Spreading the Joy

September 11, 2007 at 9:15 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )

Spreading the Joy

Spreading the Joy

What do you do when you don’t have a lot of funds available to feed your book habit? Or if you do have the funds, but don’t have the space to house all your new acquisitions?

The answer is simple – you swap. You take stock of what you’ve got, you take out the books you don’t read any more (tastes change, after all!), you clear them off the shelf, leaving space for new books to take their place and … then what?

Now you have several piles of books heaped around you and you don’t know how to get started. Where do you turn?

Well, here’s a handy idea straight off the bat – you could always join The Book Club Forum and list your books there for other members to see (membership is free and you get to chat to fellow bookworms who may well introduce you to new authors and genres). Quite a few of our members have swap lists as long as your arm, just waiting for someone to snap them up, and in the case of swapping, all you’re paying is the postage on the book you send in return!

There are also sites dedicated entirely to swapping books with other people. One particularly reputable one is Read it, Swap it. This particular site only caters for residents of the UK, but if you live abroad and have buddies in Blighty, I’m sure you could sweet-talk them into helping you out if there’s something particular that you’re after. They have thousands of books listed by bookworms up and down the country, and again, the only cost is 2nd class postage, which can be as little as 58p (depending on the weight of the package). I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a bargain for any book!

If you live outside the UK, you might like to try Book Mooch – another swap site that works on a points-based system: You don’t have to choose a book in return for any you send out – instead, you can save up your points and choose the books you want, when you want them.

Another neat idea is to start a book swap circle. Get together with all your bookish buddies and organise a Swap Meet. You all gather for a coffee (or something stronger) and take your swapping books along with you. Then you can make recommendations to your pals and have a rake through their books too, leaving you all happily headed home with some great new reading material.

And if you like the idea of keeping tabs on where your swapped-out books get to, you could always try registering them on the Book Crossing, which has been running since 2001 and keeps track of many thousands of books that are now out exploring the world. Each book is allocated a unique ID number and a sticker is popped inside the front cover to let the next person know where to make a note when they receive the book.

All these things add up to one thing – you get a bit more room for some new books AND you get new books to fill up the space. Who could resist that? And the best bit is; when you’re done with those books, you can start the whole cycle over again…

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©
(edited 2007 ©)


Permalink Leave a Comment

Writing Reviews

September 11, 2007 at 9:10 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )

Writing reviews

Writing Reviews

Writing a book review can seem like a difficult task, but it needn’t be. It can, in fact, be a lot of fun and not only can it garner interest from other readers, but it can really get you thinking about the book you’ve just read in a different way than you normally would, which can actually increase your enjoyment of it!

There doesn’t have to be any set style, but there are a few things that really should be included every time – the title and the author – otherwise how is anyone going to know what you’re reviewing? A few other pieces of information that can be useful are the publisher, the publication date and the ISBN number (a unique identifier code, usually located next to the bar code) as this can make finding the book easier for those who would like to read it. Sometimes including a little background information on the author can make it all the more interesting too.

OK, now you’ve got the basic information, where do you go from there?

To give an idea of the content, it’s often a good idea to include a brief synopsis. You can either summarise the story (being careful not to give away major plot points) in a few paragraphs, or you could use the ”blurb” from the back of the book (or inside the dust jacket) which is a ready-made hook – after all, it’s probably what drew you to the book in the first place!

Next, you might like to consider the main theme of book. What is the author trying to say? Is there a specific message there? Is it of a specific genre and if so, does anything make it stand out from other similar books, or is it stereotypical?

Two major points to include here are characters and plot. Are the characters realistically portrayed and how well do they sit within the storyline? This is where you get to tell the reader exactly what it is about this book that you loved or hated. Think about whether the plot was commonplace or whether there were plenty of twists in the tale that kept you guessing right up to the end. You might also want to mention the tense (past or present) and the writing style (written in first or third person, comedic, dark, or suspenseful).

By the time you get to your conclusion, you should have some idea of what kind of person might enjoy this – you may choose to compare it with another writer’s style and recommend it to fans of that author to try. It can also be helpful to rate the book, to give an idea of how good (or bad) you, personally, thought it was. Don’t be afraid to voice your opinions, even if they differ from the ideas of the author; it makes the review more enjoyable and useful to other potential readers.

Of course, after writing a few reviews, you’ll begin developing your own style (nothing is set in stone – there are no hard-and-fast rules) and it will get easier every time – you might even find you enjoy it so much you look forward to the review almost as much as the book itself!

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©

Permalink Leave a Comment

Kelley Armstrong – An Author with Bite!

September 10, 2007 at 9:27 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )


Kelley’s official website

Kelley Armstrong – An Author with Bite!

If ever there was an author forging a new path in fiction, it’s Kelley Armstrong; bringing a whole host of incredibly strong female characters to the fore in her Women of the Otherworld series. It’s rare to see such well-defined characters in books that really do span across several genres to create something entirely new and completely gripping.

Never one to follow the herd, Armstrong is more a wolf than a sheep, and, indeed, the first instalment WOTOW series focuses on wolves. Well, werewolves actually, but don’t let that put you off! Whether or not you’re a fan of horror, Bitten has far more to offer than a bit of a thrill, so you shouldn’t take it at face value – there’s a wonderful twist right there at the start in that the lead character is a woman. Not only that, but she’s unique – the only female werewolf in the entire world.

Then we get out of the horror genre and kick into a bit of chick-lit. This is a woman desperately trying to fit in. All she wants is to be normal; find someone who loves her and settle down. In short, she wants a family.

From there, we get into all kinds of other genres – murder and mayhem, and then, with Stolen, you get a bit of espionage thrown into the mix, along with a bit of myth and magic and the introduction of other “creatures of the night” (vampires and witches and demons, oh my!).

As the series progresses, the focus shifts, in Dime Store Magic, to the Magical community – that of Witches and Sorcerers, but we still have a strong, if flawed, female character in the hot-seat. This trend continues in Industrial Magic, where we get a tantalising glimpse of corporate politics and a mafia-style family (is there anything this writer cannot do?).

Haunted moves again and takes us into the afterlife, to a realm which isn’t all angels on clouds with harps, nor is it little devils with pitchforks. There are most definitely demons, but they’re firmly fixed in the world of the living and wreaking havoc.

Broken, is a welcome return to the werewolf Pack as they try to unravel the mystery surrounding the From Hell letter, supposedly written by the notorious Jack the Ripper, which just may have a supernatural aspect to it…

The most recent WotOW installment, No Humans Involved, stars necromancer Jaime Vegas – a glamourous, show-biz medium who really can talk to the dead. While shooting a spooky reality TV show, she gets involved in far more than she expected and needs help from a half demon and the werewolf Pack Alpha, Jeremey to put things right.

Of course, the Supernatural world isn’t the only string to Armstrong’s bow – Exit Strategy is set very firmly in the real world and features Nadia Stafford, a contract killer for a Mafia family, who is on the hunt for a serial killer with all the earmarks of a hitman who is killing innocent people. She has to head a band of ruthless hitmen and work with her mentor, Jack, in order to take on the murderer.

Whether or not any of this has piqued your interest, you should seriously consider taking a look at Kelley Armstrong’s official website as not only can you read info on the books (complete with character details and prologues), but you can also read the short stories she’d been writing in the meantime, which slot in between the various books and give even deeper insight into the backgrounds of the characters (it’s worth mentioning here that Armstrong takes the ideas of her fans into consideration on these!). There’s also an active discussion board and a journal to keep everyone up to date on her progress.

So, go along, have a look, and find yourself drawn into the Otherworld; a place populated by feisty women who know what they want and how to get it. It’s also worth signing up for the e-newsletter to keep you fully informed!

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©
(edited 2007 ©)


The next installment of Kelley Armstrong’s WOTOW series, Personal Demon, is due to be published in Spring 2008 and is set to star Hope Adams, the half-demon introduced in No Humans Involved.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Christopher Brookmyre – Write on the Edge

September 10, 2007 at 9:13 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )


Christopher’s official website

Christopher Brookmyre – Write on the Edge

Christopher Brookmyre is Scottish through and through; his sense of humour is pitch-black and wicked; his writing, edgy and his characters, gritty: All this results in a unique blend of crime and comedy the likes of which is hard to best; most often in a Scottish setting, where the weather is dreich; the inhabitants dreary; and normal life is incredibly dull – but not if you live between the pages of a Brookmyre book!

More often than not, his slightly-built anti-hero, Jack Parlabane, journalist extraordinaire, is pitted against those in power and throwing witty quips and insults at the bad guys that will have even the most discerning reader in stitches and gasping for breath.

If you want to read the stories featuring Jack Parlabane, you should read them in this order:

Quite Ugly One Morning begins with a corpse in a Glasgow flat and Parlabane, newly returned from America, just can’t resist poking his nose in where it’s bound to cause trouble and the dark underbelly of the medical profession is tickled to great effect.

In Country of the Blind a media mogul has been murdered and a couple of ne’er-do-wells have been fingered for the crime, but Jack’s not so sure they’ve got the right guys. Enter a young Edinburgh solicitor who claims she can prove their innocence, but someone powerful doesn’t want to truth to come to light…

Boiling a Frog sees Parlabane taking a break at Her Majesty’s Pleasure as well as taking on the might of the Catholic Church of Scotland and making enemies of pretty much everyone he meets.

Be My Enemy (or F*ck This for a Game of Soldiers) pokes fun at those Team Building Adventure Weekends that every corporate middle-manager dreads and gives ample reason why those weekends should cause apprehension and abject terror, as the visitors face death at every turn.

The others are all on-offs, but a couple of them feature recurring characters, so you should probably read them in this order:

In Not the End of the World, a Glaswegian photographer, an LA cop and a Porn Starlet go up against a media-savvy televangelist who has predicted a disaster that promises to wash the sinners of the Adult Movie business off the face of the planet. With terrorists causing bother and an oceanic research vessel going missing, the unlikely trio is going to have a lot on their plate!

If a school reunion is your idea of a nightmare-in-the-making, then One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night will be your idea of reading heaven! For twenty-four hours, the classmates are gathered together on an oil rig that’s been converted into a luxury resort, but is currently sitting in the Firth of Forth, awaiting departure to more exotic climes. In the meantime, there’s nowhere to run when the bullets start flying. It’s a chance for those who were voted Least Likely To Succeed to show exactly what they can do under pressure!

Can a secondary school English teacher best a notorious terrorist? In A Big Boy Did it & Ran Away, Raymond Ash gets a little more real life than he can handle when he stumbles onto the plans of The Black Spirit. With nothing but a background in computer games and an inability to get through to unruly teenagers, how can he possibly expect to get out of this alive?

My personal favourite to date is The Sacred Art of Stealing, which has quite possibly the best bank robbery ever committed to the page. The boundary between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys is cleverly blurred till you’re not sure who you should be rooting for, but you don’t care, because you know exactly who you want to win anyway!

Intrigue; espionage; advanced technology; clinical violence; hoovering: All Fun & Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye has all this and more. For every mother who’s wished they could have led a more exciting life; for every mum who would lay down their life for their kids – your representative is forty-six year old Jane Fleming, whose life is about to get a whole lot more exciting than she ever would have believed when her granddaughter is kidnapped.

A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil was immediately dubbed by Time Out Magazine, “The kind of thing that Agatha Christie might have written if she’d been off her tits on manky crack”. It lives up to the promise to be the type of edgy, seat-of-the-pants stuff we’ve come to expect from Mr. Brookmyre. Seriously – get hold of it – you won’t regret it! (Of course, you might want to read the others first, but that won’t be a chore either!)

If you love action, wise-cracking heroes, intelligent villains and more laughs than a pack of very-happy hyenas, Brookmyre delivers on every level; his writing is intelligent, never condescends and is consistently of the highest caliber. If you haven’t already picked up one of his books from the shelf, get your butt moving – you don’t know what you’re missing!

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©
(edited 2007 ©)


Christopher Brookmyre’s latest book, Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks is also now available in hardback.

Permalink Leave a Comment

Terry Pratchett – In a Discworld of His Own

September 10, 2007 at 9:07 pm (Books and Authors) (, , )

Terry Pratchett

Terry’s official website.

Terry Pratchett – In a (Disc) World of His Own

Terry Pratchett is unbeatable when it comes to fantasy/alternate reality: The Discworld series now runs to more than thirty books and every one of them has something to recommend it, from clever plots to witty comparisons to our own “round” world, to the expertly drawn characters who inhabit the now-famous Disc that hurtles through space, balanced on the backs of four elephants that stand on the shell of the star turtle Great A’Tuin.

Not only is Mr Pratchett frighteningly intelligent, gut-wrenchingly funny and incredibly wry, but also incredibly versatile, turning his hand to cranking out novels at a rate of knots that appeal to readers from 8 to 80 (and beyond in both directions!). There are several Discworld novels aimed at younger readers, but they’ve proven just as popular with the grown-ups – his latest offering, Wintersmith, features young Witch-in-training, Tiffany Aching and those blue scallywags, the Nac Mac Feegle…

If you really want to get into the Discworld, pick up one of the omnibus editions – there are several to choose from including the Death series, the Witches series and the City Watch series (which just keeps on growing and getting better and better!).

There are plenty of stand-alone books in there too – try Going Postal for a giggle at the expense of the Postal Service; Moving Pictures for a crack at the film industry; or Pyramids for an escapade in a land not unlike ancient Egypt and some fun with an unwilling assassin…

And if the Discworld’s not for you, consider giving Good Omens a try – Pratchett wrote it with Neil Gaimen and it’s apocalyptically funny.

Another one outside of the Discworld is The Carpet People – originally written when Pratchett was just 17 years old and re-written when he was in his 40’s (in a sense, he collaborated with himself on this one!) to produce a fantastic bit of reading material. This was my introduction to Pratchett back in 1992 and I was instantly hooked on his work – not bad for a book about miniscule folks living between the hairs of your carpet!

Of course, Terry (or Pterry, as he is often called by fans) is also the author of the well-loved Johnny series (Johnny and the Bomb was made into a children’s TV series a while back), so there’s plenty to get your teeth into, whatever your age.

And if that’s not enough to convince you to take him off the shelf, how about this little anecdote:

A bookshop was broken into one night. The tills were, of course, already empty and the thief couldn’t open the safe. All that was missing were TWO of each of Pratchett’s books.

I rest my case!

Written for The Book Club Forum by Kell Smurthwaite, 2006 ©


If you’d like to try the Discworld novels but aren’t sure where to start, you’ll find a handy guide here.

Permalink Leave a Comment