Lost Solace - Audiobook Now Available

The tense sci-fi Lost Solace is now also available as an audiobook. Marisha Tapera did an amazing job as the producer and narrator, able to easily switch between scenes of suspense, scenes of action, and scenes of dialogue. I particularly loved the distinction between Opal and Clarissa's voices, since so much depends on it being right. In fact, I was smiling at the interplay between the characters. The laconic and warm-but-controlled tones of Opal were a wonderful contrast to Clarissa, with her childishly-enthusiastic-yet-also-slightly-inhuman cadences. Marisha's voice is really clear and has a rich quality that makes it pleasant to listen to, and her performance was so good that I laughed at parts which brought out the humour, and felt my neck hairs prickle at the emotional highpoints.

Bonus for my fans! I have a few US and UK codes that give a free audiobook copy of Lost Solace on Audible. If you have read and left reviews for my work and want a free audiobook copy on Audible, get in touch! I have codes for my previous audiobooks too (see below).

You can buy all my books here, but these are quick links for the audiobook versions:
Or go to the Audible options for individual books:
  • Lost Solace UK / US
  • Turner UK / US
  • They Move Below UK / US
  • Harvest Festival UK / US
Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!

Cruce Roosters by Brent Michael Kelley

I have read almost 100 books this year. I've not had time to review many of them. I made an exception here because, just as I was getting fatigued by reading the same stories again and again with little invention, or coming across invention that wasn't backed up by good prose, I then started reading Cruce Roosters. I fell in love with this book almost immediately. At every level the first 60% absolutely gripped me and took me into the world.

So, the story. It does two things right. And these are the two things that all books need to get right, but few do. Firstly, it is wildly inventive. Almost every page there was an element that felt fresh: a turn of phrase, a world description, a new name (I loved the Longdongers team), a character, a bit of dialogue, or even a formal element (such as the adverts and inbuilt sponsorships). It was a delight. The second element is that we need a character we can identify with so that the stakes matter. We need a character that takes actions which are believable; and yet for the actions to lead to even greater stakes as the world reacts. We get this with Molly Most, whose arc goes from selfish success to loving disaster. Up to the 60% mark it just got better and better, because her successes lead her to garner attention from the horrendous all-powerful Prophit King (and even the purposeful misspelling ties in to the story and characters in a delightful way). Then we learn more about him and Molly's fate, and I reached a high of emotional investment. I was reading it on a train and arrived at my destination, yet wanted the journey to go on longer so I could carry on. This first 60% is some of the best and most inventive fiction I have read all year. I can't praise it enough. If the whole book had been like that then I'd have championed it to the hilt, forever.

(As an aside, I should also add that the third thing a book needs is good writing, to give the reader confidence in the author, and we also have that in Cruce Roosters. I loved sentences such as "Pretending to be sick all morning had really taken the energy out of her." There were a few typos, but here they didn't stop me because I was so invested in the story. Hopefully they'll disappear from later editions - I'll send the small list to the author).

So, why do I keep mentioning 60%? Well, at that point things reach a high. Molly's actions and the world's reactions have taken her to the point of realising all her options are terrible, yet she has to choose. She is in her hotel room, having had more of the world revealed in gruesome fashion, and she makes a decision. We know we're on a ride and there are many twists and turns to go.

But at this point things changed. The book was still good, but just a notch down from what had gone before, which was mildly disappointing because what went before was stellar stuff. I'll explain a bit more, because this book has earned my time.

Up until the 60% point, Molly has been active. All good characters need to be. They make choices to achieve goals, and the world reacts, and the goals may change, or the stakes go up. This is what makes compelling fiction. Let me give one example from Cruce Roosters. Molly has been "invited" (told) that she will be collected and taken to the repulsive Prophit King. Chances are that he'll molest her, yet to refuse is to invite retribution that's even worse. What a dilemma. But she doesn't give up. She decides to smoke a pile of cigarettes, hoping to put him off close contact. It's a great ploy, and it works (temporarily), keeping her safe even in the midst of multiple dangers. But he warns her not to smoke again and shows her some horrible things instead of molesting her - so her decision drives the plot, but also raises the stakes, and reduces her future options unless she adopts even more extreme measures. It's all great stuff.

At the 60% mark she makes a huge decision. This is the Winston Smith moment of rebellion, and the reader knows it could go either way, but probably badly for the protagonist. However, from the moment she chooses to get out, things change. There is some action, some world-building, but she becomes a mostly passive figure, with things done to her rather than her being the actor. All of the minutiae of her actions and the world fade away to a more passive kind of story. She stops being Molly. The new elements (aliens, Gwetch, parasites) are all still inventive, but not as much as the stuff that has gone before. In fact, in some cases they raise questions that threaten the story. But the biggest weakness is the protagonist's new passivity. She has no more meaningful choices to make. A metaphor could be when she is discovered by a potential danger in a Cruce arena at the end and she could lie still or struggle, but she openly admits the outcomes would be the same, "get her killed". She is saved by deus-ex-machina (not her own actions) as the danger is called away. And then it happens again, "and Molly was powerless", again needing saving by things beyond her control. But, to highlight the none-choice even further, we discover that the danger is actually a help, and whatever she did, she would have still been fine. The delicious action-reaction of earlier has been negated. Even at the end, she is controlled by parasitic bodily modifications which limit her choices to just repeating a message. And all that stems from the decision made at the 60% mark. Almost half the novel follows with limited actor plot-driving.

After the 60% mark we also mostly lose some of the elements that had been driving the novel. The horrendous Prophit King takes a backseat until the finale; the tense and revolting situations and interactions between him and Molly fade away; the fascinating game of Cruce and the Roosters also drops away until the finale. Instead we get new elements (aliens and Gwetch) that are still good, but just not as good as what we already had. They feel almost like a separate, but related, story as new characters, new settings, and new world elements are revealed in linear fashion.

I know it seems like I'm hammering on criticisms here, but it's also high praise. This novella is really, really good. That's a rarity. But it had the potential to be completely amazing. If the last 40% had been more of what had gone before, escalated in level and reaction, with new elements and inventiveness appearing, I feel like it could have been at that top level, and probably still had room for some of the new elements.

But that's just me.

Overall, this is a really exciting and inventive book that I highly recommend. Brent Michael Kelley's story has stood out amongst so many that I've read, and I really feel he is one to watch. If he can come up with further exciting and original plots and premises, then his next book will be an instabuy for me.


The author made this graphic after seeing my review:

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!

Book Genres - Some Thoughts

Genres Are Categories

They are simplified labels that attempt to describe content. Their essence is about repeating something but changing something.

Genres Are Useful

Genres help bookshops to know which shelf to put a book on.

Genres may help readers to find books that they like.

Genres Are Not Useful

Genres can be problematic when books, authors, and reader interests don't neatly fit into the widely-used categories - and that's more common than you'd think.

Also, authors can get pigeonholed within genres - it's why some authors use pen names when they write in a different genre. Even Stephen King tried to break out with a different name.

I have no problem with a writer who only enjoys writing in one genre doing just that - it's sensible. At the same time, it shouldn't be a shackle. Most writers want to tell stories, and that might mean writing things that fit into different genres (or none at all). More strength to that. The walls should be broken down. No-one would complain if a sculptor known for human effigies switched to sculpting dogs.

I think about this a lot because I write in multiple genres. I find it fascinating when people categorise my books in ways that I hadn't thought of. For example, one review that began with "Cold Fusion 2000 is a novel of incredible genius" (ha, I love that quote!) categorised the book as "romance". I'd never thought of it that way. The mention of romance is spot-on, in that it has romantic love as one of the strands, but it probably breaks some of the expected rules relating to "romance" as a BISAC genre (e.g. needing a clear happy-ever-after). So there are all sorts of problems with many categorisations, and unfortunately no clear answers.

It's the old issue of how to pigeon-hole books to aid discovery, without pigeon-holing books in ways that reduce diversity and experimentation.

Perhaps it's why I sometimes sigh with relief when I write a book that can be easily categorised by combining terms (e.g. "feminist action sci-fi" [Lost Solace], or "rural suspense horror" [Harvest Festival]). It sidesteps the whole issue. But even then there are intricacies - for example, I've just pigeon-holed Harvest Festival, yet in reality it isn't really about surviving a home invasion, or surviving a night in the countryside - that's just the subject matter. The themes are really to do with reconnecting with those that you love, and learning to value what is really important, and making the most of every minute we get with those we care about. Which actually makes it sound less like action-packed horror, and closer to books like Cold Fusion 2000 (which is sometimes classed as women's fiction).

What Is The Women's Fiction Genre? Is There A Better Term?

Women's fiction is a common label applied to books, as if it is clear and unambiguous - but it's not. The "women" bit refers to the target audience, not the author's sex - but why shouldn't men read good books in this genre too? The terminology of "women's fiction" implies a smaller audience than really exists, and may put off some readers. And just because someone is a woman, doesn't mean they don't prefer more clearly-defined genres such as science fiction or horror. So women's fiction isn't read by all women, or exclusively by women, so it tells us little except perhaps the prejudices of the publishers and booksellers, in the same way that if I look at women's slippers in a shoe shop they all have pink hearts, bows or pompoms on (even though many women say they hate those things). So how should we classify these books?
Commercial fiction sidesteps the silly "these are books for only one sex" categorisation, though commercial fiction is a large umbrella that probably covers most of what gets published in various genres - crime, horror, thrillers and so on. It's all commercial because it is all popular, or at least the publishers intend it to sell well and count as mass-market fiction. But it's silly to categorise books by their estimated sales potential. How does that help readers? One commercial fiction title and another have nothing in common in terms of stories, settings or characters.

Some authors prefer the term contemporary fiction. Unfortunately it doesn't mean a lot except "fiction written fairly recently that doesn't fit into any other neat category". As such, all sorts of disparate books are also contemporary fiction, and liking one contemporary fiction title is again no guarantee that you'll like the next, because they have so little in common. The contemporary fiction categorisation also confuses things in other ways - what if the book is set in the past? It is contemporary in terms of when it is written (for now ...), but not when it is set.

There's also literary fiction, which some authors toy with as a term, though it can be a bit of a poisoned chalice, connected with boring books that win prizes and get applauded by critics but which make many normal readers fall asleep (don't ever get me started on Sophie's World, or Life Of Pi). Obviously that isn't true of all literary fiction, but it is the reputation it has (along with being "difficult" or "requiring work") among many readers. It can also appear elitist in other ways, implying books without the "literary fiction" tag don't have literary qualities such as clever structure or in-depth character portraits or innovative use of language. And, again, books in this category can be wildly different in terms of settings and quality and readability, so it isn't always much help to the bemused reader.

Alternatives To Genres?

At one point I played around with the idea of getting rid of fiction genres and instead describing all stories via three elements (which could be used for films as well as books):

1: Form (e.g. short story, novel, novella; musical, animation, mockumentary)
2: Subject (e.g. horror, politics, romance)
3: Setting (e.g. fantasy, historical, western)

Then I realised that is as flawed and stupid as the system I wanted to replace, and I gave up.

Please let me know what you think!

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!

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