Blogger Interview: Hannah Waterman

I am starting a new monthly feature in which I interview book bloggers. This gives me a chance to give back a little, and gives you a chance to discover bloggers who share your tastes and interests. There will be a variety represented here, so sooner or later there should be one who really clicks for you.

I am starting with Hannah Waterman of Reading in the Dark. Hannah found me through the We Read Diverse Books challenge and went on to sign up for my launch team. It’s fun how people find each other on the Internet.


How long have you been book blogging? What motivated you to start?

I first started blogging in 2010, just wanting to share interesting bits of my life with the online world, but it was sort of jumbled and not about anything specific. I abandoned it after about six months. Then in 2013, I started thinking about blogging again. I wanted it to be focused on something I was passionate and knowledgeable about, and nothing inspires me more than a good book.

 

What makes you decide to start reading a book?

When I was a young girl, I would only read books recommended by my teachers and my family. I know that sounds goofy, but they always recommended such great books! Award winners and personal favorites--there are a few librarians and even more book lovers in my family. And I got really lucky as a child: I never read a book that I didn't like, which fueled my fire to read on. Now, there are a lot of ways I choose books to read. Recommendations from friends and family with similar tastes, reviews on blogs and Goodreads from online friends and authors that I already love, a catchy cover and intriguing description on the book itself, etc.

 

Do you have preferred genres? What makes you decide to try something outside of your normal reading?

My favorite genre is classic literature, usually British or American, from the 18th to the early 20th century. But I try to read a variety of things. I'm currently a member of a book group that chooses a variety of genres each month, so that helps me to branch out a bit. And a lot of times, I try to find the common ground between my interests and a different genre or book. Right now I'm reading The Remedy: Robert Koch, Arthur Conan Doyle, and the Quest to Cure Tuberculosis by Thomas Goetz. I've never been a great student of science or history, but part of this book talks about Arthur Conan Doyle (the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories), so that's where I found my link. So far, I'm finding it very interesting!

 

What do you consider a good read? In other words, what does it take to get 5 stars from you?

Wow, that's a tough question. Okay, well, to get 5 stars, I have to love everything about a book. It has to be something I will go back and re-read throughout my life. I'm looking for something that's well-written, with relatable characters and some real-life application and significance. If it strikes a personal note with me somehow, that helps, of course. I would consider a book I've given 3 or 4 stars a "good read," though. Usually they just have one or two of those elements.

 

Are you actively trying to promote a particular kind of book, or do you just review whatever you happen to be reading?

I generally review whatever I happen to be reading, unless I don't have much to say about a particular book. Of course, if I'm given a book for the purpose of reviewing it, I will do that. But rather than promoting a certain kind of book, I'm usually doing the opposite: trying to promote a variety of books so we can all broaden our literary horizons together.

 

What was the last book to blow you away?

Well, I recently read your book, Disenchanted, which was fantastic. But I also really enjoyed The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It was unique and fun, with very interesting characters that drew me in.

Right now I'm reading The Remedy by Thomas Goetz, as I mentioned before. Lots of facts and historical significance--very interesting. I'm also reading You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day. I just love her. She's quirky and funny and a great role model for women.

Review: The King's Sword

King's Sword, Brightley

Imagine Worf with a smooth forehead and a bit less of a temper and you have Kemen Sendoa, a warrior committed to honour and his country, Erdem. He comes across the tracks of a city boy in the snow one day and follows them, thinking the boy obviously needs some help. He finds the young prince, fleeing a palace coup, inadequately prepared for winter weather and life in general. Sendoa finds himself the reluctant guardian of a spoiled, soft boy who needs to become both a man and a king before he can hope to win his throne back.

Brightley surprised me by writing a book that is both intensely masculine and deeply introspective. Sendoa is the consummate warrior and takes great physical delight in his own exercises, which Brightley describes so well you feel as if you are living in the man’s skin. He is also dark-skinned in a fair-skinned country and feels deeply the slights and suspicion that he is continuously subjected to. We discover that the war hero has his own issues, even as he helps the prince overcome his.

Brightley’s prose is unpretentious, direct and often understated, which lends it the power of simplicity and perfectly suits the temperament of the narrator. The plot is a little slow-moving, because of the introspection I mentioned earlier. Sendoa thinks deeply about everything he does and shares his reflections with us. While it does slow the action down, it also increases our respect for him. He has thoughts worth listening to.

And there is plenty to think about. Not only has there been a coup, but war is looming, and the country is badly frayed. Prince Hakan is not going to be given the luxury of growing up slowly.

Most of the book is taken up with the relationship between Sendoa and Hakan, so these are the characters drawn the most deeply. The others were never richly developed but this is due at least in part to the fact that we see relatively little of them. I must confess, I sometimes had trouble remembering who matched which name, because I didn’t have a clear enough picture of the character and because Brightley didn’t provide very many “memory hooks” to help us recall who she was talking about. I would perhaps quibble also that so many of the characters were good. It is a strange thing to complain about, but it seems to me that a little more darkness would have been appropriate, and Hakan’s path, while not easy, could have legitimately been more difficult.

I heard it said once that fantasy is the only genre where you can write nobility without irony, and this is precisely what Brightley has done. There is genuine nobility of character here, without pretension.

Still, this was an enjoyable book. I do enjoy having characters I can cheer for, and watching the relationship between warrior and princeling develop was enriching. I do hope we can see Sendoa confronting his own issues more directly in the sequels and that Hakan will have greater challenges thrown his way. I finished the book intensely fond of both of them.

C.J. Brightley's website

Coventree: The Basic Beliefs of Wizardry

Wizardry (which is always capitalized in Coventree) is similar in many ways to modern Wicca, although it has evolved in somewhat different directions and taken on a much more rigid structure because it is a state religion. In the kingdom of Coventree, attempts have been made to keep magic “white” with curse-casting more or less forbidden. But some curses are handed down, especially against vermin and threats to crops, and human nature being what it is, some innovate minds have looked for ways to expand their use. Coventrean wizards do believe in the Threefold Rule though, which states that whatever they do for good or evil will come back to them threefold. That is usually enough to keep most practitioners of magic in line.

They invoke the gods and goddesses, or Mighty Ones, in their public rituals, and in most of their spellcasting. There is some dispute among Coventree scholars over whether a difference exists between Gods/Goddesses and the Mighty Ones. Some, nervous about the close relationship between the Mighty Ones and the Black Priesthood, like to make a distinction. Others argue that the Black Priesthood has been presumptuous in calling their spirit allies Mighty Ones, and that they are really something else altogether. Which goes to show you that theologians are pretty much the same, whatever world you may find them in.

Click on the Coventree tag below for more background on Coventree.

Poem: The Impatience of Old Men

The impatience of old men
springs not from too many days
rather from too few

Too few days remain
to watch today’s plantings bear
proud fruit on high limbs

So they cry “Ripen!”
to the seeds of former years
heady hopes of youth

“Rise! Flower! Ripen!
I would eat before I die,
let the sweet juices

run into my beard
I have laboured long enough
Time now to savour.”

But old ways die hard
Wizened hands sow once again
blessings for the future

Review: The Anonymous Source

Anonymous Source

I am not a frequent reader of thrillers, although I do have quite a fondness for John Le Carré. But A.C. Fuller caught my eye when I read in an interview somewhere that his favourite book was Hermann Hesse's The Glass Bead Game. I was impressed. Most people haven't even heard of it, let alone liked it, and I have always been of the opinion that it was far superior to Hesse's more famous Steppenwolf. So I got a little excited. I guess I was a prototypical hipster, getting excited about the things nobody else has heard of. (One year I dressed up as a hipster to greet kids at the door for Halloween, and nobody realized it was a costume... Wait, I'm supposed to be writing a review.) A thriller writer who likes obscure German literature that I also happen to like. That was a promising start. I figured I'd get a thriller with a difference, so I asked for a review copy.

And yes, there are some differences from what I normally expect in a thriller, but not enough to offend readers of the genre. There is a bit of a mystical touch and he delves perhaps a little more deeply into the personal issues of the characters than is normal in a thriller (at least the ones I've read apart from the aforementioned Le Carré).

In The Anonymous Source Alex Vane is a young and rising newspaper journalist in 2002, hoping to break into TV journalism. He's been assigned the courtroom beat and fortunately for him, is covering a murder case that has transfixed NYC. All is going well until he starts getting tips from an anonymous source, one that has taken the care to use a voice scrambler. Alex starts going beyond courtroom reporting and starts investigating the murder itself and it isn't long before he finds himself in the crosshairs of an assassin who is taking his assignment far too personally.

I don't know if this is going to be a signature of Fuller's work but food is something that figures prominently in the book. Meals are often described in loving detail, and Fuller seems to find amusement in underscoring the differences in eating habits between Alex and Camila, a lady who finds herself more involved in his investigation than she would perhaps wish. Don't read this book while hungry or you could find yourself snacking more than you should... ;o)

Fuller leaves us hanging on a number of details, which would normally be a fault, but seeing as this is not meant to be a standalone book, we can hope that they will be resolved in a future episode. While the story does resolve in a satisfactory way, Alex still doesn't have all his answers, and somebody still wants to pull his strings. And I personally want to know about the sense of shame that Alex feels on occasion. He's not sure where it's coming from and I do hope we will find out before the series (?) is over.

All in all, I would recommend this book to thriller lovers. I don't think you will be disappointed.

Disclaimer: I received a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

A.C. Fuller's website 

Flash fiction: New Rome

Against all probabilities, he had arrived in New Rome alive. Priscus had paused for a moment in the creaking corridor linking the starship to the elevator, grabbing a quick glimpse through the dirty window before the press of the shuffling men behind him forced him onward.

But he knew what it looked like, having seen the images all his life. The huge city, hub of the human universe, lay within a ring of countless towers, topped by the space elevators that exported its power to the stars. Immense ships departed for distant planets, carrying the weapons to subdue them, the soldiers to police them, the prefects to govern them. On their return, they discharged metals for New Rome’s industries, luxuries for its indulgences, slaves for its entertainment.

At New Rome’s precise centre lay the Colosseum, greater and better than the original, long lost in the mists of history. Scholars had dug through electronic archives, sifting through the myths and deliberate fiction, seeking to reproduce the old as much as possible, while bowing to the modern demands for comfort. Around it throbbed the largest and most vibrant city of the galaxy, consumed by its commerce and its pleasures. Priscus had dreamed all his life of coming to visit, perhaps even of coming to live.

He had never dreamed of coming to kill.

He stood now waiting in one of the air-conditioned passageways that led to the Colosseum’s vast floor, a bug-eyed, twin-plumed helmet that covered his entire head tucked under his right arm, his left hand resting lightly on the hilt of the primitive sword strapped to his side. He knew that in a twin passageway on the opposite side of the amphitheatre, another young man stood with a similar helmet under his arm and the same little rivulet of sweat snaking down his spine. When the great gong sounded, the grills before them would lift and they would stride out, meeting before the high seat, to pay their respects and to see their opponent’s face for the first and last time before they replaced their helmets over their heads. Only one of them, at best, would walk out. Priscus struggled to swallow and moisten his throat, but his parched mouth felt like sandpaper. It was always like this.

The assistant, the most attentive he had ever had, saw the movement of his throat and passed him a bottle filled with specially-formulated water. She patted his arm with a shy smile. Had his life gone differently, had he not encountered Calgurian slave traders on that ill-advised camping trip to the Boradran Asteroid Belt, he could have come here a free man. He would be inviting her out now to one of New Rome’s famous shusa restaurants, instead of meditating on how the New Romans coddled you with comfort before you died for their pleasure.

He wondered if his family had given up hope yet, if his mother cried herself to sleep, if his hothead older brother Verus had figured out where he had gone and come looking for him. Priscus wished he had, and hoped he hadn’t. It was bad enough that one of them had been stupid enough to dare the Belt. He reached for the water bottle again and rubbed the knuckles of the other hand into his eyes. Enough of that kind of thinking. That was the kind of thing that got a man killed. On the other hand, dying would almost be a relief. He had put a sword into too many bellies already.

She took the bottle back and ran her hand along his arm. “Of course I couldn’t have asked her out,” he thought incongruously. “Slaves aren’t allowed out on the town.” He twisted a broken smile in her direction.

The gong sounded. The grill slid up. He slipped the helmet over his head, hoisted the red-painted shield into place and stepped out. On the far side, his fellow combatant angled also toward the high seat where tonight’s guest of honour awaited them. Priscus matched the pace of the other, discreetly studying him for clues that would help him. Something about the man itched at him, like a melody that insists on staying just out of memory’s reach. As he drew closer, Priscus saw the nasty scar slanted across the man’s abdomen. How could he have survived a wound like that? He must have pivoted back so that the sword had slashed across without going deep. Quick on his feet then.

They converged before the high seat. In careful unison they leaned their shields against one leg, pulled their helmets off and raised their swords in salute to the woman seated there, whose name Priscus had already forgotten. The mayor? The prefect? She raised a limp hand in acknowledgement. They turned toward each other for the ritual pre-combat crossing of swords.

Priscus froze. The sword fell from his hand, narrowly missing his foot. He barely noticed.

The other’s eyes widened and he slumped down onto his knees with a long, drawn-out groan that made the hair rise on the back of Priscus’s neck. He staggered forward and wrapped his arms around the other.

“Verus! Great god, what are you doing here?”

His brother sobbed, rocking back and forth on his knees. Priscus babbled something, anything, to try to console him. Verus clutched at his arm.

Priscus raised an imploring face to the high seat. The woman leaned forward on one elbow.

“Well, what are you waiting for?” she said. “Get on with it.”

Get DISENCHANTED free

 

ETA: Sorry, this offer is over now. You can still get a free book, but it won't be mine.

For a limited time (and I will confess no one has told me how limited) you can get an electronic copy of Disenchanted for free from a new service called Runaway Goodness. You sign up for notifications of special deals on eBooks and you get the first book free. To get Disenchanted, choose Christian as your preferred genre.