My Bookish Ways

September 2014 Must Reads in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

Here are the  books that I’m especially looking forward to in SFF for September! What are you looking forward to?

cityofstairsCity of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway-September 9th)

Synopsis-The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions—until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem—and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.

Here’s why this is one of my favorite books of 2014.
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Interview: Bishop O’Connell, author of Stolen: An American Faerie Tale

Please welcome Bishop O’Connell to the blog! His new book STOLEN: AN AMERICAN FAERIE TALE, just came out last month, and he stopped by to answer a few of my questions!

anamericanfaerietaleCongrats on the new book! Will you tell us more about STOLEN: An American Faerie Tale, and what inspired you to write it?
Thanks! The original idea behind it was to create a modern faerie tale, to take what faerie tales used to be and bring it into the present, to create an urban faerie tale, if you will. In the end though, it became a book about heroes. Not the flashy kind that can walk through five feet of mud in a white suit and step out spotless, metaphorically speaking. These heroes are real people. They have baggage and make mistakes, sometimes horrific ones. They’re good people, not saints, but not demons either. And in the end, they accept their mistakes and just keep trying, carrying the burden of their choices for their entire lives.

Have you always wanted to write? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. I recall very clearly writing a short story in first grade, Mrs. Bugg’s class (yes, that was her real name). I don’t remember what the story was, I’m sure it was a blatant retelling of a tale that was popular at the time. Mrs. Bugg read it to the class, and for a little while I became a minor celebrity. I dabbled in poetry and short stories in school, but it wasn’t until I was in college that I started taking my writing seriously. Poetry readings at coffee houses were big at that time, and I again gained some minor fame. All my poems were stories, and I loved telling them. It wasn’t long before the stories were too big for poems. So I spent less time writing poems and more time on short stories. That was also when I started my first novel that was never finished; an important step in any writer’s life. Adulthood, as it does, got in the way, and it wasn’t until years later I decided to finish a novel.

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September 2014 Must Reads in Mystery, Suspense, and Fiction

Here are the  books that I’m especially looking forward to in Mystery, Suspense, and Fiction for September (it’s a helluva month)! Note I took out the Top 10, because I never (ever) can keep it to just 10. 

biteharderBite Harder by Anonymous-9 (Blasted Heath-Sept 1st )

Synopsis (all synopsis are from Amazon or B&N)-Some say he’s a serial killer. Others, a vigilante doing what police can’t or won’t do. What’s certain is that Dean Drayhart, a paraplegic, will soon sit on death row for killing hit-and-run drivers in Los Angeles. But not if the Mexican Mafia gets hold of him first. Somewhere, Dean’s trained companion monkey Sid and girlfriend Cinda are outrunning the law in a fast ’98 Trans Am. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department wants Sid, dead or alive. Dean may be broken in body but his fierce spirit is determined to protect Sid and Cinda in the most creative ways imaginable. Hardboiled, funny, relentless, and unexpectedly tender-hearted, Bite Harder delivers riotous action all the way to a bombshell climax that could only have been written by Anonymous-9, the self-declared mad scientist of crime fiction.
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Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth

weirdoWeirdo by Cathi Unsworth (House of Anansi (Spiderline))-It’s been twenty years since a terrible, supposedly ritualistic murder was committed in a small town by the sea, and Sean Ward, former detective of the London Metropolitan Police is now working cold cases as a private detective after being badly injured on the job. Corinne Woodrow has been put away for her part in the murder, and as far as the public knows, she was the only one involved, but new DNA evidence suggests there was someone else at the scene, and Sean has been hired to get at the truth. He may not prove Corinne innocent, but if there’s a chance that a killer is still on the loose, it’s his job to find the culprit. When he arrives in Ernemouth, he consults with the local police, hoping to meet some of the detectives that worked the original case and gain some insight into the events of 20 years ago. When he meets the editor of a local paper, she seems eager to help, and they each begin pursuing different aspects of the investigation. It soon becomes clear that more than just murder was going on all those years ago, and the revelations may prove fatal.

Attention crime fans: Have you discovered Cathi Unsworth yet? She’s well known in the UK, and after reading Weirdo, to me she’s right up there with the stellar talent of Megan Abbott and Tana French. The narrative goes back and forth between the events of 1984 and the Sean’s investigation in 2003, and as fascinating as the 2003 investigation is, it’s the 1984 bits that make up the real meat of this chilling novel. This is especially hard to read if you’re the parent of a teen, particularly a teen girl, which I am. Corinne Woodrow is only 15, and her lot in life is a tragic one. Her mother is a particularly cruel woman, dealing in drugs and sex, and the neglect and abuse that Corinne suffers at her hands is astonishing. The depth of depravity that Corinne was born into knows no bounds, and when she meets Debbie , she thinks she might have at last found a friend. But, as it so often happens, Debbie meets a boy, and they begin spending more and more time together, putting a bit of an unintentional rift between the girls. It’s just the gap that’s needed for something more insidious to move in. Giving away too much would spoil the myriad of twists that this book has in store, but Unsworth has her finger on the pulse of 80s small town English teen angst and their struggle to find themselves amidst so much confusion about family, the future, and of course, their place in a social hierarchy that knows no mercy.

Cathi Unsworth has been called the UK’s Queen of Noir for good reason. She goes to some very, very dark places and themes of friendship, mental illness, corruption, and just plain evil are explored with the sure hand of someone who knows her subject inside and out, and knows how to turn it into dark crime gold. This one will break your heart and terrify you in equal measure, and like I said, if you don’t know Unsworth’s work yet, here’s the perfect place to start. The final twist is particularly satisfying. Wonderfully chilling and absolutely riveting.

A chat with Rod Duncan, author of The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter

Rod Duncan’s brand new book, THE BULLET CATCHER’S DAUGHTER, comes out on the 26th, and he was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions about the book, and much more!

rodduncanCongrats on the new book! Will you tell us a bit about The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter, and what inspired you to write it?
The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter is a crime story set in an alternate history. It follows Elizabeth Barnabus, a private intelligence gatherer, as she attempts to track down a missing aristocrat. Unfortunately for her, the Victorian-esque society in which she lives will not allow a woman to engage in work reserved for men. Much of the detection must be done incognito and some of it in disguise. To aid her she has the skills of a grand illusion, learned during her childhood in a travelling magic show.

The story is told by Elizabeth. She doesn’t bother to comment on things that seem normal to her – even though they will be strange to us. Thus, we learn slowly about the curious qualities of the world in which she lives. Here too is a puzzle. Although her world seems at first to be late Victorian, she is living in the present day. Something has happened to hold back social and technological progress. Exactly what that is will be revealed gradually through the series.

The first inspiration for the story came from Leicester, where the book begins. Much of the city was built during Victorian times. Walking through it, one has the sense of another world just below the surface. Literally sometimes. There are streets where the modern road surface has been damaged and you can glimpse the cobblestones exposed just below.

But once I started writing, it was Elizabeth herself who kept me going. She refused to do what I expected or planned. From experience I’ve learned that it’s worth following characters who have a will of their own.

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Interview: Brent Hayward, author of Head Full of Mountains

Brent Hayward’s new book, HEAD FULL OF MOUNTAINS, just came out, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about it, and more. Please give Brent a warm welcome!

brenthaywardWill you tell us a little about your new book, HEAD FULL OF MOUNTAINS, and what inspired you to write it?
Head Full of Mountains is my generation ship novel, though that might be a bit difficult to discern. I had always wanted to write one and had tried a few times before. The idea that people do things because that’s what people did before them, without knowing why- or even if there ever was a reason- interests me. In many ways, everything out there is built on traditions that are not relevant today. The generation ship idea takes this premise to an extreme. Even with a chance at a new beginning, we would likely dredge up our historical baggage and bring it along. That’s what I tried to put in the book.

Why speculative fiction, and dark fantasy? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in these genres?
I’m paraphrasing Gene Wolfe here, but all novels are fantasies; some are just more honest about it. If you’re going to make up a story, why not go all out? Make up the setting, the rules of engagement, the physics, everything. If your characters are defined in a way that the reader can relate to, and follow, then the rest becomes a lot of cool sights and sounds along the way. Having said that, though, I don’t read within the genre as much as I used to, but the books I do read are usually set in another place, or another time.

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City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

cityofstairsCity of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway, Sept 9th, 2014)-For many years the city of Bulikov was protected by the very Devine beings that subjugated and enslaved the rest of the world, but eventually, they were killed, and Bulikov is a crumbling shadow of its former self, where the sick and crippled are left to fend for themselves while the rich still enjoy creature comforts. The city that once held the fate of the world in its considerable hands is now at the mercy of other nations, mainly the Saypuri, who now occupy Bulikov. When Dr. Efrem Pangyui is beaten to death, it causes a sensation, even if it’s not a huge surprise. He’s been sent, ostensibly, to research the history of Bulikov, and Bulikov’s native sons resent his ability to delve into a history that they are no longer allowed to know. Shara Thivani, in the guise of a junior diplomat (but who is really much more), is sent to investigate his death, bringing her “secretary” Sigrud, with her. What was he involved in that caused someone to resort to murder? Shara soon finds herself seeking the help of polis governor Turyin Mulaghesh, who will happily help for her own rather surprising reasons. What follows is…well…pretty much pure awesome. Yep, I’ve been trying to not just do a series of fangirl squeees with this review, followed by “just buy the damn book.”

So, let’s break it down. Shara, obviously, is more than just a junior diplomat and she’s very, very well versed in the history of the Divine creatures that once ruled Bulikov. These ladies and gents made it a very powerful place indeed, but a place that tended to wield its power in not so great ways. As Shara digs into Dr. Pangyui’s death, she starts to come across evidence that point to the possibility of a few of the gods being, um…not so dead after all. This doesn’t really surprise Shara, because one of the gods has been MIA for a while and was gone before the Kaj (think larger than life adventurer and godkiller) took the remaining behemoths down nearly 300 years ago. Shara is very, very good at what she does, but she also suspects that her handler is not quite on the up and up, which causes her to reprioritize her investigation a bit. A blast from her past hopes to become her ally, but she’s not all that sure he can be trusted either. One person that she can trust is Sigrud, her, erm “secretary.” Let’s just do away with that secretary title, because Sigrud is no secretary. Sigrud is a Dreyling, a giant among most men, and his ability to go berserker when the occasion calls for it comes quite in handy for Shara. He’s a man of very few words, but is a quiet, very strong presence in Shara’s life, and not only is their friendship one of the best parts of this book, but his past, which the author slowly unfolds throughout the book, is like something out of a hero’s legend. I completely fell for Sigrud, can you tell? Also on my fave list is Governor Mulaghesh, who provided no-nonsense, dependable support for Shara. Mulaghesh’s unabashed sexuality wrapped in an oh-so-tough demeanor was a delight. The book opens with her and you get a lot of her (sometimes sarcastic) internal dialogue about the state of Bulikov and its extremely divided citizens.

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The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

themagicianslandThe Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman (Viking, August 5th, 2014)-After Quentin Coldwater gets bounced from Fillory (quite rapidly and unceremoniously), he seeks out a teaching position at Brakebills, and finds that he actually rather likes it. Then his father dies, and he takes time out of teaching to help his mother tie up loose ends. Quentin was never close to his father, never close to either parents, really, but it’s his duty, and he’s determined to make things easier for his mother. After he wraps things up there, he returns to Brakebills and immerses himself again in his teaching duty, but almost as suddenly as he’s expelled from Fillory, the same happens at Brakebills, and again he’s adrift, but not without terrible knowledge about someone from his past, and an expelled student, Plum, at his side. They soon take a job that promises a big payday, but the risk is very high. However, it offers a certain amount of freedom for both Quentin and Plum.

Meanwhile, in Fillory, the Lorians are invading, and Eliot takes it upon himself to push back the hoard, but that’s not the end of it, and Eliot and Janet are told that some pretty bad badness is on the way, and to prepare for the worst. Fillory is no longer the stable place it once was, and Eliot and Janet will soon have to go on their most important quest yet.

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Giveaway: Echopraxia by Peter Watts

Courtesy of the lovely folks at Tor, I’ve got a copy of ECHOPRAXIA (out /26) by Peter Watts to give away to one lucky US or Canadian winner! I’ll pick a winner on 8/20, and good luck!

echopraxiaAbout ECHOPRAXIA:
Prepare for a different kind of singularity in Peter Watts’ Echopraxia, the follow-up to the Hugo-nominated novel Blindsight
It’s the eve of the twenty-second century: a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat. And it’s all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.

Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat’s-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he’s turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out.

Now he’s trapped on a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son. To his right is a pilot who hasn’t yet found the man she’s sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call “The Angels of the Asteroids.”

Their pilgrimage brings Dan Bruks, the fossil man, face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.

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Interview: David Shafer talks about Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, genre-blending, and more

David Shafer’s debut novel, WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT, just came out this week to rave reviews, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Please welcome him to the blog!

whiskeytangoCongrats on the release of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
I began the novel back in 2006, 2007. As a nation, we were already deep into the ‘Global War on Terror.’ Unrelated to that, my mood was rising. I was falling in love and feeling more capable than I usually do. A friend took me traveling in Myanmar. Another friend began sending me strange, fraught, fantastic (but cogent) emails outlining some of the ominous and eerie connections that he saw at work in the world. I thought: What if you becoming manic and paranoid and an online underground needed you in order to stop a nefarious cabal of baddies. Wouldn’t that be confusing? It sounds nervy to say now, after the years of work that it turns out I would need to put into the novel, but my three main characters pretty much knocked on my front door. And they brought with them the themes and ideas that they said I needed to write about: Does the line between real and imagined ever get a blurry? If it does, should you seek help or should you go down that path a little ways? How is a person supposed to help the wider world when we’re all caught up in our own little dramas and tragedies?

You have a journalism background, but have you always wanted to write a novel? Will you tell us a little more about yourself and that progression?
I imagine this is not a rare occurrence, but when I went to graduate school I discovered that I was not exceptionally suited to the field in which I was training. But while I was trying to write news I met some very good, very dogged reporters, people who hunt down stories and sources. This impresses me no end and I try to develop those traits in myself. It’s just that I turn out to be someone who writes very slowly and who finds it hard to talk to strangers. Those are not traits prized in journalism. Maybe I was thinking of journalism as some sort of fallback thing, which of course is a stupid position to take towards pretty much anything. And ‘fallback’ would be the wrong word because I’d never really tried the other thing, which was writing a book like one of those books that changed my life. At a certain point, the pain of not trying to do it – of giving myself cause for such self-grievance – was worse than the pain of trying to do it.

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