Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Windfall + Firestorm

Since I got back from my holiday, I've really struggled to concentrate on reading (is that a symptom of jetlag?) so I returned to the Weather Warden series for a bit of light entertainment. Those of you not familiar with Rachel Caine's other urban fantasy series, you can read my introduction here. The books do have an ongoing plot throughout the series so I don't think they stand alone and the following may contain spoilers for the first 3 books.

Windfall is the fourth book in the series and picks up from the end of Chill Factor. Jo has quit the weather wardens and is now working as a lowly weather girl. She doesn't even get to wear a bikini but instead is forced into hideous foam suns and clouds for her strangely accurate yet deeply unlikable boss. If that wasn't bad enough, her sister turns up on her doorstep husbandless, homeless and above all without her extensive wardrobe. She can't turn her away despite the fact that she has to do something about David, who at the end of the previous book, wasn't in great shape at all.

Amongst all that, there are two pretty good characters introduced; a cop with questions who just won't leave Jo alone and Eamon, her sister's rebound target. I feel these books sometimes take a little too long to get going and if you're not into weather then I can imagine they can seem a little slow but I found I couldn't put it down once it got going.

So I got so wrapped up I went onto the next book, Firestorm. By now you've probably lost all hope for Jo and David and are looking in the direction of Lewis again. Unfortunately, they're in the middle of a djinn uprising and things aren't looking good for the wardens, or even the human race. Mother Earth is waking up and she's not too happy with what humans have done in her absence. Great pacy stuff and I think her characters have enough dimensions to not be too predictable.

Not that I think these books are amazing literature but they were just what the doctor ordered so I'm giving them a big fat 4 stars each.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Flash and Bones

It's saying something that I chose a Temperance Brennan book as an easy going in-flight read. I remember the days when they were quite challenging, trying to decipher medical terms and a smattering of French. I can't decide if Kathy Reichs has just lost interest in the series or is purposefully dumbing it down for TV audiences. It does seem a bit of a coincidence that the books started going downhill after Bones got popular!

So, a body is found encased in a barrel of tarmac in landfill adjacent to Charlotte's NASCAR track. Despite being a bit on the light side, it follows the classic Tempe plot where you know she shouldn't be sticking her nose in but somehow she ends up overly involved and in some kind of trouble. As a Brit I am bamboozled by the draw of racing cars in a circle so it was the perfect opportunity to explain the NASCAR scene and immerse the reader in the adrenaline but somehow that didn't happen. The racing side seemed to just be a novel plot device and I think she missed out there. Pixar's Cars seemed to have nailed it better.

As an easy crime read, it's not bad but for those of you wanting to return to Tempe's heyday, you will be disappointed. Better than the previous instalment and handy on a transatlantic flight!

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Have you been paying attention?

Unless a giant volcanic ash cloud has descended on Europe again, I should be back in the country by now. I'm sure I'll be too tired to write anything so instead I'm going to give you a little test! I did warn you.

Answer all the questions correctly to be entered into a draw to win a book of your choice.

Rules:
1. Book will be ordered from Amazon or The Book Depository and must cost no more than £8.
2. Open internationally.
3. Closing date: 30th September 2011
4. Only correct answers will be entered into the draw.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Beautiful Thing

Guest Blogger: Mary

Sonia Faleiro was a reporter in search of a story when she met Leela, a beautiful and charismatic bar dancer with a story to tell. Leela introduced Sonia to the underworld of Bombay's dance bars: a world of glamorous women, of fierce love, sex and violence, of customers and gangsters, of police, prostitutes and pimps.

Beautiful Thing is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. Well crafted and beautifully written the storey is compelling, graphic, forceful and occasionally repelling. The storey follows events in the life of Leela a bar dancer working in the underworld of Bombay's glamour and sex industries. Her life is desperate, at times almost unbearable but full of fight and hope. Leela has a lot to loose even in a world where some families consider their daughters work as a prostitute is a respectable business. Leela's grit and determination leaves you humbled. She is not easily dismissed or beaten by events or people in authority. A good read for those interested in a totally different mindset and culture.

My thanks to Canongate for providing the book for review.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Reviewing in the UK

Hello, it's actually me and not a guest blogger! I thought the least I could do was write something myself but I hope you've been enjoying the content over the last week of so. Now I've often seen bloggers mention that getting ARCs (advance review copies) is not easy in the UK or others saying they don't feel big enough to attract publishers. Well I've only been blogging for 6 months and I already have a steady flow of books coming through my door so it is possible. I thought I'd share some not-so-secret-secrets with you.

NetGalley
is dominated by American publishers but it's a good place to get started and there are a few UK names in there (Angry Robot for instance). Many of the publishers do have a British branch as well so it can be a stepping stone for you to approach them for paper copies. For example, I've reviewed several books for Penguin USA but none for Penguin here but would feel comfortable asking for a review copy explaining that I'd reviewed for their American arm. You will need to be happy to read ebooks if you're using NetGalley though and if you're a Kindle owner not all publishers provide Kindle compatible copies. Unless you send direct to your Kindle, the books will be available in a DRM protected PDF that can be read in Adobe Digital Editions or compatible ereaders.

Another electronic option is to sign up to Simon & Schuster's Galley Grab where you can choose from a wide selection every month. However, S&S in the UK are very blogger friendly and you may want to get in touch with them to be added to their blogger directory.

Do you need to be a big name blogger? Not really no, just as long as you can demonstrate that you have some reach, post your reviews to a few different places and are serious about reviewing. As a general guideline, your blog should be established for 3 months but I did start out on NetGalley earlier. If you don't update your blog on a regular basis expect to be turned down though. It's advisable to add your social networking stats to your profile on NetGalley, especially if you have more followers elsewhere.

If you've done any networking at all, you'll soon start getting requests from authors. Most of these will be plugging self-published ebooks but a few will be traditionally published authors that are just doing some extra legwork to get their work out there and read. You may feel bad for turning them away but if the books don't appeal to you, you're unlikely to give a glowing review. If you do want to accept them, make sure you give a realistic time-frame. I sometimes offer to post an extract instead of a review.

Think about which publishers you are already loyal to. If you're not too sure, check out who publishes your favourite books and if they are under an imprint of the same publisher. When emailing a publicist requesting review copies, make sure your email isn't too generic, mention that you've enjoyed certain books or you feel their catalogue appeals to you. Some bloggers advise that you should request a certain book but I prefer to give them a chance to send me something they want reviewing. As your reach grows you can probably become fussier but you're much more likely to get a book they're eager to advertise than one that's already popular.

Keep an eye out on other blogs for publisher events such as the Transworld Book Group where they are purposefully targetting bloggers to provide reviews. Some publishers will offer review copies on Twitter on a first come first served basis so many sure you follow your favourites. A few publishers have specific publicity accounts, eg. @RandomPR and @simonschusterPR.

I know a lot of people that are in the Amazon Vine program. It is invite only and I'm not sure how often they send invites out but you will have to be ranked quite well in the Amazon top reviewers table. If you do get in though, there are a lot of books available each month. The thing is, publishers have to pay to be part of Vine and their books don't always end up in the hands of people that will spread the word outside of Amazon. So it makes sense that the publishers are on the look out for alternatives, bloggers being high up on their list. So make sure you post to Amazon and Goodreads and anywhere else you can shout about a book and you are more likely to get a yes.

Of course, if you go down the route of accepting reviews, expect to be buried under books! You may have noticed some of my guest bloggers have written reviews for me. Well I just didn't have time to read everything that was sent to me in the past few months so I had to outsource! Also be careful with NetGalley about over-requesting. I think everyone does it when they first start out, it's like being a kid let loose in a candy shop. Having seen the stats, don't be too worried if you can't read and review everything you're accepted for. Do your best but remember you're not getting paid for this and it should stay fun!

And finally, make sure it's clear on your blog where you live! Not down to street detail obviously, or even town, but country is important in the publishing world. Even if international barriers are being slowly chipped away by the internet.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Perspective

Guest Blogger: Dorothy

Hello to Ellie's readers!

This is Dorothy from The Kindled Scholar, and I am very excited to be doing a guest post here. I've been one of Ellie's readers since shortly after her blog started, and I'm honored that she would have me.

You're reading this because you love to read, right? One of the things I love about reading is that you get to experience different worlds through different perspectives. Some of the best books let you see the world through a different pair of eyes. Here are a few books that take very unique and extreme perspectives.

perspective
What do these books have in common? Perspective.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold -This is a story told in the perspective of a young girl that was murdered. She sees the effect her death has on her family, especially her dad.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon -Though the words "Asperger Syndrome" never actually appear in this novel, it is clear that Christian is very different. We follow him as he sets out to solve the mystery of Wellington's murder, and we see how his condition affects his interaction with his father and mother.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer-This is a novel about World War II that is told through letters sent between friends. It's great to see multiple people's perspectives, and what makes this unique is that unlike first-person narration, you hear only what the sender wants the recipient to hear. See my review here.

ROOM by Emma Donoghue -There has been much buzz about this book, and for good reason. It is told in the perspective of a 5-year-old boy that has never been outside one room. It's truly a fascinating tale that is executed with a lot of creativity. See my review here. 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak -Okay, I haven't actually read this one, but it is pretty high up on my to-read list. The narrator is death, and if that isn't unique, well...

 A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket -This series about the plight of three young orphans is narrated by an investigator. He goes to the mysterious places that the Baudelaire orphans stayed at one point. He researches the things that have happened to them, and leaves his manuscripts in hidden spots.

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein -This book is told from the perspective of (wait for it)... a dog. That's right, a dog. Stein manages to give Enzo, our canine protagonist, a realistic but not too ambitious viewpoint. Enzo is such an endearing character that you're sure to fall in love with him, pet-lover or not. See my review here.

These books are very different from each other in many ways; one thing they do have in common is that they give us a different lens with which to view the world. When you read something that gives you a fresh perspective, whether it's through the eyes of a 5-year-old or a dog, you'll realize the many things you take for granted.

Love and (a book) light,

~Dorothy
The Kindled Scholar

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Crucible of Secrets

Guest Blogger: Lisa

Set in 1631, we are introduced to the University life of Aberdeen and to Alexander Seaton, regent of the Marischal College, a man greatly respected by his peers, who finds himself embroiled in mystery and intrigue when friend and college librarian, Robert Sim is found murdered.

Alexander is convinced that Robert knew something that caused him to killed, something he had discovered amongst a delivery of old books gifted to the college. In the course of his investigations into Robert’s murder, Alexander uncovers secrets amongst people of the town, secrets that involve alchemy, hermetics, and ultimately the secrets and rituals of the stonemason’s society. Is it these that have led to the murder of not just Robert but an apparently innocent, young weaver? Or is there more to it?

This was an intriguing book to read. The descriptions of Aberdeen and the way of life of a 17th century university town were so carefully detailed as to evoke a clear picture in the reader’s mind. The character’s sketched so cleverly it felt like you knew them. The plot was unhurried but told in such a gripping way that drew me in and, kept me enthralled, with the details of the Stonemason’s rituals and mysteries. We are also given details of Alexander’s private life that obviously follow the threads of previous novels but are easily picked up and help to bring his character to life. It is very cleverly written, leading the reader around and away from the real murderer but all the while the subtle hints are there if you care to look for them.

I found it a very interesting and different take on 17th century life, more than once I thought I had discovered the real murderer and was at last convinced I had it right – I didn’t. I particularly enjoyed the details of the Stonemason’s lodge – to this day they still keep their intrigue and that’s what piques our attention. Combined with brilliant writing and accurate knowledge of that time, it couldn’t help but be an amazing read. I’m giving it 4 stars.





Thanks to Quercus for providing a copy to review and to Lisa from the ReadItSwapIt forums for reviewing it for me.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Predators of Darkness: Aftermath

The following is an extract from Predators of Darkness: Aftermath by Leonard D. Hilley II.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: 2073

Dropping a cat from the top ledge of a ten-story office building was not the best way to remain hidden, but it was necessary.

Daniel Hutchinson assumed the cat was a shape-shifter—one of a thousand sinister prowlers roaming the streets, awaiting the proper moment to attack from his blindside and take him down.

As the cat dropped, its sinews and muscles popped, crackled. Falling, it shifted from its cat form into a hideous creature. The cat seemed to welcome its oncoming fate eagerly and without fear. With forepaws outstretched, it leaned toward the pavement like a high diver straightens to break through the water’s surface. To Daniel’s surprise, the impact against the concrete didn’t kill it. Instead, the cat rolled and pivoted around to face him, altering more and more until it became the creature that had followed him the past six days.

The cat’s head twisted, stretched. Its snout elongated. The feline resemblance faded, replaced by a more pointed nose. Its muzzle contorted further. Sharp fangs sprouted over its small teeth.

A delighted purr rumbled in its throat as the shifter understood the damage it could inflict should it span the distance between them.

The shifter’s paws swelled, growing larger and wider with thicker claws lengthening outward. Scratching the pavement with a raking swipe, it gazed at him with glowing red eyes, and licked its forepaw with menacing mockery.

“You are persistent,” Daniel whispered while searching his pocket for a cigarette. “Why are you following me?”

The shifter, he feared, would eventually catch him and rip those angry talons into his flesh and kill him, leaving his body an empty shell—useless, lifeless, dead.

The creature waited for him to make an error of judgment that left him vulnerable. The longer Daniel trekked his mission without sleep, the more mistakes he’d make. Yet, he wondered why this shifter pursued him with untiring determination.

Normally, shifters stalked human scavengers less than an hour before abandoning their pursuit, observing more from curiosity than anything else. But this one was different. Different because it studied him—his movements, his mannerisms, and mostly, his fear.

A new fear possessed Daniel. The cat shifter had been the first to reach the rooftop. How long before other shifters accomplished the same?

The shifter, disguised as a yellow tabby, sat on the rooftop when he arrived. Friendly in its approach, it mewed and cried, which struck a nerve in Daniel. The cat was identical to his cat, Morton, but Morton had died during his childhood years ago.

Daniel rubbed his tired, bloodshot eyes, trying to make sense of what he saw. Deep inside, he knew this wasn’t his cat.

The beast offered its ploy—toying with his mind—hoping he’d let down his guard, but he didn’t. No matter how tired and frayed his mind was, he saw through the beast’s weak imitation of Morton.

When he had called the cat, it pranced eagerly and leapt into his arms. He stroked the cat’s neck for several seconds, satiating the creature’s guise, before he tossed it over the ledge to prevent it from attacking him. Not a difficult undertaking for someone who’d allowed his emotions to shut down so he didn’t have to deal with the depression of reality.

His true fear resided with the fact that shifters didn’t die easily. The cat simply brushed itself off uninjured and observed him without fear. Daniel’s solid, six-foot two-inch, muscled frame didn’t provide any advantage over shifters’ shrewd intellectual assaults.

Intellectual. That the shifters were and this troubled him, too. Recent shifter dissections had shown evolutionary advancements within their brain structures. Their brains were becoming more developed, like humans. This discovery made Daniel and Dr. Helmsby wonder if shifters were incorporating human genome into their own, granting them a more advanced intelligence.

Unlike other predatory animals, shifters set ambushes. They baited traps to snare humans, and in desperate circumstances, other shifters. Using tattered pieces of clothing and mannequin parts, they constructed decoys in dark alleys to lure humans from the safety of the rooftops.

This trickery Daniel learned early on. If no reply came when he called to a decoy, he allowed no further investigation. It was a game of hunter versus prey. He wasn’t sure which he considered himself.

Hunter or prey?

A cold breeze flowed around him, blowing his long, braided hair in riveting waves. His piercing eyes, blue like shimmering ice, studied the streets. Uneasiness welled inside him while he watched the dumpsters. His nemesis was no longer alone.

The clouded skies were lightless, and the streets, darker. Without electricity the alleys and streets were dens of ominous macabre devastation.

As the mist of evening settled, forming a thin layer of fog, all that penetrated the haze were the bodiless, violent eyes.

Illuminating eyes. Eyes filled with lunacy that continually haunted him. They dared him to enter their shadowed domain.

True darkness only came when the creatures blinked in unison. Soon, though, as nightfall settled and the barometric pressure dropped, the mist would grow into a soupy thickness obscuring the brightness of their eyes and burying their gaze in impenetrable darkness.

The mists had grown worse and showed no sign of relenting or receding. The area once thriving industrially was now smothered by continual dusk. Daniel wondered if shifters could see him even when the fog blocked them from his view.

Dressed in a tattered leather jacket, Daniel patted the jagged blade that hung from his belt. The action was more a taunting gesture to the shifters than for his self-assurance. Formed from scrap metal beaten into a sword-like tool with sharp flat edges, the blade gashed through a shifter’s pelt in one quick stroke.

Below, the red-eyed shifter hissed and recoiled, disappearing into the crowded darkness of the alley where its green-eyed companions waited.

Although Daniel occasionally carried a 9mm, the weapon didn’t offer the protection he needed to survive. Bullets left clean wounds that didn’t stop shifters during their attacks. Their unique metabolisms allowed quick recovery.




If you'd like to read more, Predators of Drakness: Aftermath is available to download from the Kindle store. You can also visit the author's blog.

Download from UK site
Download from US site

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Mini Baked Cheesecakes

Guest Blogger: Mike Stimpson


Makes 10 individual cheesecakes.

Base:
150g McVities Digestive biscuits (or any crumbly biscuit)
70g butter (melted)

Filling:
250g cream cheese
75g caster sugar
1 large egg
1 tbsp lemon juice
100ml double cream

Topping:
Fresh raspberries
Icing sugar for dusting


Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (170 degrees for a fan oven).

Line 10 holes of a muffin/cupcake tin with muffin cases.

Finely crush the biscuits. This is easiest in a food processor or blender, alternatively stick them in a plastic bag and whack with a rolling pin, this is more fun. Add the melted butter and mix until well combined

Put one firmly packed tablespoon of mixture in each case and firmly press the mixture down with the back of a teaspoon until smooth. Set bases aside while making the filling.

Beat the cream cheese and caster sugar with in an electric mixer (unless you fancy some exercise!). Stop the machine a couple of times to scrape down the sides and base of the bowl. When the mixture is completely smooth and creamy, add the egg and beat until combined. Add the lemon juice and cream and beat until well combined. Divide the mixture evenly among cases.

Bake the cheesecakes for 20 minutes, remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 30 minutes.

Remove the cheesecakes from tin, place in an airtight container and refrigerate. Once set, decorate with fresh raspberries and dust with icing sugar. Remove the cases before serving.

The cheesecakes can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days. They are suitable for freezing, even after decorating.



You can find Mike here, here and here. He likes Lego and cakes. Sometimes he reads books.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

River of Shadows

Guest Blogger: Penny

This is the first of a series, recently translated from the Italian by Joseph Farrell, and takes place during and in the aftermath of a severe winter flood in the Po Valley. The water is rising and a barge leaves the comparative safety of its mooring and is swept downriver until it comes to rest many miles away. There is nobody aboard; the owner, Anteo Tonna, is missing. On the same day his brother, Decimo Tanna, falls from a window in a local hospital, and signs point to murder. Commissario Soneri is set to investigate and soon discovers links with the communists and fascist bands of WW2. The Tonna borthers were fascists, most of the river boatmen were communists, and resentments have simmered for many years. As the flood waters recede and the weather becomes icy, discoveries are made that unravel the mysteries of the past.

I enjoyed this book and found the Italian justice system, as usual, fascinating. Commissario Soneri goes his own sweet way in his investigation and his mobile phone is rarely switched on, to the deep displeasure of his colleagues. His intuition leads him eventually to the truth but it is a very involved truth, steeped in the atrocities of WW2 which had little to do in this case anyway with the Germans, and diverted to some extent by the crime of people smuggling on the river.

The characters, particularly Soneri, the forensic man Nanetti with his arthritis, and the elderly boatmen and bargemen of the Po, are beautifully drawn and completely convincing; on the other hand, Soneri's girlfriend, the lawyer Angela, is almost an intrusive character, fond as she is at having sex at or near crime scenes, and it is hard to see at times why Soneri puts up with her, or risks his job for her whims. There is much emphasis on food and drink, lovingly described; Soneri does not stint himself and the hostelries he spends his time in loom as large in the story as the crimes.

It is, basically, rather a dour book. You can feel the wet and the cold and there is a fine sense of place, and the frustration and disappointment of the old men, compounded over the years since the war, comes over very strongly. It is fairly slow-moving at the start, though always interesting, but picks up pace later.

I would award it 4 stars plus. Not quite five but a very good read and the beginning of what looks like a fine series.





You can find Penny over on the ReadItSwapIt forums. Thanks to Penny for reviewing this book for the blog and also to Quercus for providing a copy. River of Shadows is out now in paperback.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

On being a gamekeeper turned poacher

Guest Blogger: Sophie Goldsworthy

As a publisher by profession, I find I'm often lost for ways of beginning the sentence where I tell people I've also written a book. Particularly when I'm talking to other publishers. (Well, we do tend to flock together. I wonder what that collective noun might be?) It's so utterly our stock in trade - people write books every day, we publish dozens of books every week, hundreds every year. Where's the big reveal in that?

I tend to stumble into it half-heartedly, with a "so, I wrote a book". Knowing that they're immediately assessing the situation. Sizing me up before my next sentence. Hmm, I wonder. Might she have self-published some bad poetry? Is she on the verge of revealing some kind of sex and shopping predilection? Or (the ones that know me best of all), aha, I bet it's a misery memoir. All of them digging deep, dredging up a half-smile and preparing to look interested. I do it myself. A lot.

When I tell them it's a book about photography ... in fact, a Rough Guide ... well, the Rough Guide, you know, for the people who publish all those travel guides and things, they suddenly perk up a bit. Turns out almost everyone's interested in photography, one way or another. (And everyone's heard of Rough Guides.) And that's kind of the point of the book after all, which is written to appeal to anyone with even the slightest photography fetish.


You may have found an old film SLR and a bunch of lenses gathering dust in the roof, got hooked on snapping Instagram pictures on the iPhone as you go about your day (other cameraphones are also available), or be trying to size up the best point-and-shoot to buy for your holiday. Whatever floats your boat, there's an awful lot going on in the world of photography at the moment, with endless ways of capturing and editing an image and another heap of places to share it. Hopefully the Rough Guide will not only help people navigate their way through some of these options, find what works best for them - or just what's most fun - and give them some useful tips, but will also help feed their passion in the process, with lots of suggestions on where to go for ideas and inspiration.

I'm not sure whether having written a book will make me a better publisher, but it was fascinating to hop over the fence for a while. Turns out there's no real magic to the writing process, no lounging around waiting for inspiration to strike. It's just about showing up at the computer often enough to get the words down on paper (well, that and some pretty thorough planning before showing up for the first time).

I had 7 months to write the book on top of a pretty full-on job, so my "often enough" happened to be 5am every morning, and then weekends. You can get through a lot of coffee in 7 months. But there's a certain quiet calm to being up when everyone else is asleep, rattling away at the keyboard as the sun starts to come up and the birds outside wake into life. (Though my social life may have suffered a bit: it's hard to convince people of your hardcore partygirl credentials when you're nodding off into a mohito.)

They say you should write about something you know, and I'd say more than that, write about something you love. Despite the shadows beneath my eyes, and a permanent state of over-caffeinated jitteriness, I loved having an excuse to wallow in all things photography-related for all those months. It gave me a chance to carve out the time to learn some of the things I know I don't know, and to realise and think through some of the things I do. Paradoxically, the one thing I really didn't have time to do was get out there much with the camera, though I've been catching back up ever since.

And despite the thousands of new books that have passed through my hands over the years, when that advance copy dropped through the letterbox, I was as giddy and dumbstruck as if I'd never seen a book before in my life. I mean, it looked like an actual book. And it had my name on the cover. Now I'm just ticking off the days until publication.



Sophie Goldsworthy is a publisher and author, and blogs about photography at http://blog.sophiegoldsworthy.com. The Rough Guide to Digital Photography publishes on 3rd October 2011.

Monday, 12 September 2011

5 Questions with Joseph Williams

Guest Blogger: Dane Jackson

In my previous life, I was the moderator for the Borders Sci-Fi Blog, Babel Clash. With Borders going under and my employment over, my venue for promoting the books and authors I love has been temporarily closed up. Until I get a new blog up and running, I’m happy to lend my services to any and all as a guest blogger. At the end of the day, I’ll always be a bookseller, so it’s in my blood to make sure I let everyone know about the books I’m passionate about.

Aside from working on Babel Clash, I was also the Horror Buyer for Borders, which means the horror genre is near and dear to my heart. The one good thing about being unemployed right now (aside from the extra time with my daughter of course) is that I have more time to read some of the books I never got a chance to read while working. One such book is by local Michigan author Joseph Williams. His latest is a book of short stories set in and around the metro Detroit area called Detroit Macabre (available now from Post Mortem Press). While reading through these stories, hints of Lovecraft, Poe, and Matheson came to mind. If Detroit Macabre is any indication of what we can expect from Joseph Williams in the future, I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.

I recently sat down with Joe to discuss a few things about the genre and his work. Below, find Joe’s answers to my five questions.

What is it about Detroit that lends itself so well to the horror genre?  Why do you think the area hasn't been exploited in the genre?

I think Detroit is a perfect setting for horror and am really surprised that the genre hasn't really been tapped into in the city other than Thomas Ligotti. There's such a gothic, creepy atmosphere around every corner, especially in the architecture. Not to mention the blocks upon blocks of abandoned houses and businesses that give it a sort of zombie apocalypse feel. I think being a Clive Barker fan and reading a lot of his stories that take place in New York (early stuff, mostly) and Liverpool made me look at the city differently. It seems to me that there is an inherent fear in outsiders who come into the city and a survivalist mentality from the people who've stayed there. Trevor Snyder communicates this perfectly in his introduction to Detroit Macabre.

I think the main reason people haven't really explored horror in Detroit is because the city already has a reputation as a horrific place. The residents of Detroit don't want to say anything that will reflect badly on the city even if it is the truth. There's also this mentality among many Detroit citizens that they don't want any outsiders to come in while in the same breath trying to convince people to visit. It's troubling at times how much spite some of the population has for people coming into the suburbs (the very people who come down to pump money into their economy), but that is a different issue. Residents of Detroit want to remove the horror element from the city because they believe it makes a bad reputation worse, and since few people really visit Detroit from out of state, not many people get to see the landscapes of the city that lend themselves so much to horror. I also think that horror writers in Michigan (myself included to an extent) have a tendency to write about Northern Michigan where there is so much wilderness to work with, kind of like how so many horror writers, even ones who don't live there, have started to use Maine as a setting for horror because of King.

I caught some flack from Mickey McCanham at WXYT Channel 7 because he says my book takes a 'cheap shot' at Detroit, even though he told me he loved the book and can't wait for my next one to come out. People in Detroit these days are really sensitive about the city's image. Other than the musings of a character that the reader is supposed to dislike, I don't say anything particularly negative about the city throughout the book. It is merely a setting for stories. My biggest problem with Mick is that he didn't say I was taking a 'cheap shot' at Northville, Grosse Pointe, Oscoda, Walled Lake, or anywhere else where I set my stories. Just Detroit, and only because people have a tendency to be oversensitive to what they deem as criticism, which is why no one seems to write horror there.

How would you describe Detroit Macabre to readers who may not be familiar with it?

Detroit Macabre is a book of short stories for fans of classic and modern horror alike. It has a little bit of everything: zombies, serial killers, witches, ghost trains, etc, plus illustrations by Benjamin DeFever and a great introduction by Trevor Snyder. I think fans of The Twilight Zone will really enjoy a few of the stories in particular. The book includes my Detroit zombie story "The Elevator", which was recently released in a collection of zombie stories called Dead Souls with an introduction by Stoker Award winner Jonathan Maberry, and my novella Number Six which originally appeared in an anthology called The Road to Hell. I think the book covers a wide range of horror themes and devices that should appeal to just about anyone who has read within the genre in the past. But of course I think that.

Your book of short stories was put out by Post Mortem Press.  Can you speak a bit about them and what it's like being on an independent press?

Post Mortem Press is an indie press based out of Cincinnati, OH. They started off sticking specifically to the horror genre but have made an effort to branch out recently into all sorts of other topics, from science fiction to true crime. One thing in particular that I love about PMP is the dedication of Eric Beebe and his wife, Stephanie, to support the authors within their talent pool and really use every resource available to them (and some that aren't) to promote the press. I can't name a single convention within the horror/comic/science fiction fields that Eric hasn't taken a booth at to promote the books. He also has driven up to Michigan and stayed in a hotel twice on his own dime to come to events for me, and that is the personal touch and dedication that many authors don't feel with a major publishing house...or really, 98% of independent presses, either. There's a real sense of community within the writers for PMP, too, that I have never felt anywhere else. I've never met any of them in person, and yet they are all quick to offer encouraging words at just the right time. 

There are pros and cons to working with an independent press, just as there are pros and cons to working with a major publishing house. I'm responsible for doing a lot of my own promoting (though Eric has offered much more than any other independent press in that respect) and there isn't really a budget for me to do any of it. Any review copies sent out come out of my pocket. But I also love having a personal relationship with Eric and a personal stake in PMP. It allows me to work on some projects that might not have tried before because they aren't necessarily horror or won't necessarily catch the eye of an agent/publisher who is only looking for the next Harry Potter or Twilight. All in all, I love it.

What five books should everyone who considers themselves horror fans have in their library and why?

Books of Blood - Clive Barker
The Shining - Stephen King
At the Mountains of Madness - HP Lovecraft
I Am Legend - Richard Matheson
Ghost Road Blues - Jonathan Maberry

It was really difficult to narrow it down to five (Ghost Story by Peter Straub should get honorable mention or something, as well as Off Season by Jack Ketchum because I still can't go to a cabin up north without believing I will be eaten by cannibals). 

Books of Blood is like nothing I've ever read before. Some of the stories in it are as close to perfect (in my opinion) as a horror writer can get. It isn't just the visceral scenes in the book that can turn anyone's stomach but the beauty and ease of Barker's prose.

The Shining is the best haunted house (hotel) story ever, period, and Stephen King is my favorite writer.

At the Mountains of Madness is a classic by one of the greatest horror writers to ever live. You can tell that this book in particular inspired John Carpenter's The Thing and The Terror by Dan Simmons, who is another amazing talent.

I Am Legend is the preeminent vampire story even though it has been butchered in several different film adaptations. Anything by Matheson is a safe bet, but this is my favorite.

Ghost Road Blues is the first book in the Pine Deep trilogy and I absolutely love that series. Maberry also has a great zombie series (Joe Ledger) starting with Patient Zero.

The Dark Tower series by Stephen King is my favorite collection of books ever, but it's hard to confine them to horror because there are so many different genres used, otherwise they would be my numbers one through seven.

What can fans expect from you next?

Right now, I'm working on re-writes for a book of short story adaptations of Tea Leaf Green songs. TLG is one of the best American bands out there, period, and deserves a lot more attention than they seem to be getting. It's a huge thrill for me because they've been my favorite band for a while now and it's kind of surreal getting to work on a project that allows me to listen to hours and hours and hours of their songs and being able to say 'I'm working'. The book has been progressing slowly but I'm hoping it will be released sometime in early 2012.



You can follow @almightydanish on Twitter.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

In Transit

All going well, I'll be on a plane about now. I'm off to San Francisco on my holibobs! I'm not leaving the blog unattended though, I have lined up some wonderful guest bloggers to keep you entertained. I hope you make them feel welcome and there will be a test at the end - don't worry, there will be a chance to win a book for your efforts.

I know a lot of people will be blogging about the anniversary of 9/11 today. A few people have questioned my judgement on flying to America on this day but I mean no disrespect and I'm not worried something's going to happen. We must carry on as normal otherwise terrorists win. I shall be celebrating America by going and spending my heard earned pennies there. I think that's something the nation can appreciate.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Handling the Undead

Stockholm is in the grip of a heatwave and strange things are happening. Electrical appliances won't turn off, everyone has headaches and the recently dead are starting to come back to life. Not the average zombie story, John Ajvide Lindqvist has taken the time to think about the emotional aspects of zombies actually being loved ones. David has lost his wife in a car crash but can't bring himself to tell his son that she's either dead or undead. Mahler lost his grandson, Anna her son, two months before and are still struggling to come to terms with his death. To both families, the zombies are not some horror film come to life but a chance to hope that there is life after death.

It's really quite a moving and thought-provoking book. The reliving are still corpses but animated somehow. They are not out to eat brains but understandably people are scared of them. If it is one of the people you love most in the world, what can you do but carry on loving them? Fear and hatred can only have negative consequences but what happens if we can be compassionate...

Translated from the original Swedish by Ebba Segerberg, there are a few clunky sentences and odd phrases but not enough to get in the way of the powerful storytelling. It's not all action but a much more introspective, quiet book that I feel would even appeal to readers who don't like zombies.

Thanks go to Quercus for providing me with a copy for review. You can buy it now in paperback and ebook formats.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Freaks

I've been busy this week so was thrilled to find a Rizzoli and Isles freebie for the Kindle. When an emaciated girl is found dead all signs point to vampires but of course our detective and pathologist don't believe in suchs things. With the current teenage obsession with vampires this is a topical little read and perfect for a lunch break. If you're reading the series, this one can be read at any time or can be skipped altogether if you're not keen on ebooks or short stories. But hey, it's free!

Download it now!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Scary Cover #1

I was looking something up when I got side-tracked on Wikipedia, you know how that happens, and I stumbled across this nightmare inducing cover for The Children of Men:


So now I'm on a mission to find the scariest covers out there! If there's any that give you the chills let me know. Stay tuned for more scary covers...

Monday, 5 September 2011

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?


IMWAYR is hosted by Sheila @ Book Journey and is a little round-up of the week for bloggers that read.


Books I've read:

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Hairdresser of Harare by Tendai Huchu



The Colour of Death by Michael Cordy


Currently reading:



Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Swedish zombies!

Upcoming reads:


The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

I also blogged about:
Winner Announced! | Coconut Bread
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