Thursday, November 21, 2013

Meet Anne Mackle of Books with Wine and Chocolate - A blog to be savoured

This week is the third  in my series of interviews with book bloggers. I've found it really interesting to read what has motivated my interviewees to dedicate their blogs to reviewing and promoting books. Today's is one I am particularly fond of and have been reading for some time. 

Anne Mackle has become one of my true cyber friends and I have had just the loveliest contact with her. It started with Twitter, then I followed her personal blog 'Is Anyone There?', and then shortly after I started reading her book blog 'Books With Wine and Chocolate' where she reviews books she has read and been asked to read. What I like particularly about Anne's blog is her balanced and thorough assessment of each book. I also like the way she is scrupulously fair and constructive. If she doesn't like something in a book, she tells you why without making you feel that you wouldn't like it too or putting the book down. A rare and great skill.

As the third and last of this current series of book blog weberviews, I asked Anne to join me on the barge for a chat.

AM: Hi Val! Thanks for inviting me onto the barge. I'm glad the sun is out and the water is calm today!

VP: Hi Anne, yes, I'm glad it's stopped raining too! I've hardly been able to hear myself think these last few days with the noise of the wind and hail on the hatchboards! But Ann, can you tell the readers how long you've been blogging about the books you've read and reviewed?

AM: Well, my book review blog has been going for about seventeen months now although at first I only posted a review every month now it’s every week or more.

VP: So, what inspired you to start the blog?

AM When my children were young I worked in a library and I read every bestseller as soon as it came in. It was lovely to then pass on how much I had enjoyed a book to the public. Later in another job everyone would come to me before buying a new book to ask which was best. Since leaving work I have missed that.  After my writing blog was established I suppose it seemed a natural progression for me to blog about books.

VP: I really had no idea you'd worked in a library, Anne. But you live in Scotland and you say you've always loved reading. What books did you read when you were growing up and what was it you loved about them?

AM: The first books I remember reading were by Enid Blyton. I think the first one was called The Wishing Chair. I went on to her Secret Seven books full of daring adventures in castles and lighthouses best read by torchlight under the bedcovers. After that came Catherine Cookston’s Mary Ann series for children which were just brilliant. My mum was a prolific reader so I must get it from her.

VP: Things have changed a lot in recent years with e-books and e-readers. I wondered, then do you read paperbacks or e-books mostly?

AM I have a kindle and an ipad and tend to use the ipad more because I can read it in bed without the light on. Ebooks are so easy to buy, perhaps a bit too easy but are great for taking books on holiday instead of having to choose what paperbacks to take. But I still love real books especially hard backed ones. The smell and feel of the paper is something an e book will never beat.

VP: Oh I so agree. If I like an e-book, I always buy the real book too! Just out of interest, what's your favourite genre and how do you decide which books to buy or read?

AM: I will read most genres as long as I think the story sounds worth reading. I’m not too keen on straightforward romance books where boy meets girl, falls in and out of love and so forth. I want a good plot or secret at the heart of the book. I would rather not read anything too scary, I’m a bit of a wimp and it would keep me awake at night. I recently turned down a book to review because it said it was a hot, steamy novel, what could I say about a book like that?

VP: Haha, I can't write or read anything like that either. I just get embarrassed. But seriously, what do you think is important when writing a review?

AM: Not to give the plot away. I read so many reviews on Amazon where the reviewer has given away the whole story. It is very hard to say what you enjoyed about a book when you’re dying to tell people the part you loved the most but it’s unfair to spoil it for everyone.

VP: Yes, I sometimes wonder why people feel the need to do that. But  can I ask what you do if you don't like a book you've read. Do you still review it?

AM: Luckily I have never hated a book I have been asked to review - only books I have bought myself and then I just wouldn’t review them. I do comment on parts of a book I maybe didn’t think came across as being true but I would never tear apart an author’s work as I know how much blood sweat and tears has gone into it. I get really annoyed at reviewers who say they gave up after reading two chapters as it was the worst book they have ever read. You have to read the entire book if you want to comment on it.

VP: And it's noticeable that you have read them all too! Do publishers or distributors ask you to review books for them? How does that work?

AM: There is a website called Net Galley where book bloggers can apply to join. If you are accepted you can then choose review copies (ARC) eBooks you would like to review. The publisher will get back with a yes or a no. The review has to go on your blog as well as Net Galley, so the more reviews you do, the more books you will be accepted for. I am also contacted by publishers or PR people who send me paperback copies of books to review and sometimes authors get in touch on twitter.
I particularly like reviewing books by debut authors as it’s so hard to get noticed among all the bestsellers these days. I also buy many books and seem to be quite good at winning copies on other blogs and websites.

VP: That's great! It also shows your reviews are well respected. I must say your blog looks very professional and well presented. How much time do you spend on updating and designing it, and how many views do you get on average?

AM: Thanks for saying that Val, I’m still learning about blog layout so it’s all a bit of a hit or a miss, sometimes I spend a few hours playing around with it. My book reviews seem to be getting just over 100 views each with the exception of Jigsaw Pieces by Carol Hedges which has had over 300 views.

VP: She's such a draw card, isn't she? And it's a great book too! What about you, though, do you follow many other people's blogs and do you know how many people follow yours?

AM: I follow lots of writing blogs but not so many book review ones. I do read them but usually when links are tweeted or on Facebook. I think I have about 40 followers but over 100 follow by book blog Facebook page.

VP: Twitter, Facebook and blogs make a good combination don't they. If any of the readers here want to start a book blog, would you have any tips for them?

AM: I have found Blogger a lot easier to use than Word press but everyone has their favorite. My tips would be review books you have bought yourself first for a few months then apply to join Net Galley. Publishers then get to know your name. Don’t take on too many books to read, though. Remember there’s only 24 hrs in a day!

VP That's a good point! It would be very tempting to take on more than you can ever read! And lastly, lastly, Anne, what do you do in your free time when you aren't reading, writing reviews and blogging?

AM: Reading and blogging are my hobbies; I don’t think I could ever be without them. I have a two year old granddaughter and another due at Christmas I help out with her childcare nearly every week I also look after my friend’s three year old grandson two days a week and have done since he was born, so the rest of my days revolve around them, painting, baking and reading stories and I love it.

VP: I'll have to ask you about the painting and baking another time - I didn't know you did that either! But Anne, thanks so very much for coming down from Scotland to the barge here. 

AM: Thank you for interviewing me Val and for being so supportive of my blogs. Now where’s the tea and cake I was promised? Let’s go barging!

VP: Oh yes, the cake..... Oh no!! It's fallen overboard! I can see it floating off through the harbour. We'd best cast off these ropes and go after it.....!

While we go off and rescue the cake, anyone who wants to read Anne's blog will find her reviews here:
Her facebook page here:
And her twitter profile here:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Indie Author Champion - Rosemary Montgomery

Rosemary Montgomery is the second book blogger guest  here on Watery Ways and is someone I am particularly pleased to have met as she comes from my beloved South Africa. I 'met' Rosemary through another of my long time writing and blogging friends, Anne Marie Klein, and started following her book blog regularly. So when I decided to start interviewing book bloggers, she came quickly to mind, and I'm so glad she agreed to come down from her Cape mountain scenery to join me on the barge in Rotterdam. Our chat about her blog turned out to be very interesting as Rosemary is a real champion of Inidie Authors.

Rosemary and her husband on a road trip
in South Africa where she lives

VP:  Rosemary, how long have you been blogging about the books you've read and reviewed?

RM: The first review I wrote and posted on my blog was Killer Instinct by Zoë Sharp on March 20, 2013.

VP: So that's pretty recently then. I came to your blog through our mutual author friend, Anne Marie Klien, so there's lots I don't know. Could you tell me what inspired you to start your book blog.

RM: It was Elle Casey, and Indie authors. When I first ‘discovered’ Elle Casey and other Indie authors, I realized how important it was for them to have readers reviewing, and talking about their books.  I started the blog primarily as a place to keep all my reviews together as my main aim was, and still is, to post the reviews of my favourite books on to as many platforms as possible.  I currently post each and every review I write to 12 different platforms.  It is time consuming, but it is my way of trying to help the Indie author, and to thank them. 

VP: That's fantastic, Rosemary. As an indie myself, I can say we really appreciate what you are doing. But you live in South Africa and you say you've always loved reading. What books did you read when you were growing up and what was it you loved about them?

RM: My earliest memory of ‘reading’ was when my parents bought an encyclopedia set of Fairy Tales.  There were 12 books in total packed with the most amazing stories and illustrations.  I loved and treasured those books.  When I got too old for fairy tales, I secretly read whatever my father was reading, mostly cowboy novels by Louis L’Amour, and thrillers.  I loved them all.  Other than the fairy tales, I never read books aimed specifically at children or young adults. The first book I bought for myself was The Clan of The Cave Bear by Jean M Auel, which I still have.

VP: Ah the affection for old books. I still have some of mine too. But in this digital age, do you read paperbacks or e-books mostly?

RM: Because I read as much as I do, it is cheaper to buy e-books.  Storage is also a huge problem for me as I am a bit of a book hoarder, and there is a limit to the number of bookshelves my husband thinks I should have.  We disagree on that point, so the kindle is great.

VP:  I'm guessing you must have reached saturation point on the bookshelves then! You read so much, though, I'm curious about what your favourite genre is and how you decide which books to buy or read.

RM: I don’t have a favourite Genre.  The only books I do not enjoy are erotica and politically motivated books. I have a very strict book budget so I never, ever buy a book without doing the research first.  I have a notebook next to my computer where I make a note of any interesting books I come across.  When I am ready to buy, I do my research and read reviews on various sites.  I do not buy according to star ratings, as they are seriously flawed and mean nothing to me.  I look for the reviews that are honest, and have often bought books because of an honest 1 or 2 star review. 

VP: That's very open-minded of you. I think a lot of people would be put off by a poor review. But since you are such a reviewer yourself, what do you think is important when writing a review?

RM: I think it is important that you stay true to yourself when reviewing as it is about your personal take on the book.  To me it is about how the book made me feel and the impact it had on me.  I try not to think about the author or the reader when I review a book.  The review is about me, and the book.

I think I should say that I am not a very good writer, and I really struggle a lot when writing a review, but I do the best I can. For example, I read Noble Lies by Stephanie Andrassy, and for months I tried unsuccessfully to write a review.  I tried over and over again and eventually (months later) posted the review, but I have always felt the review did not do the book justice.  I struggle with that – a lot.

VP: Maybe you are also a perfectionist! So what do you do if you don't like a book you've read. Do you still review it?

RM: If I am not enjoying a book, I will not force myself to finish it, and will not review it either.  If a book is just ok, I will probably not review it either.  I just don’t have the time to review every book I read, as I would end up spending more time writing reviews than reading. 

VP: That's a good point, because I know how much you read as well, so it must take a lot of time. I just wondered then. Do publishers or distributors ask you to review books for them?

RM: I do receive requests from representatives, as well as from authors who contact me through the blog.  I very, very seldom accept an ARC (Advance Review Copy? - VP)  for review.  If the book has already been published, I will look into it, and if it is something I am interested in reading, I will buy the book.  The only ARCs I do sometimes accept are from authors I have reviewed before, and even then I still prefer to buy the book myself when it becomes available rather than accept an ARC.

VP: I'm guessing that also helps you maintain your own 'indie' status as well! By the way, your blog is stunning. Very professional and well presented. How much time do you spend on blogging yourself and how many views do you get on average?

RM: Thank you.  The look of the blog has changed twice since I started, but I am happy with it as it is now. I try and limit the time spent on the blog to an hour a day.  Sometimes it is a bit more, but not very often. The daily views are up and down, depending on what I review.  If it is a romance, the views are high, but thrillers, horrors, etc, get lower views.

VPDo you follow many other people's blogs and do you know how many people follow yours?

RM: This is a difficult one for various reasons.  I am not very good with the whole social media ‘follow me and I will follow you’ thing, I tend to avoid it.  At first I followed quite a few blogs to learn from them, but I have cut down on that.  I mostly follow the authors I admire, and the review blogs that interest me personally. Most of the people who follow my blog are readers, not bloggers, and I am happy with that, especially as the majority are South Africans who are new to e-readers and Indie authors in general. 

VP: Rosemary, I think you're doing a real service to the indie book writing community, so if any of the readers here want to start a book blog, would you have any tips for them?

RM: If I was starting out, I would start with a Tumblr Blog or a BookLikes blog.  They are easy to set up and you are ready to go within an hour.  You have the added bonus of not having to worry about backups and everything else that goes with a regular blog. 

I have both a Tumblr blog and a BookLikes blog.  BookLikes especially is fantastic.  I sometimes spend more time there, than on my own blog.  It is a great community of readers and they discuss books as well as their cats, dogs, and anything else that interests them. I love it. 

VP: I've never heard of BookLikes. I'll have to look for it. But lastly, Rosemary, and before you fly away from our wetlands and back to your lovely sunshine, what do you do in your free time when you aren't reading, writing reviews and blogging?            

RM: My Siberian Huskies take up a lot of my time.  They are a lot of work but I adore them and could not imagine life without them.  I also have a stained glass / engraving studio at home which my husband set up for me, and I spend a LOT of time in there.

Other than that, my husband and I are Harley Davidson enthusiasts – the Western Cape (South Africa) with its sweeping mountain passes and beautiful valleys is the perfect place to tour on a Harley, even if it is only a day trip.  We are currently Harley-less as my husband is looking for the ‘perfect’ bike – sigh, but I am sure we will be back on the road again soon. 

VP: You have no idea how jealous I am of that thought. And how lovely to have Huskies and an art studio. I love my barge here, but I miss South Africa like crazy. One day, I'm going to come and visit you there! Thanks so much for joining me on Watery Ways, Rosemary!

Rosemary's Fun with Books Blog can be found here:

Rosemary and Husband in the beautiful monument of a town
Maatjiesfontein, Cape Province, South Africa


Monday, November 11, 2013

More watery wonders in Europe

One of my recent and most viewed posts was one about the Seven Watery Wonders of northern Europe. The ones I wrote about are in places I have been and seen, but these wonders are not the only ones in mainland Europe, and after writing the post, I became curious to find some that I haven't seen as yet.

I love a bit of sloshy research!

So, given the extent of Europe's waterways, I realised there must be several I haven't heard of as well as not seen, so I started investigating and sure enough, there is a wealth of watery wonders out there for me to share with you. Thus, my friends, a new list is born.

The photos below are not my own (for obvious reasons), and I've taken them off the Internet. So I have acknowledged the sources that were there (I don't want to be a photo thief after all), but it's not always possible to find the actual authors. My apologies in advance if I am not giving you proper recognition.

All that being said, then, here are some more of the Watery Wonders of the European systems in no particular order:

1. The remarkable inclined plane of St-Louis-Arzviller on the Canal Marne-Rhine at Arzviller in France. Here barges sit in a bath that straddles the plane. It covers a horizontal distance of 108 metres and rises 44,5 metres. In July this year, there was an accident during which the 'bath' holding the boats moved when a boat was entering it and the boat got jammed. Apparently it was estimated at the time that it would be several months before it opened again, so I don't know what the current situation is.



2. The beautiful aqueduct complete with almost ceremonial entrance on the Canal de Briare, also in France. This is a very famous aqueduct because of its elegance and also (I suppose) because it crosses the equally famous Loire river. You can just imagine cruising gently across here can't you - just too beautiful.
Taken from:

3. Then there is the astonishing inclined plane on the Elblag canal in Poland. There are actually four of them (planes, that is) and at each rise, the boats are trundled up hills on rather rickety looking trolleys out of the water. The planes are approximately 240 metres long and rise between 20 and 25 metres. There are several YouTube films of this system available, and quite honestly the trolleys look far too fragile to me, but it's fascinating to watch them.

Source: Piotr VaGla Waglowski

4. The magnficent boat lift of La Fontinette at Arques (again in France) is next. This was designed by the same engineer who was responsible for the Anderton Lift in England and the four lifts at La Louvière in Belgium. Sadly, this photo isn't all that impressive, but I couldn't find a better one without using someone's personal blog photos. If I find one, I'll replace it.
5. And lastly (for the time being), there is the almost bizarre inclined plane at Montech on the Canal du Midi in southern France. This is really something. It involves two locomotives (of a sort, although they have wheels that are more fitting to a tractor). These locos push a boat up the plane in a of wedge of water in front of a watertight gate or scoop. The three photos below are from Wikipedia by Bertrand Bouret, and the diagram is by Koos Fernhout. See here for a fuller expanation:

The scoop that pushes the water and boats up the plane

the two locomotives that do the pushing (see the boat in the basin)

The plane itself

Koos's brilliant diagram of how Montech works! 

Well, I've found this quite fascinating, so I hope you find it interesting too. I'll keep on searching for some more watery wonders, as I'm sure there are still others to be found. Let me know if you know of any more that I might not have discovered...I haven't even looked at Germany yet!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Meet Lia London - the brain behind a special book blog

While I've been rocking on my barge in the recent storms, I've been thinking about a new angle for my weberviews. I've posted interviews with a number of authors on Watery Ways, but I've noticed recently there's been a big increase in the number of book review blogs on the net, and I wondered what inspired people to start focusing on this aspect of writing. As a result, and in the coming weeks, I'll be inviting some of these book bloggers to my barge for a chat about what they do and what moves them.

To kick it off, I've recently discovered a special blog called Clean Indie Reads. It was started by Lia London, and as soon as I read it, I got in touch with Lia and asked her if she would come and answer some questions for me about what she means by Clean Reads and Flinch Free Fiction as the heading of the blog calls it. Luckily, she doesn't get seasick, so she agreed to come and sit with me while we roll around in the wind.

Lia London in happy mode

So without further ado, welcome Lia!

VP.  Lia, firstly, I know you are a writer yourself, so how long have you been writing and what is your particular genre?

LL. Well, I've actually been writing for public consumption since grade school (let's just say 35 years ago) where I began with skits for school assemblies and poetry for competitions. In college, I wrote a full-length comic musical that was performed by a local children's theater. Comic or inspirational scripts dominated my writing until about four years ago when I began writing novels. I haven't focused on a single genre, but looking forward to the "to be written" pile, I favor young adult fantasy and Brit-style comedies.

VP. That's special! So what books did you read when you were growing up and what was it you loved about them?

LL. I loved the Chronicles of Narnia and the whole Oz series.  I loved being transported to another world with new ways of doing things and new creatures.  They fired up my imagination and helped me envision magical things all around me.

VP. That explains the love of YA and Brit humour then! How many books have you written, and which is your personal favourite?

LL. I've written four that are published, and have another one due out within a month.  The personal favorite varies depending on the mood because they are all so different.  Today, I'll say it's Magian High.

VP. I'm glad to hear someone else doesn't keep to one style either. Do you have any anecdotes about what made you start writing a particular book?

LL. Yes, actually. The Fargenstropple case came about because I needed to learn how to format books for kindles, but I didn't want to use my debut novel (The Circle of Law) as the test dummy because it was my "baby".  Fargenstropple was actually the product of an experiment in collaborative fiction, like a choose-your-own-ending story with my readers bossing me along.  It served its purpose as a  manuscript to learn formatting, but it also ended up being the book that most makes me giggle.  

VP. That must have been really good fun to do, but then given what you did there, what do you feel is most important when you start a new writing project? Getting it right, or getting it written?

LL. Getting it written.  Even if you go back and change everything.  Writing it helps you know it--in particular, it helps you know your characters, and I've always said the characters need to do the writing for you.  When I've written enough, I trust my characters enough to take over the reins, and they really take me places.

VP. Isn't it amazing how they can do that? I could talk about that for hours, but back to the core reason for asking you here, Lia, tell me what inspired you to start the Clean Indie Reads book blog?

LL. Once I became an indie author, I began reading indie books, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of story-telling I found.  I wanted my friends who were skeptical of self-published books to see what was out there, but I wanted to be able to recommend the books without reservation.  Since I know I'm not the only one who doesn't appreciate overly graphic images being implanted in my brain, I set out to highlight the awesome books that wouldn't have that drawback, hence the Flinch Free Fiction.  I featured writers like Elise Stokes, Michelle Isenhoff and Alan Tucker, and it just grew from there.

VP. I think a lot of people I know feel the same way too. As a reviewer, then what do you think is important when writing an honest review?

LL. That's a two-parter.  I need to speak to the needs of the potential reader to let them know if this book is a good read within its genre and for its target audience.  It drives me nuts when reviewers rip apart a book that was clearly never intended for them in the first place.  I also want to let the writer know what specifically made me enjoy the book.  If an author writes a crapola book, and I don't even finish the book, then I don't write a review.  I won't review anything that I haven't finished cover to cover.

VP. That's important isn't it? I know authors submit books to CIR to be presented on the blog with a 'weberview' but do publishers or distributors ever ask you to review books for them?

LL. Not yet.  I would love that job!  Do you know where I can apply?

VP. Aha, maybe you'll need to read some of the next weberviews here on the barge to get the answer to that one! One more question, Lia, in this digital age, do you mostly read paperbacks or e-books these days?

LL. I actually only recently broke down and bought a kindle because so many indie books were only available in e-book form.  Right now, I mostly read e-books because  they're cheaper.  However, if I love an e-book, and it's available in paperback, I buy the paperback for my shelves.  It's like a seal of honor when a book makes it to my shelves because it means it's a keeper to be treated with respect.  Books are like gold in my house.

VP. Oh yes, I've started doing that too! And lastly, before we go out for a walk round the harbour, what do you do in your free time when you aren't writing and blogging? 

LL. That's a trick question, isn't it?  The writing and blogging is what fills my free time.  It brings me great joy to keep my mind active and interact with the awesome people who come to my site and participate in Clean Indie Reads.  But... the answer you probably want is that I practice Taekwondo and read (though never at the same time). 

VP. Haha, I'd love to see that! Okay Lia, we'd best get off here before we're both seasick! It's a stormy day out there.

LL. Thanks Val. This was a great opportunity and I hope some of your readers will come and visit my blog. They can find the links to the blog and her FB pages here:
@LiaLondon1 #CR4U

When the rocking got too much