My Bookish Ways

Early Review: Dare Me by Megan Abbott

Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Publisher:
Reagan Arthur (Little, Brown)/July 31st, 2012
Suspense
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.

REVIEW
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!

MAN OR DEMON? GIFT OR CURSE?
-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?
**GIVEAWAY IS NOW OVER AND WINNER HAS BEEN NOTIFIED**

**GIVEAWAY DETAILS** 
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
Publisher:
Putnam/June 2012
Thriller
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?

REVIEW
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!**

**GIVEAWAY DETAILS** 
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
Publisher:
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?

REVIEW
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

**GIVEAWAY DETAILS** 
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 (www.BookCountry.com) 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?

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers
Publisher:
St. Martins Press/June 19th, 2012
YA Thriller
Kind thanks to St. Martins Press for providing a review copy

It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually want to live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to?

REVIEW
This Is Not a Test is my first read by YA contemporary author Courtney Summers. I’m not a reader of contemporary, but I’m certainly aware of how popular she is. This Is Not a Test is her first “zombie” novel, however, it’s probably not what you’re used to when you think of “zombie lit”. In fact, it’s not a book full of gory zombie noms at all. It’s a look at a group of very different teenagers as they hole up in their high school and wait for help to come. There is a plague turning folks into shambling people eaters, but that’s really secondary to the story. It serves as a background for narrator, Sloane Price, and her makeshift family to navigate their own secrets and individual pain while the wolves circle outside. The wolves in this case, of course, are zombies. Before the full impact of zombie apocalypse hits, Sloane is dealing with the pain and betrayal of her 19 year old sister Lily leaving her with their physically abusive father. She’d always told Sloane that Sloane couldn’t survive without her, and now she’s gone. Sloane, now thrown in with this group of survivors, really isn’t surviving, she’s waiting to die.

This Is Not a Test unfolds over a number of weeks, and told in Sloane’s present tense narrative, is very immediate and gripping. What got my attention was the author’s ability to paint a picture of how young people would probably actually behave in this kind of situation. Cliques form, alliances are made, and of course, enemies forged, all with the promise of (almost) certain death looming outside. As you can guess, they can’t stay in the school forever. Will they leave the relative safety of the school to chance finding help elsewhere? Is help even there to be had? Inevitable comparisons will be made to Lord of the Flies, and that’s fair, but they really are two very different stories, although fans of one will like the other. I will point out that if you’re looking for constant zombie killin’ action, this is not the book for you. It’s really about the characters and how they interact with one another. You’ll find yourself taking sides, and you may be surprised with who you side with. Sloane’s voice is perfect for telling this story, and this one will tug at your heart and make the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

 

Purchase This Is Not a Test: Amazon | B&N

Early Review: Criminal (Will Trent #6) by Karin Slaughter

Criminal (Will Trent #6) by Karin Slaughter
Publisher:
Random House/July 3rd, 2012
Thriller/Mystery
Kind thanks to Random House for providing a review copy

Will Trent is a brilliant agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Newly in love, he is beginning to put a difficult past behind him. Then a local college student goes missing, and Will is inexplicably kept off the case by his supervisor and mentor, deputy director Amanda Wagner. Will cannot fathom Amanda’s motivation until the two of them literally collide in an abandoned orphanage they have both been drawn to for different reasons. Decades before—when Will’s father was imprisoned for murder—this was his home. . . .

Flash back nearly forty years. In the summer Will Trent was born, Amanda Wagner is going to college, making Sunday dinners for her father, taking her first steps in the boys’ club that is the Atlanta Police Department. One of her first cases is to investigate a brutal crime in one of the city’s worst neighborhoods. Amanda and her partner, Evelyn, are the only ones who seem to care if an arrest is ever made.

Now the case that launched Amanda’s career has suddenly come back to life, intertwined with the long-held mystery of Will’s birth and parentage. And these two dauntless investigators will each need to face down demons from the past if they are to prevent an even greater terror from being unleashed.

REVIEW
Will Trent, agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (and one of my favorite Karin Slaughter creations), to a duty that no agent wants. Meanwhile, his boss, Amanda Wagner, seems determined to keep him away from the case of a missing girl. Amanda is nothing if good at keeping secrets, and Will has just about had enough, but of course that doesn’t stop Amanda from doing her best to close him out. Amanda Wagner is one of the most infuriating characters in this series, but in Criminal, we get a look into what made her who she is, and it was absolutely fascinating. Amanda became a cop in mid-seventies Atlanta, and it wasn’t a good time for women in general, much less women in the boys’ club that was law enforcement. Mostly relegated to secretarial work, women had to put up with near constant verbal abuse, and sometimes physical abuse, and were never taken seriously as investigators. In fact, according to the author, during her research she found out that many calls were made claiming that women were stealing squad cars, because the thought of a woman being a cop just didn’t enter anyone’s mind. The narrative of Criminal goes back and forth between 1975 and present day, and the bodies are piling up. Prostitutes are being killed in horrible ways, and Will is connected to the case very intimately.

I am a huge fan of this series, and it just keeps getting better. Criminal is Amanda and Will’s story, and it’s a surprising one. The author paints a very sympathetic portrait of a character who, so far, has not garnered much sympathy. Her attachment to Will is explained, and her tumultuous beginning in law enforcement is nothing short of fascinating. Will is just as frustrating as always (but you can’t help but love him), and his tragic past is also explored here. Sara Linton has a hand in Trent’s emotional progress, and their romance is very tender and sweet. However, Ms. Slaughter is no stranger to darkness, and Criminal is one of her darkest books yet. The crimes are unspeakable, and sometimes difficult to read, but there is never anything gratuitous about these stories, and they only serve to highlight the humanity of her protagonists, as they fight to stop the most gruesome of criminals. If you love crime novels with characters you’ll fall in love with and stories that will keep you riveted, start with Blindsighted and work your way through. You won’t regret it!

Purchase Criminal: Amazon | B&N

Stalking the Others (H&W Investigations #4) by Jess Haines

Stalking the Others (H&W Investigations #4) by Jess Haines
Publisher:
Kensington/July 3rd, 2012
Urban Fantasy
Kind thanks to Kensington and the author for providing a review copy

Vampires, werewolves, mages—the Others are very real, and wreaking havoc in Shiarra Waynest’s life. But now, she’s returning the favor…

Once, she was one of the good guys—or as close as a New York P.I. can get. Then Shiarra Waynest was drawn into the world of the Others. Every faction has its own loyalties and agenda. And Shia’s recent betrayal by her ex-boyfriend means that she may be on the verge of becoming a rogue werewolf at the next full moon…

Of course, with all the threats against her, Shia’s not sure she’ll live long enough to find out. The enigmatic vampire Royce wants her back in his clutches, as do two powerful werewolf packs, along with the police. Instead of going into hiding, Shia is enlisting the aid of her enchanted hunter’s belt and every dirty P.I. trick she knows. If she’s going down, she’ll take out as many of her enemies as she can—and hope that in the process, she keeps whatever humanity she has left…

REVIEW (No spoilers, but if you haven’t read the series yet, you may want to read my review of Hunted by the Others)
The Sunstrikers must be taken down before the next full moon, and Shiarra Waynest is determined to do just that. Still unsure if she herself will go furry, she’s on a desperate hunt for the werewolves (and the ex-boyfriend, Chaz), that have quite possibly ruined her life, and those they turned without consent. Unfortunately, Shia has to ask for help from the most unlikely of allies, the White Hats, and hope she’s not making a terrible decision.

In Stalking the Others, the 4th installment of Jess Haines’ H&W Investigations series, Shia is almost completely without a tether. Her boyfriend has betrayed her, she’s not sure if she’ll turn into a werewolf, she’s still fighting off advances from hottie vampire Royce, and she has to go to her arch nemesis, Jack of the White Hats, for help. It’s humbling for Shia, but she’s determined to help in any way she can to stop the rogue werewolves that have been turning people without their consent. Heartbroken at her family’s abandonment since finding out about her involvement with the Others, she’s also found herself becoming more bloodthirsty and aggressive lately. Are these symptoms of her impending change, the stress of all that’s happened, or something else? The spirit infused belt she’s been wearing certainly provides the super strength that’s aided her in plenty of recent scrapes, but she’s finding herself more and more at its whim. There’s quite a lot of action in this one, pretty much from the get go, and Shia has become one badass babe. A confrontation with Chaz is inevitable, and it may not be what you think. Trust me, I hated this guy in the last book and wanted to see him get a butt kicking that he wouldn’t soon forget. Our girl has grown emotionally quite a bit, and her ideas of what’s right have certainly been challenged. Ms. Haines has brought the fun (and the sexy) in this dark and action packed treat, and the series hasn’t disappointed me yet! Can’t wait for the next book!

Purchase Stalking the Others: Amazon | B&N

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