Sunday, 31 March 2013

Showcase Sunday #12

Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine several weekly wrap-up memes into one post. Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Stacking the Shelves is hosted at Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post is hosted at Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Letterbox Love is a special British book-haul meme hosted by Lindsey at Narratively Speaking.

Last Week:

I'm writing this before Eastercon, as I'm not sure how much time I'll have to write posts this weekend, but hopefully by the time this is published I'll be having tons of fun, and probably absolutely exhausted after various events on Saturday night. I'll definitely be doing a con report and posting pictures later, so watch out for that next week!

Last week's posts:

Book Review - Winter's Passage, by Julie Kagawa

Authors Who Look Like Their Book Covers

New Goodies:

Thank you to Strange Chemistry for the review copy!

Other Stuff:

Eastercon! A convention for science fiction and fantasy fans in the UK, with loads of authors, signings, fun events, bookishness, talks and panels. Wondering what it's all about? Take a look at the website. I'm so excited!

I'm taking part in Camp NaNo in April. I've set myself the personal target of 30,000 words, as that's 1000 a day, which, while hard, seems do-able. Anyone else joining in?

And, because I forgot to post this earlier, meet the latest addition to our household... Rainbow the draft-excluding dog! My mum knitted this for us because our door seems to be too wide for normal draft excluders. Isn't it wonderful? :-)

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Winter's Passage - Book Review

Winter’s Passage
By Julie Kagawa

Meghan Chase used to be an ordinary girl...until she discovered that she is really a faery princess. After escaping from the clutches of the deadly Iron fey, Meghan must follow through on her promise to return to the equally dangerous Winter Court with her forbidden love, Prince Ash. But first, Meghan has one request: that they visit Puck--Meghan's best friend and servant of her father, King Oberon--who was gravely injured defending Meghan from the Iron Fey. Yet Meghan and Ash's detour does not go unnoticed. They have caught the attention of an ancient, powerful hunter--a foe that even Ash may not be able to defeat... (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Winter’s Passage is an e-book novella (short story? It’s hard to tell length on a kindle, but it was very short anyway) connecting the first and second books in the Iron Fey series. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, as I’ve never read one of these novellas that’s meant to connect two books in a series before. It certainly works as a fun filler between release dates, and a way to build anticipation for the book, but as an actual story it falls down a bit. It feels exactly like what it is: filler.

Ash takes Meghan to the Winter Court, encountering a terrifying hunter on the way. Why is it following them and will they be able to escape it? The parts with the hunter were interesting and as ever the faery world was well realised and described.

However, most of the time the story was concerned with re-establishing where we were at the end of the first book. Meghan has to go with Ash to the Winter Court, Fairyland is dangerous, Grimalkin is helping for mysterious reasons of his own, and Puck is still stuck in a tree. There are far too many words spent on explaining things from the first book, obviously just in case readers have skipped that one. I think that was a mistake. Surely the vast majority of this novella’s readers are not only familiar with the first book, but were big fans of the first book. The repetition of information soon became very frustrating.

Winter’s Passage probably worked best at its time of release, as a teaser and a gentle way to re-familiarise readers with the world before the release of the second book. If you have finished the first book recently, however, and just want to get on with the story, this probably won’t offer anything very vital or unexpected. It could certainly be skipped. Fun in parts, a little pointless in others, it’s not a necessary read but will please fans of the series who are hungry for a little bit more.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Authors Who Look Like Their Book Covers

Ever heard that saying that pet owners look like their pets? Well, lately I’ve been noticing something fun in the world of publishing... authors who look like their books!

Not sure what I mean? Check these out.

 Throne of Glass (left) and its author Sarah J Maas (right)

 Glamour in Glass (left) and its author Mary Robinette Kowal (right)

 Artificial Evil (left) and its author Colin F Barnes (right)

Remembrance (left), Timeless (centre), and their author Michelle Madow.
Okay, this one is a bit more of a push, but imagine her with curled hair and a mask.

 Good Omens (left) and its authors Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (right).
This one is a little different, as the authors don't look exactly like the characters as pictured on the cover. However, the photo is deliberately taken to resemble the two main characters in the story, the demon Crowley (Neil Gaiman), and the angel Aziraphale (Terry Pratchett). It's one of my favourite author photos.

So, have you noticed any authors who look like their covers, or who resemble characters in their books? Got any author-booky-look-a-likes to add to my list? :-)

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Showcase Sunday #11

Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine several weekly wrap-up memes into one post. Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea. Stacking the Shelves is hosted at Tynga's Reviews, and Sunday Post is hosted at Kimba the Caffeinated Book Reviewer. Letterbox Love is a special British book-haul meme hosted by Lindsey at Narratively Speaking.

Last week:

Well, I seem to have caught the lurgy (like cooties, but worse and more British) at the book fair I went to last weekend, so I'm feeling a little sorry for myself now! Unfortunately it's still all busy busy here, so not much chance to snuggle under a blanket with soup and a book yet, but maybe later... ;-)

My posts last week:

Book Review - What Makes You Die, by Tom Piccirilli

How To Promote Your Book

Top Ten Books I HAD to Buy... (but are still sitting on my shelf unread)

The Battle of Science and Magic Part 2: Nostalgia and the New (over at Fantasy Faction)

New Goodies:

(Thank you to Titan Books for sending this review copy)

(Only 99p on Amazon right now!)

Other Stuff:

It seems that a rather unhappy author has written a post about his blog tour, expressing disappointment (to put it mildly) and disparaging some of the blogs involved. Thankfully, a lot of good has come out of this, as many bloggers have responded with their own posts offering advice about blog tours and how to approach bloggers, and showing how marketing a book can look from the other side. These posts are excellent and definitely worth a read. Here are a few of the best ones I've seen:

Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

Geeky Bloggers Book Blog

Nyx Book Reviews

Strange Chemistry (the publisher's and their authors' perspectives)

My Own Thoughts About Promoting Books

and something else to offer another different perspective...

Tor Books Blog (a look into the life of a publicist at a major book company)


Hope you all had a great week! What have you been up to? Any new books? :-)

How To Promote Your Book

This subject seems to be on my mind a lot this week. First, I went to a book fair with the small press I work for, spending a (very cold) day promoting our books and authors. Second, there’s been a lot of really fantastic advice around the blogosphere at the moment about blog tours. And finally, I’m putting an application together for a dream book-publicity job, so have been thinking about all the different ways in which I’ve been involved in the publicity and marketing of a book.

You see, I’ve actually seen this process from almost all sides now. I work with a small press, helping to promote and sell their books. I go to book fairs and conventions. I’m a reader and a fan. I’m a book blogger. I’m an editor. I’ve worked in a book shop and put up those pop-up promotional display thingies (those things are a nightmare!), not to mention BOGOHP-stickered my way through the bestsellers chart a gazillion times, and helped customers choose that special something for them (“I’m looking for a book and I can’t remember the author but I know the cover is pink, do you have it? Also do you sell blue-tack?”).

In fact, I think the only perspective I haven’t directly experienced is the author’s, though I’ve worked quite closely with a few, and, well... hopefully one day I’ll be in that position too! *eyes manuscript-in-progress and guiltily closes Pinterest*

So, I thought I’d expand on the whole blog tour advice thing and give some thoughts on how to promote your book. This is aimed mainly at debut authors, as well as the independent and small press authors who don’t have the power of a major publishing house’s publicity team behind them. But it’s important to remember that even big authors are expected to take an interest in their own publicity, and really, the more anyone can do promote themselves well, the better. (N.B. the word ‘well’ is important there. Despite what they say, not all publicity is good publicity, especially if it comes from spamming people on Twitter or having a meltdown on public forums.)

This is going to be quite a long post, but I hope some will find it useful! I’m so grateful to authors for all the wonderful books they’ve given me... if I can give something back, even a little, then I’m happy to do so.

Editing and Book Design

This is so important. Even before you begin to promote your book, think about what the cover and overall design says about it. Not everyone will have control over this stage, of course, but if you’re self-publishing, do spend some money on good editing and design.

If there are stupid mistakes, or if the plotting, characterisation or pacing seems sloppy, then the book won’t get very good ratings. If the cover is not intriguing, people might not even pick it up in the first place. Both of these will damage sales because your book is more likely to be ignored. Even the best blog tours and social-media wizardry might not be enough to recover from this.

Never underestimate the power of the cover. I’ve seen first hand at book fairs that the small press tables with the prettiest, most colourful book covers attract the most attention. (And a bowl of free chocolates helps too!)

Covers That Pop

One of my favourite covers
So how do you create a cover that grabs attention?

DON’T just slap stock art on it. There are a lot of posts on the internet giving advice about how to manipulate stock art on Photoshop to turn it into something eye-catching. If you don’t feel confident enough to do this, there are also plenty of people who offer these services online. Check out their previous work and choose carefully, but there are some great people out there and this will be money well spent!

DO consider commissioning artwork for the cover. I don’t see this done a lot by independent authors, and the danger with stock art is that it can pop up on several different books. Check out DeviantArt – there are some amazing artists on there. Do make sure you set all terms etc beforehand and offer the artist a reasonable fee. And whatever you do, NEVER take someone’s artwork without asking.

DON’T use standard or cheesy fonts. You’ll have to manipulate the font to make it look less... well, font-like. Go to a book shop and look at book covers. Consider paying for fonts online rather than using the standard ones. Don’t go crazy. Don’t use too many effects on one word. If in doubt, as with the images, consider paying a professional to do this for you.

DO look at other book covers for inspiration. What works for you and what doesn’t? Which books are popular and what makes them stand out? Type in ‘great book covers’ into Google and analyse what comes up. Don’t copy other people’s covers; come up with something unique and interesting.

Getting Your Book into the Shops

ProfDEH/wikimedia commons

This is hard. Really hard. Supercalifragilistically hard if you don’t have a major publisher behind you. And even then, books are always competing for shelf space and if you don’t sell well enough, then the shop won’t order more of your book.

But... want to know a book shop secret? If you can offer the shop an event, something to draw in customers, then they may just order in your books to sell at the event. They might not accept a book signing if you’re self published or small press and they haven’t heard of you. So that means it’s time to get creative...

Try offering a writing workshop. Or a talk on something that relates to your book but that can be expanded, such as women in the fantasy genre, or a particular historical period in fiction. Make sure it’s something interesting that will be likely to draw people to the shop. For example, if a particular town features in your book, why not go to a book shop there and suggest a talk on that town’s history and its appearance in fiction? Go to bookshops in your home town too; there is often a section for promoting local authors.

If the shop agrees to the talk or workshop, they are likely to order in a bunch of your books to sell at the event. Anything left over will hopefully go on the shelves. Bam! Your book is in a book shop that would probably have said no otherwise.

The Power of Blogs

Matthieu Riegler/wikimedia commons
Blogs can be very important in the promotion of a book, but they are not magical and bloggers aren’t miracle workers. You need to know how to approach and interact with blogs correctly if you want to see results.

RESEARCH. Find the blogs that are right for your book. Have a look at their content and the kinds of books they usually review. Don’t try to send an erotica novel to a blog that says it is child-friendly. Don’t send crime books to someone who doesn’t review crime.

That’s pretty simple, yes, but you also need to think about what kind of books they review. Don’t just send your fantasy book to someone who reviews fantasy. Let’s say you’ve written a very dark, gruesome kind of fantasy and this reviewer hates that kind of story. Let’s say you’ve written very mind-bending science fiction, but this reviewer tends to prefer a space opera romp. You might still decide to send them your book, but at least try to get an idea of what the blogger likes and doesn’t like.

Also consider NON-BOOK BLOGS. If you’ve written a story based strongly around cooking, or knitting, or another hobby, it might be fun to look at some of those blogs too. Don’t solely target them, but taking a chance on one or two might reach an audience you would otherwise have missed. If you’ve written a TV or game tie-in story (make sure you have the rights to do so if you have!), or if you’ve written a superhero story or something that strongly connects to geek culture, then check out those kinds of sites too. E.g. Gaming sites and blogs might be interested in a story in which games feature heavily.

Some sites might also review books even if this is not what they are primarily known for. If these reach a wide audience, they are definitely worth approaching too. SFX, for example, for science fiction and fantasy stories.

READ the site’s guidelines. Most blogs have review guidelines. Read them and stick to them. Don’t pester people.

APPROACH bloggers politely. When emailing bloggers, use their name (most will provide it on their ‘about page’ or in the side column on the blog). Don’t attach the book in the review request email; it can seem a bit presumptuous. Don’t tell them you expect a good review, and if you need the review by a certain date, politely make this clear and don’t be surprised if the blogger can’t guarantee this. Never ask the blogger to buy your book and then review it.

Don’t assume that everyone will jump at the chance to have a free book either. There are a lot of free or very cheap books on Amazon. Library books are free. Book bloggers are doing this because they love reading. They buy books anyway, and usually have a huge ‘to read’ pile. Most book bloggers probably consider time more important than money. If you want to convince them to read your book, you have to convince them that it is time well spent, time that they could have been reading something on their ‘to read’ shelf. In most cases, bloggers are very interested in hearing about your book, and if it sounds good, they’ll probably say yes. If they say no, accept this and move on.


Estoy Aqui/wikimedia commons

The main kind of book posts we see on blogs are reviews. This is probably what you’re thinking of when approaching bloggers. Reviews are important, and they can make or break books, but there are some misconceptions about them. The biggest is that only good reviews sell a book.

Well, obviously good reviews are important, but bad reviews can be helpful too. Bad reviews show potential readers that this book isn’t just being hyped by friends and family members. Bad reviews show that some people were passionate enough about the book to hate it. Bad reviews have sometimes made me pick up a book, if I thought the reviewer disliked an element that I would love. I’m more likely to read a bad review than a mediocre review because I know it will be interesting.

Bad reviews are often well-written and funny. However, they can sometimes be snarky, and will certainly come across as mean to the author involved, so it may be a good idea to leave bad reviews unread. A lot of authors do this; in fact, it’s fine not to read any of your reviews.

And please don’t ever argue with a reviewer or leave nasty comments on a bad review. I realise how much of an author’s heart and soul goes into their book, but remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion, and that bad reviews can actually be good for you. It’s too many ‘meh’ reviews, or, worse, no reviews at all that should worry you.

And don’t forget, when looking for bloggers to write reviews, don’t neglect Goodreads! There are some people who review only on Goodreads, but nevertheless I read their reviews and listen to their opinions. Many bloggers will also cross-post to Goodreads as well as their blog. But don't overestimate Goodreads either. There are plenty of readers who don't use it, so don't focus all your efforts here.

Don’t just target the bigger blogs either. Some blogs have a lot of followers but only write very short reviews. Target some of those, but also look at the smaller blogs that have a smaller but more tight-knit community of followers. Look at the blogs that write very thought-out, in-depth reviews too. Look at how bloggers interact on social media. Look at whether they take part in blogging events such as read-a-thons or challenges. A review linked up to a challenge page, even if from a small blog, could attract a lot of readers. Go for a range of all of these.

Finally... it’s not just about blogs. Admittedly this will be harder for the new author or the independent author, but think about sending review copies to newspapers and magazines too. Blogs are important, but traditional forms of publicity still work!

Remember: bloggers are usually unpaid and doing this for a hobby. They do not owe you anything. Approach them as you would approach anyone you’re asking a favour of.

Guest Posts and Interviews

Reviews are really important, but are not always the most useful kind of post to attract new readers. Consider asking a blogger if you can provide a guest post for them.

Okay, but what’s a guest post about? Well, it can be anything you want. You could talk about yourself and your writing, you could talk about the characters in your book, you could offer writing advice, or talk about other authors you love, or tell us how you created your cover, or share your favourite romance scene, or talk about a day in the life of you, or talk about the historical context of your book, or anything you like. I’ve seen all of the above done very successfully.

You could also offer an author interview. Let the blogger come up with their own questions and try to give interesting answers. Remember, you’re selling yourself as much as your book at this point! You could even try to do a skype or instant messenger chat with the blogger so that the interview is more of a dialogue. Or have you thought of doing a Google+ hangout, or a Twitter chat? What about a video interview for a vlog? Get creative!

The advantage of non-review posts is that they allow potential readers to see more about who you are, or learn more about the world and characters of the book. When done well, these are fun and engaging, often much more so than a review. It’s important to promote your book, but just as important to promote its author... you!

Book Fairs, Cons, and Signings

Luigi Nova/wikimedia commons
Make sure you attend conventions if at all possible! I’ve met so many lovely authors at conventions and then gone on to buy their books. If you can take part in panels, do readings or give workshops, these are all incredibly helpful for getting you and your book noticed. It’s not just authors who attend these either. You’ll see the big publishers and their publicists there (often at the bar), agents (also at the bar), and small presses (bar!).

Hang around the bar and the cupcake table and talk to new people. If you’re an author, sitting at a table and trying to sell your book probably won’t be as useful as simply joining in with the events and talking to people. Publishers, small presses and book sellers might set up stalls somewhere or run workshops (we’ve had some successful workshops at events). Go see them and network with them too. Politely point people to your own publisher’s table. If authors are at the same convention or book fair where we are selling their book, we tend to see a significantly higher amount of sales of that book. Direct people to your friend’s book too, and they will do the same. Authors of the same presses and agents unite!

And remember, if you are sitting at a table doing a signing or selling your book, anything to attract people to you is good – posters, colourful signs, piles of your books displayed nicely, bowls of chocolates, free wine, cupcakes... Don’t forget the details either – a shabby poster and stained table could make a bad impression. Bring wipes to clean spilled tea, spare pens for signings, fresh promotional material, a pad of paper to write down someone’s details or prop under a wobbly table leg, and so on. Be prepared!

Blog Tours

Blog tours are a virtual book tour. Instead of physically travelling to different book shops to do signings, you stay at home and virtually travel to different blogs. The advantages are that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on hotels and travel, and that you get to engage with a lot of bloggers and readers, potentially more than if you’d toured book shops. Disadvantages are that you don’t meet readers face to face, and you’re unlikely to sell huge amounts of books as a direct result of the tour.

As long as you go into a blog tour knowing that it is more about the publicity than the sales, then you shouldn’t be disappointed. Make sure you research well and choose the right blogs for you and your book. If using a Blog Tour company, have a look at their previous tours and ask them questions about the process.

You will only get out of a blog tour what you put into a blog tour. Engage with the blogs, engage with the readers, answer comments and interact. Give guest posts and interviews and don’t just rely on reviews. Offer your book as a prize in giveaways. Paying for a blog tour and then not engaging with it is a little like paying for a cardboard cut-out of you to sit at a book signing, and then wondering why people are not more interested in you or your book.

And remember that blog tours might not always be the answer. You can still approach blogs about guest posts, interviews and reviews even if it’s not part of a tour.

There are a lot of excellent posts around the blogosphere at the moment about blog tours, with more information on the process and how to get as much out of it as possible. Here are some of the best that I have seen:

Strange Chemistry

Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

Nyx Book Reviews

Tor Books Blog (about publicity in general)


eyehook/wikimedia commons
Giveaways are a good way to drum up interest in your book, but there are some things to bear in mind:

- Not all readers are in the USA. International giveaways will gain more goodwill and excitement, but may cost you more. Check postage costs first. Remember that the Book Depository ships free to most places in the world.

- Physical book giveaways will always be more popular than e-book giveaways.

- Signed books make a great prize.

- Consider offering swag – bookmarks, posters, bags, pens... get creative. The more personal, or themed to your book, the better.

- There are events called ‘Giveaway Hops’ on blogs, where each blog gives a long list of the other participants in the hop. These are going to get a significantly higher amount of entrants, so offering your book to these could be a good idea. In fact, why not consider adding your own blog to the list of blogs taking part?

- Blogoversaries. Every blogger has them... the birthday of their blog. They usually give away prizes, and they might be delighted to offer your book as part of them. Don’t be offended if they don’t want to give it away, though. It’s their choice.

- Goodreads! Goodreads is your friend. Try to do at least one Goodreads competition for your book if you can.

- If you really want to get a lot of people interested in your giveaway, you could offer a more generic prize such as a book of their choice or an Amazon voucher, and then give away your own book as a second prize. Giveaways with more generic prizes tend to get more entrants, but make sure you don’t make it look too much like you’re undervaluing your own book. Don’t make it the ‘runner-up’ prize, but rather one of a number of prizes.

- There are some sites that do author-collective giveaways. They team together to offer something amazing like an I-pad, and then put their own books in as additional prizes. This might be expensive, but the more authors taking part the cheaper it is. It’s the entry options that really benefit you here. Lots of entrants are attracted by the grand prize, and in order to win it they may add your book to their Goodreads shelf, or follow you on Twitter. You’ve then gained a little more interest in you and your book... use it wisely and convince them to stick around after the contest is over!

Other Stuff

Peter Marquardt/wikimedia commons
There are so many other ways to promote a book that I couldn’t possibly go into them all here, and this post is already diabolically long. It’s about being creative and thinking outside the box, but also about understanding your book and its target readers. Here are some quick ideas:

Podcasts. Research, listen, ask. You’ll never know if you don’t try.

Short Stories. Shorts set in the world of your book. Send to magazines, post on your blog, or guest post on other blogs. An author who recently used short stories in a unique and very successful way to promote her book is Emma Newman.

Launch Parties. Invite bloggers and reviewers. Invite readers and fans.

NetGalley. A site where reviewers can request ARCs (advanced review copies). You have to pay to put your books on here, however, so this is really only viable for publishers, or for independent authors who team up.

Social Media. Don’t spam messages to buy your book. Be a fun, kind and interesting person and people will find your book. I’ve seen lots of different suggested ratios – e.g. 1 in 10 tweets should be promotion, or only 1 message a day should be about promotion, or always balance every promotional blog post with one about something else... but really these all boil down to the same thing: don’t make it all about you all the time.

Interaction. Talk to your readers. Offer for them to give ideas or character names for you to weave into your stories. Join in conversations about other books, or films or games. Be somebody that people want to talk to.

New Online Ideas. Keep a look out for new bookish internet opportunities. E.g. You could make Pinterest boards inspired by your book (something Trudi Canavan does very well). You could add your book to Book Drum or commission a profile. You could chat on forums dedicated to your genre, like many fantasy authors do on the Fantasy Faction forums.

Book Trailer. I actually don’t like these very much and probably wouldn’t be swayed by one, but other people are, so they are worth doing if you have a video camera and know how to edit. Pop it on YouTube and on your blog, and see if other blogs want to share it too. Unless you have the skills, however, this is probably best avoided. A bad book trailer might do more harm than good.

Library Events. Don’t neglect libraries!

Details Details Details. Don’t arrange your own blog tour and not make a banner for it. Don’t go to an event without business cards or other promotional material. Be prepared to sell the book with a few quick sentences to anyone! We asked someone at the book fair what his book was about and he rambled for a bit and I still don’t know what it was about. Another person had a mini-blurb and a one-page synopsis prepared.

And Always Keep an Eye Out for Opportunities!

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

What Makes You Die - Book Review

What Makes You Die
by Tom Piccirilli

To see more is to find oblivion...

Tommy Pic’s hallucinations come and go and leave sticky notes for him during his bipolar swings. Coming out of a blackout in an unfamiliar psychiatric ward, Tommy Pic awakes to his missing childhood love, his dead brother, his alive family, and a message from his agent that his latest screenplay may yet be his ticket back to Hollywood fame and fortune. If only he could remember writing it.

Searching out the hallucinations that will write Acts 2 and 3 of the screenplay that will oust Zypho as his best-known work, Tommy goes chasing his kidnapped childhood love, a witch from the magic shop, the komodo dragon he tried to cut out of his gut on Christmas Eve.

...This is what makes you die. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

What Makes You Die is a strange book. It’s one of those stories that’s hard to say what it’s actually about. It’s about ghosts, witches, a prehistoric monster living inside a person, and a mysterious self-writing script. It’s about loss, the disappearance of a young girl, mental illness, and a failing writing career. It’s about all those things and yet it’s not really about any of them.

Tommy Pic is a desperate character who seems to be drifting in and out of sanity on the edge of nervous breakdown. He sees the ghosts of his dead family members and friends everywhere, and there is a pre-historic komodo dragon living in his intestines. At points it is very hard to tell just what is part of his extreme paranoia and what might be a real vision, or whether everything is completely in his head. Reality and the fantastical are blurred so much in the story that symbols and metaphor have a very real life of their own, and trying to decide exactly what’s real and what isn’t would probably be missing the point.

Tommy is coping with depression, with a hole that the loss of his father has left inside him, with feelings of inadequacy and despair brought on by a failing writing career, and with the ongoing mystery of what really happened to a girl – a friend he loved – who disappeared in his childhood. When he stumbles across a Wicca shop next to his agent’s office, he becomes involved with a young witch. She sees his ghosts, and the dragon in his gut, and is determined to help him. What ensues is very odd, but leads Tommy through a path of recovery and self-discovery, or perhaps re-self-discovery, to gain a sense of purpose again. It’s clever and entertaining, and will certainly leave you with a lot to think about at the end.

The book is very well written, with a poetic and almost noir-like style, and Tommy’s character is completely honest, right down to the obviously self-destructive behaviour. He can be frustrating at points, and extremely self-obsessed at others, but his story is always compelling. He’s spiralling into insanity but at the same time is capable of some sharp observations about the world and the people in it, making him a fascinating character to see through the eyes of. I also really enjoyed the humour in the book; it was knowing and sometimes a little dark, and it complemented the plot very well. There were some points where the pacing seemed slightly off to me, and occasional sections where the plot seemed to wander off to the side a little unnecessarily, which I thought could have been tightened up a bit. These were only small niggles, however.

Nothing is ever really quite what it seems in the story, leaving the reader to interpret much of what happens according to their own reading. I found what I thought was quite a glaring inconsistency in Tommy’s mother’s account of Kathy Lark’s disappearance (she says that Tommy was with her when she vanished but later seems to contradict herself when Tommy makes an unwelcome accusation). What exactly did happen there? Suggestions of Tommy’s loose grip on reality, a disturbing cover-up, a missed plot hole, or something else? I think I’m leaning towards the first, but with this kind of book it’s very hard to tell, and the story actually benefits from its unanswered questions anyway.

It would be very hard to pin this into a specific genre. Its supernatural elements are clearly metaphors – in fact, the whole story and the concept of the mysteriously written script can be seen as one larger metaphor – but it would be far too simplistic to say that this is all it is. I think it’s enjoyable on several levels, with a strong central character and interesting themes. It reminded me more of short stories than novels that I have read, having that short story quality of feeling like being part of something larger, of being about more than itself, of strong character-focus, and of defying traditional story structure as well as genre. It’s also a very short book, a novella really, and I think it was exactly the right length for the story being told.

This is a very interesting book that blurs supernatural elements, metaphor and reality, creating a surreal and engaging character-focussed tale about a man emerging from depression to find a sense of purpose and belonging once again. Incorporating elements of fantasy, horror, crime and noir, I think it could appeal to fans of many different genres. It might leave the reader with a lot of questions at the end, so for those who like straight, non-confusing narratives, this is probably best avoided. For others, there is a lot to think about and to love in this unique, well-written and surprising book.

Thank you to Apex Book Company for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Ten Books I HAD to Buy... (but are still sitting on my shelf unread)

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, with a different topic set each week. This week the top ten topic is:

Ten Books I HAD to Buy... But Are Still Sitting On My Shelf Unread

Oh dear... there are rather a lot of these. Considerably more than ten, anyway. So here are the ones that I'm most looking forward to reading and absolutely WILL read, just as soon as I have time. Most of them are charity shop finds or books given to me by my dad, or bargains that I had to snap up before they were gone!

1) The City and the City, by China MiƩville. Yep, still haven't read this one yet, despite so many people raving about it. It's been sat there for a while too, oops!

2) The Islanders, by Christopher Priest. This book looks so good, and I have heard fantastic things about it, but still haven't managed to get around to reading it. Soon! Soonish. This year, at least, I'm sure.

3) Swords and Deviltry (and the rest of the 'Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser' series), by Fritz Leiber. These are actually my dad's old copies. He gave them to me when he was downsizing bookshelves. These are classics of fantasy, and many say that this series is one of the best offerings of the Sword and Sorcery subgenre. They're also hugely influential. I definitely have to read these at some point!

4) The Iron Daughter, by Julie Kagawa. I bought this straight after finishing The Iron King, but I haven't had a chance to revisit this world yet. Hopefully this month, since it is fey month on the paranormal challenge.

5) Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. This book is supposed to be amazing, and the trailers for the film look really good too. I'm determined to read it before seeing the movie.

6) Midwinterblood, by Marcus Sedgwick. I was really intrigued by this one when I saw it in a second hand shop, and just had to get it. Looking forward to seeing what it's like!

7) Stone, by Adam Roberts. I actually have a couple of Adam Roberts' books sitting there waiting to be read, but this is the one that looks the best.

8) The Gunslinger (Dark Tower 1), by Stephen King. Another one given to me by my dad when he was clearing shelf space. I still haven't read this series, and really need to.

9) Nation, by Terry Pratchett. I love the Discworld series and his other series, but haven't had a chance to read this standalone yet. I have heard it's very good though.

10) Storm Front (Dresden Files 1), by Jim Butcher. A friend lent this one to me with a 'YOU MUST READ THIS' recommendation, and it's been sitting on my shelf for far too long now! I will definitely make time for this one soon.

Honourable mentions to Crewel, Beautiful Creatures, Pushing the Limits, Fatherland, and The Windup Girl. More that are inching their way along the 'To Read' shelf! ;-)

What about you? Do you have any books that were an absolute must buy, but that are still sitting unread on your shelves?