Saturday, August 1, 2015

Thriller Review: The 3rd Woman by Jonathan Freedland

The 3rd Woman is a solid mesh of murder mystery and political thriller, with just a slight sci-fi sort of edge to it. The very near future, as Jonathan Freedland imagines it, sees the United States of America so crippled by debt that it's had to sell off some of its sovereignty and accept the military presence of its largest debtor - China - on its home soul. It's not all that far-fetched, and the speculative aspect largely stops there, although Freedland does take some liberties with the future of social media.

Madison Webb is your typical journalistic heroine, an obsessive loner who can't resist the puzzle of a good mystery, especially when it's a murder so close to her heart. She's damaged goods - there's a whole subplot dedicated to the mystery of what her mother's illness is hiding - and she's not above using anyone or anything in her pursuit of answers. She's not necessarily likable or sympathetic, but she is someone with whom the reader can empathize.

While I understand it's a genre convention, I felt it was a shame that the entire story is told solely from her perspective. It really denies us any deeper insights into the whole political situation, which was (admittedly) the primary draw for me. We do get bits of context throughout the novel, revealing the new racial tensions and potential for civil unrest along the West coast, but I wanted something a bit deeper. It's not necessarily a complaint, just an observation on my own particular interest in the tale.

As for the murder mystery, it's well played out with plenty of red herrings, double crosses, and twist developments. Although motives are always suspect in these kinds of stories, the political aspect, the fear of the Chinese oppressors, and the pressures of a mayoral political campaign certain add to the tension. It all gets a little bogged down towards the end, especially with the resolution of that family mystery, but for the most part it works.

Even if The 3rd Woman isn't quite as speculative or as political as I anticipated, it's a solid mystery, with a good cast, propelled along by a well-written narrative that races along, but still takes time to provide all the details.


Hardcover, 480 pages
Expected publication: August 4th 2015 by Harper

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.



From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Slowly getting back on track following an extraordinarily difficult month of July...


Coming up this week? I'll be co-hosting this month's Insecure Writer's Support Group, Jay Posey will be stopping by, Susan Murray will be stopping by, and I'll close out the last 6 titles of the SPFBO - along with my winning recommendation.

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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

Believe it or not, I refrained from adding even a single title to the stacks this week. There were a couple of requests that tempted me but, like I said last week, I've become extremely selective in my approach as my priorities have shifted somewhat to put family first.

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

I'm about halfway through Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu and at a point where I can really enjoy it. It's different, but incorporates a lot of familiar elements. The mythology and world-building are just fantastic - seriously, if you thought desert plains were played out, this will blow your mind - and I quite like the characters.

One of my new priorities is to make a dent in my personal shelves, so I'm catching up with Phedre, Joscelin, Melisande, and other old friends this weekend at the beach in Kushiel's Chosen by Jacqueline Carey.


The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp and The Eternal World by Christopher Farnsworth are both warring for my attentions at the moment, and while neither has managed to hook me quite yet, I'm still curious enough to keep them both open.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, July 31, 2015

Sex and Vampires by Alistair Cross (GUEST POST)

Sex and Vampires

Vampires have existed in our imaginations for hundreds of years, and whether they’re the hideous fanged walking corpses with ruddy complexions of early European beginnings, or the glamorous, hypnotically-beautiful creatures of current times, they fascinate us. The vampire trend has its peaks and valleys, but it never drops off the map; we’re drawn to the lore and the magic, the glamour and the gore of these mythical seducers … and I believe a lot of the vampire appeal comes from the sexual texture of their deeds.

Considering their nature, it’s hard to imagine these brutal beasties have earned their places in eroticism and romance at all, but this seems to be where they’ve found their home. It was likely John Polidori’s The Vampyre in 1819 that paved the way for sex appeal in vampirism. His vampire was fangless, young, and sexually attractive. Then, in 1871, Sheridan Le Fanu wrote Carmilla, who had an “unearthly pale beauty” and was overtly sexual with a penchant for the ladies, seducing them with her bite. These works of fiction established the sexual standard for the vampires of today and are certainly major precursors to Barnabas Collins, Lestat, and other undead sex-symbols of their kind.

At this point, it’s almost impossible to imagine an asexual vampire. They’ve become images of the forbidden - of eroticism and temptation - and this is how we like them. Plus, they get to be monsters, as well. We can only assume that the darkness and danger of the vampire is part of its sexual appeal.

When I began writing The Crimson Corset, I found myself torn between two opposing concepts. One was the idea that vampires are glamorous, sexual, seductive … and not entirely unlike the human beings they once were. The other idea was that vampires are bloodthirsty killers, parasites who guzzle down human blood in order to survive.

Struggling to establish the exact nature of my beasts, I ended up creating two sets of vampires that sat on opposite ends of the same spectrum: Those who have faith in humanity and believe it’s possible to coexist peaceably with their human counterparts, and those who believe themselves to be the dominant race, and are determined to rule humanity. I added a human protagonist, a young man named Cadence Colter with genetic rarity that would bridge the gap between the human and vampiric. And then I sent the vampires off to war, interested to see how each faction might respond to such a priceless treasure as Cade. Initially, I didn’t think about the sexual elements of this story at all, but it quickly became clear to me that vampires without sexuality wouldn’t work.

The vampires of The Crimson Corset - the villains, at least - use sexuality as part of their mind games and manipulations. Sex is an easy means of achieving their desired ends. It simply made sense to me that they’d use this ploy, probably because we, as humans, often make use our own sexuality. Whether we choose to give it much thought or not, sexuality is a powerful, creative energy, capable of as much creation as destruction. And no one knows how to utilize the power of sex like vampires do.

The very concept of vampirism bridges the gap between life and death, and at the core of life - of creation - is sex. For this reason, I quickly realized that sex not only had a place in The Crimson Corset, but was in fact, central to the story.

And I prefer my vampires with a little erotic appeal. Vampires are intriguing creatures that allow us to indulge so many forbidden fascinations, and why wouldn’t they? The concept of vampirism bridges the gaps between life and death, creation and destruction, power and corruption, sexuality and innocence. I believe the vampire genre will go on, ever-evolving, and I’m excited to see the ways it might change. But I’d be willing to bet they won’t stop being so damned sexy any time soon.

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About the Author

Since his first publication with Damnation Books in 2012, Alistair Cross has authored the successful serial novel, The Ghosts of Ravencrest, as well as the Amazon Best Seller, The Cliffhouse Haunting with international bestselling author, Tamara Thorne.

Together, they host the popular Horror, Urban Fantasy, and Paranormal themed radio show, Thorne & Cross Haunted Nights LIVE!, which has included such guests as Chelsea Quinn Yarbro of the Saint-Germain vampire series, Charlaine Harris of the Southern Vampire Mysteries and basis of the HBO series, True Blood, Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter novels that inspired the hit television series, Jay Bonansinga of the Walking Dead series, Laurell K. Hamilton of the Anita Blake Vampire Hunter novels, and New York Times bestsellers Christopher Rice, Jonathan Maberry, and Christopher Moore.

You can visit Alistair Cross’ website at www.alistaircross.com.

Twitter: @crossalistair
Blog: http://alistaircross.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlistairCoss
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/crossalistair
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/jsascribes
Amazon: Author Page
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/alistaircross/

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About the Book

The Crimson Corset
Alistair Cross
Glass Apple Press
Urban Fantasy/Horror/Paranormal

Welcome to Crimson Cove

Sheltered by ancient redwoods, overlooking the California coast, the cozy village of Crimson Cove has it all: sophisticated retreats, fine dining, and a notorious nightclub, The Crimson Corset. It seems like a perfect place to relax and get close to nature. But not everything in Crimson Cove is natural.

When Cade Colter moves to town, he expects it to be peaceful to the point of boredom. But he quickly learns that after the sun sets and the fog rolls in, the little tourist town takes on a whole new kind of life – and death.

Darkness at the Edge of Town

Renowned for its wild parties and history of debauchery, The Crimson Corset looms on the edge of town, inviting patrons to sate their most depraved desires and slake their darkest thirsts. Proprietor Gretchen VanTreese has waited centuries to annihilate the Old World vampires on the other side of town and create a new race – a race that she alone will rule. When she realizes Cade Colter has the key that will unlock her plan, she begins laying an elaborate trap that will put everyone around him in mortal danger.

Blood Wars

The streets are running red with blood, and as violence and murder ravage the night, Cade must face the darkest forces inside himself, perhaps even abandon his own humanity, in order to protect what he loves.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Irona 700 by Dave Duncan

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Irona 700 by Dave Duncan
Expected publication: August 18th 2015 by Open Road Media

Fantasy at its most enchanting: An original and absorbing tale from a master storyteller about the profound effects of a single life on the battle against ultimate evil.

It is Midsummer Day, the beginning of the year 700, in the city of Benign. All the children born in the year 684 celebrate their joint sixteenth birthday by passing in front of the statue of the blind goddess Caprice—but only one will become the Chosen and join the Seventy who govern and guide the city.

Much to her surprise, Irona Matrinko, one of the many children of an impoverished fisherman, is chosen. Irona 700 moves into the palace and, with the help of a new mentor, recognizes and cultivates her great talent for guiding wars: strategy and tactics, leadership and inspiration.

As Irona gives her life to the city, an ancient enemy, Maleficence, attacks again and again, corrupting Irona’s friends, destroying her lover, and continually defeating her grandest plans for peace and harmony. Along the way, Irona becomes a masterful politician, a shrewd judge of character, and, even at great cost to her personal happiness, a true heroine.


Somehow, despite my best of intentions, I have yet to give Dave Duncan a read. I really have no excuse, especially since he's an adopted Canadian, but how better to help him celebrate the 60th anniversary of his arrival in Canada this week than by finally giving him a read.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off - The Penultimate Five

A week late but otherwise keeping to plan, I've had time to sit down and dedicate my reading to second-to-last batch of titles in the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off.

To be as fair and consistent as possible with my evaluation, I didn't want to just sneak these in, one at a time, between other titles. My moods and tastes do change regularly, depending on what I've just read (and whether or not I enjoyed it), so ensuring a measure of consistency was key for me in my overall approach.

Once again, I committed to reading the first 50 pages (at a minimum) of each title, with the hope that one or more books in the batch would be strong enough to keep me reading right through the end. Once again, there were 2 titles that kept me engaged to the end.


K. Eric Mauser & Kevin Butterfield – Stormwalkers
This was a solid, thoroughly enjoyable read with a lot of potential for future volumes. It had an epic fantasy sense of scope, some significant hints at greater world-building, and some very nice character development. I was a bit concerned at first that this would prove to be another coming-of-age tale, but it progresses at a good pace, skips over the scenes of tedium and boredom that are often substituted for 'character building, and focuses on the significant moments of Konal's life.

The copyright page indicates this was initially published in 1997, and it shows - mostly in a good way. It has a classic 80s/90s fantasy feel to it, not quite cheesy, but certainly enamored of the genre's most hearty tropes. Where the book floundered a bit for me was in its pacing. After a stellar, raucous opening, full of action and gorgeous magic, it pulls back, leaving the core plot for the second half. There are also a few early info-dumps that I found a little unwieldy, especially with the grand speeches and moments of awkward exposition, but that settles down before the end.


James Latimer – The Winter Warrior
This one, I'm afraid, just didn't grab me. It certainly has promise, and might appeal very much to a different reader, but it just fell flat for me. I didn't find myself warming up to the hero, which is important when the story begins with a mission of revenge, and I felt like too much of the bigger story and overall background was being help in reserve. It might all balance out and become clear before the end, but it just wasn't enough to


Brad Williams – Chadwick Yates and the Cannibal Shrine
Damn, but this was a lot of fun. It feels a bit lighter than I expected, and too often holds back from going all-out with the action and the drama, but has that episodic feel of an old adventure serial. As Brad himself says in the introduction, he has "written a story series to optimize both scope and action." This is a fast paced, rollicking read, and even if that comes at the expense of some character building at times, there's so much imagination you don't even notice.

Ironically, for such a fun bit of pulp, the story does get rather heavy-handed at times. It's not enough to derail the story, and it does serve to establish Yates' character, but it sometimes comes across as a bit too much. The world-building is solid, the narrative itself makes for a very easy, free-flowing read, and the characters are perfect for the tale - noble, heroic, and larger-than-life, but neither perfect nor infallible.


CV Dreesman – The Marksmith
I had a hard time getting into this, and an even harder time sticking with it. It felt rough and disjointed, almost like a first or second draft that needs an editor's touch to help smooth the flow and introduce some narrative bridges. It all just felt very abrupt, even confusing at times, and there wasn't enough character development early on to make me care enough about them to continue on.


Jay Swanson – Into the Nanten
I have to give Swanson full credit for the ambitious nature of his project. This novel was originally blogged in a 'live' format, as if the narrator were capturing his thoughts and experiences in a journal each night. It really sells that feel of a classic travelogue - which is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your tastes. Personally, that format just doesn't work. I like to get immersed in a story, to get lost in the narrative, and being bombarded by a series of single-page journal entries tends to wear on my patience. I liked what was there, and I can't deny the creative effort or the quality of writing behind it, but the format was a deal-breaker.


CONCLUSION: I'm torn on this one. I enjoyed both completed reads from this batch, and would recommend them without reservation. Ultimately, however, I think I have to go with the depth of substance over the flash of style and name Stormwalkers my winner this time out. There's a lot going on there, and a lot to draw in a new reader. Even if one or two aspects don't work, there are more than enough that do to balance it out and make for a compelling read.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fantasy Review: Fool's Quest by Robin Hobb

At one time, the second (or middle) book of a trilogy was a thing to be dreaded - a book to be endured as a necessary sort of narrative bridge, with the built-in expectation that any lack of enjoyment is to be tempered by anticipation for the concluding book to follow. While there have been a few 'new' authors (such as Jeff Salyards and Sebastien de Castell) who have bucked that trend, I really didn't expect the same from an established author like Robin Hobb. After all, her style and her writing are already polished, and she had her growth/development moments almost 20 years and 20 books ago.

Whether or not Fool's Assassin was a stumble depends on who you ask, but I had serious issues with the pacing, the characters, and a few of the core plot elements. It was one of my most disappointing reads of last year, and almost soured me on the whole Realms of the Elderlings saga. Hobb had a serious uphill battle for my appreciation going into the second/middle book of this series, and I tempered my expectations accordingly. So, you can imagine my surprise when Fool's Quest not only proved to be a return to form, it even resolved enough aspects of the first book to make me rethink it and adjust my appreciation for it.

Fool's Quest is an absolutely brilliant book that works perfectly on all levels. It takes the story that was introduced in the first volume, builds upon it, develops it, and sheds new light on what has gone before. More than that, it's also takes the story that was told in the first two trilogies and develops it in some surprising (but welcome) directions. I won't spoil the moment by providing any sort of context, but if you aren't overcome with emotion when Fitz says "The roar of acclaim broke over me like a wave," then you haven't been paying attention to the sacrifices he's made throughout the series.

One of my primary complaints about the first book was that Fitz wasn't himself, and barely resembled the hero I remembered. Hobb tackles that issue head-on here and has Fitz himself acknowledge how far he's strayed under the guise of Tom Badgerlock. It should come as no surprise that he blames himself for the tragedy that struck Withywoods in the first book, and his prolonged period of self-doubt and mourning is just long enough to sweeten the moment when he decides to climb out of his self-pity, take control, and do something about what's happened. He's not quite the nimble assassin of old by the end of this book, but that's okay because he's something better and wiser . . . more patient and more restrained.

Similarly, Chade comes very much to resemble his old self here, and the evolution of his relationship with Fitz is a cornerstone of the novel. Early on, he helps Fitz become acclimatized to life back in Buckkeep Castle, even going so far as to give him some spy duties that serve as both an important aspect of the plot and a nice touch of nostalgia for readers. That relationship changes over the course of the story, however, as we come to understand how much Chade has lost and how much life out of the shadows has changed him. Their roles aren't completely reversed by the end, but Fitz definitely does get the opportunity to step up and do his old mentor proud.

As for the other cornerstone here, I won't lie when I say that I loved every scene with the Fool. Here is a scarred, broken, damaged man, one who has been robbed of everything from his sense of purpose to his sense of future. He's come to Fitz for help, for protection, and for revenge. He's so terrified and so vulnerable that we get to experience another role relationship reversal between him and Fitz. The Fool grows as he heals, prompted by his own desire for revenge, by a surprising revelation regarding young Bee, and by his experimentation with a dangerous cure. His scenes are emotionally exhausting - as they should be - and he proves to be just as stubborn and obsessed as Fitz or Chade could ever be. As Fitz comments at one point, "You are you. Fool, Lord Golden, Amber, and Beloved. You are you, and we know each other as well as any two people can." Everything they've shared, encountered, and done for one another has weight in this novel, casting shadows and coloring every decision that's made.

I complained that the first book felt like an extended prologue of over 500 pages (followed by an opening chapter of about 80), but the story here returns to the pace we're accustomed to with Hobb. That's so say that there are still prolonged long lulls, filled with a lot of talk and a great deal of self-doubt and introspection, but there are also significant moments of action throughout. Things happen here, pushing the story forward, and bringing our characters together. Some of those scenes are small and intimate, while others are more sweeping, but they all work. This is a book that I found myself excited about, from beginning to end, never once lamenting those lulls to build character or reveal the truth behind schemes and actions. It was glorious to properly return to Buckkeep, but I also enjoyed our visits back to Withywoods. More than all that, though, I enjoyed our trips through the Stones the most, especially as they take us to some surprising (and nostalgic) places in the concluding chapters.

Fool's Quest isn't just a return to form for Fitz, Chade, and the Fool, it's a return to form for Hobb herself. This is precisely the kind of novel we were all expecting from the opening chapter of The Fitz and The Fool Trilogy, and it has me ridiculously anxious to read the next. The pacing is perfect, the characters ring true, and the world building continues in some delightfully surprising ways. There's a lot of intimate, personal conflict here, and I really wondered how she would resolve it all, but the final chapters are some of the most satisfying she's ever written - and that includes the agonizing cliffhanger we've come to expect.

Hardcover, 768 pages
Expected publication: August 11th 2015 by Del Rey

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.