Thursday, September 18, 2014

Guest Post by Beth Cato

Beth Cato's steampunk debut The Clockwork Dagger hit shelves this week and it's already earning some pretty nifty praise. PW called it a "rousing tale of airborne intrigue" and Cato "an author to watch" while Library Journal gave it a starred review and RT said "steampunk fans should take note." And take note I have! The Clockwork Dagger has taken up a top spot in my TBR and probably should take the same pride of place in yours :)

Here's a bit about the book from the publisher:

The Clockwork Dagger is the story of a gifted young healer, Octavia Leander, who sets off on her first mission. Her goal is to get to a plague-ridden village and help the people there, but a series of strange occurrences—including murder—rock the airship she is traveling on. The dashingly attractive steward may be one of the infamous Clockwork Dagger assassins, her cabin-mate hides secrets (and an alarming penchant for writing pulp novels), and Octavia is beginning to discover that her magical gift for healing may be even more powerful than anyone thought. In short, this airship voyage is much more eventful than Octavia expected, and she’s stumbled into the midst of a conspiracy that may reach the crown itself.

And thanks to the publisher, I've got a guest post from Beth as a treat for you today:

Colorful Secondary Worlds
by Beth Cato

In recent months, #WeNeedDiverseBooks has been trending on Twitter. One of the posts I contributed was, "#WeNeedDiverseBooks because epic fantasy worlds should be as beautiful & colorful as Earth."

This is something I had in mind a few years ago as I developed the world for my novel, THE CLOCKWORK DAGGER. I wanted to create a colorful world based on Earth. My heroine is pale-skinned, but her love interest is black. Alonzo is right there on the cover, looking debonair in a red coat.

I've seen other authors deal with this issue, so I know at some point, someone may ask, "Why is he black?"

My immediate response is, "Why not?"

My book does not take place on Earth, but it's based on Earth. I grew up in California. I took for granted that my fellow classmates reflected all colors and nationalities. This isn't a bad thing. It's not a threat. It's an asset. We learn from our differences, even if, yes, they create conflicts. Hopefully we emerge as better, more enlightened people.

That's the whole point of the character arc in a novel, too.

Alonzo isn't a token character of color. My book is populated by diverse skin tones, shapes of eyes and noses, hair styles, cuts of clothing. Racial and cultural dynamics vary greatly from what exists on Earth, and they play a major role in the plot.

So yes, if need be, I can justify why one of my main characters has darker skin. I can point out that he's one aspect of the complex world-building. It makes me sad that I even have to consider this explanation at all, but it all comes back to that hash tag--#WeNeedDiverseBooks. Alonzo stands out on the cover because he is a rarity. He shouldn't be.

The fantasy genre is not confined to white-skinned, European-based mythology. Earth is much larger than that. Other created worlds are also much larger than that. I think of awesome series like Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence and Brian McClellan's Powder Mage books. Their worlds are fresh and vibrant because they do drop the stale tropes that fantasy has relied on for decades. A good cover--an honest cover--demonstrates that to potential readers.

If anyone questions why Alonzo is on the cover, I'm ready for that debate.

About the author: Beth Cato resides in the outskirts of Phoenix, AZ. Her husband Jason, son Nicholas, and crazy cat keep her busy, but she still manages to squeeze in time for writing and other activities that help preserve her sanity. She is originally from Hanford, CA, a lovely city often pungent with cow manure.

Here, here, Beth! And big, big thanks for being on the blog today!

The Clockwork Dagger is out on shelves now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Supernatural Suspense StoryBundle

Horror fans, listen up! The folks over at StoryBundle are offering a great deal on a ten ebook pack curated by David Niall Wilson.

The pack includes the following titles:

Reign by Chet Williamson
Second Soul by Thomas Sullivan
On the Third Day by David Niall Wilson
Incursion by Aaron Rosenberg
Moonbane by Al Sarrantonio
Weaveworld by Clive Barker (bonus title)
Nightlife by Brian Hodge (bonus title)
Sineater by Elizabeth Massie (bonus title)
Skorpio by Mike Baron (bonus title)
Night of Broken Souls by Thomas F. Monteleone (bonus title)

StoryBundle is a cool idea - you pay what you want and, in the case of this bundle, if you pay at least $12 you get all of the bonus titles as well.

To purchase the bundle you can head straight here. For more on StoryBundle and this pack in particular you can read more here. The bundle is only available for a limited time so if you're interested in checking it out be sure not to wait too long.

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC book tour for Sophie Hannah's new Agatha Christie mystery, The Monogram Murders.

A chance encounter in a cafe leads Poirot to abandon his attempts at quiet relaxation and anonymity in this new mystery from Sophie Hannah.

Jennie entered the coffee house in a manner that begged for Poirot's attention. When he offered assistance, thinking she looked as though she was in danger, she refused and offered only a cryptic explanation as to her circumstances, begging that Poirot do nothing. 

Upon returning to his lodgings that evening, though, Poirot learns that three people have been murdered in a nearby hotel. Poirot is certain the crimes are connected to the girl in the coffee shop and quickly becomes involved in the investigation. The crime itself is a bizarre one: three guests at the same hotel, all murdered in their rooms on the same evening. A note announced the crime and led to the discovery of the bodies of two women and one man. They had no apparent connection but their bodies had all been posed in the exact same scene. And it is soon discovered that the killer left one more significant clue - a monogrammed cufflink placed inside each victim's mouth.

One might say that with so many Christie titles as guide taking on the task of continuing her work might not be that challenging, I would heartily disagree. The ardent passion of an avid Christie reader and Poirot fan would likely dissuade all but the most brave of writing souls! Sophie Hannah, author of the Charlie Zailer/Simon Waterhouse series, had some big shoes to fill in taking on the challenge of penning an Agatha Christie mystery but I found her to be overwhelmingly successful in her efforts.

Though I am by no means a Christie expert, my Swiss cheese brain did quickly recognize both the tone of the story and the attitude of the famous lead detective as being a close match to what I recall from my own Christie readings. And though Christie did kill off her famous lead in CurtainThe Monogram Murders is set in 1929, thereby allowing for Poirot's resurrection.

Since plot is key in Christie, I would be remiss in not taking a moment to mention it here. I do read a lot of mysteries and a good one - with some exception - often keeps the reader guessing. Sophie Hannah does this in spades! The crime is set in London but Poirot soon decides that its roots lie elsewhere. Of course he's correct, which leads the investigation down a road I didn't see coming fairly early on. Even still, with insight into Poirot's musings via his friend Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard, the detective's discoveries are held close to the vest until the story winds to an end.

The Monogram Murders is a fun return to such a beloved character and one I think will please even the most persnickety mystery readers!

To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.

For more of Poirot's and Agatha Christie's mysteries be sure to visit the official Agatha Christie website. And for more on Sophie Hannah and her work be sure to visit her on the web here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Guest Post by Sarah Fine

Hello, everyone. I have a special feature for you today - a guest post by Of Metal and Wishes author Sarah Fine!

Of Metal and Wishes released early last month and is something of a Phantom of the Opera retelling - set in a Chinese slaughterhouse. If you haven't read it yet, here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

There are whispers of a ghost in the slaughterhouse where sixteen-year-old Wen assists her father in his medical clinic—a ghost who grants wishes to those who need them most. When one of the Noor, men hired as cheap factory labor, humiliates Wen, she makes an impulsive wish of her own, and the Ghost grants it. Brutally.

Guilt-ridden, Wen befriends the Noor, including their outspoken leader, a young man named Melik. At the same time, she is lured by the mystery of the Ghost and learns he has been watching her … for a very long time.

As deadly accidents fuel tensions within the factory, Wen must confront her growing feelings for Melik, who is enraged at the sadistic factory bosses and the prejudice faced by his people at the hand of Wen’s, and her need to appease the Ghost, who is determined to protect her against any threat—real or imagined. She must decide whom she can trust, because as her heart is torn, the factory is exploding around her … and she might go down with it.

I was interested to begin with but when I heard Phantom set in a a slaughterhouse I was utterly intrigued! With so many retellings hitting shelves these days, I was curious about this particular pairing. Here's Fine's piece on the subject:

Bones, Sinew, and Flesh: How I Accidentally Wrote a Retelling

Of Metal and Wishes is often and most easily described as a retelling of Gaston LeRoux’s The Phantom of the Opera. But every time I describe it that way, I sort of waffle a bit, because I feel like I’m not telling the whole story.

Fairytale retellings are super fun. We get to have our cake and eat it, too! We have the pleasure of being told a story that connects us to simpler times in our lives, when we believed magic was possible and real. We have an idea of the structure of the story, and perhaps even the outcome. We have a sense of the conflict. The general arc. That can be very comforting, I think, and also exciting. It’s like listening to a new mix of a familiar song. You might be able to sing along, but the beat and arrangement make it an entirely new thing. 

The trick with retellings is to render them fresh. Sure, it’s neat to recognize the bones of an old tale, but it’s especially cool when those bones are wrapped in an intriguing new set of sinew and flesh. And it’s pretty thrilling when a story like that, with bones we recognize, can surprise us. 

Maybe that’s why I decided to make Of Metal and Wishes a loose retelling of Phantom. But I’ll fess up here: it didn’t start out that way. 

I think that’s why it worked.

Here is how my ideas form: I get fascinated with something, either news story or a place, usually, and my brain starts to churn, working over all the angles of it until I find my way in. In the case of OMAW, I was watching the documentary Food, Inc. and it showed hidden camera footage of undocumented workers slaving in a poultry processing plant, dead birds hanging on hooks zinging past work stations, where people had to cut off various parts for packaging. I stared and stared, and I thought—I have to tell a story about what it’s like to work in a place like that

Inspiration can be so random. 

But then I had to follow the thread of that inspiration, straight down the rabbit hole. Who are my characters? What’s the conflict? And don’t ask me why, but I settled on a boy who had been a victim of the brutal machines on the killing floor, who had turned the entire factory into his domain. The Ghost of the factory. Then I thought of a girl, an outsider who came to live there. I pulled from all the things that fascinate me and knitted together a tale. 

About halfway through, I realized that my Ghost was very Phantom-like. At that point, I had a choice—veer in a new direction or embrace the parallels. Well, Phantom set in a slaughterhouse … how could I not embrace that? However, I didn’t let it override the story I really wanted to tell. My interest was in weaving a story about how people survive and thrive and love and risk even in a place that devalues life, that breeds defeat and failure, that crushes souls. I wanted to tell a story of a girl becoming a woman, learning to think for herself and be brave as she reaches out to help others, even when doing either of those things increases the likelihood she’ll be cast out, starving and penniless. So yes, I played up some of the similarities to Phantom, but never at the expense of the core of the story I was so hungry to tell. 

So that’s how it happened: old bones, new sinew and flesh. I hope my readers enjoy both. And I hope it surprises them, too.

About the author: Sarah Fine is the author of several books for teens, including Of Metal and Wishes (McElderry/Simon & Schuster) and its sequel, Of Dreams and Rust (coming in August 2015), and the Guards of the Shadowlands YA urban fantasy series (Skyscape/Amazon Children’s Publishing). She is also the co-author (with Walter Jury) of two YA sci-fi thrillers published by Putnam/Penguin: Scan and its sequel Burn (which will be published in 2015). Fine's first adult urban fantasy romance novel, Marked, will be published in January 2015 by 47North/Amazon Publishing, with the sequel, Claimed, coming in March 2015. When she's not writing, she's psychologizing. Sometimes she does both at the same time. The results are unpredictable.

Huge thanks to Sarah Fine for being here today and equally huge thanks to the folks over at Simon and Schuster. Of Metal and Wishes is out now!

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I've Only Read Once but Need to Read More

I've decided to jump on board with Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: authors I've read once and need to read more.

Goodness! Just ten?!

1. Ilsa J. Bick - yes, White Space was my first time reading Bick. Her earlier series gets rave reviews and considering how much I completely loved White Space I'll be reading more of her work sooner rather than later (like White Space's follow up!) 

2. Terry Pratchett - I've not actually even read Pratchett, if we're splitting hairs here. (I"m counting him anyway.) I've read Good Omens, which he co wrote with Neil Gaiman. Considering he's my husband's favorite author and we do have most of his titles in our house I'm a little embarrassed that I haven't read him. 

3. Michael McDowell - kind of the same as Pratchett. I read Candles Burning and didn't love it. McDowell frequently pops up in horror recommendation lists, though, and with The Amulet and The Elementals back in print now it seems like the perfect time to read more. 

4. Graham Joyce - this might be a cheat because I could swear that I've read more than one of Joyce's books, and yet it seems my Swiss cheese brain might be playing tricks on me. I've definitely read The Silent Land and I've definitely got a couple of others in my TBR. Joyce unfortunately passed away just after the release of his most recent title, The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit.

5. Susan Hill - Of course I had to read The Woman in Black before the movie released but I've also amassed quite a Susan Hill collection in my TBR. Some of it has been hoarding her shorter horror reads for when the mood hits and some of it has been snatching up her series titles as I come across them so that I have them when I'm ready to start from the beginning (and I may still be missing the first book, which would hold up starting). 

6. Lauren Beukes - The Shining Girls blew me away and it really took a lot of restraint not to start buying up her backlist and hoarding them in the TBR. I've tried to make myself hold back a bit on that! Her newest book is out this week, though, and I'm not going to be able to hold out.

7. Melissa Marr - this is another weird one. I'm not sure how but Graveminder is so far the only book I own and have read by Marr. Made For You is new out this week and I think I'll have to buy it!

8. Katie Crouch - I only recently read Crouch for the first time. Abroad was amazing! A 2014 favorite and a book that gave me a massively difficult to overcome book hangover. While I understand her earlier books are a bit different (quite in some cases) this is an author I definitely need to spend more time reading!

9. Jessica Anya Blau - same reason as Crouch! Wonder Bread Summer was one of the best books I read last year. I've actually got Blau's two previous books waiting in the TBR as we speak. 

10. Amy Tan - I read Saving Fish From Drowning over the Christmas holiday the year it was released and really enjoyed it. I don't know why I've not read more by her - The Joy Luck Club sadly wasn't on my school reading lists. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

You all know her story - the Girl From the Diner, the Phantom Prom Date, the Ghost of Sparrow Hill Road... killed on her way to prom and forced to forever wander the roads in search of a ride home. Beneath the urban legends, the twisting variations of the story that started it all, is a girl: Rose Marshall. 

She wanders the highways and byways of the continent, hitching and helping those whose own fates are tied to the road as well. Some she's able to save, others she helps pass on to their final home. 

Savvy Seanan McGuire readers have already met Rose Marshall. The book originally started as a collection of shorts that appeared in The Edge of Propinquity, a webzine whose archives are available here. Twelve of Rose's tales appeared in the zine in 2010 and on her website McGuire notes that one of the stories is still available online through The Edge of Propinquity. Fortunately for the rest of us, most of those original stories have been gathered up and recently released as one volume by the good folks over at DAW!

I could swear that Alvin Schwartz was the first to introduce me to a variation of the popular urban legend that spawned McGuire's latest. Seems like a likely candidate since Schwartz's various Scary Stories collections were tops in my creepy reads lists as a kid. Anyway, McGuire's spin on this classic story is excellent! She fleshes out the tale, giving life to the character in a way those passed along variations never could.

It's interesting that this is still essentially a collection of Rose stories in one volume rather than a linear novel. And our spectral narrator does warn us of this in the beginning of the book. Some may find that leaves the reader with a feeling of disconnection but I kind of felt the opposite. There is a running plot that ties all of Rose's stories together and the book does feel very much like Rose telling us the chapters of her own life and afterlife.

McGuire does a quite effective job of building a really complex world in Sparrow Hill Road. We see some other familiar supernatural presences - a Be├ín sidhe, mention of a white lady, and a new variation on the strigoi - but many of McGuire's otherworldly presences are new (to me at least). Routewitches, crossroads ghosts, hitchhiking ghosts, homecoming ghosts, and more live in this world. Some - bela da meia-noite, for example - are basically sidebar entries while others like the haunt and the maggy dhu do get brief cameos. It makes me hopeful that this will eventually become another of McGuire's series (and if the Goodreads entry is any indication this does seem to be the plan).

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, September 14, 2014

New Releases 9/16/14

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

The Paying Guests by Sara Waters

Made for You by Melissa Marr

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood

The Clockwork Dagger by Beth Cato

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

The Way Inn by Will Wiles

Broadchurch by Erin Kelly & Chris Chibnall

The Golem of Hollywood by Jonathan Kellerman

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

Honeymoon Hotel by Hester Browne

Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce

The Blood of an Englishman by M.C. Beaton

Queen Bee Goes Home Again by Haywood Smith

Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute by Jonathan L. Howard

They Do the Same Things Different There by Robert Shearman

The Vault of Dreamers by Caragh M. O'Brien

The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey

The Perilous Sea by Sherry Thomas

I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

Day 21 by Kass Morgan

Jackaby by William Ritter

New on DVD:
The Fault in Our Stars

New reviews at
The Marco Effect by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Inamorata by Megan Chance
Dead of Night by Jonathan Maberry