Friday, May 24, 2013

Guest Post: Freda Warrington

I am pleased to welcome Freda Warrington, author of Grail of the Summer Stars, the third novel in the Aetherial Series, who is here today to discuss her reasons for writing fiction.  But first, take a look at what's in store in this novel.

A painting, depicting haunting scenes of a ruined palace and a scarlet-haired goddess in front of a fiery city, arrives unheralded in an art gallery with a cryptic note saying, “The world needs to see this.” The painting begins to change the lives of the woman who is the gallery's curator and that of an ancient man of the fey Aetherial folk who has mysteriously risen from the depths of the ocean. Neither human nor fairy knows how they are connected, but when the painting is stolen, both are compelled to discover the meaning behind the painting and the key it holds to their future.

Can I swap my Black Hat for your White Hat? 
by Freda Warrington

There are all sorts of reasons for writing fiction, but for me the main ones are the characters and their interactions and relationships. As my new novel GRAIL OF THE SUMMER STARS comes out from Tor, I’m sitting here musing about my protagonists and how they travel from A to Z, changing and growing and making mistakes along the way. Most books, especially in genre, have heroes and villains – but do things always have to be black and white? All through the twenty-odd novels I’ve written so far I have played with – oh dear, how can I avoid the phrase “shades of grey”? – gradations along a scale. Shades of grey sounds better, but you know what I mean.

Grail is the third of my Aetherial Tales series, following on from Elfland and Midsummer Night. Each novel can be read as a stand-alone, but they are all set against the same background. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of beings who look human but aren’t – elves, demons, vampires, angels and so on – and my Aetherials are not precisely any of those, but my own version of an “other-race”. The setting is the contemporary human world, but they can also wander into their own Otherworld, also known as the Spiral.

Sometimes my players leap into my head fully formed. At others, I have to work harder at finding out who they really are. Sometimes I know they are basically good people at heart – for example Rosie, the down-to-earth heroine of Elfland, and Mistangamesh and Stevie in Grail. At others, I know they have a villainous streak – the attractive bad boy Sam, for example, or his father Lawrence, or Rufus – the cruel, mischievous brother of Mist – who must be stopped before he does something daft like destroying the world…

But do heroes always do the correct thing, and remain heroic to the end? Are baddies – like Sauron, or Lord Foul the Despiser – doomed to stay relentlessly bad? Much of the fascination I find in my characters is exploring them as human (or human-ish) beings – not angels or demons but a mixture of conflicting motives. In my Blood Wine vampire series (the first, A Taste of Blood Wine, republished by Titan Books) many of the vampires revel in what they are, while others try to live by some sort of moral code – but none of them could be categorized as goodies. They are not half-hearted, “vegetarian” vampires. They all need human blood.

In Elfland, Rosie is a basically good, kind person, yet she ends up making horrific misjudgments that bring pain and tragedy to those around her. In Grail, Mistangamesh – trying to untangle the mysteries of his ancient Aetherial heritage – is a placid, kind, compassionate (not to mention gorgeous) man at heart, but he’s forced to be ruthless in order to avert a potential apocalypse. At least, to try.

In my fantasy worlds, my baddies are rarely bad for the sake of it. They are usually doing what they think is best, or right, or for the good of others – rather as I’m sure Hitler or the Spanish Inquisition thought they were doing what was best for the world! Rufus (in Midsummer Night and Grail) is an exception. A long-lived Aetherial, who uses his seductive powers to torment humans and Aetherials alike, with a track record of murder and mayhem behind him, he is hell-bent on being as evil as possible for the sake of it. But he didn’t get like this for no reason. Events in his early life made him angry and resentful (poor soul!) and, unfortunately, thirty thousand years of existence have not helped him to grow up! Perhaps he really is beyond hope, but in Grail, one way or another, he must grow up and face the consequences.

Then we come to Albin – a sinister character who has hovered ominously in the background of all three books, whose story completes a major arc in Grail. Albin is a cold pale Aetherial in an ice white tower. He is heartless, devoid of love and compassion, and utterly devoted to his puritanical cause of cutting off the Otherworld from the Earth. He’s convinced that his extremist beliefs are the only answer for Aetherial-kind, a sociopath who would even sacrifice his own family to achieve his aims. Some characters truly are beyond hope and there’s nothing to do but fight and destroy them…

Or is there? The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as they say. Characters convinced of their own goodness stare in disbelief at the carnage they’ve created. Even the most hard-line villain may see that his plans can come to nothing, and his only way forward is to fall on his sword – metaphorically or literally. In my fantasy worlds, the paths my characters take, however difficult, may be crystal-clear. Often, however, the black hats and the white hats may be swapping around like musical chairs as they work through onion-layers of good and evil until they find out what really lies at the centre…

Author Note
Freda Warrington is a British author, known for her epic fantasy, vampire and supernatural novels.

Four of her novels (Dark Cathedral, Pagan Moon, Dracula, The Undead, and The Amber Citadel) have been nominated for the British Fantasy Society's Best Novel award. Warrington has also seen numerous short stories published in anthologies and magazines.

Born in Leicester, Warrington grew up in Leicestershire. She eventually moved to full-time writing, pursuing a love she had had since childhood. In addition to her writing, Warrington works part-time in the Charnwood Forest.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: The Forever Knight by John Marco

The Forever Knight (A Novel of the Bronze Knight, Book #4)
by John Marco
Release Date: April 2nd, 2013
2013 DAW Hardcover
Softcover ARC; 282 Pages
ISBN: 978-0756407513
Genre: Fiction / Fantasy
Source: Review copy from author

4 / 5 Stars

Lukien is the Bronze Knight, beloved by his kingdom and renowned in battle throughout his world. After betraying his king and losing his beloved, he wishes only for death, but rather than die, Lukien is given a chance for redemption: to be the protector of the Inhumans—those fragile mortals who live deep in the desert, far from the prying eyes of their world. These remarkable individuals have been granted magical powers in exchange for the hardships and handicaps life has handed them. And Lukien, now immortal himself, must be their champion. But how can one man, even an immortal warrior, protect hundreds from a world of potential enemies?

My Thoughts
The Forever Knight is the fourth installment of the Bronze Knight series, and I thought it was somewhat different from the former three novels.  This was not necessarily a bad thing however, as it gave readers following the series a different, and fresh, perspective, on the events, and continuing saga, of Lukien and Cricket.  What was also different from many other fantasy novels of its kind was its length as it is rather shorter than many of its contemporaries.  At first, I wasn't sure how to take this as I felt that the 'meat' of the story was somewhat missing, but as I read through the novel, I came to like it as the story was just that, the story, and many of the frustrating extras were not there.  

In this installment, Lukien is restless and looking for a purpose to his life which can sometimes lead to impulsiveness and carelessness.  As an almost immortal, having a spirit living within his sword, Lukien is in more danger of the developing boredom than he is of anything that could hurt him as the spirit would just heal him anyways.  Looking for a challenge, he decides to help Cricket search for her hidden past and sets off on a journey to Akyre, hoping to discover secrets that will help unlock Cricket's amnesiatic mind.  During their travels, Cricket and Lukien hear of an unscrupulous king who is rampaging through the Bitter Kingdoms and find themselves in his path.  I really enjoyed seeing things through Lukien's eyes as this novel was written in the first person, which is quite different from his usual style, but what I found is that I didn't quite connect with the characters in quite the same way because of this and found myself more impartial and less empathetic with their plights that I would normally have been.  However, I was able to understand Lukien in a way that I had never understood him before so there is definitely a give and take to this type of narration. The author has great story-telling abilities, but I feel like some of that was lost in this novel compared to his previous ones.  Don't get me wrong though, the story was still quite interesting.   

One of the things I did enjoy was the introduction of some pretty horrendous creatures in this novel that make me wonder if there is a future for Mr. Marco in the horror genre.  (I certainly hope so!)  I found this novel darker and bleaker than the previous novels and rather enjoyed that as Lukien would certainly be hurting from events that occurred previously.  I also enjoyed the rather unpredictable and annoying relationship between Malator and Lukien and wondered where some of the cryptic comments were going to lead.  Unfortunately, not everything was resolved in this novel and readers will have to wait to get some answers to some questions regarding Lukien's future and the possible travel between realms as well as other things that have occurred.  Frustrating, but understandable.

The Forever Knight is one of those novels whereby I wasn't sure what I thought about it until halfway through as the writing style was different from previous novels and it was far shorter than I would have liked, although this is more of a personal thing as I like my fantasy novels to be full of description.  There will definitely be more novels in the future as the ending, while satisfying, did leave the reading with a plethora of questions that need to be answered.  I would also recommend the reader read the previous novels in the series before reading this one.  They are more complex than this one, and will explain a lot of things that are assumed the reader understands in this novel.  I am a huge fan of the Bronze Knight and am looking forward to more adventures in the future.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Review: Black Venus by James MacManus

Black Venus
by James MacManus
Release Date: May 7th, 2013
2013 Thomas Dunne Books
Hardcover Edition; 368 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-250-01423-8
Genre: Fiction / Historical
Source: Review copy from Booktrib

3.5 / 5 Stars

Among the bohemians, the young Charles Baudelaire stood out—dressed impeccably thanks to an inheritance that was quickly vanishing. Still at work on the poems that he hoped would make his name, he spent his nights enjoying the alcohol, opium, and women who filled the seedy streets of the city.

One woman would catch his eye—a beautiful Haitian cabaret singer named Jeanne Duval. Their lives would remain forever intertwined thereafter, and their romance would inspire his most infamous poems—leading to the banning of his masterwork, Les Fleurs du Mal, and a scandalous public trial for obscenity.

James MacManus's Black Venus re-creates the classic Parisian literary world in vivid detail, complete with not just an affecting portrait of the famous poet but also his often misunderstood, much-maligned muse.

My Thoughts
Black Venus is a fictional retelling of the difficult relationship between Charles Baudelaire and the woman he would consider his muse, Jeanne Duval.  A French poet whose work has been critically acclaimed by many others and would influence many generations of artists, he was also known as an essayist, and art critic, and pioneered the early translations of Edgar Allan Poe.  This novel explores the relationship between Baudelaire and Duval, and his inspiration for his most famous, and perhaps his most controversial, piece of work, Les Fleurs du Mal.

What I Liked:  I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this novel, and the descriptions of Paris during Baudelaire's time period.  Baudelaire admired his city very much, every aspect of it, and the author attempted to show the poet's deep love for Paris throughout the novel, which I believe came through rather well.  I loved his interactions with other famous artists during time, and would really have loved to have seen more of this in this novel.  Artists such as Manet and Courbet and Hugo flowed across the page with ease, and I really enjoyed the dialogue and disputes and discussions that ensued. I enjoyed the political discussions and the difficulties of the artists' lives because of these political problems and I thought it was quite interesting and fascinating.  Baudelaire's trial and how it played out was also quite interesting as it really brought to mind the limitations the artists faced during this time period and the struggles they faced against censorship and freedom of expression.  I remember reading that one of Courbet's paintings was not released to the public until 1988, and even Baudelaire's entire collection was not released until 1949.  

Where I Had Some Issues: Personally, while I really enjoyed the bohemian aspect of the novel and delved right into the historical side with no problem, where I had difficulty was believing in Baudelaire and Duval's relationship.  I'm not really sure that the author managed to convey to the reader exactly what kept them together for all of these years and I didn't feel invested in their relationship.  The little something, that little spark, that would have ignited this pair and created these poems, did not really seem to be there for me in this novel and I was disappointed in this. The fact that these two did not belong together and created nothing but trouble for each other came through quite clearly, especially as most of their problems seemed to be solved through a laudanum bottle or opium bottle.  And I did enjoy the scenes where they had difficulty interacting with each other and how issues were resolved, but I'm not sure whether the author wanted to present Duval as a character that I should pity or one that I should like, as for the most part I didn't really like her.  I admired her feistiness and her guts to survive in a difficult world, absolutely, but her basic personality and how she used people, I did not like very much.  But like I said, I do admire those who can survive and she was definitely a survivor.

Black Venus was an enjoyable novel in the sense that I really thought the author did a fantastic job with regards to the research and felt really in touch with nineteenth century France.  I enjoyed the atmosphere of the novel, as well as learning more about a city I adore very much, and trying to understand the hardships that people faced with all of the political turmoil that existed during this time period.  That being said however, I still felt like something was missing in this novel, that little something between Baudelaire and Duval that would have really lit up this novel as I didn't really feel a lot of empathy for either character, even knowing how it would end for both of them as I was already familiar with their story.  Despite this, I would recommend this novel to those who enjoy a trip down historical lane and I would definitely read the next novel published by this author.  

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Guest Post: Blood Hex by Erin Butler

I am pleased to welcome Erin Butler, author of Blood Hex, which released March 29th. It is the story of two girls, one boy, that spans four centuries, and a secret curse that sits on all of them and affects all of their lives.  I found the premise to be quite intriguing and believe me, just mention the word curse and hidden secrets in the same sentence, and you've got me hooked.  Take a look:

Two girls. Four centuries. One curse.

Isabella started it—all because a boy fell in love with her—but it ends with Sarah.

They meet in secret, Isabella and Thomas, during the witching hours while the rest of the villagers hide behind locked doors. And even though Isabella's scared, she wants Thomas more. He'll protect her from the night, from his father who'll decide her future, from the paranoia-fueled hunting parties taking away innocents.

Centuries later, seventeen-year old Sarah runs away to an aunt she never knew she had. Her dad? Dead. Her mother? A liar. She wants the memories of a father she never got, but instead, discovers her father's death wasn’t innocent. Everyone—the Wiccans, the townies, even her quasi-boyfriend—are hiding something. The secret the history-rich town will kill to keep entangles Sarah into a centuries old witch curse.

Why I Write

The simple answer: Because I need to.

The longer answer:
Since I was little, I've had stories running around in my head. I even have a long-running story about the youngest girl ever to play in the NBA and how she dealt with the fame and the drama. This story started in my head when I was ten years old, and I, of course, was the main character.  I know I was ten because Michael Jordan was my co-star and we went to the Olympics the same year he was actually in his second Olympics, 1992. (If you're wondering, we won gold that year, with a little help from the young female superstar!)

It took me a while to realize I wasn't just daydreaming. I wasn't fantasizing, not really. I was telling a story. Sure, I wasn't writing it down and it was all in my head, but I had it up there. It's still up there just waiting for me to write it down. Will I eventually put it to paper? I hope so. If I don't write about that young girl who wants to change the world playing basketball, she'll still be there, bugging me. Do you remember that song Breathe (2 AM) by Anna Nalick? A couple of verses in that song have always spoken to me:

"2 AM and I'm still awake, writing a song.
If I get it all down on paper, it's no longer inside of me,
Threatening the life it belongs to."
-Anna Nalick

This. A hundred times this. If I don’t write them down, they will torture me. I would go insane until I break. I write because where else will the stories in my head go? They deserve to be shared and if I can write them well enough to do them justice, they should be shared. In Blood Hex, you'll read about Sarah's determination. In my upcoming summer release, How We Lived, you'll read about Kelsey's triumph over grief and tragedy. The books are their stories; I'm just the happy translator.

About the Author
Erin Butler lives in upstate New York where winter is her arch nemesis. She prefers to spend her time indoors reading and writing, but ventures out for chocolate, sunshine, and to perform her librarian duties at a local library. She lives with her very understanding husband, a stepson, and doggie BFF, Maxie. Erin’s dreams of becoming an author started in Kindergarten when she wrote her first story about witches, the eloquently titled, six-sentence page-turner, “The Three Witches”. Now, she likes to write longer works in many different genres. You can visit her online at

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Review: The Hit by David Baldacci

The Hit
by David Baldacci
Release Date: April 23rd, 2013
2013 Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover Edition; 390 Pages
ISBN: 978-1455521210
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

4 / 5 Stars

Will Robie is a master of killing. A highly skilled assassin, Robie is the man the U.S. government calls on to eliminate the worst of the worst-enemies of the state, monsters committed to harming untold numbers of innocent victims. No one else can match Robie's talents as a one, except Jessica Reel. A fellow assassin, equally professional and dangerous, Reel is every bit as lethal as Robie. And now, she's gone rogue, turning her gun sights on other members of their agency. To stop one of their own, the government looks again to Will Robie. His mission: bring in Reel, dead or alive. Only a killer can catch another killer, they tell him. But as Robie pursues Reel, he quickly finds that there is more to her betrayal than meets the eye. Her attacks on the agency conceal a larger threat, a threat that could send shockwaves through the U.S. government and around the world.

My Thoughts
The Hit is another one of those novels by Baldacci that just seems to suck me in and I have a hard time putting it down until it is finished.  It's not that there is anything overtly mind-boggling about the action, or that there is any new ground covered in this latest offering, but he has a way of endearing the characters with the reader that just makes you care about them and want to know what is going to happen to them.  

In this second installment of what I hope to be a long series, CIA assassin Will Robie is tasked to go after another assassin who has apparently gone rogue and is killing U.S. government officials and top agency members.  Right away, you knew that there had to be more to the story.  First of all, anyone who has read a multitude of these types of novels can sense right away when something is wrong at home, and to be honest, it was quite apparent from the beginning that the issue is a home one, and not an agent being turned for money or other reasons.  As the action plays out, there are your usual scenes that you would expect in such a novel, the explosions, the shoot-em-ups, the train scenes, and so on, basically if you think of a big budget Hollywood thriller, you could probably visualize this book quite well.  What I do like are the little things that are written into the story that are not usually in a movie, the little quirks that make a character likeable, and I've always thought that Baldacci did that quite well.

Will Robie is a single-minded assassin who has always lived like a machine, allowing nothing to interfere in his job.  What I liked in this novel is that the crack in that machine is opening a little bit, and you get to see the heart of the man that exists within that machine and is perhaps seeking something quite different from the life he leads, but doesn't know how to do both his job and live.  I would actually like to see Baldacci explore this a bit more in his future novels as I think this would be quite interesting and pose some moral dilemnas for our Will Robie.  

The Hit is your typical Baldacci novel with action around every corner and where characters are not whom they appear to be.  I always enjoy the interactions between the characters and the nuances that happen within the dialogue as I find that fascinating.  While perhaps not his best novel, and this one felt more like a filler novel for me in order to continue what has the potential to be quite an interesting series, it was still enjoyable. There were some things that were not fully explained in this novel, but I am hoping that events and situations will be clearer in subsequent novels as events unfold. 

Review: Six Years by Harlan Coben

Six Years
by Harlan Coben
Release Date: March 19th, 2013
2013 Dutton Adult
Ebook Edition; 351 Pages
ISBN: 978-0525953487
Genre: Fiction / Suspense
Source: Review copy from publisher

3 / 5 Stars

Six years have passed since Jake Sanders watched Natalie, the love of his life, marry another man. Six years of hiding a broken heart by throwing himself into his career as a college professor. Six years of keeping his promise to leave Natalie alone, and six years of tortured dreams of her life with her new husband, Todd.

But six years haven’t come close to extinguishing his feelings, and when Jake comes across Todd’s obituary, he can’t keep himself away from the funeral. There he gets the glimpse of Todd’s wife he’s hoping for . . . but she is not Natalie. Whoever the mourning widow is, she’s been married to Todd for more than a decade, and with that fact everything Jake thought he knew about the best time of his life—a time he has never gotten over—is turned completely inside out.

As Jake searches for the truth, his picture-perfect memories of Natalie begin to unravel. Mutual friends of the couple either can’t be found or don’t remember Jake. No one has seen Natalie in years. Jake’s search for the woman who broke his heart—and who lied to him—soon puts his very life at risk as it dawns on him that the man he has become may be based on carefully constructed fiction.

My Thoughts
Six Years was an enjoyable novel which I read rather quickly, but it would not be counted as my favourite Harlan Coben novel.  There were some things that I just couldn't buy into no matter how much I wanted to and sadly, this lessened the enjoyment for me overall.

The beginning of the novel started off quite well.  We have a protagonist who is pining for his lost love for six years, but having made a promise to never search for her, in all that time he never has, not on Facebook, not on Twitter, not at all.  But when he suddenly hears of her husband's untimely death, he decides to break that promise and go to the funeral, he gets the shock of his life when he discovers the widow is not Natalie, but someone quite different.  And not only that, but this woman has been married to Natalie's husband for quite a few years before Natalie's wedding even occurred.  Jake starts to dig into his and Natalie's past and what he discovers opens up a lot of dangerous secrets.

The early part of the novel worked rather well as we've got this university professor who has no experience in this type of detective work fumbling his way through scenario after scenario, and bungling it up quite nicely, in his search for someone who might have remembered Natalie.  As he gets more and more frustrated, and as more and more people come after him, he becomes caught up in a situation which is rather above his head and doesn't really know how to handle it other than with his fists.  I found myself wondering quite often what I would do in his situation, with little training, and while it's quite easy to read about it, it would be rather difficult to do in a real situation.  The part though, that kind of loses me is where he gets all these warnings to stop, but then he keeps going, despite the fact that it could do some serious harm to Natalie and to those around her.  After all these years, why would he suddenly find the urge to look for her?  The excuses given were rather flimsy and I just didn't buy them.  It's not that I didn't enjoy the rest of the story, it's just that it wasn't quite the same as the first half of the story for me.  

Six Years was a fairly good thriller, but it didn't have those hooks that we're used to having from a Harlan Coben novel.  It was rather easy to figure out quite early on what happened to Natalie, and I personally, would have liked a few more twists and turns in this novel.  I did enjoy the novel, but I feel like the character development was somewhat lacking and the plot was a bit on the sappy side; there were times when I actually wanted to wring Jake's neck, or at least shake him and have him snap out of it.  That being said, I will probably read the next Harlan Coben book to see if he rises up to his usual skills as this one seemed as if it was just thrown together.