Martian Sands by Lavie Tidhar

Like just about everything in this book even the title is not what it seems. Yes it does refer to the surface of the planet Mars, but it also refers to an important character in the book. I made a mistake in my timing of reading this book. I should not have chosen a week with only small reading windows. This is the kind of book that benefits from taking the time to read it in large chunks. An ideal holiday read. I found myself having to read back several pages before carrying on. There is a lot going on in this book and if you are not paying attention it can be easy to lose the thread. This book is well worth making time for so go sit in the quiet shade for a few hours.

science fiction stories with time travel aspects can seem like utter tosh unless there is some backbone to how causality is addressed. My head hurts from trying to follow the logic through across several time frames. Sometimes characters bleed across in subtle ways and at others you get a slap in the face from a wet fish.

I really enjoyed how Mr Tidhar took some Israeli political views and extended them in to the future. Of course they’d want their own state on the red planet and even more obviously of course they’d make a statement and use time travel to impact the genocide of their people in World War II.

There are too many clever references to list and I wouldn’t want to spoil your fun. I do have to mention the noir style fictional elements which are also personifications of real (in as much as anything in this story can be called real) characters.


A Girl Called Jack by Jack Monroe

I admire Jack Monroe. Her blog post Hunger Hurts is enough to upset even a miserable git like me. When I was a child there were times when my parents had very little money and I am pretty sure they skipped the odd meal to keep us boys clothed and fed.

Jack Monroe hasn’t been content to concentrate on her family now is gradually moving away from abject poverty. Instead she campaigns about food poverty. Nobody should be without regular food. This book will not stop food poverty. What this book can do is help you think about the way you shop, where you shop and most importantly what you buy. Given how tight my family finances are this book is very welcome at the moment.

There are some great pieces of advice in this book as well as the recipes. Woody herbs like Rosemary are almost impossible to kill even on a windowsill if they are kept damp. Growing chili plants is also great, not only in terms of flavour but also because they have some great health benefits too. Pickling leftover vegetables and freezing breadcrumbs are also great ways to save money and waste less. There are other similar tips in this book.

Soups are great. Even small children who don’t like vegetables will eat soup. My 6yr old loves bean soup without the beans. We blitz the whole soup so he is getting them. Don’t forget that those beans and pulses are sources of protein. There are not a lot of meat recipes in this book because meat is expensive and if you are on a very tight budget it is only ever a treat. There are plenty of breads to make and a surprising number of recipes packed with flavour. This is not a book for a dessert lover though. There are a few and they reflect the same ethos as the rest of the book. Some nice cheap jam for the sweetener is something I’m keen to play with.

These recipes are all quite simple to make. There are few ingredients, few utensils and not many steps to follow. This would be an ideal present for somebody just leaving home and learning to fend for themselves.

Guardians edited by Adele Wearing

This is the third in the Fox Pockets series. I have to talk about the cover. I love what Sarah Anne Langton has done with the covers for this series. They look so simple and bright yet there is so much more to them. This one in particular is a bit like eating ice cream with salted caramel in it. At first it seems to be exactly what expected but the longer you leave it the more levels there are. I could ramble on for ages about this cover (yeah I know I already have) and would recommend going to have a look yourself.

This book feels very different from the other Fox Pockets. It starts out quite slow and cerebral and then picks up pace in the second half. The really odd thing for me was that the pace seemed to gather more like a novel than an anthology. It took me a little while to get used to this as I was expecting it to be a little more spiky (in more than one way).

I have a clear favourite in this book. My Guardian’s Guardian by Catherine Hill is just stunningly well done. I don’t want to say too much about it as that will give away the really clever part. There is a single three letter word in this story that ensure that most people will get it. I’d buy this book for this story alone and would suggest you do too.

The other story that really stood out for me was Defiant by Christian D’Amico. I have always loved stories about heroic sacrifice. Something about giving your own life for the greater good strikes a chord with me. Add powered melee weapons, space ships and advanced guns and I am sold. I want to read some longer fiction by this author.

I felt that I shouldn’t like Fat Angels by Alasdair Stuart in these times of promoting positive body image but I couldn’t dislike it. There is no negativity only a sense of humour and a disregard for what anyone else thinks. It was much better than I expected.

This is a fun little book and I fully intend to have all ten on my book shelf.

Interview with Garnett Elliott

Garnett Elliott writes some hard hitting emotional fiction with a deceptively simple style of writing. This interview is an especially interesting one for me as it has made me think about one of my favourite novels in a different light. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Q. I’ve read at least five books that you’ve featured in. One of those is BEAT to a Pulp: Hardboiled which is probably my favourite short story anthology. I love the deceptive simplicity of noir stories and particularly love them hardboiled. What drew you to writing this kind of story?

A. Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled kicked six kinds of ass. Glenn Gray and Kent Gowran had some particularly nasty stories in it, as I recall . . .

There’s something about the language of the hardboiled/noir story that first hooked me in my teens. I had been reading William Gibson’s landmark sci-fi novel Nueromancer, which was chock-full of innovative ideas, but the way he told it; the pacing, the dialogue, the action, really haunted me. I didn’t know why. Then my uncle read it. “It’s a heist story,” he told me, “and it’s written in the old hardboiled style.”

Q. Before I started writing these questions I did a little search engine stalking. You have a pretty small online footprint. Is this a deliberate persona thing or are you naturally disinclined to broadcast about yourself?

A. I’m a low, low, low profile kind of guy. One of the (polite) things my co-workers call me is “treetop flyer.” This is both deliberate because of the nature of my work and the result of natural inclination. And yes, I know it’s the Kiss of Death in today’s publishing industry.

I don’t have a normal job. I’ll leave it at that. And I learned early on I did not want to call undue attention to myself. I do not excel in politics. The concept of self-promotion beyond, say, trying to do a good job, is alien to me. It’s something I struggle with.

Q. Where do you see pulp fiction in five years time?

A. Not sure where it will go, but I’ve noticed a general trend of ‘pulp’ getting more (some would argue incorrect) usage among fiction writers. People who used to tag themselves as ‘noir’ writers now say ‘pulp.’ I’ve got no beef with this. I’d love to see both classic reprints and new venues (like David Cranmer’s Beat to a Pulp line) exploding all over the net.

Q. Time some a shameless plug. What writing do you having coming out this year and why should we buy them?

A. I’ve got a story coming out soon in the professional fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and it won’t cost you a dime. Beyond that, I’m working on the fourth (maybe fifth? I’m not sure where it fits in the arc) entry in the Drifter Detective series. You should buy it because, like the aforementioned Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, it’s going to kick six kinds of ass.

See? I’m not so good at the self-promotion thing.

Q. What fictional detective would you like to be and why?

A. Columbo. Hands down. I know he’s more ‘TV’ than ‘literary,’ but still, he’s my hero. He’s got more than he shows, and those asshole, country-club bad guys don’t see it coming until he lays into them with their own mistakes. Plus, I’d get to live in early 70’s LA and hang out at NBC studios. And smoke cigars whenever I want.

Q. If you were stuck on a desert island with only five books to read which ones would you choose and why?

A. Well, that would certainly suck, wouldn’t it? Only five books to read sounds like a personal hell. I’d go for quantity, say ‘The Complete Works’ of HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, because they’d take a long time to read. Probably a “Best of” compilation of Jack Vance, for both the length reason and because I never get tired of that man. But the other two . . . All Shot Up by Chester Himes? An early Hap and Leonard Pine novel? Miami Blues? The whole concept is too Sophie’s Choice for me.

The Girls of Bunker Pines (The Drifter Detective) by Garnett Elliott

I like the books from BTAP. Particularly the noir titles. There are some nice links between the various series. This one for example is about The Drifter Detective Jack Laramie who is the grandson of Cash Laramie. Cash is a western fiction character also chronicled by BTAP. The subtle connections back to Cash in this story are a nice touch and add depth to the character.

The story is set in 1950s America where everything is great on the surface but under that thin veneer lies a seething mess. That pretty much sums up Jack Laramie. In this story we learn snippets of the things he had to endure in prisoner of war camp. He still carries a lot of that baggage around with him. That baggage and a sense of kinship to the Korean war veteran seeking his help becomes quite important in this book.

Things don’t exactly start out well for Jack but they certainly don’t improve much and even he starts to question whether life is passing him by. This book is slightly longer than the other Drifter Detective stories and I think it benefits from it. There is a greater depth of character about Jack in this story. Don’t give that Barista your name, don’t get that frothy coffee. Instead buy this book and go sit out in the park reading for your lunch break.

Primal Storm by R.A. Smith

This is the second book in the Grenshall Manor Chronicles. This one is set a year after the first.

I found the pace of this book a little unusual. The only way I can describe it is like a role-playing game. There is the expected gradual rise in tension and pace but it is a lot more spiky than in some books. I can see influences from lots of games in the world and the characters. I liked that. I instantly felt at home in this book.

BEWARE THIS BOOK! It broke my Kindle. Literally. I was sitting there reading it and the screen cracked to the point of uselessness before my eyes. It was bizarre and it took me a few weeks of owning my new one before I braved reading it again. Thankfully my new reader was more hardy to the powers within.

All of the main characters in this book are vivid and interesting. I am still a bit hazy about how some of the world building stuff hangs together but I presume that will become clearer in the final part. I think the author is trying not to give us information we don’t need yet but I can’t help wanting to see how the different realms are connected and the various ways to slide between them. That’s a good sign. There is no obvious romance in this series so far. Instead there is the love the comes through shared experience and friendship. That is a very powerful driver in this book.

This is a good fun read and I will be reading the third part.

Interview With K.A.Laity

The lovely Kate Laity was kind enough to answer some questions for me. If you want to find out more about her there are links to her many personas at the bottom.

Q. You write and get published a lot. That in itself is impressive. What gets me is the number of completely different types of writing you manage to juggle. How do you manage to keep these different aspects apart and do you have a different persona for each area?

A. The fundamental fact about me is I get bored really easily. Anyone who’s seen me sigh and fidget through a meeting knows how it is. If I had to write the same thing all the time, I would get so bored. On the negative side, pingponging through various genres has made discovering my work more difficult. While I keep writing whatever strange things come into my head, I created the other personas to identify things that do actually fit into genre labels. They’re easier to sell – in fact one of my alter egos is the only one of us to have a Big Six (or is it Five now?) contract.

Q. You don’t just write though. I first heard of you through the Noir series you edited for Fox Spirit. How does that hat differ from your author ones?

A. I keep swearing I won’t do any more editing, then I get an idea that someone like Adele at Fox Spirit Books says, ‘Hey, I’d publish that” and I find myself doing it again. And it’s always fascinating to see where people take the ideas and run with them. Editing is about designing an experience—and immersion really—for the reader. Even if they read out of order (I almost always do when I get an anthology), you want it to have that effect. So you have to read the stories in light of how they will affect one another. Juxtaposition is everything. Plus, it’s fun to persuade writers you really enjoy to write something they wouldn’t have done without that poke.

Q. Tell me about your book release schedule this year and what I should read, or a shameless plug if you like.

A. My noir novella Extricate is just out and very soon will be released again in print form with another novella Throw the Bones and a bunch of short stories. It’s going to have a double cover like the old pulps. I just saw Sarah Anne Langton‘s art for it this morning and wow! What a knockout one-two punch it’s going to be! Coming up in April will be my supernatural noir novel White Rabbit which will come out under my given name because it’s another genre straddling book. It’s like Séance on a Wet Afternoon mashed up with The Big Sleep and a little Blue Sunshine and maybe just a touch of Pynchon. That description should tell you why I love crossed genre publishers like Fox Spirit Books. And it’s got a classy cover by S. L. Johnson that captures the enigma of the book in a timeless image. In an era of cheap photoshop collage book covers I am so very grateful to have amazing artists designing covers that stand out from the crowd. I have lots more coming out: fiction and even non-fiction like my essay on awesome medieval woman, Christina of Markyate in Heroines of Comic Books and Literature and an essay on how I came up with my Chastity Flame thriller series in a collection on the pop culture influence of James Bond that’s supposed to be out this spring. And um, more stuff that I’m forgetting but will be on the websites…

Q. Nobody likes to choose their favourite child but which is your favourite genre to write?

A. At the moment I’m kind of noir-crazy. It’s one of those genres that I have loved for years and years but only started writing relatively recently. I blame Paul D. Brazill, who somehow lured me into the darkness and then got me to write a story for his Drunk on the Moon series and then (probably helped by the fact that I was living in Ireland on a Fulbright) I wrote more and more and more. I love noir: it’s all about people who don’t see the options, who live on the margins and who make bad choices because they don’t think they have a chance of winning.

Q. You’ve won a Clive Barker short story contest. Is that as cool as it sounds and did you get to meet him?

A. My first ‘professional’ acceptance! I won a signed script and the MGM website hosted my story for a time (it’s still at the official Clive Barker site), but I got a letter from him that I framed and hung on the wall because it said such nice things about my writing (‘full of fluent style and poetic dialogue’). I didn’t get to meet until a bit later. He was doing a signing for Sacrament and I waited in line to have him sign a copy. Clive is one of those writers who adores meeting his readers. While he was signing I thanked him for the letter and told him how much it meant to me. He looked up and said, ‘YOU wrote that story?’ He jumped up and ran around the desk and gave me a big hug and told me again how much he loved the story and so did everybody in the office. I nearly exploded with delight. A wonderful writer but also a terrific human.

Q. Talking of short stories. I love short and punchy works, do you see a long term place in the market for shorter fiction?

A. I think there will always be an appetite for it. I love writing shorts, but I swore off them because they just don’t pay anything. And then I keep writing them anyway every once in a while because I get an idea and it has to be written or I get itchy. I do love that ebooks seem to have brought the novella back as a saleable length. Publishing, as you well know, is all crazy right now. All kinds of things might happen. It’s a bit chaotic, but there are so many more options to find writers you might have missed in the old model.

Q. What’s the funniest thing you’ve seen on the internet this week?

A. Probably this.

Q. You are stuck on an island with only five books to read. Which ones would you choose and why?

A. Oh god, I hate choosing! My whole life is about having as many opportunities open to me as possible all the time. I’d cheat with The Riverside Shakespeare and The Collected Works of Christopher Marlowe because then I could entertain myself playing all the parts. I’d bring The Complete Jane Austen as I wouldn’t be able to do without it. Now the hard choices: hmmm. Let’s say Jane Eyre and The Thin Man. Or The Long Goodbye. No, The Thin Man. Probably. Can’t I just bring my ebook collection? I need art, too! And music! I hope there are pens, too. I suppose I can make a stylus and use blood. Five books! If nothing else, that would prompt me to escape. After a while—it would be nice to be stranded on an island for a while. The quiet would be nice.

All the sites: (general madness), Twitter, Facebook, G+, Medium

GrahamWynd (noir & crime)

Kit Marlowe (historical/romance/adventure)

C. Margery Kempe (erotic romance)