drowned there in the lake. But Tilly never turns down a dare.

Then it goes horribly wrong. The ice breaks, Tilly falls through and almost drowns. At the point of death, a beautiful angel appears in the water and saves her. Kit Barrington’s ghost.

Kit needs Tilly to solve the mystery of his death, so that his spirit can rest in peace. In order to discover all she can, Tilly gets work as a maid at Frost Hollow Hall. But the place makes her flesh crawl. It’s all about the dead here, she’s told, and in the heart of the house she soon discovers all manner of dark secrets . . .

Frost Hollow Hall is a thrilling historical fiction debut. Told in Tilly’s unique voice, it is a tale of love and loss, and how forgiveness is the key to recovery.

Opening Credits

December 11th, 2013 by

Thank goodness for being able to set TV shows to record. I don’t think we’ve watched anything “live” in years, as we tend to set the few shows that we do care about to record and then watch them without the plethora of hated commercials. Usually I’ll fast-forward through the opening credits as well, but there are a few shows that have opening credits so iconic that I will refuse to miss them. This article made me think about the ones that I’ve loved over the years.

Videos past the jump: Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Emilie and the Hollow World

December 9th, 2013 by

EmiliestheHollowWorld-144dpiI loved this book and found it both utterly charming and a fast, entertaining read. Steampunk elements were handled well, with just enough explanation for the reader to have an overall view of the tech without being bored by a nuts-and-bolts explanation of how things work. It features the classic steampunk character: the plucky girl adventurer. This is not a bad thing.

Emilie is who I wanted to be as a child. My fantasies may have centred more upon running away to join the circus, but any adventure involving running away and doing dangerous things in exotic lands would have worked. She is perfectly written as a girl standing on that precise point between childhood and adulthood, an occasionally gauche mixture of awkward child and capable adult. She barges in where she doesn’t belong, embarrasses herself occasionally and lets her bravery carry her through perilous situations. Lovely!

I liked this book so much that it makes me wish that my daughter was young again so that I could buy this for her in hopes of her own dreams of danger and derring-do catching fire. Take risks, follow your dreams and damn the consequences.

Highly recommended overall as an entertaining, classically cinematic book with great characters and high adventure.

Note: I am trying to catch up on reviews. This is one I had written some time ago on Netgalley, but at the time you couldn’t go back and see your reviews so I couldn’t post it here after publication.

Buying Info:

UK Print & Ebook
Amazon.co.uk | Book Depository | Waterstones | WHSmith

North American Print & Ebook
Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | BarnesandNoble.com | IndieBound.org

Global DRM-Free Epub Ebook
Robot Trading Company

Other Books in This Series
Emilie and the Sky World (March 2014)

Author Info:
Martha Wells: WWW | @marthawells1 on Twitter | Facebook | Pinterest

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