Posts belonging to Category reviews



Westeros Is Not The Only Realm…

Ah, Game of Thrones! We’re planning on heading round to some friends who have subscription TV on Monday evening, to catch the opening of Season Four. Meantime I’ve now read the books as far as they correspond (mostly) to the end of Season Three. One of the things I enjoy most about watching the series is I don’t know what’s going to happen! So I read a chunk of the books after each season, to fill in the omissions and alternations necessary when adapting from text to screen. So yes, I am a fan.

However… I see yet again that bookstore fantasy fiction promotions remain focused on Westeros and a narrow selection of fantasy books by pretty much the same few authors as last year and the year before that and the year before that. Don’t get me wrong – these chaps work hard, I’ve met a good number of them in person and they’re excellent company, interesting writers and absolutely deserve their success.

However… there are so many other fine fantasy worlds out there that deserve their share of attention. I’ve just written my Spring review column for Albedo One magazine, and I really was spoiled for choice. The books I picked to review were Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, Drakenfeld by Mark Charan Newton, Irenicon by Aiden Harte and Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper. All well worth seeking out.

I could just have easily reviewed the latest books by Freya Robertson, Helen Lowe, Stephen Deas, Gail Z Martin, Evie Manieri, Tom Lloyd, M.D.Lachlan… and many more besides.

So what are your favourite fantasy worlds you’d like introduce new folk to?

Old or new. For instance I’m delighted to see Barbara Hambly’s back list is now available in ebook. If you’ve never read The Darwath Trilogy do check it out. any other classics of the genre you’d care to recommend?

Me and the eBook Experience

As good friends will know, I’m generally at the trailing edge of new technology rather than the cutting edge. It has been said with some justification that my cosmic role with regard to tech is to balance out the enthusiastic early adopters. But when I find I have a genuine need for some piece of kit, I will get it…

Of late, I’ve been concluding that I really do need an ereader. I’m involved as a writer with a couple of ebook-first projects such as Tales of the Emerald Serpent and Aethernet Magazine and while reading the other writers’ stories on a computer screen at my desk is doable, I’d much rather be sitting on the sofa and enjoying them in ‘reader’ mode rather than in my ‘writer’ environment.

There’s also the undeniable fact that we have run out of physical space for books in this house. Seriously. I have stacks ten and twenty deep on the floor in the study and along the landing upstairs. That’s after we have disposed of over 250 books to friends, the local school and Oxfam’s charity bookshop in recent months.

Thanks to seasonal family generosity I now have a Samsung Galaxy 3 tablet, the 8-inch one, since I really couldn’t convince myself that buying a single-use piece of kit like a basic Kindle or Kobo ereader was my best option. I want something I can use as well as or instead of a laptop when I’m out and about. I’m already finding that’s proving extremely useful.

Yes but what about the book reading? And for pleasure, not just using it as a work tool

I initially found myself extremely reluctant to get started. More so than I expected, so I wondered why that might be. I realised that when I’ve read ebooks on my phone and back in the day, on my palm pilot, I have always found myself being aware of using a piece of tech, rather than losing myself in the story in the same way that I do with a book. I’ve been reading books for 45 years after all. Where I’ve been really engaged in the story, notably with Jo Walton’s Farthing, I found that wasn’t a problem overall. Where it took me a while to get into the story, I found that sensation became a barrier to me, to the extent of me abandoning a couple of reads I found uninspiring. That’s just not something I do with print books, unless they’re really, really failing me…

Okay, that was then, this is now. So what to do? Let’s start with books I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy, and see how I get on. Oh and also, ideally ebooks I can pick up cheaply to begin with… because I still found myself reluctant to pay out good money for pixels… I have the same problem with other digital media. When I buy something I expect to have something physically in my hand, a CD, a DVD. Yes, I accept that’s because I’m a product of my generation but that doesn’t make my reluctance to buy something I perceive as ephemeral any less real. Though as an aside, I have already used my tablet to access the digital versions of assorted DVDs we’ve bought recently which have offered that facility bundled with them. Publishing really does need to adopt that model.

So, anyway, I began with Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix since that looked like a fun entertainment from a skilled writer which I was likely to enjoy. Yes, that’s what it turned out to be and if you like the idea of a light-hearted and at times distinctly tongue-in-cheek Regency Romance with magic in it, I recommend you check it out. Personally I’d love to see him write some more complex tales in this setting. As to the ebook experience, I found I got on pretty well with it. I was still aware that I was using a new piece of tech but I got well into the story regardless. Good.

Then I picked up The Diaries of a Fleet Street Fox when it was on a 99p daily deal which I saw flagged up via Twitter. I’ve been curious about this book for a while, but not curious enough to pay the full price for it, pretty certain it was going to be a ‘read once only’ book and I generally get those out of the library. But 99p? Okay, let’s see how that works as a test. Well, it’s a good read, though I would say it’s much more Divorce of a Fleet Street Fox than an overview of life as a journalist. There is colourful and entertaining detail about the realities of the London news trade but it is primarily the story of a year dominated by domestic upheaval. That’s illuminating of itself, in what it has to say about modern life and behaviour but my interest in such stories is pretty limited. I definitely got my 99p’s worth. I might have felt a bit short-changed if I’d paid the full rate.

So that’s something else I can see me specifically doing with ebooks; keeping an eye open for special deals on books I’ve noted as likely to be interesting but not compelling enough to be a ‘must-buy’. And in this case, I also got to try out the low-light facility, since I woke up early one day over the Christmas break and read it in bed, without having to put on my bedside lamp and disturb my husband who was having a well-earned lie-in. I found that worked very well so that’s another definite tick in the plus column.

Okay but what about a book I would otherwise have bought in hard copy? Because that’s the ultimate aim, isn’t it? So when was I going to do that, and what was I going to buy? Well, Sainsbury’s gave me a push by adding a ‘500 bonus Nectar points if you buy an ebook’ on to the special offer vouchers they print out with their receipts nowadays. So I went looking on their website for Bleed like Me by Cath Staincliffe.This is the second book she’s written featuring the Scott & Bailey characters from TV. I really enjoyed the first one, as an excellent complement to the drama series, set in the gap between the first two TV seasons. So I bought it and yes, I really enjoyed this one too. It’s a fine crime novel in its own right as well as adding depth and breadth to the stories we’ve seen on the screen.

On the ebook aspect, what’s worth noting is I had to download Sainsbury’s own ebook app in order to read it rather than use one of the three other ereader apps I already had loaded and used. I wasn’t overly impressed with the Sainsbury’s own software. I ended up changing the font and background to find something easier on the eye and had to manually dim the app’s settings for reading in bed rather than just being able to tick the ‘auto’ box for the tablet itself. That didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the book in the least but does make me much less likely to buy ebooks from Sainsbury’s unless there’s some kind of bonus or special offer attached.

At the same time, I’ve still been reading actual hard copy books, some re-reads and some new. Now I find I’m aware of reading a paper book in a way I haven’t been before, noting the differences like not being able to adjust the screen-light level or print size… Okay, that’s new…

So I think that the more used I get to reading ebooks, the more use I’m going to be making of them, if that makes sense. I don’t imagine I’ll abandon new print books altogether, not least for the authors I’ve been buying for years and periodically re-read but for authors new to me and read-once things? Yes, I think I’ll be training myself to look for ebooks rather than defaulting to paper from now on.

I’m also going to be looking out for the ebooks of favourite authors’ backlists which have gone out of print and are being made available by the authors themselves.

This is what I’m doing with The Tales of Einarinn, of course, and that’s shown me one last unexpected thing. I’m currently proof-reading The Warrior’s Bond as we prepare the ebook edition. I downloaded the file onto my tablet yesterday and began reading on the sofa. After half a chapter, I had to go back to my laptop and sit at the desk. Because I realised I was already too far into ‘reader’ mode and losing myself in the story, rather than picking up the formatting and word-break typos that I was supposed to be looking out for! Maybe I’m getting used to ebooks more quickly than I realised…

Albedo One – Issue 44 – now in ebook formats

The latest Albedo One magazine is now out – and is the first issue to be available in a comprehensive range of ebook formats.

My review column in this issue is ‘Tales from the Unexpected’, where I’m looking at writers doing something different to the books they’re best known for. Specifically, Ian McDonald – Planesrunner (YA SF), Charlie Stross – Merchant Princes series (parallel worlds more fantasy than sfnal), Patricia Briggs – Aralorn (epic fantasy) and Stella Gemmel’s The City – not the Gemmell you were expecting to write this epic fantasy.

Click here to check it out.

Weekend reading recommendation – The Falconer, Elizabeth May

Lady Aileana Kameron, youthful and pretty, tries to combine her life in polite society with her determination to rid her world of murderous fae. The setting’s an agreeably atmospheric steam-punkish alternate Edinburgh in the 1840s. The author nevertheless remains clear-eyed on historical inequalities perpetuated by class and gender, not heavy-handedly moralising but simply weaving such elements into the pacy and entertaining story. Some will see echoes of a certain Slayer here but don’t let that put you off – and let’s remember the tradition of Scots lasses taking on faery foes goes back to the tale of Tam Lin. I’ve seen this labelled as a YA book and it’s a ‘safe’ read as far as graphic sex or violence goes while still offering plenty of action, tense and humorous by turns, and thoroughly convincing villainy. The exploration of love, loss and duty makes it a thoughtful read for all ages. Minor caveats; it’s the first of a series and has a markedly ‘to be continued…’ ending. Also it’s written in first person, continuous present tense which I’m really not a fan of – but here, I was able to get past that within the first few pages as the story engaged me.

click here for Elizabeth May’s website

Weekend reading recommendation. Fade to Black by Francis Knight.

This is a secondary world fantasy with the distinctive and imaginative twist of a post-feudal world where magic exists alongside early experiments in electricity and gunpowder – and that’s a very uneasy mix for a whole lot of reasons. And no, this isn’t a quasi-seventeenth century world but something entirely of itself, the action all set within a multi-level city, both in terms of geography and society.

The central character Rojan Dizon is doing the best he can down in the depths, trying not to fall any lower. He’s doing pretty well until he gets caught up in a crisis involving the family he’s grown apart from. Now he must find his way through a maze of manipulation and misdirection. Will doing his best be good enough?

I really enjoyed this – the story’s well paced and nicely structured, I engaged with the characters and the author doesn’t take easy options or duck hard questions.

And why am I reading this? Well, I’m on a panel next week at the World Fantasy Convention, looking at new female voices in fantasy and SF. Since my reading over the past two years has been dominated by the Arthur C Clarke Award, I soon realised I had some catching up to do. I’m very pleased to find there’s some extremely good reading out there from new women writers.

And since I’ve been flagging up the issues of visibility for women writers at the moment, I decided it’s time to put this blog where my mouth is, and start posting some short, non-spoilery reviews, to flag up books you might like to look out for. So watch this space.

- and adding a link to the author’s website would be a good idea, wouldn’t it? Find out more about Francis Knight and her writing here

Women in SF&F Month – Inequality of Visibility for Women Writers

Over at Fantasy Cafe, April has seen a truly splendid array of posts by female writers exploring a wide range of issues relating to women’s writing, recommending any number of great books, highlighting some of their own favourite authors, flagging up examples of favourite sorts of characters – and more besides. Treat yourself to a good long browse.

Given my year so far has been majorly taken up with the Arthur C Clarke Award and with EightSquaredCon – UK’s 2013 Eastercon, my contribution is what’s turned out to be a lengthy piece examining the lack of visibility for women writers – how it arises, what it means and why it matters. Because it does matter – to us all, irrespective of gender. You can find the piece here.

Chicks Unravel Time – Publications Date(s)

Appropriately enough for a book about arguably the world’s most famous time travellers, Chicks Unravel Time is published today/tomorrow, depending on your local time zone.

There are three reading/signing events for lucky fans in the US. Nov. 17 in Worcester, MA at Annie’s Book Stop; Nov. 24 at the Chicago TARDIS convention and Nov. 28 at The Churchill in NYC. I wish I had a Time Lord on speed dial so I could be there.

There’s also giveaway running this week which includes a copy of the anthology, the 50th Anniversary planner and Doctor Who sticky notes. Details here – and we’re told that next week’s giveaway will have even cooler stuff…

You can keep your diary up to date with future events via the Facebook page where links to reviews are also starting to appear. These are all thoughtful and positive and making me even more impatient to read the other contributors’ essays.

Finally, yes, I appreciate that a lot of my recent posts have been about new books. You and your bank balances have my sincere sympathy. It’s just that I keep getting asked to do such interesting things…

I did start writing a blogpost yesterday refuting some arrant nonsense Some Opinionated Bloke was spouting about the book trade. I found reviewing and explaining the assorted idiocies and screw-ups of the past couple of decades which have got us into the current mess so depressing I gave up half way through. Today I am thinking there’s not much to be gained by going over that old ground. The way forward is, well, forward. So onwards and upwards we go!

Tales of the Emerald Serpent – reviewed by Lou Anders

In haste and in passing – but I want to flag up this particular review of Tales of the Emerald Serpent – among the good many favourable notices the book has been getting.

Lou Anders likes it and says why and pretty much sums up why I am so proud to be part of this project.

And y’know, we all had such good fun that we are chatting idly about the possibility of a second volume…

Mind you, I have some embroidery to finish first.

Darkening Skies. Two reviews. Opposed on one key point. Who’s right?

With Darkening Skies now out in the UK and US, naturally I’m keeping an eye open for reviews. This week, I’ve seen mentions in SFX’s June 2012 magazine (#221) and in the Morpheus Tales online supplement. (Both well worth reading for a lot of other good stuff by the way).

This is very encouraging from a publicity point of view. But… amongst her other observations, Sandy Auden in SFX says:

The author has been attentive to the details too, especially in the smooth transitions between story threads. It’s the details that are the main drawback though. McKenna’s characters agonise constantly about their problems and it kills the pace.

Whereas, in the Morpheus Tales supplement, Adrian Brady says:

McKenna’s writing is excellent, both managing to evoke a rich world and characters, and moving the plot on speedily to keep the excitement levels raised.

So who’s right? And am I going to throw a writerly strop or mope ostentatiously about this insult to my misunderstood genius, either online or in public? Er, no. I don’t think I could do either and keep a straight face, not even for the entertainment value of seeing other people’s astonished reactions.

Besides, they’re both right. That’s how the story worked for them and they’ve both been objective, honest and courteous in expressing their opinions. That’s what a good reviewer does.

I also know how hard I worked to balance insight into the characters with the overall narrative pace as I wrote the book. I know I did the very best job that I could. Just as I knew at the time, I’d get that balance right for some readers and … less right for others.

You see, I’ve been here before. Back when I wrote Southern Fire, I delivered it to my editor with trepidation, explaining that of my test readers, one found the opening rushed, one found it too slow and one found it just right. Who was correct? They all are, he told me. It all depends on your perspective and readers’ reactions stem from a great many things beyond the actual words on the page. As a writer, you can only do the best job you can. So that’s what I do.

Besides, they both agree on one key thing. Adrian Brady says, ‘I’m looking forward to the third novel with whetted appetite,’ while Sandy Auden offers ‘It’s not clear what they’ll agonise over next though – after conclusive events here, book three could go anywhere.’

Writing the second volume of a epic fantasy trilogy that leaves long-standing genre readers with no clue what happens next? Now that’s a result. So as soon as I’ve done – and recovered from – Eastercon, I’ll get on with writing Defiant Peaks, all the more encouraged and inspired.

What other folk think about my book(s)

Publishers do like us writers to mention favourable reviews. Though this does clash rather with Traditional British Reserve, since custom and practise does rather frown on one blowing one’s own trumpet.

On the other hand, positive feedback from someone you don’t know in the least really is a great thing for writers. It validates what we’re doing and encourages us to do more and better, and that’s a big tick in the plus column on the first day back to work (officially) on a wet and windy January day.

So, for your consideration, check out the concise appreciation on page 31 of the Morpheus Tales #15 Supplement and then some particularly pleasing insights from Lady Fellshot