Thursday, May 28, 2015

Review: The Sound of Glass by Karen White

The Sound of Glass
by Karen White
Release Date: May 12, 2015
2015 NAL
Ebook Edition; 432 Pages
ISBN: 978-0451470898
ASIN: B00OQSF6EW
Genre: Fiction / Contemporary
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Summary
It has been two years since the death of Merritt Heyward’s husband, Cal, when she receives unexpected news—Cal’s family home in Beaufort, South Carolina, bequeathed by Cal’s reclusive grandmother, now belongs to Merritt.

Charting the course of an uncertain life—and feeling guilt from her husband’s tragic death—Merritt travels from her home in Maine to Beaufort, where the secrets of Cal’s unspoken-of past reside among the pluff mud and jasmine of the ancestral Heyward home on the Bluff. This unknown legacy, now Merritt’s, will change and define her as she navigates her new life—a new life complicated by the arrival of her too young stepmother and ten-year-old half-brother.

Soon, in this house of strangers, Merritt is forced into unraveling the Heyward family past as she faces her own fears and finds the healing she needs in the salt air of the Low Country.


My Thoughts
The Sound of Glass pretty much captured my attention from beginning to end; I just really enjoyed that southern South Carolina charm and thought the intertwining relationships and issues were quite believable and enjoyable.  

Merritt is one of those characters whom I actually disliked at the beginning as she was cold, prickly, and just not very nice.  Having come to South Carolina from Maine to check out an inheritance that was left to her husband, she discovered that a change of scene was good for her after his sudden death two years before.  As neither Merritt nor her husband discussed their previous lives, in a some wounds were better left unopened type of a deal, she did not realize that he had family in South Carolina, a grandmother and a brother, who closely resembled him.  Looking at her new home as a refuge, learning her new home came with family left her confused and unsure how to deal with the situation.  Furthermore, her stepmother, only five years her senior, showed up on her doorstep, with her son, Merritt's younger brother, intending to stay permanently.  While I definitely understood Merritt's confusion and disgruntlement, I definitely did not agree with how she handled the situation, and this was why she did not endear herself to me in the beginning.  The new stepmother was a bit much to take as well, although I did love her mommy-isms and her sayings as they were kind of interesting, if rather annoying at times.  

There was a lot of comparisons between Maine and South Carolina, with perhaps Maine coming up a bit short at times, so I did like it when the author mentioned Maine's icy beauties and other advantages to living there; I have been to both states and I definitely have seen beautiful places in both.  I do have to agree with Merritt on one thing though, I don't know how anyone can handle the heat in South Carolina.  

There were a lot of underlying messages in this novel though and some rather deep themes.  Spousal abuse, mental abuse, and physical abuse were main themes in this novel, and the lengths to which some people will go to in order to get out of difficult situations.  Dangerous secrets is another theme, and how the withholding of secrets can lead to much greater problems down the road for people, and the destruction of entire lives for others.  The south, mansion, and gothic are words that just seem to belong together and when you throw in a secret, it certainly doesn't take much to get my attention after that.  Told in alternating POV, we learn Merritt's secret as well as Edith's and the effect this had on Merritt's husband as well as on other characters who appear in the novel.  

Verdict
The Sound of Glass was an enjoyable read and I definitely loved the atmosphere in this novel.  Merritt grew on me as the novel developed and I learned to like her very much, especially as she opened up and learned to trust those around her.  Despite her over the top personality, I also really liked Loralee, and thought she would be a fun, if exhausting, person to be around.  I wouldn't call the plane crash scenario at the beginning of the novel a mystery though, as it seemed to be more of a puzzle that kind of drew the characters together and made you realize how small a world it really is out there.  While the novel moved a bit slowly, I rather liked that as I guess I was in the mood for something not overly in-depth, but still had a bit of a serious side to it. 
Monday, May 25, 2015

Book Excerpt and Giveaway: A Twist of Fortune by Mike Martin



About the Author

Mike Martin was born in Newfoundland on the East Coast of Canada 
and now lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario. He is a longtime freelance writer and his articles and essays have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online across Canada as well as in the United States and New Zealand. He is the author of Change the Things You Can: Dealing with Difficult People and has written a number of short stories that have published in various publications including Canadian Stories and Downhome magazine.

The Walker on the Cape was his first full fiction book and the premiere of the Sgt. Windflower Mystery Series. The Body on the T was the second book, Beneath the Surface is the third installment and A Twist of Fortune is the newest book in the series.

He is a member of Ottawa Independent Writers, Capital Crime Writers, the Crime Writers of Canada and the Newfoundland Writers’ Guild.
For More Information

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Spotlight: Phoenix Rising by Hunter S. Jones

02_Phoenix Rising_Cover 
Publication Date: May 19, 2015 
MadeGlobal Publishing 
eBook; ASIN: B00X806742
Genre: Historical Fiction

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The last hour of Anne Boleyn's life...

Court intrigue, revenge and all the secrets of the last hour are revealed as one queen falls and another rises to take her place on destiny's stage.

A young Anne Boleyn arrives at the court of King Henry VIII. She is to be presented at the Shrovetide pageant, le Château Vert. The young and ambitious Anne has no idea that a chance encounter before the pageant will lead to her capturing the heart of the king. What begins as a distraction becomes his obsession and leads to her destruction.

Love, hate, loyalty and betrayal come together in a single dramatic moment... the execution of a queen. The history of England will be changed for ever.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

The Stranger
by Harlan Coben
Release Date: March 24, 2015
2015 Dutton
Hardcover Edition; 400 Pages
ISBN: 978-0525953500
ASIN: B00NMPN46W
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
The Stranger appears out of nowhere, perhaps in a bar, or a parking lot, or at the grocery store. His identity is unknown. His motives are unclear. His information is undeniable. Then he whispers a few words in your ear and disappears, leaving you picking up the pieces of your shattered world.

Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American Dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life.

Then he runs into the Stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne’s deception, and realizes that if he doesn’t make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy he’s stumbled into will not only ruin lives—it will end them.


My Thoughts
The Stranger is a novel about secrets: Basically, about what happens when a stranger approaches you and reveals a secret, perhaps a dangerous secret, about someone you love and the consequences of that revealing to one's relationship and one's life.  I really liked the concept of this story, and thought the effects and consequences were really interesting, but the plot itself took a long time to come together, not a bad thing in itself, it's just there was something missing that is usually there in a Coben novel.

This novel is supposed to make you think about the moral implications of withholding a big secret from your loved ones and the consequences of keeping said secret.  A stranger approaches you out of nowhere and reveals important information about your life and expects you to make decisions about leaving that person or confronting that person, acting like your moral compass in a way, something that really bothered me, and is questioned frequently throughout.  Does someone have the right to probe into our private lives in such a way, and question our thoughts and actions and feelings, expecting us to behave in such a way, to take the moral high ground?  Not everyone does in this novel, and as a result, there is blackmail involved too, which is a nonperson felony.  There were some twists and turns in this novel, and I definitely liked the way technology was woven into the narrative to show us how it was used to garner information on people or how vulnerable technology can make us.  It also showed the positive side to technology when a locator app was used, something I have used myself on occasion for straying children who don't always come home from school when they're supposed to because they got sidetracked with friends.

I actually thought it was a solid mystery, although I was far more interested in the side stories than I was in Adam's story, other than his ongoing search for information.  Adam's wife, Corinne, had such a flimsy excuse for leaving that I didn't really focus too much on her absence until more information became available and it became much more interesting.  I love Harlan Coben, and have enjoyed many of his books, but I don't feel that he did justice to Corinne's absence as I really didn't feel any empathy towards it. And while I get that Adam was upset, and so were the boys, it didn't really carry across the page very well.  Something just felt off the whole time I was reading, although I couldn't quite get a feel for what it was.   I wonder if we had Corinne's POV if it would have made the difference, or perhaps one of the boys. It's not that I didn't like Adam, some of the events were somewhat unclear and not as effective.

Verdict
The Stranger is suspenseful enough to keep you reading and wanting to finish the book, but the dialogue is a bit choppy and the plot is acceptable.  I do feel that the usual Coben flair for effective suspense and good plot twists was missing, leaving a novel that felt flatter than usual, missing that certain something.  I did find some of the characters interesting, and definitely thought the concept was neat and thought-provoking.  However, the concept didn't make up for an ending that seemed rather contrived and too many things were resolved rather too neatly for my taste.  
Thursday, April 30, 2015

Review: Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet by Jenifer Ringer

Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet
by Jenifer Ringer
Release Date: February 24, 2015
2015 Penguin (reprint edition)
Ebook Edition; 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-0143127024
ASIN: B00DMCV2MS
Genre: Nonfiction /Autobiography
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
Raised in South Carolina, Ringer led a typical kid’s life until she sat in on a friend’s ballet class, an experience that would change her life forever. By the age of twelve she was enrolled at the elite Washington School of Ballet and soon moved to the School of American Ballet. At sixteen she was a professional dancer at the New York City Ballet in Manhattan, home of the legendary George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.

Ringer takes us inside the dancer’s world, detailing a typical day, performance preparation, and the extraordinary pressures that these athletes face. Ringer shares exhilarating stories of starring in Balanchine productions, working with the famous Peter Martins, and of meeting her husband and falling in love at the New York City Ballet. Ringer also talks candidly of Alistair Macauley’s stinging critique of her weight in his 2010 New York Times review of The Nutcracker that ignited a public dialogue about ballet and weight. She unflinchingly describes her personal struggles with eating disorders and body image, and shares how her faith helped her to heal and triumph over these challenges.


My Thoughts
Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet is one of those books over which I was quite excited when I first received it as I love the ballet and was somewhat familiar with Jenifer Ringer's battle with her weight.  However, I was a bit disappointed by a large portion of this book as I felt that the book jumped from topic to topic as though trying to avoid some disagreeable moments rather than getting to the heart of the ballet world and all of its real moments and the real relationships between Jenifer and the rest of the New York City Ballet members.  

One of the things over which I was surprised was the Christian side to this memoir.  Although I have nothing against faith and inspiration, I was a bit thrown off by the preachy nature of the tone the book took with regards to Christianity and faith, although I don't believe that's the intention in this book.  Jenifer obviously was inspired by her faith to become a healthier person and that is fantastic; it's just a bit frustrating for the reader to read through the moral tone that comes across in her book.  

I definitely enjoyed learning about Jenifer's earlier days and her meteoric rise through her ballet schools to eventually join NYC Ballet at the age of sixteen.  To be honest, she almost makes it seem too easy, as if anyone could do it, and I definitely doubt that is the case.  She becomes an apprentice at the age of sixteen, joins permanently with the company a short time later, becomes soloist, and after a year off due to weight issues, is welcomed back with almost seemingly open arms.  I honestly don't believe it was that easy.  And while Jenifer does mention some of the grueling schedules and some of the aches and pains, such as learning how to ice her feet at night, she rarely mentions injuries or other aches and pains and the toll this takes on her body.  Only in vague passing references do we learn about previous injuries that had sidelined her years ago although they weren't really mentioned in her book.  I wanted the grittier read to the world of ballet, to learn more about what it was like to be a ballet dancer day in and day out, and not the glossed over version of that world.  I do appreciate her honesty when it came to her struggles with her weight and it was fascinating to read about what happened after the critique came out.  I would have liked to have learned more about what the dancers thought about the issue as well, though, and she never really mentioned if anything changed with regards to weight issues at the company after that.  I also thought the commentary about falling onstage, forgetting one's choreography, daily preparations, and her openness about choreographers was quite fascinating and frankly, I wanted more!!

Verdict
Dancing Through It: My Journey in the Ballet definitely had some interesting moments and I was fascinated by the minute details of the ballet world.  I enjoyed reading about the day-to-day preparations and her rise to soloist at such a young age.  I also appreciated Jenifer's candor when it came to discussing her breakdown due to her problems with body image and eating disorders; as a mother of a competitive athlete, it certainly gives you a lot to think about.  It felt quite easy to relate to Jenifer and the stresses she had in her life; those of a young athlete, working professional, wife, and mother.  I wasn't crazy however, about the preachy tone in the novel as it felt somewhat forced and I thought the book finished a bit abruptly as well.  Overall, I think that anyone who likes ballet will probably enjoy this book.
 
Sunday, April 19, 2015

Review: The Dead Play On by Heather Graham

The Dead Play On (Cafferty & Quinn, Book #3)
by Heather Graham
Release Date: March 31, 2015
2015 Mira Books
Hardcover Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0778317739
ASIN: B00OY9Z9MW
Genre: Fiction / Paranormal
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Summary
Musicians are being murdered in New Orleans. But Arnie Watson apparently died by his own hand. When Tyler Anderson plays the saxophone he inherited from Arnie, a soldier and musician who died soon after his return, he believes he sees visions of his friend's life—and death. He becomes convinced Arnie was murdered and that the instrument had something to do with whatever happened, and with whatever's happening all over the city…

Tyler knows his theory sounds crazy to the police, so he approaches Danni Cafferty, hoping she and Michael Quinn will find out what the cops couldn't. Or wouldn't. After all, Cafferty and Quinn have become famous for solving unusual crimes.

They're partners in their personal lives, too. Quinn's a private investigator and Danni works with him. When they look into the case, they discover a secret lover of Arnie's and a history of jealousies and old hatreds that leads them back to the band Arnie once played with—and Tyler plays with now. 


My Thoughts
The Dead Play On was a solid entry into the Caffety & Quinn series.  I have been a faithful reader of the Heather Graham books for quite a while now, and depend on them for their formulaic and predictable plot lines as an escape from my usual heavier hitting reading material.  I think they are fun and usually interesting, and completely go against what I expect in a usual mystery novel.  However, in this one, I was somewhat disappointed as Quinn's overprotectiveness really got on my nerves even though it was interesting to see Quinn and Danni learn to develop greater trust in each other and come to terms with boundary issues.

As always, I am drawn to these books because of two things, the paranormal and New Orleans.  I was not disappointed in the second aspect as it was fun to re-visit Bourbon Street and other areas of the city that I have visited so I could visualize it in my mind.  I stayed right in the area the author described so it was very easy to imagine the scene, especially at night.  As always, the author manages to deliver the 'flavour' of New Orleans, both the darker side and the fun, cleaner side during the day with all of the quirks the city has to offer, including all of the costume shops, the types of voodoo shops, the souvenir shops, and of course, the food.  I have been craving crawfish etouffe for days now.   Unfortunately, one of the aspects that I do look forward to in these novels, the paranormal, was lacking; for whatever reason, the author avoided the paranormal in this one so that creepy atmosphere that tends to exist in her novels just wasn't there and I felt like something was seriously missing.  It was incredibly disappointing, to say the least.

The mystery itself was okay, although I did manage to figure out who it was quite early in the novel; maybe I've read too many of her books and caught on to the formula, but that's not really why I read them.  I have always liked the characters and the banter between them, but in this one, I couldn't quite connect to the them the way I usually do; I didn't really felt empathetic towards any of them, and Quinn was just annoying with his protectiveness, while Danni's friend was just downright whiny.  It got rather annoying after awhile.  |The author did tone it down towards the end so it did get better, but I think the echo of it was still there while I was reading.  

Verdict
The Dead Play On was an okay entry into the Caffety & Quinn series.  I love the New Orleans setting and the flavour it gives these books as the author has a way of describing it that makes you feel as if you are right there.  The plot was okay, but not up to the usual twists and turns that I expected, and I didn't really feel that connection with the characters that I usually do, which is a shame, as there are some interesting secondary characters in this series.  I thought the creepiness that usually exists in one of these novels was nonexistent; it needs to go back to the paranormal roots that is expected in a Heather Graham novel. 
Sunday, April 12, 2015

Guest Post by Bruce DeSilva: Illegal Sports Gambling



By Bruce DeSilva
Release Date: April 7th, 2015
2015 Forge Books
ISBN: 978-0765374318 
ASIN: B00NKB9RSC
Genre: Fiction / Thriller

Summary:
To solve Rhode Island's budget crisis, the state's colorful governor, Attila the Nun, wants to legalize sports gambling; but her plan has unexpected consequences. Organized crime, professional sports leagues, and others who have a lot to lose-or gain-if gambling is made legal flood the state with money to buy the votes of state legislators.

Liam Mulligan, investigative reporter for The Providence Dispatch, wants to investigate, but his bottom-feeding corporate bosses at the dying newspaper have no interest in serious reporting. So Mulligan goes rogue, digging into the story on his own time. When a powerful state legislator turns up dead, an out-of-state bag man gets shot, and his cash-stuffed briefcase goes missing, Mulligan finds himself the target of shadowy forces who seek to derail his investigation by destroying his career, his reputation, and perhaps even his life.

Illegal Sports Gambling

I was first introduced to illegal sports gambling by a scruffy guy who made the rounds of the University of Massachusetts dormitories every Thursday and Friday during the football season, handing out crudely-printed cards with the point-spreads for the week’s NFL games.

I’d circle my picks and return my card to him each Saturday, along with one dollar to cover each game I was betting on. You had to bet on at least three games, but if you wished, you could bet on them all. To collect, all of your picks had to be winners. The more games you picked, the greater the risk and the greater the potential reward.  
I was cautious, usually betting on just three games and never more than six, but I seldom won anything. By the end of each season, my losses always totaled several times more than I’d won.

This was a long time ago, back when the New England Patriots were still the Boston Patriots—so long ago that the first Super Bowl, in which the Green Bay Packers trounced the Kansas City Chiefs, wasn’t held until my junior year of college.

Back then, I didn’t give much thought to where the money I lost was going. I know now that the scruffy dude was a runner who turned the betting cards and cash over to a Western Massachusetts bookie every week. From there, some of the money was passed on to the powerful Angiulo crime family in Boston; and quite likely, a share was paid in tribute to Raymond L.S. Patriarca, the ruthless New England crime boss who ran his regional empire from a little vending machine company office on Atwells Avenue in Providence, R.I. 

A few years later, when I found myself writing about Patriarca for The Providence Journal, I didn’t feel all that good about the tiny contribution I’d made to his wealth and power. From then on, I limited my sports gambling to small, friendly wagers with friends. 

But I always paid close attention to illegal sports gambling and the game-fixing and point-shaving scandals it occasionally generated. So when I decided to make this the subject of A Scourge of Vipers, the fourth book in my Edgar Award-winning series of crime novels, I thought I knew a lot about the subject.

A little research told me there was a lot I hadn’t known.

I’d understood that a lot of Americans gamble on sporting events, but I’d had no idea how many. According to surveys, I discovered, about eighty-five percent of us bet on sports at least occasionally, much of it on the annual March Madness basketball tournament.

I’d known that sports gambling was big business, but I’d had no idea how big. Experts estimate that Americans bet three hundred and eight billion dollars a year on sporting events. That’s six times greater than the annual budget of the sprawling U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In other words, most of us are involved in it, and the stakes are astronomically high.
I got the idea for the new novel a few years ago when Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, already contemplating a run for the Republican nomination for president of the United States, proposed legalizing sports betting in his state so he could tax the profits. I saw immediately that his plan would face enormous obstacles.  

For one thing, a federal law makes sports gambling illegal everywhere but in Nevada and three other states where it was grandfathered in. So Christie either needed to persuade the paralyzed U.S. Congress to repeal the law or successfully challenge it in court. 

For another thing, legalization had powerful enemies, and those enemies had deep pockets. The NCAA, the governing body of inter-collegiate sports, was dead-set against it, threatening to ban New Jersey arenas from its annual basketball tournament unless the governor backed down. The four major professional sports leagues were adamantly opposed, too (although the NBA commissioner recently softened his position), claiming legalization would damage the integrity of their games. 

Meanwhile, Las Vegas casinos were eager to hold on to their near-monopoly on legal sports gambling, and organized crime organizations were aghast at the prospect of seeing their bookmaking business wiped out.

But legalization also had powerful friends. Some public-employee unions saw it as a way to save their endangered pension plans. Some casino owners outside of Nevada salivated at the chance to dive into the lucrative sports-betting business. 

Hard-pressed governors of other states, desperate for a way to balance their budgets without raising taxes, began following the unfolding New Jersey drama with great interest. 

So I asked myself, “What if?”—the question that has launched every novel that I’ve written.

What if Fiona McNerney, the fictional governor of Rhode Island whom I’d introduced in an earlier novel, proposed legalizing sports gambling in her state? McNerney, a former religious sister nicknamed Attila the Nun because of her take-no-prisoners style of politics, isn’t much like Christie, but they do have one thing in common. Both are combative personalities who aren’t given to backing down from a fight.

The novel’s action explodes when powerful forces with a lot to gain—or lose—if sports gambling became legal, flood Rhode Island with money to buy the votes of politicians. Much of the money is delivered in the form of legal campaign contributions, but some of the special interests aren’t above slipping cash-stuffed envelopes into politicians’ pockets. Just picture all of that money pouring into a tiny, economically-depressed state where the average campaign for the state legislature costs just ten thousand dollars. 

Naturally, all hell breaks loose. Before long, a powerful state legislator turns up dead, a mobbed-up bagman gets shot down, and his cash-filled briefcase goes missing.
Liam Mulligan, an investigative reporter for a dying Providence, R.I., newspaper (and the protagonist of my three earlier novels) wants to dig into the story, but the bottom-feeding conglomerate that recently bought the once proud daily has no interest in serious public-interest reporting. So Mulligan, who’s never been inclined to follow orders, goes rogue, investigating on his own.

Soon, he finds himself the target of shadowy forces that seek to derail him by threatening his reputation, his career, and even his life.

The result is at once a suspenseful murder mystery and a serious examination of one of the major issues of our times—the influence of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and the corrupting influence of big money on politics. 

The story also allowed me to explore the blatant hypocrisy that surrounds illegal sports gambling.

Should it be illegal when almost everyone takes part in it? Why does nearly every state have its own vice laws against it while, at the same time, their official lotteries rake in billions of dollars from chump scratch tickets and numbers games?

Why do the NCAA and the major sports leagues repeatedly claim that legalization will increase the temptation for criminals to fix games? Isn’t the three-hundred-and-eight billion dollars Americans gamble on sports every year, most of it bet illegally, incentive enough? Actually, legalization would probably reduce the risk, because the amount wagered would be public knowledge. An Arizona point-shaving scandal was exposed some years back only because a red flag went up when an obscene amount of money was bet legally in Las Vegas.

Gambling is one of the main reasons a lot of people follow sports. The NCAA and the professional sports leagues know this, and they profit handsomely from the filled arenas and the massive TV contracts all that interest generates. Isn’t that why they don’t protest when sports writers cite point spreads?

Like any vice, gambling is harmful to individuals who engage in it to excess, but is sports gambling any more immoral than state lotteries and Indian casinos? And illegal or not, most Americans bet on sports anyway. Keeping it illegal does little more than help mobbed-up bookies stay in business. 

As I was finishing my novel, Governor Christie pressed forward with his plan, pushing his legalization bill through the state legislature in defiance of the federal law. He announced that the sports betting would begin first at the Monmouth Park racetrack and that it would soon spread to the Atlantic City casinos.
So, of course, the major professional sports leagues sued to stop him.
Last fall, a federal judge blocked Christie’s plan. Now the issue is headed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia—and quite likely, eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Short bio:
Bruce DeSilva’s crime fiction has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards; has been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony, and Barry Awards; and has been published in ten foreign languages. His short stories have appeared in Akashic Press's award-winning noir anthologies. He has reviewed books for The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Publishers Weekly, and The Associated Press. Previously, he was a journalist for forty years, most recently as writing coach world-wide for the AP, editing stories that won every major journalism prize including the Pulitzer. His fourth novel, A Scourge of Vipers, has just been published in hardcover and e-book editions.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Book Spotlight: Black Scorpion by Jon Land



A Q&A with Jon Land, author of
Black Scorpion: The Tyrant Reborn
Release Date: April 7th, 2015
448 Pages, Forge Books
ISBN: 978-0765337238


1.  Can you tell us a bit about Black Scorpion: The Tyrant Reborn? I think it’s the most ambitious book I’ve ever done in terms of character, emotion and story.  I say that not only because of its epic-like structure, but mostly because I’ve never written a book before that challenges its characters in so many ways.  It challenges them with truth and the reality of their own natures contrasted against their fates, testing especially Michael Tiranno’s capacity to exceed his own limitations. He has become a classical, almost mythic hero in terms of the losses he suffers and stunning revelations about his own fate he must accept.  All the while confronting a villain just as powerful as he is with whom he unknowingly shares an indelible bond.  Great villains, they say, make great heroes and that’s truly the case here as Michael confronts an all-powerful criminal organization with a plot to do incredible harm to the country and world in the offing.  To stop them, Michael must become a different man than he is when the book starts out, he must evolve, literally, into something more and accepting that fate comes to define both him as a hero and the story as a whole.

2. What drew you to write thriller and mystery novels?  Well, as the great Robert Louis Stevenson once said, You can only write what you would read if someone else had written it.  So when I chose to be a writer, or should I say when writing chose me, I gravitated to what came most naturally to me.  I’d grown up reading all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels while away at camp for the summer, this after falling in love with the early films starring Sean Connery as Bond.  The structure of those films has been more influential in my writing than any other individual factor.  As I got older while in college, I began devouring the books of Stephen King, Robert Ludum, Clive Cussler and David Morrell—all great storytellers above everything else, and I realized that’s what I wanted to be too.

3.  When did you first start writing?  This is kind of interesting, because not until college at Brown University.  And even then I never took a writing class.  I majored in English and American Literature and fell under the influence of some incredible professors who introduced me to the novel, the whole concept of structure.  Around the same time, I realized how much I actually loved the process of writing.  I did a term paper on Huck Finn that the professor liked so much he recommended I try publishing it.  A light bulb went off in my head and from that day I’ve been obsessed with seeing my name in print, especially in big bold letters on my book covers!  I actually wrote my first novel as a senior thesis.  It wasn’t very good, but I proved to myself I could do it and was able to work out all he kinks while receiving course credit for it.  The best of both worlds, you might say and I remain eternally indebted to Brown for providing the liberal educational experience that allowed to be what I’ve become.  It was always about the process and I fell in love with starting with the a blank page of paper and watching what happens from there.

4)  What are your other interests besides writing?   I’m a gym rat, especially when it comes to weightlifting.  Healthy mind, healthy body as the saying goes.  I also remain very active at Brown volunteering in any number of capacities that allow me to remain close to the undergraduate community.  I’m Alumni President of my own fraternity, Delta Phi, and serve as Alumni Advisor to Brown’s entire Greek System.  I’m also Vice President of the Brown Football Association and sit on the board of the Friends of the Library.  Libraries are another passion of mine, as they should be for all writers.  Libraries are ambassadors of the written word and its sustenance and at Brown I organize big events around name authors like George R.R. Martin to share my love for books and the place of books within pop culture as a whole.  I also serve on the board of the International Thriller Writers organization, ITW, because another passion of mine is helping to promote our genre in general and ITW member authors in particular.  ITW’s mission statement is all about the haves helping the not-yet-haves in a very difficult profession and I remain very passionate about that as well.
 
5)  When do you find the time to write?  Well, it’s my job.  When does a doctor find the time, a lawyer or a teacher?  Just because I love what I do doesn’t make it any less of a job, any less of a profession.  I can’t see my name in those big bold letters if I don’t write the book.  I’m very disciplined about my work but, fortunately, I also write very fast to the point where I can finish a first draft in 7-8 weeks.  Of course, great books are made in the rewrite process and that’s where I truly excel.  To me the first draft is about getting it down and the rest of the process is about getting it right.  And that’s the thing about a career as a writer.  It’s not just the writing, but also the promoting, the conferences, the book festivals, the signings, Twitter, interviews, Q & As.  But here’s the thing about me:  I enjoy all of that, every part of it, especially any opportunity I have to interact directly with my readers.

6)  Where is your favorite place to write?  The second bedroom in my townhouse is my office and it’s pretty much where I do all my writing.  The key in this business, any business to some extent, is to find your comfort zone—where, how and when you best excel.  I know where all the bodies are buried in my office and it’s very easy for me to bounce around between different things demanding my attention because I’ve laid all the clutter out in a way that facilitates that. I’ve got everything placed just where I want it and where it needs to be.  If only life could be that simple!

7)  You have written a number of series; is this one of your favorite to write?  Frankly, no, that would be my Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger series.  I’m not saying the books in that series are better than Black Scorpion because I think in many ways Black Scorpion is the most ambitious and best realized book in terms of vision I’ve ever written.  I’m talking about the process.  Black Scorpion is work for hire and I have an obligation to serve the needs of the Tyrant character’s creator, Fabrizio Boccardi.  That robs this series, and me, of the spontaneity that defines me as a writer, since I don’t outline.  Writing with someone looking over your shoulder isn’t nearly as fun or gratifying.  But, that said, the end result of both this book and its prequel, The Seven Sins, proves I’m capable of adapting. Fabrizio isn’t a writer or a storyteller and he doesn’t grasp all the intricacies of structure.  But he has wonderful instincts that are right more often than not and form the perfect complement to my experience and talents.  Look, Michael Tiranno is his baby.  He turned him over to me to build but he could never be expected to let him go altogether.  Ultimately, I think we work so well together because our passion is balanced by our willingness to compromise toward telling the best story we possibly can.  It may drive me crazy at times, but the ends justify the means.

8)  How do you approach writing a book like Black Scorpion? It all starts with the hero, Michael Tiranno. I started Black Scorpion with the premise that in the five years since the events depicted in The Seven Sins, Michael hasn’t changed very much.  He’s still pretty much the same man we left at the end of the first book, a tyrant consumed by his desire to expand his empire and holdings.  The whole essence of Black Scorpion is watching him evolve into something entirely different—still a tyrant, yes, but a tyrant for good.  A superhero without a mask or cape.  We watch his view of his entire place in the world change, forced upon him by the shattering truths and tragedy he encounters along the way.  And in that respect his quest changes from the pursuit of riches and power to self-fulfillment and self-actualization. So now, above everything else, Michael Tiranno’s character is defined by his obsession for standing up for those who can’ t stand up for themselves.  Bullies aren’t confined to the schoolyard and he won’t tolerate them under any circumstances.  He’s spent his life trying to find the security he lost that day his parents were murdered and once there he uses the power that comes with it to defend those who need him the most.  My point is your hero defines the very nature of a book with the sprawl and ambition of Black Scorpion.  The book will rise or fall based on how the audience responds to him and you have to approach a book like this with that in mind.

9)  Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?  Thank you, because without you  I’m nothing.  I can only be a writer if you’re reading what I’ve written.  And I remain extremely humbled by the whole nature of the relationship between the writer.  It’s a sacred pact, not much different than reading or telling a child a bedtime story.  It comes with an intimacy that defies explanation.  That a reader is wiling to bring me, through my work, into their lives by letting me entertain them, sweep them away from the mundane world into one of my own creation, brings with it an awesome responsibility and the very worst thing I can do as a writer is disappoint my audience—the moral equivalency of breaking that sacred pact.

10) Tell us where we can find your book and more information about you. To use the cliché, accurate in this case, wherever books are sold or is most convenient for you.  As for me, you can find me on the Web at jonlandbooks.com or follow me on Twitter @jondland.  I promise to keep you entertained there too!