It being the last Sunday of the year– oh yeah, don’t think I don’t keep track of these things– Luscious and I peeled the children away from the X-Box long enough to deposit them in our favourite outdoor cafe and discuss our goals for the coming year. Every year we set some personal goals, as well as a list of things we’d like to achieve as a family. We stick them up in the kitchen where everyone can see them, and run a thick black line through each one as we achieve it: simple stuff, but remarkably effective.

I spoke about my 2013 goals, and how I maybe might have scraped a pass mark provided you squinted at them through a plate of sheet metal in a darkened room in my Year in Review post. So now, for your entertainment and my ultimate embarrassment, here are my goals for 2014:

  1. Finish and send Father Muerte & the Divine. It’s written, but it needs some heavy structural edits. It’s by far the most complex work I’ve undertaken, and the first draft reflects that. I’ve been avoiding it like a cowardly coward for about three months now, so it’s time to gird my girdables and get about it.
  2. Finish and send one picture book. I’ve actually started three, and it’s a fun holiday project. I’ve enjoyed the process of completing a children’s novel so much I’m eager to explore the territory further.
  3. Finish and send Canals of Anguilar. I managed approximately 12 000 words during Nanowrimo, until the month went severely southward and banjaxed all writing attempts. Along with the Muerte novel, it’s my next major novel work and I want them both off my desk by year’s end.
  4. Finish and send Cirque. A teen fantasy novel, I’ve had 15 000 words of it sitting in my desk for over a year, waiting for reasonsthat’swhydon’tjudgemeYOU’RENOTMYSUPERVISOR! I’m committed to expanding my repertoire. Here’s an opportunity waiting to be seized.
  5. Volunteer for the Aurealis Awards Graphic Novel section. I did this a couple of years ago, and enjoyed it. Simple as that, really.
  6. Exercise 4 days out of every 7. I’m not setting weight loss goals. I’ve done that every year for the last 5 or so years, and it’s never worked. This is a change of approach– I’ll work on the root causes, and if the weight loss follows, all the better. But at least I’ll be raising my energy levels, keeping my muscles limber, and dealing with the general health complaints that have built up and made my 2013 a difficult one. To which we can add…
  7. Stick to a controlled eating plan 5 days out of 7. Elevated uric acid levels, elevated cholesterol levels, and I’m a fat bastard. Bit of a non-brainer, really. Except I have no brain, which is how I got into this state in the first place…
  8. Write a list of 50 home maintenance tasks, and complete them. I hate our giant white elephant of a house. It’s a ramshackle, dodgily-built mistake. But we’re stuck here for the foreseeable future, so there’s little I can do but set about fixing everything that makes me so depressed when I look around. 

So there it is. How will I do? Your guess is as good as mine. But it’d be nice to think the me that faces 2015 is thinner, fitter, happier, and has a more impressive writing CV than the one who faces 2014.

Also, I’d like a unicorn.

Review: Mr. Paradise

Mr. Paradise
Mr. Paradise by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good, solid Leonard book that does all the right things at the right times. The plot is relatively straightforward, but as always in a Leonard novel, the main enjoyment comes from watching cool, clever characters prove themselves not quite as cool and clever as they think they are. The dialogue is a treat, the characters beautifully rounded, and the spiralling narrative, as everyone struggles to keep their heads just above water, is delightfully laced with humour and violence. a typical Leonard read, which means that it’s very, very good stuff.

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Review: Mr Majestyk

Mr Majestyk
Mr Majestyk by Elmore Leonard

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Slick, understated and brooding with menace, this early Leonard book displays all the characteristics that would go on to be his trademark: simple, minimalist sentences that give the reader room to breathe; characters who aren’t ever quite as cool, or clever, or composed as they think they are; and a rapid escalation from calm to violence by way of events that leave an ordinary man taking extraordinary actions simply to keep his head above water. It’s a short, blunt and uncompromising book, but Leonard’s unmistakable talent for creating character and cast-iron verisimilitude lift it out of the ordinary. Excellent stuff.

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Review: The Somnambulist

The Somnambulist
The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should have liked this book a lot more than I did. It has everything I enjoy in a fantasy: a well-realised, fantastical alternative cityscape; eldritch powers battling behind the scenes of a dimly-glimpsed complex political landscape; a lead character both out of step and trapped by the society around him; a hidden history that plays itself out in the present; and elements of freakishness that manage to be simultaneously mundane and disturbing, both to the reader and to those with whom they interact.

The only problem was, none of it seemed to hang together very well, and I found myself more concerned with the fate of several incidental characters than I did with the central protagonists, or with the narrative they were pursuing. The narrator’s voice is an intrusion rather than a seamless addition, and when his identity is revealed, it throws the veracity of the whole plot into doubt– there are far too many moments when he could simply not have known what was transpiring for the revelation of his identity to make sort of narrative sense– and undermines the entire narrative, destroying any verisimilitude. The reader has been conned, and it kills the book.

Ultimately, the whole thing felt empty, and those elements that did not fit– and there were several that worked too far against the grain– became irritants that I could not ignore. It’s mostly an enjoyable book. It’s just that when it wasn’t, it really wasn’t, and ultimately, the work as a whole doesn’t quite overcome those irritating moments.

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Review: Bad Luck and Trouble

Bad Luck and Trouble
Bad Luck and Trouble by Lee Child

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I thought maybe I’d simply struck Lee Childs on a bad day when I read the execrable The Affair– after all, a series can’t be that bad when it manages to maintain readership for 16 books, can it? I thought I’d do fair duty, and pick up another one.

Bad Luck and Trouble isn’t as bad as The Affair, but it’s not far short. Once again, it’s a series of clumsily-narrated, unbelievable escapades in violence and bull-headed machismo, glorifying the simple-minded excesses of a cast of sociopathic cartoon figures without a shred of depth, sympathy or character arc between them. Child is so busy portraying Jack Reacher, the titular hero, as some kind of modern Conan-equivalent, complete with all that character’s overly-superhuman attributes, that the plot is cobbled together only to give the reader scene after scene of climaxless build-up. RReacher yawns and swats one-handed any obstacle that gets in his way, over and over again, until the reader couldn’t dredge up any enthusiasm should he rip the turret off a tank and start swinging it round his head, Hulk style.

There’s only so much enjoyment you can get from listening to someone bang a one-note drum. I’ve reached that point with this series after two books.

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