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  • Shakespeare's missing years
    MY blog last week inspired 173 emails in response. How the world loves Shakespeare! "Shakespeare's crime fiction", the topic I covered, is apparently something lots of readers have opinions about. His unrecorded early years also fascinate readers and authors alike.
    Jude Morgan's new novel tackles not crime but romance in "The Secret Life of Shakespeare", just published. It dreams up situations involving a teenaged Bard of Avon and his older wife Anne Hathaway. These link to Shakespeare works that we know.
    Equally imaginative is Ann Morven's whodunit "The Killing of Hamlet", which I mentioned last week. It invents items Shakespeare allegedly wrote as a boy before fleeing England. A clever plot connects these with modern murders in an English village.
    Both authors delight and both confirm that the Immortal Bard, 400 years dead, remains a force for popular entertainment.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 30 November 2012.
  • Shakespeare’s crime fiction
    DID Shakespeare write crime fiction? I pose the question after a London debate suggested this genre is the true literature of modern times, reflecting the world we live in. It is a teasing thought and the Bard of Avon did write crime fiction, but set in historical times, never his own. Doubtless, he considered it wise not to reflect the world he lived in. The penalty for outspoken authors was beheading.
    The great entertainer would surely approve, however, of a neat Shakespearean mystery set in modern times. It is called The Killing of Hamlet, and is available in either paperback or digital format. Is it literature? Could be. It’s certainly
    delightful entertainment.
    Can this be true?
    PUBLISHERS HATE AUTHORS, according to blogger Michael Levin. He
    sounds convincing, too!
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 23 November 2012.
  • Hate and love – the tale of Amazon
    AMAZON is the world’s most loved bookseller, and the most hated too. This seeming contradiction is founded on undeniable fact. Who are the haters? Traditional bookshops and traditional publishers who can’t find a way to compete against Amazon’s commercial wizardry.
    A printed paperback retailing for $9.99? Amazon does it. Excellent content, sturdy binding, and delivered free to your door. The secret? Ways and means and lots of shrewd thought. For instance, the free postage is tied to your spending a set amount. Perhaps a second or third book?
    No other global bookseller I know attempts to match this sales ploy. Their paperbacks invariably top $20 in a physical bookshop. Free postage? Forget it!
    Now take a look at ebooks, the digital format downloaded instantly to the reading device of your choice. Amazon gives you a digital novel for $2.99, sometimes less. Traditional sellers seek $4.99 and above. Some even price their ebooks at the same price as the print-and-paper version. No wonder these bookshops and these publishers go broke!
    So who loves Amazon? The answer is book buyers, whether seeking a bound book or an ebook. Even more ecstatic are the thousands of self-published authors who can present their creations to the world exactly as they desire. Kindle Direct Publishing produces their ebooks while Amazon’s CreateSpace site enables design, printing and binding of a paperback. And the author decides the retail price. Yes, these self-publishers are the most loyal of Amazon lovers. But . . .
    There has to be a ‘but’, as in most good things. The snag here is that not all self-published writers are talented. Too often, there is crap to be found within attractive covers. However, that’s what publishers, small or big, have tried to sell since the era of clay tablets. The only difference today is the great increase in published garbage (sometimes, alas, with the lure of a brandname author).
    No matter. There is a solution. Thanks to cyber magic, readers can sample a book before purchase. It’s what we offer at Booktaste. Just
    pick a cover and click.
    Better books or bigger profits?
    THE merger of two global giants to create “Penguin Random House” may be wise financially, but it will reduce the choice for readers and for authors.
    That’s my forecast anyway. I doubt it will bring us better books.
    The merger announced last week was a business decision to meet the industry’s current problems. These are largely due to digital competition. Amazon, Apple and Google have been remoulding the bookworld. Analysts reckon the Penguin-Random deal will generate annual revenue of $3.8billion (yes, billion). It will control 25 percent of global book sales.
    Sadly, my crystal ball shows that within five years Random, a German multinational, will swallow its Penguin mate, last of the great British publishers.
    Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 9 November 2012.
  • Love and tyranny 1822
    PEACE, prosperity and love. Helene and Philippe have all these things at the start of A Merry Requiem. Life is perfect. Their France is idyllic. I loved this placid opening to a tale that warms as it unfolds, pleasantly at first and then into turmoil.
    This is 1821-22, a troubled time in national affairs. Young Philippe, being a writer with a keen eye on humanity, feels something is not quite right beyond his personal bubble of bliss. Observing events in Paris, he records: "
    This world – this city – this country – all turning ever more to vice and corruption; the Bourbons, the Bonapartes, all of them power-mad and drowning in greed and lust.  And the streets of Paris full of charlatans and whores, grasping after every penny, every mad indulgence, all choking on smoke and ashes.  It is as though all the beauty has gone from the world."
    My word! Author
    Margaret Pritchard Houston has delved deep into the woes of history to show how human emotion remains constant. One could almost equate this scenario with modern times, and it tugs the heart. Sub-titled 'The Gathering Storm', this novel begins a trilogy that explores relationships and the way historical events can shake even the most settled people. In this instance we follow the troubles after King Louis XVIII is succeeded by his tyrannical brother, King Charles X. It's a five-star read. Free samples at Kindle and Smashwords.
    Happy reading from Cathy! week ending 12 October, 2012.
  • Sing a song of murder
    NOW here's a puzzler. The skygods of Aboriginal myth somehow get involved with Scottish songs in a whodunit paperback released this week. Title: Murder Piping Hot. That’s them on the left. Weird! Ann Morven's super mystery has been around in digital format for some time. The paperback from Amazon is priced to please at $9.99, plus postage (or free postage to readers who qualify). The songs are by Rabbie Burns, Scotland's immortal bard, and include one with a clue to the mass murder at a dinner party. Others (and they're genuine) reveal Rabbie's penchant for dirty ditties, a truth rarely mentioned in the poetry books. To make the chills and chuckles more complex, the homicide inspector is a pedantic Australian female descended from Sherlock Holmes. Challenging her on the murder trail is bumbling amateur sleuth Sheil B. Wright, who is hired to entertain the Scots but becomes a suspected suicide bomber. As in her past investigations, she is a dunce at deduction but well versed in human folly and traumas of the heart.
    This title, an ebook bestseller, is bound to score with paperback fans in the  print edition.
    Click for more info.Happy reading from Cathy! week ending 15 June 2012.
  • Two rare and wonderful reads
    BOOKS for adults with a child protagonist are rare, and yet widely popular.  Readers have all been children, a fact that makes it easier to relate to the young character featured. I think of the Bible tale of David and Goliath, where the killing of a giant is for adults to realise the glory of the Lord and, of course, encourages their belief in the mythical worth of their King David. This week's blog, however, is about two different stories.
    First is
    When we were Romans by Matthew Kneale. It's brilliant. His narrator is a boy aged 9 who describes adult crises from the child's innocent, often selfish, perception. Kneale has a talent for finding the exact voice, and here he does it to perfection.
    The invented kid captures readers from the start, blending amusement, dismay and a journey across Europe with Mum and baby sister. They're on the run from nasty Dad. Published 2007, I was amazed to discover this book remaindered last week at $3. It's also on Abebooks, used copy, around $1 plus postage. The author and this great book deserve more respect from the publisher. Readers who have not encountered it, however, should pounce now.
    The other brilliant title in my recommended child chronicles for adults is
    Brat by Bryce McBryce. The publishers told me you won't ever find this literary gem remaindered. It's $9.99 at Amazon (free-postage paperback), or as an ebook for $2.99. It is a funny and nostalgic account of a boy who is aged 4 to 9 as the novel unfolds. He strives to understand that weird species, the Adult.
    To stress a series of intriguing situations, author McBryce chose the pompous British Raj at its peak on the eve of World War 2. The colonel trembles in his rage, the nuns pray, the brat pursues his own ambition to make sense of the way grownups behave. Located in Ceylon, a land now renamed Srilanka, this book stands as an entertaining insight into social philosophy.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 14 September 2012.
  • Souls and solitude
    THE inner self is what spiritual books tackle, but here's some fiction that led me into that vast human arena. The Land Beyond Goodbye, by Barbara Scott-Emmett, does this while relating a fascinating tale about a woman who finds herself in the remote Australian Outback. Here she learns from the ancient people, Aborigines of the Northern Territory, some eternal truths our modern world seems to have lost or forgotten.
    Beautifully written, this novel grips heart and soul. I considered it  unusual in its themes, also easy to read. This author knows her stuff as a writer. She explores the personal realms by means of creating compelling characters. What's more, this is one of those books that had me thinking about it long after the end. Five stars!
    Read a sample.
  • Serials still appeal
    THE Amazon Kindle folk are using serials in their UK marketing to good effect. Learning this reminds me that Run Maggie Run (best serial since Dickens) is likely still available in serial format and wowing new ebook enthusiasts. But it’s easier downloaded in one go as a novel. This adults only book is also available in print.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 21 September 2012.
  • A Right Royal Paperback, $9.99
    THE Right Royal Bastard, newly launched in paperback, was actually the first novel featuring bumbling female sleuth Sheil B. Wright. Long popular in digital format, the paper edition retails at $9.99, to which online buyers must add postage (about $7).
    This Ann Morven whodunit is driven by strong characters. The plot is audacious, even outrageous, yet credible in the telling. A black Australian singer, officially recognised as a royal bastard, is murdered after producing proof he is legal first-born heir to the British throne. Pageturning chuckles and chills – this author’s forté --  take readers to the massive sea-cliffs of Western Australia. In an isolated hotel, sleuthing bush-balladeer Sheil B. Wright is challenged (as usual) by a peculiar cop. In this book, the homicide detective is a “New Australian” pom who brought his old country with him. Wearing cricket flannels and a flat union-jack cap, he sucks up to a sinister toff from Buckingham Palace.
    Disgusted, Sheil herself checks the suspects, and these are well drawn. She nabs a triple killer (of course) after herself becoming next on the murder list.
    Ann Morven’s novels and short stories are always grippingly entertaining and this one more than fulfils expectations.
    Find the book here. Or get a free sample.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 25 May 2012.
  • Terror, love and gripping history
    NOTE this title: Spirit of Lost Angels. I liked the story and also the history. It's rare to find this combination of good writing and brilliant research. This novel is narrated by the heroine in revolutionary France of the 1770s. Born to a peasant family, she grows from girlhood to become a desirable woman. But she's bent on revenge!
    The passion held my attention. There's love and violence and eerie surprises, all with insight into those troubled times.
    Author Liza Perrat is an Australian author living in France, which is where she unearthed her superb historical detail and sense of place. The tale begins in a quiet village that is fatally assailed by lightning and progresses to the turmoil and intrigues of Paris. The dialogue and descriptions bring everything alive. Liza has her own
    author page at Amazon. The novel is available in Kindle or paperback. Its appeal should find well satisfied readers, either male or female.
    Happy reading from Cathy! week ending 10 August, 2012.
  • The moral behind Olympic gold
    OF all the crowded literature with Olympian flavour my favourite is a 99c memoir. It gives me lasting pleasure from its unwritten moral, which is: The humblest rank can be great and the greatest can be humbled.
    That sort of thing is taking place right now at the London Olympics. It is what makes the world gathering, beneath its politics and venality, a wondrous human spectacle. This account by a young sports reporter dates back a bit to steaming jungle and peerless Jesse Owens. Read it via Kindle or Smashwords or my link:
    Jesse Owens And The Sprinting Buddha.
    Immortal Jane and unknown Mansfields
    ONE might assume that the world has read, heard and seen all it needs regarding the late Jane Austen, but apparently her fans are more numerous than ever. Her work has been reworked for Bollywood, amended to include zombies and now is being spiced to meet the latest craving for erotica. And still she fascinates.
    One book critic has devoted a chunk of his life to discussing the Immortral Jane. Published recently, "What Matters in Jane Austen" by John Mullan is
    352 pages for enthusiasts to devour.
    Another old favourite, Katherine Mansfield, was in the news this week when three unknown stories by her were found in university archives.
    Details.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 3 August 2012.
  • Also a history lesson
    BERLIN cop Bernie Gunther is anti-nazi, so I share his horror in the novel Field Grey when, after WW2, he is sentenced to death as a nazi war criminal. But being a victim is par for Gunther. In this and other novels he arouses the ire of Authority. He also shows, as always, that interest in a character is more important than a plot.
    Not that Gunther books lack plotwise. This time, he's hounded by Russians, French, Yanks and even fellow Germans. I was surprised the Brits leave him alone, but maybe the author is saving a few research secrets for his next Gunther revelations. Philip Kerr has peerless skill in resurrecting real monsters to spice his fiction. Field Grey covers the horrendous half-century when Fascists and Communists battled to control the world. It is a history lesson, too, and a comment on the deceit and treachery that, too often, motivate governments. This book switches back and forth between the 1930s and 1950s, which I sometimes found confusing. Yet Gunther, irrespective of decade or particular conflict, strives steadily for justice. And his familiar wisecracks keep on coming. The end twist is stunning and unguessable.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 31 August 2012.
  • Spooky thriller in wild Wales
    A GOOD story well told is always great to read, and this one cracks along with atmosphere. The setting is wild Wales, the coast of Anglesea. A clifftop mansion, Charter House, holds family secrets dating back to 1859, a shipwreck, and gold from Australia.
    Heroine Sarah stumbles on strange things from her past. She suspects the recent death of her father is murder. As she investigates, her own life is threatened. Author Gillian Hamer has a way of gripping readers that goes beyond the twists of her plot. Her writing is superb. This is five-star stuff. Surprisingly in view of its flair, it is also a debut novel. I look forward to Gillian's next one. In particular, I like the way she blends paranormal suspense with modern mystery.
    Where to buy:
    Amazon.uk.
    Author's website:
    http://www.gillianhamer.com/
    Happy reading from Cathy! week ending 27 July 2012.
  • A rejuvenating delight
    MY young-adult years were lost in the mists of memory until a recent book brought them chuckling back. Bras, Boys, and Blunders by Vidya Samson is a delight. A girl of 15 wrestles the pangs of youth, and the author extracts maximum humour from Life's early ambushes. It's something with which everyone can identify.
    Subtitled Juliet and Romeo in Bahrain, her story takes place in the Persian Gulf and involves the attitudes and antics of teenagers in a mixed race Catholic school in a Muslim land. Veena is a naive lass from India, trying to cope with a variety of woes, mostly concerning a handsome boy named Rashid. His dad is Arab, his mum British converted to Islam.
    Veena laments: "I would gladly have sat next to him, but of course that was impossible. The seats around him were all grabbed by girls more forceful than me."
    And so her torments progress, giving scope for great humour and the author's philosophical eye. Beneath the jokes runs an undercurrent that reveals the absurdity of many adult prejudices (race, religion, dress, teens etc).
    I enjoyed this book, and it is not Vidya Samson's only one. She is a joy to read!
    Where to sample or buy: 
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0089P7G14
    AUTHOR’S WEBSITE:
    http://vidyasamson.wordpress.com/
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 13 July 2012.
  • Migrant's Tale Delights Brits
    MAYBE it's the prospect of getting away from Britain's crippled economy! For some strange reason, books about Australia pulled a heavy tide of readers to Kindle last month (April). Both fiction and non-fiction found rapid downloads, comprising both historical and modern.
    The most popular was a migration account involving a British family,
    Gone To Bed.That's what made me wonder if Australia suggests a fresh start to people trapped in Europe's fiscal agonies. The Great Southland, of course, is booming while the rest of the world slumps.
    Furthermore, it's crying out for migrants to cope with a massive surge in the mining and export of minerals.
    Gone To Bed, by Charles Bryce, describes the migrant family's experience, and Dad's dismay when his promised job turns sour. With a wife and two kids to support, and no savings left, his solution was bold and triumphant. He started a newspaper!
    The battles and the bliss of this smalltown rag make a great read. Based in a haunted hotel, the Darling Advertiser  recorded odd events and quirky characters as it grew to wealth and its own custombuilt premises.
    And the historical Australia that Kindle users lapped up? Same author, with an exciting history book for schools. 
    The Fabled Swan fits Mark Twain's famous comment that "Australian history reads like beautiful lies."
    Kindle enthusiasts, too, seem to enjoy the heritage of this nation. April's popular fiction on Kindle included:
    Kill, an 1830s adventure that hastens a young swordsman to Australia.
    Invade America! (true biography of an Oz hero).
    Both the above are by John Ivor, whose short story,
    Reverend Rapist, was also among the top April reads.
    More Australian delights read on Kindle (all historical adventure) were
    Java's Dream, Captain Striver, No Kiss For A Killer, Amateur Rebel, and Eden's Deadly Shore. And maybe I should also mention Run Maggie Run. It is not set in Australia, but Maggie, age 9, is fleeing that way after escaping the hangman in Scotland.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 11 May 2012.
  • Off to war at age 4
    NEWLY released in paperback, Brat is comedy fiction that enshrines the situation of military children during the peak of the British Raj. When soldier dads went off to defend an empire embracing the whole world, mum and the kids went too.
    This may have been great for family travel, but it was a bewildering and often dangerous environment for young minds. It was also a frustrating burden for the British Army's top brass. Author Bryce McBryce recalls this "family baggage" in a book of nostalgic and hilarious tales. His Brat grows from age 4 to age 9 trying to understand the weird protocol pervading a fighting force in an occupied land.
    In this instance the location is the strategic colony of Ceylon in the 1930s, eve of World War 2.
    The tender-aged son of a junior rank, Charlie is labelled a bigger menace than militant Japan. In the far British fortress where he innocently interferes, the Colonel trembles with rage and the nuns pray. Charlie meanwhile is fighting his own battles -- against Life's monsters. The Colonel is his enemy, the adult species a puzzle.
    Originally published 2006 as Wee Charlie's World, this second edition was retitled to bring it closer  to the dedication. This is to "the children of military personnel, then and now, the children history ignores". The reprint quotes an added philosophy at the end of each chapter as the growing kid learns a new truth about the world.
    This is a literary gem, spiced with Wodehouseian farce, rampaging elephants, natives evil and natives divine, the ghosts of battles past, a child's vision of grownups and, ultimately, the Japanese invasion. It is $11.99 retail. Online buyers pay extra for postage (about $7).
    Click to access its Amazon page. Or, get a free sample at Kindle.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 18 May 2012
  • Hating Sherlock Holmes
    REAL detectives of a bygone era hated the fictional master sleuth Sherlock Holmes, according to a new book. When I came across it I was reminded of another knowall, perhaps of lesser fame yet probably more entertaining than the genius of Baker Street.
    I refer to author Ann Morven’s homicide investigator in Murder Piping Hot. Inspector Sheryl Holmes in remote southwest Australia is descended from the pedantic London detective and has inherited his sweeping knowledge of the criminal mind. But she’s on the wrong track against amateur sleuth Sheil B. Wright, who is a dunce at deduction yet well versed in human frailty and traumas of the heart.
    Get a sample of this pageturner.
    And if you wish to learn why Scotland Yard hated the original Sherlock Holmes,
    click here.
  • Self-publish disease fells authors
    THERE is no cure for a terrible new disease devastating the book world. Writers Eblock is already nearing plague status. Endemic in every land, it defies even the power of God, the heavenly force that created cosmic bytes.
    The scourge is a complication of the familiar Writers Block, but is immune to all the remedies for that ailment.In the old paper-and-ink days, authors could motivate themselves by methods various and individual. Brisk walk, nagging publisher, stiff whisky, new pen, change-typewriter-ribbon, promise of payment on delivery − all these helped dispel an uninspired lethargy. No more. Writers have run out of time. They are too busy self-publishing to do anything else.
    This ensures a case of dreaded Eblock, which strikes even while creative juices flow. Fresh before a monitor screen, the scribe can still poke keys but inspiration gets smothered after just one book composed in doc or pdf, whatever. Why? Here is why:
    Upon completion of a manuscript, the tentacles of Writers Eblock emanate from cyberspace. The self-publisher is trapped by spellcheck, page-size, font style, font size, paragraph style, tab-space, line spacing, margin width, margin depth, page-numbering . . . oh the many chores of the traditional publishing house, a friendly species now extinct.
    Same applies to a digital author's bookcover. This requires dpi and pixel count, spine width and cover-blurb. Millimetre accuracy essential.
    Then comes uploading everything to an online printer/publish site, proofreading, and distribution (after seeking and setting up the sales outlets).
    To the sensitive wordsmith this is all a massive burden, but the worst has yet to come. Marketing!
    Marketing is the killer. Potential readers browse the web, of course, but how can writers attract them to one particular title amid the millions? Answer: by hard promotion using blogs, email, press releases, review-begging, blurbing on Google and Facebook . . . the chores go on and on. No time to write another book. Eblock takes over. The author has become a one-man business. Now writing is confined to sales messages.
    Bookreaders are choosy, however. The story must be good, the quality of presentation must be high, yet the retail price must be low. It is the conundrum that afflicted traditional publishers and booksellers and sent many of them broke. Can digital authors fare any better? They are, after all, amateurs in the roles now undertaken after producing their story.
    The end result is an ocean of amateurish books. And authors of unpredictable talent. Most of these, anyway, because of Writers Eblock, have ceased to write books.
    All a reader can do is get a sample before deciding to buy. Regular browsing uncovers the goodies. Do it often!
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 29 June 2012.
  • A wealth of new voices
    IMPOSSIBLE! Nevertheless, browsing in bookstores, libraries or on the Web gives me the fancy I have read every book of fiction there is. Brandname authors, clones and copycats abound. So hats off to the Commonwealth Foundation for bringing great new writers to world notice.
    This week my bookshelf is stacked with them, winners of the 2012 prizes for new authors. Here are fresh voices and new ideas, often from small publishers.
    Overall winner of the £10,000 top award is Shehan Karunatilaka of Sri Lanka. His novel relies on cricket for its settings but the reader does not have to know cricket to enjoy the human drama in Chinaman and the Legend of Pradeep Mathew. Here's an
    extract to introduce the narrator.
    Before taking the big prize, Shehan was judged winner of the Asia region. Other regional winners this year are as follows.
    AFRICA - The Dubious Salvation of Jack V , by Jacques Strauss (South Africa).
    CARIBBEAN - Sweetheart, by Alecia McKenzie (Jamaica).
    PACIFIC- Me and Mr Booker, by Cory Taylor (Australia).
    UK/CANADA - The Town That Drowned, by Riel Nason (Canada).
    And if you're still hungry for talent, spend some time browsing through this year's shortlist:
    The Wandering Falcon, Jamil Ahmad (Pakistan), Hamish Hamilton
    Patchwork, Ellen Banda-Aaku (Zambia), Penguin Books, South Africa
    Rebirth: a novel, Jahnavi Barua (India), Penguin Books India
    The Sly Company of People Who Care, Rahul Bhattacharya (India) Picador
    The Ottoman Motel, Christopher Currie (Australia), The Text Publishing Company
    A Cupboard Full of Coats, Yvvette Edwards (UK), Oneworld Publications
    The Book of Answers, CY Gopinath (India), HarperCollins India
    Jubilee, Shelley Harris (South Africa), Weidenfeld & Nicolson
    The Dancing and the Death on Lemon Street, Denis Hirson (UK), Jacana Media
    The Vanishing Act, Mette Jakobsen (Australia), The Text Publishing Company
    Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, Shehan Karunatilaka (Sri Lanka), Random House India
    Purple Threads, Jeanine Leane (Australia), University of Queensland Press
    Sweetheart, Alecia McKenzie (Jamaica), Peepal Tree Press
    The Town that Drowned, Riel Nason (Canada), Goose Lane Editions
    Dancing Lessons, Olive Senior (Canada), Cormorant Books
    The Dubious Salvation of Jack V, Jacques Strauss (South Africa), Jonathan Cape
    Me and Mr Booker, Cory Taylor (Australia), The Text Publishing Company
    Pao, Kerry Young (UK), Bloomsbury
    Happy reading! from Cathy, 22 June 2012.
  • Puzzling twist in Amazon's tale
    LIAR, liar, pants on fire! (maybe Kindle Fire). A schoolyard jeer greets Amazon's fiscal tale for the first quarter of 2012. Hang on – other cries sound investor delight. What's going on? Is Amazon's announced progress fact or fiction?
    Just like book readers, the financial world floats differing tastes. When Amazon reported that its revenue rose 34 percent to $13.18 billion, there were opposing interpretations.
    Publishers Weekly burbled: "It's hard to find a weak spot in Amazon's strong first quarter, in which total revenue rose 34%, to $13.18 billion. While net income fell 35%, to $130 million."
    Financial analysts hailed the good news. CNN Money declared: "It was much better than the 7 cents per share forecasts from analysts".
    The BBC noted that profits beat Wall Street forecasts.
    It was left to a shrewd editor to spot the flaw. Dennis Johnson at Melville House Publishing saw the Amazon press release as "astounding plunge in earnings".
    "Utter devastation was predicted, and the company beat expectations by delivering simple disaster," he commented.
    Read his cold-water assessment. It ignores the frenzied lunatics who gamble in stockmarkets.
    Best Bard’s Birthday Read
    WITH Shakespeare’s birthday approaching, a recommended whodunit is
    The Killing of Hamlet by Ann Morven. It’s a pageturning mystery full of chills and chuckles, as is usual from this author. Available in either paperback or Kindle
    Happy reading!from Cathy week ending 4 May 2012.
  • Publishing's petal-strewn milestone
    The Easter launch of The Seventh Petal in paperback confirmed a milestone in the booktrade and the future of print-on-demand.
    Listed at $12.99 on Amazon and qualifying for free postage, Ann Morven's whodunit returns pricing to an attractive level for readers. Furthermore, it apparently leaves the publisher without economic pain. This was achieved because print-on-demand requires no big printrun and no distribution of unsold copies. The book is bought and paid for before it is printed.
    Ann Morven's publisher, The Darling Newspaper Press (1971), allowed this title to sell at 99c as an ebook during the April promotion of Kindle Touch in Britain. Is there a profit in such a miserable retail price?
    "Not by itself," said publishing executive Charles Bryce. "The main value is in spreading an author's name and popularity. It builds reader confidence in that author before they risk spending on the author's higher priced creations."
    And The Seventh Petal? It's a page-turner from the opening sentence, with good character conflict and clever plotting. There are several murders ('One by one they die' says the cover blurb). But included in the chuckles and chills that occur within a creepy Scottish castle is one murder method wholly original. Ann Morven sure knows how to keep her readers baffled to the thrilling end.
    Happy reading! from Cathy week ending 13 April, 2012.
  • It's murder with a British ‘Touch’
    HERE comes murder with a British touch! British readers love a good murder, so it makes sense that whodunit diva Ann Morven is leading a Kindle promotion this month (April). It brings Kindle Touch to the United Kingdom.
    Kindle offers her crime novels at $2.99 each, with one (The Seventh Petal) at 99c. These low prices are aimed at winning new Kindle readers who like operating the screen with their fingers. Kindle Touch is priced at £109 for a wi-fi model and £169 for the 3G model. But content remains king in digital reading formats, which is why
    Ann Morven's chill-and-chuckle mysteries are getting big play.
    Amazon has yet to reveal a date for UK release of its colour Kindle Fire, an entertainment tablet. This goes beyond ebooks to provide music, video and various applications.
    Ann Morven's publisher, Darling Newspaper Press, recently launched a collection of her popular short stories titled
    Crime Please. The cover’s a ripper! This joins the novels on Kindle Touch at $2.99.
    Meanwhile, with pedophile priests scandalising news channels these days, John Ivor has a piece of
    short fiction that suits the public mood.
  • Last Orange is sour for some
  • FOR its last hoorah, the Orange Prize went pink. And controversial: homosexual lovers, debut author and a story done to death for about two thousand years. To beat such odds, Madeline Miller sure gotta be good.
  • In The Song of Achilles she put together her own version of Homer's tale of Troy, THE ILIAD. The judges were split, but, after a three-hour debate lasting beyond midnight, they awarded her this annual prize for fiction by a woman.
  • Why write about the male lovers, Achilles and Patroclus, when there's lovely Helen in the same plot from Ancient Greece? Seek your answer in Madeline's book! You can read the first chapter online.
  • Chief judge Joanna Trollope praised the American author's inventiveness and originality. She added that any of the others on the shortlist of six would have been a worthy winner. Hence the judges' tough debating to arrive at their decision.
  • The other contenders were State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick, Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding, The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright, and Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan.
  • The Orange company, after 17 years, is relinquishing literary sponsorship and switching to movies. Its final £30,000 prize launches a new author whose next work will be much anticipated.
  • Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 8 June 2012.
  • Publishers! Grab a lifeline
    WHEN all the writers in all the world self-publish, who will write the books? It won't be those authors − they have all become publishers and marketeers!
    You think I joke? Okay, just peep into my crystal ball.
    The work in producing a book does not end with penning the final chapter. What follows is designing, copy-editing, formatting, proof-reading, printing, distributing, promoting, and keeping track of sales. No author can do all that at professional level. No author can even attempt it without abandoning the biggest and most essential chore of them all − writing.
    So are we going to see the demise of decent reads? Heaven forbid!
    And yet, when you take a long hard look at what's happening, such is the obvious end result. Self-publishing and self-promotion has to cause massive Writers Block.
    Brilliant writers will soon be joining the ranks of the disappeared, after the present vanishing of bookshops, literary agents and traditional publishers. Unless the still existing publishers take action now.
    To date, the book industry has kept itself barely afloat by desperate marketing of The Greatest Book Ever (one a year since the century began!). Frustrated readers, like me, seeking a ready source of books that satisfy, have discovered the same secret as self-published authors. It is this: Books no longer need literary agents, nor fulltime publishers, nor even a physical bookstore.
    The bookworld has moved online. Digital books and printed books are all there in abundance, and increasingly self-produced by their writers.
    Direct from Writer to Reader is low-cost and easy. Yet it is also a trap that will self-destruct writers and appal readers as professional book production dies out. Amateur layout and frequent misprints already bring hasty turnoff.
    Traditional publishers, long ago, shot themselves in the foot by rating sales above a good read. I'd hate to see self-published writers doing the same. Hopefully, this is the time for a fresh industry pattern.
    Maybe traditional publishers can save themselves from ultimate oblivion by encouraging writers rather than exploiting them. So far, Amazon and Smashwords seem alone in successfully nurturing  new talent.
    Royalty of 70 percent? This is now the self-published norm. And there's online help to ease writers through the proofing and promotion chores. Covers can be created, markets assailed, earnings quickly advised.
    It's wonderful but it is too much for a writer to take on alone. Writers still need editors and publishers, provided those publishers adapt to the changed demands that are at present monopolised by Amazon, Smashwords and a few less-famous others.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 27 April, 2012.
  • Readers decide the pricing wars
    IT’s readers who decide the pricing wars now sweeping book markets, whether digital or paper.
    After many months of disagreement and lots of skirmishing, the online battlefields seem to have settled on the following prices: For an ebook, readers like to pay below $5, for a paperback below $10, and for a hardback below $30.
    Unfortunately such retail levels are difficult for production managers to achieve, and depend on many different elements. Obviously, the cost of publishing a book is tied to the cost of materials and labour. And these essentials cannot fall below an ultimate base. All the same, it is great to see publishers (and self-published authors) striving to present the best value possible.
    The above quoted prices, while not necessarily applying to all creations, remain a benchmark to online outlets. Bestsellers can demand a higher price. So can an author of unique expertise.
    Personally, I have been happy to fork out $50 for hardbound fiction by a favourite author. I do this knowing it buys me a week or more of happy reading.
    Books remain the world’s best entertainment value. Buying online? Go for Booktaste’s new whodunit in paperback,
    The Killing of Hamlet, $9.98. By Ann Morven, it remains a big hit as an ebook ($2.99) and the paperback version is now successfully launched.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending March 23.
  • Ann Morven dun it best
    HERE we go into 2012, the great uncharted hope for an uncertain booktrade that is dreading the worst. Between ebooks and online sales, the year past was grim for traditional booksellers and publishers.
    Many of these have (at last!) come to realise the wisdom of that old saying: “If you can’t beat them, join them”.
    During 2012 several global publishers will streamline their online direct sales. And some major bookshops have already taken the plunge to compete against Amazon using the weapons Amazon has applied so effectively. In many high-street stores, physical shelves  are now augmented by sales online and, yes, ebook editions also.
    All this was a natural evolution but nobody knows how it will all work out in the end.
    Meanwhile, the Internet is awash with “Best Books of 2011”. Every site seems to have a different list. You just have to browse and sample to decide if you missed some goodies. Booktaste has its own list, topped by whodunit author Ann Morven for a second year in succession.
    Because of its clever Shakespeare allusions, my personal favourite is The Killing of Hamlet. This title, ranked by sales, comes second only to Murder Piping Hot. The latter, however, has been available longer and is published in paperback as well as digital.
    All Ann Morven’s other novels and short stories are in electronic format only, via most of the main online sellers. If you haven’t sampled the chills and chuckles of her mysteries, there is a snap summary below.
    After the encouraging ebook sales of 2011, Ann Morven’s other novels are heading for paperback editions. There will also be at least one new ebook (now nearing completion). My spies say its location is Singapore. Provisional title: Tears of the Goddess.
    The following can be accessed online now.
  • The Right Royal Bastard. Alleged true heir to the British throne, a Black Australian singer is murdered on the eve of inheriting a fortune. To unmask the killer, bumbling amateur sleuth Sheil B. Wright opposes a police Anglophile and a sinister toff from Buckingham Palace.
    The Killing of Hamlet. Murder stalks a modern English village while Shakespeare experts squabble over a newly discovered masterpiece. Australian folksinger Sheil B. Wright, prime suspect, challenges hi-tech British police, only to become the killer’s next target.
    Murder Piping Hot. Death for dinner and an old Scottish love song send Sheil B. Wright on her most baffling whodunit trail, her mind teased by Rabbie Burns poetry. Overdrawn at the bank, overweight on the scales and nudging forty, the heavyweight chump of crime fiction bumbles through. But only after being denounced as a suicide bomber by a pedantic female police inspector descended from Sherlock Holmes.
    The Seventh Petal. A creepy castle, hidden treasure, and the murders keep coming. Bumbling balladeer Sheil B. Wright finds a corpse and intrudes on an isolated weekend group in the Scottish Highlands. While a dunce at deduction, she’s well versed in human frailty and traumas of the heart. But can she catch a serial killer?
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 30 December 2011.
  • Historical adventure
    JOHN Ivor heads the historical fiction list at Booktaste, for his series on The Great Southland.
    These books are expertly researched and thrillingly written. They differ in theme but each narrates a history of global importance. Here’s a brief overview:
    Java’s Dream.  At the dawn of humanity, an apeman and his mate discover compassion, then learn it is a dangerous belief.
    Captain Striver. How one man, family in disgrace, changed the social and political shape of the southern hemisphere.
    Run Maggie Run. A girl flees Scotland’s hangman, only to encounter more perils of the 19th century world of the Enlightenment.
    No Kiss For A Killer. Jeremy, a coward, must find the courage to avenge his father’s murder in a distant land, but this vow will sacrifice the girl he loves.
    Eden’s Deadly Shore. It was a paradise for gentryfolk, until ambition and murder erupted.
    Amateur Rebel. Inspired but unequal is the fight for justice in a British colony with corrupt rulers.
    Happy reading! from Cathy Macleod at booktaste.com, week ending 16 September, 2011.
  • To the rescue: Publisher of the Year
    IRONIC INDEED! In this Age of electronic wonders and instant communication, the Christmas message sounds faint. “Peace on Earth” and “Love Thy Neighbour” strive to be heard above the anger against greed and corruption. There is no continent free now of protest by the people.
    In these days before annual celebration of the birth of Jesus, Time Magazine acknowledged global wrath by naming “The Protester” as its frontcover personality of the year. From the Holy Land to everywhere else, there is public outcry. The Protester has dominated the year’s news. In the Bookworld it’s different. Here the personality of the year is also publisher of the year. It is the self-published author.
    Wails of despair have continued from traditional publishers and bookshops, bankruptcies abound, redundancies rage, but authors have never had it so good. The urge and instinct to get published is achieved by digital distribution to every corner of the globe. Websites like Smashwords and Kindle Books have guided solo scribblers into acceptable online formats.
    Authors have responded by issuing their works directly to readers. The Literary Agent, once mandatory, is no longer required, a publishing company unnecessary. The Bookworld has become a vast democracy of self-published authors.
    It goes beyond ebooks, too. Authors still keen on paper books and real ink, bound between solid covers, can realise this aim through a growing number of websites where anyone can print-on-demand their own creations. Often, the biggest cost is postage.
    Sites that spring to mind are Create Space, Lulu, WordClay, and Cafe Press. More will appear as more authors join the ranks of the self-published. These sites also market the books created, offering them to readers everywhere. This momentum will bring the next element needed in online publishing . . . trustworthy reviewers to help readers choose. We try to do this at Booktaste, complete with free samples, yet more such guidance would be good to bring obscure talent to public notice.
    As new self-published writers join the millions of online titles now clamouring for sales, the year ahead will see review needs hopefully met. And readers might be thankfully satisfied, at last, after years of weary brandname novelists and boring clones of what sold well the year before. All this thanks to literature’s self-published hero, the SP author, publisher of the year.
    Also saviour of the world? Not quite. The Holy Child still fulfils that task. A messiah for the Bookworld then? We can only hope.
    Happy Christmas reading! from Cathy, week ending 23 December 2011.
  • Statistics tell the story
    WITH a happy ending? The odds say Yes, because the ebook has come of age. It will maintain speedy growth at least until 2015. That’s official and comes with the seal of expertise.
    According to a forecast by the highly regarded gurus at Idate, the global market for ebooks will increase at an average annual rate of 30 percent to total US 7billion in 2015. This equates to 12 percent of the total book market.
    Such statistics are reassuring. There is no doubt that the digital book is here to stay, but will it eventually supplant hardbound physical paper and ink? Let’s hope not. I like paperbacks. I regard ebooks, like audio books, as an additional publishing method.
    Sometimes an ebook is more convenient, other times not. So what will happen as the world’s readers adapt to this handy alternative?
    With trepidation I recall reading that people once said, “Motor vehicles will never replace the horse.” Now here I am nursing similar vibes and telling myself, “Ebooks will never replace the paperback.”
    I hope we shall always have both formats, yet who can tell? Statistics don’t have an answer to that. Not yet, anyway.
    Happy reading! from Cathy week ending 6 January 2012.
  • Books still gleam mid the gloom
    GLAD tidings of great joy may have moved to another planet this Christmas. Our troubled world shows little to brighten the occasion. Politically, commercially and weatherwise, from Europe in the north to the most southerly realms, good cheer is missing.
    Take heart though, there is still − as ever − the singing of children. Add a good book and things look brighter. You’ll find no shortage of year-end booklists, highly recommended, mostly duds decked in seasonal glitz. My top three recommendations for Christmas? Browse, browse some more and browse again.
    In the gloom of literary garbage, which is confusing to readers, it is the best way to spot the gleam of a great read.
  • Dark times, laugh times
    BRITAIN’S turbulent empire gets renewed airing in a history condemning the colonial era. It’s title is Britain's Empire: Resistance, Repression and Revolt”. There’s good research here by author Richard Gott and the narrative sweeps along.
    While against imperialism myself, I can’t agree with the author’s glorification of native tyrants and sadists removed by the Brits.
    A lighter look at the era is available in tales by Bryce McBryce, who writes thus: “Long ago, when Britain ruled the world. . .”  The laughs flow fast in “Wee Charlie’s World”.
    Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 16 December 2011.
  • Best magnet? Conflict
    CONFLICT inspires. And the biggest, noisiest conflict is war. It attracts writers and readers alike. It brings memoirs, histories, endless debate and, of course, mind-gripping fiction.
    The appeal is timeless. People are delving with tireless enthusiasm back to World War One. Heck, they go much farther, there’s no limit. Today we still thrill to the quarrels of Ancient Greece and the battles of the Pharaohs. In our imaginations, the Vikings still rampage, the Mongols scourge fierce as ever. Where does it end?
    It doesn’t. I guess war will ever be. The war books, either fact or fiction, will continue to pour upon the reading public like massed infantry. The themes go back, back, back, even to forgotten empires that spread and disappeared.
    This week I was fascinated by a history of changing Europe. It reveals the powerful kingdoms that have simply vanished. Tiny Lithuania, for example, once ruled an empire that stretched from the Baltic to the Black Sea. It was the superpower of its era. This and other long-gone powers are described in fascinating prose by Norman Davies in his latest book: “
    Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe” (Allen Lane/Penguin 830pp, £30 or $74.99). The author’s conclusion is ominous: All leaders and all their nations come and go. Yes, even Dorgobel the Great. Who? Never heard of him. See what the author means?
    It occurred to me how wars shape our ongoing world even while we’re reading about turmoils of the past. The essence that attracts our war reading is conflict, the clash of ideas, people and countries. Yet war is not the only conflict. Conflict is the nature of things. It gives us the best fiction too, whether the discord is physical or mental. It can be a verbal exchange, courtroom drama or the eternal battle of the sexes. This applies no matter what sort of books we’re into.
    Romance, Mystery, Humour, Children’s (you name it); all thrive on a conflict of some kind. If only the world could confine its conflict instinct to the written word!
  • Cheating impossible at the Culture Olympics
    TO me, anyway: the best Olympics ever will be the first without the Three Cs of commerce, cheating and corruption. Unlikely? Not if performers stick to the Olympic creed that taking part is more important than winning.
    An Olympics without winners and losers would be just perfect for global harmony, and it’s coming. When London hosts the 1212 Olympic Games, the city has a parallel world event that might blossom into my ideal of a Culture Olympics.
    From many lands, more than 7200 creative performers aged six to 90 will take part. Singing and dancing are included but officially this is a gathering of thespians. And they will all be doing Shakespeare.
    It is in fact a World Shakespeare Festival, highlight of the 1212 Festival of London. Organiser Ruth Mackenzie promises: “It will put culture back up there with sport."
    The Globe Theatre, on the banks of the River Thames, is going to stage all of Shakespeare's plays (37 at last count). They’ll be in different languages by different companies from around the world.
    Thousands of worldwide performers, both amateur and professional, are involved in the culture fest from April 23 to September 9.
  • Hearty chuckles
    THOSE rare books that make us laugh have attracted an academic research to discover why. A sense of humour is a fascinating thing and varies immensely between nations and even individuals.
    This is serious stuff (giggle-giggle), as the title of the resulting book might suggest: “
    Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind” (MIT Press, 2011). An amusing read nevertheless, compiled by three authors with the right attitude towards fun. It all began as an undergraduate’s thesis. A good laugh is ever a tonic.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 2 December 2011.
  • Crime boosts Nook Books
    BARNES & Noble have boosted their Nook ebook reader with top quality crime ficion, an enduring genre that seemingly never goes out of fashion. Among star attractions, Nookers can now access novels and short stories by Ann Morven, the whodunit diva from Downunder. She has long been an online favourite in various other formats.
    Ann Morven’s mysteries are not restricted to an Australian location. They rove the world, pitting the same female sleuth against murderers in different lands, and also against the local cops who resent her interference.
    Stagenamed Sheil B. Wright, the travelling singer of Oz bush ballads is a dunce at deduction but well versed in human folly and traumas of the heart. In tracking the villains she invariably bumbles into personal danger.
    “Inventing the baddies is a joy,” Ann Morven said when quizzed on her B&N deal. “They are nasty-nasty. and yet . . . well, you wouldn’t suspect any one of them. Just like some of the real people one learns about in the news. Creating them is the easy part. The hardest is getting the plots just right while planting clues that don’t give away the whole thing.”
    Asked why she gives her crimebuster a cop rival in each story, she explained that it introduced extra conflict. Also, since Sheil B. Wright has no sidekick, a police investigator comes in handy to discuss the riddle. A favourite cop rival? “I love ’em all. In England there’s a brute who throws Sheil in jail. The Aussie ones include a pedantic female inspector, descended from Sherlock Holmes and spouting his knowall conclusions. I’ve also introduced a Chinese detective and a Malay and, being Scots-born myself, a kilted detective in the Highlands who scares the pants off everyone.
    “The villains, unfortunately, cannot be described outside  the pages they live in. That would give them away. I like to keep readers guessing.”
    Ann Morven’s whodunits are widely praised for originality and readability. Her best selling novels are as follows:
    The Right Royal Bastard. Alleged true heir to the British throne, a Black Australian singer is murdered on the eve of inheriting a fortune. To unmask the killer, bumbling amateur sleuth Sheil B. Wright opposes a police Anglophile and a sinister toff from Buckingham Palace.
    The Killing of Hamlet. Murder stalks a modern English village while Shakespeare experts squabble over a newly discovered masterpiece. Australian folksinger Sheil B. Wright, prime suspect, challenges hi-tech British police, only to become the killer’s next target.
    Murder Piping Hot. Death for dinner and an old Scottish love song send Sheil B. Wright on her most baffling whodunit trail, her mind teased by Rabbie Burns poetry. Overdrawn at the bank, overweight on the scales and nudging forty, the heavyweight chump of crime fiction bumbles through. But only after being denounced as a suicide bomber by a pedantic female police inspector descended from Sherlock Holmes.
    The Seventh Petal. A creepy castle, hidden treasure, and the murders keep coming. Bumbling balladeer Sheil B. Wright finds a corpse and intrudes on an isolated weekend group in the Scottish Highlands. While a dunce at deduction, she’s well versed in human frailty and traumas of the heart. But can she catch a serial killer?
    Happy readiing! from Cathy, week ending 11 November, 2011.
  • It wasn’t the butler. Don’t tell!
    DON’T tell, don’t tell, don’t tell. An urgent voice (perhaps the butler) forbids me whenever I want to write about favourite villains. You see, all my best-loved baddies are in whodunits. Describing them would spoil everything for some reader who is midway through the book.
    Okay, so the fiends remain incognito, but there is no barrier to mentioning location, or what one might term ‘the butchers block’. The place of the grisly doing can be as compelling as the doer. The locale sells books also. While romance may waft a reader to Venice, Paris or Rome, the whodunit lurks in more innocent places. Often, a peaceful scenario contrasts dramatically with the dastardly bloodletting, a formula begun by Agatha Christie and still widely popular.
    American writers seem to ignore this element of the chiller. They do most of their killings in the city where, let’s face it, most real murders actually occur. It is a handy marketing device, too, because readers drool over tales disrupting their familiar daily pattern, and there are more readers in cities than anywhere else. A notable exception to the city crime scene is Jonathon King. He prefers the primeval Everglades (Blue Edge of Midnight series).
    The English like their mayhem in a friendly village where, in the words of Ann Morven, “evil will out, no matter the why or the what or the when or the where. Or the who.” (The Killing of Hamlet). Sherlock Holmes said something similar when investigating a big-house mystery: “Dear old homesteads always fill me with horror.”
    A nasty in the placid village of Maggots Wallop comes close to ending Ann Morven’s bumbling sleuth (The Killing of Hamlet). But all’s well that ends well, as Shakespeare would say. Yes, the Bard’s in this whodunit too, but being 400 years dead removes him from suspicion. How about a creepy old castle? Instant suspense! Ann Morven’s butler is a sinister cliche in The Seventh Petal, set in the Scottish Highlands. The secret baddy couldn’t possibly be him. Or could it? Don’t tell, don’t tell!
    A Sussex market town accommodates Ruth Rendell’s detective, Inspector Wexford. Sharing this preference for the rural scene are Anthea Fraser and Gerald Hammond, but the other Fraser, Antonia, places crimebuster Jemima Shore in London.
    Historical locations boast a big following. There’s no end to the appeal of the ancients, whether in Egypt, Rome or Greece and, of course, in the British Isles or particular parts of the realm. The historical research introduces intriguing detail and often an unusual motive for murder. A few authors in this specialist genre whose names leap to mind: Paul Doherty, Ellis Peters, Robert Gulik, Bernard Knigtht, Edward Marston, Kate Kingsbury, Christian Jacq, Alanna Knight . . . there are so many! The best listing I could find is at Gaslight Books,
    http://www.gaslightbooks.com.au/checklists/histmyst.htm
    Perhaps a crime fiction coup, serving both marketing and place appeal, is the gentrified world of Jane Austen as borrowed by author PD James. Death Comes to Pemberley revisits Darcy and Elizabeth six years after their marriage. And whodunit? Don’t tell, don’t tell!
    Going by the above authors, and twisting the wellknown real estate boast, I’d reckon that location is only almost everything. The villain beats all, yet remains in the shadows. Don’t tell.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 21 October 2011.
  • Secondhand title wins 2011 Booker
  • After Gaddafi, literature’s new dawn
    The desert song is unshackled. With the defeat and death of the tyrant Muammar Gaddafi, Libyan writers greet a new era. For the first time ever, they can bare their souls without a dictator or occupying power hovering over their pens. Until Gaddafi’s demise, exile was a necessary condition for novels, poems or simply statements against the nation’s chronic problems such as women’s rights, poverty, tribal friction and individual liberty.
    Anguish has been the theme of Libyan writers since Adam was booted from nearby Eden. When the land became a colony of Ancient Greece (circa 300BC) Callimachus recorded the excesses of imperialism in what is now Benghazi. Then came the invading Romans, Turks, Italians, French and British. Authors in Libya have never been free, until now.
    In the aftermath of the revolution that has deposed and killed Gaddafi, the dream of literary freedom has at last arrived. It has been a long, cruel wait through the many torments of history.
    Colonel Gaddafi, as a young soldier, himself wrote poetry and short stories that dreamed of civil liberty. After independence from Britain in 1951 he led an army coup against Libya’s autocratic monarchy, when King Idris was abroad for medical treatment. Gaddafi’s writing then turned to a wishful social theory, The Third Way, a middle ground between communism and capitalism. It was an inspired political vision, but in practice it degenerated into despotism. And Libyan literature maintained its pain.
    Writers were censored. Dissent was not only discouraged but punished by jail, torture and worse. In one infamous case in 2005, author and journalist Daif Al Ghazal wrote articles that criticized Gaddafi’s system of government. He was tortured, then killed. and his body dumped in Benghazi. Many other writers lived in fear, careful in what means, or how, they expressed their inner thoughts. These included several talented scribes including Kahled Darwish, Wejdan Ali, Mohamed al-Asfar, , Ramez Enwesri, Saleh Gaderboh, Wafa al-Buissa and others. It seemed that to be creative without fear was only possible by living abroad. And this tended to limit their issues to the political.
    One recent novel of note, In The Country Of Men (Penguin) by Hisham Matar, was shortlisted, in translation, for the 2006 Booker Prize. In 2007 it won a Commonwealth Writers Prize and many other awards. It’s about a boy aged 9 experiencing Gaddafi’s oppression, and begins thus . . “I am recalling now that last summer before I was sent away. It was 1979, and the sun was everywhere. Tripoli lay brilliant and still beneath it”.
    On state television under Gaddafi, young Suleiman watches the execution of his best  friend’s father. The path to adulthood is fraught with despair. Matar’s second novel, Anatomy Of A Disappearance, was published this year, 2011, in March. He lives in London.
    Previous Libyan authors wellknown in English include (according to Wikipedia) Maryam Ahmed Salama (Dreams Of A Captive Girl), Ibrahim Al-Kouni, Ahmad Al-Faqih and Sadeq al-Neihum. To which I would add Bashir al-Hashmi (Screams In Our Village), included in Libyan Stories (Kegan Paul International, 2000).
    Literature, like religion, thrives in bondage. It also echoes history. “Tis all a chequer-board of nights and days where Destiny with men for pieces plays” (Omar Khayyam). During months and years ahead, the Libyan Revolution still has a long way to go. What will evolve as its new system of government? How will the factional jealousies of tribes and religious sects blend?
    These are complex human issues that will add impetus to writings from Libya. However, with authors unchained at last, their novels and their think-pieces will hopefully emerge from tales of anguish and of hope to literary peals of joy.
    Happy reading! From Cathy, week ending 4 November 2011.
  • Is Salman Rushdie detestable?
    YOU don’t need to be the Ayatollah to think so. Just ask Maurice Sendak, children’s author, who once received a terrible review by Rushdie in the New York Times..Sendak doesn’t like Roald Dahl either, calling him cruel. Sendak, who wrote Where The Wild Things Are, is grumping against lots of people and situations this week, but gets away with it because he has become a grumpy old man.
    Now in his 80s, he is still creating extraordinary books and cannot believe his age. “I was young only minutes ago,” he .complained. He makes pointed remarks, too, about ebooks and the world at large. Grump, grump, grump, but an amusing grump. Read the interview
    Sendak’s new book is Bumble-Ardy (HarperCollins), price £12.99
  • The death of creativity
    THIS modern world, for all its wonders, is killing creativity, according to Neal Stephenson who writes for an organisation called World Policy Institute. It is a group of thinkers who try to identify critical emerging global issues. Its stated mission is to “give voice to compelling new global perspectives and innovative policy solutions”.
    So what is killing creativity? A thing called certainty.
    Neal explains.Old and rare
    BOOKS have been around ever since Tree Dwellers began scratching their thoughts on the leaves. Old and rare ones (books, not leaves) continue to fascinate. Here’s a handy list of websites
    pursuing these immortal tomes.
    Happy reading from Cathy! week ending 14 October 2011.
  • Folk heroes bow to The Great Detective
    EVERY country has its favourite sleuth. The fictional detective has just about replaced the folk hero in popular esteem. Certainly in popular readership. Ask your bookshop or library. Crime novels are sold or borrowed more than any other kind. Their protagonists usually reflect some concept typical of their homeland, and not necessarily realistic.
    England has that village shrewdie, little old Miss Marple, and America gave us hardboiled Mike Hammer and courtroom virtuoso Perry Mason. It is difficult to think of a land where there is no Great Detective of inimitable skill.
    France has world-weary Inspector Maigret, India the conscientious Inspector Ghote, Russia a defiant Inspector Renko, and China the inscrutable Charlie Chan. The latter was created in the 1920s by American Earl Derr Biggers while holidaying in Hawaii. Like Ghote (HRF Keating), Renko (Martin Cruz Smith) and Egypt’s funny Mamur Zapt (Michael Pearce), the Chinese detective came from the pen of a foreigner.
    Scotland, where medical student Arthur Conan Doyle invented the very English Sherlock Holmes, sprouts mystery authors readily as heather. To randomly name a few and their creations: M.C. Beaton (Constable Hamish Macbeth), Glenn Chandler (tough Chief Inspector Taggart), Philip Kerr (Berlin’s Bernie Gunther), Alexander McCall Smith (Botswana’s Precious Ramotswe), Val McDermid (lesbian Lindsay Gordon), Denise Mina (journalist Paddy Meehan), Ann Morven (Australian balladeer Sheil B. Wright), Anne Perry (historical sleuths William and Hester Monk), Josephine Tey (Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard).
    There are many many more. I’ve just given those who come to mind as I write. With so many of them, now and in the past, “Bloody Scotland” has just announced, a Scottish Crime Writing Festival. This will be held in Stirling next year 2012, September 14-16. Needless to say it will promote Scots crime authors of all kinds, from home and abroad. And crimebusting characters, too, even if invented by sassenachs.
    Here’s what Edinburgh writer Ian Rankin had to say last week: “Maybe it doesn't get the attention it deserves because it's not as though there's a school of Scottish crime writing. With the Scandinavians, you pretty much know what kind of novel you're going to get. But Scottish crime includes cozies, satire, hardboiled, noir, historical, urban, rural - there's a catholicism about it, and that's a strength not a weakness. What have they got that we haven't? Nothing - apart from some very good PR. Scottish crime writing continues to fire on all cylinders and talented new voices.”
    Nations and their differing sleuths is a theme I hope to explore in future blogs. Also their assorted make-believe villains. There is one investigator, however, who sets a precedent. To my knowledge, she is the first to solve whodunits in a variety of countries. Name: Sheil B. Wright, Australian singer of bush ballads. Her creator is
    Ann Morven, a Scot resident in Perth Australia. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 30 September 2011.
  • The sense of a secondhand title
    A borrowed title won the 2011 Man Booker Prize. Could the following be how marketeers foresaw it, asks Cathy Macleod.
  • Hey, Chief, a brainwave! It’ll win us the Man Booker.
  • How can? The fiction entries are strong this year. Lotsa zip and grip.
  • That’s why we gotta help Jooley. Here’s what we do. Get a famous used title and squeeze it on a cover as if the printer was squint-eyed. Just big type. Important stuff, see? Litratoor.
  • And that’s all?
  • Not quite. Keep it short at 160 pages. That cuts production cost and retail price. Then we blurb it as a classy masterpiece, without saying what it’s actually about. We call it Oliver Twist or Pride and Prejudice. It starts dull but we tell folk to push on to the ending. Then they’ll get the sense of it.
  • Sense of what?
  • Something, whatever, maybe the ending itself.
  • Okay then, why not call it that? The Sense of an Ending. You know, same as that egghead book by that bloke who wrote great essays on literature. He’s dead now so won’t complain.
  • You mean Sir Frank Kermode, he’d love it. Why, Jooley’s book will be a tribute to the guy!
  • COMMENTS CATHY: Most Julian Barnes fans will like his 2011 Man Booker winner. I am one of those fans and I didn’t.
    Is his The Sense of an Ending great literature or just confusing boondoogle? It is written as a memoir by a middle-aged man and reflects on the nature of memory. I wonder how Sir Frank Kermode would have reviewed it? Sir Frank, who died last year aged 90, was a critic who was himself a pleasure to read. His seminal critical work was The Sense of an Ending (studies in the theory of fiction), published 1967, revised 2000.
    Professor Kermode’s writing was aimed at the general reader rather than what he called “horrid professors”. Asked by New Statesman journal, shortly before his death, if he read for pleasure, he replied: "I hardly have time for such things! The other day I picked up a copy of Antic Hay, Aldous Huxley's first novel, which I had loved when I was 17. So I bought it, and I thought, it's the most awful tripe. Either I'd matured or it had gone off.”
    Here is another good interview, at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, where he explains the link between fiction endings and eternity.
    http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2010/08/20/2988905.htm
  • Julian Barnes obviously tackles a similar theme in his fictitious memoir. As always, his voice is enjoyably readable, although the conclusions (like most memoirs) can be dismissed as egotistical tosh. The book is $13.99 at Barnes & Noble, or $11.99 as an ebook. There is a free sample:
    http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/sense-of-an-ending-julian-barnes/1100093729
  • Happy reading! from Cathy at Booktaste, week ending 28 October 2011.
  • Stranger than fiction, and richer
    NOW here’s a strange thing: a book jacket that is worth more than the fiction it covers. While good for the artist’s reputation, it has got to be a put-down for the famous author whose yarn won world fame. I refer to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.
    Artist Francis Cugat’s painting for the 1925 first edition is described these days as “the most celebrated and widely disseminated jacket art in twentieth century American literature”. Well, someone would say that when they’re hoping to clear $180,000 or more at its October 20 Sotheby auction. In humiliating comparison, a first-edition Gatsby novel sells at around $8000. Seems crazy, but these prices have been confirmed by past sales.
    The reason collectors pay so highly is not their regard for artistic genius. It’s because of a printing error. On the cover’s rear panel, the "j" in Jay Gatsby was incorrectly printed in lower case, so the publisher grabbed a pen and hand-corrected it many times to a capital. Odd, isn’t it? One letter of the alphabet, and an incorrect one at that, is more valuable than the 50,000 words of this literary classic.
    The author’s ghost must be pondering the weird ways of investors. A single typo is more valuable than anything he ever wrote! Incredible? Unfathomable? No, it’s the world we live in. See if you can spot, right now, one click, a book cover (without misprints) worth
    $1 million. It may take a generation or two, but ya never know!
  • Santa’s big bulging sack
    NOBODY can accuse publishers of ignoring the religious meaning of Christmas. They’re all praying that Santa’s big bulging sack will include some of their Christmas releases that poured forth October 1. Many booksellers are on their knees too, forced there by circumstance and about to go under. They are being killed by a changing market in our digital age.
    One global giant, HarperCollins, came to their rescue last week by embracing the ebook revolution via print-on-demand. The publisher announced that readers will be able to have HarperCollins titles printed instore while they wait. This eliminates warehousing, distribution and shelf costs. The shop will simply print and bind your copy using the Espresso machine.
    I’ve mentioned this fabulous invention before. It marks the future for bookshops. The booktrade should have gone for it in a big way long ago when first the gizmo was born. It allows a physical bookstore to promote and print thousands of paperbacks selected from a catalogue. There’s only one sour note. For most shops, still the main outlet for publishers, the strategy may be too late.
    Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 7 October 2011.
     
  • Shakespeare the cripple
    LAME? William Shakespeare? The brilliant wordsmith, father of English literature, flawed of frame? Yes, he said it himself, even wrote it in a bitter pun: “Speak of my lameness and I straight will halt”.
    That’s from a sonnet, the medium in which the great poet revealed personal loves, fears and resentments. In another he confesses he was “made lame by Fortune’s dearest spite” and sees himself as a decrepit father.
    Ah, but did he mean it literally, or merely as poetical whimsy? The experts are still debating. Here’s what Shakespeare wrote 400 years ago:
    Sonnet 37: As a decrepit father takes delight/To see his active child do deeds of youth,/So I, made lame by Fortune’s dearest spite,/Take all my comfort of thy worth and truth.
    Sonnet 89: Say that thou didst forsake me for some fault/And I will comment on that offence./Speak of my lameness and I straight will halt,/Against thy reasons making no defence.
    Certainly, nobody can deny that Shakespeare was ‘lame’ in these two sonnets, yet did his condition stretch beyond the imagined? Cripples and lameness often crop up in his plays.
    Critic George Wilkes (1882) claimed Shakespeare had a lame back, citing Sonnet 87: And so my patient back again is swerving. W.J. Thoms, 1865 (Three Notelets), asserted Shakespeare was wounded while soldiering in the Netherlands. Another alleged expert of old averred that Shakespeare injured his left leg in a fall while acting at the Fortune Theatre (“Fortune’s dearest spite”). In 1889 it was suggested that Shakespeare usually acted as old men because of his disability. Author Pemberton (1914, Shakespeare and Sir Walter Ralegh) contended that Shakespeare was Raleigh who wounded his leg at Cadiz in 1596.
    In recent times, Professor Rene Weis was certain of the lameness (Shakespeare Revealed − a biography, John Murray 2007). Professor Weis, English and Language lecturer at University College London, said Shakespeare’s works reflected the man’s life. Phrases often regarded as figurative should be taken literally, he said. This surely adds new avenues of speculation to the many that have grown over the years.
    For instance, was Shakespeare, himself a player, ever cast in the role of Richard III without need of a faked humpback? Did he have a club foot, or a crooked knee, or an odd limp? The one known fact is that nobody knows. Among the many wild Shakespeare disputes is that he never existed but was a pen name for someone else.
    Unfortunately, Shakespeare never got around to penning his memoirs. Had he explained himself, it would happily have aborted centuries of blah-blah.
    Away from the learned brawls, a battalion of fiction writers have captured the lad from Stratford in their own conjectures. Notably The Shakespeare Curse, by J.L. Carrell, was a popular hit last year, although falling short of Ann Morven’s page-turner,
    The Killing of Hamlet.
    Morven’s plot deftly ties Shakespeare to present day murders. At the same time, she invents plausible answers to the most common inconistencies surrounding the Bard. She gives her heroine, bumbling folksinger Sheil B. Wright, a fright or two along the whodunit trail. Hoping to collect olde English madrigals in an historic village, Sheil collects arrest instead, accused of a murder witnessed by scores of people.
    Highly recommended. Happy reading! from Cathy, 9 September 2011.
  • Globals fear digital marketing blitz
    PUBLISHERS are afraid. They are afraid of Amazon. Again. This time, it is more than the internet retailer’s slashed prices and massive sales.
    Those two things helped kill many physical bookshops, the major retail outlet for publishers. Yet publishers found they could survive this and, by using Amazon as an online retailer, make money from Amazon themselves. The new threat is Amazon Publishing, which last month, August,  announced its entry to conventional book creation. Hardcover, audio and ebook editions are proposed. And Amazon boasts an unassailed marketing advantage. Its online salesmanship is without peer.
    The irony is that conventional publishers long relied on marketing to sell their books to bookshops. Now marketing of a different kind − direct sale to readers − will advantage a rival that global publishers cannot hope to match.
    Not only that. Google and Facebook, two other digital emperors, are well on the way to publishing books too. A new sales war is developing in which social-media and cyber skills outshine  travelling reps and seasonal catalogues. Making readers aware of a title is already a fine art on Amazon, which monitors every sale and employs direct persuasion. Google and Facebook have similar digital potential. By means of online sales, the traditional pattern of author-publisher-distributer-bookshop becomes author-publisher-postage-reader, with the reader paying the postal distribution cost
    No wonder publishers are anxious. Foresight should have them recruiting digital geeks to push their titles. Relying on trade reps, advertising, festivals, author tours, and book-signing is no longer good enough.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 2 Sept, 2011.
  • Your next good ebook is here
    WITH millions of titles available, your next good ebook can present a daunting search. We’re all different, so what appeals to one reader may not appeal to another. A recommendation helps to choose your next good ebook. but is no sure method. For individual preference, therefore, your next good ebook is here on this website. Why? For the simple reason that you make the choice yourself.
    Booktaste allows ease of browsing and always a free sample. Just click a cover or an author or our shop (top left) and enjoy sampling. Sci-fi apart, we’ve something for every taste, every format, every electronic reading device.
    Doorstops deter
    THE digital age has created a yen for short ebooks. This is because, for most folk, onscreen reading is not a marathon pleasure.
    I’m writing from personal experience as well as internet comments. Nowadays even lengthy printed works that I clutch in my hand discourage me from purchase. It’s not the price, inflated though this has become. I feel the same reluctance when browsing doorstop fiction at my local public library where everything is free.
    The cover on these weighty tomes looks good. the jacket blurb promises much, yet anything over 400 pages gives me pause.
    I used to enjoy great doorstoppers. I grew up reading books as thick as a fist. Today I no longer commit myself to a book or an ebook that demands great chunks of my leisure. For me the doorstopper is dead.
    Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 26 August 2011.
  • Better than a Man Booker browse
    TO avid readers like me, the search for a good read is endless. No sooner do we finish one book than the quest resumes for the next. It’s fun to browse the Internet and even better when word of mouth suggests a likely treasure. This week and through September there’s a multitude of such pointers.
    The Man Booker prize for British fiction recently announced a longlist of 13 titles for 2011. It’s a good place to seek your next good read. The five Man Booker judges reckon these are the best published between October 2010 and September 2011 and will announce their winner this coming October 18. Book browsers can check out the nominated novels at the official website:
    http://www.themanbookerprize.com/prize/thisyear/longlist
     
  • But even bigger in scope than the personal taste of Man Booker judges is a torrent of public nominations for this year’s Not The Booker Prize. This contest is run by the Guardian newspaper, which is about to name its longlist. Meanwhile, the suggestions pouring in were too numerous to bother counting, but present an easy source of links to reads that have given readers much pleasure. Here’s the url:
     
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/aug/10/not-booker-prize-2011-nominations
    Tastes differ, yet I found several titles that took my fancy. These would not otherwise have come to my notice, being from small independent publishers who cannot afford big-budget marketing. So hats off to the Guardian for running this forum where good reads get a personal plug.
    Here at Booktaste, our own good reads are ever available at a click. Nobody nominated us for the Guardian event but (judging by sales) our titles appeal throughout the world. Click our offerings to judge from a sample. Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 19 August 2011.
  • Fiction goes marathon
    BOOKS, I think, are getting longer. The impression I get is that publishers are offering more pages to justify the high price charged for binding them and delivering them to their point of sale, compared to the economic appeal of ebooks.
    Great novels always seem inclined to demand a marathon read, but lately this characteristic has become noticeable in run-of-the mill fiction, and crime fiction in particular. It’s a surprising observation in an age when the human attention span is said to be decreasing. Is it because publishers are hoping to compete against the onscreen market, where long reads often meet disfavour? A more successful strategy is available and obvious. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Good to see more big publishers realise this and are seeking to earn from ebook editions.
    Genius in the book world
    THERE are 41 people of genius status in publishing. You can find the list on record at The MacArthur Awards, announced each year and worth half-a-million dollars to any genius who manages to rate recognition. Read all about it at http://blogs.publishersweekly.com/blogs/PWxyz/?p=6176
    WHILE on the subject of awards, I was fascinated to learn that Germany is offering big money to self-published authors. It’s a feature of this year’s Frankfurt Bookfair, but open to text in the German language only. The winners will be decided by public vote, and is going to be announced at the fair on October 13. Five categories will share $29,000 in prizemoney. Read the details at
    http://publishingperspectives.com/2011/08/new-book-prize-offers-20000-euros-to-german-self-publishers/
    Top sellers
    THE largest English-language book market remains the United States. Here’s what was selling best this week: Hardcover Ghost Story  by Jim Butcher; Paperback The Help by Kathryn Stockett; Mass market The Confession by John Grisham; Non-fiction A Stolen Life  by Jaycee Dugard.
    Happy reading from Cathy, week ending 12 August 2011.

  • Forget the spats, find a great novel
    THIS could be yet another year when the Man Booker churns up gallons of controversy, if the early favourite is anything to go by. Gay-and-lesbian occupies a rightful place in humanity’s diverse library but surely the distasteful themes in The Stranger’s Child are unworthy of Britain’s novel of the year for 2011. That’s my opinion anyway. Alan Hollinghurst’s entry has a niche reader interest and that’s all. It teems with familiar national issues such as Somme slaughter and Great War poetry, adultery, prep school, unwise marriage and the progress of weird people. It will be interesting to learn what the judges think of this 560-page mishmash.
    Other early front runners are Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending), Sebastian Barry (On Canaan's Side), DJ Taylor (Derby Day ) and Stephen Kelman (Pigeon English).
    This year's shortlist of six will be announced in early September and the £50,000 winner on 18 October. Meanwhile, the book trade is happy at increased sales for all the titles no matter who wins. You can read about hopes and betting odds at bookseller.com
    Here’s the longlist of 13 anyway: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry, Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards, The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst, Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness, Snowdrops by AD Miller, Far To Go by Alison Pick, The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, and Derby Day  by DJ Taylor. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 5 August 2011.
  • Browsing through famine and flood
    FAMINE grips the world of books. Or is it a flood? Well, it's both really. For that reason, I suspect, book clubs proliferate and attendance at book festivals exceeds capacity. People are seeking good reads.
    Oddly, while bookfair events are regularly sold out, bookshops are closing for lack of sales. And, as a consequence, publishers cut output, or go bankrupt when readers don't buy.
    What started the famine in bound titles? My opinion is fixed: It was marketeers replacing editors in deciding what should be published. Their creed became "sure-sell brandnames or nothing." And 'nothing' is clearly the choice of many readers in tough financial times. There's cheaper diversion in movies and television, and in the digital deluge we can read onscreen.
    This electronic flood, of course, gives a confusion of choice. Book-hungry readers exchange views. Many post impromptu reviews – a service most newspapers abandoned long ago. Thus has evolved the social-network Babel.
    Antennae tuned to public trends, the Big Six publishers have dived into the flood too. Their marketeers know how to build a following and this is exactly what they have been doing. It is too soon to determine whether a following equates to selling, even though rare success has befallen one or two self-published authors using Facebook, Twitter and similar.
    Encouraged by these go-it-alone authors, the globals have adopted social marketing in a big way. It is word-of-mouth marketing, and that's the best. But do tweets persuade readers to buy?
    Publishers Weekly tried to pin down an answer in a June survey. Viewing Twitter only, here is how the Big Six are swimming in the yabber tsunami:
    Random House 429,000 followers, Penguin 221,000, Hachette 173,000, Simon&Schuster 149,000, Macmillan 115,000, Harper Collins 57,000.
    May they prosper! The more books sell, the better for the industry. For me, however, browsing bookshelves is the best way to pick my next read. This can still be done when physical bookstores close. Just go online.
    Thanks to cyber magic, books can be found, examined and sampled as never before. Depending on one's budget, they can be delivered by post or by download to one's preferred device.
    Happy browsing! from Cathy, week ending 8 July 2011.

    The long stretch beyond kilts and claymores
    IT is heartening to observe Scotland's connoisseurs of historical fiction stretch beyond kilts and claymores. It's a long stretch, too (excuse pun) to The Long Song by Andrea Levy, set in Jamaica and sugar plantations. No heather here, no mists, no feuding clans – just an old woman remembering the days of slavery.
    Named for the great writer who established tartan swashbuckle, the £25,000 Sir Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction embraces the whole world. Not only the winner, but others among the final shortlist of six stirring images of other lands. For 2011, there's Japan and Russia and Sierra Leone, and only a sniff of anything celtic. It's a grand selection to delight readers everywhere. This is the  second year of the prize. It is sponsored by the Duke and Duchessof Buccleuch, who have family links to Walter Scott.
    Andrea Levy, 54, was born in London of Caribbean parentage. Booktaste followers can get the mood of the victorious The Long Song from this opening. Extracts from the other finalists appear below. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 1 July 2011.
    THE BOOK YOU ARE now holding within your hand was born of a craving. My mama had a story—a story that lay so fat within her breast that she felt impelled, by some force which was mightier than her own will, to relay this tale to me, her son. Her intention was that, once knowing the tale, I would then, at some other date, convey its narrative to my own daughters. And so it would go on. The fable would never be lost and, in its several recitals, might gain a majesty to rival the legends told whilst pointing at the portraits or busts in any fancy great house upon this island of Jamaica.
    Read more.
    C, by Tom McCarthy. The author was American born in New Jersey, and he lives in London. This is historical fantasy, witty and eerie, in the early years of radio broadcasting. How it starts:
    DOCTOR Learmont, newly appointed general practitioner for the districts of West Masedown and New Eliry, rocks and jolts on the front seat of a trap as it descends the lightly sloping path of Versoie House. He has sore buttocks: the seat's hard and uncushioned. His companion, Mr Dean of Hudson and Dean Deliveries (Lydium and Environs Since 1868), doesn't seem to feel any discomfort. His glazed eyes stare vaguely ahead; his leathery hands, reins woven through their fingers, hover just above his knees.
    Read more.
    To Kill a Tsar, by Andrew Williams, who was born in Lincolnshire. His book is a
    thriller in mid 19th century Russia as revolutionaries begin a campaign of terror. A young British doctor gets involved. How it starts:
    2 April 1879: Ice is scraped from the carriageway in readiness, but it is still treacherous and the Tsar must tread with care. At eight o’clock the guard at the commandant’s entrance to the Winter Palace came smartly to attention and the doors swung open for the Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias. A tall man with the bearing of a soldier, Alexander II was in his sixtieth year, handsome still, with thick mutton chop whiskers and an extravagant moustache shot with grey, a high forehead and large soft brown eyes that lent his face an air of vulnerability. His appearance was greeted by a murmur of excitement from the small crowd of the curious and the devout waiting in the square. Read more.
    Heartstone, by C.J. Sansom, an Edinburgh born Scot. As Tudor England wars with France, lawyer Matthew Shardlake is presented with a difficult case via an elderly servant of Queen Catherine Parr which will plunge him into the labyrinthine toils of the King's Court. How it starts:
    THE churchyard was peaceful in the summer afternoon. Twigs and branches lay strewn across the gravel path, torn from the trees by the gales which had swept the country in that stormy June of 1545. In London we had escaped lightly, only a few chimneypots gone, but the winds had wreaked havoc in the north. People spoke of hailstones there as large as fists, with the shapes of faces on them. But tales become more dramatic as they spread, as any lawyer knows.
    Read more.
    Ghost Light, by Joseph O'Connor, an Irishman. A tender love story that
    melds fact and fiction in the life of the Irish playwright J.M Synge and his lover Molly Allgood. How it starts:
    IN the top floor room of a dilapidated townhouse across the Terrace, a light has been on all night.
    Read more.
    The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet,  by David Mitchell, who was born in England on Merseyside. His entry for the prize was a love story from 18th century Japan. How it starts:
    THE House of Kawasemi the Concubine, above Nagasaki. The Ninth Night of the Fifth Month.
    ‘Miss Kawasemi?’ Orito kneels on a stale and sticky futon. ‘Can you hear me?’
    In the rice paddy beyond the garden, a cacophony of frogs detonates.
    Orito dabs the concubine’s sweat-drenched face with a damp cloth. Read more.
     

  • Taste the Oranges
    THERE is only one first place, yet all six finalists are great reads in the annual Orange Fiction Prize for women authors. You can sample them below. Just click the title of your choice.
    These books are different in theme and style, and therefore vary in appeal to individual preference.
    The winner was Tea Obreht, youngest ever at 25. Her unusual brilliance claimed the £30,000 contest. Born in Yugoslavia, she migrated to the United States aged 16 and has obviously absorbed the trend to fantasy. She blends it with realism in The Tiger's Wife. This is a bittersweet evocation of the Balkan war told through a series of magic tales.
    Praise came from the judges: "She has managed to bring the tragedy of chronic Balkan conflict thumping into our front rooms."
    The other finalists
    The five other contenders in the final round were as follow, in no significant order:
    Grace Williams Says It Loud, by Emma Henderson is an honest and witty insight into mental illness. Don't let this put you off. It is beautifully written, funny, sad and unforgettable, a love story like no other. Click the title to read the opening chapter.
    Room, by Emma Donaghue, is a novel narrated by a five-year-old boy who has spent his whole life incarcerated with his abducted mother. This tale could have been inspired by recent news items.
    Aminatta Forna's
    The Memory of Love is a delicately written saga of desire and betrayal in postwar Sierra Leone. Adrian Lockheart is a psychologist escaping his life in England. Arriving in Freetown in the wake of civil war, he struggles with the intensity of the heat, dirt and dust, and with the secrets this country hides.
    Nicole Krauss's
    Great House is a novel of family tensions. It soars powerfully as memory struggles to create a meaningful permanence in the face of inevitable loss.
    Annabel, by Kathleen Winter, is beautifully written. It is a story of bisexual isolation. Here are the trials of growing up unique in a restrictive environment. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 17 June 2011.
  •  

    Black claims British throne
    HE is black, he's legitimate and he's claiming the British throne. It's murder! Ann Morven's new whodunit perturbs the Palace, baffles the police and delights readers with her regular mix of hefty thrills and hearty chuckles.
    Officially launched this week,
    The Right Royal Bastard is fourth in a series featuring a female sleuth who is a dunce at deduction but well acquainted with human nature. Like the others, it is in digital format and readable on all the usual electronic gadgets.
    Located in Australia's rugged and remote southern coast, the plot centres on the murder of a black singer who can prove his right of succession to the throne. The narrator is showbiz singer of bush-ballads Sheil B. Wright. As usual, she bumbles into personal danger along the mystery trail. The author's cheeky storyline is not beyond the possible, given the inclination of callow British royals to venture abroad. Be quick and you can download the ebook from Smashwords at a cut price of $3.99. Simply quote Coupon JZ95F at the checkout. (Short time only until 31 July, then the regular price of $6.99 applies).
    Ann Morven's previous crime novels succeeded with equally dubious propositions.
    The Killing of Hamlet employed Shakespeare, linking him to modern murders and suggesting who really wrote England's greatest literature. (Not a bad guess either).
    Murder Piping Hot featured pornographic verses by Scotland's national poet Rabbie Burns. "How dare she!" you exclaim. Well, the fact is that the revered luminary penned many a dirty ditty and they're on public record.
    The Seventh Petal   borrows the history of Bonnie Prince Charlie as people die one by one in a creepy Scottish castle. Red herrings abound, yet so do the clues to be identified by the more astute crime enthusiasts.
    "I like to entertain readers," Ann Morven said. "The feedback I get shows it is what lots of people seek in a book. I don't claim to write classy literature, I just try to create a good story with a challenging riddle."
    Ann Morven, a mature Scots-born writer, is published by Darling Newspaper Press, a small independent in Kalamunda, Western Australia. Her warbling crime-buster also appears in several short stories. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 24 June 2011.
    Feedback:
    cathy.macleod@optusnet.com.au

    Fiction's most vital element
    GREAT characters make great fiction. To me, character is the most vital of all the many elements that go to create a story. It is more important than dialogue or plot or structure or pace.
    Such was my conclusion the other day when contemplating prominent personalities from myth and the Bible. The ancients give us a fascinating array. From conceited Narcissus to persevering Job, from David the giantkiller to Merlin the Magician, there is a protagonist for every situation. And the same remains today.
    In modern times, according to one Web survey, the favourites are Batman, Superman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes. A different site opted for Hamlet, Ulysses, Don Quixote, Eve and Genji. It just goes to show that every genre and every reader niche holds distinct and often dissimilar opinions.
    Characters are often created for their time, reflecting their society and the prevailing modes of thought. In this way they direct the plot as events play out to the pattern of their individual beliefs. It's the reason I like Maggie, an unusual heroine of the 1830s. Created by John Ivor in
    Run Maggie Run, she appears in other of his stories. She makes things happen, usually catastrophe.
    Being self-taught from avid reading, Maggie thinks the wisdom of the world lies in books. And surely this is true. She makes her decisions accordingly, but naive faith is blind to Fate's likely interference. This lass lacks experience. Not surprising when you consider she begins as a nine-year-old and suffers a hectic odyssey to womanhood.
    From being sentenced to death in Scotland (age 9), Maggie encounters villains and heroes on her fictional path through violent history. Of course, she cannot make history happen. Through author Ivor her actions  simply direct stirring plots within history's compass.

  • Discovered
    GREGG KEIZER was first published in 2004, but I found his debut, The Longest Night, by chance at my local library. It is Booktaste's book of the week, a tense story, a conflict of characters, an unusual yarn of World War 2. His follow-up is Midnight Plague, published 2005.
  • Hurrah for murder!
    PUBLISHERS ahoy! The world loves murder. Consider this fact when selecting the title that will see you through the gloom of recent market woes. I write this in May 2011, a violent time of mini-wars and armed rebellions. In such a global atmosphere of turmoil, one might expect that ebook readers would opt for hard action thrillers. Not so.
    The top four bestsellers in the Booktaste list are all murder mysteries. Another mystery (ghost) is in No. 5 place, before Violent Adventure kicks in at No. 6 (Run Maggie Run).
    The top four sellers are, in order, Murder Piping Hot, The Killing of Hamlet, Blood on the Wind, That Lovely Feeling. These are all by whodunit diva Ann Morven and feature her bumbling female sleuth Sheil B. Wright.
    I believe that women readers outnumber men in buying ebooks, and it is logical to assume that women prefer a whodunit to brutal action. And, of course, a female protagonist. Booktaste’s market analysis showed that Sheil B. Wright has a wide band of followers. She's unusual among detectives. She is a dunce at deduction and this invariably gets her into trouble. Where she can outdo the professional crimebuster, as she does repeatedly, is through her painfully acquired knowledge of human folly and traumas of the heart. She is a folksinger, which also explains her weird name, adopted for showbiz identity.
    Just released at Smashwords is Sheil B. Wright's new whodunit thriller,
    The Right Royal Bastard. This novel presents the audacious idea that legal right to the British throne could be held by a Black colonial.
    Sheil muddles through the conflicting clues to earn herself a hair-raising encounter of the nastiest kind. This, naturally, is a gripping delight for author Ann Morven fans. Happy reading! from Cathy, week ending 27 May 2011.
  • Murder magnifico
    THE murder mystery is old as the hills, and perpetually refreshed by new authors. Such as Bruce MacBain, whose Roman Games  gives him instant status in the genre. Set in Ancient Rome, his whodunit is informative, thrilling and baffling and is unusually accomplished for a first novel. Maybe the author's background explains this flair. Bruce holds a BA in Classics (Chicago University) and a Ph.D in Ancient History (Pennsylvania University).He has taught Greek and Roman history at Vanderbilt and Boston University. He is grey-bearded, scholarly, and admits to being born in Chicago "long long ago".
    Published by Poisoned Pen Press, Roman Games exploits the philosopher Pliny as the investigator. The idea of using a real person is not new. Robert Harris did it well with the orator Cicero, and many authors plant plots and thoughts into the rich turf of history. Bruce MacBain uses the ploy with extreme skill. Amid the intrigues and slaughters, his Pliny is assisted by another real character, the poet Martial, famed for bawdy verse.
    Events, identities and dialogue compel page-turning. Topping everything, however, is a fascinating and original murder method. I still shudder on recall. The book's digital version is $6.95 at Amazon Kindle.
  • Some prod, others plod. Do first lines really matter?
    FIRST lines are a book’s greeting to the reader and therefore a vital element in the whole. If it strikes the wrong note, a weak opening can nullify a great cover or an enticing jacket blurb. On the other hand, a good initial hook captures the reader from the start. Yet does it signal a bestseller? Consider some of these.

    One of my favourite openings is from 1984 by George Orwell, and reads thus: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

    Any book browser has to pursue such an outrageous statement.

    Or how about Dodie Smith’s opening to I Capture The Castle: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

    Why the heck is she in the kitchen sink? One can’t help but read on.

    The same, yet more dramatic, applies to the intro of Run Maggie Run by John Ivor, which has been compared to a Dickens tale: “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.”

    A later novel, No Kiss For A Killer, allows John Ivor to flow fast action from line one: “There was a time, a desperate time, when I cursed the gentle mists of my native Oxfordshire and regretted its  picturesque vales and folds. Among the fruitful brown and green a deceptive dip will conceal the approach of riders.”

    Dickens himself is not noted for his openings, which are usually wordy and mild. His first published fiction, The Pickwick Papers, starts like this: “The first ray of light which illumines the gloom, and converts into a dazzling brilliancy that obscurity in which the earlier history of the public career of the immortal Pickwick would appear to be involved, is derived from the perusal of the following entry in the Transactions of the Pickwick Club, which the editor of these papers feels the highest pleasure in laying before his readers, as a proof of the careful attention, indefatigable assiduity, and nice discrimination, with which his search among the multifarious documents confided to him has been conducted.”

    All one can say to that verbosity is Ouch!

    However, the opening of a later Dickens novel is often quoted: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

    That is how he begins A Tale of Two Cities, which is a story of the French Revolution.

    Another oldie, less intense than guillotine days but more intriguing in commencement, is still widely popular: “Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin . . .”

    Guessed it? Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne.

    Charles Bryce uses the same technique to charm children in introducing Mousedeer: “Deep in the forest comes a breeze. Hush! Hear it whisper . . .”

    For browsers, whether in a bookshop or online, first lines become mightily important in deciding whether to buy an unknown author. These lines need not necessarily be thrilling or puzzling. The only need is to get the reader’s interest.

    Here’s one I particularly like. It introduced me to The Feng Shui Detective’s Casebook by Nury Vittachi: “The tiger loping through the supermarket had blue eyes.”

    If that doesn’t grab you, nothing will. Now let’s glance at some current bestsellers.

    Stieg Larsson, late author of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and other super sellers, doesn’t bother with a clever hook. He simply sweeps straight into the action, like a movie. His narrative comes close to ponderous, often boring, and yet it keeps moving.

    While a good opening will influence a sale, it never guarantees a bestseller. There is no way to prejudge mass appeal. The phenomenal Stephenie Meyer began her Twilight series with an insipid girls’ school scene. No hint here of vampires and scary doings, nor worldwide fame for the author.

    Dan Brown begins The Lost Symbol in gripping fashion, thus: “The secret is how to die.”

    His thriller degenerates thereafter, yet still it has soared to bestseller status. It has the most valuable ingredient of all – a brandname author.

    The 2009 Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel opens Wolf Hall with a spoken jibe: “So now get up. Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard.”

    This is ongoing action, the middle of a fight, and encourages a read-on.

    Bryce McBryce gives first lines his own delightful twist. The amusing and nostalgic  Wee Charlie’s World starts thus: “Smaller than a kitbag and only four years, the youngest in that army, Charlie watched the soldiers come aboard: pith helmets, khaki shorts, puttees, boots, bolt-action rifles.”

    The above book is presented as linked short stories while a boy grows from age four to nine pondering the weirdness of adults. All McBryce chapter opening are good, but one demanding instant attention kicks off The Spirit of Waterloo: “Alphonse haunted the garrison school because it was there. It was heavily there, on his grave.”

    Brilliant lead-ins will always have their place in literature but do they really matter to the eventual destiny of a book? This is a question I challenge readers to answer, because there is no analysis that can enlighten us for sure. Apart from brandname authors who sell millions on reputation alone, it remains a mystery how book readers will respond to a particular title. Happy reading! 2 Feb, 2011.

    THE following is a selection of opening lines from some of the books published by Darling Newspaper Press.

    ADVENTURE

    Java's Dream
    ONE of the greatest events has received no mention in humanity’s written records.
    Read more.

    Captain Striver
    I CHANGED the world ― not a boast but obvious when you look at an atlas. Humanity should be grateful, yet is not; I get short shrift in the histories. Read more.

    Eden's Deadly Shore
    SEVENTEEN. When a girl's eyes sparkle and her heart throbs, and her face in the looking glass is almost lovely. Almost, that is, beneath the grime of her dye stains. Drat!
    Read more.

    Run Maggie Run
    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.
    Read more.

    No Kiss For A Killer
    THERE was a time, a desperate time, when I cursed the gentle mists of my native Oxfordshire and regretted its picturesque vales and folds. Read more.

    Amateur Rebel
    WE were young folk then, and chasing our dreams in a new land, me and Jeremy.
    Read more.

    HUMOUR

    Born Again Bandit
    BRILLIANT, simply brilliant. The Colonel reflected on his cleverness. Brilliantly simple. Such sound planning won Britain’s battles, created the Empire itself.
    Read more.

    Brat Overboard
    SMALLER than a kitbag and only four years, the youngest in that army, Charlie watched the soldiers come aboard: pith helmets, khaki shorts, puttees, boots, bolt-action rifles.
    Read more.

    Swamp Magic
    SLURP, burp, heh heh, hic! The chuckles skitter over the Australian wetlands where Chief Munday, back in the Dreamtime, had often dined on tortoise.
    Read more.

     

    MEMOIR

    Jesse Owens And The Sprinting Buddha
    JESSE OWENS, greatest athlete of the generation, laughed in polite disbelief when I pointed to a fat soldier. "That man has equalled your sprint record," I insisted, "believe it or not."
    Read more.

    Great White Hunting Flop
    WHEN I was a young man in British Malaya I felt I had to take up hunting, the abominable tradition of Englishmen abroad. It seemed the right thing to do.
    Read more.

    CHILDREN'S

    Mousedeer
    DEEP in the forest comes a breeze. Hush! Hear it whisper: The trees seem to be saying "All bow to the hero, greatest of them all."
    Read more.

    The Wizard Of Woe
    A STRANGE thing was happening in the land beyond the mountains. Mousedeer went to see what it was.
    Read more.

     

    Prize Bride
    “YOU'LL love Ellen,” said Uncle Charlie. “She's a wonderful girl.” I recall how his eyes of Royal Navy Blue sparked at me, and how his chin jiggled in merry arrogance, as if about to fight the Frogs or the blasted Yankees.
    Read more.

    The Coolie's Sweetheart
    LONG ago when Britain ruled the world, Wee Charlie flew to school on a large oriental cushion.
    Read more.

    The Painted Ladies
    THE dirty drawings were in his sketchpad.
    Read more.

    The Widow's Golden Weeds
    MARJORIE, content in the autumn of her years, was watering her garden, and therefore did not notice the advancing threat.
    Read more.

    Wee Charlie's World
    SMALLER than a kitbag and only four years, the youngest in that army, Charlie watched the soldiers come aboard: pith helmets, khaki shorts, puttees, boots, bolt-action rifles. He knew that the din of embarkation at Southampton Docks would take him to a faraway place where, according to Mum, the Empire’s warriors would defend a far-flung outpost.
    Read more.

    Spirit Of Waterloo
    ALPHONSE haunted the garrison school because it was there. It was heavily there, on his grave.
    Read more.

    MYSTERY

    The Killing Of Hamlet
    THE first murder was before an audience, in a picture-postcard English village, ten miles from the roar of the M1, on a temperate summer’s day, the kind that nudged Shakespeare to lyrical bliss.
    Read more.

    Murder Piping Hot
    MY gut twisted when the knife-wielder declared he was digging a trench of gushing entrails.
    Read more.

    Birthday Snakes
    ISKANDER the Magnificent, Sultan Supreme, interrupted my singing with a flick of his fat, jewelled wrist.
    Read more.

    That Lovely Feeling
    IT is strange, yet true, that a people so personally modest have a folk song about orgasm.
    Read more.

    The Seventh Petal
    SOLO female on a long hike, I found words pinned to a dead man’s chest and they mesmerised me.
    Read more.

    The Right Royal Bastard
    "POORFELLA blackbugga me!" The blue-eyed Aborigine sang with sincerity and the tragic face of Royal Windsor.
    Read more.

    Kill Him Sweetly
    DEATH spoiled the party, and I was the woman who saw it all.
    Read more.

    Blood On The Wind
    THE willy-willy nearly took my ute wagon as I drove over the red plains to Cattlecreek. Then it was raining bullybeef tins.
    Read more.

    Look In The Well
    LOCALS called it the witch house, and for half a century it was a hospice where old folk came to spend their final days. But to Joan and Simon, a couple with a young family, it had character, comfort and surprisingly low cost.
    Read more.

    Luckless Liz And The Lotto Dream
    UNLUCKY, that’s me. Always have been.” Liz threw down her Lotto card in disgust, another losing week for her in the nation’s sweepstake.Read more.

    Real diamonds gleam in bookworld dross

    IN these fast-buck days for global publishers, many of their “greatest ever” new titles are not worth reading.

    It’s disappointing, but blame the marketers who control the trade. Without them a truly great author can languish. This has happened to more than one past-generation genius, available now at $1.

     My newest find among these neglected gems is Jessamyn West. She ranks alongside the best short story writers in the English language.

    Her humour reflects dilemmas of a gentle kind. She is funnier than Mark Twain and more original in her plots. Married life is her strongest theme, while situations, characters and dialogue are her greatest skills.

    Jessamyn West (1902-1984) found fame in 1945 with “The Gentle Persuasion”, a collection of short stories about a Quaker family. It became a movie starring Gary Cooper. It’s just one of her  marvellous creations.

    These days her books can be bought for $1 (www.abebooks.com), and I have just ordered a stack of them.

    Since she’s not of my time, I was ignorant of this literary homebody until she popped up during an internet browse. It’s ironic that our high-tech tool of the Space Age was the means to discover a woman chronicling life in the Old West and, additionally, in the family suburbs many of us grew up in.

    What a shame it would be for readers of the present generation to miss her folksy yarns, so this is my pitch for Jessie. She has a magic that soothes and tickles and regards the world with sympathetic grace.

    You’ll find 30 PC pages listing her works at abebooks, my favourite browse after www.booktaste.com

    What a shame that publishers have let this virtuoso lapse into the $1 shelves. But what a delight to come across her there–an everlasting source of mirth and philosophical musings.

    Flashman and the D-Day landings

    FLASHMAN in the D-Day landings, at his cowardly best? Such is promised by the publishers of Coward On The Beach, by James Delingpole (Bloomsbury, isbn 9780747590705). But they’re wrong.

    The novel is original and exuberant, and that is the only resemblance to the popular rogue created by the late George Macdonald Fraser. The marketing blurb, unintentionally, coincided with GM Fraser’s death. It claimed:

     “James Delingpole has come up with the brilliant idea of updating the Flashman story to the Second World War.”

     In fact, the closest resemblance to GM Fraser is in Fraser’s non-fiction memoir of fighting the Japanese, “Quartered Safe Out Here”. Seeking other comparisons, the campaign scenes have vivid touches of Waugh, and the domestic ones recall Wodehouse, yet author Delingpole is his own man. He gives amusing and credible dialogue, page-turning action, farcical situations, and easy narrative  rhythm.

     Much of the entertainment embraces the young aristocrat, Coward, serving as a lowly Private, while his former manservant has become his brutish Sergeant. Factual elements include revealing and thrilling research into 47 Royal Marine Commando.

     The Normandy landings have featured in countless books. Delingpole’s is different. He confidently blends fact and fiction (and no footnotes needed). This first of a series is a welcome delight, and Delingpole a fresh champion in the book world.