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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Forsaken By the Others by Jess Haines

I had the great good fortune to read an advance copy of the latest book in Jess Haines H&W Investigations series recently. If you've ever hesitated to check out Urban Fantasy as a genre, I wrote a post (just scroll back, I don't blog that often) in December about why you should give it a go.

The H&W series, as a whole, has become increasingly tense and exciting as the books have progressed and while Haines is strong writer all the way though, I feel that in the third book she found her stride and has been steadily upping the pace ever since (FbtO will be the fifth in the series when it releases in July). Simply put: this series just keeps getting better.

The book opens on the morning after. The morning after Shiarra Waynest almost died throwing herself at a frantic (and likely misguided) effort to wipe out "Others" (non-humans like vampires, mages, werewolves and so on) she perceives to be a threat to her well-being. The morning after she loses a magical artifact that almost destroyed her as she grew to rely on its power. The morning after some serious between-the-sheets action with someone she's not so sure about now. Shiarra's problems seem to be laid out in front of her: Bad decisions, questionable associates, relationships. But Royce, the vampire who has been her boss, her enemy, her target and more recently maybe something else, has news. Shiarra's problems are really just beginning; Royce has some pretty powerful enemies and they're headed straight for Ms Waynest.

Trying to head off danger, Royce sends Shiarra and her sleuthing partner Sara off to the other side of the country to stay with Clyde Seabreze, who is ostensibly an ally of Royce's. I don't think I'm giving too much away to tell you that Clyde is not such a great guy. Now Sara and Shiarra need to keep Clyde happy, solve some local issues in LA and try to keep themselves in one piece while Royce sorts out his problems. Of course nothing is easy when humans get mixed up in Others business, and Clyde's got enemies of his own that create big problems for Sara and Shiarra. So the ladies are off on another job, in unfamiliar territory, with no reliable allies and with Sara harboring a terrible secret she won't even share with her business partner. Did I mention that there are zombies? There are zombies. What else do you need to know?

If you haven't caught up on the first four books in the series, now is the time to grab them from your local indie bookseller. If you're eagerly awaiting book five, I promise you it will not disappoint, and will leave you desperate to read book 6. (Which isn't written yet...the wait may kill me).

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Big Reveal - New Jess Haines H&W Investigations cover!

I'm still getting the hang of this book blogger thing (I have decided that running an entire bookstore is easier than this). So today I embark on a new facet of blogging...a cover reveal.

You've already seen my blog about Jess Haines' H&W Investigations series and how it got me over my fear of Urban Fantasy. Well, like everyone following the series I'm absurdly excited to get to the fifth book, and while I (and the rest of you) have to wait until this summer, we can look at the new cover and check out the synopsis right now!

Here's the cover art and back cover blurb for Forsaken By the Others:

The Others--vampires, werewolves, things that go chomp in the night--don't just live in nightmares anymore. They've joined with he mortal world. And for private investigator Shiarra Waynest, that means mayhem...
Have a one night stand with a vampire, and you can end up paying for it for eternity. P.I. Shiarra Waynest, an expert on the Others, knows that better than most. Yet here she is, waking up beside charismatic vamp Alec Royce with an aching head...and neck. Luckily, Shia has the perfect excuse for getting out of town--namely, a couple of irate East Coast werewolf packs who'd like to turn her into a chew toy.

On Royce's suggestion, Shia temporarily relocates to Los Angeles. But something is rotten--literally--in the state of California, where local vampires are being attacked by zombies. Who could be powerful enough to control them--and reckless enough to target the immortal? Following the trail will lead Shia to a terrifying truth, and to an ancient enemy with a personal grudge...

 AND...a book giveaway you can enter...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And finally, for MORE chances to win cool things and for all kinds of information directly from Jess Haines, you can always check out her website HERE.

Happy Reading folks!!

Monday, January 7, 2013

H&W Investigations or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Urban Fantasy

It's only fair to admit I have (or rather HAD) a horrible prejudice against the Urban Fantasy genre.  My only experience with the genre was being forced by a really pushy roommate to read the first four books in a certain series, and while this particular series is really popular (no, I won't mention it by name here) I hated it with the fire of a thousand suns. So many people were baffled by my dislike of these books, and so many people insisted that this was the pinnacle of the genre, I just gave up right there. And so it was with profound trepidation (and excitement) that I picked up Jess Haines' books.

But woah! Hunted by the Others was funny and it was feisty, and five minutes after I finished it I was desperate to read the next one. Shiarra Waynest is a PI in a world where vampires, mages and were-creatures are living among humans. Humans and Others don't always mix well, and like a KKK for Other-haters a group called The White Hats openly opposes (and slightly less openly kills) anything non-human. Shiarra and her partner's PI agency isn't bringing in the kind of money they need, and so they reluctantly take a case involving Others. Almost instantly Shiarra realizes she's stuck in the middle of something bad, messy and way over her pay grade. She's already had her own tangles with Others in her personal life (her ex-boyfriend "wolfed out" on her after an intimate encounter, prompting their break up) and now she's got a high-profile (and yes, dead sexy) vampire to deal with as well as a bunch of angry White Hats, some mages and a pack of weres.

Shiarra is a great character: she's strong, but flawed (especially in the fourth book where she really falls to pieces for various interesting reasons I refuse to divulge) and she has a stubborn streak that is endearing and never over-the-top. The Others are equally interesting, and while there's not a lot of untrod ground in the Werewolf/ Vampire/ Human relationship, the human/Other relationships in this series have some unexpected twists and turns, largely related to the fact that Shiarra isn't hopping from coffin to coffin. I'm no prude but it's really nice to see a lady who can keep it in her metaphorical pants even when the supernatural lotharios are swarming her. I'm also a sucker for a good enchanted weapon of epic power, and I was delighted to see one pop up right away: a slayer's belt complete with stakes and  the soul of a warrior to give helpful tips.

I can't say I don't like Urban Fantasy anymore (I was also just reminded that The Dresden Files is considered UF as well, and I read those with delight) and I can't say that I'm tired of the Vamp/ Were/ Human tropes out there, because obviously I just needed to read someone who could do it this well. By the time I hit the end of the third book and realized the fourth was locked in my bookstore until Monday morning  I was so hooked I started calculating the time I'd need to make it to the store and back before the buses stopped running for the night. By the time I hit the end of the fourth book (which was the most satisfying and interesting so far) I was reading the excerpt for the next book and that's something I *never* do because reading five pages of a novel that's due out in six months is just pointless torture.

So I'm a convert! And since Jess is exceedingly nice to bloggers, I'll probably be able to share some cool stuff with you before the release of the next book, like the cover art. Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dark Muse by Dave Smith

People don't live, only stories live. 

So reads the tagline of the scariest book I've read in a really, really long time. An unpublished writer is creating stories so vivid that everyone who reads them is moved profoundly. He's sending manuscripts to Jack, an editor who desperately wants to publish them, and to be the person who "discovered" this talent. But the writer has strange demands. He doesn't want to just be published, he needs to know if Jack is the right guy, if Jack can be trusted. And there's more...the writer is destroying a life to create each story. Because people don't live, only stories live. And if Jack wants to publish this daring new literary voice, he's going to have to make a few...sacrifices...of his own.

If you like your horror dripping with blood, you'll be well-satisfied, but if you like your horror to have a literary edge, you'll be similarly happy. It's a slim volume and I was fooled into thinking it wouldn't be too intense when I sat down to read it. Then I had two nights worth of nightmares to prove me wrong. 

What's so scary about this book? The premise is fairly disturbing on its own, a writer who kills so his stories can live. But the one-sentence blurb doesn't really do justice to what's going on in this book. This is masterful storytelling, the kind that gets deep into your bones like a bad chill and then stays there. I'm getting the creeps just writing this book review and thinking about the book, and I read it over a month ago. Smith takes his time spinning the story, and on top of even pacing is strong dialogue and believable characters. What's scary is that the whole thing is so damn possible, there's no leap of disbelief to make as a reader. In a time of "found footage" horror films and "reality" TV it's refreshing to see an author using a traditional format to scare the pants off his readers. No gimmicks, just a terrifying read.

We'll have copies for sale at Eljay's very soon, and you can come meet Dave (who is flying into Pittsburgh for two hours just for this event!!) On January 19th at 11am.

Sorry I don't have better cover art folks, I had to crib this from the poster I have advertising Dave's signing in my store (Saturday, January 19th at 11am).

The Wheel of Time: A Memory of Light - Not a review!

I will post a review of the book after I've read it (the release isn't until Tuesday) but in the meantime I want to share one of my favorite Wheel Of Time-related memories.

By the time Robert Jordan passed away I'd been reading the WoT series for almost ten years. I think most of us in the fan base knew that Mr. Jordan wasn't going to finish the series, and most of us were worried about who would complete it. There were rumors of different authors that had been tapped, rumors of family members who planned to finish it, rumors that it would never be completed.

Meanwhile, I had been reading books by a fairly new writer: Brandon Sanderson. He'd put out a fantastic novel called Elantris, and the beginning of a trilogy: Mistborn. He'd been gracious enough to put together some great discussion questions for my book club, and to answer our lengthy questions. We'd struck up an email friendship and I was really impressed with him. Not only was his writing strong, I thought he was a supremely decent guy. So a little voice in my head kept repeating "Wouldn't it be great if they picked Brandon to finish WoT?" But who would pick a relative unknown to pilot this 10+ volume behemoth of a series to its finish?

It turns out, Robert Jordan's widow (and editor) Harriett and the fine folks at Tor knew exactly what they were doing. The announcement came on the day I was preparing Joseph-Beth Bookellers, Pittsburgh to welcome Brandon for a signing. Our office phones started ringing, my email alerts starting going off and then I was simultaneously bouncing in my chair and trying to re-work all our in-store signage to reflect this amazing news.

When Brandon got to the store he had this backpack with him. One of the first things he told me was that he'd left his GPS charger somewhere and almost didn't make it to my store. Then he told me that his laptop wasn't with him because he'd left it in the bins they give you for your personal items at airport security. He'd been forced to call his wife and ask her to drive to the airport and retrieve it for him. He had a death grip on this backpack when we left the store to grab dinner.

At dinner Brandon explained that the backpack was full of written and audiotaped notes from Mr Jordan. He'd written outlines and when he was no longer able to write he'd recorded his thoughts to tape. And Brandon had all of this, plus his own notes on the series, all in this backpack. And I kept thinking about that GPS charger, and the laptop. And from that moment on I was watching that backpack like a hawk. All I could think was "If that thing gets lost in my store I'm going to be the bookseller who wrecked Wheel of Time."

It's been a few years now, since that amazing day. Brandon's got a few more books under his belt (all exceptional. If you haven't read his work outside of WoT you really should). My Jo-Beth store is long gone, but I own my own bookshop now and Sci-Fi/ Fantasy is our mainstay. The whole world knows Brandon's name now, and I don't think it's going too far to say that his skill had revitalized the WoT series beyond what many of us thought would be possible. I can't wait to read the final chapters of this epic series along with the rest of the world. And as I'm reading the 14th book, I will carry a mental snapshot in my head of this young guy with a *really* tight grip on a backpack.

Friday, December 14, 2012

On shootings and pain and judgement

I heard about the shooting a few hours after it happened. I was at work, I was busy. Very busy. As so, at first, I was fine. I was chatting with customers, most of whom hadn't heard anything about it. I was running internet orders, I was pricing books.

But we slowed down around lunchtime, and then I got to reading and I got to thinking. I read about the prayers of my friends with children who were still in school. I read the quotes on Twitter from various political pundits about the need for a national conversation on gun control. I read commentary and then scrolled to the top of the news site to watch the death count rising. I saw the first announcements that many, many children were dead.  I felt pain. And then customers and more orders flowed in and again, I was more or less fine.

And again, as dinner time rolled in and business slowed I got back to reading. More prayers, more news, a death far away from the school in the same incident, more calls for gun control. The President cried as he spoke and Mike Huckabee explained that this was the fault of those who took God from school. As if God wasn't everywhere in everything. As if we humans could just "take him out" of a place. As if God wasn't there with every single person who walked away from the horrific scene today. The media was offering interviews with 8 year-olds who had been inside the school. I was revolted.

My work for the day was, by now, completely done. Clean store, priced books, no mail to answer. So I started really digging into the social sites I frequent. I wanted to say something to express my horror. I wanted to talk about how gun violence inside schools has killed a stunning number of children since the 1800's (you can research this at Wikipedia by typing school shootings into the search bar, but I really don't recommend you do it today). I wanted to ask my friends who love their guns so much if it's worth it to be able to shoot at animals and cans in exchange for this. I wanted to express my profound rage at Gov. Huckabee's shameful comments. But I sat there typing long, angry screeds and erasing them over and over.
Because as I was reading and typing and researching and thinking I started to notice this OTHER type of post coming up: the kind where a person would complain about how others were responding on social media to this tragedy and then criticize that response. And of everything wrong with today, this is the one thing I feel completely qualified to speak to. Everything else has overwhelmed me utterly, but this one thing, I can talk about. So I erased my comments on gun control and my comments on Mike Huckabee (well, some of those got un-erased later) and I just posted this:

Having written and erased about ten posts here, I'm just going to keep the majority of my thoughts inside and go with this:

Process your pain in the way you need to but don't judge how anyone else processes theirs. Some people need to talk a lot and loudly. Some people need to rage angrily and say things they don't mean. Some people will cry silently and hold their loved ones close. Some will curl up under a blanket and stay as still as possible. Some will celebrate their own life by being outrageously loud and happy at their own survival. Some people will simply act as if nothing is happening. They will go about their day and not say a word, not behave a hair differently than they would any other day. This is not only a normal response, it is a healthy way to process something of this scope. Sometimes the brain needs time to absorb what has happened. But please don't shame people for not acting the way you think they should. Our entire country just suffered a violent, shocking, un-endurable loss. And we are all trying to figure out how exactly we can endure that. And we're all going to do that differently.

I'm not talking about the media, shaking their microphones in the faces of 8 year old victims, and I'm definitely not talking about Mike Huckabee who is simply an appalling, opportunistic jackass masquerading as a man of God. I'm talking about all the people here and everywhere else on the internet and in our daily lives. On top of all my pain at seeing the behavior of the media and the politicians, my pain in the thought that a very troubled person killed members of his family and at least 20 children and my rage at the thought that this is what it takes for people to start yelling about gun control, I can't take seeing another post on Twitter/ tumblr/ Facebook that criticizes the way another person is behaving today. As if there is a right response, as if we all get a little card that says "in case of the mass shooting of babies, do XXX". Just let each other be, hold each other close, whatever each of us needs, let's just be that for each other today and let all the rest of it fall away for a bit.

And whatever knee-jerk reaction I have to every person who is blithely posting pictures of their cats and promoting their self-published books, I'm going to go try to follow my own advice now. For anyone reading, I'm glad you are safe. I hope your families and your friends are safe. Stay safe, stay sane and grieve in your own way. I hope we all find peace in one way or another.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Lunatic Heroes by C Anthony Martignetti

It was a strange road that led me to this book. An author I very much admire married a musician I'd never heard of. Upon listening to her music I found out that (1) I had wasted years of my life not listening to her (her music is a part of my daily life now) and that (2) she was an excellent source of suggestions for really good art of all kinds. So when admired author and beloved musician both said "you should check this book out" I decided it was probably a good idea.

I don't like memoirs. I've been known to read the odd memoir from a Hollywood writer/actor I enjoy, but really only the funny ones. (So I've read memoirs by Alan Alda, Bob Newhart, Charles Grodin and the sort-of memoir from Tina Fey and that's about it) If there's soul searching, pain, truth or anything approaching real feelings (I'm looking at you Alda, how dare you make me cry about your dog???) I move on. And since most memoirs have a heaping dose of adversity and life-pain, I skip the whole genre.

My opinion on memoirs hasn't changed, but Lunatic Heroes was worth the bending of my personal reading policy.  Instead of the more traditional format of vignettes that work together to form a cohesive timeline, Martignetti is simply telling you some stories. They feature some of the same characters and a few recurring themes, but this is really a collection of stories that also just happen to be true, and happen to be about Martignetti's childhood and family.

I loved this book. I loved that it's very intimately written, as if the author was sitting across from you in a bar, fiddling with his beer and saying "...that reminds me of this time...". I love that Martignetti is able to share these stories full of love and fear and pain (often all three at once) without a shred of judgement. Not that the child whose eyes took all these people and stories in didn't have an opinion on the world around him, but that he, the adult, isn't trying to force the reader to draw a final conclusion on any of it. Martignetti's stories, his childhood, and life in general is messy. Sloppy and complicated and smelly and sometimes very, very unpleasant  But every single story in the book is suffused with love: love of family, love of books, love of life. Fair warning, it's at minimum, a 3-hanky book. The pain, and the fear sensitive children go through is so present, so close to the surface in this book, it's hard not to look away. But it's gorgeous, messy life, and in that aspect, this book is perfect.

If you like memoirs, you'll absolutely have to check this one out, and if you don't like memoirs, I think you'll be doing yourself a favor to check it out anyway.

You can also head over to Anthony's Facebook page to leave him comments when you're done reading: https://www.facebook.com/camstories?fref=ts

As always, thanks for reading and have a happy Thanksgiving!