October’s Jukepop Reading Party List

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As many of you know, I am involved in the Jukepop Reading Party, and I often plan the stories I aim to read.  My current list (in no particular order) for the Reading Party kicking off 24th – 25th October is:

Aconitum by M Howalt (I need to finish the last 9 chapters!)

Neither £egal nor Tender by TP Keating

The Chronicles of Tearha: The Number 139 by Aden Ng

Underground by Ada Redmond

Far Flung by T.C.C Edwards

The Writer by Step Hender

Flocked (Volume 2) by Ryan Watt

The Hand of the Morrigan by Kitty Loy

As before, in order to dedicate more time to reading the serials, I will only offer some brief feedback on the last chapter.  A few weeks later, I will submit a more extensive critique on this blog.

Before we touch on the impending reviews, I wanted to talk about something that really made me think when it came to my reviews.  Aden Ng wrote a blog post that touched on what a good, constructive critique should be and also how some authors seem unable to handle negative critiques, leading them to lash out at the reviewer.

I am going to be reading the work of JP authors that I am unfamiliar with – I have never read their work before.  They may indeed be unfamiliar with me.  With this in mind, I would like to stress to them that these ‘reviews’ should be taken as an opportunity to grow as an author.  They are not formal – more an extension of the comments function on Jukepop.  They will be honest but fair.  Authors will not be treated to an ego massage, nor a written ‘bashing’ of their work – neither of these things are useful.  Instead you will receive a balanced critique showcasing the strengths and weaknesses of your work.

In order to do this I will point out what I liked most and what could be better, rather than what was ‘good’ and what was ‘bad’.  The reason I take this approach is:

  • a) In my experience, stories are very rarely ‘bad’.  It might perhaps need a little work, but it is infinitesimally unlikely that it is beyond redemption.  I have yet to read something where I couldn’t find at least one thing I liked in it.
  • b) Work on Jukepop is generally unfinished/ongoing, so I can’t critique it the same way I might a book I bought from a shop.

To me, Jukepop is an online writing group – people offer up their work because they know that it needs a little TLC before taking it further.  Jukepop authors rely on feedback from unbiased third parties to point out things they have missed.  I know from experience that when you comb though the same chapter countless times, the innumerable drafts can merge together, meaning continuity issues and erroneous spelling and/or grammar can and do slip through the net.  Although I will point out spelling and grammar errors, it is important to note that it will merely be a passing comment in the review; I will state that you had some and move on.

My focus will be on what works really well and what could do with improving – whether this is plot, scene, setting, character, dialogue, pace or anything else that may stand out.  These (in my opinion) are by far the most valuable pieces of feedback an author can receive at this stage.  A writer needs to know what parts of their story could use work but it is equally important to see what really shines.

So essentially, you will not find any maliciousness in my reviews.  They will be honest, but they will be fair.  I have already posted two critiques if you want to see the sort of thing to expect:

I am really looking forward to this months Reading Party.  I have decided to focus on serials that have been sitting on my JP bookshelf for a while that I have really been meaning to get into, as well as stories that I’m close to finishing ( I have a problem with stories ending – I often put off reading the last few chapters because when a story ends, especially one I am really enjoying, I go through the five stages of grief!  It really feels like I’ve lost a dear friend).

I might not get through everything, but I know I will thoroughly enjoy trying!

I hope to see many other Jukepop authors/readers joining me in the Jukepop Reading Party.  You don’t need to set such an intimidatingly long reading list as I do and you certainly don’t need to write extensive reviews for each serial; This is something I choose to do in conjunction with the Reading Party.  You could simply aim to get through that one serial you’ve been meaning to finish for some time.  It’s up to you.  Jukepop is such a fantastic community – the Reading Party is just another extension of the support fellow authors show one another.

The Jukepop Reading Party kicks off this weekend!  Good reading to everyone who joins!

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September Jukepop Reading Party Review: Keep Walking

I might not have gotten through as many serials as I hoped in this months reading party, but what I did manage was a real treat.

Keep_Walking_(SWP_Cover)_2c93731a_20150611091027AMOne of the serials I had the privilege to read was The Chronicles of TearHa: Keep Walking by Aden Ng.  So what is it about?  The official Jukepop blurb says:

Lucinda Baerrinska, Joashden Stalewaver, and Jacqueline Fertilans have a long road ahead of them. Their destination? The land of clear skies away from the Tainted black air of Katoki.

But to reach their goal, they have to traverse the war-torn landscape of the Walking Path and face the Leviathan’s Helm, a torrential river that no one in history has managed to cross.

Faced with towering Titans, roaming soldiers, and perilous terrain, can they make it to the fabled land in one piece? Can they rely on each other to survive?

Before we get started I need to issue a standard disclaimer:

WARNING: This review contains spoilers!

Moving forward …

What was done well:

First of all I really liked the interesting fantasy world woven here.  It’s part dystopian, part steam punk and part fantasy.  I suppose if I could describe it, I might say it’s Escaflowne meets Attack on Titan meets Gurren Lagann (I’m not sure why they’re all anime references but oh well).  It certainly wasn’t the kind of fantasy setting I was expecting but I quickly fell in love with it.  I like that there is magic, guns, gliders and ‘living’ machines.

Second I liked the opening.  We enter a seedy, smoke filled bar and we start to get a rough outline of the world.  Then we meet our first protagonist.  Enter our two leading ladies and we’re off on an adventure!  You couldn’t ask for a snappier opening sequence.

The thing that really works is the simplicity.  Essentially our three protagonists are making an important journey.  We’re not questing for treasure or important revelations or fulfilling prophecies.  We’re just making a simple, albeit dangerous journey.  Given that this story is only eleven chapters long, this was a smart move because when we do hit peril, it is all the more intense.  My heart pounded as they fought the Rankor and I cried when Jacques died (I actually did!).  I felt that I had gotten to know these characters personally and so I was moved by all that happened to them.

What could have been better:

There were grammatical errors – mostly tense related.  Sometimes this broke my reading pace and I had to collect my thoughts before stepping back in.  As I have mentioned in Ryan Watt’s review, I won’t fault a Jukepop author for this simply because using Jukepop is a sort of preliminary stage for stories – authors submit their work not only to share it but also to find a way to make it better.

The only other ‘flaw’ was the amount of exposition.  For such a short story, there was quite a lot to grasp.  We started talking about the Titan Wars, which sides had what, how the army was conscripting people and how the Titans were alive but not and I felt a little overwhelmed.  Its not like the information is irrelevant either – far from it.  After all, we are crossing a war zone and facing Titans.  Still, I think a work around is needed.  Perhaps adding a few extra scenes would spread it out and make it less overpowering.  My personal suggestion would be to use a flashback sequence.  That way we could spread out necessary exposition in a manageable, easy to digest way .  We already have that brief scene where Luce refuses to kill a Titan.  It would be relatively simple to extend that and incorporate it into the narrative.

Overview:

What we have here is a short but action packed story in a beautifully crafted fantasy world.  Although there are some grammatical errors, it is very close to a final draft.  Not only that, but it is obviously part of a much larger body of work which is super exciting! This is certainly a world I’d like to dive into again.

I’d recommend Chronicles of Tearha: Keep Walking to anyone looking to read a short story in a fantasy world with a unique twist!  Aden Ng also has a blog you can browse through too.

Also, if anyone is interested, October’s Jukepop Reading Party will be Saturday 24th – Sunday 25th.

September Jukepop Reading Party Review: Flocked

The Jukepop Reading Party started during the SWP2015.  I was behind in reading some of the brilliant serials in the competition and decided that in the final weekend I would binge read as many as possible.  Several other authors joined me in this endeavour.  We enjoyed it so much, some of us decided to keep it going every month and thus the Jukepop Reading Party was born!

Essentially the aim is to dedicate the last whole weekend of every month to reading as many serials as possible.  This month, I set up my reading list and did my best to get though it.  In order to ‘cover more ground’, I didn’t offer feedback on every chapter like I normally do, but I wanted to uphold the spirit of Jukepop and it’s authors and offer some feedback and support.  So I opted to do a mini review of all the stories I managed to get through.

One of the serials I had the pleasure of reading was Volume 1 of Ryan Watt’s Flocked.

Flocked_cover_2What is Flocked about?  Well in Ryan’s own words:

Once Upon A Time… kingdoms in trouble had to wait for a wandering hero to come along and save the day. But why wait? The Order of Champions now sanctions Guilds to answer the Call when a loved one is kidnapped, a beast attacks, or a curse is laid.

One such group is the Guild of the Feathers. Most of them are survivors of curses that turned into birds, so who better to help you than someone who has been there already and survived?

And now for the review of Flocked.  I’m sure it goes without saying, but …

WARNING: This review contains spoilers!

What was done well:

Before I begin, I should mention that I have a weakness for myths, lore and fables.  I don’t know why but I’ve always been fascinated by them.  Flocked stands out by delving into myths and fables from across the world.  Such a cacophony of different cultures would normally clash, however, Flocked binds them together seamlessly.  At no point does anything seem out of place.  The result is a rich world that feels like it has no limits.

Another thing I loved was the way curses were handled.  For starters, they have their own specific rules.  For example, one of my favourite aspects was that breaking a curse is not the same as resolving it.  No, in this world if you break the curse, you may be left with some lingering symptoms due to ‘curse fragments’.  Essentially you have literally shattered the curse and parts of it remain inside your body.  This means you are still influenced by the curse but not to the same degree as before.  The consequences of having these fragments can be relatively harmless or really serious and there is always the risk that the effect of the fragments will be worse than the initial curse.  The strength of this concept lies in its simplicity.  I love this idea that curses are quite formulaic and yet no two are quite the same.  They are as unique as their creators (usually powerful magic users such as witches and sorcerers).  A word of advice: in the world of Flocked, never get on the wrong side of somebody who knows magic. EVER.

Moving on, we get a rich array of characters.  My favourite is Torias.  I’m not sure why.  I think part of it is the implication that a person’s curse can start to affect their personality.  For Torias, his penchant for theft seems to stem from his raven curse.  Every so often he will pass something even in human form and have to catch himself because his bird part thinks ‘yeah I’d like that’.  I especially love him as The Blackwing – master thief.  I really enjoyed the chapters where Count Westerberg issues his challenge to the mysterious Blackwing.  This particular ‘mini arc’ was a no holds barred fantasy extravaganza!

What could have been better:

First I’d like to get the ‘worst’ off my chest.  The grammatical errors really let this serial down.  Some chapters were fine but then I suddenly found myself wading through mistake after mistake and it spoiled an otherwise delightful chapter.  For example, there was an instance where the word ‘vile’ was used when it should clearly have been ‘vial’.  These ones are tough because spell check doesn’t pick them up.

I will defend Ryan though.  I know from experience that when you are close to a piece of work, you often miss these little glitches and need a third party to point them out and this is exactly what Jukepop is for – authors supporting other authors to help get each other’s work to a better standard.  The clarity of where the story is going, the mechanics of the world and the clear drives and personalities of the characters show just how close Ryan is to this project.  This, unfortunately, can come with draw backs – one of which is grammatical errors get missed.

Moving on, there was something else I noticed.  It is hinted that princesses are only perceived as weak yet we don’t really come across any that kick some serious ass.  Our heroes don’t go to save a damsel only to find she has already helped herself and just needs a little extra assistance.  What I wanted to see was a ‘damsel’ and ‘hero’ being just as useful as each other; for there to be a situation where neither can get out of a jam without the other.  For example, perhaps a princess could use her wits and smarts to trick her captor into giving the hero the upper hand.  Although many princesses were resilient and independent, they lacked the spark I had been expecting from this story.

Finally, the protagonist Cyril didn’t have as strong a presence, character or voice as the other guild members.  I’d like to be constructive and offer a suggestion to improve this but I honestly can’t say why Cyril doesn’t work for me as well as the others.  His curse story was moving and clever and he seemed like a solid guy … I just didn’t connect with him as well as I did with Torias, Oleg, Taree and Satu.

Overview:

Flocked, as a whole, is a story that needs a hardcore edit but I can see a fantastic, intriguing story glimmering just below the surface. With the right TLC, this is the sort of series I’d be happy to buy from any book shop.

The mini story arc of each Call moves with fantastic pace, taking time to set scene, tone and introduce any new characters and concepts.  Best of all, it doesn’t feel rushed nor does it read like pointless filler.

The villain is also most certainly worthy of a fairytale world with all the trimmings: he is mysterious, nefarious and powerful with secret magical palaces, potent magic and of course a diabolical agenda.

It was refreshing to read a fantasy that isn’t all grit, gore and seriousness as seems to be the trend of late.  Instead it has some beautiful whimsy yet it retains a solid, cogent story line.  It reminds me in many ways of the first fantasy story I fell in love with: Simon R Green’s Blue Moon Rising.  It has been some time since I have tucked into a good and epic fantasy story.  I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys rich world building and deep, interesting characters.