Thursday 31 October 2013

Halloween is not the only time you might see her....

“There’s always a plan. A design. Nothing ever just happens, and you can’t escape your fate. Two will die. Don’t forget that.”

Dana Cullen (Dark Winter)

Buy the book:-

Monday 21 October 2013

Cover Officially Revealed by Ashley of The Bookish Brunette!

Okay, so you may have seen the cover floating around. A few other places doesn't hurt though, and Ashley's blog is one the best. And it is certainly the best if you are as crazy about zombies as team BB are!

You should really subscribe, unless you've done so already!

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Book Review #6: Waterfall by Lisa T Bergren

You can't beat a great fantasy, and this series has all the makings of one. Our heroine, Gabi, is a real firebrand and yet you don't get the sense of the epicness of the story until you are some pages in.

When the story opens, we learn that Gabi's father was a much respected archeologist had died, but her mother continued with his work regardless, bringing both Gabi and her sister Lia along for the ride.

I like that the story starts with its base in Italy, a country I had the good fortune to visit in 2010. I loved the energy from the outset, with 5:00am starts being the norm for the two sisters to go out on digs with their mother.

As I was reading, I couldn't help but think of Indiana Jones or Lara Croft. That's no bad thing. I spent many enjoyable hours watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, and playing Tomb Raider for hours on end.

The great descriptions Miss Bergren uses dropped me straight over the shoulder of the trio when at an important site, and there's loads of those in a super old country like Italy.

So I felt immediately drawn in.

There is a huge MacGuffin at the start of the story and it's so big, I couldn't let on here, you'll just have to read it.

But suffice to say that Gabi's first encounter with Italy's past comes to face her, head on, literally.

We find ourselves back in time with Gabi seeing and experiencing at first hand how the ruins used to look, before they were actually ruins.

At this point I wondered where the story was going.

That's when I was happiest. This YA aimed book doesn't foist some hack handed dystopian world on you. Whilst that's no bad thing, there's been rather too much of it in YA for a while, so this acted like a breath of fresh air with its detailed historical perspective on things.

This is where the book is at its strongest, so I forgive certain things like that Gabi fights with much apparent ease. She is skilled in fencing, but that wouldn't necessarily translate to being a great swordfighter, much like practising Tai Chi forms wouldn't make you a super skilled martial artist that was ready for battle.

That wouldn't be so plausible, and yet, the story is told which such style and verve, it just carries you along.

I'm being picky of course. James Bond has had many situations where he could have been killed, but you buy it because it is 007 ! So whilst Waterfall has its flaws, I think it is leading to a much bigger story with scope I cannot yet imagine, and it is that which will make me read others in the Rivers of Time series.

Fun, fearless, cool, and different. My favourite fantasy book of 2013.

Currently Reading: A Ravishing Redhead (Wedded Women, 2) by Jillian Eaton

This is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining read. The author has a very lively writing style, and the characters are believable and well thought out.

The story revolves around Margaret (who detests being called by her title of Lady Winter, though in a very funny exchange her butler faux pas by calling her it aanyway) and Henry, her husband of rather questionable morals.

Spoiler: Henry knows that it is he who has made the Winter household a shambles. Genetics might enter into it, but at some point you have to accept that you make your own mistakes.

Margaret, for her part, does her best to keep the house going, and it's clear that whilst they didn't marry for love, there is a fondness between them.

You might think this is the kind of soppy romance that would turn some people off. I actually think it avoids that by having strong characters with a well thought out plot. If it ends the way I think it will, fine. But that's okay.

This is number two in a series. I've started on this one, because I had a former girlfriend who was a redhead. That may not be a great reason, but it's reason enough for me.

Book Review #5: Being Emily by Rachel Gold

Finally. A book that treats the issue of transgenderism with sensitivity and the 'reality-check' it deserves. It doesn't pull its punches, neither does it go over the top with details about sexual reassignment surgery.

Chris / Emily is a wonderfully normal character. What I mean by that is, there's no mystery in my view when she says 'I am a woman'...because her eyes, she always has been female.

Imagine one day you support Manchester United, but as you grow into your teens, you are told that there is in fact only one possible football team for you, and it's some team in the Blue Square North Premiership.

No-one seems to believe that Chris is capable of making this journey from the 'male' everyone sees to the 'female' he only ever sees.

Through his best friend Claire, the amazing (t) girl Natalie, plus Dr Mendel...the way is made far easier. But Chris' parents are far from understanding, and whilst I appreciate that - there is no way my children would be forced into column A or B. Their life, their choice.

No-one should be under any illusion that Chris' life choices are the easy ones. They are not. So often the book talks of 'the fight' to be had regarding make-up, or certain clothes. The fight to prove to the rather sleazy Dr Webber that wearing women's clothes or wanting to be a woman, when you are genetically / physically male, that it is not about fetishism, or masturbation.

It is just simply, the right to 'be', and hasn't every single individual on this Earth the right to 'be'?

There's a major Christian angle to this, with Claire researching lines in the Bible to help Chris. And it is not about the line in Dueteronomy, which is refreshing. Because most, if not all transgdendered people who went to a Catholic school would have had that rammed down their throat at some point. The same Bible that says 'if a man hits you on the cheek, offer him the other side, and your coat too' (while you're at it).

It is God's design - man, woman, cat, dog, transexual, aardvark! It is our choice what we want to 'be'. I cite the choice of football club you can support - the groupies say 'support your local club otherwise you are scum' - they never think that you could actually choose for yourself.

Who wants to follow the sheep? Chris doesn't. He just doesn't fit in with the typical boy stuff because he identifies - very strongly, as a girl.

This Book does not judge Chris or criticise him for his choices. What it manages to do, I think, is create a world where fights are to be had at every stage, but Chris faces them nonetheless.

Being Emily is an astonishingly easy to read but extremely compelling. I wanted to know what would happen, even though I guessed. It's not easy to accept who you are, but being told who you are, who you are supposed to be, and what you are supposed to do, is not fair. If this life is but one go around, we have to make the right choices for ourselves.

Even if you are not interested in the subject would enjoy this book. It's not so much about Chris becoming a woman, because he, indeed - she, already is one. It's more about fitting in to the world around him, and making it work, no matter what. From my list of species above, you can bet that the aardvark will do exactly the same.

I bought the paperback version, not Kindle. The pb version is a little pricey, but given how much I know goes into writing a book, it is a small quibble. I hope it goes on to sell many more copies.

Bravo to Rachel Gold. One of my top ten books of 2013.

Saturday 12 October 2013

Book Review #4: A Bright Particular Star by Elizabeth Hanbury

This is the first book of Elizabeth Hanbury's that I've completed.

I would have completed it sooner, only I started reading one of her other works, 'A Midsummer Eve at Rookery End', at the same time (yay for team ADHD!) but I'm getting more focussed now, honestly.

If you like strong heroines, this is the book for you. Sophie Deveraux is no weakling and her skillful, playful handling of Theo is a real joy to read, and to visualise.

It's much like a road trip in the Regency period. I started thinking about Thelma and Louise for a similar reason. But the story is really about what Sophie wants as opposed to what is expected of her, and it's refreshing that a woman like this would have existed in this period.

Many times a character (often male, often Theo) will say "What the deuce?" (this or that) and I find it gently funny - and refreshing, that we don't need expletives here.

Sometimes I think profanity is okay, but only in context. But it's a nice take on the frustrations the characters would have felt in this period.

To be a good writer, you have to observe other writers who are successful in their genre, and I'm taken aback - quite literally, how detailed everything is in this regency world we find ourselves in.

Sometimes, I think "too much detail, you should have left it to the reader's imagination", but in other ways, I think I should read it from the point of knowing nothing about regency romance (up until a week ago, I can say I definitely knew nothing).

As I mentioned on my 'currently reading' piece about this book, it's really quite delightful and I enjoyed every page.

Sophie is the perfect heroine and I understand this is perhaps not the only time we will see her.

I love to give five star reviews and will happily do so here. I'm still enjoying the author's other book that I have and will look forward to one more (when I've ordered it, sorry Elizabeth!).

Consider me a fan. I loved this book!

Elizabeth's website is here:-

Friday 11 October 2013

Book Revew #3: The Story of Lingerie

I bought this book in 2006, and it remains the largest sized book in my entire collection. I'm starting to re-read some of my books again and this remains the most beautifully illustrated book I own. I'm going to scan some pictures from it and add them here.

It's interesting that this book is largely unavailable now. The Kindle version is worldwide, but this version is only available from a few Amazon sellers.

I wouldn't part with it, even though it's not really a 'story'. It could be more accurately entitled 'The History of Lingerie' because in that detail, it is very informative indeed and you get a real appreciation of the work that goes into designing these garments.

It covers all aspects of lingerie, and there's a particularly excellent section on corsets.

Recommended very highly indeed.

Thursday 10 October 2013

Can't Wait to Read: The Cinderella Debutante by Elizabeth Hanbury

I'm probably going to order the print version of this novel. Many books are fine on Kindle, but some, you just have to have the original paper book! It would also be great to see a novel by this great author on my bookshelf!

Regency romance novels, I'm learning, are actually a lot different from the classic romance ones (M&B - although some of their catalogue is good, admittedly) or YA ones (heavy on the swoon / swearing factor). They seem to have the right balance here and Elizabeth Hanbury certainly treats the reader with respect by not going too sugary - something, even Jane Austen could be guilty of at times.

Still reading through 'A Bright Particular Star' and 'Midsummer Eve at Rookery End'.

Still reading, and still enjoying.

Elizabeth's website is here:-

The Healing Powers of Tai Chi

I read a story on a Chinese news website about a young man who contracted terminal cancer.

This was obviously devastating to him, but he resolved to make use of whatever time he had left. One of the things he did, was take up Tai Chi (Taijiquan).

Now I know all about the benefits of the system, but this man was to experience them for a further twenty years (and counting).

I'm not saying Tai Chi cured his cancer, I would never say that.

But what is not in doubt, is Tai Chi assisting in the health and general well being of its practitioners.

I mentioned in my book, The Essence of Martial Arts that Tai Chi could be considered as the Supreme Ultimate Art.

If even a small part of the practise assisted in the man's health, we can feel proud every time we practise Chen, Yang, or whatever style we happen to do.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Book Review: Antigoddess by Kendare Blake

Kendare Blake is one of the growing numbers of 'new' authors on my list. Having stuck with horror writers like Dean Koontz, Stephen King and Anne Rice, for years, it was Kendare's novel 'Anna Dressed in Blood' that grabbed me by the throat some months back. It was followed up by 'Girl of Nightmares', but to date, there is no third installment of 'Anna', so you can imagine my thoughts on approaching Antigoddess.

It was one of those books I found out about before it was out, so I pre-ordered it on Amazon, something I have never done before.

So, to the story. Well, it's about mythology, so was pretty far away from 'Anna Dressed in Blood,'. I wasn't expecting another horror story.

What we get, in fact, is a very intelligent twist on Greek legends, where the old Gods actually find they are not as immortal as they thought. The story builds up slowly, but you know something is going to kick off somewhere.

When the two 'goddesses' finally collide, the story shifts into high gear and the pace set in 'Anna' is kept up right until the end of the book.

I can honestly say that I didn't see the ending coming in the way it did.

That's what makes a Kendare Blake book so satisfying. I kept hoping for Anna Korlov to pop up, somehow, but actually, I had to leave that world behind if I was going to enjoy this one.

I can bet that you'll enjoy it too.

This is the first book in a series, but it doesn't feel drawn out or stretched like some other stories, that may get tired quickly.

You can see the importance of the build up in the first 150 pages or so of the book, so don't expect loads of action at the start. It builds to a nice crescendo and the ending, as I said, is thunderingly satisfying.

Onto Book 2, then, when it is released.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Currently Reading: Midsummer Eve at Rookery End by Elizabeth Hanbury

Whilst reading the delightful 'A Bright Particular Star', which is a full-length novel by Elizabeth Hanbury, I also came across this set of five stories (originally three) which I'm reading at this moment.

I've already read the first, entitled 'The Virtuoso Courtesan', a highly enjoyable story which, like all the best ones (especially in Stephen King stories!) there are only a few characters, and in this case, just two.

The other four stories I am sure will be as good as, if not better than the first, and it's a nice, gentle way to 'get into' Regency romance stories.

I can highly recommend this, and I'm probably going to get the print version of  'A Cinderella Debutante' as well. I really like the author's style of writing, and when you find an author you like, you just want more and more!

More on this when I've completed all five in this book. I defy anyone not to like these stories!

Elizabeth's website is here:-

Instant Health: The Shaolin Qigong Workout For LongevityInstant Health: The Shaolin Qigong Workout For Longevity by Shifu Yan Lei
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This utterly superb book not only beautifully details how to do the stretches, but has many pearls of wisdom littered throughout the book.

I don't think this book is aimed at beginners, though they could pick up much from this.

As a huge fan of Bruce Lee's 'Tao of Jeet Kune Do' and 'Fighting Method' books, it is no small matter finding a fine martial arts book.

The book is a work of art - but it has the substance to back it up and that is a major achievement.

Shifu Yan Lei is the real deal - you can tell that. So many 'master's prefix their name with such titles and in some cases, they are great at what they do. This man is a case in point.

If you are a martial artist, or just want tips to stay healthy and strong into old age (as opposed to just living to an old age) - buy and learn from this book.

Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

Making Your Book Great: The Importance of Editorial Evaluation

With my first book coming out in 2011, I was hesitating to go through the delays of editorial evaluation. I mean, this would mean further hold-ups to the release of the book, and why would I want to do that?

But wait a second.

Then another.

You must, because when it's your first book coming out, you are so excited, you want the world to know about it, but you must step back and realise just how big - or small, that world actually is.

There's another issue. Once that book is out there, you feel a bit 'flat'. After all, this book has consumed a lot of your time, coffee, sleepless nights, and with any free time you might have, it's taken up with thoughts about the book. Or the next book after that.

Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With The Wind authored one book and one book only. Gone With The Wind is a very famous book and film. I also had the pleasure of visiting her old home on a visit to the United States.

Who knows if she had any other books planned?

In some ways I am envious of authors who make their living from writing, but also from other things they do.

The editing of a book like Gone With The Wind would have been some undertaking. But whether it is a classic like that, or your own book, do pause and get the proper editorial evaluation done.

It's quite possible you won't like what they say, at least, at first.

But you will come to realise that they do know what they're talking about, and you can work the advice given into your book - regardless of the subject.

The two books I have completed so far, The Essence of Martial Arts, and also, Dark Winter, have both received editorial critique.

In the first book, I intimately know the subject matter, so what I needed from Editorial was a way in which it could just 'frame' the book better, and indeed the text was much better for it. Still not perfect, mind.

For the second book, which is basically 'a project' because I've never published a full length novel before, I needed Editorial to bash me over the head. Oh - I didn't like their critique at first. I thought they had bulldozed through what I'd written. But who am I, in the literary world? No-one! So I thought 'you have to get over yourself' and listen to these people.

Of course, I would listen in the end. And again, the book is far better for having professional critique.

So, although it may seem too obvious, do take the time to get your book edited. It may not be perfect, it may not win you more fans, it may not make you any money.

But your book will be better should you heed their advice.

Make your book great, okay?

Monday 7 October 2013

Currently Reading: A Bright Particular Star by Elizabeth Hanbury

Well. It's nice to get away from the horrors, blood and guts of the final tweaks on 'Dark Winter', to read something a lot more lighter. Only starting reading it today, but it's got a cool heroine and the story moves at quite a pace.

That's not to say that pace equals a dry narrative. No. Elizabeth Hanbury describes the world of Sophie and Theo extremely well, and whilst it might seem a light read to some, it really isn't, and the more I get into it, it has the makings of a fantastic story here.

A full review when I've sped through this. I wouldn't normally say something like that, but this is a story that you just want to read, and keep reading. It's wonderfully crafted, historically accurate, with an engaging protagonist.

Awesome so far.

Friday 4 October 2013

Why Losing Your Job (and finding Martial Arts) could be the best thing that ever Happened to You

After nearly ten years in the same company, you'd think I'd be in the pot for an Omega watch, or a significant pay rise.


There had already been warnings, back in 2005, that some of us were going to lose our jobs. Not because we'd done anything wrong, exactly. We had just gotten too big as a company, and the powers that be decided to slim us down.

The sales force were exempt from this, even though it could be said that they played some part in the company losing sales. They were referred to by one outgoing sales account manager as a 'sales prevention force'.

That may seem cruel, but it was at least in part, very apt.

I had already been teaching martial arts on a part time basis when the threat of redundancy loomed over me in 2005.

I hadn't necessarily done anything to warrant this, but our department had spent budgets out of existence. I was not happy with how things were, but the manager crushed dissent from me - or at least attempted to, because I wasn't part of her original crew, and so, I was easy to attack if the manager happened to be having a bad day.

Still, I avoided the chop back in 2005, only for her to leave soon afterwards, and I set about defining myself with a  career in marketing. I was now in charge of marketing, though in essence, I was 'it'.

Despite getting funding in from our partners to do campaigns, the management were unwilling or unable to back me and I became increasingly frustrated with the role.

I continued to work hard at my job, but also worked hard to become the best martial arts instructor I could be. Just a year from my actual redundancy in 2009, I took the decision to stop competing in martial arts tournaments in 2008.

Martial arts had been very good to me. I could see that my place of work was very much on a downward trajectory. The management seemed rather listless, and offered no real 'vision' for the company, except for 'we will survive'.

Well, a mayfly can survive for a day, but that's because it is constrained by it's biology.

So, through martial arts, was that the best I could do? Survive?

If in a life or death situation, I'd say survival was a pretty good thing.

Back at 'We Don't Know What We're Doing' plc, I thought survival, even if I survived 'the cut', was not likely to be a good, long term thing.

I had a mortgage to pay. I had to eat. When you have 'a job' and people ask you what you do, and you say 'oh, I'm in sales,' or 'I'm an accountant'....listen to the lifelessness in their voices.

I really did enjoy my role. Some of the people from there, I actually miss.

But I would not let it define me. It's not an ego thing either, but it's nice to say 'I teach martial arts, or 'I'm a writer', depending on who I'm talking to - sometimes both.

Like most things, we are more than the sum of our parts.

If you've got a job, do it well and be the best at that job. So if the one you work for doesn't appreciate that, move on to somewhere, someone, or in some manner that makes sense to you.

Because honestly, redundancy was probably the best thing that happened to me. It's not always easy, but teaching, and also writing, helps me change things. I feel like I'm doing something rewarding. Making a difference, and in a good way too.

Anyone who reads this, and finds themselves constrained by circumstances, or is working for a We Don't Know What We're Doing plc, just need to look at what else they can do - right now. Today. To change that.

Your boss ultimately doesn't care how you live, how you eat, what your dreams are, or whether or not you can survive. We are the mayfly in his world. But we still have value. Outside of his very small world, we can make it.

So. Find your passion, and be the best at it. I don't think I am the best martial arts teacher in the world, and I know I am not the best writer in the world. You know what? That doesn't matter.

I resolve to be the best I can be every single day. If I had kept my job back in 2009, I would be fulfilling someone else's dreams.

No. No. No.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Why martial arts (and not governments) will keep people safe

This week saw a man admitted his guilt of the manslaughter of 16 year old Christina Edkins. She was stabbed in the chest whilst on a bus in Birmingham. She was just on her way to school, that's all she was doing.

Her killer was a mental patient on release from hospital. Clearly, he has his problems, and he knows that he shouldn't have been amongst the general public.

Mental? Perhaps by some definition he is - but it's interesting to me that he chose to attack a young school girl, as opposed to someone his own size. Yet he chose not to, which says to me he knew what he was doing. Is it still manslaughter then?

Yet the authorities involved say 'we will learn the lessons', 'this won't happen again under our watch', 'we will get rid of knife crime in this country', and so on.

I'm sure they believe it when they say that, but really? A girl lies dead, and it wasn't like there weren't warnings. This guy had form. I wish he had gotten the help he needed, and that Christina could have just gone about her business that day. 

I have tried to strike a balance in lessons between the Art side of martial arts, and the Reality or self defence aspects.

Too  much of one or the other isn't good, and as instructors, we should be aiming - always, for that balance.

I never offer a 100% guarantee that students will survive an attack by someone thrusting a knife in their face. 

But we do work on aspects of the training so that in scenario one - where they can turn, move, but are not allowed to block - it is likely that the knife will get through.

Scenario two does allow them to block, and by and large they do stop the knife hitting vital areas.

For reasons known only to them, the current UK government cut funding of sports to schools. Martial Arts teaching was a major casualty of this measure. 

I know football, netball, gymnastics, basketball et cetera are all fun. But give the children a life skill - isn't that what martial arts should be viewed as?

Schools, governments and authorities wouldn't need to 'learn the lessons' if they just put what is needed in place instead of what's easy to do. 

I was often shocked at the lack of fitness - and discipline at some schools when I taught there.

I do hope that for some of the children I taught, that they got enough from it to pursue martial arts in their life outside school.

The world isn't necessarily more dangerous. We just need to recognise what we can do to help ourselves.

Christina Edkins should have had that help and the basic right to enjoy her bus ride in safety. 

I hope people do take up the chance to learn an effective martial art that keeps them safe within the law. 

If they do, a repeat of Christina's case may never happen, and I will campaign in my own way to make sure our streets are a safe place to be.

Wednesday 2 October 2013

OT: (Off-Topic) Why Tesco are Losing Customers

Sometimes I will post things of interest to me that are not related to books or martial arts.

Take this latest news about Tesco, for example.

On two occasions in the last three years, I've been stopped by security guards because they thought I had items on me that I hadn't paid for.

Both times, I had my receipts, and was furious to be stopped. I mean, with guards watching your every move, and CCTV all over the place, you would think they would have reasons to stop you, right?

I know they are doing their job, and I do go round fast when I food shop (it's not my favourite experience).
But that doesn't mean I'm a thief.

It seems I am not alone in having heavy handed behaviour from Tesco.

Surely they need to look at the systems they have in place, and the people executing those systems.

I would have still been annoyed if thee security guards had apologised, but apparently "Sorry, we have to check these things out" or "It's our job, hope you understand, really sorry to have made you feel upset"
is not something some Tesco security guards are taught to say, instructed to say, or feel they should say.

Tesco, I'm part of a growing band of people who won't be sorry if you lose more customers.