Saturday, September 24, 2016

Short Fiction... Saturday: Children of Lovecraft ed by Ellen Datlow

Happy Saturday, readers! I hope you all had a fabulous reading week - I know I did. Sort of. After forcing myself to DNF a current YA darling (which was admittedly good, when I could get to it), I decided to treat myself to some shorts. I was a good decision as this was definitely one of those weeks where manuscripts, other work stuff, and general blah-ness left me in need of short, punchy reads. And boy did I get what I asked for.

I've sung Ellen Datlow's praises here quite a bit. Behind the scenes, because I haven't talked much about it yet, I've been reading A LOT of Lovecraft inspired works. Tor.com has THREE new or upcoming novellas in this vein (in addition to Victor Lavalle's release from earlier this year). And hubs recently treated me to three Innsmouth inspired collections as well. So I'm absolutely steeped in Lovecraft - or rather Lovecraft-inspired reads these days.

BTW, if you're interested you should check out this fabulous interview with Kij Johnson, Cassandra Khaw, and Ruthanna Emrys about their new novellas, Lovecraft, etc here.

So, back to topic. Datlow has done Lovecraft before, but when I saw that it was the topic of her newest anthology (timely!) I immediately had to have it. I know by now that I can count on Datlow for a fabulously cultivated collection of weird tales by authors I either already love or will come to!

Children of Lovecraft was, of course, no exception. The premise of the anthology is this: the authors were tasked with writing Lovecraft-inspired shorts using, as Datlow states, the best of Lovecraft, while also exploring new themes and horrors. And boy did the authors to just that! From the Dust Bowl to a tale inspired by Boulder's recent epic flood, most of the stories don't explicitly use any Lovecraft specific creations - Cthulu, etc - but instead are imbued with the eerie and terrifying ambiance of Lovecraft. And yes, plenty of bizarre creations and creatures as well!

Here's the full TOC:

"Nesters" by Siobhan Carroll
"Little Ease" by Gemma Files
"Eternal Troutland" by Stephen Graham Jones
"The Supplement" by John Langan
"Mortensen's Muse" by Orrin Grey
"Oblivion Mode" by Laird Barron
"Mr. Doornail" by Maria Dahvana Headley
"The Secrets of Insects" by Richard Kadrey
"Excerpts from An Eschatology Quadrille" by Caitlin R. Kiernan
"Jules and Richard" by David Nickel
"Glasses" by Brian Evenson
"When the Stitches Come Undone" by A. C. Wise
"On These Blackened Shores of Time" by Brian Hodge
"Bright Crown of Joy" by Livia Llewellyn

A few of my personal favorites include Siobhan Carroll's "Nesters" - a truly creepy tale made more so by being set during the desperation of the Dust Bowl, Richard Kadrey's procedural-esque "The Secrets of Insects," A. C. Wise's gory and disturbing "When the Stitches Come Undone," Brian Hodge's "On These Blackened Shores of Time" the aforementioned Boulder flood inspired tale (set in Pennsylvania mining country), and Brian Evenson's "Glasses" - oh, Brian Evenson's "Glasses"! This was kind of a delightful one - a bit of comic relief, so to speak, amidst what could be a quite unsettling collection!

In truth, though, I quite enjoyed the whole anthology. It is a perfect one to treat yourself to if you're craving weird and scary! And probably the best part, you don't have to know Lovecraft at all to enjoy it. You do have to love horror, though.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Shallow Graves by Kali Wallace

Breezy doesn't remember dying. She doesn't remember being buried either. But she knows she was under ground for a year when the first man she killed dug her up. Since then she's made her way haphazardly across the country, hitchhiking when she can and skateboarding when she can't. And it's ok, because Breezy can see the shadows that haunt killers. Oh, and she apparently can't die. Because Breezy is no longer completely human.

Kali Wallace's debut is fun, y'all! And dark.

The world of Shallow Graves is packed with monsters, human and otherwise. And it's the former who are the big problem. The latter live their lives quietly among us, passing as much as they can for "normal." Witches, ghouls, you name it... well, maybe not unicorns.

And then there's Breezy. Breezy is something else. Something no one can quite explain. And while she can't die, doesn't need to eat, and doesn't even need to breathe, Breezy does need answers.

The story is set roughly two weeks after Breezy wakes. As mentioned above, she knows she's been dead for a year but she has no memory of what happened. Nor does she know why she was dug up, why all the birds died that day, or how the man she killed even knew where to find her.

She knows she can't stay in her hometown. So she travels, aimlessly. And while hitchhiking might present problems for a normal person, Breezy is doubly safe. Not only can she not die by any obvious means (she's tried), but she has the ability to see the human monsters around her. The killers who drive and walk the streets she's traveling.

But Breezy isn't actually as safe as she believes. Apparently in her reality there are people who want to rid the world of its monsters and monsters who would help them in their efforts.

Reading along as Breezy tries to find out what she is and what her purpose might be is fabulous. I loved her as a character - she felt authentic and substantial. The kind of character who comes to life on the page in such a way that you think you could almost recognize them if you were to cross paths with them in the real world.

And there was an added layer to that authenticity for me thanks to the setting. Pieces of the story are set in Boulder, Colorado, and I found myself oddly trying to place the vaguely mentioned people and locations as I was reading. It was almost as though I could run into Breezy and Zeke and Jake strolling down Pearl Street one day and I needed to be prepared!

I know that's an element that most people won't have in their reading. It happens, though, that books are set in real places and readers can recognize those places. It happens seemingly less often for me than you might think - my hometown and college town are both small enough that they lose out to larger Louisiana cities for the most part when settings there are chosen. Here in Colorado it's less odd but still fun when it happens!

Anywho, I quite enjoyed Shallow Graves, if you couldn't tell. It's a great debut and a satisfyingly dark and quirky read!

Rating: 4/5

(Big thanks to Jennifer at Book Den for making me push this one up my reading list!)


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Music City Salvage can't really afford the deal being offered on Withrow mansion, but the promise of salvage that could finally earn them some cash is too good to pass up. And so, Chuck Dutton decides to risk everything to make it happen. 

Dahlia Dutton is well aware of the fact that the job at Withrow can literally make or break the family business. And so, when things start to turn strange, she's ready to brush it off and get the job done. It's just a week, after all, and everyone sees ghosts at these old places. But as she and the crew continue, things become not only weirder but potentially more dangerous. Ghosts haunt a graveyard said to contain no real graves, another specter lives inside the mansion itself terrorizing the crew increasingly as the week passes, and then there are clues found around the estate that seem to indicate not all is on the up and up with the Withrow family history. 

But again, it's only a week...

I love Cherie Priest's horror. It's what introduced me to her work - her Eden Moore trilogy, that is. So I was definitely stoked to see her return to those roots, so to speak.

The Family Plot never quite reached the same level of creepiness as Four and Twenty Blackbirds. But it was a quite fun outing anyway. Inspired by reality tv salvage shows, the book features a Nashville salvage company hired to gut an old estate near Chattanooga, Tennessee. They're told the house features chestnut flooring, marble fireplaces, and more - details that definitely start owner Chuck's mind working. With unpaid accounts out there, the business is already in trouble but the promise of chestnut alone, a wood lusted after in the salvage community, is enough for him to say yes to the job.

A job two other companies already turned down.

Dahlia is also risking everything, she can't afford for the family business to shut down especially now that she's divorced and living on just her income alone. Her salary barely covers her rent but the loss of it would be a serious detriment.

So you have a family business that has sunk everything they have left into one job that HAS to pay out, or else. Of course they're going to ignore any ghostly visions. And they trust, based on years of experience, reality ghost hunting shows, and stories amongst the industry, that nothing bad is going to happen to them regardless of how many ghosts they encounter.

And of course that decision gets them all in trouble!

I have to say this particular element - the fact that they all believe in the possibility of ghosts and that they even refer to ghost hunting shows and such as proof that nothing bad will happen was extra fun. You don't have to be a fan of  reality tv to love Priest's latest, but I would definitely say that you have to be a fan of haunted house books!

Rating: 3.5/5

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan + a Giveaway

Good morning, readers! Today I'm a stop on the TLC blog tour for Jenny Colgan's latest, The Bookshop on the Corner.

Thanks to budget cuts, Nina Redmond is out of a job. And it's a job she'd loved, working as a librarian and pairing readers with the perfect book for any situation. With her apartment bursting at the seams with books, Nina knows she has to do something. And so an idea is formed: a bookshop. Not just any bookshop, a mobile bookshop. But realizing the dream turns out to be much more complicated than Nina would have thought!

Jenny Colgan's latest is a book lover's book. It's sweet and a bit whimsical, packed with book recommendations and situations any true book junkie can definitely relate to. (While my husband has never threatened to leave me over the amount of books in the house, the images of Nina's collection endangering the very stability of her flat were enough to make me cringe in recognition!)

It felt almost indulgent to dive into this one. It was such a comforting and welcoming read - a feel good read for sure, but more than that as well. I felt a kinship with Nina and an admiration for her. As hurdle after hurdle was thrown at her, I rallied alongside her waiting to see if and how she'd conquer each challenge and if her dreams would really come true.

Colgan's humor is infectious. That sweet whimsy mentioned above, paired with enough giggle worthy moments definitely helped in making this a book I could get lost in. And I wouldn't be lying if I said that I was a little envious of Nina's adventure as well!

The Bookshop On the Corner is such a fun read, sheer entertainment packed with heart and books!

Because I loved this one so much, I want to share it with you, fellow readers! To enter to win a copy of your own, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below before Monday, October 3. Open US only.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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

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

Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble



Monday, September 19, 2016

Guest Post by Terrence McCauley

If you follow the mystery/thriller writing world then you know genre authors convened in New Orleans over the weekend for this year's Bouchercon. And I'm uber jealous! One of these days, Bouchercon! One of these days...

Thanks to Polis Books, I happen to know today's guest post writer was in attendance signing copies of his latest, A Murder of Crows, the second in his James Hicks series, which released this July.

Here's a bit about the book (from Goodreads) before I hand things over to Terrence:

THE CROWS ARE GATHERING. WAR IS COMING.

For years, every intelligence agency in the world has been chasing the elusive terrorist known only as The Moroccan. But when James Hicks and his clandestine group known as the University thwart a bio-terror attack against New York City and capture The Moroccan, they find themselves in the crosshairs of their own intelligence community.

The CIA, NSA, DIA and the Mossad are still hunting for for The Moroccan and will stop at nothing to get him. Hicks must find a way to keep the other agencies at bay while he tries to break The terrorist and uncover what else he is planning.

When he ultimately surrenders information that leads to the most wanted terrorist in the world, Hicks and his team find themselves in a strange new world where allies become enemies, enemies become allies and the fate of the University - perhaps even the Western world - may hang in the balance.

Can Hicks and the University survive an onslaught from A MURDER OF CROWS?


And now here's Terrence!

Creating Secondary Characters 
- by Terrence McCauley

One of the things I enjoy most about writing is the feedback I receive on my secondary characters. People who read my work tend to find them as compelling – if not more so – than some of my main characters. For example, in PROHIBITION, people were as concerned about how mob boss Archie Doyle survived his difficulties at the end of the book as they were about what happened to the protagonist, hit man Terry Quinn. In SLOW BURN, readers wanted to know about what happened to Alice (who also appeared in PROHIBITION). They were also interested in seeing if the protagonist Charlie Doherty ever tangled with Chief Carmichael or with the wealthy Mr. Van Dorn again. (I plan to answer those questions in subsequent books.)

In my spy thriller SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL and A MURDER OF CROWS, I’ve been fortunate enough to have readers tell me they’re not sure if they like my protagonist James Hicks, but they’re very interested in his colleagues Roger Cobb and Tali Saddon.

I’ve known a few writers who didn’t like it when secondary characters seemed to be as popular or resonate more with their readership. I happen to love it. Every bit of feedback I’ve ever received has helped me become a better writer one way or the other. So when I hear that they’re interested in learning more about the co-stars of my work, it means I’ve done my job as a writer. I’m not just writing about one character doing brave or heroic things. I’m creating a world in which the reader can lose themselves for a few hours. A place where they can invest their time and money to escape their everyday world while they explore the one I have created for them.

From a plot perspective, I think secondary characters are very important. They can enhance the action and advance the plot so the protagonist doesn’t have to do it all on his or her own. They can show aspects of the protagonist’s character without the writer having to spell it out in detail. It affords the writer the opportunity to show, rather than tell.

Let me explain. Since I write mostly thrillers, I do my best to try to do something different that separates my work from other books in the genre. One set piece expected in spy novels is the obligatory exposition of the protagonist’s past. It often takes place when a secondary character is reviewing the protagonist’s file. There we clearly learn all of the protagonist’s skills and accomplishments. The medals he has won or the demons she’s trying to fight from a bad op gone wrong. It’s an easy way to convey a lot of information about the protagonist quickly and it’s a device I try to avoid at all costs.

Although the reader certainly needs to know about the protagonist, but I chose to hint at it rather than have two characters discussing what they’re reading in a file. James Hicks is the protagonist of my University Series of novels and I intentionally keep his past vague because it adds to the overall covert, secretive nature of his work. I have decided to show how capable he is not only by what he does, but how the secondary characters react to him. Roger Cobb mentioning an op they ran in Africa or Roger being concerned about Hicks’ temper. Tali saying she can’t trust Hicks because she knows how he operates. The Dean of the University discussing Hicks’ strengths and abilities rather than having him review his file with a third party. These secondary characters aren’t just window dressing. They contribute to the plot and convey a sense of who Hicks is and his capabilities. His strengths and weaknesses are reflected in their reactions to him, which allows the reader the chance to fill in the blanks on their own.

Given the feedback I’ve received from my readership, I’m pleased with the results. After SYMPATHY came out, I heard from readers who wanted to see more of Roger Cobb. They wanted to see more of Tali and see her in action. They wanted to learn more about the Dean’s plans and how the University might change in future novels. That feedback helped me craft the sequel – A MURDER OF CROWS – where those same characters play vital roles in how the plot unfolds. It is a tactic I will employ in the next book in the series and in all of my writing in the future. Because strong secondary characters not only make the protagonist more interesting, they add another layer to the plot that keeps the reader invested and engaged.

Creating interesting secondary characters is yet another part of the art of writing that I thoroughly enjoy. 

About the author: Terrence McCauley is an award-winning writer of crime fiction. His first techno-thriller, SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, was published by Polis Books in July 2015. Polis also reissued Terrence's first two novels set in 1930 New York City - PROHIBITION and SLOW BURN.

In 2016, Down and Out Books also published Terrence's World War I novella - THE DEVIL DOGS OF BELLEAU WOOD. Proceeds from sales go directly to benefit the Semper Fi Fund.

Terrence has had short stories featured in Thuglit, Spintetingler Magazine, Shotgun Honey, Big Pulp and other publications. He is a member of the New York City chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Thriller Writers and the International Crime Writers Association.

A proud native of The Bronx, NY, he is currently writing his next work of fiction.

Big thanks to Terrence McCauley for being here today and to his publicist for setting up this post! For more on Terrence McCauley and his work you can visit his website here. You can also like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter

Sunday, September 18, 2016

New Releases 9/20/16

Some of the new titles hitting shelves this week are:

Home by Harlan Coben

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Death's End by Cixin Liu

The Confectioner's Tale by Laure Madeleine

The Fortress by Danielle Trussoni

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Blind Sight by Carol O'Connell

Warp by Lev Grossman

The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter

Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton

Pushing Up Daisies by M. C. Beaton

Zero-G by William Shatner & Jeff Rovin

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter

Frost Like Night by Sara Raasch

Stalking Jack the Ripper by Kerry Maniscalco

Witch's Pyre by Josephine Angelini

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Stealing Snow by Danielle Paige

Metaltown by Kristen Simmons

New on DVD:
Free State of Jones
Neighbors 2

New reviews at Bookbitch.com:
The Second Girl by Peter Swinson

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Pre Pub Book Buzz: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Whether you've read Seanan McGuire's Every Heart a Doorway yet or not (and why haven't you, by the way!?), you should be excited about its follow up, Down Among the Sticks and Bones. It's about Jack and Jill! You know, of hill and water bucket fame!

Here's a bit about the novella from Goodreads:

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

We have quite a while to wait for this one since it's not due out until June, but that's plenty of time to go ahead and read its predecessor in the Wayward Children series if you haven't yet. Go ahead, go buy it. You won't regret it. McGuire is brilliantly creative and Every Heart a Doorway proves that in spades!