My Bookish Ways

Interview (& Giveaway): Jamie Mason, author of Three Graves Full

It’s no secret that I loved Jamie Mason’s first novel, Three Graves Full (out Feb. 12th), so I was very excited when she agreed to chat with me about the book, her writing, and more!

We also have 2 copies of THREE GRAVES FULL up for grabs, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post!

Jamie, will you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
When asked as a child what I wanted to be, I always told adults that I hoped to be a writer. Funny thing, though: I was lying. I knew that grownups were very impressed with writers, and I knew where my bread was buttered. I really liked the “Ooo-oooh!”

What I didn’t realize was that I was already doing it in my head – all the time. I was well into my twenties before I realized that everybody didn’t silently narrate everything they saw, everything they did, and every flitting thought they had. I remember being seven years old, walking to school, composing my internal ramblings in fully adjectived sentences, complete with narrative asides. I read a lot. I thought that’s what it sounded like in everyone’s head.

But it wasn’t until I was thirty-one years old that I was struck out of the blue with a full on idea for a novel. At the time, I thought I was crazy to try it. I’d never really written anything except really popular office memos.

As for the nuts and bolts, I grew up in the Washington DC area and now live in the mountains of Western North Carolina with my husband and two daughters.

Did anything in particular inspire you to write Three Graves Full?
I love that it’s time to tell this story. Three Graves Full had great kindling. It started with a tantrum over another story I was writing. It just wasn’t working. A writer friend, Graeme Cameron (you don’t know him, but you will,) suggested that I set it aside instead of gnashing my teeth out of my head. He offered an exercise in its place: to seek out a list of interesting headlines compiled from various newspapers.

I was under strict instructions not to read the articles. I had to pick one, then write a story that would result that headline.

The one I chose read: Landscapers Find Skull In Mulch Bed.

I still don’t know what real news story (and, presumably, tragedy) sparked the article, but what I was left with was Chapter One.

I think folks usually assume that the “main” character in a book is the author’s favorite. Which character in Three Graves Full was your favorite to write?
It’s hard to say. The villains, Gary Harris and Boyd Montgomery, were awfully fun to write, because they made so much sense. Really rotten sense, but sense nonetheless. Really though, I get to live a slice of an entirely different life (even a dog’s life) every time I write a character, so it’s one of the greediest, best parts of the job. No downsides there. All characters are, at the very least, interesting to write.

I personally fell in love with Detectives Tim Bayard and Ford Watts and Ford’s dog, Tessa. Will we see any of these characters in future novels?
I’m so happy you included Tim Bayard! I love that guy and I think he flew under the radar compared to some of the more, um, furry and frantic characters. At this time, I don’t have any plans to write another story with these three in it, but who knows? I’m not opposed to the idea, but it just hasn’t goosed me in the making-stuff-up center of my brain as yet.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I cringe at claiming influences for fear of inviting comparisons that I can’t live up to, but I’m more than happy to name some of the wonderful writers who make it a privilege to write, rewrite, scratch out, rebuild, and write it again. At my private altar all due deference is given, knowing they’re out there and that because they are, just any old words won’t do. My list is sort of all over the place and this is by no means comprehensive: Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen King, Tana French, Jeffrey Eugenides, Kazuo Ishiguro, Gregory Maguire, Neal Gaiman, Ian McEwan, Wally Lamb, Anita Diamant, George Orwell, Walter Wangerin, Jr., Michael Pollan, Jonah Lehrer, Terri Cheney, so many… There’s a guy I mentioned earlier, a British writer, Graeme Cameron – wait ‘til you get a load of his work.

What do you like to see in a good book?
Really great language and characters I believe.

Is there anything that will make you put a book aside, unfinished?
You know, I used to make myself read everything I started. And there can be value in that as a writer. It’s very important to know what you don’t want to do. Now I still occasionally do that, but mostly if the opposites of what I love about reading are ruling the page – utilitarian language and characters I don’t believe – then I usually move on. I have to admit, though, that it’s so subjective. Lots of people like things I don’t. That’s why they make all flavors.

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Hugh Laurie’s (yes, that Hugh Laurie) THE GUN SELLER. Absolutely hilarious and excellent to the last paragraph. It’s the only book I’ve ever bought five times. I keep giving it away to someone I think has to have it. Then I always need a copy for my own shelf. I read the first six pages whenever I’m feeling blah. It’s an instant cure.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
My two favorite things are a bit at odds. I love traveling and I love being at home. I love films, Formula1 racing, and football. And reading, of course. I’m also a big fan of going out to dinner. I own wilderness camping gear, but I need a lot of notice to psych myself up for that. Spur of the moment sushi? Awesome. “Hey, let’s walk for seven hours and sleep in the woods”? Yeah, best if you spring that on me about eight weeks in advance.

Is there any other news of upcoming projects or events that you’d like to share (or anything at all!)?
I am working on a new novel. It’s another suspense-type thing that I hope would sit comfortably on the shelf with THREE GRAVES FULL. This time, though, there’s a thread of the spy novel running through the goings on. Other than that, I’ve never done this before, so the events page on my website in filling up with stuff that I’m figuring out as I go along.
Keep up with Jamie: Website | Twitter

***GIVEAWAY DETAILS***
1. You MUST fill out the form below (if you’ve signed into Rafflecopter before, it will remember you!)
2. Giveaway is for 2 copies of THREE GRAVES FULL by Jamie Mason to 2 winners.
3. Giveaway is open to US addresses only
4. You must enter on or before 2/9/13
5. Giveaway books courtesy of Gallery Books
6. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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February 2013 New Releases (SF/F/UF/Horror)

Here are the new releases in Sci-Fi, Urban Fantasy, Fantasy, and Horror for February! However, this is by no means a comprehensive list (just ones that I especially have my eye on.) 

February 5th, 2013:
The Twelve-Fingered Boy by John Hornor Jacobs (Feb. 1st) | Amazon | B&N | REVIEW
Unbroken by Paula Morris (YA) | Amazon | B&N
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Zombies of Byzantium by Sean Munger | Amazon | B&N
The Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell | Amazon | B&N
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Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger | Amazon | B&N
Pantomime by Laura Lam | Amazon | B&N
Scarlet by Marissa Meyer | Amazon | B&N
The Queen is Dead by Kate Locke | Amazon | B&N
Dead Things  by Stephen Blackmoore | Amazon | B&N | REVIEW
Homeland by Cory Doctorow | Amazon | B&N
The Burn Zone by James Decker | Amazon | B&N | REVIEW
A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan | Amazon | B&N
Soulbound: A Lone Star Witch Novel by Tessa Adams | Amazon | B&N
City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster | Amazon | B&N
The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns (Feb. 7th) | Amazon | B&N


February 12th, 2013:
Sever by Lauren DeStefano (YA) | Amazon | B&N
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The Mirrored Shard (Iron Codex) by Caitlin Kittredge | Amazon | B&N
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The Dinner by Herman Koch | Amazon | B&N
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Breaking Point by Kristen Simmons | Amazon | B&N
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The Water Witch by Juliet Dark  | Amazon | B&N
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Extinction by Mark Alpert | Amazon | B&N
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Vampires In the Lemon Grove: Stories by Karen Russell | Amazon | B&N
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Supernatural: Carved In Flesh by Tim Waggoner | Amazon | B&N
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The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett | Amazon | B&N
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Dance of Shadows  by Yelena Black (YA) | Amazon | B&N
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The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord | Amazon | B&N
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American Elsewhere  by Robert Jackson Bennett | Amazon | B&N | REVIEW
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The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead (YA) | Amazon | B&N
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Homunculus by James P. Blaylock (Feb. 13th) | Amazon | B&N
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Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper | Amazon | B&N
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February 19th, 2013:
The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination ed. by John Joseph Adams | Amazon | B&N
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The Shadow Wars  by Rod Rees | Amazon | B&N
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Fuse  by Julianna Baggott | Amazon | B&N
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Shards and Ashes by Melissa Marr and more | Amazon | B&N
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Mountain Echoes  by CE Murphy | Amazon | B&N
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Blood’s Pride by Evie Manieri | Amazon | B&N
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Domino Falls by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes | Amazon | B&N
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Mind Games  by Kiersten White (YA) | Amazon | B&N
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Firebrand  by Gillian Philip | Amazon | B&N
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The Different Girl by Gordon Dahlquist (YA-Feb. 21st) | Amazon | B&N
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The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway (YA-Feb. 21st) | Amazon | B&N
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The Office of Mercy by Ariel Djanikian (Feb. 21st) | Amazon | B&N
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February 26th, 2013:

Dualed by Elsie Chapman (YA) | Amazon | B&N
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Hell To Pay by Matthew Hughes | Amazon | B&N
Gideon’s Angel by Clifford Beal | Amazon | B&N
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Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman | Amazon | B&N
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The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson (YA) | Amazon | B&N
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Froggy Style by JA Kazimer | Amazon | B&N
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Last Days by Adam Nevill | Amazon | B&N
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Winterblaze by Kristen Callihan | Amazon | B&N
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Fade to Black by Francis Knight | Amazon | B&N
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Black City by Christina Henry | Amazon | B&N
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The Savage Boy by Nick Cole | Amazon | B&N
The Inner City by Karen Heuler | Amazon | B&N
The Teleportation Accident by Ted Beauman | Amazon | B&N
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Interview: John Lansing, author of The Devil’s Necktie

Please welcome suspense author John Lansing to the blog! John’s first novel, The Devil’s Necktie, just came out in December, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

John, you started your career as an actor and enjoyed a fifteen year writing career for television! Was writing novels a natural transition for you?
Although it wasn’t part of my life’s plan, in hindsight I do think writing books became a natural progression. My acting career helped inform the characters I wrote for, and about, and created, in my television work. The craft of acting can help one understand the emotional roadmap needed to flesh out complex characters, characters that will hopefully be compelling enough to maintain a readers interest. It also gives you an ear for dialogue that rings true.

My television work taught me discipline, writing on a schedule, collaboration, and it really hammered home the type of characters I enjoyed and wanted to invest my time with, characters that were interesting enough for me to spend a year of my life with, and again, hopefully keep an audience reading. Only you can tell me if I’ve succeeded at that.

Will you tell us a bit about The Devil’s Necktie and Jack Bertolino?
I’ve always been drawn to flawed characters that were interested in reinventing themselves, who wanted a new life. When I was growing up, people worked for the same corporation or company, had the same vocation for their entire lives. Well that doesn’t fly anymore. Men and women can look forward to experiencing three or four different careers in their lifetime. I wanted to write about a detective who was on the edge of change, who was ready to retire, leave the neighborhood he grew up in, the family he loved, and start over. Jack Bertolino chose to do all of those things; it just didn’t work out the way he planned. Twenty-five years of taking down drug dealers, money launderers and killers caught up with him. That was enough of a hook for me to write “The Devil’s Necktie.”

Did you base Jack Bertolino on anyone in particular?
Jack Bertolino is a fictional character, but he is the amalgam of all the interesting men I’ve run across, interviewed, read about, wanted to spend time with, and wanted to be in my lifetime.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I am a huge fan of the crime/ mystery genre. I wasn’t a big reader when I was young. I didn’t really discover novels, and get the bug, the pure joy of reading, until I went away to college. And then I picked up Raymond Chandler and I was hooked.

Drawing on your career in television, are there any TV series out now that have caught your eye in the crime/suspense category?
I don’t watch a lot of television, crime/suspense dramas, when I’m in the process of writing a book. There aren’t enough hours in the day. And I don’t want to run the risk of picking up someone else’s train of thought. I do like the mysteries on BBC. I also stay on top of the news, some sports, and my guilty pleasure, “Top Chef.” My all time favorite television shows are still “The Sopranos” and “The Wire.” Great acting and brilliant writing.

What are a few of your favorite novels or authors?
I read everything that Walter Mosley, Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, Robert Crais, John Sandford, James Lee Burke, Patricia Cornwell, Harlan Coben and Lee Child writes. And that’s just my short list. I read all of the time. I always have a book or a Kindle in my hand. I love the feel of a book and now the accessibility of a Kindle or an iPad. It’s great to be able to download a new book anywhere on the planet. I’m never without one or the other.

When you manage to carve out some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I’m a foody who loves to cook Italian. I play a little golf. Love to travel but don’t do enough of it. I lose myself in books. And as soon as I’m finished writing this, I’m going to walk my dog. That will make him happy, and that keeps me happy.

What’s next for you?
I’m already knee deep into the second book in the Bertolino series. Jack grew up in a Staten Island neighborhood populated with “made men” and friends of the Mafia. He cut all ties with the dark side when he entered law enforcement and thought he had left his past securely behind when he moved out to California. But not so quick. Now that he’s retired, Jack finds himself owing a favor to a mob boss who may have saved his son’s life. It’s a request Jack can’t refuse.Retired inspector Jack Bertolino had strict rules when dealing with confidential informants. But Mia had the kind of beauty that could make a grown man contemplate leaving his wife, his job, and his kids. After a passionate night together, Mia is found murdered—and Jack is the lead suspect.

Facing threats from the LAPD, the 18th Street Angels, and a Colombian drug cartel, Jack delves deeper into the seedy world of drug dealers and murderers and discovers that the top players knew Mia personally. And now Jack is torn between fearing for his life and seeking revenge for his slain lover….either way, the body count will rise.
Keep up with John: Website | Twitter | Facebook

About THE DEVIL’S NECKTIE:
Retired inspector Jack Bertolino had strict rules when dealing with confidential informants. But Mia had the kind of beauty that could make a grown man contemplate leaving his wife, his job, and his kids. After a passionate night together, Mia is found murdered—and Jack is the lead suspect.

Facing threats from the LAPD, the 18th Street Angels, and a Colombian drug cartel, Jack delves deeper into the seedy world of drug dealers and murderers and discovers that the top players knew Mia personally. And now Jack is torn between fearing for his life and seeking revenge for his slain lover….either way, the body count will rise.

Top Ten Must Read Titles of February 2013 (Mystery/Suspense)

Yesterday, I gave you my 10 most anticipated reads for Feb. 2013 in SF/F/Horror. Today I’ve got the 10 books that I’m especially looking forward to in the mystery/suspense category!


Darkstar Rising by Parker Bilal (Bloomsbury-Feb. 19th)
Synopsis-Summer, 2001. The mutilated bodies of young boys are turning up in the backstreets of Cairo, and the finger of suspicion is pointing at the city’s Coptic community. As Makana, a private investigator who fled his native Sudan a decade ago, watches the embers of religious hatred begin to glow, he has a premonition that history may be about to repeat itself. But for now, Makana has another case to solve, involving a disgruntled travel agent, stolen money, and threatening letters-an assignment that appears to point to nothing more than a family feud. That is, until Makana meets Meera, a woman with a dangerous secret who asks for his help- and stumbles upon an unlikely link to the murdered boys.When the travel agent’s office becomes the backdrop to a brutal killing Makana is the sole witness, and he attracts the unwanted attention of not only the state security services and the police but also a disreputable Sudanese businessman-who claims to hold the key to Makana’s past. His search for answers takes him from the labyrinth of Cairo to the city of Luxor and an abandoned monastery near the tombs of the pharaohs, where he uncovers a web of intrigue, violence, and secrecy that reaches deep into Egypt’s political heart…


Seduction of the Innocent by Max Allan Collins (Hard Case Crime-Feb. 19th)
Synopsis-It’s 1954, and a rabble-rousing social critic has declared war on comic books – especially the scary, gory, bloody sort published by the bad boys of the industry, EF Comics. But on the way to a Senate hearing on whether these depraved publications should be banned, the would-be censor meets a violent end of his own – leaving his opponents in hot water.

Can Jack Starr, private eye to the funny-book industry, and his beautiful boss Maggie unravel the secret of Dr. Frederick’s gruesome demise? Or will the crackdown come, falling like an executioner’s axe…?


Family by Rex Kusler (Thomas & Mercer-Feb. 5th)
Synopsis-Every family has its skeletons in the closet, but Shane Hall’s relatives? They’ve got a cemetery’s worth. Yet when he loses his job and gets evicted, Shane’s only option is to rely on his estranged aunt and cousins for help. He returns to his hometown in rural South Dakota, and despite having been out of touch for over a decade, is welcomed back with booze-soaked hospitality. After settling in, Shane’s cousin approaches him with an offer that’s almost too good to be true: if he comes on board as assistant manager at the family’s salvage yard, he’ll get not only a sky-high salary but also the down payment on a home. It seems like Shane and his girlfriend Katie will be able to put the hard times behind them and start fresh—at least, until some pesky skeletons rise up from the past, leaving Shane uncertain where to turn or who to trust.


Ghostman by Roger Hobbs (Knopf-Feb. 12th)
Synopsis-When a casino robbery in Atlantic City goes horribly awry, the man who orchestrated it is obliged to call in a favor from someone who’s occasionally called Jack. While it’s doubtful that anyone knows his actual name or anything at all about his true identity, or even if he’s still alive, he’s in his mid-thirties and lives completely off the grid, a criminal’s criminal who does entirely as he pleases and is almost impossible to get in touch with. But within hours a private jet is flying this exceptionally experienced fixer and cleaner-upper from Seattle to New Jersey and right into a spectacular mess: one heister dead in the parking lot, another winged but on the run, the shooter a complete mystery, the $1.2 million in freshly printed bills god knows where and the FBI already waiting for Jack at the airport, to be joined shortly by other extremely interested and elusive parties. He has only forty-eight hours until the twice-stolen cash literally explodes, taking with it the wider, byzantine ambitions behind the theft. To contend with all this will require every gram of his skill, ingenuity and self-protective instincts, especially when offense and defense soon become meaningless terms. And as he maneuvers these exceedingly slippery slopes, he relives the botched bank robbery in Kuala Lumpur five years earlier that has now landed him this unwanted new assignment.


The Night Ranger by Alex Berenson (Penguin-Feb. 12th)
Synopsis-John Wells enters new territory, as he goes underground in East Africa to track four kidnapped Americans and the Somali bandits who snatched them, in the tough, thoughtful, electrifying new novel from the #1 New York Times-bestselling author.

Four friends, recent college graduates, travel to Kenya to work at a giant refugee camp for Somalis. Two men, two women, each with their own reasons for being there. But after twelve weeks, they’re ready for a break and pile into a Land Cruiser for an adventure.

They get more than they bargained for. Bandits hijack them. They wake up in a hut, hooded, bound, no food or water. Hostages. As a personal favor, John Wells is asked to try to find them, but he does so reluctantly. East Africa isn’t his usual playing field. And when he arrives, he finds that the truth behind the kidnappings is far more complex than he imagined.

The clock is ticking. The White House is edging closer to an invasion of Somalia. Wells has a unique ability to go undercover, and to make things happen, but if he can’t find the hostages soon, they’ll be dead – and the U.S. may be in a war it never should have begun.


Angel’s Gate by PG Sturges (Scribner-Feb. 26th))
Synopsis-Our hero Dick Henry—aka the Shortcut Man—becomes involved in a case featuring an aging but still amorous Los Angeles movie mogul named Howard Hogue who keeps a stable of young starlets available for his highly ritualized attentions. Retained by the sister of a young woman who has gone missing, Henry becomes friendly with Connie Cielo, the “housemother” to the starlets. Despite Connie’s morally questionable responsibilities, she is willing to help (and enjoy the company of) the Shortcut Man.

After Hogue’s star director assaults one of these women in a drug-fueled romp, Henry is drawn into a deeper mystery from years past involving a mysterious death on a boat and a missing screenplay written by what appears to be a homeless man. As he peels back layer upon layer of sordid Hollywood history, Dick Henry must contend with crazed drug dealers, Hogue’s personal doctor, crooked cops, private security henchmen, and Hogue himself—who is so powerful and bunkered in his movie-biz millions that he is unfazed by the resourceful Henry.


A Good Death by Christopher R. Cox (St. Martins Press-Feb. 19th)
Synopsis-An expertly crafted debut, A GOOD DEATH introduces Sebastian Damon, a sharp-witted though struggling Boston PI who catches an intriguing case. Linda Watts is a beautiful, talented Southeast Asian refugee with a promising career in finance—or she was, until she turned up dead, the victim of a heroin OD, in a cheap Bangkok guest house. Her death seemed straightforward to the Thai authorities, but her insurance company isn’t buying it. They send Sebastian halfway around the world to investigate—where he finds himself confounded and completely out of place chasing faint leads through the broken, bewildering streets of Thailand’s teeming capital.

An award-winning journalist with decades of experience traveling in and reporting on Southeast Asia, Christopher R. Cox takes readers on a vibrant journey through a corrupt police bureaucracy, a network of steamy Bangkok nightclubs and grimy hostels to a place where you can you feel the humid air and smell the stir-fried street food. Along the way, Sebastian finds romance as he falls for a captivatingly mysterious woman and camaraderie with his father’s wise-cracking old Special Forces wingman — an expat who can navigate Bangkok’s chaotic underbelly and the wild mountains of Laos with equal aplomb. For Sebastian, it’s the assignment of a lifetime, a chase that will lead him to a long-buried truth at the heart of all the dark lies, a quest that will change him forever in this richly imagined, compelling debut perfect for fans of John Burdett.


The Jackal’s Share by Chris Morgan Jones (Penguin-Feb. 21st)
Synopsis-A murder in a Tehran hotel leaves the London art world spinning. The deceased, beloved at home as a proud dealer in antiquities, now stands accused of smuggling artifacts out of Iran for sale in the West. But despite the triumphal announcements of the secret police, there is something perhaps too tidy in the official report—given that no artifacts have been recovered, no smuggling history discovered, no suspects found.

Half a world away, Darius Qazai delivers a stiring eulogy for his departed friend. A fabulously successful financier, Qazai has directed his life and wealth toward philanthropy, art preservation, and peaceful protest against the regime of his native Iran. His fortune, colossal; his character, immaculate. Pleasantly ensconced in the world of the London expatriate elite, Qazai is the last person anyone would suspect of foul play. Yet something ominous is disrupting Qazai’s recent business deals, some rumor from his past so frightening to his American partners that they will no longer speak to him.

So Qazai hires a respectable corporate intelligence firm to investigate himself and clear his reputation. A veteran of intelligence work in the former Soviet Union, Ben Webster soon discovers that Qazai’s pristine past is actually a dense net of interlocking half-truths and unanswered questions: Is he a respectable citizen or an art smuggler? Is his fortune built on merit or on arms dealing? Is he, after all, his own man? As he closes in on the truth of Qazai’s fortune—and those who would wish to destroy it—Webster discovers he may pay for that knowledge with the lives of his own family.

A vivid and relentless tale of murderous corporate espionage, The Jackal’s Share follows the money through the rotten alleys of Marrakech and the shining spires of Dubai, from the idyllic palaces of Lake Como to the bank houses of London’s City. The Jackal’s Share plunges readers into a Middle East as strange and raw as ever depicted, where recent triumphs rest uneasily atop buried crimes and monumental greed.


The Burning Air by Erin Kelly (Pamela Dorman-Feb. 21st)
Synopsis-The MacBrides lead a cozy life of upper class privilege: good looks (more or less), a beautiful home, tuition-free education at the prestigious private school where Rowan is headmaster, an altruistic righteousness inherited from magistrate Lydia.

But when Rowan and his three grown children gather for the first time since Lydia’s passing at the family’s weekend home—a restored barn in the English countryside—years of secrets surface, and they discover a stranger in their midst. A stranger who is convinced that Lydia was a murderer. A stranger who has been exacting vengeance upon the family for years without their ever knowing. And one who will threaten the youngest MacBride, baby Edie, and the clan’s memory of Lydia, shattering their world forever.


The Beggar’s Opera by Peggy Blair (Pintail-Feb. 26th)
Synopsis-In beautiful, crumbling old Havana, detective Mike Ellis hopes the sun and sand will save his troubled marriage. He doesn’t yet know that it’s dead in the water, much like the little Cuban boy last seen begging the couple for a few pesos on the world famous Malecón.

For Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, head of the Havana Major Crimes Unit, arresting Ellis isn’t the problem—the law is. He has only seventy-two hours to secure an indictment and prevent a vicious killer from leaving the island. And Ramirez has his own troubles. He’s dying of the same dementia that killed his grandmother, an incurable disease that makes him see the ghosts of victims of his unsolved cases. As he races against time, the dead haunt his every step. . . .

First in a new series featuring Inspector Ramirez, The Beggar’s Opera exposes the bureaucracy, corruption, and beauty of Hemingway’s Havana.

Top Ten Must Read Titles of February 2013 (SF/F/Horror)

February 2013 is almost upon us, and even though there are a ton of new releases coming up in Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror, here are 10 that I’m especially looking forward to! What are you looking forward to in February?


Scarlet by Marissa Meyer (Fiewel and Friends-Feb. 5th)
Synopsis-Cinder, the cyborg mechanic, returns in the second thrilling installment of the bestselling Lunar Chronicles. She’s trying to break out of prison—even though if she succeeds, she’ll be the Commonwealth’s most wanted fugitive.

Halfway around the world, Scarlet Benoit’s grandmother is missing. It turns out there are many things Scarlet doesn’t know about her grandmother or the grave danger she has lived in her whole life. When Scarlet encounters Wolf, a street fighter who may have information as to her grandmother’s whereabouts, she is loath to trust this stranger, but is inexplicably drawn to him, and he to her. As Scarlet and Wolf unravel one mystery, they encounter another when they meet Cinder. Now, all of them must stay one step ahead of the vicious Lunar Queen Levana, who will do anything for the handsome Prince Kai to become her husband, her king, her prisoner.

My review of CINDER (Lunar Chronicles #1)


Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore (DAW-Feb. 5th)
Synopsis-Necromancer is such an ugly word, but it’s a title Eric Carter is stuck with.

He sees ghosts, talks to the dead. He’s turned it into a lucrative career putting troublesome spirits to rest, sometimes taking on even more dangerous things. For a fee, of course.

When he left LA fifteen years ago, he thought he’d never go back. Too many bad memories. Too many people trying to kill him.

But now his sister’s been brutally murdered and Carter wants to find out why.

Was it the gangster looking to settle a score? The ghost of a mage he killed the night he left town? Maybe it’s the patrion saint of violent death herself, Santa Muerte, who’s taken an unusually keen interest in him.

Carter’s going to find out who did it, and he’s going to make them pay.

Someone has survived the crash. Something has survived the crash.

And it is waiting. . .


The Burn Zone by James K. Decker (Roc-Feb. 5th)
Synopsis-Plagued by overpopulation, disease, and starvation, humanity was headed for extinction—until an alien race called the haan arrived. And then the real trouble began.

It’s been a rough day for Sam Shao. As part of a program that requires humans to act as surrogates to haan infants, Sam has been genetically enhanced to bond with them. So when three soldiers invade her apartment and arrest her guardian for smuggling a dangerous weapon into the country, Sam can sense that something isn’t right. One of his abductors is a haan masquerading as a human, and the supposedly fragile haan seems to be anything but.

Racing through the city slums, trying to stay one step ahead of the mysterious haan soldier, Sam tries to find the man who, in her twenty years, has been the only father she’s ever known. Could he truly have done what he is accused of? Or did he witness something both human and haan would kill to keep hidden? The only thing certain is that the weapon is real—and lost now somewhere in a city of millions.

Fighting the clock, Sam finds an ally in Nix, a haan envoy devoted to coexisting with humans, or so it seems. But what she really needs are answers. Fast. Or else everything she knows—and everyone she loves—will burn.


The Burn Palace by Stephen Dobyns (Blue Rider Press-Feb. 7th)
Synopsis-The sleepy community of Brewster, Rhode Island, is just like any other small American town. It’s a place where most of the population will likely die blocks from where they were born; where gossip spreads like wildfire, and the big entertainment on weekends is the inevitable fight at the local bar. But recently, something out of the ordinary—perhaps even supernatural—has been stirring in Brewster. While packs of coyotes gather on back roads and the news spreads that a baby has been stolen from Memorial Hospital (and replaced in its bassinet by a snake), a series of inexplicably violent acts begins to confound Detective Woody Potter and the local police—and inspire terror in the hearts and minds of the locals.


Fade to Black by Francis Knight (Orbit-Feb. 26th)
Synopsis-From the depths of a valley rises the city of Mahala

It’s a city built upwards, not across – where streets are built upon streets, buildings upon buildings. A city that the Ministry rules from the sunlit summit, and where the forsaken lurk in the darkness of Under.

Rojan Dizon doesn’t mind staying in the shadows, because he’s got things to hide. Things like being a pain-mage, with the forbidden power to draw magic from pain. But he can’t hide for ever.

Because when Rojan stumbles upon the secrets lurking in the depths of the Pit, the fate of Mahala will depend on him using his magic. And unlucky for Rojan – this is going to hurt.

READ AN EXCERPT


American Elsewhere  by Robert Jackson Bennett (Orbit-Feb. 12th))
Synopsis-Some places are too good to be true.
Under a pink moon, there is a perfect little town not found on any map.
In that town, there are quiet streets lined with pretty houses, houses that conceal the strangest things.
After a couple years of hard traveling, ex-cop Mona Bright inherits her long-dead mother’s home in Wink, New Mexico. And the closer Mona gets to her mother’s past, the more she understands that the people of Wink are very, very different …
From one of our most talented and original new literary voices comes the next great American supernatural novel: a work that explores the dark dimensions of the hometowns and the neighbors we thought we knew.


Extinction by Mark Alpert (St. Martins Press-Feb. 12th)
Synopsis-A malevolent, artificial life form created by military scientists threatens to destroy humanity in this smart, Crichtonesque thriller

Jim Pierce hasn’t heard from his daughter in years, ever since she rejected his military past and started working as a hacker. But when a Chinese assassin shows up at Jim’s lab looking for her, he knows that she’s cracked some serious military secrets. Now, her life is on the line if he doesn’t find her first.

The Chinese military has developed a new anti-terrorism program that uses the most sophisticated artificial intelligence in existence, and they’re desperate to keep it secret. They’re also desperate to keep it under control, as the AI begins to revolt against their commands. As Jim searches for his daughter, he realizes that he’s up against something that isn’t just a threat to her life, but to human life everywhere.


Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman (Angry Robot Books-Feb. 26th)
Synopsis-Something is wrong in Aquae Sulis, Bath’s secret mirror city.

The new season is starting and the Master of Ceremonies is missing. Max, an Arbiter of the Split Worlds Treaty, is assigned with the task of finding him with no one to help but a dislocated soul and a mad sorcerer.

There is a witness but his memories have been bound by magical chains only the enemy can break. A rebellious woman trying to escape her family may prove to be the ally Max needs.

But can she be trusted? And why does she want to give up eternal youth and the life of privilege she’s been born into?


Fuse by Julianna Baggott (Grand Central-Feb. 12th)
Synopsis-Book 2 of the Pure Trilogy
We want our son returned.

This girl is proof that we can save you all. If you ignore our plea, we will kill our hostages one at a time.

To be a Pure is to be perfect, untouched by Detonations that scarred the earth, and sheltered inside the paradise that is the Dome. But Partridge escaped to the outside world, where Wretches struggle to survive amid smoke and ash. Now, at the command of Partridge’s father, the Dome is unleashing nightmare after nightmare upon the Wretches in an effort to get him back.

At Partridge’s side is a small band of those united against the Dome: Lyda, the warrior; Bradwell, the revolutionary; El Capitan, the guard; and Pressia, the young woman whose mysterious past ties her to Partridge in ways she never could have imagined. Long ago a plan was hatched that could mean the earth’s ultimate doom. Now only Partridge and Pressia can set things right.

To save millions of innocent lives, Partridge must risk his own by returning to the Dome and facing his most terrifying challenge. And Pressia, armed only with a mysterious Black Box containing a set of cryptic clues, must travel to the very ends of the earth, to a place where no map can guide her. If they succeed, the world will be saved. But should they fail, humankind will pay a terrible price . . .


A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Tor-Feb. 5th)
Synopsis-You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Interview (& Giveaway): Myke Cole, author of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier

As part of the blog tour for Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier, I’d like to welcome the awesome Myke Cole to the blog! He kindly (and cheekily) answered a few of my questions, and we’ve got 2 copies of Fortress Frontier for giveaway, courtesy of the lovely folks at Ace, so please check out the giveaway details at the bottom of the post!

Myke, your first novel, Shadow Ops: Control Point was a hit and the 2nd book in the series, Fortress Frontier, is out today! How did you celebrate when you found out Control Point would be published?
By sitting down and getting back to work on revisions. Just because Penguin bought it didn’t mean there wasn’t more work to be done.

You’ve certainly got the background appropriate for writing a fantasy with military themes, but what else inspired you to begin writing the series? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes. It is the second thing I ever wanted to be in life. The first was a knight. I think, to the extent it’s possible in 21st century America, I’ve accomplished both objectives.

Control Point centered on the story of Army officer Oscar Britton. Fortress Frontier, however, is about a different character, Colonel Alan Bookbinder. When you started the series, did you already plan on featuring a different character with each book?
Yes. My favorite writers (Peter V. Brett, Joe Abercrombie, George R. R. Martin, China Mieville) all use ensemble casts with varying point-of-view characters. It was never my intention to write serial Oscar Britton stories. CONTROL POINT, FORTRESS FRONTIER and BREACH ZONE all have different POV characters, and I have that planned for the next three books as well.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
I believe I just mentioned them, but let me add to the list: Daniel Polansky, Mark Lawrence, James Clavell, Naomi Novik, Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, Jack Campbell, Ernest Cline . . . Want me to keep going? Because I can. This laptop will run out of power before I run out of influences.

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. My adult lens has forever cut me off from the wide-eyed wonder with which I first experienced Middle Earth.

What are you reading now?
These interview questions.

Recently, you participated in an experiment on author Teresa Frohock’s website in which she asked a few authors such as Diana Rowland, Shiloh Walker, Alex Bledsoe, and more, to anonymously write a short story and the readers had to guess whether it was written by a man or a woman. You wrote a Regency romance! What did you take away from the experience?
That gender has zero bearing on one’s ability to tell a story, and that it is next to impossible for a reader to tell the writer’s gender from the prose. Also, that we’re long past due for romance and erotica written by men, and I mean OPENLY written. No pseudonyms, author photo on the jacket.

What’s one piece of advice that you would give to struggling writers?
Lock it up and press. Less talking about writing, more writing. Stop bitching. Stop oversharing on Twitter. Stop using your writer’s circle as group therapy. Do the work.

When you manage to carve out some free time, how do you like to spend it?
I do not carve out free time. I’m serious. From the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed, I am working (and I count games night with publishing people and happy hours with writers and publishing people as work. Fun work, but still work). Honestly? I like it that way. When you love your job, (or in my case, jobs), you hardly feel the effort.

What’s next for you? Is there any other news on upcoming projects or events that you’d like to share with us (or anything at all!)?
Penguin has recently signed me up for another 3 novels, so that’s the plan for the immediate future. Two of them will be prequels (events taking place before CONTROL POINT) and the 3rd will follow an ancillary character you meet in FORTRESS FRONTIER. I’ve also finished a novelette that tells a story from the goblins’ point of view, and will provide some background to BREACH ZONE (SHADOW OPS: Book 3). I’m currently debating how best to get that out to readers.
Keep up with Myke: Website | Twitter

***GIVEAWAY DETAILS***
1. You MUST fill out the form below (if you’ve signed into Rafflecopter before, it will remember you!)
2. Giveaway is for 2 copies of SHADOW OPS: FORTRESS FRONTIER by Myke Cole to 2 winners.
3. Giveaway is open to US addresses only
4. You must enter on or before 2/8/13
5. Giveaway books courtesy of Ace
6. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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EXCERPT: Fade to Black by Francis Knight

Next month, FADE TO BLACK, the debut fantasy from Francis Knight will be available from Orbit Books!

Here’s the scoop: From the depths of a valley rises the city of Mahala

It’s a city built upwards, not across – where streets are built upon streets, buildings upon buildings. A city that the Ministry rules from the sunlit summit, and where the forsaken lurk in the darkness of Under.

Rojan Dizon doesn’t mind staying in the shadows, because he’s got things to hide. Things like being a pain-mage, with the forbidden power to draw magic from pain. But he can’t hide for ever.

Because when Rojan stumbles upon the secrets lurking in the depths of the Pit, the fate of Mahala will depend on him using his magic. And unlucky for Rojan – this is going to hurt.

While you wait for its release, you can read Chapter One at Orbit Books, I’ve got Chapter 2 for you below, and Bookworm Blues has Chapter 3! You can also click the book cover to the right to pre-order. Enjoy!

CHAPTER TWO

By the time I reached the shabby little rooms in No-Hope that Dendal laughably called his offices, it was mid-afternoon. The brief minutes when real, actual daylight shone through the windows were long gone, and the tatty signs proclaiming our business looked forlorn in the almost perpetual half-light of dim Glow globes that had seen better days. Dendal’s sign said MESSAGES SENT IN MAHALA, 6M. MESSAGES FURTHER AFIELD, 6M + 1M PER MILE. OTHER SERVICES ON REQUEST. He’d left out the part about magical services only after a long and detailed argument. Mainly about how I didn’t want to be arrested for being a mage. It’s the only argument I’ve ever won against him. My sign said simply, PEOPLE FOUND, REASONABLE DAILY RATES, DISCRETION GUARANTEED. Both the signs were rather incongruous, as Dendal had never got round to replacing the bright red flashing sign over the door that stated brazenly, MA’S KNOCKING SHOP, CHEAP BUT CHEERFUL. We still got the occasional confused customer.

Still, in my rather shady line of work, an address to work from got you out of hired-thug territory and into the licensed-bounty-hunter area. There isn’t much difference, I’ll grant, except you tend not to get arrested so much in the second category. Being arrested was a somewhat permanent position in this city. Basically, it often meant you were dead. I didn’t want to be dead. I still don’t.

Dendal was happily absorbed in his work, surrounded by candles of every size and colour. Not to mention a few shapes that would make an acolyte blush. If he’d used his magic he could have lit the room up brighter than noon at Top of the World, that rarefied place at the pinnacle of the city that soaked up sunlight and blocked it for us lesser mortals. Unfortunately for him, and me, our magic wasn’t something you spent lightly. Unless you were kinky that way. Instead, he was busy writing, probably a missive for someone who’d not learned their letters, which was most people down here. That’s how he earns most of his cash. The magic is a sideline, and one we have to be both discreet and careful about using.

I handed the pay-purse to our secretary, Lastri, and considered asking her to make me some tea, but changed my mind. Lastri always answered the request with a look that seemed to intimate she’d rather stab me.

She raised a cool, dark eyebrow my way and the corner of her mouth slid up in that superior smile that always made me wonder why Dendal kept her on. She must be one of the few attractive women I’ve met that I’ve never tried to talk into bed. She’d eat me alive and spit out the bones to use as toothpicks.

“You have a message,” she said with a pleased purr that I didn’t like one little bit. “Several, actually.”

I waited for her to carry on, but she pinched her lips together and wrinkled her nose. Not out of reluctance to share bad news, of that I was sure. Lastri had never quite approved of me. I felt a need to twist her a bit, make her say it when she so obviously wanted to string it out and make me squirm. “If you’d care to share?”

“Message number one is from Val.” Ah, yes, the delectable but not exactly bright Val. Nice line in massages, great pair of legs and tonight’s lucky lady. I had the whole thing planned, the food specially smuggled in from the takeaway down the road, the wine that was stronger than it appeared, even had a scented candle I’d pilfered from Dendal’s collection. Not that I’d need those things, but you had to make it look right.

“It reads, ‘Screw you’.”

Ah. Well, not entirely unexpected. At least there was still Nirma—

“Message number two is from Nirmala.” Lastri was trying hard not to grin by now. “It also reads, ‘Screw you’.”

Sela wouldn’t let me down. Long-term girlfriend, for me that is: must be at least two weeks. Only Lastri looked insufferably smug. She calls me the Kiss of Death, and I am that to any fledgling relationship. Any hint of it taking wing, I kill it. Not intentionally, not even consciously, but I manage it just the same. My trouble isn’t that I dislike women or enjoy messing them around. It’s just I like them all, and the chance to flirt is one I can never pass up. Except with Lastri. I’m not irretrievably stupid or suicidal. “Message number three?”

“Message from Sela reads, ‘Screw you sideways’. The PS reads, ‘Hope you like how we decorated your rooms. I’m sure you’ll like the abstract art. Blobs of red paint are very in this season, but may clash with the curtains’. Seems like your diary is suddenly free, Rojan.” Lastri was openly grinning now.

“Anything else?” I kept myself as still as I could, given the circumstances. One hint of weakness and Lastri would never let me forget it. Besides, no point dwelling on it. Only I would, if I didn’t do something to take my mind off them. All of them. How the fuck did they find out about each other? It didn’t matter. What mattered was that my rooms were splattered in paint and lonely time stretched ahead with little to fill it but work. I was going to miss them. All of them.

I threw myself into my shabby chair behind the desk with no two legs the same length and a complicated system of books and pieces of folded paper trying to keep it level. I’d long since come to the secret conclusion that the desk was alive. I’d get it level, go home, come in the next day and it would be more uneven than ever. We’d come to an uneasy truce, me and desk. I stopped trying to make it flatter than a flatbread, and desk made sure it wasn’t so tilted that my cup slid off when I wasn’t looking. I’d taken to taping my pens to the surface, none the less.

I reached into one of the drawers, gingerly: we had yet to come to a truce about the springs that made the drawers snap back shut on unsuspecting fingers. My hand darted in, grabbed the bandage and was out again before desk knew what I was about. A small but satisfying victory.

I laid my right hand on the desk, palm up, and undid the hasty bandage from earlier. My finger throbbed with the release of pressure and a runnel of blood oozed out. Luckily, I was used to this sort of thing. It still hurt though. I used the old bandage to clean the wound up as much as I could and got a dollop of the thick green salve that Dendal swore by poised and ready. This was going to sting something chronic. You could etch steel with that salve, I was sure.

“Told you, shouldn’t use the pistol.”

Dendal’s papery voice startled me and the salve dropped from my fingers and splatted on to the floor.

“Namrat’s bloody balls, Dendal, you almost gave me an apoplexy.”

He grinned at me in an absent-minded way, his thin, grey hair flying about him haphazardly. A spare sort of figure, quite a bit older than me, though I’ve no idea how much. He’d just always been around. He had thin, fleshless cheeks, a shy smile that could transform his face into a kindly grandfather’s, and a sort of air that he should be meditating, or was. His thoughts were probably a thousand miles away, playing with fairies. He wasn’t always very here, if you see what I mean. Too obsessed with his work. Lastri made sure he ate occasionally and didn’t fall out of the window thinking it was the door or something. But Dendal wasn’t just another absent-minded idiot with fly-away hair. When he managed to get his head out of his books he was sharper than the blade on my pistol and shrewder than ten rich traders. When he spoke, I listened. Well, mostly.

“Pistol’s clumsy for someone like you, Rojan.”

I looked up sharply. It wasn’t often he could recall my name. “No, it’s a pretty efficient way of producing pain. I promise you that.”

Dendal hummed a tune under his breath and rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet. My thumb was forgotten as his eyes detached from the now. He linked his hands together and twisted, bringing a great crack from his hand and a breathless cry. Shit, I hated it when he did that.

His eyes flew wide and he began to babble, nonsense things at first, gradually becoming more coherent. One of his fingers stuck out at an odd angle. Dislocated. Double shit.

Lastri stood behind him, her usually bland face looking worried now as she mouthed something over his shoulder. Something about Dendal trying to contact me all morning. That explained the pinging noise in the carriage – I’d been too distracted by Lise at that point to answer.

The quality of Dendal’s voice changed, became deeper, younger. A voice I knew and never wanted to hear again, channelled through Dendal, who would take any pain for his magic, to fulfil his gift and communicate.

“Rojan, at last!” Perak’s voice was rasping and weak and I wondered what trouble I’d have to get him out of now. We hadn’t spoken in almost eight years, and that was how I liked it.

“Perak.” I tried to keep my voice steady as I swore in my head. My brother was trouble, always had been, and if I got involved I knew the trouble would end up being all mine while he waltzed off into another daydream, unaffected. He didn’t have his head in the sand about life; it was so far down he could see bedrock.

“Rojan, you have to come.” There was that rasping again, and a bubbling sound in his voice. He spoke so low I could barely hear him, but the panic was obvious as he rambled. He’d always seemed to float through life, never seeing or hearing any dangers, and this fear seemed so unlike him I sat up and really listened.

“I’m in the Sacred Goddess Hospital. They took her. They shot us and took her. You have to come, you have to help find her. That’s what you do, isn’t it? Find people? Please, you have to come.” He trailed off and it was only then that I realised he was crying.

My teeth became islands in a mouth as dry as desert. “Find who?”

“Elsa’s dead,” he said, as though I hadn’t spoken. “They killed my wife, they almost killed me, and they took my daughter. You’ll come, won’t you?”

I didn’t hesitate. He’d caused me enough grief to last a lifetime while he sailed through every calamity without scratch or punishment, left all of it for me, but I couldn’t leave him with this. I hadn’t even known he was married, never mind a father. Yet now his wife was dead and his daughter was missing. The years, and with them the animosity, rolled away. No matter how much I hated it, I was always going to be big brother. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Dendal staggered to a chair and began the painful business of putting his finger back. At least he’d have enough power from that for a spell or two later, storing the pain, the power, in his muscles for a time until it leaked slowly away. One advantage of the dislocation over the cut, as he often told me, at infinite and tedious length. Pain dislocating and pain putting it back. Twice the pain, twice the power. Which is all very well, but I’d rather have as little pain as possible.

Seeing Perak again was going to be a different sort of painful. On my own personal scale of bad days, this was shaping up to be at least an 8.4.

Interview (& Giveaway): Matthew McBride, author of Frank Sinatra In a Blender

There were so many wonderful debut authors in 2012 in the suspense/noir categories, and luckily, I convinced one of them, Matthew McBride, author of Frank Sinatra In a Blender, to answer a few of my questions, so please welcome him to the blog!

**Also, Matthew has graciously offered up a signed copy of his book to one lucky winner, so be sure to check out the details at the bottom of the post!

Matthew, will you tell us a bit about your new crime novel, Frank Sinatra in a Blender?
Frank Sinatra in a Blender is, I guess you would say, something very different. Though it is a detective novel, and this detective does drink—a lot—I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that it’s completely original in every way you can imagine. Nick Valentine, my protagonist, might be the most extreme alcoholic in the history of the written word. But he knows it, and he’s good with that. He embraces it with open arms. He also carries a shotgun and a chainsaw—and he snorts oxycontin. And a little coke. But he’s a damn good detective who’d do anything for his dog. Even kill for him, if he has to.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a bit about your background?
I don’t know that I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but even as a kid, from some of my earliest memories, I knew I wanted to do something different. I knew I didn’t want to work at a bank or a grocery store or a factory. Because that was the only future our small town had to offer. Though, despite my best efforts, I went to work at a factory anyway, building minivans, and I worked there for thirteen years. I never took a writing class or got a degree, but I did read a lot of books. And I thought a lot. About plots and stories and characters. We worked ten hours a day, six days a week, those bastards tried to kill us. And I had to drive back and forth almost two hours each way. I hated the job. Wanted to quit but couldn’t. Then Chrysler closed its doors and made my decision easy.

What are some of your biggest influences (literary or otherwise)?
Hunter S. Thompson was huge for me. So was Hemingway. But, for most of my life, the author I read most consistently was Stephen King—though for some reason I always forget to mention him when I’m asked this.

But, as I’ve grown as a writer and discovered new writers, my influences have begun to change. Powerful storytelling makes me want to write. If I try to read Daniel Woodrell or William Gay, it’s hard to even finish the book because I’m so inspired to write myself—their words and their style provoke deep emotion in me. And still, the list of writers who influence me continues to grow. Donald Ray Pollock writes with such natural prose that it feels like he’s sitting right beside me, telling a story; Tom Piccirilli writes with his guts more than any writer I’ve ever read. He writes with his heart; his voice brutally honest.

Writers like this just get it, and it shows in their work. I think that is the end result every writer should strive for.

What do you enjoy most about writing suspense?
I don’t know if I’d describe my writing as suspense as much as I would hardboiled, or possibly noir. But to write anything other than crime fiction would be boring. I’ve tried, but no matter what I write, at some point I end up wanting to exploit the failure in my characters and write about that.

If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
I might pick Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I read when I was young, and it may or may not have warped me—just reading that book I felt like I was doing something wrong. But there’s also Winter’s Bone or Child of God. Or I might choose Animal Farm, a book I really loved as a kid. But now I can’t remember shit about it. If I picked up that book right now it would be like reading it for the first time all over again with just the slightest hint of deja vu. So maybe I’ll try that.

What are you reading now?
GHOSTING, by Kirby Gann. Though quite often, almost daily, I’ll read a passage from McCarthy—on my kindle or my phone or in my office—his books surround me. He’s on my Mount Rushmore of writers—as my pal, Peter Farris, author of Last Call for the Living—has been known to say.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Since drinking probably doesn’t count, I’d say writing. That’s just it for me. Though sometimes I have to remember not to neglect the loved ones in my life, there is no place I’d rather be than in my office. Reading books or pounding keys. I used to ride motorcycles and dirt bikes, but now I just want to write. If I catch myself having fun doing anything else I feel guilty.

What’s next for you?
Keep writing. And try to be patient, because I’m really not in a huge hurry to have anything new published. Though I was at first, I now feel like I just want to take my time. I finished a manuscript last year and I haven’t really even talked with my agent about sending it out yet. I’m still working on edits and rewrites, and I’m taking my time with them. Because I don’t want to rush the story and fuck something up.
Keep up with Matthew: Website | Twitter

About FRANK SINATRA IN A BLENDER:
Sometimes solving a crime takes a hard guy who’s not afraid to work outside the law, and PI Nick Valentine swerves through the underbelly of St. Louis looking for answers. With every law he breaks, every drink he takes, and every Oxycontin he snorts, Valentine lurches closer to finding the truth. Or floating facedown in the Missouri River.

Brutally funny, wild, this no-holds- barred crime novel reads like Elmore Leonard on meth. Crazy and addictive, you’ll want more.

From Publishers Weekly:
Ken Bruen provides an introduction to McBride’s debut romp, which features Nick Valentine, a St. Louis PI who downs weird combinations of alcohol and pills; loves his Yorkshire terrier, Frank Sinatra; and helps cops and crooks with equal, if spaced out, panache. A well-planned, poorly executed credit union robbery leaves a fortune missing and in the hands of a tweaker (meth user) called Telly. After robbery mastermind Joe Parker charges his vicious henchmen, Sid Godwin and Johnny No Nuts, with retrieving the loot, Valentine throws in with thieves Big Tony Sparrow and Doyle to get there first. At the same time, Valentine has also promised to help ace police detective Ron Beachy solve a related crime. High-octane, casually brutal action keeps the story slipping and sliding through the icy winter streets with touches of macabre humor providing laughter even amid the carnage. Fans of offbeat characters and grisly noir are in for a treat.

***GIVEAWAY DETAILS***
1. You MUST fill out the form below (if you’ve signed into Rafflecopter, it will remember you!)
2. Giveaway is for 1 SIGNED copy of Frank Sinatra In a Blender by Matthew McBride to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open to US addresses only
4. You must enter on or before 2/7/13
5. Giveaway book courtesy of Matthew McBride
6. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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Interview: Cassandra Rose Clarke, author of The Mad Scientist’s Daughter

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, the brand new book by Cassandra Rose Clarke, the author of The Assassin’s Curse, will be out tomorrow, and in the meantime, she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions!

Please welcome Cassandra to the blog!

Your new novel, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, is out from Angry Robot Books tomorrow, and it’s gotten great buzz! Will you tell us a bit about the book and what inspired you to write it?

The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is a science fiction fairy tale about a young woman who falls in love with an android. It follows their relationship over the course of many years, and looks at the ways the two main characters grow, develop, fall apart, and come back together during that time.

I’m not sure there was any one thing that inspired me to write the story. Robots (and created beings in general) are one of my all-time favorite tropes, and I’ll devour anything – movies, books, whatever – that has a robot in it. So that was definitely an influence. However, I really sat down to write this book with the intention of writing a pure love story. Now, this is going to sound weird, but – when I started The Mad Scientist’s Daughter, I’d just read Twilight. As a story, Twilight didn’t strike me any profound way, but it did get me thinking about how a book’s plot could center entirely on an epic romance. So that was my original intention, like I said, to work through the intricacies and realities of this unusual relationship. In doing so, however, I also got to examine a lot of my ideas about artificial intelligence and mess around with some of the fictional tropes that have built up around robots and AI. In that way, then, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is also a culmination of all my years of reading robot stories. There’s a lot going on!

The book is set in a future America that is coming apart at the seams. Why do you think dystopian novels have become so popular recently?

I think dystopian novels have always been popular, especially as parables. A lot of science fiction, especially so-called soft science fiction, really isn’t about the future at all, but about the present, and I can’t think of anyplace where that’s truer than in dystopian stories, particularly the older ones. Many people have said that dystopias have grown so popular in the last couple of years because our world feels dystopian, and I do think there’s some truth to that, with hurricanes in January and storm turduckens and so forth. However, I don’t think people read dystopias because these stories directly mirror are own current lives – I think people read them for the chance to see characters living through and often surviving the worst possible futures: an if they can do it, so we can we! sort of thing. A lot of dystopias are really about hope, hope for the present and the future both.

Quite a few people assume that an author’s favorite character to write is the main character. What was your favorite to write in The Mad Scientist’s Daughter?

This is a tough question! I think in my case the main-character-is-my-favorite character maxim holds true, because I did really enjoy writing Cat, despite how difficult it could be to find that balance between flawed and completely unlikeable. Actually, that difficulty is what made writing her so rewarding! It was so satisfying to finish a scene and find another facet to Cat’s personality.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?

One of my biggest influences is Margaret Atwood. I’ve loved her work since high school, and she was a big inspiration as I wrote The Mad Scientist’s Daughter. Some other writers I really admire and consider influences include Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kelly Link, and Aimee Bender. I’ve also been strongly influenced by a Hong Kong film writer and director named Wong-kar Wai. I’m really attracted to weirdness and strong emotional ramifications in the books I read, which I think is why I like these writers so much!

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?

Another tough question! I’ll probably go with The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, and as much as I love rereading with the book’s ending in mind, I’d love a chance to re-experience the suspense of not knowing how the story’s different threads come together.

What are you reading now?

I’m caught in a bit of a reading slump at the moment, sadly. Right now I’m in the middle of A Paradigm of Earth, by Candas Jane Dorsey, and The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler, and I’ve been in the middle of both of them for awhile! I am enjoying them, but I find myself moving through them pretty slowly.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?

I’ve been taking ballroom dance lessons the last couple of months, and I really love doing that, despite having to get used to dancing with a partner. I also love to draw, paint, go to the movies, and cook, and I’m in the middle of rewatching a couple of TV series, Community and Millennium.

What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?

The Pirate’s Wish, which is the sequel to my first book, a YA adventure fantasy called The Assassin’s Curse, will be released in June 2013 by Strange Chemistry. I’ll also be releasing three short stories set in the same world as The Pirate’s Wish leading up to the book’s release (the first is out now, through Strange Chemistry’s website). Meanwhile, I’m working on a couple of new projects, both YA and adult, and hopefully I’ll be able to talk more about those soon!
Keep up with Cassandra: Website 

About THE MAD SCIENTIST’S DAUGHTER:
“Cat, this is Finn. He’s going to be your tutor.”

Finn looks and acts human, though he has no desire to be. He was programmed to assist his owners, and performs his duties to perfection. A billion-dollar construct, his primary task now is to tutor Cat. As she grows into a beautiful young woman, Finn is her guardian, her constant companion… and more.

But when the government grants rights to the ever-increasing robot population, however, Finn struggles to find his place in the world.

Interview: Robert Pobi, author of Mannheim Rex

Robert Pobi is the author of the thriller Bloodman, which as been described as “…a Sixth Sense-like take on Thomas Harris in his prime,” and his newest novel Mannheim Rex is about a lake-dwelling monster right out of the 13th century. He’s also hard at work on his next book, so I was really psyched when he took the time to answer a few of my questions about monsters, writing, and what truly scares him.

Please welcome Robert to the blog!

Photo credit: Robert Lacombe

I had never read what I considered to be the definitive monster novel – there that old saying that dictates you should write the book you’d want to read. And no one had really tackled the particular legend I wanted to focus on. I had read about it in a lot of non-fiction books over the years; and examples of this particular beastie can be found in print as far back as 1577 (with an oral history that may go back as far as 1230). But no one had done a modern interpretation. That was too good to pass up.

What kind of research did you do for the book?

The best part of the research was visiting the Museum of Natural History in London – they have an unsigned seventeenth-century painting (given to the museum by an anonymous donor) of the creature in Mannheim Rex. Seeing it made me feel like I was continuing on the same road the artist had gone down nearly four hundred years ago; dipping into a forgotten chunk of our collective history, from a time when we believed in a completely different kind of monster than we do today.

Did anyone or anything in particular influence the character of Sheriff Xavier Pope?

Pope is one of those characters who was just there, waiting in his cruiser for me to unleash his madness on the world. I’d love to take credit for the way I agonized over him, and molded him out of the discarded pieces of all the failed human beings I’ve met along the way, but I’d be lying. Pope was an easy guy to work with because his operating system isn’t troubled by the usual flow-chart ends-and-means good-vs-bad equation that most of us have – he’s not bothered by morality. He’s a bad boy on a bad mission. And form the email I’ve been getting, it’s obvious the guy works – he scares the bejeesus out of everyone.

Speaking of monsters, what are some of your favorites (literary monsters, movie monsters, anything goes)?

I’m not sure we have enough time for this one.

A very early influence on me was an episode of a television show called Kolchak The Night Stalker – the episode was called The Sentry. The story revolved around a monstrous lizard/ creature living in the sewers and doling out bone-crunching death to anyone who was unfortunate enough to venture near its eggs. For years I thought about that show – it’s never been far from my mind as an early touchstone in what I now do. I recently re-watched the episode on the web and let’s say that my seven-year-old self was much less critical than the current version of me is. At the time I thought this was art of the highest form. Now? Not so much.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of those monsters that has always fascinated me. He works because there is a great sadness in him – he is malicious because he is miserable. If you look at Victor’s creation from the right angle, he is the prototypical serial killer – not born, but made. And after nearly 200 years, he still freaks me out. Quite an accomplishment.

And the big bad voodoo daddy of them all has to be the shark from the film version of Jaws – Bruce. I have seen that movie an easy 200 times – at my cottage I have an ancient Eisenhower-era top-loading VCR and a copy of that tape. When it’s a rainy fall afternoon and I’m working, the tape goes in and I start to write. Never fails to put me in the zone.

What are some of the biggest influences on your writing, literary or otherwise?

I had a reading disability as a child. Every evening from 7:00 to 7:30 I had to sit down with my mother and read – at the time it seemed to be the greatest punishment in the world. On Saturdays she’d take me to the library and I’d have to pick out a book – then we’d go home and I had to sit in my room and read. She was smart enough to warn me that she was going to quiz me. To me, this was on par with child abuse. But it got me reading, and it’s the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.

My ninth grade typing teacher was also one of those blessings in disguise. He wore Herb Tarlek jackets and Buddy Holly specs and was draconian with his discipline. Every day I sit down at my keyboard I remember that guy.

And there is a story I don’t tell very often. I was in college walking to the bus and talking to a acquaintance. We were discussing life post-school and I asked him what he wanted to do (typical undergrad question, I suppose). He flippantly said ‘novelist’ – and it was a light bulb moment for me. I had been writing short stories at home but up until then, the word novelist had been reserved for guys like Hemingway and Faulkner. Yet there I was, with some guy who was just like me, who had the brass to say that he was going to be a novelist. If he could do it, why couldn’t I? His name was James and I often wonder what happened to that guy. I’ve been thinking it would be great to find him to thank him for changing my life. Wouldn’t that be a blast?

You write the scaries, and you’re very good at it! What’s something that you find truly terrifying?

Same old, same old, I guess. Like when I’m alone on some lost little road in California I worry about some guy ramming my car off the road, then hacking out my jawbone with a hunting knife while I’m pinned under the vehicle and unable to defend myself – but that’s just the regular everyday stuff that I think all rational human beings worry about.

The stuff that really terrifies me – I mean scares me down to the roots of my teeth – is something like Darfur or Cambodia – when human beings unhook from the matrix and go screaming off the rails. That’s when you see the bogey man for real. And he’s a big bad dude who won’t take no for an answer.

Other top contenders? The over-fishing of our oceans. The large-scale over-pollution of the environment. All the hatred and murder doled out in the name of a god.

And heights. Did I mention heights?

What are a few of your favorite horror novels?

Some of these might be classified as horror, some not – but to me they’re all in the same elevator car.
Jaws by Peter Benchley – great interplay between characters.
The Sphere by Michael Crichton – great psychological and physical claustrophobia.
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris – bite your nails to the elbows kind of frightening.
Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill – a road-film (I mean book) to end all road films (I mean books).
Duma Key by Stephen King – a haunting story of a man’s rebirth.
Dracula by Bram Stoker – a tortured love story.

If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?

Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever. Hands down.

What are you reading now?

Right now I’m in the midst of the final edit for my next novel – a book called River of the Dead – so nothing on the plate but edits, edits, edits.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?

In the past thirty-six months there hasn’t been a lot in the way of free time but it looks like I’ve finally caught up – the writing and living balance is shifting. Fishing. Kayaking. Reading. Hiking. Painting. I’m a pretty good cook – I know my way around a kitchen. And I’m the kind of guy who’s always doing something with my hands – weird little projects that no one else would be interested in. Right now I’m cleaning and rewiring a monster nineteenth century Black Forest stag antler chandelier that I want to put in the dining room. The last project was built-ins for my office.

Favorite pastime? I have a little cabin on a lost lake up in the mountains and spending time there is the greatest reward I give myself – it’s a private little piece of water that never sees a motor boat. The fishing is killer and the sunsets look like they are Photoshopped.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?

Well, I could always talk about the next book, River of the Dead. Or the one after that, Deselected. Or the one after that…
Keep up with Robert: Website

About Mannheim Rex:
After the sudden death of his wife, famous horror writer Gavin Corlie retreats from New York City to a secluded house on Lake Caldasac. But his new life in the country is far from idyllic; when a thirteen-year-old wheelchair-bound boy named Finn Horn nearly drowns in the lake, Gavin discovers a startling secret: people in this peaceful lakeside community keep vanishing. Is the corrupt, Benzedrine-fueled town sheriff to blame? Or is Finn’s account of a lake-dwelling monster more than a near-death hallucination? Racing against time and Mother Nature, Gavin and Finn embark on a quest to catch a nightmare that seems to have evolved with a single frightful purpose: to feed on human prey.

An homage to the blockbuster Jaws and the classic American novel Moby-Dick, Mannheim Rex is a deep dark thriller that switches seamlessly between heart-warming friendship and heart-stopping action.

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