My Bookish Ways

Early Review: Devil’s Wake by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes

Devil’s Wake by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes
Atria/July 31st, 2012

What happens when an unprecedented infection sweeps the world, leaving the earth on the brink of the Apocalypse?
But this infection goes far beyond disease. Beyond even the nightmare images of walking dead or flesh-eating ghouls. The infected are turning into creatures unlike anything ever dreamed of . . . more complex, more mysterious, and more deadly.
Trapped in the northwestern United States as winter begins to fall, Terry and Kendra have only one choice: they and their friends must cross a thousand miles of no-man’s-land in a rickety school bus, battling ravenous hordes, human raiders, and their own fears.
In the midst of apocalypse, they find something no one could have anticipated . . . love.

I’m always willing to read a book in the interest of important zombie research, so Devil’s Wake was definitely on my radar. Devil’s Wake follows two teenagers, Kendra, a girl left adrift on her own, and Terry, one of a group of kids that make up the Red Meadows Five, serving their time as camp counselors instead of in the Washington juvenile justice system. After their bosses, Vern and his wife Molly are attacked, turning Vern into a zombie, the group decides to hit the road in a big navy blue school bus called Blue Beauty. Eventually, the little group crosses paths with Kendra, and she joins them, hoping to make it somewhere safe.

Safety is relative in this new world of constant danger, death, and loss, and our group has quite a haul ahead of them. Terry eventually emerges as the de facto leader of the group, although the physically larger Piranha seems to give him a run for his money a few times. Kendra is drawn to Terry, and although she comes off as quite dependent at first, she eventually holds her own. The group has heard rumors about an island called Devil’s Wake, that may be a safe haven, but they have to make it there first, and that means battling through groups of freaks (aka zombies), as well as human menaces. Constant vigilance is necessary, and I can’t imagine being a teenager in this situation, without any help other than fellow teens. I appreciate that they made quite a few mistakes, but also proved quite self-sufficient and streetwise, and the group dynamic is relatively conflict free. There are no descents into Lord of the Flies territory here, and I enjoyed the cautious optimism of these teens thrust into an indescribably horrible situation. The zombies are a little different in Devil’s Wake, though. Some zombies seem to retain shadows of their old selves, and can utter simple sentences, which ups the creep factor quite a bit. Also, Kendra has had dreams, even before the outbreak, that signaled something bad to come, so I’m curious to see if that will be explored further. The author are old pros, and it shows in the writing. We never really get to know any character too in depth, although of course we get to know Terry and Kendra a little bit better than the rest. While there is plenty of zombie action, the gore is never over the top, so this book could appeal to older teens as well as zombie aficionados. While no new ground is broken here, it’s an entertaining entry in the zombie pantheon,  and the ending leaves things open for another book,  strongly hinting at a burdgeoning romance between Terry and Kendra. I’ll be interested to see where the authors take this group of teens, and plan on picking up book 2 when it comes out!

Pre-Order Devil’s Wake: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound


1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries)
2. Giveaway is for 2 copies of Devil’s Wake by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes to 2 winners.
3. Giveaway is open to US  addresses only (no PO boxes).
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 7/31/12
6. Giveaway books courtesy of Atria
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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Interview: RL Naquin, author of Monster in My Closet

Please welcome RL Naquin to the blog today. Rachel is the author of the upcoming urban fantasy, Monster in My Closet (my review), and was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her book, what makes her squee with fangirl joy, and her favorite curse word!

Rachel, your first book, Monster In My Closet, is out at the end of the month! Have you always hoped to be a writer? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
I always imagined it, yes. It took me well into adulthood to follow through with the dream, though. I started stories, got halfway through, then set them aside. Being a writer isn’t a sensible goal. Success is highly unlikely, the pay is lousy, and you’re baring your soul to the world, where everyone can examine and judge its contents. The problem was, I wasn’t actually much good at any of the “sensible” vocations. Well, except customer service. I’m extremely helpful.

Once I decided it was time to get over myself and either make a real effort to write something worth publishing or shut up and stop talking about it, I sent out some short stories I’d written for a creative writing class a few years before. More were accepted than rejected. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe, just maybe, I could do this thing. So, I wrote Monster in My Closet, sent it to some agents, and got some requests for partials and fulls. Ultimately, no bites. I gave up and put it away. A week later, I woke up with the absolute certainty that I needed to submit it to Carina Press. That very day. So I did. Four months later, Angela James, their executive editor, called me with an offer.

Will you tell us a bit about Monster In My Closet?
It’s an urban fantasy about an empathic wedding planner—she can feel other people’s emotions. That skill’s made her the go-to girl for every troubled person she’s ever come across. Now, it’s spread to the supernatural world, and monsters, mythical creatures, and urban legends come to her for help, too. While she’s trying to adjust to this, she walks into an incubus on the street and he gets a taste of her emotional storehouse, so he stalks her and feeds off of the women she helps. It’s light and dark mixed with fun and icky. And very little of it is what you normally would expect in an urban fantasy.

What do you love most about writing urban fantasy?
I love the possibilities. I love the idea that in our everyday lives we might be surrounded by all kinds of supernatural strangeness that we don’t know about. Writing urban fantasy gives me license to make up the most outrageous scenario and plop someone like you or me right into the middle of it.

What are a few of your favorite authors or books?
This is always such a hard question, because a real list would be enormous. Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, Neil Gaiman (his Sandman graphic novels as well as his books), Orson Scott Card, and Douglas Adams.

Is there anyone that would bring out a fangirl squee if you were to meet them?
Pretty standard geekgirl list: David Tennant, Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillian. But honestly, my heart has belonged to Han Solo/Indiana Jones for most of my life, so I’d probably make a total and complete ass out of myself if I met Harrison Ford. There might be tears. Fainting. Embarrassing loss of control over simple bodily functions.

What’s one of your favorite lines from a book (or movie)?
“Nothing is hopeless; we must hope for everything.”
– Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

What’s on your nightstand right now?
My Kindle is crammed full of books I want to read once I get through the release-month crazies. Jeffe Kennedy’s Rogue’s Pawn and Michael R. Underwood’s Geekomancy are the last two I bought. Next month, I’m going to read so much.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Reading, playing video games, going to the zoo when it’s not 106 degrees outside. I like to watch really bad made-for-Syfy movies to see how long I can make it before I give up and change the channel. I like to challenge my family to play Disney Trivia and then kick their butts at it. I also like to take our imaginary dog, Waffles, for a walk. He needs the exercise.

It says in your bio that you spent six years in England! What were some of your favorite places to visit while you were there?
I loved everything there. I saw Stonehenge several times. London was so much fun, just to ride the Tube, get off anywhere, and walk around without a real tourist agenda. I loved the fish and chip shops. Sigh. Two words for you: battered sausages. For several months of my stay, I lived in a hotel above a pub. I like cider. I like cider very much. And stumbling downstairs with a hangover and being served breakfast in a window seat looking out at a 400-year-old church? Incredible.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or, you know, fave curse word, guilty pleasure, anything at all!)?
The second Monster Haven story, Pooka in My Pantry comes out in March of next year. I’m working on book three right now. Zoey’s adventures have a long way to go before she can rest and/or settle down with Riley, the hot guy disguised as a paramedic.

My favorite curse word is assclown. Or maybe asshat. I think it’s a draw. They both make me giggle. I guess my guilty pleasure is LOLcats, but my true weakness is animals dressed in people clothes. Always funny. Always.
Thanks so much for having me, Kristin! I’ve had a wonderful time, and the cupcakes you set out were delicious!
Keep up with Rachel: Website | Twitter
Pre-order Monster in My Closet: Kindle | Nook

About Monster in My Closet
I stopped believing in monsters long ago. But I knew I wasn’t imagining things when I found one in my kitchen baking muffins. I’d seen him before: lurking in my closet, scaring the crap out of my five-year-old self. Turns out that was a misunderstanding, and now Maurice needs a place to stay. How could I say no?

After all, I’ve always been a magnet for the emotionally needy, and not just in my work as a wedding planner. Being able to sense the feelings of others can be a major pain. Don’t get me wrong, I like helping people—and non-people. But this ability has turned me into a gourmet feast for an incubus, a demon that feeds off emotional energy. Now, brides are dropping dead all over town, and my home has become a safe house for the supernatural. I must learn to focus my powers and defeat the demon before he snacks on another innocent woman and comes looking for the main course…

Early Review: Monster in My Closet by RL Naquin

Monster in My Closet (Monster Haven #1) by RL Naquin
Carina Press/July 30th, 2012
Urban Fantasy
Monster Haven series

I stopped believing in monsters long ago. But I knew I wasn’t imagining things when I found one in my kitchen baking muffins. I’d seen him before: lurking in my closet, scaring the crap out of my five-year-old self. Turns out that was a misunderstanding, and now Maurice needs a place to stay. How could I say no?

After all, I’ve always been a magnet for the emotionally needy, and not just in my work as a wedding planner. Being able to sense the feelings of others can be a major pain. Don’t get me wrong, I like helping people—and non-people. But this ability has turned me into a gourmet feast for an incubus, a demon that feeds off emotional energy. Now, brides are dropping dead all over town, and my home has become a safe house for the supernatural. I must learn to focus my powers and defeat the demon before he snacks on another innocent woman and comes looking for the main course…

Zoey is half owner of a bridal consulting firm, Happily Ever After, with her best friend Sara. She’s also an empath, although until recently, has always thought she was just particularly sensitive to others’ feelings. When she gets up one morning and there is a monster at her kitchen table, humming to himself, reading the paper and sipping coffee, her world is turned upside down, very suddenly. The monster’s name is Maurice, and did I happen to mention he makes a mean muffin? Well, he does, and his wife has kicked him out, so he needs a place to stay. Soon, a fairy ring is being built around Zoey’s house, there’s a family of brownies taking up resident in her closet, and an incubus named Sebastian that’s out to get her. It’s a lot to take in, but when people start dying, Zoey knows she must do something before the body count gets even higher.

I enjoyed Monster in My Closet so much, and Zoey is my kind of heroine. She’s instantly likeable, has a penchant for loud outfits, and adapts to her situation pretty quickly, considering how fast things begin to happen. I appreciated that once her initial surprise passes, she goes with the flow and does her best to learn about her new friends. And what friends! They call themselves the Hidden, and pretty much encompass any being that humanity doesn’t know about. They prefer to keep it that way, but Zoey is a special case. Turns out her mom, who disappeared when she was just a girl, helped out the Hidden, so it kind of runs in the family. So, we have an empath that’s slowly learning how to keep from being emotionally bombarded, a house full of the Hidden, a skunk ape for a bodyguard, a fox named Milo, and a sex demon that’s determined to make Zoey one of his conquests. Then there’s the hunky paramedic, who may be a little more than he seems, and is certainly interested in getting to know Zoey better. Zoey will have to gather her friends, and her power, to fight a force that’s determined to steal her soul, and the souls of those she loves. Although things wrap up nicely, there’s plenty of material for the next book, and of course, the mystery of her mother’s disappearance still hasn’t been solved. Fans of Molly Harper’s novels will be delighted and it’s sure to appeal to urban fantasy fans that like their creatures charming as well as their heroines. I can’t wait to read more about Zoey and her fascinating friends!

Pre-Order Monster in My Closet: Nook | Kindle

Suzy’s Case by Andy Siegel

Suzy’s Case by Andy Siegel
Scribner/July 10th, 2012
Suspense/Legal Thriller

When Henry Benson, a high-profile criminal lawyer known for his unsavory clients, recruits Tug to take over a long-pending multimillion-dollar lawsuit representing a tragically brain-damaged child, his instructions are clear: get us out of it; there is no case.
Yet the moment Tug meets the disabled but gallant little Suzy Williams and June, her beautiful, resourceful mother, all bets are off.
With an offbeat, self-mocking style, Tug Wyler’s a far cry from your ordinary lawyer. Unswerving in his dedication to his mostly disadvantaged clients, he understands only too well how badly they need him with the system stacked against them. Tug is honest about his own shortcomings, many of them of the profoundly politically incorrect variety, and his personal catchphrase, handy in all situations, is “At least I admit it.”
When his passionate commitment to Suzy’s case thrusts him into a surreal, often violent sideshow, the ensuing danger only sharpens his obsession with learning what really happened to Suzy. Blending razor-sharp intuition, intellectual toughness, and endlessly creative legal brinkmanship, Tug determinedly works his way through a maze of well-kept secrets—encountering a cast of memorably eccentric characters along the way—to get to the truth.

Tug Wyler is a personal injury lawyer who has taken on cases for a high powered criminal attorney, Henry Benson. The problem is, part of the deal with taking these cases, is they’re sight unseen and more often than not put Tug in unenviable positions with his client. Usually these cases involve felons trying to commit insurance fraud, and Tug would rather get reprimanded by the Office of Professional Conduct than represent this kind of client. However, when Benson hands him Suzy Williams’ file, he has no idea that this will be a very different kind of case, one that he’ll want to see through, even if it destroys his career.

Suzy’s Case begins with the incident in the hospital that supposedly led to Suzy’s current condition, six years later. Suzy Williams has sickle cell anemia, which, through complications, has led to her current condition, which is severe cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia. Also, her intellectual development has been compromised, and she only functions at a 2 year old level. The intro read a bit awkwardly to me, but once we got past that and onto Tug’s narrative, I was pretty much hooked right away. In all fairness, this was probably due to the Caribbean nurse’s patois, which took some getting used to (so, a small thing, really). Tug Wyler is middle aged, married with three kids, has a beautiful receptionist that’s been with him for 10 years (and takes none of his crap), and has an eye for the ladies (which he’ll never act on, but flirting is certainly not out of the question.) He’s also smart-mouthed, rather obnoxious, and funny as hell. You’d think someone like Tug would be the absolute wrong person to handle a case like Suzy’s, but you’d be wrong. Aside from the smart mouth, Tug’s also sharp as a tack, and there’s a heart of gold lurking underneath the obnoxious exterior. Benson claims that Suzy and her mom June have no case, but Tug believes otherwise, and against all of his better instincts, decides to fight it out as far as he can. One of the best moments, and most heartbreaking, is when he goes to the independent exam of Suzy by the doctor hired by the hospital, and Suzy won’t open her arms because her scar embarrasses her. Tug makes a connection with her, and really sees this beautiful, damaged little girl for the first time: not as a paycheck, but as a person. He’s really sort of built a bit of a wall around him because of what he does and doesn’t allow himself to get emotionally involved, and that wall comes down for just a little bit. The author knows his stuff, because he’s a personal injury attorney himself, and he manages to detail the case and the ins and outs of medical litigation without talking down to his readers or getting bogged down in jargon, and it’s actually quite fascinating. He also has a gift for some of the funniest dialogue I’ve read in a long time, and there were quite a few laugh out loud moments for me. I was reminded at times of the Stephanie Plum series (which I love), and I can see myself getting as attached to Tug as I am to Stephanie. I mean, how can you not love a guy that gets a tingle in his nether regions when he’s getting close to a breakthrough on a case? There are lots of twists and turns in this one, plenty of thrills, and perfect for when you want something funny in between darker reads. This debut is pure fun and I’ll look forward to Tug’s next case!

For a list of Tug’s (hilarious) philosophical precepts, click HERE

Purchase Suzy’s Case: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

Interview (& Giveaway): Katherine Webb, author of The Unseen

I’d like to welcome Katherine Webb to the blog today! Katherine is the author of three novels, including the historical mystery,The Unseen, which recently came out in the states. She was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the book, her writing, and even her love for the show “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives”!

Also, HarperCollins was kind enough to offer 2 copies of The Unseen for giveaway to 2 lucky winners, so be sure to check out the details at the end of the post!

Katherine, it says in your bio that you’ve always had a fascination with ruined castles and secrets of the past. Did this fascination lead you to want to be a writer? Have you always wanted to write?
I suppose it’s all linked, yes – when I was little and we went to look around ancient buildings my imagination would always get fired up, thinking of all the lives and events and stories that the place had witnessed… I didn’t know I wanted to be a novelist until I sat down one day after graduation and started to write my first book, but nobody in my family was very surprised. My mum tells me I stared writing stories pretty much as soon as I was able to write, and I remember later on in school being super happy whenever we were set a creative writing exercise…I don’t know why it took me so long to put two and two together!

Your novel, The Unseen, just became available in the states, and has been described as “an atmospheric page turner.” Can you tell us a bit about it?
The Unseen is set primarily in 1911, during a long, hot English summer, and tells a story of ambition, love, deception and desire… A naïve vicar and his wife, living quietly in a country parish, have their lives turned upside down by two new arrivals. First is the new maid, who’s been sent down from London after getting into trouble with the law for her political activism; then comes an enigmatic young spiritualist, who’s determined to cement his name in history by proving the existence of fairies in the meadows near the rectory… These disparate people are thrown together at the rectory, and the tension builds and builds until it ultimately bubbles over into violence…

What kinds of books keep you turning the pages? Any particular favorites (authors or books?)
I read all sorts of books – and for me the current the king of the page-turner has to be George R R Martin – I’m totally hooked on the A Song of Ice and Fire books! I love literary and historical books, mysteries, and any book which really lets you get under the skin of the characters. Some favourites include Rose Tremain, Kate Atkinson, Jim Crace, Sir Terry Pratchett, and Helen Dunmore. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres made me weep buckets, and I didn’t want The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney to ever end. I’ve recently read and loved Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, and Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

What makes you put a book aside in frustration?
Almost nothing – I very rarely give up on a book, even if it takes me twice as long to read as a book normally would, because I can’t quite get on with it. Who can say what it is that makes a book work or not work for you, as a reader? It’s largely an intangible thing, I think, and no book can work for everybody. I’ve read terrible reviews on Amazon of books I’ve thought were completely fantastic. One author I just can’t get on with is Henry James. No idea why not – I enjoy classic literature, but I’ve picked up and abandoned The Wings of the Dove about three times!

Do you have any writing quirks?
Not many – I’m very methodical; I sit down at nine in the morning and try not to get up until I’ve written two thousand words. I type straight into my laptop, but I do have to have my notebook full of scribbled thoughts and ideas open next to me, even if I don’t even glance at it. I feel cut adrift without it!

What are a few things that inspire you the most?
I love the great outdoors, and the changing of the season. I love history – I suppose that’s the thing that inspires me the most. All those secrets and stories, just waiting to be discovered. Also people, and all the many, complicated and mysterious ways in which we interact!

Quick, what’s one thing that makes you laugh out loud?
Things are pretty serious around here at the moment (I’m in the thick of writing my new book), but I can usually count on my cats to give me a laugh – they wrestle and cavort on the lawn outside my window, and one of them usually ends up taking a pratfall off the wall or the garden bench. I love the way they then saunter off, noses in the air, as if salvaging wounded dignity…

I read that you like to cook. What is one of your favorite dishes?
I love cake in all its many forms, so I’m often baking. I make a truly fabulous fruit cake – it was my grandmother’s recipe and it’s called ‘Never Fail Fruit Cake’, for good reason. I also learnt how to make a great risotto while I was living in Venice; I cook a mean curry; and my ultimate comfort food recipe is a thick chicken soup with dumplings…I’m getting hungry now, typing this…

How else do you like to spend your free time?
I go horse riding, and I do volunteer work visiting elderly people in my area. I garden, I do DIY, I try to keep fit (necessary after all the cooking), and I read an awful lot.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects (or anything at all!)?
My next book to come out in the USA will be A Half Forgotten Song, released next year, which is a story about obsessive love, art and betrayal; set in England in the 1930s and the present day. Right now I’m working on a new book set in Bath in the 1820s. It tells the story of a mismatched group of people coming together to solve the mysterious disappearance of a young girl, twelve years earlier. It’s a love story, as well as a historical mystery. It doesn’t have a title yet – I’m waiting for a stroke of genius!

Here’s a random fact – I love ‘Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives’! I’d love to go on a road trip through the USA, eating at all the places Guy goes to on that show, especially the ones serving Mexican food and BBQ. The only trouble is, I’d be the size of a barn by the end of that holiday…
Keep up with Katherine: Facebook
Purchase The Unseen: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries)
2. Giveaway is for 2 copies of The Unseen by Katherine Webb to 2 winners.
3. Giveaway is open to US  addresses only (no PO boxes).
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 7/28/12
6. Giveaway books courtesy of HarperCollins
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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Early Review: Old Gold by Jay Stringer

Old Gold by Jay Stringer
Thomas & Mercer/July 24th, 2012

Half-gypsy detective Eoin Miller finds people for a living—usually people who would do anything to remain hidden. Ironic considering Eoin has done all he can to lose himself in a downward spiral that has cost him his job, his respect, his wife, and anything else that ever mattered. But he’s not inclined to dwell on what he’s given up, and Eoin prefers it that way.
Then he meets Mary, a hard-drinking woman on the run who confides that she’s stolen a valuable item, one that certain people would kill to get back. The two of them seek a temporary—and incomplete—solace in each other’s arms, only for Mary to turn up as a corpse in Eoin’s bed the next morning, him asleep on the sofa.
Recalling his father’s aversion to authority, Eoin runs from the body, but he hates a mystery and is driven to discover the truth behind Mary’s murder, even if it means putting his own life on the line. Before long, Eoin’s tangled up in a ferocious turf war that has him playing his former allies and employers—crime lords, drug dealers, cops, and politicians—against each other.

Former cop Eoin Miller is good at finding people. He’s fresh off the tail of a someone that owes a dangerous man money when he sees Mary for the first time, nursing a vodka at the local pub. Drawn to her immediately, he finds out that Mary thinks that someone is trying to kill her. Mary goes home with Eoin, and after a night of, well, sleep (him on the couch downstairs, and her upstairs), he wakes up to find her dead, strangled with his tie, with needle tracks in her arm. There’s no sign of a needle, which just compounds the fact that a stranger has been in his home, and murdered Mary. Instead of going to the police, however, Eoin flees, holing up in a flat owned by the Mann brothers and sets out to find out who killed Mary, because he knows that if he doesn’t, he’ll surely be framed for her murder. Not only that, but Eoin just hates a mystery. It also doesn’t help matters that a good friend from the police force is breathing down his neck to find the missing son of one of the brass. Yep, Eoin Miller has a lot piled on his plate, and the pile is about to get higher.

Eoin Miller is a rolling stone, picking up trouble wherever he goes. Seriously, the man has a nose for liars, two rival drug families on his back, and a body following him around. The man is like a Timex. You know, takes a lickin’, etc… Like I said, he can’t stand a mystery, and his need to solve it is even stronger than the lure of the pub, or the increasing lure of his ex-wife, who happens to be a cop on her way up. Luckily, he’s still got an in at the police, even though his Gypsy blood was a constant bane to him while on the force, but motives seem to be increasingly contradictory, and the body count is growing. As he navigates the politics of two powerful families that each want a piece of him, and chases his suspicions and mounting clues, he also has to deal with some powerful demons of his own. Leaving the force and the failure of his marriage have taken a toll, and although his heart is in the right place, his head often isn’t. He’s spent his life as an outsider, and it’s perhaps because of this that so many people just to the left of the law, especially at risk kids, seem to trust him, and this will come in handy. Eoin Miller is my kind of hero, firmly in the grey, but with a heart of, well, gold, and maybe just a tad too much trust to give. I like his vulnerability, though, and his melancholy. It makes things even more heart wrenching when people and situations go south, and boy, do they. There were about a dozen times when I thought I knew where things were going here, and I was wrong just about every time. Eoin may be vulnerable, but you really shouldn’t underestimate him. His sharp mind and brash tendencies carry him through some pretty sticky situations, and the violence he inflicts is never casual, although plenty of casual violence is inflicted on him. There’s a jaw dropper of a twist in this one, and it sneaks up on you, as the best twists do. This is a helluva good book and a helluva debut. I can’t wait for the next one!

Pre-Order Old Gold: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

Interview: Jay Stringer, author of Old Gold

Old Gold, the new crime novel by Jay Stringer will be out in about a week, and Jay was kind enough to submit to an interrogation interview, so please welcome him to the blog!

Jay, you’re brand new book, Old Gold, is coming out in just a few days (on the 24th!!) What made you decide to take the plunge and write a novel?
It was an accident, honest. I remember when I was about eight years old, the teacher asked what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said a Bookmaker. It was a long time before I understood why she laughed at me. Before I could write I used to draw little comics, and I’ve always been a scribbler and a plotter. Anyway. I was a film student, and I had an idea for a film, but I needed the characters voices before I could write it, so I started work on a short story to figure them out. The short story kept going, and eventually I admitted to myself I was writing a novel and got serious about it.

Will you tell us a bit about Old Gold?
Sure. I like to call it ‘social pulp fiction.’ It’s a crime novel set in the Midlands, in England. The region was built on industry, coal mining and manufacturing, and has never quite recovered from all of those things going away. It feels to me like the perfect setting for a modern crime novel. The protagonist, Eoin Miller, is half-Romani, so he has identity issues, and is a gangland detective. If you’ve stolen a stash from a dealer or run off with mob money, it’s Miller who comes and finds you. But then something happens in his own home, and he’s dragged into trying to do the right thing. His only real problem is that he doesn’t know what ‘the right thing’ is.

Do you prefer to write “grey” characters as opposed to morally black and white?
I like to step outside of the whole thing, and just focus on actions and motivations. Saying that, it is fun to play with the reader a little, to mess up the moral compass of the story and challenge the reader to try and straighten things out. There are certain things that I’m a bit fed up of in fiction, like the reluctant hero. There’s a fake premise; the character is set up all moody and amoral, but in the end he’ll be faced with a choice between right and wrong, and he’ll do the right thing and we all know it. But in real life choices never seem to be that clean cut. It seems far more interesting to me to face a character with a bunch of choices that all have bits of right and bits of wrong in them, because the decision he makes will tell us far more.

What do you love most about writing crime fiction?
There are less excuses, less reasons not to get on with writing. I can’t tell myself that I’m “world building” and spend afternoons working out whole political systems and technology. I just get on with writing a story. I’m drawn to reading and writing social fiction, and I think that social fiction leads very comfortably into crime. Writers like Dickens, Steinbeck, O’Casey, Hamilton; they’d all be classed as crime writers if they were working today. Faulkner’s Intruder In The Dust is totally a crime novel. I’m not fit to lick any of those guys pen tips, but they wrote what I like to read and write; real lives, people struggling to make ends meet, in over their heads. As the song goes, “I needed money ‘cause I had none,” that’s crime fiction, and that’s what I love to write.

Regarding violence in crime, or noir, fiction, do you think anything is “off limits”?
For me –and I’m a rookie so I could be way off the mark- it seems that no subject is off limits. In fact, if a subject feels off limits then, as a writer, you owe it to yourself to try and write it. Where the limits come in is the execution of the idea. Chris Rock once said that comedy works when it’s applying pressure upwards. If the joke is pushing up at something or someone, it’s funny, it’s its pushing down on someone it’s tasteless. I think that’s a good guide for dealing with violence as a writer. We have to remember that it happens for a reason, that’s it’s painful and scary, and that it has consequences. If you write a scene with all that in mind, and keep on eye on the status and emotions of the person suffering the violence, then you’ll be fine. I feel like the violence should be the shortest moment in any of my stories; It’s more my job to show what lead up to it and what the consequences are.

Who are some of your biggest literary influences (or influences in general)?
I learned to read with comic Books and Alan Moore is one of my favorite writers in any field. I was heavily influenced as a teenager by songwriters like Paul Westerberg and Bruce Springsteen, and then by stand-up comedians like Mark Thomas and Stewart Lee. I had a good English teacher at high school who would lend me things to read outside of class, and he got me hooked on Sean O’Casey. From there is was the slippery slope into crime fiction; in the space of about two years as a teenager I saw THE USUAL SUSPECTS, JACKIE BROWN and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, and that lead me to reading James Elroy and Elmore Leonard, then Lawrence Block, and I was in.

Does music help you with your writing? Other than a pen or a keyboard, is there anything you need to have nearby in order to get in the zone?
I’m pretty basic when I’m doing the writing itself. I don’t want anything to distract me. But I use music to get into the mood; I think my influences from film and music mean I’m always thinking of soundtracks and scenes, and the music helps me get in the right mood. I tend not to write by hand much, because my handwriting is messed up and even I often can’t tell what I was saying. I’ve got notebooks full of scribbles that nobody can decipher, so I’ve learned my lesson.

If you had to choose a few songs as a sort of “soundtrack” to Old Gold, what would you pick?
Funny you should ask, I did just that. I prepared a soundtrack based on what the protagonist is listening to during the book, with a few other songs that he would like. Then I changed my mind; the book is set in a vary multicultural area and the supporting cast is quite diverse, so I tweaked the play list to reflect this. There’s something in there now for each of the main characters. (Spotify link- Old Gold Soundtrack)

Do you have a favorite sleuth in film or print?
It would have to be Matt Scudder. He was the detective who gathered moss as he went; each scar, each drink, each case stuck to him. There have been detectives since who have aged in “real time” and who have suffered from all the beatings they took –Ray Banks and James Sallis have both explored that idea brilliantly- but I think Scudder was a key turning point in crime fiction. I’d also give a mention to Jim Rockford. I love that guy, and try and get in references to him in my own books.

It says in your bio that you’re dyslexic and that the printed word is a “second language” to you. Can you tell us about how your dyslexia influenced the writing process?
It’s influenced the way I do everything. It’s basically like being hard-wired to think laterally. I try to avoid saying how I do things differently to non-dyslexics, because I can’t really assume to know how someone else’s brain works. For my own process though, I think its helped me with structure, because I’d learned the basics of narrative and conversation long before I could read and write properly. Looking back, it seems like I lagged behind people my age for along time because it wasn’t sinking in, but once I learned to read and write I overtook people in class because I’d already figured out everything else. They’d spent their early years having spelling and grammar drilled into them, then were expected to read plays and novels and understand the meaning without any training for it. I’d spent years learning narrative and meaning, and then slowly learned to put spelling and grammar on top of that.

I think we sometimes put our priorities in the wrong place. Spelling and grammar are vitally important, sure, but they have to be in aid of understanding and meaning, not in place of it. We create a fetish out of words, when they’re just black ink patterns on a page that we move around. We use these patterns to tap into ideas and associations that we hold in our heads, and so we should work on the ideas first.

Is there anything in particular that inspires you when you write?
I have to marry a character and a story to something that’s really annoying me. That probably sounds a bit vague, but I’ve found that I need all three things to come together for me to really get any good work done. There were news stories that got under my skin for both OLD GOLD and it’s sequel, and Eoin Miller’s opinions on the issues were not always in sync with my own, that gave me the story on both occasions. I think as a fiction writer there’s a part of me that’s a frustrated journalist. It’s probably better that way, if I’d become a journalist maybe I’d have been a frustrated fiction writer and just made stuff up anyway.

What’s one of your favorite lines from a book?
The opening line of Orwell’s 1984. It’s a bit of a cliché to mention it, but it does everything a first line needs to do without showing off. “It was a bright cold day in April, and all the clocks were striking 13.”

What makes you not want to finish a book?
Too many words on a page (which is saying something after some of the essay answers I’ve given you.) Brevity is gold dust. I think large part of storytelling is knowing what not to say, and If a writer is cramming too many words into his sentences I tend to drift away.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Working full time as well as a writing doesn’t leave much, so I have to cram a lot in when I get it. I like to read, to watch movies or TV. During the football season I have to put a few hours aside every week to see my team get beat, and I lose more hours than I can afford on youtube.

I don’t suppose you’d like to tell us about that time you were a zoo keeper…? Had to ask!
Sadly it’s probably the least exciting thing I’ve ever done. It was interesting, and I got to spend days handling snakes or feeding Asiatic brown bears, but I never did anything fun like stealing an elephant.

Well then, what’s one of the most exciting things you’ve ever done?
Okay, I admit it, I stole an elephant.

I tried stand-up comedy a couple times when I was younger. Once you know what it’s like to go out and die on stage, the concept of “excitement” changes. The most interesting job was working in bookselling, every day was different, every day was a chance to either inspire someone or be inspired, and I got to meet a lot of my favorite authors.

If someone from the states was to visit you for the first time, where would you take them?
This has happened quite often, I have a lot of friends in the States and they’ll come over and crash on our sofa for a week at a time. I live in Glasgow these days, so most of the time it’s showing them to the museums, or the bars, maybe a trip to Edinburgh. Mostly it’s about showing them the Scottish rain. When I’m showing people around the area I grew up down in England, I’ll show them the stadium where my football team play, or even more bars, or maybe some of the locations from my books. Or canals. Lots of canals.

What’s one of the biggest misconceptions that the English or Scottish have about Americans, and vice versa?
There are a couple of things that bug me on both sides. From this side of the big wet thing, it’s annoying when we hear Americans tripping up over the difference between “English,” and “Scottish, never mind understanding that both are “British.” As highlighted in your question, there is a difference between England and Scotland, yet often it seems people over there don’t worry about using all these words interchangeably, or too say that England and Britain are the same thing, or that Scotland is a suburb in the north of England. And that’s before we start bringing Ireland into the conversation.

Going back the other way, I get really annoyed about the condescending attitude Brits will often show toward the United States; it’s not uncommon to hear Americans being dismissed as the but of a cheap joke over here. I hate cheap jokes on principle, because nothing has been done to earn the laugh, but that one annoys me more than most. There’s something culturally about the United States that can bring out a totally undeserved snark over here. I may be biased though, because I’ve been inspired and moved by so much American art, from movies and comics to the great social novelists and songwriters. I’ve been dreaming about moving to New York since I was a boy, so maybe that taints my view!

Is there anything else you’d like to share about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
The most immediate things are the book, OLD GOLD, and a prequel ebook that’s available for kindle right now called FAITHLESS STREET. I know it can be a gamble trying a new author, and it takes trust to invest your time into reading their book. That’s why I put the prequel out, it’s a chance to sample my writing and see if you like the voice. It’s four short stories, each one giving a glimpse into a different character from the novel. There’s also a fun Easter egg hidden away- one of the stories put a different spin on the events of the novel, I’m leaving that out there to see if anyone picks up on it. Beyond those, there’s a follow up called RUNAWAY TOWN, that’ll be out some time in the winter, and I’ve trying to push myself in different directions with that one.
Keep up with Jay: Website | Twitter
Read my review of Old Gold
Pre-Order Old Gold: Amazon | B&N 

About Old Gold:
Half-gypsy detective Eoin Miller finds people for a living — usually people who would do anything to remain hidden. Ironic considering Eoin has done all he can to lose himself in a downward spiral that has cost him his job, his respect, his wife, and anything else that ever mattered. But he’s not inclined to dwell on what he’s given up, and Eoin prefers it that way.
Then he meets Mary, a hard-drinking woman on the run who confides that she’s stolen a valuable item, one that certain people would kill to get back. The two of them seek a temporary — and incomplete — solace in each other’s arms, only for Mary to turn up as a corpse in Eoin’s bed the next morning, him asleep on the sofa.

Recalling his father’s aversion to authority, Eoin runs from the body, but he hates a mystery and is driven to discover the truth behind Mary’s murder, even if it means putting his own life on the line. Before long, Eoin’s tangled up in a ferocious turf war that has him playing his former allies and employers — crime lords, drug dealers, cops, and politicians—against each other.

Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland

Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues by Diana Rowland
DAW/July 3rd, 2012
Urban Fantasy

Angel Crawford is finally starting to get used to life as a brain-eating zombie, but her problems are far from over. Her felony record is coming back to haunt her, more zombie hunters are popping up, and she’s beginning to wonder if her hunky cop-boyfriend is involved with the zombie mafia. Yeah, that’s right—the zombie mafia.
Throw in a secret lab and a lot of conspiracy, and Angel’s going to need all of her brainpower—and maybe a brain smoothie as well—in order to get through it without falling apart.

Angel Crawford is still working for the St. Edwards Parish Coroners Office and looking over her shoulder, just in case zombie killer Ed should show up again and attempt another decapitation. She has a new appreciation for life, even though, technically, she’s dead. Being needed is a good thing, and Angel is determined to do her job well and not go back to the way she used to be. Her dad seems to be trying hard to put the past behind them as well, and their relationship improves every day. Also, Angel’s relationship with sexy cop slash zombie, Marcus, doesn’t hurt either. When someone holds Angel at gunpoint when she’s dropping off bodies at the morgue, then steals one of them, Angel hopes she isn’t in over her head, and fears that her past might be creeping up on her.

Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues is the second in the series that began with My Life As a White Trash Zombie. In the first book, we see Angel hit a pretty bad place, not only with herself, but with her dad, and strangely enough, becoming a zombie actually made her clean up her act. However, poor Angel can’t seem to get a break. Something about a death at a research lab doesn’t smell quite right to her, and when she voices her suspicions to Marcus, she’s dismissed as acting immaturely. Yeahhh, Angel consistently gets underestimated, and she’s getting pretty sick of it. Also, after meeting Marcus’ uncle, she starts to suspect some sort of mafia connection. The line in these books always skate the edge of hope and darkness, but things do take a pretty scary turn in this one when Angel stumbles into a plot involving using zombies, and we’re not talking about for the betterment of mankind. Angel’s no idiot though, and underestimating her is not in anyone’s best interest. Yes, she still struggles with a lot of the self-esteem issues that have always plagued her, but that’s changing, and the support of her co-workers and her friends has gone a long way to overcoming that, not to mention her improving relationship with her dad. My heart ached for Angel a few times, but she’s a tough girl, and not to be trifled with. And wait ‘til you get a load of her when she’s fully topped off with brains. Super strength is just the beginning! The author has done an amazing job with a character that may have not always been sympathetic (although that’s changed quite a bit), and my stomach only twitches a tiny bit when Angel drinks a brain smoothie now, so I consider that progress. If you haven’t discovered this series, you’re in for a treat. Angel is one of my favorite heroines in urban fantasy right now, and I can’t wait to see what she’s up to next!

Purchase Even White Trash Zombies Get the Blues: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please welcome Ben to the blog!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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