Caitlin Sangster: Author Interview

28797211 Remember that book I gushed about this fall called Last Star Burning? I was able to get an interview with debut author Caitlin Sangster! I’m so excited to post it here for you.

Here’s the brief synopsis of the book:

Sev is branded with the mark of a criminal—a star burned into her hand. That’s the penalty for being the daughter of the woman who betrayed their entire nation.

Now her mother’s body is displayed above Traitor’s Arch, kept in a paralyzed half sleep by the same plague that destroyed the rest of the world. And as further punishment, Sev is forced to do hard labor to prove that she’s more valuable alive than dead.

When the government blames Sev for a horrific bombing, she must escape the city or face the chopping block. Unimaginable dangers lurk outside the city walls, and Sev’s only hope of survival lies with the most unlikely person—Howl, the chairman’s son. Though he promises to lead her to safety, Howl has secrets, and Sev can’t help but wonder if he knows more about her past—and her mother’s crimes—than he lets on.

But in a hostile world, trust is a luxury. Even when Sev’s life and the lives of everyone she loves may hang in the balance.


Now for the interview!

14926007 (1)Where did you get the idea for this story?
The story itself came from reading a book about encephalitis lethargica during the swine flu awfulness that happened a few years ago. It’s where the disease in LAST STAR BURNING comes from. Weaponized flu that then puts you to sleep and turns you into someone who might accidentally hurt other people sounds so YA dystopia, doesn’t it? That and being the biggest Asia nerd ever. I love Chinese history, and it seemed like the two went well together.
What kind of research did you have to do for this book?
I read books about the sickness, read lots of Cultural Revolution primary sources…have lots of very scary search history about flash bang grenades and how people die. So that’s cool. Mostly it was trying to find the right balance of detail to make the world feel authentic without being an overload and finding the right voice Sev.
Are any of your characters based on people you know? 
No, not really. Maybe someday I’ll kill ex-boyfriends in my books, but it hasn’t come to that yet. (SR – Love this idea!)
What character do you identify with most in this book?
That’s an interesting question. I think I probably am sort of like all of the characters in some ways because they all came out of my head. I wish I were more confident the way Howl is, I wish I were LESS passive the way Sev starts, but I probably sit more in June’s camp and keep my mouth shut.
You ended on a terrible cliffhanger and I kind of hate you. But I also want to know when the next book is coming out?
Awww it isn’t that bad of a cliffhanger is it?  SHATTER THE SUNS (the sequel) comes out in Fall 2017. I feel like I should probably tell you this is a trilogy. It was going to be a duology but we just sold a third book this fall!!!! (can you tell I’m excited?) — Me too! SR
Why do you think teens are interested in dystopian fiction?
I think it’s kind of fun (in a sick sort of way) to think about how you would handle the end of the world as you know it. I think high stress and extreme situations are fun to put yourself into, because you want to be important. Want to be brave enough to face down the awfulness, instead of being the person on the sidelines who gets killed. It gives teens a chance to be heroes in really big ways instead of the smaller steps and smaller victories that normal life has for us. I think it also puts problems in a very black and white context with black and white answers, which is nice because real life isn’t like that.
What advice do you have for writers just starting out or on getting published?
Don’t give up. Be persistent. Rejections are subjective and don’t define the quality of your work. Be ready to revise, especially if you get feedback from a professional. Writing is work.
Can you describe where you work?
I usually write at the library at a table in the middle of the non-fiction section. The fewest weird people who want to strike up a conversation sit there. Not that I’m adverse to talking to people. I’ve just had one too many CIA conspiracy conversations down in the science fiction section to feel like it’s viable working space anymore.
How do you balance your home life and your writing?
I have working hours. My family takes my career seriously, just like any other job, so there are times when I’m home momming, and times when I’m not. It takes a lot of discipline, scheduling and being willing to throw everything up in the air and not care some days 🙂
What experiences did you have as a kid that made you want to become a writer?
My grandfather always told the most amazing stories about his life and about us and his parents. I learned to love stories and to love telling them from him. Also, my whole family is addicted to books. Growing up, I felt like there was something radically wrong if I didn’t have an awesome book stashed somewhere on my person.
What writers do you admire?
Patrick Ness. Patrick Rothfuss. Patrick Symmes. All the Patricks. Also, Maggie Steifvader. Brandon Sanderson. They are all amaaaazing.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
I like to run a lot. And dance. And play the guitar.

I’d like to thank Caitlin for taking the time to do this interview. Really, she was just lovely and you should all check out her book!

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The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger: A Review

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Title: The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger (Dr. Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural #2)

Author: Lucy Banks

It’s only been a couple of months since his mother died and he discovered that ghosts and spirits are real, but Kester is part of a whole new life now. One with friends, sort of, and a father, albeit an odd one, and maybe even a girlfriend. He’s got a purpose too, working at a supernatural agency that deals with ghosts. Kester can open a door into the spirit world that lets the departed pass over. At least, he did it once. Now he’ll have to do it again – before anyone else is killed.

A malicious spirit is hunting down the residents of Lyme Regis and killing them in their homes. Kester and his friends will have to move fast and overcome some personal rivalries if they want to succeed.

I really liked this series when I discovered it last year and I was so excited to win an ARC from NetGalley for the second book. If you like funny mysteries or mysteries with a little supernatural aspect thrown in, you will totally love these!

Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read this one for free. My opinions are all my own.

Flashback Friday

This column appeared earlier, but I’m sharing it again for new readers. Enjoy!

Title: Magician: Apprentice, Riftwar saga

Author: Raymond Feist

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Themes: hero’s journey, friendship, war, magic

Setting: Midkemia

Source: TBR pile. I found this one at the USB. It sounded appealing, very LOTR, with a young hero discovering his powers and a land on the brink of war, dwarves and elves all that stuff. It was the first in a series, so there’s always that hope that I’ll really love it and there will be all those other books to look forward to.

Story: Pug is a serving boy at the castle who was taken in by the duke. Now he has grown enough that he and other village boys his age are ready to become apprenticed and learn a trade. Pug’s best friend gets chosen to become a soldier, but Pug is unpicked until the wizard chooses him. Pug is willing, but has difficulty learning traditional magic. Still he is willing and brave, and discovers a frightening new enemy poised to invade all of Midkemia. At this point, we begin the journey to summon aid from elves and dwarves, and so on. The duke’s youngest son defends the keep against a determined invasion and we’re set up for the next book.

Pros: The setting is well done, and I like the various races. Yes, it is very much what you expect, with the dwarves living in the mountains, and beautiful elves and so on, but just because something is expected doesn’t mean it’s bad.

I liked Pug. He’s brave, clever, and well written. I liked most of the characters, in fact. Princess Carline has a nice character arc, going from spoiled little brat to a determined young woman in a convincing manner. Really liked the ship’s captain Amos Trask who enters the book toward the end. I’m guessing other readers liked him too, as he gets his own book later.

The villains! They are convincingly bad and I’m looking forward to finding out more about their story.

ConsThe length! My version is the “author’s preferred edition” which apparently means longer and with deleted scenes. But you know what? Editors exist for a reason. This is too long. And it’s not the length by itself that’s the problem. It’s the fact that the title is Magician: Apprentice and yet Pug is not even in the last 100 pages. Why is that? This is his book. I really liked the ending, don’t get me wrong, but it’s out of place. That should have been incorporated in the next book.

Also, for a book named Magician: Apprentice, the POV should have been solely his. Instead it shifts quite a bit. It was usually well done, but was unexpected and occasionally jarring.

I wanted more magic! I keep harping on the title, but wouldn’t you expect a lot of magic in a book about a magician and his apprentice? Sadly, there’s not much. Yeah, Pug studies some, but he only does one major spell! There’s no explanation of how magic works in this world, only that Pug is doing it all wrong. Come on, Feist, that’s why I picked up the book!

Finally, why are there only a handful of female characters in this book? It’s certainly an improvement over LOTR, but not by much.

Verdict: This is tricky. I don’t feel this is one everyone will enjoy. It’s a solid book within its genre, but it doesn’t transcend it in any way. But I did like it enough that I’m going to read the next one. I don’t think I’ll put it at the top of my list, but I do want to know what happens next. 3.8 stars

Traitor’s Masque: A Review

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gorgeous cover!

Title: Traitor’s Masque

Author: Kenley Davidson

Free on Kindle Unlimited

So you’re wondering what would be left of Cinderella without the magic? Turns out, a really great story!

Here’s the publisher’s summary:

Trystan has only two goals — to free herself from her stepmother’s household and to live her life on her own terms. But she cannot do so alone. In her desperation, she accepts the aid of a mysterious band of conspirators in exchange for her promise to help protect the kingdom. Trystan is uncertain whether her new friends can be trusted, but then she meets Donevan, a compelling and enigmatic young man whose face haunts her dreams.

Caught between her desire for love and the needs of a kingdom in turmoil, Trystan attends the Royal Masque, where she learns that her quest for a happy ending may have betrayed the man she loves. Plunged headlong into a nightmare of duplicity, espionage and intrigue, she will have just one chance at redemption, though she may be forced to sacrifice everything she’s ever dreamed of to prevent her kingdom from falling into the hands of a ruthless adversary.

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another great cover

I just found this one when looking for new Kindle Unlimited books – I love that program, BTW, so many great books for one price – and I found this one. I’ve never read anything by this author before but I admit to being a sucker for fairy tales. You might think I’d be too old for them, but even at my age, there’s nothing quite like a Happily Ever After.

It didn’t take me long before I was hooked! Trystan is a little bit of a brat at first, but I did like her. Really she’s just awfully young and self-centered at first. By the end of the book though, she’s really learned to be aware of the people around her and not take things for granted. As for Ramsey, he won my heart from the first. I loved this serious, responsible prince who just wants a few minutes privacy. Except this girl keeps crossing his path!

I liked the secondary characters as well and I’m so glad there are more stories out there. I will definitely be reading the next in this series and I see there’s even a prequel about Lizabeth, Ramsey’s aunt. I’m looking forward to reading them. You should definitely check these out!

Madam Tulip: A Review

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions remain my own.
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Title: Madam Tulip

Author: David Ahern

Setting: modern Ireland

Summary: Madame Tulip is the first in a series of Tulip adventures in which Derry O’Donnell, celebrity fortune-teller and reluctant detective, plays the most exciting and perilous roles of her acting life, drinks borage tea, and fails to understand her parents.

My review:

Derry O’Donnell is an actor, but acting hasn’t been paying the bills lately. Now her super successful mom is putting her foot down – Derry needs to get a job and start paying the rent. On a whim, she invents a new character – Madam Tulip, medium.

It’s not entirely a lie. Her father is the seventh son of a seventh son, and Derry is somewhat psychic. But when she agrees to her first paying job, things don’t go exactly as planned.

Normally I don’t like cozy mysteries very much, but every once in a while one stands out. This one was much more fun because of the Irish setting and Derry’s entertaining parents. Derry herself is a good character, although the romantic angle was disappointing. I found the mystery angle a little confusing. But all the secondary characters are fun and I loved reading about Derry’s transformation into Madam Tulip. This book is the first in a series and I would love to read more. Thanks for the chance to read this one.

Fateful Impact: A Review

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed remain my own.35556066

Title: Fateful Impact (Crimson Nightmare #1)

Author: Samantha Hoffman

Setting: Future space around Earth

Genre: YA science fiction

Plot Summary:

Cressida has lived on the Olympus Station her entire life, having been born in space just like the last several generations before her. When her class is allowed to take a field trip to a neighboring military station, everyone is excited at the chance to see someplace new. Everyone except for Cress. While her classmates are eager to get a glimpse of life at the most prestigious military academy on this side of the universe, she’s more worried about what lies below. 

When several convicts organize a prison break from the maximum security prison lurking in the bowels of the station, Cress and several of her classmates are taken hostage during the escape. With the convicts in charge of their shuttle, they crash land on an uncharted planet far away from home and even further from any hope of rescue. 

The students band together in an attempt to survive as long as possible, but it won’t be easy. Aside from the convicts who are willing to do anything to survive, they will have to fight starvation, the elements, and the many surprises the planet has to offer. With their lives falling apart, Cress begins to understand that things were never truly as they seemed back home. While lost, she finds a sense of purpose, and it drives her to survive at all costs. 

My review:

It’s not often that we get YA in space. YA fantasy is extremely popular, as is dystopia or contemporary fiction. When I heard this one was set in space, I admit to being curious. Then add in a penal colony, starships, and a crash landing on an alien planet, and that checked all kinds of boxes for me.

As for the characters, I admit I didn’t love Cress at first. She seemed very stuck on herself, but by the time they got to the planet I began seeing another side of her. She begins to take charge from the time they’re kidnapped. I like seeing her strength. Her friendship with Pandora and the other girls was well written. I’m not sure I bought the love interest though. It seemed awfully sudden, just sort of thrown in there at random.

The story is gripping. I raced through it. I’m not sure it all made sense, but it was so much fun that I wasn’t feeling especially picky. It was a killer ending – quite the cliffhanger! So if you pick it up, be prepared. Recommended.

Paving the New Road: A Review

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions, however, remain my own.

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Title: Paving the New Road (Rowland Sinclair mysteries #4)

Author: Sulari Gentill

Setting: Australia then Germany 1933

Summary:

It’s 1933, and the political landscape of Europe is darkening.

Eric Campbell, the man who would be Australia’s Führer, is on a fascist tour of the Continent, meeting dictators over cocktails and seeking allegiances in a common cause. Yet the Australian way of life is not undefended. Old enemies have united to undermine Campbell’s ambitions. The clandestine armies of the Establishment have once again mobilised to thwart any friendship with the Third Reich.

But when their man in Munich is killed, desperate measures are necessary.

Now Rowland Sinclair must travel to Germany to defend Australian democracy from the relentless march of Fascism. Amidst the goosestepping euphoria of a rising Nazi movement, Rowland encounters those who will change the course of history. In a world of spies, murderers and despotic madmen, he can trust no-one but an artist, a poet and a brazen sculptress.

Plots thicken, loyalties are tested and bedfellows become strange indeed.

My review:

I must admit to knowing little or nothing about Australian politics, but I know a good thriller when I read one. Rowland Sinclair and his group of friends have been sent into the very heart of Nazi Germany to put a stop to an Australian politician’s nascent friendship with Adolf Hitler. While there, Rowland want to discover who murdered the last guy sent on the same errand. Along the way he meets lots of historical figures caught up in the same pre-war frenzy. Famous names aside, the real thrill was in seeing whether they would all escape Germany alive. A real page-turner.

This was the first book I read by this author and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more if I had been more familiar with the characters and their backstory. However I was able to jump in and sort things out, so I’m glad I got chosen for it. I can say it won’t be the last I read by this author! Recommended.

Guest Blog Post: Karen Charlton

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Author Karen Charlton

Today I have a guest post from historical fiction writer Karen Charlton.  An English graduate and a former teacher, she now writes full-time and lives in a remote fishing village on the North East coast of England. She is a stalwart of the village pub quiz and her team once won the BBC quiz show ‘Eggheads.’ Her other claim to fame is that she won a Yorkshire Tourist Board award for writing Murder Mystery Weekends. Her series featuring Inspector Stephen Lavender and Constable Woods are available through Amazon here. Her books are available on audio, in print, and on Kindle Unlimited.

My Detective Lavender Mysteries, published by Thomas & Mercer, are the fictional adventures of Stephen Lavender, who was a real-life Principal Officer with the Bow Street Police Office in London.

Bow street Magistrates court
Bow Street

By the early 19th century, Principal Officers had a variety of different and important roles although they were still nicknamed ‘Bow Street Runners’ as if they were messenger boys. Apart from supporting their colleagues solve crime in the capital, they were often sent out to help magistrates in the provinces with difficult cases. They also took part in undercover work in periods of insurrection, for example, during the Luddite riots in the Midlands and were available for hire by wealthy landowners.

They were Britain’s earliest private detectives and they were famous throughout London. The exploits of Stephen Lavender in particular filled many column inches in The Times. He was a Regency celebrity.

They were the only policemen allowed into Buckingham House (the forerunner of the palace) and did security work for the Bank of England. On some occasions, they were even sent abroad to help with crimes and criminals who had spilled out over our borders onto the continent.

Unlike modern crime fighters, the Bow Street officers usually worked alone. However, successful crime fiction novels normally have a pair of heroes – or heroines – resolving the mysteries. So, I decided to change history and gave Lavender a side-kick, Constable Ned Woods, in keeping with this modern literary convention. Woods brings down-to-earth humour and kindness to the novels and is a great foil to Lavender’s slightly-introverted, bookish intelligence. Many readers tell me he is their favourite character.

I frequently find records of Lavender’s cases in the newspapers and often use them as the basis for the plots of my novels. For example, the third book in the series, The Sculthorpe Murder, is based around one of Lavender’s most famous cases which was extensively reported. In 1818, a gang of thugs burst into the home of an elderly man called William Sculthorpe who lived in rural Northamptonshire. They viciously attacked and robbed the eighty-seven-year-old and his son.

The newspapers are always vague about how Lavender actually solved his cases. They tend to be rather gory publications and prefer to dwell more on the horror; the size of the pool of blood and ‘the large quantity of clotted blood that had settled in the victim’s mouth.’ This lack of detail about the police procedure of the time gives me plenty of opportunity to flex my imagination and use artistic license. This is how I prefer to work. I take the bare bones of a real case and then make up the rest. My latest mystery, Plague Pits & River Bones (to be published: 11th January 2018) is a mixture of one of Lavender’s real cases and several other fictional sub-plots.

Inevitably, other real characters do occasionally appear in my books. These have ranged from William, Duke of Clarence and his mistress, the famous actress, Dorothy Jordan; to the artist, William Turner, other Bow Street officers and a range of British Politicians. However, Magdalena, Lavender’s spirited and exotic love-interest, is a figment of my imagination.

My favourite part of writing is usually the first 50,000 words. I tend to think about my books for over a year and when I start writing the words flow over the page with the smoothness of silk. By the time I’m at 50,000 words, it usually gets more difficult. I’ve often got three or four sub-plots running at the same time and dozens of loose ends to tie-up. At this point, I usually take a little break. I hate the cold, dark British winters and last year I flew south to the sunshine of the Canary Islands for a month to finish Plague Pits and River Bones.

But I normally spend this ‘break’ time pottering around my beloved garden, or reading a historical fiction novel by another author (my favourite genre.) Then I come back to my desk refreshed, and race towards the dramatic conclusion. The best two words when writing a novel are always: ‘The End.’

But it’s usually not long before the voices of Lavender and Woods are clamouring in my head, demanding another outing.

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The Demon King: A Review

6342491Title: The Demon King (Seven Realms #1)

Author: Cinda Williams Chima

Genre: YA fantasy

Synopsis:

Times are hard in the mountain city of Fellsmarch. Reformed thief Han Alister will do almost anything to eke out a living for his family. The only thing of value he has is something he can’t sell—the thick silver cuffs he’s worn since birth. They’re clearly magicked—as he grows, they grow, and he’s never been able to get them off.

One day, Han and his clan friend, Dancer, confront three young wizards setting fire to the sacred mountain of Hanalea. Han takes an amulet from Micah Bayar, son of the High Wizard, to keep him from using it against them. Soon Han learns that the amulet has an evil history—it once belonged to the Demon King, the wizard who nearly destroyed the world a millennium ago. With a magical piece that powerful at stake, Han knows that the Bayars will stop at nothing to get it back.

Meanwhile, Raisa ana’Marianna, princess heir of the Fells, has her own battles to fight. She’s just returned to court after three years of freedom in the mountains—riding, hunting, and working the famous clan markets. Raisa wants to be more than an ornament in a glittering cage. She aspires to be like Hanalea—the legendary warrior queen who killed the Demon King and saved the world. But her mother has other plans for her—including marriage to a suitor who goes against everything the queendom stands for.

The Seven Realms tremble when the lives of Hans and Raisa collide, fanning the flames of the smoldering war between clans and wizards.

Review:

If that description sounds like a classic fantasy trope, the Farm Boy made good and the Ruler in Exile, well, it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, this book takes a lot of the tried and true and makes them interesting.

Han also goes by Hunts Alone or Cuffs, depending on whether he’s up the mountains with the clans or down the hill in the city. Either way, he’s a tough, independent guy who’s used to looking over his shoulder. But now, with what seems like half the queendom looking for his blood, it’s time for him to put his childhood behind him and grow up. If he can survive that long.

Princess Raisa also needs to grow up, but this time, I mean she needs to stop being such a spoiled brat. I really wanted to shake her and tell her to quit making such stupid decisions. But then, I’m an adult and she’s only 15. She’s allowed – expected, even – to make a few mistakes like kissing the wrong boy. And wow, does she ever make mistakes.

Both Han and Raisa are caught in political maneuvering beyond their control. Wizards are tired of the tight controls that have been placed on their power. Sure, a wizard nearly caused the end of the world 1000 years ago, but times have changed and they want to be in charge again. Raisa’s mother, the Queen Marianna, is weak and easily influenced, just when a weak ruler would cause the most trouble for the land. Stubborn as Raisa is, no one could call her easily influenced.

Chima has a talent for writing realistic YA characters and relationships you care about. That’s not to say the writing is bad. It’s not. But it’s the plot and the characters that shine. I think she could have done a better job with the setting, at least with the clan. But the city is easy to imagine.

I would definitely recommend this series. I started it on audio and got so aggravated at not being able to follow the story fast enough that I got it on ebook as well. So that should tell you how much I liked it! A little bit predictable at the end, but I’m looking forward to the next book.

Cover Reveal!

So the book in the giveaway is …..

Last Star Burning

by

Caitlin Sangster

 

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Synopsis:

Sev is branded with the mark of a criminal—a star burned into her hand. That’s the penalty for being the daughter of the woman who betrayed their entire nation.

Now her mother’s body is displayed above Traitor’s Arch, kept in a paralyzed half sleep by the same plague that destroyed the rest of the world. And as further punishment, Sev is forced to do hard labor to prove that she’s more valuable alive than dead.

When the government blames Sev for a horrific bombing, she must escape the city or face the chopping block. Unimaginable dangers lurk outside the city walls, and Sev’s only hope of survival lies with the most unlikely person—Howl, the chairman’s son. Though he promises to lead her to safety, Howl has secrets, and Sev can’t help but wonder if he knows more about her past—and her mother’s crimes—than he lets on.

But in a hostile world, trust is a luxury. Even when Sev’s life and the lives of everyone she loves may hang in the balance. 

My brief take:

This one was very suspenseful, full of complex characters and a cliffhanger ending! I just kind of discovered this one by accident, but I really hope you all give it a try. I’ll have a more complete review soon.

Just a reminder, to win you need to comment on my post and follow my blog. Last day to enter is November 3 and I’ll be announcing the winner on November 4. International winners are OK on this one. I might tuck some other goodies in the package, it just depends on the budget! Good luck!