Tag Archives: reading

Whispers in the Void

A couple of months ago, Mark Lawrence launched this year’s Battle of the Bards competition ‒ write a flash fiction piece (300 words or fewer), for a chance to win signed books from some of the giants in the grimdark/fantasy genre.

My friend, Devin Madson, won that comp with her incredible piece ‒ Between Lanterns and Corpses. It’s a brilliant story, and I was so chuffed she’d won. You can read it here, along with the short-listed entries. For those familiar with Devin’s work, this story is set within her Vengeance trilogy universe, and this post explains the origin of the winning flash piece. You should be reading her work, she’s quite the storyteller!

I, too, gave the competition a whirl, but alas, no free books. While a ‘loss’ in the literal form, it was a win in the time-to-write column. Yes, it’s only 300 words (good words, I think), but it was more the act of creativity that soothed my soul ‒ that’s always a win.

The story I wrote has also brought into sharper focus one of the characters of my WiP, so I’ve gained another win (two ticks in the win column ‒ I’m on a roll!). Writing tight forces those essential traits, the… trueness of a character and lets the world see it.

So, if you’ve read this far, then perhaps you can read another three hundred words.

Whispers in the Void

Wren knew this wasn’t the last of the dead they would stitch beneath her skin. This night the soothsayer would be forged into the finest jewel, and Wren would carry that hateful woman for all time. Already the sickly-sweet scent of roasting flesh clogged her throat.

Anointed in oils, Wren had been left to commune with the souls she carried, but never had their voices been quiet. Never had they let her be. Silence, how she craved it. Nights undisturbed. Days, her thoughts her own. But the people had cut and carved and delivered their dead ‘til she was a shadow within a shell. Infested. Infected. The slow death of self.

Escape was all she had. And freedom meant retribution. With no Journeywoman to replace Wren, the clan’s spirits would be unprotected. Ripe for the Undergod’s pickings.

Beneath the Spirit House, blisters bloomed on her skin as she dragged herself past the furnace where the soothsayer sizzled and spat. May the Undergod never shit you out. Wren stifled a cry; lances of fire a thousand-fold speared through her, the spirit-gems enraged at being so near their creators. Life-eternal they’d been promised, yet prisoners they’d become in an unwilling crypt.

They blazed their fury, but freedom meant pain. They would soon understand.

At the slag pit’s egress, the light of day stung her weeping blisters, and glinted off the jagged spears of metal below. Thousands of spirits she’d been burdened to carry. She would carry no more.

The drop from her perch was steep, and the dead began to beg. Without her, they were just whispers in the void.

Freedom beckoned. Her life her own, however fleeting.

No longer the caged bird she had always been, Wren smiled as she pushed from the edge, and for a moment, she flew.

raven

Art by: Dimitarsizce

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.

Book Review: The Tide by Anthony J Melchiorri

Aaaand, we’re back! Two posts in two days? If this keeps up the world will spin off its axis…unless you’re a Flat-Earther, then it’s more a tilt of the space turtle and four careening elephants. Ahem. Where was I?

It’s review time! We love review time. Well, I love review time, especially when I come across a new author (or rather a new author to me). It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was introduced to Anthony J Melchiorri’s work, and what a fun and frightening introduction it’s been. Melchiorri’s stories drag you in and don’t let you go. And yes, that was a deliberate plural. While I’m only reviewing the first book in The Tide series, I’m currently halfway through the third.

Two things before we go forward: 1) big shout out to Geoff Brown for putting me onto the series – you rock, dude; and 2)…

SPOILER ALERT! HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE’S A SPOILER BENEATH THAT CUSHION, AND ANOTHER UNDER THE CAT. BECAUSE CATS, MAN.

the-tide

The Tide, as you can probably tell by the cover, is apocalyptic military horror – one of my favourite genres. It’s also a genre that can be difficult to get right, but Melchiorri hits all the right notes with this first book. What he doesn’t do, is bog down the beginning with over-explanation and character introduction but rather drops the reader right into the horror of what’s to come.

The prelude gives the reader a graphic understanding of the potential of a genetically-engineered bioweapon crudely developed during WWII by the Japanese. It ain’t pretty, and I was hooked. Fast forward to current times and we’re introduced to Captain Dominic Holland and his ‘Hunters’, a group of covert operatives who work for the CIA off-the-books. And these Hunters have some serious firepower and a kick-arse ship at their disposal. Not to mention hackers and scientists that complete the diverse bunch.

Melchiorri is a bioengineer by trade, and it’s abundantly clear with the monsters he creates in the books, that he knows his stuff (as an aside, please don’t give the man free-rein with pathogens without a steady stream of caffeine). There’s a good deal of science involved in the story, but if you’re like me and have a rudimentary understanding of it, you’re not going to get lost when it comes to the biology et al. And biology it is. The monsters in The Tide are some of the best I’ve read. The virus developed back in WWII has been expanded upon, and what it turns humanity into is… hell. Called ‘Skulls’ due to the victims’ human skeleton becoming an exo-skeleton of disturbing sorts, this is nightmare fuel for all involved. And fast, these monsters are fast and voraciously hungry.

While Melchiorri doesn’t let up on the action, there’s a good balance in the peaks and troughs he’s worked throughout the story. Just when you’re getting some downtime (reader and characters alike), the tension ramps up and you’re back into the thick of things. When you add in Holland’s daughters needing to be rescued as the world turns to shit (although eldest daughter Kara can hold her own), the stakes are raised even higher. It’s this type of storytelling that can literally be called a page-turner.  I finished this book in four days… well nights, as I read before bed, and Melchiorri seriously owes me some nap time.

This is some seriously good storytelling with well-rounded characters, high action, and intense tension. And monsters, damn but Melchiorri’s monsters are unique and unnerving. You won’t be disappointed.

On a Goodreads scale, I give The Tide five stars.

Shenanigans to resume shortly

Well we’re in March, and this is the first chance I’ve had to get back to the blogosphere. I’d aimed to do better with the blogging this year but life, in all its middle-finger goodness, decided it had other ideas. Not that 2017 has been worthy of the middle-finger for me, but rather best laid plans and all…

It’s been a hectic couple of months, with family staying with us (mine and my partner’s – his coming all the way from Uruguay), a marriage (not mine and my partner’s), kids heading reluctantly back to school, and getting back into the groove with work, which is always difficult after a month away. But back I am.

There’s quite a lot happening on the work front with Cohesion Press, with some killer novels coming out this year – military horror kick-arsery (so a word) and creature-feature deliciousness. Have I told you how much I love my job?  Seriously, reading killer stories before unleashing them on the world is like crack – book crack.

But there are other big things happening on the Cohesion front, and while it’s too early to give away the details (well that, and an ‘on pain of death’ clause), it’s damn exciting. Like super, uber, surreal exciting. Details will be forthcoming. Later. Down the track. Sometime. Shhh.

Oh, and if you were unaware, the submission window for SNAFU: Judgement Day has about two months left in it. Check out the guidelines, follow the guidelines, and send your best work. The series is going epically strong, and really… apocalyptic fiction? How can you not write it?

On the writing front, things are moving a little slower than I’ve wanted this year, but I’ve also learned to be kinder to myself when it comes to the putting down ink. I’m reworking a story I’m extremely excited about, and I am going to submit that bitch until it finds a home. It deserves to find a home – the characters told me so, and they’ve got weapons and magic and an army of the dead, so I’m gonna listen to them.

Reading… oh, how I love thee. I’m ahead of my pretty low schedule of books to read this year – about a quarter of my way through my sixth novel. And despite my absolute reluctance, I will readily admit this is due to now owning a Kindle. Yes, Geoff, I have finally publicly admitted my love of the Kindle. Those screams you hear are my print books howling at the betrayal. But, but, but… it’s not complete and utter betrayal, as a print book was purchased the other day that is now nestled in my new bookcase, so ner!

So that above paragraph means book reviews will start hitting the blog (the first probably tomorrow), and I’ll have a Women in Horror Month article up soonish too. Then normal shenanigans will resume fairly regularly.

/stream-of-consciousness

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.

 

 

Review: Extinction Horizon by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Ooh, lookit me posting another book review so soon after the last! I’m on fire! Or rather, Extinction Horizon was. That just goes to show how much I enjoyed the first book in The Extinction Cycle series. This is the first of Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s work I’ve read; I love discovering new authors (new to me, not to others… or him… shut up, I need more coffee), delving into the world they’ve created, or rather, in Smith’s case, a world destroyed.

Extinction Horizon follows Delta Force Team Ghost, and Master Sergeant Reed Beckham, and right from the start… hang on… just let me…

HERE THERE MAY BE SPOILERS. MAYBE BIG SPOILERS. ACTUALLY, NO ‘MAYBE’ ABOUT IT. BIG SPOILERS INCOMING. READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK. DON’T GO BLAMING ME IF YOU DEFY ORDERS AND CONTINUE ON. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Extinction Horizon

Okay, if you’re reading this now, you’ve accepted the risk of spoilery spoilers. Good for you, ‘cause this is a damn shitty world with frightening monsters Smith has delivered. It begins scarily enough – an experimental drug (VX-99) given to an elite team of Marines during the Vietnam war that backfires spectacularly. It has devastating effects on the men, guinea pigs for all intents and purposes.

Next – Ebola virus. That’s enough to have you reaching for a Hazmat suit, but when you have an army general working with a virologist and wanting to create a super-virus to use on the enemy to save soldiers’ lives… oh, it ain’t gonna end well.

Reed Beckham and his team are sent to retrieve the virus from a secret facility, and this is where we’re first introduced to the ‘monsters’ that’ve been created by this super-virus. It’s also where Beckham loses half his team. Things go from bad to worse when this virus breaks containment lines and spreads like the plague it is.

Before long, the world has gone to shit. In a big way. We’re talking extinction event here, with only small patches of survivors. And within this is CDC virologist Dr Kate Lavato – tasked, now, with finding a cure. It’s clear early on that she will be Beckham’s love interest, but she has also become the focus of Beckham’s need to protect. With humanity almost gone, Beckham’s need to find purpose is what drives him, and Lovato is the key to humanity’s survival.

But let me get to these monsters. Ebola is a haemorrhagic virus; victims bleed-out internally in horrifically painful ways. But with the addition of VX-99, you get an altogether different monster. One that has its origin in the origin of species. We’re talking what first crawled out of the sludge. Inhumanely fast, with joints that crack and bend at unnatural angles, and an insatiable need to feed on protein (that would be humans, just so we’re clear), infection rates skyrocket.

ebola

Look, I could go on and on about how good this book is. But you don’t have time for a dissertation, and I really should be working. What you should know is this apocalypse-event story is filled with high-tension, incredible military action, intrigue, deceit and, at times, a sense of despair at what’s happening. But always there is hope. That’s what I love about books such as this.

This isn’t going to be an easy-fix situation; Delta Force Team Ghost is facing a monster-super-soldier that is almost impossible to defeat. The thing with humanity, though, is that it lives for a challenge. Adapt or die. And dying isn’t something Beckham, his team of Riley and Horn, on their list of things to do.

One of the things that did have me thinking (and still does) is how easily a contagion can spread. A carrier on a plane, on a train to work, of someone coughing in the wrong place… one lapse and we’re looking at extinction. And that’s something Smith works well into his book – the ‘what if’ that so readily sits beneath our primal fear of deadly contagious diseases that could so easily turn pandemic.

As the first in the series of five, this book does all it’s supposed, and while I would have wanted to see a little more emotional struggle from Beckham when it comes to Lovato, that’s a small thing when dealing with a soldier who has spent most of his life detaching himself from the horrors of what he does.

Book two in the series, Extinction Age, is sitting on my bedside table ready to go. And it’s a thicker book too, which means more military goodness coming my way. I think that means, why yes… I’m…I’m a fan. That’s always a great way to end a review.

Or, end it with a Goodreads scale of 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars

Art of the Cover

Covers matter. They do. That old adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover, if taken in its absolute literal sense, is utter bullshit. Covers are your visual selling point; it’s the first thing a potential reader (and buyer) sees. And if it’s terrible and/or amateurish… Behold, I will judge with all my judgey judginess! I will slam down my imaginary gavel, and I won’t buy your book.

But wait, I hear you say, what if the story is brilliant? Then invest in good cover art, dammit. Invest in it like you invested in your story. All those hours you agonised over words and plot and characters, of the sleep you sacrificed, eating at your desk, of wondering whether you showered today… or was it yesterday… (No? Just me then…), invest that same excellence in your cover art. Don’t just slap any cover on your work (and for the love of all things holy and unholy, unless you’re an artist, don’t do it yourself!), ’cause I will judge your book by its cover, and so will a lot of others.

I read a lot, and as a buyer of print books, a beautiful and/or interesting cover will draw me in as much as a shitty one will repel. And with the amount of both print and electronic books on the market, a good cover is half the battle won. I’ll pick it up, and if your blurb is good (that’s fodder for another post), then that’s a sale. When it comes to my hard-earned cash, I’m particular on how I spend it, and I’m more likely to spend on a book with a beautiful cover, than I am on one with a shite one.

For someone with a mountain of ‘to read’ books who also can’t walk past a bookstore without venturing into its delicious depths, I’m always looking for new authors to read. A cover is where it all begins. It led me to Mark Lawrence and his Broken Empire and Red Queen series, and now I’ll read anything the man writes. Seriously, go to his website and buy the man’s books. Go. Now. I’ll wait.

prince-of-thorns

<insert Muzak here>

Back? Excellent.

Another thing I often hear is that bad covers are the domain of the author-publisher. Again, I call bullshit. The advent of author-publishing and the (now-diminishing) stigma attached to it, has shown authors know the value of a great cover. There are self-published authors whose books have gorgeous covers – this tells me they’ve thought long and hard about their finished product, about their reader. And covers should reflect the content, the world and atmosphere of a book. Take a look at Devin Madson’s The Blood of Whisperers – the story inside is as beautiful as the cover. Another author whose work I will now always read.

BoW

As an editor, I understand the importance of covers, how they work to sell the story/stories inside. If you can excite a potential reader by the cover art alone, then you’re looking at sales. Sales are good. Sales mean the author (or authors, when an anthology) will be read, and those authors may begin to get a fan-base – and there’s not a lot better than that. As an editor for Cohesion Press (an Australian small press), their mantra is to always source kick-ass cover art. Great cover art gets readers excited, it builds interest, it builds sales. But more than that, it’s the finished product. Readers will appreciate the effort you put in, and they’ll remember your name.

Into-the-Mist-194x300

I know there’ll be those out there who will bemoan the cost of cover art. That good cover art is unaffordable. Well before you do that, how would you feel if someone bitched about the price of your book? Good cover art costs, just as good editing and proofreading – all essential parts of the publishing process. You want to put your best work out into the world, right? Right?

The reason I decided to write this post was the cover artist for Cohesion’s books, Dean Samed (check out his work) just yesterday had his site go live, and his cover-work is just astounding. Each piece grabs you, it takes you places, and it defines what’s on the inside pages. The last thing any author wants is a horror book (for instance) with a decidedly romance cover. That’s a betrayal no reader will tolerate.

There are amazing artists out there who love creating cover art for the books you love creating. Check out Deviantart, get onto artists’ sites, and if you like the style of a book cover, the artist is usually mentioned in the front-matter. Social media is a great way to get recommendations for artists, for those who specialise in covers, who can put the best ‘coat’ on your baby.

Do a little research, chat to artists, find great art. Your book will thank you for it.

Tusk