Sunday, February 7, 2016

New Releases 2/9/16

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Breaking Wild by Diane Les Becques

Arcadia by Iain Pears

Find Her by Lisa Gardner

Ice Chest by J.D. Rhoades

Violent Crimes by Phillip Margolin

Into Oblivion by Arnaldur Indridason

Floodgate by Johnny Shaw

Runaway by Peter May

Every Anxious Wave by Mo Daviau

The Lion's Mouth by Anne Holt

Shutter Man by Richard Montanari

The Fine Art of Murder by Emily Barnes

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

The Wolves by Alex Berenson

Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue

Murder on a Summer's Day by Frances Brody

Second House From the Corner by Sadeqa Johnson

I'll See You In Paris by Michelle Gable

The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley

The Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Hostile Witness by Leigh Adams

Reign of Shadows by Sophie Jordan

These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker & Kelly Zekas

Morning Star by Pierce Brown

Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman

Ravenous by MarcyKate Connolly

Where Futures End by Parker Peevyhouse

New on DVD:
Crimson Peak
99 Homes
Freaks of Nature

New reviews at
The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Pre Pub Book Buzz: A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain

April 11 sees the release of Julie McElwain's debut, and, readers, it sounds like a doozy!

Here's a bit about the book from Goodreads:

Beautiful and brilliant, Kendra Donovan is a rising star at the FBI. Yet her path to professional success hits a speed bump during a disastrous raid where half her team is murdered, a mole in the FBI is uncovered and she herself is severely wounded. As soon as she recovers, she goes rogue and travels to England to assassinate the man responsible for the deaths of her teammates.

While fleeing from an unexpected assassin herself, Kendra escapes into a stairwell that promises sanctuary but when she stumbles out again, she is in the same place - Aldrich Castle - but in a different time: 1815, to be exact.

Mistaken for a lady's maid hired to help with weekend guests, Kendra is forced to quickly adapt to the time period until she can figure out how she got there; and, more importantly, how to get back home. However, after the body of a young girl is found on the extensive grounds of the county estate, she starts to feel there's some purpose to her bizarre circumstances. Stripped of her twenty-first century tools, Kendra must use her wits alone in order to unmask a cunning madman.

What do you think, is this one worthy of your own TBR pile? It's already in my must have list, that's for sure!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Mad Dogs

Ugh, this weather is kind of taking it out of me. I hate winter with a passion. My sister very kindly reminds me (frequently) that I maybe shouldn't have moved to Colorado. Thanks, sis. So I found myself in need of a mental health break and couldn't (wouldn't) leave the house thanks to snow this week. And the blah mood translated into a book funk as well.

Fortunately, the first full season of Mad Dogs finally made it to Amazon Prime last month!

For those of you who may not know, Amazon offers viewers the chance to watch original pilots and give feedback on those pilots as they decide which to put into production. Bosch was my first, thanks to being notified by Michael Connolly's followers, and I've looked forward to the process ever since. The bad thing is that it takes a while for the shows to finally air. Basically you get to watch a fully produced first episode and then wait a long time to see more. Long being relative.

Anyway, Mad Dogs was on the list (if I remember correctly) alongside The Man in the High Castle, both of which I thought were fantastic.

Side note, this wasn't my introduction to Mad Dogs. Amazon's version is a remake of an older UK show that I'd been desperately hoping would make a debut Stateside. My hopes have been somewhat in vain considering we still can't watch the original here. That original started in 2011 and ran for four seasons. It starred Max Beesley (who I'd seen in the fabulous Survivors), John Simm (Doctor Who, Life on Mars... he's in lots of stuff), Marc Warren (who's since done Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell), Philip Glenister (also of Life on Mars - that'd be the UK version for both him and Simm), and Ben Chaplin... of Mad Dogs. Yes, Ben Chaplin stars in both versions!

(Having not seen the UK version at all, I can't compare the two. I'm fine with that.)

The show finds five friends - Joel (Ben Chaplin), Lex (Michael Imperioli), Gus (Romany Malco), Cobi (Steve Zahn), and Milo (Billy Zane) - meeting up in Belize where Milo has plans to show off his riches and his manse while celebrating his "early retirement" with the others. It's to be a crazy reunion/vacation full of good times, partying, and reminiscing. Except that things very quickly take a dark and unexpected turn and Milo drags the others into a mess that they keep making worse (yep, each episode finds them digging their hole deeper and deeper).

It's dark and hilarious. And dark.

Mike and I loved it.

The cast is excellent. Steve Zahn provides a nice bit of goofiness and is perfectly cast for his role. As are the others, though they're all a bit more serious than Zahn is. Again, he's perfect for his role. Other cast includes María Botto (who also starred the original), Rachel Holmes, Phillip Davis, and a very welcome appearance by Allison Tolman (of Fargo). If you've seen the show then you know there are a few others very worthy of mention, but I'm afraid listing them would be a smidge spoilery.

The show's only ten episodes long at this stage. I don't know if I should be embarrassed to admit it only took us two sittings to complete, but again I needed that mental health break! It's definitely appropriately bingeworthy!

If you like dark comedy, this is one you definitely shouldn't miss. So far there's no news on renewal, but I do hope it gets enough viewership to warrant a second season. I'd be interested to see how the men's stories plays out should they continue further.

(You can check out the trailer for Mad Dogs here.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Guest Post by Suzanne Redfearn

As promised, Suzanne Redfearn herself is here on the blog today. Before I hand things over, though, here's a bit about the book from the publisher:

Faye Martin never expected her husband to abandon her and her three children . . . or that she'd have to struggle every day to make ends meet. So when her four-year-old daughter is discovered through a YouTube video and offered a starring role on a television series, it seems like her prayers have been answered. But when the reality of their new life settles in, Faye realizes that fame and fortune don't come without a price. And in a world where everyone is an actor and every move is scrutinized by millions, it's impossible to know whom to trust, and Faye finds herself utterly alone in her struggle to save her family.

(If you missed my review of her latest, No Ordinary Life, you can check that out here.)

And now, here's Suzanne!

Selling a Novel
by Suzanne Redfearn

Selling a novel is easy. Ha!

All you need to do is write something that's guaranteed to make money for the agent and the publisher and you're good to go.

With the current state of publishing being what it is—only three out of every ten books earning back their advance—it's no wonder editors are looking for a sure bet. So the question is, how do you deliver that? Simple, you need to write a novel with the ever-elusive, infuriating “hook” agents and editors are always talking about.

The last thing an agent or editor wants is another murder-mystery about a down-and-out, ex-cop/current cop/lawyer turned private detective, or a paranormal romance involving vampires, werewolves, zombies or aliens. Michael Connelly and Stephenie Meyer are alive and well...and, well...they are Michael Connelly and Stephenie Meyer. So save the paper because you're not them, and why would anyone want to buy a replica when the real thing is already on the shelf? These ideas are sinkers unless you figure out how to tell one of these well-worn storylines in a new way or with a twist so unique you can ride the wave of these blockbusters while still blazing your own trail.

Hush Little Baby (my debut novel) was my fifth novel, but the first one to make it into the marketplace past all the hurdles of agents, editors, readers, senior editors, and the ever-daunting marketing department. And the reason I believe it turned out to be “the one” was because I stumbled on a concept that was already a proven winner but that had never been written before—my novel had a hook.

Hush Little Baby is a story of domestic violence, a battered woman who needs to escape from her abusive husband. The hook: the story is also about marital sabotage, how one spouse can set up the other to lose everything, including custody of the children. The idea was inspired by a couple I knew who were going through a horrible divorce. There was a lot of he said/she said and it was impossible to know who was telling the truth. The idea of the husband being abusive came after the initial idea of writing a story about a psychological war between a husband and wife going through a custody battle. So though the story is primarily about an abused woman fighting for survival (a story already told in dozens of other novels), it’s the contemporary twist that made it unique enough to survive the labyrinth of obstacles to getting a first novel published.

Other great examples of debut novels with wonderful hooks are:

Water for Elephants—There are hundreds of books about the depression, but throw a circus into the mix and you've got a twist that makes me jealous of Sara Gruen’s moment of inspiration.

Twilight – Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles along with centuries of other bloodsucker novels preceded Stephenie Meyer’s blockbuster success, but the reason hers made it beyond the slush pile is no one else ever wrote a story about “vegetarian” vampires who only drink the blood of animals, thereby allowing them to fall in love with a mortal. Brilliant!

The Lovely Bones—A murder mystery narrated through the eyes of the fourteen-year-old victim in heaven. Alice Sebold reinvented the first-person narrative with her unique perspective.

There are other ways to get a debut novel published. You can be so extraordinarily talented that, even if you are telling a story that's already been told, you stand out among the pack. You can write something so ground-breaking and revolutionary that the world stops revolving when an editor reads it. You can be a celebrity or a kidnap victim or an ex-cult survivor. But if you are a mere mortal with no extraordinary credentials aside from a modicum of talent and a boatload of perseverance, the trick is to give agents and editors what they need—a proven winner that is easy to define but still unique enough to stand out.

Good luck and happy writing.

About the author: Suzanne Redfearn is the author of Hush Little Baby, which was chosen as a Target Recommends selection and Target’s Emerging Authors program. She graduated summa cum laude from California Polytechnic University and, prior to becoming an author, was an architect. She is an avid surfer, golfer, skier, and Angels fan. She lives with her husband and children in Southern California. No Ordinary Life is her second novel.

Big, big thanks to Suzanne for being here today and equally big thanks to her publicist for setting up this stop on the blog tour. 

For more on Suzanne Redfearn and her work you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter

No Ordinary Life by Suzanne Redfearn

Today is my second day of blog tour twofers. Suzanne Redfearn's latest is brand spanking new out this week and I've got a review and a guest post from the author for you today. That guest post will be going up next, so you'll definitely want to hang around and check that out!

Her husband has been gone for months, her son's selective mutism has caught the eye of family services, and their money has run out. As much as she hates to admit it, Faye is left with just one choice: pack up her three kids and move to LA with her mom. 

Faye vows to find a new job, but with little to her resume but waitressing there's not much in the way of options. Twelve-year-old Emily is sullen about leaving behind her friends but Tom is being homeschooled by Faye's mom, thankfully granting him a reprieve in dealing with his mutism issues. When four-year-old Molly becomes an internet sensation, though, all of that changes. 

Faye isn't quite sure about her preschooler having a job, but the money is too good to pass up. It doesn't take long, though, for Faye to begin to understand all that child stardom entails. And then her husband comes asking for his share.

It is hard to read a book like this and not get emotional! From the sleazy Hollywood folks to the awful, awful husband, this book is pretty much packed with characters I loathed. Some of them just gave me the creeps and others made me downright angry.

Because on the other side of the characters I hated, there was Faye and her children. Characters I loved. Molly, the precocious and clever four-year-old star; Tom the nervous eight-year-old who believes he's the cause of his parents' separation; and twelve-year-old Emily who finds herself thrust into the Hollywood circle without actually being a part of it.

And then there's Faye. Faye is beyond living paycheck to paycheck when the story begins. And even though her mother is there to help, LA isn't the best place for an out of work waitress. So of course she'd find it impossible to turn down the kind of money Molly is offered. Her first mistake, in a line of many, many mistakes, however, is trusting that the people around her have Molly's best interests in mind.

No Ordinary Life may be fiction but it's also a sadly accurate peek inside the world of child stardom. A glimpse behind the curtain and beyond the glitz and glamour. It's not pretty. Some of it is frustrating and more of it downright scary to imagine. And while Redfearn says herself that it's not meant to be a "statement on the entertainment industry" I think it may just make a few people reconsider next time they pick up a tabloid gossip rag.

Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Guest Post by Julie Christine Johnson

Good morning, readers! I've got a two-fer for you today with a review of Julie Christine Johnson's In Another Life and a guest post from the author herself!

Before I hand things over to Julie, here's a bit about the book from the publisher:

It is January 1208 and in a village on the border between Provence and Languedoc, a monk whispers a benediction over the body of a slain papal emissary. The Cathars—followers of a heretical faith—are blamed for the assassination. The Pope declares a holy war and Languedoc is forever changed.

Eight hundred years later, historian Lia Carrer returns to southern France to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. Instead of finding solace in Languedoc’s quiet hills and medieval ruins, the woman trying to heal risks love, and loss, again.

Reincarnation is familiar ground for Lia—an expert in the mystical beliefs of the ancient Cathar faith—but to reconcile the truth of that long-ago assassination, the logical researcher must accept religious fantasy as historical fact. Three lost souls enter her life, each holding a key to the murder that launched a religious crusade in the heart of Europe.

And now, I am pleased to welcome Julie Christine Johnson to the blog!

Stumbling into Historical Fiction

Julie Christine Johnson

The idea had been nattering away at me for months. More image than story, really: a woman standing on a cliff’s edge; below her stretches Corbières valley in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, laced with vineyards and studded with wind towers. Behind her, a man steps out from the ruins of a Cathar citadel. I was aching to find out who they were and to write their story, but I had no idea how to begin. I’d written and published a handful of short stories, but a novel? In June 2012, I went my first writers’ conference, searching for inspiration to launch me from intention to action.

Early in the conference, I attended a session on storyboarding and it all clicked. I’d been carrying around the knowledge that the Cathars—followers of medieval Christian sect—believed in reincarnation. That was my way into the story. I could see the narrative unfolding as a time slip between medieval and contemporary Languedoc. Romance. Adventure. Mystery. Reincarnation. Castle ruins. Knights Templar. Wine. What fun!

Two weeks later I opened the novel template in Scrivener and the cursor blinked back at me, a ceaseless ironic wink. What did I know of thirteenth century Languedoc? What have I done? What do I do now?

If I started with the research, if I explored everything I’d need to know to write credibly and convincingly about life during High Middle Ages in southern Europe, I feared I would never emerge to write the story. But I had no plan. I had no outline. No beginning, middle, or end. I had only a vision as fleeting as snowflakes on glass.

I did have a few tools in my box that made setting a first novel in France a natural choice: a twenty-two-year love affair with French culture and history; a degree in French; a personal library of histories and novels. I spoke the language. I’d attended university in France and returned often to explore new places and visit familiar haunts. I had those April weeks in 2011 when my husband and I fell deeply under the spell of Languedoc’s haunting beauty and history. We spent our days clambering around medieval ruins and our evenings reading up on local history, while sharing a bottle of supple Languedoc wine. Unknowingly, I was setting the foundation of research for In Another Life.

Bird by bird, word by word, I would write this story.

In the two years it took to write In Another Life, I learned to layer my narrative with research. My library of materials on the Cathars, medieval France, art and architecture of the era grew and the scenes set in the past deepened. Writing a work of fantasy allowed me poetic license with the plot, but I wanted to honor the historical details of daily life.

Much of my research remained in earlier drafts or in my process notebook. I poured on the exposition and then slowly trimmed it back, until only those elements that created a sense of place and time and moved the plot forward remained (but ever so glad I saved every draft: my publishing editor came back wanting more backstory, more exposition and I was oh, so happy to oblige!).

My goal was to create as seamless a transition as possible between past and present, while retaining a sense of almost dream-like wonder between the two worlds. It’s a feeling I carry with me when I’m in France, where the past lives and breathes in concert with the present. The towns, streets, hills, vineyards, and many of the edifices within In Another Life are ones I’ve explored, wandered through, dreamed of.

In Another Life is a fantasy built on the scaffolding of history. One of my greatest delights was to etch the theme of history vs. the past into the narrative: history is what we know to be true—facts gleaned from primary sources and artifacts. The past is what we make a reasonable guess at. I hope to open the door of readers’ mind with history, but then extend a hand as they make a leap of imagination with me into the past.

About the author: Julie Christine Johnson’s short stories and essays have appeared in several journals, including Mud Season Review; Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim; Cobalt, and the anthologies Stories for Sendai; Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers; and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss. She holds undergraduate degrees in French and Psychology and a Master’s in International Affairs.

Her second novel, The Crows Of Beara, a finalist in the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature, has sold to Ashland Creek Press for publication in fall 2017. In this work of women's fiction, a struggling American PR executive and an enigmatic Irish artist face off over the development of a copper mine in rural Ireland, finding love and redemption amid the rugged, mystical land.

A runner, hiker, and wine geek, Julie makes her home on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington State with her husband. In Another Life is her first novel.

Huge, huge thanks to Julie Christine Johnson for being here today and huge thanks to her publicist for setting up the stop!

To find out more about Julie Christine Johnson you can visit her website here. You can also like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter

In Another Life by Julie Christine Johnson

Happy book birthday to Julie Christine Johnson whose debut, In Another Life, hits shelves today! I'm super excited to be taking part in the online book tour for the title and, as such, have two posts for you today. First up is my review of In Another Life. I've also got a post from the author herself going up just after this one, so be sure to hang around and check them both out.

In the year and a half since her husband died, Lia still hasn't recovered. It's not that she expects to get over him, or even that she hopes for that. But after losing her job thanks to an unfinished doctorate, a change of scenery is definitely in order. And so Lia picks up and moves into her friends' home in Languedoc. The open ended trip offers Lia two things - the chance to recover in a place she loves with the people she loves and a chance to finish the research for her doctorate. 

Lia's research on the Cathars hits a bit too close to home, though, when she begins to think there might just be merit to their belief in reincarnation. Especially when she meets and falls for Raoul Arango, a mysterious winemaker who reminds her of her husband. 

Raoul doesn't belong in Lia's time. And neither do two other acquaintances in Lia's life. But how and why they've traveled through the centuries to become entwined in her story is something even they don't know. And so it's up to Lia to figure it out. 

This may be Julie Christine Johnson's debut, but you'd never know it. She writes with an assuredness that makes In Another Life quite an enjoyable adventure!

Lia is sure to capture your heart pretty immediately. When the story begins it's been eighteen months since her husband Gabriel died in a tragic accident. In Languedoc. In spite of that, or because of it, France is still where she feels most comfortable. Plus, it's the heart of Cathar history and she's been understandably unable to focus on finishing her dissertation.

Cathar history is fascinating! I think it's been on the periphery of other things I've read but it's not something I know much about at all. It's a wonderful and somewhat unique element here considering the way Julie Christine Johnson uses it to tell her tale. She weaves that history into the story quite smoothly,  taking the reader back to 1208 with Roaul, Lucas, and Jordi's origins and the crusade against the Cathars. These flashbacks appear intermittently throughout the book, appearing more frequently as Lia learns or begins to suspect more and more about these three men, ramping up the intrigue and suspense.

In Another Life is the kind of romantic and mysterious read that gives you tingles even from the start. You know, that feeling that tells you you're embarking on a fabulous fictional journey.

Rating: 4/5