Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Gone for "Gone for a Soldier"!

Gone for a Soldier


The Extraordinary Lucy!

A superb historical novel which embodies the courageous spirit of fictional protagonist Lucy Tessier. Set in the first half of the American Civil War, the blurb tells us: "Gone for a Soldier is the story of a real Civil War regiment and a fictional girl." A fictional young woman who, I think, represents many real life sisters-in-arms.

Kathy Garlock has inextricably intertwined the factual historical details of the First Minnesota Regiment with a few fictional characters and events. She has thereby managed to bring history so to life that it practically jumps off the pages. Her research seems to me to have been thorough and accurate. Her characters are painfully real. The incidents which seemed to me most likely to have been fictional turn out to be real, while those I accepted as most unremarkable in the context are Garlock's invention!

Lucy Tessier is a magnificent character who made me want to weep, laugh, and dance for joy. The story opens with Lucy, left alone and unprotected in the world, being sexually assaulted. She fights back with a knife and wins. Lucy resolves to take responsibility for herself, and to become her own protector. Fearful that she will suffer the fate of Ann Bilansky (a real historical character) and be hanged for murder, she decides to hide in plain sight by disguising herself as a man and joining the army. Lucy marches, works, fights and serves alongside the men of the First Minnesota Regiment, at Bull Run and elsewhere. Increasingly, she is called to assist with nursing the sick and the wounded.

Life in the Regiment is vividly experienced as it was at the time. The battle and action scenes are enthralling and convincing. The pace of the story is good throughout. Some modern readers might wish for a slightly faster pace in the first half of the story, but I felt that it was perfect for the literate historical novel it is.
Through her career as a soldier Lucy does find love, although the journey of her heart is as tangled as it is for most of us. Lucy's love story is a significant part of the book, but not to the extent of overpowering the historicity and the exceptional balance of the story. The romance is extremely well done, never sentimental but very moving all the same.

The writing is literate, easy to read and enjoy; in fact this is one of the very best-written books I have read in the last year. Editing and presentation is of the same professional standard as that of a commercial publisher.
The concluding material first gives closure to the story and then explains exactly what was historical and what was fiction, and crowns this outstanding work as a queen of historical novels.

I don't think I can recommend this highly enough, to anyone. It was absolutely wonderful!

Fallen Star

Midnight Star

by Danielle Ward


A great potential premise and a very good story which suffered, for my taste, from being badly overwritten in places. It's still a good story, with the modern world and classic Greek mythology being nicely interwoven with romantic fantasy.

Vegas is a stunning blonde who has a couple of gloriously stunning lovers and is surrounded by a cast of beautiful people, and a few stinking enemies. The book divides fairly well into two halves, the first half set in our world, more or less, and the second in the world of the immortals. Vega has to recover her memory and find all her courage to save the one she loves. The clever twists in the last quarter lifted this book from the genre cliché it would have been.

The writing was good but, perhaps because this is too far out of my usual reading, I struggled with the effusive descriptions of Vega's passion for her men. There were also a few too many editing flaws, mostly incorrect word choices. The language was also too colloquially American for me. However, the pace was good throughout, moving to fast towards the end, and Ward manages to maintain (to lengths that I felt were unnecessary) the tension in how this will all work out. I thought the end was pretty smart.

If you are a big fantasy romance fan, you'll probably love this.

What I'm Reading Now:

Gone for a Soldier

by Kathleen Kelly Garlock

I've read two-thirds of it at this point and the story is gripping, convincing, engaging and extremely well-written. This book is excellent!

Extract from the book blurb:
Over four hundred women disguised themselves as men and fought on both sides of the American Civil War. Some fought for love, some for money and others out of patriotic fervor. Lucy Tessier just wants to escape the hangman's noose.
Historical fiction with a bit of romance--Gone for a Soldier is the story of a real Civil War regiment and a fictional girl.

If you're having trouble getting hold of it, contact the author. 

Added to my  to-read list:

Well, really it was already on there, but coming up soon: 

The Pygmy Dragon 

by Marc Secchia

Saturday, 28 February 2015

'Ocean-eyes' Enchants!

Read an Ebook Week 2015

Review: The Girl who Sang with Whales

by Marc Secchia

Genre: Fantasy


The lyrical first volume in the new and quite original Islesong fantasy series, The Girl who Sang with Whales is beautifully written and follows the life-current of a young girl with a unique gift.

'Zhisu' for short, Zhialeiana-Susurrus lives alone with her mother on the last tiny island of the last small atoll, on the edge of the great Deep of the World Ocean. Dangers abound, and Zhisu is challenged by them to dive deep for the last of her courage. Sea-dragons are the very least of her worries,

Zhisu's adventures are not limited to overcoming dangers, hardship or abuse. There is a mystery about her origins which lies at the core of her story, and some call her 'Ocean-eyes', or mock her web-foot. Why is she different, and who was her father?
An enthralling journey begins, and Zhisu must navigate shoals and reefs, deeps and mountains, to find her way. Enemies plot against her, and friends equivocate. The loneliness of her heart is highlighted by contrast to the happiness, and unrequited love, of others.

I have to warn you: you may not want to read this book. It's the first part of the series, and the next is not out yet. You may die of longing to know what happens when the last wave breaks, that has swept Zhisu up in its violent surge, before you find out in the sequel. On the other hand, perhaps you should read it. You will not forget it, which will ensure that you won't miss the next part!

Smashwords: Read an E-Book Week 1 - 7 March
Suitable for fantasy fans of all ages, best for YA and young-at-heart adults, I love, love, love this book. Marc, please, PLEASE tell us when the next one's coming out, I can't wait! (There's a comment space right below this post, okay?)


Order from Amazon

Now out on pre-order is an original new Fantasy novella by E. A. Walker called Red and the Wolf. It's a dark, somewhat creepy retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. 

The release date is April 6, but take advantage of the special Read an E-book Week promotion on Smashwords, running from the 1st to the 7th of March!

Smashwords: Read an E-Book Week 1 - 7 March

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Glorious Feynard!

Review: Feynard

by Marc Secchia

Genre: Fantasy (Grand Fantasy, in all senses!)


Feynard is an uninhibited, fully realised grand fantasy and engages the reader in a wonderful, complex story. The land of Driadorn is under threat from a mysterious blight, and a saviour must be found.

Kevin Jenkins is the quintessential unlikely hero - weak, sickly, abused and hopeless. He spends his life in his room, or in the library of Pitterdown Manor with the books he loves, when he's not recuperating from being the family whipping boy. Sometimes he has strange dreams, and increasingly he dreams of a barefoot girl dressed in leaves. Then there's Great-grandmother Victoria's distinctly strange legacy...

Kevin finds himself in the world of Feynard, an invalid in the care of a honeybear (a healer named Zinfandir), a unicorn and a dryad, who seem to believe that he's some kind of warrior (ha ha). Feynard is in trouble, and someone needs to save the world. Kevin's focus is on wondering how long it will be before he dies of asthma without his pump.

The unicorn is Zephyr, intelligent, amusingly arrogant, and kind. The disturbingly attractive dryad is Alliathiune - whom Kevin irreverently calls "Thooney" when he gets drunk. Alliathiune seems to have the kind and gentle nature of a bramble bush, at least on first acquaintance. Then again, brambleberries are delicious! Among other notable character creatures is the large and endearing swamp Lurk from Mistral Bog nicknamed 'Snatcher'.

The world of Feynard is a wonderfully rich and original creation, which I felt was fully realised. There is a great diversity of lands and creatures, and of the kinds of magic that are used. Flora and fauna of Driadorn and elsewhere are referred to and described, casually or in detail, in a way that comes across as completely natural and as if of a world one has really visited. I find it hard to get across just how well developed every creature is. The dryads in particular, and the unicorns, are revealed in every facet of who and what they are: biology, society, magical abilities, lifestyle and character.

The monsters are scary and their characters are almost as fully developed as those creatures of the 'good' side, with complex motives and their own plans and tactics. The good allies are also not simplistically depicted, and co-operation must sometimes be obtained in spite of divergent motives and priorities.

 The story offers grand fantasy adventure, daunting challenges and a complicated romance - very complicated, because humans and dryads, while related, are not the same species! This is an important part of the amazing - excuse me! - climax to the whole wonderfully complex tale.

Criticisms are hard to point out and frankly I don't really want to criticise this book because I loved it so much! However, I did notice that some character responses, rarely, are a little implausible. Snatcher's heartache, for example, is too readily healed. 
The writing, as always with Marc Secchia, flows well and is easy to read; however, in this book he uses a somewhat larger and more old-fashioned vocabulary than in his more recent books. I prefer this style which I feel is appropriate to the fantasy setting, and the editing seems flawless. 
The pace of the book is very good, although some may feel that the early parts drag a little, especially where Kevin is whining and feeling sorry for himself. Personally, I was very happy with the pace throughout, and hoped for a slightly slower ending - but perhaps that was because I was running out of book, and just didn't want it to end at all!

I have not read such a good fantasy book since Tolkien. Were I to compare this to something, it would be to Terry Pratchett's original Landover book: Magic Kingdom for Sale/Sold!, except that this is far bigger, better and more satisfying. I cannot understand why Feynard is not much more widely known except that, of course, it's Indie.

This is for anyone who loves fantasy - or even just likes it in a lukewarm sort of way. Get Feynard. Read Feynard. Love Feynard. Tell the world!

My thanks to Marc, who provided me with a free review copy for an honest and objective review.

Review: Romance in Four Seasons

by M. D. Gardner

Genre: Romance, Short Stories


Delight in Four Seasons

A delightful collection of four romantic cameos: the reader is surprised by Gardner's originality, delighted with the wit, wooed by the charm of each story and, most essentially, moved emotionally. In at least one case the being charmed by the story is wickedly deceptive; in another it's pleasurably satisfying.

The stories in order are: Bus Stop, The Big Four-O, Checkout and Ideal Match. I don't have a favourite, they're all good - but I must confess I needed a tissue at the end. Just one; I'm a man.

Gardner writes in a clean and subtle style; one is easily deceived into thinking the writing simple. Only when you consider the impact the author has had on the reader do you begin to realise how carefully the words have been put together. The editing is absolutely professional, although I feel that the quality of the current cover image is well below what the collection deserves.

If you enjoy romance, or good short stories, and especially if you'd like something other than the usual formulaic output of the big romance publishers, grab this one!

Currently Reading:

The Girl Who Sang with Whales

by Marc Secchia

Monday, 16 February 2015

The Librarian Gladiator: Tournament of Hearts

Review of Tournament of Hearts

by Dustin Bilyk

Genre: Fantasy


Extraordinary, Bold, and Riveting. Those are the adjectives that come to my mind when I want to describe Tournament of Hearts, the first novel in the brand new Librarian Gladiator series. This is powerful stuff!

The story offers an immersive YA and adult fantasy in which the most striking feature is the rampaging power of the imagination of the author. The story holds the reader's attention and moves at a rapid pace through a complex series of events. The writing is a little on the raw side but there is great talent here.

Hamelin is a mediaeval-style village isolated by a mountain wall (and more) from its world. There is a particular structure to the layout and administration of the village, and the reasons for this become clear in the course of the story. The unfolding of the background to Hamelin's situation is one of the strong points of this book.

Neven Fairchild is the librarian of the title, an unwilling gladiator in the life-and-death Tournament of Hearts. While a prospective reader might wonder about a comparison to the Hunger Games, I would advise them not to. Bilyk's world is fantasy all the way, and too clearly an original vision. Characters tend to be just a little larger than life, in the nature of a fantasy, and are extremely well depicted in a concise and effective style. Bilyk devotes equal attention to all his characters, both good and evil. Neven, Talpus (a real he-man), Delgado (a player of the angles) and Reoni (a fiery young woman and an enemy) are leading human characters, but the large cast includes creatures vaguely reminiscent of harpies, called the Jagisado, together with other strange humans and some of the most horrible monsters I have yet come across.

Neven's name has been drawn in the Tournament, and at the same time he begins to discover his own abilities, origins and purpose. He frantically searches for answers within the framework of the stresses placed upon him while time ticks away. If Neven loses in the contest, which many people confidently expect, not only will he die but his father as his only present relative will be killed along with him. On top of that, the life's work of their entire bloodline will be lost. The stakes could hardly be higher, could they?

The writing style is good and flows well, but is badly flawed by the poor editing. If this is to be an honest review, I have to say that - but I must add that this will not keep me from reading Dustin Bilyk again. He creates a fantasy that is just too good to stay away from! Perhaps I should mention that there is also a fair amount of foul language, although I did not feel that it was gratuitous. Bilyk's world is richly detailed, vividly presented and demands you return for more. The story is excellent and had me flicking pages as fast as I could go, all the way through.

If you are extremely sensitive to editing flaws I would suggest waiting for the paperback which I predict will be forthcoming before too long. Writers with this amount of talent are generally picked up by mainstream publishers at some point, and the editing gets done. I should add that Dustin Bilyk has promised to release a cleaned up version, so I'm not just guessing in the dark!

All other fantasy fans, get yourself a copy and dive in. I recommend this very, very highly. Five stars, less one for the editing.

Currently Reading


I'm just about finished, and - WOW! I'm feeling extremely spoiled to have enjoyed two amazing fantasy books one after the other. Review coming just real soon now!

Added to my To Read list:

Romance in Four Seasons
by M. D. Gardner

Friday, 6 February 2015

Broken People

Review of Broken People

by Ioana Visan

Genre: SF / Thriller 


A Fantastic Kaleidoscope

A strangely fascinating work, nominally SF, Ioana Visan's Broken People is hard to categorise. A complex cast of characters revolve in suspense about the Nightingale Circus's visit to Bratislava, and the plot tends toward that of a thriller - but really, this is all about the broken people.

Because of the circus setting and the oddly deformed people, I found it strange enough to be a little challenging to get into the book, but by the end of the second chapter I was hooked. Not so much by the story, but by these same weird characters. Visan enabled me to engage with not only the protagonist (incidentally one of the less engaging characters) but with nearly all of the vividly drawn individuals within these pages.
Every character has her or his strengths and weaknesses, many artifically augmented or damaged, and each one has found ways to live life fully. This book is something of a prose poem celebrating the variety of being human across a fractured view of abilities and handicaps.

For me, the most disappointing element was the climax in which the protagonist's motives (or rather, his directors' aims) are revealed. I felt that this was very weak - and seemed worse because of the great strengths of the book in all the other areas. But this is a personal feeling, and other readers may not agree.
The action scenes and the denouement of the story as a whole are, on the other hand, wonderfully done.

The plot and pace were very good, and the romance was really beautifully done, with great subtlety and insight.

On the whole I was very impressed and strongly recommend this book to anyone who likes the description.

I received a free copy of the Kindle edition of this book for the purpose of providing an honest and objective review.

Currently Reading:

by Marc Secchia

About 25% and enjoying it...

Saturday, 24 January 2015

The Enchanted Castle

Review: TheEnchanted Castle (Shioni of Sheba #1)

Genre: YA / Fantasy / Adventure

Wonderful exotic adventure!

The Enchanted Castle is a cracking adventure for teens or young adults of any age in the exotic location of a fictional historical Ethiopia. Marc Secchia has created an outstanding heroine for this story and the series: Shioni is a young slave girl of foreign origin, a maidservant and bodyguard to Princess Annakiya.

West Sheba is a small kingdom within the land known as Abyssinia, and the historical period appears to be about the eighteenth century, perhaps earlier. The king orders a large expedition to reclaim the mountain fortress of Castle Asmat. Hostile mountain tribesmen represent a known danger, but witchcraft increasingly presents an insidious threat, the more so as so few are willing to believe in it.

Shioni is on the best of terms with her mistress the Princess, not to mention the delightful cook and house mother, Mama Nomuula, but the Prince, one of his captains and even the king's General seem to have it in for Shioni, perhaps simply because she is different. While everyone is dark skinned and has black hair, Shioni alone is pale and blonde. She looks like a witch, or a ghost, and when she begins to discover that she can hear things that others can't, that only adds to her troubles.

That this is a young adult book is reflected in the recklessly adventurous nature of Shioni, and also the Princess, and in the breath-holding way they manage to overcome dangers that one might have expected to overpower them. This is also the case in the way the actors are portrayed as 'bad' or 'good' – but let me make clear that this does not mean that the characters are flat. There is a good deal of depth to most of the characters, enough to satisfy many adult readers. Furthermore there is visible growth and development in key players, as events bring them to revise their assumptions and understanding of the world, and of one another.

The plot and pace are first-rate, and the writing is of a professional standard and easy to like. This is the first in a four-book series, but it can be read comfortably as a stand alone story. After reading this one I want to go out right away and get the next, and the next!

What I'm Reading Now:

by Ioana Visan 

by Marc Secchia

Added to my To Read list:

Well, there's The King's Horse, The Mad Giant and The Sacred Lake (the rest of the Shioni of Sheba series, of course!), and then one I've been wanting to read for a while now, 
The Girl who Sang with Whales, and in the Dragon Shapeshifter series (after Aranya, which I read last year), #2, Shadow Dragon, and The Pygmy Dragon.

Love this cover!

That should keep me out of mischief for now!

Tuesday, 20 January 2015


Review: Awoken

by Sarah Noffke

Genre: Fantasy / SF / Magic realism


Gripping magic realism with a great heroine!

Nice cover or no nice cover, I would never have picked this book to read - but I'm participating in a review rotation programme (as distinct from review exchanges) and I wound up with a free review copy of Awoken on my to read list.

I didn't particularly expect to enjoy it. I mean, really? A fantasy all about people who are dreaming, hallucinating, or can't sleep?


Well, how wrong can one be? At the opening paragraph I raised an eyebrow and said to myself, hey, this Sarah Noffke writes at a level above the average! Three hundred something pages later, within the day, I put the book down and drew breath.

So this story is billed as fantasy (or SF), and I would suggest it also has something of the feel of magic realism in the way it wanders in and out of our contemporary world. In Awoken, dreamland is a warscape. There is violence, death, and the wounded lie scattered on the ground. The enemy is in deadly earnest, and so must Roya Stark be - however little she wants to be involved.

Roya is a great leading lady, a fully realised engaging human character with heroic potential. Characterization generally is one of the many strengths of the book. There is a broad range of tensions and relationships between characters, and variation in the extent to which these are resolved in this book. I don't remember when last I encountered romantic connections in a novel and could not tell who would win the heroine's affection in the end. There are some wonderful and unexpected twists in the tale, and in the relationships, particularly those which Roya has with her fellow contenders and the Institute staff members.

The story is excellent and has depth and complexity, and while Noffke does not explain everything she has built her world with care and attention, enticing the reader into complete acceptance of what is actually a quite surreal environment. The action scenes are sharp and fast-moving, and Noffke has done a brilliant job of visualizing dream-combat. 

Partly because there are many doors within it that remain unopened and unknown, the Institute is an intriguing creation. The pace is very good, varying in accordance with focus, but never allowed to lag, and the suspense is sustained until right near the end.

Sarah Noffke writes in a deceptively simple, easy to read style, but she is good - really good. Reviewer Will Marck said, "there is an ‘x factor’ with some writers, where their writing is just likeable", and this is true of Noffke. Not only is her writing style enjoyable, but it has been crafted and polished to a keen effectiveness. There were, towards the end, one or two (literally, one or two) flaws in final edit, but the book's editing is at the same professional standard as that of a mainstream publisher.

In conclusion, I loved this, and I would recommend this book highly to any reader.

What I'm Reading Now:  
The Enchanted Castle
by Marc Secchia

Added to my To Read list:

Broken People
by Ioana Visan

Child of Brii, and Josh Anvil #1

Review: Child of Brii

by Amanda J. McGee

Genre: Romance / Fantasy

This is a very good story and well told. Although the packaging led me to expect a fantasy tale, it is really a romance which is well wrapped in its fantasy setting.
Child of Brii is Amanda J. McGee's first novel, and while that does show, just a little, she nevertheless achieves a commendable result.

The Endohin are a very good concept, but the world-building seems a little unfinished. I liked the idea, and I enjoyed McGee's presentation, but it didn't seem to gel quite as perfectly as it might have. However, the ways in which their varied powers worked, and the limitations on them, were very well done.

Amaya is a good central character, strong and engaging and not too perfect, and I thought that Yukio's character and transformation was very well executed. For a main character Ryuu was rather flat, but Rin and the other human characters, along with Kostya and his raven Marta are excellent.

The story is great, but subject to some convenient coincidences. This is a problem endemic to romance as a genre, so I'm not faulting McGee for that. Not to introduce a spoiler, for me the conclusion was satisfactory, but just slightly anticlimactic. The pacing is excellent, quite consistent throughout with just the right acceleration at the right time. There are a couple of sex scenes, but nothing that would require an 'adult' rating.

While the book could use a final polish or professional edit, it is presented to a good standard.

I can recommend this book to readers who like romance with a twist of difference, and to fantasy fans who enjoy a love story.

Review: Josh Anvil and the Cypress Door

by Bruce E. Arrington

Genre: Fantasy (middle grades)

Very much an unfettered middle grades fantasy framed in a soft SF context, in Josh Anvil and the Cypress Door young teen imagination runs wild. Bruce Arrington does an impressive job of writing from and for the perspective of a fourteen year-old Josh Anvil.

The story is set in Louisiana and revolves around the central character, his family, friends and enemies. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that through strange circumstances Josh acquires a set of unusual powers. The book explores those powers, and the mysterious fires which are being set in the Baton Rouge area. While the main story follows the discovery and development of Josh's powers, there is a parallel story in unravelling the mystery of the fires, as well as a little romance and some consideration of values. The challenges which Josh faces increase in difficulty and complexity in the course of the book.

I loved Arrington's presentation of the impact of dyslexia: tne coupifion wakes life bifficnlt for Josn! The writing style is entirely appropriate and very easy to read. The story does require substantial suspension of disbelief, particularly from an adult reader, because of the somewhat unrealistically accepting responses of the adults in the story - but this is because it is a book for younger teens, and I believe that the same factor will make it even more enjoyable for this target readership. There are some - very rare - editing flaws, but the book is presented to a professional standard. Readers should note that this story is clearly the first in a series and ends on a cliffhanger. The book can still be enjoyed on its own, as Arrington ties up enough of the ends of this first story to satisfy most readers.

This is beautifully executed teen escapism which will engage young people, and I would strongly recommend it for readers aged 12-16 or thereabouts.

What I'm reading now:

by Sarah Noffke

(and I'm loving it!)

Added to my To-Read List:

A Marc Secchia spree!
In no particular order,
The Pygmy Dragon
The Girl who Sang with Whales
The Enchanted Castle

I read his Aranya, the first of the Dragon Shapeshifter books, which was fantastic, so I'm really looking forward to these!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Ataxia and the Ravine of Lost Dreams Review and Author Interview

Review: Ataxia and the Ravine of Lost Dreams

by Rachel Barnard

Genre: Science Fiction


Ataxia is a fascinating SF young adult adventure set in a rather dark future America, or the 'New American Nations', which comprises more of our present world than the USA does today. Rachel Barnard has created an original vision which has depth and drama.

In Ataxia and the Ravine of Lost Dreams, a group of young people are being trained and tested at 'the Academy'. They believe that their performance will be critical to their future in their somewhat 1984-ish country. The outstanding achievers hope to win influential positions in government. Ataxia is a dissident and revolutionary organization which is against the reigning establishment.

The heroine of the story is a girl who has been inserted into the Academy by Ataxia under the assumed identity of 'MC'. Her aim is to become a top competitor at the Academy so that she can get a position that will allow her to work at bringing down the establishment from within. However, the story is set almost entirely within MC's career at the Academy. MC and other characters are startlingly willing to engage in physical violence against fellow students. I put this down to the society they live in.

MC must struggle in her relationships with other students (and competitors), even while she tries to work out which side her friends and enemies are really on. She is a very well depicted young adult, with a strong character but from time to time showing the self-doubt and changeable nature of her youth. At the same time there is the dominating presence of the Cube and the weekly contests which are held within its mysterious bounds, within which MC must perform to the limit of her not inconsiderable ability.

The Cube is the crown jewel of this book. Brilliantly imagined, with a unique combat system and technology, it offers limitless variety, wonder, and the drama of face to face confrontation with enemies and friends. The Cube is one of the prime tools of the Academy in assessing the students - but it also holds a secret. If you were wondering about the cover of the book, I believe it shows MC dodging a fireball in the Cube.

This brings me to Rachel Barnard's signature writing style. Barnard does not explain everything to her readers, and does not tie up all the loose ends. Her style is distinctively personal but easy to read and quite accessible. However, she does expect her readers to use their own imagination and intelligence to fill in the gaps she has, I believe intentionally, left in her world. Some readers will not like this, although I don't personally have a problem with it. I think that the author's intention is to push the reader to engage personally with the ethical and conceptual issues she is addressing through her work.

This book is brilliantly original and has a very well executed concept. I loved the way relationships changed, and failed, and the way people misunderstood each other; it made everyone more real to me. Cube combat, the changing world within it, and the different approaches to its tests, were constantly fascinating. The story is gripping, the pace is lively, and I really enjoyed it. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys original SF.


Rachel Barnard is a talented Indie author who has published one book of poetry, two novels and is working on another novel.

Q: Hi, Rachel, and welcome to my blog. Thank you for being willing to do an interview!

RB: You're welcome - and it helped that I already knew that you liked my work!

Q: I think you're an unusual writer with a unique personal style. Why do you think that is, or what has made you the writer that you are?

RB: I'm different, just like everybody else… I've been influenced by a different combination of people and events in my life. My dad has a unique sense of humor that I grew up around. I loved science fiction and strong female characters in fiction growing up. Books in those styles heavily influenced how I viewed books and subsequently how I write them. Some authors don't have a unique personal style because they haven't found it yet, but I had mine from the start.

Q: I hope you don't mind me being provocative. May I suggest that, because your style is different, you may be alienating some readers?

RB: There are so many different kinds of books and so many different kinds of readers, so of course some readers will not like some books, but David McCullough pointed out that, "…even if you're one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you." My style may be different and unique, but I have 7000 people just like me that will love my books and my writing style.

Q: I admire your position. I think many young writers need this kind of self-possession, or is it self-confidence? Still, you've had one or two vicious reviews.  How do you respond publicly to malicious criticism? How do you feel privately?

RB: I grew up rather sheltered and couldn't comprehend that people could be malicious in real life. I always thought the bad guys were bad guys on TV and in books. The fact is that the world is full of mean spiteful people, I just happened to meet more than one in the form of reviewers for my books. Any review that is less than positive affects an author. My very first review from someone I didn't know was one of these and it struck me down because all my feedback had come from friends and loved ones before. I started to doubt the validity of their opinions and my abilities as a writer. Reviews that attack the author, and in regards to the ones I've received, just go to show the ignorance, attention seeking, put down attitudes of the person. You'll notice that the harshest reviews don't come with a face, but only an internet anonymous identity. It's very easy to be vicious on the internet and I try not to respond publicly at all to malicious criticism.

Q: That's good advice for any author!
I have read a little of your poetry - which I love, by the way! Would you mind telling us why you like to use Spanglish?

RB: I love words and I love to expand my vocabulary in English and Spanish and other languages. I like to twist two languages together to make something to capture the essence of both.

Q: You've impressed me with your feel for words and language, especially in your poetry. 

Q: However, I really want to talk about Ataxia - after all, that's what this post is about! Where in the world - or out of it! - did you get the ideas contained in Ataxia and the Ravine of Lost Dreams?

RB: At the height of the dystopian craze, I woke up one morning with a vivid dream of the Cube (the training ground at the Academy in Ataxia) and went from there. I was influenced by my childhood love of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card and my growth as a young adult In knowing that the world was not centered around me and that I was not invincible (MC's beliefs in Ataxia). These are two common beliefs in teens and I was starting to see my own self-centered and invincible ideas crumble away as I stepped into adult responsibilities. I explore this concept in MC's narrative.

Q: Let me push you some more. Based on several reader reviews, don't you think that in Ataxia you've left too much unexplained, and too many loose ends?

RB: Readers today like to be given the whole story without having to make those leaps of imagination and for that I think I may have left too many loose ends, but not for the sake of Ataxia itself. One of the many reasons I self-published Ataxia was that it didn't meet the model of traditionally published books in the YA category. The original edition was over the average word count for a young adult book and it featured a theme that was running dry (girl vs. corrupt society). It is also geared toward a more imaginative and fill-in-the-blanks thinker.

Q: One of my most admired authors is C J Cherryh, who, if to a lesser extent than you do, also doesn't explain everything to her readers. She comes closest in, for example, her fantasy novel The Goblin Mirror, which is about as enigmatic as Ataxia. So I agree with you that many readers have gotten too used to being spoon-fed everything.

Q: Who or what was the biggest help to you in completing and publishing Ataxia?

RB: May I share a personal story of my journey publishing Ataxia?

Q: Sure!

RB: I have always been a writer and have always loved writing. I have many ideas buzzing around in my head all the time, but it wasn't until I was prompted by someone to write out the story of Ataxia that I began writing fiction in earnest. Before Ataxia I wrote poetry and flash fiction. I was encouraged to write Ataxia and the man that encouraged me also promised to sell my book and do the marketing/promotion. He was not an honest person and over time he got more and more malicious. By the time I had finished writing the novel and editing as I went along, he had published it under his name without my permission. Because of that I was spurred to finish my final editing and create a cover and get my book published under my name as soon as possible, while at the same time calling out Amazon to take down the copyright-infringing version under his name. This is the story I have not publicly told the world, but influenced my timeline for publishing Ataxia.

Q: I appreciate your candor. Fellow writers and new authors reading this, take heed!

Q: I think Ataxia would make a wonderful movie! Any ambitions, or prospects in that direction?

RB: I envision Ataxia in my mind (as I wrote it and as I read it) as a movie, but I've finished with Ataxia and I'm moving on to new books. I already have an idea for a movie script that I think would be stellar (a science fantasy similar to Timer and Frequencies) that I would rather devote my time to than translate Ataxia into a screenplay. Also, a lot of Ataxia is internalized thoughts that wouldn't translate well into a movie.

Q: Where do you write, and if it is at a desk, what does your desk look like?

RB: I wrote my entire NaNoWriMo novel on my Microsoft Surface tablet and do quite a bit of writing and reading on that device, but for anything that requires a mouse and heavy copy-pasting I use my dual screens at work.

Q: How disciplined are you as a writer in terms of writing hours per day, words per day or per week or whatever? What keeps you going?

RB: The two writers that I currently admire the most, Hugh Howey and Ksenia Anske, have very disciplined writing habits. I admire this commitment, but I don't write full time. I have a full time job and other hobbies and activities I enjoy. I write in between these activities and usually reserve 30 minutes before work to write and to blog. I made a habit of getting up earlier for NaNoWriMo and have stuck with the habit as I do my best writing in the morning when my thoughts are fresh. My goals are what motivate me to keep going and I'm happiest when I'm accomplishing something. I have daily lists and weekly lists and schedules for my author goals that keep me on track to meet my self-imposed deadlines.

Q: You're an Indie, so this is an important question. How do you define success as a writer?

RB: Most of my success is defined by my own internal goals as a person. I'm a listaholic and I've created goals for myself since I was young(er). As an Indie author my highest goals are to be traditionally published. Sounds like an oxymoron, but for me to be validated as a writer would be to either make a bundle of money with my books or to be traditionally published and I think that making a significant amount of money selling books is a lot more difficult than having one of my manuscripts taken up by a publisher.

Q: What can you tell us about your involvement in the Indie writing community?

RB: I'm involved in a local writer's group called FreeValley Publishing. We're a community of 8 local writers here in the North Bend/Snoqualmie/Maple Valley area that supports writing and writers. I also support any local Indie authors that I can find in the Greater Seattle area. I read Indie books and write reviews on my website ( and in 2015 will link up with Indie author supporter Jo Michaels for my reviews. I'm heavily involved with Goodreads and Indie groups on that website. If you're an Indie author and I like your books, I will be your biggest fan. I may be a writer, but at heart I'm a die-hard reader.

Q: Jo Michaels is doing great work; I also signed up for the 2015 review team! (Aside - Hi Jo!)

Q: Who or what successfully distracts you from writing?

RB: Everything distracts me from writing! I'm not an author who writes every day, but I'm always working on something towards my author goals (reading Indie books, updating my website, blogging, talking with others on Goodreads and facebook, etc.).

Q: If I wanted to become a writer and I was thinking about following in your footsteps, what advice would you choose to give me?

RB: Research! Know what you're getting into before you hit publish. Know what it takes to edit and format your manuscript. Make sure someone other than yourself reads your manuscript before its published. 

Q: And, I would want to add, someone who isn't too close to you personally.

Q: What are you working on now, and when might it be available?

RB: I'm in the editing process of the novel I wrote during the National Novel Writing Month in November of 2014. It's a young adult novel currently titled "Donuts in an Empty Field." It's about two best friends who work through issues of life, death, and the local food challenge. It will be available in 2015 if I self-publish.

Q: Well, I for one will certainly be looking out for it!  Thank you for your time, and I hope you achieve all your goals in writing!

RB: Thank you, and all the best to you too.

Rachel Barnard's bibliography to date:

Wandering Imagination (Poetry anthology, January 2013)
Ataxia and the Ravine of Lost Dreams (SF novel, March 2014)
At One's Beast (Fantasy novel, July 2014)
Free Flowing Stories (Contributor, Asst. Editor, November 2014)

What I'm reading now:

Josh Anvil and the Cypress Door
by Bruce Arrington

I'm about halfway through this amazing middle grades fantasy!



Added to my To-Read List:

Child of Brii
by Amanda J. McGee