Author Archives: Frank

About Frank

A Yank by birth, I moved to the Midlands of England from sunny Southern California at the beginning of 2004, after living in California for 7 years and San Antonio, Texas for 16 years before that. I'm a lifelong reader, a tabletop gamer, a wannabe writer (although I rarely write!) and am constantly interested in, and fascinated by, everything. I'm still learning about British culture and things after 10 years, and still enjoy my odd bit of Americana, which my friends and co-workers have hopefully come to terms with.

Review: Finding the Mother Tree ***/5

I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this book but I genuinely did, although it may not seem like it because of the middling score. I’d recommend this mainly for eco-minded people, biologists and fans of nature. Generally this is an autobiography of a researcher who spent a career in forestry and moved into research about how the various living things in a forest interact with each other, directly and indirectly. It is really a fascinating topic and presented in a relatively easy to understand way, sort of like a Brian Cox or Neil Degrasse Tyson sort of television show aimed at the general public.

The lengths that that author went to demonstrate the many experiments was quite in-depth and explained in a way that most people would be able to understand. There’s a bit of personal journey in the book, which isn’t what I was really expecting but shows that the author really cares very deeply about her work (obviously, or she wouldn’t be doing it!). 

A harsh review would say that the salient points for ecologically-minded readers could be boiled down to a few pages. However one could make the point that this book is sort of like reading any diet book where you could ‘skip to the end’ and look up the stripped-down facts in a quick search online – but to understand the work, research and motivation behind those facts you really do need to read the whole book. I was pleasantly surprised by this book.

Thank you to #NetGally for this copy of #FindingtheMotherTree


Review: The Doll **/5

I don’t normally like to seek out crime or police novels, but I like to spread out every now and then from my usual science fiction reading to check out what’s new. This title grabbed my attention because it’s from an Icelandic author and I do like a bit of ‘Scandi noir’ television. I also thought it is a horror story, so apologies to anyone who thinks it is… So far I haven’t really been taken by much of the Scandinavian flavour except Larsson’s Millienium trilogy and I’m not sure if it’s the storytelling or the translations or something else. So I wanted to see how The Doll grabbed me. 

The story opens with the discovery of the titular doll and then goes into a procedural police narrative centred around a child protection case… for roughly the entire first act. It actually got to a point where I was thinking “where is the doll in all this?” but I suppose you might call this a ‘slow burn’ sort of tale, because things do eventually meet up to finish the first third of the story. I think the story was translated by a British translator, or the author watches a lot of British procedural shows, because there’s quite a lot of British terms and slang used. 

The middle of the novel is more of the same, with more police procedural plodding and very little mention of the titular doll. There are a few more mentions of it, however there’s so much tedious police step-by-step description of everything the main characters are doing again I started to wonder ‘when is the doll going to even get mentioned again’. I only grew more anxious to get to what I assumed ‘the twist’ would be in the final act. By this point I was growing a bit tired of the ‘explainer’ way much of the story was written in. For example, a pair of police may be interviewing someone, which lots of quotes going back and forth and around the table, then as if to wrap things up the scene switches to ‘and so and so asked about this, and got that answer with this sort of tone’, etc. This resulted in me feeling out of the scene and like the author (or editor) was literally trying to fast-forward things. Very strange.

The final third starts to wrap up the story with more and more interviews and a slow pace of discoveries. IUltimately the final couple of chapters wrap up things in a very exposition-heavy way, the phrase “show, don’t tell” came to mind because the resolution was literally one character explaining to another how everything happened and came about. I was quite disappointed with the ending, and after being so-so about the rest of the story it ultimately just didn’t add up to be that good for me.
Thank you to #NetGalley for providing me a copy of #TheDoll to review.


Review: In the Shadows of Deimos *****/5

Thank you to #NetGalley for providing me a copy of #IntheShadowofDeimos to review.

Normally I wouldn’t expect much out of a game tie-in, but I was very pleasantly surprised by In The Shadow Deimos. This novel is based on the very popular boardgame Terraforming Mars, which I own and have played. There are many fans of this game, which is quite involved and is based on various corporations trying to make money while enabling the colonization of Mars. The more terraforming is done, the more the temperature goes up, which is good for some things and bad for other things – there are many ‘mechanics’ or systems of the game that operate in this way, and if you’re a fan of the game you will see some of these systems at work in the novel as well. 

But the main plot of the book revolves around a terrible accident that could be corporate sabotage and the investigation into the accident. So it’s kind of a mystery wrapped in a “corporations = bad” subplot, in a sci-fi wrapper because it’s set on Mars. I don’t think you need to be a huge sci-fi fan to enjoy the book, and it’s a big bonus that you don’t have to have played the game before to understand anything in it. In fact, I’ve only played it once so I certainly didn’t remember any of the corporations or how the game works to enjoy the book. I would definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a sci-fi mystery, or who has a passing interest in near future humanity or stories about Mars exploration.


Review: The White Devil ***/5

Thank you to #NetGalley for providing me a copy of #TheWhiteDevil to review.

It took me a while to compile some sort of review for this book, as I found it overall quite disjointed and confusing. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to read it but from looking at other reviews it seems they found the same thing. Skipping around in time and taking a significant role in various major world history events is part of the main character’s role, but it just didn’t make for an easy to read novel unfortunately. It was interesting in a conspiracy sort of sense, but for a structured whole it was a difficult read.


Review: Cecily *****/5

by Annie Garthwaite

Thank you to #NetGalley for providing me a copy of #Cecily to review.

I really enjoyed this book. I’ve been reading selections provided through NetGalley for a few months now and when I saw Cecily come up I thought ‘well, this could be interesting’. An actual historical figure that very few people were familiar with, who influenced and was influenced by the English medieval court of the mid-1400s? Sign me up. The combination of actual historical figures at a pivotal time in British history, the easy reading of modern English vernacular and the injection of what could at worst be called ‘docu-drama’ but at best they would count as modern storytelling considerations. 

I grew up reading quite a bit of fantasy as I grew up, along with a fair amount of historical non-fiction. I’m not sure when exactly, but historical fiction reappeared on my radar several years ago, and it kind of sparked something that scratched both itches of ‘something medieval fantasy’ without the magic and ‘something historical…but not too much’. The earliest book I can remember reading in this vein is The Pillars of the Earth, which many readers will be familiar with. 

Following the many historical names and who’s the son of who and all that should be fairly easy if you follow Game of Thrones or any dense, family-driven fantasy series of your choosing. If you know your medieval English royal history it should be VERY easy. For me, though, it’s not the easiest thing for me to remember but I was able to follow along quick enough I recommend this to anyone looking to dip into a historical period piece.


Review: Rising Tide by Sam Lloyd

Thank you to #NetGalley for providing me a copy of #TheRisingTide to preview, I really appreciate it.

I normally read sci-fi and a bit of fantasy for my fiction, and decided to dip my toe into a contemporary ‘thriller’ type novel to see what it’s like nowadays. Usually I’ll stick with the bestsellers such as Crichton for this type of novel but I’m happy to give an unfamiliar (to me) author a try. 

The story revolves around a mother of 2 and starts on the day her husband goes missing in a boat during a massive storm. It is written from the perspective of the mother who you are meant to empathise with, however there are hints of a disturbing past drip-fed throughout the story. It certainly makes you wonder who you’re meant to be cheering for as the story progresses, which is interesting. I think overall this part was well-done you’re not sure if you’re reading the hero’s thoughts, or the instigator’s. The community of the small English coastal town is done well also, although having been to Cornwall and watched programmes based there, there seems to be a lack of true local flavour in the dialects and the sorts of characters you expect to see in that kind of place. Only a few supporting characters stick out while others have maybe too MUCH character. So for me in some ways there’s not enough characterization, and in other places there’s too much. 

Story-wise, while there were certainly some surprises leading up to the climax of the story, I felt that the ‘shocker’ moments usually weren’t really strong enough to justify some of the reviewer comments that promised colossal-sized ‘OMG!!’ moments. That, or these ‘shocks’ were explained a bit too soon after the BIG REVEAL. 

There’s also hints of out-of-place story lines from some of characters, which aren’t hinted at (or not hinted enough) in the early part of the story, so these kind of come out of nowhere. While I do like some stories that have this ‘uhh where are we going now?’ feel to them that’s not really what I came into this novel with, so it just felt a little out of place. But it does provide enough misdirection I suppose, so maybe it works? 

The other issue I had in general was that while I think this was a pre-release sample, the Kindle formatting was really all over the place. Some sentences had spaces missing between the words but the biggest issue was that many lines on most pages had a single word on a line with the rest of the sentence above and below. 

Overall, though, the story leads to an interesting and quite unexpected (maybe not-hinted-at-enough?) climax, which more than makes up for any possible shortcomings with the rest of the story. It’s fast-paced and reads like a thriller movie in most places, so I’d give it a thumbs-up.


Wow, this is still online?

Amazing! Thank goodness for hosted blogging platforms, eh? (almost) nothing ever dies on the internet…

It’s been so long since I logged in to this blog (or any of my other ones, to be honest) that WordPress has changed several times since.

Well, here we go again! Let’s see how long this stage lasts.

Recently I was able to join NetGalley, which is a handy way to trial and review (!) books. With a Kindle account, you can have recently or soon-to-be-published books sent to you to read and comment on! How about that!?

So that’s what this blog will turn into, along with, potentially, attempts at fiction from myself. The next several posts will be a collection of my book reviews that I’ve done so far.


ugh, been a LONG time…

…and I know no one is following this blog, but whatever! it’s a new year and I’m going to try to write a page per day this year.

Why?

Well I’ve been meaning to write for ages now, it’s part of my Day Zero Project (101 goals in 1000 days, which ends on my 40th birthday later this year) to write a few short stories, but I haven’t been doing anything about it.

Plus, I saw a video yesterday (here) where a woman tells a man she’s not a writer and he says to her “It’s easy, just do a page a day, and at the end of a year you’ll have 365 pages”. That struck a chord with me somehow and so I decided I would give it a shot. If nothing else it will let me get some practice in and I’ll see how good I am when I attempt to re-read what I’ve done!

I haven’t decided yet how to do the writing. I’ll probably do it on Google Docs so I can work on it from various locations or at least make notes on my phone, but I’ll decide later if I put up the pages or chapters on this blog for general viewing.


OK let’s get this thing going!

Right!

OK.

Yes, it’s been a long time, as I titled the most recent post on my other ‘personal’ blog.

But I’ve been thinking, got a lot of ideas now, and now it’s time to sit down and write.

I just need to make the time (like with anything) and what I found today was a post on Lifehacker that explained Jerry Seinfeld’s tip on getting things done. Basically you get a year calendar and mark each day with a big X for each day you get something accomplished. In his case it was writing jokes. In the Lifehacker article they recommend things like cleaning, writing, coding, etc.

So I’m going to use this for writing. Whether it’s for an after-hours thing I’m doing, for the video project I’m working on, or for actual WRITING, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to aim for 500+ quality words for each day I’m writing a story, OR doing editing, OR some solid work on ideas.

I think this tip is a great idea and look forward to hammering out some enjoyable stuff 🙂


5×5 Fiction

Thanks to Mike, who commented on my last post, I found out about 5×5 Fiction, a writing project that collects very short stories that are written in 5 sentences consisting of 5 words each. It’s a cool concept, and the originator of the idea collects his favorite stories in a quarterly collection. It’s harder than you might think at first to be constrained into such constraints! Here is my first attempt at something along these lines:

The balloon floated, rising rapidly. “Momm-meeee!” shouted the little girl. Her mother looked up, annoyed. The balloon man came back. Easy: another day, another dollar.