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The main reason I've enjoyed “Broken Dolls”, James Carol's debut novel and first book in the series featuring ex-FBI profiler Jefferson Winter so much was because with it Carol dared to try something new. It was a breath of fresh air in a market saturated with troubled detectives because Winter as a character was a wonderful creation. He was on one hand ingeniously clever but on other was actively trying to run away from his past instead of dwelling on it.

A welcome return to his world, "Watch Me", finds him in small town sunny Louisiana tackling another case. Eagle Creek is your typical community where nothing much happens. Rumors and local secrets are rife. Despite the fact that murder cases are never easy to handle and that the fact he's been offered a name your price job should've been a big clue, Winter feels the call of the hunt straight away and decides to accept. He's tasked with catching a killer who burned lawyer Sam Galloway to death and sent the video of the horrific act to the police through a website. All the signs are pointing that he's dealing with a serial killer here. Winter is in a unique positioned for a case like this because his father is a serial killer, a fact he can never forget or forgive. Together with Taylor, a junior cop working for Captain Shepherd, Watson to his Holmes, Winter's ingenuity will be stretched to its utmost limits in his effort to outsmart this fiendishly clever criminal. As before Winter is maniacally driven to find the solution and at times I was worried about his motivations. It is questionable what it more important for him: the victim or the case? This dilemma is visible straight from the beginning when Winter has a choice between two cases and has goes on the choose a more disturbing, time restricted, one.

So the question is whether "Watch Me" is better than "Broken Dolls"? I would say yes. It is much more streamlined and the pacing is pitch perfect. Carol left behind all those teething problems that riddle just about every debut and I found that it was wonderful to go on an another investigation with Jefferson Winter. I still think this is one of the most unique crime series around. It is only a matter of time before Stephen Fry's company will produce a TV series. In my opinion, Winter alone will be enough to carry a TV series to success. But before the dam eventually bursts open and everyone starts talking about it, feel free to enjoy this series for what it is : a collection of mind-bending puzzles.


Review copy provided by Faber Books.
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Masks have always intrigued me. When I was a kid, my favorite Hallowe’en costumes were the ones where I got to wear a mask. When I got older, and started doing a lot of theatre (I’m a professional actor as well as an author) my favorite roles were the ones in which I could completely lose myself—the ones that were as different from me as possible (villains are always the most fun to play). All actors are wearing masks, even if they’re not visible. And come to that, what are the characters in any novel but masked versions of the author?

A few years ago, I had the chance to attend a masquerade in support of a local charity, and afterward returned home with a variety of masks, one of which, for lack of anything better to do with it, I stuck up above my dresser mirror…which is where it was when my agent, Ethan Ellenberg, asked for some suggestions for future projects to shop around. Which is why the list of lightly developed concepts I sent him included one for a fantasy about a girl in a magical kingdom where the ruler maintained tight control by forcing everyone to wear magical masks that would reveal any seditious ideas to the authorities.

Ethan immediately picked that idea from the ten proposals I’d sent him, and since it’s now a trilogy, he was obviously right.

Masks, the first book in what we’re collectively calling The Masks of Aygrima, came out last year in hardcover from DAW Books. Shadows continues the adventures of Mara Holdfast, the aforementioned girl in a masked magical kingdom, the girl with unusual abilities which may help her overthrow the tyrannical Autarch…

…or possibly turn her into a monster.

It’s been an interesting process developing the trilogy from that original slim idea. See, I thought it was going to be a single novel, at the younger end of young adult, or maybe even a middle-grade book. In my original idea, after all, Mara was only 13 years old.

But a funny thing happened on the way to my middle-grade book. I’d never really thought of it as a book DAW might publish, even though DAW had already published four novels of mine: Lost in TranslationMarseguro and Terra Insegura, all under (big reveal here!) my real name, Edward Willett, and Magebane under my first pseudonym, Lee Arthur Chane. But those were all aimed at adults. DAW doesn’t even have a YA line. Which meant that when DAW decided to take the Masks of Aygrima trilogy, I knew MasksShadows and Faces (Book 3, out next August) would be sold in the general fantasy market.

That immediately turned the story a bit darker and a bit grittier, and all of a sudden Mara was too young…which is why she’s now 15, instead of 13.

But I’ll tell you another secret (besides the one about my real name): The Masks of Aygrima is still very much YA, even if it’s not officially labeled as such. And much to my delight, it’s finding an audience among both young adults and adults.

Reaction from readers has been interesting. Several have pointed out that what I’ve written is essentially a dystopian novel set in a fantasy world instead of a futuristic one…which is interesting to me because dystopian novels weren’t even on my radar when I came up with the idea—I’d heard of The Hunger Games, but hadn’t yet read it.

In Masks, there’s also a hint of something else common to YA novels (some might say something that plagues YA novels), a “love triangle.” Again, I had no idea: I certainly wasn’t jumping on any bandwagons. In fact, it was my editor who pointed out it out to me. In my defense, for those who hate love triangles, the incipient triangle in Masks is decisively dealt with in Shadows…albeit after briefly taking on the appearance of a love square.

Best I not say anything more. In the immortal words of Riversong from Dr. Who: “Spoilers!”

Shadows was a pure delight to write. In fact, I wrote it faster than any other novel I’ve ever written: I started the first draft on August 1, 2012, and finished it on August 31. One month, 100,000 words. Of course, there was a considerable amount of rewriting after that. My DAW editor, Sheila Gibert, has an uncanny knack for identifying what does and doesn’t work in a story, and she had…ahem…extensive notes. The book is much stronger now than that first draft thanks to her insight.

And now I’m busy finishing up the first draft of Faces, the third book in the trilogy. Shadows ends with…well, not exactly a cliffhanger, but definitely a portent of things to come. And as terrible as the things are that happen to Mara in the second book (and they’re bad enough I felt quite sorry for her, though not enough to change the plot, of course—let’s not be silly!), in some ways even worse awaits in the third book, en route to what I hope will be a satisfying ending to the trilogy.

Writing this trilogy has been the high point of my career so far. Masks and Shadows are both out as audiobooks now from Recorded Books, with the excellent Elizabeth Morton doing the narrating. The paperback of Masks will be out in November, and a German version of Masks is in the works.

I think Mara is my favorite character ever, even if I do do horrible things to her (and I do). I hope readers enjoy getting to know her and accompanying her on her adventures as much as I have creating them…and will be looking forward to continuing those adventures in Faces next year.

And that’s the story behind the book.


E. C. Blake
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It is not ofter that you encounter a book that you feel will be read with same fervour 100 years on but Albert Sanchez Pinol's fourth novel, an ambitious historical epic novel "Victus: The Fall of Barcelona" instantly feels like you are reading a classic novel. It's hard to pinpoint why. There's a lot going against it. It is absolutely huge so it'll take a significant amount of your time once you start. It is magnificent in scope and details, and deals with a historical event which at the moment will be interesting to few. However, this historical footnote is becoming increasingly relevant now as it will undoubtedly be in the future because described fall of Barcelona directly lead to fall of Catalonia, an event which today still resonates heavily in Spain. Just this year the Catalan government has announced its intention to hold a referendum on possible independence from Spain in 2014. When you combine that with the fact that in his native Spain, Albert Sanchez Pinol has often been compared to other greats such as Roberto Bolaño and Carlos Ruiz Zafon, it's easy to understand my feelings about it.

Victus is narrated by Martí Zuviría, an 98 old man who best knows what happened in that fateful conflict. He was actually the person who betrayed Barcelona and played crucial part in Catalan annexation to Spain on September 11, 1714. Destinies of Marti, Barcelona and Catalonia have always been intertwined together and Pinol decides to reflect all three sides of the story against each other. Marti's humble beginnings lie in early 1700s when he was a cherished military engineer fighting in wars against France. Marti is presented as the worst kind of engineer becoming politician. He's frighteningly able, technical and ambitious but lacking in morals. It's as if he seems people and political landscape as mere cogs in machinations of life. A problem to be solved. As he increasingly rises in powers Marti is elevated through ranks and soon finds himself in the position to change the course of history. And this he does but now with the death knocking on the door he still going back to those few days wondering what actually happened and why?

Victus is hailed by publishers as an instant classic and as you know by now I would tend to agree. It's a staggering historical novel dealing with a topical issue and a turning point in Catalan and Spanish history. Written by one of the most important contemporary Catalan authors, it’s an achievement of well researched historical fiction. Anyone brave enough to tackle it will end up inspired and all the cleverer for it. You'll finally understand the passion and the reasoning behind the Catalan struggle for independence whose flames exactly 300 years since Barcelona fell have never been burning stronger.


Review copy provided by HarperCollins.
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V.M. Giambanco is an exciting new crime author and her second novel The Dark is just about to come out in hardback from Quercus. It is a second novel in the series featuring Homicide Detective Alice Madison and her partner Detective Sergeant Brown. First novel in the series, "The Gift of Darkness" was published last year but since I've read both books in the sequence I've decided to revisit the debut before continuing to review "The Dark".

Story opens up as twenty-five years ago three boys are kidnapped in the woods near Hoh River in Seattle. One of the boys never comes home. Back in the present a family is found murdered with words thirteen days scratched nearby. The crime scene is particularly horrific but mercifully it seems that kids and wife were killed quickly. Husband was not so lucky. Through a check found on the scene Homicide Detective Alice Madison and her partner discover a link leading back to these all but forgotten case. Alice believes the two cases are connected and must go back to the woods and revisit the old case to solve the new one. In doing so her abilities are stretched up to her limits and all she can do is to follow her instincts. This is particularly hard because Alice just came out of training and her both her methods and experience are almost non-existent. And the time is running out...

 

Setting it apart from other, more frantic, crime debuts of recent years, "The Gift of Darkness" is strangely slow burning. It is also very long and filled with, some would say, too much details. However, it's quick to incite interest and I was easily hooked with it's characters and mystery. I've loved the dynamic between Alice and Brown and I've thought the elements of the case have been done crackingly well. After these two books Giambanco is slowly turning out to be one of the most interesting names in crime fiction. She's knows how to scare and to fascinate her readers while at the same time offering plenty of uniqueness to be memorable even after you finish the final page. Very enjoyable.


Review copy provided by Quercus.
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THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS is book two in a series, and the idea for this book has been twirling in my head even as I wrote book one. In fact, during my work on BLADES OF THE OLD EMPIRE I had to set it aside every once in a while and write chapters that I knew will not end up in the finished book but simply had to be written, and could not possibly wait. Most of the time these “impatient” chapters arose as a side effect of character development and relationships. After writing certain scenes that included interactions between characters, I often had to move further and see how their relationships could have developed (positively or negatively) if they were not constrained by the events of the book. Coincidentally, the major characters that needed such follow-up were several Majat warriors, which did not get a point of view or a lot of back story in book 1. These characters ended up setting the tone and the scene for book 2.

I was amazed to find out that at the end of this process, as I completed BLADES OF THE OLD EMPIRE, I simultaneously created a backbone of its sequel, with chapters placed in order throughout the story so that all that was needed was to write in the parts in between. At the time I had no publication plans for either book, so I regretfully put it aside and tried not to think of it too much. When Angry Robot offered me a contract for the BLADES and its sequel, I felt so inspired that I just sat down and wrote book 2 in a record-setting time. I couldn’t believe how fresh everything was in my head. The couple of years in between felt as if they did not happen at all.

Working on THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS felt like being in love, an analogy which I also couldn’t help sharing with my friends and members of my writing circles. This novel just happened, seemingly without much effort on my part. It felt as if this book already existed somewhere and was simply waiting to be written until I could sit down and do it. I wrote at every possible spare moment, sometimes for less than five minutes at a time, and I completed the first draft in three weeks or so. I was able to do it not because I was fast, or sloppy, but because this book occupied so much of my thoughts that every time I worked on it I could achieve full concentration. Writing that book became my form of meditation, the essence of why I love being an author and why I could never possibly do without writing.

One of the reason for my ease of submerging into this book, as I now understand it, was the characters. They seemed to grow on their own, becoming alive in my mind, begging to be developed further. I got to learn more and more about them day to day, and the more I learned the more interesting they seemed. I found myself wanting to know their back stories in more detail. I had to learn what happens to them after the events in the book. I could not wait to spend more and more time in their company, watching them, prying into their thoughts.

As I now understand it, each sequel is concealed somewhere within the story for the original book in the series, even if all the plot lines have been thoroughly wrapped up. It is really up to the author every time to decide whether to pick up these threads and follow them, or leave them alone. In my case, I felt like I had no choice. In fact, I am still following these threads, not only working on book three of the Majat Code series, but also writing stories that show some of the characters’ backgrounds. One of them, MAJAT TESTING (currently on sale), tells about an episode from the younger days of Magister Egey Bashi, one of the central secondary characters whose point of view I love.

Without getting into spoilers, I have to mention that I made an unconventional choice in this story by developing the love interests established in book one in the directions that I knew could be taken differently by different readers and fans. I also infused THE GUILD OF ASSASSINS with more romance than I originally meant to, which led to a few lifted eyebrows from the fantasy fans and a warm welcome from the romance readers. I knew that on both of these accounts I was taking a risk, but for me, it couldn’t go any other way. In fact, as I wrote this book, I was open to all possibilities, letting the characters make their own choices. In the end I feel that I can take little credit for the story, which was all driven by my characters, leaving me, the author, in the behind-the-scenes position of watching and writing down what I see.

Now that I am working on book three, I am finding it interesting how the story once again settled into a completely different mode, this time with less romance and more fantasy adventure, court intrigues, and epic battles which hopefully will bring the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion.

Thank you for reading!


Anna Kashina
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REVIEW : You by Zoran Drvenkar

Friday, 19 September 2014

No one does gut-wrenchingly bleak like Zoran Drvenkar. “Sorry” was one of those novels that you just had to read even though you were perfectly aware that it'll disturb you and that you'll have nightmares for nights on end. His second novel “You” has just been published in the US by Knopf and judging by the synopsis and the opening few pages it looks like we're in for another dark tale. With chilling detachment its beginning recounts a tale about a man known as “The Traveler” who during a snowstorm in the 90s goes on to kill 26 drivers on a German A4 highway between Bad Hersfeld and Eisenach im Stau. The scheme is simple. Due to storm lots of drivers are forces to spend the night on the road and in the morning some are simply found dead because the killer simply walks against the traffic and does its thing. Reading the sorry affair sent shivers down my spine. The whole this is written so vividly that at one point I went to Google and tried to find the actual event.

At this point story turns to Ragnar Desche, a career criminal whose attempt to recover three million euros worth of drugs goes awry. He finds his brother Oscar dead. His car and drugs are missing. It transpires soon that the person who has the drugs is in fact his niece Taja. Together with four of her friends she wants to sell them and use to money to find her mother in Norway but Ragnar doesn't like idea. The road behind Ragnar is filled with violence and dead bodies and Taja, Stink, Nessi, Schnappi, and Ruth have no choice but to keep going forward.

The sense of detachment and drama is masterfully nuanced by telling the entire story in second person voice. This disorienting experience when combined with an complex plot would in the hands of lesser author lead to a bewilderment but Drvenkar strikes the balance early on so by the time I've reached the conclusion I was once again hopelessly hooked up with his darkness. And the ending is completely worth it. It is dark, unsettling and completely unexpected.

Over the course of these two translated novels Drvenkar has already established himself as one of the most exciting contemporary European writers and I'll waiting with impatience for his other works to come out. A disturbing and fascinating book.


Review copy provided by Knopf.
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Why write an epic fantasy with carnivorous plants, blood mages, satellite magic, and parallel universes battling it out to the death?

Well… why not?

We’re all writing the books we want to read, and The Mirror Empire was the epic fantasy novel I always wanted but could never find. It’s a book that delivers an epic story, cultures that don’t all sound like they were pulled from a Wikipedia article, a cool magic system that gives folks powers that wax and wane, and complex characters of all types – it’s not all “the elf, the monk, the dwarf.” Nor is it “the battle-hardened dude, the battle-hardened lady, the battle-hardened kid.”

I’ve always longed for stories that took me to places truly different, and that’s what I sought to deliver with The Mirror Empire. This is a world you’ve never seen before: consent-based cultures, vegetarian cannibals, societies with three genders, creepy satellites that deliver epic powers. All in one book.

I get asked a lot about the real story behind the book, and it is, simply, this: What if you had to give up everything you believed in, become everything you hated, and destroy someone with your own face in order to survive? Would you do it? Would you care? Who would you be, after?

These are the sorts of questions I explore throughout the series. My academic background is in the history of resistance movements, and I’ve spent a good deal of time researching war and genocide. I’m interested in what makes people turn on each other, and what makes them come together in the face of adversity.

They are complex human questions explored on a vast landscape. When you take people out of the world we see and put them someplace completely different, how much are they like us? How much are they… not?

I’ve been working in the world of The Mirror Empire for a very long time. It’s aged as I have; become more complex, more demanding, more morally ambiguous. When I decided to return to it after writing my God’s War trilogy, I realized it needed to level up to where I was at in my craft. That meant burning down the original draft(s) a couple of times and starting over.

And the story is better for it.

Sometimes the stories we want to tell need to grow and evolve with us. I was incredibly pleased to have The Mirror Empire’s story catch up with me.


About Kameron Hurley

Kameron Hurley is the author of the new epic fantasy The Mirror Empire, as well as the award-winning God’s War Trilogy, comprising the books God's War, Infidel, and Rapture. She has won the Hugo Award, Kitschy Award, and Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Hurley has also been a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, Nebula Award, the Locus Award, BFS Award, and the BSFA Award for Best Novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed Magazine, Year's Best SF, EscapePod, The Lowest Heaven, and the upcoming Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women.


Kameron Hurley
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Q: What can you tell us about "The Relic Guild"?

A: I like to think it’s a story about people doing the right thing even though they’ve been given every reason not to. It’s about magic, monsters and mayhem. It’s a fantasy adventure. It has moments of horror, and touches upon the themes of isolation and loss. Mostly, “The Relic Guild” is written as entertainment.

Q: Where the idea came from and what can you tell us about your writing process?

A: The book really is an amalgamation of the ideas and inspirations that I’ve collected over the years. There are elements of pretty much every genre and medium that has entertained me, from superheroes and fantasy books to RPGs and horror films. I think “The Relic Guild” marks the moment when I stopped holding back and let my imagination run wild. As for my process, I write a lot in longhand because I find it helps me order my thoughts and ideas, and then I bring anything useful back to the computer in my office. I like to start work as early as I can in the morning, and then write for as long as I’m able.

Q: "The Relic Guild" is your debut novel but you've already published quite a few short stories. How different was it writing a novel? Was transition to long form difficult?

A: This might sound flippant, but it’s the truth. I never really consider the length of a story before I start writing it, and I’m notoriously bad at predicting word count. I just write until I feel the tale is told. “The Relic Guild” was simply the first idea I had that was long enough for a series of books.

Q: So have you planned the entire series from the start and how much it changed from the initial idea?

A: Yes, this story was always going to be three books long. Like so many other writers, and certainly with just about everything I’ve ever written, I know the beginning, I know the end, but it’s the middle of the story that can change and develop in a way that feels surprising, unexpected to the author. Things usually unfold as I roughly planned them to, but I just find cooler ways to do it.

Q: I've been especially impressed by your setting. For the readers, the story takes place in a strange and fascinating places called Labyrinth which is effectively sealed from the rest of the universe. How do you get to create something like that? Is world-building hard for you?

A: Thank you! The Labyrinth is really just a riff on the forgotten village hidden in the dark depths of a haunted forest. Only this time the village is the size of a city, and instead of a forest it’s surrounded by a gigantic maze that never ends. I find world-building no easier or harder than any other part of writing. For me it’s all about balance, connecting the different pieces into a single story. I like to use world-building as a backdrop, and try to let the reader discover the world as the characters do.

Q: "The Relic Guild" is a very bleak book without many light moments. Still, you seem to be a very fun and chirpy person who likes to fool around a lot? Where did all the darkness come from?

A: Hah! You’re not the first person to raise this point. There is some humour in the book, but you’re right to say that it’s surrounded by a particular kind of bleakness. If I want to scare readers, I’ll think about what scares me. If I want to dazzle imaginations with landscapes or magic, I’ll consider what it might take to leave me astounded. I am happy for the most part; I’ve got a lot to be grateful for. But I also go through all that other stuff that most humans do. With the Labyrinth, I wanted to create a dangerous place, where no one would choose to live, and somewhere that’s far removed from the comfort of my own life.

Q: How was it writing Clara as she is in the book - a young woman in the middle of a very confusing and potentially deadly situation? How did you get into right frame of mind?

A: I would say, out of all the characters, Clara is the one who carries the most traits of my personality. She is founded upon the confusion, the angst and insecurity that I felt when I was eighteen. The more she learns about the world, the less it makes sense, the more dangerous and chaotic it seems. I enjoyed taking Clara away from an undesirable life, and injecting her into a strange and fearful place. As it was, and is, for me, nothing will ever be easy for her.

Q: Who were the authors who originally inspired you to write and what recent titles would you recommend to our readers?

A: Well…There’re David Gemmell, Neil Gaiman, Angela Carter – this is a list that changes and grows every day. Recent titles I’d recommend? I’ll go for my fellow Gollancz debuts. I read them all to discover who I was being published alongside this year, and I have to say it’s an impressive collection of stories. Check out Jon Wallace, Den Patrick, Anna Caltabiano and John Hornor Jacobs!

Q: To conclude, what's next? A sequel as the finale could possibly suggest or something completely new?

A: Definitely the sequels. Book two of “The Relic Guild” is now on my editor’s desk, and I’ve just started book three. That’s my writing card filled for the next year or so. 


Edward Cox
Order The Relic Guild by Edward Cox here:

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