Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Coming up for air

Or 'Having a Lunch Break'...

Oh dear. I've been very boring haven't I? No reviews, no news. Nothing.

Well I have been busy. We had a large signing last Thursday night with Kate Elliott, Karen Miller and Charles Stross. And it was awesome!

I have also been getting ready to go to World Con. That should be a fun thing, but truthfully it has been diabolical.

If my writing doesn't pan out and I still happen to be the manager of Galaxy when next it comes to town - or rather Melbourne -  we will not be bothering with a table in the Dealers Room.

So while I hope to have a good time down there, at present I am not feeling very positive about it at all.

I have also been busy reading the Sanderson tome 'The Way of Kings'. I am currently at the halfway mark and I am enjoying it which really surprises me because I have never read a book by Sanderson previously that I have liked. I am actually recommending this one to people and regular customers have given me some very surprised looks when I have.

In other news I have hit the last quarter of my first draft - and for some reason it feels like it's getting harder and harder to write. I haven't had as much time to dedicate to it as I did before I became manager so that might be part of it. I am also coming to the conclusion that I might actually need to do more in the way of detailed plotting. I have up till now written in a way that I know that beginning, middle and end of a story and kinda of just let the bits inbetween flow… that has become problematical at this end of my draft. So I will be looking at plotting more closely for the next draft AND for future installments.

I think.

I have also set up a goodreads account, feel free to add me if you do too. I should be finished the Sanderson in the next day or so - yes I will most likely be lugging it to Melbourne with me. I had hoped to have received the manuscript of Steel Queen by Karen Azinger by today to also take with me (I love working in a Bookshop and being able to ask publishers for a manuscript! :-D) but it hasn't arrived yet. Not that I am expecting to to heaps of reading but I must always have a book ready to go. Always.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pushing the Edge

of my comfort zone.

Now on my shelf:

By Terry Dowling

Terry is the author I read when I want to challenge myself. He is a brilliant writer but is writing is not the sort that is found in regular mass market works, in fact I'd probably go so far as to say his writing, while still genre,  has more of the feel you'd find in books shelved in the 'literature' section of a bookshop.

I won't read it all in one go, but I will read it. I might even learn something too.

Meanwhile -

I've put my 'secret' book down and am launching myself head long into Sanderson's The Way of Kings, and I am finding myself pleasantly surprised. I am not very far into it as yet (hopefully I'll be able to spend sometime over the weekend reading solidly) but what I have read I am quite enjoying.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

It's a Brick!

But I love big books!

My awesome rep from Hachette has gotten me a copy of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson!

I often have mixed feelings about Sanderson's work but I do admire his creativity. Time to jump on in I think

A Sheep in Wolfs clothing

is often very disappointing.

Victoria over at Speculative Book Reviews has written a great post on How Do You Judge a Book? For me style of prose, strength and depth of setting (world building) and characterisation are huge things, so is the level the author is writing for.

While I have no issue with Young Adult fiction, I am coming across more and more fantasy titles presented as Adult that are - when you get down to it - thinly veiled YA books. They might very well have grusome battle scenes and references to sex -if not sex itself - but the plot is nothing less than 'simple'. And I don't mean that negatively, I mean that literally.

I often come across this when the author presents figures of authority or power (political) - especially when a main character is involved or is that figure themselves. And here - for me - the world building that the author has done, which can be quite inventive just falls apart.

It's baffling to me that so much time and effort can be spent creating a world, honing ideas, and then so little attention gets paid to detail. That the author will present to us a character as a leader of a land, or an all powerful magic-user, and then forgets all the trappings of position they get or regulated to contemporary standards. Unfortunately at this point - unless the actual writing is really, really good, the entire thing becomes prosaic and bland - for me.

The author has created a world with Kings and Queens, paupers and Princes, Ambassador's and nobles - not to mention the history of kingdoms and all the wars and bloodshed that they can represent - but can't follow through on the setting. When we get down to the details the king/queen or prince/princess (or whatever this particular character might be) is on first name basis with all of his/her subjects, the guards play jokes on him or she sneaks out of the castle whenever she can to visit the markets. (I realise this is a specific example, but you get my point?)

If I wanted to read YA fine. And I am not being derogatory to YA fiction here. When I know that is what I have picked up then I have no issue, I don't expect more and often enjoy the story for its own sake. It's when I am expecting more only to get YA that I am irritated beyond measure.

One of the biggest draw cards to speculative fiction is exploring another world. I know that can sound strange given that a lot the infrastructure often used is built around our own past. But hey! I don't live in that world on a daily basis.

I don't understand what the problem is, and I think this is one of the reasons mainstream publishing looks down on genre fiction (and it does, believe me). They look at the books and box them up as 'for kids', and when I come across this sort of thing I understand why.

- End rant.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Beautiful Prose

From an award wining New Zealand poet.

Wall of Night Book 1
By Helen Lowe 
Buy it

The violence of an age-old war casts a long shadow. It falls on a world where mercy is weakness and conflict is a way of life. Young Malian is being trained to rule. Her people garrison the mountain range known as the Wall of Night against an ancient enemy, keeping a tide of shadow from the rest of their world. Malian is expected to uphold this tradition, yet she's known little of real danger until the enemy launches a direct attack upon her fortress home. In the darkest part of the night, the Keep of Winds becomes a bloodbath. Women and children, warriors and priests, are slain by creatures with twisted magic flowing in their veins. And as the castle wakes to chaos, Malian flees deep into the Old Keep, her life at stake. Then when the danger is greatest, her own hidden magic flares into life. But this untapped potential is a two-edged blade. If she accepts its power, she must prepare to pay the price. 
Robin Hobb says 'The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe is a richly told tale of strange magic, dark treachery and conflicting loyalties, set in a well realised world’.

And she is quite right, it is. 

It is a beautifully crafted novel, the world is vibrant and so are the characters, although I must admit the characterisation sometimes left me scratching my head. I had a lot of questions as to maturity - in Malian's case - and what seemed to me to be leaps of logic. But this didn't spoil my enjoyment of what promises to be a very exciting new series.

Old wars, lost powers, blood feuds, prophecies and the rising of an ancient evil makes (on paper) a pretty regular book of standard fantasy fare - but I don't care if I have read a similar premise over and over again as long as the writing is good and the author does something different with it. And Lowe's writing is very good and the story is original enough in nuance to be fresh. The one thing i will nit-pick over is the Naming of things, particular creatures and powers and the like. I mean the 'Raptor of Darkness'? I was disappointed that Lowe did create a name in place of a title, she has the chops for it as the rest of her writing shows.

That being said I did read it all the way through to the end, and I will pick up the next book to see how things progress. There were some wonderfully rendered scenes, especially as Malian is trying to escape those who hunt her in underbelly of the Keep, and good use of pacing and some very interesting worldbuilding from a very talent new voice in the Epic fantasy field.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Looking ahead

I had the pleasure of meeting Karen Azinger on Saturday as she came into the shop to introduce herself - I think she was quite chuffed when she introduced herself and I was able to put her name to the title of a book I am looking forward to getting my hands on (I'm sending you an email Stephanie!).

Karen is the author of The Steel Queen, the first book in a 5 part series and she has already written the first 4 books!

For some reason known only to them HarperCollins Voyager has delayed the publication of Book 1 until next year, but I must say having read the blurb when they started the PR machine back in February I am quite looking forward to getting my hands on it.

Azinger's series is fast-paced action-packed fantasy. Kingdoms and characters come alive as they are woven together through twisting plots, surprising and delighting the reader with each chapter. In a world of forgotten magic, the kingdoms of Erdhe are nothing more than a chessboard for the gods. The players are being positioned for an epic struggle where lives, loves and crowns hang in the balance, yet few mortals understand the rules. In this game of power, pawns of light and darkness will make the difference in the battle for the future of the world:
Katherine - 'The Imp': a young princess with the stout heart of a warrior will challenge the minions of a thousand-year-old evil.
Liandra - The Spider Queen; who uses her beauty to beguile, her spies to foresee, and her gold to control, will need all of her skill and strength to fight a rebellion with her own blood at it's heart.
Magda - a silver-haired grandmother who has been stripped of all she holds dear will be underestimated in the fight against a false religion.
Cereus - an oracle priestess, will ply her powers of dark magic and seduction in her quest for immortality. 
Steffan - the puppeteer, will corrupt the innocent and unwary with greed and desire, as he sets fire to an entire kingdom.

Currently Reading

Aggh! A 'secret' book (and as soon as it's in  the store I will say what it is - although why I can't mention it when madhatterreview is tweeting about it is beyond me).

And Tymon's Flight by Mary Victoria

A Master Class in Worldbuilding

But not quite as good as Book 1 and 2

Inda Book 3
By Sherwood Smith
Buy it

In the third book of the Inda quartet, Inda, on the verge of adulthood, is at last coming home. His best friend from his academy days, Evred, is now king. But instead of befriending and welcoming Inda, he puts him in charge of defending the kingdom. In saving his homeland from attack, Inda must prove himself-or lose everything he holds dear.
“The world creation and characterization within Inda have the complexity and depth and inventiveness that mark a first-rate fantasy novel... This is the mark of a major work of fiction…you owe it to yourself to read Inda.” - Orson Scott Card

The first book introduces the reader to a complex world - steeped brilliantly in as much history and diversity as our own - and to Inda, the title and main character of the quartet. He goes to military school as all aristocratic sons of the Marlovians do and build friendships with other boys his own age - ties that will last a lifetime. Here we see the beginnings of the military prodigy he becomes and  get caught up in the tragedy that befalls him and the exile he must endure, while at the same time cheering him on as he takes what he's been given and does better than ever expected.

In book two the genius that was hinted at blossoms and we really get to see Inda shine. There is action and excitement aplenty - and although I love magic, magic, magic and characters who learn how to use it I had no problem that there is barely any at all Inda's part of the world. There is some but it's not a huge part of the story. This book builds on the first beautiful as a study in character development, action and politics with real complexity.

Then we have book three.
King's Shield is a home coming tale and it has all the joy and poignancy you might expect without being cloying or superficial. Sherwood breathes life into these characters. But for me, the overall feel I got from this book was (I imagine) what some people get when they talk about 'middle book syndrome'. This is not a middle book per se but it is the hinge on which a major thread hangs - Inda Exiled, Inda homecoming, and to come, Inda at home. And that's fine.
These are huge books (just the way I like them) but I felt a lot this books battles where boring - unlike the sea battles Inda fought in Fox (perhaps because those seemed to happen faster and where more intimate).  I found myself more interested in the economics of the Marlovian kingdom, it's trade and infrastructure, and the internal politics than what was going on with the fighting. But that probably says more about me than the writing of the book :-D That being said there a lot of characters (most of whom are known by more than one name) and it does become confusing without a character list or a glossary in book. But, these are peripheral characters and as long as you retain the mains and their direct counter parts you'll do okay.
Sherwood Smith's imagination is captivating - and the background info on her site (for this story/world) is mind blowing - her characters are vibrant individuals and her grasp of history is epic. My biggest regret with this series is not buying Inda in hardback because this series (although I have yet to read book four) is going on my shelves as a keeper!
I can't wait to read more about this world, it is very, very exciting.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Wars of Light and Shadow update

Another of my favorite authors is Janny Wurts.

And hot off her twitter feed this morning:

Hard at the final pass page countdown. Cool word for the day: jackleg

Woot! Now that's exciting -'Initiate's Trial' here we come!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cast in Awe

Chronicles of Elantra Book 6
By Michelle Sagara
Buy it

Kaylin Neya is a Hawk, part of the elite force tasked with keeping the City of Elantra safe. Her past is dark, her magic uncontrolled and her allies unpredictable. And nothing has prepared her for what is coming, when the charlatans on Elani Street suddenly grow powerful, the Oracles are thrown into an uproar and the skies rain blood….
The powerful of Elantra believe that the mysterious markings on Kaylin's skin hold the answer, and they are not averse to using her—how ever they have to—in order to discover what it is.

Something is coming, breaking through the barriers between the worlds. But is it a threat that Kaylin needs to defend her city against—or has she been chosen for another reason entirely?

I adore Michelle Sagara.
It's true, I do adore her. And I am in awe of how deep her creativity is. There is not one book of hers that I have read and thought 'oh, that's just like [insert author/book]'. For me, with Michelle, it just it doesn't happen, and while I certainly haven't read everything out there - and tend to avoid those deemed 'classics' in the genre - I have read a lot.
Michelle is one of those writers whose work makes me stop all of my own work so I can just immerse myself in story and wallow!
Why do I like it so much? Agh! It is actually hard for me to pin point.
I admire writers who have a masterful grasp of worldbuilding (and you will hear me go on and on about this in future reviews), so yep, she ticks that box.
I have to be interested by the character(s) and, to a degree, empathise with them (if I am truly going to rave about a book), and she has always managed to do that.
And mostly I have to be believe the words a writer writes. Terry Dowling calls this 'Voice of Truth' and when you've got it, you've got it. Michelle has it. Her writing is evocative and powerful, machiavelian and heartfelt.
But to talk about 'Cast in Chaos'... where to begin without offering any spoilers? 
There aren't any big battles in this book. Personally I don't care, I am not one for battle scenes so the lack of them doesn't make me think twice. But that doesn't mean that this is a slow book (for battle scenes - despite popular opinion do not make a story travel faster [unless you skim read them]). The story is packed with menace and sense of urgency, as well as humour and humanity, and it places another piece of the story arc firmly into place - heading us towards a confrontation with the Shadows.
There is more talking in this book. But I like the 'talking'. And Kaylin is maturing before our eyes. When we began Book One, Kaylin was very frustrating and always opening her mouth to speak the first words that popped into her head. By Book Six you actually notice that she is biting her tongue alot to stop from putting her foot in her mouth. The character has grown before our eyes and it's so gradually done that you while you notice it has happened you can't say exactly where this bit of 'growing up' has occured. And what more can you ask of any book but that it takes you on a journey with the characters, especially a character who is dynamically changed by the experiences that you experience with her.

Cast In Chaos is a brilliant tale of redemption and forgiveness, unexpectedly deep discusions and humourous interludes. It explores the nature of language and its limitations and human blindness as well as generosity. It is an awesome piece of entertainment with characters you will come to love, who you will cheer for and cry for, rage at and laugh with (and at). It is a story of human flaws, and heroism despite itself.
My only criticism is that the books are too short. And I don't just say that because I want to read more - and boy do I ever! - but because although Michelle crafts each story to stand alone, they all tie in together within a larger story arc, and that arc is epic. Steven Erikson epic. And I have to have more.
I have to!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

And sometimes you're just too tired...


Good thing I'm not under a contract or anything, just my own self imposed deadline of 'sometime' in October to finish first draft.

The brain wasn't functioning at high enough levels for story crafting tonight.

BUT I have had an idea for a Short Story - Brent Weeks is right, sometimes miracles do happen!

So I am going to muck about in that sandpit tonight. I'll finish chapter thirty tomorrow.

Spirit Madness

This series is going to be a big seller - if for no other reason than the entire trilogy will be out in the store within three months.

I am sure the story good is too, Karen Miller has been singing the praises of book one and she can be a harder task master than I!

The covers are great also:

Look for them in store over October, Novemeber and December.

I've already flagged them with my rep for our Christmas catalogue, now I have to start hounding him for a reading copy :-D

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Currently reading

So I've had this book for ages. In fact I was actually halfway through it when I put it down, not because I wasn't enjoying it but because something else (and I actually can't remember what) came into the store that I just had to read... probably a title by Michelle Sagara/West.

It's a little tricky jumping back into it where I left off, some of the characters are hazy but I do recall the main thrust. Anyway the reading is flowing well so I'm going to keep at it.

I also received a book that I have been sworn to secrecy about (for twoish weeks) but I shall be reading this next!

Coming to Life

I love fantasy art. And I really like the work of artist Michael Komarck.

If I am ever offered a choice of who to commission to do my covers, he'd definitely be on the short list.

How striking is this?

Not to mention I also love Eberron - I think the world is brilliantly realised, it turns more than a few tropes on their heads and has had some really good writers craft stories there.

I'm not sure that Magic got lost

Raines Benares Book 1
By Lisa Shearin
Buy it

A girl with attitude. An all-powerful amulet.

This could only mean trouble.

My name is Raine Benares. I’m a seeker. The people who hire me are usually happy when I find things. But some things are better left unfound…

Raine is a sorceress of moderate powers, from an extended family of smugglers and thieves. With a mix of street smarts and magic spells, she can usually take care of herself. But when her friend Quentin, a not-quite-reformed thief, steals an amulet from the home of a powerful necromancer, Raine finds herself wrapped up in more trouble than she cares for. She likes attention as much as the next girl, but having an army of militant goblins hunting her down is not her idea of a good time. The amulet they’re after holds limitless power, derived from an ancient, soul-stealing stone. And when Raine takes possession of the item, it takes possession of her.

Now her moderate powers are increasing beyond anything she could imagine—but is the resumé enhancement worth her soul?

I liked this book.

I didn't think I would, and that was because I did indeed fall into the trap of judging a book by its cover - which I seriously dislike, and the font makes me think it's a comedy a la Discworld, from which I run screaming (not Discworld so much but comedic fantasy in general).

In any case I was pleasantly surprised.

The worldbuilding is really good - anyone who can paint a picture so vividly and with so many layers in the readers head in such short a time earns my admiration (given I write pages in my own work to get the same effect ). The voice of the main character was strong and nonirritating (the book is in first person and while I don't love that I am getting more use to it) and the pace was fast. So fast in fact it became one of those books I couldn't stop reading.

Up until the last third of the novel.

I am not entirely sure what happened. it feels to me that Shearin may have revised the first two thirds of the book more than the last. I can't explain it any other way.

The characterisation changed. I no-longer recognised the character of Raine, she had become a stranger to me. And the 'romance' in the story, for me, lacked chemistry or romantic tension. It just missed the mark.

It was also in this section that I had issues with the dialogue. It felt to me that the characters started taking in circles; that Shearin was sounding out the plot through the dialogue - and yes, you do use dialog to do this... to a degree; but you never want your readers to notice it ('Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! I am the great and powerful Oz!'). 

Maybe I wasn't following the detail as closely as I ought but I also felt that there were some big leaps in plot logic between points A and B.

I was gutted. I really liked this book, the way it started, how the world was built up in the readers mind, the pace and the fluidity of the prose... 

What happened? I don't know.

I will read the book two. Lots of authors improve as they go on so and I liked what did work in this novel enough to see where it goes.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Steam Punk and Ice Magic

Book One of the Spiritwalker Trilogy
By Kate Elliott
Buy it 

From one of the genre's finest writers comes a bold new epic fantasy in which science and magic are locked in a deadly struggle.

It is the dawn of a new age... The Industrial Revolution has begun, factories are springing up across the country, and new technologies are transforming in the cities. But the old ways do not die easy.

Cat and Bee are part of this revolution. Young women at college, learning of the science that will shape their future and ignorant of the magics that rule their families. But all of that will change when the Cold Mages come for Cat. New dangers lurk around every corner and hidden threats menace her every move. If blood can't be trusted, who can you trust?

Ice Magic and Steam Punk is an unlikely combination and one that, more often than not, I would have turned my nose up at - I really don't get steam punk, cyberpunk, yeah, steam punk, blah - but I do like Kate Elliott. 

So naturally I demanded an ARC of  Cold Magic from my long suffering Orbit rep :-D

And I loved it!

It's not perfect (and that's a caveat I'll place on most books). For a large book it doesn't really cover much ground but the characterisation is strong, the worldbuilding exciting (and that is a massive thing for me) although, as I do in most of Elliott's books, I stumbled over clunky names, and the voice was true.

It is almost epic fantasy wrapped in a steam punk girdle, but thank god the world is an alternate to ours and we aren't smothered with hideous Victorian England.

This book is savy and accomplished. The story is tight and it's grip on your attention is firm and it is layered, it has depth with enough strangely familiar references that will make anyone with a general knowledge of history sit up every now and then and say 'I think I know what that is'. 

Staged in a world on the brink of an 'industrial revolution' - the kind that kills magic -Cold Magic is filled with mystery and adventure as a young girl is thrust headlong into a destiny she never saw coming by her Aunt and Uncle and forced to marry a Magister (read mage) of the Four Moons House to fulfill a contract they entered into before she was born. But she is not what the Magisters are expecting, nor even what she expects and unseen powers and political machinations take us on a rip roaring ride as Elliott proves herself a mistress of the 'slow reveal' and stops the book just as we get some questions answered.

Agh! Frustrating - but fantastic at the same time!

There was a point in the middle of the book that I though Elliott was going to fall into the trap of turning her heroine Cat into a reworked Liath from Crown of Stars - but thankfully this didn't happen and I like Cat much more!