Tuesday, September 11, 2012

BBAW Day Two - Interview Swap

I had the pleasure of interviewing The Little Red Reviewer, also known as Andrea, for the BBAW interview swap! You can read Andrea's interview with me on her page (permalink to come). You review a lot of science fiction and fantasy, but started as a sci fi reader. What elements of each genre are you drawn to? What was the spur for you to start reading fantasy?

I think I'm most drawn to the impossibleness of it all, or at least the seemingly impossibleness. I read a lot of space opera, that takes place in colonies around our solar system, or on far flung planets that we've colonized or terraformed. Maybe in 50 or a hundred generations that could be possible, but it won't be happening in my lifetime, so to me, it's impossible. Fantasy too - dragons and magic are completely impossible, but I find that fascinating!

It took forever for me to start reading fantasy because I thought all fantasy was Lord of the Rings style fantasy, with quests and dwarves and princesses and evil sorcerers. I didn't want to read anything labeled fantasy because the traditional quest based high fantasy just didn't interested me. But wait, I like fairy tale and mythology retellings, didn I? I liked Neil Gaiman, didn't I? isn't that stuff closer to fantasy than science fiction? My husband convinced me to read some Michael Moorcock and some Steven Brust, two masters of darker fantasy starring antiheroes. It was love at first read.

since sci fi/fantasy was embraced by mainstream culture, it seems there's a popular monster of the moment: the almost endless fascination with vampires, the zombie obsession. Do you have a favorite? Love or hate the popular incarnations?

I haven't really gotten into the zombie craze, and other than enjoying a few seasons of True Blood I haven't really gotten into much of the pop culture urban fantasy stuff. I prefer my monsters, zombies and vampires, to be just that: monsters. Horrific creatures to be run from, not towards, creatures we should biologically be fearful of. Some recent Vampire books that I've enjoyed are Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, and Twelve by Jasper Kent, and both are quite scary. Jim Hines's recent Libriomancer pokes fun at some of the newer popular incarnations, but I haven't read enough of the pop culture stuff to get a lot of his jokes!

Using the T-word for a moment here, Twilight brought vampires to a larger audience and knock-off titles abound. Now we see zombies everywhere. What are your thoughts on sci fi/fantasy in popular culture? Bringing it to a wider audience, watering it down and making it insipid, or both?

There is an infinite amount of flavors of science fiction and fantasy. some of it is literary, so of it is dark and creepy, some of it is humorous or satirical, and some of it is on the lighter side. Everyone is going to enjoy different things, so I'm just happy there is such a huge variety of titles and genres and subgenres available. There was nothing like this kind of variety when I was younger. And hey, if someone is reading Twilight today, maybe next year they'll be interested in some Kim Newman, right?

What's your favorite recent read?

I really enjoyed Phil and Kaja Foglio's most recent Girl Genius novel Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess. Their Girl Genius series started out as a webcomic, which then became a printed comic, and now the authors are doing novelizations. A novelization of a comic book? that sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it? But they do it brilliantly. It's a gaslight romance adventure story, about mad scientists and crazy inventions. In the comic, there is a lot of physical humor and visual gags. in the novels (they've written two so far), there is a ton more world building and characterization, and it's funny and a little tragic and a little scary and quite romantic. if you're a fan of steampunk, I can't recommend Girl Genius enough!

I'm stealing your e-reader question: love 'em or hate 'em?

ehhhh. . . . I'm not a fan. I'm one of those super old fashioned people who has a fetish for physical books. The feel, the weight, the feel of the paper, the rise of ink, the quality of the binding, the different cover art on different printings, even the typos. I could really go on and on. And packing an entire suitcase of books for a 2 week vacation? that's not an extra suitcase, it's a badge of honor! Books don't need batteries, aren't affected by sun glare, don't need me to give my credit card information or my e-mail address. They can be passed around, lent out, traded in, borrowed, autographed, thrown across the room if they suck, sometimes dropped in the bathtub. Physical books live their own life, bear their own scars. Sometimes, in the darkened, dusty corners of a used bookstore, you can hear them tell you their stories.

Monday, September 10, 2012

BBAW Day One: Favorite Book Blogs

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is here! What? You didn't know that was a thing? My Friend Amy started this annual celebration of book blogging a few years ago, and I'm participating this year. That means BBAW-related posts all week, including giveaways, an interview swap, and more fun. In addition to the official BBAW posts, I'll also (I hope) be posting at least one review per day this week (something I'd like to make a permanent habit, actually). To see the full list of participants in this year's BBAW (as well as the giveaways), visit the official BBAW page.

The first day's topic is: Appreciation! There are no awards this year, but it can still be hard to navigate the huge universe of book blogging. Share with your readers some of the blogs you enjoy reading daily and why.

Lesa's Book Critiques: Lesa reviews everything, but especially mysteries, which hold a dear place in my heart. She hosts fabulous giveaways for mysteries I want to read, and she always seems to know what's going on in the publishing world.

Presenting Lenore: Lenore Appelhans has been reviewing YA well for ages, and she's my go-to blogger (and now, author, with a novel coming out in January) for all things YA. Her Dystopian August event fascinates even me, and I only reluctantly read dystopian novels.

Jen Robinson's Book Page: Jen reviews children's books and is also a great source for news and commentary related to children's books.

I use LibraryThing and GoodReads as a source for book reviews, and I've actually been out of the book blogging loop a bit. This event is a great way for me to become reacquainted with favorite book blogs and introduced to new ones.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

STRANGER IN THE ROOM - review and giveaway!

STRANGER IN THE ROOM by Amanda Kyle Williams: The second novel in a series is critical; after all, a good first novel could be a fluke. The more I like the first in a series, the more I hope the second lives up to its potential, and I am pleased to say that Amanda Kyle Williams more than delivers with her second Keye Street thriller, STRANGER IN THE ROOM. If you missed THE STRANGER YOU SEEK, Keye is a disgraced FBI profiler-turned-P.I., her brilliant career derailed by alcoholism, who gets pulled in as an APD consultant when a serial killer terrorizes Atlanta. Keye is funny but competent, deeply flawed, and self-aware. She's as funny as early Stephanie Plum, but in more intense thrillers (think Karin Slaughter, early Patricia Cornwell). It's an addictive combination. Thrillers are often relentless (which is the point, of course -- to keep the reader turning pages) in gore, action, and suspense, but in a twist on the usual thriller formula, Williams has used her heroine's abundant flaws to inject substantial humor into her books. The suspense is still intense; humor simply provides another layer of enjoyment.

Atlanta is practically a character in STRANGER IN THE ROOM. Having made it through a scorching summer, lines like "Atlanta's smoldering summer had dropped down around us like a burning building" really resonate with me. Keye observes of her private investigation business, "Missing persons, surveillance, bond enforcement, and process serving keeps the cash flowing when business slows to a crawl over the winter holidays. But when Atlanta starts to heat up and the glaring southern sun sets our bloodstreams ablaze, when the clothes get skimpy and overworked servers stagger out with trays of frosty pitchers at packed pavement cafes, my phone gets busy." Details of locations and mouth-watering descriptions of restaurant offerings (more on this later) add to the authenticity. Keye struggles with sobriety, and Williams treats alcoholism with great sensitivity and understanding, even as Keye cracks jokes about it.

STRANGER IN THE ROOM starts out with Keye's troubled cousin, Miki, asking for help; she's being stalked. Keye isn't sure how much of Miki's account to believe, but when a body turns up in Miki's house, Keye is convinced. Miki is possibly more screwed-up than Keye. "'Are you all right?' she asked, then went on without giving me time to answer. 'Oh, right. The alcohol thing. What's the big deal, anyway? I won't let you get wasted. Just order a fucking drink.' 'That's the worst idea I've heard all day.' She reached into her bag and withdrew a tiny glass vial with a black cap. 'I've got some coke. Would a line help?' That's my Miki, always thinking of others." Meanwhile, APD Lieutenant Rauser has asked for Keye's insight in a serial killer case. These two mysteries make up the main plot, with Keye's private investigation business providing the subplots. One is a bail bonds case that provides quality comic relief (and by "comic relief," I mean, "uncontrollable laughter"), and the other takes Keye up to rural Big Knob, where she investigates odd happenings at a crematorium. The Big Knob case introduces one of my favorite characters in any book in any genre: the politely racist Mrs. Stargell. In a less nuanced novel, Mrs. Stargell would have been a one-dimensional character to hate, but Williams rounds her out nicely, and she steals every scene she's in. I kind of hope future cases take Keye back to Big Knob.

Keye's supporting cast is fantastic. Williams is skilled at crafting complex characters, no matter how few words they have in the book. Keye's relationship with Rauser continues to develop in interesting and unexpected ways. He's a great cop: "'Listen to me, people,' Rauser snapped. 'All that DNA shit, it's gonna be great in court. But it's good old-fashioned police work that closes cases. Don't ever forget that.'" But he has a goofy side, too: "Rauser's hand went to his weapon, then slid away when we saw the gray tabby from next door pulling himself up and over the fence. He balanced on top for a couple of seconds, then jumped to the ground and sauntered over to the patch of neglected garden. He dug around, sniffed, turned a few circles, sniffed, dug, then laid back his ears and did his business. 'Little bastard,' Rauser growled, watching the cat with Wile E. Coyote eyes. 'Fucker's looking right at us.' I had to bite my lip and look away. Rauser had unintentionally built a giant cat box in his yard." Her coworker, stoner savant Neil, is hilarious and strangely competent. He and Keye exchange great childish banter that brings out Keye's silly side. "Neil had his electronic devices out, and he was balancing a hotel coffee mug. 'This is going to be one of those three-hour tour things, isn't it? Big Knob's the Minnow and you're Ginger and I'm the professor and we're never getting off the island.' 'You see me as Ginger? Really?' I glanced at myself in the rearview."

I'm tempted to quote all the passages I marked that made me laugh out loud (and, in one case, literally slap my knee), but I don't want to spoil the joy for new readers. I'm also tempted to quote all the passages about food (seriously, don't read Williams on an empty stomach!), but I'll just give one example: "She grew poblano peppers in her own garden and stuffed them with cheese and cubed acorn squash she'd sauteed in garlic. She skewered fresh peaches on cinnamon sticks and bathed them in bourbon and honey on the grill until their meat was sweet and smoky. She filled tiny pastry cups with goat cheese and homemade lime curd and glass pitchers with sweet iced tea and fresh thyme. Southern cooking gets a bad rap. But when it's done right, it's a beautiful thing." Besides their other attributes, I think Williams's books could be the foundation for a spectacular cookbook.

STRANGER IN THE ROOM stands well on its own, but I can't possibly recommend skipping THE STRANGER YOU SEEK. Do yourself a favor and read both. Quoting extensively in a review is the highest compliment for me: it means the writing is so good, it's best to let it speak for itself.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title courtesy of the publisher and purchased my own hardcover edition.

Giveaway: Oh, look! I purchased an extra copy of STRANGER IN THE ROOM in honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week! Want to win? Leave a comment on this post with some way to contact you, and I'll draw a winner next Monday, September 17. Contest open worldwide. For extra entries (one per action - leave a comment with a link): post a link to this contest on your blog, tweet it, otherwise publicly share it.


Reading With Lilah: Amy and the Missing Puppy

AMY AND THE MISSING PUPPY by Callie Barkley (Critter Club): I've been requesting more children's books to review since Lilah's interest in chapter books has grown. I read this one to her at bedtime, and it was a hit. She immediately asked me to put it on her wishlist for when it comes out in January (we read an e-galley on my (non-color) Kindle, and she would love to see the illustrations in all their glory. AMY AND THE MISSING PUPPY is billed for ages 5-7, and with Lilah at 5 1/2 or so and obsessed with animals, it seemed perfect. And so it was! During spring break, Amy is helping out at her mom's veterinary clinic. One day, mean old Mrs. Sullivan brings in her puppy, Rufus, who later goes missing! Amy follows clues (with the help of her friends and lessons gleaned from Nancy Drew books) to locate the missing puppy and, along the way, learns that she may have misjudged Mrs. Sullivan. This adventure introduces the girls' Critter Club, which helps animals.

It's hard to think of a more perfect fit for a child who loves both animals and mysteries than AMY AND THE MISSING PUPPY. As a mystery, it's very well-done; Amy follows clues and uses solid reasoning to help find the puppy. As a story about a group of friends, it's also successful: Amy and her friends are a genial, cooperative group, each with her own interests, but adept at compromise. The only odd note in a book billed for ages 5-7: it opens with the girls playing MASH to find out the name of the boy they'll marry, which seemed odd to me. It's the only age-inappropriate note in an otherwise spot-on adventure. The values espoused in the book are admirable: don't judge a book by its cover; helping others; working together. My daughter and I enjoyed this book.

Available January 1 from Little Simon.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.