My Bookish Ways

Full Blooded (Jessica McClain #1) by Amanda Carlson

Full Blooded (Jessica McClain #1) by Amanda Carlson
Orbit/Sept. 11th, 2011
Urban Fantasy
Kind thanks to the author and Orbit for providing a review copy

It’s not easy being a girl. It’s even harder when you’re the only girl in a family of werewolves. But it’s next to impossible when your very existence spells out the doom of your race… Meet Jessica McClain — she just became part of the pack.

Jessica McClain has been living on her own, away from her father’s pack, for a while now. Doing PI work with her best friend is interesting and pays the bills. Things seem to be going pretty good, until the night she finally turns wolf, destroys her apartment, and attacks a human (luckily not killing him). Now, Jessica is the only female werewolf in the world, and the Cain Myth isn’t helping. An anonymous note sent to her father’s compound one month after Jessica’s birth, claims that she is the Daughter of Cain, the embodiment of evil, and unfortunately, some of the wolves in her father’s pack actually believe the nonsense. Because of this, her new ability to shift will have to be kept secret from all but a few, and that’s much easier said than done. It also doesn’t help that she has a tenacious cop, Ray Hart, after her who is determined to put her away for something, anything, and won’t stop until he does. He smells a rat with the story concocted explaining away the mess in her apartment and is, er, dogging Jessica’s every move. Damage control must be done, and soon, or all hell will break loose.

Full Blooded begins with Jessica making her first change, and boy, is it a doozy! Her father is the Alpha of one of the largest packs in the world, and the presence of a female werewolf sends everyone into a frenzy (in more ways than one). Even her father is not quite sure how things should be handled. He’ll need to figure it out soon, because not only is a lone female the problem, but dissent is brewing within the ranks, and a larger threat is looming. The author spends much of the first half or so of the book with Jessica getting used to her new powers and learning her new place in the world, but when the second half of the book hits, watch out! Amanda Carlson brings a whole new snarling, furry, bristling chunk of awesome. Jessica isn’t only the only female werewolf, she’s much more, but telling you that secret would ruin much of the fun. Suffice it to say that she’s pretty badass and not afraid to show it. In fact, it’s her stubbornness (and courage) that actually almost gets her in quite a bit of trouble a few times. It’s this stubbornness that makes her so likeable though. Sometimes she doesn’t know when to shut her mouth, and I can certainly relate to that :-D Not only does Full Blooded bring on the supernatural kickass that one would expect, it also brings on the sexy. Seriously, there’s a scene in her that will scorch your knickers, promise. Then there’s Roarke, the mysterious mercenary that’s after Jessica for his own reasons, and brace yourself for some of the scariest vamps I’ve read about in a long time. Inevitable comparisons to Kelley Armstrong’s werewolf series will happen, and that’s a good thing, but Amanda CarIson creates a world and werewolf mythos that’s all her own. I had so much fun with this book and it’s been a while since a debut novel has had me this riveted. Luckily, the next book, Hot Blooded, will be out early next year. Trust me, urban fantasy fans, you’ll want to put Ms. Carlson on your autobuy!

Purchase Full Blooded: Amazon |B&N | Indiebound

Interview (& Giveaway): Amanda Carlson, author of Full Blooded

The lovely Amanda Carlson is joining us today as part of her blog tour for Full Blooded (read my review), and I couldn’t be more excited! Please welcome her to the blog! Also, there’s a giveaway for a copy of Full Blooded at the bottom of the post (and it’s international), so check out the deets, and good luck!

Amanda, welcome back to the blog! What have you been up to since the last time we talked? I assume you’ve been busy promoting Full Blooded, yes?
Thanks for having me back. It’s great to be here! I’ve been very busy networking, getting my name and book information out. As a new author, it’s crucial. It’s been a lot of work, but I’m enjoying it. I love chatting, if you haven’t noticed.

What would be your elevator pitch for Full Blooded?
“You have to read this book. It’s full of everything you’d want in an urban fantasy series: action, adventure, sex and great mythological mayhem.” Then I’d vomit from the stress of pitching in the elevator.

If Full Blooded was adapted for the big screen, who would you cast as Jessica (and Ty, and James…)?
I’ve only been asked this one other time, but my answer is still the same: I have no idea. When I write my characters they are such an amalgamation in my mind, it would be so hard to pick the *right* person to encompass all their attributes. I don’t ever picture one clear face in my mind when I write. It’s more like a fun dream state where my characters encompass personality, voice, snark and action all at one time. But I DO have a wicked crush on Tom Hardy.

If we beefed him up, dyed his hair blonde and made him look more like Thor, we *may* have a Rourke. Possibly.

Most folks assume that the main character is the most fun to write for an author. Is that true for you, or do you have a different fave?
Jessica is so much fun to write, it’s true, but I actually enjoy writing everyone. I love changing it up and getting the fun banter going. Danny is really fun to write. I love his accent. And I love Marcy’s zestiness. It’s all awesome, and definitely never boring.

What’s one of your favorite werewolf books or films?
I loved Van Helsing when it came out. I have no idea if it’s held up over time. It’s not a full werewolf movie. I remember seeing American Werewolf in London and being totally freaked out at the time. It might be time to re-rent. I loved the first Underworld movie, Kate Beckinsale is awesome. I was really excited a few years ago for The Wolfman with Benicio Del Toro, but it was a bit of a letdown. I guess the answer is: there are no great “urban fantasy” werewolf movies out there. I think it’s time they make one, don’t you?

What’s next for you?
HOT BLOODED releases in April 2013 and I’m finishing up COLD BLOODED right now. It’s due to hit shelves fall of 2013. I’m having such a blast writing this series. I hope I get to do it for a long time.

Thanks for hosting me, Kristin!! I had fun as usual. For anyone reading, I hope you enjoy the series.
Keep up with Amanda: Website | Twitter

1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries)
2. Giveaway is for 1 copy of Full Blooded by Amanda Carlson to 1 winner.
3. Giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY (or wherever The Book Depository ships)
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 9/26/12
6. Giveaway book courtesy of the author.
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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Interview: Scott K. Andrews, author of School’s Out Forever

Finally! School’s Out Forever, the omnibus of three books of zombie awesome (The Afterblight Chronicles) by Scott K. Andrews will be available in the US on Sept. 18th (from Abaddon Books), and Scott was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Please welcome him to the blog!

Scott, in your bio it says you didn’t start writing until age 30. Had you always hoped to be writer? Will you tell us a bit about your journey?
I pitched my first novel when I was 20 – a Doctor Who book for Virgin in the early days of the New Adventures. It got rejected but I got a very encouraging rejection letter, encouraging me to try again. So I tried again. And again. And again.

While that was ongoing I tried to break into comic book writing. That went a bit better – I got two commissions, both finished and paid for but only one got published. But then that fizzled, and I eventually also gave up on the Doctor Who pitches as well due to my having lost all feeling in my head from banging it against a brick wall for nearly a decade.

Then a period as an entertainment journalist, during which I toyed with various novel ideas, all of which were horribly derivative and lurk in my bottom drawer. Eventually , when I was 30, I kind of stumbled into a job doing an episode guide book to Dawson’s Creek (!). I took the opportunity to prove I could deliver a useable manuscript on deadline, which led to a second episode guide book.

Then a friend commissioned a short story from me for a Doctor Who anthology and mentioned the Abaddon open pitch process at the same time. The rest is history.

School’s Out Forever, the omnibus containing your St. Mark’s Trilogy books (The Afterblight Chronicles) will be out in the US on Sept. 18 (yayyy!!) Will you tell us a little about it?
It tells the tale of two people – a boy and a young woman – who survive a viral apocalypse and try to build something good in the ruins with the help of their friends, and of all the various nutters and despots who they have to bring down in order to do that. It’s relentlessly thrilling, occasionally shocking and hopefully a little bit thought provoking too.

Which character in the trilogy was your favorite to write, and why?
Matron, without a doubt. She started out as a secondary character but soon came to dominate the series. I loved her determination, humanity, ruthlessness and just her general attitude to authority. I never had to ‘find’ her voice, she just appeared fully formed. I didn’t even realise she was the hero of the first book until I’d finished writing it, so completely did she sneak up on me.

But most people’s favourite character in the trilogy is Rowles, my 11 year-old sociopathic killing machine. For some reason he really struck a chord!

What do you love most about horror?
I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool horror fan, but I love a good horror movie as much as the next geek. I suppose what I look for in a good horror story is that cathartic thing of having my deepest fears given metaphorical substance so I can see them beaten to a pulp, the kind of thing Buffy used to do so brilliantly. I also find horror-comedies make me laugh more reliably than any other kind of comedy – I’d always rather watch Shaun than Dawn.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
John Wyndham’s very English view of the apocalypse informed the St Mark’s trilogy hugely. Iain Banks for his plotting; Christopher Fowler for his macabre sense of the absurd; Douglas Coupland for his deeply humane characters. And, not strictly literary but probably my biggest influence – Joss Whedon’s approach to character and story is constantly inspiring and makes me strive to be better all the time.

What do you find truly frightening?
Untrammeled power and the people who seek to wield it. Dictators, repressive regimes, the threat of having my freedom taken away by someone who will lock me up and torture me if I voice a dissenting opinion. These things are the reality of many people’s daily lives and I give thanks every day that I’m lucky enough to be who and where I am and to enjoy the life I do. But the threat of losing that liberty to bullies with guns keeps me awake at night.

In your own reading, what makes you want to set aside a book in frustration?
Pretension. The kind of book that abandons character and plot in favour of the pointless, soulless quest for the stylistically perfect sentence. Boring.

If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Iain Banks’ The Crow Road.

When you manage to carve out some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Reading, binging on TV and films, spending time with the kids. But most of all catching up on my sleep!

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I have a new novel underway, even thought there’s no deal signed yet. So there should be the first book of a new trilogy from me hitting bookshelves some time in 2013.

Also, the film of the first St Mark’s book – School’s Out – should be going before the cameras next summer, so keep your eyes out for announcements about casting as the summer draws closer – exciting!
Keep up with Scott: Website | Facebook
Pre-Order School’s Out Forever: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound
Add to Goodreads

About School’s Out Forever:
“After the world died we all sort of drifted back to school. After all, where else was there for us to go?”

Lee Keegan’s fifteen. If most of the population of the world hadn’t just died choking on their own blood, he might be worrying about acne, body odour and girls. As it is, he and the young Matron of his boarding school, Jane Crowther, have to try and protect their charges from cannibalistic gangs, religious fanatics, a bullying prefect experimenting with crucifixion and even the surviving might of the US Army.

Welcome to St. Mark’s School for Boys and Girls…

Faithful Place by Tana French

Faithful Place (Dublin Murder Squad #3) by Tana French
Penguin/Viking/July 2010

Tana French’s In the Woods and The Likeness captivated readers by introducing them to her unique, character-driven style. Her singular skill at creating richly drawn, complex worlds makes her novels not mere whodunits but brilliant and satisfying novels about memory, identity, loss, and what defines us as humans. With Faithful Place, the highly praised third novel about the Dublin Murder squad, French takes readers into the mind of Frank Mackey, the hotheaded mastermind of The Likeness, as he wrestles with his own past and the family, the lover, and the neighborhood he thought he’d left behind for good

It was 1985 and Rosie Daly and Francis Mackey were in love. Eager to escape his deeply dysfunctional family, Frank makes plans with Rosie to head off to England for a new start. Rosie never shows up at their meeting place, though, and Frank is heartbroken. Still determined to get away, Frank spends time at friends and eventually joins the police. 22 years later, Frank is now a detective in the Dublin Undercover squad, and he’s about to get a phone call that will change everything. Rosie’s suitcase has been found in the derelict house that they were supposed to meet at on that fateful night, and Frank begins to suspect the worst. Did Rosie ever make it to England, or did she even make it out of Faithful Place. One thing is certain: Frank will get to the bottom of it, even if it means going back home and facing his family one last time.

Faithful Place, the third book in Tana French’s Dublin series, is told in Frank Mackey’s voice and isn’t a straightforward mystery, as such, but French’s novels never are strictly about the whodunit. Her talent lies in taking a reader into the hearts and minds of her characters with lyrical and razor sharp precision, and each book just gets better. Faithful Place in 1985 is a living, seething thing, and the people that populate it are fully fleshed out, especially Frank’s family. Jackie, Frank’s youngest sister, is the only sibling he’s consistently kept in touch with since leaving home, and seeing the rest of the family is the last thing he wants to do, but Rosie’s mystery trumps all, and he’s soon back in the thick of it. An alcoholic, abusive father and sharp tongued mother are just the beginning. Secrets and little intrigues are the lifeblood of Faithful Place and the families that reside there, and diving back into those murky waters is a dangerous proposition. Tragic and riveting, Faithful Place is rich in atmosphere and provides a heady slice-of-life of Dublin in the 80s and the present. The question of what happened to Rosie will draw you in, but it’s the intricate tapestry of familial drama that will keep you turning the pages. French’s writing is nothing short of perfect and is the standard that suspense authors of this ilk should strive for. Like many of the great, classic mystery writers, it’s the journey to find out the truth that’s spotlighted here and all of her characters ring achingly true. Fans of mystery and suspense shouldn’t miss this latest book by one of the biggest talents in the genre!

Purchase Faithful Place: Amazon |B&N | Indiebound

Giveaway: Shelter and Seconds Away by Harlan Coben

Seconds Away, by Harlan Coben is out on the 18th, so what better way to celebrate than with a giveaway! Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers, I’ve got a copy of Seconds Away, the first book of the series, Shelter, and a Mickey Bolitar tote bag up for grabs, all for one lucky winner. Check out the books and the giveaway details, and good luck!

About Shelter:
Mickey Bolitar’s year can’t get much worse. After witnessing his father’s death and sending his mom to rehab, he’s forced to live with his estranged uncle Myron and switch high schools. Fortunately, he’s met a great girl, Ashley, and it seems like things might finally be improving. But then Ashley vanishes. Mickey follows Ashley’s trail into a seedy underworld that reveals that Ashley isn’t who she claimed to be. And neither was Mickey’s father. Soon Mickey learns about a conspiracy so shocking that it leaves him questioning everything about the life he thought he knew.

About Seconds Away:
When tragedy strikes close to home, Mickey Bolitar and his loyal new friends—sharp-witted Ema and the adorkably charming Spoon—find themselves at the center of a terrifying mystery involving the shooting of their friend Rachel. Now, not only does Mickey have to continue his quest to uncover the truth about the Abeona Shelter, the Butcher of Lodz and the mysterious death of his father, he needs to figure out who shot Rachel—no matter what it takes.

Mickey has always been ready to sacrifice everything to help the people he loves. But with danger just seconds away, how can he protect them when he’s not even sure who—or what—he’s protecting them from?

1. You MUST fill out the form below (lots of chances for extra entries)
2. Giveaway is for 1 copy each of Shelter and Seconds Away by Harlan Coben + Totebag to 1 winner.
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 9/21/12
6. Giveaway books courtesy of Penguin Young Readers
7. Please see my Giveaway Policy.

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The Broken Ones by Stephen M. Irwin

The Broken Ones by Stephen M. Irwin
Doubleday/August 7th, 2012
Kind thanks to Doubleday for providing a review copy

Without warning, a boy in the middle of a city intersection sends Detective Oscar Mariani’s car careening into a busy sidewalk. The scene is bedlam as every person becomes visited by something no one else can see. We are all haunted. Usually, the apparition is someone known: a lost relative, a lover, an enemy. But not always. For Oscar Mariani, the only secret that matters is the unknown ghost who now shares his every waking moment . . . and why.
The worldwide aftershock of what becomes known as “Gray Wednesday” is immediate and catastrophic, leaving governments barely functioning and economies devastated . . . but some things don’t change. When Detective Mariani discovers the grisly remains of an anonymous murder victim in the city sewage system, his investigation will pit him against a corrupt police department and a murky cabal conspiring for power in the new world order.

Oscar Mariani is an investigator with the “Barelies”. Let me explain: the Nine-Ten Investigation Unit was created 3 years ago (after Gray Wendesday), and it sounded enough like “nineteen” that it became the Barely Legals, shortened to the “Barelies”. Oscar continually has to endure the indignity of being part of an investigation unit that isn’t taken seriously, and also the ghost of a little boy that’s been haunting him since Gray Wednesday. Gray Wednesday left the world in shambles and in its wake, also left everyone with a ghost of their own.

Oscar and his partner Neve find the body of a young girl in the sewer system, laid open by an enormous industrial auger. The mutilation wasn’t enough to cover a symbol carved into the girl’s stomach. This case should have been passed to the Homicide unit, but Mariani decides to investigate it himself. Neve isn’t so enthusiastic, and isn’t afraid to show it. She soon puts in for a transfer, but it’s clear that she’s conflicted. As Oscar follows the clues, he begins to uncover something that can only be described as pure evil. At continuous risk of losing his job, the case will take him first to a home for disabled children, the Heights, a sparkling walled enclave where the elite dwell, and finally into an occult underground that will take him nearly beyond his emotional and physical endurance.

To say that I loved this book would be an understatement. Oscar Mariani is my favorite kind of protagonist: wounded, deeply moral, and determined to see things put right. When Gray Wednesday hit, his ghost appeared in front of him while driving on a busy street, and in trying to avoid what he thought was a real person in front of him, he swerved to avoid him, and struck a young girl. The pain that he carries with him because of this, and its aftermath, is palpable on nearly every page. The author set his story against a future Australia that is broken, dark, and bereft of hope, to nearly all except for the very wealthy. Power is spotty, government support is very limited, and struggling to get by is an understatement.

“The roads were empty of traffic, but not empty of cars: both sides were lined with vehicles, some of the festooned with faded bouquets of parking tickets. Most had smashed windows, a few were no more than burned shells, all of them had been stripped of wheels, seats, mirrors-anything that could be removed in hasted and peddled. Sump boxes were cracked open and their oil drained for use in lamps. Driving was a luxury few outside of the Heights could afford. Half the cars in the city-half the cars around the world, Oscar supposed-had been dented or crashed on Gray Wednesday. His own car had gained a dent on the front. Oscar drew down another shutter on that memory.”

Amidst the ruin, Oscar is a beacon, whether he wants to be or not. His quest (and it is a quest) to see things right is fraught with danger and figuring out who can be trusted is no small task. A complicated relationship with his adoptive, ex-cop father is a fulcrum on which he swings, and we’re given small glimpses into that relationship throughout the story. The Broken Ones is not for the faint of heart, however. There’s nothing gratuitous here, but the author absolutely does not pull punches, and there were a few times that I had to look away and catch my breath. The language he uses is just beautiful, even when describing the most gruesome scenes:

“This curtain was woven with the bones and skulls of ten thousand people. Femurs and rib bones were the weft, and humeri and ulnae the warp. Skulls were ivory sequins. This awful drapery was the source of the sick, eldritch light-and behind it was a yawning darkness more terrible than the narrow, blind confusion he’d left behind. He knew he had to go. Then the curtain rippled. The bilious light shimmered, and he heard an unmusical tinkle, the discord of a thousand untuned pianos as bone ticked against bone. Something was on the other side. Something huge. It was coming.”

There is one particular scene in The Broken Ones that absolutely terrified me. I’m talking about “watching-the-scariest-movie” muscle clenching horror. I held my breath for two whole pages. It’s been a long time since a book has had that effect on me, and frankly, it was awesome. To pigeonhole The Broken Ones into one genre would be very inaccurate. It’s a combination of supernatural thriller, police procedural, horror, and dystopian…and it works. Oh boy, does it work! Stephen M. Irwin puts his characters through the emotional and physical ringers, and doesn’t spare his reader either. I felt wrung out when I finished this novel, but in the best way, the way you feel like when you’ve finished a wonderful book, and discovered a new to you author that has just blown you away. I can’t help but hope there will be more of Oscar Mariani in future books, but if not, that’ s ok too, because The Broken Ones is a gem and stands perfectly on its own. Very, very highly recommended.

Purchase The Broken Ones: Amazon |B&N | Indiebound

Book News: Sept. 7th, 2012

Here you’ll find my round up of all things book related from around the web for the week! If there’s any news you’d like to add, I encourage you to add it in comments!

Interviews, short stories, etc.:

Interview: Gwenda Bond, author of Blackwood

I’m thrilled to have Gwenda Bond on the blog today! Her first book, Blackwood, was out on the 4th from Angry Robot’s brand new YA imprint, Strange Chemistry,and has been enjoying wonderful reviews. The busy new writer was kind enough to answer a few questions, so please give her a warm welcome!

Gwenda, your first novel, Blackwood, just came out! Have you always wanted to be a writer? Can you tell me a bit about your journey?
I have. I was that obnoxious kid who declared I wanted to write books before I even really knew how to read—or write, obviously. I would make cursive swirls on paper and ask my mom to decode any words I’d accidentally made. Anyway, I took a bit of a detour post-college and wrote screenplays for several years before I realized that books were where my writer’s heart truly was and YA books specifically. And it took more years to figure out how to write a novel and a few more to sell one.

Will you tell us a little bit about Blackwood?
Happily! Blackwood is a modern take on the Lost Colony of Roanoke, set on Roanoke Island. When there’s a mass disappearance of 114 people in the present day—the same number as the original colonists—two smart, unlikely 17-year-olds must work together to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony, if there’s any hope of saving the missing people and themselves.

What made you decide to write a young adult novel?
I’m not sure I can write any other kind of novel, though I guess I should follow the never say never rule. It was really the flood of fantastic YA in the early to mid-2000s that woke me up to the fact it was what I should be writing. So, even though YA wasn’t nearly as robust when I was a teen and I mostly read adult books then—big exceptions for Francesca Lia Block and Christopher Pike aside—I instantly connected with the emerging new breed of YA. When I decided to go to grad school, I only looked at the Vermont College program in writing for children and YA, and while the community and mentorship there were hugely beneficial, I also think becoming more widely read in the field of children’s literature was invaluable.

Honestly, when I started trying to write novels, they were all YA. I don’t think I’ve ever had an idea that would work better as an adult book. The immediacy of action and emotion in YA really appeal to me, and that time of life is so rich with possibility. Also, the way all the books rub up against each other. It’s much more of a genre melting pot, with everyone able to steal and use what they want in a freer way, because ultimately the books are marketed into the same category regardless of genre. Especially in comparison to the restrictions marketing can slap on books that are hybrids or departures outside YA, it feels more open to writers trying new things.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
This is always such a hard one for me, because I have trouble stepping back and teasing out actual influences from the things I love. I’m a very wide reader, but also a wide consumer of other media—TV, movies, music—and I suspect it all has an influence, in one way or another. Many of my favorite writers are also friends, which I’ll always feel lucky for, and so conversations with them are also hugely influential on the way I think about my work and also a great source of discussions about what we’re reading as well as what we’re writing. Total cop-out answer? Probably. But I’m never happy naming names unless I’m recommending books. I always kick myself for forgetting someone.

What was one of your favorite books as a child?
Oh, there were so many. But since I already mentioned him once in this interview, I’m going to single out an actual YA book I read and reread when I was a teen (not a child, so cheating, but): Christopher Pike’s Remember Me. It was—with the caveat I haven’t read it in a lot of years—a book about a girl who’s murdered at the beginning of the novel trying to find her killer, while running from a shadowy dark force, and meanwhile falling in love and uncovering great family secrets. I have no idea how it would hold up, going back to it, but the character’s voice was absolutely compelling to me back then. Pike’s books were an addictive mix of cracktastically amazing high stakes drama and teenagers who felt more true to life than many fictional teens did back then. (I should say that Lizzie Skurnick did a brilliantly snarky piece about Remember Me for her Fine Lines Jezebel column, but I still want to do an epic reread of it. Though I’m semi-afraid to now. Still, Christopher Pike forever. I inhaled those books as a teen.)

If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Switching gears completely, I guess it would have to be Eduardo Galeano’s The Book of Embraces. At least, that’s what I’m going with today. It’s a beautiful mix of poetry and illustration, prose and politics, which I also first discovered in high school. One of my favorite books, I go back to it every couple of years to marvel anew. It’s one of a kind.

What makes you set a book aside in frustration?
I get a lot of books for possible review in the mail (as I’m sure you do), and so often it’s no fault of the book itself. I can’t remember the last time I started a book and got beyond the first chapter and couldn’t finish it or was truly disappointed by it. What makes me set a book aside in that first chapter is usually that it just isn’t clicking—the voice or subject matter isn’t my kind of thing, the character isn’t engaging me. It’s just not for me as a reader.

What are you reading now?
I’ve been on a romance reading binge, which tends to be my go-to during stressful times (like a first book release!). Mostly, I’ve been reading Sherry Thomas, who I just discovered recently. I also loved Ilona Andrews’ latest, Gunmetal Magic, as I do all her books. And I just finished Leigh Bardugo’s Smoke and Bone, which was great, and Tiffany Trent’s The Unnaturalists, ditto.

Is there someone (literary or otherwise) that would bring out the fangirl in you if you were to meet them in person?
I have been extremely lucky in that I seem to meet the authors who become my heroes before I read their books and would be hopelessly intimidated by them and so unable to make conversation. However, I’ll admit to being somewhat in awe of Karen Joy Fowler after reading Sarah Canary for the first time. If she wasn’t so approachable and hilarious, I might have embarrassed myself terribly.

I don’t know if there’s anyone else. I’m not that impressed by celebrity, so probably not. Usually I get more impressed to meet someone with a really interesting job—you worked on the Curiosity for NASA? I’m probably going to turn into a little bit of a fangirl.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
On twitter, of course. Or marathoning television shows, or reading. I should be less of a hermit. Resolution! (Resolution that will never be kept.)

Quick! What’s something that makes you laugh out loud?
Ridiculous uses of scare quotes around every day items! One-day “sale”, for instance. Though, I should probably say, I am remarkably easy to make laugh out loud.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
I don’t think so. Blackwood’s out now (!) and I would love to hear from readers, who can always find me via my website or at twitter. You can find out about the events I’m doing at my site, too. My next book will be The Woken Gods, out next year from Strange Chemistry/Angry Robot. So don’t be a stranger.
Thanks so much for the interview!

More about Gwenda Bond:
Gwenda Bond is a contributing writer for Publishers Weekly and regularly reviews for Locus. Her nonfiction work has also appeared in the Washington Post, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons, among others, and she guest-edited a special YA issue for Subterranean Online. She holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts’ program in writing for children and young adults. Readers of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet may know her as everyone’s Dear Aunt Gwenda.

She lives in a hundred-year-old house in Lexington, Kentucky, with her husband, author Christopher Rowe, and their menagerie: Hemingway the Cat, Polydactyl, LLC; Miss Emma the Dog-Girl, CPA; and Puck the Puppy, INC. This is her first novel.

About Blackwood:
On Roanoke Island, the legend of the 114 people who mysteriously vanished from the Lost Colony hundreds of years ago is just an outdoor drama for the tourists, a story people tell. But when the island faces the sudden disappearance of 114 people now, an unlikely pair of 17-year-olds may be the only hope of bringing them back.

Miranda, a misfit girl from the island’s most infamous family, and Phillips, an exiled teen criminal who hears the voices of the dead, must dodge everyone from federal agents to long-dead alchemists as they work to uncover the secrets of the new Lost Colony. The one thing they can’t dodge is each other.
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Interview: Paul Goat Allen

Please welcome Paul Goat Allen to the blog! Paul has been a professional reviewer for the last 20 years (he currently runs the B&N Explorations Blog) and is also an author and poet. He was kind enough to answer some questions about his career (and other fun stuff, like tea parties with his little girls), and I’m thrilled to have him on the blog!

Paul, as a reviewer myself, I’m a little in awe of your accomplishments. You’ve managed to make a huge name for yourself reviewing for outlets such as Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune, and most influentially for me, Barnes and Noble’s Explorations blog, and over 6,000 reviews under your belt and counting. Whew! I know it’s a story you’ve related a few times, but will you share with us how you got started?
Well, I’ve always loved books and have been a huge SF/fantasy fan ever since I could read – I remember trying to read The Silmarillion in the third grade! – and as a kid, I always wanted to be a writer. I graduated college with two degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing and thought that becoming a published author would be easy. And, honestly, it was. Managing chain bookstores (Coles and Waldenbooks) in and around Syracuse, I saved up enough money to self-publish a little collection of poetry. Overall, it sucked but I learned invaluable lessons about how to sell the book – and myself. I did poetry readings everywhere – coffee houses, bookstores, libraries, high schools, craft fairs, mental institutions, etc. A few years after I self-published Warlock Dreams, I got a novel published. I had written it in college – entitled Burning Sticks, a morbid coming-of-age tale aimed at young adult readers – that got published by a small press in my area. They butchered it – entire chapters were deleted – but I was like 25 at the time and I had a book officially published! It sold remarkably well in a small graphical area (Central New York) and I got on the covers of numerous magazines, was interviewed on television shows – I thought I had “made it.”

But even though I had a measure of fame, I was still living at home with my parents. All of those years of hard work hadn’t really resulted in any monetary gain. I continued to write poetry but I settled in my life as a bookstore manager. And then Waldenbooks was sold to Borders and everything changed – the “book people” vibe was changed to the “buy a discount card or else” vibe overnight and I hated it.

But as fate would have it, some people that I knew very well who worked for the Waldenbooks home office in Stamford, Connecticut, got jobs as book buyers at Barnes & Noble’s headquarters in Manhattan – and less than six months after I quit my job as a bookstore manager, I interviewed for and was hired by B&N as an editor of their new Explorations SF/fantasy newsletter. This one event irrevocably changed my life. Almost 20 years later, I’m not only still doing Explorations for (it’s now a blog) but have also written for the Chicago Tribune, PW, Kirkus, BookPage, BlueInk, etc.

I know you have a huge library of “to be reviewed” books. How do you manage your time? Any organization tips for the rest of us (excluding magic beans-already tried those)?
Great question – I literally have an entire room downstairs in my house that is filled with ARCs and review copies. Offhand, I’d say 500-600 books. I tried separating them by category but that ultimately failed because so much of what I review is a fusion of genres. I tried to separate them by month of publication but the pub dates are often changed and that didn’t work either. Now I have the “mountain” and a small bookshelf where I keep “the good stuff” that I know I’ll definitely be reading and reviewing.

2012 has been an amazing year so far (at least for me), with so many wonderful new author and releases. What are a few of your favorites for this year?
Well, I don’t think 2012 has really been that amazing so far – I’ve been really disappointed by the “new” writers in paranormal fantasy; so much of it is just uninspired and derivative. And with some historically significant series ending soon – Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse, etc. – I’m really concerned about the future of this category. I keep waiting for the next Nicole Peeler or Jaye Wells to appear but I have been largely underwhelmed by the debut novelists in paranormal fantasy for the last few years.

2012 has been a noteworthy year for horror – namely Laird Barron’s The Croning – and it’s been a great year for zombie fiction (Horizon by Sophie Littlefield, Siege by Rhiannon Frater, Blackout by Mira Grant) but I think the best is yet to come. The year is not over yet! I’m really looking forward to Richard Kadrey’s Devil Said Bang, Justin Cronin’s The Twelve, Kim Harrison’s Blood Crime (graphic novel), Brom’s Krampus, and The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi, to name just a few.

Do you have a fave genre?
I pretty much love anything that is well conceived and creative but my favorite category has to be apocalyptic fiction. I grew up with ‘70’s disaster movies and reading apocalyptic classics like Lucifer’s Hammer and A Canticle for Leibowitz so those kinds of novels always resonate strongly this me.

What makes you grumble and want to throw a book across the room?
Grammatical errors. I review a lot of self-published work and it is so incredibly frustrating to have to trudge through a book that is written by authors who either don’t have a grasp of the English language or are too lazy to proof their own work.

What’s an essential component of a good book for you?
Well, after reading what averages out to be 5 books a week for the last 17 years, I find myself turned off by formulaic, uninspired, storylines. It gets boring. I love authors who have the balls to try something new, do something truly innovative.

Have you ever bought a book just for the cover?
Absolutely, we all have. Just read Jess Lourey’s The Toadhouse Trilogy: Book One solely because of the mesmerizing cover art. Good cover art isn’t just important – it’s crucial.

If you could read one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
That’s a tough question because the way in which I experience books now is much different than when I was younger. In fact, I have had the opportunity to reread classics that blew my mind when I was a kid – Pohl’s Gateway, Silverberg’s The World Inside, Tolkien’s The Hobbit, etc. – and while I still thoroughly enjoyed them, that sense of wonder was somewhat diminished. That said: if I could relive the experience of reading a book for the first time, it would have to be Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology (1967). That collection of stories forever changed the way I look at science fiction, and sex, and life.

We all know you love books, how about movies? Any faves?
I really have no free time for movies. With two young daughters at home, I’m either reading science fiction/fantasy, attending tea parties with various stuffed animals, or arranging play dates. (And I wouldn’t change it for the world.)

Paul and guitar player

What are some of the craziest things you’ve ever done?
Well, I’ve pulled out one of my own teeth with a pair of pliers and hung out of a three-story college dorm window naked during the Homecoming Parade but reading my poetry in bars was, at times, verging on suicidal. During my poetry days, I had hair down almost to my ass and had a wild beard and some of my poetry was decidedly “antisocial” so I thought reading it in bars before musical events would be a good moneymaking idea. I hired an electric guitar player to accompany me to give the poetry a little edge. at one show, we were opening up for a Metallica tribute band and the place – a dive called The Roma – was packed with rowdies. I got up on stage and started yelling out my poems, the bar as so loud I could barely hear myself, and some dude near the front started heckling. It seemed like most people were into it but this one guy just wouldn’t shut up. So I finally doused him with a beer and the crowd loved it. I honestly thought I wouldn’t live to see another day but we ended up putting on a great show and I sold a ton of books (is selling poetry books to drunken headbangers unethical?).

Quick, what’s the first thing you think of when you read these words?
Dragon: Anne McCaffrey
Electric: Kool-Aid Acid Test
Clock: Work Orange
Legend: I AM

If you could pack your bags and go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
I’m not much of a traveler – in fact, whenever possible, I head away from people. We live near the Adirondacks so I’d probably head for the hills!

Is there anyone you’d like to meet (literary or otherwise) that would bring out the fanboy in you?
It has to be Michael Moorcock. The guy is a living legend and his Elric novels played a huge role in my life when I was an adolescent. Those novels literally saved my life and helped me through a terrible few years. What I would’ve given for Elric’s soul-sucking sword when I was in the ninth grade!

You are no doubt terribly busy, not only with the books you review, but also juggling that with a family! When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Well, I love to lift weights and since my girls are getting a little older (my eldest will be starting kindergarten this fall) I’ve vowed to get back to writing creatively. My goal for what remains of 2012 is to be able to bench 245 pounds and to get a short story published.
Keep up with Paul: Twitter | B&N Explorations Blog

Bitter Seeds (Milkweed #1) by Ian Tregillis

Bitter Seeds (Milkweed #1) by Ian Tregillis
Tor/April, 2012

It’s 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have demons, and one perfectly normal man gets caught in betweenRaybould Marsh is a British secret agent in the early days of the Second World War, haunted by something strange he saw on a mission during the Spanish Civil War: a German woman with wires going into her head who looked at him as if she knew him.

When the Nazis start running missions with people who have unnatural abilities—a woman who can turn invisible, a man who can walk through walls, and the woman Marsh saw in Spain who can use her knowledge of the future to twist the present—Marsh is the man who has to face them. He rallies the secret warlocks of Britain to hold the impending invasion at bay. But magic always exacts a price. Eventually, the sacrifice necessary to defeat the enemy will be as terrible as outright loss would be.

It’s late 1920, and “orphaned” children are finding themselves at the Children’s Home for Human Enlightenment, nestled in the German countryside, under the care of Herr Doktor von Westarp. The good doctor isn’t there to help these unfortunates, though. His purpose is of a more diabolical sort. Gruesome experiments are being performed on innocent children and people in the upper echelons of the Nazi party are taking notice. As adults, they will be supermen, and the world won’t know what hit them. Meanwhile, in England, a clever young orphan is being groomed to be a spy.

In 1939 Raybould Marsh is in Spain when he confronts a man who seems to have information about Dr. von Westarp’s children, but before he can questions him further, the man spontaneously combusts. As he prepares to leave Spain, he sees a woman with wires coming from her head that seems to recognize him. He’s managed to rescue a valise that contains a film reel, and upon returning to England, turns the film over to Stephenson, the man who raised him and taught him how to be a successful spy for MI6. When the film is reconstructed, what’s on it is terrifying, and a new mission is formed, called Milkweed. Under Milkweed, Marsh and his oldest and dearest friend, Will, a warlock, must track down these supermen and stop them before the Nazi’s destroy their country, and everything they love. Will must use his power to call on the Eidelons, beings of infinite time and space, to help them reshape the future, but their power comes at a price: a blood price. Eventually, these beings won’t be content with a few drops of blood, and the consequences are terrifying, even as they manage to hold back the German hordes.

Bitter Seeds uses the backdrop of WWII as a setting for a sprawling battle of good, evil, and grey. The narrative goes back and forth between the Reichsbehorde (the supermen) and the English spies and warlocks that are determined to wipe them off the map. There is the telekinetic brute, Kemmler, who is simpleminded and controlled by another man wielding a leash attached to a collar around his neck; Klaus, who can dematerialize and move through solid objects; Reinhardt, who can set fire to anything (and anyone) with his mind; Heike, who can go completely invisible; and Gretel, Klaus’s sister, who is a precog. As terrifying as this group is, Gretel is the scariest of them all. Her sociopathic tendencies are evident from the beginning, and even Klaus grows concerned that she cannot be controlled. Klaus is the most even tempered of the group, and he’s the focal point of the group. The secret to their powers is a battery pack attached to various wires that are attached to their skulls. Makes for a creepy picture, yes? Creepy is definitely one word for it. Clever and, of course, powerful, they’re a force to be reckoned with, but they are definitely not limitless because of their dependence on the batteries. It’s this dependence that Milkweed hopes to exploit. Unfortunately, this mission takes its toll on Marsh, his young family, and his friendship with Will. Terrible sacrifices are made for the good of the whole and death becomes only one more step to victory. As scary as the supermen are, you can’t help but pity them. Taken as children and programmed as killing machines, they are only a mechanism, mere cogs, in the huge machine that is Nazi Germany. They can be pitied, but never underestimated, however. Marsh and Co. have to martial enormous resources to fight this threat, because the price for not fighting is much too great. The action scenes are thrilling, the characters fascinating, and even if you’re not usually a fan of alternate history, fantasy and espionage fans will find much to like. Ian Tregillis is definitely a talent to watch, and I’ll look forward to reading the 2nd book in the series, The Coldest War!

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