Review – The Tilted World by Tom Franklin & Beth Ann Fennelly

The Tilted World Proof CoverI was quite lucky to receive the opportunity to read this one which is not actually out for release until October however I was given the privilege after Sophie Orme of Mantle Books (Pan Macmillan) tweeted out the simple question;

“So who fancies a proof copy of Gold Dagger winner Tom Franklin’s latest incredible book #TheTiltedWorld?”

“Aye alright,” I responded and it arrived in the post a wee while later.  How exciting, a proof copy.  Fun fact?  I’d never heard of Tom Franklin or his poet wife Beth Ann Fennelly before this and so I felt a little guilty that more die hard fans may have missed out.

Heather was in Texas at the time visiting family and so during one trans-atlantic Skype call I began reading the prologue to her.  The book is based during the great Mississippi Flood of 1927, an event I felt ashamed to admit I’d never heard of until I read the authors’ notes that state I was not alone as this great flood that killed so many and reshaped the south of North America forever is widely forgotten by most, even in America.

We open with Dixie Clay, a beautiful name I might say, who is a young woman with a secret.  While the whole town of Hobnob, which sits on a bend in the great river, knows her to be married to a bootlegger, what they don’t know is who’s really cooking the moonshine.  Dixie Clay makes the finest Whiskey on Earth (of course this is fiction, we Scots make the finest whiskey on Earth!) though never touches it.  She married into this game and after losing her first child is finding herself stuck in a marriage she entered without really knowing her husband.

Enter Ingersol and his partner Ham, two revenuer agents investigating the disappearance of two other revenuer agents before them.  Reports had come that they’d found a big still, one that would have them in the papers for busting.  But on the new agents’ way, they’ve run across a murder scene with a crying baby who needs a new home and Ingersol hasn’t the heart to leave him with an orphanage.  The story of Dixie Clay and Ingersol intertwine as the investigation develops but also expands under the constant fear that the levee holding the monster of a river away will burst or as it seems more likely, be sabotaged to save New Orleans.  The constant threat of a great flood sweeping away the town, leaves Ingersol and Ham also volunteering as guards on the levee and ultimately causing their investigation to become three fold.  Who killed the previous agents if they were indeed murdered?  Who’s cooking the moonshine and also, who’s planning to blow the levee?

The story is gripping, I couldn’t help taking this book with me everywhere.  I could tell Heather would be upset that I wasn’t going to wait for her to continue reading over Skype or when she got home but screw Heather!  (I’m going to regret typing that).  I was reading this on bus, on lunch break and on summer leave.  It went to Barcelona with me, it got a little soggy and sandy on the beach and after I found myself submerged not in the Mediterranean but the story, I came back with a very bad sun burn which I blame entirely on this book and which I appreciate the irony considering it never really stops raining throughout the story.  I’m still peeling, damn you Franklin!

I really felt for both the main characters; Ingersol the orphan come jazz guitarist come soldier come prohibition agent.  His story was complex and it was great learning his background story which really shows how his decisions in Hobnob are influenced by his past.  Dixie Clay who left to marry her husband so young, rushing into what she thought would be a perfect world with a cute guy, making the mistake so many of us made, I know I did, when we are young, naive and in love.  People don’t turn out to be who you thought they were when you fell in love with them.

It is brilliant to see the two characters stories intertwine and with the background stories of their lives so well told, it felt so natural to understand their thoughts and decisions.  In all, very well constructed characters that I wasn’t forced to get to know at the very beginning of the book either, I grew to know them as the story progressed, much like I would a friend.

One thing I found amazing was how well researched the book was, it wasn’t just a matter of the characters saying or interacting with things in the right language of the time or that the right house hold items and instruments and scenery were described; it was the fact that the narrative itself was written as if so by a person of that time, as if the writing itself was done in 1927 with absolutely no knowledge that I would be reading this so far in the future.  It was all so natural.  Even the narrative style seemed to change depending on which character the scene was about so that it read almost as if that character were telling the story in the third person which helped to understand their thoughts and feelings.

When the action started to build up, did it build!  Without giving too much away, when Ingersol starts putting the whole thing together and time is running out, I simply could not put this book down.  I’m anti-social at the best of times but the world was shut out for the last eight or so chapters as I was hooked.  To see the drama of this book turn suddenly into an apocalypse as the levee finally breaks (that’s in the blur so don’t scream spoiler!) it’s like the whole book is transformed.  I think in many ways this feels almost like two maybe three best seller books in one story.  Am I praising this book too much?  Then I shall calm myself.

I highly recommend this book, it’s available from the 1st of October 2013 so not long now.  Tom Franklin and his wife Beth Ann Fennelly have done a marvellous job on this and I’m looking forward to seeking out Franklin’s previous award winner Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter.  Thank you yet again to Sophie Orme, @sophiemorme on Twitter for sending me a copy early, it has been easily one of my favourite reads this year.

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You can download my debut novel, Hudud and Escape, now on Amazon. Click here to go to the Amazon store for your country.

Review – Murder Begets Murder by D. M. Nelson

Click to view on Amazon.com
Click to view on Amazon.com

I found myself on the forum for Kindle Direct Publishing scrolling through the list of other authors self publishing.  I remember reading descriptions out loud to Heather and laughing as we went.  I’d start a sentence, “Jenna is found dead and Bill has to find who murdered her, soon the evil magic of her high school…” we’d look at each other, “No!”  Scroll to the next novel.  It was amusing not because we’d find such silly sounding book descriptions but because they were all like that.  And it wasn’t just magical, teen, vampire, nonsense, it was the fact that even in the descriptions they were creating plot holes.  I understand why it’s so difficult for publishers to find good books to put out, there’s an awful lot of nonsense out there.

I was still laughing as I got to another one and still laughing I read it aloud:

Seattle defense attorney, Mac Brodie, has a beautiful wife, two young children, and lives in tony Mercer Island on Lake Washington. He made a fortune back east so now has the luxury of picking his clients by their need, not their paycheck. His wife wants Mac to use his looks and charm to run for congress, but he loves what he does and with whom he does it. His investigator, Seth Ivarsson is a 6’7” pony-tailed behemoth ex-cop who lives on a houseboat, and describes himself as more loyal than moral. The third and last member of Brodie’s team is a thirty year-old legal assistant, Brooke Fletcher who’s in her third year of law school. Though immensely attracted to her, Mac values his family too much to mess around – and she doesn’t seem interested.

Mac’s latest client, Earl Richards, is on death row and guilty as sin. But Mac doesn’t believe in the death penalty and will do whatever it takes to get the sentence commuted. Little could he predict the nightmare that leaves everyone he loves in imminent danger and his life forever changed.

“Huh,” I said, no longer laughing, that didn’t sound too bad and it was a thriller.  I thought it’d be nice to read another self published thriller so the one click purchase button was hit and I forgot about it.  The next morning I got on the bus and began.  The first chapter was short and in need of  editing, grammar mistakes mainly.  I also found it frustrating to read that a software developer of course works for Microsoft and of course thinks in binary.  I also found it odd that they would have a car phone and not a mobile and it seemed like an obvious plot device.  I stupidly had not realised that the opening chapter was based a few decades ago and so all of this made perfect sense.  I got to the end of the chapter and to be honest, didn’t see it going anywhere.

Then I remembered my fear that no one would reach chapter 4 in my own book so I kept going despite the irritating spelling/grammar mistakes.  I got into chapter 2 and missed my stop for work, oh wow, what a start.  Justin the son of a conservative Christian family, is raped and murdered at a rest stop on a winter night, we jump ahead after chapter 3 and meet Mac Brodie, the lawyer defending the man who has been on death row for decades.  Mac is against capital punishment but like Mac I was pulled into insanity, desperate for the death of this evil man.  I could not stop reading this book.  The spelling and grammar became less noticeable once the story got going, leading me to think that perhaps the first couple of chapters were relatively new revisions compared to the rest of the book.

I was completely sucked in, the book was clearly very well researched and it was nice to read a view of Washington state that was not filled with sparkly vampires.  I felt myself feeling the same anger Mac felt, the same horror upon reflecting on his actions, the same hatred and hopelessness as he found himself trapped in the world of an insane man using him as his puppet.

I recommend this book so much, if you can put up with a few typos and grammar issues from time to time, you’ll not regret downloading this novel.  Do it now.

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You can download my debut novel, Hudud and Escape, now on Amazon. Click here to go to the Amazon store for your country.

Mac OSX 10.7 Lion

Mac OSX Lion Logo
Lion, the latest operating sytem for mac from Apple.

Yesterday Apple launched Mac OSX 10.7 Lion.  OSX is the Operating System used on Apple computers much like Windows on most PCs.  I use three computers, a PC with Windows 7, a netbook with Ubuntu Linux and a Macbook with Windows 7 and Mac OSX.  So yesterday it came time to upgrade my Macbook.

Now most operating system upgrades require a large spend of money, Windows 7, for instance, costs from £99 ($150 in the US) to buy an upgrade disk however, Apple has made the price of the upgrade to Lion a tiny spend of £21 in the UK ($29 in the US).  This is the same as their last major upgrade, Snow Leopard though before hand, like Microsoft, Apple had always charged over a hundred pounds for the upgrade.

While some would say that this shows a much fairer company than Microsoft, let’s not forget that Microsoft is primarily, a software company while Apple, makes most of their money on their hardware.  You can’t install Mac OSX on any computer that isn’t an Apple computer (you can but you need to crack it and that’s not neccesarily legal).  And let’s also not forget how much profit margin Apple makes from their machines.  Devices of higher spec than Apple can be bought a lot cheaper in terms of both computers, music players and smart phones.

It also shows that Apple are once again, not allowing small businesses to make a decent profit from their products, compared to Microsoft who allow anyone to sell computers using their software and make a fair profit in the process and even then, they donate some of their profits to charity.  But I’m not here to start a Mac vs PC debate, let’s talk Lion.

Lion has taken the final step in making sure no one other than Apple can profit from selling it by making the operating system a download only purchase.  You can’t buy a disk for this upgrade, you must open the App Store on your Mac and click to purchase.  For anyone who has been trying to avoid creating an iTunes account, I’m afraid you’re out of luck here, your App Store account is the same thing.  Once you’ve selected the purchase, your download will leap to the dock and you’ll have to wait for the 3.49GB to arrive on your hard drive.  I’m fortunate enough to have a 25Mb/s download speed so was only waiting for around 30 minutes but I expect others will find themselves leaving it overnight to download, I do not envy those on rural internet connections.  Once downloaded, the upgrade process is actually very easy and you’ll be done in around 30 minutes if your computer is much the same spec as mine, perhaps faster.

On your first load, I’m afraid that there’s no music, no fancy animation, nothing to make you feel smug about completing your upgrade.  You’re just thrown into using your computer but not without a quick intro to the big change that you’re going to have to get used to:

Inverse scrolling

Mac users have had a form of multi touch long before the multi touch trackpad appeared on the scene, we’ve been scrolling by moving two fingers up and down on the trackpad for some time, an extremely simple concept that has now been appearing on other computers as well.  Well this gestured scrolling has been turned upside down in Lion, literally.

Think about it, ordinarily when you scroll down, your page moves up.  On macs now, when you scroll down, the page moves down.  However, as mac users are so used to scrolling with touch, even on their desktop machines (using the magic mouse or magic trackpad), it made sense that pages should scroll in the same way they do on other touch devices, such as smartphones… ok I’ll say it, such as iPods, iPhones and iPads… iOS devices.

Now for many, this seems like a very strange thing to change but really it’s just a very simple change in the way you think.  Before, when you scrolled, you were pushing or pulling the scroll bar up or down.  Well now, you are simply pushing or pulling the actualy page up or down.  It took me a couple of hours to get used to but like everyone else I’ve heard talking about it, it became very natural to use and I was doing it instinctively.

Launch pad, bringing iOS to Mac

Launchpad

The scrolling is not the only new feature to simulate iOS, we now have launch pad.  By clicking an icon in the dock or using three fingers and a thumb to pinch on the trackpad, Lauchpad is opened.  This is very much the same as the homescreens on your iOS device, listing every Application in your Applications folder.  However, it does this without descrimination.  I had a screen filled with adobe uninstall applications which was a little frustrating to look at, though I could organise them into folders much like I can on my iPhone.

View all your running mac applications in one place.

Mission Control

Anyone else noticing the space age terms we’re using here?  I thought we had gone beyond all this but then perhaps this is some kind of recognition to the last space shuttle, Atlantis, which is due to make its final landing.

Mission Control seems to be replacing Exposé and spaces.  With this view, found by either clicking its icon in the dock or swiping up with three fingers, you can see all your running applications, the dash board and now, seemingly limitless desktop that can be spawned as you need them.  Just drag an application onto one of these desktops or to the far right to create a new one.  Even without Mission Control you can swipe between these desktops using three fingers left or right.

The Mac Mail app is just one that many users can use fullscreen.

Fullscreen Apps

Once again looking to mimick their iOS devices, Apple has launched a number of updates to their main programs including Mac Mail and iTunes allowing them to be used as Fullscreen apps.  The trick is to place one of these on a desktop of its own in Mission Control and leave it there as a full screen app.  This allows for a submersive and distraction free experience.

Easily roll back your corrupted files to a previous version.

Autosave and Version Control

I’ve lost track of how many of my friends complained of writing large research papers only to have the file become corrupt shortly before it was time for submission.  Now Lion provides built in version control that allows users to roll back a file if it should become corrupt or even if you just want to roll it back to a previous save.  This is nothing new, version control has been around for decades, long before GUI interfaces took over and it has been built into many linux operating systems for quite some time but now it’s available to Mac users without having to install third party software.

Is it all worth it?

For a simple twenty one quid, definitely.  Buy it and buy it now, there really is no reason to wait.  As I’ve mentioned, Apple has worked hard to make multi touch gestures an even bigger part of their system after they were first introduced in Snow Leopard.  One thing I highly recommend doing after installation is opening your System Preferences, clicking track pad and looking at all the little video demonstrations on these different gestures.  Once learnt, you’ll be using them every few minutes.

UPDATE

My friend and classmate, James Bennet, has written an article on Lion’s new security features, is it too little too late? http://james-bennet.com/?p=112