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Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Book Review: Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

The Nowhere Man is a legendary figure spoken about only in whispers. It's said that when he's reached by the truly desperate and deserving, the Nowhere Man can and will do anything to protect and save them.

But he's no legend.

Evan Smoak is a man with skills, resources, and a personal mission to help those with nowhere else to turn. He's also a man with a dangerous past. Chosen as a child, he was raised and trained as part of the off-the-books black box Orphan program, designed to create the perfect deniable intelligence assets - i.e. assassins. He was Orphan X. Evan broke with the program, using everything he learned to disappear.

Now, however, someone is on his tail. Someone with similar skills and training. Someone who knows Orphan X. Someone who is getting closer and closer. And will exploit Evan's weakness - his work as The Nowhere Man - to find him and eliminate him. 

orphan-x, gregg-hurwitz, book

Fast-paced and packed full of surprising twists and turns, Orphan X is a real stand-out thriller.

There really is danger around every turn for Evan Smoak (aka Orphan X) our main character and assassin turned crime-fighting hero. Evan is unique - a sort of modern-day James Bond - yet he also carries characteristics of other popular heroes from the thriller, action and adventure genres, somehow taking the best traits from each and rolling them all up into one perfect hero package. All at once he's comfortingly familiar while being completely unique; Hurwitz paying homage to the genre whilst simultaneously carving out his own path.

The fast-paced nature of the book makes it a relatively quick read, encouraging you to read faster and keep turning the pages in order to find out what happens. Before you know it you've been sucked into another action sequence and a whole hour has flown by. In truth, this is a testament to Hurwitz's writing skill and expertise - the best authors are the ones who can make you live in their fictional world and forget all about the distractions of real life for a while. Hurwitz does this with ease, welcoming you into Evan Smoak's world with open arms.

From a personal point of view, I felt that there was rather too large a focus placed on the ins and outs of the weaponry used by Evan and the other characters. I've never been interested in that kind of thing, so I found myself glazing over a little and trying to skip over paragraphs which were particularly heavy on weapon-related terminology. I also loved the developing relationship Evan shared with several of the other characters (sadly, naming names would lead to spoilers) though I would have liked to see some of the possibilities here explored in more detail. Perhaps this is something Hurwitz will address in the sequel? I guess I'll have to read it to find out!

If you give it a try, it won't be long before you begin to understand the reasons why I chose Orphan X as one of my top five books of 2017.

Rating: 4 stars

Orphan X is available to buy now.

Have you read Orphan X or are you a fan of Gregg Hurwitz books? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Interview: Patrick Rogers

patrick-rogers, travel

This morning, I'm pleased to be welcoming intrepid traveller turned writer, Patrick Rogers, to The Writing Greyhound! I managed to squeeze in some time with him in between his travels - read on for the full interview.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I’m from the state of Delaware (which is most famous for its chemicals, bank headquarters, and chickens). I’ve been visiting India over much of the last decade, and have worked on and off for university study abroad programs, and as a trip leader and travel planner. In that capacity, I’ve focused on the most obscure part of India, the Northeast (if you look at a map of the country, that’s the weird bit that’s kind of hanging out to the east, over Bangladesh, and towards Myanmar). It’s a fascinating, endlessly complex part of the world that I’ve found has only gotten more interesting each time I’ve gone there.
the-green-unknown, patrick-rogers, book

Tell me about The Green Unknown.
The Green Unknown is about travelling on foot across the canyons and jungles of a part of the Indo-Bangladesh border region known as the Khasi Hills, searching for undocumented examples of what are known as Living Root Bridges. These are fully functional pieces of infrastructure which, rather than being built, are grown by local tribal people out of the roots of a variety of fig tree, a process which can take generations, but also result in a living bridge which can last centuries. Very little is known about these structures, but at the same time, due to a combination of factors, they are disappearing, and so my book kind of grew out of an initiative I’ve been working on to dig up information about them. Given that there’s very little academic writing about the root bridges, the only way to learn about them is to travel to the places where they’re grown, which are mostly tiny, remote villages, populated by people known as the War-Khasis and War-Jaintias. So, the book is not only about the living bridges, but also about the people who make them.
What’s the best thing about travel writing?
What I like about it most is that it’s really the only way, as I see it, to share an experience with someone who wasn’t actually there. People often say that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Well…maybe a few are, but most aren’t. And I love photography, I’ve included pictures I took in the book. But photography has its limits. You can’t smell or hear, or touch, what’s in a picture. But with writing, you can at least explain through words what its like to physically be in another place. So, in a way, what’s great about (good!) travel writing is the same thing that’s great about a good work of fiction: It transports the reader.
patrick-rogers, travel

Why did you decide to write about your travels?
Frankly, it just seemed that the experiences I was having were fairly unique and that people might like to hear about them. Also, it struck me that there has been very little accessible writing about the Khasi Hills. There are a handful of academic texts, though many of these are out of date. But as for travel literature meant for the average reading public, to my knowledge, this is the first example to deal with the Khasi Hills.
Did you undertake a lot of research prior to travelling?
Not really…I would have if I could have, but most of the places I was travelling too were so obscure that there just wasn’t much to research. To add to that, much of the information online was incorrect (for example, Google Earth puts the locations of many of the villages I would walk to in the wrong place, making planning my route in advance impossible). During many of the experiences I write about in the book, I didn’t have a clear notion of what was coming next. You could say that the travelling was research in its own right.
patrick-rogers, travel

What draws you to this part of the world?
While all of India is culturally diverse, Northeast India is more diverse than any other part of the country. For example, just in terms of linguistic diversity, there is no place on earth, with the exception of Papua New Guinea, which has such a density of different languages. Likewise, packed into this tiny corner of the globe are hundreds of different cultural groups. This certainly makes it difficult to travel here, but also endlessly fascinating. There’s always something to learn. In the area the book is about, the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, each village will have its own dialect and its own cultural practices. So, just being in the region is an adventure.
What was your writing process like?
It was kind of eccentric: I had a notebook where I did a day by day diary of the time I spent visiting villages in the region. I wound up with several hundred pages of notes, not counting a whole other set of notes dealing specifically with Living Root Bridges, and several thousand pictures. In order to make all that material into something that would be comprehensible to a reader who probably would not have even heard of this part of the world, I picked just a few specific topics, people, and particular incidents, and focused in on those.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
For me, and for this particular project, what was really hard was choosing what not to write about…I had a fairly tight word limit from my publisher, so that meant that I had to make some very hard choices as to what subjects I would go into detail about in the book, and what I would leave out. I had vastly more material in my notes than could have been included in the finished product. For example, I love landscapes, which are a huge part of day to day life in the Khasi Hills. I could go on and on describing every valley and rock and river canyon in the region I travelled through. And, in order to write about the area effectively, much of the book needed to deal with the beauty and harshness of the land itself. Yet, I had to resist the temptation of spending five-hundred words on a rock, or thousand words describing a river valley.
patrick-rogers, travel

Which authors inspire you?
That’s a tough one. Many of the authors I like aren’t travel writers. But, frequently, good fantasy has an element of travelogue in it. To give an obvious example, one criticism people will sometimes have of The Lord of The Rings is that it’s just people walking around and Tolkien describing the landscape. Well, Tolkien was really good at that, and that’s one of the reasons his books have such lasting appeal. But, when it comes to this particular book, it was kind of modelled after Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. Now, I think Abbey was a needlessly cantankerous, hypocritical old git. That said, he was a hell of a writer when it came down to the nuts and bolts of communicating what was truly beautiful about a place. If my book’s a tenth as good at doing that for Northeast India as Abbey’s was for Utah, I’d consider that a huge success….Also, H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith inspire me…I’m not sure how exactly…but they do…
What is one stand-out memory from your travels?
It’s hard to choose just one! But, there was a time (and I write about it in much more detail in the book), when some local friends and I were caught in a small hut during the most intense thunderstorm I’ve ever witnessed. Lightning was landing all around. The village I was in was on the top of a plateau, so the lightning strikes were happening literally a few metres away. We all thought our hut could get hit at any moment…The stuff of nightmares….it was fun to write about though!
What makes your book stand out?
I think what makes it stand out is that it’s a book about a place that’s barely ever been written about. My hope is that a person reading the book will get introduced to a part of the world that they had no idea existed.
patrick-rogers, author

What are you currently working on?
Right now, I’m trying to get another trip to Northeast India off the ground. I’m hoping to go to a state called Nagaland, which is in the Hills on the Indo-Myanmar border. There used to be head hunting there up until the 1960s by a group called the Konyak Nagas. They also seem to have made living root bridges, so I’m hoping to travel there and write a book about it, tentatively called Root Bridges made by Head Hunters. Of course, I can’t say exactly what’ll be in the book, because I haven’t done the travelling!
What are you reading at the moment?
David Copperfield. I also just finished The Stand by Stephen King, and a book called The Illusion about Soviet collaborators in the German Military during World War II.
Do you have any more travel plans for the immediate future?
Yes. I hope to be back in India next year.
The Green Unknown is available to buy now. For more about Patrick and his travel writing, you can check out his website.

Do you enjoy travel writing? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 29 January 2018

How to Pick the Perfect Wedding Venue

wedding-bride-bouquet

In case you missed it, the other day I wrote a post containing a comprehensive wedding planning checklist. Writing that post got me thinking, and while I might not be planning a wedding of my own just yet, a girl can still dream, right?

One of the most important parts of planning a wedding is deciding on the perfect venue. Many girls have a dream wedding venue in mind from a young age. From fairytale-inspired castles to awe-inspiring country houses, the sheer choice of wedding venues nowadays is remarkable.

However, with so much choice out there, how do you go about finding the perfect venue? I've put together a few top tips to help you get started.

Budget

Arguably the most important part of the decision-making process, your budget will have a large degree of influence on the wedding venue that you eventually choose. While it may be fun to get creative and let your imagination run free, it's also important to ground yourself and set a strict budget that you mustn't surpass. Weddings are expensive and this way, you will be leaving plenty of money for everything else you need and won't end up out of pocket.

Location

Do you want to stay close to home or are you looking for a more exotic wedding further afield? A destination wedding is a great way to combine your wedding and honeymoon into one lavish affair, but it can be tricky to get everything organised when you're having to contend with the logistics of getting married overseas. Alternatively, some couples are happy to stay in the country but simply prefer to go a little further afield in search of the perfect venue. If you do want to pick a venue that isn't near your hometown, it's also important to keep in mind that not everyone will be able to travel so you may not be able to share your special day with all of your loved ones. 

Style

Are you looking for an historic, traditional venue or somewhere more modern and contemporary? From castles and churches to gorgeous old buildings like the charming Notley Abbey, all these beautiful venues will provide the perfect picturesque backdrop to your wedding photos! 

Guests

Have you already mapped out a rough guest list? For that matter, do you even know how many people you want to invite as a couple? The number of guests that you want to invite will play a role in the logistics of picking the ideal venue, not least because you need to ensure that you will be able to invite everyone on your list. Similarly, if an intimate ceremony is more your thing, you don't want to be rattling around a virtually empty room, either.

As with any other part of your big day, finding the right wedding venue is an important task. While you may initially struggle to discover your dream venue, once you find it, all the effort will be worthwhile.

* This is a sponsored post

Are you married? How did you pick your wedding venue? Let me know in the comments below!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Online Shopping and the Rise of Impersonal Customer Service

mobile-phone-call, pexels

It's time to admit it - customer service has become a bit of a joke.

On average, smaller companies are much better at dealing with customer queries, issues and complaints than the larger businesses and corporations - after all, there is far less at stake when you're a multinational organisation. However, this shouldn't be the case.

Due to one thing or another, recently, I seem to have needed to contact a fair few companies about a variety of different things. From banks, solicitors, conveyancers and estate agents to popular retailers and memberships, January has basically been a month of ringing people up.

At this point, I should mention that I'm not exactly the biggest fan of talking to people on the phone. My words get muddled up and despite my best intentions, I'm not always as good at getting my point across as I should be. However, this is most definitely not helped by the standard of customer service I've encountered recently.

From robotic automated messages to 'please press 3 for accounts' types of options, it's been very rare that I've actually been able to speak to a real human being, much less one who has actually been able to help me. Now, I've never worked in customer service or experienced a call centre first-hand, but surely these people must have to receive at least a basic level of training before being let loose on the unsuspecting public? I've had people on the other end of the phone who have been unable to understand my simple questions, something which really doesn't convince me to use that particular company again in the future.

And don't even get me started on waiting times and being put on hold. I've lost count of how many hours of my life I must have wasted just sitting there listening to tinny classical music piping through the speaker of my phone. I've been on hold for so long that I can even hum along to certain company's on-hold music now. But at the end of the day, all I want is to talk to a real person about my issue then get on with my day. Don't they want this too?

Of course, another big issue is actually finding the right phone number to call in the first place. Big companies have started trying out the really helpful trick of hiding their phone numbers on their websites, presumably in an attempt to ease the pressure on their support staff and reduce the number of complaints they receive. After all, how can people complain if there's no way of contacting the business?

This has got me so frustrated that I've started resorting to other tactics when I need to complain or contact a company. Twitter usually yields pretty good results, and I've also started using Customer Service Guru when I need to track down a particularly elusive phone number.

But despite all this, I just have to wonder if it's really worth the effort. Nowadays, I tend to only contact companies when I have a big issue which I can't resolve on my own. Perhaps that could be part of the reason? In spite of their best intentions, my question is this - why can't we just go back to having a clearly-displayed phone number and a friendly human on the other end of the phone who is actually willing to help out?

* This is a sponsored rant post

What do you think? Have you ever had any issues with customer service? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 26 January 2018

The Essential Wedding Planning Checklist

wedding-pixabay

Everyone knows that planning a wedding is a difficult job, but until you've gone through it yourself, many people don't realise just how hard it can be. Of course, I'm not married, but having heard people talk about everything they've done and still have left to do, I know that I'm going to be in for a shock should it ever be my turn!

So, if this sounds familiar and you're a bride (or groom) struggling to keep their head above the waters of wedding planning, I've put together a handy guide featuring the main points you need to consider. Think of it as a checklist of everything you need for your dream wedding!

  • Date - When do you want to get married? It's essential to have a date in mind because you won't be able to finalise much else without having already outlined a concrete date
  • Venue - Exciting times! Don't forget you might need to book separate venues for the ceremony and the reception and remember to stick to your budget and your desired number of guests
  • Theme - Before you go much further, you need to decide on a theme for your big day. If you're struggling for inspiration, try looking at colour schemes and the seasons. Alternatively, click here for more ideas
  • Guest list - How many people do you want to invite? It's good practice to find out your chosen venue's capacity then simply split the available amount fairly down the middle, with one half for the groom's guests and the other for the bride's
  • Best Man and Bridesmaids - Your best man and bridesmaids will undoubtedly be thrilled to hear you've picked them, so don't leave it too long before letting them know!
  • Invites - Some couples choose to send out 'save the date' cards before the formal invites are ready, but if you are sticking solely to the invitations make sure to send them out in plenty of time to allow everyone to RSVP
  • Dress - The most important dress of a girl's life, for many, this is also the most exciting part of the entire process. Why not take your bridesmaids along with you for a girly day of wedding dress shopping together?
  • Rings - You're going to be wearing them for the rest of your life, so it's important to pick wedding rings that you both like and are happy to commit to wearing
  • Hair and Make-up - Make sure to book your hair and make-up in advance if you want to get it done professionally. It can also be a good idea to get a few trials done before the big day to enable any tweaks to be made before the occasion arrives
  • Photography - Your wedding photos will be the lasting reminder of your special day, so don't scrimp on your photographer. If you're wary, ask to see some examples of their work before booking to ensure their style is a good fit for yours
  • Decoration - From table centrepieces to venue decorations, it's important to make sure that your venue looks the part for all those photos!
  • Transport - If the wedding dress is the bride's dream, then the transport is the groom's equivalent. Most couples choose to go for vintage cars, but if you're feeling creative, the options really are endless...
  • Catering - What food and drink will you serve your guests? From a formal sit-down meal to a more relaxed buffet-style approach, there are plenty of different catering ideas to choose from
  • Cake - Every couple needs a wedding cake! Whether it's a traditional tiered white cake or something a little more quirky, don't forget the obligatory cake-cutting photograph!
  • Flowers - From the bride's bouquet to the groomsmen's buttonholes, flowers are an integral part of most weddings. Going for seasonal, locally-grown flowers can also add an extra special touch to your day
  • Stag and Hen Do - Don't forget to factor in time and money for your hen and stag dos
  • Honeymoon - Whether you want a traditional honeymoon or just a short break, who doesn't love an excuse to travel? It will also be your first holiday together as a married couple - so choose wisely!

Of course, at the end of the day, your wedding is an incredibly personal occasion, one which celebrates the love between you and your partner. While every wedding is different, these are just a few of the things essential to make sure your big day goes as smoothly as possible!

* This is a sponsored post

Are you in the process of planning your wedding? Do you have any tips? Share them in the comments below!

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Interview: Ethan Howard

This morning, I'm super thrilled to be inviting sci-fi and fantasy author Ethan Howard onto The Writing Greyhound to chat about his life, work, inspiration, and his novel Starry Messenger.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
Born and raised on the East Coast. Migrated to the West coast for better weather after I graduated college. Joined the military after September 11th and did a few deployments. Now I am currently a Program Director for a non-profit organization in sunny San Diego. I am a husband and father who is still in the military through the Reserves. I love to read, exercise, and I have been a New England Patriots fan since I could walk.
How did you first become interested in writing?
Since childhood. I read any and everything I could get my hands on. My parent's house was like a library and at an early age, I had access to all forms of literature. I developed a love of Shakespeare, London, Thoreau, Melville, and Greek Mythology. As a boy, I promised myself I would write a book like them one day. Life always seemed to get in the way until I was older, more mature, and had stories to tell.
Tell me about Starry Messenger.
The first story of the series begins in 2018 when an enigmatic man who calls himself Quentin comes to Earth with a mission to learn why the planet has not progressed to the liking of his masters. The world has stagnated because humanity has been lulled into a false sense of security. Poverty, war, homelessness over the years have been largely eliminated thanks to the generosity of Rex Talion, the world richest man. But it is all a charade. This beloved man is conspiring with dark forces and monsters to destroy the world. 
starry-messenger, ethan-howard, book
Quentin’s mission is derailed when he meets and immediately becomes infatuated with Regina Tate and her son. Regina is a divorced, single mother with a Catholic upbringing and Quentin is a devoted cosmic warrior without peer. Meanwhile, the dark forces gain a greater stranglehold on the planet and Quentin has visions of a destroyed planet that may or may not be Earth. His masters order him back to his own world because they believe Earth is lost cause. Quentin must decide to stay and help a so-called doomed world with the woman he loves or obey his masters. 
Starry Messenger is certainly a science fiction and fantasy story, but there is romance, and it is also a mystery/thriller. The book gives the reader many things to contemplate like:

What happens when everything you have believed in is proven false? Are legends, myths, and fairy tales true stories that have been forgotten over the years? 
Why did you decide to write about a fantasy world?
Fantasy has always interested me. Asimov’s Robot Foundation series. Burroughs’ Tarzan, After I read Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novels in 2009 I was compelled to finally write fantasy. I have admired Moore’s work for years and once I developed a story I thought was worthy of print, I set out to do it.
Did you undertake much research?
Oh yes. Opportvnvs Adest series takes place all over the world. England, India, Africa, the Netherlands, France, Romania, are just a few of the locations that are weaved into the story. It was necessary to familiarize myself those countries and customs. The little details like time zones, street names, and dialects are important to get right. 
Legends, myths, fairy tales, and folklore are at the heart of the series. I reacquainted myself these tales and their origins from all over the world. I put a science fiction twist on them, so I had to know these stories inside and out. 
Another major theme in the series is the explanation of major world events and unexplained occurrences. I have three sketchpads filled with notes about the strange and the macabre from ancient times to the present day.

This was months of research and I needed every second of it. Readers out there are too smart. You must put the groundwork in on your writing or you run the risk of losing all credibility.
ethan-howard, author

What’s your writing process like?
A concept is first formed in my mind. Then I ask myself how can I turn this into a story that is interesting? From there I give myself a working title. Then I outline the story from beginning to end. Decide on the main plots first and how I want to get to the end.

With a completed outline, I set to work on the characters and create profiles and detailed histories on each of them - even if I do not show these histories to the reader. By then, I know the characters inside and out, the dialogue is considerably easier to write. I allow the characters to drive the plot and the story itself.

Once the story is finished, I go back and read the story from start to finish; looking for and identifying any plots holes. When I believe that task is completed, I am ready to edit for grammar/spelling.
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Never stop writing if that is your passion. Do not write for money or fame (those are great!) but do for the sheer joy of it and the joy of expressing yourself. Be thick skinned. Not everyone is going to like your writing, give you a review, or even want to HEAR about your stories. Put the work in to improve your craft. Read as much you write and take notes on grammar, styles, themes, and character development. Support other writers EVERY chance you get.
What are you currently working on?
I am finishing an encyclopaedia (A-Z) with every character, world, weapon, item, directly, or indirectly related to the Opportvnvs Adest series. 
The other project (and the most enjoyable) is a timeline for my alternative universe. This ambitious timeline begins 4.6 billion years ago and ends 2020 CE. It gives you a crash course on the Opportvnvs Adest Earth and universe. Everything from the pyramids to the Kennedy assassination is in there. Unexplained, weird things throughout history are explained.
What are you reading at the moment?
Laura Daleo’s Immortal Kiss and Victor Grewal's Rollercoaster. Two independent authors I have met here in San Diego.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
There are so many, but if I had to pick one, it would the very first book I read at age four: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It was the ultimate fantasy book for me and I have come to appreciate its brilliance more so now that I am older.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To find more time to keep writing stories. I have at least a dozen more outlines that need to be developed. 
To somehow get Alan Moore to read the Opportvnvs Adest series and get his opinion on it. 
Oh, and to turn Opportvnvs Adest into a series on SciFi network!
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Board games with the family. We are big Monopoly and Risk players on a Saturday night. Hiking anywhere that has an abundance of wildlife. I am still in the Reserves, so I do many things like running, weights, and swimming to stay in shape.
Starry Messenger is available to buy now. For more about Ethan and his writing, you can visit his blog or find him over on Twitter.

Are you a sci-fi fan? Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Book Review: Truth or Dare by Non Pratt

How far is too far when it comes to the people you love?

Claire Casey hates being the centre of attention. But if it means getting Sef Malik to notice her, it’s a risk she’s happy to take. Sef is prepared to do anything to help his recently disabled brother. But this means putting Claire’s love – and life – on the line. Because when you're willing to risk everything, what is there left to lose?


truth-or-dare, non-pratt, book

Oh my, this book was certainly a rollercoaster ride. Taking you on a journey from the lowest lows to the highest highs, Non Pratt's expert storytelling weaves a tale which is indescribably bittersweet.

This is the first book I've read by Non Pratt and Truth or Dare certainly lives up to the hype. Indeed, despite hearing the name recommended again and again as an author to watch out for, it's no surprise that I entered the story with some quite high expectations - expectations which were met and surpassed as I progressed through the book.

This is a Young Adult novel filled with all the pain, love, lust and heartache that permeates the genre, yet it is so brilliantly anchored in the trappings of the modern world that it becomes a perfect representation of today's teen culture. Vlogging, YouTube, and making a name for yourself online is as much a part of the story as the usual character development arc, and indeed, the characters themselves. 

From start to finish, the words hooked me and drew me in, keeping me turning page after page and reading way past my bedtime as I did my best to find out how the story ended. In fact, the midway cliffhanger was so sudden and so unexpected that it completely shocked me - despite the slow-growing tension and apprehensiveness slowly winding its way through the pages leading up to it.

The book is split into two halves, one from Claire's point of view and the other from Sef's viewpoint. This sudden change in narrator should be disorienting, but it actually works well and helps us to rewind from the fast-paced rush leading up to the cliffhanger. It's interesting, it's involving, and above all, it's engaging.

Despite this, however, two of the main themes woven throughout the discourse is the feelings of love and loss. Both of our main characters have experienced great loss in their young lives, a fact which draws the two together and sets the whole story in motion. While it's a work of fiction, it bares its truth in the underlying reality that in the real world, accidents do happen. They can happen to anyone at any time, and the reality is that these accidents can have devastating consequences for a great number of people.

Truth or Dare deals with these complex themes in remarkably sophisticated ways, only further working to cement Non Pratt's status as a master of her craft.

Rating: 4 stars

Truth or Dare is available to buy now.

* I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Interview: Anthony Hewitt

anthony-hewitt, joshua-ngon, book, blog-tour

This morning, it's my stop on the blog tour for Joshua N'Gon: Last Prince of Alkebulahn and to celebrate, I'm sitting down for a quick chat with the author, Anthony Hewitt.

Can you tell us a little about the book?
Joshua N'Gon: Last Prince of Alkebulahn came about because of my love for fantasy fiction and Young Adult literature. There was an abysmal lack of black main characters with a fresh perspective, so I created a story my younger self would have fallen over himself to read. I was lucky to have so many great writers that came before me for inspiration. Joshua is a cool character and his adventures I'm hoping will resonate positively with young and old people alike.
Joshua is African but living in London; the setting is distinctly London, but ties in with African history and heritage and the protagonists are Black and Asian. What cultural elements did you draw from yourself? 
I didn't have to look very far for cultural inspiration because London is a truly diverse city. If I look out my window at this very moment, I'm touched by the United Kingdom, East Africa, Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, India, Pakistan and West Africa. It's a great city with its own distinct history but whose past and future are intertwined in the history of the people who live here.
Did you have any concerns about creating a new African country? 
Not really. How many people get the opportunity to create a country and its unique history? The real thrill is how I can weave present history into this alternative world and making some subtle changes to the continent of Africa. It is so rich in culture and mythology but is so underutilised in literature. I'm hoping I can add my voice to what could be a proud tradition.
anthony-hewitt, joshua-ngon, book

What were the parallels with creating an alien world and technology?
Because technology is developing so quickly in the real world, I had to consider what an alien civilization who had the capability for faster than light travel and everything that represented would feel like in 1st Century AD. What kind of creatures would they be and how would their technology hold up in the modern world after crash landing a thousand years ago in Africa? There were a few techniques I used to keep it real in the subtext and also added limitations to how alien technology could be used in the world I created. I want you to feel this is all possible and that you live in the world of Joshua N'Gon.
There are some heartfelt moments in the book, in particular, the feelings for Joshua as he is confronted by racism both casual and systematically institutionalised. Was this something you were trying to do?
Yes. Although it's Sci-Fi/Fantasy, I wanted to bring home the challenges our protagonists will face regardless of who he is and the gifts he may possess. Certain sections of our society will judge you because of the colour of your skin. Harry Potter would never face that particular challenge and neither would Percy Jackson but Joshua N'Gon will and the readers need to be reminded of that. If I'm skilful enough readers will begin to walk in the same shoes as the characters.
There are many local references for readers - food, music, language - what do you hope the reader takes from these?
I'm hoping it will bring the story to life for the readers. You have to understand that creating a character like Joshua. with his age, race, background and his culture is not a familiar thing. The more I could make him 'real', so to speak, the better his chances of acceptance from readers. Allowing him to interact in a real way with the London I'm familiar with gives it a resonance you can feel when you're reading the book.
How do you see the series developing?
There is so much ground to cover in the world of Joshua N'Gon and I promise it will be a fun ride. Look for globetrotting adventures on land, underwater and in outer space. There will be the revelation of Kanu's evil plans, the secret history of alien contact on earth, how the city of Alkebulahn came about, Joshua's developing powers, his coming of age ceremony in Rumundiland, his life at St. Augustine’s, becoming the Last Prince, new friends, and new enemies. As I said, much ground to cover.
You've got some lovely imagery on the website and book covers; can you tell us about that?
The character concepts were an integral part of the writing process too. I'm very visual so I worked with artists to produce the characters and it was amazing how the artist's interpretations added new story ideas or character traits that I never thought of. On the cover, there are some major characters that may not have been explained in book 1 and only hinted at but will be fully featured as the story progresses.
Joshua N'Gon: Last Prince of Alkebulahn is available to buy now. For more about Anthony and his writing, you can visit his website.

Will you be reading the book? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 22 January 2018

3 Ways to Decorate Your Bedroom for Winter

buttons-snow-cat-winter

When the weather is cold and dull, looking outside and seeing the miserable winter landscape beyond your window can be nothing short of uninspiring. However, just because the great British winter weather is grey, it doesn't mean that winter weather the world over has to follow suit.

Instead of complaining about the weather this winter, why not try something a little different and bring the spirit of the season into your home?

Whether you are looking for some interior design inspiration or simply searching for the perfect way to update your home, your bedroom is one of the most important rooms in the house. Apart from the fact that you will spend a good chunk of your time sleeping, the bedroom is also a great place to relax and unwind after a long and tiring day. So, understandably, it makes sense that you will want your bedroom to look good, too.

If you do want inspiration, here are some unique ways to bring the spirit of winter into your bedroom - leaving the cold weather at the door!

Destination Inspiration

Winter is a different experience all over the world, from the snowy northern countries to the warmer southern regions. Instead of simply plumping for something you're used to, why not explore the world from the comfort of your bed and use a winter destination to inspire your interior design? Personally, the idea of a bedroom decorated in the style of a traditional Swiss chalet simply couldn't be more appealing when the weather is cold!

Classic or Contemporary

One main choice you need to make surrounds the style of design you want to include. While traditional design is likely to feel more homely and comforting, with plenty of wood, a warm colour palette and colourful rugs and throws, some people prefer to maintain a modern approach to design. A winter-inspired contemporary look has the ability to combine sleek, polished design with picture-perfect winter weather - a truly winning combination. Opt for glass-topped tables and plenty of mirrors to make the room seem bigger and reflect the weather outside - perfect for those lovely snowy days.

The Devil is in the Detail

If you are on a budget (and who isn't, after the extravagance of the festive season!) or are happy with the overall look of your bedroom, then changing a few small details is a great way to switch things up a little. Rather than going for a full-on bedroom makeover, consider investing in some new curtains, a few choice cushions or perhaps a cosy rug to warm your feet on those chilly winter mornings. A thicker duvet or quilt can also be a sensible seasonal addition, or perhaps some winter-themed bedding could be a nice way to pay homage to the season. Julian Charles does some lovely bedding perfect for winter - perhaps it's time to try a new colour or pattern?

No matter the details of your personal style, changing your decor according to the seasons is a great way to keep things fresh and ensure your home remains in keeping with the weather outside. Even just a few small changes can go a long way to keeping your bedroom environment interesting and engaging, so why not splash out and consider a bedroom update this winter?

* This is a collaborative post

Do you decorate your home according to the seasons? Let me know in the comments below!

Friday, 19 January 2018

Should You Treat Blogging as a Business?

blogging-journal-notebook-pen

Nowadays, blogging is more popular than ever before. From small-time occasional hobbyists to full-on entrepreneurs, there's no denying that the blogosphere becomes more saturated by the day. However, while some may see this as daunting, there is also a range of benefits to be gained.

Thanks to increasing numbers of bloggers putting their thoughts out there and trying to make their voices heard, more and more people are becoming aware of the existence of blogs, bloggers, and all that they represent. While this is great in terms of audience figures, page views and numbers of readers, it also means that people are beginning to sit up and take notice of the blogging masses.

While, once, blogging was seen purely as a form of online journaling or a useful way to communicate with close friends, family and loved ones, nowadays most blogs can be viewed by anyone, at any time, anywhere in the world. This accessibility and ease of access have been large contributing factors in the success of blogging, but they have also gone some way towards the beginnings of an acceptance of blogging as a source of income and employment.

Of course, there is no doubt that we still have a long way to go before the general public understand the ins and outs of blogging and Joe Bloggs' blog (ha - see what I did there!) is accepted as a valid career, but on the whole, things seem to be moving in the right direction.

Understandably, some bloggers still prefer to keep their blog as a casual hobby, but for others, their blog is their livelihood and their primary source of income. There are many different ways in which bloggers can choose to earn money through their blog or as a result of their blogging skills, but this is something that can vary greatly from one blogger to the next. Perhaps an entirely separate post for another time?

In the meantime, let's focus on the question you came here to read about - should blogging be treated as a business?

First things first, there's no point trying to sugarcoat it - if you want to make your blog successful as a business in its own right, this is highly likely to take a lot of work. There is also far more to running a blog than just bashing out a post when you feel like it and sharing a few links on social media. Most hardcore bloggers spend hours carefully scheduling content, planning posts and coming up with increasingly creative, innovative ways to get their blog out there - and that's without even touching on the admin or technical side of things. Put simply, if you're thinking about trying to make a go of professional blogging, you should think long and hard about your aims and objectives before you put pen to paper.

Of course, there are many ways in which you can work to make your life easier as a blogger. From useful tips, tools and guides to building up relationships with other bloggers in the online community, accepting help is a great way to maximise your chances of success. If you aren't much of a designer, browsing small business websites can provide you with some much-needed inspiration for the look of your own blog, or alternatively, there is always the option of enlisting someone with more advanced knowledge to lend a helping hand.

At the end of the day, the decision about how you want to view your personal blog is exactly that - your own personal choice. There are arguments to be had both for and against this, but ultimately, you should always aim to do what feels right for you.

* This is a sponsored post

Are you a blogger? What are your thoughts? Share them with me in the comments below!

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Book Review: Phantom Limbs by Paula Garner

How do you move on from an irreplaceable loss? In a poignant debut, a sixteen-year-old boy must learn to swim against an undercurrent of grief - or be swept away by it.

Otis and Meg were inseparable until her family abruptly moved away after the terrible accident that left Otis’s little brother dead and both of their families changed forever. Since then, it’s been three years of radio silence, during which time Otis has become the unlikely protégé of eighteen-year-old Dara - part drill sergeant, part friend - who’s hell-bent on transforming Otis into the Olympic swimmer she can no longer be.


But when Otis learns that Meg is coming back to town, he must face some difficult truths about the girl he’s never forgotten and the brother he’s never stopped grieving. As it becomes achingly clear that he and Meg are not the same people they were, Otis must decide what to hold on to and what to leave behind. Quietly affecting, this compulsively readable debut novel captures all the confusion, heartbreak, and fragile hope of three teens struggling to accept profound absences in their lives.

phantom-limbs, paula-garner, book

Gripping, exhilarating and full of twists and turns, Phantom Limbs is undeniably a stand-out debut.

Told from the perspective of Otis, a teenage boy stuck in the past and torn apart by his feelings for the people he loves, the book presents a melancholy view of a life riddled with guilt, hurt and uncontrollable teenage hormones. At times sad and sweet and at others hopeful, the overarching thread linking the narrative together is one of grief and learning to come to terms with extreme loss.

Youthful innocence and naivety are perfectly juxtaposed with sadness and teens who are old before their time, creating a gloriously rich cast of characters as complex as the lives they lead. The story just goes to show how one event can end up having such a large, long-lasting impact on multiple lives - grief is something that never goes away, it is only bottled up and hidden out of sight.

Garner is also a master when it comes to tactfully navigating tricky situations. Her characters are rich and multi-faceted, showing different sides to their personalities as they come to terms with the past, present and future throughout the story. Both physical disability and mental health are present in the story and are not shied away from - the characters react in apt, realistic ways which really does add an extra element of believability to the novel.

From a personal point of view, although I raced through this book, I know this story is one that will stick with me for many years to come. I read it towards the tail end of last year, but even if I had read it earlier, I know it would have had the same impact on me. In fact, I enjoyed Phantom Limbs so much that I actually ended up honouring it as one of my top five books of 2017 - for a book blogger, high praise indeed!

I find myself saying it a lot, but when you find a good book, you will end up reliving the story long after you've read the last word on the last page and closed the book. Good stories stick in your mind, yet the best stories stick in your heart.

Rating: 5 stars

Phantom Limbs is available to buy now. 

* I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Will you be reading the book? Share your thoughts with me in the comments below!

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Interview: Kate Birdsall

This morning I'm absolutely thrilled to be welcoming the charming Kate Birdsall to The Writing Greyhound! Kate is here to chat about her life, her writing and, of course, her latest novel The Flats, the first book in her gripping new police procedural series.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
Here’s my bio - Kate Birdsall was born in the heart of the Rust Belt and harbours a hesitant affinity for its grit. She's an existentialist who writes both short and long fiction, and she plays a variety of loud instruments. She lives in Michigan's capital city with her partner and at least one too many four-legged creatures.
How did you first become interested in writing?
In the third grade, my reading teacher identified that I loved to write. She tasked me with writing an illustrated story about my experience in elementary school, and the rest is history. Honestly, it’s always been something that I’ve done, in addition to various other creative pursuits.
the-flats, liz-boyle, kate-birdsall, book

Tell me about The Flats.
It’s the first in the Liz Boyle series of police procedurals. It opens with the death of a child, which is especially difficult for some readers but that needs to be addressed as a societal problem, and takes us through twists and turns until we found out whodunit - and why. It’s set in Cleveland, which to my mind serves as the perfect, gritty backdrop for murder mystery.
Did you have to do a lot of research during the writing process?
Oh, yeah. I’m pretty sure my search history would send a red flag to law enforcement, and I also got some pretty creepy books out of the library. I’m fortunate to have a friend who is a cop, and she helped me with some of the procedural details.
What draws you to writing mysteries?
Two things. One, they’re cerebral. There’s a kind of thrill, as a reader, in following along and trying to piece it together. Two, it’s a hopeful genre - in most cases, the social order is restored in the end, which is awfully optimistic in a chaotic world.
What’s your writing process?
It’s a mess (ha!). I start with an idea, and then I start writing. I’m much more of a cook than a baker - what I mean by that is that cooking is “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” until it tastes good, whereas baking requires a recipe. This makes revising more difficult, but I find that I have all kinds of stories in my brain that I just need to let out onto the page.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Everything about writing is hard. I’m only half-kidding. In mystery, plotting is challenging, because it has to be TIGHT. I write character-driven books, and knowing the characters is the easy part - moving them through a murder investigation is much more challenging.
kate-birdsall, author

What’s your all-time favourite book?
This is an impossible question! I read and write for a living, so it’s too hard. But if I have to narrow it down, I’ll say The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. It’s an absolute classic in speculative fiction.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I’d like to gain readers. I don’t plan on becoming rich and famous - though I certainly wouldn’t turn down fame and fortune. I really just want to know that people are reading my work and appreciating it.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Well, I’m a writing teacher, so there’s a lot of writing and reading. I’m a big, big music person, and I watch all kinds of shows on Netflix. I like spending quiet time at home, too, and exploring my neighbourhood with my dogs.
What are you currently working on?
The second Liz Boyle mystery! Stay tuned.
What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished The First Bad Man by Miranda July. I liked it a lot.
The Flats is available to buy now. For more about Kate, you can check out her website or catch her over on Twitter.

Will you be reading the book? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday, 15 January 2018

What to Consider When Buying Your First Home

house-key-home-pixabay

There's no easy way to sugarcoat it - buying a home is a tense, stressful thing to do. Although the rewards may be great, the journey is a long and arduous one, particularly for first-time buyers who are unused to the process.

Now, I am by no means an expert, but what I lack in professionalism or technical details, I can more than make up for in first-hand experience. My boyfriend and I are currently in the process of buying our first home together (exciting times!) so what better time than the present to share my thoughts, tips, tricks and hints about the journey towards becoming first-time buyers?

Here are a few things to keep in mind and consider during the initial stages of searching for your ideal home and starting the buying process.

Research

You can never do enough research! As we keep being repeatedly told, buying a house is one of the most important financial commitments we will ever make, so it's important to do things right rather than rushing into a snap decision you may end up regretting later on down the line. Check out the area you want to live in and keep checking property sites on a regular basis in order to assess any newly-listed properties which match your criteria.

Viewings

Once you've decided on a property you like, it's time to book yourself a viewing. This is the perfect opportunity to assess the look and feel of the house and really get a feel for the atmosphere of the property. While the majority of us aren't going to be property experts, make sure to check out every inch of the building, both inside and out. Look out for anything that looks dodgy or in need of repair and do your best to take note of things which could be big red flags further down the line. Signs of damp, asbestos and structural damage are the big ones to look out for. It's also best to try and look past the current inhabitant's personal belongings and imagine your own furniture and possessions filling the room - can you imagine yourself living there?

Estate Agents

While it is likely that you won't get a choice when it comes to estate agents as a buyer, it's still important to make sure that you are happy with the agent in question. While big-name services might seem like the best way forward, sometimes you can find smaller independent estate agents in your local area which could provide a better level of service - you will be spending the next few months in contact with the agent you go with (at least!) so it's important that you are happy.

Offers

Found a house that you are happy with? Then it's time to consider taking the next step and submitting a formal offer on the property. When you are ready to submit an offer, contact your estate agent who will be able to take your details and help you set up the next few steps. While it's still uncertain whether or not your offer will be accepted at this stage, it's still a big step, so it's vital to ensure that you are absolutely sure before you commit to putting an offer in.

Mortgages

Once your offer has been put in and tentatively accepted, it's time to think about how you will finance your intended purchase. There are a number of schemes out there designed to help first-time buyers get on the property ladder but to be honest, we decided not to use any and simply went our own way. While you need the amount of your deposit to be readily available, most people choose a mortgage to finance the remainder of their purchase. The world of mortgages can be an incredibly complicated and confusing one and there are seemingly endless lenders and options out there, so in the end, we opted to employ the services of a mortgage broker recommended by the estate agent in order to ensure everything was sorted in a timely, professional manner.

Solicitors

One thing we didn't realise when we started the process was that we would need to appoint a solicitor so early on. Don't fall into the same trap that we did - instead, do plenty of research, contact a number of reputable solicitors in your local area and get some quotes to help you make your decision. Remember - legal jargon can be confusing at the best of times, so make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to carefully read the small print before you sign anything!

Possessions

As first-time buyers, it's likely that you won't have much in the way of furniture to go into your new home. Instead of leaving everything to the last minute then having to panic-buy the entire contents of a house in one go, it's best to try and pick things up throughout the process. Not only will this ensure that you are better prepared, it will also spread the cost and help you budget more efficiently. Keep your eyes peeled and be on the lookout for bargains - Facebook selling groups and sites like eBay can be a great way to find some real gems at bargain prices, but there are plenty of sales in-store and online at the moment too. Lastly, don't be afraid to ask around and enquire if any of your friends or family members have any furniture or essentials they don't need. We acquired a vast amount of our furniture thanks to the generosity of people we know, so it's always worth giving it a try.

Of course, it's worth mentioning that this is by no means a comprehensive guide and, similarly, no two property purchases are the same. From a personal standpoint we still have a long way to go before we finally get to move in together, but for the time being, I hope this mini guide proves to be at least some help for those of you out there who are in the same boat as me.

First-time house buying is never going to be a walk in the park, but by making sure that you are fully prepared and well-informed, there's no reason to make things more complicated than they need to be.

* This is a sponsored post

Are you looking to buy your first home? Do you have any helpful hints or tips? Share your advice in the comments below!

Friday, 12 January 2018

Interview: Linda Ferreri

the-matter-of-the-crown, linda-ferreri, blog-tour, book

It's my stop on the blog tour for The Matter of the Crown by Linda Ferreri and I'm pleased to be sharing an interview with the author herself!

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I am both an art historian and a lawyer, an American who lives as much as possible in Italy. My novels use all of that and more of me, thoroughly. I teach art law and lecture all around the world about important monuments and their histories.
How did you first become interested in writing?
When I was a child, I entertained myself by trying to write “books” and I relished in the stories my parents told me at bedtime, particularly my father. I was fascinated, actually, with the physical book itself. Folding paper and drawing pictures on the pages. Now, I know that my father’s grandmother told lots of stories to him and his siblings. I suppose it runs in the family. I studied languages in school, lots and lots of Latin, and then became a lawyer where each word counts. One client referred to me as a “wordsmith,” and I think that did it.
Tell me about The Matter of the Crown.
The Matter of the Crown is the second of two thrillers that I have written about the Crown of the Andes now owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. (The two novels do not have to be read in order, by the way.) 
The Matter of the Crown opens with a puzzle about the whereabouts of a single woman living in a small hill town in Le Marche, Italy, the magnificent territory that inspires all of my writing these days. Quickly, however, the story turns to the comings and goings of an American woman named Claire Bliss and the Crown of the Andes. 
The book is what one reviewer described as an “erudite thriller,” a description that I think fits. The reader goes, with the characters, back into the history of this amazing object made of Andean gold and emeralds, and forward again into its fictitious travels through the plot. Its history is critical to solving the crime involved. 
I can safely say that the story is neither crude nor gratuitously violent. But it grabs the reader and won’t let go, all the way to the exciting end.
What’s the best part of writing about crime?
The characters are deep and the plot is the ultimate satisfaction for the intelligent reader. I find that the brightest people I know enjoy mysterious fiction. They need it, I think, and so do I.
Why drew you to the thriller genre?
Two things in my life, actually, drew me to writing these thrillers. First, I love reading them, the good ones. Dorothy Sayers’ books lured me in decades ago. Second, however, I think it was my own career in the art world and the real mysteries that artworks carry around with them. They can’t talk, you know.
Did you undertake much research for the book?
For this particular novel, the research was not difficult because I have spent years researching the history of art and I know the Crown of the Andes exceptionally well through my own personal adventures with it over the course of 25 years. In fact, for future books, the research is just like being back in graduate school in art history. Fun for me!
How did you get inspiration?
The true story of the Crown of the Andes itself, to say nothing of the stories in these two novels, is exciting enough to provide me with stories to tell for years to come. I was inspired by some events in real life to write the first novel, One Sacred Crown, and then to carry the characters forward into The Matter of the Crown in a plot that begged me to be written. Its theft.

As a part-time professor of art law, I talk about art crimes all the time. These days, everybody reads about them in the newspaper and loves them. They have sizzle, I am sorry to say.
What’s your writing process like?
I jump onto my computer and go. I do not outline first. I start writing and my characters go where they want my fingers to take them. But at night, I often ponder what they will do next and how. Occasionally, they surprise me. I am quite fond of them now, a few of them, and I very much enjoy the time I spend with them. 
Our time together is almost always in the first half of the day because I am freshest then and so are they.
linda-ferreri, author

What’s the hardest thing about writing?
I worry a lot about whether my work is good enough. I don’t want to produce something that is superficial. That is I want it to fully satisfy and that means fully engage the reader and cause him or her to care about the hero and fully enjoy the way the story goes. As I show rather than describe, I worry that I have left something important out that I, the author, see in my characters but that I have forgotten to show the reader.
What do you love most about writing?
I adore the characters and their exciting adventures. Do I live vicariously through them? Sometimes. Have I been there myself? Oh yes, but I can’t tell it all in public.
Which authors inspire you?
Dorothy Sayers’ writing is wonderful. But I spent years in love with Thackery’s books. And Henry James and Jane Austen, the two great psychological writers.
What are you currently working on?
The book I am writing now is one of my all-time favourites, I have to say. Two of the characters from The Matter of the Crown are back, but the story is entirely different. It too was inspired by events and characters in my own life, rather unfortunate ones, but like the two books about the Crown of the Andes, it involves a spectacular work of art and more than one crime.
What are you reading at the moment?
A Margery Allingham mystery, one in the Campion series. Classics, all of them!
What’s your all-time favourite book?
That has changed from time to time. Like many people, Pride and Prejudice was right up there for a long time. And so was Portrait of a Lady.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
I want to go right on producing novels because I enjoy doing it. But this particular book, The Matter of the Crown, absolutely belongs on the silver screen and I want to see it there. The story is so strong visually, so beautiful because of the Crown of the Andes itself and the hills of Le Marche, and so strong in characters and plot that it really must be seen. If I were a filmmaker, I would want it immediately. I think the world craves a juicy story that is not vulgar, and this is one.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
I am an avid knitter and rose gardener and quite the traveller. I must add that I draw and paint quite a lot and have published several illustrated witty little iBooks. They really are pictures with words more than the other way around. Sometimes the urge is to draw things rather than put words to the thought.
The Matter of the Crown is available to buy now. For more about Linda and her work, you can visit her website.

Will you be reading the book? Have you been following the blog tour? Let me know in the comments below!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Film Review: Jumanji Welcome to the Jungle

cinema-movie-ticket, jumanji

Before I get stuck into my review, cards on the table - I've never seen the original Jumanji film.

Of course, I knew about it; it's a classic, after all. However, as the majority of my regular readers will doubtless already know by now, my education is significantly lacking when it comes to classic movies. I have my favourites and, with very little free time (or money) available to watch films or go to the cinema, I have to pick what I want to watch very carefully.

I saw the trailer for the recent reboot, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, several times over the last few months when making trips to the movies. However, opinions seemed to be divided among people I spoke to about it. Some said it would be a poor imitation of the original - "you can't beat a classic," was mentioned several times - whereas others thought it could be a modern refresh of a classic film.

So, going into the screening with a mixed reception yet an open mind of my own, I sat back, enjoyed the show, and allowed myself the freedom to form my own opinions about the film.

Quickly becoming one of 2017's top-grossing films in the global box office, it's clear that Jumanji is more than just your average remake. Although the movie does rely extremely heavily on the talent of its lead cast members, the concept is just as unique and quirky as ever, only further added to by the up-to-date backdrop.

Speaking of the concept, if you aren't familiar with the basic story, the whole narrative of the film can be summed up as follows: four teenagers are sucked into a video game and become the on-screen avatars they chose, forced to work together and overcome their fears in order to beat the game and attempt to win their passage home. Put like that, it's an incredibly simple idea, yet it's undeniably innovative and still just as exciting as it was back when the original Jumanji movie was released.

However, it's not just the action-packed sequences and adventurous element that keep you glued to the screen. Strip away all the fluff and its core this is a coming-of-age story, where the characters must grow and develop, working alongside one another and becoming better people as we progress through the film.

Of course, there is also a liberal dose of humour, largely related to the scenario the teenagers have found themselves in. Jack Black undeniably steals the show as Bethany/Professor Shelly Oberon, somehow managing to perfectly portray all the emotions of a selfie-mad teenage girl who suddenly finds herself trapped in the body of an overweight middle-aged man.

That being said, it's no secret that this whole movie is held together by its stellar line-up. Jack Black is joined by the powerful trio of Dwayne 'the Rock' Johnson, Karen Gillan and Kevin Hart to complete the main quartet, yet Nick Jonas' Alex provides the perfect finishing touch.

Fresh, exciting and exhilarating, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is certainly no shoddy remake.

Have you seen the film? What did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Interview: John Biscello

This week, I'm sitting down for a chat with author John Biscello to learn all about his life, his writing and, of course, his latest novel Raking the Dust.

Firstly, tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I was born-bred-and-raised in Brooklyn, New York. I moved to the dusty wonderland of Taos, New Mexico in 2001, where in many respects I’ve become quite “de-cityfied,” though I’ll always remain a Brooklyn boy at heart. I’m an author, playwright, poet, performer, and I teach drama at an arts-integrated charter school.
How did you first become interested in writing?
Hard to say the exact moment, as I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved entering other worlds and realities and at some point, writing became my primary way of doing that or the way which felt very right for my soul. Or another way of saying that, there was an ease of fluency that allowed much of my soul to enter into stories and language.
raking-the-dust, john-biscello, book

Tell me about Raking the Dust.
Raking the Dust is inspired by my experiences in Taos, of various things I went through, of internal journeys I undertook which were very much brought on by the hardscrabble spiritual challenges of life in a town that will break you down and force you to confront some of your core issues. Some of my own core issues are at the heart of this book: addiction, obsession, alienation, a sense of being haunted by the past. All of those elements form the crux and backbone of the novel’s character and explore it through a mirror darkly. And also comically. Darkly funny, starkly funny, autobiographical surrealism, the spirit of carnival, the writing life: I would say all of those terms apply to RTD’s flavour.
What’s the best part of writing fiction?
Getting to explore different, hidden, overlooked realities, other pockets of existence, other selves you may possess or be possessed by that don’t always appear in the light of day, and experiencing them not necessarily as “fiction,” but as a different reality. Not less real, just different from the commonly accepted and agreed upon notion of reality.
What drew you to this tale?
It was one that built up inside me, one that I “lived through,” during my time in Taos. I always wanted or expected to write my “Taos book,” the one that flushed out my impressions, experiences, speculations, etc., rooted in the juxtaposition of being an outsider, a city-boy who randomly wound up moving to (and staying) in a place that was radically different from where and how I grew up. Also, I’ve always been drawn to tales of writers-trying-to-make-it, that heroic, almost child-like effort of trying to make one’s work and mythology a basis for existence, following one’s bliss come hell or high water kind-of-deal. In a sense, RTD is also a homage to those types of novels.
john-biscello, author

What’s your writing process like?
I have a schedule and I do my best to follow it consistently. To me, it’s a routine, a ritual, and if I stray too far from that routine/ritual, I will lose warm, vital contact with whatever it is that brings us the gift of stories and ideas.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Having patience and faith in regards to the publishing industry, or the publishing process.
What do you love most about writing?
That deep sense of felt-connection when you are snugly inside a story or poem or whatever. To be alone in that moment, and yet to have this very human and profound sense of connection, is very soul-satisfying.
Which authors inspire you?
Jane Mendelsohn, Simon Van Booy, Dr. Seuss, Henry Miller, Haruki Murakami, Ernest Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, Paul Auster, Julio Cortazar, Jean Rhys, Hermann Hesse, Sylvia Plath, Knut Hamsun. Those are some.
What are you currently working on?
A novel titled No Man’s Brooklyn, which is set in Bensonhurst, the Brooklyn neighbourhood where I grew up. And I just finished the text for a children’s book based on a story about Franz Kafka. It’s titled The Jackdaw and the Doll, and it will be illustrated by a very talented and wonderful artist, Cris Qualiana.
What’s your all-time favourite book?
Wow, just one, that’s tough. Okay, I’m going to cheat and give you three: Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, Keri Hulme’s The Bone People, and Knut Hamsun’s Mysteries.
What are your interests outside of writing and reading?
Movies, dancing, sports, hiking, daydreaming, meditation, yoga, travel, kissing, and love.
Raking the Dust is available to buy now. For more information about John and his work, you can pay a visit to his website.

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