Monday, 31 January 2011

January Retrospective

A Look Back on January

As with most folks, I find January a truly depressing month. It is cold, dark and there is generally nothing to look forward to. However, this January has been pretty cool, all told. I've been to London a few times - seeing Liz from My Favourite Books to discuss sekkrit plans with Geraldine Stroud; and to join a bunch of massively enthusiastic YA bloggers at a Random House brunch. I did a Come Dine With Me evening for five hockey gal pals, which went down really well. I've been to the cinema a few times. I've decided to start working towards medals with my ballroom and Latin American dancing (which I started last Thursday - it doesn't half make your ankles ache to do the steps properly!) I have been to the gym at least three times each week. I've scored two goals in two games at hockey. I've surrounded myself with family and friends. Yep, I count that as a win. Oh, and, on this last day of January, I've just had my holiday approved for September - I'm off to Florida for two weeks with my family! And my parents are buying me a Kindle for my birthday so that I don't have to agonise over which books to try and fit into the suitcase *grin*


Here is a list of the books I completed in January (with links to the reviews):

1) Path of the Warrior by Gav Thorpe
2) Archangel by Sharon Shinn
3) Men I've Loved Before by Adele Parks
4) RSVP by Helen Warner (review coming in March, closer to book release)
5) Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler
6) The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow
7) Tracking the Tempest by Nicole Peeler
8) Foursome by Jane Fallon
9) The Sentinel Mage by Emily Gee
10) Girlfriend 44 by Mark Barrowcliffe
11) Lex Trent Fighting With Fire by Alex Bell
12) The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
13) A Summer Fling by Milly Johnson

So, a quick breakdown...

- 4 books by men; 9 books by women
- Chick lit led the way with 5 books; then fantasy with 4, sci fi with 2 and urban fantasy with 2
- 4 of these books came from my shelves, 3 were library books and 6 were review copies

Best Book of January

Pages Covered

Those thirteen books covered 5,639 pages, with The Sentinel Mage clocking in at the most (608 pages) and Tempest Rising the least (336 pages).

Places Visited

I've been to London, and to Samaria, and to Barnsley, and to the Union amongst others. I would most like to live in Luminaux, the blue city in Samaria.

Plans for February

I don't like to present bookish plans, because they tend to fall off the rails as soon as my mood prompts me to pick a different book than that I "should" be reading. All I can promise is that there will be a review of The 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison, since I'm reading that right now! I have tentative plans to finish the Codex Alera series, since I only have two books to complete it. I also want to crunch through some fantasy Black Library books, since my reading til now has been confined to Warhammer 40K.

I will be attending a blogger event at Simon & Schuster. I'm very excited about this one, because there will be a number of people there I've only talked to via Twitter so far.

I am also going to the SFX Weekender, which promises to be a blast, surrounded by geeks like me!

Over to You

How many books have you read this month? What were your favourites? Any particular plans for February?

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Black Swan - A Film Review

BLACK SWAN stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a featured dancer who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival at the company (Mila Kunis). A Fox Searchlight Pictures release by visionary director Darren Aronofsky (THE WRESTLER), BLACK SWAN takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the duplicitous swan queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect.

So... A film about a bonkers ballerina? That's not exactly going to pack the multiplexes, right? Wrong. In UK cinemas Black Swan has not managed to topple The King's Speech from first place, but its takings have been almost £3million despite the fact that people are flocking to see Colin Firth. Cinemas have been reporting full showings, and positive reactions.

I went to a 13:10 showing on a Sunday afternoon - not exactly a prime time for cinema goers - and the screen was one of the larger ones in our complex. It was at least three quarters full, with a real mix of men and women, young and old. It seems many are curious about this film, especially after the critics have given in the nod in the Oscar nominations (for Best Picture and Best Actress amongst others).

I had been nervous about watching the film. I'd heard that it was extremely dark in parts, and featured some good old-fashioned horror scenes. I'm not good with horror, and had visions of walking out of the cinema because I couldn't cope.

However, I found myself absolutely mesmerised from beginning to end.

It is astounding to me that in such a powerful and haunting psychological thriller, with a number of great performances, Natalie Portman shines. She has been criticised for some rather wooden representations in the past (yep, Star Wars, I'm looking at you!) but here she plays the fragile, beautiful ballerina descending into madness in an absolutely sublime fashion. She is never less than completely believable and I struggled to take my eyes from her whenever she was on the screen.

The scenes featuring the dancing will do more to encourage people to head to the ballet than perhaps anything else I have seen. They were moving, technically brilliant and genuinely drew me into the film. Portman's dance as the Black Swan, in particular, will stay with me for a long time.

I actually enjoyed the tense atmosphere, the sharp shocks, the dark visions that the viewer can never be sure are real or imagined. It built gradually to a poignant crescendo which fitted the rest of the film perfectly.

The sex, drugs and bitching were the grimy underbelly to the pristine costumes and fluttering grace of the ballerinas, and provided a suitably dark backdrop to Natalie Portman's mental instability.

When I saw the descriptions about a film involving ballerinas, I believed it would sink without trace and be a forgettable affair. I was so wrong. This film deserves all its plaudits and more and is unforgettable. Go watch!

Saturday, 29 January 2011

A Summer Fling by Milly Johnson

Christie Somers becomes manager of the Bakery department at White Rose Stores, and, over the course of a summer, helps to transform the lives of the four very different women who work for her. Her arrival is the catalyst for change for: Anna, left reeling when her fiance leaves her for another woman; Grace, trapped in an endless, loveless marriage without the courage to leave; Dawn, about to be married to a man that she is having doubts about; and Raychel, who hides dark secrets from her past. Can the five women develop lasting friendships and make the right choices?

This is the first novel I have read by Milly Johnson and I'm going to be upfront: I wasn't greatly enamoured. However, there are some redeeming features about the novel that I want to talk about.

The first of these is that Milly Johnson definitely has a unique voice and take on life - this is the first chick lit novel I have read that was set almost defiantly in Barnsley. Johnson clearly adores this northern town and uses it to infuse the novel with a very different flavour than those chick lit novels set in London involving glamorous women working in publishing or some such job.

Added to this, Johnson ably represents women of all ages in this novel, with is another refreshing change. We see life through the eyes of a younger woman, one who is middle-aged, and one who is nearing retirement age. This will ensure the novel has great appeal to a wide range of women.

Lastly, I really appreciated the storyline of Anna, who has found herself at forty without a man. These days, the idea that a woman is invited to take part in a makeover television show is not at all far-fetched, and I liked the way Anna was brought out of her shell over the course of the novel. Johnson's descriptions of the new lingerie and clothes that Anna modelled had me wishing I could run out and buy some of them!

Now to the problems I experienced... Although I mentioned that I liked Anna's storyline, I found Vladimir Darq an incredibly far-fetched character, with his vampiric qualities including some genuine fangs! Why is this even necessary? Anna would find a designer exotic enough, let alone one who is allegedly descended from the undead. Pfft. It felt as though this man stepped out of another novel - one perhaps aimed at teenagers? From the fact that Johnson had her characters talking about the Twilight movie, it sounds as though she has a little crush on this style of novel. I would advise her to maybe write one in that genre, and steer clear of the undead in chick lit.

I also found Raychel's subplot very redundant - the other four women sparkled off the page in their own way. Raychel was unnecessarily mysterious, and it took so long to uncover the mysteries that I found myself incredibly bored.

Johnson's "earthy" humour was, I found, also misplaced. I can see that she is trying to aim for a real northern quality to the dialogue, but it felt contrived and made me cringe on a number of occasions. A particular scene in a Thai restaurant as they perused the menu was one such occasion:

" 'Pad Prik Sod?' Anna said dryly. 'I'm not having any more pricks, thanks, I've had enough.'
'Have a Poppia Poo then!' Raychel snorted.
'Pla Kraproa!" Dawn contested, barely able to breathe for giggling.
'Wank Cum Cock,' said Anna.
'You're joking! Where's that?' said Dawn, laughing so much that the tears were running down her face.
'I made it up, you dipstick.' "

There were also a number of occasions when I found myself rolling my eyes at events within the story - such as when one of the women decides to knee a male work colleague in his private parts while at work, because she finds him distasteful... I was left in shock at the idea that a) a woman would do this in a work environment and b) she would get away scotfree because her boss also didn't like the chap. It wasn't at all realistic, and made me lower my opinion of Johnson.

I also didn't like the way she wrote some of her male characters. They really got the rough end of the stick from this author - what with adultery, stealing, assault and imprisonment as some of the many misdemeanours they commit. Sure, Johnson has obviously done this to ensure that her characters are in a rough spot at the beginning of the novel, but these women put up with SO DAMN MUCH. They were complete doormats, and I like my women showing more of a spark - even at the start of a book. The fact that they let their men get away with so much only made it harder to sympathise and connect with them.

In this novel there are some rather sweet stories hiding behind some poorly-written plotlines and misjudged humour. Fans of Katie Fforde will definitely find it to their liking, but I did not find a great deal to enjoy about A Summer Fling. (I am, however, fairly alone in that! Read this review to see the alternative view to help you make up your mind on whether this novel is for you!)

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself is the first novel in the First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, and his debut novel. It follows the various misadventures of three interlocking storylines - that of Logen Ninefingers, a Named Man and barbarian; Jezal dan Luthar, a self-absorbed young soldier; and Inquisitor Glokta, cripple turned torturer. Bubbling away in the background is a war against the Northmen, the reappearance of the very mysterious Shanka, and the return of the First of the Magi.

Abercrombie has been held up somewhat as a saviour of fantasy, presenting a new and grimy look at low fantasy. There is not a great deal of magic in this novel - although the potential for much, much more in the rest of the trilogy, I'm sure - and the characters come to the fore, swearing and fighting their way through the minimal plot.

Okay, in the immortal words of one of my good pals: "I dug it, but was not blown away."

I loved most of the characters. Of course I did. Glokta reminds me of nothing so much as Igor the Butler in Count Duckula:

He was brilliantly grumpy, sarcastic and lugubrious. His snide asides to the reader during conversations as we followed his actual thoughts made me snort with laughter on a number of occasions.

Logen was also a gem - truly the thinking barbarian. I adored his habit of muttering 'I am still alive, I am still alive' after every battle; his wry amusement at the fact he frightens rather than attracts the lady; and the mystery of his altar-ego Ninefingers, hinted at late on in the novel.

I wasn't so keen on Jezal - the arrogant young nobleman has been done many a time. His plotline with the Contest and Ardee felt like filler, to some extent, compared to the brilliance of the other two main characters. I can only hope that he improves in books to come.

Now.... the plot. Which was...? This is my key complaint. So we sort of have a war bubbling away in the background. We have a sudden quest - for what, we still have little concrete idea. However, the bulk of this book is introducing the various characters and their motivations, which seemed a little bit one-dimensional to me. Glokta is motivated by his pain and humiliation of being a cripple. Jezal is motivated by arrogance and not wanting to be beaten. Logen is motivated by the need to stay alive. Past this, I don't have much of an idea about who they are and why they do what they do. Abercrombie's work was light on this point.

I also deeply object to the idea that Abercrombie brought something "fresh and original" to the fantasy field. He did not. Authors like Glen Cook, Steven Erikson and David Gemmell had been looking at ambiguous characters with dark backgrounds for years before Abercrombie came on the scene. Abercrombie's anti-heroes only reflect characters I've read before, such as Waylander, Kalam and the Captain. The plot, such as it is, could have walked out of many a fantasy novel. Nothing new there. (In fact, anyone who has read Jean M Auel's Children of the Earth series will have seen the term Flatheads before - I wonder if this is where Abercrombie got it from?)

The prose is no-nonsense and pragmatic - the very opposite of purple. It sometimes suffers from repetition, and is a little self-consciously clever at times. It never reaches the heights of authors like Guy Gavriel Kay or Patrick Rothfuss, but it is serviceable and flows.

The pacing of the novel was a little uneven. Sometimes I found myself turning the pages feverishly; at other points I reached almost a standstill, because of the slightly dull descriptive passages. Abercrombie is at his fiery best when describing battles - one on one combat; ambushes; midnight flights and fights through the city. All of these were splendid!

In conclusion, I WILL be reading more Abercrombie (and would have done, even had I picked this novel up in 2006 when first published, not knowing, as I do, that most everything improves about his work). It is a deeply entertaining novel, with flaws that can be overlooked in the main while enjoying the sharp-tongued characters and the unfettered joy of the battle prose.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

It's Music To My Ears!

I'm a great lover of rock music - punk, metal, straight up rock - and I'm a great lover of fantasy fiction! I foolishly only took one book into the bath this evening and finished reading it before I was done with relaxing in the bubbles and the heavenly scent *grins* So that left me some time to muse - and my rather whimsical thoughts led me in this direction...

The history of rock music is convoluted and should be taught at school (as in, School of Rock), and I amused myself with going through parts of this history and fitting various branches of fantasy fiction to it.

Here are some of my ideas - please do fill in the gaps and add your own in the comments!

The idea that led me into this originally was the way that grunge music came out and bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam swept aside the hair metal that had been so prevalent (Guns 'n' Roses, Aerosmith etc.) Since I was reading The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, it was enormously easy to put him in the role of Nirvana - something that didn't do anything new, but *sounded* as though it did, and felt fresh and new in a scene that had grown incredibly stale.

So then I felt I had to fit certain authors to Guns 'n' Roses and Aerosmith - I thought that Raymond E Feist and Terry Brooks probably fit the bill. Have been around for a fair amount of time, but are feeling a little old and tired now, and keep churning out similar material in the hopes that people will still listen/read.

I'm putting it out there that Tolkien sits easily alongside Led Zeppelin - desperately beloved by many, although lots of people aren't sure exactly why. A few absolutely classic tracks (a la The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) and then some self-indulgent rubbish - which many listeners argue is just misunderstood genius (The Silmarillion).

I could take it further! Y'know the whole emo trend recently? Whiny kids talking about love and hurting? There you have the whole move to urban fantasy that has occurred over the last few years.

In the current climate of more grimy and realistic fantasy, Brandon Sanderson stands out as someone who harks back to a more traditional version of fantasy in a lot of ways. For us in England, we had the band The Darkness - they brought back hair metal in a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion and were very en vogue for a year or so. That makes Brandon Sanderson this guy!

Oh, and hey! Let's go open a big old can of worms and have people crying foul at me! New Weird is totally Prog Rock - Dream Theater, Rush, Frost. The ultimate in pretentious fret-wankery where the composition of the music and the expertise with the instruments is deemed more important than the pleasure of the listeners! Have at that, Jeff VanderMeer! *grins*

And punk - the Sex Pistols and God Save the Queen and all that: the only person who feels close to this is Michael Moorcock. Someone who has stuck two fingers up at the establishment and does his own thing.

Oooh, and more worms everywhere - the YA trend is totally McFly!

Ha, I had so much fun with this - in fact, I can't stop! Ursula LeGuin is totally Janis Joplin, right?

Anyway, your turn - which rock music fits which fantasy fiction for you? What do you *totally* agree with from the above? Have fun!

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

We Like Labels

I was very idly following a conversation on Twitter about urban fantasy, and noticed that people were using a variety of labels to classify one particular author. It just got me pondering that we speculative fiction fans do love our labels. And hate them too. I've seen many a discussion saying labels are stupid, we should embrace the fantastic in its entirety. Some people who read SFF live by labels and only read books in a certain classification. It all seems so arbitrary.

Just off the top of my head, I came up with the following list to describe SFF literature:

- urban fantasy

- paranormal romance

- epic fantasy

- high fantasy

- new weird

- noir romance

- space opera

- military science fiction

- historical fantasy

- cyberpunk

- steampunk

- hard science fiction

- dark fantasy

- sword and sorcery

- low fantasy

- dying earth

- rural fantasy

Which have I missed?!

I had a little look around - a very brief look, I grant you - and I could not see another area that loved labels so damn much? Why is this? Because the field of speculative fiction covers so much? Or because we like to create our little tribes? "I like New Weird; I don't read Sword and Sorcery" etc.

Personally, I read speculative fiction. How about you?

Your thoughts would be welcome!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Trans-Atlantic Gems

I know very little about the publishing industry - truly. I have no idea why some novels have such different covers and even titles when they move from country to country. I don't know why an author published by, say, Gollancz in the UK would be published by Orbit in the US - this seems distinctly odd to me.

For the purposes of this post, though, I'm going to talk about how mystified I am by those trans-Atlantic gems that never get picked up in the UK when loved in the US (and, I guess, vice versa - although I'll be relying on any US commenters to present their own view on this in the comments!)

I want to present to you three US authors whose books I have acquired at great expense to myself through importing them from the States or buying books from Forbidden Planet. I don't know if these authors have *ever* been published over in the UK, but I believe it's woeful that UK readers can't pick up their books and that readers seem to have either no interest or knowledge in them.

1) Sharon Shinn

I recently reviewed one of Shinn's books on this blog - Archangel - and tried to emphasise just how much I loved this book. Shinn has now written 20 novels and assorted short fiction. She has a stunning turn of phrase, and creates memorable and beloved characters. I think anyone who likes Jacqueline Carey and Mercedes Lackey would enjoy this author. Why hasn't she been picked up in the UK?

2) Ken Scholes

I have been jealous of the assorted bloggers I read from the States and Canada who have managed to pick up books by this author with ease. Recently I took the plunge at Forbidden Planet and brought the first novel in the series the Psalms of Isaak. Scholes is published by Tor Books in the States, and I am truly curious as to why Tor UK haven't picked him up. From what I've read in reviews, he seems to be a remarkably good fit with a stable of authors that contains Mark Charan Newton, Alan Campbell and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Why haven't Tor UK signed this author?

3) Charles de Lint

Here is the biggie for me! I think anyone who talks to me regularly on Twitter will know I have a love affair with these books. They are mystical and beautiful, truly some of the best fantasy prose you will ever read. The stories encompass other worlds, all the while grounded in an urban setting that rings true. The characters are vividly drawn and stay with you long after the last page has been turned. This author has now written over 30 novels, so there is a massive back catalogue to draw from. It is truly criminal that we can't read him in the UK. Someone bring this author here!

Now over to you! UK readers: which authors from the States do you want to see published here? And how about those in the US - any authors we have that you struggle to obtain the books of?

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Lex Trent Fighting With Fire by Alex Bell

Lex Trent Fighting With Fire is the second book by Alex Bell about the eponymous Lex Trent, a thief and a scoundrel with very few scruples. In this novel he is about to start participation in the second set of Games, three challenges set by the Gods for their respective heroes and companions. He cannot resist the idea of taking part - both because he hates the thought of anyone taking his title and also because his own Goddess has set one of the tasks in the Wild West, giving Lex the opportunity to try and steal the legendary Sword of Life. With the trusty (or not!) Jesse at his side, Lex heads off to pretend to be a cowboy!

I enjoyed the first Lex Trent novel a great deal, and I'm pleased to report that Lex Trent Fighting With Fire is even better. In this novel Bell brings to the story an incredibly whimsical tone. There are shades of Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll in the nature of the writing, and Bell has a level of imagination that stands up to these literary greats.

There are absurd moments that brought to mind Monty Python, such as the dreaded fire-breathing bunnies and the waistcoated fox called Plantagenet. Through the whole of the book, the greatest sense you have is that Bell had the most enormous fun writing it - and it is just astonishingly fun to read.

Honestly, who wouldn't love a book that has such snippets as: "He'd purchased them before he left because, as any thief or con man knows, disguises are very important. Not to mention ridiculously fun."

Lex Trent is just as annoyingly self-centred and immodest. Seriously, you don't know whether to shake him or love him. On the whole, I fell on the side of loving him but there were occasions in this novel where I felt he trod a very fine line to being disliked by readers - especially because I believed that Lex had found a little remorse at the end of the first Games. Here he is back to his obnoxious best, which grates at times, but, on the whole, is enormously entertaining.

The secondary characters that Bell introduces in this book are a big strength. Jeremiah and Jesse are both rich with details, and easy to like. The former is a toff, with connections to Lex Trent's family - he is stuck-up, arrogant and gets on Lex's bad side from the start with an incredibly funny prank (that anyone who has been to university will recognise!) The latter is a drawling, laid-back character who plays Lex at his own game. Both were memorable and ensured that the plot kept driving forwards.

Having written two novels that involve the Games, Bell does risk repetition if she goes the same route in a third book of the series, but I suspect she had greater plans going by the last few pages - and I will enjoy stepping away from the format that has been followed in the first two novels.

This is not a perfect book, but it is damn fine. I enjoyed every minute I spent back in the world of Lex Trent and I'm just sad now that I have to wait for a year or longer to read more about the sneaky cheat. Both Lex Trent novels come highly recommended, and are very suitable for younger readers as well as YA. I certainly plan on getting my twelve year old nephew involved!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Girlfriend 44 by Mark Barrowcliffe

Harry is looking for the One. He's spent years looking for her and tried out 43 women in his quest to find her. When she walks into his life, he doesn't expect it - and then realises that his best mate Gerrard is also trying to win her heart. It seems that there really is nothing fair in love or war, as both men try to sabotage each other - and themselves - in their efforts to make Alice the One.

I picked up Girlfriend 44 for a few reasons. The first is that Mark Barrowcliffe published his debut fantasy novel Wolfsangel under the name M D Lachlan last year - I loved that book, and was interested to see what he could do within a different genre. I'm also keen on men writing in the field of chick lit, since it seems to be an ideal way to see what men really are thinking! *grin* I was expecting a light, funny read that I could easily pick up and put down, and would be briefly amused by.

Rather than this, I got a biting portrayal of real life men in slightly farcical circumstances. The banter is bitter, the humour is puerile in the most part, and the men are distinctly unlikeable. But it does come across as incredibly realistic, as Barrowcliffe covers the ways in which men will dump women and the criteria they have for picking women.

The humour in the novel is uneven and scattershot, but I did find myself laughing out loud on more than one occasion. More often I was slightly mystified, but I suspect a guy would have been howling.

I enjoyed the characters, which are larger than life and easy to poke fun at. I rather marvelled at the idea that people like this exist (although a brief conversation with Mark revealed that he based Gerrard and Farley on real characters, which is a massive worry of mine - because it means they are out there walking the street, and there is a faint chance I might meet them by accident!)

What concerned me about this novel is how missold it seemed. It carries the sort of cover that shouts 'chick lit' and I was expecting something along the lines of Mike Gayle - cosy and sweet and trying to present the idea of men as being nice people who don't try to pull women just for the sex. Barrowcliffe is the vicious antidote to Gayle's saccharine sweetness, and it takes some effort to get through the initial shock and embrace the darker elements of the novel.

As I've come to expect from Mark, it was well-written (especially considering this one was his true debut in the literary world, although not too surprising if you take into account his journalistic background), but probably overlong at nigh on 500 pages.

I will seek out some more of Mark's earlier work, but I won't revisit this novel again! For a single 30-something girl, it hit a little too close to home *grins* If you want to read this, I would suggest that you make sure you're in a wonderful and warm, loving relationship and then tackle it - so that you don't end up scared at the prospect of encountering these men when you put yourself out there!

Save Our Libraries!

Why I Love Libraries:

1. I am a member of Hampshire Libraries - this means I can borrow up to 30 items, from most libraries across Hampshire and can return items to my nearest library. The convenience and flexibility is superb.

2. All of my local libraries are open late on at least one evening per week, sometimes two, which allows me to browse for books when the bookstores have closed!

3. I have never experienced anything other than enthusiastic assistance from the workers in the Hampshire libraries I've been to. They actively want to help, to bring in new books, to discuss books that they have loved.

4. One of my favourite activities has been taking my two nephews to the library. The youngest - aged four - loves the library, adores being read to, and is taken weekly. The eldest doesn't want to spend his pocket money on books, but still wants to read, and the library encourages him to do so.

5. I have been rampantly using my library in an effort to stem the flow of books coming into my house permanently. I take out books that I wouldn't necessarily want to buy, but would like to try. New books - recently released - are all over the shelves. I've seen Angry Robot, Solaris, Gollancz, Orbit, Voyager, Black Library all represented on the shelves in spades.

6. The Waterlooville library has recently been refurbished, with £100,000 of new stock ordered in - it looks glorious, with wooden floors, break out areas and a coffee machine. You are able to return, renew and check out books on self-service machines. It is a marvel and a place I enjoy to spend time. The Fareham library is a sprawling ground floor of plentiful shelves, with hundreds of surprises on the shelves, including the Horus Heresy Collected Visions, and novels by some of my favourite authors who have moved to small press, such as Helen Hollick.

7. As a young girl, my reading habit was fed ONLY by my local library in Fareham. I went every Saturday without fail, early, and would take out between four and eight books with the expectation of reading them all before going back the following Saturday.

8. Through my local library I discovered the following authors: David Eddings (The Belgariad), David Gemmell (Knights of Dark Renown), Sharon Shinn (Archangel), Charles de Lint (The Little Country). These are still four of my most beloved authors today.

9. I like to think of youngsters nowadays going in and discovering authors like Brandon Sanderson, Joe Abercrombie, Kate Griffin, Graham McNeill.

10. We simply CAN'T lose our libraries. They represent so much to those who use them: sharing a love of literature, discovering new reads, being able to borrow favourite books rather than buy. They are the cheapest form of entertainment I know, staffed by wonderful people who want to help. Libraries are the past and have to be the future as well.

Please, support the Bookseller campaign to SAVE OUR LIBRARIES!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Author Spotlight - Jaine Fenn

Since Jaine Fenn has literally JUST revealed the beautiful artwork for her latest novel Bringer of Light, I felt it would be good for her to kick off my new series of articles: Author Spotlight.

It will aim to bring you up-to-date with an author you might have missed out on - in most cases, they will be authors that I am yet to read but very fervently want to!

So, first of all feast your eyes on this glorious colour for Bringer of Light (artist: Nik Keevil):

That deep red is simply gorgeous and I'm pleased to see the cover graced by Jaine's full name rather than the initials she was saddled with when it was (briefly) believed her sales would be affected by the fact she was a woman writing science fiction.

Jaine has been on the writing scene since 2008, when the first novel in her Hidden Empire series Principles of Angels was published by Gollancz.

The second novel is Consorts of Heaven:

The third novel is Guardians of Paradise (note this cover shows J.N.Fenn):

In Jaine's own words:

I wrote my first 'novel' at seven, typing it on my father's typewriter and illustrating it in felt tip pen. It wasn't SF, but it did feature characters having an improbably difficult time. Aged nine I found a copy of 'A Wizard of Earthsea' in a gift shop, and discovered the world of fantastical literature. When, aged eleven, I realised I really wasn't going to be a ballerina, I decided to be a writer of unlikely stories instead.

As is often the case, this proved easier said than done. I've let myself get distracted by the irritating need to earn a living and other, less arduous, paths to fulfilment. Over the years I have supported my writing habit through various means, including life modelling, running a charity shop and computer consultancy; this latter has given me a distrust of technology rare in an SF writer.

I met and married the love of my life at college. We remain stubbornly in love and have forgone having children in favour of not growing up ourselves. Though everything in the world is secondary to stories and love, other things that ease the trials of everyday life for me include: wild, green places; dancing like nobody's watching; serious chocolate; fortean phenomena; living like a medieval peasant on summer weekends; friendship; Portmeirion; live music and good books.

Fenn's first novel was received warmly, with positive reviews for Consorts of Heaven and Guardians of Paradise. Books, of course, can't please everyone! However, general consensus is that Fenn started on a strong note and has only improved since then.

Fenn mentions that Bringer of Light has been delayed until September 15th 2011, but I do believe that just gives all of us a few more months to get caught up on a science fiction author with a great deal of promise.

Jaine can be found on Twitter and at her own blog.

Please let me know if you have read the work of Jaine Fenn, and what you thought of it!

N.B. Since this was my first Author Spotlight, I would welcome feedback! Is there anything else you'd like to see? Any authors you would like featured?

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Speedy Gonzales

I am not saying this to boast, but I've read 9 books so far this year. Alongside that I have also read numerous blog posts, and several chapters from Deadhouse Gates. I read lots.

This is not my point. My point is that I read fast. This is my choice and my manner of reading.

But recently I have seen people complain about those people who read fast. They state baldly that there is no way people who read fast can possibly enjoy the books as much as those who read slow.


Why should I be looked down on for reading quickly? I remember every book I've read. I remember key characters and events. I might not remember every tiny little detail - but, for me, this just allows the joy of re-reading.

Is there some rule that states books have to be enjoyed slowly?

My rule is this: I will read books how I damn well please!

Do you read quickly or slowly? Are you mystified by the people who do the opposite?

Monday, 17 January 2011

The Sentinel Mage by Emily Gee

An ancient curse springs into life, and the only means of stopping it is using the mixed blood of a prince of Osgaard and a mage - Prince Harkeld. The Sentinel mages come to find Harkeld, but discover that he has a learned hatred of magic and distrusts those who seek only to help him. So Innis, the most gifted mage and shapeshifter, is forced to do the forbidden and take the shape of a man so that she is able to protect Harkeld, in order that he can fulfil his destiny.

I so wanted to like The Sentinel Mage, I really did. I thought the premise sounded winning, and enjoyed the idea of shapeshifters in a proper fantasy novel (rather than just urban fantasy), but it didn't work for me at all.

This was despite Gee's very accomplished writing. Her prose is smooth and very readable, and broken into little bite-sized chapters that keep the pages turning. Considering that it is just over five hundred pages, I shot through it in the matter of a day or so and it is testimony to Gee's prose that I did so. I love the idea of what she would be capable of with an exciting and unique plot; I genuinely think she would step to the fore as one of the premier female fantasists were that the case.

As it is, Gee saddled herself with a plot that is remarkably high on predictability. Harkeld has to destroy three anchor stones, and there are three novels in the trilogy - I honestly don't think it will surprise anyone that one goes this book, and I'm betting the second will go at the end of the second book. In the third novel of the trilogy I'm anticipating a little tension/race against time/re-emerge of the mage who first cast the curse to shed a minute amount of doubt over the success of the mission. Probably someone will die in that final showdown - maybe in self-sacrifice - and, at the moment, Petrus is looking prime for that role considering his doomed love for Innis who, predictably again, is starting to fall for Harkeld. At the start of the novel Harkeld hates all mages, but is gradually coming around to them - he and Innis will have the start of a romance, then he will realise that Innis has been lying about shifting into a man, and they will have a big falling out. He or she will depart the group at this point. *sighs* I wish it wasn't as predictable as this - none of this first novel in the Cursed Kingdoms presented me with any surprise whatsoever.

I felt that Gee really missed a trick in not emphasising the "woman shifting into a man" element of the plot. Truly, this could have made the novel stand out amongst other fantasy releases this year. There could have been humour, and near misses, and a real sense of the differences between men and women. As it was, the mages discussed how difficult it would be for Innis to truly take on the role of Justen, and then it proved all too easy. Innis fooled the Prince with ease. She became a man with ease, with all those different mannerisms, and different ways of communicating. I can't imagine any woman being able to mimick a man effectively, and it would have been nice to see a hint of distrust from Harkeld in this new armsman of his. *sighs*

Harkeld must be really DAMN stupid as well! The mages manage to fool him with constant switches as to who apes Justen, so that Innis can take some time in her female shape (apparently it is dangerous to stay in one shape for a while - but we never see any hint of this danger; no near misses or anything). All they do is keep going behind rocks and swapping over - surely even the most dense person must realise that different people came back from behind the rock? *sighs*

Although, to be fair, Harkeld could be forgiven for not realising since the characters are pretty much cardboard cut-outs of fantasy characters. The only facet of Harkeld's personality I saw was his hatred of mages and unwanted attraction to Innis. Innis is shy and bites her lip. Petrus is probably the most interesting of all, and he still falls extremely short of genuine characterisation.

As I've hinted, one of the real weaknesses of the novel is that Gee spends a lot of time telling us about problems and issues, but then not showing us how these affect the plot and character. I would have liked to see more practical demonstrations of HOW it is dangerous to stay in one form for too long, for instance.

Honestly, I was so disappointed. Like I said, I REALLY wanted to like this book. The plus side is that I liked Gee's style of writing enough to pick up something else by her, but I don't need to read the other two books in the Cursed Kingdom trilogy to know how this story is going to end. Unless you are after tepid and predictable fantasy, I would give this one a miss.

Veteran by Gavin Smith

Gavin Smith's debut novel Veteran is a take on near-future military science fiction, where the world has been at war with Them for decades. Our "hero", Jakob Douglas, is the veteran of the title, an ex-soldier who spends his days trying to find oblivion through drink and drugs. One day he is told that a Them infiltrator has crashed to earth and must be retrieved. He is reactivated into service - but events do not proceed as planned. He finds himself on the run with a teenage prostitute, realising that everything he has been told about Them has been incorrect. His journey takes him to New York, as he and Morag pick up allies and enemies, and he attempts to bring peace between Them and Us.

This is a good book. It is entertaining and written very well, considering it is Smith's first novel. There are some flaws, which I shall detail, but on the whole I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The main strength of Veteran is the characters, and the relationship between Jakob and Morag. It is, at best, an uncomfortable relationship considering the relative ages of the characters and the fact Morag starts the novel as a whore, but Smith writes it well and introduces some discussion on morality to proceedings. Jakob himself is a dark and grim protagonist, with flashes of brutal humour, and carries the plot very well.

I've seen some remarks on the fact that the philosophical ramifications of the plot sit uneasily alongside the action sequences - but I actually enjoyed these. Although they were presented slightly clumsily at times, I thought they lifted the novel beyond just a shoot-'em-up presentation of war.

My main complaint comes from the treatment of women. Considering we've drifted into near future, it feels like a backward step to have the main female character be a prostitute. We're in an enlightened age right now, where women share the duties of being in the armed forces, and have lofty positions in industry and government - why would all that have changed thanks to an ongoing war with Them? I felt Smith missed a trick here, where he could have presented women in the same enlightened fashion.

I did really like Them though - they were suitably alien, with little progression made my humanity in sixty years with communicating with them and trying to understand them. The name of Them is inspired, in fact, and helps to push the idea that they are something Other.

Altogether, Gavin Smith has written an explosive debut, with memorable characters and breakneck pace. His prose is sleek and smooth, and his action set pieces are clean and fluid. Despite minor flaws, this is an accomplished start to Smith's writing career and I look forward to reading more.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Learning From History...

This post kinda links into my previous article about the Huck Finn kerfuffle. In that post I discussed the censorship (or not) of removing all references to the word 'nigger' in future editions of Huckleberry Finn. One of the points I was trying to make is that sanitizing texts written from past times takes away from us some of the pleasure of discovering the perspective of those times.

Here is my example! My family (in their entirety) are involved in Scouting and my dad was given "Scouting for Boys", written by Lord Baden-Powell. This was originally written in 1932, and sets out the guidelines for how Scouts should behave. Back then it was deemed to be a very good handbook on how young men should live their lives. Reading it now provides much inadvertent amusement!

Let me give you some choice quotes - enjoy! (and remember - if we keep trying to pretend history never happened, we will miss out on gems like this, which are very much a product of their time and should be enjoyed as such).

Smoking and drinking are things that tempt some fellows and not others, but there is one temptation that is pretty sure to come to you at one time of another, and I want just to warn you against it.

It is called in our schools 'beastliness', and that is about the best name for it. Smoking and drinking and gambling are men's vices and therefore attract some boys, but this 'beastliness' is not a man's vice; men have nothing but contempt for a fellow who gives way to it.

Some boys, like those who start smoking, think it a very fine and manly thing to tell or listen to dirty stories, but it only shows them to be little fools. Yet such talk and the reading of trashy books or looking at lewd pictures, are very apt to lead a thoughtless boy into the temptation of self-abuse. This is dangerous, for, should it become a habit, it may lead to worse habits. But if you have any manliness in you, you will throw off such temptation at once; you will stop looking at the books and listening to the stories, and will give yourself something else to think about.

Sometimes the desire is brought on by indigestion, or from eating too rich food, or from constipation. It can therefore be cured by correcting these, and by bathing at once in cold water, or by exercising the upper part of the body by arm exercises, boxing, etc. It may seem difficult to overcome the temptation the first time, but when you have done so once it will be easier afterwards.

If you still have trouble about it, do not make a secret of it, but go to your Scoutmaster and talk it over with him.

By the way - these days any references to Scoutmasters has been lost because of the possible connotations of slavery. Yep, we have reached PC madness...

Here is another quote (and, yes, I am childishly bringing you all the toilet humour examples!):

And to be healthy and strong, you must keep your blood healthy and clean inside you. This is done by breathing in lots of pure, fresh air, by deep breathing, and by clearing out all dirty matter from inside your stomach, which is done by having a "rear" daily, without fail; many people are the better for having it twice a day.

And one example that is not toilet-humour-based, but tickled my funny bone (partly because I've experienced what modern day Scouts are like on camp!):

A camp is a roomy place, but there is no room in it for one chap, and that is the fellow who does not want to take his share in the many little odd jobs that have to be done; there is no room for the shirker or the grouser - well, there is no room for them in the Boy Scouts at all, but least of all when in camp.

Every fellow must help, and help cheerily, in making it comfortable for all. In this way comradeship grows. On service, if one fellow is out on night duty getting wet through, one of those left in the tent will be sure to get ready a cup of hot cocoa for him when he comes in, and that is the kind of thing every Scout should think of and carry out.

My last quote from this delightful little tome:

When you are travelling by train or tram, always notice every little thing about your fellow-travellers; notice their faces, dress, way of talking, and so on, so that you could describe them each pretty accurately afterwards; and also try and make out from their appearance and behaviour whether they are rich or poor (which you can generally tell from their boots), and what is their probable business, whether they are happy, or ill, or in want of help.

But in doing this you must not let them see you are watching them, else it puts them on their guard.

It is said that you can tell a man's character from the way he wears his hat. If it is slightly on one side, the wearer is good-natured; if it is worn very much on one side, he is a swaggerer; if on the back of his head, he is bad at paying his debts; if worn straight on the top, he is probably honest, but very dull.

I have loved this little excursion through history - the quaint ideals, the very proper language, the wonderful idea that young lads previously used to obey these rules (most of them anyway *winks*).

This is the sort of publication we are in very real danger of sanitizing out of existence. Let's not lose the joy of learning from history...

Friday, 14 January 2011


I use all caps in my subject title in homage to Sam Sykes. His German publishers have demanded a map to accompany publication of Tome of the Undergates and Sam has complied, with the help of Michael Lee Lunsford!

Take a look at this baby...

I particularly like the shark.

Coming Clean - A Book I Just Can't Read

I have to come clean.

The Gunslinger is not for me. Certainly not in the readalong way I've been trying to read it.

I've been finding it a complete chore, trying to complete the posts for each Friday. I've been dreading picking up this so very slight novel and finding reasons to put it off. Look - it's Friday again today and I haven't even looked at The Gunslinger for two weeks. In that period I've read four chapters of Deadhouse Gates and written posts for the Tor Malazan Re-read, and completed four novels of varying lengths. I've done everything bar pick up The Gunslinger.

I don't like it. I find it tedious, dry. I struggle to gain any meaning or excitement from it. I can totally see why other folk warned me off the book.

So, this is me deciding to stop doing something that feels like a *job*. The Dark Tower Readalong officially ends here. I apologise to all those lovely people who encouraged me and left comments. I hate giving up on something, but would rather end it officially than have you keep coming by trying to find a post that isn't going to happen.

Now, I am stubborn - and I have a feeling I will finish reading The Gunslinger at some point, just for completism, but I really don't understand why this series has gained such popularity.

I invite you to tell me why YOU like the series...

Also, which inordinately popular books/series have you never managed to complete?

Foursome by Jane Fallon

Rebecca, Daniel. Alex, Isabel. Four best friends who met at university and end up married, having babies and living just streets away from each other. When Alex ends his marriage to Isabel, everything changes - and Rebecca is forced to acknowledge that life might never be the same again, especially when Alex gets together with Rebecca's hated colleague, Lorna.

Okay, here to start with is a comment on book covers. I'm used to my chick lit novels having pink or pastel or glittery covers. Foursome has a slightly more serious cover and I was fooled into thinking that Fallon might be covering weighty issues the way that Marian Keyes does in her books. Instead, we get a fluffy tale about a falling out between friends and how lying is BAD. And, yes, that message is hammered home.

Having got my head around the difference between cover and contents, I whipped through this soft confection of lies and lovers in less than a day. Fallon's prose is incredibly readable - she had me turning pages feverishly, even though I scoffed incredulously at most of the plot within the book.

I really enjoyed the first part of the book where the savage office relationship between Rebecca and Lorna is explored. Lorna is a hateful character, memorable, spiteful and with a fantastic turn in passive aggressive behaviour. I had the urge to throttle her, and, as far as I'm concerned, if an author makes you have a visceral reaction like that to a character then they are doing a fine job.

My problems came when Rebecca decided that, rather than tell her bosses that Lorna was going through big personal issues that kept her from work (the normal way to deal with a work issue), she decides to perform a series of lies and charades to pretend that everything is fine with Lorna's performance. This just wouldn't happen, and I could not suspend my disbelief. At all. I found myself rolling my eyes at the behaviour of many of the characters.

With that said, I think Fallon also has a deft touch when it comes to characterisation. She writes strong and real female characters, who are bitchy and loving by turn. Those that are mothers have warm and realistic relationships with their children, who are also written well.

With Fallon's ability to write these great characters, and her smooth prose, it made me even more disappointed at the ridiculous plot. I would really love to see what Fallon is capable of when she has a decent storyline to work with. I will be reading more novels by this author, for sure, but now I know that I shall be using them as light reads when I need fluffy escapism.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Tracking the Tempest by Nicole Peeler

Tracking the Tempest is the second novel about half-selkie Jane True by Nicole Peeler. In this novel, Jane is visiting her gorgeous boyfriend Ryu in Boston for Valentine's Day when they are attacked by another halfling. A hugely powerful half-ifrit who has left a path of dead bodies in his wake, Conleth looks to be hunting down Jane and won't let anything get in his way. Jane - flaunting her newly-trained supernatural powers - and Ryu are joined by a number of others, including Ryu's big rival, Anyan, to find Conleth before he can kill again.

I've just turned into a fangirl. My one real complaint about the first novel in the Jane True series - Tempest Rising - was that it seemed to be all set-up and not a lot of plot. In Tracking the Tempest, Peeler hits the ground running and gives us a delicious plot with no filler. This is a taut murder mystery, as well as a look at the supernatural politics that dominate the world that Jane has been introduced to.

My very favourite part of Peeler's writing is the snarky, knowing humour that fills every page. Anyone who follows this author via Twitter or Facebook knows that she has a very similar sense of humour to her wonderful main character. We have a girl who creeps through a dark and empty warehouse, thinking on all of the horror movies she's watched where the vulnerable young girl is jumped on and murdered. We have a just wonderful scene late in the book where Jane has been rescued, but all she can contemplate is the fact she drank too much water and needs to pee:

"Jane, I don't even know where to begin. I'm trying to rescue you from a psychotic serial killer who is apparently intent on impregnating you. And you want to take a potty break."

See? Who else d'you know would include the fact that heroines do actually have to pee, especially in moments of high tension? *grins*

The shivering romantic tension between Jane and Anyan is also ramped up in this novel. In Tempest Rising I was intrigued by Anyan, but in Tracking the Tempest he becomes absolutely irresistible.

So, I loved the plot. I loved the characters. I loved the prose. I loved the wicked sense of humour. I loved the fact I COULD NOT put this book down from start to finish. Ms. Peeler, I salute you. You are my new favourite UF author!

Oh, and let's give some cover love to Sharon Tancredi, who has produced another vivid and utterly charming cover to grace the outside of such a brilliant story.

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow

The Flight of the Eisenstein by James Swallow is the fourth book in the long-running Horus Heresy series by the Black Library. It follows the Death Guard Captain Nathaniel Garro as he witnesses the massacre of his brother legions on Isstvan III and his struggle to pass the message of Horus' treachery to the Emperor. It is a sister novel in some ways to Galaxy in Flames, as it shows the events on Isstvan III from a more distant perspective, and from the point of view of an Astartes warrior who has not been party to the changes in Horus and his turn to the forces of Chaos.

By the nature of the story, The Flight of the Eisenstein was never going to be a happy book, but much of the humour and moments of levity from the previous three novels in the Horus Heresy is absent here. Brother betrays brother; Chaos is on the rise; and Garro finds himself questioning everything in which he once believed. It is a dark, grim testimony of the darkness growing within the forces of the Astartes.

Swallow does an admirable job in taking the events covered by Ben Counter in 'Galaxy in Flames', and providing us with the alternative view - in fact, the scenes in which Garro watches in disbelief as Isstvan III is destroyed far beneath him are some of the most powerful and moving in the series to date.

There is also a nice turn in discussing the nature of new vs. old traditions within the Death Guard Legion, which echoes the over-riding theme of Lodges and following a new belief shown in the whole Horus Heresy series. Garro is one of the oldest-serving within the Death Guard, one who was born on Terra unlike many of his battle brothers. He adheres to many of the old traditions and finds himself somewhat outcast within his own Legion.

I also enjoyed (although I'm not sure "enjoyed" is quite the word!) the portrayal of warriors who are unable to fight any longer. Here we have Garro, defiant in the face of injury; Voyen, unable to face the idea of being part of war anymore; and Decius, who chooses a very different path. In each case, Swallow shows how a fighter might respond to the idea that he can play no part in the role that he was born to. All three storylines were written incredibly well.

In The Flight of the Eisenstein, the massive and far-reaching events covered in the first three novels are brought down to a much more micro level. Much of the novel takes place on the Eisenstein itself, and has an incredibly creepy and claustrophobic atmosphere because of it. Adding in a glimpse of the Warp and how Chaos affects the Astartes only increases this.

My main issue with the novel is a matter of characterisation. The Death Guard Legion is not the most charismatic, and they feel a little mundane on the pages. Compare this to the Luna Wolves/Sons of Horus, and the novel becomes somewhat dry. I don't think this is necessarily a fault of Swallow - in fact, I think he portrays these Marines well.

What is a fault of Swallow's is the fact that at times there was little to differentiate the individual characters within the Legion. Apart from Garro himself, Decius and Grulgor - all of whom have a large role to play in the novel - the rest of the Marines are interchangeable and difficult to identify.

All in all, though, this is a very solid entry into the series - dark, forbidding and challenging to read for all the right reasons. Good effort.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Ageism and sexism in publishing

This is going to be a free-form pondering post to which I would welcome any sort of input!

We have heard today in the UK that the ex presenter of a TV show called Countryfile has won her case, in that she argued she had been removed for being too old. It is not the first example we've seen on TV and movie screen where certain people are picked over others thanks to age.

So today I am talking about ageism and sexism - and how it affects/does not affect publishing.

First ageism.

My personal thought was that ageism was non-existent in the book world. After all, writers of all ages are being published! But then I considered the fantasy arena - if an author goes to a publisher with an exciting new ten-book series, but they are in their sixties, would the publisher take the risk on beginning the cycle where an older author might (god forbid) perish during the writing?

If we look at YA fiction, it strikes me that publishers would prefer younger authors to push, since they can talk with a great degree of understanding to the teens who are reading their books.

I don't think any publisher would state directly that they'd prefer younger authors - and this is proved, in the fact that they will take on older authors as well - but do you think age presents any sort of consideration for the publisher?

Relating to sexism, Adam Roberts has written an interesting article on the Booker Prize. He crunched the numbers of the shortlisted/winning authors and discovered that the shortlisted authors have, in the majority, been men. We've also seen a lot of discussion from Niall Harrison at Torque Control about women in the SF arena and the fact that the field is dominated by men.

Is there sexism in publishing? Is it that men are picked over women, or is it that more men are writing novels? Obviously, in a genre such as women's fiction, the reverse could said to be true - authors such as Mike Gayle are very much in the minority and therefore seen as unusual. I'm sure the fact he is a guy is considered a unique selling point by his publisher, since he can write accurately about the way men feel during relationships!

I can't pull any conclusions out of this, which is why I would welcome your impressions on publishing and whether they are affected by ageism and sexism!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Signings and Agents and Books, Oh My!

I've had a tumble of interesting press releases fall into my inbox, so I thought I would do you a quick round-up of the fun and games going on in the speculative fiction arena.

First up, Agent Ring has struck again! With absolute stealth and cunning, Agent Ring has managed to secure the services of one Gareth L Powell. Here is the official version:
Gareth L Powell and Sharon Ring sign author/agent contract.
Gareth L Powell has signed up with Literary Agent Sharon Ring. Sharon Ring will act as agent in regard to five titles, Revenant Skies; Reclaiming The Dead; Silversands (originally published with Pendragon Press); The Last Reef (originally published with Elastic Press); The New Ships.

Gareth is rapidly gaining a reputation as a “strong new voice in epic science fiction” (Solaris). In addition to his previously published novel (Silversands) and collection (The Last Reef), Gareth has appeared in several anthologies, including including Shine (Solaris Books, 2010), Conflicts (NewCon Press, 2010), 2020 Visions (M-Brane, 2010), Dark Spires (Wizard’s Tower, 2010), and Future Bristol (Swimming Kangaroo, 2009). His short story Ack-Ack Macaque won the Interzone Readers’ Poll for best short story of 2007; and Solaris will publish his second novel The Recollection in September this year.

Gareth said, "With two novels and a collection under my belt, I'm glad to have someone with Sharon's contacts and chutzpah to help me scout out the territory ahead. I expect this will be a successful and productive partnership for us both."

Sharon said, “Gareth is an ideal writer to join forces with at this time. The more I read his work, the more I feel he is poised to have wider success in the science fiction community. He has a strong narrative voice; concise, direct and, above all, very human in the exploration of his chosen themes. I’m delighted to be forming this partnership.”

You can find out more about Gareth L Powell at his website, while any queries should be directed to Sharon.

Next the news that Angry Robot Books have signed Trent Jamieson:

Australian wunderkind Trent Jamieson has signed to Angry Robot for a new series of steampunk fantasy novels. Already attracting rave notices for his urban fantasy Death Most Definite (Orbit), Trent’s latest creation takes us to a dying land of decaying clockwork technology that is being devoured by a great rift in reality, the Roil.

The deal was arranged between Trent, agent Sophie Hamley, and AR’s publishing director Marc Gascoigne. It includes publication in the UK and US, in paperback, ebook and audio formats.

Trent had this to say: “Angry Robot have been publishing some bloody excellent books in the last couple of years, so I’m thrilled to be part of their list. Roil and Night’s Engines take me in some rather different directions to anything I’ve done before. They’re Steampunk Fantasy, fast, dark and crammed to bursting with monsters. You’ll meet psychopathic Vergers, Quarg Hounds, and Hideous Garment Flutes, and see the terrors of the Obsidian Curtain up close and personal. This is a world I’ve been writing about, and living in, for ten years, and I’m so excited to finally share it with people.”

Roil is scheduled to hit bookstores in September 2011, with its sequel Night’s Engines following in late Spring 2012.

Check out the Angry Robot website for more deets on this one!

Now some information from Solaris about two books coming from them in March 2011.

The first is by Andy Remic:

The fourth novel in the rock-hard Combat K series!

Junks, an evil alien scourge, are flooding Quad-Gal with terror. Combat K are sent on a mission to find an alien artifact which could win the war all at once.
SLAM-dropped to Cloneworld – a planet ravaged by violent civil war – Combat K get caught in a global conflict between augmented mechanised war machines and genetically-modified humans who have the ability to clone themselves. Combat K must fight their way to victory to save the Four Galaxies. But how can they possibly succeed, when their main foes are their own elite, deadly clones?

The hardest man in science fiction has done it again! Pippa and Franco, the last surviving members of the gun-toting, sword-swinging, no-holds-barred Combat K squad, are sent down to the war-torn, TV-obsessed planet of Cloneworld, in search of an artifact that may bring peace to the Four Galaxies. They will find pain. They will find betrayal. They will find a seemingly endless supply of CubeSausage, PreCheese and horseradish. But will they find the truth?

The second by Conrad Williams:

A new book from the three-times winner of the British Fantasy Society Award!

Commercial pilot Paul Roan is in command of a Boeing 777 when it is involved in a near miss. Nerves shot, he resigns and re-launches his life running a small hotel in a coastal village with his girlfriend, Tamara.

On the day they move to their new home, Paul is hit by a speeding car. Emerging six months later from a coma, he discovers that Tamara has left him, and the villagers, astonished by his cheating of death, now see him as a talisman. They bring him secrets too awful to deal with themselves. He burns the things they bring him, wishing he could rid himself of his own darkness. He is suffering from terrible dreams of a crippled black airliner screaming through the night, its pitted engines streaked with carbon and blood. He knows that, somehow, this jet – and its terrible cargo – is coming for him.

Finally, we have the artwork for four books coming in May 2011 from Tor UK, written by David Weber. All artwork is by Chris Moore.

1) Off Armageddon Reef - David Weber

2) By Schism Rent Asunder - David Weber

3) By Heresies Distressed - David Weber

4) A Mighty Fortress - David Weber

Until next time, folks!

The Sentinel Mage Giveaway - Winners!

Okay! I had a lovely little giveaway running this week to win copies of The Sentinel Mage. Using my handy little randomizer programme, I can now announce the winners...

There are three people lucky enough to win copies of both The Sentinel Mage and The Laurentine Spy. These three are:

Mihai Adascalitei
Heather Holt

The two people who will receive a copy of The Sentinel Mage are:

Maria Patrinou
David Rowe

Thank you for the many, many entries I received for this giveaway. Congratulations to all the winners, and commiserations to those not so lucky.  

Sunday, 9 January 2011

What Would You Do With $4,000?

Okay, so if you had $4,000, what would you spend it on?

Would it be this?

That is one epic tattoo... And it only took 22 hours in the tattoo parlour - win!

Personally, I would rather spend my $4,000 on a luxury holiday here:

Check out some more amazing pictures here of Ulusaba!

Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler

Jane True lives in Rockabill, working at the local bookstore, looking after her father and missing the mother who vanished when she was only young. She endures the vicious rumours about the death of her childhood sweetheart - many of Rockabill's inhabitants blame her. She hides the fact that she swims in the sea daily, despite weather and currents. She lives a lonely existence in the most part. Until she discovers the body of a man in the sea and is shown a whole new life. Jane True finds out that she is half selkie, and that she is part of a supernatural culture hidden beneath the life she has always known. However, she also discovers that someone is killing halflings, and her name is next on the list.

You know how some books can be rather po-faced and worthy, while other novels bring the fun and the humour and definitely don't take themselves too seriously? Tempest Rising is most certainly the latter. It bubbles along with fun and frivolity, giving us a wonderful heroine in the form of Jane True.

Peeler uses plenty of myths and fairytales to bring us the various supernaturals that make up her Otherworld, and I am a big fan of this - rather than vampires, we have baobhan sith; no werewolves here, instead there are nahuals and barghests. I absolutely love this, because it shows a care on Peeler's behalf and a genuine love of the fairytales that have imbued our own past.

As I say, Jane True is a wonderful heroine - snarky, and self-doubting, and cute, and quirky. She is strong and lovely, and has a very real sense of humour (i.e. thinking about her designer shoes as her windpipe is being crushed). She is well matched by a cast of mercurial, whimsical, unconventional and downright odd characters. And I'm not just talking about the supes at this point! Some of the humans are a little unorthodox as well. All the characters have effective personalities and help to drive the plot along - I particularly loved Anyan, and want to see WAY more of him!

Truly, the only downside to this novel is the fact that it is an "Origins" story, in that Jane True is being introduced to her new world. It means there is a great deal of explanation going on and not masses of plot. The tale of the halflings being killed is a little thin, but I find this acceptable because Peeler is establishing her world. I fully expect a much more immersive tale in the next volume of the series.

I would say that if you want a fluffy, fast and very fun read you should look no further than Tempest Rising! I already have the second novel in the series and am excited about getting started!