Exciting Update about The Scrapdragon series, by Nigel Edwards

I read, really enjoyed, and reviewed the first of Nigel Edwards’ Scrapdragon series a while back, and one of the few things I had to quibble about was the sad fact that the book was then only available in electronic form, which might prevent some young readers from getting access to it.

Edwards has now been able to publish this in paperback through Createspace, which will hopefully give it more exposure – I’ve as yet only read the first instalment, but it’s completely delightful and very recommended. If you like a good old-fashioned kid’s fantasy series, give it a try 🙂

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Liebster Award Thingy!

Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

Several at once. I’d never get a thing done if I had to read books one at a time.

How many books are currently on your TBR?

1328. Not a typo :p

How long have you been book blogger?

Nearly 6 months.

Which character from your favorite book would you most likely be friends with, and why?

Mmm… I really don’t know. I tend to like characters who’d make awful friends. But I’m fond of Kelly from Colin Mulhern’s The Boy Who Buried Dead Things (reviewed below.) I have tweenaged nieces, and this is the sort of character I would like them to look up to and emulate.

Which movie based on a book do you like the best?

Peter Brooks’ 1963 adaptation of Lord of the Flies. I’m also inordinately fond of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (shut up :p)

What is the worst book you have read?

All the way through? I’m not sure. I tend to bail if I’m not enjoying it… and wouldn’t want to put down fellow writers. I find Jane Austen intolerably dull and trivial, though.

If you could meet any character from any book, and punch them in the face, who would it be and why?

Christian Grey, because he is a selfish, abusive prick.

Who is your book crush?

Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, though I don’t think I’d actually want to date him.

What is your favorite genre?

Probably mystery, though I always say I’ll try anything that isn’t erotica or overly saccharine Chick Lit.

Name a book that you would not/could not finish and why?

Hmm… again, I don’t want to trash a writer who, for all I know, tried their best. But I recently tried a “cozy murder mystery” I couldn’t finish. Good premise, nice cover, but the writing was very unprofessional and full of basic errors. And I had issues with the way rape was used as a plot device.

If you could adapt any book into a movie, which book would you choose?

Ed Chatterton’s marvellous Road Kill would make an awesome short film.

The Boy Who Buried Dead Things – Colin Mulhern

Theboywhoburiedeadthings-small

Publication Date: May 2, 2015

Source: Can be bought from Amazon’s US, UK, and Canadian sites, among others.

Format: E-book

Pages: 179 pages

Summary: When the body of a teenager is discovered in a shallow grave in a secluded part of South Shields’ shoreline, suspicions are focussed on David Marsh – a boy who can’t talk, can barely walk, and has a particularly strange and disturbing hobby.

Short Version: I love this book. Finally, teenagers in fiction who act like… actual teenagers.

Longer Version: You have to admit that that’s one hell of a catchy title.

And an eye-catchingly good cover, too, come to think of it. It all points to a writer who knows what he’s doing, and in The Boy Who Buried Dead Things, Colin Mulhern doesn’t disappoint.

At its plot level, this is as tense and jam-packed with twists and turns as the best of whodunits on TV (I am not a snob when it comes to my whodunits, well-written is well-written, and this is.) By the end, no ties are loose, no details are thrown in for no apparent reason. Clues are set up immaculately, and the shifting timeline adds an extra dimension to the story (after a killer first line, the story is told in flashback by Tegs/Tom, who is sitting in a police interview room.) Mulhern throws us immediately into the consequences of the discovery of the body, without pausing for how-this-happened storyline first, a flaw I see in a lot of novels.

But it’s the characters that lift this one from great to extraordinary. Mulhern seems entirely uninterested in dividing the cast into “goodies” and “baddies”, and instead hits on this universal truth – in their own head, nobody is the baddy. And even bad people have their own internal code of conduct and behaviour they think is wrong and wouldn’t stoop to. The world doesn’t need any more take-over-the-world villains with cats on lap and shark tanks at ready.

Tom (“Tegs”, for a hilariously unfortunate reason I won’t spoil) is an incredibly likeable hero, neither pressing himself intrusively into the narrative nor lacking in personality. His reactions are realistic to a painful degree – he knows that Davy’s autism is not his fault and struggles with reactions to him based on fear and ignorance. In one touching moment, this fifteen-year-old boy bursts into tears and gets a hug from his mother (and lord, am I sick of seeing orphans and otherwise abused kids in YA fiction.)

Chris (“Weasel”, a nickname that unfortunately had me picturing him as Rupert Grint) is strongly implied to be an “otherwise abused kid”. He’s from a rough end of town and it’s implied his folks don’t much care what he does – until he does something deserving of a beating. Weasel is the sort of person I can’t imagine living past his twenties. He’s a ball of runty bravado, fighting people over and over again (and uniformly being seriously injured in the process.) Another character refers to him as an “arrogant little shit” and she’s right – Weasel has no problems calling a disabled boy a “retard” and trying to beat him up for little more than just existing. This character is as complex and more than a little disturbing. Not likeable, but all the more realistic for it.

But it’s the character of Kelly who holds my heart. The straight-talking fixer of the group, Kelly is the sort of heroine more teenage girls need to read and emulate. She’s poised and mature, often not engaging with the ridiculous behaviour of the boys around her. She picks her battles and rarely, say, gives in to the impulse to hit Weasel over the head with a baseball bat, but she has a strong moral compass and isn’t afraid to stand up in what she believes in. Her objection over the word “retard” and “retarded” being thrown around is expertly done – she sounds sincere without getting on her high-horse. And when a boy who slapped her wants to know if they’re still dating, her answer made me cry with joy.

Aside from this trio, even peripheral characters are done well. Davy is a sympathetic portrayal of autism, but not one that strays into inspiration porn – the boy has problems. His mother is a particularly vivid character, a woman both old and wise beyond her years, and I could have read about her all day. Even our primary antagonists (Paul and Greg, otherwise known as “Bloat”) come across as real people. The only one of the bunch I had no use for at all was Helen, Tegs’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl. I can’t help but think there’s a reason for that.

The ocean and its surrounds bleed into every word of this extraordinary novel, so much that I could almost smell the brine while I was reading. I’m not familiar with the part of England that it’s set in, but reading reviews from those who are, it seems Mulhern has lovingly and accurately portrayed his home-town in exquisite detail. For that, too, I salute him.

I got this book for free, but it’s still inexpensive, and a damn good read. Highly recommended.

Road Kill – Ed Chatterton

Road Kill

Publication Date: March 15, 2015

Source: Amazon

Format: E-book

Pages: 35 pages

Summary: Night is falling on the road from Darwin to Brisbane, and long-distance truck driver Skennar is making good time in his gleaming red Titan.

He’s been driving pretty much continuously since five that morning, but who cares? His illegal load is hidden nicely beside his legal one, and he’s chatting on his laptop with one of the many lonely women who frequent website chatrooms.

Everything is good. Until a white dot looms on the road up ahead. Another traveller.

And soon the red dirt of the outback will be stained even redder … (Source: Amazon product description)

Short Version: I let toast burn while I was reading this. It’s that good.

Longer Version: Okay, you got me. My original intentions for this blog was to showcase books that are both a) new and b) self-published. Chatterton’s short story is three years old, and distributed by Random House the lucky bastard but I picked it up because it was free, couldn’t stop reading, and in all conscience, couldn’t not mention it just because Chatterton is one of the lucky writers.

There’s little I can say about the plot that isn’t mentioned in the summary, without going for a trip into The Land of Massive Spoilers. I will say that Chatterton’s style is gripping, getting some genuine gasps and heart-thuds out of me as I took in what happens when one tiny lapse of judgment turns hellish.

Goodreads reviewers were quick to point out that the protagonist, Pete Skennar, is incredibly unlikeable. So he is. He’s a petty crim, a drug dealer as well as a drug user, a former jailbird, and someone who trawls for married women on the internet and then has this high opinion of them:

He’s learned to feign interest in anything the bitches say. He can keep it up for months until they’re ready.

Charming, non? I don’t require my protagonists to be likeable, and I don’t think Chatterton intended for him to be likeable. There is, by the by, one carefully placed sentence earlier in the story that may account for much of what happens toward the end, but to point it out would be to spoil it. Suffice it to say, though, that it was a mature and sophisticated way of broaching that particular subject without being melodramatic.

Speaking of mature and sophisticated, Chatterton’s dialogue, such of it that there is, makes my heart sing:

“Hey brother,” says Skennar but can’t think of anything else to say. He glances back at the guy but it’s like looking into a mirror. “Why’d you have to go and do a dumb fucken thing like that for, ey?”

I’m not sure how much of my readership are fellow Australians but for those who aren’t, just trust me when I say that this dialogue is so perfectly executed I can hear Skennar’s voice in my head. There’s actually very little dialogue in this particular story but what’s there is brilliant.

Something else that was perfectly executed was an instance of “Chekhov’s gun”. Anton Chekhov, the playwright, insisted that in good storytelling, a gun introduced in Act One must surely go off in Act Three (and the reverse, of course. If your gun goes off in Act Three, you need to have at least mentioned it in your setup.) Of course, “Chekhov’s gun” needn’t be an actual gun (and in this instance, it isn’t). But when Skennar’s “one thing that was bothering him” is reintroduced it had the perfectly desired effect on me – not “X? I don’t remember x at all” nor “Skennar, you moron, how could you forget?” It was: “Oh, shit. That.”

Indeed.

Just to keep my rep as a serious reviewer (and not just the blithering fangirl who dropped Chatterton a line on Twitter and more or less drooled all over him like an overexcited puppy), there were a couple of down sides to this extraordinary story. The ending is slightly abrupt, and that’s not helped by the fact that it ends at 46%, with the rest of the file consisting of a sample of Chatterton’s crime novel, A Dark Place to Die. Don’t get me wrong, it’s now on my TBR list, but the abrupt ending of the story in what felt like “only halfway through” was a bit of a bummer.

Not enough of a bummer, though, to knock this from its spot as the best short story I’ve read in about a year. Goes to show that some published writers might be “lucky”, but others, like Chatterton, deserve it.

Three Ghosts – Katie Sullivan

Three Ghosts

Publication Date: March 15, 2015

Source: Amazon

Format: E-book

Pages: 69 pages

Summary: Deirdre O’Brien, an American political-activist living in Dublin, married the wrong man – and had to kill him to save the lives of thousands. Fifteen years later, he’s back from the dead, with a horrific plan to destroy the tenuous peace between Belfast, Dublin and London. To stop him, Dee will throw herself at a seedy underworld, where nothing is what it seems, and trust is a commodity too short in supply.

Short Version: Wait, who’s Kev again?

Long Version: It’s not often that I come across a book where I’m unsure whether the story is too complex for my brain, or just too complex altogether.

Katie Sullivan’s Three Ghosts actually has a pretty straightforward core: Deirdre (Dee) O’Brien on the track of her ex-husband, the not-quite-dead Pearse Finnegan, a terrorist who may or may not be planning on bombing the shit out of 10 Downing Street. It’s been fifteen years since Dee removed herself from her old political-activist cronies, including Pearse, but the girl is game.

She really is. One of the things I admired about this book is its representation of Dee, initially anyhow, as an intelligent woman who thinks and acts for herself, who’s neither wimpy nor needlessly aggressive, just assertive and clever. This isn’t born out by the final few scenes, which for some reason put Dee on the periphery as someone who is acted upon rather than who acts (and I can’t provide further details without using massive plot spoilers.)

As for who Kev is… well, I did eventually figure that one out, but it was a close thing. There are loads and loads and loads of characters in this short novella: Dee, Cat (a gloriously unique character sadly underused in all but one scene) Pearse, Pat, Kevin, Aiden, Emmet, Marley, Meg. And then half of them get code names, too… and then they all start double-crossing one another in a gloriously complex set of chess-like moves that actually had me backtracking in places so I could figure out what was going on and who was working with and against whom. The narrative is told in the present, but since these characters are bound to one another because of events going back twenty years, it can be difficult to puzzle out exactly what happened in the past, and in what order it all happened.

Sullivan’s knowledge of Irish politics and history is impressive and sounds authentic, particularly in dialogue. The ignorant (oh, who am I kidding, me) might want to make use of Wikipedia once or twice while reading. Her dialogue seems solid – as she’s a dual Irish/American citizen, she’s a much better authority on Irish slang than I’ll ever be, and I was confident while reading that I wasn’t going to stumble over any clunkers. (I didn’t.)

I rarely nitpick the individual style of books to this ridiculous degree, but there was one thing that was driving me up the wall before the end – Sullivan’s choosing to refer to Pearse not by name, but as “her ex-husband” over and over again, until the expression stuck out like a sore thumb. Small, but annoying.

Sullivan’s action sequences are well-thought-out and well-paced, without any drags in the reading experience. I did feel that the denouement was wrapped up a little prematurely and the book could easily have been several chapters longer and more detailed, but what made it to E-print was definitely still a quick, punchy, enjoyable read.

Feeling bummed out by negative reviews?

Then feast your eyes on this list of savage reviews of classic literature.

The Walt Whitman one is particularly nasty – there’s no need for any critic to refer to someone’s work as “filth” (not even if that someone writes actual filth).

I think the Poe one was probably fairly accurate, though :p

Did not finish.

I won’t ditch a book that confuses “your” and “you’re”, but I think much of this is on point.

Life and loves from, Me.

Life is too short for bad books.
I read because I enjoy it and if I am not enjoying a book for whatever reason -and there  are a few possible reasons available, I am more than happy to add that book to the Did Not Finish pile and move on. There are so many good books out there waiting for me to read them, my to be read pile is miles high and never seems to decrease, so why would I, or should I, waste time reading a book that I am not enjoying?
Yet, despite the sensibleness of the above paragraph, every time I have a book in my hands which I am considering giving up on, I end up having an internal battle with myself because, it might just get better. And it might, I have read books which started off awfully but slowly improved and became a…

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Anonymity and the Internet

Having little else to do last night (besides the obvious weekend reading splurge), I indulged in reading about authors who freak the hell out over getting bad reviews, and freak the hell out in public, all over the internet.

Some of them are harmless, or only really harm the reputation of the offended author. Examples include Ayelet Waldman’s Twitter meltdown because the NYT failed to put her book on their 100 Notable Books of 2014 List. They reviewed it positively, but that wasn’t good enough for Waldman. Then there was the time Anne Rice ranted all over Amazon about how people who didn’t like her Blood Canticle (including a lot of her faithful fans) were just too stupid to understand it. Then we have MR Matthias, a minor self-published Fantasy author who blatantly announced that his work was better than that of Tolkien, and the title of “self-published” demeans the enormity of his literary achievements.

But others aren’t so trivial nor so funny. When writer Alice Hoffman read a review by Roberta Silman that she didn’t like (it was lukewarm, not a trash party), she blew up Twitter calling her a “moron” and an “idiot” – then tried to dox her. Luckily for Silman, Hoffman got her number wrong, but it’s still concerning (to say the least) that there are authors who think that siccing their fanbase onto critics they don’t like is an acceptable way of expressing hurt feelings over a review.

But Hoffman isn’t the only one who needs a bit of perspective. Kathleen Hale, on receiving a less-than-favourable review from one “Blythe Harris”, stalked her at her workplace, paid money for a background check on her, and eventually ended up in front of a house she’d tentatively identified as that of Harris. She wrote a Guardian article about it, apparently not understanding when there was a backlash to the effect of “you do not stalk people over a shitty review, ever. No, I don’t care if she was using a pseudonym/fake identity, you never do that!”

It gets worse. When Richard Brittain got a book review he didn’t like, he allegedly went to the reviewer’s Facebook page, found out where she worked, stalked her there, and assaulted her by hitting her over the head with a bottle of wine.

Holy shit.

I blog and tweet under my real name. My pictures of me really are pictures of me. If a person wanted to find me, they probably could. I’m loath to go anonymous because of cases like Richard Brittain, but neither do I want someone unhinged to assault me in public over a review.

Has anyone else felt threatened in real life over a review given online?