Thursday, July 31, 2014

Review: The Games by Ted Kosmatka

The Games - Ted Kosmatka

Review by John for The Games by Ted Kosmatka.

John’s quick take:   A frightening tale of what could happen if genetic engineering is allowed to race ahead unchecked in an amoral world.

John’s description:    In the not-too-distant future, genetically engineered creatures fight to the death in the highly prestigious showcase event of the Olympic Games. Many countries are desperate to win the event and they pour money and scientific expertise into the development of vicious gladiatorial animals. The one and only governing rule is that the creatures must not contain any human DNA.

Silas Williams is a brilliant geneticist in charge of the U.S. program and he has a track record of success, having helped win the events in the previous Games. But there is a fear that other countries may be catching up and consequently Silas’ boss turns to a computing genius and his experimental supercomputer to design the genetic code for an unbeatable gladiator. It is then the job of Silas and his team to create, nurture and train the killing machine whose design has been entirely computer generated.

They succeed in creating and bringing to life the creature, but even with his vast knowledge and expertise Silas has no understanding of what he has created. From the genes to the blood to the body structure, the gladiatorial beast is full of features whose purpose and function are unknown and unknowable.

As the gladiator rapidly grows and exhibits frightening powers, Silas is increasingly filled with dread. What has the cold hard logic of a computer caused him to bring to life?

John’s thoughts:    This is a clever plot and a well-told story. There are some very cool ideas in it and Kosmatka handles the technical side of the story really well. Is it believable? Well, no – but who said that science fiction had to be believable in order to be good. It drew me in and I blew through the read in no time.

I particularly liked the notion of the virtual reality supercomputer and the relationship between it and its creator. It was also interesting to see what might happen when such a computer was given free rein to design and create the genetic code for a gladiatorial creature whose only specific objective was to survive the Games.

I did find that there were a few times that elements of the story were a bit of a stretch and I wasn’t crazy about how it all ends - it turned into too much of an action novel. Overall I’d say the book is really strong on ideas and not quite so strong on details and character development. It will appeal to anyone who likes to read about potential developments in genetic engineering and likes action-oriented science fiction. I’d rate this book 3.5 stars.

Hardcover | 360 pages | Del Rey | January 1st 2012

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

New Release: Dark Forest edited by Robert Dunbar

Dark Forest edited by Robert Dunbar

Dark Forest, edited by Robert Dunbar, has recently been released. It’s a collection of dark, classic stories that’s perfect for a fall evening.

“You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path.” ~ Joseph Campbell


Something deadly lurks among the shadows, and the trees themselves seethe with menace.

Never believe you are safe. No one is safe.

The dark forest is a state of mind.

DARK FOREST is the latest anthology from UNINVITED BOOKS.

These classic stories of the malignant wilderness come from the pens of illustrious authors like Ambrose Beirce, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, E. Nesbit, H. G. Wells and many others. Tales like THE WILLOWS, A VINE ON A HOUSE and THE PAVILION combine to create an intense atmosphere of surreal malignity. (Also included is Robert Dunbar’s novella WOOD.) Each tale is annotated by contemporary talents, and the insights and observations of writers of the caliber of Paul G. Bens, Ramsey Campbell, Sandy DeLuca, Robert Dunbar, James Everington, Greg F. Gifune, Kevin Lucia, Ronald Malfi, Lisa Mannetti, Elizabeth Massie, and B. E. Scully add a further level of erudition, deepening the reader’s appreciation of the work.

(For more information on the novella WOOD by Robert Dunbar link on this text to see my review of this wonderfully dark and hilarious story.) 

478 pages | Uninvited Books | July 7, 2014 | Paperback

From the Introduction of Dark Forest:

The dark is where we live. The dark is all there is.

We fear darkness. We fear eyes that watch from the foliage. Sometimes we fear the foliage.

Perhaps we should.

Long before haunted houses existed, haunted forests circled the globe. Homer knew it. The Brothers Grimm knew it. In legend, all the great mythic quests of self-discovery begin with a hero entering a forsaken wood.

Some journeys also end there…

“Your soul is a dark forest.” ~ Marcel Proust

UNINVITED BOOKS is an independent press dedicated to celebrating literary distinction in dark fiction. All serious fiction deals to some extent with dark themes, and many great works of world literature have employed supernatural, surreal or existentialist elements. These books have power. They endure… because they appeal to serious readers and provide thoughtful entertainment.

Join us. Become one of the Uninvited.

The book is available from Amazon in paperback format.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Giveaway: The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

The Magician's Land - Lev Grossman

We have two copies of The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman for US addresses.

Some interesting news about the book is that Lev Grossman’s first book in the series, The Magicians, has been opted for TV by SyFy.

We also have an in-depth Q&A with Lev Grossman that is courtesy of the publisher.

Here’s more about this third book and the last in the trilogy:   THE MAGICIAN’S LAND is a tale of love and redemption—the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole. Old readers will devour the rich and riveting final book, and the completed arc will welcome newcomers who can binge-read the series in full.

Quentin Coldwater has lost everything. He has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams that he once ruled. Everything he had fought so hard for, not to mention his closest friends, is sealed away in a land Quentin may never again visit. With nothing left to lose he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic. But he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him. Meanwhile, the magical barriers that keep Fillory safe are failing, and barbarians from the north have invaded. Eliot and Janet, the rulers of Fillory, embark on a final quest to save their beloved world, only to discover a situation far more complex—and far more dire—than anyone had envisioned.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young magician with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. His new life takes him back to old haunts, like Antarctica and the Neitherlands, and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers buried secrets and hidden evils and ultimately the key to a sorcerous masterwork, a spell that could create a magical utopia. But all roads lead back to Fillory, where Quentin must face his fears and put things right or die trying.

Hardcover | 416  Pages | 5 Aug 2014 | Viking Books | Adult

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

Conversation with Lev Grossman author of The Magician’s Land

Lev Grossman

An interview with Lev Grossman, author of The Magician’s Land, courtesy of Viking Books. This last book in the trilogy is to be published on August 5, 2014.

Also, some interesting news about the series - Lev Grossman’s first book, The Magicians, has been opted for TV by SyFy.

People considered The Magicians to be Harry Potter for grown-ups and an homage to writers like C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling. But in THE MAGICIAN’S LAND, Quentin is nearly thirty years-old. Can we expect any new allusions to those books? How has the series grown up over the years?

On some level all the Magicians books are written as a conversation with Lewis and Rowling. It’s a complicated conversation – sometimes it’s affectionate, occasionally it’s rather heated – and it continues in The Magician’s Land. I thought Rowling let Harry off a little easy by never showing him to us at 30. We never really saw him having to deal with his traumatic past – his abusive childhood, his experience of violence and death, his massive world-saving celebrity as a teenager – and struggling to figure out what the rest of his life is about. Those are things Quentin has to do in The Magician’s Land. When you’re a magician, and there’s no ultimate evil to defeat, when you’re not a kid anymore, what is magic for?

As for Lewis, Narnia fans will pick up echoes of The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle, the stories of Narnia’s creation and of its destruction. Lewis made a bit of fetish of childhood and innocence: Narnia was a place for children, and when you grow up and get interested in adult things, you lose that special magic. You see that in Peter Pan too – it’s one of the dominant tropes of 20th century fantasy. In The Magician’s Land I wanted to think not just about what you lose when you grow up, but what you might gain. You lose the magic of innocence and wonder, but do you gain a richer, more complex kind of magic?

The Magician's Land - Lev Grossman

You come from a family of serious academics. What was their reaction when you chose to write genre fiction rather than something more “literary”?

It sounds funny to say it, but writing The Magicians was a serious act of rebellion for me. Coming from the family I do, it was an act of calculated treason. I had to nerve myself up to do it. But I had to – it was the only way I could say what I wanted to say. I couldn’t do anything else.

I think it’s fair to say that reactions were mixed. My mom was cautiously enthusiastic, and my brother and sister have been hugely helpful with the books. But I don’t think my father ever read any of The Magicians books.

The Magicians books have stirred up a lot of controversy among readers. They attack or invert the most sacred conventions of fantasy, and as a result, have divided the fantasy world. Can you speak a bit about this diverse reader response?

No question, the Magicians books are polarizing. They’re supposed to be. The same way Neuromancer did with science fiction, and Watchmen did with superhero comics, the Magicians books ask hard questions about fantasy. What kinds of people would really do magic, if it were really, and what would the practice of magic do to them? What would really go on in a school for magic, with a bunch of teenagers in a fairy castle being given supernatural powers? What would happen if you put in all the depression and the violence and the blowjobs and the drinking that Rowling leaves out? What would happen to those kids after they graduated? What would happen if you sent these kids through the looking glass, into a magical land that was in the grip of a civil war?

These aren’t the kinds of questions everybody wants asked, but that’s how genres evolve. Watchmen was a brutal interrogation of the superhero genre – and it was also the greatest superhero story ever written. You couldn’t write a comic book the same way after Watchmen was published. I’m not saying the Magicians books are the greatest fantasy novels ever written, but they’re asking the same kinds of questions.

What were your major influences from science fiction or fantasy genres? What about more mainstream, literary works? How do you see these manifesting themselves in THE MAGICIAN’S LAND?

What got me started writing The Magicians was reading Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in 2004. There were several novels around that time that did things with fantasy that had never been done before, used it to say things that had never been said before. George R.R. Martin’s books were like that, and so were Neil Gaiman’s, especially American Gods. So were Kelly Link’s. When I read those books, I knew that I had to be a part of whatever they were doing.

I also have a bit of an academic background – I spent a few years in graduate school, and I studied the literary canon, particularly the history of the novel, pretty intensely – and that comes out in the Magicians books too. You can find bits of Proust in them, and Fitzgerald, Woolf, Donne, Joyce, Chaucer, T.S. Eliot. You can find a lot of Evelyn Waugh – Brakebills owes a lot to Hogwarts, but it owes a lot more to the Oxford of Brideshead Revisited. I wanted to see what happens when you take techniques and tropes from literary fiction and transport them, illegally, across genre lines.

As a literary critic, you’ve worked to promote the value and respectability of genre fiction – one year you put George R.R. Martin at the top of Time’s list of books of the year. You did the same with Susanna Clarke and John Green. Does that fit in with what you do as a writer of fiction?

In my own nerdy way I’m trying to start a revolution, or maybe I’m just trying to join one that got started without me. It’s a literary revolution, but not the usual kind, where people who are writing difficult, avant garde literature figure out a way to make it even more difficult and avant garde. I’m talking about a revolution of pleasure, where the question of a book’s worth is de-coupled from the question of whether or not it’s hard or unpleasant to read.

If The Magicians, The Magician King, and THE MAGICIAN’S LAND were made into movies or a television series, who would you envision playing Quentin and his friends?

The challenge with the Magicians characters is to convey a lot of intelligence, and also to not be overly good-looking. They’re a clever lot, and they’re also very real – they look like real people. Ben Whishaw has probably aged out of the Quentin role, but people mention him to me a lot, and that seems right. Sometimes I pictured specific actors while I was writing – Eliot, for example, I imagine as something like Richard E. Grant in Withnail and I. I often imagine Alice as Thora Birch from Ghost World.

There are a lot of tech references in The Magicians books that would seem more at home in science fiction than fantasy, ie. the origin of magic is described in hacker language. Why did you choose to juxtapose so much tech with magic?

I’m very committed to the project of making the Magicians books feel real, and to that end I made a deal with myself: everything that’s real in our world would be real in Quentin’s. And that means including contemporary technology, cell phones and the Internet and so on.

But beyond that, I think the same people who are interested in technology in our world would be drawn to magic if it were real, as much as the Wiccan crowd. Magic is interesting and complicated and powerful the same way technology is, and it requires some of the same mental discipline.

Also, I’m a science fiction writer manqué. I like the way SF writers look at the world. I like to think I write about magic the way good SF writers write about technology.

You have a degree in comparative literature from Harvard but dropped out before getting your Ph.D. from Yale. What made you decide not to become an academic yourself?

I can’t even remember what made me decide I wanted to be one in the first place, except that I was unemployed and wanted to read books and talk about them as much as possible. Which I did get to do, and I loved it. But I knew from watching my parents that the life of an academic is not a glamorous one. It is frequently an underpaid and inglorious one, except for the superstars, and it quickly became apparent that I wasn’t going to be one of those. Fortunately I married one instead.

You have an identical twin brother, Austin Grossman, who is also a Harvard grad and successful fantasy novelist. Why do you think you’ve traveled such similar paths professionally? How do you think growing up as twins shaped your writing, respectively?

It’s a mystery. I don’t know if twins have much more insight into it than regular people have. Austin was a very successful video game designer in his 20s, whereas I spent most of that decade looking for a career of any kind. But then somehow, for some reason, we re-converged. It happens all the time, not just with our writing. We live on opposite coasts, and only see each other a few times a year, but there’s always some uncanny coincidence in what we’re doing, or wearing, or listening to, or reading.

Though I’m very conscious of the differences in our work too. We’ve read the same things, seen the same movies, and watched the same shows, so our cultural points of reference are all the same. We know all the same words. But he writes only in the first person, and I only write in the third person. We use the same raw materials to construct very different stories.

Over the past decade, fantasy has become more accepted in mainstream and literary circles. What do you think has changed and where do you see the genre going? Does fantasy get the respect it deserves among scholars?

A lot has changed for fantasy in the last decade or so. The 1990's were all about science fiction—Star Wars, Star Trek, the Matrix—but something changed around the turn of the millennium. After 2001 the popular imagination became focused on fantasy -- Harry Potter and Twilight and The Lord of the Rings. En masse, we turned to fantasy for something we needed and weren't finding elsewhere. What that is, it’s hard to say, but it’s led to a glorious resurgence of the genre. Fantasy is evolving and maturing. It’s definitely not just for kids anymore. Writers like Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, China Mieville, George RR Martin and Kelly Link are making it more complex and interesting and sophisticated and powerful than it ever was before.

But no, as far as I can tell, it still gets very little respect from the academy.

What’s your favorite part of writing outside of reality?

What makes fantasy interesting to me is what it can’t do. Magic doesn’t solve everybody’s problems. You have characters who are capable of drawing energy from invisible sources, making it crackle from their fingers, performing miracles. But when they’re done, they’re still who they are. Life is still life. Magic doesn't change relationships. It doesn’t fix your neuroses. Those basic problems are still what they were, and they have to be solved the old-fashioned way, just like in any other novel.

Lev Grossman is the book critic and lead technology writer for Time magazine and a widely published cultural critic. He is also the author of the New York Times bestselling novels The Magicians and The Magician King. A graduate of Harvard and Yale, he lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children.

You can learn more about Lev Grossman on his website and follow him on Twitter @leverus.

The Magician’s Land | Hardcover | 416 Pages | 5 Aug 2014 | Viking Books | Adult

Also, coming soon we have a giveaway of two copies of The Magician’s Land for US addresses!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: Sand Queen by Helen Benedict

sand queen

Review by John for Sand Queen by Helen Benedict.

John’s quick take:  A searing novel about a female US soldier and a young local woman in the Iraq War – a damning condemnation of the war, its execution and the treatment of women in the army.

John’s description:  Kate Brady is a nineteen year old woman who joined the US army hoping to bring honor to her family and to help bring democracy to the Middle East. Instead she is shipped off to Iraq and finds herself in a US-army base guarding a makeshift prison full of mostly-innocent Iraqi civilians. While she has to handle a bemused and fearful local population in addition to the inmates, most of the time she is more at risk from her own predatory male colleagues than she is from the Iraqis.

Naema Jassim is a young medical student whose family has fled Baghdad hoping to find more peace away from the seething capital city. But while staying at her grandmother’s house her frail father and young brother are rounded up by US soldiers for no apparent reason and imprisoned in the camp that is being guarded by Kate. Prior to the US invasion her father had been imprisoned and tortured by Saddam Hussein’s security forces for not openly supporting Hussein’s Ba’ath party – now he is jailed by Hussein’s US enemies.

Naema travels to the camp desperately trying to find out information about her family but finds an implacable system that cannot or will not share any information. Naema tries to latch onto Kate but the US soldier, in common with her colleagues, is almost as bemused and ignorant as the civilians. Despite the dangers she has to face daily, Kate decides that she will try and help Naema.

But with no civilian authorities left in place Iraq is rapidly descending into chaos, made even worse as insurgents fight back against the US forces and factions in the country start to tear the society apart. Kate faces ever-more deadly threats from both inside and outside the camp and both she and Naema desperately cling to hopes that they can return to some sort of normal life.

John’s thoughts:  This is a powerful novel. I couldn’t for one second call it an enjoyable read as the content is raw, brutal, anger inducing and pretty depressing. But it is gripping and enlightening and I’m very glad that I read it.

I was prepared to hear about the sheer stupidity of the war, the chaos caused by lack of planning and forethought, the inefficiency and ineptitude of the war machine, the awful conditions in the Iraqi desert, the heart-stopping fear of fighting in a war and the tremendous bravery of the common soldiers – and the book delivered in spades on all of those fronts. What I was less prepared for was the truly dreadful treatment of female soldiers in the US army, the horrors that Iraqis had to face and the privations of soldiers returning from the war. These were thoroughly shocking.

Of course this is a novel so it could be said that it is not reporting facts, but Benedict carried out some thorough research, including interviews with over forty veterans of the war. It has the stamp of authenticity and is eminently believable.

In addition to being a war story, this is very much a tale of women’s place in the world. The US is supposedly one of the most enlightened and liberated countries in the world, yet its treatment of women in the army is barbaric. Iraq suffered under the oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein and yet Iraqi women had more autonomy than Muslim women in most of the Middle East. According to Benedict (and Naema) the Iraqi War and subsequent events have set back women’s rights by fifty years. Among other things, the book jacket describes Sand Queen as “at times funny” and “a story of hope”. I have to say that I didn’t see much of either of those things.

I’d rate this book 4 stars and thoroughly recommend it to anyone who is interested in the role of women in the army, women’s rights, the Iraqi War, the troubles in the Middle East, or war stories generally. But be warned, this is not a comfortable read.

Hardcover | 312 pages | Soho Press | August 2, 2011

Monday, July 14, 2014

Incoming Books: July 14, 2014

Alias Hook - Lisa Jensen

It’s our incoming books post for July 14, 2014. Here’s what we received this past month.

Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen

"Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile who drags him down to a watery grave. But it was not yet my time to die. It's my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy, with that infernal, eternal boy."

Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan’s rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain.

With Stella’s knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook’s last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their neverending game. Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen is a beautifully and romantically written adult fairy tale.

St. Martin's Press/Thomas Dunne Books | 7/8/2014 | ARC Edition | 368 pages

A Barricade in Hell by Jaime Lee Moyer

A Barricade in Hell by Jaime Lee Moyer (Delia Martin #2)

In Jaime Lee Moyer's Barricade in Hell, Delia Martin has been gifted (or some would say cursed) with the ability to peer across to the other side. Since childhood, her constant companions have been ghosts. She used her powers and the help of those ghosts to defeat a twisted serial killer terrorizing her beloved San Francisco. Now it's 1917—the threshold of a modern age—and Delia lives a peaceful life with Police Captain Gabe Ryan.

That peace shatters when a strange young girl starts haunting their lives and threatens Gabe. Delia tries to discover what this ghost wants as she becomes entangled in the mystery surrounding a charismatic evangelist who preaches pacifism and an end to war.  But as young people begin to disappear, and audiences display a loyalty and fervor not attributable to simple persuasion, that message of peace reveals a hidden dark side.

As Delia discovers the truth, she faces a choice—take a terrible risk to save her city, or chance losing everything?

Tor Books | June 2014 | Hardcover | 336 pages

California Bones - Greg Van Eekhout

California Bones by Greg Eekhout

When Daniel Blackland was six, he ingested his first bone fragment, a bit of kraken spine plucked out of the sand during a visit with his demanding, brilliant, and powerful magician father, Sebastian.

When Daniel was twelve, he watched Sebastian die at the hands of the Hierarch of Southern California, devoured for the heightened magic layered deep within his bones.

Now, years later, Daniel is a petty thief with a forged identity. Hiding amid the crowds in Los Angeles—the capital of the Kingdom of Southern California—Daniel is trying to go straight. But his crime-boss uncle has a heist he wants Daniel to perform: break into the Hierarch's storehouse of magical artifacts and retrieve Sebastian's sword, an object of untold power.

For this dangerous mission, Daniel will need a team he can rely on, so he brings in his closest friends from his years in the criminal world. There's Moth, who can take a bullet and heal in mere minutes. Jo Alverado, illusionist. The multitalented Cassandra, Daniel’s ex. And, new to them all, the enigmatic, knowledgeable Emma, with her British accent and her own grudge against the powers-that-be. The stakes are high, and the stage is set for a showdown that might just break the magic that protects a long-corrupt regime.

Extravagant and yet moving, Greg van Eekhout's California Bones is an epic adventure set in a city of canals and secrets and casual brutality--different from the world we know, yet familiar and true.

Tor Books | June 2014 | Hardcover | 304 pages

Hemlock Grove - Brian McGreevy

Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy

An exhilarating reinvention of the gothic novel, inspired by the iconic characters of our greatest myths and nightmares. Now a hit television series on Netflix.

The body of a young girl is found mangled and murdered in the woods of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, in the shadow of the abandoned Godfrey Steel mill. A manhunt ensues—though the authorities aren’t sure if it’s a man they should be looking for.

Some suspect an escapee from the White Tower, a foreboding biotech facility owned by the Godfrey family—their personal fortune and the local economy having moved on from Pittsburgh steel—where, if rumors are true, biological experiments of the most unethical kind take place. Others turn to Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy trailer-trash kid who has told impressionable high school classmates that he’s a werewolf. Or perhaps it’s Roman, the son of the late JR Godfrey, who rules the adolescent social scene with the casual arrogance of a cold-blooded aristocrat, his superior status unquestioned despite his decidedly freakish sister, Shelley, whose monstrous medical conditions belie a sweet intelligence, and his otherworldly control freak of a mother, Olivia.

At once a riveting mystery and a fascinating revelation of the grotesque and the darkness in us all, Hemlock Grove has the architecture and energy to become a classic in its own right—and Brian McGreevy the talent and ambition to enthrall us for years to come.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux | April 2013 | Trade Paperback (Movie Tie-in Edition) | 336 pages

The Causal Angel - Hannu Rajaniemi

The Causal Angel by Hannu Rajaniemi (Jean le Flambeur #3)

With his infectious love of storytelling in all its forms, his rich characterization and his unrivaled grasp of thrillingly bizarre cutting-edge science, Hannu Rajaniemi swiftly set a new benchmark for Science Fiction in the 21st century. Now, with his third novel, he completes the tale of the many lives, and minds, of gentleman rogue Jean de Flambeur.

Influenced as much by the fin de siècle novels of Maurice leBlanc as he is by the greats of SF, Rajaniemi weaves intricate, warm capers through dazzling science, extraordinary visions of a wild future,and deep conjectures on the nature of reality and story.

In The Causal Angel we will discover the ultimate fates of Jean, his employer Miele, the independently minded ship Perhonnen, and the rest of a fractured and diverse humanity flung throughout the solar system.

Tor Books | 7/15/2014 | Hardcover | 304 pages

The Seat of Magic - J. Kathleen Cheney

The Seat of Magic by J. Kathleen Cheney (The Golden City #2)

Magical beings have been banned from the Golden City for decades, though many live there in secret. Now humans and nonhumans alike are in danger as evil stalks the streets, growing more powerful with every kill….

It’s been two weeks since Oriana Paredes was banished from the Golden City. Police consultant Duilio Ferreira, who himself has a talent he must keep secret, can’t escape the feeling that, though she’s supposedly returned home to her people, Oriana is in danger.
Adding to Duilio’s concerns is a string of recent murders in the city. Three victims have already been found, each without a mark upon her body. When a selkie under his brother’s protection goes missing, Duilio fears the killer is also targeting nonhuman prey.

To protect Oriana and uncover the truth, Duilio will have to risk revealing his own identity, put his trust in some unlikely allies, and consult a rare and malevolent text known as The Seat of Magic….

Paperback | 400  Pages | 1 Jul 2014 | Penguin/ NAL

I really enjoyed the first in this series. You can read my review for The Golden City by J. Kathleen Cheney by linking on this text.

Premonitions - Jamie Schultz

Premonitions by Jamie Schultz


It’s the kind of score Karyn Ames has always dreamed of—enough to set her crew up pretty well and, more important, enough to keep her safely stocked on a very rare, very expensive black market drug. Without it, Karyn hallucinates slices of the future until they totally overwhelm her, leaving her unable to distinguish the present from the mess of certainties and possibilities yet to come.

The client behind the heist is Enoch Sobell, a notorious crime lord with a reputation for being ruthless and exacting—and a purported practitioner of dark magic. Sobell is almost certainly condemned to Hell for a magically extended lifetime full of shady dealings. Once you’re in business with him, there’s no backing out.

Karyn and her associates are used to the supernatural and the occult, but their target is more than just the usual family heirloom or cursed necklace. It’s a piece of something larger. Something sinister.

Karyn’s crew and even Sobell himself are about to find out just how powerful it is… and how powerful it may yet become.

Mass Market Paperback | 384  Pages | 1 Jul 2014 | Penguin/NAL | Adult

Fireborn - Keri Arthur

Fireborn by Keri Arthur

From New York Times bestselling author Keri Arthur comes a brand-new series featuring heroine Emberly Pearson—a phoenix capable of taking on human form and cursed with the ability to foresee death….

Emberly has spent a good number of her many lives trying to save humans. So when her prophetic dreams reveal the death of Sam, a man she once loved, she does everything in her power to prevent it from happening. But in saving his life, she gets more than she bargained for.

Sam is working undercover for the Paranormal Investigations Team, and those who are trying to murder him are actually humans infected by a plaguelike virus, the Crimson Death—a by-product of a failed government experiment intended to identify the enzymes that make vampires immortal. Now all those infected must be eliminated.

But when Emberly’s boss is murdered and his irreplaceable research stolen, she needs to find the guilty party before she goes down in flames….

Mass Market Paperback | 400  Pages | 1 Jul 2014 | Penguin/NAL | Adult

Elisha Barber - E. C. Ambrose

Elisha Magus by E.D. Ambrose (The Dark Apostle #2)

Elisha, a barber-surgeon from the poorest streets of benighted fourteenth-century London, has come a long way from home. He was always skilled at his work, but skill alone could not protect him on the day that disaster left his family ruined and Elisha himself accused of murder. With no other options, Elisha accepted a devil’s bargain from Lucius, a haughty physician, to avoid death by hanging—by serving under the sadistic doctor as a battle surgeon of the king’s army, at the front lines of an unjust war.

Elisha worked night and day, both tending to the wounded soldiers and protecting them from the physician’s experiments. Even so, he soon found that he had a talent for a surprising and deadly sort of magic, and was drawn into the clandestine world of sorcery by the enchanting young witch Brigit—who had baffling ties to his past, and ambitious plans for his future. Yet even Brigit did not understand the terrible power Elisha could wield, until the day he was forced to embrace it and end the war…by killing the king.

Now, Elisha has become a wanted man—not only by those who hate and fear him, but by those who’d seek to woo his support. Because, hidden behind the politics of court and castle, it is magic that offers power in its purest form. And the players in that deeper game are stranger and more terrifying than Elisha could ever have dreamed.

There are the magi, those who have grasped the secrets of affinity and knowledge to manipulate mind and matter, always working behind the scenes. There are the indivisi, thought mad by the rest of the magical world: those so devoted to their subject of study that they have become “indivisible” from it, and whose influence in their realm is wondrous beyond even the imaginations of “normal” magi. And then there are—there may be—the necromancers, whose methods, motives, and very existence remain mysterious. Where rumors of their passing go, death follows.

But death follows Elisha, too.

Hardcover | 304  Pages | 1 Jul 2014 | Penguin/DAW | Adult

The Shadow Throne - Django Wexler

The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler (#2 of the Shadow Campaigns)

Anyone can plot a coup or fire an assassin’s bullet. But in a world of muskets and magic, it takes considerably more to seize the throne.

The ailing King of the Vordan lies on his deathbed. When he dies, his daughter, Raesinia Orboan, will become the first Queen Regnant in centuries—and a ripe target for the ambitious men who seek to control her. The most dangerous of these is Duke Orlanko, Minister of Information and master of the secret police. Having meticulously silenced his adversaries through intimidation, imprisonment, and execution, Orlanko is the most feared man in the kingdom. And he knows an arcane secret that puts Raesinia completely at his mercy.

Exposure would mean ruin, but Raesinia is determined to find a way to break herself—and her country—out of Orlanko’s iron grip. She finds unlikely allies in the returning war hero Janus bet Vhalnich, fresh from a brilliant campaign in the colony of Khandar, and his loyal deputies, Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Lieutenant Winter Ihernglass.

As Marcus and Winter struggle to find their places in the home they never thought they would see again, they help Janus and Raesinia set in motion events that could free Vordan from Orlanko’s influence—at the price of throwing the nation into chaos. But with the people suffering under the Duke’s tyranny, they intend to protect the kingdom with every power they can command, earthly or otherwise.

Hardcover | 512  Pages | 1 Jul 2014 | Penguin/NAL | Adult

Dark Lightning - John Varley

Dark Lightening by John Varley (Thunder and Lightening #4)

Known for “superior science fiction” (The Philadelphia Inquirer), author John Varley returns to his Thunder and Lightning series with a novel of how one man’s volatile genius could alter a starship’s epic plunge into a future where human survival is just a theory…

On a voyage to New Earth, the starship Rolling Thunder is powered by an energy no one understands, except for its eccentric inventor Jubal Broussard. Like many of the ship’s inhabitants, Jubal rests in a state of suspended animation for years at a time, asleep yet never aging.

The moments when Jubal emerges from suspended animation are usually a cause for celebration for his family, including his twin daughters—Cassie and Polly—and their uncle who is captain of the Rolling Thunder. But this time, Jubal makes a shocking announcement… The ship must stop, or everyone will die.

These words from the mission’s founder, the man responsible for the very existence of the Rolling Thunder, will send shock waves throughout the starship—and divide its passengers into those who believe and those who doubt. And it will be up to Cassie and Polly to stop a mutiny, discover the truth, and usher the ship into a new age of exploration…

Hardcover | 352  Pages | 5 Aug 2014 | Penguin/Ace | Adult

Omega Days - John L. Campbell

Omega Days by John L. Campbell

When the end came, it came quickly. No one knew where or exactly when the Omega Virus started, but soon it was everywhere. And when the ones spreading it can’t die, no one stands a chance of surviving.

San Francisco, California. Father Xavier Church has spent his life ministering to unfortunate souls, but he has never witnessed horror like this. After he forsakes his vows in the most heartrending of ways, he watches helplessly as a zombie nun takes a bite out of a fellow priest’s face…

University of California, Berkeley. Skye Dennison is moving into her college dorm for the first time, simultaneously excited to be leaving the nest and terrified to be on her own. When her mother and father are eaten alive in front of her, she realizes the terror has just begun…

Alameda, California. Angie West made millions off her family’s reality gun show on the History Channel. But after she is cornered by the swarming undead, her knowledge of heavy artillery is called into play like never before…

Within weeks, the world is overrun by the walking dead. Only the quick and the smart, the strong and the determined, will survive—for now.

Paperback | 368  Pages | 6 May 2014 | Penguin/Berkley | Adult

Dead Things - Stephen Blackmoore

Dead Things by Stephen Blackmoore

Necromancer is such an ugly word, but it’s a title Eric Carter is stuck with.

He sees ghosts, talks to the dead. He’s turned it into a lucrative career putting troublesome spirits to rest, sometimes taking on even more dangerous things. For a fee, of course.

When he left LA fifteen years ago, he thought he’d never go back. Too many bad memories. Too many people trying to kill him.

But now his sister’s been brutally murdered and Carter wants to find out why.

Was it the gangster looking to settle a score? The ghost of a mage he killed the night he left town? Maybe it’s the patron saint of violent death herself, Santa Muerte, who’s taken an unusually keen interest in him.

Carter’s going to find out who did it, and he’s going to make them pay.

As long as they don’t kill him first.

Mass Market Paperback | 256  Pages | 5 Feb 2013 | Penguin/DAW

Broken Souls - Stephen Blackmoore

Broken Souls by Stephen Blackmoore

Sister murdered, best friend dead, married to the patron saint of death, Santa Muerte. Necromancer Eric Carter’s return to Los Angeles hasn’t gone well, and it’s about to get even worse.

His link to the Aztec death goddess is changing his powers, changing him, and he’s not sure how far it will go. He’s starting to question his own sanity, wonder if he’s losing his mind. No mean feat for a guy who talks to the dead on a regular basis.

While searching for a way to break Santa Muerte’s hold over him, Carter finds himself the target of a psychopath who can steal anyone’s form, powers, and memories. Identity theft is one thing, but this guy does it by killing his victims and wearing their skins like a suit. He can be anyone. He can be anywhere.

Now Carter has to change the game — go from hunted to hunter. All he has for help is a Skid Row bruja and a ghost who’s either his dead friend Alex or the manifestation of Carter’s own guilt-fueled psychotic break.

Everything is trying to kill him. Nothing is as it seems. If all his plans go perfectly, he might survive the week.

He’s hoping that’s a good thing.

ARC Edition | 272  Pages | 5 Aug 2014 | Pengin/DAW

Koko Takes a Holiday - Kieran Shea

Koko Takes a Holiday by Kieran Shea

Five hundred years from now, ex-corporate mercenary Koko Martstellar is swaggering through an easy early retirement as a brothel owner on The Sixty Islands, a manufactured tropical resort archipelago known for its sex and simulated violence. Surrounded by slang-drooling boywhores and synthetic komodo dragons, Koko finds the most challenging part of her day might be deciding on her next drink. That is, until her old comrade Portia Delacompte sends a squad of security personnel to murder her.

Titan Books | Paperback | 336pp | 10 June 2014


Gold Digger - Frances Fyfield

Gold Digger by Francis Fyfield

From the British Gillian Flynn, a tense, twisting thriller about a young wife, a dying husband—and the family that comes between them . . .

In a vast house by the sea, a wealthy man lies dying. His young wife, Di, soon to be his sole heir, awaits the arrival of her in-laws, all of them bent on claiming an inheritance.

A pair of poisonous daughters, a merciless husband, a beguiling grandson—each has a scheme, each keeps a secret. And each has underestimated the widow Di, who is far more resourceful, and far more merciless, than the family could possibly suspect . . .

Humming with psychological suspense, packed with surprising twists, this high-voltage thriller is a mesmerizing game of cat and mouse.

Witness Impulse/Harper Collins|  07/15/2014 |  Paperback | Pages: 320

The Keeper - Luke Delaney

The Keeper by Luke Delaney (D.I. Sean Corrigan #2)

A damp, dark cellar holds two cages. And for the women behind the bars, their worst nightmares are about to come true . . .

When Louise Russell goes missing from her home, D.I. Sean Corrigan from South London's Murder Investigation Unit immediately senses foul play. For Corrigan's own dark childhood has given him the ability not only to recognize evil in those who prey upon the innocent, but also to see a crime scene from the eyes of the perpetrator.

Though Corrigan has no doubts that Louise was taken against her will, he believes she's still alive. But time is running out, especially when a body is found dumped in the woods—a woman who's a dead ringer for Louise. How long before Louise's captor gets tired of her and replaces her with another lookalike? How long before they find Louise's corpse next?

Now, in order to track a psychopath, Corrigan must place himself in the mind of a killer. For it is only there that the twisted secrets of a murderer lie.

Harper | 07/29/2014 | Paperback | Pages: 560 

The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of all Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed

In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.

Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.

Paperback | 512 Pages | 24 Jun 2014 | Penguin Books | Adult

2 AM at The Cat's Pajamas - Marie-Helene Bertino

2 A.M. at The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Berline

An enchanting and staggeringly original debut novel about one day in the lives of three unforgettable characters

Madeleine Altimari is a smart-mouthed, rebellious nine-year-old who also happens to be an aspiring jazz singer. Still mourning the recent death of her mother, and caring for her grief-stricken father, she doesn’t realize that on the eve of Christmas Eve she is about to have the most extraordinary day—and night—of her life. After bravely facing down mean-spirited classmates and rejection at school, Madeleine doggedly searches for Philadelphia's legendary jazz club The Cat's Pajamas, where she’s determined to make her on-stage debut. On the same day, her fifth grade teacher Sarina Greene, who’s just moved back to Philly after a divorce, is nervously looking forward to a dinner party that will reunite her with an old high school crush, afraid to hope that sparks might fly again. And across town at The Cat's Pajamas, club owner Lorca discovers that his beloved haunt may have to close forever, unless someone can find a way to quickly raise the $30,000 that would save it.

As these three lost souls search for love, music and hope on the snow-covered streets of Philadelphia, together they will discover life’s endless possibilities over the course of one magical night. A vivacious, charming and moving debut, 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas will capture your heart and have you laughing out loud.

ARC Edition | August 05, 2014 | Pages: 272 | Crown

Afro-Vegan - Bryant Terry

Afro-Vegan by Bryant Terry

African, Caribbean, and southern food are all known and loved as vibrant and flavor-packed cuisines. In Afro-Vegan, renowned chef and food justice activist Bryant Terry reworks and remixes the favorite staples, ingredients, and classic dishes of the African Diaspora to present wholly new, creative culinary combinations that will amaze vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores alike.

Blending these colorful cuisines results in delicious recipes like Smashed Potatoes, Peas, and Corn with Chile-Garlic Oil, a recipe inspired by the Kenyan dish irio, and Cinnamon-Soaked Wheat Berry Salad with dried apricots, carrots, and almonds, which is based on a Moroccan tagine. Creamy Coconut-Cashew Soup with Okra, Corn, and Tomatoes pays homage to a popular Brazilian dish while incorporating classic Southern ingredients, and Crispy Teff and Grit Cakes with Eggplant, Tomatoes, and Peanuts combines the Ethiopian grain teff with stone-ground corn grits from the Deep South and North African zalook dip. There’s perfect potluck fare, such as the simple, warming, and intensely flavored Collard Greens and Cabbage with Lots of Garlic, and the Caribbean-inspired Cocoa Spice  Cake with Crystallized Ginger and Coconut-Chocolate Ganache, plus a refreshing Roselle-Rooibos Drink that will satisfy any sweet tooth.

With more than 100 modern and delicious dishes that draw on Terry’s personal memories as well as the history of food that has traveled from the African continent, Afro-Vegan takes you on an international food journey. Accompanying the recipes are Terry’s insights about building community around food, along with suggested music tracks from around the world and book recommendations. For anyone interested in improving their well-being, Afro-Vegan’s groundbreaking recipes offer innovative, plant-based global cuisine that is fresh, healthy, and forges a new direction in vegan cooking.

Hardcover | April 08, 2014 | Pages: 224 | Ten Speed Press

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Giveaway: The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton

The Strange Maid - Tessa Gratton

We have one copy up for giveaway of The Strange Maid by Tessa Gratton for a US or Canadian resident.

It’s the second book in the planned five book series of the United States of Asgard series. It started with The Lost Sun which is now available in paperback. A young adult novel, for ages 12 years and older, that uses Norse myth as an element for its alternative North American fantasy setting.

Here’s what the publisher says about the book:

Fans of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, and Maggie Stiefvater will embrace the richly drawn, Norse-influenced alternate world of the United States of Asgard, where cell phones, rock bands, and evangelical preachers coexist with dragon slaying, rune casting, and sword training in schools. Where the president runs the country alongside a council of Valkyries, gods walk the red carpet with Hollywood starlets, and the U.S. military has a special battalion dedicated to eradicating Rocky Mountain trolls.

Signy Valborn was seven years old when she climbed the New World Tree and met Odin Alfather, who declared that if she could solve a single riddle, he would make her one of his Valkyrie. For ten years Signy has trained in the arts of war, politics, and leadership, never dreaming that a Greater Mountain Troll might hold the answer to the riddle, but that’s exactly what Ned the Spiritless promises her. A mysterious troll hunter who talks in riddles and ancient poetry, Ned is a hard man to trust. Unfortunately, Signy is running out of time. Accompanied by an outcast berserker named Soren Bearstar, she and Ned take off across the ice sheets of Canadia to hunt the mother of trolls and claim Signy’s destiny.

Random House | Hardbound | June 10, 2014 | Young Adult – ages 12 and up | Pages: 416

TESSA GRATTON has wanted to be a paleontologist or a wizard since she was seven. She was too impatient to hunt dinosaurs, but is still searching for someone to teach her magic. After traveling the world with her military family, she acquired a BA (and the important parts of an MA) in gender studies, and then settled down in Kansas with her partner, her cats, and her mutant dog. For more information, please visit

Please fill out the Google form to enter this contest.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Conversation with Deborah Harkness - author of The Book of Life

Deborah Harkness credit Marion Ettlinger

A CONVERSATION WITH DEBORAH HARKNESS, author of The Book of Life, which is to be published by Penguin on July 15th.

The Book of Life is the third book in a fantasy trilogy. The first two books are A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night.

This interview is courtesy of the publisher.

In your day job, you are a professor of history and science at the University of Southern California and have focused on alchemy in your research. What aspects of this intersection between science and magic do you hope readers will pick up on while reading THE BOOK OF LIFE? There’s quite a bit more lab work in this book!

There is. Welcome back to the present! What I hope readers come to appreciate is that science—past or present—is nothing more than a method for asking and answering questions about the world and our place in it. Once, some of those questions were answered alchemically. Today, they might be answered biochemically and genetically. In the future? Who knows. But Matthew is right in suggesting that there are really remarkably few scientific questions and we have been posing them for a very long time. Two of them are: who am I? why am I here?

The Book of Life - Deborah Harkness

Much of the conflict in the book seems to mirror issues of race and sexuality in our society, and there seems to be a definite moral conclusion to THE BOOK OF LIFE. Could you discuss this? Do you find that a strength of fantasy novels is their ability to not only to allow readers to escape, but to also challenge them to fact important moral issues?

Human beings like to sort and categorize. We have done this since the beginnings of recorded history, and probably well back beyond that point. One of the most common ways to do that is to group things that are “alike” and things that are “different.” Often, we fear what is not like us. Many of the world’s ills have stemmed from someone (or a group of someones) deciding what is different is also dangerous. Witches, women, people of color, people of different faiths, people of different sexual orientations—all have been targets of this process of singling others out and labeling them different and therefore undesirable. Like my interest in exploring what a family is, the issue of difference and respect for difference (rather than fear) informed every page of the All Souls Trilogy. And yes, I do think that dealing with fantastic creatures like daemons, vampires, and witches rather than confronting issues of race or sexuality directly can enable readers to think through these issues in a useful way and perhaps come to different conclusions about members of their own families and communities. As I often say when people ask me why supernatural creatures are so popular these days: witches and vampires are monsters to think with.

From the moment Matthew and a pregnant Diana arrive back at Sept-Tours and reinstate themselves back into a sprawling family of witches and vampires, it becomes clear that the meaning of family will be an important idea for THE BOOK OF LIFE. How does this unify the whole series? Did you draw on your own life?

Since time immemorial the family has been an important way for people to organize themselves in the world. In the past, the “traditional” family was a sprawling and blended unit that embraced immediate relatives, in-laws and their immediate families, servants, orphaned children, the children your partner might bring into a family from a previous relationship, and other dependents. Marriage was an equally flexible and elastic concept in many places and times. Given how old my vampires are, and the fact that witches are the keepers of tradition, I wanted to explore from the very first page of the series the truly traditional basis of family: unqualified love and mutual responsibility. That is certainly the meaning of family that my parents taught me.

While there are entire genres devoted to stories of witches, vampires, and ghosts, the idea of a weaver – a witch who weaves original spells – feels very unique to THE BOOK OF LIFE. What resources helped you gain inspiration for Diana’s uniqueness?

Believe it or not, my inspiration for weaving came from a branch of mathematics called topology. I became intrigued by mathematical theories of mutability to go along with my alchemical theories of mutability and change. Topology is a mathematical study of shapes and spaces that theorizes how far something can be stretched or twisted without breaking. You could say it’s a mathematical theory of connectivity and continuity (two familiar themes to any reader of the All Souls Trilogy). I wondered if I could come up with a theory of magic that could be comfortably contained within mathematics, one in which magic could be seen to shape and twist reality without breaking it. I used fabric as a metaphor for this worldview with threads and colors shaping human perceptions. Weavers became the witches who were talented at seeing and manipulating the underlying fabric. In topology, mathematicians study knots—unbreakable knots with their ends fused together that can be twisted and shaped. Soon the mathematics and mechanics of Diana’s magic came into focus.

A Discovery of Witches debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and Shadow of Night debuted at #1. What has been your reaction to the outpouring of love for the All Souls Trilogy? Was it surprising how taken fans were with Diana and Matthew’s story?

A Discovery of Witches - Deborah Harkness

A. It has been amazing—and a bit overwhelming. I was surprised by how quickly readers embraced two central characters who have a considerable number of quirks and challenge our typical notion of what a heroine or hero should be. And I continue to be amazed whenever a new reader pops up, whether one in the US or somewhere like Finland or Japan—to tell me how much they enjoyed being caught up in the world of the Bishops and de Clemonts. Sometimes when I meet readers they ask me how their friends are doing—meaning Diana, or Matthew, or Miriam. That’s an extraordinary experience for a writer.

Diana and Matthew, once again, move around to quite a number of locations in THE BOOK OF LIFE, including New Haven, New Orleans, and a few of our favorite old haunts like Oxford, Madison, and Sept-Tours. What inspired you to place your characters in these locations? Have you visited them yourself?

As a writer, I really need to experience the places I write about in my books. I want to know what it smells like, how the air feels when it changes direction, the way the sunlight strikes the windowsill in the morning, the sound of birds and insects. Not every writer may require this, but I do. So I spent time not only in New Haven but undertaking research at the Beinecke Library so that I could understand the rhythms of Diana’s day there. I visited New Orleans several times to imagine my vampires into them. All of the locations I pick are steeped in history and stories about past inhabitants—perfect fuel for any writer’s creative fire.

A Shadow of Night - Deborah Harkness

Did you know back when you wrote A Discovery of Witches how the story would conclude in THE BOOK OF LIFE? Did the direction change once you began the writing process?

I knew how the trilogy would end, but I didn’t know exactly how we would get there. The story was well thought out through the beginning of what became The Book of Life, but the chunk between that beginning and the ending (which is as I envisioned it) did change. In part that was because what I had sketched out was too ambitious and complicated—the perils of being not only a first-time trilogy writer but also a first time author. It was very important to me that I resolve and tie up all the threads already in the story so readers had a satisfying conclusion. Early in the writing of The Book of Life it became clear that this wasn’t going to give me much time to introduce new characters or plot twists. I now understand why so many trilogies have four, five, six—or more—books in them. Finishing the trilogy as a trilogy required a lot of determination and a very thick pair of blinders as I left behind characters and story lines that would take me too far from the central story of Diana, Matthew, and the Book of Life.

A Discovery of Witches begins with Diana Bishop stumbling across a lost, enchanted manuscript called Ashmole 782 in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and the secrets contained in the manuscript are at long last revealed in THE BOOK OF LIFE. You had a similar experience while you were completing your dissertation. What was the story behind your discovery? And how did it inspire the creation of these novels?

I did discover a manuscript—not an enchanted one, alas—in the Bodleian Library. It was a manuscript owned by Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer, the mathematician and alchemist John Dee. In the 1570s and 1580s he became interested in using a crystal ball to talk to angels. The angels gave him all kinds of instructions on how to manage his life at home, his work—they even told him to pack up his family and belongings and go to far-away Poland and Prague. In the conversations, Dee asked the angels about a mysterious book in his library called “the Book of Soyga” or “Aldaraia.” No one had ever been able to find it, even though many of Dee’s other books survive in libraries throughout the world. In the summer of 1994 I was spending time in Oxford between finishing my doctorate and starting my first job. It was a wonderfully creative time, since I had no deadlines to worry about and my dissertation on Dee’s angel conversations was complete. As with most discoveries, this discovery of a “lost” manuscript was entirely accidental. I was looking for something else in the Bodleian’s catalogue and in the upper corner of the page was a reference to a book called “Aldaraia.” I knew it couldn’t be Dee’s book, but I called it up anyway. And it turned out it WAS the book (or at least a copy of it). With the help of the Bodleian’s Keeper of Rare Books, I located another copy in the British Library.

Are there other lost books like this in the world?

Absolutely! Entire books have been written about famous lost volumes—including works by Plato, Aristotle, and Shakespeare to name just a few. Libraries are full of such treasures, some of them unrecognized and others simply misfiled or mislabeled. And we find lost books outside of libraries, too. In January 2006, a completely unknown manuscript belonging to one of the 17th century’s most prominent scientists, Robert Hooke, was discovered when someone was having the contents of their house valued for auction. The manuscript included minutes of early Royal Society meetings that we presumed were lost forever.

Shadow of Night and A Discovery of Witches have often been compared to young adult fantasy like Twilight, with the caveat that this series is for adults interested in history, science, and academics. Unlike Bella and Edward, Matthew and Diana are card-carrying members of academia who meet in the library of one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Are these characters based on something you found missing in the fantasy genre?

There are a lot of adults reading young adult books, and for good reason. Authors who specialize in the young adult market are writing original, compelling stories that can make even the most cynical grownups believe in magic. In writing A Discovery of Witches, I wanted to give adult readers a world no less magical, no less surprising and delightful, but one that included grown-up concerns and activities. These are not your children’s vampires and witches.

Deborah Harkness is the number one New York Times bestselling author of A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night. A history professor at the University of Southern California, Harkness has received Fulbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center fellowships. Her publications include works on the history of science, magic, and alchemy. Her most recent scholarly book is The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. She lives in Los Angeles.  @debharkness

Hardcover | 576 Pages | 15 Jul 2014 | Viking Books

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Review: The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh

The Weight of Blood - Laura McHugh

A review by Shellie for The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh.

Shellie’s quick take:   An atmospheric mystery with a moody setting that questions the connections behind a missing mother and a murder.

Shellie’s description:   Set in the Ozark mountains, the story starts with a local photographer discovering the mutilated body of a mentally disabled young women at the base of a tree. Just eighteen years old, Cheri’s death disturbs the small close-knit community and particularly Lucy, who was a friend to Cheri and whose mother had gone missing when she was a small child. In the back of Lucy’s mind she cannot help but connect the two losses and becomes determined to find out more about both. What this determined young woman finds is disturbing and unexpected.

A convoluted, dark, coming-of-age story that is told in alternating chapters from the main character Lucy and her mother Lila, while also bringing in the perspective of the other key characters from the story as the book progresses. It unfolds piece by piece, slowly revealing what happened, with a shocking ending that questions the strength of the bonds between family members.

Shellie’s thoughts:   The story has the perfect setting for a thrilling read. It’s a place with forested land and a large cave with a dangerous passageway that plays a significant part in the story. The small close-knit community that does not take well to strangers also contributes to the isolation and dark feeling that pervades the novel.

An excellent and accessible read with writing that flows, this is for the reader who likes thrilling stories that keep you guessing and engaged. It’s for readers who enjoy realistic settings since it does not contain any paranormal elements. And it’s definitely for fans of horror, as it has violent scenes as well as a variety of other mature themes. So it’s not for sensitive readers. And if you enjoy themes that highlights human darkness then this will be a great book for you.

Conversely, there is a small amount of romance which lightens the story a tad. And with it’s spunky 17 year old main character it will appeal to readers who like feisty female leads. The story will speak to women in particular since most of the main characters are female and it also addresses women’s issues. But I think many men will enjoy it too. This is a recommended read and a great debut from a promising new author who is one to watch out for. Highly recommended at 4 stars.

Random House | ARC Edition | 320 pages | March 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review: Baudelaire’s Revenge by Bob Van Laerhoven

Baudelaire's Revenge - Bob Van Laerhoven

Review by John for Baudelaire's Revenge by Bob Van Laerhoven (translated by Brian Doyle.)

John’s quick take:  A complex literary crime novel, based in 19th century France and revolving around the life, death and relationships of controversial poet Charles Baudelaire.

John’s description:   It is 1870 and the Franco-Prussian war is not going well for France – the Prussians are advancing on Paris while many of the French population are close to starving. The aristocracy behaves as if nothing is wrong and seems oblivious to the plight of the working classes; the French capital becomes a hotbed of discontent. Against this backdrop, a man is murdered in a brothel and Commissioner Lefèvre is called in to investigate. Lefèvre, who has a colorful past including a bloody stint in the French army, is himself no stranger to the Parisian brothels.

The Commissioner, who is a lover of poetry, finds on the body a handwritten verse from a poem by Charles Baudelaire which appears to have been written by the poet himself, though Baudelaire has been dead for some time now. Lefèvre and his right-hand man, Inspector Bouveroux, are soon embroiled in a series of grisly murders that all seem to point to the dead poet or to someone who must have been very close to him. As Paris is drawn ever closer to anarchy and chaos and the two policemen seek clues in the darkest corners of the capital, they find themselves in grave danger.

John’s thoughts:  This is a clever story with an unusual plot and a cast of complex and well-developed characters. It keeps you guessing right up to the last page and in truth it still had me scratching my head long after I’d read the last page. A simple and easy read it is not.

In reading the book I learnt quite a bit about 19th century French history and also about French literature of that period – the former interested me a lot, the latter not so much. This is a reflection on me rather than the novel, as poetry and most of the associated literary circles leave me rather cold. Consequently I did find the first half of the novel slightly heavy going and had difficulty reading more than 20 pages at a time, but once I got beyond that things went much more smoothly and overall I did enjoy the read.

Putting the historical and literary connections to one side, this is actually a smart and extremely dark crime novel. You get to visit the underbelly of society and meet some gloriously twisted characters. This is not a simple whodunit.

If you like dark historical crime novels with a literary twist then you will love this book - I am sure that many reviewers will rave over it. It didn’t quite hit the mark for me personally but I’d still rate it 3.5 stars. And I do find that my mind keeps wandering back to the story which says a lot for it (the book that is, not my mind!)

Hardcover | 04/15/14 | Pegasus | 256 pages

Baudelaire's Revenge_Tour Banner_FINAL

This review is part of a blog tour. Link on the above badge to visit the dedicated page of our tour host which has links to other reviews, interviews, and giveaways for the book.

Publisher’s blurb for Baudelaire’s Revenge:   It is 1870, and Paris is in turmoil.

As the social and political turbulence of the Franco-Prussian War roils the city, workers starve to death while aristocrats seek refuge in orgies and seances. The Parisians are trapped like rats in their beautiful city but a series of gruesome murders captures their fascination and distracts them from the realities of war. The killer leaves lines from the recently deceased Charles Baudelaire’s controversial anthology Les Fleurs du Mal on each corpse, written in the poet’s exact handwriting. Commissioner Lefevre, a lover of poetry and a veteran of the Algerian war, is on the case, and his investigation is a thrilling, intoxicating journey into the sinister side of human nature, bringing to mind the brooding and tense atmosphere of Patrick Susskind’s Perfume. Did Baudelaire rise from the grave? Did he truly die in the first place? The plot dramatically appears to extend as far as the court of the Emperor Napoleon III.

A vivid, intelligent, and intense historical crime novel that offers up some shocking revelations about sexual mores in 19th century France, this superb mystery illuminates the shadow life of one of the greatest names in poetry.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Giveaway: Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch

TOMORROW AND TOMORROW - Thomas Sweterlitsch

We have one copy of Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch for a US or Canadian address. This giveaway is also part of the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop which is live from July 2nd to 9th.  Please see below for more information about the hop.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a futuristic and technological noir thriller which is about to be published by Penguin.

Here’s the publisher’s blurb for the book:

A decade has passed since the city of Pittsburgh was reduced to ash.

While the rest of the world has moved on, losing itself in the noise of a media-glutted future, survivor John Dominic Blaxton remains obsessed with the past. Grieving for his wife and unborn child who perished in the blast, Dominic relives his lost life by immersing in the Archive—a fully interactive digital reconstruction of Pittsburgh, accessible to anyone who wants to visit the places they remember and the people they loved.

Dominic investigates deaths recorded in the Archive to help close cases long since grown cold, but when he discovers glitches in the code surrounding a crime scene—the body of a beautiful woman abandoned in a muddy park that he’s convinced someone tried to delete from the Archive—his cycle of grief is shattered.

With nothing left to lose, Dominic tracks the murder through a web of deceit that takes him from the darkest corners of the Archive to the ruins of the city itself, leading him into the heart of a nightmare more horrific than anything he could have imagined.

Hardcover | 352 Pages | 10 Jul 2014 | G.P. Putnam’s Sons | Adult


And in honor of Independence Day for the US we have the Freedom to Read Giveaway Hop hosted by I Am A Reader Not A Writer and Book Hounds (link to our host’s site by clicking on the badge to the right.)

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