Sunday, February 28, 2010

[Reviewer Time] Peter William from 'Ubiquitous Absence'

Blog: Ubiquitous Absence [puzzling, but sophisticated name]
Founder: Peter William
First Post: February 28th 2009 [rookie]
Average Number of Posts per Month: 6,83 [based on the whole 2009 and 2010; I know it is not the definition of frequent blogging, but the man has a soul-sucking job]

Genres: Fantasy as in Epic & Traditional [good & steady focus]

Highlights: He is the mastermind behind the Sunday Night Spotlight, which is a light-hearted and funnier rip-off version of Reviewer Time. Book Bloggers are invited and interviewed.

Why do I bother?: I have been kindly invited as a guest on his feature and it is only the right thing to do and return the favor. We also had quite a few nice chats and he is a decent guy.

My Two Cents: I think I will be short in my speech about Peter William and his blog, mainly as the site’s name suggests Peter is largely absent. He’s been around for a year and he has left only 82 posts to be remembered by. By the way, I am actually posting this on the day his first post went live. Congrats to making it so far, even if it is with such a pitiful number of posts. I am certainly hopeful that with this new year you will have more time to devote to your blog.

But is being deprived from the joy to blog acceptable? I say, HELL NO. Reality should offer at least two hours daily to us bloggers. I am contemplating upon releasing a petition. Who is with me?

Anyway, let’s move to the more important aspects of this post. I will hope to answer the very important, if not existential, question: Why should you add Peter William’s creation to your Google Reader? The most obvious answer is that ‘Ubiquitous Absence’ is easy to follow [not updated regularly and all] and will not cause your Reader to go overweight such as certain content machine guns.

On a more serious note [I vow to not be a dick], when Peter has the time to post a review, he does a decent job. I have been adding books to my wish lists [I am that cool; I have several] because of his reviews, which are quite fast to read, easy to digest and a good basis for me to make a decision about whether a book is good for me or not. It is true that I am not an expert on epic fantasy, but I do have basic intuition. Also, the fact that the focus falls on just one genre [subgenre, really] translates that the guy knows his genre, loves it and is competent as a reader, thus as a reviewer.

Another benefit is the Sunday Night Spotlight, which is more or less a rip-off… no way I said that already [I broke my promise, I know. I am a dick.]. The truth is that it is, indeed, a fun feature to follow, because it angles at different topics and creates a lighter atmosphere. Length and introduction vary than my own and are just one fun pill that will take a manner of minutes and not a steady half an hour with my epic ramblings and questions, which is quite positive in this ADD and time-obsessed culture. Not to mention that he invites intriguing guests.


Hello Peter, welcome to my virtual chair and behold the experience that is Reviewer Time [insert evil laughter]. How are you feeling? Good? I figured that much. Anyway, let’s kick this thing off with a few questions about you. What do you do, when you do not read & blog?

As a shadowy miscreant of dubious character, I conduct numerous questionable endeavors. Actually, I work in commercial property management, with six buildings across three separate hospital campuses. My wife and I have six month old DominicWilliam to stuff with food, change, wash, rinse and repeat. When I can get bonus “Pete” time, I’m throwing darts in a league hosted in local pubs (ours having some seriously sick award winning brews).

It is safe to assume that you are addicted to reading. Correct? [insert mumbled reply] Yes, I am as always correct. However, when did your fixation with literature began?
I suppose admitting my addiction is the first towards real help, but I don’t want no stinking help. When I was in the second grade, an uncle gave me the entire Chronicles of Narnia. Then, in the third grade, our teacher read us The Hobbit during reading time. By the fifth grade, a new student to our school from the UK introduced us to Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. That set me on the track to our favorite little genre, but what started my affair with reading was my mother. During summer, after chores were completed, we had all kinds of time to ourselves – all the adults were at work. Trouble was found and enjoyed by all. My mom’s solution was simple, assign a book to be read and she would quiz each one of us at the end of chapters. After we were fine with reading books instead of wreaking havoc (ahhhhh! That’s not fair!!!!), we got to pick our own stories. That first assignment was Jack London’s Call of the Wild.

Anyway, what sparked your love for fantasy? What is that reason that makes you return every time to speculative fiction?

The works that cemented my love for fantasy were The Lord of the Rings, Donaldson’s First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and Williams Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. I continue to return to fantasy because, for me, it represents the imagination unbound. The sense of limitlessness I experience, when reading fantasy fiction, is liberating, if even nothing more than self-delusion.

You are the editor of your very own fledgling review, the so called ‘Ubiquitous Absence’ [the first part of which I always manage to misspell]. Tell us how that blog came to be and why in the world you had to give it such a complicated name.

I had seen numerous SF&F blogs and found them to be a lot of fun to look through. Two things then struck me: 1) I could use a blog to regularly post to, in order to return to a habit of writing regularly and, 2) it would be fun and seemed to have a degree of difficulty just low enough for me to handle. The title is indicative of my level of consciousness during certain phases of its own intermittent nature.

As I see, you are soon to celebrate your first year as a reviewer blogger. Can you cast some insight to what is changing in regards to blogging and how the journey so far has been?

With time the whole thing improves. Seriously, I’m just ‘winging it.’ After almost a year though, things have started to draw together and it’s becoming something more blog-like. The journey so far has been great.

Have you been blessed with your first ARC, yet? I think for many people it’s a rite to adulthood in the blogosphere.

Yes. I have received John D. Brown’s Servant of a Dark God, Laura Bynum’s Veracity and Liane Merciel’s The River King’s Road: A Novel of Ithelas. At first, I was a bit nervous that they might be hellaciously lousy books, since someone bothered sending them to me, but was pleasantly surprised by the quality of each debut.

Of course, that and the occasional scandal about a negative review or some inappropriate statement. Have you had one of those too?

Not really. I have had one negative review that I knew would be unpopular, because of plenty of great reviews of the same work. It was Daniel Abraham’s The Price of Spring. On the boards I visit, I copy and paste the text of the review in appropriate threads. When I posted it at Westeros, it sort of lit up one person, who mellowed out very quickly and was quick to post that his response wasn’t meant to offend. After a couple of days, I opened an email directing me to moderate a comment from the blog left by….Daniel Abraham. Uh-oh. It was a bit like going to the principal’s office. Seriously, Abraham was nothing but extremely professional and gracious in his comments, a true class act.

Say, looking at your blog, I see that you are a man of few posts [dastardly clever, ain’t I?]. What keeps you so busy and away from your online destiny? Ultimately, do you not feel discomfort or pressure to expand your activity and increase the frequency, with which you post?

No, not really. I know I should be trying to drive traffic, but it’s just not a priority for me at the moment. In all honesty, I’m trying to use the blog to sharpen my chop. My real passion is to tell stories. For the time being, I’m moved to express that passion using writing as my outlet.
You swear that you have not copied my Reviewer Time in order to create your Sunday Night Spotlight, but where did you get the idea for that one and so far are you satisfied?

Many moons ago, I spoke with Ken over at Neth Space. I had considered putting interviews together, of authors, editors, bloggers and other such genre associated personages and asked Ken if I could interview him. He told me that he had just been interviewed by you (curses, I would have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for you pesky kids) and that I ought to beware doing anything too closely resembling Reviewer Time. I looked up the segment on Temple Library Reviews and thought, “Whoa, this guy gets traffic. Obviously, my reviews will be nothing like his.” So far, it’s been rather fun. I get to ask the questions that come to my mind about each participant. In reading their blogs, I often wonder what makes them the bloggers they are, and want keeps them going.

Yes, well I am superior in the review bloggers category. Though, I think Sam Sykes may steal the show from me, that bastard. For real everybody with a SFF review blog do better than me so I know what you mean. But who would you love to interview?

Oh, there’s a few in there. I would like to interview Tad Williams. Without a doubt, my favorite living author. It’s probably because of the sentimentality I have for past experiences. I read Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, in hard cover, upon release several years (20? – how’d that happen) ago.

I would like to interview Sam Sykes, because he is, clearly, a lunatic.

I would like to interview GRR Martin. Martin is, in his field of endeavor, famous and successful, but then you read a blog (let’s just say it’s Pat’s – The Fantasy Hotlist) where he is portrayed as a gracious, friendly and humble man. I love interacting with people like that. It revitalizes my goodwill (in perpetually short supply, I’m told) toward members of my species. The biggest problem there is that he’s a New York fan. The first 30 years of my life were spent growing up a quarter-mile from a cemetery hosting 7 generations of my family in the Champlain valley region of Vermont (i.e. New England). I’ve been down with the Red Sox, Patriots and Bruins since the late 70’s. I don’t do New York.

I would also like to interview Joe Abercombie because he might be a lunatic, but you just can’t tell. After all, it’s the quiet ones you have to worry about.

Do you want to be a published author? If yes, what do you write?

Yeah, I do. Currently, I’ve not been writing much (curse you real world!!!). I’ve been involved in a couple of flash fiction runs the past couple of months over at SFFWorld. I want to put a couple of shorts together that I think will sell. My biggest problem, is the novel(s) length of fiction (fantasy) I’m anticipating. I’m struck by various snags that have been resolved only recently. One of the things restraining progress is how I want the whole thing to unfold. I’m considering several stand alone projects, introducing the reader to the setting, cultures and characters involved (each stand alone concentrating on a particular character/storyline), before drawing events together in the main saga.

When I try to estimate words, chapters, books the main saga seems to be 3 to 4 books. Depending on how I fix the outline concerning a couple of characters, the stand alone projects I’ll start with could be 5 or more. Until I fix the outline and certain glaring problems therein, I won’t really be able to nail that down.

Judging by the sheer number you want written and the mention of cultures, I gather you speak about epic fantasy? Is this your first and strongest love and is there a genre, which you would also love to try?

I’d say alternate world fantasy is my favorite, followed by epic fantasy. I would also like to try a blend of fantasy and horror. I’ve seen it attempted but….lets just say I wasn’t scared. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, it just means it has a higher degree of difficulty.

What are your biggest pet peeves, when it comes to your favorite genres? What eats your soul like acidic maggots and dooms you to reader dissatisfaction [ominous, eh]? And do you keep an eye out to avoid them in your fiction.

My biggest pet peeve is authorial sock-puppetry for the sake of issuing a social, political, theological and/or philosophical commentary. If I have to read page after endless page of dialogue thinly camouflaging the author’s pet philosophy (i.e. screed), then that book won’t get finished. Wasting money, or time, on reading a book that is really an axe being ground, for the sake of advocacy, is a trap to avoid at all costs.

There is quite the debate going on with eBooks and eReaders and god knows how many e & i affixed in front of words. How do you see the invasion of electronics into literature and what is your take on the eBook pricing as well?

In my largely uninformed opinion, it is an unmitigated mess. There are numerous parties attempting numerous things to the effect of no great result to the consumer, as yet. I think it will ultimately become something that gets ironed out, but I would bet that there is plenty of stumbling left to go.

A recent interesting topic, started yet again by Gav at Nextread, is whether or not the world needs more book bloggers and whether being fewer of us and more content a better ratio. I imagine that publicists will have a tough time deciding, where to ship review copies and author might find themselves overwhelmed with interview invitations, and reviewers might recycle the opinion on the same subject until the readers start rolling their eyes. But the question remains. Your take.

The internet, like any environment, has a carrying capacity constructed by several factors, including review copies available, readers, blog viewers, authors, publicists, etc. When this environment is carrying more bloggers than possible, it will correct itself. Some will fade away through changing priorities in life, discouragement and too numerous to list other reasons. Also, there is always a Bell-curve. Some blogs are simply better than others. Better for viewers, or better for publicists, or better for authors, and on, and on. Those that can’t find a niche in which to thrive will be, simply, hobbyists with low traffic (e.g. that clown over at Ubiquitous Absence).

Let’s say that you can choose which two authors to fight a death match. Who would you like to see fight against each other.

Oh, that’s easy! Joe Abercrombie and Brent Weeks (or Sussex Days, Kent Years – whatever he’s going by nowadays). Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie; Say he doesn’t waste time on a goatee. (j/k everybody – no authors were harmed in the construction of my lame attempt at humor).

If you could have a super power, what would it be?

I love this question! I’ve played this one out in my mind for years. My current favorite power would be that of Hiro Nakamura – to be Master of Time and Space. I could return to 1986, sit in the stands at Fenway, stop time, put the ground ball in Buckner’s glove, reseat myself and watch the Red Sox drop the evil NY Mets like a sack of dirt. I would then take a jaunt into the future, read the remainder of ASoIaF, return to the present and torture everyone with vague references full of misleading innuendo about how the rest of the story unfolds.

You save a genie from a pack of greedy nuns carrying machine guns. She grants you three book related wishes. What would you wish for?

Hmm, I would probably wish for the next books from the authors I treasure most in sf&f. The first would be Tad Williams’ Shadowrise. The second would be Stephen R. Donaldson’s Against All Things Ending. The third one is a book whose cover art is green in color and there’s a dragon on the front. Yeah, that one.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

[Interview] Blake Charlton author of Spellwright

Who: Blake Charlton

Bio: Debut novelist and medical student, Blake Charlton is a new face in both fields working to establish a dual career in fiction and medicine.

Currently, Blake is writing fantasy novels, science fiction short stories, and academic essays on medical education and biomedical ethics.

Work: Spellwright Trilogy [Spellwright - March 2010]

Why: I have been hearing about 'Spellwright' for ages [well, since August] and then Blake has been an excellent and friendly chap, who has been a Twitter buddy. His blog is bizarre in the good sense and his writing is enchanting. And he is a doctor. Is that not a reason enough. Behold the funny interview that suddenly became serious.


Blake, thank you for agreeing to my small torture session. I hope this interview doesn’t scar your mind beyond repair [readers, he signed release forms. I am not liable.]

I called in to put a neuro surg room on notice. We’re all good to go.

Let’s get straight to be point, Charlton. You have written a novel about a young man who has a disability approximating severe dyslexia, and who must come to terms with his disability. You yourself are dyslexic. I bet everybody asks you this, but it is inevitable. How does one triumph over dyslexia to join a profession in which dyslexia makes it darn impossible to break though in?

I am starting to get that one a lot. And, to cut right down to it, you’re asking about how one overcomes a significant disability. It’s tough to answer, because almost every disability is a mismatch between one’s abilities and one’s environment. Here’s a fact that drove this home for me: because its orthography is so spectacularly, mind-blisteringly illogical, English produces more dyslexics than languages with logical orthography, like Italian. Analogies for this ‘abilities and environment mismatch’ idea exist for many, but not all, other disabilities. To further muddle things up, most every combination of individual abilities and environment is unique. One the biggest challenges I have and continue to face as a disabled person is the lack of others in the same situation. The strategy that has helped me the most has been to pay keen and honest attention to both my abilities (or lack thereof) and my environment. Everyone has to work around their weak points; that’s also true for disabled folk, just more urgently and emphatically so.

Also, I absolutely have to hand most of the credit for my successes to my friends, teachers, and (most especially) family. I am very aware of how privileged I have been to have a family with the determination and financial means to help me through my disability. My desire to give back to the world that gave me so much inspired me to pursue medicine as a career.

In Spellwright cacography (the protagonist’s disability) spawns dangerous consequences that can destroy property and harm others. Do these catastrophes waiting to happen in your made-up world reflect a metaphorical message that although outwardly harmless to others, real world dyslexia is a serious issue in our culture, driven by information?

Quite the opposite! Both technology (spellcheckers, voice recognition, etc) and recognition of dyslexia as a valid diagnosis needing early educational intervention have enabled many dyslexics to overcome their disability. I would never be where I am today if I hadn’t been part of ‘generation zero,’ the first group of learning disabled students in the US to be systematically evaluated for dyslexia and then separated into a special ed classroom. I have the greatest respect for dyslexics (and people with other disabilities) who learned how to adapt to their demanding environments without systematic help.

Because the likeness between Nicodemus and you [on a certain level; I bet you do not need to save the world from an epic war {or do you?!}] did you not hesitate to reveal so much of your personal self in that character? Writers are usually private people and not the center of attention [usually, not wanting to be it], so wasn’t baring your trials and tribulations scary for you? Ultimately, where did you draw the line between him and you?

Nicodemus operates in a world that is larger-than-life when compared to ours. And you’re right that there is a strong biographical element in the creation of his disability. When I write him, I mine my own struggles with disability—the frustration, the triumphs, the self doubt, the quest to find meaning in the face of disability. This is Nicodemus’s single most unique feature and likely the most memorable feature of my life story. So it’s natural that folks see him as a sort of translation of myself into a fantasy book. But other than sharing the same essential personal crisis, we do not share the same personality.

Admittedly, a personal crisis is a major force in developing character, but it is not the sole determining factor. Nico is a more circumspect person than I am. His “character voice” is more subdued than mine. He’s more sympathetic, more risk averse, and more likely to keep his head down and do ‘the safe thing.’ (It’s likely a good thing he’s less inclined to puns and lewd jokes than I am.) Of course, situations conspire against Nicodemus that force him into larger-than life dilemmas and allow him to shine. So, in ultimate answer to your question, it’s by distinguishing between personal crisis and personality that I’m able to easily divide myself from my protagonist.

One ancient bit of advice is to write what you know. So you wrote what you know about, thus creating Nicodemus. But you are also a man of modern medicine. Do you see yourself doing a novel with a medical undertone?

At its heart Spellwright is most definitely biomedical. The original inspiration for the world came to me when I was an undergraduate studying biochemistry. I was amazed by how much nucleotides and polypeptides are like written languages. It’s a bit metaphorical, but if you squint at these biopolymers, you can see that they consist of letters and words that might be translated or transcribed. They might be rendered useless or harmful by a misspelling—a mutation. That last idea, that a misspell might cause a disease, struck a chord in the part of me that had been struggling for so long to decrease the number of misspells I produced. It was then that I conceived a world in which the written word could become alive. The story I spun in that world was derived from my struggles with dyslexia. But in writing the story, I found myself drawn to study other conditions such as blindness and epilepsy. First as an educator then as a medical student, I gained clinical knowledge of some of these conditions. More importantly I saw how my students and patients learned to cope, in both a practical and psychological sense. I saw a lot of things that were upsetting, at times heartbreaking, but I saw a great deal that inspired. And, as all authors do, I mined what I saw for material for my fiction.

Speaking of medicine, I know a few friends who hope one day to be called doctors and as far as I know studying to become a medical professional sucks the bone marrow out of a person. How do you manage to advance in this field, write and involve yourself in the promo circus around your debut? I sense a cloning facility involved [and nobody will tell me].

It is all very taxing. But there are plenty of medical students out there who are also starting a family, or physicians who conduct research while attending in the hospital, or full time parents who also write novels. In my opinion, it’s a matter of excluding distractions and filling your life with only the things about which you’re passionate. When you really do love something, it allows you to put in the extra mile, stay up an hour longer, write that next sentence.

The clones help, but they can be a real bother. I mean, when you got a bunch of white bald guys in white coats wondering around…well, it’s only a matter of time before one of them goes all Lex Luthor and we have to put him down. *Sigh* Good henchmen are so hard to find these days.

Is ‘Spellwright’ your very first novel or do you have misshapen literary carcasses littering your past?

SPELLWRIGHT was not only the first novel I wrote, it was also the first bit of fiction I ever attempted. The story of how I was first published is pretty strange. At 21 I started out on the story. Naïve about the publishing industry, I threw myself into the novel. I was exceedingly fortunate to find an agent who encouraged me to rewrite the work. Later I sold it to an editor who bought the book with the understanding that I’d rewrite major parts of it. It means that in some form or another, I’ve been working on this book for nearly a decade. It’s been a long and very strange journey.

There are so many magical languages that pop up through ‘Spellwright’ and I am hopeful that there will be more surprises to come. Can you foreshadow a bit what can readers expect in SPELLBOUND like for instance when the book will be published? Seriously, I need to know.

Even a third year medical student knows that wonky prognostication can get someone in real trouble. So I’m gonna have to stick to the facts alone of SPELLBOUND. Many authors are able to write their second book right after they sign the contract for their first. Medical school and the medical licensing exam put a freeze on my book two until last September. But since then, my research fellowship has allowed me to focus on writing. As of today, the SPELLBOUND manuscript sits at 77,000 words and is coming along nicely (knock on wood). I’m expecting it to come in at, or maybe a little above, 120,000 words.

Without spoiling, I can say that this book takes place in and around the Spirish City of Avel. Much of the action concerns the Spirish Hierophants, whose magical language can move within cloth, and once cast out of cloth it creates a powerful wind. So far, I’m having wonderful fun exploring what could be done with such a language. There are the obvious, mercantile applications, such as providing thrust for naval vessels. But hierophants would also be able to create elaborate kites to allow them to glide within strong winds, and write serpentine warkites to protector the cities, and craft airships capable of flying authors across great distances. I’m looking to do a bit (but not tons) more world building, explore the economic and cultural effects the magic-system has had on the different kingdoms. This time round Nicodemus shares the stage with a character named Francesca, a young physician whose wit and too-clever-by-half mouth gets her into more trouble than she can get out of. I can’t be certain that things will stay this way--story being the most liable to revision—but SPELLBOUND is likely to have less technical development of the magic-system, and more romance, action and intrigue.

Let’s say that you are short on money and suddenly I pop up as a magical money-paying publisher and say in a most glorious voice ‘I will give you money and you will write me a novel to my desire and device’ and the novel will be historical paranormal romance between a Catholic nun and a shape-shifting unicorn, where the most exciting thing is the nun sneaking from the monastery to meet the unicorn in the forest. And the love is more platonic and the zenith is when the characters touch their hands. Would you do it, if the pay would make all the financial woes go away?

In a heartbeat. And I’d titled it “Shifto the Unicorn and the Platonic Love Nun in the Quest to Pay Off Blake’s Student Debt.”

[Review] 'Spellwright' by Blake Charlton

Title: Spellwright
Writer: Blake Charlton
Pages: 352
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Standalone/Series: First in The Spellwright Trilogy
Publisher: Tor Books

Nicodemus is a young, gifted wizard with a problem. Magic in his world requires the caster to create spells by writing out the text . . . but he has always been dyslexic, and thus has trouble casting even the simplest of spells. And his misspells could prove dangerous, even deadly, should he make a mistake in an important incantation.

Yet he has always felt that he is destined to be something more than a failed wizard. When a powerful, ancient evil begins a campaign of murder and disruption, Nicodemus starts to have disturbing dreams that lead him to believe that his misspelling could be the result of a curse. But before he can discover the truth about himself, he is attacked by an evil which has already claimed the lives of fellow wizards and has cast suspicion on his mentor. He must flee for his own life if he’s to find the true villain.

But more is at stake than his abilities. For the evil that has awakened is a power so dread and vast that if unleashed it will destroy Nicodemus... and the world.

‘Spellwright’ and Blake Charlton registered on my radar since August 2009. Given that Aidan from ‘A Dribble of Ink’ spent a series of posts dedicated to this debut’s path to publication, my interest intensified and with each new notification I began to anticipate March and read this book. Quite naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to read a ‘Spellwright’ ARC. I wasn’t disappointed and I am happy to report that the good rep given by several well-known authors is not artificial marketing hype. Quite the opposite. ‘Spellwright’ is my February’s top read and in my list of all-time favorites.

Although fantasy has adopted a violent, gritty mantle with almost irredeemable characters and exploration of the darkness, which lurks in the human soul, ‘Spellwright’ ploughs straight through well trodden paths and will ring a very nostalgic bell. The villains have no qualities to suggest any excuse for their actions and the protagonists are drawn and sworn to subdue the arising chaos. Lives are at stake. The world as it is known is threatened. There is a mission and prophecies, which will be fulfilled by a few destined ones. Sounds familiar in general, but rest assured that clichés associated with these fundamental for the genre tropes are not hiding in between the pages. It’s all a matter of execution and Charlton is a natural. His prose is a rare breed of scholarly sophistication and lyrical streaks, which grabs the mind, ensnares it and makes sure that the reader will keep reading.

The biggest delight in ‘Spellwright’, however, is the magic system. Fantasy without magic as an element would be crippled and in almost every magic system, language and words enable spellcasters to perform miracles or inflict pain. Charlton takes this basic trait of magic a step further and devices a world, where languages hold the power. Wizards are linguists, devoted to their studies. Each language follows a different logic, owns separate syntax, formulas and set of runes and serves a different purpose. So far in ‘Spellwright’ the reader is treated most to Magnus, a language with effects on the material, and Numinous, a language that affects light and energy. However, we are also introduced to other languages with other properties and other dimensions, because each spell must be cast from the spellcaster’s muscles and becomes both visible and corporeal.

With this I am just scratching the surface. There more evolved concepts such as constructs, which are sentient and complex spells with a shape and a function. Durable metaspells and powerful godspells. Quaternary thoughts, which enable a person to think unthinkable thoughts and the potential danger, when handling these languages. Precision and skill are required at all times or otherwise the spellwrights may end up hurting themselves with spells, which have exploded and backfired. There are no inconsistencies within this magic system, which is also a possibility due to the high complexity involved.

As drawbacks here, I would point out that the reader must be patient about explanations, regarding several spells or other ideas as far as magic and the history behind it is concerned. Because the story uses the Starhaven academy and the protagonists are academics, what they narrate about is known to them and unnecessary to explain, when it pops up. I had a few moments, where I had to use the logic within the world to piece what a spell’s purpose was, but explanations were provided at an appropriate moment for their justification. At the same time the reader must be patient with the stage-setting, explanatory paragraphs and the bits and pieces of information until the world becomes familiar enough, so that the action sequences do not raise eyebrows in confusion, when spells start flying around. I personally had no issues with any of this and welcomed the extensive world-building.

‘Spellwright’ is as much scholarly as it is dynamic. However, untypical for epic fantasy, the events in the novel transpire on Starhaven Academy’s grounds. There are no parties with the hard task to travel across the world. Nevertheless Starhaven’s massive size and labyrinthine architecture bring danger and the characters never know what they can expect from the halls and bridges, spanning from tower to tower. Speaking of the characters, I was intrigued by the majority of the characters, primary and secondary alike.

Nicodemius’ struggles with his condition to misspell magic texts are earnest and heartfelt. His soul is torn between the reality he has known that he is a retard in a world, where literacy is supreme, and the hope that perhaps he is not supposed to be cacographic, but whole. Normal and capable, not powerless. Not someone, who people look down upon. To a level everybody can relate to such an emotional turmoil and since Charlton himself is a dyslexic, the internal conflict about one’s worth packs a bigger punch, because it has been written by someone, who has first-hand experience. However, Nicodemius would not be as intriguing, if it were not for the blind Magister Agwu Shannon with a violent political past and his construct bird Azure, Amadi and her intrusive and authoritarian persona, Deirdre and her devotion and selflessness in order to please her goddess, Fellworth and his nefarious schemes, etc.

Perhaps, my only issue with ‘Spellwright’ is how the novel ended. While the culmination was spectacular and rich in revelations that foreshadow events to come, I would have preferred the novel ended there, while I was still high on the adrenaline and my interest was in my highest. However, the story continues well past that, covering Nicodemius’ training for the upcoming battles, which will define the world’s fate. I feel that this would have better fitted the sequel ‘Spellbound’, because it suggests a buildup for a new adventure.

Verdict: [A++] I am quite biased, when talking about this book. It appealed to me on so many levels to a point, where even if there are serious issues with ‘Spellwright’, I would never spot them. Charlton has converted a life-long fan in me and I am recommending ‘Spellwright’ left and right to everyone. Certainly a superior book and a promising debut, which most likely will result in a healthy and long-lived career.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dead Batteries

Right now, I should have had a few more posts up. A special review and interview to follow along with some other more discussion posts, but it would seem that the Duracell batteries I had in my head finally burned out and I need to recharge.

There have been things happening in my life, which I preferred to ignore by reading, writing and reviewing like the world would soon end, because nothing depended on me. All depended on time, luck and chance, while in the mean time I felt like the man from The Pit and the Pendulum. As Rihanna sings ‘The Wait is Ova’ *throws hands real gangsta*. I must act, so to say, and I won’t have the time or the state of mind to be obsessive about blogging, though I enjoy my obsession with posts and such. *sigh*

The trip to the real world won’t last as much and hopefully from Saturday you will see me back online with the regular programming.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

[Art Pick] 'Alice in a Cup' by Oliver Pietern

Anticipating the new 'Alice in Wonderland' to arrive on my doorstep. Movies tend to be extra sluggish, when moving to Eastern Europe. I know it will be a bit of a let down, because it is more or less resembling Narnia, but it will be colorful and it will star a Depp that looks like a Madonna right down to the gap in those teeth. To celebrate my fan-mode I have picked 'Alice in a Cup' by Oliver Pietern.

[Review] 'Nyphron Rising' by Michael J. Sullivan

Title: Nyphron Rising
Writer: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 362
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Third in The Riyria Revelations
Publisher: Ridan Publishing


War has come to Melengar. To save her kingdom, Princess Arista runs a desperate gamble when she defies her brother and hires Royce and Hadrian for a dangerous mission. As the power of the Nyphron Empire grows, so does Royce's suspicion that the wizard Esrahaddon is using the thieves as pawns in his own game. To find the truth, he must unravel the secret of Hadrian's past...what he discovers could change the future for all of Elan.

Where ‘The Crown Conspiracy’ and ‘Avempartha’ read as standalones ‘Nyphron Rising’ would be a great deal of a challenge, if the reader has not invested the time and resources to read the first two installments in the Riyria Revelations. Events are tied and the actions along with the consequences they spawn will shape the course for the characters in the upcoming installment, which I am oh-so-anticipating to read. As the natural halfway-point for this six volumes series, ‘Nyphron Rising’ is a middle book and as such its major storylines do not resolve, instead set the stage for the culmination in the soon to follow novels in the series.

To further back up my claim the storylines do not seek a way to collide into each other and run neck to neck with any visible connection. On one hand we follow the coronation of Thrace as Empress and the resurrection of the Empire, now that the heir has presumably been found. However, the reader’s shown the heart of the Empire and its true face, which is not something pretty. As far as I grasp it, the very first incarnation of the Empire served to the well-being and the unity of its subjects against the dangers that were the other races in the past. This incarnation is more about greed and the ambition of cunning with their schemes to own, to have, to restore and rule what they think is entitled to them. The clergy it would seem is not so innocent or pure, especially master Machiavellian character, bishop Saldur, now pronounced as regent to the Empire. To emphasize how cold-hearted the men running the Empire are, we witness the de-humanizing treatment Thrace, now named Modina, receives. It was an interesting inside look into the relationship between Amilia and Modina, given the fact that the Empress suffers from detachment from the real world and is practically mute.

The other storyline is more dynamic and action packed, following princess Arista as she tries to prove her worth to her brother and her usefulness to Melegar, which is now at war with the Empire and not doing an admirable job, due to the lack of support from other kingdoms. The manner she chooses to do that is by hiring the Riyria and go on an almost suicide mission to strike a treaty with the nationalists. On the outside the storyline provides dealings with dubious characters, they face betrayal and they get caught in an uprising, organized and executed by Arista herself in Ratibor. However, on the inside this is a profound character study and development. It seems to be the heart of ‘Nyphron Rising’ as we see key characters learn more about themselves and solve dilemmas.

The biggest surprise was the focus on Arista’s development from spoiled royalty to an actual human individual, who is touch with the people and not separated by ranks and hierarchy. At first it was tedious to read her narrative, because I dislike such characters, but her development after Sullivan pushed her hard outside her comfort zone was one to behold. One could say she has become a woman in her own right and a witch in the more capable and resourceful sense, although there is some slight foreshadowing that he might wrestle with desire and temptation to use her powers to full extent. In the mean time Hadrian and Royce have some issues to work out as well. Hadrian suffers from depression and existential crisis, trying to find his vocation or at least something honorable to pursue, while Royce has hesitations, whether or not to leave his friend pursue his destiny. The rocky terrain their partnership endures through a new angle to look at the characters and that paired with the mission to track down the true heir to the Empire and decipher the games of the ancient wizard Esrahaddon makes ‘Nyphron Rising’ an interesting read.

Verdict: [B+] Despite the intrigue, the mystery and the ancient secrets that piece together a larger and impressive in itself picture, ‘Nyphron Rising’ didn’t quite do it for me. In comparison to the first two installments it pales a bit, but I can justify that with the natural need to have a book that prepares the chess board for the upcoming game in the world of Elan. Nevertheless, Michael J. Sullivan has carved his name in the genre and I am only sorry that he is seriously under-read.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

[100 Pages] 'Spider's Bite' by Jennifer Estep

I am quite happy to have an Urban Fantasy title with elementals and with a world, where magic and the paranormal has been integrated into modern society. Clandestine show games have been brought to a state of mainstream. Another positive trait here is that the Spider, meanest assassin in the South, is a woman, who solves her problems by leaving a body count for the police. Sure, I know that urban fantasy is populated by women, who know their martial arts, but for once I get to enjoy an assassin. Someone, who does not hesitate to kill and knows 999.999 recipes to inflict death. 'Spider's Bite' is a different novel in the genre.

But as always the prose is not sophisticated. Gin expresses herself in the same manner most of the women in urban fantasy have. Her background is similar to the archetypical urban fantasy tough chick. There is always someone, who had destroyed her life early on. Not that I am against, but I am against throwing it literally in the first few pages in order to make me care for the character.

Right now, I am liking what I read.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

[Side Note] Awesome Signature Swag

I have had few perks that makes blogging worthwhile and geekgasmic. One of those perks is that on rare occasions I have signed books arrive, especially dedicated to me personally. It is those few books that me beam and feel special, something every geek loves to feel. So here is my signature swag from Michael J. Sullivan.

'The Crown Conspiracy'


'Nyphron Rising'

[In the Mailbox] Finally...

I am a bit on a tight schedule, because I promised some reviews on an appointed date for Pocket Books, but the bundle took it's time I despaired that the post office will fail me. I am a bit of the control freak every other day [random, when it will manifest really] and I got worked up to have these read, when I wanted to. Thankfully, the mail man saved me from a meltdown [not that I did not have a backup plan really.] Here is my modest book swag.


'Dead Souls' edited by Mark S. Deniz

Dead Souls contains twenty five stories that will only ensure the darkness without enfolds you in its cold embrace. Within these pages, you will find a man so affected by the horrors he witnessed at war, he believes another is guiding his actions; a small boy with enough malevolence to shake a young girl to her very core; a tattoo artist with a hidden agenda. You will read about a future not as bright as we might have imagined or hoped; a puppet show with a damning message; a new twist on the theory of Beethoven's Immortal Beloved; Adolf Hitler in a new guise, and something terrible that approaches us in the desert. All this, plus many, many more, tales of darkness and human suffering.

'Spider's Bite' by Jennifer Estep

Bodies litter the pages of this first entry in Estep's engrossing Elemental Assassin urban fantasy series. In the corrupt Southern metropolis of Ashland, weather witches mingle with vampires, giants, and dwarves. A mysterious client hires assassin Gin Blanco, known as the Spider, to murder a whistle-blowing financial officer named Gordon Giles. Then the client attempts a double cross and brutally kills Gin's mentor. Now Gin, a stone elemental with a hard-boiled attitude, a closely guarded heart, and a penchant for throwing knives, has to join forces with one of the few honest cops in Ashland, sexy detective Donovan Caine, who hates her for killing his partner.

'Shadow Blade' by Seressia Glass

The Gilead Commission discovered Kira Solomon's gift for psychometry when she was 12 and trained her to fight Shadow Avatars. Now 25, she mostly tries to focus on her day job as a freelance antiquities expert. Her former mentor, Bernie Comstock, brings her a 4,000-year-old Egyptian blade to authenticate, and one touch tells her it belonged to an immortal Fallen from the shadow world, who's still seeking it. When a demon murders Bernie, Kira confronts the immortal, now disguised as a young man, but she can't deny that the dark blade calls to her, as does its handsome owner. Kira's personal battle against the forces of chaos will keep readers riveted.

[Review] 'Avempartha' by Michael J. Sullivan

Title: Avempartha
Writer: Michael J. Sullivan
Pages: 344
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Second in The Riyria Revelations
Publisher: Ridan Publishing

When a destitute young woman hires two thieves to help save her remote village from nocturnal attacks, they are drawn into the schemes of the wizard Esrahaddon. While Royce struggles to breech the secrets of an ancient elven tower, Hadrian attempts to rally the villagers to defend themselves against an unseen killer. What begins with the simple theft of a sword places the two thieves at the center of a firestorm — that could change the future of Elan.

To cite Bogart’s transcending-time line from Casablanca: ‘This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship’. I share the same sentiment towards the Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan. ‘The Crown Conspiracy’ opened my February reading with a bang and I conceived high expectations that ‘Avempartha’ would be just as good and hopefully even better. Perhaps there was slight hesitation on my part, caused by the chance that maybe the promise in book one remains a promise and that ‘Avempartha’ would suffer from the second child syndrome. But from the breathtaking cover [done by the author himself] to the last page, ‘Avempartha’ reached and surpassed all hopes and extinguished all fears.

Standing at 344 pages [according to Amazon; my edition has 321 or so] ‘Avempartha’ offers an adventurous two-day trip through the lands of Elan, escorted by your intrepid duo and their royal contacts. Despite being a second novel, ‘Avempartha’ can be read as a standalone with no discomfort on the reader’s part. It shares several similarities with ‘The Crown Conspiracy’ in the sense that both novels follow the model: heavy stage setting, followed by adrenaline packed resolution. Also the loose ties between the volumes contribute to the illusion that ‘Avempartha’ could be a series opener.

In ‘Avempartha’ we find our intrepid duo Hadrian Blackwater and Royce Melborn on a brand assignment in the village of Dahlgren. The storyline picks up in the trading center of Colnora, where a distressed Thrace hires Riyria for a deceptively simple task, which as the story gains momentum gains greater importance and a dangerous edge. For Dahlgren is a terrorized by a beast from the wars between the elves and the humans 900 years ago. The Gilarabrywn is pure, predatory magic and each night eats a member from the Dahlgren community, which is revealed to break an ancient human-elvish peace treaty. The second storyline follows princess Arista’s life as a newly appointed ambassador to the kingdom of Melegar, now under the rule of her brother Alric. Melegar is still unsettled and Arista’s new function and acclimatization to the events following the murder of father become complicated as she bears the stain of witchcraft. In the mean time the Church of Nyphron shows interest in her as a possible pawn in their schemes and Arista is left with a moral dilemma. Two different in nature storylines entwine into one as Arista and the Church of Nyphron arrive in Dahlgren along with a larger number of strong-bodied men, both common folk and nobility, for a contest, which leads to many deaths and destruction.

I was impressed at how effortlessly both plots flowed into the big resolution, which concluded the novel with a daring well-orchestrated finale. If you think that ‘The Crown Conspiracy’ has daring escapades, then you will be highly entertained to see the struggle between the Riyria, the Dahlgren community and the Nyphron Church all together against the Gilarabrywn, which apart from being a deadly beast is also cunning, malicious and scheming. Hadrian has to face his greatest combat adversary in the Gilarabrywn, while Royce has to pick his toughest lock, yet. The stakes are high, the adrenaline pumping and anticipation soaring. As a treat in the end of the book, the reader is fed juicy details about both Hadrian and Royce’s origins, which are left as seeds for further volumes. At the same time the intrigue is also taken one level higher with the Church of Nyphron’s plans to raise a puppet emperor. Bishop Saldur is the kind of villain I love to read about and to hate, really, but his schemes and masterful orchestrations give me goose bumps and have me wondering how well he has plotted his success.

I established that the story is brilliant, the cast endearing and engaging, but ‘Avempartha’ is a testament to world building and infusing setting with some divine breath. Apart from showing the reader the lives, the strife and the mentality of the royalty, Sullivan manages to give the common folk their due in ‘Avempartha’. Dahlgren has become an inviting village I would only hope to visit in my dreams with a modest accommodation, but with honest, welcoming community. The reader can feel the small village’s pulse. All of this is organic to the story’s fabric. Sullivan also manages to color of Elan through Esra’s recollection of the elves, the wars and the purpose of the mystical and inaccessible tower of Avempartha. All information comes at even intervals similar to tides and avoids becoming tedious info dumps, but instead a hook to keep the pages turning.

Verdict: [A+] Sullivan brings out the very best in the genres, dishes it out skillfully and with artistry in a compact book, which will ensure an unforgettable and infectious reading experience. I am beyond contempt with how the Riyria Revelations are turning out. Highly recommended.

Monday, February 15, 2010

[At the Movies] Life Story Edition

‘My Sister’s Keeper’

Summary: Cameron Diaz takes a detour from comedy to play Sara, the domineering mother of Kate (Sofia Vassilieva, MEDIUM), a young girl with cancer. Sara’s other daughter, 11-year-old Anna (Abigail Breslin), was conceived just to serve as a donor for her sick sister. On the outskirts of the family are father Brian (Jason Patric), who feels unable to stand up to his wife’s strength, and son Jesse (Evan Ellingson), who craves attention in the face of Kate’s illness. But the complicated situation gets more difficult when Anna hires a lawyer (played by the always excellent Alec Baldwin), so that she can control her own body and say "no" to giving a kidney to her sister.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 47% [mildly rotten]

Do I agree?: I am a sucker, when it comes to tearjerker movies. I identify the call of the moth as it peacefully flutters to the flames. It is something beyond my reasoning really, but I know when I spot a good or a bad drama movie. While the cast is more than capable, I feel that the focus of this production is not where it should be. ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ could have become an intense and tragic story as well as a debate on ethics in medicine, where should the line be drawn and can the love of a parent for his child become monstrous. Ultimately, this is what I found intriguing in the movie and was captivated by the storyline given to Breslin, who had to play the role of a child, who was conceived to be a donor. The reason why Anna exists in the first place is to be a bag of spares for her older sister Kate and exactly the lawsuit that follows about the medical emancipation of Anna’s is what held my breath. However, things get out of hand and the movie wobbles, spinning out of control. The fact that Anna’s mother is the other lawyer to oppose Baldwin complicates matters. Both have to live with each other as a family and be against each other in court? This is messy business and the result is an unconvincing string of scenes, which did not suspend my disbelief. Even so, I was inclined to give the movie around 60% freshness. But the second it became clear why Anna hired a lawyer, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth, because it was just plain manipulative [punching almost everything that could make a person cry in those last scenes. I wonder how puppies were not drowned by accidents] and over the top. So yeah, I agree with Rotten Tomatoes.

‘Julie & Julia’

Summary: Meryl Streep is Julia Child and Amy Adams is Julie Powell in writer-director Nora Ephron’s adaptation of two bestselling memoirs: Powell’s Julie & Julia and My Life in France, by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme.

Based on two true stories, Julie & Julia intertwines the lives of two women who, though separated by time and space, are both at loose ends...until they discover that with the right combination of passion, fearlessness and butter, anything is possible.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 75% [fresh]

Do I agree?: Hard not to. I actually expected to see 90% here or 100%. I mean this movie is the blend of everything I love: Meryl Streep, food, blogs and accomplishment via positive and constructive self-improvement. At first glance the story lines are not tied directly into one whole, because Amy Adams’ ordeal as a blogging cook take place in the 2000s, while Streep depicts the birth of America’s favorite cook several decades back. I had a few doubts that I will most likely enjoy Steerp’s performance and barely stand Adams’ storyline, but in the end it all worked out wonderfully. Because I live in Eastern Europe, my knowledge of important American cultural figures is modest to put it mildly and meeting Julia Child for the very first time was extraordinary experience. I am partial to stories about hardships on the way to acceptance by society for one’s own talents and merits and following the path Child took, before becoming beloved across the country, was an adventure accompanied with quite a few laughs and smiles. Streep has never been so versatile and this role cements her position yet again as ruling royalty. Amy Adams proved to be a good match for the role of Julie and add of that timid charm to the production with this quirky role. There is a subtle and unspoken parallel between life and cooking, which is clearly shown through her blogging year, while trying to cook all the recipes from Child’s cook book. Julie grows, accustoms better to her life that is changing and the consequences that are not in her favor and also manages t improve her perception of self. In the end, she has gained more in terms of her inner world and when the turmoil inside has resided, things on the outside fall into place as well.

Wonderful, indeed.

‘Whip it’

Summary: Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut with this feisty, female-friendly action-comedy. JUNO's Ellen Page stars as Bliss Cavendar, a young woman who longs to break free of her small-town bonds by joining the rough-and-tumble sport of roller derby in nearby Austin, Texas.

Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 83% [fresh]

Do I agree?: Even if this movie lacked depth [it doesn’t], I would have loved it, because it had demolition derby. On skates. With women in skimpy uniforms. With awesome team names such as the Hurl Scouts and laugh-out-loud derby names like Smashley Simpson and Babe Ruthless. What makes this movie even better is that there is a believable and quirky coming of age story interwoven within the adrenaline packed spectacle that this exotic sport brings. This movie screams Drew Barrymore and she has made a monster out of the already kick ass script with a strong cast, most of which I could recognize. I came for the demolition derby, but stayed for Bliss Cavender, who finally finds something to be passionate about and even though her old life clashed with the new her, Bliss manages to strike compromise without sacrificing her integrity or hindering her development and place in the world. There is love and there are lies and betrayal. There is family drama and broken friendships. I admit that there is a slight formulaic approach to how all the elements in Bliss’ personal life are handled and you might experience a déjà vu that comes with the territory of modern teen life stories, but the pluses outweigh the minuses. In the end, I was left with a warm cozy feeling after this movie, energized and inspired, which is not a skill many movies acquire. So, yes. Totally fresh.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

To those in love, happy holiday. To those not in love, do make the life of those in love a living misery. Happiness is overrated. So are good manners. Anyway, I would have posted another picture that depicts the god Dionysus, because in my country we also celebrate DRINKING on Feb 14th. We usually drink wine, but all alcohol is open. I did neither. I was too geekishly enveloped in my reading.

[Gathering of Links] February 14th Issue

I am on a last minute call before the American Time Zone ticks away and the blog officially crosses into the official day. I am slapping things randomly as usual, because I have not a single idea how to structure this post, BUT be sure to check out Only the Best Sci-Fi Fantasy and NextRead, who do a far better job than me.

Bookfool reviews Veracity by Laura Bynom.

Mihai from Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews reviews The City & the City by China Mieville. Again at his blog, we are treated to the return of his Fantasy Artist interviews and for this week he has given us a detailed interview with Donato Giancola.

James at Dazed Rambling has an interesting post about Unfinished Series, which is an answer to what my arch-nemesis posted not awhile ago. Curse you Seak and your interesting topic of series and whether you may finish them or not.

Over at the Dealine Dames, author Jeaniene Frost speaks about e-Piracy and no that is not a beta version of a new product or app.

From Fantasy Book Critic I have review of 'The Conqueror's Shadow' by Ari Marmell [Robert Thompson, I thought you said you were retired...] & the news that Robert Thompson became a father for the second time. Congratulations, Robert, now you have one of each. A perfect Nuclear Family.

From Fantasy Cafe come a review of 'Twilight of Avalon' by Anna Elliott. Glad to see that she is not a slave in a Care Bear mining facility.

Graeme review the 'The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms' by N.K. Jemisin. He loved it so much that he is even giving it away to a lucky winner. I hope I win.

Nethspace is getting OLD. Another year passes for that cute little green blog.

Alec from Only the Best Sci-Fi Fantasy [GOD, Alec! Why the frikkin long name?!] has a copy of The Left Hand of God to give away. Learn how you can get it yourself.

Gav at NextRead started again with his damn and insightful commentaries with the question Are you looking for book reviewers? He totally makes me guilty for getting me some. But I do like where this is going...

From the Book Smugglers I have stolen two interviews: One with Alex Bell and one with Peter Straub.

Last but not least is Sam Sykes, who has an interview with James from Speculative Horizons. I love how the roles are reversed here. Certainly refreshing.

[Reviewer Time] Gav from 'NextRead'

Blog: NextRead [clever name]
Founder: Gavin C Pugh
First Post: October 18th 2005 [ancient]
Average Number of Posts per Month: 10,3 [based on the whole 2009 and this means that you have been terribly lazy…]

Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction & Crime [though, honestly Gav, I have yet to see a recent review pop in that last genre]

From the Man Himself: NextRead is here to show off the best that Science Fiction, Fantasy and Crime genre fiction has to offer. And if they’re hiding as Literature I’ll bring you those too. [Yes, clever and eloquent. You amaze us all with that British brevity.]

Highlights: Nothing set as an actual, distinguished and purposeful meme or feature, but the old chap is quite introspective and contemplative and he produces great thought provoking commentaries.

Why do I bother?: He’s British. He’s a Veteran in the field. He links to me. Also I plan to brain wash him and assume his identity in order to receive all his book swag. [But you did not just read this last bit.]

My Two Cents: I became acquainted with Mister Pugh [his last name is so awesome, by the way] through Twitter and I have been instantly welcomed. My Tweets were re-tweeted and he responded to my misspelled and sloppily constructed humor. We made a reading pact and yes, he failed me back in January [you did, Gav, you sod], but I see potential in this slow paced man. As you can see from the stats, he is not the most energetic blogger out there with around 10-11 posts per month on average for 2009 [Math does not lie]. However, he is making a run for it in 2010 with 35 accumulated posts already and it is not so much the frequency, but the content that matters, right? By the way, Gav, I am saying this to make you feel better. Every single person knows you have to be a machine gun. Look at Book Chick City, she is one step away from abducting people and force them to be her readers. An overlord she is.

So why should you, the readers, become fans of NextRead? A valid question with a simple answer. For starters, the man gets a lot of books. This means the publishing industry thinks he has something worthwhile to say. That or they have the wrong address and ship him books that are rightfully mine. Joke aside, Gav is an experienced reader and each of his reviews gives most to the reader without the demystification that comes with dissecting a novel. He hits the nail without spinning paragraphs upon paragraphs of purple prose and is straight to the point. I am not hysterical about his execution, because I want to be lulled in by the person writing the review, but I have always agreed with his assessment on books we have both read and usually I have picked up angles I wouldn’t have thought of.

NextRead is however not about the review, thought that is not surprising. In order to adapt to the harsh ecosystem with new predators on the prowl, blogs need to diversify and NextRead embodies versatility. Following NextRead means being in the loop about cover art, news from the publishing world and from book review blogs [when he bothers to be active, though. By the way, this is a hint]. I am also enthralled by his mystical power to gather attention [hits & comments] through his pesky contemplative commentaries on scandals and occurrences on the web. By the way, he tricks you into believing that he is smart by asking those questions, but that’s irrelevant, because he always picks a topic that’s like a summer fire in Australia. It makes you think, which is a feat these days with so much horrid daytime TV.

Overall, you subscribe to his RSS feed and comment as much as possible. The man deserves it.

Okay, so I am done kissing ass. Where are my books? Someone promised me books. I want them now… My precious. *hiss*


Hey Gav, thanks for undergoing this interrogation with me. I promise that it will be fun, at least for me. I will start with some mandatory questions such as what do you do in real life in order to feed the habit and who is this mysterious blogger like, if one is to remove the books out of the picture?

Hi Harry,

I’ve just read the questions. I think I’m in for grilling!

Is there life without blogging? And life without books? Where is this place you’re talking about?

Unsurprisingly though books do take up quite a bit of my life. But when I’m not reading I live quite a boring life. Well I hope not that boring.

In my free time excluding books. I have a love of design, illustration and typography. I used to design typeset books for a small publisher before I put money over art and ended up with a more stable but less exciting job.

But I still spent time doodling on Adobe Photoshop or Corel Painter (I won a copy of Painter X from Corel Painter Magazine once for a digital painting) and I’m trying to figure out how to ebooks are typeset (not as easy as it looks). So maybe I’ll go back to designing books again someday.

I travel quite a bit and like taking pictures of the places I’ve been like Hong Kong, Vegas, San Francisco, Athens and Norway to name a few so that keeps me away from the computer once in a while.

I collect tarot cards and used to read professionally but now it’s more for the art. The images are alone are show that images do often speak a thousand words. Reading them also proves that stories can come together in the strangest ways. I guess we are all storytellers in some way.

But if I’m not out and about I’m usually in front of the Mac doing something creative.

So basically, you not only get to read, but also travel AND have been a tarot card reader? I wonder, whether I can adopt your personality and pretend to be good old Gav.

You might want to think about that more. Be careful what you wish for.

Anyways, do tell how your career as a professional reader went and whether or not you actually had to do some very bleak predictions?

I can’t recall making any predictions really. It’s all about focusing on particular parts of a life and weaving a story that gives people choices and self-empowerment. There is little about your own life that you don’t have some sort of choice over. A good tarot reading should cut through everything else and help you see the bits that are hidden and give you choices you may not have thought of.

A bad reading is all about letting some external force control you , which isn’t helpful as only you can change yourself and only you should control your life.

You are a book-a-holic [no shock there, I suppose], but when did your affair with literature began and what was the book that hooked you?

I think I’ve always been fascinated by reading, not that I was a great reader when I was a child. I used to get books out of the library in the hope that just having them would mean that I’d read them. I didn’t. I’d end up taking them back and usually overdue.

But I think that was more that there really weren’t any books that really excited me. I loved The Hobbit but found Lord of the Rings hard. I think I actually read it on my third attempt and even now I’ve never read until the end. I got bored on the journey home, and I’ve been told since I’ve missed out. But I guess I don’t know what I’ve missed so I’m find with that.

When I was 16/17 I was bored at lunchtime from work I went to WH Smith (a news agent/bookseller) and saw a hardback of the Witches Trilogy (Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, and Witches Abroad.) by Terry Pratchett and he was really the first author that hooked me and I read every one of his books that I could buy. Though for some strange reason I’ve never finished Mort and I stopped reading him for a few years.

I read Unseen Academicals over Christmas and now really want to read the gaps (from Monsterous Regement to Making Money if you need to know). I might even take up the Terry Pratchett challenge that is floating around to make sure I do.

The other thing that happened in SFF in the UK was SFX magazine and the internet. And at that time the Bookpage was UK’s answer to until bought them and turned Bookpages into a couple of years later. So after I found Pratchett I was slowly able to not only find new books to read but I could actually get hold of them.

I found some great authors like Storm Constantine (Stalking Tender Prey), Dave Duncan (Great Game Trilogy), James Stoddard (The High House/The False House), Anne Rice (though I only really loved Queen of the Damned) Poppy Z. Brite (Lost Souls/Drawing Blood) to name some memorable ones but I was also reading James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell so it was real mix of thriller, crime, fantasy and sci-fi in all it’s guises. Thinking of that list has made me quite nostalgic. I miss not reading more Dark Fantasy.

As well as that in 1997 to 1999 I had a great English teacher who taught me a love of poetry and a great understanding of literature. Though I don’t read too much literary fiction any more I’ve got about a hundred poetry books on the on the shelves.. Though I haven’t bought given too much mental space to poetry for the last couple of years.

I think that’s a bit of a long answer but just about covers it.

This is what I call devotion. Way to go. But this is half the story. Tell us how you founded NextRead. What’s the story behind the blog, why did you name it that and how has it grown and changed in the years you have run it?

In that case I’ll carry on with the story. I ran away to University in 2004 and during my time there and I’m not sure how I discovered blogs and blogging. I am on some level a teacher or at least I like sharing what I’ve found in the hope that what I’ve shared is useful. I was blogging about University life, writing for my degree and what I was reading. I had a lecturer who said that book reviews are boring and I think I wanted to prove that book reviews were interesting so I included some of those on the blog. At the same time I was giving feedback and taking it for classes. I was studying Journalism modules, working on the student newspaper and doing work experience for a magazine that did a lot of reviews.

I’m very grateful to a publicist at Vintage who sent a me my first review copy in 2007 though it appeared on my old blog first. It was unsoliticed and really got me started on the idea that you could get to read books first from publishers by blogging about them. T

hough I stopped using my old blog and used the site itself has been around since 2005 though at that time I didn’t feel I could write enough content to keep a blog going and there wasn’t the community feel that there is now.

I choose Next Read as a blog started off being a web log and I wanted to log the books that I read or that I wanted to read or make a comment on in the book world. So Next Read seems to fit. And it is a blog mostly for sharing what I enjoy. I’ve never thought of it as trying to be more than that. I just hope that my tastes overlap with the people that read it.

As I enjoy SFF, Crime, some literary fiction I feature that I’d probably scare off readers if I featured the latest poetry book I’ve bought or the non-fiction I’ve been reading. I don’t know why. I guess I should take a poll and see if people want to see more than SFF and Crime?

I hope that my reviews have got better over the years. I’ve tried a few different ways of writing them and I’ve reverted back to an old format in the New Year to try and focus my thoughts and a little more. I hope I’ve presented some different choices along with championing some little known or little blogged about books.

And I hope that my passion comes across.

Everybody on Twitter probably knows this, but you and I [now with other guys too] formed a pact [sort of] to read six novels every month. Does having this goal made official, help you reach a satisfying number or is it the competitive aspect to keep with everybody else [also possibly kick asses]?

Last year (2009) I had the goal trying to review one book a week on the blog and I managed it just but I wanted to up my game and when you came along with a challenge I couldn’t resist.

Blogging is competitive by nature. You want to bring people to your blog. Having news, reviews, giveways, features and comments all helps. But it’s also as reactive as leading. You see what other people are doing and try and match them or beat them.

It’s human nature to want to be better but you have to be realistic. I can just about manage 6 without feeling like I’m forcing myself to read. If I read more great but if I think I’m slipping behind I’m going to make sure I make the time.

January was a bit of a funny month as I posted reviews of books I read over Christmas so I had 7 reviews but only managed 5.5 books. I could have done a bit better but struggled reading Hyddenworld: Spring that brought my pace down a lot.

And having a pact does keep me on my toes. Definitely.

Also, author Mark Newton, expressed an opinion that a culture is forming among bloggers based on the motto ‘more books read for more reviews written for more content’. Should we fear that book reviewers are obsessing with strings of reviews in order to generate content and isn’t this ultimately the book reviewers’ function? I interpret this behavior as a means to deal with uncomfortably large to-be-read lists.

I think it goes back to being competitive. If someone else has 8 reviews a month then I should have 8 reviews or if they have 20 reviews then I have to have 20. Plus if you only have one review a week and nothing else are people going to come to your blog? Or do you need to have more reviews or do you have to share other things to keep people coming back?

Also if you do have this pile of books that you really want to read how do you manage to work through them all if you are only reading 4 or 6 six a month when SFF bring out 10 or 20 books in a month between them?

This is probably when you either need to accept that you aren’t superhuman and just enjoy what you read and that you have the luxury of choice of your next book or you specialize and narrow down your blogging like Mark Chitty (Walker of Worlds) or Graeme (Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review) but even those blogs are diverse.

I make it harder for myself as I enjoyed SFF and Crime as well as literary fiction on the genre edge so my TBR pile is diverse and the sources of my reading choices is wider than most.

Speaking of large TBR lists, do you ever find the time to read something that has not been supplied by publishers as review copies? And can a review blogger with an extensive lists of publishing contacts allow to pick reads for himself, when there are so many others pending?

This month I’ve so far bought The Ice Princess, and Flood. Last month I bought The Final Empire, The Skinner and Gridlinked. I guess I could have begged for review copies but sometimes it is nice to make your own choices. And review copies of mostly front list stuff so books that have just been published or about to be published. Once your book has been out a while it’s on it’s own as publicists and publishers have moved on to other books and a writers turn in the spotlight only then comes back when their next book is out.

Blogging has changed this in some ways as we aren’t the mostly timely people and we aren’t easy to control. This year I’m trying to be more timely with my reviews either by trying to review books before or just around publication. Not that it’s always possible, which goes back to only being able to fit so many books in.

I’m lucky that I have contacts that mean I’m on mailing lists, I get offered books, and I can request them. It’s something I try not to abuse though. I really don’t need another book in the house but it makes it more likely that I’m going to mention something I like if I receive it.

And reviews aren’t the only reason that people buy a book. Sometimes it’s as simple as seeing the cover or reading the blurb. So with more and more excellent books coming out getting people talking about them and excited about them is half the battle.

All the positive reviews on my blog I hope show that I’m reading books that I like with only the occasional ones that fail to agree with me.

I am very choosey about what I read. There are some books that I have let slide because I’ve put newer books over older books. I’m behind on Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series for example and I’ve failed so far to go back and read more books by Fred Vargas.

I’m also influenced by my fellow bloggers if something is getting a lot of positive reviews I want to see why so I might choose to read that one or if I feel that a book I know I’m going to like is getting any attention then I might choose that instead.

I have to say that there is no pressure from publishers to review a particular book. I have free choice over what to review and when unless I get a book that is embargoed until publication, which does happen now and again with big books.

The other thing is that publishers are realistic when it comes to reviews they welcome negative reviews as much as positive. It’s only opinion after all. And only one opinion. They are more upset that you didn’t enjoy something rather than you get it a ‘bad’ review.

Publishers want people to like their books; that means you’ll share that experience and hopefully so will others. It’s in no ones interest bloggers or publisher to have falsely positive reviews as it’s just going to be a disappointment to their readers when they find out they’ve been dupped.

Let’s side track to review copies. What do you think about e-ARCs as review copies for reviewers? I know that we all love the actual physical dimensions of the book and all the data our senses receive during the reading in order to create an experience [touch, smell and look], but with housing limitations and trees dying [sacrificed for paper] is it not a brilliant strategy from publishers to give reviewers ARC’s in electronic format?

I don’t get on with e-ARCs as I can’t read off a screen that well for long periods –sitting with a laptop is not my idea of comfort reading. You can’t relax with it. I do have a Sony Reader but PDFs don’t reflow that well on it and as I have a passion for typesetting. My eyes can’t cope. I can’t spot typos but typographical errors really annoy me so I need proper indents and formatting for my brain to slip into the grove and PDFs mostly look very bad on my ereader.

If publishers can get more properly formatted epub e-ARCS or if I mangage to get an iPad I might have more luck with PDF advance copies but for now I’m mostly reading real books though I have bought lots of ebooks and I like reading those. So for me it’s a formatting issue.

If publishers should send PDFs to reviewers probably comes down to a matter of how easy it is to do and if publishers want non-DRM copies in the world at large. I guess it comes down to trust that a reviewer isn’t going to go stick it on some file sharing site somewhere.

About your previous statement about being known and having contacts with the right people in order to get books, do you think it is a christening or a trial for each reviewer to win positions with publishers? I also come off from your statement that book blogging, despite being a friendly and community building, is also competitive.

My motivation for blogging is just to share what I've been reading or what excites me. Publicists want you to mention the books that that they have coming out and they are doing that because they genuinely want you to read it and to share that enjoyment so they are disappointed when you don’t like a book not because you've negative but because they thought you'd like it.

Should one blogger share their contacts? Most websites have contact us pages and ways to get in touch - most are now on Twitter so you can ask then there too. And I tend not to give my contacts to people unless I know and trust them. You are making a personal introduction when you give a contact and you are by association making a recommendation about that person. So it’s rare that I do share as I’m putting my own credibility behind the person I’m recommending.

If you want to get noticed by publishers then write good things about their books on your blog. Most publishers seem to stick within their own territories though I have got some US copies of books most of mine are UK based.

But it really annoys me to see new bloggers going straight in and hassling each of the publishers for review copies only because it seems to miss the point of what you’re doing and why you are doing it. If you want to review new books that badly get them the day they are and get them read and reviewed ASAP.

Support the publishers that you want books from. Review their books, promote and talk about them. If they see that you’re talking about their books because you genuinely like them that has to put you up their list of people.

The other thing is that anyone can create a blog and ask for books. It’s a competitive market. You just have to see how fast books on Twitter get snapped up. And books are limited. And demand makes interest and interest hopefully raises sales and awareness.

I tend to stay away from the big books though I will be looking at more this year as I want to see why they are considered hot. I tend to go for the middle list and debuts, which probably makes me a good place to promote books as I’m not usually after the next Abercrombie or Lynch. Though I will sell my Granny for the next Neal Asher or Gary Gibson.

With so many books to read, so many read and so many you want to read, have you ever taken an active break from reading?

I do every now and again. It’s usually over November and December when I revert to purely comfort reading. I’ve done this two years in a row. Last year I read the mind blowing Under the Dome and needed to go back to something that was enjoyable but less challenging. So I read Paul Magrs, Jim Butcher and Terry Pratchet.

If I’m away which I was for 4 weeks last year I take more books than I read. And don’t really end up reading that many. I’m not a holiday book person it seems.

The most recent scandal to shake the publishing world is the Amazon vs. Macmillan. What is your take on this feud? Who’s right and who’s wrong, but most importantly, who will be screwed in the end?

It’s a really complicated issue and it’s more an American one than a British one. What it comes down to I think is that Amazon are loosing money on each $9.99 book that they sell in order to sell Kindles not to give consumers better prices.

The pricing of ebooks is made out to be simple but it’s not really. You’re not paying for the packaging. The cost of a hardback and a paperback is only a really small percentage of the cost.

What confuses the issue is that you can often buy paperbacks and hardbacks at 40%, 50%, and 60% less than the r.r.p. but ebooks never seem to get that sort of discount but then they aren’t taking up space in a warehouse/shelf in a store and need to be sold to make space for the next product. And as ebooks aren’t physical their prices are probably a truer reflection of the price of the content.

I think it’s going to take while to shake down into something sensible though I would say this that if you want ebooks to be priced the same as the paperback price don’t complain when they are selling the hardback and the ebook at the same price. Hardbacks are a premium product and it’s the content that you are paying more for not the cover. If you want it cheaper then wait 12 months.

Another interesting scandal involves the cover whitewashing, which seems to have become a Bloomsbury trademark. Patrick from Stomping on Yeti, even speculated that the second time this may have not been a blooper, but a great marketing strategy. Do you believe in such a conspiracy and what is your general stand?

I’ve seen mention of it but it’s not something I’ve followed in detail. Covers are often only there as indications of where a book fits with others of it’s type rather than having images that are strictly 100% reflective of the content so there is a lot of license taken with them but that’s expected and the cover is usually the first stage of the attraction to particular book.

But saying that it’s a bit of a leap too far to alter the cover in such a way so that it’s more attractive to one particular set of readers by altering the colour of the image that is supposed to represent the main character.

I can understand it happening once. But twice? It’s worrying but I don’t know enough to say if it could be intentional.

A typical question would be whether you have any writing aspirations? Do you hope to be the next rising star in genre fiction?

I started blogging when I was a Degree student at the University of Glamorgan studying Creative and Professional Writing. So I’d have to say yes after that wouldn’t I? I have an underused blog called where you can see my two failed experiments in doing NaNoWriMo. I got a 2:1 btw.

Maybe I should focus on it more? But I’m enjoying just tinkering with my writing the same as I do with photography, graphic design and painting. They are all different aspects of my personality but I’m yet to find the right story and the right way of telling it. Maybe this year I’ll get some find it?

Which is your 2010 most anticipated debut novel?

That’s unfair. I can’ just choose one. There are so many of them. But one I’ve not seen much mention of is Veteran by Gavin G. Smith.

I was lucky to meet him at Gollancz’s Autumn party, where I also met another hot debut author Sam Sykes. But Gavin’s is a little mad. And I’m hoping that it’s going to be good he has a mad imagination.

Here’s the blurb:

Three hundred years in our future, in a world of alien infiltrators, religious hackers, a vast convoying nation of Nomads, city sized orbital elevators, and a cyborg pirate king who believes himself to be a mythological demon Jakob is having a bad day: "Nothing gets in the way of a hangover like being reactivated by your old C.O and told to track down an alien killing machine. The same kind of killing machine that wiped out my entire squad. And now it's in my hometown. My name is Jakob Douglas, ex-special forces. I fought Them. Just like we've all been doing for 60 bloody years. But I thought my part in that was done with. My boss has other ideas. If I didn't find the infiltrator then he'd let the Grey Lady loose on me. And believe me; even They've got nothing on her. So I took the job. It went to shit even faster than normal. And now I'm on the run with this teenage hacker who's had enough of prostitution. The only people I can rely on want to turn the internet into God. And now it turns out that They aren't quite what we'd all thought. I've been to the bottom of the sea and the top of the sky and beyond trying to get to the truth. And I still can't get far enough away from the Grey Lady. All things considered I'd rather be back at home deep in a whiskey bottle." Veteran is a fast paced, intricately plotted violent SF Thriller set in a dark future against the backdrop of a seemingly never ending war against an unknowable and implacable alien enemy.

Let’s get back to ARCs. I have a hot one for you, which is quite easy to answer. Adele aka Hagelrat has posed the question What do you do with your ARCs and is appalled to hear that certain individuals have had the shamelessness to sell their ARCs, which is a major privilege in my book. What is your stand?

Strangely the blogging bubble is just that a bubble and ARCs as wonderful as they aren’t only produced for bloggers. They are used to promote and market the book. We are becoming a good channel for them as we have readers that share our tastes and our interested in the same books so if we like them then the people that follow us should like it too.

Booksellers also get them as do mainstream media and anyone else that a publisher chooses to send then too. So it really could be anyone putting his or her copy on eBay. It could even be a copy that has been won in a competition.

It does make me uncomfortable that bloggers could be seen as getting ARCs only to stick them on eBay.

I have a shelf of special books and I have ARCs on there so I keep most of mine but a few have ended up in the charity box.

Okay, so what is your approach to writing reviews? I have done and tried countless things in my run and it all depends on mood, time and energy levels I have. Do you have a steady work model to help you complete a review?

I’m hoping that I’ve improved as a reviewer over the years. Though last year I was mostly positive I hope that I was able to convey the contents of the book faithfully. This year I’m splitting my reviews into three parts Synopsis, Comments/Thoughts/Analysis and Summary. It’s help me frame my thoughts and keep the story away from discussions of what the strengths and weaknesses are.

I tend to think as I go unless I'm really captured by a book then I tend to be too caught up in the story to start analyzing it. I used to start a review as quickly as I could after I finished a book but now I usually leave it a day or so and I write a review before starting the next book otherwise my thoughts shift too far away from the book I’ve just read to the book I’m reading.

You, an island and a book [it can be a series as well]. What will it be?

I guess something I’ve always thought too big to read Gormenghast or Anathem?

14. If you could sleep with a book, which one would it be?

Oh that would be Martin Bauman by David Leavitt.

This is a small task right now. Sorry, but we had Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Sense $ Sensibility & Sea Monsters; Queen Victoria kills demons and I think Abe Lincoln will be a zombie hunter as well. Be creative and please try to predict which classic or historical figure could be re-imagined with such a spin.

Small task? Really? We’ve already had I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story for Christmas! How about Oliver and the Faeries?

Thank you, Gav, for your participation. Please conclude this interview with your own words.

It’s been great. Thanks. I have a feeling I’ve talked more than I should but I’m very passionate about my reading!
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