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Month: March 2021

Evolution of Eve


I’ve received this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Evolution of Eve is about a human colony on Mars. Raphael and her husband Tom discover that their daughter, Eve, a clone – an experiment to battle the human sterility pandemic – is a Martian. This complicates the husband-wife relationship because Raphael wants a human colony, but Tom believes that Martians are the next stage of human evolution. 

There’s a lot happening in this book from rogue cyborgs to shady military and if you’re someone like me who enjoys epic tales with complicated plots and several povs, this narrative structure would likely work for you. However, if you’re not a Game of Thrones fan, you will probably find this book a challenge. 

I am going to begin with what I found compelling. The premise is strong and believable. I can imagine that we will at some point in the future have to face the ethical and economical question of whether we should colonise Mars and what would happen if we did? We will also reach a point where Earth is potentially uninhabitable. And I am sure there will be a debate about whether to save Earth or start again on another planet. In fact, the book’s premise was so convincing, it gave me chills. 

Another aspect I found convincing to the point of disturbing, is Raphael’s reaction to Eve’s transformation into a Martian. There’s a line that particularly resonated with me where Eve says to her terrified mother, “before they come to me, they will always blame you.” It’s a common occurrence for mothers of disabled children, particularly those on the autism spectrum, to get blamed for their child’s peculiarities. I have to admit, when reading it, I was taken back to a similar conversation with my own mother. There are also other lines, such as, “Mars cheated my family.” This is very similar to what we hear today with parents of autistic children, “autism stole my baby.” 

What I wish could have been stronger is the dialogue. The characters sometimes sound as if  they’re reading from a script and often a character’s dialogue starts with the name of the person they’re speaking to. It’s something I’m hyper aware of, because I make this same mistake in my own writing.

However, my biggest issue is with the characterisation of Raphael and the author’s approach to her bipolar disorder. This is a condition I also suffer from and I felt the author was unsympathetic to the character. For example, whenever Rafael gets emotional, her husband, Tom, insists that she take her meds. She’s constantly paranoid, skips her medication and thinks her child is a monster. Her husband refers to her as a “danger” to the family and his friend calls her “manipulative.” She even at one point takes out some “clipping shears” and runs down the corridor of their house, screaming “I am going to take care of this right now!”. I am not saying every person with bipolar is a saint, but when the only narrative in literature is this unstable demon narrative, it starts to become a stereotype. And unfortunately, Raphael is another such stereotype.

As someone who lives with bipolar, I can swear hand on heart that I have never run down any corridor holding a sharp implement and threatening another human being. In fact, I’ve never run down a corridor screaming with or without a sharp implement.

In fact, this portrayal ruined the book for me, and I am disappointed because it’s a good story, marred only by the characterisation of Raphael. On that basis, I cannot recommend this book.

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Adrian O’Donnell

Adrian is one of Alex’s distant cousins and a member of his circle of friends. She is also a friend of Tilney, although he’s secretly scared of her. She would argue that if he only stopped clicking his pen in class, she would have a little more patience left for lunch and wouldn’t feel the need to point out his areas of weakness.

For Adrian’s freckles, I use a technique where I take my blending stump, rub the tip in graphite, and dab it all over her face. The effect gives the freckles an authentic randomness. No individual freckle is the same shape, size or colour and this technique is a fast way to create that effect.

One of my personal nightmares is drawing a mouth that is slightly open. Teeth are difficult to shape. In my previous portraits, the teeth always appear as if they’re sticking outwards. I am thankful that I have finally pulled off sketching straight-ish teeth.


Mud and Glass


I received Mud and Glass from Odyssey Books in exchange for an honest review.

This book had me feeling a plethora of emotions. From the first page, I knew it was a well-crafted, solidly structured story. I was in awe. Then, at half-way through, it had me wanting to go out and change the world. But at the end of the book, the unexpected twist brought a sudden realisation, an epiphany if you like, of just how powerfully drawn the protagonist Celeste is.

Celeste is a geography professor at Purple Bay University in the fictional country of Krasnia. We first learn that she stole her best friend and colleague, Pace’s, research because she believed that the research results, they had collected needed to be made public. Pace has not forgiven her, so we are told, even though Pace trusts Celeste to accompany her on her latest research project to uncover an important artefact, the Littoral Cortex. The book is told from Celeste’s perspective and yet we are unaware that what she thinks about Pace contradicts what we see of Pace’s actions. It is only at the end of the book, when our entire understanding of what we believe is flipped. That last scene with Pace and Celeste is short, but gives Pace an intriguing, but unanticipated edge. 

Celeste is a fascinating character in her own right. For most of the book, she’s hiding from the Littoral League, the Praxies (a powerful family), and everyone else who is after the Littoral Cortex. It is not until the final pages that we find she’s also been hiding from herself. I won’t spoil her arc, but the journey of how she comes to terms with the trauma of her past and the events that unfold is sensitively, beautifully and authentically written.

Another aspect of this book that resonates with me is the question it raises, “what happens when your creative freedom is threatened?” This sounds like a dystopian pontification, but this is a very present and ongoing concern. In high school, I remember my critical thinking class being turned into another study session because we had far too many assignments due. Learning for life is what we should be teaching students, not how to cram for an exam. In the past before digital technologies, learning how to absorb large amounts of knowledge was a necessity. Nowadays, learning how to assess and seek knowledge is far more important. The current education system is outdated, and this book starts the discussion on how we could improve.

It also addresses the stigma around the creative arts. In the past two decades, the arts faculties in schools and universities have been grossly underfunded. When I was a university arts student, all our plays were performed in one small studio because the university demolished our theatre and, instead of rebuilding a new theatre, the resources were put into upgrading the engineering and science buildings. It’s great to be pro sciences and technology, but the creative industries are important too and Mud and Glass shows us why passion in a subject is crucial and necessary for our communities. In fact, Russ, the Theatre Arts lecturer, is one of the heroes who leads the rebellion against the founding families of the university. Goes to show us theatre nerds are not bums after all. :p

To sum up, Mud and Glass is a multi-faceted piece of literature, with rich characters, meaningful themes and a topic that brings forth a very real concern about the current education system.

As to whether I recommend this book, “better three hours too soon than a minute too late.” Go read it! It’s a “yes” from me.

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Henry’s called Tilney now

It’s official. I have changed Henry’s name to Tilney Haru Hellewell-Sullivan because I think the name sounds more unique. It’s sad to say goodbye to the name, Henry. But I am really digging Tilney. It’s just as soft and cute.

I named Henry after Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey, so the shift is not as drastic. Also I’m loving the futuristic sound of the ship name, Talex.


Interview with Fran Laniado (Beautiful)

Hello Fran, you’ve recently released a stunning debut novel called Beautiful. What was the journey like to getting it published?

It was a long process. After I had a draft, I was unsure how I wanted to go about getting it published. I started by querying agents, but as I learned more about the publishing process I started to wonder if “traditional” publishing was right for me. You can spend years querying agents, revising and resubmitting your work according to their specifications, before finding the right agent. Then an agent can spend years submitting it to publishers, who then take a few years to publish! I felt like, if I was lucky, readers might see something resembling the book I originally wrote in 5 years! 

So, I started to research other options. I spoke to several “independent” authors who published their own work and used various online resources to get it to readers and get the word out. In some ways that seemed very doable: I could have control over the process, and I could make the changes that I felt were appropriate. But it was also very scary! In a traditional publishing environment, you have different people who take care of editing, formatting, marketing etc. If I decided to publish independently, I’d be more or less on my own. But different blogs and groups were very helpful in helping me find beta readers, and freelancers who edited it, formatted everything, did the cover, and helped me put it all together. I’ve found that the writing community is generally very encouraging and supportive.

Beautiful is a Beauty and The Beast retelling. I know you’re releasing a sequel based on the Snow Queen. There have been a few series inspired by fairytale retellings over the last two decades – the Lunar Chronicles, The Kendra Chronicles, Ella Enchanted and Fairest – what sets this series apart?

I’m a big fan of several of those series! One thing I love about fairy tales is how many different variations there are. If you look at a single fairy tale, the Disney version may be very different from the Grimm’s brothers telling, and that might be different from the traditional French version! I think that gives a writer a lot of freedom. You can borrow elements from the different versions, but personally I don’t feel constrained because there’s always room for something new and different. 

My “Beauty and the Beast” is a bit different from other retellings because it’s centered around the character who curses the Beast. She takes on the love interest role eventually, though I wouldn’t call her “Beauty” … But then again, I wouldn’t be so quick to call Finn, the character she curses, a “Beast” either. They have elements of both in their characters. That’s why I gave it the subtitle “A Tale of Beauties and Beasts” The line between the two isn’t always clear. 

How many books do you intend to have in this series?

Right now, my plan is to do one book for each of Eimear’s (the protagonist of Beautiful) sisters. My next novel, based on The Snow Queen, is centered on her sister Aoife. I’ve started some very early drafting for a third book about Deidre, another sister. There are four girls in the family altogether and I’d love to have one book for each sister. But I’m not as fast a writer as I’d like to be! I have a lot of ideas, but they take a lot of time to develop and work my way through. So, things may change…

What’s your favourite fairytale and can you tell us a bit about why it’s your favourite?

To be honest I think Beauty and the Beast has always been a favorite. I love almost every version I’ve read/seen (yes, including Disney!) It’s strange that one of the elements that always appealed to me was the forgotten, enchanted, castle where the Beast lives, but that’s an element that I didn’t include in my retelling at all! I definitely like that it tries to debunk our conventional notions about beauty, but I do think that if it’s done poorly it can end up reinforcing them, so that’s something I wanted to avoid. Another common pitfall is having the central relationship resembling Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t think that’s the intention at all, and that was another pitfall I was anxious to avoid. 

Are there any fairytales you wish were retold more often? Are there any that you feel have received too much attention from writers?

It’s strange: I think Beauty and the Beast gets a bit too much attention, but that’s the one that I felt like I had something to say about! So, I found myself writing my own version. I’m having a similar experience right now with Cinderella. We have a million variations on that story already, but I started to have ideas for my own. So, I’m exploring that currently. 

As for fairy tales I wish were retold more often, I think a lot of lesser-known fairy tales are wonderful. East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and The Six Swans are definite favorites that I feel like I’d love to tackle at some point. I’d also love to see more from non-western cultures and learn more about their fairy tales myself. 

If you could be a mythical creature, which would you be?

I like the idea of being a selkie. I like the idea of being able to take off my skin in a different environment and become something else entirely.

You mention on your website that you are particularly fond of theatre and used to act in high school and summer camp productions. How does your love of theatre influence the way you write, if at all?

That’s a really good question. I think that some of the questions I ask myself as a writer are similar to the questions that an actor asks him/herself when creating a character: how does this person walk/talk? Does this person have any habits or unconscious, nonverbal ways of expressing themselves? Sometimes you can convey a lot about a character very efficiently by “showing” what they’re doing. Little gestures like tapping a toe when you’re nervous or putting objects down with more force than necessary when you’re angry, say a lot. And sometimes it’s better if the character doesn’t say “I’m nervous” or “I’m mad”. Maybe that particular character wouldn’t be that open about his/her emotions. So, you find other ways to get it across to the reader/audience.


Interview with Paullett Golden (The Enchantresses series)

I have the honour to start off this series of Q & As with celebrated Historical Romance author, Paullett Golden. She’s won several awards for her works including the Reviewers Choice award, which she won in 2019 and again in 2020. Check out her books here.

I really admired the way you developed Duncan in The Colonel and The Enchantress. What kind of research did you do while developing his character?

A great deal of my research focused on survivors of spinal hematomas, which is what his injury is, although it didn’t have that name at the time. I researched the condition, the treatment options, the recovery, the rehabilitation options, etc. Since this injury would not have had a name, much less a treatment method, at that time, I also had to research about medical diagnosis, surgeries, etc. at that time, which ranged from the simplest forms of sawbone approaches to the more complex spinal studies being conducted on the continent—some of which is mentioned in the story. There needed to be a realistic and believable combination of his injury, surgery, and recover during that time. 

Since this isn’t just about the injury but about Duncan as a character, there was also a good bit of research about military life at the time, life as a Light Dragoon and officer, PTSD, and the campaign he was involved with, which all influenced his self-perceptions, decisions, and reactions to being injured and recovering. At times we see him determined to recover and other times feeling helpless and hopeless. 

I’m particularly interested in the way his injury is drawn. What was the writing process behind it?

I based Duncan’s condition on a similar scenario of a fellow I know. He had suffered from the same injury. Much of Duncan’s approach to recovery is based on the recovery methods of the person I know. I did make quite a few changes to be more in keeping with Duncan’s personality and the time period, but the stages of recovery are nearly identical to what my friend experienced. I didn’t want to rely completely on one person’s experience, so I studied the journeys of other survivors to see how they carried on, each with a different experience. Some were able to walk out of the hospital after surgery, while others never walked again. 

The rehabilitation methods Duncan uses of hippotherapy is based not on my friend but on my research into spinal injury rehabilitation methods. There are so many inspiring cases of people suffering from paraplegia who have found relief and even recovery through hippotherapy. Here’s a brief bit I wrote about hippotherapy, including some great links to get to know it better:  There is quite an impressive number of hippotherapy centers in England, all trained and designed to assist with rehabilitation and treatment of conditions ranging from paraplegia to autism.  

I will admit that although I based the injury recovery on a friend, I attempted to do and experience as best as I could the methods Duncan uses to recover, especially the exercises he does, just to see how it would feel, what could be done, what difficulties might result, etc. I had a few bruises and some rug burn, but it was an educational and inspiring experience to put myself in Duncan’s shoes. There was a time that due to blood clotting of my own, I couldn’t move my legs with ease, so I was able to relate to some of what he experiences, but it’s been quite a few years, and so it was challenging but important to try his methods of recovery. 

The Enchantresses series begins each book with a new generation of characters, which I find very original. What was the inspiration behind deciding to write a series that follows a family through several generations? What were some of the challenges you faced when writing using this concept?

Confession time! I did not begin with the plan to do a series. Originally it was only The Earl and The Enchantress. Once I finished that book, beta readers were dying to know the stories of the other characters. When that plan took root, it grew and blossomed into not only one series but an entire world build. 

I decided that at some point I would have another series with the children of these characters (a la Johanna Lindsey’s Mallory family)—the children of this set of characters will be marriage age during the Regency. Each book and each series I have planned outside of this family tree will see cameos of this family or perhaps a cameo from another book or series, as they’ll all live in the same world. 

In the upcoming Sirens series, for instance, the MCs from The Earl and The Enchantress as well as The Baron and The Enchantress play pivotal roles in the conflict and resolution of the romances, even if they’re no more than tertiary characters in the story. 

The challenge has been that I didn’t set out with this plan, so I’ve had to make some adjustments here and there to make it work, as well as dig through the books themselves for details I might have missed to avoid inconsistencies. Had I planned the series from the start, I would have taken much better notes!

You mention in some earlier interviews that you didn’t expect being an author to require quite so much marketing and social media presence. Was it difficult finding a healthy balance between marketing, writing and other life duties? How has the aspect of being an author affected your mental health and what do you feel is an ideal balance between managing your social media, writing and everyday life?

It all comes down to good time management and planning. From time to time I have to adjust the weekly schedule to provide more time for something else, but once a strategy is in place, it’s fairly easy going. For the most part, my day is scheduled so that I have time for everything. While I wouldn’t mind having a personal secretary sometimes, things run smoothy as long as I plan ahead and stick to the schedule. 

I think the ideal balance depends on the person and their commitments—do they have another job? Children? Dinner parties? Travel? Etc. With a strict schedule and good planning, it’s possible to do everything. Just one hour per day, for instance, would be great to post on social media, reply to comments, scroll and reply to other pages, and answer messages. The tricky part for some people is in the scheduling and planning. Not scheduling everything or looking ahead at which days will require different time commitments will likely result in things not getting done—too much time on social media; not enough time on social media; too much time watching Netflix; not enough time writing, etc. 

In terms of mental health, I’m so much happier and healthier with my writing career underway. It’s incredibly fulfilling knowing that I’m accomplishing my dreams. 

I hear you’re working on a new book in The Enchantresses series called The Gentleman and The Enchantress. Can you tell us a bit about the book? Where does it fit in the series? I notice, throughout the series, a strong theme of challenging social hierarchy. How does social hierarchy play in this book?

The final book in this series is The Gentleman and The Enchantress. That won’t mean we’re finished seeing these characters, especially since we’ll circle back for the stories of the children, as well as see a few of the secondary characters outside of the family tree get their own stories (Like Winston who we see in Duke and Colonel) but for this immediate part of the family tree, this will be the final book. 

This book is about Cuthbert, who is Hazel’s brother and the father of Lizbeth and Charlotte. His story will touch on the entailment of his family home and how he thinks it came about (although we learn the truth in Hazel’s story—The Heir and The Enchantress). Cuthbert’s story revolves around his father’s scheme to recoup money losses by trying to take over a local tin mine. While helping his father, he ends up falling for the tin mine owner’s daughter. He then must choose between loyalty to his father and his love for the heroine. 

I would say the social hierarchy drama in this particular book is with Cuthbert, the gentleman son of landed gentry, falling in love with the daughter of a man of industry. Regardless of how wealthy the daughter’s family might be, the fact remains that they’re of the merchant/industrial class rather than gentry. Since the hero’s father is determined for Cuthbert to become a Member of Parliament, it could hurt Cuthbert’s reputation to align with someone so far below his own social status. His marriage should be something politically and socially advantageous. 

I am particularly interested in your upcoming new series, The Sirens. What’s the premise for this and how did you come up with the name? is the series about sirens or is it a metaphor?

Each of the heroines in this story is a kind of siren to the hero—she somehow uses deception to entice the hero, be that deception intentional or unintentional, and once enticed, he experiences his downfall (initially). Think in terms of false identities, misrepresentation, and survival schemes. In each case, the heroine is in a situation in which she needs to hide or seek refuge. In steps the unwitting hero as a potential savior, however temporary. 

While all of my books focus on resolving internal conflicts rather than external conflicts and villains (I honestly can’t say that I ever will have “villains”), this trilogy does involve a bit more external conflict and an instigator of that conflict (I say instigator since they’re not really villainous, just someone who doesn’t necessarily mean our heroine well). Interestingly, the instigator in the first book becomes the heroine of the second book (oh my!), so that even though she seems a bit, well, villainous in the first book, we get her side of the story in the second book. 

What advice can you give authors who are planning to write a series of books held together by a running concept rather than character?

I’d recommend that the stories remain character-driven even while sticking to a central concept. If you make it all about the concept, then the book becomes moralizing and preachy, but if it’s still character-driven, then the concept is subtle as well as multi-faceted. 

Let’s take a concept like “having faith.” If you want all the books in the series to be about that underlying theme, then really focus on what that means for the characters. Having faith will mean something completely different to one character as it does to another. How enriching, then, is the series to see various perspectives and approaches, all while still focusing on the characters. We end up feeling the theme more than having it pounded into us. 

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