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Hell is ‘Round the Corner by Chris F. Holm

February 20, 2012 by  •
I’m very pleased to welcome Chris Holm to the blog today. Anyone who’s ever read a short story by Chris knew immediately he was destined for something big, and with Chris’s book Dead Harvest, the first in a trilogy from Angry Robot Books, set to be released next Tuesday, February 28th, it seems big is finally here. Today Chris shares how he found inspiration for the book’s protagonist, Sam, in Hell.

Chris HolmThat Dante guy was onto something.

See, I grew up in a Catholic family. Catholic families know from punishment. From month-long groundings to wallopings to threats of violent murder, I’ve heard it all. (My personal fave was my mom’s common refrain of “Come here so I can smack you.” Seriously, is that like some kind of aptitude test? Who snaps to when they hear that ol’ chestnut?) But when it comes to scaring kids straight, the best most Sunday Schools can muster is the old lake-of-fire routine. And sure, it don’t sound good exactly, but for a kid raised on Stephen King and A Nightmare on Elm Street, that hell didn’t hardly impress.

Then I read Dante’s INFERNO. Suddenly, hell had my attention.

Sometime during middle school, this must’ve been. Yeah, I know: I was kind of a morbid kid. But I’d yet to discover punk, so I was all about Poe and King and Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, and I figured “Dude gets lost in woods and wanders into hell” was just the sort of thing I should be reading.

Turns out, it was just the sort of thing I should be reading. And, impressionable child that I was, it messed me up a tiny little bit.

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The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil by Jack Barrow

February 17, 2012 by  •
The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil by Jack Barrow “Look, we’re not saving the Universe again! It was a really bad trip last time.” – Clint

If you threw Douglas Adams, Robert Rankin, and Hunter S. Thompson in a blender, well, you’d get quite a mess actually. But if you threw a handful of their books in a blender… no, that’d still make a mess. OK, pretend you could magically combine the best of what makes each of those authors unique into a single work and what you ended up with might read something like Jack Barrow’s The Hidden Masters and the Unspeakable Evil.

The Three Hidden Masters – two from Hemel Hempstead, one from Bricket Wood (you’ll get that once you’ve read the book) – are pretty low-key, laid-back guys. Of course, all the beer, rum and weed they consume contributes to that. So when their friend Geoff, the Fourth Hidden Master (from Blackpool), contacts them for help it’s rather an effort for Clint, Nigel and Wayne to mobilize for a weekend trip up there to lend a hand.

It seems strange things are afoot in Blackpool. Initially it appears to be confined to the model village Geoff is building, where figures are moving around of their own accord and, even more disturbing, figures Geoff didn’t even make for the village are appearing out of nowhere. If that was the only strange thing happening it could be written off as voodoo gone wrong, which has been known to happen to Geoff on an occasion or two.

It quickly becomes apparent, however, that there are larger forces at work in Blackpool. Is it simply that the local council has disturbing plans to turn Blackpool into the Las Vegas of England, or is something more sinister at work, something that could threaten to tear a hole in the fabric of the Universe? Well, whatever it is, the Hidden Masters have to wrap things up by Sunday night… they do have to be back at work on Monday after all.

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Stagger Bay by Pearce Hansen

February 16, 2012 by  •
Stagger Bay by Pearce HansenI always figured at a minimum you should remember the names of people who die because of you. – Markus

Given the life he’s lead, Markus may need a notebook to keep track of those names. A childhood scarred by violence lead Markus to a youthful life of crime, one which was only enhanced by his “training” in the “gladiator schools” he was routinely incarcerated in as a result of his criminal activity.

Older and wiser, Markus has remade himself into an upstanding citizen, having moved with his young family from the crime-filled Oakland area to upstate California, to the seemingly idyllic Stagger Bay. His past comes back to haunt him when he’s wrongfully arrested and convicted of the horrific murder of an entire family and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

When he’s finally exonerated by DNA evidence after seven long years, Markus returns to Stagger Bay to find his brother dead at the hands of the police and his wife the victim of her own addictions, having OD’d not long after Markus went to prison. His son, now seventeen and a virtual stranger, wants nothing to do with him, neither do the town’s residents despite Markus having been cleared of the crime. Seeing no reason to stay where he’s not wanted and there’s nothing left for him, Makrus heads out of town… and that’s when his life really gets crazy.

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Water Sports by Paul Johnston

February 15, 2012 by  •
Water Sports by Paul JohnstonOK, right from the jump this one requires a disclaimer: I am not a regular reader of poetry, therefore reviewing it is not my forte. Having said that, I was sufficiently moved by Water Sports, a collection by author Paul Johnston, to give it a go. So… here I go.

Johnston is best known as the author of three fiction series featuring the characters Matt Wells, Alex Mavros, and Quint Dalrymple. I have reviewed books from the Matt Wells (Maps of Hell and The Nameless Dead) and Alex Mavros (The Last Red Death) series, and have also been fortunate to have Paul guest post here on two occasions.

Though both of Paul’s guest posts are well worth reading, it is his first, “On Death – Not Necessarily Terminal, Not Necessarily Red,” that should definitely be read in conjunction with Water Sports. In that post, Paul talks frankly about a serious health scare he had, one which required a nine-hour operation and follow up chemotherapy. That experience is the most obvious fuel which stoked the fire of Water Sports, and the ways Paul has addressed such a life-altering event, and questions of mortality in general, via poetry are quite moving.

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Slam Dancing in the Mosh Pit by Pearce Hansen

February 15, 2012 by  •
Very pleased to welcome Pearce Hansen to the blog today. Pearce is the author of the books Street Raised, Gun Sex (free today only!), and Stagger Bay, which I’ll be reviewing tomorrow.

Pearce HansenI was born in the middle of the post war paperback boom, when more books were printed, sold and read than at any time before in history. Those rickety rotating pocket books stands were everywhere I went with my family: drugstores, bus stations, supermarkets, even barber shops. Those pulp covers fascinated me: lurid colors and vibrant composition – blazing guns, big breasted women in swooning peril, and a granite jawed hero going toe to toe with either a sneering villain or a tentacled monster.

The smell of those books was great too. I’d see them at rummage sales and flea markets and I had to riffle the already crumbling pages, smell the scent of decomposing cheap paper. I loved them.

Through the years books were always my friends. I was a book gypsy for Moe Moskowitz of Moe’s Books on Telegraph in Berkeley – he taught me to spot first editions and books of value at yard sales, then bring them to him and sell at a profit – he made his pile to be sure, but it was hardly an unpaid internship on my part. Eventually I became a book merchant in my own right buying low and selling high at the Alameda Penny Market – one of the craziest ‘thieves’ markets’ in history I’ll bet, coming in at a time when the hippies were segueing into the drug dealing culture, and when the Angels and the Black Panthers still dominated the East Bay subculture like the T Rexes in Jurassic Park

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The Next One to Fall by Hilary Davidson

February 14, 2012 by  •
Next One to Fall by Hilary Davidson“Lil, you got some dark thoughts runnin’ through your head. I understand why they’re there, but you got to push them away when they start crowdin’ in on you. Otherwise they’ll take over.” – Jesse Robb

Still reeling from the devastating events that occurred in series debut The Damage Done, travel writer Lily Moore has been coaxed into going on a trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail with her best friend, photographer Jesse Robb. Jesse figures that a combined vacation / work outing is just what Lily needs to help drag her out of the claws of grief and depression. Unfortunately, fate has other plans for Lily.

She and Jesse are enjoying the misty early morning views at the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu when they overhear an argument, followed a few minutes later by a scream cut ominously short. Upon investigating, they find a severely injured woman lying at the bottom of a steep stone staircase. Jesse goes for help while Lily tries to comfort the woman, who is obviously near death.

While going in and out of lucidity the woman tells Lily she was forced by her boyfriend, Len, to drink something that made her sick and disoriented, then pushed her down the stairs. When the woman dies shortly after help arrives Lily tells the police what she said, but the authorities seem perfectly happy to write the death off as an accident. Lily isn’t willing to let it go at that, however, and her subsequent poking around uncovers a very disturbing piece of information; the woman at the bottom of the staircase isn’t the first to end up dead after being involved with Len.

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The Ones Who Didn’t Get Away by Hilary Davidson

February 13, 2012 by  •
Though no stranger to those familiar with the world of crime fiction short stories, where she had been publishing successfully since 2007, Hilary Davidson announced herself to the world at large in 2010 with her full-length debut, The Damage Done. The book went on to rack up a ton of accolades and make countless best of the year lists, including mine, and with good reason. Tomorrow will see the release of Hilary’s follow up, The Next One to Fall, along with my review of it. Today, however, Hilary has stopped by to talk about the inspiration behind The Next One to Fall.

Hilary Davidson

Hilary at Machu Picchu in the Cusco Region of Peru

My second novel, THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, is being released on Valentine’s Day — an ironic date, given that the book is anything but romantic. At the center of the story is a man who grew up in a wealthy, powerful family; his wives and girlfriends have a tendency to die or disappear in exotic places.

While I was writing the book, I occasionally wondered if people would think that idea too far-fetched. But at the same time, I was keenly aware of stories about women who’d been killed — or who had vanished — while traveling. There were three women in particular whose cases resonated with me, and I ended up mentioning them in the book.

One is Julie Ward, a wildlife photographer who was murdered in Kenya in 1988. The authorities, not wanting to disrupt their tourist trade, tried to pretend her death was a suicide, as if Ward had decided to hack herself apart with a machete. When that explanation was shown to be patently false, the authorities then blamed her death on wild animals. To this day, no one has been convicted of the crime, even though private investigators and Ward’s family have built a substantial case against a Kenyan man. Ward’s death was a terrible reminder that, in parts of the world that are dependent on their tourist trade, the desire to maintain the status quo can outweigh the desire for justice.

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Slow Squeeze by Dianne Emley

February 10, 2012 by  •
You’re probably familiar with LA Times bestselling author Dianne Emley’s outstanding Detective Nan Vining thrillers, but did you know that before there was Nan there was Iris? Emley first entered the writing scene in the 90s (under the name Dianne G. Pugh) with a mystery series featuring investment counselor Iris Thorne. That series is now being reissued, both in paperback and ebook formats.

Slow Squeeze by Dianne Emley“You know that first instant you set eyes on a person, that gut reaction? It’s like the essence of them is there, if you just pay attention to it.” – Iris Thorne

Having made it through the fallout from the scandals that rocked the investment firm where she works, McKinney Alitzer (Cold Call), Iris has risen to the position of senior investment counselor. She’s hit something of a slow patch of late in both her professional and personal life, however, and is looking for a jump start.

That’s probably why Iris doesn’t pay close enough attention to her gut instinct – and all those internal alarm bells going off – when wealthy widow Barbie Stringfellow breezes into her life out of nowhere. With a larger than life personality to accompany her fast talking and outrageous sense of fashion, the Atlanta transplant hits LA like a hurricane.

In fact, before she knows it both Iris and her coworker, Art Silva, are swept up by the power of Hurricane Barbie, who seems set on seducing both of them. By the time Iris realizes Barbie hasn’t delivered on her financial investment promises, and also seems to be asking a lot of strange questions about the money that went missing from McKinney Alitzer during the scandal, things have gotten extremely complicated in the three-way game of manipulation between Iris, Barbie and Art. When Barbie’s mentally unstable former lover hits the scene, however, that’s when things get downright deadly.

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Beware the Sophomore Jinx by Dianne Emley

February 9, 2012 by  •
I’m pleased to welcome back LA Times bestselling author Dianne Emley for a continuing look at her Iris Thorne series. I’ll be reviewing the series’s second entry, Slow Squeeze, tomorrow. Originally published in the early 90s, it’s been an interesting experience for Dianne to revisit books she hadn’t looked at in nearly a decade.

Dianne EmleyThank you, Elizabeth, for allowing me to participate again in your blog. Last December, I wrote about revisiting my first book, Cold Call, (the first Iris Thorne mystery) and the debut author I was in 1993. This post focuses on my second book (and the second in the series), Slow Squeeze, published in 1994.

I’ve gently edited and am republishing the five Iris Thorne mysteries as e-books and trade paperbacks. The third, Fast Friends, will be re-released soon. Books four and five—Foolproof and Pushover—will be out later this year.

When I landed a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster for Cold Call and a second, unnamed, Iris Thorne mystery, my elation soon turned to terror. Writing Cold Call was a hobby, a lark. I took all the time I wanted to polish it in blissful privacy. Now, I reported to an editor and had a deadline for the second book, all while holding down a full-time day job. Like my mother is fond of saying, don’t wish too hard for what you want because you might get it.

The title of this post is only somewhat tongue-in-cheek. When I exceeded my wildest dreams by landing that book contract, my early morning writing hobby suddenly became public. The warning about the sophomore jinx was delivered by a childhood friend, also an avid scribbler, who was perhaps a wee bit jealous. I asked him, “What do you mean?” I honestly had never heard that phrase before. Oh, to be young and naïve. I was soon to have the scales yanked from my eyes.

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Slaying Dragons by Mariam Kobras

February 7, 2012 by  •
I’ll be reviewing The Distant Shore by Mariam Kobras in the not too distant future, but wanted to go ahead and welcome her for a guest post during her “Love is in the Air” Blog Hop & Giveaway.

Mariam KobrasMy son is slaying dragons.

Not real dragons, of course, they are just evil critters in a video game. He battles them with virtual swords and words of power that pluck the beasts from the sky and make them vulnerable. He needs to kill them before he can go on winning the world of Skyrim and be a hero.

I enjoy watching him play these games, it’s a bit like watching a very long, interactive movie. I know the characters, feel for them, wishing they will win their battles for freedom and get a piece of happiness in that cold, rocky land of theirs. Skyrim is not a game for the faint of heart, and it’s definitely not for those who are afraid of dragons.

Here I am watching my teenage son play, when I’m supposed to be writing this guest post for the blog hop.
Last night, sitting in this same spot on the Chesterfield couch my sister gave me when she moved to Scotland (different story; I’m only bragging about the Chesterfield.) I was whining at my dear publisher about this blog hop and how I hated to be torn away from my “real” writing for so long to do all these posts, and how I was scared that I’d lost it and would never be able to write another word or a book again.

Of course, being a good publisher, MaryChris kicked my butt and told me to just get moving, she was quite sure I had lost nothing, and would be just fine, and there were a lot of novels in me yet. There was only this one post left for me to write just now, and then I’d be free to return to Jon and Naomi and their story.

Here’s the thing.

Even while we were talking about this, I had this epiphany, this moment of enlightenment, when, for an instant, I understood the meaning of “Writer’s Block”. Writer’s Block, this much discussed, famed, feared state of mind when a writer thinks she has nothing more to say, when she believes the well has dried up. When she thinks there will never be another word, chapter, let alone another book, and this career is over before it even really started.

I felt that way last night. I felt as if I’d never be able to return to my novel, never be able to pick up the thread and find the story again. And it wasn’t because I didn’t want to write.

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Taken by Robert Crais

February 3, 2012 by  •
Taken by Robert Crais“Got you.” – Joe Pike

Two words. Two very simple, straightforward words. And yet they may well mark the most important moment in the entirety of the fifteen books that comprise author Robert Crais’s bestselling Elvis Cole/Joe Pike series.

Taken, the most recent entry, finds private investigator Elvis hired by Nita Morales, a local businesswoman whose daughter has gone missing. Convinced her daughter has merely taken a break from college and run off with her boyfriend, Morales would still like Elvis to track her down.

Elvis’s investigation quickly uncovers disturbing evidence suggesting the young couple was actually abducted by bajadores, modern day highwaymen who target both those trying to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border as well as the coyotes (guides) who transport them. Known to be especially ruthless, bajadores won’t hesitate to kill people they’ve abducted if they’re unable to get their families to pay a ransom.

Enlisting the help of his (very) silent partner Joe Pike, Elvis devises a plan to go undercover and locate not just the missing couple, but a group of over 30 other people who were abducted at the same time. Unfortunately the plan goes sideways and Elvis himself is abducted by the bajadores. But if the bajadores think they’re ruthless, they’ve got another thing coming… Joe Pike. Along with the charismatic and equally deadly Jon Stone (about whom readers are treated to more details than in any of his previous appearances), Pike begins systematically working his way through the bajadores in his quest to rescue Elvis, a man who is not only his friend, but who is arguably his only friend.