I’m thrilled to have David Nickle on the blog today! David’s brand new book, Rasputin’s Bastards (my review), is officially out tomorrow, and he was kind enough to answer a couple of my questions, including what really scares him (plus a horrifying personal experience), how he celebrated winning the Bram Stoker Award, and much more!
Please welcome David to the blog!
David, you’ve published numerous short stories as well as two novels, and your third novel, Rasputin’s Bastards is out in the U.S. tomorrow! Will you tell us a little about your road to publication? With your journalism experience, one would assume that can sometimes lead to fiction writing. Was it a natural transition for you? Were you writing at an early age?
It was a pretty long road to publication, because I was indeed writing from an early age: really, from before I could write. I started out writing Captain Scarlet fan fiction in the late 60s, or rather, dictating them to my mother, who would write them down in little stapled-together books that I would later illustrate. Those stories, alas, never made it past the slush pile. But I kept at it, learned to write and then type, and then be a reporter—and in the course of that, really learned how to write.
For me, a big part of learning how to write fiction came through learning how to critique it. Before I started publishing, I joined a Toronto-area science fiction writers’ workshop, the Cecil Street Irregulars. We’d meet once a week, initially in the Cecil Street Community Centre in Toronto’s Chinatown, and read and critique one another’s work. The method is a good one, and this particular workshop is gold. It was founded by sf writer/editor Judith Merril, and attracted some pretty fine writers. They taught me how to write, and as the meetings haven’t stopped in nearly 25 years, they still do.
Will you tell us a bit about Rasputin’s Bastards?
Rasputin’s Bastards is a bit of a departure for me, in that it’s not, particularly, a horror story. It’s novel about psychic espionage—or perhaps better, it’s a novel that jumps off from the idea that psychic espionage (remote viewing, astral projection, mind control) might’ve actually worked. It tells the story of a disparate group of Russian psychic spies in the late 1990s (nicknamed Rasputin’s Bastards by those in the know), some few years after the Cold War has ended, trying to make a place for themselves in the world—often quite aggressively. It’s a big book, with a great many characters, and in the tradition of both Russian novels and spy stories, it is a tale of shifting loyalties, intricate conspiracies and existential conundrums. It is also filled to busting with giant squid.
Which character did you enjoy writing the most?
I enjoyed writing all of them for various reasons: Alexei Kilodovich, the ex-KGB-agent who opens the novel faking amnesia after being hauled onto a boat full of criminals; Stephen Haber, a young gay man who escaped with his life from his midwestern home, when his sleeper-agent parents were “retired” at the end of the Cold War; Amar Shadak, a Turkish arms dealer with an anger management problem; Mrs. Kontos-Wu, a stone cold killer with a fatal weakness for the Becky Barker series of girl detective novels…
I’ve got a real soft spot for Fyodor Kolyokov. He’s an aging former psychic spymaster, or “dream walker,” and when we meet him, he is operating a mafiya-like empire out of a hotel room in Manhattan, where he has installed his personal Soviet-built sensory-isolation tank. Kolyokov wants to make right the many horrible things he has done in service of the KGB. It is his greatest hope to reunite his kin and build a proper family around himself. Of course, it’s not that simple; the Bastards have some ideas of their own. And Kolyokov has an additional problem in the person of an old lover, come to take what she sees as her due.
So yes, I probably most enjoyed writing about old Fyodor. So of course, I made sure he had the worst time of it.
Along with Edo Van Belkom, you won the Bram Stoker Award for your short story “Rat Food.” How did you celebrate when you got the news?
Well we got the news at the HWA banquet where the awards were being given out. It was in Manhattan, in a swanky hotel, and we celebrated in a rooftop party that was straight out of a Sex in the City episode—except with a bunch of horror writers. It was actually my first visit to New York City, so I spent a lot of time during that visit just taking in the sights and revelling in Manhattan.The hotel I stayed in (not the one with the banquet) was my model for the Emissary Hotel where Fyodor Kolyokov lives in Rasputin’s Bastards.
Most of your work has been characterized as horror. What do you consider truly scary?
It’s never one thing. I’m definitely susceptible to the tricks of the genre; I jump at the “jump scare” in a haunted house movie; I cringe at well-wrought body horror; I hide in the closet at tax time.
Ultimately, nothing scares me more than real jeopardy. A few years ago, I and my partner at the time survived a burglary. A young man with a knife had forced his way in through the back door of the house, helped himself to some valuables – including a 10 inch kitchen knife – and made his way upstairs to the second bedroom at about five a.m. I woke up, confronted him, and was ordered to my knees.
I stepped back into the bedroom, did so, and when he turned away, I closed the door and held it shut. The dude was stupid, and deranged. He was stupid, in that he didn’t think to take a phone off the hook downstairs so we couldn’t call the police. He proved he was deranged by driving the knife through the door.
We called the police, and they came, and after a house-to-house search, they caught the guy without injury to anyone. Everything was fine in the end.
But man. That was truly scary.
What are some of your biggest literary influences (horror or otherwise)?
In terms of horror, writers like Stephen King, Richard Matheson, H.P. Lovecraft, Peter Straub, Joe R. Lansdale – particularly Lansdale – are serious influences. As a novelist, it’s a more disparate group. I’d cite Neal Stephenson, Ian Fleming, Mervyn Peak, John Irving, Stephen Millhauser, Lucius Sheppard, Timothy Findley. There are more – there are always more – but those are the ones who come to mind.
If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Hmm. I’ve got so many books that I haven’t read for the first time yet that I’m reluctant to give up any ground by going back and doing it again. I’m going to say maybe Titus Groan, by Mervyn Peak. For the joy of discovering his over-the-top prose style all over again.
What makes you want to stop reading a book?
A loss of tension. When characters are spending their time foot-shuffling, waiting for the next thing to happen, it’s really hard to stay engaged. I expect a writer to keep me going with suspense, jeopardy and just unanswered questions.
I think a writer also has to work very hard to keep me going if they’re retreading standard tropes: vampires, zombies, creepy old houses with terrible secrets… if it’s clear the writer isn’t doing something new with that stuff, I’ll find another writer that will.
And I can’t go very long reading clumsy prose. I’d rather I didn’t have this particular tic, because there are many good books – particularly in genre fiction – where the prose is not, shall we say, the primary draw – but it’s a writerly thing. If the prose doesn’t at least hum along efficiently, I’ll get off the ride.
When you’re not juggling writing and work, how do you like to spend your free time?
Well let’s see. I bike and run (although not enough these days) and have developed a serious affection for Skyrim (which I probably indulge in far too much these days).
If someone were to visit you in Toronto for the very first time, where would you take them?
There are a few places. I would probably start at Toronto City Hall – if only because photographs of the iconic building were used in various Star Trek episodes back in the 60s when it looked futuristic, and I run with a crowd that’s impressed by that sort of thing. Also, I’ve been covering the place as a journalist for more than a decade, and there are stories…
After that, we’d probably stop by the World’s Biggest Bookstore (at one time, it was), the venerable Bakka-Phoenix science fiction bookstore, Toronto Public Libary’s world-famous collection of speculative literature, The Merril Collection, and then, someplace to eat.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Well let’s see. Next up is another novel, called The ‘Geisters. It is about poltergeists, the modern marriage, and very bad men. It’s in progress. I’ve got a story coming out in Chilling Tales 2, Michael Kelly’s Canadian horror anthology. And my story from the first Chilling Tales, Looker, is out in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year 4.
Keep up with David: Website | Twitter | Goodreads
About Rasputin’s Bastards | Purchase
They were the beautiful dreamers. From a hidden city deep in the Ural mountains, they walked the world as the coldest of Cold Warriors, under the command of the Kremlin and under the power of their own expansive minds. They slipped into the minds of Russia’s enemies with diabolical ease, and drove their human puppets to murder – and worse. They moved as Gods. And as Gods, they might have remade the world. But like the mad holy man Rasputin, who destroyed Russia through his own powerful influence, in the end, the psychic spies for the Motherland were only in it for themselves. It is the 1990s. The Cold War is long finished. From a suite in an unseen hotel in the heart of Manhattan, an old warrior named Kolyokov sets out with an open heart, to gather together the youngest members of his immense, and immensely talented, family. They are more beautiful – and more terrible – than any who came before them. They are Rasputin’s bastards. And they will remake the world!
**GIVEAWAY HAD ENDED AND WINNERS HAVE BEEN NOTIFIED! THANKS TO EVERYONE THAT ENTERED!**
This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs is one of my absolute favorite books this year, and the kind folks at Gallery Books have offered up 3 copies to 3 lucky winners, so check out my review and the giveaway details below, and good luck!
About This Dark Earth:
The land is contaminated, electronics are defunct, the ravenous undead remain, and life has fallen into a nasty and brutish state of nature.
Welcome to Bridge City, in what was once Arkansas: part medieval fortress, part Western outpost, and the precarious last stand for civilization. A ten-year-old prodigy when the world ended, Gus is now a battle-hardened young man. He designed Bridge City to protect the living few from the shamblers eternally at the gates. Now he’s being groomed by his physician mother, Lucy, and the gentle giant Knock-Out to become the next leader of men. But an army of slavers is on its way, and the war they’ll wage for the city’s resources could mean the end of mankind as we know it.
Can Gus become humanity’s savior? And if so, will it mean becoming a dictator, a martyr . . . or maybe something far worse than even the zombies that plague the land?
As always, I’m thrilled to have the lovely Jess Haines on the blog! Jess is the author of the H&W Investigation series featuring Shiarra Waynest, and she’s here to talk about the newest book in the series, Stalking the Others, and what she’s been up to! Also, there’s a giveaway, so be sure to see the details at the bottom of the post, and welcome Jess to the blog!
Jess, I’m so happy (as always) to have you on the blog! What have you been up to since you last stopped by?
Thanks so much for having me back, Kristin! Things have been wild and crazy in the Land O’ Jess. I’ve been working on the H&W Investigations series, novellas tied in to the main books, and a few other projects here and there. Plus, I’ve got big plans for my very first solo book signing (Saturday, July 07, 2012 starting at 2:00PM at the Dark Delicacies Book Store on 3512 W. Magnolia, Burbank, CA 91505), and the trip to New Orleans for Authors After Dark in August. This is turning out to be a hot-hot-hot summer, in more ways than one!
Of course, you had to know that I was going to shamelessly ask you to dish on Stalking the Others, book 4 of the H&W Investigations series, right? Are you super excited about the release?
Ha! But of course. I am ridonkulously excited about the upcoming release of STALKING THE OTHERS, and I can’t wait for everyone to see the direction I’ve taken things in this time.
Shia has had a rough go of things these last couple of books, and I know a lot of the people following this series have been very patiently waiting for a light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully they’ll like the note I ended things on in this book. *g*
I was really hoping that poor Shia would get a break after Deceived, but now there’s that whole “possibly going furry” thing she has to contend with. Speaking of going furry, what is your favorite supernatural to write about? Are you a werewolf (shifter) girl, vampire fan, or do you love ‘em all?
Yeah, I would hate to be in Shia’s shoes! As for my favorite supernatural, while I love vampires—a bit more than werewolves, for those wondering—I actually love dragons more than any other type of fantastical critter. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any good excuse to throw a dragon into the mix in my published novels, but I’m happy writing about shapeshifters, vampires, and magi for the time being.
When you started the series, did you already know how many books you wanted to write, or did you just plan to see where the series took you?
When I first started writing HUNTED BY THE OTHERS, I figured it would be a standalone novel. Except as soon as I finished it, I started writing the second novel. It was somewhere towards the end of the second book that the overall story arc hit me, and since then, I’ve had a fairly solid plan to carry the series through nine books, total. I’m contracted through six, though, so we’ll see what happens once I turn that last one in. *g*
Which character, for you, is the most fun to write about?
It’s hard to pin that down. I love a lot of my characters—particularly ones you haven’t seen yet. They all have their own special significances, even Chaz, so it’s really difficult for me to pick just one. Shiarra, of course, being the main character and all, is a ton of fun to write because it’s so funny to play someone who is so damned reluctant to have anything to do with Others. Basically, she’s my polar opposite.
Royce is tons of fun to write, especially when he’s teasing Shia. She never has any idea what he’s thinking, so having that knowledge (and finding ways to hide it from the reader using Shia’s POV) is always an interesting challenge.
Arnold cracks me up. He’s the most “me” out of all of my characters. Then there is Mouse, the mute vampire who works with Royce, and her boy-toy, Christoph. Oh, and the cab driver Shia keeps running into. Can’t forget him.
Once you read the next book, I think you’re going to get a kick out of characters like Jimmy Thrane and Clyde Seabreeze, too. Just wait ‘til you see what I have in store…
What authors make you wanna do a fangirl squee?
Jim Butcher. Oh, man. I love the Dresden Files! If faced with him in person, chances are good I would lose all capability of forming speech, and make a complete ass of myself.
I’m also a huge fan of Kim Harrison’s Hollows series, Mark Henry’s Amanda Feral books, Robin McKinley, and Patricia Briggs for her fantasy novels she wrote prior to the UF series she’s currently known for.
As for squeeing, I am so excited about the Authors After Dark event this summer, especially since I get to meet you! What are you most looking forward to at AAD?
I’m really looking forward to meeting some of my blogger/Twitter friends, like you! =) Plus seeing a bunch of my other friends I met when I went to AAD in New Jersey and Philadelphia again.
I’ve never been to New Orleans, so I’m really looking forward to being a total tourist while I’m in town, too. Stuff like the wine tours and ghost tours and wandering around the French Quarter really appeal to me.
Any other exciting plans this summer?
Mostly staying busy with this blog tour for the release of STALKING THE OTHERS, the book signing, and the trip to New Orleans. I’m hoping I can manage a few other stops later in the year, but for now, this stuff is definitely keeping me on my toes.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us? Favorite curse word, alchoholic beverage (if you drink ‘em), guilty pleasures? Or anything at all!
Ha! Let’s see, favorite curse word… I’ve always been rather fond of assgoblin. I’m not much of a drinker, but my mom makes killer White Russians. As for guilty pleasures, I’m overly fond of chocolate. If you’ve never tried them, Truffle Pig brand chocolates are amazing. So are Vosges chocolates, particularly the Smoke & Stout and the Black Salt Caramel bars.
Oh, and I’ll toss in a last word here—if anyone would like to find, here are some of the places you can follow me on the web:
*Don’t forget to enter to win one of 15 copies of Stalking the Others below! Open to US and Canada (lots of chances for extra entries!)
Hi gang! I was lucky enough to meet the awesome Kevin Hearne a few weeks ago, and snagged a copy of Tricked to give away to one lucky winner! I also had him sign it-how cool is that? Check out the book (my review) and the giveaway details, and good luck:)
Druid Atticus O’Sullivan hasn’t stayed alive for more than two millennia without a fair bit of Celtic cunning. So when vengeful thunder gods come Norse by Southwest looking for payback, Atticus, with a little help from the Navajo trickster god Coyote, lets them think that they’ve chopped up his body in the Arizona desert.
But the mischievous Coyote is not above a little sleight of paw, and Atticus soon finds that he’s been duped into battling bloodthirsty desert shapeshifters called skinwalkers. Just when the Druid thinks he’s got a handle on all the duplicity, betrayal comes from an unlikely source. If Atticus survives this time, he vows he won’t be fooled again. Famous last words.
I’m so thrilled to have Benedict Jacka on the blog today! Benedict is the author of the Alex Verus series (Fated, Cursed, and the upcoming Taken), and was kind enough to answer a few questions for me. There’s also a giveaway of one copy of Cursed to one lucky winner, so be sure to check the details at the end of the post!
Please welcome Benedict to the blog!
Benedict, you’ve already got the Fated and Cursed (both wonderful)under your belt, and Taken will be out very soon! How did you celebrate when you found out Fated would be published?
Went out for a meal, told my friends, and was very happy . . . for a day or so at least, then I had to get back to work! I was right in the middle of exams at the time, and I was completely focused on studying, so I didn’t get to enjoy it much. I did my celebrating after the exams were over – kind of a two-for-one!
When you started Fated, did you have an idea of how many books you’d like to write in the Alex Verus series, or did you just plan to see where it took you?
I had no idea it was even going to be a series. At the time I wrote Fated I’d just come off a long string of rejections – I’d written four novels over the few years before that, and they’d all been turned down one after the other. Fated was the fifth, and I was giving serious thought to just packing it in. If Fated hadn’t sold, I’m not sure if I’d have written anything more for a very long time.
What are some of your favorite books or authors?
Watership Down and Lord of the Rings were my favourites when I was a kid, and I’ve read just about everything written by Agatha Christie. I grew up with the Wheel of Time books too, and I’m also a fan of Jack Vance and Jim Butcher.
If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Probably Watership Down. Though I might give whoever recommended it to me a bit of a funny look . . . “The main characters are all what?”
What are you reading now?
I’ve been reading my way through the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. I love the main character – Miles is hilarious to watch when he gets going!
London plays a very big part in your novels. What do you love most about living there?
It’s really hard for me to say, because I’ve spent so much time in London that I just take everything there for granted. So instead of noticing what’s different about London, I judge every other city I visit about how it’s different from London. London just feels comfortable, for me. I like visiting other places, but I find it harder to relax there.
If someone were to visit you in London for the first time, where would you take them?
I’m the worst person in the world to ask to do something like that. I’m absolutely terrible as a tourist guide, because I have no clue what a visitor to the place would enjoy doing! I’d probably end up taking them through the city centre, hoping desperately that they were happy to be there.
I also read that you spent some time teaching English in China? Will you tell us a bit about your visit?
I was in a small city in Anhui province (‘small’ in China meaning only a few hundred thousand people). The population of non-Chinese in the city was approximately five, which made things interesting – I got a lot of chances to practice my Mandarin, at least! The biggest problem I had to deal with was that the schools I taught in had a little under a hundred students per class.
Ok, I’ve got to know about the ballroom dancing…
I picked it up at university, and was quite surprised to find out that they actually did it competitively. So I joined the team, and spent an fun year travelling around the country going to competitions. Competitions were all-day events – you’d get up in pitch darkness, have a 3-hour coach ride, then spend all day hyped up on adrenaline before falling asleep on the journey back. I had the most fun with latin, but did best at ballroom.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I’m currently working on Alex Verus #4, the sequel to Taken! Nothing’s been signed yet, but I’m hoping that it’ll be published next year (though that’ll depend on how the first two do). I’m starting to get a long story arc planned out for the Alex Verus series, and I’m really happy with the way the story’s unfolding, so as long as people are going to keep reading Alex Verus books I’m going to keep writing them. Thanks for hosting me, and hope you enjoy the books!
Keep up with Benedict: Website | Twitter
The Ruined City by Paula Brandon
Publisher: Random House/Feb. 2012
Kind thanks to Random House for providing a review copy
Reality is wavering. Soon its delicate balance will shift and an ancient force will return to overwhelm the Veiled Isles. Now those with the arcane talent forge an uneasy alliance in hopes that their combined abilities are enough to avert an eerie catastrophe. Yet it may be too late. The otherworldly change has begun. The streets of the city are rife with chaos, plague, and revolt. And it is here that Jianna Belandor, once a pampered daughter of privilege, returns to face new challenges.
The dead walk the streets. The docile amphibian slaves of humanity have taken up arms. Jianna’s home lies in ruins. Her only happiness resides in her growing attraction to Falaste Rione, a brilliant nomadic physician whose compassion and courage have led him to take dangerous risks. Jianna, stronger and more powerful than she knows, has a role to play in the unfolding destiny of her world. But a wave of madness is sweeping across the land, and time is running out—even for magic.
REVIEW (This is 2nd in a series beginning with The Traitor’s Daughter. If you haven’t started the series yet, feel free to read my review of The Traitor’s Daughter)
The Ruined City picks up fairly soon after The Traitor’s Daughter ends, with Jianna and Falaste traveling with his sister, and her rebel band, The Ghosts. Jianna’s father, Aureste Belador is terrified that his brother Innesq will not wake up after the attack on his home, and is forced to make a deal that sets his teeth on edge, namely using his influence to release his arch nemesis Vinz Corvestri (Magnifio of Faerlonne). In return for his release, Vinz must help Innesq recover using his magic. Innesq Belador, a powerful arcanist in his own right, must ally himself with Vinz Corvestri and a group of other arcanists to keep the Source (where all magic originates) from corrupting. Yvenza Belandor is back, much to Aureste Belandor’s chagrin, and she got under my skin just as much as in The Traitor’s Daughter. Aureste is no gentle lamb, and there’s a lot to hate about him. He’s a pompous ass, yet fairly shrewd, and he should feel threatened by Yvenza. After all, he’s the one that ruined her life and forced her into hiding. You can’t blame Yvenza for her actions, yet she’s so conniving and calculating, she’s hard to sympathize with. In addition, the undead are walking the streets, the Sishmindri are becoming bolder, plague is rampant, and something must be done to restore the balance of power. When Falaste’s sister is arrested for a violent political crime, along with Falaste, who is innocent, Jianna must find out a way to set him free, before he hangs.
I really enjoyed The Traitor’s Daughter, and while this one didn’t hold me quite as rapt, it was quite a good read. Paula Brandon doesn’t waste words when telling a story, and her dry wit and frequent, biting sarcasm, although subtle, is part of what really makes these books great fun. At the same time, the author explores some rather serious themes (slavery, subjugation, political intrigue), but it’s all in the execution (ahem, so to speak). Jianna has certainly matured from the first book, going from spoiled little rich girl to responsible, socially aware young adult with quite a bit of backbone. She’s no wilting flower, and her growing feelings for Falaste, in addition to the realization that her father may not be all she thought he was, drives much of her actions. I like this Jianna, and am glad to see her come into her own.
There are lots of traditional fantasy elements here, and they’re done so well by Ms. Brandon (as it should be, she’s an old pro), that it’s quite easy to immerse yourself in this twisty story of arcane magic and political intrigue in the fictional Veiled Isles. The creepy threat of the Overmind also hangs over our heroes and heroines, and its power is greater than anything they’ve ever experienced. Can the Source be healed in time, and will Jianna free Falaste before it’s too late? These are both questions that we’re left with at the end of The Ruined City, and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens in The Wanderers!
Please welcome Jeff Strand back to the blog for the second half of his Bad Day for Voodoo tour! Here’s a list of 5 of Jeff’s fave funny reads, and there’s also a giveaway for a copy of A Bad Day for Voodoo, so be sure to check out the details at the end of the post!
Five Weird, Funny Novels You Should Read
Note that this is not a list of the five funniest novels of all time–just five funny, weird novels you should read, assuming that you like funny, weird novels.
1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Yeah, I’m starting off with an obvious choice, but the books in this series (well, okay, the first three) are some of the most hilariously insane novels of all time. This isn’t the place to go for laser-focused storytelling; Adams continually and cheerfully goes off on wild tangents, and that’s a lot of the fun.
2. The Unnatural by David Prill. So here’s the premise: it’s a world just like our own, except that instead of watching baseball, sports fans watch…competitive corpse embalming! Yes, this is the tale of a young farmboy with talent and a dream. If you’re always saying that you’d read more sports-themed novels if they were about trying to set the record for number of corpses embalmed in a single season, this dark and funny book is for you.
3. Bad Chili by Joe Lansdale. Lansdale has written several books featuring Hap & Leonard, and all of them mix beautiful writing with lowbrow, laugh-out-loud humor. This one opens with a rabid squirrel attack that is the funniest thing I have ever read in a novel.
4. Go, Mutants!by Larry Doyle. Nobody packs more jokes into a book than Larry Doyle. This one is a loving tribute to 1950′s sci-fi movies, and though there’s all kinds of over-the-top alien craziness, much of the humor is so understated that if you read too fast, you’ll zip right past it.
5. John Dies At The End by David Wong. Yeah, I’m jealous that I didn’t think of this title. A combination of Big, Deep Ideas and gross, demented humor. You will laugh. You will think. You will gag.
The Icon Thief by Alec Nevala-Lee
Publisher: Penguin/March 2012
Kind thanks to Penguin for providing a review copy
A controversial masterpiece resurfaces in Budapest. A ballerina’s headless corpse is found beneath the boardwalk at Brighton Beach. And New York’s Russian mafia is about to collide with the equally ruthless art world…
Maddy Blume, an ambitious young art buyer for a Manhattan hedge fund, is desperate to find a priceless painting by Marcel Duchamp, one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. A gruesome cold case thrusts the FBI into a search for the same painting, with its enigmatic image of a headless nude. And an insidious secret society is intent on reclaiming the painting for reasons of its own-and by any means necessary.
A mysterious painting has been sold for 10 million dollars at auction, much more than the projected price, and Maddy Blume, art buyer, is determined to find out why. Meanwhile, a headless body has been found in Brighton Beach, and the Russian mafia is suspected. Maddy, frustrated by lack of funds, a failed gallery, and possible career stagnation, takes matters into her own hands. She decides to track down this elusive buyer in order to please her boss and save her career, but she has no idea that others want the painting, including an assassin with his own motives; motives that don’t include preserving Maddy’s life.
This is the first book by Alec Nevala-Lee, and it’s certainly a promising debut. He navigates the fascinating ins and outs of the high art world, while at the same time interweaving a murder mystery involving the Russian mafia, the financial aspects of art buying, and the heist of a painting that may have ancient ties to the Rosicrucians. Criminal investigator Alan Powell is investigating the murder of a dancer and his path inevitably leads to Maddy and the painting at the center of it all. I really enjoyed this fast paced thriller, and keeping up with the twists and turns made my head spin, but in a good way. Thriller fans will eat this one up.
This Dark Earth by John Hornor Jacobs
Publisher: Gallery Books/July 3rd, 2012
Kind thanks to Gallery Books for providing a review copy
In a bleak, zombie-ridden future, a small settlement fights for survival and looks to a teenager to lead them…The land is contaminated, electronics are defunct, the ravenous undead remain, and life has fallen into a nasty and brutish state of nature. Welcome to Bridge City, in what was once Arkansas: part medieval fortress, part Western outpost, and the precarious last stand for civilization. A ten-year-old prodigy when the world ended, Gus is now a battle-hardened young man. He designed Bridge City to protect the living few from the shamblers eternally at the gates. Now he’s being groomed by his physician mother, Lucy, and the gentle giant Knock-Out to become the next leader of men. But an army of slavers is on its way, and the war they wage for the city’s resources could mean the end of mankind as we know it. Can Gus be humanity’s savior? And if he is, will it mean becoming a dictator, a martyr, or maybe something far worse than even the zombies?
You may know that I adored John Hornor Jacobs’ first novel, Southern Gods, so when I got an opportunity to read This Dark Earth, I may have squeeed with happiness. It turns out the squeeing was more than warranted. A plague that turns the earth into a nuclear-scorched wasteland? Zombies? Characters you’ll fall in love with and that will break your heart? Yes, please! The author didn’t mess around with This Dark Earth. It starts hard and fast and really doesn’t ever let up.
We meet Dr. Lucy Ingersol right off the bat, as she watches people file into her hospital with strange and scary symptoms. We’re talking eating their own lips, seizures…yeah, scary, nasty stuff, and it’s about to get much worse. In spite of Lucy’s distinct lack of bedside manner, she’s a brilliant doctor, and she thinks on her feet, which is really about to come in handy. There’s a nasty virus on the loose, and our government decides to take a decidedly, um, scorched earth approach to getting rid of it. Unfortunately, the virus also causes the dead to rise, and they’re hungry…
This Dark Earth is not your typical zombie fare. Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of zombies, but the highlight of this novel is the characters. The standouts, of course, are Lucy, her whip-smart son Gus, and the absolutely wonderful Knock-Out, the gentle giant that will steal your heart. Seriously, he stole mine. You’ll travel with this threesome as they navigate a land ravaged by radiation and populated by the walking dead, and you’ll stay with them as they build Bridge City, an outpost fortified against the terror and lawlessness that has taken hold of the country. Gus is destined to lead this group of people, and the road to hope isn’t an easy one. Wait, that’s an understatement. It’s downright torturous, and the author really doesn’t pull any punches. By turns brutal and tender, This Dark Earth is dark, and you will flinch, but you’ll keep reading, and you’ll love every second of it. Gus is a young hero to root for, as he constantly tries to hold onto his humanity in a sea of inhumanity and brutality. You think zombies are nasty? There are people in this book that give the zombies more than a run for their money. There are plenty of zombies for the diehard fan, and plenty more for fans of just plain superb writing. Relentlessly paced, This Dark Earth takes you on a trip through hell and back, and you’ll be better for the journey. If you were wondering if John Hornor Jacobs could capture lightning in a bottle twice, no need to wonder anymore. He did.
I’m so pleased to have Wesley King on the blog today, which just happens to be the release day for his new YA book, The Vindico, featuring a group of teen superheroes that you won’t soon forget. Wesley was kind enough to answer a few of my questions, so please welcome him to the blog!
Wesley, your new book The Vindico, is out today!! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?
Actually, my career aspirations have changed dramatically with time. Initially it was a Ninja Turtle, until I became old enough to realize that being a turtle was impractical for any number of reasons. From there it was a member of the X-Men, until I saw Return of the Jedi, upon which I became convinced that I was the last (and totally forgotten) Skywalker. So I suppose I was always destined to be a writer, though I haven’t entirely abandoned being a Jedi. In a more practical sense, I have always loved writing. I was actually a bit of a jock in school (which is ironic, because
I slept with Star Wars sheets until I was 18), and didn’t publicize that passion until grade 12. That year, at the urging of a teacher, I took up Writer’s Craft and won the award at graduation. From there I started to actually believe I could do this.
How did you celebrate when you found out that The Vindico would be published?
When I first received the call, I was watching the first game of the World Cup in 2010. When my agent told me, I literally sat down in the middle of my kitchen floor, all alone, and listened with a probably dumbfounded expression as she told me they wanted the sequel too. When she hung up, I actually danced. Around the kitchen, in the backyard. Actually, it was rather lucky I was alone. I’m not a good dancer.
The Vindico is described as X-Men meets The Breakfast Club. I’m in! Will you give us a teaser?
That was actually my agent Brianne Johnson’s pitch—I loved it the second I heard it. I think everyone loves the idea of different social stereotypes coming together, probably because we all secretly wonder how they came to push everyone apart in the first place. In terms of a teaser, I will leave it to Emily, the bitingly-sharp computer genius:
“If you teach a bunch of kids to be supervillains, you can’t expect them to follow the rules.”
The sequel, The Feros, will be out next year. Do you already have in mind the number of books you’d like to write in the series?
I do actually. The thing I love most about Harry Potter is how we follow the characters as they grow, and I’d love to do the same thing with mine. I believe that readers will really connect with James, Hayden, Lana, Emily, and Sam, and want to grow up with them. So as a short answer, I’d like to do 6 overall. Suffice to say the books would grow darker and more convoluted as they went, and explore some of the issues about power that I think would (and do) come into play in the real world.
As an adult, is it a challenge to write for a teen audience?
It would be, if I ever grew up myself. I’m pretty much a twenty-five-year-old teenager. I still think there is another Skywalker.
What are some of your favorite authors or books?
It varies big time. I love Harry Potter and The Hunger Games and The Inheritance Cycle, but I also love Tolstoy and Dickens. The end of A Tale of Two Cities stuck with me for a very long time, and I still think it’s one of the great literary examples of truly unselfish love. But if I had to name one author, it would probably be James Clavell. I’m a sucker for historical fiction, and Shogun is one of my all-time favorites.
What was your favorite book as a child?
That probably depended on the year – I loved Roald Dahl, and My Side of the Mountain was a favorite for a while. It spoke to that inherent yearning for independence and adventure in all kids, and I used to joke with my agent that I was going to move into a hollow tree if we didn’t sell the book soon. And of course, as a Star Wars buff, there were any number of those. The Courtship of Princess Leia was a main one, probably because the word courtship was scandalous for a very shy eight-year-old.
Favorite line from a book?
I’d have to go back to A Tale of Two Cities for the very last line from Sydney Carton as he awaits his execution: “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.”
If you could be any superhero, who would you be?
It’s ironic, but I’d probably choose the superhero I was always least interested in: Superman. I always preferred my superheroes to be deeply-flawed and haunted and vulnerable, which is why I gravitated toward X-Men growing up. But Superman can fly around the Earth so fast that he reverses time. That’s badass.
When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
I still play a lot of sports—soccer, football, hockey—and I’m a bit of a movie buff. I also read as much as I can, of course, and I am currently reading Game of Thrones. But really, when I have a good chunk of free time, I like to be writing. It’s like reading a book where the characters magically keep saying and doing everything I‘d like them to.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
In terms of upcoming projects, I’m still finishing up editing for The Feros and I’m also currently working on outlines for the remainder of the series. But I’m a fairly prolific writer—I wrote my last novel in 11 days. I have written the first novels in two separate series—one a YA dystopian fantasy and the other adult sci-fi—and another about a sarcastic and brilliant overweight girl who challenges the status quo. I also have a very dark horror/comedy screenplay being considered in Hollywood, and I have even been delving into the world of television. Suffice to say I like writing. And I am currently booking readings and signings, so check out www.thevindico.com or The Vindico’s Facebook page to see if I’m doing one in your area! You can check out my promo video there as well, which should give you a fairly good idea of why most authors don’t do promo videos.
About The Vindico
X-Men meets The Breakfast Club in this darkly humorous adventure
The Vindico are a group of supervillains who have been fighting the League of Heroes for as long as anyone can remember. Realizing they’re not as young as they used to be, they devise a plan to kidnap a group of teenagers to take over for them when they retire—after all, how hard can it be to teach a bunch of angsty teens to be evil?
Held captive in a remote mansion, five teens train with their mentors and receive superpowers beyond their wildest dreams. Struggling to uncover the motives of the Vindico, the teens have to trust each other to plot their escape. But they quickly learn that the differences between good and evil are not as black and white as they seem, and they are left wondering whose side they should be fighting on after all . . .
With fast-paced action, punchy dialogue, and sarcastic humor, this high-stakes adventure from a talented new YA voice pulls you in from the first page.