Nov 29, 2010

eBook Review: Siren Beat (novelette) by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Siren Beat is a little bundle of joy.  

At least that's how I felt when I dipped into this novelette from Tasmanian author Tansy Rayner Roberts

I was on a break from reviewing a particularly difficult to read ARC (which I suspect was self published). Before I realised it, two hours had flown by. I 'd finished the story, annoyed and distracted my wife with entertaining snippets and been left wanting more.

Enter Nancy Napoleon 
Nancy is a guardian.  She guards the Hobart docks from those that dwell in the deep, creatures that would lure humans to the deaths for fun or even more clandestine purposes.  

Some Siren's are on shore leave and they are causing problems, dead body problems, the kind of problems, that only Nancy can deal with. She's getting over the death of her sister, the sisters ex boyfriend, who is also a Kelpie(in the folk lore sense, not a cattle dog) and coming to terms with her partially crippled body.

While its only a novelette I can sense some interesting themes arising around gender, the perception of women, and disability

This is Urban fantasy with an Aussie flavour.  It's good Urban Fantasy as well.  Nancy Napoleon is no wilting flower, neither is she one of those glamorous airheads that miraculously  transform themselves into demon fighting, vampire killing femme fatales only to fall in love with strong silent cardboard cut out male eye candy.

There's some strong language as well as a couple of very saucy patches, that make this a very funny, memorable and adult piece of fiction.   It reminded me of the Dresden Files, only I think I like Nancy as character more than Harry Dresden. 

This is the best piece of short fiction I have read in a long while.  It picked up the WSFA Small Press Award for 2010 at Capclave in October this year(confirming my impeccable taste). It's   punchy, funny and leaves me with a taste for more.

Tansy secured a grant from the Australia Council to write the first full length Nancy Napoleon novel.   Called Fury, it will hopefully be out in early 2012.

Where can I get it?
At $1.99 US for the ebook version through Smashwords  makes a nice little ePresent for yourself or someone else. Kudos to Twelfth Planet Press for making the title available in multiple formats too.

It was originally released with Road Kill  by Robert Shearman in tĂȘte-bĂȘche format by Twelfth Planet Press as the first of their doubles collection.  Go here if you would like to purchase it in printed form.

Nov 28, 2010

Review: The Best American Mystery Stories 2010

With Lee Child as guest editor for The Best American Mystery Stories 2010 you won't find Miss Marple or the Fat Belgian in this collection.  You might, however be forgiven for expecting a little more Mystery than this tome provides.

I found the collection to be more crime fiction than mystery, with two notable exceptions - The Case of Colonel Warburton's Madness, a well done Sherlock Holmes pastiche by Lindsay Faye and Early Christmas by Doug Allyn.

When I think mystery writing, I am chiefly thinking whodunits rather why or how.  The  series editor, Otto Penzler, dispels this misconception of mine in his foreword.  Mystery writing is a broad umbrella and all the stories in the collection fall beneath it-apparenty.

So now that I am clear what Mystery writing entails, what of the collection?  Was I blown away? Well, not initially.  This collection did grow on me though.  I found it to be a balanced collection, a good cross section of the genre.  There's thriller action in Killing Time by John Land, a interesting story of a skilled assassin hiding out as a secondary school English teacher.  Then there's the ever so slightly off putting Dredge by Matt Bell, where our protagonist stores the body of a dead teenager he's found in his freezer.

If I were to select three standouts they would be:

The Shipbreaker by Mike Wiecek - an interesting piece set in the Ship breaking region of Bangladesh.  This was a wonderfully evocative bit a writing for me.  Wiecek captured the atmosphere perfectly.
Animal Rescue by Dennis Lehane -  a story about a local tough guy who saves an abandoned puppy that brings with it a set of human problems that the protagonist seems perfectly suited to solving.  In the end though, the reader is left pondering who is being rescued.

Early Christmas by Doug Allyn - this one really did keep me reading.  A traditional whodunit where you are attempting to think ahead of the writing to figure out the culprit.  A story involving a philandering real estate lawyer, a girl dying of cancer and a hit man in hiding.

I'd recommend the book to fans of crime and thriller fiction.  If you are strictly old fashioned in your Mystery reading tastes, then you might not find the hit you are looking for.  That being said, if you just enjoy reading good fiction, it's here in abundance.


Amazon:  The Best American Mystery Stories 2010 at $10.17  + P&H
Book Depository: Not Available 

Book Depository: The Best American Mystery Stories 2010 at $29.68

Amazon: Kindle  at $9.99

Disclaimer:  This review is based upon an an advanced reading copy ebook provided by Houghton Mifflin
through Netgalley at no cost to myself.

Nov 25, 2010

The Bookblogger's Daily

If you follow me on twitter you may have come across The Bookbloggers Daily that I collate and publish through the service.

Essentially I add people to a twitter list - this case it's my "book bloggers" list and then the service collates all the public tweeted links these people make into a webpage format.  I find this useful for me as I try to keep tabs on trends in Publishing, Author comings and goings and what my fellow book bloggers are promoting.

It sorts the wheat from the chaf.

Can i get on the list?
Well that depends generally on whether or not you are:

  • an author
  • publisher
  • bookblogger
How do I get on the list?
You can leave your twitter contact details in the comments below or follow me and message me via twitter.  Or if you just want to subscribe to the list itself and don't want to participate, then you can click here to subscribe.  I'll take this moment to remind readers that you can subscribe to this blog as well, in a number of ways, according to your preference.

Nov 24, 2010

Library Loot November 24 - 30 The Book Thief

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post, then link and post on the host blog - this weeks it's at the Captive Reader.

The Book ThiefThis week's only piece of loot is the audio book of Marcus Zusak's, The Book Thief read by Dennis Olsen.  I had heard of The Book Thief in passing, but after the rave reviews it received on the Writer and the Critic I just had to borrow it. 

All book copies of the Book Thief were lent out so I settled for the audio book. I have only listened to the first couple of tracks and I must say two things.  First Dennis Olsen, a perfect choice for he reading.  Second, I love the character Death.

Nov 23, 2010

Another Aussie Spec-fic podcast - The Writer and the Critic

I chanted to dark gods, inhaled the narcotic aroma of my Bushells coffee and and rattled my fingers, clickty-clack, over the keyboard to divine yet another quality podcast for you my acolytes readers.

And I as I chanted to the great Gu Gaal and the trickster god Tweettyr I came across the monthly podcast - The Writer and The Critic.

The Writer and The Critic
Here we have a monthly podcast.  The brainchild of Ian Mond (the Critic) who has dragged Kirstyn McDermott(the writer) to the table to talk about books.  They are only up to episode one, but the quality of the podcast, it production values, and the chemistry of the two hosts has me betting that we will get at least a 12 show season out of this beast. 

The Premise
The show follows the general outline of News, Book Reviews and Tangential Supplementaries.  Our hosts recommend a book that they liked to each other, and they then review those two books in the next show.  This months was Deathless - a yet to be released tome from  Catherynne M. Valente and the award winning The Book Thief.

The Goods
For your listening pleasure:

Episode 1: Deathless and The Book Thief - The Writer and the Critic

Gods can be fickle creatures at the best of times and one should only drink so much coffee.  Have you heard of any Australian book related podcasts worth listening to?

Nov 21, 2010

Aurealis Awards

I first picked up Aurealis back at issue 12.  That was so long ago it was before the Internet.  I lived in a rural community at the time and I think I managed to snaffle a couple more issues at the newsagent when the person that ordered them in decided not to buy them.

Its good to hear then that with Issue 44 they are celebrating 20 years of successful operation.

But on to the Awards
Aurealis magazine's publishers, Chimera, instituted the Aurealis Awards in 1995 as a way to recognize Australian  writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror.  In 2004 Fantastic Queensland held the awards and in 2010 SpecFaction NSW have picked up the baton.

SpecFaction is also holding a fund raising auction for the awards.  You can checkout what's on offer at HorrorScope.

Who can enter?
From the horses mouth:
Any work of speculative fiction written by an Australian citizen of permanent resident and published for the first time between 1 November 2009 and 31 December 2010 is eligible to be entered.
 The deadline is December 31st, but visit the awards site for further details .

Nov 17, 2010

Library Loot November 17 to 23 - Lovecraft and Tara Moss

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Marg from The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. 

This week the meta link is at Intrepid Reader.

The Dark Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft, Volume 4Despite having books to review on my list I have made it to the library three times this week. First up is my continued audio feast of Lovecraft read by Wayne June.  I am up to the fourth volume.  The Dark Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft, Volume 4 

Good solid, weird, wordy fiction, though I note we have drifted away from the sea and Cthulhu cults in this volume.

The Blood CountessNext was Tara Moss' Blood Countess.  I was really looking forward to this book considering Tara Moss' love of gothic horror and all the buzz surrounding it.  I ended up being disappointed and annoyed with the main character.  I might write a lengthy review of this one if I get the time.  Sufficed to say I was wary of reading another of her books after this.  I actually favour Twilight as better paranormal fiction.

HitSo wanting to give Ms Moss the benefit of the doubt I picked up one of the books from her Mak Vanderwall crime series.  Hit is i think her third book and though it seemed to be heavily inspired by Tara's own life I found the writing to be much better.

Nov 16, 2010

The Coode Street Podcast - Australian Speculative Fiction Podcast

If you're a fan of Speculative Fiction you might consider checking out The Coode Street Podcast an hour long discussion between Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe

Their latest episode features 

  • Gary reports on his trip to New Orleans 
  • Neil Gaiman's 50th Birthday Party
  • Yearly Sci-Fi wrap up
  • A discussion on whether or not Lois McMaster Bujold writes hard Sci Fi

The show has nice production values(smooth audio) and the conversation flows really well.

Download the latest episode here

Nov 15, 2010

Galactic Suburbia - Australian Speculative Fiction Podcast

I always seem to stumble across Australian fiction resources after they have gone bust or petered out.  Take Borderlands, or Eidolon for examples.

Thankfully though that's not the case with Galactic Suburbia a podcast started in March 2010 which has reached its 20th episode as of November 8.

It features news and views about Speculative Fiction in Australia and there's a small feminist  theme running through the show.

Its hosted/chaired by Tasmanian author Tansy Rayner Roberts.

Nov 14, 2010

Ebooks succumb to poor bandwidth and piratical reviewers?

Perusing the pages of The Bookseller, as you do.  I came across this little gem of information about the symbiotic nature between eBooks and Print publishing.  What caught my eye though, is highlighted in bold italics below:

Print titles are essential to the success of e-books, according to Mark Suchomel, president of the US’ Independent Publishers Group. Speaking at the Independent Publishers Guild conference in London yesterday (10th November), Suchomel said that a "blended" approach was necessary between print and digital.
He said: “You cannot promote e-books without having the book in print format. There is only one trade reviewer [in the US] requesting e-books.” He also argued because of reviewers’ bandwidth limitations and the possibility of piracy, sending e-books to reviewers was not sensible.
[Read More]

Bandwidth limitations?
Are the majority of trade reviewers still on dial-up? Or are they ensconced in decaying turn of the century houses in remote areas of the globe?  I did a rough calculation on how many times I could download Tolstoy's War and Peace(it's a rather large book for you young-uns) on my mobile account (I live in rural Australia, no ADSL connection.) which grants me 5 GB per month.

The result?

About 3800 times.  So let's say I do some casual surfing and only use half my account for work (ie reviewing) that's 1900 copies of Toltoy's killer tome, about 19 years worth of good solid reading.  So on Suchomel's comment on bandwidth I call bullshit.  Roll out the gang plank.

And I wonder who's the one being sensible?

Ahhaaarr me maties!
What really stuck in my craw(yes my craw) was the second comment about reviewers as potential thieves.  Those damned piratical reviewers of the South Cyber Seas.  I mean seriously,  you are not going to send out e-books to a reviewer because they might steal it?  What, you don't have any prior established relationship with your reviewers?  Your reviewers couldn't just scan the hard copy books that you send them?

Thoroughly disappointing comment from the president of an Independent Publishing Group.  Speaks volumes really.

What say ye me hearties?  Are ye offended as I am?

Nov 11, 2010

Lost Book Sales

Picture this
You've just bought your shiny new Sony Reader or unpacked your Amazon Kindle and logged on to try and purchase books in your favourite genre.


You've been eagerly awaiting the latest in your favoured author's series but its retailing at the same price as the hardback.  What can you do? Rant on your blog, march (figuratively) to the author's email contact page, or the publishers website and give them a 'considered' piece of your mind?

Victim of their own success
The growth of eBooks seems to have come by surprise.  Geo restricted titles of your favourite authors seem to be the result of wheels turning slowly in the publishing world rather than any nefarious intent on behalf of the 'industry'.

And price well that's still a contentious issue.  Some authors can get away with outsourcing, editing, artwork and marketing themselves selling e-books at $2.99, while Publishers claim that eBooks just add extra work to the production workflow and hence the cost saving of doing away with paper is negligible.

Pricing and availability will work themselves out in the long run.  Those that offer cheap quality books in multiple formats I think will win out.  It won''t be simply a case of being a good author.  You have to be able to produce quality content and make it available to the consumers who want it and be heard over the increasing din of  competent writers.

Lost Book Sales
In the mean time you can help authors and publishers see where they might be missing out on sales, or where the might have priced their product too high(according to consumer sentiment) by filing a report at Lost Book Sales

Here's their rational from their About page:

Every day an author and a publisher lose out on a sale of book.  This is a site for readers to tell the world about the lost sale whether it is because of price, territorial restrictions or general availability. There are a whole host of reasons a particular book is not distributed all over the world. Sometimes agents advise their authors to sell only domestic rights which usually means US or UK get the goods. Sometimes publishers aren’t exploiting those rights.
When an author writes a book, intellectual property rights are created that run with the book. Think of those rights as a bouquet of flowers. When authors enter into contracts with publishers, generally, they sell just a few flowers to the publishers. Those flowers give the publisher the right to use that Book in various ways but only in North America. But these contracts can vary a great deal. Foreign rights sales can end up making as much money for the author as the original advance.
What I have been told by some authors is that they don’t want to impair their marketability for those foreign markets by allowing an english language digital edition to be sold in that region. Other authors say that their foreign edition rights haven’t been purchased by any publisher and they don’t want to give them up for no additional money
[read more]

So  here you have the opportunity to vent your spleen in a constructive way.  Here's hoping that publishers and authors find it helpful.

H/T to Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader 

Nov 10, 2010

Borders eBook Price Drop

Bookseller and Publisher Magazine is reporting that Borders Australia is dropping its prices to compete with the iBookstore.

REDgroup Retail announced last week that it has begun reducing its 'already low prices on ebooks', which are available via the Kobo platform.
REDgroup ecommerce and digital managing director James Webber said in a statement that the ebookstore 'now has the best value offer for the Australian consumer'.
A number of new release titles are listed as significantly cheaper on than rivals Amazon Kindle and the new Apple iBookstore. For example John Howard's Lazarus Rising (HarperCollins) is priced at $19.95 on, compared to $35.26 on Amazon and $32.99 on the iBookstore.
[Read More]

Not that I'd buy John Howard's memoirs in any form.

But I did note that Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was about 8 cents cheaper than Amazon.  Lee Child's Worth Dying For was also about 4 cents cheaper than Amazon.

Nov 9, 2010

eBook Review: Future Minds by Richard Watson

Future Minds: How the Digital Age is Changing Our Minds, Why this Matters and What We Can Do About It
Note:  Although I reviewed an ebook version I can only seem to find the paperback for sale.

I must admit to approaching this book with a skeptical eye.  Technology coverage, especially when it concerns the internet, Facebook, Twitter computer games, is rarely good, mostly sensationalized and misconstrued.

I am also skeptical when anyone is making claims about the future.  Lots of people, even experts in their field get things wrong when they try and look too far ahead.

Ever so slightly relieved
Which was why I was relieved when Richard Watson pitched this book in his introduction as 
a book of concepts and conversation starters, with 10 key trends as a unifying force
So the book is no so much a fortune told but thoughts and questions to consider. The book is split into three parts:  How the Digital era is changing our minds? Why this Matters? and What can we do about it?

How the Digital era is changing our minds?
This part of the book looks at the effects of the digital world on those who are experiencing it as a normal part of everyday life.  Watson labels these children or teens as  'Screenagers' and talks about the subtle shift in attitudes and social existence brought about, by instant connectivity, always available distraction and entertainment. 

Not to mention schooling and education.  Why bother memorizing facts and remembering the events that lead to World War II when its all available at the press of the button.  Watson sees the digital age as altering fundamentally how we experience understand and remember the world.  

His concern, is gently presented and he cites a number of examples of the digital world encroaching on our young.  From Australia's push to get computers into school, to give every child a laptop to the ever present and ever distracting social networks.  

But its not just concerns brought about by online interactions as opposed to communicating in the 'real world'. Watson is concerned that exposing children to the logic of computer devices and educational programs has an effect on the formation of the human brain and one that may be detrimental to creative play and the development of certain areas of the brain.

The rest of us don't escape that net either, and Watson cites a study where the constant interruption bought about by digital devices and connectivity can have a similar effect on our thinking as that brought about by the use of marijuana. 

Why this Matters?
This section focuses on the loss of the ability to think deeply about important matters, how ideas and innovations arise, are nurtured and  go on to create and impact.  Watson discusses the need to create natural thinking spaces, to disconnect from the connected digital world even for a short period of time to allow our brains to mull over (mostly subconsciously) new ideas, problems, solutions.  In an always on world we are overloading and overworking our brain, keeping it constantly occupied.

What can we do about it?
Its only fair that if you point out a serious problem, you offer some suggestion as to what the solution or remedy might be.  Watson does this in the final section of the book.  Most of his ideas involve separating yourself from digital connection and distraction for periods of time. 

Not going into work early just to check everything alright, not constantly checking the blackberry while your on holiday with your family.  It's hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it's advice followed by very few. 

Watson rounds off the book with 10 predictions some of which are straightforward and others which I think may be a bit of a long shot.

My thoughts
The book paints some broad strokes, but on the whole is generally convincing.  The skeptic in me wants to go back and look through his comprehensive bibliography. 

I can see, however, the effects of screen culture on students who I com across as a relief teacher.  They display the ability to use several computer programs to construct a research assignment, but little understanding of the cut and pasted material that they place in it.

And likewise I can feel my own attention span dwindling as I flick from work to, twitter, to email, to a web article  and back to work again.

So at least, anecdotally I am with Watson on many of his suggestions.  That's not to say I will be running out in the street like some neo-Luddite.  But as the book suggests I can see myself  slowing down ever so slightly and be thinking a little  more deeply about where the digital age is taking me and what its doing to me along the way.

If anything I think the trends he has outlined deserve closer examination.  Do we really need to be outfitting all our classrooms wit state of the art touch screens.  What value does being constantly connected to Facebook and Twitter bring us.

Watson has an easy, conversational tone, the book was quite pleasurable to read


Amazon:  Future Minds at $13.46 + P&H
Book Depository: Future Minds at $19.48 all inclusive

Hardcover & Ebook

Disclaimer:  This review is based upon an an advanced reading copy ebook provided by Nicholas Brealey Publishing through Netgalley at no cost to myself.

Nov 2, 2010

Cuthulhu Calling - Wayne June the voice of Lovecraft

The Dark Worlds of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 1: The Dunwich Horror & Call Of CthulhuI have just finished  The Dark Worlds of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 1: The Dunwich Horror & Call Of Cthulhu audio book. 

I think Lovecraft's writing lends itself to being read aloud, hence it's perfect for Audiobooks.  The only other audiobook that I have litened to was a Torchwood story, Border Princes I believe.  That was read by Eve Myles, one of the actors on the show and I don't know if it was the Welsh accent, or the way the story was written, but I found it hard to follow along and really visualize the story.

The Voice of Lovecraft

The first thing that surprised me about the narrator of Volume one was his age.  As I lay listening to the deep resonant voice of Wayne June I imagined a bearded old timer.  A man whose had his fair share of quality whisky and done time in a few sea side taverns.

His voice I think really leans something extra to Lovecraft's work,  depth and gravitas.  Here's an audio sample of him narrating.

He also narrates some Edgar Allen Poe, for those fans of the macabre.

Are there any particular voice actors who you think capture the feel of a certain authors work? Who's your favourite?


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