Welcome to my Blogger page, thank you for visiting. This is where I will share my reviews of books, movies and other things I enjoy. If you would like to see my ramblings, fanfiction and other general posts, please visit my Livejournal: beren_writes. Visit my pages to learn about me and my books.
Top set of links above are external links, second set are pages local to the blog.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Guest: Overcoming Second Novel Syndrome by Tiffany Shand #WriterlyWednesdays 27


Please join me today in welcoming Tiffany Shand to my blog for the second time, with her new novel Denai Bound and an insight into the joys of writing a second novel. We all know the feeling: we did it once, can we do it again?

Overcoming Second Novel Syndrome

by Tiffany Shand

When I first started working on my second novel, Denai Bound, I thought this should be easy. I know my characters now, I've already written the first novel and this should be a breeze. Boy, was I wrong!

Shouldn't second novels be easy now you have the experience of doing one?

In fact no, many writers often find that writing the second novel is a lot harder than writing the first one because there is the pressure to make the book as good as its predecessor. This is why the condition is called second novel syndrome.

Yes, writing a second book is a lot harder. You don’t have the indulgence and carefree time that you had with your début novel.

Here are some tips of overcoming second novel syndrome:

  1. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. After your first book has come out you will probably feel the need of getting something else done quick and having another book out there. Don’t give into that pressure. Books are like babies, they come when they’re ready to.
  2. It’s okay to take your time. After the first book, you’ll probably want to dive in and get the words out as quickly as possible. But it’s okay to take your time. A rushed book isn't going to impress your readers and may cause more harm than good. But make sure the wait is justified and the second book is as good as it can possibly be.
  3. Don’t try to write same book twice. It can be tempting to make your second book the same as the first with a similar plot. But this will quickly become boring both for you and your reader. Each book has to be different and unique in its own way.
  4. Success doesn't mean you can write anything. If you had a successful first book it doesn't mean you can just write any old thing for the second one. If it’s a sequel then it’s still has to remain true to you characters and the elements you set up in your first book.
~*~
Book Info
Denai Bound
by Tiffany Shand

Denai witch, Cate McCray should be enjoying married life with her new elemental husband, Jason. But their arrival in a new city soon has them stumbling headlong into a new case with dangerous connections to the very people that govern their world.
Cate and Jason face opposition from those they once considered allies. Together with their team of enforcers, they must find the killer before anyone else dies.

With danger from all sides and the threat of ancient, dangerous magic, the team must pull together and use all their strength to find their enemy before disaster strikes.


~*~
About the Author

Tiffany Shand was born in Essex, UK and started writing short stories when she was a child.

She has always done writing in one form or another and started writing novels in her early teens.

Tiffany loves to read books and discovered her love for fantasy and paranormal romance during this time.

She writes both non-fiction and fiction, but mostly fantasy and paranormal romance.

After doing a creative writing course in her early 20s she is now a freelance writer and professional proofreader. She is currently studying for a journalism degree.

Tiffany lives in Essex with her two spoiled cats and one very nutty hamster.

Find Tiffany on:

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

3 Top Tips for the #AtoZChallenge #WriterlyWednesdays 26


Greetings fellow bloggers. Today I'm going to talk about the AtoZChallenge and 3 tips for a smooth April. If you are looking for my AtoZChallenge Theme Reveal post just click here. FYI these tips are all my own opinion, I'm not one of the organisers, they are just things I think that make life much easier.

3 Top Tips for the AtoZChallenge 


A quick recap for those who don't know what the AtoZChallenge actually is, it's full title is Blogging from A to Z Challenge and it is thousands of bloggers getting together and blogging every day during April, except Sundays, using a letter of the alphabet as a prompt. There is still time to sign up if you want to and it is a great way to meet new friends and get people interested in your blog.

This is my fourth year and it's a lot of fun every time.

We have just had the AtoZChallenge Theme Reveal, which is a smaller blog hop in advance of the main challenge where blogs who have chosen themes reveal them with fanfare and drum rolls :). You don't have to have a theme for all your posts in April, but it can really help.

Over the last two days I have visited 320 blogs (sorry about the 100 I didn't get to - I really tried to do the whole list) and been visited by lots of lovely bloggers too. This has reminded me of a few things that make life a whole lot easier when visiting so many blogs.

Please, please, please, make it obvious where your latest AtoZ blog post is.

Unlike in a one post blog hop, you can't link directly to the post in the list of participants because you have lots of different ones over the month. This means people have to be able to find the post you want them to see on any particular day by clicking on to your main site or a category within it.

In something like the AtoZChallenge, if people can't see where your post is easily, they are very likely not going to bother to hunt around. I hunted around during the theme reveal, but I doubt I will be as patient in the main challenge.

Some of the problems I saw during the theme reveal are as follows:
  • the blog had a category/tag for the AtoZ which had been linked to from the list, but the poster had forgotten to add their theme reveal post to that category/tag
  • the linked front page didn't show anything to do with the AtoZ and I had to guess where the post might be
  • no post title mentioned "Theme Reveal" or "AtoZ" in anyway so I wasn't sure which one was the right one to read.
These are all very easy to issues to deal with and your post is much more likely to be read if it can be found easily.

Your Time-zone is not my Time-zone

Now I know there are optimum times to make posts on various social media, and I fully support fanning out your promotion of your posts to things like Twitter and Facebook, but, for the AtoZChallenge, posting the actual entry early is better IMHO.

The AtoZ is a world wide challenge with people from Australia to Alaska and not everyone is in the same time-zone. Hence, to catch as many people as possible, I find it a good idea to schedule my posts to go live at midnight in my time-zone. This means I have one post a day for the maximum possible time so it can catch the most people.

I can still tell all my Twitter followers and my Facebook peeps that might not be hopping along the list about it at the optimum time of day my Buffer tells me to, like I would with a normal post, but the post is still there for anyone who pops in before that.

For some people this may be impossible, but I find it a good technique when it can be done, especially on day 1.

When Commenting Leave Links/Blog Name

Different commenting systems use different accounts to register who the commenter is. 
For example:
  • Blogger might use your G+ account 
  • Wordpress might use your Twitter account
  • others ask you to put in your own name and link
These links don't necessarily go to where you are doing the AtoZ and may even have a different name on them. Hence it can be hard to track who the commenter is.

I try to use one of the following three options when commenting on other blogs to make it easy to find me should they wish to:
  1. my name with clickable links to the 3 blogs I am using during the AtoZ, with the most important first
  2. my name with the titles of the 3 blogs underneath and non-active links below
  3. my name with the titles of the 3 blogs below
I use them in that order of preference depending on what the comments section can take. Some don't allow html tags so #1 doesn't work and I use #2 and some see any links as spam and refuse to post is so I use #3. I have the three sigs in a txt file and I just paste the one I need on to the end of the comment I leave on the blogs I visit.

Even #3, which is just mentioning the name you used in the main AtoZ list can help if the comment does not allow links, or you don't know how to put them in, because that means I can search the list to find you. Some people use name @ name of blog, which is perfect.

I have to admit there were a couple of lovely commenters for the theme reveal that I just couldn't track back to their own site, so I was forced to believe they weren't taking part. This could be true, but it could also be that Blogger used their G+ account that does not connect to anything so I couldn't find their main blog.

[Edit: and of course someone else has been sensible enough to actually tell you how to do the links :): Creating a signature for the atozchallenge by A Tarkabarka Hölgy]

So there you have it, my 3 Tops Tips for maximum engagement during the AtoZChallenge. I wish everyone taking part lots of luck and hope you have a great April with lots of lovely visitors.

Do you have any other tips for AtoZers that I have missed? Do you think any of my tips are incorrect?

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Dixit Odyssey - Truly Awesome Game #TipsTuesdays


Welcome to my blog - if you are after my AtoZChallenge Theme Reveal, it's here. Today's Tips Tuesday is a recommendation. On Saturday we went out to dinner with some good friends and two of them stayed over at our house. They brought with them a brilliant game which we played when we got back and I have to tell you all about it. It's so good I immediately went out and bought us our own copy.

Dixit Odyssey
Truly Awesome Game

Now this is a game for between 3 and 12 people, so it suits small families and big groups alike. We played it with four people and it was a lot of fun.

The better you know the people in the group the harder it is :).

You can also buy expansion packs to make the game bigger the more you play it. As you can see the art alone is worth taking a look at.

So I'm guessing you would like to know how to play :). You can download the official rules here in 8 languages if you would like, or you can follow my ramblings :).

  • Everyone chooses a colour and you are given a little rabbit playing piece and a card with 12 holes and depending on how many people are playing, one or two voting pegs (called voting tokens by the game, but they just look like mastermind pegs :)):


  • Each player is dealt 6 picture cards. E.g. :


  • One player each round is the storyteller. They have to choose one of their cards, place it face down on the table and then say or do something to give a clue to the card (and some of these clues are very obscure).
  • All the other players then choose a card from their hands that matches as closely as they can to the clue given and place their cards with the storyteller's card, also face down.
  • The storyteller then shuffles the cards and places them face up around the main score board (which has number positions).
  • The other players then vote on which card they think is the storytellers by secretly putting their pegs in the correct hole on their voting card. If there are more than 7 players you can vote twice if you wish. The only card you cannot under any circumstances vote for is your own - that's cheating.
For example, say I was putting down the rabbit in the spacesuit on the moon, I could say "cream cheese" in hopes someone would get my reference to the moon.

The idea of the game is to get some of the other players to guess your card, but not all. 
  • If everyone gets it or no one gets it then the storyteller gets 0 points and everyone else gets 2 points.
  • If some get it, they and the storyteller get 3 points each.
  • Everyone but the storyteller whose card gets a vote (i.e. they matched the clue well) gets an extra 1 point, up to a max of 3.
  • If you are playing with 7 or more, if you only voted once you get an extra point if you guessed the storyteller's card correctly.
Hence it is a matter of balance - your clues need to be clever, but not too clever. 

I still can't believe no one figured out my card when my clue was "Yggdrasil" - it had a bloody great tree right in the middle of it. I don't expect everyone to know about Norse mythology, but I expected my husband to remember, given how many times I've made him sit through Thor and Thor the Dark World! You just can't rely on people some times ;)
  • After each turn you take another card from the pack starting with whoever is the next round to be the storyteller.
The winner is the first player to 30 points :).

As you can see from the examples, the cards are very abstract and you can give any kind of clue you like. It's a lot of fun and I whole heartedly recommend it. I intend to make the family play it on Easter Sunday :)

Do you have any board games you absolutely love?

Monday, 21 March 2016

AtoZChallenge 2016 - Fictional Phantoms - Theme Reveal


Welcome to my blog on this lovely theme reveal day. For those who are not sure what is going on, April is AtoZ Challenge month, when several thousand bloggers all go slightly insane and decide to blog every day (except Sundays) through the month using a letter of the alphabet as our prompt.

Now some of us also have a theme for all our posts, hence theme reveal day to give everyone a chance to look around and bookmark some of the blogs they definitely don't want to miss when the real posting begins.

My theme this year is ... drum roll please (as if you haven't already read the banner ;)) ...

~Fictional Phantoms.~

Each day I will be talking about one or two fictional spooks, ghosties and things that go bump in the night. Some you will undoubtedly have heard of, others, you might not know, but I hope I will entertain you either way.

Check out my blog during April for

  • spooks that make your spine tingle
  • ghosts that give you a giggle
  • and creepy critters that will make you cry.
I look forward to seeing you during the AtoZ.

Other bloggers, I'll do my best to get to everybody in the list, but leave me a comment with your link and I'll definitely drop by.

~*~
My Other Blogs
I am sharing blogging duties with my sister, Sophie, on two other blogs for the AtoZ as well and we are also part of the theme reveal:

And Sophie also has her own blog and is doing the theme reveal too:

~*~
Other People's Blogs
Now check out all the other theme reveal blogs by visiting the theme reveal site (I recommend leaving it open in another tab :)).

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Easy Chicken Katsu Curry Recipe (Gluten-Free)


So I love Katsu Curry, but the kits in the supermarket are so expensive for what it little more than a sachet of sauce and some breadcrumbs. They are also full of gluten, which several of my friends have to avoid. Hence I came up with this recipe and tried it on my husband last night and he loved it :). It is based off of these two recipes: Chicken Katsu Curry from allrecipes.co.uk, Crunchy Chicken Cutlets from Simply Nigella. If you wanted a vegetarian version you could use vegetables like aubergine (egg plant), sweet potato and butternut squash, like they do in Wagamamas.

Easy Chicken Katsu Curry

Serves 2

For the sauce

(the original recipe says this serves 4, but my family like a lot of sauce :))
  • 2 tblspns sunflower or coconut oil
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped (I used garlic from a tube, which worked well)
  • 2 medium carrots, sliced
  • 2.5 tblspns corn flour (if you like your sauce slightly runnier, go with 2 instead)
  • 4 tspns curry powder (check you have a gluten free variety or here is a recipe for making your own)
  • 600ml chicken stock (I use the liquid stock that you add to water - many varieties are gluten free, but always check the label)
  • 2 tspns honey
  • 4 tspns Tamari (Japanese gluten free soy sauce - you can get it in most supermarkets)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tspn garam masala 

For the Chicken

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tspn curry powder (check you have a gluten free variety or here is a recipe for making your own)
  • 1 tblspn corn flour
  • 1 clove garlic, minced (again I used garlic from a tube)
  • 1 tspn garam masala
  • 75g/3 cups cornflakes (check the packet to make sure they are gluten free)
  • 2 tblspns sunflower oil for frying (coconut oil isn't good in this instance because it tends to burn the cornflakes)

Instructions

  1. In a bowl with a flat bottom (big enough to get all the bits of chicken in), mix the egg, the curry powder, the corn flour and the garlic together with a small whisk.
  2. Lay out a sheet of cling film on a hard surface and, one at a time, place a chicken breasts on it and fold the film over the top. Then pound the chicken until it is nice and thin and flat.
  3. Cut each breast into 4 or five smaller pieces along it's length (with the grain).
  4. Add each mini-fillet to the bowl of curry mixture, turning to fully cover each piece, then leave for a little while.
  5. Put the cornflakes in another large bowl and gently crush them with your hands.
    • Tip: you want small pieces, but not tiny crumbs.
  6. Add the garam masala to the cornflakes and stir in.
  7. Take each piece of soaked chicken and cover in the cornflakes, pushing the cornflakes firmly onto both sides of the meat. Then leave the pieces on a wire rack to dry while you make the sauce.
    • Tip: If you don't leave them for at least 10 mins the cornflakes will fall off as soon as they hit the pan.
  8. In a non-stick saucepan heat the oil and add the garlic and the onion, leaving to soften.
    • Tip: I find putting a lid on helps with this part.
  9. Add the carrots, stir and cook very gently for 10 to 12 mins.
  10. Add the curry powder and the corn flour, stirring for about 1 min until everything is coated.
  11. Slowly add the stock.
    • Tip: add only a little stock at a time, stirring well to make sure the sauce remains smooth and without lumps.
  12. Add the honey, the bay leaf and the Tamari and bring to the boil, before turning down the heat and leaving to simmer for 20 mins.
    • Tip: if your sauce thickens too much, add a little bit of water.
  13. When there is about 10 mins to go, heat the frying oil in a wide based frying pan.
  14. Add the chicken pieces and cook for 3 mins on each side and then put in a warm oven while you finish the sauce.
    • Tip: they are thin so this should be enough, but always check that the chicken is cooked through properly. If you see any translucent pink, keep cooking.
  15. Take the bay leaf out of your sauce and stir in the garam masala. Then blitz it with a stick blender or in a food processor.
  16. Pass the sauce through a sieve and then return to the saucepan to reheat.
Serve everything with rice (I used brown rice, but white rice is traditional, sticky white rice if possible).

This recipe takes time, but it is straightforward and very, very tasty. You also get to take out any pent up frustration on the chicken when you prepare it :).


(Free on Kindle Unlimited)

The Machine: Rise of the Gifted
by Natasha Duncan-Drake

Rafe Derouet used to be a world class, British figure skater competing against his arch rival, flamboyant American Louis Hayes. A catastrophic knee injury ended his career and now all he can do is look on from the sidelines, commentating where he used to be a star. He hates Louis and wants nothing more than to see his nemesis go down in a blaze of failure.

Then mysterious men in black with guns take over a press meet, trying to arrest Louis, awakening something dangerous in their target, and setting in motion events they cannot control. Most shocking of all, Rafe finds out Louis can literally read his mind.

Dragged into a murky world of government agents and x-files by one of those x-files, Rafe finds his world view completely changing. And, along the way, his hatred for Louis proves to be something else entirely.

Now Rafe just needs to survive so he can decide what to do about it.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

3 Variations on Gluten-Free Peanut Butter and Choc Chip Cookies (delicious) - #TipsTuesdays 25


My apologies for not being around the last few days - my husband and I were in London from Sat until yesterday having an awesome long weekend :). Welcome to Tips Tuesdays 25 and today I have the most fabulous recipe for you. You will not believe how good these taste and they have no flour so they are gluten free, which is simply win-win. They only take moments to make - the difficult part is not eating them before they are cool.

The original recipe is from Simply Nigella (I will keep mentioning this book because it is amazing), but I have tried two variations as well that I wanted to share.

3 Variations on Gluten-Free Peanut Butter and Choc Chip Cookies

Ingredients

Original Nigella Lawson Recipe

  • 225g (almost 1 cup) smooth peanut butter
  • 100g (1/2 cup) light soft brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tblspn vanilla paste/extract
  • 50g dark choc chips (I use 75g because I like lots of choc chips :))

Cruchy Peanut Butter Choc Chip Cookies

The only change here is to use
  • 250g (1cup) crunchy peanut butter instead of smooth 
- I added more to make the same consistency, but take into account the bits of peanut in the peanut butter as well.

Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies

For these I added
  • 25g (1/4 cup) pure cocoa powder 
- the mix is slightly dryer than the original, but tastes just fine.

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C (350F, Gas Mark 4).
  2. Put the peanut butter, sugar, bicarb and salt (plus cocoa powder if making the double choc) into a mixing bowl and combine.
    • Tip: I use a free standing mixer with a paddle attachment, but you can use a hand whisk or simply a wooden spoon and some elbow grease.
  3. Add the egg and the vanilla and gently combine
    • Tip: do not be too enthusiastic, do not use the top speed and stop once everything has come together.
  4. Using a spatula/spoon fold in the chocolate chips.
    • Tip: my mixture is usually quite solid by this point, having come together after adding the egg, but it will depend on how soft your peanut butter was to begin with.
  5. Line 2 baking trays with grease proof paper or silicon baking sheets
    • Tip: if you only have one baking tray or a small oven you can do the cookies in 2 batches without any problems - they are not time critical.
  6. Divide the mixture into 16 little mounds on the 2 baking sheets.
    • Tip: the tablespoon measure slightly heaped is just about the right size.
  7. Place in the over and cook for 10 mins only.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave on the baking sheets for 10 mins.
    • Tip: If you try and remove them earlier you will end up with cookie mush - still tasty, but not as attractive :).
  9. Slide onto a wire rack and leave for another 10 mins to cool completely.
    • Tip: They will keep for days in an airtight container.
These are very nice with a cuppa and are very moreish :). My husband's office love them.

Do you have any cookie recipe recommendations?


The launch is almost over - Last Chance to get The Machine for 99c (Free on Kindle Unlimited)

The Machine: Rise of the Gifted
by Natasha Duncan-Drake

Rafe Derouet used to be a world class, British figure skater competing against his arch rival, flamboyant American Louis Hayes. A catastrophic knee injury ended his career and now all he can do is look on from the sidelines, commentating where he used to be a star. He hates Louis and wants nothing more than to see his nemesis go down in a blaze of failure.

Then mysterious men in black with guns take over a press meet, trying to arrest Louis, awakening something dangerous in their target, and setting in motion events they cannot control. Most shocking of all, Rafe finds out Louis can literally read his mind.

Dragged into a murky world of government agents and x-files by one of those x-files, Rafe finds his world view completely changing. And, along the way, his hatred for Louis proves to be something else entirely.

Now Rafe just needs to survive so he can decide what to do about it.