Tag Archives | book

The best kind of problem

I’ve been relatively quiet online recently, because I’m revising my book and it’s totally absorbing*. Right now, at least; I expect a sticky, scary stretch will come along, but I’m not there yet. I bought Holly Lisle’s How To Revise Your Novel course as a Christmas present for myself, and it’s GREAT. Cuts out a lot of flailing by giving me specifics to work on each week, plus the forums are really helpful. These things make me happy. Definitely recommended, if you’re looking to avoid flailing too.

(*plus, my iphone is still broken so I have to actually, like, get up and turn the computer on in order to be online. My laziness often overrides my social-media urge).

My only problem is that other things make me happy, too – especially books by Stacia Kane. Here I am, deep in revision, proud of my swotty, good-girl focus, and along comes a book I know I’m going to drop everything to read – Sacrificial Magic is out in the UK today! I read each of the first three Downside novels in a day and I’m sure this one will be as gripping, and as good. So that’s at least 24 hours of my writing schedule written off, while I catch up with Chess and Terrible.

Even worse,  Bring Up the Bodies is also out today – the sequel to Wolf Hall that I’ve been itching for since I heard it was being written. If I’d noticed when I pre-ordered that they’d both be released at the same time I would have kept my weekend free. Instead I’ve made plans and will have to leave the house and spend time with real people, grr 😉

Any genre-heads who haven’t heard of these are forgiven for seeing ‘Wolf’ and ‘Bodies’ in the titles and assuming I’m reading horror. Nope – they’re the story of Thomas Cromwell, and Wolf Hall was exactly the kind of well-written masterpiece that puts one off ever trying to write anything at all, because it will never be as good. You know the sort of thing. Disgustingly excellent.

Also, I totally fell for Cromwell.  These aren’t romance novels, but he was so well drawn, so complex and real that I sigh every time I think of him. My poor Thomas.  Sigh. I am so looking forward to spending more time with him.

The only flaw with Wolf Hall was that there were about twenty other characters also called Thomas, who were invariably all in the same scene talking to or about each other, and neither ‘Thomas’ nor ‘he’ were useful signifiers as to who did what. One of the drawbacks of reading on a Kindle is the relative difficulty of flicking back a few pages or referring to the index to see who’s who. Still, better than having to haul a 600 page hardback around, and a useful writing lesson learned – not to give all my characters the same damn name. There, I’m gaining on Hilary Mantel as I write…

I don’t know which book I’m more excited about. The only reason I’m starting Sacrificial Magic first is because it’ll be the quicker read. The Downside books aren’t short, but they are fast-paced and I always inhale them in one or two sittings, whereas Wolf Hall – woah, that was 674 pages, and Bring up the Bodies is 608. Wolf Hall was the first book I ever read on my Kindle, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have read it if I’d had to lug a book of that size around.

Instead, both of these new books weigh nothing at all (or not?) and were magically delivered to my Kindle by the Amazon fairies overnight, which was thrilling to wake up to, in the same way that eBay purchases always feel like (free) gifts when they arrive.

Back later. Gone reading. X

Source: last.fm via Jenni on Pinterest

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Zoo City review

Zoo City Cover Lauren Beukes Angry Robot

How to enjoy book awards without having to actually write a novel

(A review of Zoo City, by Lauren Beukes)

There are three ways to gain pleasure from book awards (assuming that you are not one of the nominees yourself; if you are, congrats. Nice to see you here).

One is to have read all the books on the shortlist and therefore hold a valid opinion about which one is best. This never happens. Ever. Even the judges have to pull all-nighters skim-reading and pretend they’d read them ages ago.

Scenario Two is much more achievable: To have read at least one of the nominated books, and thus be allowed to hold forth, loudly, about how the one you bothered to buy should totally win the award in question (or, was such a pile of crap that it should never have been nominated).

Scenario Three is the nicest of all: To see a book you genuinely loved on the list, and for that book to actually win. That’s what happened to me when Zoo City won the Arthur C Clarke Award last year, and I got to feel smug and proud despite having had nothing to do with the book. You hear that? A way to feel smug and proud without having to do anything except read a book. Don’t tell me you’re not impressed by that.

Right now, with the nominee list for the 2012 Arthur C Clarke Award not yet announced, having an opinion about last year’s winner is the best you can do. So, get thee to a bookshop and swot up fast. Here are some of my favourite things about Beuke’s book.

1 The concept of being animalled. In Beuke’s world, criminals have a permanent reminder of their crime, an animal who is linked to them for life. The tether between person and animal is strong, and separation is unbearable. It’s a cool, visual conceit, and something that’s not vampires. (Or werewolves). Something original. Phew.

Now that those with a less than pristine past can be identified with just a glance, the animalled are quickly ostracised. Let’s face it, excluding people who are different is something humans have always been good at. The suburbs become gated communities, and the Zoo City of the title is slang for where the cons and their critters reside.

2 Urban grittiness. I like urban fantasy when it shows me streets that are real. Streets that have dirt and junkies on them, litter and blood. When she came out of prison with a Sloth on her shoulders, no one would rent Zinzi a place anywhere nice, and in fact she kinda liked the broken down tenement she found in the Zoo City ghetto. It was dirty, and crowded, and noisy – just like prison. The scenes in the downtown slums are easy to visualise and are always believable, uncomfortably so. The detail makes the magic and the noir elements feel very real.

3 Zinzi December. What a name, what a woman. Here’s a female lead, written by a female author, winning a SF prize in a year where everyone shouted a lot (a lot) about there being a lack of female SF authors these days. Zinzi is the kind of heroine I like – cynical, clever, with healthy disregard for authority. Her downward spiral is in the spotlight, not her love life. No, she’s not proud of what she’s done, or what she does now. And nor should she be. She stays away from the drugs these days, but is involved in some dodgy internet scams to pay the bills and has no legit alternatives to turn to instead.

4 The pop culture. Like the slums, Lauren gets this right. Remember I said there were no legit alternatives for Zinzi? Well, what if she uses her natural talent to help out some bad people, and earns enough to stop hustling for a while? People with animals also have a magical talent, a shavi, and Zinzi’s talent is finding lost things. Keys, love letters, toys, jewellery. She could find bigger stuff, yes, but she prefers to stick to the easy stuff. Less trouble that way. She advertises her services to find things people have lost, and attracts the attention of a pop mogul who’s lost his teen singer. She should know better than to get involved – the darkness surrounding the case is palpable – but the money and the armed heavies make it hard to walk away.

So she takes the job, to find a lost teen idol, a cookie-cutter cutie who is adored for her innocent image. She’s a beauty, an angel, a role model. And she needs to be found before the media discovers her disappearance and infers anything sordid. The gossip magazine culture and the fake saccharine pop stars are perfectly done, and excerpts from YouTube style web pages (complete with comments), song lyrics and tabloid columns are slipped neatly between the chapters.

Bonus Scenario Four: being able to say that none of this year’s list are as good as last year’s winner. Read this now and you still have a chance to enjoy this scenario.

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Advent Thanksgiving: I just love your brraaiins (Warm Bodies review).

Warm bodies cover isaac marionMy Advent Thanksgiving series is a series of posts about stuff I liked in 2011. Music, books, tv, games, handsome gentlemen – you get the idea.

My review of Warm Bodies is up at Slacker Heroes today. I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this, not being a big zombie fan, but it was gorgeous.  Funny, full of art and music and just the right side of sentimental.  Zombie romance – who knew?

I just love your brraaiins: 3 reasons to fall in love with a zombie

He lives in a plane

Post zombie plague, the undead hang out in large groups at abandoned places while the living hide in barricaded, joyless camps. ‘R’, our zombie narrator, lives in an abandoned airport, and has claimed a 747 commercial jet as his private pad. He spends his days travelling up and down the airport escalators, then up and down again. I guess they’re operating at the same level of animation. His friend ‘M’ is more down to earth (all zombies have forgotten their full, living names; M and R think they remember the first initials of theirs, at least) and is as sleazy and female obsessed in death as he was in life. M lives in the ladies bathroom, watching soft porn and tripping on hits from fresh brains. I know which bachelor pad I’d prefer.

‘My friend ‘M’ says the irony of being a zombie is that everything is funny, but you can’t smile, because your lips have rotted off.’

He loves music

It’s hard for the zombies to remember what happened to them, or what their lives were like before. R seems to be the only one who cares, and his inability to piece anything together is upsetting him. He collects records and memorabilia, paintings, movies and dolls, and piles them up in his plane-pad. He’s certain they were things of importance but unable to remember why. His mind is stretching beyond his zombie lot in life, but his memory won’t play ball and his vocabulary, limited to the occasional shuffling syllable, can’t help him ask what he wants to know. In one of the cutest, coolest scenes of the novel, he uses his vinyl stash to ‘scratch’ the words he wants to say, skipping through lines of Sinatra records to articulate his thoughts.

Who’s he trying to communicate with? Well. When he eats the brain of a twenty something soldier, he experiences the love the boy had for his bright, full of life girlfriend and decides to rescue her and bring her back to his plane. Yes, you’re right, not the cleverest idea ever. Bring a living girl into an airport full of zombies in order to protect her? Hmm. Anyway, while she’s there they start playing the records he’s amassed, and have a strange few days of hanging out, playing records and eating Thai food. Sounds like my 20s. Though I never had to cover myself in the blood of the dead to hide my scent from the hordes of hungry dead outside.

He values pop culture

Frustrated that none of the other zombies seem to remember or want more, R loses his temper and shouts at a zombie he meets when looping the escalators one day. She has a name tag – she has a name, a clue to her old life, but zombies can’t read so all it does is taunt him.

‘Name,’ I say, glaring into her ear. ‘Name?’

She shoots me a cold look and keeps walking.

‘Job? School?’ My tone shifts from query to accusation. ‘Movie? Song?’ It bubbles out of me like oil from a punctured pipeline. ‘Book?’ I shout at her. ‘Home? Name?’

I think I’d get on with this guy. Picture it. We’re in his plane, listening to Sinatra, eating pad Thai and talking about books. He’s kinda immortal. He’s got DJ skills. He wants to know where I’m from, what my favourite movie is. He’s eaten my boyfriend’s brain to get to know me better – if that’s not commitment, what is?

Every few pages of this novel has a reference to what this new, dead world is missing; Julie’s eyes are likened to ‘classic novels and poetry’, while R’s cravings for brraaiins pulse like pink Pollock fractals. Polaroids are valuable because memories are fading, Beatles songs weave in and out of the chapters, and R and his crew are a ‘cadaverous cadre…roaming the open roads like Kerouac beats with no gas money’. The people behind the barricades have no time to teach their children about art and music, because learning to load a gun and cut a zombie’s brains out are more urgent life skills. They dress in khaki and there’s no booze left in the pub. They are alive, but what for? Warm Bodies is a love letter to what we still have – culture, creativity, emotion, (vodka) – and inspires me to relish it now, before the zombie apocalypse takes it all away.

from ‘3 reasons to fall in love with a zombie’

– Click here for the review at Slacker Heroes (and if you are a zombie fan, check out the rest of the site’s Zombiethon)

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Rulebreaker reviewed at Slacker Heroes

Rule Breaker Cathy Pegau coverOh, I have been remiss and not linked to my review of this yet, though it was such a fun novel to read And – and! – the lovely lady who wrote it, Cathy Pegau, agreed to step into my virtual parlour and answer some questions for me.

After working my way through a knot of books that were hardgoing and/or disappointing, Rulebreaker turned up in my ‘To Read’ pile at just the right time to give me a breather & remind me that reading should be a good time. Here’s the Slacker Heroes review:

I’m excited today because, as well as a book review, I’ve invited the author to answer some questions for us. Rulebreaker is a sci fi romance by Cathy Pegau, out now from Carina Press, and our Q&A session is at the end of this review.

Rulebreaker’s  heroine, Liv, is a low-level criminal with a history of smash ’n grab jobs. She’s been a con since she was a kid, and has yet to find either an honest alternative or the job big enough for her to retire.

The novel opens with Liv on the floor with a gun at her head, held hostage during a bank job. She is particularly peeved about this because she was there to rob the place herself. It’s a nice twist, and gives us Liv’s droll, down on her luck point of view from the start.

The first person, ‘just-wants-an-easy-life-but-keeps-getting-into-trouble’ point of view reminded me of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum novels, and the light but fast-paced tone made this a quick and enjoyable read.

The story’s set on Nevarro, a mining planet that’s seen better days. Like most of the drones who work for the mining company, Liv dreams of a bigger things, a better life, legitimate or not. When her handsome ex husband tells her about the job big enough to give her what she wants, she’s tempted despite how things ended between them. One last job, right? Right. We all know how that’s going to go.

As in all good crime capers, Liv gets involved despite the obvious danger. Before long she’s embroiled in corporate espionage, living with her ex and chillingly aware that the people she’s working for are seriously nasty criminals. They’ve hired her to get close to her sexy new boss, and do whatever it takes to get the information she needs. Did I mention that Liv’s long-lost mother (also a con) picks the worst time to reappear and move into her flat, or that her sexy new boss is a woman?

The scene is set for an engaging adventure with some deliciously saucy scenes. Pegau writes well and delivers humour and a believable plot along with the sexual tension. I’ll definitely look out for more of her books in the future, and especially recommend this for Stephanie Plum fans who like a little sci-fi (and a bit of girl-on-girl).

Now for the Q&A section

Thanks for your time, Cathy! How long have you been writing SF/F?

I’ve always loved the SF/F genres as a reader, so it was a natural progression when I started writing years ago. And I do mean YEARS. I wrote my first novel (sword and sorcery fantasy, not pubbed, still in the virtual desk drawer, would love to revise and see it out there) about 12 years ago. There have been sequels and other genres in that time as I learned more about the craft and about myself as a writer. The futuristic/SF setting has been a favorite for a while, but the addition of romance is a relatively recent thing for me.

What comes first for you, characters or story?

That’s sort of a chicken or the egg question, isn’t it? It changes for each story. I’ve had plot ideas that generated characters as well as characters I knew I’d love that I built the plot around. Not that it’s ever so simple : )

For Rulebreaker it was a little bit of both. I was contemplating a story about a thief falling for the person she was supposed to steal from, so the plot and character went hand in hand pretty much from the beginning. Liv was fleshed out as the plot continued to develop, before I even started the actual writing. When it came time to “cast” the love interest, however, the fact it was another woman added all kinds of conflict and characterization dimensions. So while Liv more or less came along with the story, Zia grew from it.

What’s coming next – when can we read more of your stuff?

Nothing official at the moment. I have a couple of more books in the same world with secondary characters taking the leads. I’ll let you know when something happens with them.
Please recommend another writer from Carina, for us to read while we wait for your next novel/

Wow, so many to consider! For science fiction (with or without romance) I like Ella Drake, Robert Appleton, Lilly Cain, KC Burn, Lisa Paitz Spindler, Diane Dooley, among others. There are also great romantic suspense authors like Natalie Damschroder and Maureen A. Miller. I love a good romantic suspense story.

Thanks again, Cathy, for answering my questions. You can get to know Cathy better from her Twitter, website or blog.

 

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