Tag Archives: books

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.

Festivus Book Pimping: In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson

It’s time! Festivus Book Pimping for 2017 is here! Damn right I’m excited. This is where I get to pimp the books I’ve enjoyed this past year, give you some recommendations, and hopefully have you fine folk make an author very Festivusy (so a word) by buying their book. It’s a win-win! Or… a win-win-win, perhaps.

Kicking the Pimping of the Books of the Fesitvus off is In Shadows We Fall by Devin Madson. This book is a novella-length prequel to Madson’s Vengeance Trilogy (pimped here), there are no spoilers for those who have read the trilogy, and you don’t need to have read VT to enjoy this tale. And enjoy it you will.

Madson has a knack for creating characters that are not only well-rounded but also on the grey side. While this book skirts the boundaries of full-on grimdark, it so beautifully dips it toes into the genre that if you’re a fan of stories that blur the lines between light and dark then this tale is definitely one you should pick up.

Set in a pseudo-feudal-Japanese world, the Kisian empire is on the brink of war, held together by fragile threads. Nothing is ever what it seems in Madson’s books, and she doesn’t disappoint here. The language is beautiful, the rituals and ceremonies befitting when gods sit on thrones. The Eastern-flavour of this universe is refreshing, and the setting and imagery comes to life on the pages.

Blurb:

You will die. Your children will die. The empire will burn,

Empress Li is out of favour at court. Foreign-born and past her prime, she is to be set aside. But she won’t go quietly. With nothing left to lose, Li will do anything to stop Emperor Lan signing a secret alliance that could tear the empire apart. Yet when her life is threatened, old mistakes come back to haunt her and only a three-year-old boy can change the course of history.

With everything at stake, could an innocent child be the best assassin.

Shadows

 

And you can’t go past that cover. This is original artwork created for In Shadows We Fall, and artist John Anthony Di Giovanni has produced a thing of beauty that captures the essence of Empress Li. There’s always something special about covers that contain original artwork, and Madson’s cover is why.

On a Goodreads scale, I give In Shadows We Fall five stars.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, political intrigue, stabby-stabby, killer magic systems.

You can read In Shadows We Fall free if you sign up to Madson’s newsletter (an ebook copy of the story will be sent to you).  You can also purchase ebook and print from the website here, or you can purchase from Amazon or wherever you buy your reading.

Cover art: John Anthony Di Giovanni

Cover design: Shawn King

FESTIVUS BOOK PIMPING COMING SOON

Yes, folks, we’re edging toward that time of year. If you’re like me, the idea of heading into those outside places with those outside people and running the gauntlet of shoppers as I try to find gifts, brings not so much Christmas cheer, but Christmas jeer. Or beer. Yeah, beer would be good.

Aaanywho, for those of you who are readers, or know readers, or love readers, or can’t think of a present for a family member, a friend, a work colleague, or even your drunk Uncle Dave, fear not! From December 1, I will be reviving Festivus Book Pimping. 

As the name suggests, I will be pimping books I’ve read* and those I’ve worked on, and giving a small breakdown of what each entails, and who they’d suit. Be warned, though, if it’s romance you’re after… well, at least you’ll get to see some great covers.

Books are amazing gifts. They ignite the imagination, they can take you to different worlds, and have you live different lives. And as a present, there’s not much better than that. Except kittens. And puppies.**

All right, buckle up mofos, Festivus Book Pimping will be landing soon!

book imagination

* This is not a call out for reviews or ‘read my work!’ ‒ stay classy, people.

** Kittens and puppies are for life, not just Christmas ‒ don’t be that asshat.

Writers, Retreats, and Insane Asylums

It’s been just over a week since I returned from a Writer’s Retreat held at Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum at Beechworth. Yep, you read right – a writer’s retreat held at an old insane asylum. It was as awesome as it sounds. Five days sequestered with other writers in a hauntingly (and quite possibly haunted) beautiful asylum is the stuff of inspiration. And personing. I did a whole lot of personing.

What made this doubly excellent was the other writers in attendance, all but one of whom were very close friends, so it was a catch-up of epic proportions. This also meant that we were all comfortable throwing around ideas and points of view, and engaging in general shenanigans. But we were there to write, to have that uninterrupted time some of us seldom get when at home. And it was glorious.

Writing is often a solitary endeavour where you live in your created worlds among created people. But put a bunch of writers together, and it’s a whirlwind of book discussions, plot summaries, story ideas, and why synopsis writing is the tenth circle of Hell. There’s joy in this cacophony; the rise and fall of voices, the quirks and strange paths conversations take that would make no sense to non-writerly folk but which feeds the soul and the muse of those who bleed ink. They will tell you why your story necessitates the killing of a character (beloved or otherwise) then offer a plethora of options on how to do so that would land them on any federal watchlist.

Just being among fellow scribes is enough to invigorate, enough to drown out that writer-imposteritis but we were also fortunate enough to have the wonderful pocket-rocket Kylie Chan providing workshops all through Saturday, which were fantastic, but always there was time to write. There’s not a lot better than sitting in a nicely heated room listening to the clack of keys in the silence as worlds and people are created – individual galaxies within a shared universe. It’s kinda cool.

But when we weren’t writing, there were historical tours of the asylum, and one very late night there was also a paranormal investigation. As much as I would have liked to go on the paranormal investigation, when it’s -4˚ outside… well, I’m staying where the heat is. Those that took up the challenge had a great time despite the sub-zero temps.

We ate, slept and created together… wait, let me rephrase. Look, we bunked down in the same room, wore pretty much all the clothes we’d brought with us when it was time to venture outside – hell, I even wore my slippers out to dinner because damn it was cold. We took the piss out of each other, we laughed, and we revelled in our own and each other’s weirdness.

And the location was everything. The asylum has a melancholic beauty about it.  The history is both shocking and sad, with desolate and worn-down buildings that hold memories that are like scars. For my mind, pain and suffering has a tendency to linger, to echo long after people are gone, and I don’t doubt there is fear and horror etched into some of the walls, the cells of the asylum.

IMG_20170827_220119_resized_20170827_100137334

Too soon the time was over, and I had to take a tiny plane home, but those five days were like manna from heaven. I came away with so much more than just a honed story premise and structural architecture (and glow-in-the-dark skeletal gloves), but a renewed vigour for writing. I can’t wait to go again next year. And I can’t thank all the people involved enough, but let me try.

To Geoff and Dawn for organising and running the reatreat – you two work immensely hard not only on Asylum Ghost Tours but Cohesion Press as well. You two rock. (Special shout out to Mandy and Leah for all they did over the five days as well.)

Now I’m going to list the writers at the retreat – they are an amazing bunch and you really should be reading their work. They’re incredible and diverse storytellers, and there should be something in here for everyone.

Kylie Chan

Devin Madson

Marty Young

Andrew McKiernan

David Schembri

Fiona Shearer.

And for all those writers out there, find a retreat, a place that evokes inspiration and puts you around others who not only share your passion to create, but will encourage and badger you to do so.

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Now for a change of pace. Yes, it’s book review time, and up on the blocks is Neil Gaiman’s latest offering: Norse Mythology. I have to admit, I was truly excited for this signed copy to arrive, like stalk-the-postman-excited (sorry, Kev). Mythology has always held a special place since I was a child. There were gods and monsters and battles and magic ‒ many-legged beasts and winged deities, muses and fates… so much wonder and woe. It was the playground of my imagination, both glorious and treacherous.

The Norse mythos is also one of my favourites – the gods are fallible, and they make no excuses for who and what they are. Gaiman, too, has used mythos in a lot of his work, American Gods (arguably one of his best) delves deeply into the role of gods both old and new, and those who have read it know exactly who Mr Wednesday is. So it really wasn’t a surprise that Gaiman decided to pen a retelling of the Norse mythos in his own words, expanded upon and tweaked somewhat.

Unlike my other book reviews, there’s no need for a spoiler warning here – this is known ground Gaiman’s covering. Which leads to my next question: why? I thought long and hard about this question, as there’s nothing really in Norse Mythology that you couldn’t find in The Edda. Sure, Gaiman has put his spin on it, but… that’s pretty much all you’re getting.

Look, don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful-looking book. That cover is sublime, and the print edition is top quality (gotta love those matt covers) and looks wonderful on my bookshelf – yes, even with just the spine showing. The writing is solid, the storytelling pure Gaiman (along with the humour and wit), but at times it did strike me as rather self-indulgent. Thing is, I’ve read The Edda, and that may be the issue I have with this – the source material is divine.

Norse Mythology

When I got to the end of Norse Mythology, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I didn’t hate it, but I couldn’t say I loved it either. What I did recognise, however, was its use for those who are testing the waters of Norse mythology and wondering whether it’s for them (it is, I’m just sayin’), or even just wondering what the fuss is all about. It’s the perfect introduction to the mythos, to those greater tales – the sagas – that so beautifully bring to life the Norse and their gods and goddesses, their giants and their beasts, of Fenrir and Sleipnir, and Gjallarhorn of Ragnarok.

Perhaps it’s for those who watch the series ‘Vikings’ (which I love), and want greater understanding of the role the gods and goddesses play in that universe. And if it’s a stepping-stone to someone wanting to read The Edda, then I’d say Norse Mythology has done its job.

There’s really not a lot else I can say about it. Was it truly awful? No. Did I enjoy it? Somewhat, I guess. And I think that’s where the real issue lies. There’s nothing… outstanding about it. Someone who has no real knowledge of the Norse mythos may have a different take on it; Norse Mythology is easier reading than The Edda. Maybe that was Gaiman’s idea behind the book, to make it accessible, to entice readers unfamiliar with the sagas to step into that world and explore. Maybe. I don’t know. Like I said, it does come off a little self-indulgent, but that could be just me.

The cover is beautiful though.

On a Goodreads scale I give Norse Mythology three stars.

Festivus Book Pimping – Fathomless by Greig Beck

 

The countdown to Christmas is well and truly on, but pimp on I must! Today, it’s multi-award-winning author Greig Beck and his wickedly frightening Fathomless. Yeah, we’re all gonna need a bigger boat.

Duuun-dun… duuun-dun… dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun…

What?

fathomless

Okay, so from the cover alone (‘nother shout-out to Dean Samed of NeoStock), it’s clear we’re talking shark story here – think Megalodon. Yep, you know, that’s been instinct for millions of years… but have they?

That’s the premise of Fathomless (Cohesion Press), and Beck kicks it out of the park with his tale. Now before we go further, full disclosure. As I’ve mentioned, my reading for pleasure took a back seat to work this year, so a lot of what I’ve read has involved novels I’ve worked on, and Fathomless was one of them. But here’s the thing, it’s not often that I’ve had to get up from my desk and take a breather because the story was freaking me the hell out. With Fathomless, I did that three or four times. Nope, can’t handle the tension, time to take a break and calm the hell down. Three passes I made of this story, and each time, even when I knew what was coming, my pulse quickened and the voices in my head (yes, there are many) were yelling at the characters to swim faster, dammit! (Actually, there were a lot more swear words, but you get the picture.)

So despite me having edited Fathomless, it’s one of my picks of the year for horror books.

From the back cover:

Jim Granger is searching for a place of legend. Known as ‘Bad Water’ by the island’s elders, it’s reputed to be home to many dangerous creatures. Through a seam in a cliff face, Jim finds what he seeks. He also finds, too late, that the water demon he was warned about is horrifyingly real.

Today, Cate Granger is following in her grandfather’s footsteps. Along with a team of scientists and crew, she accidentally releases a creature from Earth’s primordial past into today’s oceans. Nothing is safe on or below the water.
The story essentially has two parts. The first being Cate and her crews trek deep beneath the Earth’s crust to an immense underwater ocean that’s been suspended in time. Traversing the sea in a damn small sub, they discover marine life once thought extinct. They also discover the Megaladon.

Beck uses that instinctual fear that’s been loaded into our DNA from the beginning of time – fear of Alpha predators (and boy, is the Meg one hell of an Alpha), and added a touch of claustrophobia into this first section, because… why not? And there’s no natural light down there, so much of what’s happening does so in complete darkness.

There are at least three scenes in this section that had me freaking out. Yeah, sharks are one of my biggest fears. Living in Australia can do that to a person. The second part takes place once the Megalodon has been released into today’s oceans, with Cate and part of her crew (plus some newbies), going out to hunt the shark. Not all goes according to plan.

This is a killer book, and if you’re looking for a tale that will amp up your tension, and have you questioning whether you really should go back into the water, then Fathomless is the book you need to be reading. Or gift it to someone who loves that spinchter-clenching form of thriller and terror.

You can read a review of Fathomless here.

Recommended for lovers of horror, suspense, thrillers, and plain ol’ ‘holy crap, swim faster, swim faster!’

 

 

 

Festivus Book Pimping – The Vengeance Trilogy by Devin Madson

It’s that time of year again, folks, and what better present is there to give someone than books. BOOKS, I TELLS YA! So in the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be pimping books and series that have impressed me, and would make great gifts and stocking stuffers. Support authors!

Now before we go any further, the path to Festivus is a shadowed one. On it you will find only those tales that sit on the darker side of genre fiction. Watch your step.

*claps hands* Alrighty then. Let’s get started.

First off the Festivus ranks is Devin Madson’s amazingly epic The Vengeance Trilogy.  Set within the pseudo-Japanese empire of Kisia, the series is told by Darius Laroth, Hana Otako, and Endymion as they’re embroiled in the fight for the Crimson Throne. While these three tell the story, it is also the tale of Katashi Otako (Hana’s cousin), Malice (Vice Master and Darius’s half-brother), and Emperor Kin – all want different things from the empire, and fight they must. Fight or die.

The first in the series – The Blood of Whisperersintroduces the reader to the players vying for control of Kisia. From the back-cover blurb:

They call him the Usurper. A man of common blood sits upon the throne. By his command the last emperor was executed, but now the empire is on the brink of war. Vengeance is coming.

BoW

The next in the trilogy is The Gods of Vice. Here, we delve more into the unique magic system Madson has created for this world, and where betrayal and political manoeuvrings mean no one is safe. From the back-cover blurb:

Two emperors. One empire. The war for the Crimson Throne has split Kisia. The storm is coming.

GoV

And the final in the trilogy has just been released. The Grave at Storm’s End is a powerful last book in the series, where none of the characters will ever be the same, and as a reader, you won’t either. From the back-cover blurb:

Vengeance has come. Katashi Otako walks with the Vices, burning everything in his path. Now the spirit of Vengeance, he will stop at nothing to destroy Emperor Kin and take the Crimson Throne. When gods fight, empires fall.

gse

 

There is no doubt in my mind that Madson is an author to keep an eye on. Her writing is beautifully crafted, and her imagery the stuff of wonder. The Vengeance Trilogy is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read in a really long time, and one that holds pride of place on my bookshelf. Oh, and those covers are just gorgeous.

All of the books are available from Madson’s website, and come perfectly wrapped for Christmas. You can’t go wrong as a gift.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, political intrigue, and characters that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.