Category Archives: Reviews

Review – The Prince’s Man by Deborah Jay

I gave Deborah Jay’s novel – The Prince’s Man –  5/5 stars and posted this review on both Goodreads and Amazon:

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I started reading ‘The Prince’s Man’, but the reality blew me away. The story is a grown up fantasy reminiscent of Robin Hobb’s Farseer series [which I also happen to love]. You’ll find Machiavellian politics, intrigue, loyalty, a hint of love, and a cast of characters you can relate to. Yes, they have their flaws, but don’t we all?

To my mind, watching the characters change and grow is at least half the fun. The other half is getting to know the world in which those characters live. In all types of speculative fiction, the world is as much of a ‘character’ as the characters themselves. Think how important the planet Arrakis is to the story of Dune.

As readers we want to step out of our everyday lives and get lost in another world. And the author does not disappoint. The otherness of The Prince’s Man is evident right from the start, but there are no boring info. dumps. We learn about the world in the same way we learn about the human characters, by watching the story unfold, a bit at a time.

And finally, I’d like to say something about the plot. It. Is. Not. Predictable. To me, that’s one of the book’s greatest strengths. I like to be surprised, and nothing puts me off more than ‘the same old same old’. In The Prince’s Man, the author kept me guessing right to the end.

I’m looking forward to reading the next book of the series, and I highly recommend this one to anyone who likes a story with real meat on its bones.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2770933130

I’ve been horribly slack about posting reviews the last year or so, and for that I apologise. Diana Peach’s review of Nabatea reminded me of the impact our reviews have on the authors who write the books we read. I have posted some reviews on Amazon, but not enough. From here on out, I intend to update my Goodreads account with reviews of the books I’ve enjoyed the most. I read an awful lot so I can’t review everything, but I will do better than I have been doing todate. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 


Devil in the Wind – Black Saturday

I’m not a poetry person, at least not normally, but I’m sitting here crying as I read this poem by Frank Prem. It’s about the Black Saturday fires that claimed 173 lives here in Victoria. 

I was at home in Warrandyte that day. I’d sent the Offspring away, but I was at home with Dad and the animals because Dad had mild dementia and…I don’t think any of us really believed. I listened to 774 radio all day and some horrific reports were being phoned in, but we had the best roof sprinklers money could buy, and fire-resistant shutters. I was sure we’d be fine. And we didn’t really believe. 

The next day, the reports started coming in and finally, we believed. That’s the background. Here is the poem that’s brought me to tears.

evidence to the commission of enquiry: all in the ark for a while

well

you have to go back

to the chaos of that time

back to february

 

as the day got on

we realised we were in strife

because the thing was bigger and hotter

and faster and more unpredictable

 

it was more everything really

 

and we’d started to get word of huge losses

in other places around and about

people

property

animals

whole towns

 

so we were head-down-and-bum-up

and worried

about what was going to happen next

 

anyway

out of the smoke came a sort of convoy

led by a horse whose halter was held

by a woman driving a ute

 

in the back of the ute

a dog was running around

like a mad thing

 

after that came another car

with a float and two more horses

 

next was a vehicle that a police fellow

was driving

 

he’d been up in a chopper

trying to winch people out

but the wind got too big

so he dropped down and helped

by driving the car

with whoever he could get into it

 

then there were a couple of deer

that jumped out of the bush

when the cavalcade went past a clearing

 

and a pair of koalas

 

and three kangaroos

 

and some lizards

 

all running as part of the convoy

 

they scattered pretty quick

when the procession of them

emerged from the smoke

and the flames

but it was all in together

for a while

 

It was ‘all in together’ for a while after Black Saturday too. We grieved, and donated food, and money, and hay because the animals were starving, and because we were alive and so many were not.

The love has disappeared now, but for a while we had it and I thank Frank Prem for helping me remember. Parts of this post will become my review on Amazon because this is my memory of the devil-wind.

 


Hunting the Phoenix, by Audrey Driscoll

I don’t think I can define the difference between a craftsman and an artist, but I know it when I see it, and Audrey Driscoll is an artist. I know, because I am a craftsman, a good one, but not an artist.

So, enough navel gazing. What is it about ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ that’s so special?

Simple answer: everything.

‘Hunting the Phoenix’ is the fourth and last book of the Herbert West series, but it is also the climax of the preceding three books. Imagine the steps of a pyramid with the Phoenix as its apex. Or if music is more your thing, imagine a classical symphony in which each movement builds upon the last to achieve the soaring notes that grab your heart and lift you out of yourself. That is the Phoenix.

At its core, every work of fiction strives for just one thing – to persuade the reader to suspend disbelief, to become part of the story, and the Herbert West series is no different. Written in a style that is reminiscent of classical literature, the story lulls the reader into a pleasant sense of security. ‘Oh, this is what the story is about…’ And then the surprises begin. Small ones at first, as you realise the author is more daring than you thought, then more profound as the truly shocking events begin to unfold.

Each book in the series is like this, but in the Phoenix the shocks go deep. I admit, there were a couple of spots where I had to stop and shake my head in disbelief. Such careful, restrained, beautiful writing and she takes it there?

Yet ‘there’ is exactly where the story needs to go in order for the ending, the climax, to feel both unexpected and absolutely right.

I’m sure no one will be surprised when I say that the quality of the writing is superb. What may surprise some people is that it is written in the First Person POV [point-of-view], and I don’t usually like First Person POV. This time, however, I barely noticed because Driscoll effortlessly avoids every single pitfall that goes with First Person POV. As with C.J.Cherryh’s Foreigner series, the POV is perfect and exactly what the story requires.

I wish I could give ‘Hunting the Phoenix’ a 10 out of 5 but even my limited math knows that’s impossible. Suffice to say that this book, in fact the whole series, is as close to perfect as a story can get. It joins a relatively short list of books, including Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, that I consider to be exceptional, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants more.

I’m just about to use parts of this post as a review on Amazon. If you want to read the series, the order of the books is:

  1. The Friendship of Mortals
  2. The Journey: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 1
  3. The Treasure: Islands of the Gulf, Volume 2
  4. Hunting the Phoenix

And please, leave a review on Amazon because these books truly do deserve to become modern classics.

cheers

Meeks

 


Not On the Cards, by Cage Dunn

Cage Dunn is an Australian writer who answered my recent call for beta readers. Cage not only tested my latest how-to book, she introduced it to two groups of potential writers at her local library. Their combined feedback was so much more than I could ever have hoped for.

Curious, I decided to read one of Cage’s books. That book was ‘Not on the Cards’, and this is the review I just left for it on Amazon:

At its heart, Not on the Cards is a story of love and responsibility: Gate Keeper to Key Master, mother to child, Gate Keeper to multiverse, yet for much of the time, its set in a carpark near Camberwell Junction. On the weekends, that humble carpark becomes a Trash & Treasure market with a deliciously bohemian atmosphere. I know, because the market is in my home town of Melbourne [Australia], and I’ve been there many times.

In Not on the Cards, that market atmosphere becomes something else, something more like a Carnival and Freak Show combined. It’s the perfect setting for Chiri, a Reader of Cards who also happens to be the Gate Keeper of the Icosa, a construct spanning multiple universes within the multiverse.

Chiri should not be in Camberwell Junction. She should not be living Saturday, over and over again. She should not be lost, unable to find her way back to the place and time where her daughter may or may not be alive.

And then the Thief arrives with a Key that isn’t really a key, but it’s the closest thing to a Key Chiri has felt in a lifetime of waiting. Trouble is, following this Key that isn’t a Key could lead to the destruction of the Icosa, the construct she has sworn to protect.

Do not expect this story to be a comfortable read that you can skim while waiting for the train or standing in a queue. Not on the Cards will challenge you, but oh how lovely it is when you ‘get it’.

The last time my brain received such a workout was when I read Firefall by Peter Watts. Very different stories and storytellers, but the same result – a reward commensurate with the challenge.

Why climb Everest? Because it’s there.

So blown away. 🙂

Meeks


IngramSpark for Australian Authors

Just finished a long conversation with a very nice lady from IngramSpark Australia, and I thought I’d share what I learned with other Australian self-publishers.

First and foremost, IngramSpark have a print facility right here in Australia. That translates to massive savings on shipping costs for Australian authors.

How massive? Roughly $4.90 for 1 to 28 medium sized paperbacks if you live in Melbourne. That’s because the IngramSpark print facility is located in Melbourne. Delivery charges to other states will obviously be higher. Nonetheless, I doubt those charges would come close to the cost of shipping books in from overseas.

Secondly, IngramSpark printing costs are a bit higher than CreateSpace but lower than Lulu. They also have:

  • a full range of trim sizes
  • hardbacks if required
  • global distribution to countries not available through Amazon.

Amazon distribution has become a sore point with Australians as they cannot buy print books on Amazon Australia. In the past, they would have to order print books from Amazon US or UK and pay shipping costs that often doubled or tripled the cost of the book. Now that we’ve been geo-blocked from Amazon international, print books will no longer be available at all. Unless…

And this brings me to my conversation with IngramSpark today. I rang to clarify whether I could use IngramSpark to provide print books to Amazon Australia. The question was complicated by the fact that I wanted non-Australian Amazon markets to continue selling paperbacks printed via CreateSpace and KDP.

Aussie authors will be pleased to know that the answer from IngramSpark was ‘yes’. 🙂

Basically what happens is that my book[s] will be available for world wide distribution – to countries not covered by Amazon as well as markets already covered by Amazon. When someone buys one of my print books from Amazon US, UK or EU, Amazon will fulfil the order from their own ‘feed’. In other words, if they can supply from CreateSpace OR KDP they’ll do so.

But…for markets such as Australia, Amazon will source the print book from IngramSpark. That means my paperback will be available to Australian readers from Amazon.com.au, and it’ll cost readers a heck of a lot less in shipping.

Apart from availability and shipping, there is one more reason to print books with IngramSpark here in Australia, and that harks back to their distribution capabilities. If I can persuade a local bookshop to give my book[s] a try, the bookshop can order direct from IngramSpark at wholesale prices. Wholesale discounts range from 30% to 55%, which puts self-publishers/small publishers on a more even footing with large, traditional publishers.

-dance-

Okay, I’ll stop high-fiving myself now and get serious again because there are also disadvantages to printing with IngramSpark. The two biggest disincentives are:

  • the setup cost of $53 AUD per book, and
  • the need to have an ABN [Australian Business Number].

If you’ve never run a small business before – for example as a sole trader – the idea of getting an ABN can be daunting. The truth, however, is that it’s both free and relatively painfree to apply for one.

For detailed, step-by-step information about getting an ABN see this post. And see this one about why you should NOT pay for that ABN [because it’s free].

Now for a word about the cost. $53 AUD is a steep price to pay when you’ve got more than one book to setup. I have 7 to-date, so that would have been an upfront charge of $371 AUD. Luckily, I managed to setup all 7 books during a free promotion run by IngramSpark.

I’m not sure exactly when or why IngramSpark runs these promotions, but from what I can gather, they seem to happen once, or maybe twice a year. I have two more how-to books in the pipeline, so I’ll have to pay the full setup charge for those, but at least the cost will be staggered for them.

Oh, and one more disadvantage – once a book has been approved [by the author] and is available for sale, any changes will incur a $25 fee. So…be very sure your book is as ready as it’ll ever be before you approve it for publishing/sale.

Okay, that’s it for now. I’ll be ordering proof copies of all 7 books in the next day or three. Once they arrive I’ll take pics and write an update on the quality, timing etc.

cheers

Meeks

 

 


How to print a paperback – #KDP vs #CreateSpace

So far, I’ve only used CreateSpace for my print-on-demand needs, but today I thought I’d check out the new, Amazon KDP print option as well.

To access the KDP print option, you have to be registered with KDP. If you’ve already published your ebook[s] with them, simply log in and click on your Bookshelf. Click the book you want to print and you will see an option to create a paperback for that book:

The next bit is pretty slick. If your book is already available as an ebook, most of the setup information will be inserted automatically [taken from the ebook setup]. The bits that aren’t are fairly self-explanatory. But what if you’re a brand new author thinking of printing a book for the very first time?

First Impressions

Not knowing where to start, I decided to watch some videos provided by KDP. I can only assume the makers of the videos assumed new authors would already know about trim sizes etc., because they skipped a whole heap of stuff to do with the pre-print part of the process.

Next, I decided to check out the two templates offered by KDP. One template only had the formatting instructions, the other had dummy text to make it easier to see what went where. As with the CreateSpace templates, everything is manual with lots of copy-pasting. Meh. A bigger problem I found was with section breaks etc. There are only about 10 example chapters in the template. So what do you do if you’ve got more than 10 chapters in your own book? You can keep adding chapters, of course, but if you accidentally delete the section break [which is not visible] the whole thing falls apart.

Finally, I had a look at the written instructions for the Basics. It’s pretty bare bones and assumes that authors will be familiar with Word processes and formatting, but otherwise they were okay until the section on page numbers. The following is copied straight from the website:

  1. Go to the first page of your first chapter.
  2. Depending on whether you want your page numbers in the header or footer, double-click on the header or footer. This will open the Design tab.
  3. In the “Navigation section,” click Link to Previous. This will prevent page numbers from showing up on your title, copyright, and table of contents pages.
  4. In the “Header & Footer” section, click Page Number and choose where you want the page numbers to be.

For Steps 3 and 4 to work, the manuscript must already contain a section break separating the chapters from the front matter [Title, Copyright, Table of Contents etc]. I checked back over all the previous instructions to make sure I hadn’t missed something, but no, none of them even mentioned a section break much less instructions on how, and why, to add one.

This is a glaring and costly mistake because, if there is no section break:

  • the ‘Link to Previous’ option will be greyed out, i.e. unavailable,
  • a page number applied at any point in the manuscript will cause page numbers to be displayed on each and every page…including the front matter.
  • any Headers – e.g. Author Name, Book Title etc – will also appear on each and every page…including the front matter.

If you are going to provide instructions for something, those instructions have to be as clear as possible and accurate. My guess is that the instructions conflated the section breaks in the templates with the instructions on doing everything from scratch. Unfortunately, this kind of slip can lead to massive frustration on the part of authors, and a failed project.

A little further down, the instruction for creating a PDF of the Word file suggested authors use the File/Save As option. This is one of the ways of creating a PDF, but it assumes the author will know about file types and how and where to change them. In Word 2016, it’s a lot easier to use the File/Export option which takes you straight there.

Next, I thought I’d check out the cover creator option on KDP. First I watched the video walkthrough. From what I could see, the Cover Creator app. is very similar to the one used by CreateSpace. The video tutorial, however, is more of an overview than a real guide, so I decided to give it a try myself.

The layout and some of the functions are definitely slicker than the Cover Creator app provided by CreateSpace. But. It soon became obvious that KDP’s version is still a beta. The following are the problems I found after just a few minutes of play:

  • there are only 11 templates to choose from [CreateSpace provides 30],
  • if you choose one of the free, KDP images as the first step in the process, you can ‘start over’ and choose another template, but you can’t go back and choose another picture,
  • if you do want to choose another picture, using the Back button on the browser will take you back to the KDP bookshelf, and yes, you have to go through the first page of the setup all over again,
  • if you exit via the Cover Creator ‘Close’ button, you exit all the way out of KDP and have to log back in,
  • if you decide to use your own image, there is no template that allows for a ‘free’ cover [in the CreateSpace version there are 2]. This is what I mean:

 

As you can see, my cover image includes interesting fonts and colour choices. When I brought it into Cover Creator, however, I ended up with the default template version plastered over the top. And there was no way I could get rid of it. Horrible. If you are going to use your own cover image, make sure it’s the correct size for the trim size and contains NO WRITING.

Overall? I think the KDP print-on-demand process needs more work. I’ll give it a skip, at least for now.

 

Meeks

 


The Bone Curse – out on March 27th, 2018

Do you believe in Voodoo? I don’t, and yet I had no trouble suspending disbelief as I read Carrie Rubin’s The Bone Curse.

For the record, I won a pre-review copy from the author.

The story begins in Paris where Ben Oris receives a small wound from an ancient bone. Ben’s best friend, Laurette, fears that some sort of evil has entered his his body through the wound, but Vodou is no part of Ben’s world and he dismisses her fears, even as people close to him begin to sicken with a mysterious illness.

To add some context, Voodoo is Hollywood, Vodou is the belief system of Haiti. It has good and evil spirits, just as most Western religions have angels and demons. More importantly, it has practitioners who actively believe. That counts for a great deal when Ben’s ordered, logical world turns upside down. First his ex-lover gets sick, then an ex-girlfriend, and finally the woman who birthed him.

Nevertheless, it’s not until Ben becomes a father and fears for the life of his newborn son that he begins to wonder if there’s more to Vodou than he wants to believe. What follows is a fast paced race against time as he tries desperately to save those he loves.

I wasn’t sure if I liked Ben Oris at the start, but as the story progressed, I found myself empathizing with him more and more. Not just because he was a Doubting Thomas like me, but because he slowly evolved into someone capable of putting others’ lives ahead of his own. As he began to care, so did I.

I can’t say any more for fear of spoiling the whole story, but I devoured The Bone Curse in under two days and I strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a fast paced, medical/psychological thriller that makes you think.

The book will not be published until March 27, but you can put it on pre-order here:

Most definitely 5 stars.:)

cheers

Meeks

 


The City of Bones by Martha Wells

When asked, I’ve always said I prefer science fiction to fantasy because of the possibility, however remote, that some part of the story might be true. Or become true. Some day. Yet if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I do love sci-fan as well.

To me, sci-fan is pragmatic fantasy in which the real and the unreal blend seamlessly to create impossible worlds that we nevertheless accept as possible. Dune, by Frank Herbert is probably the best known example of sci-fan, closely followed by Tad Williams’ Otherland. And then there’s Robin Hobb’s Farseer saga. It’s more fantasy than science, and yet the life-cycle of the dragons is no more unbelievable than the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies.

Well now I have a new sci-fan author to add to my pantheon – Martha Wells.

In The City of Bones, Wells tells the story of a young Krismen called Khat. He’s part of a species that was biologically engineered to survive in the Wastes after the land burned and the seas boiled away. But there are human survivors of the destruction as well, and the two species exist in an uneasy alliance against the deadly creatures of the Wastes.

Khat lives in Charisat, a human city, making a precarious living as a relic trader. Relic traders are like a combination of archeologist/palentologist/anthropologist, with a bit of a conman/thief added in, and relics are fragments from the lost world of the Ancients.

That would have been more than enough to grab my attention, but Wells weaves in history, politics, conspiracy, intrigue and a bit of classic who-dunnit to make the story an absolute page-turner. I loved it.

If you like sci-fan too then I strongly recommend The City of Bones.

The Kindle version is $2.25 on Amazon and there’s a paperback as well. 6/5. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 


The best historical who-dunnit…EVER!

Okay, I know the title of this post is a little over the top, but January must be the month for brilliant books. Seriously, I’ve just finished ‘A Star in the Sky’ and I’m in awe of the author’s talent. Under the ‘Look Inside’ you’ll find the review I just left for ‘A Star in the Sky’ on Amazon. 5/5 of course.

Not only does the author, Zichao Deng, [d.z.c. for short] make the world of the ancient Mayans come alive in all its barbaric splendour, he’s also created a murder mystery which could only have occurred in that time!

This is no ordinary murder disguised with a thin vineer of history. Every clue, every backward step, every twist and turn of the plot is woven out of the facts of that world:

  • The man who died was poisoned,
  • The poison was the same poison as used on darts, but he was not shot,
  • In fact, there did not appear to be any way for him to have been poisoned at all,
  • The politics of the situation could have seen the death explained away as ‘magic’, but
  • The female doctor who is charged with investigating the death refuses to allow either politics or superstition to get in the way of the facts, or logic.

And, like the very best who-dunnits, the clues are there all along, but the great reveal doesn’t happen until the very end. In fact, there are two reveals and the second is even more astonishing than the first.

‘A Star in the Sky’ kept me reading when I should have been doing other things, and that was despite not dumbing down the names and Mayan words sprinkled gently throughout the story.

I love alien sounding names, so I had no trouble with the female doctor being called ‘Lady Tz’unun’. I likewise had no trouble with the name of the Queen – Sak K’uk – at least, not inside my own head. As a reader, all I wanted to do was identify the character, so who cares whether my pronunciation was accurate or not? And those names were part of the reason I knew I was not in Kansas any more.

Another thing I loved about ‘A Star in the Sky’ was the richness of the characters. Lady Tz’unun may be the Sherlock Holmes of the story, but her servant Three Rabbits, plus the Queen’s councillor, the Ti’sakhuun are all part of an ensemble cast that just work, individually and as group. The story is finished but I still want to know more about them, and I definitely want to know more about their slice of history.

I sincerely hope that Zichao Deng has more murder mysteries for Lady Tz’unun and her team to solve. Simply brilliant.

My review won’t go live on Amazon for a few more hours, so I’ll just leave you with a concept drawing done by the author himself:

a-star-in-the-sky-concept-drawing

You’re welcome 😀

Meeks

 


The Communion of Saints – a review

I haven’t done a review in a long time, but I finished The Communion of Saints last night, and I simply had to review it.

But first a little background. Communion is the third novel in the John Ray series that began with Hope Road and continued with Father and Son. My reviews of Hope Road and Father and Son are here and here. It’s been a long time between drinks, but the wait was worth it. Here is the review I just posted on Amazon:

Like ‘Hope Road’ and ‘Father and Son’,  the first two John Ray thrillers, The Communion of Saints is that rare beast: a character driven genre novel. And like its predecessors, Communion is brilliant.

The Communion of Saints can be read as a standalone novel because the author weaves enough prior knowledge into the story to make the character and motivation of the protagonist  realistic and satisfying. Nevertheless,  I highly recommend that you read the earlier novels first.

Why? Because all three novels are character driven thrillers, and it’s the character of John Ray, the protagonist, that sucks you in and keeps you turning the pages.

John Ray is the last surviving member of a crime family. He’s the white sheep, the one that broke away and tried to live a straight life. But it’s hard to remain divorced from your past when you see your brother shot to death in front of your eyes. It’s even harder to stay detached when the Law tries to lay every nasty crime at your door.

After the gruesome death of his father, the old crime boss, John Ray tries to start afresh. He gives his business away and takes a job as a lowly lecturer’s assistant, but he’s shrivelling up inside.

Enter Detective Chief Superintendent Shirley Kirk. She needs John’s help. Or, to be more exact, she needs the help of his historical links to the underworld because someone is making allegations of child abuse against an institution to which they both have ties.

In the process of unravelling truth from lies, John discovers yet more about his own past, none of it good. He also becomes a suspect in two murders, simply because of who he is.

The plot is tight, with no ‘what the…?’ moments, and the prose is elegant, painting a vivid picture of the characters and their world without ever being flowery or pretentious. But the true joy of Communion is in the characters. Not even the walk on/walk off characters are two dimensional. All of them possess a vitality that makes them feel real, no matter how minor.

As for John Ray and Shirley Kirk, they’re real people to me.  I care about them. I’d like to meet them, talk to them, spend time with them. More importantly, they are people I will not forget.

I cannot think of greater praise for an author’s work.

Something I didn’t write in the review was that I wondered whether I’d still have a wee bit of a crush on the charming rogue, John Ray. The answer is yes. He’s still a bad boy with heart, and we know how women like them. 😀

cheers

Meeks

 


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