My Bookish Ways

Interview (& Giveaway): Megan Abbott, author of Dare Me

Today I have the awesome Megan Abbott on the blog. Her brand new book, Dare Me, is out on the 31st, and it’s pretty awesome (feel free to read my review, I’ll be here when you get back). She was kind enough to take some time out of her insanely busy schedule and answer a few questions for me, so please welcome her to the blog! Also, be sure to check out the giveaway at the bottom of the post!

Megan, you’re the author of 7 books, of which your newest, Dare Me, is out at the end of this month! You’ve also written for numerous publications. Have you always wanted to be a writer? What’s one of the first things you remember writing?
No, I still have trouble calling myself a writer, even after all those books! I was always a compulsive reader, but it wasn’t until the end of grad school, working on my dissertation on hardboiled fiction and film noir, that I started writing fiction regularly—started the story that became my first novel, Die a Little Growing up idolizing novelists, it felt presumptuous, even ridiculous, to ever think I could be one myself.

Will you tell us a bit about Dare Me?
It’s the final result of an obsessive descent into the world of high school cheerleading. About two years ago, I started becoming fascinated with how cheer has transformed since I was a teenager. Today, these girls perform death defying stunts and seem to embrace the risk. They’re proud of their wounds, like boxers, even marines. Sort of a Fight Club for teenage girls. So I began writing about story about a power struggle among a squad of cheerleaders under the sway of a charismatic coach. Trouble ensues.

What do you love most about writing crime fiction and suspense?
I think it speaks to all the primal things in us—all the most essential urges and drives. Desire, greed, anger, temptation, revenge. So it always feels urgent, real, authentic. People often dismiss crime fiction as escapist, but to me it’s precisely the opposite. It sends us to the most dangerous places in ourselves. The only escapist element is we can close the book at the end. But the feelings linger. And that’s powerful.

Do you have any particular writing quirks?
Oh goodness, hundreds of them! But I would never admit to any of them.

What are some of your favorite authors or novels?
I end up reading really widely—from my crime fiction heroes (Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, James Ellroy, Dorothy B. Hughes) to gothic (Brontës, DuMaurier) and southern gothic, to my special love of mid-century American literature (Faulkner, Fitzgerald). And I love true crime.

What makes you put a book aside in frustration?
What a great question. I think it’s when I feel the author is talking down to the reader. Doesn’t respect the reader. I’m pretty forgiving and finish almost every book I start, but that really drives me to distraction.

What’s one of your favorite lines from a book?
“Only the few know the sweetness of the twisted apples,” Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg Ohio.

You won the Edgar award for Best Paperback Original for Queenpin in 2008. How did you celebrate?
The fact that I can’t quite remember is probably the answer!

When you manage to find free time between writing and teaching, how do you like to spend it?
Movies. Luckily, New York City is a movielover’s paradise. My favorite way to spend an afternoon is to tuck myself into a seat at Film Forum and watch an old movie with a pal.

What one piece of advice would you offer to struggling writers?
Read constantly. And write the book you’d love to read.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events?
I’m about to hit the road for Dare Me’s book tour, and my goal is to find a hidden oddity (an unusual historic site, a great dive bar, an obscure local food item not to be missed) in every town. So if anyone lives in or around Boston, Austin, Houston, Phoenix, LA, San Diego, Seattle or Oxford, MS, please pass your tips along!
Keep up with Megan: Website | Twitter | Facebook
Pre-order Dare Me: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
I featured Megan in a post for Criminal Element recently, and you can read that here.

1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries)
2. Giveaway is for 1 copy of Dare Me by Megan Abbott to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open to US  addresses only.
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry (no need to leave it in the comments, just include it when you fill out the rafflecopter form)
5. You must enter on or before 7/27/12
6. Giveaway book courtesy of Hachette
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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Interview (& Giveaway): Ben H. Winters, author of The Last Policeman

Ben H. Winters is the author of more than 5 novels, including his newest book, The Last Policeman. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, and I also have a copy of the book up for grabs, so be sure to check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post!

Please welcome Ben to the blog!

Ben, your mashup, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is wildly popular as is Android Karenina, and your YA novel The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, was nominated for an Edgar Award! And I certainly can’t forget the terrifying Bedbugs, and also a few Worst-Case Scenario books! What made you decide to dive into the apocalypse (or pre-apocalypse) with your newest novel, The Last Policeman?
Thank you so much! I loved writing those “mash-up” novels so much. Studying the original novels in order to parody them effectively was like going to graduate school. I can think of no better way to study novel writing than by outlining Anna Karenina chapter by chapter, and charting the arc of every character. And then I got to add all the death lizards from outer space.

The Last Policeman is definitely a more grounded affair. I love detective novels, especially detective novels that offer some level of comment or reflection beyond the simple whodunit. In the book, an asteroid is on the way that will soon destroy all life on Earth, and my hero is nevertheless staying at his work, trying to solve a murder, committed to justice even though the world will soon be consumed by fire. I guess this is my way of asking: why do people make the choices they make? In the book, time is short, but when you get right down to it, time is short for all of us, so why does anyone do the right thing? Why does anyone remain righteous and loyal —to their job, to their partner, to their country?

So, you know, there are some big ideas floating around, but it’s all wrapped up in a good-old-fashioned murder mystery. From a storytelling level, you want to present your protagonist with obstacles, and, as it turns out, the impending end of days presents a LOT of obstacles.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yup. When I was in fourth grade I wrote a series of very short stories featuring a hapless pig named Piggy Wiggy who always died at the end in some comical way.

Did you do some research into apocalypse scenarios in preparation for writing The Last Policeman?
I did a lot of research, yes, although most of it was about more mundane topics, like how cell phones work, and how the Federal Reserve regulates saving behavior in consumers. Because after I established my specific scenario about a dinosaur-killer-size asteroid, and made sure it was—although wildly unlikely—at least conceivably possible, my interest was much more in how our existing society would be upended by the approaching calamity.

I read a book recently that painted a rather gruesome picture of society in the event of a known coming apocalypse. Do you believe that we’d see man succumbing to baser instincts, or do you have a more optimistic view?
I think many people will succumb to their baser instincts, but of course many people already succumb to their baser instincts on a fairly regular basis. So yeah, there would be some murdering and wildness and all kinds of substance abuse, but I think we’d be surprised to see how deeply rooted our societal and civilizing imperatives are, how strong are the walls that mankind has built up to separate himself from the animals. In amongst the fear and anxiety and crime there would be massive amounts of cooperation, a lot of generosity and group planning, and of course a lot of religious sentiment and religiously motivated behavior.

If you could only take one book with you into the bomb shelter, which one would it be?
Wow. That’s the most terrifying thing of all, isn’t it, the idea of a new underground existence, without even a nice local library to keep one stimulated. The apocalypse is going to be so boring. I suppose realistically I ought to take some sort of survival guide, about how to make potable water and hunt and those sorts of things. But for pure pleasure I’ll go with one of those fat anthologies of Sherlock Holmes.

What are you reading now?
Walter Miller, “A Canticle for Leibowitz”. Patricia Highsmith “Ripley’s Game”. And Robert Caro’s series on LBJ. I’m on chapter 2 or so of the third book, “Master of the Senate.”

Favorite line from a book?
I’m going to go totally nerdy on this one, and quote “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman”: I reverence truth as much as any body; and when it has slipped us, if a man will but take me by the hand, and go quietly and search for it, as for a thing we have both lost, and can neither of us do well without,–I’ll go to the world’s end with him. The beauty is that it’s a nice-sounding quote that in context is hilarious; the whole book is full of crazy made-up BS.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I like to spend time with my kids! Does that count as free time? Basically, as this point, when I’m not writing, or doing family things, I’m

I read somewhere that you were in a punk band in high school. Care to dish?
That is a true fact. The band was called Corm, and I was the bass player and the lyricist. We actually did very well for a bunch of kids; we released a couple of records and toured around a bit. John Davis, our guitar player and guiding light, has remained in music. These days he leads a terrific pop band in Washington D.C. called Title Tracks.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events?
I’m working on the sequel to The Last Policeman—if all goes as planned this is going to be a trilogy. Folks should check out . We’re publishing a whole series of essays by interesting people, about the end of the world—“What Would You Do?”
Keep up with Ben: Website | Goodreads | Twitter
Read my review of The Last Policeman

1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries)
2. Giveaway is for 1 copy of The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open to US and Canadian addresses only.
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry (no need to leave it in the comments, just include it when you fill out the rafflecopter form)
5. You must enter on or before 7/2/12
6. Giveaway book courtesy of Quirk Books
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman
Quirk Books/July 10th, 2012

What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.

The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond “whodunit.” What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?

In six months, earth is going to be hit with an asteroid, estimated to destroy over half of the population of Earth, and Detective Hank Palace thinks he’s probably the only cop left that cares anything about solving cases. Concord, New Hampshire has come to be called “Hanger Town” in reference to the overwhelming suicide of choice of its citizens. When he’s called to the scene of a man that has supposedly hung himself in a McDonald’s bathroom, something just doesn’t look right, and Hank Palace is determined to get to the bottom of it. They’re still not sure where the asteroid will land, but justice must still be served, right?

End of the world scenarios in fiction aren’t hard to come by recently, but out of all of them, the asteroid/meteor/large thing falling out of the sky is one that fascinates me more than others. I imagine getting the news that in a year, or maybe six months, something big is gonna hit, and I’m in the blast zone. Would I go on with life as usual, or would I throw caution to the wind and live out the rest of the days like there’s no tomorrow (which may or may not be true)? Hank Palace is one of the ones who decide to go on as usual, doing his job, and doing it to the best of his ability. All Hank ever wanted to be is a cop, and he pursues this case with a single minded doggedness that is almost unheard of in these strange new times of self-indulgence and wild abandon. He does his job in spite of the quiet snickers and not so subtle ribbing from his colleagues, as things begin to crumble around him. The story is told by Hank, and we follow him as he navigates the trail of the victim, a quiet, socially awkward insurance man. As Hank puts together the clues, following strict procedure, he stumbles onto something much more than a mere hanging, and the body count begins to rise.

The Last Policeman is much more than a police procedural or a pre-apocalyptic scenario. It’s a study of a man determined to do the right thing as society crumbles and hope begins to crumble with it. Hank reminded me a bit of Marge Gunderson, the indomitable police chief in Fargo, and as the case unfolds, so does Hank, and so do the little ins and outs of Concord and its inhabitants. Things in this book are so subtle and understated that the bits of violence can be jarring, even though the violence is never over the top. I think Hank was as surprised about it as I was, yet he perseveres with dignity, and even a bit of off kilter grace. I suspect part of what drives Hank in his investigation is that he sees a bit of himself in the victim, and following through is really the only choice he has. Ben Winters’ writing is nuanced, lovely, sometimes poignant, and a pure pleasure to read. I hope that The Last Policeman gets the attention that it deserves, because it’s a hell of a book and about as close to perfect as it gets for me. I hear that it will be a trilogy, and I can’t wait for the next one!

Early Review: Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Reagan Arthur (Little, Brown)/July 31st, 2012
Kind thanks to Reagan Arthur books for providing a review copy

Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy’s best friend and trusted lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they’re seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls — until the young new coach arrives.

Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth,unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach’s golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as “top girl” — both with the team and with Addy herself.

Then a suicide focuses a police investigation on Coach and her squad. After the first wave of shock and grief, Addy tries to uncover the truth behind the death — and learns that the boundary between loyalty and love can be dangerous terrain.

I was never a cheerleader in high school. In fact, I was never really part of any clique. But as far as I knew, all of our cheerleaders were smart, talented girls that worked hard at just about everything they did, and yeah, in a lot of ways, probably ruled the school. Either way, I don’t remember them being like the girls in Dare Me, although knowing them that well would have required much more familiarity. Let’s just say I hope they weren’t anything like these girls. Tall, beautiful Addy is a cheerleader, along with her best friend Beth Cassidy, and they absolutely rule the school. Tearing down teachers, tormenting coaches and fellow classmates is all in a day’s work for these girls, until Coach French comes along. Until now, the squad was soft and undisciplined. No more butt shaking and hip thrusting for these girls, no sir. Coach French is gonna whip them into shape, you’d better believe it. Colette French is tiny, commanding, and beautiful, and Addy’s fascination with her is evident from the start. Soon, Coach French invites the girls over to her perfect house, which contains her perfect daughter, and doting husband. Things aren’t quite as perfect as they seem at Casa French though, and that soon becomes evident, when an explosive event introduces the first cracks in the fragile veneer built around Coach French and her girls.

Ohhhh, Megan Abbott. How dare you suck me into this diabolical narrative about cheerleaders and their mean, brittle little hearts, causing loss of sleep and possibly heart palpitations! Dare Me is, at first blush, Addy’s story. After all, she’s the one telling it, and for a while, at least, she keeps the reader at arm’s length. We learn quite a bit about Beth, the little Napolean, with her narrowed eyes, casual cruelty, and fondness for games of the psychological sort. We think we get to know Coach, but of course, things are never quite as they seem. There’s a quiet desperation about Addy, and she’s always been Beth’s lieutenant and, seemingly, at her beck and call. Beth is presented (very effectively) as a bitchy, bored, innately cruel teenager with a chip on her shoulder, and she’s pretty easy to hate. Her calculation is startling and hurting others seems like sport, so the author’s ability to slowly morph her into a tragic figure (and she is), is pretty impressive. There’s a mystery here, to be sure, but Dare Me is, at its core, a study of the bonds of friendship, obsessive love, and the lengths some will go to in order to hold onto that love and possess a person fully. Dare Me is described as a sort of Fight Club for cheerleaders, and it is. These girls wear their physical bruises like badges, with their “cherried smiles and spray-tanned legs”, and drive their bodies to exhaustion and beyond, striving for constant perfection, admiration, and of course, acceptance. When the final revelations come, about Beth, Addy, Coach French, and the death that wraps them so tightly together, you’ll be a bit exhausted, but in the best way, in the way only a good mystery can do. And Megan Abbott is good, folks. Her staccato, spitfire prose grabs you from page one and doesn’t let go until the very last page. I dare you not to finish it in one sitting. Highly recommended.

Guest Blog, Tour, & Giveaway: Kylie Griffin, author of Alliance Forged

I’d like to welcome Kylie Griffin back to the blog! Kylie is the author of Vengeance Born, and the brand new Alliance Forged. Today, I’m giving the blog over to Kylie, and she’s going tell us all about the half-man, half-demon hero, Varian, from Alliance Forged! Also, she’s generously offering a copy of Alliance Forged to one lucky winner, so be sure to check out the giveaway details below the post!

-by Kylie Griffin

One of the things I love when I’m reading or following a series are the little extra’s shared by author’s about the characters from their books. Whether it’s information shared in an interview or guest blog or even as snippets posted on their websites. It’s like the Special Features in the menu on movie DVD where you can learn more about the making of it, or listen to the actors share insights about the character they play.

When Kristin extended an invitation to revisit My Bookish Ways, I jumped at the chance of a guest blog post with this sort of theme *rubbing hands together in glee*.

Today you get to learn more about Varian, the half-demon half human hero from ALLIANCE FORGED, Bk#2 in the Light Blade series (Berkley Sensation).

Name: Varian
Race: Na’Chi (half demon, half human hybrid)
Age: 26
Background: Varian was one of the first Na’Chi children, other than Annika, saved by human slave Hesia. The elderly healer discovered him scavenging for food in a pile of rubbish outside the Gannec fortress. Unable to save her own half-blood children from being taken from her and killed by the Na’Reish, Hesia has been rescuing Na’Chi babies and children like Varian for many years.

After a failed attempt to live among the human slaves and Na’Reish in the fortress, Varian and the other Na’Chi resorted to hiding and living in the forest surrounding the fortress. With their eyes changing color with their changing emotions it’s easy for a human slave or Na’Reish demon to identify them and the discovery and death of one of their own led to this decision. Living outside they fine tuned their scouting and ambush techniques and managed to remain hidden.

Varian became leader of the rag-tag bunch of Na’Chi youngsters at 15 years of age. With Hesia’s guidance and influence, he kept them safe.

When Annika and Kalan escaped the Gannec fortress (in VENGEANCE BORN), Varian followed them and led the Na’Chi into human territory, in the hope of bringing Hesia’s dream to fruition – to establish an alliance with the humans and find a new home.

Skills: All Na’Chi possess Na’Reish strength and heightened senses. As a Na’Chi scout Varian is able to tap into his Na’Reish half in a heartbeat and during battle becomes as strong and fast as a full-blooded Na’Reish. Some call this ability a Gift from the Lady (the deity humans and some Na’Chi believe in).

For Varian, having such a Gift is a double-edged sword – it helps him protect his people but the kicker is the risk he takes every time he goes into battle. Letting his Na’Reish side loose leaves him open to battle-rush, an insatiable hunger to take a life, the thrill of the kill. That addiction could one day overwhelm him and turn him into a mindless beast who is unable to tell friend from foe. And having spent most of his life honing and using his Gift, he’s finding it harder and harder to control that side of him.

Interesting facts:
Varian shares a close friendship with Lisella, one of the Na’Chi females who sees past his scar and fearsome reputation.

During a fight with a Na’Reish demon, Varian ended up with a scar on his right cheek, from eye to jaw line.

He considers Zaune, one of the younger Na’Chi scouts, one of his friends as the youth reminds him of himself at a younger age.

Because they use their abilities more frequently than other Na’Chi, a scout (like Varian) is twice as more likely to succumb to their darker half.

He prefers the company of the Na’Chi children as they accept him for who he is.

He professes no faith in the Lady as he believes She abandoned the Na’Chi to their suffering at the hands of the Na’Reish.

The beads in his hair signify certain events in his life.

Varian’s greatest fear is succumbing to battle rush and being unable to control the beast inside him.

Does he lose control? Yes.

Does he hurt anyone? Yes! (and I’m not referring to the Na’Reish demons he disposes of either)

More importantly, does he manage to conquer the beast? Well, that’s something you’re just going to have to find out for yourself when you read ALLIANCE FORGED! ;-)

How fortuitous I have a copy to giveaway so someone can discover Varian’s fate! But first I want you to step into my world, imagine you’re a Na’Chi or a human who’s been blessed by the Lady and given a Gift (some sort of special ability – good or bad or ambiguous). Would it be superhuman strength or speed like the Na’Chi scouts? Or maybe the power to heal or kill with a touch like Annika from VENGEANCE BORN (Bk#1)? Or could it be the ability to sense soul-pain like the young healer apprentice, Rissa?

What Gift would you choose?

1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries, especially if you answer Kylie’s  question!)
2. Giveaway is for 1 copy of Alliance Forged by Kylie Griffin to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry (no need to leave it in the comments, just include it when you fill out the rafflecopter form)
5. You must enter on or before 7/20/12
6. Giveaway book courtesy of the author
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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The Risk Agent by Ridley Pearson

The Risk Agent by Ridley Pearson
Putnam/June 2012
Kind thanks to Putnam for providing a review copy

A Chinese National working for an American-owned construction company is grabbed off the streets of Shanghai in broad daylight. His one-man security detail goes missing as well.

Rutherford Risk is a firm specializing in extraction: the negotiation for, and the recovery of hostages. Private investigation is illegal in today’s China. Operating within her borders will be difficult at best.

The security company recruits two unique outsiders to do their bidding. Grace Chu is a forensic accountant hired to follow the money; John Knox is a civilian with unparalleled training in both combat and culture. Grace’s top-notch American education and Chinese military service make her an unassuming, but effective, operative, while Knox’s take-no-prisoners attitude brings them perilously close to harm. Following the money leads to more complex – and dangerous – consequences than either anticipated. Who is actually behind the kidnapping? And more important, can Knox and Grace locate the two hostages ahead of the deadline?

Ridley Pearson was given the chance to spend a year in Shanghai with his family, and his experience with, and appreciation for, China and its people is evident in The Risk Agent, the first book in a new series. When a Chinese citizen, Lu Hao, is kidnapped, along with his American security detail, Clete Danner, John Knox is called in to help by Rutherford Risk. At first, he’s dubious and hesitant to take the job, but has a disabled brother, Tommy, that needs constant care and attention, and the money from this job is much needed. They have a good import/export business running, but cash is always scarce, so he takes the job, but with reservations. Rutherford Risk has been hired by the American Construction firm that Lu Hao worked for in order to facilitate the ransom drop or an extraction of the captives. John has had experience with this kind of thing, and his plans lean heavily toward extraction. Also, for John, it’s personal, since Clete Danner is a close friend. He’s soon paired up with Grace Chu, a forensic accountant with ties to the kidnapped Chinese national, and an agenda of her own, and the game is afoot.

Speaking of agendas, there are a ton of folks that have agendas in The Risk Agent, including officers with the People’s Armed Police and possibly the CIA. Grace Chu is not only savvy with her mind, but with her fists, and proves an invaluable asset to John Knox. Foreigners don’t get behind the scenes easily in China, so her expertise is absolutely necessary to their mission. Lu Hao’s job for the construction company was paying out bribes to facilitate the building of luxury properties, so unsavory types are a plenty, and big money is involved. It took a bit of time for things to get going for me, but once they did, it was like a runaway train…in China. Time is of the essence to ensure the captives’ survival, but of course, this isn’t just a simple kidnapping, and navigating the ins and outs of rampant bribery, corporate espionage, and the Chinese underworld makes for a pretty fun ride. It’s hard not to like John Knox, but I especially liked Grace Chu. She’s like the proverbial onion: lots and lots of layers; it was fun getting to know her, and she shows infinite patience in showing partner Knox (a waiguoren, or foreigner) the intricacies of Chinese culture. There were a couple of clunky bits in the narrative in the form of some slightly awkward (but not detailed) love scenes, and some repetition of some lines, however, I read an uncorrected proof, so these things might have been fixed in the final draft. Either way, I quite enjoy a cinema-ready thriller every now and then, with lots of twists, turns, double crosses, and action, and this one more than fit the bill. Also, I’ve long been fascinated with China, and bustling, dynamic Shanghai is an undeniably exciting locale for a thriller. It will be fun to see where he takes Knox and Grace next!

Purchase The Risk Agent: Amazon | B&N

Blog Tour (& Giveaway): Amanda Bonilla, author of Blood Before Sunrise

The lovely Amanda Bonilla is on the blog today, as part of her tour for her brand new book Blood Before Sunrise! She’s got a list of her Top Five Alpha Males, and we’re also giving away a copy of Blood Before Sunrise, so be sure to check the details at the end of the post. Now I’ll hand things over to Amanda!

My Top Five Alpha Males
-Amanda Bonilla
Thanks so much to Kristin and My Bookish Ways for hosting me again! I’m so happy to be a guest here today!

When you say the words “Alpha Male” chances are you’ll get a knowing smile from every woman within earshot. Whether you read UF, PNR, historical, or contemporary romance, you can bet you’re going to encounter a male character that makes you want to purr. Let me tell you, I’m no exception. I really admire authors who can write a male MC like that. It’s one area of my writing that needs work. But that’s a post for another time. ;)

Anyway, since I’m not immune to the fictional alpha male’s charm, I thought I’d share my top five swoon-worthy alpha males with you today.

5. Bones
Who wouldn’t love a sexy vampire with an even sexier accent? He’s ancient, powerful, funny, and the boy knows what to do in the bedroom (*cough* chapter 32 *cough*). I get a little shivery every time I read the word “luv” in a Jeaniene Frost book. I’d offer up a vein to Bones any day!

4. Thanatos
I love the bad boys and they don’t get much badder than Death. Larrisa Ione’s Third Horseman of theApocalypse is right up my alley! He’s tattooed, pierced, and he’s got the ability to kill you with the souls that are trapped in his armor. His temper is out of control, but I wouldn’t mind taking a shot at calming him down.

3. Declan Chase
All of Kresley Cole’s IAD heroes cause me to drool just a little, but no one does it for me like Declan Chase. It might be the fact that he’s an immortal beserker, or it could be the fact that his backstory (his cycle of reincarnation as he ever searches for Regan) just speaks to the romantic in me. But I’m thinking it has more to do with a certain bathtub scene… ;) Either way, I’d be more than happy to be trapped on an island with him for a few days. Or months.

2. Bran Cornick
He doesn’t get much time on the page, but when he does, Patricia Briggs’s alpha of all alphas gets me all worked up. Fans have been begging Ms. Briggs for a Bran book for ages, but from the sounds of it, we probably won’t see one any time soon. *sobs* Beside being powerful enough to keep all of the werewolves in check, Bran is old enough to have actually seen firsthand, events that inspired actual legends and myths. He’s strong, loyal, and truly cares for the wolves in the packs under his control. Briggs writes him so well! Bran is mysterious and though readers haven’t gotten the chance to see him in any steamy scenes, I have a feeling that he’s hot, hot, HOT between the sheets!

1. John Matthew
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a Black Dagger Brotherhood junkie! J.R. Ward is definitely one of the queens of writing alpha male goodness. Dark, tortured, and bursting with manly prowess, she writes a triple play of male vampire hotness. Why is John Matthew my favorite alpha male? Ms. Ward sealed the deal between J.M. and me when his anger and frustration over Xhex’s torture by Lash caused him to shatter the sliding glass door in his room in Tohr’s house with nothing more than just his raw, unchecked power. I think another reason I’m drawn to him is because his character has been explored so in-depth over the course of the series. Readers got to see him as a skinny, lost and lonely pre-trans, went through every emotion with him as he finally felt acceptance when Tohr and Wellsie adopted him, and suffered alongside him when he lost the only mother he’d ever known. And just when I thought my heart would break for him, he came into his own and proved he was a male of worth. ;) Oh, and let us not forget the steamy hotness of his and Xhex’s relationship. Yep, John Matthew is my book boyfriend, all right. Sorry, hubs, but I’d run away with that vampire in a second!

Who would make your top 5 alpha males?
**Giveaway is now closed and the winner has been notified. Thanks so much for entering!**

1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries, especially if you answer Amanda’s question!)
2. Giveaway is for 1 copy of Blood Before Sunrise by Amanda Bonilla to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open to US and Canadian addresses only.
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry (no need to leave it in the comments, just include it when you fill out the rafflecopter form)
5. You must enter on or before 7/15/12
6. Giveaway book courtesy of the author
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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Geekomancy by Michael R. Underwood

Geekomancy by Michael R. Underwood
Pocket Star/July 10th, 2012
Urban Fantasy
Kind thanks to Pocket Star for providing a review copy

Ree Reyes’s life was easier when all she had to worry about was scraping together tips from her gig as a barista and comicshop slave to pursue her ambitions as a screenwriter.

When a scruffy-looking guy storms into the shop looking for a comic like his life depends on it, Ree writes it off as just another day in the land of the geeks. Until a gigantic “BOOM!” echoes from the alley a minute later, and Ree follows the rabbit hole down into her town’s magical flip-side. Here, astral cowboy hackers fight trolls, rubber-suited werewolves, and elegant Gothic Lolita witches while wielding nostalgia-powered props.

Ree joins Eastwood (aka Scruffy Guy), investigating a mysterious string of teen suicides as she tries to recover from her own drag-your-heart-through-jagged-glass breakup. But as she digs deeper, Ree discovers Eastwood may not be the knight-in-cardboard armor she thought. Will Ree be able to stop the suicides, save Eastwood from himself, and somehow keep her job?

Ree Reyes is a struggling screenwriter that is biding her time by working as a barista at Café Xombie. It’s not a bad gig, and she loves the people, but life could be a little more exciting. Be careful what you wish for, because when Eastwood comes into her life, nothing will be the same. She manages to witness him fighting otherworld baddies in the alley outside the shop and is sucked into a world of all kinds of supernatural oddities. After overcoming her initial disbelief, Ree is asked to help him in his inquiries into recent teen suicides. Full on, geeky mayhem ensues.

I have to admit, while the author was setting up his magic system, and we were getting to know Ree, the near constant pop culture and “geek” references were distracting to me. They come hard, fast, and often. However, as I got into the flow of the book, and let myself go with said flow, I really had a quite a bit of fun with this one. The brand of magic (genre magic) used here is tons of fun. His characters can pick up magic abilities by watching moves or shows on whatever subject they need to use magic in conjunction with. Also, reading can do the same thing. For example, when Ree needs help with sleuthing, she watches Sherlock Holmes. With genre emulation, the more emotional attachment you have to the material, the more you get out of it. As Ree follows Eastwood, she meets all sorts of interesting folks, including some Geekomancers that give them a run for their money, Drake Winters, a displaced steampunk super hero, Furrymancers, and gnomes (probably not like you’re picturing.) She also discovers that Eastwood might not be quite what he seems.

Can Ree stop the suicides? Will she manage to keep her job at Café Xombi amidst all the mayhem? Will she ever write that screenplay? You’re in for a treat with this one, and I found myself especially enjoying it amidst all of the “darker” reads that I’ve been eating up lately, not to mention that the author validates my love for the 2005 movie Sahara and Steve Zahn. Evidently, I’m not the only one that liked it (I just knew I wasn’t.) I hope you have as much fun with this one as I did, and I’ll look forward to seeing what the author has up his geektastic sleeves next!

Purchase Geekomancy: Kindle | Nook

Blog Tour, Interview, and Giveaway: Tin Swift by Devon Monk!

The wonderful Devon Monk is here today as part of her blog tour for her brand new book, Tin Swift, book 2 in the Age of Steam Series!

This is a really fun tour and by following all of the tour stops, you’ll get to read an original short story by Devon, in 20 parts! There are also prizes, so be sure to check out the giveaway details below the post!

Here’s the skinny:
HANG FIRE is a steampunk short story set in late 1800′s America. It takes place between the Age of Steam book #1, DEAD IRON and book #2 TIN SWIFT. The story is broken into 20 “chapters” and posted, one chapter at a time, on 20 awesome blogs. To read the whole story, start at chapter 1 at Candace’s Book Blog and follow the “read the next chapter” links at the end of the post.

Also, Devon was kind enough to answer a few questions for me, so please check that out as well!

HANG FIRE – Chapter 12
by Devon Monk

“Rose,” Cedar ordered, “make sure Wil’s breathing.”
“He is, Mr. Hunt,” Rose said. “But…” she moved away from the mouth of the pit so that all Cedar could see were branches and the sky beyond.
“Rose!” he called up again.
“Sorry,” she said, leaning back over the pit. “His leg is hurt. He won’t stand on it.”
“What hit him?” Cedar asked.
“That old rusted bucket of bolts I was chasing,” she said. “Had some kind of safety on it. When I saw you and Mrs. Lindson take a tumble down into this pit, I hit the thing with a stick and knocked a valve free. Whole thing went up with an almighty pop. Not much left of it to salvage, though there might still be some use out of its little boiler. It’s a clever thing, really, though I don’t know what it was doing all the way out here in the nowhere of Oregon.”
“Rose,” Cedar said, both happy to hear her in good spirits, and wishing she’d get back to the matters at hand. “We’re standing at the bottom of a pit.”
“Oh. Right. Sorry, Mr. Hunt. You see anyway up out of it?” she asked.
“No tunnel to either side,”
“Are you sure?” Mae Lindson, beside him, asked. She couldn’t see through the darkness of the pit.
He could. The Pawnee curse in his blood had some uses.
“I’m sure,” he said to her. Then to Rose, “I want you to go back to the Madders and get a rope. Our horses are tethered just due west, outside this stand of trees.”
“There’s rope on my mule,” Mae said. Then, louder, “Rose, there’s a rope on Prudence. Should be long enough to reach us.”
“I’ll be right back, then,” Rose said. “Hold tight.”
Cedar was going to tell her to be careful, but there was no need. Other than getting a bug in her bonnet to chase after the metal contraption, Rose was one of the most level-headed people he knew.
“Don’t worry,” Mae said. “If Wil hurt his leg, I have comfrey and other herbs that should help ease the pain.”
“Thank you,” Cedar said. He held some hope that Mae’s healing spells might have more than a good chance to mend Wil’s leg.
He wanted to pace, the beast inside him anxious and angry at being trapped, but instead he searched for his rifle. Found it on the ground not too far from where they’d fallen.
“Mae,” he said, wondering if this might be his best chance of telling her his feelings for her. His real feelings, “I need to tell you something.”
“Yes, Mr. Hunt?” she said. “What is it?”

…read chapter 13 at: Magical Urban Fantasy

Q&A with Devon Monk

Devon, you’ve been super busy with your Allie Beckstrom series, and the 2nd book in the Age of Steam series, Tin Swift, just came out! Why do you think Steampunk has gathered so much, well, steam, lately?
This question probably has as many answers as there are lovers of steampunk. For me, I think there’s a kind of magic and wonder unique to steampunk. It’s a sense of being able to pick up pieces of the past, brush them off a bit, and buckle them together with the knowledge of the now into something we’ve not seen before. It’s a hands-on, come-one come-all playground that shows us what could have been, and sometimes what still may be, while inviting us in for a grand experience we’ll never forget.

Has it been tough getting into the swing of writing a new series?
Not at all! I love writing. Every book is an adventure and puzzle waiting to be explored. A new series just means there’s more adventuring ahead!

Do you already have plans as to how many books you’d like to write in the Age of Steam series, or will you just see where it takes you?
At this point, I’m going to see where it takes me.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!!)?
I do have a few projects coming up, but can’t spill the beans on all that yet. Trust me…lots of fun stuff is just around the corner!

Thanks so much for having me here today!
Keep up with Devon: Website | Twitter

1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries!)
2. Giveaway is for 1 copy of Tin Swift by Devon Monk, Tin Swift magnet, and signed steampunk airship bookmark to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open to US addresses only.
4. Must include a valid email address with your entry (no need to leave it in the comments, just include it when you fill out the rafflecopter form)
5. You must enter on or before 7/14/12
6. Giveaway books courtesy of Roc
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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Interview: Michael R. Underwood, author of Geekomancy!

I’m so happy to have Mike Underwood on the blog today! Mike is the author of Geekomancy, the brand new urban fantasy out on July 10th, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Please welcome Mike to the blog!

Mike, you hold a BA in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies and an MA in Folklore Studies (whew!). Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to tell stories. I spent many hours as a kid and teen playing tabletop role-playing games and learning the nuts and bolts of stories. In undergrad, I designed my individualized major of Creative Mythology, which let me dive into the craft of writing as well as learning about world cultures so I could create imagined worlds that feel real and lived-in.

Also in undergrad, I was adopted by a critique group of writers who were also members of my live action drama troupe, and they helped me learn the ropes.I leveled up again at the Clarion West workshop in 2007, and after a couple of years of writing and re-writing a New Weird Superhero novel, I started on Geekomancy (as a break from a YA epic fantasy), and had so much fun that I couldn’t stop.

When the first draft was done, I put an excerpt up on Book Country ( as I started revisions. In late January of 2012, Adam Wilson solicited the manuscript after reading it on Book Country…and the rest was history.

Your first novel, Geekomancy, comes out next week! Marie Lu said “If Buffy hooked up with Doctor Who while on board the Serenity, this book would be their lovechild. In other words, GEEKOMANCY is full of epic win.” Is that a pretty accurate description in your opinion?
I think Marie did a great job of capturing the feel of the book – Geekomancy, among other things, is a love letter to the geek culture I grew up with, and takes joy in juxtaposing elements from those properties to create a coherent world. The major influences I’d identify for Geekomancy are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Clerks, The Dresden Files, and The Middleman, but I am also a Browncoat and love the Doctor Who that I’ve seen (not nearly enough).

Geekomancy is very much a product of combining elements of geekdom and re-considering the texts that bring so many of us together in shared passion. I wanted to create an urban fantasy that was about geeks, about fandom, more than being the kind of urban fantasy I was seeing on the shelves (much of which I love!). I wanted to do something different while also being very personal. In that, I think I’ve succeeded.

What was your favorite part of writing Geekomancy?
Creating and refining Geekomancy itself, a magic system powered by fandom. When I started, I just had the ideas of using props to do what they were supposed to do in their films/TV shows, and the idea of genre emulation. As I wrote, I got to build a whole magical community around those styles and dig into the way that emotional investment in pop culture could be the fuel that powered a magical style.

Who did you enjoy writing more: Ree or Eastwood, and why?
Eastwood is fun because his motivation is very complicated and he’s got a lot of demons in his past that I get to show in various degrees. But Ree is more fun for me, since I get to spend time in her mind and get her reactions to things. She’s a very genre-aware character, which means I get to create a heroine who intimately knows the tropes of fantasy and science fiction.

And then I get to confound her by presenting a world that hits her genre knowledge at a crooked angle. So instead of werewolves, she gets people in rubber wolfman suits that channel the archetype of the Werewolf. Instead of a hierarchical secret order of magicians, she finds a loose assortment of mages in affinity groups and a secret society that’s more like the Browncoats than the Masons.

What do you love most about fantasy?
I love the chance to create new worlds – either entirely new ones in secondary fantasy, or worlds within worlds in urban fantasy. With my folklore & mythology background, I’ve grown very fond of the method of taking ideas or elements of culture and history from our own world, tweaking them and mixing them around, then putting them in a new context somewhere very very different.

In fantasy I get to do things like ask: What happens if you take a group very much like Tokugawa era samurai nobility with clan pride and martial infighting and then put them into a setting where there are many other cultures and civilizations to fight with nearby instead of just spending centuries in-fighting on the islands of Japan? Also, how about some magic in the setting while we’re at it?

What are some of your favorite writers?
My favorites would include China Mieville (especially the Bas-Lag books), Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler (I loved her story “Speech Sounds” so much that I taught it at a writing workshop), George R.R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman. As for writers who have hit the scene more recently, I’m loving the work of N.K. Jemisin (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Killing Moon, specifically), Bradley P. Beaulieu (The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh) and Marie Lu (Legend).

What is one of your favorite lines from a book?
I have a deep, hearty heart for “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel” from William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It’s efficient, evocative, and very specifically placed in time. The book was very predictive in some areas (it presages most of the Cyberpunk genre and a fair bit of how the Internet panned out) but very much placed in its own time. These days, most TVs in the U.S.A. are electric blue or just black when tuned to a dead channel – you have to know that at the time, TV tuned to a dead channel looked like visual static, mixtures of flowing greys.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
In my rapidly-vanishing free time, I study renaissance martial arts, specifically La Verdadera Destreza, an Iberian martial science. I love how much Destreza flows in with my knowledge of Argentine Tango, and the way that the science is useable with a variety of weapons (rapier, longsword, greatsword, etc.) I do most of my study through the Society for Creative Anachronism, which means not only do I get to study swordplay, I do it while wearing cool clothes.

Is there any advice that you can offer struggling writers?
I had a lot of trouble with revision for several years. What started really making a difference for me (on top of practice) was learning to prioritize and focus. Instead of just re-reading the manuscript for the fifteenth time trying to “make it better,” I identified specific weaknesses and areas to change, with the assistance of critique partners, and worked on one thing at a time, just trying to fix the big problems first, then working my way down to the little issues. Once I’ve made my way through the list, I read through again and see what I’ve broken by fixing something else. And eventually, all that’s left are little issues to fix with a line edit.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!!)?
I’m doing a small book tour this summer, coinciding with my day-job travels. Readers in the Midwest can check out my website for details. I have events scheduled in Petoskey, MI, Morehead, KY, and Bloomington, IN.

Currently, I’m working on the sequel to Geekomancy, which will be coming out in 2013. I’ll also be attending WorldCon and World Fantasy this fall.
You can find me at my website and on Twitter.
Snag Geekomancy: Kindle | Nook

About the author:
Michael R. Underwood grew up devouring stories in all forms: movies, comics, TV, video games, and novels. He holds a B.A. in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies from Indiana University and an M.A. in Folklore Studies from the University of Oregon, which have been great preparation for writing speculative fiction. Michael went straight from his M.A. to the Clarion West Writers Workshop and then landed in Bloomington, Indiana, where he remains. When not writing or selling books across the Midwest as an independent book representative, Michael dances Argentine Tango and studies renaissance martial arts.

About Geekomancy:
Ree Reyes’s life was easier when all she had to worry about was scraping together tips from her gig as a barista and comicshop slave to pursue her ambitions as a screenwriter.

When a scruffy-looking guy storms into the shop looking for a comic like his life depends on it, Ree writes it off as just another day in the land of the geeks. Until a gigantic “BOOM!” echoes from the alley a minute later, and Ree follows the rabbit hole down into her town’s magical flip-side. Here, astral cowboy hackers fight trolls, rubber-suited werewolves, and elegant Gothic Lolita witches while wielding nostalgia-powered props.

Ree joins Eastwood (aka Scruffy Guy), investigating a mysterious string of teen suicides as she tries to recover from her own drag-your-heart-through-jagged-glass breakup. But as she digs deeper, Ree discovers Eastwood may not be the knight-in-cardboard armor she thought. Will Ree be able to stop the suicides, save Eastwood from himself, and somehow keep her job?

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