Category Archives: Reading

Festivus Book Pimping – City of Lies by Sam Hawke

The next book to be Festivus Pimped (so a thing) is by the wonderful Australian author Sam Hawke. Her debut novel, City of Lies (Tor Publishing), is the first in the Poison Wars series but operates as a standalone. And what a brilliant read it is… and has a hellof a first line: ‘I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me.’ 

Blurb:

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he’s a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising…and angry.

While City of Lies sits firmly in the fantasy genre but it’s the murder mystery that drives this story, and it’s quite the suspect list. Let’s not forget the political machinations once the chancellor is murdered. With the city under siege and the enemy closing in, time is running out to find the killer (or killers) and save the Heir from being next on the hit list. Hawke’s world-building is grand in scope yet intricately detailed, and even though most of the story is set within the city’s walls, the world is completely realised.

And oh, the chapter separators. Each new chapter is preceded by a poison (usually plant-based) with an illustration and description of its properties. Due to the ‘whodunnit’ style of the story, these little titbits of information have you guessing as to which was used to kill the Chancellor, and whetherJovan will succumb to a poison for proofing the food for the now Chancellor of a besieged city set with assassins unknown.

City of Lies is a big book, sitting at just over 500 pages, but the skill with which Hawke tells her tale, it is by no means a laborious read. The characters are fully fleshed out, relatable, and with both Jovan and Kalina dealing with personal/physical limitations (Jovan with OCD and Kalina with chronic health issues), the reliance on each other, the skills they’ve acquired and their honour-bound duty to protect the chancellor and his heirs, adds extra depth to the storytelling.

It was a hell of a read, intricately plotted and with a satisfying end that tied up its threads nicely.

Recommended for fans of fantasy, epic fantasy, mystery, political shenanigans, murder mystery.


Festivus Book Pimping – Godblind & Darksoul by Anna Stephens

As promised, Festivus Book Pimping is here! And first cabs off the rank are Godblind and Darksoul by Anna Stephens. Yes, this is a two-for, and if you’re looking at hitting some grimdark, then buckle-up, grab your sword or axe (or both) and get ready for battle.

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS

The first in Stephens’ trilogy, Godblind, is a story of gods, sacrifice, political machinations, and no little amount of bloodshed.  It’s a brutal story, no bones about it, and it doesn’t shy from the horror of war and those caught up in it. Told from multiple points of view, the chapters are short, pushing you through the book at a cracking pace as we’re introduced to the main players – and even with those, everything is not as it seems. The Red Gods are rising, and they will drown the world in blood.

Here’s the back-cover blurb:

The Mireces worship the bloodthirsty Red Gods. Exiled from Rilpor a thousand years ago, and left to suffer a harsh life in the cold mountains, a new Mireces king now plots an invasion of Rilpor’s thriving cities and fertile earth.

Dom Templeson is a Watcher, a civilian warrior guarding Rilpor’s border. He is also the most powerful seer in generations, plagued with visions and prophecies. His people are devoted followers of the god of light and life, but Dom harbours deep secrets, which threaten to be exposed when Rillirin, an escaped Mireces slave, stumbles broken and bleeding into his village.

Meanwhile, more and more of Rilpor’s most powerful figures are turning to the dark rituals and bloody sacrifices of the Red Gods, including the prince, who plots to wrest the throne from his dying father in the heart of the kingdom. Can Rillirin, with her inside knowledge of the Red Gods and her shocking ties to the Mireces King, help Rilpor win the coming war?

Godblind Darksoul

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although there’s one scene that, even as a seasoned horror reader, had me wince, but there are no rules in a war between gods, and sacrifices must be made… the torturous the better.

It had me clamouring for the next in the series, Darksoul. The war is in full swing, and the kingdom of Rilpor is under heavy siege. Like, shit is really hitting the fan at this stage. This is hardcore battle here, with some pretty gruesome deaths, and a whole lot of sacrifices to please the Red Gods and bring about their victory, but hidden in plain sight is the Fox God, and the moment he comes to the fore… well, there are two scenes within this book that ripped out my heart and handed it to me. Stephens quite happily puts all your feels on an emotional rollercoaster. As a second book, it hits all the right notes. It’s a tough read in places because you feel for certain characters and are invested in their plight, and Stephens takes full advantage, as a great writer should.

Back-cover blurb below:

The Wolves lie dead beside Rilpor’s soldiers, slaughtered at the hands of the Mireces and their fanatical army.

The veil that once kept the Red Gods at bay has been left in tatters as the Dark Lady’s plans for the world come to fruition. Where the gods walk, blood is spilled on the earth.

All that stands between the Mireces army and complete control of the Kingdom of Rilpor are the walls of its capital, Rilporin, and those besieged inside.

But hope might yet bloom in the unlikeliest of places: in the heart of a former slave, in the mind of a soldier with the eyes of a fox, and in the hands of a general destined to be king.

It’s clear Stephens knows how to weave a tale and weave it well – her characters are well-drawn, fully fleshed out individuals, the magic is both awful and beautiful, and gods that pluck the strings of those major players are some harsh taskmasters.

These books aren’t going to be for everyone, no doubt, but if you’re looking for fantasy on the darker side of the reading spectrum filled with unique characters going through shitty things (and good things, too – yes, there is balance), then these books are definitely worth the read.

And the covers, oh my those covers. Mine are in beautiful hardback, and they are divine.

The third in the trilogy, BloodChild, is set for release next year, so why not grab the first two and in the lead-up for the release – you won’t be disappointed.

Recommended for those who like some grim in their fantasy and aren’t afraid to wade into bloody battle for their fix.

Rated for: blood, gore, violence, torture scenes, sex.

Not Dead, I Just Look That Way

Seriously, I’m not. Though it may appear that way considering the lack of posts these last few months. The lead-up to Christmas is one of my busiest times when it comes to work, so it’s been head down, bum up, and loooong hours in the editing chair.

But fear not, good readers! Things are about to change!

The tradition of Festivus Book Pimping is upon us! Can I get a book-a-lujah! (It’s a thing, work with me here.) For those unfamiliar with the tradition, every few days in the lead up to Christmas, I will be pimping a book I’ve read and/or worked on this year that I believe deserves to be wrapped in shiny paper and gifted to a loved one, friend, colleague… or even Secret Santa that baby. Hell, want to give an author friend a present? Gift their book to someone — two turtle doves and all that.

As you know, books are the best gifts (fight me), but it can sometimes be a little overwhelming knowing which books to choose for someone (or someones). Enter, Festivus Book Pimping! Each pimping will come with a mini-review and recommendation, plus a link to where you can purchase — be it print or ebook.

As Stephen King said, “Books are uniquely portable magic.” The man’s not wrong, and what better gift to give someone, than magic.

Stay tuned…
book magic

 

 

Beta Readers? You betchya!

So we’ve talked about editors and how to find them, now let’s chat about the unsung heroes and heroines of the publishing process: BETA READERS.

You’re damn right I put that in caps ‒ they deserve all the accolades they get.

For those unfamiliar with the term, beta readers are those who provide feedback on unpublished work before it goes to an editor. They are an essential cog in the machine that is publishing. Beta readers provide an objective overview from a reader’s perspective while giving insight into character(s) arc, plot, world-building, narrative style, and any inconsistencies.

So when should you engage betas?

You’ve finished the eleventy-first draft of your story, you’re probably sick of the sight of it, and you’re at that point where it needs another set of eyes (or three) to see how it’s holding up. Enter your beta readers. Now it’s imperative to point out that beta readers are not editors. You may be lucky enough that one of your betas is an editor, and may pick up spelling and grammar issues, but that’s not their role and it would be pretty uncool to ask them to do so while also providing story feedback.

There are a couple of ways to approach beta reading. You can make a list of things you’d like your betas to look for: eg. character agency and development, any plot holes, narrative style, and even something as simple as: does it make sense. Super-organised writers sometimes provide their beta readers with a checklist or a framework from which to work. Others just let their beta readers have at it, where they can provide feedback via electronic notes on the document, or just provide an overview at chapters’ end or at the completion of the tale.

The thing here is to be clear about what it is you’re looking for from your beta readers, and can they do so within a time-frame. Yes, a time-frame is necessary, especially if you’re working to a deadline. Just be realistic.

 

superhero_t_shirt_by_bangbangtshirts.jpg

Art by BangBang Tshirts

 

So where do you find these mythical creatures?

I’m hoping you have a community you can tap into. This is a big ask of someone, and generally it’s an unpaid project. Reciprocity is your friend here – if you ask someone to beta read for you, don’t be a twat and decline if they ask it of you.

There are groups on Goodreads that offer beta reading, but like with anyone you engage to assist with your book, be discerning in your choices. Hit up your social media sites, ask for recommendations. There are also paid sites that have beta readers; again, be discerning.

You’ll have noticed that I’m using the plural here, because you’re going to need more than one beta reader. I’d suggest at least three, but no more than four. Having too many eyes go over your story and the waters may start to get muddy.

When it comes to choice, try to find those who read in your genre (or alongside it), and even one who doesn’t – mainstream readers will give you insight into readability across the spectrum. Don’t ask a relative unless you’re sure they’re going to give you honest feedback, not just what you want to hear.

And that leads into the next part of the beta reader process: YOU.

If you ask for honest feedback (which is a given, right? Right?) then don’t get all precious, don’t take it personally, and for the love of all things holy and unholy, don’t get angry at them or their feedback. They’ve given freely of their time, provided honest insight in a bid to help you with your book. Be professional. Should you not agree with some of the feedback, you don’t have to take it on. Although should more than one of your beta readers pick up the same thing, then you’ve got an issue that needs to be addressed.

Again: don’t be precious.

In the end, it will be your decision what to take on, and what to let go. But you’re cultivating relationships here, be professional. And be thankful. Beta readers are helping you. Appreciate and respect that.

So we’ll end on some bullet points:

  • Find at least three beta readers – some that read in your genre and, if you can, one that doesn’t. Tap your community (writer community, social media et al.) for beta readers or suggestions; check Goodreads, or websites that offer the service.
  • Be discerning in your choices, clear in your decisions.
  • Ask for honest feedback and mean it – don’t be precious.
  • Provide guidelines for what you’re looking for with the beta read, and ask if it can be met within a realistic time-frame.
  • Reciprocity is your friend – if someone you’ve approached is a writer, offer to beta read for them (and mean it).
  • Be professional. You may not agree with/like the feedback you receive, but this isn’t about you, it’s about getting the best out of your story. Leave your ego behind.
  • You don’t need to take on every point your beta reader makes; the decision to move forward with alterations or not, rests with you.
  • If more than one of your beta readers points out the same issue – it’s an issue.
  • Don’t be precious (yes, it needs reiteration).

 

Remember, beta readers are the heroines and heroes of your publishing journey, be respectful to and thankful for them – they’ve earned it.

Con Magic

It’s been four days since Supanova Sydney packed up, and I’m sufficiently recovered to write a little somethin’-somethin’ on why conventions are not just fun but necessary. When I was a kid, there was no real gathering place to get your geek on. Sure, there were comic book stores a-plenty, but most didn’t want you hanging around all day after you’d spent your meagre pocket-money on the latest edition of Wonder Woman, Batman or The Tomb of Dracula and the like.

Relegated to the back carpark of the local council while we read and traded and talked all things comics as we skateboarded, it was the closest thing to a ‘con’ we had. And we revelled in it. Halloween wasn’t a thing when I was kid, so the opportunity to ‘cosplay’ was rare to non-existent.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit, and the culture is celebrated in all its glory – it’s a wondrous thing, filled with joy and excitement and acceptance. Yes, there are still issues with misogyny and inclusion and consent, but overall my con experiences have been positive (I’m aware this is not the case for all).

While the last few years I’ve been herding cats… sorry, my kids and their mates through conventions such as Supanova and ComicCon, this year I was on the other side of the Supanova table helping kick-arse author Devin Madson hawk her book-wares, and specifically her new book We Ride the Storm. As you can see by the table display below, the artwork is amazing (book covers matter, kids!), and the stories within are just brilliant.

devin table

The great thing about being on the other side of the table – apart from being surrounded by amazing artists (which we were) – is chatting with people about their love of books, of stories, of the art of writing and how much the tales they read and the characters they discover are very much a part of them. As someone who has a passion for both writing and editing, seeing that same passion in readers, of those who want to be writers, is an incredible thing to be a part of. No back carparks for these folks, they are out and proud in the geekdom, and it lifts the soul.

Cons allow writers to indulge in our love of all things books, to reunite with ‘our people’, and I even managed to scarper over to Alan Baxter’s table and pick up the promised books (The Book Club, Manifest Recall, and Hidden City), all signed, of course. And got to side-eye Raymond E Feist who was sitting next to Al – the line for Feist’s signature is definitely something to aspire to!

I also picked up issue #1 of Melbournian artist and writer, Mark Sheard’s, new comic The Flower of Rhode, plus a set of six funky coasters he’d made – of course I need funky coasters to rest my coffee mugs on. And I watched on as he created new characters for the next issue of his comic. The man has talent to spare.

Yet it’s the fans, those who love everything about books and comics and gaming and movies, of art and artists and the incredible creations found in Artists Alley that make the cons what they are – they’re the heart of fandom, who make creators keep creating.

We met kids scouring local author tables looking for their next read, we spoke to book lovers and voracious readers, and chatted to an ex-MMA fighter who proudly showed the dress he’d sewn for his daughter (in two days!) and was specifically looking to buy from Australian indie writers as a way of support – he was an awesome human.

We saw Deadpools and Doctors, Wonder Women and Wonder Men, Jedis and Stormtroopers and all manner of Darths. There was anime and My Little Pony, Aliens and Ripleys and Lara Crofts, superheroes and villains and a horde of Vikings that truly took it to another level. Everywhere you looked was another amazing outfit, another intricate piece painstakingly hand-made. Not once did I see a kid turned away from wanting their photo taken with a character, not once did I see someone mocked for their attire – it was a delight.

But I think it was best summed up by a grandmother I was chatting to while we both waited on our caffeine fix, and who was attending her first con with her grandchildren. Her eyes sparkled as she looked around at everything, her lips spreading wider in smile as her gaze lit upon the elaborately hand-made cosplay of ‘Big Daddy’ from Bioshock.

“It’s magic,” she said, her whisper filled with wonder. “In a world sorely lacking it.”

She’s not wrong.

Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

As I’m recovering from the long weekend of Supanova, and I’m not in the right headspace for work… review time it is!

I finished Nicholas Eames’ much-hyped Kings of the Wyld last week, and while it took longer for me to finish than it should, it was more that I was time poor than a reflection on the novel, which I’ll break down in a moment.

But first…

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. LIKE BIG, SPOILER SPOILERY SPOILERS. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Kings of the Wyld

Right then.

As I said, Kings of the Wyld has been much-hyped, earning rave reviews and high star-ratings so I was looking forward to stepping into this world. Over-the-hill mercenaries getting the band back together for a final quest to save the daughter of one of their own? Great premise, and big yay for having older protags – something sorely missing and not often explored in fiction.

It starts well, if a little slow (pacing is an issue with the storytelling, but I’ll get into that a little later), and we’re introduced to the first two of five protagonists: Clay Cooper (our storyteller) and Golden Gabe (whose daughter, Rose, the band is off to rescue). After collecting the three others: Moog (the wizard), Matrick (a despondent king grown fat), and Ganelon (a man turned to stone for the last twenty years), the band sets off to cross the infamous Heartwyld… but a lot happens before that. Like… a lot. There’s monsters of all kinds (so many, I lost count), the Silk Arrows who continue to rob Clay’s band whenever the chance arises, fighting a chimera, faking Matrick’s death, keeping ahead of bounty hunters Matrick’s wife sent after them… Like I said, a lot.

However, the humour does shine through – some of the one liners had me laughing out loud, and others had me groaning, but it is part of the charm of this book… and at times, saves it. That’s the thing with Kings of the Wyld, when I got to it’s end, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I enjoyed it, yes, it was fun, and there is a lot to like about it… but there are issues. Some big, some not so big but important nonetheless.

I mentioned earlier that the pacing is off; we begin with the urgency of getting to Gabe’s daughter to save her – surrounded by a horde of unimaginable size, time can’t be wasted. But there are so many side-quests, interruptions, meanderings… the intensity and urgency are lost in what is the basic premise of the story. So many monsters are introduced and described – especially in the middle of the book ‒ that Rose barely rates a mention.

That can be forgiven because Eames’ prose and his narrative style does work to pull the reader in, and there are some truly beautiful lines and moments in this middle section. It’s also where we get to meet Dane & Gregor – the two-headed Ettin. The relationship between the blind and grotesque Dane, and his seeing brother who describes a hideous and shit world as beautiful and wondrous was a joy to read. It’s clear Eames has the skill to write complex characters with depth and a wealth of emotion.

It’s the Ettin that shows the flaws in the characterisation of our five main players…except, perhaps, for Ganelon ‒ my favourite of the band. This is where I struggled with this book, because there are some exceptional moments Eames has created. The conversation between Clay and Ganelon where they’re discussing the twenty years Ganelon’s been trapped in stone is one of the best of the book, with Ganelon wondering what kind of monster he must have been for his friends to not come for him. It’s moments such as these that lit the book for me, that showed the skill Eames has for conflict and character depth. But it didn’t flow through to all.

Yet there came a moment, when Clay lost his hand, and where I thought here we go, now we’re going to get some real agency. As shocked as I was (I’m pretty sure I gasped aloud) that Clay had his hand severed, it was that struggle to remain valid within the band, to continue to help his friends regardless I was so looking forward to seeing. And we do see a little of it; that determination and struggle to climb back up that mountain and rejoin the band was excellent.

And then…

And then…

I can hardly say it.

Ta-da! His hand regrew.

Why? Why do that? Why rob the reader of that moment? Of the moments to come from this game-changer? It felt like a cheat. That I didn’t need to worry about Clay’s or the rest of the band’s fate – everyone was going to be just fine. And if not? Magic was cure-all.

It just didn’t work for me.

Look, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of people who say I just didn’t “get” the book, and that’s fine, maybe I didn’t. But I need to be invested in the outcomes of the characters, to worry over them, to hope and cheer and yell at them because I want them to survive. Give me that threat of character death, the implausibility of survival, make me fate-invested. I see the scope of facing insurmountable odds and the ridiculousness of it that Eamses did show, but when balanced against those moments of depth… it was almost (at times) a tale of two authors.

Thing is, I did enjoy Kings of the Wyld. The fight scenes were on point, the humour was excellent, and some of the characters just shone. There were moments of brilliance within, but the hand… man, that hand.

On a Goodreads scale, I gave it four stars but it’s probably sitting just under that.

Don’t Be A Cock (*trademark pending*)

There’s little doubt you’ve heard of the furore/shitstorm/WTFedness going on over in Romancelandia regarding a certain author and their trademarking of a particular word to the exclusion of all other authors/titles. If you haven’t, head over to Twitter and the #CockyGate saga. Be careful, it’s a rabbit hole – you’ve been warned.

This isn’t how I intended to spend the start of my Monday morning, but I’m caffeinated and well, it’s Monday. So while I will wade into the sea of shit this author (she’ll get no naming rights here) has created, I’m not going to go into the epically stupid thing she’s attempting nor the blatant hypocrisy she trying to foist into her narrative (it’s outstanding), or the ‘How to Commit Career Suicide’ this so very much looks like. But I will address a few things; while this author plies her trade in the romance genre, this affects every author in every genre and sub-genre.

The first thing to get straight is that it’s a trademark she’s attempting, not copyright – two different things. If you’re going to go head-to-head with her and/or weigh in on this debate, please get that piece of information right. I’m not going to go into the legalities of it here, there are greater (and more willing) minds than mine to do that. But use the right term.

This author is using intimidation tactics to have other indie authors with the word ‘cocky’ in their book titles make changes or she will sue. Yep, you read that right. And one of the things she continually spouts is her “graciousness” to allow them to keep their earnings and reviews, so the changes they “must” make aren’t a big deal and won’t cost the author anything.

Yeah, that’s the bullshit I want to talk about. Indie, or self-published authors don’t have the backing (and funds) of those authors traditionally published. It costs money to edit your book, it costs money for cover art, it costs money for cover design/layout, it costs money to advertise. All of these expenses come out of the often very empty pockets of an indie author. Any changes to books currently uploaded to any and all platforms will require funds to have those changes made. It will cost not only money but time, and time lost often equals money lost, potential readers lost, potential sales lost. To threaten another author into doing so is delusional at best, reprehensible at worst.

All writers, myself included, write because to not do so hurts the soul. To have that passion stomped on, threatened, bullied, isn’t going to win you any favours, it isn’t going to win you readers, and it sure as shit isn’t going to win you market-share (or dominance).

Look, publishing is hard, getting your name out and your books sold in today’s market is hard, but you don’t go about it by stepping on other authors, you don’t go about it by trying to bankrupt other authors out of the market. It’s a big fucking table we’re sharing, and there’s room for everyone. And there are plenty of readers to go around.

Think of it as Ægir’s feast – your ale horns will never be empty, and there’s a regenerating boar outside providing limitless bacon for all.

Don’t try and block seats at the table, lest you want the chair pulled out from beneath you.

Oh, and don’t be a cock… unless you’re this ↓ fabulous!

cock