Tag Archives: reading

Authors Behaving Badly: The Seedy Underbelly of Reviewing

Up until a few months ago, I didn’t realise there was a seedy underbelly to publishing. But all of a sudden, I can’t seem to look anywhere without turning up odd or unpleasant behaviour from authors, publishers, or other members of the writing community. It’s actually got to the point that my husband asks me of an evening, “So, what’s the controversy today?”

“So, what is the controversy today?” I hear you ask.

First, let me run through some of the more recent incidents, just in case you missed them.

The ‘Stop the GoodReads Bullies’ Bullies

Wherein a group of authors sick of being “bullied” by reviewers on GoodReads (who had the nerve to give less than 5 star ratings) start their own website and reveal the real identities and contact information of those reviewers in a clear effort to encourage abusive retribution.

The LendInk Debacle

Wherein a group of vigilante authors use Twitter and DMCA notices to shut down a perfectly legitimate business venture because they think it’s an illegal book piracy site.

The Weird Tales Racist Book-Promo Backflip

Wherein a respected fiction magazine actively promotes a racist self-published novel, then changes their mind and claims they were ignorant of the racist themes when the internet explodes against them.

Now that we’re all caught up, let’s move on to today’s little gem shall we?

I turned on my computer this morning to find the internet abuzz with details of book reviews for sale. If you don’t want to click through and read the story, here’s the gist:

Entrepreneur Todd Rutherford used to work for a marketing department where he would write press releases and contact review sites to organise book reviews. One day he realised it was a lot of hard work, and there were more books than reviewers. So he created GettingBookReviews.com, a site where authors could pay $99 for him to review their book — positive review guaranteed!

For the value-savvy author, there were package deals: $499 would get you 20 different, positive online reviews. A mere $999 would guarantee you 50 individually hand-crafted 5-star reviews posted on the web.

Mr Rutherford was soon raking in $28,000 per month.

Per. Month.

A bit of simple maths will tell you that $28K works out to somewhere between  28 and 280 books every month. Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to read 280 books a month. I don’t even have time to read 28 books a month. Especially not if I have to read 28 books then write 1400 individually hand-crafted reviews. So Rutherford outsourced. One of the freelance reviewers quoted in the article admits that she never actually read the books she was reviewing. She just googled them online, skimmed through a couple of pages, then wrote 5-star reviews. (She does say that she wishes she’d been able to read some of the books though, so it’s okay.)

When I read this story, I have to admit that I wasn’t shocked. I wasn’t even surprised that authors were buying good reviews on blogs, GoodReads, Amazon, etc. (In fact, the only thing that really surprised me was how lucrative fake-reviewing could be!) But just because I wasn’t surprised doesn’t mean I was happy about it.

It got me thinking about a few things, though.

  1. Just about everyone I’ve come into contact with today has roundly condemned the practice of buying positive reviews. And yet Rutherford’s site took orders for 4500 reviews. How is it that those authors aren’t jumping up and down and  defending the practice? Or is it one of those things that’s only ethically wrong when people find out about it?
  2. Authors and publishers routinely send free copies (ARCs) of books to book bloggers and reviewers. That’s standard practice. So why exactly is GettingBookReviews.com so controversial? Is it (a) Because it involves the exchange of cold hard cash? (b) Because the service guarantees positive (and often gushing) reviews? Or (c) Because the reviewers don’t necessarily read the books?
  3. If the answer to the previous question is (b) or (c), that opens up a whole lot of other questions/concerns. For example, where do we stand on self-published authors reviewing each other’s books as a sort of quid pro quo marketing strategy? If one Indie Author provides a positive review of a friend’s book in exchange for the friend doing the same for hers (with or without reading the novel herself), how is that ethically different to Rutherford’s  services?
  4. Following on from that, what about smaller quid pro quo exchanges such as Facebook likes? Or Twitter follows? No, they’re not directly linked to book sales (although neither are reviews), but we all know that we’re more inclined to hit the LIKE or FOLLOW button if several thousand people have done so before us than if we’re the first one.

As a writer, I’m not comfortable with the idea of paying people to write reviews of my books. However, I can’t categorically say I’ll never feel differently. I can imagine sitting at my computer, proudly looking at my book on Amazon.com while my eyes flick back and forth between the “Buy this book” button and the “Be the first to review this book” link. After refreshing the page several hundred times in the first hour, I may be more than happy to pay someone to write that first review. For my own sanity, if nothing else.

As a writer, I’m not comfortable with the idea of requesting someone write a positive review. I am comfortable asking my friends and family not to write a review panning my book. Seriously, folks, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

As a writer, I’m not comfortable with the idea of someone writing a review of my book if they haven’t read it. I’m not writing so people can pat me on the back, I’m writing because I have stories I want people to read. And writing a review without reading the words I’ve laboured over devalues my work.

(If you’re interested in other points of view, both Chuck Wendig and Alan Baxter have both blogged about this issue today and their opinions are always worth a read.)

EDIT: Joel Friedlander also has a great post on this topic, explaining how paying for reviews cheapens the review process for both authors and readers.

As a reader… Well, as a reader I instinctively distrust any review that has nothing negative to say about a book. I’m more likely to be influenced by a well-crafted 3 or 4 star review, detailing what the reviewer liked and didn’t like about the story, characters, writing, etc than I am by a gushingly enthusiastic 5 star review. So perhaps this controversy, such as it is, doesn’t affect me overmuch at all.

Writers: Have you ever paid for a review? Would you ever consider doing so?  

Readers: Does this change the way you think about the reviews you read online?

340 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Writing

A Little Library Love

Photo by Ben GallagherLibraries seem to be having a bit of a tough time of it these days. With eReaders all the rage, and Google the Oracle of All, and Wikipedia the combined knowledge of the masses, there’s a lot of concern that Libraries are going to go the way of the Dinosaurs. Before you know it, we’ll be crashing giant, flaming meteorites into them and burying them under enough rock and ash that they’ll remain mostly intact for future generations to find and wonder at.

Last week, Ben Trube wrote a Vigorous Defense of Libraries and posed the question: How do you feel about libraries?

I tried to answer. I really did. But my answer was longer than his original post. (This happens more often than you’d imagine.) So I decided I should post my answer here, in my own personal space, rather than taking up all of his.

The short answer: I love my local library.

Love.
It.

The long answer: I go to the library at least once every couple of weeks. Sometimes more. So, why do I love it?

1) Access to lots and lots (and lots) of books for free.

I realise this should go without saying, but it’s really the most important thing. I simply don’t have the money to buy every book I’d like to read.  So far this year I’ve read 42 books, all of which have been borrowed either from friends or from the library. If I’d purchased them all, that would have cost me at least $800.

Then there’s the books my five-year-old reads. He can easily go through 10 books every week. Without access to a library, perhaps he wouldn’t have the great love for books that he has.

2) Access to a wider range of books than you’d expect.

All the libraries in my district work together to ensure library patrons have access to a large quantity of books. Rather than all of them trying to stock every book (which would be impossible considering the cost-cutting going on), they co-ordinate their ordering process. Then they offer a service where you can request a book from another library, and it is transferred to your library within 48 hours for 60 cents.

Plus, you can use this service online from home — I just place my order and head to the library a couple of days later to pick up my books. How convenient is that?

3) Free computer use (for word processing) and cheap internet access.

Yes, I have a computer at home. Yes, that’s more convenient. But, you know what? I’ve done any amount of writing in the library when I’ve needed a different environment to get my brain firing. If I can escape to the library for a couple of hours, I have distraction-free writing time without internet access or a fridge in the next room.

4) School holiday programs.

My local library teaches everything from book-binding to poetry to writing to “make your own comic” in the school holidays. Plus they have a variety of shows and events — X-Box competitions, magic shows, giant board game days. It’s free, it’s fun, and it gives the kids a reason to want to go to the library. (Other than the obvious reason that it’s a room full of books!)

5) The librarians.

These are people who love books, who are paid to hang out in buildings full of books, and answer the same question over and over and over and over, day after day, with a friendly smile. Plus, they know stuff.

And not just stuff like: What’s the name of that book that I read ten years ago with a red cover and a clock on the front where the main character’s name is Jane?

Librarians can recommend books similar to those you’ve read before, tell you where to get information on a variety of topics, show you how to use the photocopier, teach you how to use the online book catalogue, and direct you to the restrooms, all while singing songs about teddy bears to a group of enthralled children and saving a cat from a burning building.

They’re just that good.

When was the last time you went to the library? Do you love your local library as much as I love mine?

15 Comments

Filed under Opinion, Reading

News, Nobel Prizes and Blog Awards

Do you have any idea how long I’ve been secretly dreaming that someone would say to me, “You’re so awesome, you should rule the world!”

A long time, that’s how long.

And it’s finally happened. Yes, someone has officially recognised my value to the world and the people in it. I shall be taking up my mantle as Executive World Emperor as soon as the current world leaders can be gathered in one place and summarily dismissed from their seats of power. Also, as soon as someone gathers all the riches of the world and places them in my secret lair base. From this day forth, you will need to use my full title (or its acronym) if you wish to talk to me. As such, I will expect all comments to begin: Hey EWE.

Hold on a minute.

Oh.

Apparently I’m a little confused. I haven’t actually been granted world domination. I’ve actually been awarded the Dr Horrible Blog Award by the infamous Connor Rickett of Cities of the Mind.

Right. Ha ha ha. I knew that. So, nothing to see here. Let’s just move on to the rules and pretend this embarrassing little episode never happened.

1. Thank the person who nominated you for the Dr. Horrible Blog Award.

Thanks, Connor! Connor’s blog is full of interesting articles on writing, travelling, and freelance writing as well as blog reviews (you can also request a review of your own blog!) and short fiction. It’s well worth your time to give him a visit.

2. Announce the Big News on your blog.

And my Big News is… Well, for one thing it seems that I won’t be the Executive World Emperor any time soon. It’s a good job I’m happy just being me, because it looks like I won’t be EWE any time soon.

But in all some seriousness, this step of accepting the award was a little… let’s say… terrifying. I actually need News of some kind. Preferably Big News. With capitals.

While I was trying to work out what my news could be, I happened across a great blog post by one Patrick O’Duffy. He talks about the importance of leaving actual book reviews on sites like Goodreads and Amazon rather than just star ratings. I’m not going to summarise his entire post because, well, firstly that’s rude. And secondly, I’d rather you go and read it straight from the horse’s mouth… or whatever the internet-equivalent is of that idiom. But I’ll give you a brief snippet:

Without a review, good or bad, to explain the [star] rating it’s all just statistical noise. Reviews, on the other hand, tell you a great deal, whether you agree with them or not – and sometimes the ones you don’t agree with tell you the most. …read more…

Reading this article made me realise something. Firstly, I don’t just leave star ratings on those sites. (Yay for me!) Secondly, I don’t leave reviews anywhere at all. (Boo for me.) BUT, I was writing reviews that I was posting here on my blog, and they could easily be copied over to Goodreads. And since I’ve decided not to keep posting book reviews here, I can write them on Goodreads and provide a link from my blog for those people who are interested.

So, here’s my Big News:

I’ve set up a new page to track the books I read this year, complete with links to my reviews on Goodreads. You can find the page here, or by clicking the cunningly titled ‘2012 Reading List’ tab at the top of the page.

And since I was playing with the layout anyway, I’ve also set up a page that links to all the Flash Fiction I’ve posted here on my blog. If you think you may have missed some, or you’d like to go back and re-read my work, you can click here or go to the tab labelled ‘Flash Fiction’. Complicated, no?

Right. Back to the award.

3. Answer these mini-interview questions:

a) If you ran the world, what would you outlaw immediately?

Stupidity.

Oh. I’ve just been informed that the only way to completely wipe out stupidity is to destroy the human race. Apparently it’s endemic. Or something. So, in the spirit of not being a world-destroying evil dictator, I will instead outlaw Reality TV.

b) Men: Boxers or Briefs? Ladies: Do you prefer Boxers or Briefs?

I found this question a little discriminatory, so choose not to answer it. Where’s the option for going commando??

c) If you won the Nobel Prize who would you thank?

(Yes, Connor, I’m totally rewriting this question in 3rd person. Because having it written in 1st person is… disturbing.)

If I won the Nobel Prize, I’d first wonder what I did to deserve it. Then I’d stop wondering and just accept that I clearly won the Nobel Awesome Prize for being Awesome. So I’d thank the academy, and the other competitors, and my husband, and then I’d  make room for Kanye.

4. Nominate three bloggers so they can carry the Dr. Horrible torch on its way.

Right, so I tried to come up with three people who I thought would have interesting or amusing answers to the questions. Which is not to say that no one else will, just that… Oh, you know what I mean. So, my three nominees (in no particular order) are:

speaker7 of Ramblings and Rumblings. She’s quirky, snarky, and just plan funny. And her hilarious breakdown of 50 Shades (complete with photos re-enacting key scenes of the book using toys) is a must-read.

Heather of Prawn and Quartered. She reads, she writes, she works in a library, and she’s a fan of The A-Team. Her posts are a great mix of retro cool, hilarity, and touching solemnity. In other words: awesomesauce.

Emma of Mayfair Mum. She juggles reading, writing, working and motherhood with the same sense of ease I do — which is to say, not a heck of a lot sometimes. She’s funny and sweet and just a little bit geeky. Oh, and she’s from London so she’s got a great accent.

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Filed under Random Stuff

The Casual Vacancy

So, I was browsing the interwebz and came across a blurb for a new book due to be released in September. You may have already heard about it (word on the street is it’s going to be a best seller). Check it out:

The Casual Vacancy

When Barry Fairbrother dies in his early forties, the town of Pagford is left in shock.

Pagford is, seemingly, an English idyll, with a cobbled market square and an ancient abbey, but what lies behind the pretty façade is a town at war.

Rich at war with poor, teenagers at war with their parents, wives at war with their husbands, teachers at war with their pupils… Pagford is not what it first seems.

And the empty seat left by Barry on the parish council soon becomes the catalyst for the biggest war the town has yet seen. Who will triumph in an election fraught with passion, duplicity, and unexpected revelations?

What do you think? I have to admit, it doesn’t speak to me. In fact, even with the helpful description that it’s ‘darkly humorous’ doesn’t make me eager to read it. I think I’ll put this on me “Don’t Bother Reading” list.

Oh, wait. Maybe this will help:

Does seeing that it’s written by J.K. Rowling make a difference?

I can’t help but wonder how popular this 512 page mammoth of a book would be if it wasn’t written by Ms. Harry Potter.

The cynical side of me wants to blow a raspberry at consumerism and complain that people shouldn’t buy a book based solely on having liked the author’s previous work, with no care or regard for the quality of the new book.

The more intelligent side of me says, “Woah! Just chill it on out. When you’re a best-selling author, you’re going to want people to buy your new books based solely on having liked your previous ones. So shut up and like it.”

Hmmm… Put me down for two copies, thanks.

What do you think of Ms Rowling’s first adult book? Do you intend to buy and/or read it?

27 Comments

Filed under Reading

The Real Magic of Narnia

 

Big Brother’s love of books started early. At barely 8 months old, he’d happily lie on his tummy and flip through books looking at the pictures. Bedtime stories were the norm by the time he was a year old, and they’ve continued to this day. (Don’t ask about Little Brother — he thinks books taste yummy.)

While he still loves looking through picture books on his own, we moved on to early readers a while ago for our evening storytime. Although the many misadventures of Spot are entertaining enough during the day, when night-time comes he wants to hear about Knights and Dragons, Beowulf and Grendel, or (at the very least) what that naughty Cat in the Hat has been up to this time.

I’ve approached the idea of reading him a “grown up” book several times — you know, the kind without any/many pictures — but he’d resisted. Last week, he agreed to give it a try. (He’s a Big Boy now, you know.)

I immediately borrowed The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe from the library, and Big Brother waited impatiently for bedtime to roll around so he could hear the start of the story.

It took seven nights to read him the book. Seven nights of two or three chapters read aloud while Big Brother snuggled under the covers and watched me with shining eyes and an excited smile. Seven days of, “Is it nearly bedtime yet?” and “How long until dinner time?” and “Can I have my bath early today?” as he eagerly awaited the next instalment of “Narnia! Narnia! Narnia!”

And over those seven nights I learned the real magic of Narnia  — and of any book magical enough to spawn generations of avid fans. Over those nights I was immersed in the world of Narnia through the eyes of a four-and-a-half-year-old child.

I saw hs eyes widen in horror when he realised Edmund was talking to the White Witch.

He was devestated by the idea of it always being winter but never Christmas (despite never having experienced a wintery Christmas himself) and enchanted by Mr. Tumnus. “Mr. Tumnus will be okay. He just has to be.”

He loved Mr Beaver instantly, cheered out loud when Father Christmas showed up, and staredin awed wonder when Peter received his sword and shield.

And Aslan… Oh, Aslan. I don’t think Big Brother knew whether to love him or be terrified of him at first. I saw the emotions warring across his face. But when Aslan roared his terrible roar and scared the White Witch away, Big Brother’s face lit up and he grinned at me in triumph. “Go, Aslan!”

His favourite part of the book was when Peter, even though he was scared, killed the wolf that was attacking Susan. Big Brother barely moved a muscle as I read the scene to him, his eyes wide, his little fingers clenched around the blanket as though ready to pull it over his face at any moment. As the wolf died, Big Brother gave a yell of triumph, pumping his fists through the air and grinning wider than ever before.

When we finally got to the moment — that moment — I read with trepidation. Would he cry? Would he be sad? Would he even want to hear the end of the story? I needn’t have worried. He listened with wide eyes at first, and then covered his own eyes when Susan and Lucy covered theirs. When the chapter ended with the two girls sitting and crying and crying, he clenched his fists and narrowed his eyes and said, “Now they really need to kill the White Witch!”

And oh, didn’t his eyes light up when they found Mr. Tumnus! And when the Giant Rumblebuffin thought Lucy was a hankerchee! “Rumblebuffin! Hee hee hee! Say the name again, Mum!”  And when battle was joined, and the White Witch defeated!

He wasn’t initially sold on the whole King and Queen thing. “I don’t know about Peter being the High King. What if Aslan turns him into a lion? That wouldn’t be good. Not good at all.” But by the end of the book he was announcing over and over,”Once a King or Queen of Narnia, always a King or Queen of Narnia!”

And in the end, the magic of Narnia had engulfed him and worked its wonders. “Do we really have to take this book back to the library?” he asked, cuddling the picture-free paperback to his chest. “Can’t we keep it forever and ever and ever?”

I smiled and ruffled his hair, not telling him the Truth that he will learn in his own time: “Yes, you can keep it forever and ever. And you will. The whole story is written right there in your heart.”

 

17 Comments

Filed under Life With Kids, Reading

Books I’ve Read in 2012: Part 1

This year I set myself a goal to read a minimum of 50 books and to share them here on my blog. To that end, I will be writing a quick wrap-up/review every time I finish five. I love sharing the books I’ve enjoyed with other people, and would love to hear from you if you’ve read any of these, or if you decide to do so based on my recommendation. (Actually, I’d love to hear from you anyway. I’m addicted to comments.)

Wintersmith — Terry Pratchett

Description

Tiffany Aching put one foot wrong, and now the spirit of winter is in love with her. He says it with frozen flowers, which is sweet. But he also says it with snowflakes, icebergs, and avalanches. If Tiffany can’t find a way to deal with the Wintersmith, there will never be another spring. Fortunately she’s got Granny Weatherwax and the Nac Mac Feegle to help her. Crivens!

Review

There was no doubt in my mind that I would enjoy this book. I love almost anything Discworld, and Granny is my second favourite character (after Vimes). The story was simple but elegant (in the tradition of all the Nac Mac Feegle tales), and the book definitely didn’t disappoint. If you’ve not read any other Discworld novels, this is not the one I’d suggest you start with (there’s a lot of references to previous books, and very few really “new” characters), but it was a fun, fabulous read.

As a side-note, I didn’t technically “read” this book at all — I listened to it on audiobook during my drive to and from my parent’s house at Christmas time. This is the first time I’ve listened to an audiobook and I have to say: I was impressed. I laughed out loud, got teary at the right places, and enjoyed the experience of hearing the characters “speak”. But what I find most interesting is that, when I think back, I don’t remember it as an audiobook at all. I just remember it as a book. I have no more recollection of the narrator’s voice than I would normally have of the font size or type. I just remember the story.

I will definitely be listening to more books in the future.

 

Brave New World — Aldous Huxley

Description

This classic novel is a darkly satiric vision of a utopian future. All negative emotions have been removed from the human experience. There is no anger, grief, jealousy, or unrequited love. Everyone is happy. Perfectly happy. All the time. They’re engineered that way through genetics, pharmaceuticals, and childhood training. The loss of family, romance, and art is but a small price to pay for the eternal contentment of mankind.

Review

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’d never before read Brave New World. In some ways, I really regret not having read it a long time ago. In others, I’m glad I didn’t.

The world in this novel is, quite frankly, terrifying. Between the enforced sexualisation of children and the training rooms where babies are taught to hate books and nature through the use of electric shocks, there is very little pleasant about the means they use to reach their contented end. This is a world where the word “mother” is pure smut, love is unheard of, and a pro-consumerist mentality is programmed in utero, and that’s disturbing enough. But the thing that I found most terrifying is the logic behind this “perfect” society. Logic that makes inexorable sense.

It’s simple, really: If no one wants for anything they can’t have, no one will be unhappy. If all your hopes and desires are fulfilled the moment you have them, there’s no cause for angst or frustration or anger. So the solution is simple. Step 1: Make sure people only want the things that you want them to want. Step 2: Provide those things on demand.

But the truly terrifying part of this novel is not just that it makes so much sense, but that I can see parallels between this mentality and the real world.

I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed this book. At least, not in the sense that I usually use the word “enjoy”. It was powerful. It was monumental. It was amazing. But it wasn’t something to be savoured or enjoyed. That being said, I do recommend you read it. Just don’t expect to walk away from it feeling happy.

The God Engines — John Scalzi

Description

Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this — and so, when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given. Tephe knows from that the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It s what he doesn t know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put — and that the tests he will face will come not only from his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely.

Review

John Scalzi is best known for writing science fiction, but this novella is tagged as fantasy (despite its futuristic setting). It’s only a short book (136 pages), but it definitely packs a hefty punch. Right from the first sentence, this book grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go. In fact, it has one of my all-time favourite opening lines:

It was time to whip the god.

In this world, the people all worship and serve Our Lord, the strongest and only “true” god in the Universe. Many centuries ago, Our Lord bested all other gods and chained them to His service. These bested gods now serve as engines in the fleet of space ships that patrol the galaxy and keep order. For the most part, the gods do as instructed. But if they don’t… well, Our Lord’s justice is absolute.

The characters in this story are so real, they could have stepped out of the pages and had a party in my kitchen and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised. The story is intricately woven and well told. The writing is superb –I’d read another of Scalzi’s books without a second thought.

But.

My only criticism is that I felt the story was wrapped up too quickly. I loved the character of Captain Tephe, the world-building was phenomenal, and the story held me enthralled. And then it was over. I turned the last page and had to sit and catch my breath, sure that a few dozen pages must have fallen out of the book somewhere. Don’t get me wrong — it doesn’t feel incomplete. It doesn’t even feel particularly rushed. It just ends too soon for my liking.

I’d recommend this book to those people who aren’t afraid of a heavy premise and story (despite the light page count) and to those who like fantasy elements in their science fiction.

The Big Over Easy — Jasper Fforde

Description

It’s Easter in Reading — a bad time for eggs — and no one can remember the last sunny day. Humpty Dumpty, well-known nursery favourite, large egg, ex-convict and former millionaire philanthropist is found shattered beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. Following the pathologist’s careful reconstruction of Humpty’s shell, Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his Sergeant Mary Mary are soon grappling with a sinister plot involving cross-border money laundering, the illegal Bearnaise sauce market, corporate politics and the cut and thrust world of international Chiropody. As Jack and Mary stumble around the streets of Reading in Jack’s Lime Green Austin Allegro, the clues pile up, but Jack has his own problems to deal with. And on top of everything else, the Jellyman is coming to town.

Review

After reading a couple of really heavy stories, I felt the need for something light. Something fun. Something that I could sink my teeth into, only to find it was full of chocolate. And that’s why I picked up this book, at this time.

Many, many years ago I picked up Jasper Fforde’s ‘The Eyre Affair’ at a small bookshop when I was desperate for something to read. I went on to devour the rest of the Thursday Next series, and fell in love with Fforde’s voice and style. He’s the type of storyteller who can spin a ludicrous tale with a straight face, and have even the most sceptical listenere wondering if perhaps, just perhaps, there’s a measure of truth to his story.

Humpty Dumpty is an egg. A four-foot tall egg. He’s found dead, having apparently fallen off his wall in the middle of the night. Or was he pushed?During the course of the investigation, DI Jack Spratt and DS Mary Mary encounter three little pigs, the gingerbread man, magic beans, three bags of wool, Georgio Porgia, and a host of other familiar characters.

The whole story is full of little in-jokes and cute coincidences, but the key word in “nursery crime” is definitely “crime”. Fforde tells the story straight — it’s a police procedural with nursery rhyme characters. There’s a CSI team, a medical examiner, forensic evidence, clues and red herrings, unexpected confessions, jealousy, subterfuge, lies, and enough straight-faced satire for any three books.

Fforde’s writing is hilarious — effortlessly so, it would seem — but this is so much more than just a comedy. It’s one of the best mystery stories I’ve read in quite a while.

Working Stiff — Rachel Caine

Description

Bryn Davis knows working at Fairview Mortuary isn’t the most glamorous career choice, but at least it offers stable employment — until she discovers her bosses using a drug that resurrects the clientele… as part of an extortion racket. Now Bryn faces being terminated (literally) with extreme prejudice. With the assistance of corporate double agent Patrick McCallister, Bryn has a chance to take down the bigger problem — pharmaceutical company Pharmadene, which treats death as the ultimate corporate loyalty program. She’d better do it fast before she becomes a zombie slave — a real working stiff. Some days, you’re better off dead.

Review

Let me start this review by saying: READ THIS BOOK!

Seriously.

I saw Working Stiff reviewed a while ago on All Thing Urban Fantasy, where it was rated 5/5. The description of the book didn’t really appeal to me — zombies? really? — but the reviewer (Julia) was so enthusiastic that I added it to my TBR list anyway.  And, let me tell you, I’m so glad I did.

Bryn is just your average, ordinary working girl. Well, assuming that by “average” you mean someone who grew up in a small town, joined the army to help her pay off her student loans, spent 4 years as a soldier in Iraq, and discovered that she had a quiet respect for the dead; the kind of respect that had her deciding to train as a funeral director when she left the military.

I liked Bryn right from page one. She hooked with her no-nonsense attitude, her strength, and her compassion. And then she got turned into a zombie, and somehow that made her even more relatable. (Not a slobbering, brain-eating, apocalypse-causing zombie. Oh no, something much better. A zombie created by… (wait for it!) Science! )

Yes, inside the beckoning pages of this book, you’ll find such wonders. Zombies! Nanobots! Spies! Gunfights! Double-crosses! Triple-crosses! Ticking clocks! Secret conspiracies! Evil corporations! Mad scientists! Thrills! Spills! Automobiles! And in between the mystery, the action, the corporate espionage, and the themes of life vs death, there’s even a hefty dose of romance.

Seriously, what more could you want from a book?

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