Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Importance of Being a Bachelor by Mike Gayle

Despite the example of their own parents' enduring marriage, the three Bachelor brothers show no signs of settling down. Adam has a string of glamorous girlfriends, but they aren't suitable wife material. Luke has just proposed to Cassie but his refusal to consider having children looks like an insurmountable barrier. And baby of the family Russell is in love with the one woman he can't have. Then their father announces he has been thrown out of the family home and this forces all three brothers to examine their own priorities. Are all three Bachelor brothers totally hopeless cases or just late starters?

It is a mark of how much I adore Mike Gayle's books that I brought The Importance of being a Bachelor the instant I saw it this afternoon; I put aside the latest in the Dresden series that I was reading; and I completed the book in one satisfying sitting. In fact, the only book of his that I have not appreciated to this extent is his non-fiction 'The To-Do List'!

This book sets out to explore the nature of relationships: that between a couple who have been together for forty years; that just starting up; the love between adult and child. It shows how relationships can be damaged and irretrievably broken, while it also offers a perspective on hope and forgiveness.

All those lofty ideals are couched in a novel that is easy to read, and flows tremendously smoothly. I had read the first 60 pages with no effort, and was instantly drawn into the lives of the Bachelor family. As an aside, that was the only part I found genuinely annoying - the little play on words with the surname Bachelor and the fact that these three Bachelor men were flirting with disaster and the possibility of remaining bachelors forever. It was a little too 'sly nod at the audience'.

Other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this lightweight story that pokes fun at the attitudes of men towards relationships:

" 'So what do you think the problem is?'

'The same one that afflicts blokes the world over but for some reason seems to affect our family more than most,' said Adam. 'We just don't know when we're on to a good thing and even when we do know we can't stop ourselves from screwing up.'
"

The men were a little bit interchangeable in terms of characteristics - only their individual circumstances allowed me to really differentiate between them. The women were well written in the main: I really liked the Bachelor boys' mum, who was warm and realistic. I really sympathised with her situation, because I could almost imagine my own mum suffering like that after years of marriage (a really painful thought!)

This book is universally warm, in fact - rather like drinking hot chocolate or wrapping myself in a cosy duvet. And this is what I love most about all of Mike Gayle's books: although they may examine issues that are pertinent and painful to our own lives, there is always a happy ending. The comfort of this allows you to read and enjoy all manner of tense moments within the novel with the knowledge that it will all come good. I know that not all readers will appreciate this part (and certainly sometimes I like to worry about the characters a little more!), but now and then it is lovely to read a novel of this nature. Recommended for those looking for a light read on a summer day.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Grave Peril by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden's faced some pretty terrifying foes during his career. Giant scorpions. Oversexed vampires. Psychotic werewolves. It comes with the territory when you're the only professional wizard in the Chicago area phone book. But in all Harry's years of supernatural sleuthing, he's never faced anything like this: the spirit world's gone loco. All over Chicago, ghosts are causing trouble - and not just of the door-slamming, boo-shouting variety. These ghosts are tormented, violent, and deadly. Someone - or something - is purposely stirring them up to wreak unearthly havoc. But why? And why do so many of the victims have ties to Harry? If Harry doesn't figure it out soon, he could wind up a ghost himself...

I was rather partial to the second book (Fool Moon) in the Dresden series, and started Grave Peril with great eagerness, but found myself somewhat underwhelmed. I think this was for a number of reasons, which I shall endeavour to explain below.

The first reason is no doubt the hype and expectation. Everyone I know universally loves this series (in fact, I genuinely don't know a single person who has found it boring or insipid - a danger with a lot of urban fantasy) and states categorically that each book improves on the last. Because I loved Fool Moon, I was expecting Grave Peril to blow me away - but it didn't.

The second reason is no real fault of the book or the author, but I feel it bears mentioning. When you join a long-running series so late, and there are so many books ahead of you, there is no real tension about whether the hero will live or die. Sure, the peripheral figures might be in some danger (depending on the author - some never kill of any people, despite an ever-expanding cast; LKH, I'm looking at you!) but your main dude isn't going to die, no matter what gets thrown at him. So, despite ever-escalating levels of danger in this novel, I felt comfortable that Harry would survive.

My third reason is a matter of writing: after three books, I can confidently state that I don't like the pacing that Jim Butcher employs. For the first hundred and fifty pages of each book, I've found it very easy to put them aside. The last hundred pages is usually barn-storming, tension-filled and extremely gripping - so I guess they all finish with a bang! - but I wouldn't mind a more evenly-spread level of excitement.

Reason the fourth: bloody vampire politics. I am so sick of vampire courts, with back-stabbing and covenants and home advantage and things like that. They pop up all over the place in urban fantasy, and seem so generic. Although Butcher's vampires present a couple of surprises (in appearance, mostly), in other areas they are tiresomely generic. Which is quite unlike the werewolves from the previous book, which felt quite refreshing to me.

Lastly, I didn't like Dresden's faerie godmother. I think the fae in the Dresden series have the potential to be chilling and unique, but I don't feel they're well represented by Lea. The reason I didn't like her is the way she popped up in a "plot device" moment usually. She felt tacked onto the main thrust of the storyline.

This is all making it sound as though I have nothing but gripes - but I did enjoy the book! Just not as much as the previous book!

The main reason for enjoying this book and loving the series as a whole is Harry Dresden. In Grave Peril Harry gains a lot more emotional depth and throws around some bad ass magic. His sense of honour and inability to leave a woman in peril is a facet of his character that I adore, no matter how chauvinistic it may appear. It sort of reminds me of Marty McFly in Back to the Future who is unable to be called 'chicken' without taking a person up on a stupid challenge!

" 'For the sake of one soul. For one loved one. For one life.' I called power into my blasting rod, and its tip glowed incandescent white. 'The way I see it, there's nothing else worth fighting a war for.' "

His resigned sense of humour when it comes to landing himself in dangerous situations is alive and well in Grave Peril as well, and some of his dialogue with both friends and enemies fairly snaps along:

" 'Hell's bells, Kravos,' I muttered, sitting up again. 'Do they produce a Cliched Lines Textbook for Villains or something? Go for broke. Tell me that since you're going to kill me anyway, you might as well reveal your secret plan.' "

Since we're talking about characters, Butcher introduced some really vibrant new cast members this time around. Michael, in particular, is a very powerful character - providing morality and an abiding faith to Harry over the course of Grave Peril. His quiet gravity and admonitions towards Harry for his swearing lend a calm centre to this novel that I felt was missing in prior instalments. I also *loved* Ferrovax - I demand to see more of this Dragon. His brief appearance in Grave Peril lit up the pages.

Another part of the novel I really liked were the references to the fact that life continued in between the end of Fool Moon and the start of Grave Peril - in other long running series you feel as though the characters are frozen in time until you return to their universe. Here we are aware that Harry has taken a number of jobs and his relationship with Susan has deepened - and it all happened off-screen, as it were.

In conclusion, this was not the strongest novel in the Dresden series for me and I am hoping for better from the next. Harry Dresden is still entertaining and I adore the little details of the world that Butcher is weaving into the tales; even though I was slightly disappointed with Grave Peril, I would still be happy to recommend the Dresden series.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

2010 Statistics

I'm not the first to do this. Adam over at The Wertzone has listed his reading statistics for 2010 so far, and I thought I would join him for interest value.

Since the start of the year I've read 50 books (as of about 21:58 this evening, when I wrapped up the third Dresden book). Wow. I thought I was hovering somewhere in the late 30's, so that has really surprised me!

For interest value, I firstly counted how many of the books belonged to me and how many were review copies from publishers:

My own: 35
Review copies: 15

(This isn't that surprising to me since in the first couple of months of the year I wasn't really receiving any review copies! I'm sure that figure will even out in the latter half of the year, although I'm equally sure I'll still buy and read books of my own).

This is how the years were split:

1996: 1 book
1998: 1 book
1999: 2 books
2002: 1 book
2004: 5 books
2006: 3 books
2007: 3 books
2009: 10 books
2010: 21 books

Alright, that is a little more depressing. I am definitely of the 'new shiny' mentality! And how sad that the earliest published book I've read this year is 1996! Time to start injecting a few classics into my reading material, methinks!

Here is the publisher split:

Orbit Books: 11 books
Gollancz: 8 books
Headline: 7 books
Hodder Children's Books: 5 books
Harper Voyager: 3 books
Black Library: 3 books
Pan Macmillan: 3 books
Black Swan: 2 books
Michael Joseph: 1 book
Century: 1 book
Angry Robot books: 1 book
Penguin: 1 book
Atom: 1 book
Sourcebooks Fire: 1 book
Coronet Books: 1 book
Faber & Faber: 1 book

The dominance of Orbit, Gollancz and Headline are no real surprise to me - after all, I am a reader of speculative fiction and the first two are certainly the heavy hitters in the publishing arena for this genre. Headline is a publisher I love because they actually publish the spectrum of books I am interested in, including chick lit, quirky YA and historical fiction as well as some speculative (hence the high number of books I've read from them).

I admit that I am not the most up to speed with the various imprints of the major publishers: I guess Atom could have gone in with Orbit, since they are both Little Brown, for instance, but I just decided to list out whatever the publisher was on the spine of the books!

EDIT: Gender split (authors):

Male: 19 authors
Female: 31 authors

I believe that this split is skewed in favour of female authors because I've read a bit of chick lit, a fair amount of YA and some urban fantasy - all of which are generally the province of women rather than men. When I looked at the fantasy/sci fi section the dominance moved over to men rather than women.

This little exercise has actually shown me that:

a) I'm on target for 100 books (and hopefully more) this year

b) I desperately need to increase the number of older books I am reading and stop being distracted by the new shiny releases!

Please feel free to list your own stats in the comments section, or provide a link back to your blog if you choose to join in!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher is the second of the Dresden Files. In this novel we follow Harry Dresden as he becomes embroiled in a mystery involving werewolves, and comes face to face again with the Gentleman Johnny Marcone. "Business has been slow lately for Harry Dresden. Okay, business has been dead. Not undead - just dead. You would think Chicago would have a little more action for the only professional wizard in the phone book. But lately, Harry hasn't been able to dredge up any kind of work - magical or mundane. Just when it looks like he can't afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise. A brutally mutilated corpse. Strange-looking paw prints. A full moon..."

This book feels almost as though it was written by two different people. The first half of Fool Moon was written by the same person who wrote Storm Front - generic urban fantasy, with an intriguing central character and some entertaining magical rules and creatures filling the pages. A page turner that I enjoyed but found a mite disposable. Halfway through Fool Moon this other writer took over - and I *really* love his work. I found myself snorting with laughter at some of the startling humour in truly desperate situations. I was chilled by the monstrous form of the loup-garou, and its casual ability to tear apart hordes of people intent on destroying it. I was warmed by the oddball relationships between Harry and those who surround him. By the end of this book - yes, you can count me a Dresden fan.

It still had its faults, but these were more clumsy plotting or deus ex machina in nature - for example, the fact that Bob explained the existence of four different types of werewolves, and we happened to encounter every single one of them over the course of the book.

Butcher also doesn't have complete faith in his readers yet, since a lot of the characters and concepts were re-introduced all over again in this second book after encountering them in Storm Front. It is forgivable, since this is only the second in the series, but I have a horrible suspicion that this is habit-forming and will run into subsequent books in the Dresden sequence. If I am still being told what Murphy and Susan look like in book eight, I shall be disappointed.

With that said, apart from a frustrating desire to tell us exactly what every character looks like, Butcher's ability to produce characters that we care deeply about is second-to-none. Dresden remains a wonderfully sarcastic and irascible individual - take this quote for example: "So there I was being strangled by a ranting, half-naked madman in the middle of the woods, with a she-werewolf dangling from a rope snare somewhere nearby. My gunshot wound hurt horribly, and my jaw throbbed from where my buddy the cop had brutalized it the night before. I've had worse days."

Butcher's gentle observational humour makes the book a pleasure to read as well. I do believe that he might well be a cat owner, going by this quote: "I found him in a dumpster one day when he was a kitten and he promptly adopted me. Despite my struggles, Mister had been an understanding soul, and I eventually came to realise that I was a part of his little family, and by his gracious consent was allowed to remain in his apartment." Only someone familiar with the true fact that people belong to cats, and not vice versa, could write something like that!

Everything that made Storm Front enjoyable is present in Fool Moon, but Butcher has improved the plotting, the writing and the sense that we are reading something unique rather than yet another generic never-ending urban fantasy series. I was happy enough to read Fool Moon after trying Storm Front. Now that I've finished Fool Moon, I am ready to stampede to my bookshelves to find the third book. Butcher has created a fantastic character in the form of Harry Dresden - complicated, chauvinistic, and compelling - and I can't wait to read more of his adventures.

Monday, 24 May 2010

A Dribble of Ink talks to Floor to Ceiling Books!

The gentleman I welcome to the seat today for interview needs no introduction to the blogosphere, or the authors, or the publicists who read my humble blog - but I shall endeavour to try! I would like to introduce you to one of the Originals: the guy whose opinion on cover art sends the publishing world quaking; the person who can make or break new blogs by offering his benevolent support; the man who is likely dreading the publication of his WIP novel, thanks to the concise and brutally honest reviews he provides! *grin*

Yes *drumroll and fanfare*: it is Mr Dribble of Ink, Aidan Moher.

The reason I wanted to invite Aidan in to chat is because I am one of the very teeniest and newest book bloggers around, and I thought it would be amazing to find out the perspective of someone who has seen blogs come and go, and knows what it means to run a highly successful book blog. Without further ado, let's get to the questions!


AMANDA: Welcome to FtCB - how are you today?

AIDAN: I'm good, I'm good! Thanks for letting me toot my horn here on Floor to Ceiling Books! It's not often I'm on the other side of the table like this.

AMANDA: So, Aidan, remind us just how long you have been blogging about the wonderful world of speculative fiction - and what prompted you to dip your toes and start A Dribble of Ink?

AIDAN: Back in May, 2007, I was just finishing up school and on my way to becoming a successful young web developer (I'm still waiting for the successful part, and the young part is quickly escaping me...). Somehow, around that same time, I ended up with early review copies of The Elves of Cintra by Terry Brooks and ACACIA: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham. So, putting two-and-two together (plus my interest as a reader of the blogosphere), I decided to try my hand at it.

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

From there, I somehow found the determination to continue blogging at a (somewhat) consistent pace, and readers started coming. Then I got high on my success and, well... once my ego takes over, there's no stopping me.

AMANDA: How did you know that you'd 'made' it? Was it the first review copy; a particular number of visitors per day; an author contacting you off their own back?

AIDAN: I'm not really sure how to gauge that, really. As with any labour of love, I think it's hard to accurately assess your own success. I'm happy with how A Dribble of Ink has developed, I suppose.

As for those milestones, it's certainly an exciting feeling every time they happen. I once had artist Michael Whelan post a comment on my blog, which was pretty mind-blowing. Similarly, Neil Gaiman posted a link to my blog, back in the day, which had me grinning ear-to-ear for about a week. Having a quote from one of my reviews appear on a novel was a proud moment.

But, all of these are just little steps and I believe success isn't some magical line you cross, never to look back, but something that you continually work at.

AMANDA: Did you have a plan when you first started your blog in terms of posts? Did you ever draw up a schedule [and, if so, how long did it take you to rip it up *grin*]?

AIDAN: Hah. No. No plan.

I'm terrible at sticking to schedules. The only sort of outline I try to stick to is finding (or creating) something interesting/awesome to post each weekday.

AMANDA: Have you experienced blog burn-out? If so, how did you work through it?

AIDAN: It happens. Frankly, I used to be a lot less active in my posting (a couple of times a week, say) and I would just take a break when I was getting burned out. For a while, I was feeling pressured to mold my reading habits around what felt was expected of a blog, rather than just reading whatever I wanted and going at my own pace. Once I got over this, I remembered why I started my blog in the first place. It's fun.

AMANDA: Which of your articles draw the most views/comments?

AIDAN: Not surprisingly, my cover art posts generally draw a lot of views, especially if it's the cover for a major release (my pageviews were through the roof the day The Way of Kings cover was released).

My post about the cover for Brent Weeks' The Black Prism was famously popular.

More rewarding, though, are my actual essay articles that generally draw a strong reaction and garner heavy discussion amongst my readers and peers.

In terms of pure traffic? Nothing can touch my throwaway post about the delay of The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. It probably took me 3 minutes to write, yet shows up first in Google when you type in the name of one of the most anticipated novels in the genre. Who'd've thunk?

AMANDA: Let's talk a little bit now about the blogging community. When you started blogging what was the community feel like? How has that changed over the intervening years?

AIDAN: I actually came into blogging at an odd time. When I started A Dribble of Ink, the blogosphere was still quite small. Pat's Fantasy Hotlist was the big one, Nethspace, OF Blog of the Fallen and The Wertzone were all on my daily rotation also, but that was about it.

Within a few months of A Dribble of Ink beginning, the blogosphere had a big eruption of participants. The newer bloggers considered me part of the old guard (Pat, Adam, et al.), and the old guard considered me an upstart. I was really kind of caught between the two factions. It was an odd place to be, but also one that I think helped lead to my success. Being a bit of an outsider, in that respect, I've always just kind of done whatever I've felt like, as opposed to engaging in some of the clique-y behaviour one can often see in the blogosphere.

At least, I like to think I don't fall into any cliques.

The blogosphere's constantly growing and, frankly, becoming a more open and accepting place all the time. Thanks to twitter in particular, newer bloggers (like yourself or The Speculative Scotsman) are able to easily establish themselves and jump right into the ongoing dialogue of SFF Literature. That certainly wasn't a luxury a lot of the older bloggers had.

I think there's a certain enthusiasm in many of the newer bloggers that is missing from some of us jaded old bastards.

AMANDA: How much has blogging changed since you started up? (the rise of Twitter, more collaborations etc) Is it something you can see yourself utilising, or would you prefer to work alone?

AIDAN: A fair bit, and not at all. But, I'll tackle each of those separately.

A Fair Bit – As you mention, Social Networking's advent and subsequent world domination has changed the promotional side of things a fair bit. When I first started, the only way to really spread the word about your content was to spam forums with it. People generally weren't too receptive to this. Now, you have people flooding services like Facebook and Twitter looking for links to content.

Some of the older bloggers, like the curmudgeonly Larry at OF Blog of the Fallenor Pat from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, haven't really embraced the platform, and it hasn't really hurt them much. Still, newer blogs can get a huge foot up from Twitter alone.

Not At All – In the end, the rest of it doesn't matter as long as you're providing good, honest content with a personality and well-reasoned opinion. It worked this way when I started, it works this way now.

AMANDA: Do you think that the market for new blogs in the speculative fiction arena is saturated at this point? If so, how should new bloggers try to differentiate themselves?

AIDAN: As I mentioned earlier, I don't think the blogosphere has ever been friendlier or easier to break into than it is now. As long as new bloggers are bringing their own touch to the medium, there's always room for more.

A word of advice for new bloggers. Don't emulate your favourite blogs. Look at what you think they're missing and try to fill that hole.



AMANDA: Which are some of your favourite 'younger' blogs - and what makes them so effective?

AIDAN: A bit of a loaded question. Instead of making a list, and offending those that I forget to include. I'll just say that many bloggers (new and established alike) could learn a lot from Niall Alexander at The Speculative Scotsman.

Style. Voice. Opinion. Insight. He's got it all, and posts at a nice, consistent pace.

AMANDA: When a blogger is starting out, do you think they should be posting a certain number of times per week to ensure repeat visitors? When can a blog start to ease up on the constant blogging and still receive visitors, in your opinion?

AIDAN: I try to post something cool/interesting/self-congratulatory/thoughtful every weekday. Part of the reason I can do this is because of my work schedule. As I mentioned earlier, I used to post less frequently.

If you don't continue to provide good content, you'll lose visitors. It happens to me all the time. Then I'll post something of note, and my visits will jump back up. When I travelled to Europe, my traffic dwindled greatly. All my lovely readers came back once I started posting regularly again.

I think the most important thing is to find a proper rhythm and stick to it. James at Speculative Horizons only posts a few times a week, and he's one of my favourite bloggers. Pat's Fantasy Hotlist has new content all the time, but it's usually vapour. I prefer quality to quantity.

AMANDA: Speaking of content, what type of content do you most enjoy reading on other blogs?

AIDAN: I like to read the stuff that I didn't think of. I don't read a lot of reviews, unless I've already read the book (I don't really want my own opinions skewed, lest I review the novel in the future). I do like interviews (when they're done right) and commentary on the genre.

AMANDA: How many book reviews do you feel a blogger *should* be producing?

AIDAN: Well, considering I review fewer novels than almost every other blogger, I'd say my stance is pretty liberal on the matter. Frankly, I think that there's often too much of an emphasis on reviews, and not enough attention put on other aspects of the genre.

That said, maybe I'm just bitter because I'm such a slow reader.

;-)

AMANDA: Any last pieces of advice for budding bloggers out there?

AIDAN: Advice? I know it sounds painfully obvious (and terribly cliched) but... find your voice and don't compromise your honesty. There are so many blogs out there that are willing to shill for free books, to approach their reviews and coverage through a filter of perceived glamour (piles and piles and piles of books, oh my!), that the bloggers with the true, interested opinions have to fight ever harder to be heard. Still the cream rises to the top, and honesty will lead to wonderful things.

Oh, and don't navel gaze too much. People read your blog to find out about books (what's coming up, what's good, what sucks, etc...). The only people that care about the mechanics and philosophies behind blogging are other bloggers.

It can certainly be an interesting discussion, and worth doing sparingly, but, for the most part, it's likely only interesting to small portion of your audience. Bloggers are, almost by definition, those who like to hear themselves talk, so navel gazing posts will generally garner a lot of discussion from a (very) vocal minority.

If you want to discuss stuff like reviews, that's cool, just be sure to approach it in a way that's interesting to a general readership.

AMANDA: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions.

AIDAN: You're welcome! Like I say, as a blogger, I'm always happy to talk about myself...

Sunday, 23 May 2010

By Midnight Giveaway Winner

Just a quick announcement!

The winner of last week's By Midnight by Mia James winner is *fanfare*:

Melissa Symonds!

Congratulations to you and commiserations to everyone else who entered.

Books I Adopted This Week (plus giveaway!)

Well, this has been an epic week in terms of books received/bought - it often is when I visit Forbidden Planet up in London! Also, I am giving away another book - yep, it is being prised from my cold clammy hand - read to the bottom to check out how you can get hold of The Desert Spear by Peter V Brett! Without further ado....

Books Received For Review

Crossing Over by Anna Kendall

Whether it's a curse or a blessing the fact remains: whenever Roger is in enough pain he can cross over to the Land of the Dead and speak to the people there. It's an unexpected gift - and one that, throughout Roger's life, his violent uncle has taken advantage of. Roger has been hauled from fairground to fairground, and beaten into unconsciousness, in order to bring word of the dead to the recently bereaved. It's a hard, painful way of life, deceiving the living for a crust of bread. So when Roger has the chance of a new life, it seems a gift. He has a chance at safety and at living a life of his choosing, tucked away in the royal court. But life is unexpected, and when Roger falls in love with the bewitching, willful Lady Cecilia he has no idea what he is letting himself in for. With every step he takes towards her, he is drawn deeper into court intrigue, into politics, and even into war ...and when Roger's curious abilities come to the Queen's attention, everything changes forever. Trapped in courtly politics, bound by secrets, Roger is torn between his own safety and that of his friends. He can save them...but only if he can bring himself to perform a deed so unthinkable that the living and the dead shrink from it alike...

With thanks to Gollancz - this is being released 24th June 2010

Another very intriguing title from the Fierce Fiction team at Gollancz - they are releasing a succession of YA titles and all of them make me go 'oooh!'

Beyond Reach by Graham Hurley

A young couple are mown down in a hit and run incident. The girl is badly injured, the boy dies on the way to hospital. According to the sole witness the boy was in the middle of the road giving the approaching car the finger. Operation Melody is launched with DI Faraday at the helm. And reveals a mother driven to desperation by the attacks on her son ...and a link to a terrible crime from the early 80s that the victim does not want investigated. The investigation will rip apart a happy family but the high-ups are desperate for their 'Cold Cases' to be cleared up. Whatever the cost. And round it all circles ex-DC Paul Winter who has his own reasons for keeping the lid on an old crime.

With thanks to Orion, already published 7th January 2010

This was a nice surprise from Mr Spanton! I even received a handwritten note, saying I might like this because the book is set in the same area in which I live, which guarantees I'll be reading it - just to see what I recognise!

The Folding Knife by K J Parker

Basso the Magnificent. Basso the Great. Basso the Wise. Basso the Murderer. The First Citizen of the Vesani Republic is an extraordinary man. He is ruthless, cunning and, above all, lucky. He brings wealth, power and prestige to his people. But with power comes unwanted attention, and Basso must defend his nation and himself from threats foreign and domestic. In a lifetime of crucial decisions, he's only ever made one mistake. One mistake, though, can be enough.

With thanks to Orbit - this is being published 3rd June 2010

K J Parker is quietly producing books of great quality, but woefully I haven't tackled any of this author's novels since The Fencer trilogy. So I was very pleased to see this one arrive!

Feed by Mira Grant

The year was 2014. We had cured cancer. We had beaten the common cold. But in doing so we created something new, something terrible that no one could stop. The infection spread, virus blocks taking over bodies and minds with one, unstoppable command: FEED. Now, twenty years after the Rising, bloggers Georgia and Shaun Mason are on the trail of the biggest story of their lives - the dark conspiracy behind the infected. The truth will get out, even if it kills them.

With thanks to Orbit - this is being published 3rd June 2010

I know a lot of fellow bloggers have been marking this one as essential reading, but it has been mostly beneath my radar up until now. However, having read the blurb I am very excited to pick it up!

The Lord of the Changing Winds by Rachel Neumeier

The desert winds have come to the village of Menas Ford. Griffins, creatures of fire, have appeared in a burning haze, turning the sky a blazing golden-red and the land to dry, cracked earth. These majestic beasts, half-lion, half-eagle, spread the arid desert wherever they roam. Iaor, the King of Feierabiand, will not tolerate the destruction of his people's farmland. Sending forth his army, he means to rid the griffins from his domain - whether by negotiation or brute force. But not all those who encounter the griffins fear them. Kes, a timid village girl with hidden mage powers, is summoned to heal the King of the Griffins himself. She will discover her affinity with these creatures, and may be the only one to understand the importance of their presence. For they are fleeing a menace which poses a greater threat to her people than even the blazing fires of the desert.

With thanks to Orbit - this is being published 1st July 2010

Oooh! Griffins! We've had a resurgence in dragons recently, but these other mythical beasts have been ignored until now! This is the first in a trilogy and, as far as I'm concerned, it could go either way - either spectacularly good and generate a slew of people writing fantasy fiction about griffins, or really bad and guarantee the griffin is avoided as a subject in the future. No pressure, Ms Neumeier! (by the way, that is a really hard surname to type and get right!)

The Edge of the World by Kevin J Anderson

After generations of friction, the leaders of two lands meet in the holy city of Ishalem to bring an end to the bloodshed and to divide the world between them. Sadly, this new spirit of fellowship is short-lived. A single tragic accident destroys, in minutes, the peace that took years to build. The world is once more cast into the fires of war - and this time the flames may burn until nothing remains. From the highest lord to the lowest servant, no man or woman will be unchanged by the conflict. But while war rages across both continents, a great quest will defy storms and sea serpents to venture beyond the horizon, where no maps exist - to search for a land out of legend. It is a perilous undertaking, but there will always be the impetuous, the brave and the mad who are willing to leave their homes to explore the unknown. Even unto the edge of the world...

With thanks to Orbit - this has been published 6th May 2010

Kevin J Anderson gets mixed responses, depending on whether you chat to Dune readers or Star Wars readers or science fiction readers. He is a truly prolific author, yet up until now I have managed to avoid reading anything by him. The second book in his fantasy trilogy (see below) is being released shortly, and Orbit kindly sent the first book as well. I am willing to keep an open mind until I've tried the book!

The Map of all Things by Kevin J Anderson

After terrible atrocities by both sides, the religious war between Tierra and Uraba has spread and intensified - the series of skirmishes erupting into a full-blown crusade. Now that the Uraban leader Soldan-Shah Omra has captured the ruined city of Ishalem, his construction teams discover a priceless ancient map in an underground vault - a map that can guide brave explorers to the mysterious Key to Creation. Omra dispatches his adoptive son Saan to sail east across the uncharted Middlesea on a quest to find it. In Tierra, Captain Criston Vora has built a grand new vessel, and sets out to explore the great unknown and find the fabled land of Terravitae. But Criston cannot forget his previous voyage that ended in shipwreck and disaster ...and the loss of his beloved wife Adrea - who is now the wife of the soldan-shah in far-off Uraba, fighting to survive against palace intrigues and constant threats against her life.

With thanks to Orbit - to be published 3rd June 2010

See above! This is the second book in Kevin J Anderson's series - I definitely feel that my reading this book will depend very much on the first book!

Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Teenager Nick Gautier thinks he knows everything. Streetwise, tough and savvy, his quick sarcasm is renowned. But his whole world is suddenly turned upside down on the night his best friends try to kill him. Saved by a mysterious warrior, Nick is sucked into the realm of the Dark-Hunters - immortal vampire-slayers who risk everything to save humanity - and he quickly learns that the human world is only a veil for a much larger and more dangerous one that's filled with all kinds of evil. However, before he can even learn the rules of this new world, his fellow students start turning into flesh-eating members of the undead. Nick knows he's in real danger and he soon has a lot more to deal with than starting high school: he's under pressure to hide his new friends from his mother and his chainsaw from the principal while trying to impress the girl he has a crush on ? all without getting grounded, suspended...or killed.

With thanks to Atom - to be published 10th June 2010

Wow! The cover! The premise! I haven't read any of Kenyon's adult books, but I am sincerely ready to take the plunge into her work with this book! Nick sounds wonderful! (and now I'm done with the over-excited exclamation points...)

City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton

Villiren: a city of sin that is being torn apart from the inside. Hybrid creatures shamble through shadows and barely human gangs fight turf wars for control of the streets. Amidst this chaos, Commander Brynd Lathraea, commander of the Night Guard, must plan the defence of Viliren against a race that has broken through from some other realm and already slaughtered hundreds of thousands of the Empire's people. When a Night Guard soldier goes missing, Brynd requests help from the recently arrived Inqusitor Jeryd. He discovers this is not the only disappearance the streets of Villiren. It seems that a serial killer of the most horrific kind is on the loose, taking hundreds of people from their own homes. A killer that cannot possibly be human. The entire population of Villiren must unite to face an impossible surge of violent and unnatural enemies or the city will fall. But how can anyone save a city that is already a ruin?

With thanks to Tor UK/Pan MacMillan - to be published 4th June 2010

I now have a gloriously signed version of this book, thanks to my trek to Forbidden Planet for the book signing last Thursday. I haven't read the first book, but am planning a back-to-back read of both in the not-too-distant future.

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

In the CHAGA novels McDonald brought an Africa in the grip of a bizarre ailien invasion to life, in RIVER OF GODS he painted a rich portrait of India in 2047, in BRASYL he looked at different Brazils, past present and future. Ian McDonald has found renown at the cutting edge of a movement to take SF away from its British and American white roots and out into the rich cultures of the world. THE DERVISH HOUSE continues that journey and centres on Istanbul in 2025. Turkey is part of Europe but sited on the edge, it is an Islamic country that looks to the West. THE DERVISH HOUSE is the story of the families that live in and around its titular house, it is at once a rich mosaic of Islamic life in the new century and telling novel of future possibilities.

With thanks to Gollancz - will be published 29th July 2010

Oh wow! This is bound to be one of the science fiction moments of the year. I can see this one being on a lot of the SF award shortlists next year! (you heard it here first...) I actually made a girly noise of excitement when I opened the package and saw this one!

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

Jean le Flambeur is a post-human criminal, mind burglar, confidence artist and trickster. His origins are shrouded in mystery, but his exploits are known throughout the Heterarchy - from breaking into the vast Zeusbrains of the Inner System to steal their thoughts, to stealing rare Earth antiques from the aristocrats of the Moving Cities of Mars. Except that Jean made one mistake. Now he is condemned to play endless variations of a game-theoretic riddle in the vast virtual jail of the Axelrod Archons - the Dilemma Prison - against countless copies of himself. Jean's routine of death, defection and cooperation is upset by the arrival of Mieli and her spidership, Perhonen. She offers him a chance to win back his freedom and the powers of his old self - in exchange for finishing the one heist he never quite managed ...The Quantum Thief is a dazzling hard SF novel set in the solar system of the far future - a heist novel peopled by bizarre post-humans but powered by very human motives of betrayal, revenge and jealousy.

With (enormous) thanks to Gollancz! Will be published 16th September 2010

Did I squee excitedly at The Dervish House? It was nothing to when I saw this! The buzz on this novel is building wildly, thanks to stories about how it was pitched and how much it was brought for. I genuinely think we have a contender for debut of the year - but let's see what early reviews say!

The Thief-Taker's Apprentice by Stephen Deas

Berren has lived in the city all his life. He has made his way as a thief, paying a little of what he earns to the Fagin like master of their band. But there is a twist to this tale of a thief. One day Berren goes to watch an execution of three thieves. He watches as the thief-taker takes his reward and decides to try and steal the prize. He fails. The young thief is taken. But the thief-taker spots something in Berren. And the boy reminds him of someone as well. Berren becomes his apprentice. And is introduced to a world of shadows, deceit and corruption behind the streets he thought he knew.

With thanks to Gollancz - to be published 26th August 2010

Stephen Deas is making a name for himself with high octane fantasy books in the adult arena, and this is his first foray into YA (another of those highly intriguing YA titles!) It sounds like enormous fun - and certainly Mr Deas' blog has revealed a few humourous extras of the story!



Books Purchased This Week

For reasons of brevity, these entries will be tiny compared to those above. In fact, I am simply going to list the titles! (Yes, it's sunny and I've been doing this far too long, and I now want to go out and experience said sun *grin*)

I brought (at Forbidden Planet - seriously, I need my hands tied behind my back when I go to that place....):

Nights of Villjamur - Mark Charan Newton
Kraken - China MiƩville
The Age of Ra - James Lovegrove
Lamentation - Ken Scholes
Once Dead, Twice Shy - Kim Harrison
Warriors - Edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois


Okay, as a reward to all you faithful readers who have made it this far, I have a fun little giveaway!

Today I am giving away a copy of The Desert Spear by Peter V Brett (published by Harper Voyager!) The giveaway is open worldwide - just send an email to magemanda AT gmail DOT com with the subject header SPEAR GIVEAWAY, providing your name and postal address. I will pick a winner next Sunday! Good luck everyone :-)

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Storm Front is the first book in the long-running Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, introducing us to Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, the only wizard with an entry in the phone book in Chicago. The plot is a fast-paced magical murder mystery, which lends itself well to showing some of the no-doubt recurring characters and the "magic system" that Dresden wields. We also learn a little about the White Council, the ruling body behind practising wizards.

What interested me most about Storm Front was not so much the book itself, but the manner in which it should be read. For the first 120 pages or so, I kept picking it up and putting it down for various reasons (short public transport journeys, around making food, on brief lunch breaks) and never really settled to an extended stint. And I ended up wondering a little bit what all the fuss was about this series!

And then I sat down with a couple of hours on my hands and ended up sweeping through it, thinking 'Just one more chapter, just one more' which, as far as I am concerned, is how you should respond when reading something as action-packed and punchy as this. I equate Storm Front with an action movie - you wouldn't watch ten minutes of an action movie and then turn it off while making a cup of tea or heading out to see friends, and then watch another ten minutes a few hours later. An action movie would suffer from watching it in that way, and I think the Dresden books too. You definitely need to dedicate a couple of hours and then will find it incredibly good fun.

I thought the prose was incredibly effective - Jim Butcher presents Dresden in a first person perspective, which gives immediacy to the story. We know everything Dresden is thinking, and his uniquely sarcastic rejoinders to the events occurring in the book really added to my empathy for his character. I mean, when faced by a weird scorpion talisman that is becoming a little life threatening, I think a number of us would have something snarky to say!

The writing was also descriptive and atmospheric at key moments, rather than just business-like, which I expected it to be. I enjoyed the potion making scene between Harry and Bob, in particular.

The secondary characters were incredibly well-rounded, considering we didn't spend a great deal of time with them in this first tale (although I'm pretty sure they'll feature in future books). I particularly liked Murphy and her uneasy relationship with Dresden - I feel sure that this will develop in an interesting manner in the future. I also don't think I'm alone in liking Bob best!

One factor I found almost irritating, though, is the way that Butcher faithfully documented all the facial features and hair colour of each new character as they were introduced. It is something that I enjoy knowing about my characters, but I prefer it to be presented more naturally, rather than as a ticklist.

Certainly, this was very minor and might be a matter of taste, rather than an issue that other readers will experience as well.

To conclude, Storm Front was incredibly entertaining, with some great action set pieces and genuine tension. I think the highest praise I can offer is that I'll definitely be embarking further on this series!

Friday, 21 May 2010

Forbidden Planet - 3 authors, a heap of bloggers!

Yesterday I hauled my ass to Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue for a multi-author book signing. We were graced by the presence of Mark Charan Newton, Adam Nevill and *fanfare* China Mieville!

The signing was only part of the attraction, however: a massive group of bloggers all decided to descend en masse (including representatives from My Favourite Books, Kamvision, Speculative Book Review, Un:Bound, and many more!) Some of them I have met previously on my forays to Eastercon and the Headline party, and some of them I met for the first time.

I attempted not to embarrass myself by tripping up in front of China; I had a really lovely chat with Adam (who was amazingly gracious about my review of Apartment 16 - a really lovely guy!); and I snarked Mark because he decided to scribble in Nights of Villjamur!

I'm now just going to put a succession of pictures because I'm sure that is what people most want to see!



Adele and Ewa (hope I am spelling that right!)



Mark surrounded by evil blogging types! Check out the red eyes! Demonic!



Our wonderful host, Danie!



The man of a thousand controversial blog posts - Gav from Next Read.



Liz and Chloe



Mark's so professional *grin*



Me and books! A familiar sight!



I managed to untie my tongue sufficiently to ask for a picture of my new favourite author *blush*



And look what he wrote in my book!

I had a great time! With thanks to Tor UK, Chloe and Danie for making it all happen!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

I quiz M D Lachlan!

Another of Gollancz’s heavily promoted debut authors is all set to release his book Wolfsangel on 20th May. In celebration of that, we’d like to introduce you to M D Lachlan! He sits down and chats with us about research, Norse mythology, and whether Lad Lit is an appropriate genre tag…

Amanda: Welcome to FtCB – how are you today?

Mark: Very well. Beset by my children, like Boromir by the Uruk-Hai, but apart from that well.

Amanda: First of all, can I ask you to describe Wolfsangel in your own words and suggest why readers of FtCB may like to buy it?

Mark: It’s a new take on the werewolf myth, Norse mythology and magic itself. It’s a historical fantasy set in the early 9th century that involves Vikings, werewolves, witches and dark, strange gods. I’ve been told it’s something very new in fantasy – particularly the view of the werewolf and of magic. If you enjoy a page turning adventure interspersed with some extremely odd and sinister magic, this is the book for you! It’ll give you the werewolf as you’ve never seen the creature before! Also, it’s got terrific reviews from a host of authors you might know – Joe Abercrombie, Mike Carey and many others. It’s just starting to get reviews in the mags and blogs and, so far, they’ve all been great too.

Here’s one I really liked from Wertzone:

‘(A) primal force ripped screaming out of the annals of Norse mythology, drenched in blood and tragedy.’

Amanda: Wolfsangel is not the first book you’ve had published – you have also written in the genre of “Lad Lit”. What prompted the move into genre fiction, and do you intend to publish anymore under Mark Barrowcliffe as well as M D Lachlan?

Mark: I’d argue about the ‘Lad Lit’. I’d just call my earlier books comedy. As lots of critics noted, my work actually bore no resemblance to stuff like Nick Hornby and Mike Gayle. That said, the tag brought me a few readers so I shouldn’t complain about it. Yes I do. I have something that I’m sort of toying with but I’m worried it’s a bit too dark a comedy for a mainstream audience. Or even any audience. It’s the funniest thing I’ve written but a little bleak.

Amanda: Are you noticing differences between speculative genre readers and those who read your previous novels?

Mark: I meet speculative genre readers, which I never did my mainstream readers, though not for want of trying. Speculative readers are much more engaged than mainstream readers, much more ‘fannish’ – and that’s a good thing. Any writer wants people who engage with their work in a passionate way and there are no better fans than SF&F fans for doing that.

There are many more chances to meet them than mainstream fans especially through conventions. They’re also frighteningly well informed, so – because my stuff is rooted in real mythologies – I need to make sure it’s very accurately portrayed.



Amanda: In Wolfsangel, the level of historical detail is key to the authentic feel of the novel: did you do a lot of research for the novel? What did this involve? Were you never tempted to write purely historical works?

Mark: I grew up as a Norse mythology nut and knew a lot about the Viking period anyway. I re-read the Edda – the ancient Norse myths that were recorded in 13th century Iceland and I re-read a lot of the sagas. They’re important to give you the feel of what you’re trying to write – that weird Viking mix between a hale and hearty barnstorming approach to life with something much darker and more disturbing lurking beneath.

What kills you is the detail. How extensive was the deck on an early longship? What did an early Celtic Christian monastery look like? What was a monastic church made of, stone or wood? I tend to just write it as I imagine it but read lots of history books as I’m going along and amend accordingly. When I try to describe something I don’t know about, I’ll look it up. I also used a lot of books written by re-enactors because they have practical detail in – like the practice of having a cooking fire on a ship on top of the ballast stones.

Fantasy is in my blood, I grew up obsessed by it, so it didn’t occur to me to write pure history. I don’t plan what I do anyway. This story sort of popped out of me when I was writing something else – it suddenly emerged on the page. I didn’t make a conscious decision to write it. The Viking story arrived first as the backstory in a WWII adventure – the history of an immortal werewolf. Hopefully the series will eventually go forward in history to WWII and beyond into the present day. The WWII story is written and I’m pleased with it. The present day story is planned and that’s quite exciting too.

That said, I have a YA idea which is straight history.

Amanda: Linked to this, how did you find it trying to balance between historical accuracy and the needs of the story?

Mark: Not hard. I was worried that there’s a love story in this and that it might not be strictly historically accurate to put one in. Did people think in terms of love before the chivalric period? I think the answer is ‘yes’ from the research I’ve done.

Often a historical point can drive the plot. Longships, for instance, weren’t much cop in a storm, so the Vikings would beach in bad weather if they could. Also the correspondences between Finnish mythology – which features in Wolfsangel – and Norse Mythology gave me some creative food for thought.

The fantastic elements are derived from real historical sources and anything we don’t know – the berserker practices, for instance, I’ve filled in with educated guesses. Because it’s a fantasy you can take more liberties than in a strict history – Authun’s Moonsword, for instance is clearly an Arab scimitar. The true scimitar arguably doesn’t really appear for several more centuries – though it probably existed in crude form at around this time. Wolfsangel is a magic story, though, and the presence of the blade may be explained in later books…

You can’t take too many liberties because you lose authenticity so I’m always scrupulously attentive to the history. It actually makes things easier. Pure fantasy authors have to make stuff up when it comes to their world an make sure it all fits together. I just have to find it out and can concentrate on character and plot. It’s using a different part of the brain so you’re directing less of your creative effort to world building.

Amanda: Regarding the locations used in the novel, did you visit the Scandinavian countries to get a feel for it? If not, is this an area of the world you would like to visit?

Mark: Yes, I did. I got The Times to send me out to Norway to do an article on The Troll Wall, which features in the book.

It’s a stunning country and The Troll Wall is an amazing phenomenon – a mile high vertical cliff. I went to the top of it and I’m still shaking. The Norwegians are great fun too – nuts, as the above article says. If you get a chance to go to Norway, go. You’ll have to sell your house to buy a cup of coffee but it’ll be worth it.

Amanda: Linking Vikings and werewolves is an inspired idea (particularly given the heavy presence of wolves in Norse mythology): did you have an epiphany moment where it came to you fully-formed or were you working it out gradually in your head?

Mark: Actually I was worried it was a bit of an obvious one. The whole culture is shot through with werewolf stories. I’m really surprised it hasn’t come up before. The quote at the start of the book comes directly from a saga: ‘Brother, you cannot talk about me like that, scolding a noble man, for you ate a wolf’s treat, creeping to dead bodies with a cold snout, being hated by all.’ Of course someone may have combined Vikings and werewolves before. I clearly haven’t read every fantasy novel ever written. My epiphany moment was when I realised who the werewolf was, so to speak, how he fitted into the wider Norse myth.

Amanda: Just a cheeky question: do you prefer Odin or Loki?

Mark: Loki, by far. He’s the only Viking god who isn’t also a god of war. Odin, god of the hanged, poetry, madness, magic and war. Thor god of thunder and war, Freyr, god of fertility but battle-bold. Loki’s a trickster figure but he plays his tricks on the gods. He tends to help humans. Odin is mad, unknowable, treacherous and strange.

Amanda: The use of the ‘Wolfsangel’ rune in the book is another clever touch, but, when you introduced it, were you aware of the more negative connotations it has been given in recent times? Was this a concern? Has the book been translated into German yet? If it hasn’t, is there an intention to change the symbol used?

Mark: I knew the rune from seeing it in a book when I was a kid and its three meanings (which are in Wolfsangel, I won’t put the spoiler in here) fascinated me. Its origins are obscure – it bears similarity to an ancient Viking rune but also to a mason’s mark of the 13th century.

When I was researching the book I did come across its unpleasant adoption by a small number of Nazi units in WWII and, subsequently, by a small number of neo Nazis. I was mortified because that rune was part of my imagination from a young age. I thought long and hard about putting it in.

The first thing that made me think I was justified in using the symbol in the book was that it is still used in Germany today – in the coats of arms of various cities. Its Nazi connotation isn’t strong enough even in Germany to warrant its removal. The German publishers certainly haven’t raised it as an issue. I have checked the German law on the rune and it relates to its context. If you’re using it as a symbol of a repellent ideology, it’s illegal. Any other use, the law allows.

Secondly, I don’t think we should allow the far right to hijack an entire mythology and make it theirs. The Nazis ransacked Norse mythology and history and turned it to their own aims. Some of this history is unreclaimable. The Swastika, for instance, which in its runic use is speculated to be a symbol of the thunder god Thor, can never be used free of the vile connotations given to it by Hitler.

Many other lesser known runes, though, were adopted by the Nazis either directly or in slightly adapted versions. Notorious, of course, is the S of the SS – the so called Sig rune which appears to have been adopted from a rune of the Viking futhark – but other runes were appropriated too – the Hagal rune, for instance, which appears on the inside of the ‘death’s head’ ring of the SS. There are many, many other examples. The whole Norse pantheon was used, and even worshipped, by the vicious fruitcakes of the Nazi high command.

So you have a choice. You say ‘this mythology is entirely contaminated and I’m never going to use anything of it’. Or you say that the Nazi view of the mythology was itself a corruption – and not a very subtle or imaginative corruption at that – of what we know of Norse mythology and you reclaim it. I didn’t set out to make any political point in Wolfsangel but I did set out to give my individual vision of Norse mythology, which is a million miles removed from that of the Nazis.

The Nazis focused very strongly on the warlike qualities of the Norse gods. There are other much more complex strands both in the figure of Odin – king of the Viking gods and the trickster figure of Loki. I bring them out.

Plenty of other writers have written stories involving the runes and they seem satisfied too that the mythology is out of the Nazi’s shadow.



So, in short, I did think about my use of the Wolfsangel rune but I decided that if I couldn’t use that then I couldn’t really use any of the mythologies or symbols the Nazis raided. We’re not talking about the swastika here. The Wolfsangel rune’s Nazi associations are not widely known outside the closed and idiotic world of the extreme right and so have little chance of causing offence.

Also, ordinary and flawed humanity is shown as a valuable thing in Wolfsangel – a view that undermines any Nazi ubermensch posturing.

This was explored when Wolfsangel had a WWII component. The main character in the WWII story is an aristocrat and describes the wolf’s head that is his family’s crest as ‘one of those many venerable symbols the Nazis have so presumptuously appropriated’.

Just a word on the Vikings whose mythology the Nazis lifted. To my mind the Vikings were a very inclusive race. OK, they did a fair bit of plundering and sacking but, if you read the contemporaneous history – people like the Franks under Charlemagne weren’t shy around a bit of bloodshed either. Vikings showed themselves keen adapters of other cultures – the Viking warriors who settled in Northern France had lost most of their language and much of their cultural identity in a couple of generations and become the Normans. The Varangian guard served under the Byzantine emperors and Vikings founded modern Russia. In every place they appear to have adapted local customs and intermarried. Something of a blow to the racial purity brigade.

Amanda: With hindsight, is there anything about Wolfsangel you would like to change?

Mark: Not really. I’ve had the chance as there is a big delay between handing the book to the publishers and it coming out. I’ve read the book many times as it goes through the production process and if there was something I wanted to change then I would have done so. Oh, yeah, the Mini Cooper in chapter four. Only joking.

Amanda: How goes the writing on the follow-up to Wolfsangel? And, roughly, when can we expect to see it?

Mark: Extremely well. You’ll see it next year in May. It shows what publishing schedules are like – my deadline is this June. It’s a belter, I think.

Amanda: Are you prepared to offer our readers any hints about what to expect in the next book?

Mark: Can’t say too much without giving away the plot of Wolfsangel. It’s more of a thriller than Wolfsangel, though the signature strange magic is still there. My model was an early medieval 24 with a werewolf instead of Jack Bauer. It’s set 100 years after Wolfsangel and features some characters who have turned out well. Prepare for shocks! It’s given me a few surprises writing it, which is a good sign.

Amanda: Are you still involved in journalism? Which publications are you writing for at the moment?

Mark: I am involved. I’ll write for anyone who will pay me within reason! I write for the national press and magazines, when they ask me.

Amanda: Can you tell us briefly about which events and conventions you are planning to attend this year (after your enjoyable report about Eastercon)?

Mark: I’m going to Alt.Fiction and The UK Games Expo

Amanda: Thanks so much for allowing us to talk to you! Any last words for the readers?

Mark: Last words? Do you know something I don’t? Just do let me know what you think of the book if you read it!

This interview was already published on FanLit!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Wolfsangel by M D Lachlan

M.D. Lachlan brings us a story from the North, where a Prince falls in love with a farmer’s daughter and goes to the far ends of the earth to rescue her from slavery. Vali is the Prince in question, a boy stolen by King Athun under the influence of prophecy. What begins as a straightforward tale of Viking politics and berserker raiding as Vali grows from boy to man becomes infinitely more rewarding — a novel dealing with secretive magic and an everlasting battle between the Gods Odin and Loki.

The strength of Wolfsangel lies in Lachlan’s superlative storytelling skill. He evokes the frozen wastes of the Viking kings. We feel the biting cold, see the bleak wilderness, hear the myths of the Gods. From the very first the characters are larger than life, yet still believable and easy to sympathise with. I particularly enjoyed exploring the twin brothers Vali and Feileg. Their growth and development through the novel is handled excellently, leaving the reader always keen to keep turning pages.

I also appreciated the magical elements of the novel, since they matched tonally with the rest of the novel, being brutal and very dark. The witches have to earn their magic in all manner of unspeakable ways, while the Gods do not bestride this novel as all-powerful beings — rather, they scheme and operate from behind the scenes, especially Loki.

Speaking of Loki, for a character who is barely present in the novel, he steals every page he cavorts across. I would love to see more of the Trickster God in subsequent novels! I loved dialogue such as the following:

“You chose imperfection — what could be more perfect? You saw your imperfection was perfection and therefore remedied it by imposing an imperfection on yourself thereby becoming perfect again. The logic is imperfectly flawless.”

Some of Lachlan’s prose is honestly beautiful, which is unexpected considering the rather martial nature of much of the book.

The mountain winds tearing through his mind, past-less and future-less, he lived caught in the moment with no more thought than a snowflake on the breeze.

What really struck me as I read this novel, in fact, was the remarkable similarity in tone to David Gemmell’s work — and THAT is a compliment as far as I’m concerned. The historical leanings of the book coupled with some fine martial descriptions and a sprinkle of mysticism had me cheering at the idea that finally someone has taken up the mantle of our finest heroic fantasy writer!

I had just two minor disappointments. One of these is that the “twist,” which would have been spectacular had it come upon the reader all unaware, is splashed all over the blurb on the back of the book and is fairly common knowledge for those picking up Wolfsangel. I appreciate the difficulty of keeping something of that magnitude secret once the book picks up readers, but I would have loved to read the novel without knowing about the werewolf slant.

The second is that at times the switch between no-nonsense all-action heroism and dreamlike prose can be a little abrupt. As a reader, it left me wondering a couple of times if I had accidentally skipped pages. The choppy nature was much more evident in the first quarter of the book. By the time I reached the explosive finale, it was smoother and easier to deal with.

I really enjoyed Wolfsangel. Despite the oftentimes dark aspect of the novel, it is anchored by a warm heart — the love story between Vali and Adisla that is destined to echo down the ages — and it is this that kept me reading long into the night. I can’t wait for the next in this series. M.D. Lachlan has penned a winner.

This review was already posted to FanLit!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

After The Party by Lisa Jewell

It's eleven years since Jem Catterick and Ralph McLeary first got together. They thought it would be for ever, that they'd found their happy ending. As everyone agreed, they were the perfect couple. Then two became four, a flat became a house. Romantic nights out became sleepless nights in. And they soon found that life wasn't quite so simple any more. But through it all Jem and Ralph still loved each other, of course they did. Now the unimaginable has happened. Two people who were so right together are starting to drift apart. And in the chaos of family life, Ralph feels more and more as if he's standing on the sidelines, and Jem that she's losing herself. Something has to change. As they try to find a way back to each other, back to what they once had, they both become momentarily distracted - but maybe it's not too late to recapture happily ever after...

I really enjoyed Ralph's Party by Lisa Jewell, to which After the Party is the sequel, so I was beyond excited when I found out that this book was being released and I would be able to see how life turned out for Jem and Ralph.

I don't know whether it was due to this massive excitement, but my overwhelming feeling having finished this book is one of disappointment. It was wonderful delving into the lives of Jem and Ralph again, meeting their beautiful children and seeing how hard it can be to keep a sense of love alive after years of being together. The sentiment behind the book, as presented most succinctly by the quote from Mignon McLaughlin: "A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person" is believable and very pertinent to many couples.

However, the mechanics of the book didn't work for me. The flitting back and forth in time felt clumsy - I prefer it by far when Jewell uses a linear structure. I also didn't enjoy the throwing in of several subplots that felt too convoluted. Dealing with Joel, his son and wife; Karl Kasparov; Ralph's new spirituality; Rosey and Smith; Jem trying desperately hard to find herself - it just seemed like too much by far. Jewell works best with a more simplistic story. Karl's tale, especially, was just so much tacked on nonsense.

The characterisation was odd. I ended up not liking Jem very much, which seemed unimaginable to me when embarking on the story. I had little sympathy for her, being as she was so unable to see the best solution to her problem. A solution that didn't involve leading on men, going out drinking and trying to forget she is a mother! Joel was just hideous and I had no idea why Jem was so fascinated by him when she had the lovely Ralph at home. And then Ralph himself! His actions towards the end of the book are incomprehensible to me (and I'm frustrated that I am unable to say anything further for fear of spoilers).

I was pleased with the ending of the book and I do remain glad that I read this book. Jewell's novels will still be a must-buy/read for me, but this was not one of her better works. Of course, anyone who read and enjoyed Ralph's Party will be reading this book as a priority, regardless of how I report back, but I would advise those who haven't yet tried Lisa Jewell to either go back to the beginning with Ralph's Party or pick up Vince and Joy, which is a gloriously joyful book. Disappointing.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

What Qualifies a Book Blogger?

EDIT: This post has now been changed to include the full emails sent to me by said friend (I don't want to put his name or email address to credit him with it, because of data protection issues - if he wishes to, he can come forward and attest to his emails). He asked me to post the full emails rather than the snipped versions I originall enclosed.

I have been having a discussion with a friend of mine. He disputes the review of Altered Carbon that I did which can be read here. His points are as follows:

First email:

The following is a rant. Well, two sub-rants. Feel free to delete without reading :)

The issue I have with blogs is as follows:

Squeeky wheel gets the kick. When commenting on people's blogs - sometimes in disagreement, sometimes not - hackles tend to be raised all too easily. The same is true of web fora.

Merely because someone has opinions doesn't mean that those opinions are of any special value. Merely because someone is capable of putting those opinions online does not in any way add value to them.

Given that you're an uneducated heathen who's never listened to Radio 4, you'll not have heard "From Our Own Correspondent". This is, for me at least, a good example of what a blog should be. An expert talking about their own feelings and impressions of a newsworthy event.

To me, opinions have value when they are backed with expertise and knowledge. Then I take them seriously.

This is rather like my view of film / book recomendations from friends. If I like someone, it's usually because I have similar tastes / views / outlook to them. I am therefore inclined to believe them more than I am some random person. I do not think that one can be an expert in films or literature in the same way that one can be in terms of news or technology. Further, I think that you in particular cannot be, given your perference for fantasy over scifi.

Still, your opinions carry weight because of the friend-thing rather than because of the expertise-knowledge thing.

As you have put your head up above the parapet to express an opinion in a public medium, I will take the opportunity to respond to it.

In the specific case of Altered Carbon, I maintain that you missed the point of the book, and of the Envoy Corps. At its heart, though, are questions of what is the nature of a human. You touch on this when you describe Morgan's ability to characterise his characters through reference to their mannerism and attitude rather than appearance (To say that you think authors are lazy because they chose to describe someone's appearance is ... horrible grandiose - it is neuropsychological fact that humans make their first impressions built on appearance. You are therefore asking an author not to think like a human).

To read this book and to describe it as a linear actioner would be like reading Dickens and think that they were charming scenes of Victorian life - to ignore the biting social commentary, or to read Starship Troopers by Heinlein and think that it was simply a book about power armour. In short, I think that you didn't lift the veil on the author's intention. I suspect that I simply engaged with the novel more deeply than you because I have read it so many times. Or maybe it's because I'm a lawyer and therefore prone to always asking why something is written, rather than merely what has been written.

Turning to the relatively trivial matter of the Envoys, in describing them as SAS troopers, you miss the key fact about how resleeving works. Modern solidery is concerned with extreme physical conditioning. When an Envoy can arrive in literally any body, they cannot rely on the physical. Instead, and this is what made the Envoys so terrifying in my view, they are all about mental conditioning. Part psychoanalyst, part demagogue, part ace-private investigator, and yes, part spy.

I suspect the conclusion I'm reaching here is that I found your review of it to be superficial. Having talked to you a number of times, and read your emails, I think I expected more... engagement. Or maybe I just hoped that we had the same taste. In any case, here endeth the rant.


Second email:

You say that a book can have different levels to it.
You say that, Lord of the Rings, for instance, can be seen as 4-5 different levels. I'd say more, but that's not the point.

You see in AC one theme / level. I saw at least three. It is therefore the case that I saw more in the book than you did.

In terms of what right I have to say that you didn't get the book? I have read more sci-fi than you, I am more familiar with the work of the author. I can therefore comment on themes apparent in other books in the series that you weren't aware of. Further, I think the half degree I have in Engish literature makes me more keenly aware of certain tropes, styles and devices found through English and French literature that you perhaps might not have been aware of.

As to what right I have to say that you didn't get thebook, you are saying that I don't have a right to an opinion if it disagrees with yours. You have every right to have an opinion. If it is one I disagree with I'll argue with it.

I'm not going to apologise on this one because you're being petty and your argumentation is week.




So... my gentle wondering for today (and it has to be gentle, thanks to the hangover I am *still* suffering) is: what qualifies us as book bloggers to give our opinions? What about us lends weight to our words?

Take me, for example. I have not had any formal training in book critiquing or reviewing. I have not done an English degree. My day job does not involve using English to any great degree.

My only qualification for posting my reviews for the whole world to see is an enormous number of books read and a great enthusiasm for sharing my likes and dislikes with those who care. That is all.

Is that all I need? Or would people consider my reviews at a higher level if I did have said English qualifications? Are my reviews of science fiction and horror automatically to be dismissed because I don't read a great deal in these genres, or am I bringing fresh eyes to a genre that those who read in it might be more jaded and cynical about?

I would be curious to hear other opinions. I would also be interested to hear other bloggers state why they think they are qualified to speak of books!

The floor is yours!