Book Review: Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not

Forget Me Not by Isabel Wolff

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I chose this book to read for two reasons: 1) I had three days of train travel left for the year and wanted to be sure to finish whichever book I started (because I knew I wouldn’t do any reading over the holidays), and, 2) I wanted to read something light and fun. Before I go any further, I will admit that I’m not a big chic fic fan.

Having made that admission, I honestly did enjoy Forget Me Not. It was a bit predictable, but it did speak to the heart regarding relationships and the decisions we make in life and I liked that. The story was well written and easy to read. The characters were complex and likeable. And, of course, there was the required “everyone lived happily ever after” ending, which was perfect for this time of year.

Chic fic doesn’t have the fast pace and loads of action to fall back on, so the story relies on characters that can be related to. I guessed the outcome for many of the characters early on, but I didn’t mind reading on because of the natural flow of the words. I do remember thinking how difficult such a book must be to write, because of the lack of fast paced action, yet the author did extremely well.

My complaint about this book was the in-depth descriptions about gardening, about how certain flowers can reflect a person’s personality and about seeing a “space” through a landscaper’s eye. I found that side of the book boring, to be honest. I skipped over some of the long paragraphs that went on a bit too long for my liking.

However, taking that small thing out of the equation, I enjoyed the experience and would recommend the book to anyone wanting a peaceful, easy read that makes you feel good when you put the book down. Sometimes we all need that feeling.

Now for a second admission, as a reader I don’t particularly want to read chic fic but as a person I love the concept of the “feel good” novel (or movie). I believe that my early writings ran parallel to this type of story – you know, boy meets girl, they fall in love but won’t admit it, there’s a huge complication, things look bad for a while, but then they overcome the complication and a romantic “I love you” scene ends the story.

I’m a romantic at heart. I’m also old-fashioned in a lot of ways. I believe men should treat their women as precious gems. They should open doors for them, give them their jacket when it’s cold, watch their language around them and protect them with their very life if they must. Of course, those precious gems are women who deserve protection of that kind. But life isn’t like that. People are changing as the decades roll on, and I don’t think they are changing for the better. I guess that’s why I cling to an image that I think is ideal (it doesn’t mean it is).

I’ve had several people tell me that if I think this way, if I love the concept of romance and “happily ever after” endings then I’m writing the wrong genre. Perhaps I am, but I also love fast pace and lots of action…and, the writer in me is battling with merging the two to make the perfect story (in my opinion)!

Book Reviews: Finders Keepers and The Timekeeper

Finders Keepers by Emily Rodda

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wanted something fun to read. As I enjoy books for younger readers, I thought I’d give this two-book series a go – the second book is entitled “The Timekeeper” is reviewed in this same post below. Besides, as I write for this age group, it’s a great way to do research too.

Anyway, Finders Keepers is about a boy who agrees to enter a TV show competition. The thing is the people running the show live on the other side of the barrier and Patrick has to go through to that world in order to play.

The story is for eight to twelve year olds. It’s quick and easy to read. The story itself is fun and gets the imagination working. I believe these are the correct ingredients for the age group targeted. Story development was gradual and not too complex, but I didn’t feel it spoke down to the intended audience either.

The Timekeeper by Emily Rodda

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is book 2 in the two-book series.

We return to Patrick a few days after the events in the first book and things seem to be worse than ever. The barrier between the two worlds is going berserk and if something isn’t done about it soon, then it can only lead to disaster. Of course, it’s left to Patrick to deal with.

The first couple of chapters of The Timekeeper were a bit slower than I expected. I believe the story got bogged down with backstory, which is a shame. The author included a “report” (written from the point of view of the TV show producer) as a prologue, which explained what happened in book 1, which was fine. If she had left it at that, the pace would have been much faster, earlier in the book. However, she then went and included the same backstory in the first few chapters and that slowed the story down a lot. But once that was over with, the pace picked up and the plot was suspenseful.

Apart from that, the book was interesting and well written. The two books would intrigue any young reader.

Both books, as a set, are recommended.

eBook Review: A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Considering this story was written in the 1800’s, it’s extremely good and has always been a favourite of mine (well the movie has, this is the first time I’ve read the book). The wording was a bit difficult for me to grasp at times, but it was fitting for it’s the time it was written and the era the story was set in.

I must admit that “Scrooge: The Musical” is one of my all time favourite movies. I literally drive my family crazy with my passion to watch it most Christmases. Since the loss of my son just over three years ago, I haven’t watched the movie since…however, this year I feel the urge to watch it again – in memory of those Christmases when my boys were young and still believed in Santa. I must be feeling nostalgic.

So I knew the story well when I started reading the book and was surprised that the book differs to the movie in a lot of ways, yet the two are so similar in other ways. It really is a magical story and I read the book because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while. And besides that, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to get into the Christmas spirit.

A Christmas Carol is a story that everyone should read at least once. It’s excellent and it’s quite short (only five chapters) so it doesn’t take too long to read. I recommend this story to everyone who wants to believe in the magic of Christmas.

eBook Review: Ether

Ether by Kristine Williams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Yesterday, I mentioned how I select books to read and Ether by Kristine Williams is an excellent example of that. Because of my current addiction to read ebooks I was combing Smashwords, a website that offers ebooks by new authors in many different formats. The prices are really low and that makes the “risk” easier to take. To buy a main stream book by a new author, the cost would probably be around $18 to $25 in Australia. To buy an ebook by a new author through Smashwords, the cost is about $0.99 to $7.00 (the average being around $3.00). Ether cost me $1.25 and was worth every cent.

I digress, as I was saying, I was combing Smashwords looking for my next victim when a cover jumped from the screen and yelled “pick me, pick me”. That cover told me instantly that the story was about our world entwined with another, and I love that type of story. I was intrigued to find out more. The blurb only pulled me in further so I quickly worked out how I could read the opening paragraph, which wasn’t difficult to do at all, and upon doing so was convinced this was a book I’d enjoy.

Ether is another world connected to our world. The only way through is with a key and there’s not many of them in existence. Daniel Harper discovers a strange key on his late uncle’s keyring when he inherits the house. When he uses that key to unlock the cellar door, he finds himself in a state of total confusion when he steps through the door into the path of an oncoming car – a strange looking car at that. The events that unfold from there are interesting and well written.

The characters had depth and I especially liked the way the author weaved humour into their personalities. It was amusing to read their reactions to certain situations, although if I found myself in the same situation it wouldn’t have been the slightest bit amusing. The characters were distinct and strong and believable. Ether (the world) wasn’t quite as developed as the characters, but not enough for it to be distracting and certainly not enough for me not to enjoy the story. In truth, I can’t quite say why Ether didn’t feel as rounded as it should have been, but something was missing.

That aside, I really enjoyed the story, the characters and the author’s writing style. I would definitely read something else written by her. In fact, I’ve already checked to see if there is anything else and…there is.

This ebook is highly recommended. I believe it’s also available in printed form too.

And to all those writers out there, remember, readers do judge a book by it’s cover so make sure yours is a great one.

What a difference a decade makes!

During my lifetime I’ve seen some changes in the world, especially where technology is concerned. I remember, in 1990, when my boss paid $50,000 for two computers. I was thrilled to be given one of those computers to work on. It was a buzz to use exciting new equipment and I learned quickly that I liked computers. Yet, looking back, that computer hardly did anything compared to today’s computers. There were two programs on it, it didn’t have the internet or email. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of those things back then. When I left that job in 1995, there was talk of this new thing called Windows. I had no idea what that could be…and I didn’t find out for a couple of years.

Back then, in what might seem like the dark ages for some people, reading was only done from printed material. Books were wonderful to look at, to touch, to smell. The stories within the covers were sometimes not so wonderful, but I learned to pick and chose quite well so that I didn’t waste too much of my hard earned money. It’s shameful to admit, but the cover was the first thing that caught my attention. Then…if the blurb on the back was good, I’d open the book and read the first paragraph. If I liked the way the words were put together, I’d consider buying the book. If I didn’t like the word flow, the book was rejected. This method worked well for me over several decades of reading.

In 1997, I bought my first Windows operated computer. I installed a word processor called Word Perfect and happily wrote two 200,000+ manuscripts from start to finish in about three years. What happened to those manuscripts is another story, for another day. Yes, I saw the icon on the computer that would connect me to the internet and email, but I still didn’t know what those things were and had no need for either of them because I was happy doing something else I loved – writing.

The years passed, the millennium came and went without the huge catastrophe that everyone seemed to be warning us about. Instead, things went on as usual and then started to grow and grow. Finally, in early 2001, I was introduced to the internet for the very first time. I remember my fascination with the concept that we had instant access to all this information and we could communicate with people all over the world at any time of the day and night. It was brilliant. And what made it better – and worse – was the knowledge that I wasn’t the only writer writing the next best seller. (I say “worse” because it’s since the internet that I stopped writing at every spare moment I had.)

I learned so much in the years that followed. About everything, not just writing. But then I discovered something called self-publishing and the weirdest thing yet, ebooks. I found it difficult to grasp the concept of books without paper. In a lot of ways, I rejected the notion. It just felt so wrong! As did self-publishing.

That first Windows computer was quickly replaced with bigger and better systems, which were again replaced for newer technology a short time later. This cycle happened several times in the effort to stay up with the times, but we soon realised that it was an impossible situation and we finally accepted that our new laptops would have to see us through for some years to come. We were now completely immersed in the instant world of viewing, downloading, accessing, emailing, blogging, facebooking, gaming, chatting, online buying and selling, paying, meeting…

Still the years ticked by, technology rolling along in front of us, always showing us new and fascinating things. Suddenly, self publishing and ebooks became real, acceptable, the way of the future. I found myself wanting to “try out” the self publishing side of the publishing industry and I certainly looked at ebooks in a more favourable way. This was especially true when technology provided a gadget that I could hold in my hand, allowing me to sit wherever I wanted and read peacefully. Especially when I could carry a dozen or more books with me everywhere I went (or a lot more if I really wanted to), without giving myself back ache from the weight of carrying heavy paper books.

What a difference a decade makes!

This year, I have listened to my first audio book and have read at least two ebooks. I look forward to reading more. I already have them queued up in my Apple iPod Touch. I carry an assortment of books with me every day – fiction and non-fiction – because who knows what I’ll want to read at lunchtime or on the way home?! And with modern technology, it doesn’t matter because I have my pick.

I thought choosing ebooks would be more difficult than printed books. Riskier. But I find the cover still catches my attention first and if the blurb is any good then I’ll proceed to view the first page of the ebook and see if I like the author’s style of writing before I decide whether or not I’ll part with my hard earned cash. This method always worked with printed books and, so far, it’s done me well with ebooks too.

If the last decade has given us such changes, I wonder what the next decade will bring. I can’t even begin to imagine.

eBook Review: RealmShift


RealmShift by Alan Baxter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first ebook I’ve ever read and I’m happy to say that the experience was a good one. I read it on my iPod Touch, which I must admit to having some concerns about as the screen is quite small. However, that didn’t bother me at all. The text was clear and I developed no adverse side-affects such as eye strain. I certainly will be reading more ebooks in the future.

Now, about the book RealmShift. Here’s my review.

RealmShift is a mixture of genres, but it’s mainly horror. It reminded me of some of the Anne Rice books I read years ago – as in theme, not actual storyline. There are vampires, immortals, evil humans and tons of killer instinct, which always means blood and guts are sure to follow. Luckily, that doesn’t bother me.

Of course, there’s lots of swearing too. I’m not one for swearing, but I found I didn’t really have a problem with it in this setting. The characters are mainly male and they swear like troopers, which I find is true in real life so I guess that’s why I didn’t have much trouble accepting it in the story. The female character was much more reserved but when she resorted to more powerful words I accepted it because of the situation she was in at the time.

I was pleased to find characters with depth, characters I could relate to. Strangely, I could even understand why the bad characters were bad, which means they were well written and fully developed.

The story itself is fast paced. Something is always happening, or about to happen. There’s no holding back either. If someone has to die, the reader knows every detail. It certainly gets the imagination going in that regard. In fact, I feel as if I’ve tasted the life of a killer!

RealmShift also had a theme that I found was thought provoking. Yet at the same time, this same theme slowed the story down in sections because of the amount of explaining needed to get a point across. Yet it was important to the overall story and as it was religious based I understood how difficult it was for the author to make sure the reader understood something that is quite complex. The story put a different spin on the whole religion thing which I found quite fascinating. Ultimately, the message was to believe in oneself and stop relying on others and I think that’s a good message to give.

If you want to read a fast paced, action filled story, then you should definitely give RealmShift a read.

Book Review: Assassin’s Quest

Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Assassin’s Quest (The Farseer Trilogy, Book 3) was, for me, excellent yet disappointing. It seems strange to put those two words together, as they contradict one another, but not to use both words would not be telling the whole truth. Let me try to explain, without giving anything important away.

At the end of the second book, Fitz was left for dead. Buck Castle was being plundered by the new king. Loyal followers of the real king were doing what they could to preserve life while the Red Ships continued to forge the citizens of the Six Duchies. Life as everyone knew it was no more.

As a whole, this trilogy was rich and complex. The characters were deep and riveting. I sit and ponder how the author planned this story and am filled with awe at the task she completed. I admire the strength of words, the surprising twists and turns and the excellent reasons for why everything happens. I cannot fault any of these things.

My only real complaints are that Assassin’s Quest was over 700 pages long and I felt as if I was being dragged through a number of those pages unwillingly. The story dragged on and on in the middle, when I would have thought a crisp pace would have been the better option. I began to loose the connection I had with the characters as each new round of “beating” presented itself. My second complaint is that the ending left me feeling disappointed. To go through all that and then for that ending to be laid out before me was not what I had wanted or hoped for. As I mentioned before, I cannot fault the reasoning for the ending as it all made perfect sense, but it wasn’t what I wanted for the main character. It just seemed so unfair, almost like a punishment.

Although I have not raved about this last book in the trilogy, I would recommend it to anyone who really enjoys reading fantasy. I am not sorry I read the book or the trilogy and I certainly will include the trilogy as a whole on my favourites list.

I have the Liveship Traders Trilogy on my bookshelf, but I believe The Tawny Man Trilogy takes up Fitz’ story fifteen years later and I would really like to get a copy of those three books, which shows that I am more than willing to read more by this author.

Legacy Family Tree Software

When building a family tree it’s important to chose software that isn’t restricting. I’ve used several family tree programs but most of them always had something missing. Some looked great, but were not user friendly. Others were user friendly, but didn’t give the reports I wanted. Others still had the tag of a family tree maker but left me feeling incredibly stupid as the program was so difficult to navigate and use.

Eventually, I discovered Legacy Family Tree and I honestly haven’t looked at any other genealogy software since. It’s easy to install and use. It allows me to print all different types of reports. I can perform a multitude of searches. There’s a bookmark facility and also a note taking function that I find helpful. I can add photos of all types to individuals and family groups. There are functions that will search from the program directly on a number of websites and display the results (I’ve found new ancestors through this function alone). This software will even generate a complete, functional website for me (if that’s something I was interested in, which I’m not).

There is also a tag system which is ideal for noting which family members had certain health issues, or had no children, or married a cousin, or for any other reason you can think of basically.

I like the option to mark the direct line of ancestors too. This makes it easy to see where you are and if you’ve wandered down a branch and away from the main stem.

And finally, despite the many other functions that I haven’t mentioned here, the function to link with FamilySearch is great. I use it all the time. But remember, all new leads must be checked before adding them to your tree.

Edited on 2 February 2023: Legacy merged with MyHeritage in 2017. The software has been enhanced to link with MyHeritage, if desired, but there is no pressure to do so and the function can be turned off at any time. Apart from that, Legacy Family Tree still remains my favourite genealogy software.

Author Interview: Pamela Freeman

This month I am pleased to present an interview with Australian author, Pamela Freeman, who has many publications to her credit – some of the titles for children and young adults include The Willow Tree’s Daughter, The Murderer’s Apprentice and the Network Mysteries; and for adult, The Casting Trilogy.

Thank you for your time, Pamela. Please tell us a bit about your writing background.

I started writing professionally as a scriptwriter for children’s television, and began writing stories for kids then. I’d written stories for adults before, but never submitted anything anywhere – I didn’t have any confidence in them (and reading them over, I think I was right!). My first short story was published in 1990 and my first children’s book, The Willow Tree’s Daughter, came out in 1994. Since then, I’ve published twenty books. The Castings Trilogy (Blood Ties, Deep Water and Full Circle) are my first books for adults.

I’ve read several of your books, even the ones for the younger audience, and was impressed. My favourite is The Casting Trilogy. I’m interested to know if there a moment in your life that clearly sparked your desire to write?

No, not really. I first thought about it when I was around 12, but I had a vague idea that I needed to have a really interesting life before I started writing, so around 15 I decided I wanted to work in television, and set my sights on that first. I think that did me no harm, frankly, as TV writing gives you a great apprenticeship in story-telling.

I didn’t know you started out writing for television. That must have been quite different to novel writing. Tell us about your latest publication?

My most recent book is Full Circle, which is the third and final volume of the Castings Trilogy. I hope people who have enjoyed the first two books will feel satisfied by this one!

For kids’ books, my most recent publication is Victor’s Challenge, which is a funny chapter book for younger readers, a sequel to Victor’s Quest, my most popular books for kids. It has great illustrations by Kim Gamble.

I must admit that I can’t wait to get my copy of Full Circle. The first two books were excellent! What project are you working on at the moment?

Several! I am working on Ember and Ash, a stand alone novel set in the same universe as the Castings Trilogy. I promise, it’s not the fourth book in the trilogy! It’s set more than 20 years after Full Circle, and involves earlier characters only peripherally. We get to see the Ice King’s realm, and discover more about the old Powers of the Domains.

Sounds interesting. Is your life reflected in the stories you write?

No, fortunately I haven’t encountered too many blood thirsty ghosts out for revenge recently! Seriously, I think an author’s life always influences what they write, but in my case the influence is indirect, more a matter of theme and flavour than content or characters drawn directly from people I know. A couple of my children’s stories have been sparked by incidents in my own life, but they tend to be just the jumping off point for a very different story.

Where do you get inspiration for your stories and characters?

So many different places that it’s hard to say. The Castings Trilogy was actually inspired by a lecture Bishop Desmond Tutu gave on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission – a fairly obscure inspiration, which I hope will make sense once people have read Full Circle.

Do you know how the story will end when you first start writing it?

If it’s a short story, not always. If it’s a novel, pretty much, although things do change in the writing and surprises can always trip you up. I prefer to know the end because I like to make plots interesting and fair for the reader, so they don’t end up feeling that the solution to whatever problem the heroes are facing just came out of thin air.

Satisfying the reader isn’t as easy as it sounds, so I understand what you are saying here. Do you work on more than one story at a time? If so, I would like to know how do you manage it?

I usually have several stories at different stages – one I’m actually writing, one with the editors, one with an illustrator, and so on. So I concentrate on one book at a time, but I juggle two or three over the course of a year.

I suppose it all comes down to discipline. How do you balance writing with the rest of your life?

Basically, I write while my son is at school. Towards deadline time, I may also need weekend writing time, but I try to keep that to a minimum. Having juggled a career as a writer and a consultant in organisational communication for quite a few years before he was born, I was already used to fitting my writing in around something else, which was helpful.

What advice would you give to a newcomer to writing?

Three things – just do it. Write, write, and keep writing. Second, find a community of people who can read and critique your work with some understanding. I workshop everything I write and I find it invaluable.

And thirdly, listen to criticism and be prepared to do the redrafts. The main difference between a professional writer and an amateur is the number of drafts they’re prepared to do.

Oh, I wish this was a live interview because I’d go off in another direction here and ask you more about rewrites and drafts. But…it’s not…so I’ll continue on. Who is the person behind the writer? What do you do when you are not writing?

I’m a mum! I do all the mum things – except cleaning. Not really a cleaner. But I manage my son’s soccer team, and take him to a multitude of sports, and cook (I enjoy cooking a lot) and steal time for reading and TV and Facebook. I like computer games (especially logic puzzles), I love the net, I like making music with my family, I garden a bit… just a life, like anyone else’s, except I walk into bookshops and there are my books, which sometimes seems quite strange! I got a fan email from India the other day (I didn’t even know you could buy the books in India) and it was astonishing, knowing my words had reached someone in Mumbai and meant something to them.

It’s unfortunate that many fans don’t see authors as people with real lives so it’s good to see that you do the same things as other people. It makes you more human…if you know what I mean. Who would you chose to play the star role if your book(s) was made into a movie and why?

For Ash, I’d pick Daniel Radcliffe – looks right, acts well, right age… perfect!
For Bramble, I just don’t know… I’d love to hear suggestions.

Maybe readers of this interview will make some suggestions for you. Do you believe in writer’s block? Why?

I think sometimes you get to a point in a book where you don’t quite know what to do next. Some people, I think, suffer more from this than others. This is when I love having more than one story on the boil. I switch to the other one and let my unconscious deal with the problem. I know that some other writers have more difficulty with this than I do – talking it out usually unblocks things for me, or going for a walk. On the other hand, I think ‘writer’s block’ is sometimes a code for either laziness or fear – being afraid the book won’t be good enough is a good way to freeze your creativity! All you can do is ignore that and just keep writing, even if what comes out at first is total crap and you have to throw it away later.

What are your writing goals for the future?

More books! Lots more books! Some set in the same universes as the Castings Trilogy and Victor, some not.

Secretly, what I would really like is to have many, many people waiting for the next book in the way I wait for my favourite authors’.

There can never be enough books, so keep writing them and people will keep reading them. Do you have anything else you would like to mention?

My next book for kids will be a non-fiction picture book about Lake Eyre in the centre of Australia – usually a dry salt pan, every ten years or so it floods and creates an extraordinary oasis, full of life. So keep an eye out for The Dreaming Lake.

Thank you for your time, Pamela. It’s been wonderful “chatting” with you and I wish you all the best for the future.

If you would like to learn more about Pamela and her books, please visit her website – Pamela Freeman.

Book Review: Royal Assassin

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Royal Assassin (The Farseer Trilogy, Book 2) is the middle of the story and I felt that it was noticeable, which is why I gave it four stars instead of five. At times I felt that the story dragged a touch – only slightly, in a couple of places. However, this doesn’t mean the storyline is lacking or that the characters weren’t deeply woven together. In fact, I still believe firmly that a lot could be learned by studying the way the author developed the storylines of all the characters and the plot in this trilogy.

Each time I thought to myself “enough, move on” it was almost as if the author had planned it exactly to happen in that way, because there was always a sudden change that would draw me deeper into the plot, grasp me firmer. And the plot for this trilogy is complex. There are twists and turns in the story that a reader could not believe possible. The ending of this book left me feeling somewhat disturbed, yet I had seen it coming but I still wasn’t prepared for it. I put the book down and couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened. Part of me wanted to reject it, yet another part of me embraced it wholeheartedly. It was the strangest feeling and testament that the story as a whole had an affect on me.

A good book pulls you in and holds you firmly within the storyline. For me, this story (I’m talking about book one and two) wasn’t just words on paper; it was people and places coming alive around me. Just as the characters in the book had to make alliances and fight for survival; I felt as if I was another character struggling for survival along side them. To become so absorbed by the plot and so totally bonded with the characters tells me that the author did her job well.

This book, no, this trilogy, is highly recommended.

Now, after reading and enjoying the first two books, I’m expecting a lot from the third. I hope I won’t be disappointed.