The Fine Colour Of Rust
by P.A. O'Reilly
Published by Blue Door/HarperCollins
I was fortunate enough to recieve an autographed copy of this book as a gift from my Antipodean literary advisor. Despite having both a free book and a personal message from the author, I shan't let either cloud my opinion here. 

But if you're looking for a good read about a group of not-quite-ordinary people struggling to carve a life out of a small town half way between Melbourne and and a great big open space, then you'd do well to pick up a copy. 

On the other hand, if you're looking for something fast-paced and where the action explodes off the page, this isn't for you: this story moves at it own pace, it unfolds gradually and gives you the time to savour the grains and dust that make up so much of our lives.

The story revolves around Loretta Boskovic, a single mother among a sea of single mothers who daydreams of capturing the heart of a reliable and hopefully (though always imaginary) well-heeled man, whilst inspiring the rest of the town of Gunapan's population to do battle with big and small government. Her much dreamed of man also has to come with a pretty decent car because her own, as we explore in great detail, is always en-route to the scrapyard.

The town is, by and large, forgotten by everyone bar the locals and is thus ripe to be shafted by unscrupulous property dealers. Not only do they plan to nick the local water supply, they see the town as a sort of feeder factory of workers for the resort they plan to build (with help from some obliging members of the local council). That's battle No 2.

Battle No 1 involves dragging the Minister for Education, Elderly Care and Gaming into Gunapan to talk to the residents about their never-going-to-give-up battle to save their children's school from closure.

And if the minister's title brings a smile to your lips then you'll be happy to know that the book is laced with this kind of humour. It's not quite black, but for every situation Loretta and the town finds themselves in, there's nearly always a humorous lining. For me, one of the great lol moments was the hospital scene between Loretta, her sick mother and Loretta's children, which is both bizarre and sharply dark.

The characters, their lives and experiences are all well written and believeable - you warm to them all (except the scattering of baddies). If, like me, you read foreign literature to gain something of an insight into how other nations think and act, then you won't be disappointed, though it'd probably be wise not to imagine that the Gunapanians represent all of Oz. On the other hand, the issues being dealt with here are universal, the sort of things we read about wherever we are.

One of the things I like about reading books in non-British English is to discover how the langauge used differs to mine. So would I say that it is typically Ozzie in voice and circumstance?

I can't say I know enough about Australia and her people to comment, but it does reflect a certain gritiness, a willingness to get on with life without much moaning about what it's throwing at them. The language is undoubtedly Aussie, but given that Oz English is by and large British English, you only notice the difference in the details. In a way I'm a little disappointed by this: I know that if I read an American novel the English will be very different to British English. But this isn't a criticism of the book, it just shows how close Oz and British English still are.

My only real criticism is there is a long-ish build up to a fairly important event which we jump over, to land in the aftermath of an explanation of how it had unravelled and been dealt with. I felt slightly cheated because I wanted one or two of the baddies to get their come uppance, and I wanted the satisfaction of witnessing it.

On the other hand, O'Reilly twists and binds the ups and downs with so much humour and humanity that it's pretty easy to forgive her for not satisfying my expectations in that department.

It isn't a difficult book to read: the pages turn almost by themselves as O'Reilly's easy style of writing and the laughs keep you wanting more. Overall, I really enjoyed this snapshot of middle-of-nowhere Australia, a place populated with every-day people struggling to bring happines into some pretty tough lives, and not giving up on this despite the commercial and political skulduggery. Personally, I'd like to find out what happens next, but failing this, will settle for reading the rest of O'Reilly's back-catalogue.

You can order the book from Amazon, and while you're waiting, you can read the excellent interview with the author on her website.

I've just finished reading Julian Barnes novel, The Sense of an Ending, which I really enjoyed for a number of reasons. One of the reviews listed on the back cover describes it as a masterpiece.

Which made me start wondering just what is a masterpiece. We all have our own opions and it is a matter of taste, but one thing's for sure, book reviewers have to be really careful about using such words (they're entitled to their opinion of course), because such high praise can only lead to high expectations among readers. 

And if these are not met, you are not only disappointed with the read but also then question its validity and potentially any other reviews from the same source.

That said, I really enjoyed the book, which is published by Vintage Press, it's a simple story and deceptively easy to read. It's told from the perspective of a man who's looking back on his life and dealing with things that happened at university (by and large) and the impact of those times on him (and a few other people) now. 

It's also to do with memories, and how these change with time, and how they become less certain as we age. Amateur writers such as myself can learn a lot from how the book's written. For example, you don't have to write 100k words to tell a story or for your work to be valid; the story can be low key - you don't have to have tons of actions or plot twist: simplicity can be your friend.

But as much as I enjoyed it, it's not a masterpiece in my opinion. A couple of indisputable masterpieces for me are Cormac McCarthy's The Border Trilogy and Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast.

These books take you deep inside the story, far, far away from the here and now. Then they bury you in words and ideas, they are poetic and imaginative in ways that take you can never expect. They lead you away from yourself whilst simultaneously taking you deep inside yourself. 

And when you've finished reading you are changed: the book is tattooed on your psyche. You are still savouring and thinking about them a year later and wondering how much more time has to pass before you've forgotten enough to start reading them again.

That, for me, is the difference between a masterpiece and a damn good read.

Welcome to IAAY number three!

This time it's all about US writer, Tonya Cannariato, who is a web project manager by day but spends the rest of her life devoted to reading, writing, reviewing and blogging about all three. She also hails from Wisconsin, though I believe she's yet to meet last week's IAAY contributor Rebecca Venn.

IAAY is published every Wednesday (yes, all of them), so there's plenty of time for you to join in too! Contact me via the comments or via Twitter: @mickdavidson.

It's All About Tonya Cannariato
It's All About Gayla Drummond
Two Katarr Kanticles Press Books
I'll admit off the bat that I have some stake in this review: I was given the privilege of beta reading the book, and then editing it. And its author runs the publishing house that published my book. We have a great professional relationship; part of the reason for that is her hard-nosed, results-oriented approach to running a writing-based business.

Gayla Drummond also has a heckuvan imagination that has allowed her to dream up interesting aliens (her Katarr and Werens) as well as purely human interactions (either sci-fi, like in Code Walker or romance, in some of her unpublished work). The book I'm focusing on today, Arcane Solutions, is the first in the Discord Jones series and is her latest release. I can't classify it as purely human, since there are shifters, elves, and other magic wielders in the story, but the protagonist is a human woman who wakes up three years after the Y2K experience to discover the world has experienced a "melding" that has allowed anything magic-related to become real. And she, herself, is saddled with a whole new set of psi talents.

Cordi, as she likes her friends to call her, emerged to Drummond and began her documented existence as part of NaNoWriMo 2009. There's every likelihood that the series will continue for another 8 books (9 total), and the first installment weighs in at a meaty 70K words, so there's a lot to learn about the world. The way Drummond sprinkles all the research she has poured into its creation throughout her tale is an object lesson for other world-builders: small bites flesh out key scenes but don't distract from the banter all her characters maintain to carry the story forward.

"Sure." She pulled out a map of Santo Trueno before reaching a hand behind her neck to unhook the gold chain her locator crystal hung upon. Handing her the photo, I dropped into a chair to watch. Dangling the crystal over the map, Kate gazed at the photo, her green eyes going vague. Her lips barely moved as she formed a silent request to her chosen goddess for guidance.

I don't pretend to understand magic or to believe in any pantheon of gods, but it works for some people. Kate and the others of her coven are some for whom it works really well. They’d all chosen Aztec gods, so I couldn’t pronounce half the names. Our city, Santo Trueno, is allegedly named after the Aztec god of thunder, so their choices seemed appropriate to me.

For fans who want just a little more, she's set up a series website where they can find some of the back story, too. Her main character is also on Twitter, though I suspect her fans are chasing her off that venue to encourage her to write more.

She's been racking up some pretty decent reviews for the book on Smashwords too, so while I may have my own personal inclination bias, there are others who find this variation on paranormal romance right up their alley as well. The book is also available from Amazon where there's another nice review.

It's All About Me
Part of what makes me a Drummond fan on a personal level is that she chose to accept my story idea, and has been shepherding me along the new-author path in ways at once firm and gentle. I dreamed up Dust to Blood in the fall of 2009, not long after I first met her on Twitter. I typed up a precis and emailed it to her, then sat on my hands for a day hoping I wasn't being intrusive, naive, or somehow inappropriate. Her enthusiastic response saddled me with a different kind of inertia. The last time (first time!) I had written to book length was my college honor's thesis, and it had been like pulling teeth and drawing blood--or whatever other horrible medical procedure that makes you break out in a cold sweat.

I finally overcame my internal roadblocks and committed to writing the story during the 2010 NaNoWriMo. What came out is something of a genre-bending mix of fantasy, mystery, action, and romance, speculating on the reason the Communists maintained power for so long when they did so much to disempower their population. The theory my story outlined was that they had trapped their land's magical beasts and were siphoning that power into their systems.

My protagonist is a researcher, visiting Moscow for the first time in the fall of 1992. Her assignment is to find the history of a small group of amnesiacs who share an unusual physical characteristic: Dust as blood.

On top of which, some crazy twist of fate has seated me next to a woman whose name is only one letter removed from mine. It’s a coincidence Ann noticed as we were sorting out boarding passes and carry-on bags. I’ve always thought my parents just ran out of creativity after the initial effort of gestation, so plonked an “e” at the end of a common name for their naming effort. The oddity of meeting someone whose family name is as similar (she’s a Cosby while I’m a Crosby) almost guarantees other comparisons. For my own peace of mind, I’m glad to see she’s my opposite both in looks—she’s much shorter than my own 5’4” and about as wide as she is tall, with blond hair and blue eyes—as well as beliefs—she’s traveling with her church’s youth group as something of a mentor/adviser, as they make a tour of holy sites in exotic places.

For myself, I’ve never been much more than agnostic. I acknowledge the existence of mysteries and a force outside myself, but have never been much on organizations and their doctrines. This is another reason for suspicion: my boss is a real conspiracy nut, so it would be no skin off his nose to manufacture a case that forces me to delve deeper into pseudo-history and related apocrypha. In fact, he would have reams of research for me to read proving that there’s no such thing even as the “coincidence” of sitting next to a virtual name double.

I had a lot of fun pulling up research on interesting locales throughout Russia, as well as Russian military hardware and common Russian phrases in the course of my writing frenzy, and am currently in the process of (procrastinating) writing the second in the series. I hope to release it by Christmas, and the third and final installment next April.

The book is available at Amazon and Smashwords, as well as being listed on Goodreads.

You can find Tonya at all of the following:

Tabla de Contenidos
1. The Darkness Beneath - Free Copy
2. It's All About You

The Darkness Beneath: Sex, Death and Trains, all Yours For Nothing (still!)*

*Terms and Conditions apply: you can get a free copy of my first novel, The Darkness Beneath, by following this link - but hurry! Only the first 100 people to sign up can claim a free copy.

It's All About You - Time to Get the Excitements On
This Wednesday an unsuspecting world will wake/be already awake/fall asleep to the news that my very first It's All About You blog will be published.

And our first contributor will be the very marvellous writer and extremely industrious Maureen Hovermale. She'll be catapulted into the digital stratosphere on the 20th June.

It's All About You will then appear every Wednesday and will probably vary a bit for a while as I'm sure I'll have to get all experimental on the format. 

I've already got five people lined (three writers/two artists) but I'm greedy and want more contributors, and I want them now! And any of these could be you. Yes, that's you I'm talking to, the one looking at your computer or other handy digital device. 

I want to know what turns you on about being creative: what book or work of art gave you the wanna-do's and the I-must's? And when you did done or were all must-ered out, what did you produce?

I want to know about that too, so it's a great chance to show a slice of your work and tell everyone why it thrills you to have created it. You never know, you might even give someone else the wanna-do's and I-must's - and sharing and spreading the power of creativity has got to be, in my opinion, one of the best things any of us can do.

All you have to do is write 250 words on something or someone that inspired you to go create (and supply the quote or a pic of the art work). The second part features an example of your work and another 250 words on why you like it or how it makes you feel or... well, whatever you like really.

The only rule is that this isn't an opportunity to big up a mate, unless you happen to be mates with Cormac McCarthy or Francis Bacon. That said, it doesn't matter where you are in your career: I want to hear as much from the unpublished or unexhibited as much as I want to hear from those further up the success ladder. All are welcome.

If you want to take part, contact me via my blog's comments or comments form, or on the Twitter: @mickdavidson.

Here's the dilemma: I'm reading a book that I want to review. It is not a good book. It is poorly written, unimaginative and dull. At best it's a short story, because the basic idea is good. The editing is also questionable. I think that, given how hard many aspiring authors work to produce something good, and how much attention we give to following the advice from industry professionals and published writers, this book is insulting and really taking the piss. It should not have been published in its current form and is, in my opinion, about 50% of the way there. The only upside of this is that I didn't pay for the book, it was given to me.

My problem is that although I feel the need to point out its failings, I'm not sure if I ought to. Perhaps my time would be better spent reviewing (and
reading!) something I like. And surely beauty is in the eye of the beholder and people's tastes are not all the same?

Yes, both of the latter are true, but in this case it's not about taste, it's about poor workmanship. I will quote two examples from this book to demonstrate my point, but I could easily quote or more.

Quote 1
The following comes from a long passage where an FBI agent is describing a fight with a vampire:

"...he picked me up by the neck like I weighed nothing and threw me down onto the ground. I started shouting questions at him, asking him to tell me about himself. For some astounding reason, he stepped back and started

So we're supposed to believe that at one moment the agent is being nigh on
murdered by a vampire, and in the next - and with no explanation whatsoever they're having a nice chat. Really!? Call me demanding but I want the writer to explain this dramatic turnaround. In fact the story can't proceed without being explained. I think this is should have been picked up in the editing process at the very least (where were you editors?). My main question here is, why doesn't the author bother to take the time to fill in the missing details of this sudden change of events? It should IMPOSSIBLE not to describe because you know your readers are going to ask themselves the same question. Then there's the 'For some astounding reason' sentence which the author assumes lets her off the hook of explaining what's going on. If the author can't be bothered to spend the time writing a few hundred words to explain what happened, then why should I bother reading on? Because you've already proved that shoddy workmanship is ok with you. It is not ok for paying customers.

This 'can't be bothered to explain' trick is used many times throughout the course of the book.

Quote 2
Much later in the book the main character is at a gathering of vampires for a ceremony where, not surprisingly, reality is a little challening:

"Candles floated in the air of their own volition, just like in the Harry Potter movies,..."

This starts well enough but then 'just like in the Harry Potter movies'? How lazy can you be? First there's the assumption that the reader has seen any of the films, secondly why doesn't the writer exercise their imagination and supposed writing skills rather than using graphical shorthand? The book is riddled with this sort of thing, all of which should have been picked up by the editor.

Critical Failure
Because I've been caught on the horns of this dilemma, I've asked other writers what they think about critiquing poor work, most prefer to ignore it and instead review books they do like. A few months ago I read another writer's blog about the same issue. Her attitude was that she didn't want to give a bad critique because she didn't want to create negative feelings within a close-knit industry and among people she may need at some point in her career. She is not alone in the POV, and I understand where she's coming from. It's hard enough to become a published/successful writer as it is without creating waves that may bounce back of distant shores later in life and slap you across the face.

On the other hand, we've a right to our opinion and to point out shoddy workmanship to others who might be tempted to spend their money on it, only to find out that it's crap. They should at least have the opportunity to know other people's opinion before they buy.

But we shouldn't live in fear of stating our opinion: that is not good for us as individuals or for our society. In fact, because of our moral obligation to be honest to ourselves, I'd say we're almost obligated to state our opinion.

Writing this blog has helped sorting my thinking out: I will be writing a critique (assuming I can reach the end before death overtakes me). And I will be as balanced as I can be, using examples to back up my comments, which is what I owe the author and publisher. It won't be a hatchet job. But I won't be holding back either, I owe that to everyone considering buying the book and all of the writers who sweat and toil to produce the best work they can.

If we don't take a stand against what we see as poor work, then we are allowing the lazy authors and quick-buck publishers to get away with literary murder. And while I know not all books are meant to be high art (and I love many things that could easily be called low-brow such as B-movies and pulp fiction for example), I don't accept that work that sinks to this level of mediocrity should be published, ever. To do this insults all writers and readers, and the memory of others, such as Mary Shelly and Bram Stoker, who were masters of this genre. While many of us may never achieve their level of excellence as writers, we should aspire to. If not, then there's no point in calling ourselves writers, we're just painting by numbers.

If that's what you aspire to, please don't bother. It's hard enough to get published as it is without having you cluttering up the slush piles.