Guest Post: “Behind the Scenes of Chasing Embers” by James Bennett

tolkeinjrr-conversationwithsmaugSmaug. It must’ve started with Smaug. Smaug the Magnificent. As a boy of 8, I think that’s the first time I heard a dragon talk. A Conversation with Smaug by J.R.R. Tolkien is still one of my favourite illustrations. ‘Well, thief! I smell you and I feel your air’, isn’t that how it went? And that was also, I think, the first time that the 8-year-old me heard about a dragon being able to talk. Smaug was red, of course. To this day, it’s my favourite colour.

As an adult, I’m pleased to note that Professor Tolkien also drew on ancient sources, from the ‘night-scather’ in Beowulf to the talking dragon Fafnir of the Völsunga Saga. Fafnir, as it happens, used to be a man, but his greed for gold eventually turned him into a dragon, so one could argue that the seed of Smaug, in a way, was entirely human. Here you see the roots of the myth you’re tapping, a vein that stretches back to the elemental serpents of Ancient China, those noble god-beasts who were often depicted in human form, and one that will surely stretch on long into the future. Continue reading

Review: DON’T I KNOW YOU? by Marni Jackson (Flatiron Books)

don’t i know you? comp18.epsA peculiar, interesting novel about self and celebrity

What if some of the artists we feel as if we know — Meryl Streep, Neil Young, Bill Murray — turned up in the course of our daily lives? 

This is what happens to Rose McEwan, an ordinary woman who keeps having strange encounters with famous people. In this engrossing, original novel-in-stories, we follow her life from age 17, when she takes a summer writing course led by a young John Updike, through her first heartbreak (witnessed by Joni Mitchell) on the island of Crete, through her marriage, divorce, and a canoe trip with Taylor Swift, Leonard Cohen and Karl Ove Knausgaard. (Yes, read on.)

With wit and insight, Marni Jackson takes a world obsessed with celebrity and turns it on its head. In Don’t I Know You?, she shows us how fame is just another form of fiction, and how, in the end, the daily dramas of an ordinary woman’s life can be as captivating and poignant as any luminary tell-all.

This is a peculiar novel. Blending a fictional life story with real-life celebrity cameos, the story has a lot to say about how we see famous people, what we expect of them, and also what we expect of and how we see ourselves. Don’t I Know You? isn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Continue reading

Interview with K.B. WAGERS

wagerskb-authorpicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is K.B. Wagers?

I have no idea. *laughs* “I am a writer stitched together with ink and dreams” would be the fanciful answer. I’m a native Coloradan, a pretty stubborn Taurus, a lover of coffee and cats (though I prefer if my cats stay out of my coffee), a fan of explosions, and a hopeless optimist.

Your debut novel, Behind the Throne, was recently published by Orbit. It looks interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?

I am honestly so awful at this! It’s been awesome to have reviews for the book because my words tend to fail me when I’m asked to talk about my work. Behind the Throne is a story about a woman coming to grips with her past and her family, something that’s challenging enough on its own; but when people are trying to kill you it adds a whole other level of difficulty. When Hail finds out that her sisters have been murdered and she’s the only person left to help her empire, she trades in her gunrunning life for a crown and discovers that life in a palace is even more dangerous than the underside of the galaxy. Continue reading

Mini-Review: THE BURNING LIGHT by Bradley Beaulieu & Rob Ziegler (Tor.com)

BeaulieuZiegler-BurningLightAn interesting post-apocalyptic sci-fi story

Disgraced government operative Colonel Chu is exiled to the flooded relic of New York City. Something called the Light has hit the streets like an epidemic, leavings its users strung out and disconnected from the mind-network humanity relies on. Chu has lost everything she cares about to the Light. She’ll end the threat or die trying.

A former corporate pilot who controlled a thousand ships with her mind, Zola looks like just another Light-junkie living hand to mouth on the edge of society. She’s special though. As much as she needs the Light, the Light needs her too. But, Chu is getting close and Zola can’t hide forever.

This was a pretty interesting novella. Set in a dilapidated New York City. There were a few moments when the story’s momentum dipped, but it was for the main a pretty well-paced, engaging story. This is an interesting sci-fi/dystopian story. Continue reading

Review: NATCHEZ BURNING by Greg Iles (William Morrow)

ilesg-pc1-natchezburningcaThe evil that men do…

Raised in the southern splendor of Natchez, Mississippi, Penn Cage learned all he knows of duty from his father, Dr. Tom Cage. But now the beloved family doctor has been accused of murdering the African American nurse with whom he worked in the dark days of the 1960s. Once a crusading prosecutor, Penn is determined to save his father, but Tom, stubbornly invoking doctor-patient privilege, refuses even to speak in his own defense.

Penn’s quest for the truth sends him deep into his father’s past, where a sexually charged secret lies. More chilling, this long-buried sin is only one thread in a conspiracy of greed and murder involving the vicious Double Eagles, an offshoot of the KKK controlled by some of the most powerful men in the state. Aided by a dedicated reporter privy to Natchez’s oldest secrets and by his fiancée, Caitlin Masters, Penn uncovers a trail of corruption and brutality that places his family squarely in the Double Eagles’ crosshairs.

With every step costing blood and faith, Penn is forced to confront the most wrenching dilemma of his life: Does a man of honor choose his father or the truth?

This series past me by, when Natchez Burning was first published. With the highly-anticipated final volume in the trilogy due out later this year, though, I was happy to get the opportunity to take part in the blog tour in honour of that upcoming release. Natchez Burning is a hefty book; packed with intrigue, mystery, secrets and violence. It’s an immersive, gripping and sometimes chilling novel. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE APPROACH by Chris Holm (Mulholland)

HolmC-H0-ApproachA great introduction to Michael Hendricks

When a strip-club mogul puts out a hit on a dancer who won’t give him off-the-clock attention, Hendricks takes a detour to Las Vegas to stop the job in its tracks. With tech genius Lester in his ear and a fake identity as cover, Hendricks has only one problem: he has no idea what the target looks like. Against the scorching heat of the city’s desert outskirts, a case of mistaken identity nearly turns fatal, but our principled hitman has a few tricks of his own up his sleeve.

To celebrate the release of Red Right Hand, the second novel featuring Michael Hendricks, Chris Holm has written a short story that serves as an excellent introduction or prequel to both the series as a whole, as well as the main character. It’s quickly-paced, has a good twist, and is very well written. We are given a good sense of what drives Hendricks, as well as his methods and skills.

I very much enjoyed this, and fully intend to read the novels ASAP. If you’ve been on the fence about trying the series, then The Approach should definitely convince you to give them a read. Definitely recommended.

Both novels — The Killing Kind and Red Right Hand — are out now, published in the US and UK by Mulholland Books.

Also on CR: Interview with Chris Holm (2012); Excerpt from The Wrong Goodbye

Guest Post: “Writing Strong Women” by M.R. Carey

careymr-fellsidetourbanner

My latest novel, Fellside, had its UK release in April and it’s just come out in paperback. To commemorate this fact I’m spending the week running around on other people’s blogs (thanks, Civilian Reader!) shouting “look at me.”

It’s a time-honoured tradition, and to keep you from saying the same thing ten times over your publisher will usually come up with a list of possible themes or titles. On the list in front of me right now, about two-thirds of the way down, the following phrase appears:-

“Writing Strong Women”

It immediately made me wonder whether or not that’s something that I do. Continue reading