Saturday, May 23, 2009

Vacation, Vacation, Vacation

Though I wished that this was vacation for me in the full sense of the word and just a hiatus break from all my blog duties and such, but alas that's pretty much how it will go down for me. My summer job had this magical aura that whispered 'yes, I am that cool and give you money for working half the month', which was fine for me since I wanted to study, work, write, read and review at the same time. But then again I never thought one of my co-workers on reception would get the stupid idea to take a two week absence so that she can train her fiance to be a normal non-jealous human male. You don't do that and expect to be liked, when you steal the second free day of your co-workers for two weeks.

As timing would have it, my exam sessions starts the day she leaves aka today. This means that in between the snippets of sleep I will have to strategically insert moments to study... Yeah, good luck with that good old boy. Thank the entities above my first two exams require minimal strain, so I may pass with just relative loss of my sanity. This is so, because the one day for rest I have I sleep through in order to regulate my sleep cycle. Snoozing is not productive unless you are a psychic mutant, but even in the X-Men universe there is no power that functional. But the cherry on top is my sight, which is not in tip top shape these last few weeks. My doc said I have been having eye muscle spasms, which is so not nice, when you have to work 12 hours a shift with a computer and then study, read and type for my blogs and writing.

Something has got to give eventually and I s though I don't want to it has to be Internet time. This is not so bad, because I never could keep my features and questions and reviews coming regularly or with the quality I wanted. I don't like it, when things I like feel like chores, so a bit time for me, will straighten things out. I will be working underground and with some whiteboard inspiration from the booksmugglers I would be able to get things going steady in July. This means also that whatever Reviewer Time guests will be popping up a tad later.

Cheers, All the best,
Over and Out

Friday, May 22, 2009

Artist Corner: Ionen

This is yet another wonderful Friday and time to get moving with another Artist Corner. This time, we will tame things down with concept character work developed by a very talented artist in this field, who goes by the name of Ionen. Here is what he told me:

HM: Hello and thank you for accepting my invitation. It is a real pleasure having you here in my virtual chair. Let’s start with the simple and basic questions. What was your first encounter with art and how did you decide you would become an artist?

I came from a completely un-artistic family, becoming an artist was just not something I ever really thought of. I was however always fascinated by cartoons. When I was in middle school was when Cartoon Network’s Toonami came out, where they pushed Dragonball Z and Sailor Moon. I got really into anime for awhile, but didn’t really put pencil to paper until I was about 16. After watching Gundam Wing I wanted to create my own Gundam designs, and I guess that’s where I really started.

It was still more of a hobby than anything else until I was 18 and decided to go to an animation school. Drawing was fun, but I wanted to be more involved than that.

HM: Another tradition with the “Artist Corner” is to say something about yourself. Who is ionen and why did you chose this interesting sounding username for your DA profile?

Ionen is actually a name of one of the characters from the Aphelion series, I tend to use the names of my characters.

HM: Who are the artists that inspired and influenced you the most?

Hyung-Tae Kim is a huge inspiration, but Shunya Yamashita, Feng Zhu, James Hawkins, Limha Lekan, and Jeong Juno are also some favorites.

HM: Your work is fantasy in the computer and video game sense of the genre. Are you by chance an avid gamer and are games your primary source of inspiration for your imagination?

I’ve a huge gamer probably to the point that when I design characters I think about how they would be built in 3D as I work. I went to an animation school that focused on video game production as well. That streamlined my thinking in that way.

I’m also at the beginning of my career as an indie game developer.

HM: What attracts you to the out of the ordinary and fantasy? Different people find something entirely unique for themselves and I always like hearing a new answer on the subject.

There seems to be sort of a Western style and an Eastern style of sci-fi and fantasy. Western tends to be gritty, muted, realistic and often dark. Eastern tends to be saturated, fantastical, and young. My interest is bringing those two groups together, as both have elements I like and dislike, and the two groups are rarely mixed together in the video game world.

HM: Most of your work resembles pin-ups and calling cards for characters in different poses, but usually static and on gray font. What attracts you to this type of art, is it safe to say concept art, or do you also plan to bring in a full piece with background and a story behind it?

Being a character artist primarily I tend to focus on just the character, and I feel that the viewer should be looking at the character, not the background. Since a lot of the colors I use are highly saturated or high-contrast, a middle or dark-gray tends to make the viewer focus on the brighter colors.

I have actually done quite a bit of environmental work as well, I just tend to keep things separated.

HM: What you do is fascinating towards the details in armor and weaponry. To me this looks like a complex brain surgery, but how hard is it actually to apply detail to armor and other objects? What’s your way of doing it?

It is hard for me to really explain it. For me, creating the details is usually the easy part. My brain sort of shuts down and goes on auto-drive.

HM: I also couldn’t miss the slightly pointed years, fair complexion and silken hair you attribute quite a number of your female characters. How great a fan of elves are you and are they inspired from somewhere, because I do catch a slight Lineage vibe in your vision?

Adding pointy ears just seems to make the drawing suddenly a lot more fun to work on, and it can add a lot to the character, a lot of mysticism without changing the character much.

HM: What is your working process? Do you paint by traditional means or do you also mix in with the digital world?

Now I work exclusively digitally. There are some elements I miss, but using a scanner was always incredibly annoying to me.

HM: Another completely customary question would be about your work process. How much does it usually take to complete a piece from start to finish and what’s your way of doing things?

It can actually range quite a bit for me depending on the detail, sketches and how developed the character already is. On a fresh full-body concept it’s usually around 10 hours though.

Research – If I need to find references it is the first thing I do.
Thumbnail sketches – Do some quick sketches of various poses and costume ideas.
Quick lineart – After I’ve chosen the best thumbnail I scale it up and clean it.
Base colors – Put some flat colors down underneath the sketch.
Shade everything – Add layers of color and start blending them together. I generally start with the face or skin.
Add details/lighting – Add in minute details and if there’s a backlight this is generally when I add it.
Polish – Fine tune things, let the painting rest for awhile and see if there’s anything that needs to be fixed.

HM:Judging by your gallery, you have updated a considerable amount of commissions you have done over the last year or so. I’ve been curious for quite awhile about the whole process. What’s your experience so far mainly with the people, who hire your talent?

Most experiences have been positive. I can’t speak for everyone, but the majority of my commissions through DeviantArt are from people who have their own story and want to be able to visualize their character better.

HM: Since you have been quite popular with commissions does this mean that you are a freelance artist and does art pay the bills in your case?

Yes, I work freelance on a variety of projects. I’m currently a concept artist on a sci-fi comic, and have done various work for game companies and RPG books.

HM: Every once and awhile I spot a slightly fan-fic themed art. A lot of people bash and disregard fan art as a testament that an artists has no original ideas of their own. What’s your opinion on the matter?

Some people only enjoy drawing fanart, some people may use it as a crutch. I rarely do fanart, because designing the costume and how the character acts and moves is a lot of the challenge. Duplicating an existing character doesn’t take nearly as much thought.

HM:To close off this session I will ask the frequent last question. What are we to expect from such a talented artist?

A long list of games created under our group, Lunatic Studios, and hopefully I will progress and become better at painting. :)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reviewer Time: Ana & Thea [The Booksmugglers] Part 3

As with all good things, this interview has come to an end and what an end that is. :) Thanks for everybody for sticking for so long with me and the girls. With no further ado and setbacks and delays, here are the fabled last answers of these two amazing reviewers [for this interview, not at all]


16. Now that I look at your blog and such I notice a lot of diverse activity and what I shamelessly wonder is the whole Guest Dare thing. How did the idea to make people willingly agree to undergo a torturous experience got born?

ok, so we already had the Dare feature where we dare EACH OTHER to read outside our comfort zones. The one day, I think we were talking about horror books and one of our blogging friends, Kmont from the Lurve a La Mode blog said it was a genre she never read….we then promptly dared her to read one we would pick. Then, we thought, actually this is a good feature : it is interesting to read people’s thoughts on books they would read otherwise but also and I think this is the most important thing of all, it provides an across blog experience, you know? Instead of each blogger being stuck in their piece of the world, they get to visit us and sometimes, they even dare us back. Which is always fun!

Thea: Yup, I think that's how it happened. I had been trying to get Ana to read Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey (one of my absolute favorite books) for AGES, and Ana had been trying to get me to read...a Kresley Cole book! So, we invented "The Dare" (actually, the "Triple Dog Dare"). Then it sort of spread to other victims--err, I mean, guests.

It's great fun I think, for both us and for the guests we Dare. Trying new genres and books you would ordinarily never read, pushing the envelope and stepping out of that comfort zone? It keeps us all honest.

17. MHm, also I am super interested in the whole From the Dungeons special. Where did you come up with that idea?

: I think The one day thought about writing on older stuff and if memory does not escape me, I said: cool, we should make it another feature and call it Dungeons. But I may be wrong though (am I Thea?) and it has been aaaaaaaaaaaaaages since we last did one of those. We love it though.

Thea: Yep, this one was mine! I think the idea was, we always write about new books (or new to us books), films, etc...but what about old favorites? Hence, "From the Dungeons" was born. It has been a while since we've done one, huh Ana? I love these nostalgic posts...where else can you share profuse love for Christopher Pike and Fighting Fantasy books?

18. To get down to the path of stupid repetitions say the same about the Book Debate and let's call it quits, Hah!

ah, the book debate is our joint review but with a twist: it is for those books that we completely disagree with each other. However, these days, the book debate has been incorporated to our joint reviews anyways. How did it start? Which was the first one Thea? I think it was …..A Hunger Like no Other ..yes?

Thea: Oh yes, the book debate. Of COURSE it all began with the dreaded Kresley Cole! I had read A Hunger Like No Other and hated it, and Ana had just finished it and loved it. So, instead of Ana just posting her review, we decided, what the hell let's make it a debate. And...that's that.

19. What do you think of self publishing? This is a very interesting topic as of late with the numbers of authors self-publishing on the rise and the treatment they receive not only from reviewers, but the whole book publishing community including readers.

Given our time constraints as we grow online, we generally stick with formally published work – though we really make an effort to connect with small presses as well as the publishing juggernauts. That said, we have read and loved some independently published work.

For example, Michael Hicks offered us a copy of his self-published epic science fiction saga, In Her Name. AND, Ana and I both were blown away by this hidden gem! A major publishing house would have to be blind or stupid or both to turn away this book…or, more likely, Mike’s work isn’t really what’s fitting the preset mold for science fiction sales in these houses.

So…I don’t think it’s fair to say that if a book is self published it must be bad. Certainly that could be the case for many self-published authors, but there are other reasons why a book isn’t put out by Tor or other bigger imprints.

Ana: What Thea said. Michael Hicks book was awesome.

20. Another hot topic is the crisis in the publishing industry. It’s true that the recession pretty much hit everywhere, so as a reviewer do you feel the pinch from it all and how do you see the industry shaping?

Honestly? No. Books keep coming from both Publishers and Authors, thank God. I am fortunate enough to get most of the books I want to read (although I do pay for postage from the US to the UK) and I had to buy only a few books so far this year because I am addicted to Amazon buying. I foresee e-publishing taking a bigger chuck of the market in years to come – and I also think publishers will start sending e-arcs rather than hard copies.

Thea: We do keep receiving books from publishers and authors, and we are eternally grateful for that! Personally, I do feel like I have to refrain from purchasing books with the ongoing recession (I’ve really been good at cutting back). As for what cutbacks and the recession mean for the industry at large? I’m hoping we’ll see e-books become more popular and affordable.

21. Do you think there are still areas fantasy has slipped that you would like to cover in other mediums? And how far do you think the fantasy/sci-fi culture will enter mainstream? This I ask because art purists denounce fantasy and sci-fi on a regular basis and yet they keep coming back full speed ahead.

I would love to see more fantasy covered on television – we have (had) science fiction shows with Battlestar Galactica, spec fic sorts of shows with LOST (or the sadly bland Fringe), but it has been quite a while since we’ve seen fantasy really great fantasy shows on TV (shuddup, yes I loved Xena: Warrior Princess). I don’t really care so much about the opinion of art purists, but I do think SFF has entered the mainstream. Just take a look at this year’s (or even the past five years) worth of blockbuster films: X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It’s a good thing, in my opinion.

Ana: let’s not forget the ongoing Dr Who series here in the UK or other fantasy series like LOTR and Chronicles of Narnia that became movies and were well accepted, right?

22. Also there has been much denouncing of urban fantasy in pretty much the same vein mainstreamers give fantasy and sci-fi the cold shoulder. Where do you stand in this matter?

See Question 14 above!

Seriously, it irritates me to no end that folks tend to generalize by an entire genre. Especially considering we are all genre fiction readers. Any genre has its highs and its lows, and it’s willfully obtuse to say that an entire genre is “crap” – which seems often to be the case when mainstream fiction readers talk about fantasy, or when fantasy fans talk about Urban Fantasy. There’s even a new divide within the UF readership where some fans cling to the “contemporary fantasy” label to separate themselves from the lower echelons that read about vampires and werewolves and whatever.

Granted, some UF is spectacular crap. But some of it is simply spectacular. Bottom line is, there is good and there is bad in every medium. Folks are only limiting themselves by thinking that another genre has absolutely nothing to offer.

Ana: It drives me INSANE. It’s like, every genre reader feel entitled to respect but end up disrespecting other genres. I even wrote a joke about it:

A Fantasy reader walks into a bar and sees a bunch of people deep in conversation about books. He joins them and at one point they are talking about Fantasy and Urban Fantasy. He says: “well, my genre is actually pretty good. We deserve more attention. At least we are not as bad as UF.” Then, the UF reader in the group replies to this with: “actually, my genre is not that bad, we deserve more respect. At least we are not as bad as Paranormal Romance.” Which prompts the reply from someone who reads PR “You see, our genre is misunderstood, we so kick ass, we deserve more respect as well. At least we are not as Erotica with its amount of pure sex and no story”, which THEN prompts the Erotica to say “you misunderstand the genre, we have GOOD stories with sex, and what is wrong with that? At least we are not as silly as those Category Romances and their stupid titles and virgin secretaries”. Then, the Category reader will say “give me a break, we have good books in the genre, sweet stories, hot stories, anything you can ask for and they can be really good too. At least we are not as dull or tear-inducing as some of the mainstream fiction out there.”


No one replies to THAT. A reader of REAL literature would never be at a bar with crappy genre readers.

23. I am not sure what a closing question sounds like at this topic, so you are free to same some closing words on your own regarding reviewing.

if you are going to do it, do it because you love it. Do it for fun like we do.

Thea: Umm...what Ana said. And...San Dimas High School Football Rules!

Monday, May 18, 2009

10, 000 HITS: Thank you...

This third post for the day will be my last and hopefully I won’t indulge myself too much in my hyperactivity today, but I have happy news for me at least to announce. According to my Shiny Stat account and site meter “Temple Library Reviews” has been visited over 10, 000 times since January 1st, when I finally remembered that I needed one of these site meters for my insatiable vanity.

Things pretty much started rather slow with the numbers, but all those interviews and linking made all the difference I guess. Nevertheless I feel it’s a special moment for me. 1, 000 hits seemed a pretty achievable goal from the beginning and 5, 000 wasn’t that special, but now with 10, 000 hits, the level of awesome is to be evident.

The reason for this self-centered post: YOU GUYS of course. Thank you devoted readers that keep returning to my small site with sloppy schedule outdated content and weird review and topic choices. Commenting, reading, heck just coming on “Temple Library Reviews” by accident is appreciated deeply.

"The Rise of the Iron Moon" by Stephen Hunt

The problem with series' reviews is that you always have to start at the beginning, at least most of the times, and so was not the case, when I received Stephen Hunt's "The Rise of the Iron Moon". Naturally this caused problems at the beginning 200 pages, when I was bombarded with information about the world, the reader is expected to already know. From reviews on the first two books from the series I know that worldbuilding wise there are numerous facts to keep in mind. It was a rough and hard transition for me into the wondrous world on Stephen Hunt, but it was worth every minute of puzzlement.

How can a plucky young orphan girl save the world from ultimate destruction?

Born into captivity as a product of the Royal Breeding House, lonely orphan Purity Drake suddenly finds herself on the run with a foreign vagrant after accidentally killing one of her guards.

Her mysterious rescuer claims to have escaped from terrible forces who mean to enslave the Kingdom of the Jackals as they conquered his own nation. Purity doubts his story, until reports begin to filter through from Jackals’ neighbours of the murderous Army of Shadows, marching across the continent and sweeping all before them.

But there’s more to Purity Drake than meets the eye. And as Jackals girds itself for war against an army of near-indestructible beasts serving an ancient evil with a terrible secret, it soon becomes clear that the Kingdom’s only hope is a strange little orphan girl and the last, desperate plan of an escaped slave from a land far, far away…

Without more detailed information about the previous books in the series other than the book blurbs and positive reviews in general, I can't decide on a stand how well or strong the series develops, but as a confused reader I can testify that this is one of the strongest novels in the spec fic genre I have read as a whole.

In that light I can't comment about such things are characterization of previous character that re-appear in this installment such as Molly, Hood of the Marsh and Coppertracks, who from my point of view are wholesome, well rounded individuals with strengths and flaws and read completely human. Hunt made me care for everybody in this novel, at least those that he intended for the reader to care for, even the prickish Lord Rocksby, who can drive you insane with his obnoxious behavior. The new additional set involved in this novel such as Serenity, the destined new queen of Jackals and her mystical army of bandits, and Duncan, a weirdo with a skeleton in his suitcase, are extremely colorful and offer quite the excitement.

The pace of "The Rising Moon" spirals with an organic set of highs and lows with a tendency to increase, until adrenaline turned me into a junkie. The uniqueness of steampunk is that it combines the best of fantasy, science fiction and the ever popular 19th century Britain and you can go with this genre in several directions that can lead the reader towards many pleasant surprises. As a fan of originality and unorthodox story elements I am left satisfied with the fresh take on classical tropes in fantasy and sci-fi such as sentient robots, magic, prophecies and sentient space ships. Brilliant blend of the best of both worlds at least for my tastes.

The quality that lured me in completely is the actual prose and style of writing, which customary for the steampunk genre has to carry the polite melody of 19th century British mannerism. For not one single line have I found a fault in this department. Not a single modern expression slipped through the fingers of the author and it shows how much Hunt took care to be impossibly accurate. Something, which can elude most authors.

Overall as a conclusion, even though I had slept through world basics 101 in the first two volumes, I give my two thumbs up for the book and a gun barrel pointing at a potential reader to get to the nearest book store and hoard copies of the three novels, because I think they are also as good as this one.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reviewer Time: Ana & Thea [The Booksmugglers] Part 2

Yesterday, what you read was just the beginning. The warm-ups of all warm-ups. Today we kick it high geers and have the girls talking... explaining in great detail... rambling with no end [delightfully at that ~ my sould sings while re-reading these answers] about literature and reviewing:

8. In retrospect, have you ever done a negative review and how did you handle the situation? Every once in a while a book comes that doesn’t agree with a reviewer and there was a heated discussion revolving around negative reviews and what comes afterwards. Was there any fear of ruining your relationship with publishers?

Thea: Oh yes. We’ve done a number of so-called negative reviews, but thankfully these haven’t ever really escalated into full blown internet fiascos. I think the nastiest it has ever gotten (for me) was when a loyal fan of an author whose book I rated a DNF (did not finish) told me that s/he wished the pornomancer (a character from said book) would turn me into a hamster on Folsom Street. **Note: Folsom Street is noted for its S&M getups, in which poor hamsters are used in…how shall I put this gently? Uncomfortable areas**

I think this is a soul searching question any reviewer worth her salt has to face eventually – what to do when you read a book that you really didn’t like? For our part, Ana and I pride ourselves on our reviews, and we aren’t a site that will give recommendations for every book we read. No matter how much we may like an author, we’ve resolved ourselves to brutal honesty. We try to be tactful and respectful, but if a book didn’t work for either one of us, we aren’t afraid to man up and tell it straight. A “negative” review can be just as useful as a “positive” one.

Ana: I think this fear is always at the back of our minds but we don’t let it control us or our reviews. I think publishers and authors have thick skins (and if they don’t, well, they should), and are prepared for the fact that not everyone will like their books.

As for an example: I recently wrote a review of The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett to which I gave a 6 (which is not a bad grade in our site) but I mentioned how I was not happy AT ALL with one particular plot point. To my surprise Brett not only left a comment on the subject, it sparked a range of posts, not only at his place but also elsewhere about Authors Commenting on Reviews and I was so surprised that a review that was not even that negative would create such a tumult. In any case, the entire discussion that ensued was very interesting and healthy and I was honored that it was my review that started it.

9. Now, how do you think you and your blog have grown from your first post up until now? Did the formula ever change and can you describe the path of your evolution?

Thea: When we first started the blog, Ana and I agreed that we would write one review per week. ONE REVIEW PER WEEK. *bursts into wild caws of laughter*

So…yes, you could say we’ve changed a lot from our first post until now!

On the technical side, we started with a plain, generic two column blogspot address. After a few weeks, I got the itches and started playing around with the CSS formatting, and added another column. Then, at the end of last year Ana and I decided to take the plunge and switch over to a privately hosted website (which caused me, as the masochistic “techie” of the group – I’m laughing as I type this because I have no technical skills whatsoever – an enormous month-long headache due to conflicting poltergeist feeds I never even knew we had, Google page rank & forwarding issues, and a minor Feedburner fiasco).

Ana: I think the greatest chance was in format. The gist of what we do and how we do it, haven’t changed so much. I think we, as reviewers, have changed more than anything, as the more we read and review, the more conscious and critical we become. We started pretty laid back but as we got more readers , we became really focused. I can honestly say that the blog has taken over my free time in a way I did foresee. We take reviewing VERY seriously but we still have tons of fun.

10. What’s it like to work together as a team on this blog? It must be different that doing it solo. So? What’s it like to share the limelight with a contributor?

Ana: Harry, I will share a secret: it is HORRIBLE. You have no idea how bossy Thea ( I call her miss Bossypants to her back) is and she makes me do thinks like watch Zombie movies or read Stephen King! Can you believe it?

No, seriously? I have no idea how people can do it on their own, especially if they post everyday. I think Thea and I are a perfect team to be honest. We are both easygoing, we are both organized and driven and since we read different genres, it provides for a great eclectic blog. I have no problems sharing the spotlight as you say with Thea. I am actually very proud to do so, the woman writes some wicked reviews, has the most amazing sense of humor. I stand by Thea 100% and I don’t think I would ever want anyone but her to share a blog with me. She…completes me.

Thea: You had me at hello, baby. You had me at hello.

(Why, dear Ana, when you say that I complete you, do I hear the Joker instead of Jerry Maguire? Wait, does that mean I’m Batman? Oh snap, I’m Batman!)

I have to echo what Ana said – I have no idea how solo bloggers do it. It’s exhausting to put up reviews and content on a daily basis, and there’s no way I would be able to do so on my own. Ana’s fantastic; she picks up the slack when I’m busy and vice versa. She writes kickass reviews, and no one is better than her at Jedi mind-tricking authors and publishers into giving us review copies and agreeing to interviews.

Plus, Ana keeps me honest. It’s awesome to have someone I can talk to about a book, to work through reviews with, geek out over films with…oh, and best of all, go absolutely bananas with over emails from authors or publishers, or reader comments, or web stats…

Suffice to say, I love Ana as my blogging partner in crime and friend. Even when she takes over the page with hideous romance novel covers.

11. Have you had any quarrels? Despite being generally good tempered, did you have diva gone wild moments?

Ana: I honestly, don’t remember. I don’t think so. Have we had any quarrels Thea? I know she didn’t like when I asked her to read some of Kresley Cole’s books but other than to tell me to go to hell *g* there wasn’t anything major.

Thea: Oh man. Keep those books far, far away from me. In that same vein, Ana was really upset when I made her read Stephen King’s It because of a scene near the end which was an automatic deal breaker for her. I swear, I didn’t think it would be such a big deal! But it was.

And who says we’re good tempered? Hah! Both Ana and I have similar dispositions – we get worked up about certain things, but I think that’s another way we “complete” each other (awwwww). If Ana gets pissed off about something she read online, I’m here to listen to her rant away. And when I see something that gets me into redrage territory, Ana’s there to restrain me from jumping into some kerfluffle.

Other than getting into some heated debates over whether a book is good or gawdawful, I don’t think we’ve ever gotten into a real quarrel. I kinda wish we had a Diva Gone Wild moment though, now that I think about it…

12. So as we know some bloggers that review books and know enough about literature, have writing aspirations. Do you ever feel the need to grab the keyboard and write the world’s next best novel ever?

Ana: You know, I think I may well be the only blogger that I know of that has no writing aspirations. I know, I am unique that way. With so many books to read and so much competition out there, why would I? I do not think I would ever write anything as good as the stuff I like to read. So…nope.

Thea: Actually…yes. I secretly dream of writing the next great horror novel or screenplay. But dreaming and doing are two completely different things. Maybe someday. For now, reading is good enough for me.

13. Whose your favorite author and why? In the same vine, there must be an author you had the misfortune of reading and will never ever approach. Who is it in your case and why?

Ana: Favorite author? Oh, Neil Gaiman. My god of writing. Why, because The Sandman is the most perfect piece of literature that’s why. If that wasn’t enough, the man goes on to write American Gods, Stardust, The Graveyard Book, etc etc.

I don’t think I would say I would NEVER approach an author but I am cautious about Stephen King. I was traumatized by It and the children’s gang bang.

Thea: Oh my fucking GOD for the last time it is NOT a “gang bang”!!!! (This is the closest thing we have ever had to a fight, as mentioned above)

My favorite author for sentimental reasons has to be Stephen King. Yes, I know his writing is deeply flawed and bloated and overly verbose. But, oh, the stories he tells! I love them. I’ve loved them since I was twelve years old, and nothing will ever change that. The Dark Tower books will always be my all time favorites.

As for authors I have had the misfortune of reading and will never ever approach again? *rubs hands together eeeeevily*

While I have read some good paranormal romance under Ana’s orders, there have been some doozies in the past year or so. The most notorious would have to be the dreaded Kresley Cole. I ABHOR “I will possess you at any cost! SNARL!” soul mate stories, and I have the maturity level of a twelve year old – which means I go into giggle fits when I read the word “nipple.” So…Kresley Cole and I don’t mix well. And most recently, I’ve sworn off the droningly repetitive make-my-brains-melt-out-my-ears Lilith Saintcrow. There’s a day of my life I’ll never get back.

14. What are your personal pet peeves when it comes to the genres you like to read?

Ana: My favorite genre is romance and I do have some pet peeves (like too much sex that has nothing to do with the story) but my main pet peeve when it comes to the genre I love (and I am going on a tangential here) is how people refer to it as Trash or as Bodice Ripper. I freaking HATE that. Not only it assumes that everything in an entire genre (the most popular one in the US by the way) is crap but bodice rippers? No one writes those anymore and they have been out of the genre for the past oh, 20 YEARS. As in any genre, it has its good and its bad writers and tropes.

Thea: Hmm. I don’t specifically read only one genre, I like to jump around a lot. But for the sake of argument, I’ll take the popular female centric Urban Fantasy subgenre. I freaking HATE idiot, tough chick heroines clad in leather with big guns that have no other characteristics besides being bitchy and badly written. I am exhausted from reading about vampires and werewolves.

And the most irritating thing about this stupid stereotype?

It gives GOOD Urban Fantasy a bad rap. I’m not just talking about Neil Gaiman or Charles de Lint or Emma Bull (who fans seem to have deemed instead as “contemporary fantasy” in an attempt to distance these ‘acceptable’ authors from the UF label), but also really great female centric Urban Fantasy like Patricia Briggs, Kim Harrison, or Rachel Caine. Briggs and Harrison DO write about vampires and werewolves and fairies, but they actually can write, and theirs are awesome stories that go beyond PMS-y idiot heroines in tight outfits. And Caine’s fantasy deals not with fangs or fur or fey, but in a version of earth where some humans are born with elemental powers, locked in an ongoing battle with Djinn.

I get really worked up about people that think Laurell K Hamilton and Lilith Saintcrow are the best the genre has to offer.

15. Is there a tendency for the clichés in fantasy to resolve?

Ana: I will change the question to clichés in Romance, because I am THAT cheeky. So, yes of course, and I think the greatest of them all is the HEA – Happily Ever After but that is never going to change (and I don’t want it to) because it is what defines the genre. For the record, I don’t think that the certainly of a HEA makes it for a dull read because there are so many ways of getting there and in romance what really matters is the journey.

Thea: Sure there is. Every genre has its clichés and tropes – but that’s part of the reason we like our genre fiction, isn’t it? Fantasy novels are no exception: the Dark must be staunched, the King must return, Peace must be restored to the land. Maybe at extremely high costs, with all the main characters dying, but in general the good guys always win.

In fact, thinking about it, I’d say the only genre fiction that does not rely on the resolved good-guys-winning cliché would have to be horror. Evil can prevail in horror where it cannot otherwise.

Reviewer Time: Ana & Thea [The Booksmugglers] PART 1

So what happens, when you get two bibliophiles with a lot of free time on their hands, a lot to say and a knack for typing fast? The answer to that question is the guests for today’s “Reviewer Time” feature: Ana & Thea also known as the Booksmugglers. I usually couldn’t keep up with the tempo of the activity and the sheer length there, which proved to be pretty unwise on my part, because this is the place to be, if you want to end up in a lively discussion and still laugh your guts out.

“The Booksmugglers” can easily be called and institution, which I am left to believe is run by more than ten people to manage the frequently updated posts, comments and web presence as a whole, which is an impressive feat on its own. And so is having a privately owned site, which carries the spirit and the style of the booksmugglers, lots of smuggled books. I am going to keep the visual part a bit short, since there is too much ground to cover and a good place to start would be with the book reviews. Now these gals have an eclectic taste in literature and pretty much everything from romance to horror to fantasy and sci-fi and all in between will be present. And it’s not all about novels. You have comic books, graphic novels and movies and, and, and. This site is pretty much like a huge bookstore, but for reviews and the reviews can’t get longer.

What the booksmugglers like best is being organized and being eloquent in their opinion. This means that one review will be segmented into categories and each category will be traced back to the Bible in meaning and interpretation. This is perfect for people that love rambling and are way too curious for their own good. This includes me, but then again the massive size of even a single review written by either smuggler makes me doubt my resolution to even start reading. Because amongst other things I am lazy as hell and long reviews, given my usually small time opportunity to spend on other blogs, give me hell. So imagine what happens, when the smugglers gather up for a joint reviews, which are always fun, especially when the ladies stand on different opinions and like to disagree with each other.

I will tell you what happens: a “Book Debate”, which might not always be the blogging version of a boxing match to prove, who is right, but usually has as a reason to defend or bash a book, the public either denounced or worshipped and the smugglers couldn’t help, but say “What the…?” Can you sense the evolution: single review => joint review => book debate? But it’s not all reviews with passionate opinions these fun fun reviewers do. Among other things a frequent reader will be pleasantly surprised by a sudden opportunity to chat with an author and read about books and such that made it to the big screen and see the differences. There are themed weeks, which are always fun, and posts with the schedules of appearance on the site and ponderings about literature, reviewing and etcetera.

Perhaps the most original apart from the joint reviews is the Guest Dare and From the Dungeons… special features. The first category forces book bloggers to step outside their comfort zone; sit on the literary version of a bed of nails and review a book from a genre that leaves a bitter taste and a numbing feeling in the brain [I am to be their May victim]. If this doesn’t sound like fun, then you might like to see what the past has to offer as these bibliophile sleuths vacuum the dust from long forgotten titles and have a nice talk about them.

WAIT! It gets even better. They love it, when you go to their site and give them an excuse to procrastinate from work and answer your comments [I am looking at you Ana *clears throat*], so that you know your opinion has been appreciated. But let’s let the girls speak for themselves and since they have so much to say, this feature will be split in three parts. Yes, this interview will be a trilogy, because the smugglers like to tackle any task in novel size: Here is the first batch of answers, covering just the basics:


1. We usually know not enough about the people behind cool things, unless they are actors or musicians, which instantly gives the public the right to know everything. So spill the beans. Who are the Booksmugglers in real life?

We should get our own Saturday Morning Cartoon intro and theme song. Hehe. Ok, seriously, The Book Smugglers are a two woman team, Ana and Thea.

Thea: I’m a former portfolio analyst (you guessed it, recently joined the zombie masses of unemployed), with an unshakable reading habit. I’m 24, was born in Hawaii, grew up in Japan and Indonesia, but moved to Los Angeles for university and I’ve been here ever since. Besides an unhealthy obsession with stockpiling books, I’m an avid sports fanatic (Lakers, UCLA Bruins, Dodgers, anyone that faces any Boston team), and bonafide pop culture addict (hello, LOST obsession).

Ana: I am a 33 year old (GAAH, when did THAT happen?) half Brazilian, half Portuguese born in Brazil, living in the UK for the past 5 years. I have a history degree gathering dust somewhere around the house and I love to read above anything else. I HATE sports but share the pop culture addiction with Thea especially Lost, which is what brought us together.

2. Tell us three things that people would probably never ever guess about you. Apart from the whole, we smuggle books illegally.

Ana, he’s on to us…
1. I am a badass at Guitar Hero and hold all the high scores at my local bar
2. I have a deathly, irrational fear of moths
3. I am really, insanely competitive – You know Monica from Friends? That’s me.

1. I have night terrors when I usually wake up thinking my partner is an alien. Seriously.
2. I actually prefer the UK weather to the Brazilian weather.
3. I freaking HATE papaya.

3. How did you come up with the bright idea to found your website? There better be some interesting story behind too.

It’s all Ana’s fault.

Ana: Well, you see. It began because I had a Mission. I was always an avid reader (even if my fiction reading had to be put on hold while I was attending Uni) and read mostly “serious” fiction and Fantasy. One genre that I never dared to read was Romance. Then one day, my friend gave me a Romance Novel to convince me that the genre had some pretty good stuff and you know what? She was right. I was surprised at this and kept reading more and more and then went online for recommendations and found the “blogsphere”. I decided that I needed to have one of those blogs in order to talk about romance novels and review these books the way they deserve. Then, I told Thea about it in a PM and I was like:

“Dude, I am starting a blog.”

She said:

“How awesome.”

I said:

“Wanna join?”

She said:

“Hell yes!”

That is an exact transcript of the convo.

4. How did you choose your name and your genres? This is customary generic question, even though the mystery behind the name is a known fact, but still do tell.

Well, Ana and I met on a LOST forum. Yes, we are THAT big of LOST geeks, we would hang out all day on the forum, spoiler-whoring and running amok with time travel speculations, etc. Anyways, we’d known each other for a few months when it became very clear that we also shared another passion – reading. Reading was so much of a passion, in fact, that both of us had to resort to SMUGGLING books home because our significant others (Ana’s Mr. R, and my Mr. R – I swear they are secret brothers separated at birth) were giving us a lot of crap about the growing mountains of books.

So, when Ana and I tried to come up with names for the site, it was a no brainer. We were, we are, we will always be Book Smugglers.

Ana: And the genres came from what we like to read: romance and Fantasy for me, Horror and Speculative Fiction for Thea. But we also read Comics, Graphic Novels, YA, etc.

5. Was it easy to start, was it easy to supply enough books [excluding those you actually bought] and how were you received at first?

Starting out as an unknown blogspot blog, I don’t think either Ana or I ever imagined that one day we’d start getting books for free! We already had been giving Amazon and Borders a ton of business - what with the smuggling and all - so we were pretty set on the book supplies front. But then, one day, less than a month or so into blogging, we received a query from one Joel Sutherland asking us if we were willing to give his recently edited horror anthology a read and review. Ana and I must have sent a good twenty emails or so back and forth, all consisting of : “OH MY GOD WE GOT ASKED TO REVIEW A BOOK AAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!”

Or some derivation of that.

From the beginning, we’ve always focused on making connections with authors first, both the lesser known and then eventually the big time prominent names. From the authors, we came into contact with publishers, and things took off from there.

Of course, Ana’s cheekiness has a lot to do with any contacts we have made. I’m a ginormous pansy when it comes to asking other people for anything – be it driving directions or for review copies. But Ana? She ain’t never scared. Seriously, if it wasn’t for Ana’s persistence and cheekiness, I don’t know where we’d be.

Ana: Thank you, thank you. *kisses self* When we started, I think we were pretty clueless about the whole thing and how much we could get into this business. We had no serious plan, except for reviewing what we wanted. When Joel first sent us that email, it opened an entire new world to me. I was like….maybe if I email *insert author name here* for an interview, she would say yes? And she did. The rest, as they say is history.

6. What’s your approach to writing reviews, your signature so to say that makes you different from all the others? Can you give a tip or share something you do to make it easier for all the aspiring reviews, who have no idea how to start?

As you probably can tell, both Ana and I tend to run on the verbose side. We like to write. A LOT. And, I think this is what gives us our own unique style. We genuinely try to talk about all the aspects of a book that we loved (or hated), and we tend to write in-depth (read: long) reviews. Both of our styles are pretty similar in that sense, so our reviews are more…compatible. Also, since there are two of us, and since we’ve been together from the start, I think this plays into our writing as well. We frequently write conversational style joint reviews where we go back and forth about a novel. Since we have wildly different tastes and opinions, this can lead to some…interesting reviews (just check out our recent review of Strange Angels).

Ana: I recently wrote a post about this – about my reviewing process (link: I think the more the time passes, the more I am aware of what I like or dislike and HOW I read a book and WHY I feel about it the way I do. I found the criteria that Philip Larkin followed when doing the Booker Prize and I thought it was so very helpful – because it was close to I do when I read and review and it helped me organize what is essentially a very subjective art.

His criteria were:
*can I read it?
*if I can read it, can I believe it?
*if I can believe it, do I care?
*if I care, what is the depth of that caring and how long will it last?

I would also add: Am I having fun?

7. What’s your reading schedule? How do you arrange your day to find time to read and review to keep up with your insane posting frenzies?

Thea: Dude, you have NO IDEA. Ana and I like to organize. We have a strict blog schedule with everything planned out at least a month in advance. We have giant whiteboards (which were my idea). I kid you not.

As such, we have a pretty strict reading schedule as well. I happen to be one of those people that can read very quickly, while doing almost anything (i.e. walking, cooking, watching TV, on the treadmill, whatever!), so finding time to read hasn’t ever been a problem. The bigger issue for me is forcing myself to read a book that I just might not be in the mood for at the moment, because of schedule obligations. And, sometimes, putting up multiple reviews a week can take its toll, especially when things are complicated with work, or I have to study, or some other crisis comes up.

Ana: I luurves my whiteboard. It is so pretty and it lists everything I need to read and when.
I read everywhere and all the time. I took my book to a Counting Crows concert last Thursday. I don’t read as quick as Thea because I have yet to gain the ability to read whilst cycling or walking– DAMN IT – so I need to make up for it.

Stay tuned for more of Ana & Thea tommorrow. You know you want to. :)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Artist Corner: Kmye-Chan

Due to some time restrictions yesterday, a very long 14 hours shift at work, I was unable to get the Artist Corner interview up and running on Friday per se, but let’s pretend it’s Friday once more and take a dip in the hauntingly beautiful world of art with Camille otherwise known as Kmye Chan. This French flower cultivates her own garden of phantasmagoric fragile images, which if you have been around the Internet long enough must have already seen. So here is the person behind the art and her rendition of the answers to my obnoxious questions.

Harry Markov: Hello and thank you for accepting my invitation. It is a real pleasure having you here in my virtual chair. Let’s start with the simple and basic questions. What was your first encounter with art and how did you decide you would become an artist?

Kmye Chan:
Thank you very much for inviting me! It’s a pleasure to be virtually here. ;)

Well, to be honest, I didn’t really “choose” to become an artist… it kind of fell on me. I’ve been drawing for almost all my life, I started as a kid, except that unlike most people, I never really stopped. At first I was drawing just for fun, but in my late teens, I realized that drawing was something very, very important for me, and that I wanted to go a little bit further in that direction. From there I started working harder to improve, and before I knew it, I guess you could say I was an artist.

HM: Another tradition with the “Artist Corner” is to say something about yourself. Who is kmye-chan and why did you chose this interesting sounding username for your DA profile?

KC: That’s a long story! Kmye is a contraction of my real first name, Camille. It’s the nickname I’ve been using online ever since I had an internet connection. Back then, as a teenager, I was part of a group of friends with a common passion for mangas, drawing and roleplays, and one of those friends extended my nickname to “Kmye-chan”. In Japanese, the suffix “-chan” is a diminutive for kids and girls. Around that time, I also opened my first accounts on art communities like DeviantART, and I used the nickname “Kmye-chan” as my account name… and the name has stuck since then. Now I turned it into “Kmye Chan” and it’s the name I’m known by in the art community.

HM: Who are the artists that inspired and influenced you the most?

KC: There are many, so I’m not going to enumerate everyone! As a kid, I read a lot of comic books (mainly French and Japanese) which influenced me greatly: a few names that come to my mind are Bernard Yslaire, François Bourgeon, Ai Yazawa, Kaori Yuki… As far as painters go, I love the works of Dali, Magritte, Schiele, Klimt, Mucha, Waterhouse, Rossetti… just to name a few! I’m also very influenced by pop-surrealist artists such as Mark Ryden and James Jean, or illustrators as Edward Gorey and Nicoletta Ceccoli.

HM: Your work is dreamy, airy and fantastic bordering on dark and surrealistic. How do you feed such an active imagination and where does your inspiration come from?

My inspiration comes from everything and anything… it’s usually something unusual or odd that attracts my attention, and sparks an idea. But this little “something” can be anything really. It just happens out of the blue, and most of the time I’m not even able to trace back the train of thought that took me to that idea. That’s what you get when you daydream a lot, I guess! But once I’ve got the initial idea, that’s where the real work starts : I try to refine the original idea, to develop it and make it grow into something interesting, which can be quite different from the original idea I got.

HM: What attracts you to the out of the ordinary and fantasy? Different people find something entirely unique for themselves and I always like hearing a new answer on the subject.

KC: I have always had a soft spot for the misfit, the odd, the unusual. I’m someone who gets bored easily, and I like to be surprised, intrigued, interested. So I love everything that stimulates and challenges my imagination, that shows me something I have never seen before, that contains more than it looks at first glance. If it makes me dream, if it tells me a story, if it shows emotions that I can relate to, then I’m attracted to it… and that’s just what the out of the ordinary and fantasy does!

HM: All of your works center around a young fragile girl in a different scenarios and situations. What brings you back to this image and haven’t you been tempted to try painting a boy?

Well, I’m putting a lot of myself in my artworks, emotionally. When I draw, I completely relate to the character I’m drawing. So it doesn’t feel right and straightforward for me to draw a boy…! But I’m planning to try and include male characters in my artworks… I just need to take a large breath and dive!

HM: Most of your pieces are inspired by the 19th century and their style of dressing. What fascinates you about this era to bring your fans back to it?

I’m mainly fascinated by the aesthetics of 19th century fashion (and historical costumes in general – I’m in a big Renaissance period right now). I love complicated dresses, lace, frills, embroideries… I’m such a girl! Also, most of my artwork portrays girls that are somewhat misfits, strange creatures… and 19th century fashion, with its tight corsets, carries the idea of contention, constraint, pressure on women, which works well with the ideas and emotions I’m trying to convey.

HM: I consider your work otherworldly, like witnessing a bittersweet dream. As a host of a more fantasy oriented blog, I would want to know, what your stand with fantasy is. Do you plan to ever dabble into more classical fantasy as genre? The medieval kind.

To be honest, medieval fantasy was never really my thing. I do enjoy a good fantasy book or movie, and I love the work of many amazing fantasy artists… but it’s not something I picture myself drawing. I’m a romantic and dreamer at heart, and the codes of classical fantasy hold too much adventure and romanesque to really fit with the bizarre and the melancholy that come with my ideas!

HM: I always marveled your technique. What is your working process? Do you paint by traditional means or do you also mix in with the digital world?

For the past three years or so, I have been working exclusively with traditional media. I’ve tried digital artwork, but I’m just not very good with digital media, I’m afraid!

HM: Another completely customary question would be about your work process. How much does it usually take to complete a piece from start to finish and what’s your way of doing things?

My working process is rather simple: I sketch with a pencil on watercolour paper, I ink with various Indian inks, and then I colour with a mix of markers, watercolours, pencils and acrylics. I work a lot on textures and shadows by texturing and “dirtying” the artwork as a final touch. As for the time it takes me, it varies enormously depending on the size and complexity of the artwork. Painting an artwork can take to from 2 to 25 hours, from the moment I start sketching until completion. If you start counting from the moment I have the idea and keep it in a corner of my head to mature, it can go up to months!

HM: Following closely your blog I see that you have been a frequent victim of art theft, which is a very cruel form of piracy. How do you deal with these cases and also are there any means to prevent this from happening at large?

Unfortunately, there is no way that I know of to prevent art theft from happening. Internet is a gold mine for designers and so-called “artists” lacking imagination to find artworks they can take, claim as theirs or copy, and make money off. The best you can do is to make sure you protect your artwork the best way you can: no high-resolution files online, watermarks, and if possible, register your artwork. It won’t stop people taking your work, but at least it gives you legal leverage when it happens.

When it does happen, it’s a hurtful experience… especially because in most cases, there’s not much you can do. But it’s important to fight back and try to protect your rights, because the more people get away with it, the more they’ll keep doing it.

HM: The logic from the last question leads to the fact that you are quite popular professionally in the art scene. What are your professional heights and does art pay the bills for you?

KC: Unfortunately, no! I’m not all that popular in the art scene, to be honest, I’m still a newbie and it’s a tough world! Right now, I have a full-time job and I work as an illustrator on the side. I couldn’t earn my living with my artwork right now, unless maybe if I accepted every commissioned work offer I receive, including the ones that don’t really float the boat of my imagination. I prefer to keep a day job, and be able to choose only the projects that really interest me. Maybe someday I’ll be able to switch to more art, less day job… I’m thinking about it, but no decisions made so far. :)

HM: From your own personal site I have seen that you have had plenty of exhibitions back in 2008 and some scheduled for this year as well. What’s the feeling to be a part of an exhibition and how is your art being received?

Being part of an exhibition is amazing. It’s a great honor and a beautiful achievement. I’m very grateful to the people who gave me my chance and trusted me and my work so much (they know who they are!). My work was very well-received in convention art shows in the USA, I’m hoping to do more this year if I can. I also made my first gallery shows this year, from which I got good feedback and critics about my work, although sales weren’t amazing – a normal thing for a newcomer in galleries, I was told. Now it’s wait and see!

HM: To close off this session I will ask the frequent last question. What are we to expect from such a talented artist?

No disappointment, I hope! I’ll do my best! ;)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

"The Even" by T.A. Moore

Can you believe it? I am actually going to review a book… That isn’t the zombie anthology, which hasn’t been completely concluded. What boosts this level of red hot stinging shame is that actually “The Even” written by T.A Moore and published by Morrigan Books is what I like to call my soul book.

Have you ever read the greatest novel in the world? Without it being the interstellar bestseller, which changed literature and the concept of storytelling. But because the said novel resonates and synchronizes with you as a unique individual in pretty much the same fashion space pilots in Japan are in full sync with their giant Mecha transformer robots. I am not sure how much this post would be a serious attempt at reviewing or a total gush fest.

In the Even — a city built in the intersection between the real and the not —ruled by the iron whim of the demon Yekum where treachery brewed amidst the ever-changing streets. Ancients dwell in the city who have out-lived their purpose and grown jaded with their immortality. They want only to die and they will take the whole world with them if they have to: suicide by Apocalypse.

Only Faceless Lenith, goddess, cynic and gambler, stands in their way. The fate of the world rests on her shoulders and mankind did not conceive her to be wise.

“The Even” combines the qualities that I desperately seek in novels and in my own writing, which are poetic brevity, haunting beauty, a gothic underworld and a brew of known myths and legends, mutating into a creeping Tim-Burton-esque creation with a life of its own. Needless to say that reading this short novel of 162 pages is an otherworldly experience, which submerges you into a murky fluxing landscape of silent hysteria and grotesque beauty, drenched in wilted aesthetic. The author’s ability draw you into the captivating city of damnation that is the Even, filled with remnants of past, present and future with a mind of their own as well as demons and gods shunned away by fickle human beliefs, is enhanced tenfold through the ethereal and evocative illustrations provided by artist Stephanie Pui Mun Law. As a reader, I have experienced books that use illustrations to try and bring out their spirit so to say, but so far only “The Even” has been successful to lure me in completely both visually and through my imagination.

Unlike other fantasy titles “The Even” creeps, crawls and seeps through scenes, through plots to overthrow the reigning demonic tyrant, treachery, betrayal, double crossing, bribing and of course the apocalypse amongst others. The story is fairly simple and short about a former goddess of the Deathlands, who is coaxed into rescuing a soul from her former domain, but turns out to be a clever plan to end a city, which otherwise won’t ever die off on its own and eternity is enough to kill enthusiasm in exploiting every sin and debauchery imaginable. Lenith is constantly in motion, but what readers might perceive is more of the cold suspense before the monster in a horror movie makes his grant entry rather than the blistering adrenaline rush that is the usual cannon. This quality completes the whole otherworldly feel that you get by cracking the book and after the very first pages you are convinced that this novel is entirely unique.

Lenith is a solid antagonistic protagonist, who knows exactly what all her flaws are, but exploits them anyways, since eternity is too long spent in a hellish city being virtuous. She also knows that her involvement in this rescue mission is no good, but does it anyways, because what is there else to do in a city, where everything has been done before. Lenith is unattached to the citizens and knows the language of deals, bargaining, intimidation and loans, but in a city full of demons and dead gods you couldn’t afford anything else. Sympathetic also is he contrast that despite being goddess she is powerless sort of outside her domain or at least doesn’t show any abilities other than her sly scheming nature and knowledge about how things run in the Even. Aphar, the object of Lenith’s rescue, is the member of the elite and beautiful demon clan that runs the Even and is gifted by royal narcissism and pride in industrial quantities, but through the whole experience of being the tool for the apocalypse and finding that hell is outside his castle the guy becomes likeable and is pretty amusing as a spoiled brat.

Perhaps there are flaws, since all manmade creations are flawed by default, but as a gushing love and compliments fan I couldn’t see through all the awesomeness.

Additional Informartion: There is also another favorable review about the books and can be found at the "Sharp Words" and "Waterstones". [If you have a review up, scribble a comment and I will upload it.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Star Trek - Non Fan Review

Oh boy, "Star Trek" the movie arrived, dazzled viewers for solid hour and a half and then yodeled the biggest commentary avalanche on the Internet, since ...uh... Watchmen this year. [mhm] Since everybody can't stop mutilating their keyboards in order to share their opinions, it's natural that I throw in my two cents in the whole vault and see what happens. I am out of my league, when it comes to drawing comparisons between productions, the past and the present. Star Trek didn't inspire much interest as a whole and I more or less fall in the hapless eye-candy addicts that seek on screen action category. In light of this confession, here are my proverbial said two cents about this production as a non-fan.

Before actually going straight to the movie I will side track and contemplate on this green light to make yet another remake/revamp of a franchise. As far as I know Star Trek struggled in the big screen movie department, so why bother doing it again. I present you two theories. J.J Abrams makes a tribute towards a beloved creative heritage by adapting it for the modern audience [the same way Watchmen was adapted with a slightly different ending and Pride and Prejudice has zombies in it and Batman kicking ass with an even viler Joker] with lots more violence, eye-candy and action. Tapping into the youthful usually basic need to get a positive adrenaline rush, Abrams hopes to spark interest and make us the new generation dig in the archives and also accept the intellectual aspects of the original. Truth be told that happens and I can testify that I got around to loving Tolkien thanks to the movies [the advertising of fantasy titles and culture of that sort in my country is horrible] and the same can happen for the viewers of Star Trek, who think sci-fi isn't their thing.

Naturally the next reason is quite expected: making big bucks. Chris Pine is cast to please females, while Uhura is there to please males and Zachary Quinto is basically there so that people can watch the guy from Heroes that kills everybody. And as people already have stated the whole movie is major flashy eye-candy for the regular viewer, who is not color blind, so yeah typical Hollywood casting.

Does any of this rambling change the fact that I loved the movie? NO WAY. I have to say that this new "Star Trek" has the power to convert people into sci-fi addicts. I almost sat down and downloaded everything there was about Star Trek, before I stopped myself and changed my mind. I will do so, when I actually have time to indulge myself into such act of geekery. And I usually do these acts of geekery. My computer is filled with every X-Man issue ever released: all in all 10 GB.

It's true that plotwise we don't have a very complicated and intricate plot, but for the 90 minutes or so, what we work with as viewers is enough and makes time pass like a breeze. I think that it was engaging and the acting was solid throughout the most of the film, though I caught myself asking questions regarding the competence of certain moments. For instance why use swords and axes in a future, where you have laser guns, when even know most armed forces carry guns and only the army gets knives or machetes depending on the situation. Next there is the ice planet moment, which felt like an ex-machine moment, serving only to introduce a character, when chances for the actual happening of this are one in infinity and you can't argue with infinity.

But everything else was flawless and I expect that there will be a sequel and then a third part and then another one, until even flashy effects won't save this franchise from hitting the breaks. Seriously people, one good idea can be mined only for so long before people rethink their opinion on lynching. Thankfully this isn't the time for Star Trek to exit stage left. :)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reviewer Time: Aidan Moher and "A Dribble of Ink"

Another week another Sunday and another blog to review. Quite frankly I think I will go down in history for my features rather than my fiction reviews, but what the hey, whatever works right. Following my cataclysmic disorganization I jumble through things and pull a different entry than planned for “Reviewer Time” aka Aidan Moher and his “A Dribble of Ink”. If you are devoted to procrastinating, blogs and fantasy reviews then certainly you must know Aidan, because he is from the first generation of review bloggers, who always get linked and referred to and make my skin crawl in jealousy.

And those feelings are not unfounded. I guess having a good Web Design background does lead to the fantastic layout of his own site, which is also independent and not hosted on Blogger. To plunge through the really shallow and superfluous having an independent site is the difference between having an old SUV your parents gave you as a wedding present and the pleasure of cruising with a sports car you own. Of course we shouldn’t pretend that these things don’t matter, because they usually do and making the plastic wrapper as shinier as possible just underlines the quality of the product.

It’s my joy to say that there is equivalence between the design of the blog and its content, which is a rarity to find these days. Aidan teaches every blogger a lesson in up-keeping a very frequent update schedule and building positive connections with publishers. You simply copy paste the news and cover art from their websites and provide it in a new flashy post. I find that highly positive as I am known for forgetting the part, where as a reviewer I have to stay fresh on what’s going on and compared to frequent gargantuan review updates other blogs provide as a lazy reader I am deeply satisfied that I won’t be burdened too much. Then again after awhile a chain of cover art posts kills my interest as the blog may become repetitive, despite the quality of the said above cover art and information is in fact top notch. I associate it with the metaphor of eating too much chocolate. It’s delightful and yet when in excess consumption you get a bad feeling in your stomach. But every blogger has his own reading pace and that shouldn’t be held against Aidan.

When he eventually decides to post a review or the occasional interview, Aidan always gives his most and his best. As most people know reviewing isn’t an exact science, so every reviewer is unique in one way or another and what Aidan seems to specialize in is length and intellectual nitpicking. Most of the times I am not able to sit through very long reviews, ironic as it would seem that I write them relatively long, but when the proper state of mind is at hand I always leave “A Dribble of Ink” with a sense of satisfaction that I learned a lot about the essence of a book without knowing much about the plot. This is a quality that I value in a review as a reader, since I do wish to know without spoiling the surprises, and respect as a reviewer. As far as the personal treatment that Aidan hands out to his readers, a most important criteria in my list, I can say that he is moderately active at replying at reader comment. You won’t get the individual treatment, but you won’t go unnoticed either given circumstances. As a reviewer I understand that being 100+ things [reviewer, writer, web designer etc. etc.] it’s impossible to hand out your undivided attention [a reason, why I am so chaotic]. However as a needy of attention reader/commenter it sours me for a moment or so, but I get over it.

Nevertheless this is a great site to visit, so do it.


Harry Markov: Since we know so little about the people behind the reviews, let’s start with some personal questions. Who are you in your real life and how does one typical day look like for you?

Aidan Moher: I'm a professional Mixed Martial Artist, who moonlights as a consultant at an interior design company. I live with 12 dogs (with a total of 38 legs, you do the math) and one cat. Since we don't have the Internet where I live (it's too cold up here in Canada, the lines freeze), I have to dictate my blog posts to my brother, who lives down in Texas.

No, I'm kidding. I'm an aspiring-writer (aren't we all?) cum Web Developer who lives in sunny Canada. A typical day of mine is much too boring to go into detail about.

HM: Tell us three things that people would probably never ever guess about you.

AM: 1. I hate coming up with lists.

2. I don't read nearly as fast as I should, considering I run a SF blog.

3. I play an absurd amount of videogames.

HM: How did you start your blog?

AM: I had just graduated from university (in Web Development) and wanted a challenge. I thought it would be fun to start a blog, similar to a few of those I read, and talk shit about the books I read – in real life, I don't have many friends who are willing to geek out with me about Fantasy and Science Fiction novels. I had just received a review copy of Terry Brooks' The Elves of Cintra (a pretty big release that year) and thought a review of it would be the perfect way to launch my blog.

I'm constantly shocked that people want to read my drivel.

HM: How did you choose your name and your genres?

AM: Genre: I like Fantasy, it makes up the majority of what I read. Another goal of my blog was to broaden the horizons of my reading, so I've brought in a fair bit more Science Fiction than I used to read.

Name: I can't remember. I just knew I needed a unique name and A Dribble of Ink just popped into my head. If you want a cooler, but less true, story about it, you can tell people that it was a bequeathed upon me as a young boy by Fritz Leiber, whilst he lay upon his deathbed.

Or something like that.

HM: Was it easy to start, was it easy to supply enough books and how were you received at first?

AM: Starting was easy, considering my background in Web Development. I made a very good decision to go with a blog that I hosted myself (as opposed to one found at, for instance), which gave me full control over everything I needed.

Getting books is a trickier process, but one that easy to solve: don't worry about it. At the beginning of the blog's life I bought most of my books, with an odd review copy popping in from here or there. Now, I get more books than I can read, but it's more a curse than a blessing and I tend to read as many novels that I've bought as I do review copies sent to me.

The blogosphere can be a cliquey place, especially back when I started and there weren't a ton of them around. Just after I started A Dribble of Ink, a big rush of newer bloggers also hit the scene and somehow I found myself associated with the veteran bloggers that I was still looking up to as mentors (of a sort). It was an odd position to be in, but one that helped my blog pick up steam early in its life.

HM: What’s your approach to writing reviews, your signature so to say that makes you different from all the others? Can you give a tip or share something you do to make it easier?

AM: Be honest. That's it.

Oh, and don't summarize a novel and call it a review. I don't give a rat's ass what happens in a novel (the jack summary does just fine), instead a reviewer should focus on what makes the novel successful or unsuccessful.

HM: What’s your reading schedule? How do you arrange your day to find time to read and review to keep up relative activity?

AM: I eke it out wherever I can find it. Unfortunately I don't read as much as I'd like (or as much as many other bloggers), but I do the best that I can.

HM: In retrospect, have you ever done a negative review and how did you handle the situation? Every once in a while a book comes that doesn’t agree with a reviewer and there was a heated discussion revolving around negative reviews and what comes afterwards. Was there any fear of ruining your relationship with publishers?

AM: I'm not afraid to write a negative review, just as long as I'm being honest with myself and the text. I've been in a bit of trouble in the past, but it's not something that should get your feathers ruffled. What it should do is help you take a look at your review process and question the honesty, integrity and professionalism you're putting into those reviews.

In the case of my review of The Ten Thousand, I hadn't finished the novel, but felt strongly enough about it to write an honest review of what I had finished. At first Paul wasn't happy with my review, but we settled our differences (and I did end up finished the book, eventually) and things ended rather civilly. The most interesting aspect of it all, though, was that Kearney specifically referenced my review of the novel when pondering his future projects. As a reviewer, to have this sort of impact on an author, and a successful one at that, is humbling, but also shows the importance of honest reviews, even if they are negative-ish.

In many ways, I don't think a 'Positive' review or 'Negative' review should really exist in totality. Even books that I love have flaws, which are important to dig out, no matter the rest of the quality of the novel; even books I hate have some redeeming qualities (except, perhaps, Naked Empire by Terry Goodkind, the worst book I've ever finished – and this is coming from a fan of his earlier novels!), which should be spoken of, no matter the quality of the rest of the novel. I think, on a sub-concious level, I write reviews to help me become a better writer of fiction, and being completely honest with the text of a novel is the only way to truly embrace that style of thinking.

If a publisher doesn't like a review I publish, and stops sending me books, then so be it. They're probably not a publisher I want to be dealing with anyway, with an attitude like that.

HM: Now, how do you think you and your blog have grown from your first post up until now? Did the formula ever change and can you describe the path of your evolution?

AM: Oh god, I look back at early iterations of A Dribble of Ink and cringe. I think it's safe to say that I've become a better blogger, and it's indicated by my steadily increasing readership.

I think the most important thing for me was to stop worrying about what I should do and just going ahead with what I want to do. Early in the life of my blog, I made a promise to myself that I would only review the new, hot books. The problem with this was that I was leaving a lot of other books by the wayside, books I really wanted to read. Once I got over this way of thinking, I became much more comfortable as a reviewer and blogging began to feel less like a job and more like a fun hobby again.

Obviously I've made a lot of connections with other bloggers/authors/publishers/agents/etc... since I started the blog and that's had a positive impact on my ability to bring good content to readers.

If there's anything I know about blogs, it's that they're constantly growing beasts, never content to stay still and become staid. I'm always looking for ways to improve.

HM: So as we know some bloggers that review books and know enough about literature, have writing aspirations. Do you want to stand on the other side of the business?

AM: Sure. I'm a writer, before all else.

I'm working on a Contemporary Fantasy, called Through Bended Grass. It's my baby and is almost nearing completion, after nearly two years of work. The easiest way to explain the novel is through my submission to Colleen Lindsay's 'Twitter Query Contest' where I had to pitch the book in 140 characters or less. I was a runner-up:

'LABYRINTH - (David Bowie and Muppets) + Fey mythology x The dirty streets of Ireland = THROUGH BENDED GRASS, a 90k contemporary Fantasy.'

You can find out all about me and my writing on my other (lesser known) blog, Mightier than the Sword.

Beyond being an author, I've always fancied working with an agency or a publisher, in a position to soak in as much as I can about the industry as a whole. Hopefully one of these days...

HM: Whose your favorite author and why? In the same vine, there must be an author you had the misfortune of reading and will never ever approach. Who is it in your case and why?

AM: My favourite author is tough. I've forced at gunpoint, I'd pick Neil Gaiman for the simple reason that he most often writes the novels I wish I written myself. I'm incredibly envious of the man and his imagination. To say he's had an influence on my own storytelling would be and incredible under-statement.

Other favourites include: George R.R. Martin, Tim Powers, Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb, John Scalzi, Greg Keyes, Tobias Buckell, Guy Gavriel Kay, Michael Crichton, Tad Williams, and the list goes on....

I generally don't regret reading anything (and if I do, I have no problem putting a shitty novel down, unfinished), but the biggest culprit of mine is Stephen Donaldson.

This is what I wrote about it on my blog:

Lord Foul’s Bane (and the rest of the novels that follow it) are considered by many to be a defining work of Fantasy literature. Coming out right around the same time as Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara, Donaldson’s effort was a dark, R-rated exploration of an area little explored since Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. It hit an older demographic and showed readers that Fantasy could be provoking and dangerous and dirty.

Or at least that’s what I suppose must have happened when the novel was released (6 years before I was even born). My mom adores the series, several of my older friends love the series; because of those recommendations (none stronger) I gave Lord Foul’s Bane a shot, expecting greatness. To say it fell short is an understatement and there is one specific reason for this: the main character, Thomas Covenant.

Layers are good; emotional conflict is good. Thomas Covenant is full of these. It’s too bad that Covenant is a miserable piece of shit with absolutely no redeeming qualities at all. When I read a novel, I like to be able to root for the protagonist (even if s/he’s a complete bastard, see Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy), but I simply detested Covenant and everything he stood for. In no way could I relate to him, in no way could I understand his conflict, in no way could I agree with any decisions he was making.

And then I hit the rather infamous scene near the beginning of the novel. If you’ve read it, you know the one. I very nearly threw the novel in the fire (and I don’t even dog-ear shitty novels because I revere books so much) in a fit of outrage. I remembered the words of my mother, though, and forced myself through to the end of the novel, expecting some revelation where I would learn to love the novel. I didn’t. My mouth still tastes bitter with the experience.
Emotional reaction from a novel is a good thing and Lord Foul’s Bane had me bubblin’ mad for most of the way through. So maybe in that respect it was a success, but did I enjoy even a moment while reading it? Hell no.

I won't be reading Donaldson again.

HM: What are your personal pet peeves when it comes to fantasy?

AM: Made up words and unpronounceable names. Don't try to be clever if you're not. Tolkien was a linguist, you're not.

It's that simple.

HM: Is there a tendency for the clichés in fantasy to resolve?

AM: A cliché only develops because an idea is good from the get-go, so I don't think cliché's need to go anywhere. We just need clever authors to use them in unique ways; Joe Abercrombie and his First Law trilogy are a fantastic example of this.

HM: What do you think of self publishing? This is a very interesting topic as of late with the numbers of authors self-publishing on the rise and the treatment they receive not only from reviewers, but the whole book publishing community including readers.

AM: As a writer and as a blogger, I'm not impressed. There's usually a reason a novel is self-published.

HM: Another hot topic is the crisis in the publishing industry. It’s true that the recession pretty much hit everywhere, so as a reviewer do you feel the pinch from it all and how do you see the industry shaping?

AM: Hmm, As a small-time blogger, the recession's had little effect on me, in that respect. I've received less ARCs (Advance Review Copies) from some of the smaller publishers, but there are still a ton of good books coming out and book deals being announced. The recession's for the accountants to deal with.

HM: Do you think there are still areas fantasy has slipped that you would like to cover in other mediums? And how far do you think the fantasy/sci-fi culture will enter mainstream? This I ask because art purists denounce fantasy and sci-fi on a regular basis and yet they keep coming back full speed ahead.

AM: Eh, whether the public likes it or not, they enjoy fantasy. The Da Vinci code was huge, The Time Traveller's Wife is enormous, Stephanie Meyer is well on her way to owning the mind of every little girl on the face of the planet. People love Star Trek and The Dark Knight and LOST is only getter bigger and better as it goes on.

Those who denounce Fantasy and Science Fiction just don't explore the genre enough (and often probably aren't aware what counts as Fantasy/Science Fiction – it's not all Tolkien rip-offs and Space Opera, folks!) and their ignorance shows.

I don't see Fantasy and Science Fiction going anywhere but up from here.

HM: Also there has been much denouncing of urban fantasy in pretty much the same vein mainstreamers give fantasy and sci-fi the cold shoulder. Where do you stand in this matter?

AM: Like anything, it's fine to denounce shitty books, but don't generalize. As someone deep into a Contemporary Fantasy, I'm obviously in support of the genre and think some people need to get their heads out of their asses.

People seem to get Urban Fantasy confused with Paranormal Romance. Authors like Neil Gaiman, Charles De Lint, Emma Bull and Tim Powers don't write about Leather-clad Werewolf sex, and they all certainly write Urban Fantasy. Labels can be very dangerous things.

HM: I am not sure what a closing question sounds like at this topic, so you are free to some some closing words on your own regarding reviewing.

AM: The readers need to keep us honest. Question us. Challenge us. Force us to be better.

Related Posts with Thumbnails