Tuesday, 21 March 2017

In Johannesburg, there's a big author market day planned for May, and I'm going to be there.

In preparation, I've been stocking up on books, so last month, I ordered a whole bunch of mine. They arrived last week, and they are beautiful, even if I do say so myself.

Watch this space for more news on when it's happening, but I'll definitely be there, peddling my wares. If you're in the area, I really hope to see you there. Buy a book and I'll sign it for you.

If you already own one or more of my books, bring it along, and I'll sign it for you anyway!

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

The Martian by Andy Weir (5 Star Book Review)

From the book description on Goodreads: Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

My Review (5 / 5 Stars)

I watched the movie about a year ago, more or less around the same time everyone else did, I think, when it won the Oscar. At the time, I thought it was really good, and I'd probably have given it five stars too, if I were in the habit of reviewing movies.

Personally, I'd never heard of it until all the hype around the movie started, but once I'd watched it, the book went straight onto my to-read list. A friend once told me that, in her opinion, if you're going to watch a movie and read the book, you should always start with the movie. That way, when you read the book, you're pleasantly surprised at all the extra bits that they invariably leave out of movie adaptations (as opposed to being frustrated, disappointed, and angry, when you watch the movie and realise all the things they left out).

The book is amazing! The movie was good, but the book is better. Don't get me wrong: the movie is pretty true to the book, in my opinion. The book just brings you so much more, is all. There are more problems for our intrepid astronaut to solve, and the science is more detailed as we're taken through his thought process in solving those problems.

There's a lot of maths, too, but it's really easy to understand - and if you really don't like maths, you can safely skip it. I'm not a fan of maths, but I didn't skip it. I kept thinking that if Andy Weir had been my maths teacher in High School, I would have aced it on Higher Grade in Matric, instead of just barely scraping through on Standard Grade.

Generally, I don't much care for "hard" science fiction, because I find the maths and science tedious, but because this book is just so accessible, I cannot in all good conscience give it fewer than five stars.

And that's no small thing. If you follow my reviews, you'll know that it's incredibly rare for me to read a book and find absolutely no fault with it. Editing often lets a book down for me, so if I find a single typo, the author can kiss their five stars goodbye. This book, though, is polished to a sparkling sheen.

Did you know, by the way, that The Martian was originally self-published back in 2011? It's not like I've never given such a high rating to an indie book, but it's been a long time, and it really renews one's faith in independent publishing.

What makes it even more special, is that The Martian is officially the first e-book I've ever borrowed from a library (find out more about that here), and I can't think of a better way to start that journey.

Anyway, enough gushing. If you're even remotely into science fiction, or books about the human condition, drop everything and pick up a copy of this book. But if you do intend to watch the movie, I agree with my friend - watch it first, then read the book. You'll be really glad you did.

Click here to find out where you can buy the e-book. If you prefer to read your books in print, and you're in South Africa, the paperback is available on Loot, for (at the time of this writing) R147. Click here.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

What is Read an E-Book Week?

Well, it's Read an E-Book Week again. In case you didn't know, this is an annual week-long event, spearheaded by Smashwords. It aims to encourage people who mostly read print books to embrace e-books, and to encourage people who don't read at all to read books in general.

The event has a long history, having been started twelve years ago (yip, way back in 2005; bet you didn't know e-books existed back then!), although Smashwords' own participation only started in 2010.

During this week, Smashwords invites their authors and publishers to offer their books at promotional prices ranging from 100% off (i.e. free) to 75% off.

Most authors (including myself) participate every year, and this year is no exception. It's a great opportunity for readers to discover new books really cheaply, and a great way for authors to get noticed.

You can view their full catalogue of books on promotion at https://www.smashwords.com/books/category/1/newest/1.

This year, two of my books are on promotion. Click these links to get either A Petition to Magic or Stingers at 25% off.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Borrowing Books from the Gauteng E-Library

On the fourth of February, I set foot in the Alberton public library, the first time I'd been in a library since I was in Primary School.

"But Graham," I hear you say, "I thought you only read e-books these days."

True, but I needed a library card. You see, I'd heard of this new initiative by the Gauteng Public Libraries department. In partnership with OverDrive, they allow members to borrow e-books and audiobooks from their collection.

Since I hadn't had a library card since I was a kid, I thought it was high time I applied for one.

The process was very smooth, with no waiting period. I walked out of there on the same day, with a shiny new library card.

Although I got my card immediately, it took a good three weeks for it to become active on the e-library website, but eventually it worked. I only signed in for the first time last Thursday, but it's super cool!

If you'd like to give it a try (it's free), follow these steps:
  1. Visit the Gauteng E-Library website at https://gauteng.overdrive.com/
  2. If you see a red bar at the bottom, asking if you want to try the new OverDrive library, click it. You'll see something similar to the screenshot above.
  3. Scroll down to the bottom of the page, and under "My Account", click "Sign in"
  4. Enter your library card number, and click "Sign In"

A couple of caveats:
  • If you have an old library card (obtained more than about a year ago), it may not work. You'll have to go into your library, and apply for a new one.
  • Also, if you've only recently acquired your card, be patient. Mine was active on the site after about three weeks, but they say it can take up to a month.

If you're not in Gauteng, or even in South Africa, it's still worth doing some research to find out if your local library has a similar offering. Chances are, it does.

Please Help by Recommending My Books

When you search the site for books, you get two sets of search results. The first set are books that are in the library's collection. If they're available to borrow, click "Borrow" to check them out. If they're already out, you can place a "Hold" on them, and the library will let you know when they're back.

The second set of results are books that aren't in your library's collection, but are available for the library to order from OverDrive. At the time of this writing, my books fall into that category, so if you search for "Graham Downs", you'll see the following:

Click the "See All" link on the right, above my covers.

You'll be taken to the full list of my books available on OverDrive. Hover over each one in turn and click "Recommend". Then enter your e-mail address and click "Recommend this Title", and the library will send you an e-mail when that book is available.

I'd really like to persuade the library to buy copies of my e-books, and I have a feeling the more people who recommend it, the better the chances are of that happening. So please help.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Happy Readers

About a month ago, I posted on my Facebook page about a Free International Shipping deal on my print books.

One of my fans took me up on that offer and bought a couple of my books. As it happens, she bought two of each of my colouring books, and two of my fiction books. She also promised to send me pictures when she received them.

Well, yesterday was the day, and these pics arrived in my e-mail Inbox:

She said her girls loved their colouring books... and aren't they the cutest little girls you've ever seen? (Mom's not bad looking either, but dad might have a thing or two to say if he knows I said that.)

I must admit, I was having a bit of a bad day at work, but receiving these pics put a smile on my face that nothing's been able to wipe off.

If you've read any of my books, please let me know - pics are appreciated, but not necessary. Make an author's day; you have no idea how much seeing feedback from readers means to me!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Igloos in the Summer by Kieran Jamie Lee (Book Review)

About the Book

The blurb, the blurb is not to be mistaken in the lack of informative souls. What was the once famous saying? ‘Never judge a book by its cover’ what are you doing right now? Why did you divert your eyes to the swannings of the River Tyne, was it something different, something unique, or something more powerful than ever with a touch of home?

My Review (3 / 5 Stars)

First impression? The author is very brave. This story just has that deeply authentic feel to it: I'm sure there's more than an element of truth in here!

It's billed as a romance, but it's properly a modern day tragedy, in the vein of some of Shakespeare's greatest works.

The story follows our hero, Rupert. Nothing ever seems to go right for poor Rupert. He loses his best friend, everybody around him keeps dying, and he struggles with self-harm. Okay, I made that sound quite comedic... although there's some humour in this book, it's not really meant to be a funny story at all. It's meant to be a gut-wrenching, depressing journey, and it certainly succeeds in that. Even me, a big strong man, felt tears welling up in my eyes more than once.

It's written in a very (very) contemporary British style, and there's lots of slang that I had to read a few times to figure out. That in itself is not a problem - it's actually quite charming, but overall the writing's in serious need of some copy-editing. There are lots of incorrectly used words, missing words, duplicate words, and punctuation problems.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book, as such, because it is so depressing and out of the ordinary for modern readers, but it will definitely touch you deeply. If you've been looking for something different, and love Shakespeare's tragedies, give it a go.

Click here to find out all the places where you can buy the book.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

What Does the Big Mac Index Have to do with E-Books?

If you don't know, the Big Mac Index is an attempt by some pretty smart economists to come up with a realistic estimate of purchasing parity, that you can't get by looking at official currency exchange rates.

In a nutshell, it compares the average price of a McDonald's Big Mac burger (which is available in pretty much every country in the world) in different countries, and uses that to try and figure out how much each currency is worth. If you know how many Big Macs you can buy with $1 in the United States, and how many Big Macs you can buy with R1 in South Africa, you in theory know how much your Rand is really worth in America.

According to official currency exchange rates, the dollar is worth just less than R14 in South Africa, but I recently read an article, saying that according the Big Mac Index, it should be worth more like R5.

That got me thinking: because of the nature of indie publishing, the base price of all my books tends to be in US Dollars, but when you convert that to Rands, it makes those books very expensive. And since I am, in fact, a South African author, that's not fair. So I decided to do something about that.

Out of all the stores where my books are available, only two of them allow me to directly set the price in South African Rands. I went and worked out what the Dollar price would be in Rands, if I used the Big Mac Index, and of course it's significantly lower than it would be if you used the official exchange rate.

Take a look for yourself, if you're in South Africa. Click each link below, then scroll down and click "See Stores" to see the list of stores where each book is available. Then click either Kobo or Google Play (the only two stores which allow me to directly set the price in Rands). Pretty cheap, huh?

I didn't just do it for South Africa, of course, so if you're in any other country besides the United States, you should notice the lower prices too. You just need to click on a store that has an official presence in your country.

So what this means in practice is that, on Kobo or Google Play, all books except Stingers cost only R9.99 (Stingers costs R10.59).