History Of Swearing
by Stella Rimington
The Tin Ticket
Something Like Happy
A Patch In Heaven
OOPS! The land is a 70 metres square triangle.
. - EXMOUTH JOURNAL
World War ahead in the bookworld
THE bookworld is going to war. It is to mark the 100th anniversary of the 1914-18 World War. Expect a regular flood of titles covering all aspects of that monstrous conflict.
Stephen Romei at the Australian newspaper had some interesting viewpoints to express. Worth a read.
Meanwhile, browsers can find whatever war books appeal and buy right now. A good story or a scandal revealed? Take your pick. One of the best sites for non-fiction gives intelligent reviews, and is in fact called Warbooksreview. Its creator, Adrian Gilbert, says:
“I’ve set up this book-review blog for military enthusiasts, with an emphasis on cutting-edge war memoirs and key works of modern military history. I hope to provide a round-up of the latest publications, while at the same time providing a retrospective look at some of the many volumes from military history's vast back-catalogue.”
The war books reviewed, and many others, can usually be bought on amazon.co.uk by clicking on the links provided. Older and out-of-print books are best tracked down on second-hand book sites such as abebooks.co.uk and alibris.co.uk
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 21 June 2013.
Fibs, faith and finding a good read
THINK of the worst book you have read, or tried to read. Can you relate it to the following comments?
Think again about your judgement, as I did on finding such a three-against-one opinion. Are they right and are you wrong?
No, you are the only reader who counts when deciding what you will enjoy reading. Then were the reviewers quoted above telling fibs? Not at all. They simply get a kick out of dead narrative, absence of dialogue and a story that plods to nowhere.
Never trust reviews. If you like, use them to glean a novel’s potential, then look for a sample before forking out good money.
Always have faith in your own rating. It is the reason booktaste.com links to extracts at point of sale.
While on the topic of reviews, here’s a recent article in the New York Times yearning for the honesty of a hatchet job.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 14 June 2013.
All aboard for Lilliput, the great land of dreams!
AND still they come, eager to reach the great land of dreams. Ambitious and optimistic, or desperate and despairing, and ranging from the nomads of prehistory to space-age millionaires, or global migrants or illegal boatpeople. The Great Southland has ever been a beacon of hope.
From June 1, people are celebrating a niche event in the world’s most isolated capital city, Perth, Western Australia. The state has a peculiar history that dates back to Aboriginal legends of the Dreamtime. Since then it has grown to be Australia’s richest state through gold, wheat, wool, cattle and minerals. Western Australia Week, little known beyond its shores, is a commemoration of human endeavour.
Unique literary potential was spotted here by author John Ivor, himself a migrant from London. The result is a series of novels that trace an exciting heritage for the folk who call this land their home.
The progress was bloody and politically intense. “Just perfect for historical fiction,” said Mr Ivor this week when I emailed him at his home in Kalamunda, a forested smalltown in the Darling Range overlooking Perth.
“The plots and personalities were ready made. All I had to do was invent a few fictional characters to blend these grand ingredients into an entertaining read.”
He has written six novels reflecting the dreams and hopes of the people attracted to the place that Jonathan Swift called The Land of Lilliput in Gulliver’s Travels (“northwest of Van Diemen’s Land, latitude 30 degrees two minutes south”).
John Ivor’s pageturning novels, in historical order, are these:
Java’s Dream. Before history, humanity begins when a strange fork-legged creature challenges cannibal tradition. Java and his mate risk all in a stand that sets a moral standard for the human race.
Captain Striver. (Fictional autobiography of Sir James Stirling, 1829 founder of The Swan River Colony). Family in disgrace, a penurious young sea captain dreams of creating a British colony to replace lost America. Against him stand Admiralty, Government and the influential British East India Trading Company. Nevertheless, if only he can marry into wealth . .. .
Run Maggie Run. Aged 9, and sentenced to death! A factory waif escapes Scotland’s hangman, outsmarts Arab pirates, endures kidnapping, survives sex predators and is sold as a slave, only to find herself a bonded servant amid English gentry. They are sailing to create an Eden for themselves in a remote wilderness. 'Best serial since Dickens', says the publisher’s blurb.
No Kiss For A Killer. Skilled swordsman Jeremy Hanwell vows to avenge his father’s murder by joining the infamous Pinjarra massacre of dissident Aborigines. Then he falls in love – with a woman who’ll reject him if he performs this sacred duty. Romance rides a thorny trail in an 1830s British Colony.
Eden’s Deadly Shore. Aged 17, Maggie seeks justice for the dispossessed native people of Swan River Colony. Her good intentions result in bloody conflict via the biggest obstacle of all − human nature.
Amateur Rebel. Magistrates commit murder, Aborigines mistake a missionary as an incarnation of the sacred Rainbow Serpent come to end white settlement, and Maggie, a young interpreter, could lose her head – literally. But her main problem is trying not to fall in love with Jeremy, her hot-headed foolish ally who is romantically pursued by a wealthy widow.
John Ivorﾒs author page at Amazon has 13 titles.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 7 June 2013
Graphic, funny, personal and sexy
A STORY with a strange title, The Bat Tree, by Sadie McAndrew, also has an unusual appeal to the reader. It is a bit like reading a blog, a personalized and private narrative. It tackles issues everyone knows about yet few speak of. In relating to the thoughts and emotions of this memoir, the reader also is entertained by a tale set in India.
Confessions of a sex addict? There are graphic passages and funny ones too. Without being salacious, the sex confronts reality in well written prose.
Most of all, I found this compelling stuff an escape to a different kind of fiction. It’s good. Get yourself a sample and take it from there
Is this how you pick your next book?
IN a world awash with books, how do you pick your next read? How do I?
The question applies particularly to fiction, because non-fiction gets selected, almost exclusively, on subject matter. A technical book, memoir, history . . . each offers a narrow field where an interest already exists. But fiction? It’s a galaxy to be explored.
My first choice is a favourite author, and this happens online as well as in my local bookshop or at the public library. However, even these reliable performers must undergo my judging, especially if I’m buying. A book can be expensive even though they remain the world’s best entertainment value. So here’s what I look for, whether the writer is known or unknown.
Printed fiction keeps pace as readers multiply.
IT is gratifying to view the latest reading statistics, which show that printed books are holding their place despite an extraordinary 149% increase in ebook fiction sales last year.
Sales of physical fiction rose by 3%, and that is from an already dominant base compared to ebooks. The ebook revolution of recent times has established digital formats as a permanent and popular way to enjoy a story. Nevertheless they account for only 12% of the total market. I guess this shows that the ebook is handy and most welcome, but does not replace traditional publishing.
The most pleasing statistic of all is that more people than ever are reading. Total fiction readers (physical plus digital) increased in number by 21% last year.
The statistics I quote come from The Publishers Association’s annual report.
Price war hots up
With such a huge consumer market for fiction books, worth US $1billion last year, the battle is on to capture big bucks. Additional to actually selling books, a lucrative cashflow comes from the sale of digital reading devices. These are now embroiled in a furious price war.
In Britain, the basic Kobo was slashed last week to 29 British pounds (US$45) compared to the basic Kindle; 69 British pounds (US$107).
Interesting times ahead indeed.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 10 May 2013.
Thinker list a stinker list for women
THE world is full of thinkers and other trouble makers. It is interesting therefore to see Prospect Magazine’s list of leading thinkers for 2013, published 23 April. Top sage was Oxford’s evolution guru Richard Dawkins, as voted in a worldwide poll. This only confirms my own thinking that our planet is a vast loonybin.
More than half the 10,000 votes, it is reported, came via Twitter and Facebook. Oh dear, there’s me thinking again. I reckon that such a volume of tweets from twits says lots about the credibility of the whole project. Never mind, the ruminative rankings demand to be read because reasons for their choice are also given. My conclusion after skimming through the list was there should have been more women on it. I found one at Number 19, a lonely lass beneath all those macho intellectuals.
There is not one woman in the top ten! Going by Prospect Magazine’s readers and tweeters, women don’t, or can’t, nut things out much. What do you think of that?
Here’s what I think anyway: Male scientists have long accepted that women have smaller brains than the male of the species. I’ll concede that men have bigger heads. Richard Dawkins in particular might need the space to cram in heaps of all that anti-god guff.
But ponder this . . .having less deadwood means that a woman’s brain is more compact, and thus quicker and slicker. For example, who writes the best whodunit mysteries?
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 3 May 2013.
In search of new favourites
AWARDS are a shortcut to discovering new authors who are worth reading. The unwelcome side effect, growing as books battle to be noticed, is that a surfeit of awards has joined the surfeit of authors.
Nevertheless, one can still have faith in the annual Women’s Fiction Prize (formerly called the Orange). This year’s shortlist is as follows:
Kate Atkinson - Life After Life (Doubleday, British, 8th Novel).
A.M Homes - May We Be Forgiven (Granta, American, 6th Novel).
Barbara Kingsolver - Flight Behaviour (Faber & Faber, American, 8th Novel).
Hilary Mantel - Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate, British, 11th Novel).
Maria Semple - Where'd You Go, Bernadette (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, American, 2nd Novel).
Zadie Smith - NW (Hamish Hamilton, British, 4th Novel).
As I always say, literary tastes differ, but this well regarded half-dozen gives much scope for browsing and sampling.
Another award of sorts is a mention in Granta magazine’s Best of Young British list, an event that occurs only every ten years. Twenty names this year and certainly lots of controversy. Again, browse and sample for an author to enchant you.
Here is the list for 2013:
Naomi Alderman, Tahmima Anam, Ned Beauman, Jenni Fagan, Adam Foulds, Xiaolu Guo, Sarah Hall, Steven Hall, Joanna Kavenna, Benjamin Markovits, Nadifa Mohamed, Helen Oyeyemi, Ross Raisin, Sunjeev Sahota, Taiye Selasi, Kamila Shamsie, Zadie Smith, David Szalay, Adam Thirlwell and Evie Wyld.
I can name a newcomer not on the list (only one novel) who has already captured my enthusiasm. It is Helen Simonson. Published 2010, her Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand has secured praise everywhere. It is a gentle comedy of current multi-cultural and class conscious England.
Situations, characters, dialogue and a comfortable narrative pace make this a great feel-good read.
An award? Yes. Among numerous accolades, it won BookBrowse’s Best Debut prize in 2010. Said BookBrowse: “Major Pettigrew is one of the most indelible characters in contemporary fiction, and from the very first page of this remarkable novel he will steal your heart.
“The Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village.”
I’m looking forward to Helen’s second book So are lots of other readers. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand scores well lover 700 reader reviews at Amazon.
Helen Simonson’s homepage is http://www.helensimonson.com/
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 26 April 2013.
Good authors invent best baddies
GOOD writers create the best baddies. That’s an opinion I’ve gained through various encounters with monsters, thugs, murderers and sadists. Enjoyable encounters, I should add, because these nasties were born to Fiction.
Remember Ian Fleming? His Agent 007 series could always be relied upon to present interesting ogres. My favourite? The steel-toothed hitman known as Jaws. And take Dickens. Lots of fearful villains there. My vote is that his Fagin tops them all.
Currently, in a world teeming with boring vampires and magical misfits, there are not so many horrid humans. Unless you read John Ivor. I find he’s a bit like Fleming and Dickens combined. Not only are his baddies gruesomely bad, they meet grim and gory punishment. I reckon that’s what readers want. We don’t find evil people punished enough in the world news, so, in a psychological manner, Fiction helps balance terrible Truth.
The John Ivor Quartet, historical adventure in the 1830s, deals with the brilliantly vile in ways that are wondrously satisfying. The books feature a heroine named Maggie. Her wisdom has been gained from reading books, and is therefore suspect, as plots reveal in their unfolding.
John Ivor treats his characters, goodies as well as baddies, with a ruthless irony that makes his novels unique. They are all current online or in paperback. Get some free samples:
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 19 April 2013.
Much Ado About Shakespeare
OH how debate and insults flared! It was spontaneous combustion after an English newspaper reviewed a book about Shakespeare. On Easter Saturday, March 30, the Guardian reported 22 experts compiled Shakespeare Beyond Doubt: Evidence, Argument, Controversy, due for release April 18. Responding overnight came 650 comments, and these were later heading for 1000, as doubters made claims for 77 different people (including Queen Elizabeth) as the author of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.
The war of words descended to vitriolic personal accusations such as “sneering arrogance”, “you are a brain amputated being”, “complete bollocks”. “you spout drivel”, and “foaming hatred” as academics defended their opinions. Even the revered Bard was derided as a “grasping social climbing proto bourgeois”.
That Easter weekend was a busy one for Shakespeare fanatics. Separate to the identity squabble, researchers at Aberystwyth University, Wales, denounced the idol of English literature as a tax dodger and grain hoarder. Their paper will be delivered at the Hay Literary Festival in May.
"Over a 15-year period he purchased and stored grain, malt and barley for resale at inflated prices to his neighbors and local tradesmen," the research team wrote. Also, Shakespeare "pursued those who could not (or would not) pay him in full for these staples and used the profits to further his own money-lending activities."
They said Shakespeare’s monument in Holy Trinity Church, Stratford, originally depicted him holding a sack of corn. This was changed in the 18th century to a tasseled cushion and a quill pen.
I have to wonder how much of their “discovery” is conjecture? The playwright’s tax defaulting has long been recorded in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Records. Viewing those entries (links below), I concluded that here was an ordinary bloke reluctant to help fund a wasteful government. (Some things never change!)
I can, however, see how the cunning Bard foxed the law for at least 15 years. All he had to do was protest to the tax inspectors: “It was not me. It was Christopher Marlowe.”
While the pundits battle 400 years after the event, I draw attention to author Ann Morven’s brilliant whodunit, The Killing of Hamlet. Set in a modern English village, the murders are linked to the current Shakespeare identity debate. And Morven suggests a solution more credible by far than all the rest.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 12 April 2013. Oh yeah, and happy birthday, Shakespeare, whoever you were, born 23 April (or thereabouts; academe disputes even this).
New romance genre
AND now a new genre niche, the Bonnet Ripper. What will they think of next?
Rebecca Armstrong at the Independent newspaper came upon this new romantic buzz and suggested a few more ideas for book marketers to explore. Meanwhile, the bonnet ripper has the gals agog in Amish land. Good luck if you like this kind of twist to yearning hearts.
Personally I’ll stick to the tried and trusted. Have you sampled Anna Jacobs?
Michael Frayn’s magic
Mistaken identity is fun in a short story yet hardly the stuff to fuel a novel, unless the author is Michael Frayn. Skios, his newly released novel, is a farce that maintains pace. His situations stretch the mix-ups to become a magical literary achievement. Frayn's humour is unique, his plotting clever, his skill in delivery almost unbelievable. I’m a big Frayn fan. I've read all his books and this rates with his best.
Happy Easter reading! From Cathy, week ending 5 April 2013
Don’t talk books at a party
NEVER talk about books at a party! That’s the learned advice from a professor of literature.
In fact, he has written a whole book explaining when and how literature becomes a welcome social item. And when and how it doesn’t.
I won’t be reading it, because chatting about books anywhere anytime is what I do. Nevertheless, I am sure the professor raises some interesting theories. If you wish more info and a review of his book, it is easily available to browsers.
Death of James Herbert
BRITISH horror author James Herbert died last week at the age of 69. His demise coincides with publication of his latest ghost novel, Ash. Mass sales of this final work guaranteed, I guess, but there’s more James Herbert ahead.
His bestseller, The Secret Of Crickley Hall, becomes a BBC drama later this year. Herbert wrote 23 novels. They sold 54 million copies and were translated into 30 languages. He is probably best known for the horror classic The Rats
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 29 March 2013
Silly titles, super sales
A SILLY title draws attention to a book, and that’s a big plus among the millions scrambling for attention. Funny, strange or even meaningless, the title invites investigation and encourages comment.
It is a first step on the way to that marketing gold, word-of-mouth. If, in addition, the content is good it leads to bestseller status.
Many readers, myself included, automatically shun such obvious bait, yet many more pounce upon it with glee. Remember Who Moved My Cheese?. Peculiar in title, it was about office politics and it soared to world fame. Then there was Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It tackled the dull subject of punctuation with flair and quickly entered bestseller ranks.
More recently we’ve had a hilarious novel by a previously unknown author lumbered with the title A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. It has sold a million copies. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (crime narrated by a dyslectic boy) has sold more than two million. Alexander McCall Smith began his global glory with three comical German professors in Portuguese Irregular Verbs and a follow-up, The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs.
With these and other examples, there is no doubt that odd book titles catch public notice. This week brings lots of them, with the 35th annual Diagram Prize. Itself bearing a puzzling name which I’ll not try to explain, this contest will be decided on March 22. It seeks out peculiar titles and rewards them
On the shortlist is How To Sharpen Pencils (funny and informative non-fiction), The Life And Times of the Penis (history of the male organ), Lofts of North America (improving or building yours), How Tea Cosies Changed The World (creative knitting), Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop (dwarves, gnomes and goblins beware).
As you can see, the event carries on a bold tradition that began 1978 at the Frankfurt Book Fair. The winner then was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (medical research studies).
This year the competition’s co-ordinator is Philip Stone of Bookseller Magazine. He commented, "There is a cliché that you can't judge a book by its cover but I think people do. The cover and the title."
How did last year’s winner fare? Better than expected, considering it was Cooking with Poo. The author was a Bangkok dweller named Poo
Happy reading from Cathy! Week ending 22 March 2013.
Outfoxing the Taliban
HIS books are not prolific but there’s never been a bad one. I refer to Timeri N. Murari, an Indian author of exceptional talent. Now 70, he has divided his lifelong talent between writing and film making.
I have just read The Taliban Cricket Club, a novel that holds attention from start to finish. Published last year, it is a well plotted tale of love and courage amid the horrors of Afghanistan when under Taliban rule. The heroine is desperate to escape her native land because an evil aging Taliban chief has decided to marry her despite her family objections.
Murari previously entertained with Taj, a love story about the origin of the Taj Mahal. He also wrote a pair of memorable thrillers that continued the adventures of Kipling’s Kim as an adult. These are The Last Victory (published 1988) and The Imperial Agent (1987).
A former journalist at the Guardian newspaper, this author is widely travelled, a background reflected in his characters. His narrative style creates gripping visual images, as one might expect from a film maker. Also, it is not without humour
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 15 March 2013.
Lovelorn and desperate She-Hulk
REMEMBER the days when heroines were sweet, shy and demure? Maybe Grandma does. In recent times they’ve moved up to be macho mums and vampire slayers and kick-ass extroverts.
Now comes the ultimate in the novel The She-Hulk Diaries. Leader of a superhero pack, this rampaging female lawyer takes Marvel Comics into the realm of chick-lit books. Despite her horrendous nature, all she really wants is love and happiness. Personally I prefer the waif in Run Maggie Run. Crusader for justice, she’s a victim of the world’s wicked ways. And yet . . . sex predators beware!
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 22 February, 2013.
The power of love
WITH Valentine’s Day upon us, I recommend an unusual tale of love, a short story that’s a warm chuckle.Title: The Coolie’s Sweetheart. It is extracted from the novel Brat, by Bryce McBryce. This book, through the eyes of a child, examines the peculiar ways of the adult world.
Another amusing short is Swamp Magic, by Ann Morven, where love casts its spell when least expected.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 15 February 2013.
Lehane’s great American novel
HAVING discovered Dennis Lehane during his Mafia phase, and then into the violent romps of private-eye Kenzie, I was surprised to find he also wrote the great American novel of 2008. One of them, anyway. Set in1919, its title is The Given Day.
Lehane has achieved brandname status by churning out thrillers, yet this epic work (while thrilling enough) delves deep into the American psyche. It is a marathon read of more than 700 pages. Nevertheless the pace never flags, nor its fascinating historical detail of the Boston riots after the Great War and just before Prohibition.
Political and social climates of the era were settling into something like the fabric that has emerged today. At the centre is the Coughlin family, forever Irish and known to readers from other Lehane fiction. Through the father and three sons, the family is bonded to a police force rife with dissension and internal turbulence.
While also suffering their own internal rifts as a family, the Coughlins endure the dramatic events and political upheaval taking place. Anarchists, gangsters and unionists are here galore, plus segregation.
Lehane’s trademark violence and humour skip and stir as he applies his high skills in dialogue and character. And the history is reliable.
Co-protagonist to Danny Coughlin is a young negro named Luther who ranks with this author’s best imaginative creations. More than a five-star read, this is lasting literature.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 8 February, 2013.
No-review titles are among the best
CYBER smarties figured out years ago how to get any book a 5-star ranking in Amazon’s “customer reviews”. Also how to join the Top Reviewers list. I’ll not describe their methods here. Google can reveal the tricks for would-be fakers.
Amazon has not been able to end the deceit, despite banning authors and publishers from reviewing own books and despite discouraging paid-for praise. Even worse, a new monster has arisen, the book killer.
Yes, it’s click to kill. It’s an organised attack on a title by uploading multiple negative reviews.
“Hate it” is indicated in an Amazon customer review by a one-star rating. So, just as five clicks rates a book at five stars and potential big sales, a single click can help destroy it.
This was demonstrated when Michael Jackson fans rallied to smother a biography they disliked. “Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson,” by Randall Sullivan, suffered the death of a thousand clicks.
Aided by Facebook and Twitter to rally the troops, this was social media used as a weapon. It was obvious, too, simply because so many fans joined the gangbash.
In other cases, orchestrated reviews, good or bad, are harder to identify. Usually the presence of a high number of customer reviews should raise suspicion. But it is not always easy to tell.
Personally, if I have loved a book I give it five stars on Amazon. If I hate it, I just forget it. Authors deserve praise when they move us, but I see no point in damning those who do not.
So you paid for a disappointing book and you seek revenge! Get over it. The writer did not intend to hurt you. You will know not to purchase that author’s other titles.
Back to Amazon reviews: How reliable are they? Answer: not very, especially those with more than 1000 gushing plaudits even though only recently published. You will even find love-it “customer reviews” for books not yet released. Presumably, as with James Patterson’s thriller Run (due February 2013 but already reviewed by 90 alleged customers), review copies were supplied to fans.
Tastes differ anyway, so no review should be taken at face value. The best guide to an enjoyable book is in a free sample. Never buy without one. Even popular authors sometimes slump. (I can name at least four of my favourites who did so).
Here is the golden rule. Where a host of clicked stars dazzle or disparage, or when a book is acclaimed by an army of enthusiasts, simply click for a sample before you buy.
This recommended practice applies in particular to titles that show no reviews at all. Amid the review wars of recent times I often find these the best to buy.
Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 1 February 2013.
Find spotlights murder mystery
EXPERTS have authenticated new writing by Rabbie Burns, found in Glasgow last week. Researcher Patrick Scott Hogg, along with the Burns Society, identified the handwriting and a 1794 watermark. Strangely, the news comes in the very week that a mystery plotted on his poems won Booktaste’s Best Book Cover award (see next item).
Murder Piping Hot, the award winner, hinges on lost poetry by Scotland’s revered rhymer
In Murder Piping Hot the discovered poetry is Rab’s journal of smutty ditties. He actually did write this but it disappeared on the day of his funeral. Ann Morven has created a thrilling modern whodunit about it.
While including some rude letters to his lawyer, the lost writings found last week were poems in good taste and in the homely style Rab is famous for. They comprise seven lost manuscripts.
The find was also timely for the poet’s 250th birthday, January 25. Traditionally on this date, known as Burns Night, Scots around the world eat haggis and laud the writer of Auld Lang Syne, A man’s a man for a’that, Tam O’Shanter and other popular verse.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 25 January 2012.
Oz skygods and tartan a powerful mix
The best cover of the past year, voted by Booktaste, is on a third edition of the crime-fiction novel Murder Piping Hot, by Ann Morven. Its striking colours and image grab instant interest. And capturing the eye is what book covers are all about. It’s not all, however.
A cover should also suggest the book's contest and mood if it is to be an honest guide to potential buyers.
Voted second best in the Booktaste survey of covers is The Racketeer, a John Grisham title.
Third is a vampire romance, Death's Angel, by Heather Killough-Walden.
This is not the first accolade for the cover of Murder Piping Hot. The book's first edition, an ebook, depicted a large face of a feasting demon, and was reproduced by Apple in promoting its initial iPad.
The current cover, for paperback and ebook, is just as dramatic. It shows swathes of tartan framing weird faces that are in fact the Wandjina skygods of Aboriginal myth. It is a powerful combination. The peculiar bonding of these elements reflects the plot of this brilliant whodunit. It is, after all, a tale of primitive passions unleashed in modern Australia.
In developing the mystery, ethnic Scottish and Aboriginal themes are tied to the poetry of Rabbie Burns. And to a pedantic policewoman descended from Sherlock Holmes. This character deserves a repeat appearance but so far has been limited to this one mystery.
The main character in Murder Piping Hot is amateur sleuth and bush balladeer Sheil B. Wright. Her quirky success in solving murder has earned her a series of novels.
Informed of her book's selection, author Ann Morven commented, "It's nice to have my book's cover take top honours, and for that I must thank the publisher, Darling Newspaper Press. My other novels have likewise received great artwork. I'm told it helps with the sales and I can believe that because, as a reader, my own instinct is to make first selection via the cover."
The artwork for the winning novel’s front cover was by Peter Lee.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 18 January, 2013.
A plea to Fiction’s good fairy
WISHES for 2013 are flowing fast all over the Web, so here’s mine and I’m hoping it comes to pass. To the Good Fairy of fiction: Please, please bring back the days when a reader could rely on books to tell a good story. There simply are not enough of these.
For too long, we have been burdened with sensation, violence, wizards, zombies, mummy-porn and reinvented classics. Plots and credible characters have been hard to find among the millions of titles begging to be read. The best sellers have included too much trivia, too many mediocre authors pushed to the top by frenzied marketing. Oh for that rare treasure, a good story. May the year ahead be full of them.
I know one that’s coming this month. It’s the third title of the Isle of Lewis trilogy by Peter May. Look for The Chessmen. The previous titles in this gripping series are The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man. Although genre-listed as crime fiction, these are much more. Their location is out of the ordinary, too, with mysterious events and an ongoing love affair occurring in Scotland’s remote western isles.
In Romance, there is Linda Howard’s Shadow Woman. Good plot, interesting people. Or, for Daniel Steel fans, her novel Until The End of Time. For short stories, sample the startlingly original collection by George Saunders, Tenth of December.
And then there’s John Ivor, a regular favourite whose historical tales are in the best tradition of adult adventure. His series of gripping reads began long ago with Run Maggie Run. This has an opening that is one of the most compelling ever. It reads thus:
A FINGER of sunshine poked through the grime of courtroom windows, polished the dock’s varnished panels and created a halo for the prisoner, she who was known as Maggie, age nine. The charge was murder. The judge: Mr Justice Gallows.
You can depend on this desperate waif from a tartan factory to attract catastrophe! Here she is at first sight, as described by the author:
Her face was a splotch, colour upon colour. Like her cheeks and her nose and her puckered brow, her arms and legs were stained, and these poked from her tattered frock as hideous rods. Yet her eyes sparkled and her ragged return grin to the judge held the magic of youth.
Oh yes, I’ve followed Maggie’s odyssey to womanhood, one of the great stories and comparable to Dickens
Happy reading! Week ending 11 January 2013.
2013 the best year ever for readers
THE pleasure of a book is such a personal experience that selecting the top releases coming in 2013 is impossible. We all have favourite authors and special tastes in what we choose to read. However, one thing is sure for the year ahead: there has never been such easy access to publishers’ catalogues. And never so many books available. The world is awash with them.
The traditional publishers have finally recognised the marketing value of the Web and the permanent appeal of ebooks. Their catalogues this year offer a vast selection, unprecedented in volume. Hardbacks, paperbacks, digital and audio are all there in profusion. Surprisingly, not all of them offer a free sample.
Selecting a book by its cover has long been a familiar trap for the unwary. It is also risky when an author is unknown. Hence the need for a sample before purchase.
This applies to recommended titles too, because tastes differ. A reviewer may like a book that you don’t. It is a fact that reviewers give most praise to works they have enjoyed.
Looking at the 2013 catalogues, I get the impression that the big global publishers have yet to clear out their shelves to take a chance on new ideas, novice writers or anything they fear may not sell a million. Sure, they have accepted ebooks, but tend to limit these to the same offerings they feel confident with in the print format.
Online retailers think differently. Their lists abound with everything and anything, yes even those long-spurned self-published authors who traditional publishers shun like a blind man sensing heavy traffic.
And the traffic really is heavy this year, never more so, with millions of eager writers grabbing the chance to display their genius to the world. The barrier to novice authors, created by agents and traditional publishers, has gone forever. Now the problem moves to we readers. How to winnow good from bad?
The answer is to get a free sample. This is my recommendation for the New Year: browse and sample. You will come across new favourites, amazing writings, and all the wonders of books, books, books.
And a prediction for 2013? We all know that ebooks will equal or surpass the sale of bound volumes. My crystal ball shows a world swing back to paperbacks that are purchased online. Ebooks are wonderful but they’re not everything. Personally I prefer a paperback. During 2013 we’re going to experience retailers who can offer ways to reduce mailing costs. The Postal Service has become a major factor in the pricing of books. Watch for the seller who can reduce this outlay. Amazon does it already. Others will follow.
Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 4 January, 2013.
The year’s reddest faces
EVER alert to report, in this blog, amusing typos and double meanings in newspapers around the world, I was delighted to find a bloke who compiles a list of the best. Not just the misprints either, but embarrassing apologies, errors and recorded boo-boos that make editors cringe beneath their desks.
One of my favourites is from Boston’s Globe And Mail:
“François Mitterrand, the former French president, is reported to have said that Margaret Thatcher had the mouth of Marilyn Monroe and the eyes of Caligula — not Stalin, as reported in an earlier version of this article.”
Poynter’s website at www.poynter.com has many more in a 2012 list that makes for an entertaining read.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 21 December 2012.
Bumbling amateur wins without a sidekick
A FAMOUS sleuth without a sidekick is almost unknown in fiction. The assistant usually plays a vital role in helping the detective formulate theories and discuss clues.
Even the most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes, needs his Doctor Watson when spouting that immortal phrase, “It’s elementary”. Poirot has Captain Hastings, Scarpetta has Marino, Dalziel his Pascoe and Morse his Sergeant Lewis.
And so it is with most expert investigators whether in books, movies or TV.
But author Ann Morven remoulds the ploy in her whodunit tales starring songster Sheil B. Wright. Her secondary character changes for each story and is always an official rival. Some are quite weird. Thus she gets the clues debated but also introduces humour and, invariably, a threat (other than the killer) to the bumbling amateur.
Ann Morven’s formula is “chills and chuckles”. Her stories are extremely entertaining and the characters serve to fuel clever plots.
Most recently published, in both paperback and digital, is The Right Royal Bastard. With world news focus on the latest royal birth in Britain it could not be more topical. An Australian Aborigine is murdered after claiming his first-born right to the throne!
Best from Asia
ASIAN authors have a special quality that earns them unique appeal to readers throughout the world. The longlist for the 2012 Man Asia Literary Prize has great books from nine different countries.
Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 21 December 2012.
Christmas chills and chuckles
DEATH spoiled the party, and I was the woman who saw it all. In entertainment circles they call me Fat Sheil, and I told the cop how horror had arrived the moment I plunked the opening note of my recently composed ballad Sod The Government, Vote For Jesus.
“Yair,” he leered a crocodile grin, “reckon we all dig them traditional carols.”
I flushed. “Saint Brigid’s Hospital hired me for country.”
Rude and stupid – that was Detective Sergeant Blinky Tubbs, who had kept me two hours and was now snarling at the tree. This glittered with tinsel and fairy stars amid spray-on snow. A brisk homicide team, contradicting balloons, streamers and baubles, probed and dusted like a grim game of hunt-the-slipper.
Apart from me, the revellers had been allowed to depart after giving identities, with one other notable exception: he sprawled on the polished floorboards, frozen agony on his face, and his eyes had become marbles. As if defying this sad fate, the corpse wore an orange paper-hat, now crumpled. One hand still clenched his gift from off the tree: a small plastic pouch of marshmallows.
And so begins the brilliant whodunit, Kill Him Sweetly, by Ann Morven. It is one of the short stories in her collection - CRIME PLEASE! This is available in paperback $9.99 or digital $2.99. Lotsa fun and brimming with chills and chuckles.
Book of the Year 2012
THE candidates for best book of the year are many. We all have one, a title that made a lasting and positive impression. In the weeks before Christmas, literary commentators around the globe like to tell us their top reads. They seldom agree. Here are an early few at random:
New York Times, The Spectator, Britain’s Telegraph newspaper.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 7 December 2012.
Fishing for readers in Storyland
HERE is a book, here a reader. Where's the attraction to pull them together? First, while the work remains unseen, comes "favourite author". This is when fans simply grab and devour, but for authors who are not widely known the reader responds to word-of-mouth, reviews and the cover. And, if wise, that reader proceeds with caution.
Remember these facts: tastes differ, reviewers have been known to fib (or get paid for praise) and covers can deceive. All of which makes essential a personal peek inside the cover. Here waits the hook to lure you into Storyland.
The opening lines of any book are usually a fair test of its rhythm, style and voice. That's why I always read the first paragraph before purchase or a library loan.
There are occasions when this method does not work either, but it remains my benchmark test. It's the reason I have collected some first lines from this website's offerings. Would I read on? Would you? The genres vary.
Before history, when politics began
EVERYBODY wants peace. Asylum seekers risk their lives for it, nations go to war to win it, treaties try to keep it. Nothing works. It never has.
Go back to the dawn of humanity, like author John Ivor, and you'll find the same elusive dream. His short novella Java's Dream is spiced with an underlying philosophy which the reader swallows in the conflict of situations. This all happens before history, before writing, almost before speech. This is where politics began with a yearning for peace among the earliest humans.
Typical John Ivor touch is the main character in this tale of tribal savagery. He's a bloke who decides it is wrong to eat other people, and this causes all sorts of trouble. He is also a weapons maker (stone blades and nice-balanced clubs), which adds an interesting slant to community relationships.
Doubtless human interplay has progressed heaps since those dark days in a primitive world, yet sometimes I wonder about that when watching a news bulletin. Do Java and his pregnant mate achieve their dream in Planet Earth's distant past? Well . . .let the author tell you.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 28 September, 2012.
The pace never flags
PECULIAR heroine, thorny romance, corrupt rulers. These elements give Amateur Rebel its popular appeal. The story takes place in a British colony in the 1830s. Far removed from London, its despotic administration profits a clique of self servers.
Land is seized on a whim, opposition is crushed and magistrates commit murder. Author John Ivor says he took the main characters from real history and real events, simply inserting his young heroine and hero to join tumultuous dots. And what a strange young lady she is!
Her name is Maggie, self taught from books, and one of Fiction's most intriguing inventions. Because of a victimised background, she believes perfect justice can’t be achieved without perfect rulers. This drives her to action, revealing her blind reliance on books and logic without the wisdom of experience.She tries not to fall in love with Jeremy, her hot-headed foolish ally, who is wooed by a rich young widow.The pace of a John Ivor plot never flags and Maggie could lose her head – literally.This is a five-star read. resurrecting the early days of Australia’s richest state.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 7 September, 2012.
From the macabre to the magical
VARYING from the macabre to the magical, a short-story collection by crime novelist Ann Morven is released this week in paperback. As one might guess, murder and mystery predominate. The title: Crime Please!
These tales have been previously published as 99c singles in digital format. They are now offered together at a delightfully low $9.99. Being eligible for free posting makes the book even more attractive to buyers.
Ann Morven, diva of the whodunit novel, always delivers a gripping read. And so it is in these short stories. Whether it is widowed Marjorie cultivating weeds, Luckless Liz trying to strike it rich or balladeer Sheil B. Wright bumbling along a murder trail, readers are assured of sizzling entertainment.
The collection is also available as an ebook at $2.99 from Smashwords, Kindle and other major online retailers.
Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 24 August, 2012.