Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"The Swordbearer" by Glen Cook [Reviewed by Peter Dowd]

Up for review is Glen Cook’s, The Swordbearer. This is a stand-alone work recently re-released by Night Shade Books with some terrific cover art by Raymond Swanland. This is a classic coming of age story with some of the usual suspects as story elements. Yet, Cook gets better mileage out of it than most.

The story’s protagonist, Gathrid, is the youngest son of a minor noble. Stuck by polio in his youth, Gathrid has a limp and general numbness on the left side of his body. As a result, he is set aside and “protected.” When an armed conflict arrives on his front door, he sent away into the woods with the women. He never quite makes it, but hides amid the ruins of his family’s estate. Later, escaping one of the twelve Toal (i.e. the love children of Ringwraiths and Sith lords), Gathrid takes shelter in a cave wherein he finds a large coffin guarded by an ancient sleeping dwarf. Glancing into the coffin, Gathrid lays eyes on the ancient sword Daubendiek. Unable to resist, Gathrid grabs the sword and, upon so doing, the ancient dwarf awakens saying, “Suchara has chosen.” Is this a bad thing? Perhaps, but any further on and you’re in for some spoilers.

Suchara is an ancient god-like being who is actually sleeping. So are her husband and two children. The four of them, in dream states, rip at the lives of people in the world of The Swordbearer without any real awareness of the damage being done. The sword, Daubendiek, is a sword that operates on something of a vampiric mechanism. The sword consumes the soul of the individual it kills, transferring the knowledge and awareness of the individual into the Swordbearer. However, the bloodthirsty weapon has something of a mind of it’s own. On occasion, it will co-opt the use of its wielder’s body and strike out at anything on two legs within arm’s reach. Daubendiek is actually a tool used by Suchara to possess and control a Swordbearer. Yet, Suchara always has her servant, Theis Rogala, nearby. It is rumored that, at an appointed time, the ancient dwarf ends the lives of each Swordbearer with a dagger of his own.

Needless to say, the title of Swordbearer is something that isn’t as great as it sounds to most boys/young men. Gathrid, unlike previous Swordbearers, travels a slightly different path, as he strives to be free of Daubendiek, Suchara and Theis Rogala.

The Bad: The convolutions towards the end of the tale. The story attempts to get too clever, or too surprising. The tale attempts to maneuver the reader into a position of suspicion vis-à-vis each of the characters motives towards the protagonist. It seemed to be a lot of unnecessary motion, flailing, and floundering heat loss. That having been said, it was the only element of the book that I didn’t favor.

The Good: Everything else. Seriously, if you have read Glen Cook before, this is more of that. Cook’s dialogue, prose and/or narrative is always ‘no-frills.’ This trade paperback, in fairly large font print, was approximately 250 pages. I am certain that, with any other author, it would have been between 450 and 550 pages. If you enjoy classic elements of heroic fantasy fiction, or the good old hack ‘n slash, then this is for you. It’s a brief and fulfilling ride through some familiar territory.

Rated: 8.25/10 (which means “for fans of the genre,” or at least this is how the ubiquitously absent roll – know what I’m sayin’?)

Afterword: Peter William Dowd is the owner of "Ubiquitous Absence", a blog, which chronicles his reads in fantasy.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Realm of the Dead" by Uchida Hyakken [Reviewed by Meredith Smith]

Title: The Realm of The Dead
Author: Uchida Hyakken
Published: 2006
Number of pages: 229
Genre: Japanese short stories

With a series of disconnected dreams and images that fade into one another without logic, these stories describe the worlds of both the living and the dead.

Realm of the Dead is set in a dark and mysterious world where logic and reality are subject to constant change and where ideas about identity and self are continually questioned. In one short story, the narrator watches footage from the Russo-Japanese War, but then moving across the screen, finds himself fighting in the war. In another, the narrator goes to a freak show with a woman, only to find the woman herself has become a freak.

Considered one of the foremost innovators of Japanese modernism, Hyakken incorporates a distinctly non-Western set of myths and folklore to create dreamscapes that open doors into another world.

I found this book in July, wandering through the Collector's Room at a book sale for the American Association of University Women. It was a first edition, which of itself is worthy of picking up. But, more importantly than that, I knew it would fit two significant categories in which I read come Autumn. One of the categories is for my very own Japanese Literature Challenge, the other is for Carl's RIP Challenge. And so, I put it in my basket to bring home.

Here is a synopsis for one of the stories in the collection called "The Pier":

We find a man who has become friendly with another man at the spa. His wife was friendly with the man, too, until her husband became nervous and decided they should leave the spa.

His wife easily walked the plank that would take them to the ship they needed in order to cross the lake. But, when he took one step on the plank, he was overcome with a terrible panic and found himself unable to cross. When he looked up, he saw his wife's face in the porthole. It was quickly replaced by the face of the man from the spa. It doesn't occur to him until later that's odd he would look for her in the porthole, instead of on deck.

Like a dream you are having, when you must cross somewhere, or find someone, but inexplicably are prevented from doing so at every turn, this man begins to follow the ship by running along the shore. His very panic induced the same panic in me, as though I, too, must find her in time.

Eventually, he comes to a dark train station where he walks among the crowd looking for his wife. Strangely, the crowd lifts a leg, and stamps their foot down in unison. They continue to do this bizarre dance, with his wife joining in...

The dance did not speed up or slow down, and the legs of the dancers kept crashing down in the same way. I couldn't move forward. I eventually got tired. Along with the desire to rush over to my wife came feelings of disinterest. I looked vacantly over in her direction and saw that the man was looking back with his impossible beautiful face. I came to and retreated. So that's what people meant when they talked about adultery.

Such a poignant reality was conveyed in such a nightmare of surrealism. I love the chilling nightmare quality, I love the simplicity, I love the connection to our lives that they eerie stories represent. You, too, might like this perfect autumnal read.


"The dance did not speed up or slow down, and the legs of the dancers kept crashing down in the same way. I couldn't move forward. I eventually got tired. Along with the desire to rush over to my wife came feelings of disinterest. I looked vacantly over in her direction and saw that the man was looking back with his impossible beautiful face. I came to and retreated. So that's what people meant when they talked about adultery."

Afterword: Because Monday surprised me delightfully with several people, who I have not seen in ages, I was unable to post this guest review from my amazing friend and astonishingly well read and cultured blogger Meredith Smith otherwise known as Bellezza from her blog "Dolce Bellezza". This is her read for both the Japanese Reading Challenge she hosts and Carls' RIP IV Challenge.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Trailer Stash: "Intertwined" & "Born of Night"

I know I should be MIA and working on the secret projects, but I just happened to encounter two book trailers that simply blew me away. I am not the one for book trailers, but as they are picking up speed as promotional tools so is their quality and stunning professional production.

I am a total freak when it comes about Gena Showalter, because she can create one heck of a story, can write one heck of an adventure and can excite me with her erotic scenes. I am even willing to jump on the YA wagon for her. "Intertwined" promises to be amazing. Take a look.

Here we have another amazing books, which reminds me that there are too many amazing series with brilliant covers out there that I need to sink my teeth in. This one is "Born of Night" by Sherrilyn Kenyon.

Reviewer Time: October Line-Up

When did a month go? Being here and writing another “Reviewer Time” Line-Up post, the second to be exact, frightens me to see how fast time goes and how many books I am on behind schedule. If only I read as fast as Larry. If only…

Self-pity aside here are the nominees for best… Okay, not entirely right, but I always wanted to say that line. I’ll stop being silly now. Here are your bloggers, who will sit on my virtual chair and discuss what makes them tick.

October 4th: Adele and Chris from “Un:Bound”
October 11th: Nerissa from “Confessions of a Book Whore”
October 18th: Liz and Mark from “My Favorite Books”
October 25th: James from “Speculative Horizons”

It’s going to be a fun October.

Reviewer Time: Colin from "Highlander's Book Reviews"

Another Sunday has arrived and I am keeping it punctual to present this week’s guest over at “Reviewer Time”. He is a relatively new blogger starting out on Blogger, but has moved on to bigger and better things like his own domain name. I give you Colin Leslie, although you know him as Highlander, from “Highlander’s Book Reviews”.

As much as I would like to keep my commentaries long and informative sometimes I hit on a blog, which I have not heard or have heard, but haven’t actively followed. This happens for a number of reasons, number one being limited time versus unlimited number of book bloggers popping up and about. Such is the case with “Highlander’s Book Reviews”, which leaves with a narrow assembly of things to say here. However after my introduction to the wondrous and all powerful Google Reader and my interaction with Colin I am on my way to building a tad more voluminous opinion. Colin is an awesome person to converse with and I for one plan on actively keeping contact with him, though I am not so sure that is such a positive thing for him.

So, I’ve established that I don’t have a very fleshed out opinion Colin or his blog and it’s time to cut with the interlude and say what I do know. For starters Colin is Scottish, which may be is irrelevant, but nevertheless is awesome. Among other things he is also a photographer and as you will soon learn in more detail from the interview he is a writer, which for me speaks tons. The man is clearly artistic in nature, knows his literature and that so far as an assumption has been confirmed from the reviews I have read. Free of any structure Colin’s reviews are organic in nature and do what they have to do; namely create an opinion in the reader whether the book discussed is or isn’t to his/hers liking.

As a closing summary of random things that have stuck out so far and stuck to my memory I will state that Colin has an amazing taste in horror and all the readers that feel like stepping out from their comfort zone or are just uneducated to what is out there in this genre I highly recommend visiting “Highlander’s Book Reviews”. Colin reviews anthologies or at least some of them the same way I do by breaking down them to several posts to add highlight to each story as individually as possible. Then there is the fact that he does supply the readers with the necessary news from the industry and the vast world of literature, so there are those bonuses. Digging through the archives I also found that he nominated for a blogger award for “Your Blog is Fabulous”, which earns some major extra points from me.

Anyway, “Highlander’s Book Reviews” is your quality gateway to horror and the creepy, so just go visit.

HM: As per the “Reviewer Time” tradition I kick start each interview with some bio touches. So dare I ask who Colin outside “Highlander’s Book Reviews” is?

CL: Well every time I look in the mirror I see Brad Pitt looking back at me but that’s because I taped a photo of him to the mirror years ago. He’s just an average, grumpy old man, just ask my wife and kids.

HM: I happen to have dug up through your About page and have fun some nice personal details about you, however I am fond of lists, so with no further ado name the three things that your readers will most likely never guess about you.

CL: I can play the banjo (badly).

I can dowse for water.

I’ve read the DaVinci Code.

HM: The Internet has also revealed that you got your daughter into the reviewing gig as well. It has to be exciting to have two review bloggers under the same roof. Do you help your daughter with her content and do you happen to read the same books from time to time?

CL: Hey, If only I was as good as my daughter. Sara runs Dragonfly Book Reviews and apart from a little technical help at the start it’s all her own work. She also receives far more review copies than I do!

I think the last book we both read was Neil Gaiman’s “The Graveyard Book” and probably the next one will be John Connolly’s “The Gates”. I am trying to get her to read more gory horror but for some, strange reason she doesn’t like it.

HM: A few interviews back Michael aka the Mad Hatter managed to fool me into believing he hosted his blog outside blogger. Now I think that the case with you is different. I hope it is, because I have been impatient to learn what is to maintain a site and own a domain name.

CL: I started off on blogger but didn’t like it, moved to wordpress but wanted my own unique email and domain name. Luckily enough I found a special offer on the net for a hosted site on Varihost and was able to register my domain name, get a decent email and have complete control over content and backups all for a fairly small sum. Now I know that most folk would see no reason to pay when you can have a really good free site but I prefer the control of a hosted site. I would highly recommend Varihost and no they didn’t pay me to say that...although if you are reading this guys....

HM: Technology aside let’s go back to your roots. How were you introduced to literature and how did you discover the amazing world of speculative fiction?

CL: I had absolutely no interest in books till I was about 12. After all who needs books when there are comics to read. For some reason though I picked up a copy of Henry Williamson’s “Tarka the Otter” (I was and still am interested in nature) and was hooked. Star Wars came out in ‘77 when I was 13 (yes I really am that old!!) and I got a copy of that book and from then on I read all the SF I could get hold of. My favourite writers were Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov. I soon moved onto The Lord Of The Rings which I read in one long session during the summer holidays.

Then in about 74 or 75 someone at school showed me a copy of James Herbert’s The Rats (actually I think they were particularly interested in the rude bits) and that was me hooked on horror. I like to think my tastes have matured somewhat but can’t help feeling a certain affection for Herbert’s gory, sex filled early work.

HM: What about blogging. I’d be interested to know how you learned about blogging and basically hearing your origin story that lead to the creation of your blog?

CL: Frankly it amazes me that books receive so little publicity. Sure Dan Brown and Stephen King can always raise a headline but where is a guy to go for an honest opinion of Tim Lebbon’s latest. So I started by browsing the web and found guys like Mihai (Dark Wolf) and Ben (Speculative Fiction Junkie) who were reading and reviewing the type of books which interested me but they still weren’t focusing on exactly the sort of thing I enjoy. I decided the only way to get a definitive review was to write it myself (incidentally I have always rated books, some kind of OCD thing probably).

With the help and support of those guys and others in the blogging community I managed to set up the site and then people started sending me books. Well that was me hooked, it wasn’t necessarily the free books that excited me but the preview copies and the contact with authors. To be able to email some of the guys who I rate as outstanding talents is a real joy.

HM: What’s the best part about blogging that makes it so awesome for you to keep returning to and at the same time have you ever had the urge to abandon your blog?

CL: I think I answered the first part already, the second part is trickier. People shouldn’t underestimate the commitment required here. Whilst I enjoy reading and reviewing it’s rarely easy (the reviewing part) and I feel a great sense of responsibility. This is an author’s livelihood we are dealing with and that means these things have to be done honestly and professionally. I also frequently see non-genre books that I want to read but feel a certain guilt if I’m not reading a book for review. So yes I have often thought of giving it up but then out of the blue will come a really positive comment or email to show that what I am doing has some worth and that keeps me going.

I try not to compete with anyone out there. There are folk who cover the genres in huge detail with multiple daily posts but I have neither the time nor the desire to do this. I am really just interested in the end result - the books. I do occasionally post news stories from a particular favourite author or something I have not seen elsewhere but otherwise I generally just stick to reviews.

HM: Browsing through your book reviews I have spotted a great preference in horror as a genre. Horror has a great variety of subgenres ranging from creature stories to ghost stories and psychological. What tops your favorite list and how do you judge the current state of the genre? I have heard that horror nowadays is not as flourishing as it used to. Perhaps that may be true for the movies, but what about the novels?

CL: First of all I try not to get hung up on categorising books into sub-genres. One of my favourite horror novelists is John Connolly but he is always shelved in the crime section. The bulk of this categorisation is related to marketing. There are few books that don’t have some genre crossover.

Having said all that I have a huge affection for the horror genre. I think at it’s best it has the power to describe the best and worst of the human condition in a way that few other literary genres can. My particular favourites are from the weird fiction strands. Lovecraft, Machen and Blackwood all wrote horror with very little gore, they address the deepest human fears, the animalistic survival instinct.

I am really worried about saying what tops my list these days as there are so many. I truly think horror is going through a bit of a golden age. The only problem is the reading public and most big publishers have not yet realised it. So look to the small presses and try some Tim Lebbon, Conrad Williams, Ramsey Campbell, Mark Samuels, Bill Hussey, Joseph D’Lacey and Thomas Ligotti. If you read them I guarantee you will gain a whole new appreciation for the horror genre beyond the cliche gore and sex that dominates the hollywood version. Instead you will get something deep, emotionally engaging, literate and yet still fun to read and that, in my mind, is what makes a successful book.

HM: Being a zombie nut job I would be crazy to pass the opportunity and not ask a horror reader this: do you like zombies or creatures of the dark in general? And would you know how to react once the things you read about put you on their diet.

CL: I didn’t realise you were a zombie Harry. Sorry to hear that, hope you get better soon. I am not a huge zombie fan. I remember reading somewhere that once a trope started to get parodied it was over-used and I think that is the case with zombies.

Having said that I don’t think a zombie could eat me whole, I’m a pretty big guy. At the very least it would get severe indigestion.

HM: Let’s get down to reviews now, shall we. How do you go about writing them? Some write down notes amidst reading, while others like to sleep on their thoughts after reading a novel. What’s your technical approach?

CL: There is no single approach, I think it’s all down to the book, it’s complexity and it’s power. For short story collections I always make brief notes at the end of each story. For novels though I generally don’t need notes. I will write down salient points or really striking quotes but generally I try to avoid anything which interrupts the flow of reading the book.

I then write the review as soon as possible whilst the information and my feelings are still fresh. I usually put it aside for a couple of days before redrafting and publishing it.

For most books this seems to work well. I don’t have a problem with anything that is really good or really bad but I do struggle with so-so books. I just find it hard to say anything worthwhile if the book hasn’t engaged me emotionally one way or another.

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

CL: Basically anytime I can! I tend to be an early riser so usually get an hour in before the rest of the household wakens. Otherwise I usually cram an hour in before going to sleep. When the house is busy and the TV is on you will often find me in the corner with an ipod some noise cancellation headphones and some MP3’s of Steve Roach. He creates ambient music which allows you to concentrate on reading but blank out the surrounding noise.

Other than that my ipod usually has some ebooks if I get a spare ten minutes here and there or even the odd audiobook when I am driving.

If I get a prolonged period of reading time, such as holidays, I will generally devour as much as I can but hold back some of the reviews. I always try to have at least one review in the bank.

HM: As far as reading goes, once when you have taken responsibility to read and review a novel would you finish that novel no matter what or would you drop it, if it becomes painful as hell?

CL: If I specifically ask for a book then yes definitely. If the publisher or author send me a review copy on spec then I will try and look at it but it can often take a while to reach the top of the reading pile.

By the way I strongly believe in trying to read self-published works. I know there is a lot of chaff with the wheat but it can be so difficult for these guys to get any sort of promotion and who knows maybe, just maybe there is a gem waiting to be unearthed.

I have a strict 100 page rule. If the author has not fully engaged me in the first 100 pages (good or bad) then, sorry, but that’s a failure and a waste of my time. There are far too many books deserving attention to waste time reading dross. If I don’t finish it though, I don’t review it. I will read and finish interesting but bad books. For instance I thought the Da Vinci Code was really interesting, the chapter construction, use of cliffhangers etc. all made it easy to read but I thought the prose was poor and emotionally it didn’t work for me. I finished it, could appreciate it’s popularity but I didn’t like it.

HM: Which author in your opinion has been under the radar for far too long and deserves more public recognition and for what reasons?

CL: I am going to cheat and name four only because there are four different reasons:-

1) John Connolly - sadly ignored by speculative genre fans as he is often miscast as pure crime. The Book of Lost Things was in my opinion as good as The Graveyard Book and his short story collection Nocturnes was a brilliant horror story collection.

2) Tim Lebbon - Everything I have read of his has been good and his forays into fantasy/horror or horror/fantasy prove that genre boundaries need not exist.

3) Thomas Ligotti - Mysterious, mercurial, highly intelligent. The heart of a horror writer the soul of a poet.

4) Mark Samuels - A direct ancestor of Machen’s writing style, Mark Samuels is cruelly absent from your average bookstore. Chuck out all those Dan Brown’s and fill up the shelves with Mark Samuels and we are one step closer to Utopia.

HM: Now it’s time for a “Reviewer Time” classic. Apart from enjoying reading the written word, have you ever had any writing aspirations of your own?

CL: Aha! I thought you would never ask. I used to write when I was younger but never went anywhere with it. I think blogging has inspired me though as I have recently started again. I have three short stories completed. I recently won a runners up prize in a short story competition. Another has yet to be sent out to publishers but, and this is breaking news Harry, I have just sold my first story. I can’t reveal the details yet but visitors to my blog should see more details in the next week or so.

All of which has inspired me to try more writing so it is definitely something I hope to develop in the future. Needless to say I will be sure to send you a copy of my novel for review when it is published!

HM: What is the kind of story that will always engulf you no matter how many times you see it done? Naturally, if you don’t have one, your latest trope obsession applies.

CL: Anything that touches on man’s roots in nature. Now that sounds like some wishy washy hippy stuff but I do believe humans have a deep rooted spiritual connection to nature and the various mythologies are the result. I love anything which touches on that connection good or bad.

HM: On the polar end, what is the current trope or tropes that annoy you beyond words?

CL: Vampire romance, if only because it has taken over the horror section in most bookshops and whatever it is, it aint horror.

HM: There has been a wee debate about ranking or not ranking, though that I think is old news in itself, but the topic is an interesting one nevertheless and worth asking people about a couple of time. What’s your standpoint on the importance of ranking for book reviews in particular?

CL: Basically I feel that not everyone has the time or inclination to read all of my review. The rating gives those folk an immediate summary and this may then lead them to read the full review. Call it filtering but I know it’s something I do with CD reviews. I often browse through until I see a score that looks interesting (good or bad) and read further. I don’t think it alters the reviewers attitude to the book one bit.

I do think there is a danger of inconsistency creeping in. I recently read a great book and gave it 5 out of 5 but then read a better one and found myself wondering where to go with that. It really shouldn’t matter though. The review should be fair and honest and the score should reflect the reviewers feelings.

HM:If there is one thing that these interviews have taught me is that review blogger society is as diverse and vast as it comes. I also wonder from time to time, whether we would need some sort of organization in order to agree on some elements and ground principles the same way our magazine and news paper colleagues do. At the same time I think that doing everything in a different way is the charm of the review bloggers are a phenomenon. What are your thoughts on my ramblings?

CL: Yes....erm no....err maybe. The wonderful thing about blogging is that it is entirely up to the blogger what they say but entirely up to the reader to judge the validity of that. I think that sets up a natural balance. Any attempt to organise it would only lead to resentment and one-upmanship. As Grouch Marx said “I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER”

HM: Well it’s curtain time, which means that the closing words are up to you. Hope you had fun.

CL: Well thanks Harry, I had great fun even if the vol-au-vents were a bit cold. I just want to say thank you to everyone in the blogging community and publishing world who has helped and supported me. I think the brilliant work done by some of the original bloggers in persuading authors and publishers that what we do is valid deserves recognition, maybe some kind of medal is in order.

Slainte Mhath!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Audiobooks? - Guest blog by Hagelrat

Hi folks, yhe lovely Harry has given me the keys to TLR today so i've come to play.
I wanted to talk about audiobooks.

I recently heard Stephen Fry, when asked how he lost so much weight, attributing it to audiobooks. He bores easily and just walking wasn't doing it, but add an audio book and he'd happily walk all day. My husband has trouble sleeping so plays audiobooks at night, quietly on his side of the bed so if he wakes up he doesn't get into the cycle of over thinking and worrying that plagues him otherwise. My parents sometimes have audiobooks in the car, I got them a Bill Bryson one year that they woldn't have read but thoroughly enjoyed listening too.

I never really did the audiobook thing. I didn't get it, I like music for driving and walking and I sleep ok most of the time thanks. Recently though I discovered I really rather like them .

Some of them anyway. There is one really important thing for an audiobook to get right and that is the reader. Some authors, Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman, have wonderful voices for reading and can bring a delightful new dimension to their own work, adding the inflections as they intended them. It's a delightful, being read a bed time story feel and something I now find deeply comforting.

Fry of course has also read many other people's books too, which is all good and well because really, you may have gathered I could listen to him read the dictionary and be content; him, Gaiman and Anthony Head. Most people don't read their own books, being a writer and knowing the work best doesn't always make you the ideal person to read it, although of course I don't like some of the professional readers either. It must be horribly disapointing for an author to have an audiobook out with a reader they don't feel does it justice, or has the wrong sort of voice for the tone of the book.

My biggest problem with them right now though, is when to listen. My other half obviously has his sorted, but as I said before, the natural times for mine are occupied by music, if I walk I am usually on my way to work rather than simply walking so music works better. Maybe I should take more baths and listen then, or garden more and put them on my ipod, actually, the garden fence needs painting so I think this weekend I shall get some of the books onto my pod, including the last two disks of The Graveyard Book (read by Gaiman and utterly wonderful to listen to).

So how about you? Do you or don't you audiobook? When do you listen and what do you think makes a good audiobook?
Thanks for letting me visit. Hagelrat.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Emmys? What was that?

Yes, Kanye interrupted yet another important event, but to be honest he had every night, because we have the MEGA AWESOME hostesses of all Ana & Thea yawning and waving off the much celebrated Emmy Awards and host their own awards as a way to appear even cooler.

So...we watched the Emmys last Sunday. And as usual, the same shows took the same awards (30 Rock, Mad Men, etc, yawn, etc). We've had enough of it! In the spirit of awesome host Neil Patrick Harris as Doctor Horrible, we are taking over the Emmys...and assigning our own winners! It's the Smugglies, baby!

Best Series, Drama


'Big Love'

'Breaking Bad'





'Mad Men'

(Emmy Winner: Mad Men)

Smugglies Winner: LOST

Ok, so we're not totally unhappy with this win from MAD MEN. But we would have been equally happy with a win from DEXTER or LOST. And what's with some of these nominees? Does anyone actually KNOW anyone that watches BREAKING BAD? How is f***ing BATTLESTAR GALACTICA not on this list!??!?! (For the record, BSG would have been Thea's best drama winner) Or how about FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS?

Best Series, Comedy


'30 Rock'


'Family Guy'

'Flight Of The Conchords'

'How I Met Your Mother'

'The Office'


(Emmy Winner: 30 Rock)

Smugglies Winner: The Office

Seriously, 30 ROCK again?!?! Yes, it's funny. Yes, we love Tina Fey. But is it better than the awkward humor of THE OFFICE? Does it have anything on the smart progression and growth of THE OFFICE??? No freaking way. And why isn't IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA on this list? Yeah, it's a show about horrible people, but it's freaking hilarious, decidedly un-PC, and just wonderful all around.

Best Actor, Drama


Bryan Cranston - 'Breaking Bad'

Michael C. Hall - 'Dexter'

Hugh Laurie - 'House'

Gabriel Byrne - 'In Treatment'

Jon Hamm - 'Mad Men'

Simon Baker - 'The Mentalist'

(Emmy Winner: Bryan Cranston - 'Breaking Bad')

Smugglies Winner: Michael C. Hall - 'Dexter'

Again with BREAKING BAD. Come on. If you're gonna go with the damn Emmy staples, at least give it to Hugh Laurie or Jon Hamm again. What the fuck is weird eyebrows dude Simon Baker doing on this list in the first place!? Way to sneak that one in there, CBS.

Best Actress, Drama


Sally Field - 'Brothers & Sisters'

Glenn Close - 'Damages'

Mariska Hargitay - 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit'

Holly Hunter - 'Saving Grace'

Kyra Sedgwick - 'The Closer'

Elisabeth Moss - 'Mad Men'

(Emmy Winner: Glenn Close - 'Damages')

Smugglies Winner: Mary McDonell - 'Battlestar Galactica'

Ok, yeah Glenn Close is awesome. I mean, she's freaking Glenn Close! But we dare anyone to tell us that Mary McDonnell doesn't deserve this award. As President Roslin, Mary McDonnell was a hard ass like Glen Close's character on Damages, but with such vulnerability and subtlety too. It's a crime that she's never been nominated for her work on BSG.

At least Anna Paquin didn't make the list. THEN we would have been gouging our eyes out.

Best Supporting Actor, Drama Series


William Shatner - 'Boston Legal'

Christian Clemenson - 'Boston Legal'

Aaron Paul - 'Breaking Bad'

Michael Emerson - 'Lost'

John Slattery - 'Mad Men'

William Hurt - 'Damages'

(Emmy Winner: Michael Emerson - 'Lost')

Smugglies Winner: Michael Emerson - 'LOST'

We really cannot argue more with the academy's choice for best supporting actor. Michael Emerson is creepy and terrifying and vulnerable and made of pure acting awesomeness. We love the bug eyed bastard. (Although what's with the two BOSTON LEGAL nominees??? Is that show still on?? Yeesh. How about getting Josh Holloway a look here? No? Or James Callis for Gaius Baltar? Or Alessandro Juliani for his heartbreaking portrayal of Gaeta this final season?)

Best Supporting Actress, Drama Series


Rose Byrne - 'Damages'

Hope Davis - 'In Treatment'

Chandra Wilson - 'Grey's Anatomy'

Sandra Oh - 'Grey's Anatomy'

Dianne Wiest - 'In Treatment'

Cherry Jones - '24'

(Emmy Winner: Cherry Jones - '24')

Smugglies Winner: Rose Byrne - 'Damages'

Rose is the real heart of DAMAGES, and we're kinda shocked she didn't take home the award. If Diane Wiest won it, that's one thing, but Cherry Jones for 24??? Really? We also would have loved to see Elizabeth Mitchell for her work on LOST in this category, or how about Tricia Helfer or Grace Park for their work on BSG?

Best Actor, Comedy


Alec Baldwin - '30 Rock'

Tony Shalhoub - 'Monk'

Jim Parsons - 'The Big Bang Theory'

Steve Carell - 'The Office'

Charlie Sheen - 'Two And A Half Men'

Jemaine Clement - 'Flight Of The Conchords'

(Emmy Winner: Alec Baldwin - '30 Rock')

Smugglies Winner: Steve Carell - 'The Office'

Steve Carell proved once again this past season on THE OFFICE that he's not only a comedic genius, but he can act his face off. Remember the picnic finale? His reactions and emotions to seeing Holly again? If you remain unconvinced of Steve Carell's acting ability, go give Dan in Real Life a watch. Then come back and talk to us. Also, love Jemaine Clement in FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS. That show is sidesplittingly funny in such a quirky way. Creative, and awesome.

Best Actress, Comedy


Tina Fey - '30 Rock'

Christina Applegate - 'Samantha Who?'

Julia Louis-Dreyfus - 'The New Adventures Of Old Christine'

Sarah Silverman - 'The Sarah Silverman Program'

Mary-Louise Parker - 'Weeds'

Toni Collette - 'United States Of Tara'

(Emmy Winner: Toni Collette - 'United States of Tara')

Smugglies Winner: Toni Collette - 'United States of Tara'

Because...she's really funny and an awesome actress, and we feel like this list is padded with some not really funny nominees.

Best Supporting Actor, Comedy Series


Kevin Dillon - 'Entourage'

Tracy Morgan - '30 Rock'

Neil Patrick Harris - 'How I Met Your Mother'

Rainn Wilson - 'The Office'

Jon Cryer - 'Two And A Half Men'

Jack McBrayer - '30 Rock'

(Emmy Winner: Jon Cryer - 'Two and a Half Men')

Smugglies Winner: Rex Lee - 'Entourage'

Come on, he's LLOYD!!! Who doesn't love Lloyd? I wouldn't find ENTOURAGE half as entertaining if it wasn't for Lloyd. Also, Rainn Wilson and Tracy Morgan definitely deserve these nods. Great jobs, both of them.

Best Supporting Actress, Comedy Series


Kristin Chenoweth - 'Pushing Daisies'

Kristen Wiig - 'Saturday Night Live'

Amy Poehler - 'Saturday Night Live'

Jane Krakowski - '30 Rock'

Vanessa Williams - 'Ugly Betty'

Elizabeth Perkins - 'Weeds'

(Emmy Winner: Kristin Chenoweth - 'Pusing Daisies')

Smugglies WInner: Amy Poehler - 'Saturday Night Live'

Amy Poehler is fucking funny. Not like "Hi I'm Tina Fey and I'm witty and intelligent but not very funny on my own," but like, "Hi I'm Amy Poehler and I'm about to make you piss your pants."

Best Guest Actor In A Drama Series


Edward Asner - 'CSI: NY'

Ted Danson - 'Damages'

Jimmy Smits - 'Dexter'

Ernest Borgnine - 'ER'

Michael J. Fox - 'Rescue Me'

(Emmy Winner: Michael J. Fox - 'Rescue Me')

Smugglies Winner: Jimmy Smits - 'Dexter'

Pure, unfiltered brilliance. That's what Jimmy Smits was this season as Miguel Prado on DEXTER. Brilliance, baby.

So that’s how we feel about this year’s Emmy awards. What about you? Agree ? disagree?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Marcia Colette: Serious Vampire Kick

Foreword: Among the contributors I have asked to help out with my blog, while I tend to my secret projects, I have urban fantasy and paranormal romance author Marcia Colette, an expert on all matters dreary and creepy as well as a dear friend of mine to take up the spotlight and do her thing. While we are the subject at how awesome Marcia is, she just had a book launch. "Stripped" is her third novel published by Samhain and also on my list of books to review. So I will go back to lurking in the darkness and leave you Marcia and her new obsession.


Lately, I’ve been on a serious vampire kick. From movies to books to even researching the vampire subculture that exists. What is it about this genre that makes a lot of us paranormal folks gravitate toward it?

For me, it’s the mystique. Let’s face it. We’re attracted to curiosities and that’s pretty much what a vampire is or any supernatural creature for that matter. We want to know what makes them tick. What’s it like to be one? How would you live if you were turned into one? All of these questions and more are turning around in a brain and they ignite inquisitiveness fires.

Not all vampire stories or lore have provoked these questions. For instance, I’ve seen the movie Let the Right One In because so many people had raved about how good it was. Perhaps. But like everything else it’s a matter of opinion. I didn’t like it so much. Since it’s a Norwegian film—I think—I’m guessing that something got lost in the translation. Don’t get me wrong. It had its moments. However, it fell flat for me because there wasn’t enough excitement to draw me in.

On the other hand, I just started reading Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead and I’m damning myself for not having picked up this series sooner. It didn’t suck me in with the first page because I found it a little confusing, but it built to the point where if anyone had snatched the book out of my hands, they would’ve found themselves bleeding from the jugular. I love love love this book. Who would’ve thought that high school could be that interesting? The vampire angle is weaved within the story so well that if you were to take it out it would fall apart and be a sad mess.

One thing I’ve discovered during my vampire kick is the lore and world building drives the story forward. However, it’s not the only thing. A good writer can weave such an incredible story around vampires that reused things like sensitivity to sunlight, allergies to silver and crosses, and sucking blood won’t matter.

My love for vampires has been reenergized. Whether that means I’ll be writing a vampire story remains to be seen because I love my shapeshifters. But that’s all I’m saying about that right now. At this point, the only thing I have on my vampire agenda is to bring it back to adult works because I’ve been reading a lot of YA Vampire books lately. If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I’ve already read most of the heavy hitters like Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris, and Laurell K. Hamilton. The same goes for some of the new blood to the genre like Jenna Black, Jeanine Frost, and Jennifer Armintrout, and Jeri Smith-Ready—what’s up with the J’s. *grin*

And if you know of any vampire movies that are coming out, please feel free to share those too.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Carl Vincent: Where has all the mystery gone?

Foreword: I have amazing blogger and friend Carl Vincent over from "Stainless Steel Droppings" to take the spotlight for one day and speak about whatever he pleases. This is the result and I hope that you are as thrilled as I am.

Where has all the mystery gone?

As October approaches here in these United States, my thoughts, and my short story reading habits, turn to H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, M.R. James and the like. By today’s horror standards the yarns crafted by these gentlemen might seem trite, old-fashioned, even downright quaint. For some these stories do not deliver the terror of more contemporary horror masters like Clive Barker or Stephen King. These stories, because of the time that has passed since they first captured the imagination of readers, have a sense of nostalgia to them that admittedly does not light a fire in some readers.

For others, however, these stories burn—they burn with the flame of something captured then that seems much more elusive today: the undiscovered country. Bear with me here, I do have a point even if it does seem a might blurry at the moment. I first ‘discovered’ H.P. Lovecraft two years ago. For all of my adult life up until then I had been a fan of Poe, but had always thought Lovecraft’s work to be, primarily because of unsettling book cover art, far off the beaten path of what I liked in regards to the horror genre. I had a “thanks, but no thanks” attitude towards the man’s work. As hackneyed as it may sound, it really only took that first story to plant the seeds of devotion. What was it about the stories of H.P. Lovecraft in particular that cut right to the heart of me? Sure, he was a talented and prolific author, but it wasn’t just that. It didn’t take me long to realize what it was: H.P. Lovecraft, and other story tellers around that same time period, wrote with a perspective that simply cannot be easily duplicated today. There was still mystery in the world.

In today’s technologically advanced, “there is an explanation for everything” world, we often look back at the late 1800’s and early 1900’s with a far more romanticized view of the way the world was. Though the world certainly was not that simple, and while there was certainly a great deal of marvelous advancement, there was still so much potential for an H.P. Lovecraft setting. Ancient cursed Egyptian ruins, damned bloodlines, books of forbidden knowledge, old gods kept at bay by the very thinnest of protective veils, tombs and caves which, once entered, insured that the adventurer would never be heard from again. One has to believe at the time these were written that many a person partaking of one of Lovecraft’s tales experienced the very exquisite kind of terror that comes from reading something that one feels just might have a slight possibility of being true. What child, or grown up with a childlike heart, doesn’t secretly wish there were ancient, possibly haunted ruins one might come across while wandering through the woods, or caves leading downward to the lair of some ancient evil, or dark tomes of untold knowledge to be found hidden in some great ancestor’s attic library? It is the ability of the author to write a story that allows me to travel back to that time in my imagination and see the story from the protagonist’s eyes that endears authors like H.P. Lovecraft to me. They speak to that spirit of adventure and the unknown that seems hard to come by in this age of advancement.

Of course my lamentations are a little melodramatic. Certainly there are a great deal of unexplained mysteries out there, places that have yet to be discovered. One can hope anyway. But does it feel the same way it would have felt back in the early 1900’s reading Lovecraft’s work? I’m not sure it does. Please feel free to put this down as the addled thoughts of a man intoxicated on cool autumn breezes. You would not be far off in that assessment. However, I have been fascinated with this line of thinking ever since I first read H.P. Lovecraft and this wonderful opportunity to guest post on Harry’s site seemed to me the ideal place to begin to more fully form this idea. I would like to hear from you. What are your thoughts? Are there contemporary authors who are capturing that same sense of the unexplored? Has the increase in knowledge taken away our ability to be superstitious, to tremble at the unexplained, to believe in ghosts? Will stories like those of Poe and Lovecraft continue to haunt readers over the next 100 years as they have over the past? And does it matter if they do not?

Thank you so much Harry for the opportunity. I appreciate you trusting me with your blog for the day! It is a real honor.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Book Smugglers on Pile-o-Shame

Howdy, dear Temple Library Review’s readers! Ana and Thea from The Book Smugglers here, taking care of Harry’s place whilst he is otherwise occupied. We thought about what we were going to talk about here on this here post and decided to go with something that is always at the back of our minds:

The amount of books on our TBR piles.

Just yesterday we saying to each other that really we should be named The Book Lunatics instead of The Book Smugglers because honestly, it is just not possible to read all the books we have. We both read a lot – 3,4,5 books per week, each!, and we spend most of our waking hours reading, and still we have not make so much as a dent in our giant TBR piles (we fondly refer to them collectively as “The Blob” - for The Blob, because like the movie monster, our TBRs have a nasty habit of consuming any available space and growing uncontrollably). Possibly, this lack of dent-making is because we keep buying and receiving books when we should just say no, but alas, we have learnt that there are things one simply can not fight.

Having said that, the worst thing about The Blob is that there are books there that keeping calling to us, books that we want and need to read and still we have can’t find the time! It is MOST aggravating. It is also a reason to be ashamed. So, borrowing the idea from Aidan from A Dribble of Ink, we decided to list our Pile of Shame: those books that we KNOW we should read, that we OWN and still, we have yet to pick them up.

For example: Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy. Everybody and their mothers (and uncles and cousins and second cousins) have read these books – expect for us and we both have The Blade Itself in The Blob. Shame on us!

Or, say, Roger Zelazny’s Amber series which is a classic that Ana really wants to read and what the hell is keeping her from doing just so? Shame!

Or Naomi Novik's Temaire series that everyone raves on and on and on about? Again, both of us have His Majesty's Dragon, but we have not found the time to read it.

Or even Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind! Thea has had this book since basically it first came out. We were supposed to do a joint review for it, but Ana decided to go rogue and read it on her own (leaving Thea incredibly pissed off and hung out to dry). SHAME!

What about when Graeme from Graeme’s Fantasy Book Reviews invited us to read and review The Briar King by Greg Reyes and we did we loved it, bought book 2 and then…. Did not read it? Shame on us!

The one good thing is that there is a light at the tunnel, and if we have anything to say for ourselves is that we will persevere .We recently tackled Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy, for example. Ana also read The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (to which Thea is still aggrieved) and Thea just read Ariel by Steve Boyett.

So yes, there is still hope for us. What about you? Which books do you have in your Pile o' Shame?

Monday, September 21, 2009

Todd Newton "On Criticism"

Foreword: As you might have noticed the steering wheel has been taken from my hands and pretty soon posts will pile up from so many different directions your head will spin. However I super grateful for the small vacation and work on some super secret projects. Anyway today I have an author buddy of mine Todd Newton, whose novel "The Ninth Avatar" I reviewed a while back. He received my commentary very professionally though I certainly baked during my delivery of the review, so I invited him to speak about criticism.

Being a writer requires thick skin. This doesn’t mean you should ignore criticism, merely that you should filter it. Weigh it, and its sources. Used properly, criticism can actually improve your work. Used improperly, it can prematurely end your career (at least in your own mind).

Writers, by our very nature, are insecure people. It’s practically in our DNA. As such, our calling is both a blessing and a curse. We are encouraged to create, to push boundaries and explore where others dare not tread. At the same time our enterprise is not a private one; our work is meant to be viewed by others.

With viewing inevitably comes criticism. Criticism is nothing new but, when it comes to writing, it can feel like the word has been redefined specifically to make your life miserable.
Writing is personal, whether it is a poem, magazine article, or novel. It is an expression of the author and, as such, any perceived attack on the writing could be construed as an attack on its creator. Funny how this doesn’t necessarily work the same when the work is praised, but praise is not criticism.

Critics have a license to be harsh—that’s their job. Your job, as the author, is to accept it. Not necessarily to feel obligated to believe or act on it, but in no universe is it acceptable to argue with it. Protesting criticism makes you look petulant, immature, and unprofessional—no matter how scathing the original remarks were.

I frequently see two types of criticism: malignant and constructive. The former is the negative kind, the “this story sucks” kind, while the latter is more like “this would have worked better had we been told why Character A wanted to kill Character B.” There is no proven method to ensure you only receive the second kind; therefore you must confront both.

The way to deal with criticism is confidence. Not arrogance, mind you, but a sense of self that words can’t destroy. It is perfectly acceptable to be imperfect in someone else’s eyes. Subsequently, it is more than acceptable for your work to be viewed as imperfect.

Our initial drafts, by their very definition, are supposed to be imperfect. The misconception is that our final drafts have sloughed off all possible mistakes and can now blind us with their shininess. Critics exist to reintroduce us to reality, specifically the realities that everything can be improved and that everyone has different tastes.

The way to react to these things is not by assuming failure, but to accept a person’s opinion for what it is (and what it is not). Numerous blockbusting films have had plot problems, not to mention bad writing and acting. Bestselling books have been blasted by critics and fans, alike, but continue to sell. At the end of the day, what ultimately matters is that you completed the work. No critic can take that away, no matter how famous they are.

Do they have their influence? Sure. So do sales figures, and neither is necessarily indicative of the quality of the work—or of the work’s creator. Use your criticism as fuel, to improve your work or try harder next time, and succeed.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reviewer Time: Graeme from "Graeme's Fantasy Book Review"

Another week rolls by and surprise, surprise I am quite punctual for my own blog feature. My own manic routine seemed to agree that this next guest stand no delay in presenting. Without further ado the man sitting on my virtual chair for yet another “Reviewer Time” is none other than Graeme Flory, mastermind behind “Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review”.

I am having quite a hard time listing all the good qualities about this blogger, mainly because they all make me green with envy like for instance the fact that he is based in London, which I find irresistible as a city. Then we move down the list and note that he’s been one of the main cogs in the review-blogging phenomenon and has been one of the three places I read with fervor, when I was introduced to this breed of blogging. The man obviously has a broad taste in a huge plethora of genres featuring even the outlawed urban fantasy and at the same time is a zombie freak. On a personal level I feel as if Graeme is an alternative version of me living in the UK and not several countries to the East. What is truly mind boggling for a solo blogger and extremely beneficial for a devoted reader is the sheer number of posts Graeme produces per month.

Each day there is a review to be found on “Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review” and I think that the reviews are pretty darn good. It’s true that I prefer structure to free style, because more or less I am weird when it comes to organizing, segmenting and dissecting. When I cut loose and go with the flow I try to be funny, side track and ramble, so writing reviews with no structure is difficult mission to accomplish. However in the right hands it can be entertaining, touch a novel’s vital points without revealing too much, place helpful references and share personal experience, while avoiding the rant or monologue. Foreshadowing aside I think you get the gist that such is the case with Graeme, who has developed this review technique as a signature mark since 2007. My favorite two qualities about Graeme’s reviews are 1) his sense of humor that is so very British and manifests in the slightest expressions and 2) the fact that he pulls out a lengthy review without spoilers or details that would demystify the wonder of reading a book. The latter is a quality that speaks more or less about experience in the field.

Apart from reviews, readers are treated to fabulous giveaways that sometimes are even open to international participants and I would hope that trend grows through time. Then there is the linkage: signings from Forbidden Planet, news and book spotlights. I enjoy Graeme’s series of interviews, which are always a sure delight and pleasant introduction to some amazing talents in fantasy and speculative fiction in general.

As you can see diversity is ever present, quality is top notch and quantity doesn’t fall that far behind. What more can you want?

HM: Following the already established tradition at “Reviewer Time” I will be searching for the human aspect behind each blog. So what’s the daily version of Graeme, when he is not cranking reviews at “Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review”?

GF: The daily version of me? Right now I’m sat behind my office desk looking at the lights and wondering how zombie proof the building is; I do this most days. I’m living and working in London and making the most of the time until responsibility catches up with me and I have to grow up. I also read a lot :o)

HM: I feel incredibly stupid for asking this question, but I think that other people might be confused as well one point or another. Graeme is really your real name, right? *keeps fingers crossed about my intelligence*

GF: Your intelligence is spot on! I am 100% Graeme beyond all shadow of a doubt and there’s no going back, a name graft just wouldn’t work…

HM: In the fun spirit of list-making, please tell us three things that people would probably never ever guess about you.

i) My two younger brothers were named after a saint and a king; I was named after a guy from a comedy show (‘The Goodies’) in the seventies. I’m cool with that.

ii) A number of years ago, I swapped smoking for eating junk food. My lungs are still grateful but my stomach isn’t so keen...

iii) I am easily distracted when it comes to thinking of final list ite... Oh look! Pretty flowers!

HM: When and how did you decide that you were cut out for the role of a review blogger?

GF: That’s a really tough question actually. Sometimes I’m still not sure (in terms of looking at what I write and wanting to improve on it) but I guess if there was a time then it came I realized that people were coming back to read what was on the blog. I had to be doing something right so kept on at it. It isn’t something that comes with a job description, you just find a spot where you’re happy and just keep plugging away.

HM: Your blog name is pretty straight forward, but I am curious about your fascination with fantasy, sci-fi and all in between. What’s the story behind your love for the SFF?

GF: It was really a mixture of Doctor Who, on the TV, and going to see Star Wars for the first time when I was a kid. The books came along later (Doctor Who again but also Alan Garner’s ‘Elidor’ and ‘The Hobbit’ as well) but when they did that was where my love for SFF really kicked off with Tad Williams and Michael Scott Rohan leading the way. I’ve never looked back since. Right now, it’s all about Steven Erikson’s ‘Malazan’ series; at least it would be if I could read ‘Dust of Dreams’ during a packed London rush hour commute!

HM: Keeping it professional, how do you feel in the role as one of the chief reviewing sites or generation one as I like to call you guys?

GF: I wouldn’t call myself generation one at all, more ‘Generation Two’… There were loads of people doing this before me; I’ve never really thought of myself as a ‘chief reviewing site’ either but if people see it like that then that’s great; I was given a lot of great advice when I started out so one thing I do try and do is to always be there if someone is starting out and has questions they want to ask. Other than that, I’m just enjoying doing what I’m doing.

HM: As a well known blogger, there must be some pressure associated with keeping a regular output and such. At least I imagine it so. What’s the reality of being famous in the review blogging scene?

GF: Adulation beyond my wildest dreams! Actually, to be totally honest my life hasn’t really changed other than that I’m getting to try out a lot more SFF fiction than I would have done before. Reading books I wouldn’t normally pick up (whether I end up hating them or not) is all part of the fun and I’ve discovered a whole load of new favourites. I love reading so I’ve never found myself under any pressure to keep up to a schedule. Like I said earlier, I’m just enjoying doing what I’m doing.

HM: Looking back in time, when review blogging hadn’t reached such popularity, I gather publishers weren’t as eager to promote through blogs. How were the first months after you launched the site?

GF: Not as bad as you might think. Other bloggers had already blazed a trail, in this respect, so publishers were a lot more open minded about helping me out. The hardest thing was making that initial contact, once that was done then things ran pretty smoothly. Back then, it was more a question of getting myself into some kind of posting routine (‘post scheduling’ is my best friend as far as this goes!) and making the blog look pretty :o)

HM: What’s the thing that pulled you into the world of blogging in the first place?

GF: Being able to discuss books online, forums and so on, was a real breath of fresh air (I came to all this fairly late) after years of browsing the SFF shelves on my own. I wanted to see if I could set up my own little space on the net (I’m not very technical at all so being able to set something up on Blogger felt like a real achievement!) to talk about books and actually get more down than a “I loved this book, it was great!” Blogging is a great way to collect your thoughts and make sense of them; they have to make sense otherwise no-one will read them!

HM: Your reviews are written almost as a recommendation you would make to a friend over a mug of coffee and I enjoy their conversational feel. Was this your sole approach to writing a review or did you try different formats in your earlier posts?

GF: The conversational thing is something that I’ve always tried to go for but it’s only really started to work in the last couple of years. When I first started writing reviews things were a little stilted and awkward but as time went on it all began to flow more smoothly. I really enjoy reading SFF and I’m hoping that a more conversational tone reflects that.

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

GF: If there’s a spare second then you’ll normally find me reading! I commute to (and from) work and a good book is the best way to deal with the stresses of London rush hour (which is the subject for another blog!). We don’t have a television either so there’s always time for reading in the evening. As far as getting the reviews posted, my lunch hour is always good for that :o)

HM: You have done an awful lot of interviews. I personally am addicted to asking people questions, so where does the thrill from interviewing come from for you specifically?

GF: For me it’s a throwback to the days before the internet when all I really had was the book itself and no way to really fathom what was going on in the author’s head when they wrote it. Sure, I could read interviews in papers but they weren’t answering the questions I wanted (dammit!) These days, authors are so much more accessible through the web (at least the more internet savvy ones are) and I’m grabbing that chance with both hands! If I’ve got questions then I’m going to go out there and ask them! None of this relying on other people’s questions anymore, now I’ve got the chance to get the answers that I’m really after…

HM: Questions are essential to creating a good interview. There must be a balance of fun and serious questions. What’s your formula for a good interview and do you easily find inspiration for your questions?

GF: I try and open things up with something slightly irreverent and then go from there; I wing it really; if it’s a book that I have really enjoyed then the questions just spring into being, if I don’t particularly enjoy a book then you won’t see an interview at all! If there is a formula then I guess that it comes down to asking a question that gives the interviewee plenty to talk about in their answer. If you can do that then everything else takes care of itself.

HM: Now it’s time for a “Reviewer Time” classic. Apart from enjoying reading the written word, have you ever had any writing aspirations of your own?

GF: I’ve got a few ideas bouncing around in my head but they’ve never made it onto paper, at least not yet. Life seems to be too full of other stuff to let me get on with it, or am I just making excuses not to give it a go? Erm… watch this space I guess.

HM: You have reviewed some works that feature zombies. After the hype with Zombie Week still high for me, I want to ask a zombie related question. If you were in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, how do you rank your survival chances? Will you plough or become chow?

GF: I used to think that I would be ok in a zombie uprising but now I’m not so sure… The problem is that I’m a real softy. To win through this kind of situation you need to be able to say things like, “I know we’re married but you’ve been bitten and you’re going to become a zombie. I don’t want you coming after me so I’m going to have to shoot you, sorry about that…” When push comes to shove I love my wife too much to shoot her in the head! I’d end up becoming a zombie too.

HM: What is the kind of story that will always engulf you no matter how many times you see it done? Naturally, if you don’t have one, your latest trope obsession applies.

GF: I’ve got a big thing for military sci-fi and fantasy right now (‘The Black Company’, ‘Malazan’ series and anything set in the Warhammer 40K universe). It’s always good to get away from what Kings and Planetary Governors are up to and see what’s going on for the poor bastard who’s been awake (and under attack) for the last four days. I can’t get enough of it.

HM: On the polar end, what is the current trope or tropes that annoy you beyond words?

GF: Feisty yet vulnerable girl falls for the local vampire lord/were-wolf pack leader. I can always see it coming a mile off and I’m left hoping against hope that something out of the ordinary will happen (like feisty vulnerable girl force feeding garlic to the vampire). It hasn’t happened yet…

HM: Have you ever left a book unfinished? I myself can’t often bring myself to quit a book, when I have started it and given a word to review, but time is valuable and reading time is usually scarce.

GF: I generally try and finish whatever I start but sometimes a book just doesn’t work for me and life really is too short to slog my way through something that does nothing for me at all. If it’s not happening then it’s onto the next book. These books don’t get a review as such but they do get a mention…

HM: There has been a wee debate about ranking or not ranking, after Paul of “Blood of the Muse” aroused bloggers. I haven’t seen you react or share your opinions on the matter. As one of the bloggers that do rank their reviews, what can you say about the practice?

GF: Because I’ve got loads on, I generally come in at the tail end of these things when all the useful stuff has already been said. I also make it a rule of mine to try not to react to the more blatant muck raking that happens online (especially when the guy starting it admits to deliberate inflammatory language); I’ve fallen for it before and it’s not worth the hassle. The internet is big enough for people to write reviews in the way that suits them; there will always someone who wants to read what you’ve written. I’ve always ranked my reviews (a throwback to the days when I wasn’t writing so much about each book) and it’s now a habit as well as something that people might expect to see. It’s not actually that big a deal at all, people should just go with whatever they’re comfortable with.

HM: Well it’s curtain time, which means that the closing words are up to you. Hope you had fun.

GF: I had a great time, thanks for having me over and I hope you’re enjoying whatever you’re reading!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

FantasyCon 2009 - Hagelrat

Our darling, wonderful host here has allowed me to cross post my first ever Con experience from Un:Bound.
So here it is:

Sadly I could only escape from married life for the daytime today, not the whole weekend, maybe next year? If nothing else next year it's going in my diary early and I am staying late.

I arrived about 9:45 while things were still pretty quiet, wandered around the dealers room and the art gallery. I'd been instructed by the lovely Steve Savile to give the incredibly talented Daniele Serra a hug, isntead I bought a book of his art work and then lurked outside the artists panel till it finished to ambush him. I did eventually get to pass on the hug, but introduced myself first.
(to our left, Daniele in front of some of his incredible canvases)

I talked to various people in the dealers room and then went to a panel myself "Dead good, or just Dead" about the popularity of vamps in fiction. It covered largely the teen and romance elements, which is fair enough because frankly, that's where the market is at the moment. Panelists were Raven Dane, Steven Erikson, Adam Nevill , Sam Stone & Dave Howe from Telos. It was an interesting panel and there was some good discussion about how a countries climate can inform it's vampire myths.

After that I got to hang our with Mark Charan Newton, Tim Lebbon , Darren Turpin and Mark Chadbourn, just sitting around chatting. Seriously, I was in fangirl heaven! Everyone was soo nice and approachable and really open to chatting to a random blogger. It does feel very much like an industry event, with relatively few fans and bloggers who are not writers or in publishing, but it's small and freindly and i'd seriously recommend it, because unlike the big fan conventions authors at FantasyCon aren't being mobbed by 600 rabid fans so they are all relaxed and happy and willing to give you some time.

for lunch I joined some of the East Midlands Lit Network folks (who you will be hearing a lot more about on Un:Bound in the future) & Steve Tribe. It was lovely to slip away to a tiny cafe in Notts an dhang out and chat in the sunshine, and it was glorius sunshine.

(right, Tim Lebbon & Mark Newton looking serious and writerly)

After lunch I picked up a copy of The Mammoth book of Best New Horror and joined for queue to get Vincent Chong (Mihai, he's lovely and I mentioned i'd seen your interview) and some of the featured authors to sign it, including Ramsey Campbell (squeee, Ramsey Campbell knows my name, squee! My cool, it has abandoned me) and Christopher Fowler, who I had to snap on my phone for gloating rights with the friend who sent me one of his books in the first place. I also managed to push a bookmark on each and every one of them. mwhahahahha. That way when I stalk them online to demand interview they will at least have seen the name before.

I also got an ontro to Mark Yon of SFFWorld which was great, talking to a more experienced and established blogger about our little corner of the webiverse.

Anyway about 4:30 I sloped off into Notts to meet a badly neglected old friend for coffee and head home before my husband forgets what I look like, we've not really seen each other much this week. Apologies to all the people who helped me settle in just to have me slink off without even saying goodbye and especially to Danny Serra, I did look but couldn't see you and needed to head off. Ah but folks, what an awesomely brilliant day, some of you have to come with me next year!

( A slightly dark pic of Chris Fowler)

Ok and the swag, because I know you are dying to know. Wel.l because I joined the British Fantasy Society I get a couple fo free books, but because I paid by paypal and it's arsing around, they will follow on. Otherwise, there was a copy of Tom Lloyd's "Stormcaller" in the really cute canvas goody bag an dsome Hitchikers postcards I can't wait to use. I bought, "Different Skins" by Gary McMahon, Best New Horror anthology, "Illusions" by Daniele Serra, A nice boxed hardback of "Beyond each Blue Horizon" by Andrew Hook and "And god created zombies" by Andrew Hook (it was a good deal, I couldn't resist) I also grabbed any business cards, bookmarks and flyers I could, while leaving a trail of my own bookmarks behind me. Oh, and because I am a reviewer I got a copy of "Geas" by Jonathan Webb in return for promises of a review. Because it's my first Con and I am completely selfish, I am keeping it all mwahahahah. Well I might pass one or two books to other Un:Bound reviewers but I got my name signed on most of them.

I am officially blissed out folks.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BBAW Reading Meme

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

Sadly, I don’t because my coordination will always result in a stain on the pristine pages and I am a bit of a neat freak, when it comes to books, so I avoid it, but I wouldn’t deny a chocolate bar, while reading an e-book.
Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

I would say horrify, but I am certainly too lazy to start writing in books for sure and my hand writing is not one of high aesthetic quality.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?

I use bookmarks usually, but I have chewed all of my collection recently, so know I rely on my memory and stolen business cards from my working place. *grin*
Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?

Fiction, because non-fiction feels like a text book and I have developed an allergy towards these types of books.

Hard copy or audiobooks?

Hard copy or e-book all the way, because to be honest I easily loose track and the reader’s voice can easily become background noise.
If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

I’ll either go with context or just plain list it down and then look it up.
What are you currently reading?

I am still stuck on “Scar Night” by Allan Campbell, which is an amazing novel that life keeps pushing away from my hands. I am also in 1/5 in the “Subterfuge” anthology neglected by poor memory. *sigh*

What is the last book you bought?

“Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Zafon. Regrettably it’s the Bulgarian translation, but better to read it as it is rather than hope to get it in English.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?

Only one sadly. My focus and memory surpass only the overly elderly, which is not much of a compliment and not useful, when I want to read at least 3 books at the same time.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

Not really. I’d say afternoon, because I read then most often, but time of the day doesn’t have much of an effect on my reading speed and habits.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

If I can get all books in a series in a timely manner, I’d go for series, but with my stupid memory I might forget what happened in previous installments, so I’d be more of a standalone guy.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?

I’d like to mention Kaaron Warren a lot recently.

How do you organize your books?

People do that? Like for real...

"Horn" by Peter M. Ball

Title: "Horn"
Author: Peter M. Ball
Pages: 80
Format: Novella
Genre: Urban Fantasy/ Pulp-ish
Publisher: Twelfth Planet Press

Prelude: I decided to add a prelude to each review I write for the kicks of adding a personal angle to the whole reading experience. For one I do like talking too much, but it’s my recent observation that I am becoming a bit too dry in my reviews. “Horn” by Peter M. Ball popped up in my mail the standard for reviewers fashion; I was contacted by the publisher. It’s a good feeling. I wish I could enjoy this novella in one quiet afternoon, but I had to be content with 5 am during my night shift.

What you can expect: “Horn” is a fast and entertaining read, which I can categorize as urban fantasy rooted in the classic pulp fiction, not that I have read much of the latter, but certainly different from the urban fantasy popular now.

Pros: An interesting protagonist, who is older by a decade than most heroines in the genres as well as being a lesbian, which adds a whole new dimension to exploring the story. I enjoyed the world building choices a great deal and the narrative prose fell to my liking.

Cons: The notion that I probably should have read something before the events of “Horn” to immerse myself in the story completely was slightly irritating, but the story presented is understandable. I’d also mention the bestiality scene, although I personally wasn’t affected by it all, but I am jaded like this and perhaps this scene would be tasteless and disturbing to some readers.

Summary: A unicorn in heat can inspire a lot of trouble and doesn’t ex-cop turned private investigator Miriam Aster know the downside to a disturbing event such as Sally Crown’s murder. Called by her former colleague in the force Tim Kesey, and teaming with coroner Heath Morrow, who knows how whacked a case can be with Miriam, Aster submerges in the underground she least wants to communicate with, the magical sort. The beast has been slain, but the culprit behind the unicorn smuggling and the murder remains unpunished, which means only one thing: a painful trip to the past. Even more agonizing, when this past has a name, Anya Titan.

Characters: For me the show was definitely stolen by Miriam Aster, who is the first lesbian I have read about as a narrating character. “Horn” is written by a man, so I couldn’t validate on how accurately the author represented female homosexuality, but to me it was nevertheless a first experience with such a character.

What I find positive here is that her homosexuality is a given fact, which doesn’t take center stage and turn Miriam into a coming-out or struggling to find her place in society protagonist. Sex is only hinted vaguely in Miriam’s past, which leaves her homosexuality as an additional layer to the character. Reading about a woman narrating about a painful relationship with another woman adds a whole new dimension to the law enforcer archetype in urban fantasy pantheon.

Aster is the tough as nails chick, but unlike most urban fantasy heroines, who feel empowered via a mixture of status, a special talent and that irresistible doze of sex appeal, Miriam draws strength from surviving in a male dominated area and building a career in law enforcement, which comes at the expense of great sacrifice. She’s the old dog and gifted sleuth with a dry, raw voice that hides certain charisma a reader most likely would find in a classic 50’s pulp novel. This quality to Aster is what made me pulled me in and see whether she would ignore her better judgment or abide her years of somewhat bitter experience. The inner fight between nobility and self preservation from re-opening old wounds is effortlessly found in between the lines and delivered with skillful simplicity.

The remaining cast doesn’t create the impression of brilliant achievement in characterization, but each and every name popping up brings me to a small era, an accumulation of the 20s and the 50s. Tim Kesey knows how things should be done and he follows his methodology as the strict, but golden hearted officer figure, while heath Morrow is the likeable oddball. Anya Titan is the distressed femme fatale with her own personal tragedy, while Mister Drabble to me embodied that slick criminal mobster vibe.

Story: “Horn” is more or less about the small elements that build the bigger picture than the plot itself. The story is pretty straight forward, which I don’t mind. Following an investigation can be a treat under the right circumstances and such is the case here. Ball’s prose is brisk and reflective of Miriam’s temperament as well as it manages to transport me to an authentic pulp atmosphere, where a certain kind of class hung in the air and in between the lines.

I can’t say that “Horn” is novella that takes pride on its story line. The plot is pretty straight forward and the reader will stick closely to Miriam as she starts from the crime scene moves to suspects and then uncovers the truth, which here is bitter, sad, avoidable and a shame all together blended to create a successful suspension of belief. Favorable here is also the world building, which is subtle and shaded into our own world one magical piece after another. I like the deviation in the belief that pixies and unicorns are loveable creatures and instead here are portrayed as vile bastards. The innocence behind the magical realm full of elves, fairies and wondrous beasts has withered and replaced by the gritty, venomous air that is hovering in our dark alleys.

I did feel that I needed to have read more to truly understand the complexity and depth of Miriam’s pain connected with Anya Titan, but it’s a small subtle tease that doesn’t lead to anywhere. Another element of “Horn” I sense that would cause problems with readers apart from a gay protagonist would be the bestiality scene, though I personally do believe that being impaled on a unicorn’s literal horn is not a sexual act, even if in this novella it served as a reproductive act.

The scene itself is very brief and the details provided do not cause nausea, but they do disturb and this serves a purpose naturally. Thinking about why the author wrote this scene took me to the theme of loss of innocence. Miriam Aster has loved, lived life to fullest. The illusion that life is a wondrous place is shattered once she spirals downwards and life has shown its ugly side. Magic is as real as you and me, but it’s not that sweet escape from the trouble, but a nightmare waiting to feast on you. This scene as disturbing as it is, but hammers the final nail in innocence’s coffin, both in life, in love and in magic.

The Verdict: I would recommend this, because there are certainly themes incorporated here that are usually overlooked or presented in a more acceptable way. “Horn” lurks in the dark spectrums of speculative fiction, where you can expect everything and anything. I’d say this is an excellent read for the brave that wish to push their limits.
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