Susan Francis's Blog

January 2, 2017

I think it is fair to say that many of us feel as though 2016 was an annus horribilis. That said, this was not the case for my year in books.

Books were a soothing balm in a year when we lost so many prominent people, such as the (UK) MP Jo Cox (and others too numerous to mention), who touched the lives of so many and made a positive influence, leaving many of us feeling sad and cheated.

Some of these books mirrored humanity; reflections of the feelings of frustration and helplessness some of us feel in a world where other prominent and influential people who stand for selfishness and intolerance have prevailed, gaining power and influence that will affect the lives of so many.

These books were also a temporary distraction in a world where we received daily news reports of innocent people being massacred or displaced while their homes and cities are being destroyed because they are caught up in wars they want no part of and no one seems to have the power and influence to stop.

On Twitter recently Book Lovers tweeted a quote made by the actress Emma Thompson who said, "I think books are like people in the sense that they'll turn up in your life when you most need them." I am inclined to agree.

Happy New Year. May 2017 be a better one in general for us all.

My best read for 2016 was The Sun is also a Star by Nicola Yoon
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon




Click here for my Top Ten Reads of 2016.
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Published on January 02, 2017 00:47 • 3 views

November 27, 2016

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer Stephenie Meyer's new book The Chemist was published this month. It is the first publication from her in quite some time.

Most of the works by this author have been set in the young-adult fantasy fictional world of Twilight. I don't need to state just how successful that series has been, but I would like to comment on her work in general in advance of my review of the new publication.

Meyer's work is a bit like Marmite. In case you are unfamiliar with Marmite, its a breakfast spread with a unique taste that is famously, generally speaking, either loved (people can't get enough of it) or hated (people want to gag the minute they get a taste of it). For my part, I am one of the minority of readers who fit somewhere in the middle. I can understand the appeal of the Twilight saga and I can understand why some have been angered by the subtext of her writing. However, I don't share the passion of either side of the argument.

One reason I believe she evokes such extremes is because one can find oneself easily misled (or reluctantly led) by her work.

What do I mean by easily misled?

Twilight (Twilight, #1) by Stephenie Meyer Twilight is set in a fantasy world where vampires exist. However,the book rejects most of the rules associated with this gothic franchise because Twilight is NOT a book about vampires.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer The Host, her adult debut, has a science-fiction setting with characters that are aliens that have a symbiotic relationship with the human race. However, the usual rules associated with sci-fi have been discarded because The Host is NOT a science-fiction novel.

So there is a chance you won't be getting what you think you have paid for.

What do I mean by reluctantly led?

So far, on the surface Stephanie Meyer has mostly been interested in writing about the existence of soulmates. One could say 'the power of love' is at the heart of her stories and the conflict is always designed to demonstrate how nothing can get in its way. The romance scores pretty high on the "fluff-o-meter", which can turn some readers' stomachs while others feel embarrassed by just how "warm and fuzzy" these books make them feel inside (In other words the guilty pleasure).

Twilight and The Host are the same plot in different settings. The question is, will this new novel be any different? Probably not. In which case, is she in danger of reproducing an old chestnut? Maybe, but she is not alone and she is in good company. Read more http://spot4susan.blogspot.co.uk/2016...








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Published on November 27, 2016 02:11 • 3 views

January 28, 2016

Science fiction is probably my favourite genre of fiction. When I first discovered Dystopia I was less keen (for reasons outlined, below), but my attitude has changed considerably over the years - which is just as well since Dystopian fiction is so prominant that it is difficult for a sci-fi fan to avoid, particularly in Young Adult fiction,

That said, I have my own idea of what Dystopia is. For me, in the same way that horror is supposed to evoke a sense of fear, Dystopia is supposed to evoke a sense of dread and anxiety. If a horror isn't scary, it isn't doing it's job. To me the same applies to Dystopia. Sometimes it is difficult to indentify what is causing that uncomfortable feeling; its about sensing that something terrible is just around the corner, but not knowing what. Sometimes it takes the form of dramatic irony - when the reader knows what terrible things are going to happen to characters, but the characters themselves have no idea. There are many great examples but two that come to mind are George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' and Kazuo Ishiguro's 'Never Let me Go'.

Animal Farm by George Orwell Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

My problem with some modern Dystopian fiction is the absence of that sense of dread. For the month of February, my book review blog Sooz Book Reviews will be dedicated to Dystopia and will look at which of the chosen books do, and which ones do not, do the job of evoking a sense of dread and making us feel uncomfortable.

http://soozbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk
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Published on January 28, 2016 11:45 • 24 views

May 31, 2014

 photo Fotolia_63970297_XS_zpsb8f090b6.jpg

I have just completed a series of graphic novel R4Rs on my Sooz Book Reviews blog and have discovered a whole new avenue of reading pleasure, as a result.

For a long time I was dismissive of GNs, assuming they were for teenage boys (and men who behave like teenage boys), but boy was I wrong! I grew interested in giving the graphic novel a try when I heard about Days of the Bagnold Summer while listening to a book-related podcast dedicated the medium. This was in 2012, at the time that it had been nominated for the Costa Prize. I bought a copy soon after but it sat on my bookshelf collecting dust until recently.

The next one I found out about was Saga Volume 1, which I got as a Christmas present last year. Having 2 GNs in my possession and a (minor) reluctance to read them, I decided to feature some GNs on SBRs for the month of May. As well as the ones already mentioned, I included Sex Criminals and Gen 1-3, a Manga (the Japanese GN equivalent).

GNs tend to run as a series of many instalments, and you have to be prepared to invest in following the many parts (some grouped together in volumes, such as the Saga series). As a consequence, the plot tends to unravel slowly with each part. On the plus side, you don't get that problem of padding out or a flimsy plot that is increasingly common with serialised novels.

I was less enthusiastic about manga. Admittedly, I only read the one (although there were 4 independent stories within it). I'll need to read more before I can give my verdict.

Graphic novels aren't just about superheros and fantasy; it's possible to find any and every genre within the medium, so there is something for everyone. What I wasn't expecting was just how effective the use of written and pictorial story-telling can be - it's positively synergistic.

GNs that I reviewed in May 2014
Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan Days of the Bagnold Summer by Joff Winterhart Gen #1 by Shige Nakamura Sex Criminals #1 Suzie Down in the Quiet by Matt Fraction
http://soozbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk/
http://spot4susan.blogspot.co.uk/2014...
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Published on May 31, 2014 06:06 • 65 views • Tags: graphic-novels

March 15, 2014

Am I stating the obvious if I say it is hard to write a book set in Britain and not address the social class divide? Perhaps, but I will. I have no doubt that social class affects the lives of inhabitants of Britain more than most (if not all other) places in the world. For that reason, to an outsider it may seem crazy but everything from a person's accent and attire, to their education and career prospects, the friends they select, the food they eat, how they spend their social time, even the way they select and process information - everything is governed and pigeon-holed into one social class category or another. It was only when I moved to Paris as a student that I realised there is an alternative way to live.

Yes, it has changed in the past 17 years or so but, compared to other countries, the social class divide still dominates our lives more than it should. I'd like to ignore it and I hate being pigeon-holed, but in reality in Britain there is no escape.

Here are some contemporary British novels that I've read recently that address the social class divide:

Bone Season, The by Samantha Shannon
The Bone Season (The Bone Season, #1) by Samantha Shannon

Capital by John Lanchester
Capital by John Lanchester

Casual Vacancy, The by J.K. Rowling
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling

Lemon Grove, The by Helen Walsh
The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

NW by Zadie Smith
NW by Zadie Smith

One Day by David Nicholls
One Day by David Nicholls

Woman He Loved Before, The by Dorothy Koomson
The Woman He Loved Before by Dorothy Koomson



And one I have written

Two Versions of the Same Song
Two versions of the same song by Susan Francis
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Published on March 15, 2014 05:10 • 57 views

December 14, 2013

I just finished reading The Plagiarist, the science fiction novella by Hugh Howey and it got me thinking....

The Plagiarist by Hugh Howey If you are a writer (or like me dabble), I strongly recommend you read this book, because what it is really about is writing - or at least it is for me. The protagonist, Adam Griffey, demonstrates all the characteristics of a writer and he talks about the stuff writers sometimes experience and feel.

(1) The self doubt - that feeling of not being good enough, especially compared to the greats - a feeling so strong that you don't feel worthy (to the extent that you think maybe you should just give up and leave it to those who do it really well). These are insecurities that must be overcome.

(2) The tendency to procrastinate because writing is so hard (yes I do appreciate this).

(3) The importance of reading (in moderation). Adam has a tendency to spend too much time reading and hardly any time writing because it is SO HARD. Instead he spends his time searching for the next Shakespeare in a virtual world. (Hmm, now who does that remind me of?)

So what I've been thinking is this: My New Year's resolution is to read fewer books, write fewer reviews and finish my novel that has been a work-in-progress for way too long.

My review of The Plagiarist is available at http://soozbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk...
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Published on December 14, 2013 13:31 • 66 views

September 7, 2013

I have just finished Doll Bones by Holly Black and it inspired me to write this blog.

For me Doll Bones is about that pivotal point in a child’s life when they have to let go of their childhood and embrace young adulthood. I think in 2013, most pre-teens are only too happy to do so. I wonder if there are some who aren’t ready to do so, even though it is expected of them? My guess is yes. This is the case for the characters in the book - Zach, Poppy and Alice.

It resonated with me because I was just like them at 12. I loved to play (with dolls of the Barbie kind) and was under pressure from my dad to give them up. I wasn’t ready and I continued to do so - when Dad wasn't around to see it - until I was ready to stop. I realise now that I was afraid to grow up. I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to my childhood. When the time felt right (and I was fast approaching 13 when it did), I gave my dolls away.

My parents and I moved to a new place and I made friends with a boy who shared my new love of rollerblading (bought for me by my dad). The boy became my best friend and rollerblading became my passion (no I wasn't one who read constantly and wrote my own stories). My dad was relieved and all was right with the world.

Children should be allowed to be children for as long as they need to. They should not be forced to grow up and be made to feel embarrassed because they want to play. Play fuels the imagination.
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Published on September 07, 2013 06:29 • 85 views

July 13, 2013

Will Wilkins - Aintree #3 photo Fotolia_Will_XS_zpsdf4dcad3.jpg

Wee Willie Wilkie darts across the lawn,
trying to meet his curfew and be spared his mother's scorn.

If he doesn't make it, will he be alright?
Last time he was cautioned, and it's way past twilight!

Tales from Aintree Court Book 3
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Published on July 13, 2013 00:16 • 89 views

July 12, 2013

Look familiar?
Have you ever had an author send you an ARC for read-and-review, only to discover that much in it has been pilfered from your own published work? That you have helped said author previously to promote their first novel and they haven't even acknowledged that they have read your work, much less rated it. Then they have the audacity to send you a sequel presumably so you write a positive review that will help them promote it. As you read said sequel it's really familiar and you find yourself saying, 'I know why it's familiar, I wrote about that in my book... and that...and that...that too!'.

I am not talking coincidental commonalities here (see my previous blog post), I'm talking bold-faced pilfering of characterisation and plot. You have? Well, me too.

Should you feel flattered?
If the book is done well then maybe you can take your hat off to the author. You might think, that was sneaky, but at least it's good. (I would in any case.) But what if it's the sequel from hell? What if you wrote a 5 star review for the first one and the sequel reads not so much like a sequel to the first one, but more like poorly executed fan fiction of your work (How is such regression even possible?)

It would appear that while I saw this author as a peer, said author saw me as a competitor. Perhaps I am naive (clearly I am, but for me writing is not a business but a labour of love). I have had mixed reviews of my novels and some wonderful feedback but I don't apply ratings to my own work and for me self-promotion is a chore. I spend more time promoting the work of my peers (perhaps foolishly). I believe I have potential as a writer but I strive for perfection. To be honest, it's a surprise to discover someone would want to pilfer my work. Warped as it may be, it is a massive compliment.

Karma?
If I am right and it is the sequel from hell (in this case, more likely to alienate it's target readers than not), and assuming said author ignored my feedback and left the reader-alienating gaffes in (yes, foolishly I did try to help fix it), this is bound to be reflected in the reviews. Time will tell.

C'est la vie!
I won't be put off by this experience. I will continue to support my peers (although not that particular one).
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Published on July 12, 2013 05:31 • 50 views

June 22, 2013

Have you ever come across two novels whose stories are original in their own right and yet they bear a resemblance to one another? Books that contain what I call 'coincidental commonalities'. Here are some of the novels that I have drawn parallels with. I wonder if I am alone in my assessment?

Two books with similar protagonists:
Gabriel's Inferno (Gabriel's Inferno, #1) by Sylvain Reynard Fifty Shades of Grey (Fifty Shades, #1) by E.L. James

Gabriel's Inferno by Sylvain Reynard and Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James (both published within months of each other in 2011)

Both female protagonists, Julia Mitchell (in GI) and Anastasia Steele (in FSoG), are sweet and innocent - with a heavy emphasis on innocent - college students with just enough money to get by. They both fall in love with a slightly older and therefore more experienced (sexually aware) man. In the former novel's case, it is distinguished and wealthy university professor, Gabriel Emerson, and in the latter it is the rich and highly successful entrepreneur, Christian Grey. Both men are flawed characters haunted by a dark past. They are both manipulative and the relationships are both dominant vs submissive. They are both adult romance but Fifty Shades contains a lot of steamy sex scenes while GI does not.

Two books with a common theme:
Wool Omnibus (Wool, #1-5) by Hugh Howey The Moon Dwellers (The Dwellers, #1) by David Estes

Wool by Hugh Howie (First pub: 2011) and The Moon Dwellers by David Estes (First pub: 2012)

Both set in futurist post-apocalyptic societies with inhabitants living below the earth's service under an unequal class system and ruled by dictatorship. I would say the former is aimed at adult readers and the latter at young-adult readers. I have reviewed them both on Sooz Books Reviews in the past. If you want to check out my reviews go to http://soozbookreviews.blogspot.co.uk...

Two books with a similar set-up:
Slammed (Slammed, #1) by Colleen Hoover In the Middle of Nowhere by Julie Ann Knudsen

Slammed by Colleen Hoover and In the Middle of Nowhere by Julie Ann Knudsen (both published within months of each other in 2012).

The set up is that Leykan Cohan (of Slammed) and Willow Flynn (of ITMoN) have both tragically lost their fathers. They both have younger brothers of around the same age. They are both required to move from the family home to somewhere else. They both meet boys who are poets and use poetry to woo them. They are both angst-ridden teenagers (but who can blame them as they genuinely have a lot of sh*t to deal with). I have reviewed them both in the past on my review blog (as mentioned above).

Two books with a similar romance:
Butterfly Porcupine (Aintree Tales #1) by Susan Francis The Journals of Kara and Jason by Charlie Wood

Butterfly porcupine (by what's her name again?) published 2011 and The Journals of Kara and Jason by Charlie Wood published 2013.

Both novels are about first love with all the joy and pain that goes with it. In both novels there is a friends vs lovers tug-of-war going on in the relationships. The female protagonists (Tasha in BP and Kara in TJK&J) are in denial about their ever growing affection for the male protagonists and focus on the friendship, while both male protagonists (Kai in BP and Jason in TJK&J) aren't as confused about their feelings and would like to take the relationship to the next level. Both stories are told from the POV of each character with alternating chapters. BP is a contemporary romance while TJK&J is a contemporary romance with a sci-fi element.

If anyone else has comments about the above I would be interested to read them. Also, if there are other books with coincidental commonalities that you are aware of I'd be interested to know about those too.
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Published on June 22, 2013 08:36 • 107 views