Monday, September 30, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "Jazz Baby" by Beem Weeks

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Emily Ann (AKA "Baby") Teegarten is a teen with a dream: she wants to go to New York to sing jazz, but first she needs to get out of Mississippi and her little one-horse town. The only way to do that is to trust her papa's best friend, Tanyon Thibbedeaux, who can get her into New Orleans to get her start. But her start is rocky as her first attempt at singing in Frank Rydekker's jazz club ends in a riot and a rape and then a family tragedy: Emily Ann's mother killed her father and is now sitting in prison.
Baby wants to have fun and make her dreams come true. She doesn't want to live with her cranky old aunt in Mississippi, surrounded by temptations (her aunt's young African-American maid Neesie, Emily Ann's secret desire; the preacher's son Jobie Pritchett, who wants to marry her but yet claims she isn't his "type"; Audie, the girl everyone thinks is the town lesbian; Billy Blood, the Native American young man who is a daily temptation to nearly every young girl in town, including her beloved Neesie). How can she when life keeps taking turns for the worse every day? This is a coming-of-age story showing the trials and tribulations of being a small-town white girl who wants to play what was then the music of the African-American community. The novel deals with race, sexual promiscuity, confusion about sexual orientation, rape and murder, not to mention the drug and alcohol problem of the 1920's. It is written in the dialect of the era, which was new to me, but made the whole story seem more genuine.
I wasn't really sure what to expect when I opened this book on my ereader. I enjoy stories from the late 19th to the early 20th century but rarely can you find anything written in this decade about those times that really strikes as original and accurate.

Jazz Baby is both.

Beem Weeks may have taken a decade to write this novel, but it was worth it. He created an emotional roller coaster of a novel with characters you will love, hate and relate to in a time when being bad felt so good and music could be heard on every corner, luring in even the most innocent and pious of souls. Like jazz, this novel also lures you in, making you love Emily Ann as a friend or daughter and want to know if she ever is able to achieve her dreams. I never give away endings (though I admit to using spoilers every so often), but I will say that, when you finish this novel, you will want a sequel, as Emily Ann's story is one you will want to know until the end!

Really excellent first novel, with social commentary on drugs, sex and the human conscience. I give it a 4/5.

Purchase Jazz Baby via the following:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Ditect from the publisher, Fresh Ink Group

Stay tuned tomorrow for an exclusive interview with the author, Beem Weeks!

BOOK REVIEW: "Jazz Baby" by Beem Weeks

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Emily Ann (AKA "Baby") Teegarten is a teen with a dream: she wants to go to New York to sing jazz, but first she needs to get out of Mississippi and her little one-horse town. The only way to do that is to trust her papa's best friend, Tanyon Thibbedeaux, who can get her into New Orleans to get her start.
But her start is rocky as her first attempt at singing in Frank Rydekker's jazz club ends in a riot and a rape and then a family tragedy: Emily Ann's mother killed her father and is now sitting in prison.
Baby wants to have fun and make her dreams come true. She doesn't want to live with her cranky old aunt in Mississippi, surrounded by temptations (her aunt's young African-American maid Neesie, Emily Ann's secret desire; the preacher's son Jobie Pritchett, who wants to marry her but yet claims she isn't his "type"; Audie, the girl everyone thinks is the town lesbian; Billy Blood, the Native American young man who is a daily temptation to nearly every young girl in town, including her beloved Neesie).
How can she when life keeps taking turns for the worse every day?

This is a coming-of-age story showing the trials and tribulations of being a small-town white girl who wants to play what was then the music of the African-American community. The novel deals with race, sexual promiscuity, confusion about sexual orientation, rape and murder, not to mention the drug and alcohol problem of the 1920's. It is written in the dialect of the era, which was new to me, but made the whole story seem more genuine.I wasn't really sure what to expect when I opened this book on my ereader. I enjoy stories from the late 19th to the early 20th century but rarely can you find anything written in this decade about those times that really strikes as original and accurate.

Jazz Baby is both.

Beem Weeks may have taken a decade to write this novel, but it was worth it. He created an emotional roller coaster of a novel with characters you will love, hate and relate to in a time when being bad felt so good and music could be heard on every corner, luring in even the most innocent and pious of souls.
Like jazz, this novel also lures you in, making you love Emily Ann as a friend or daughter and want to know if she ever is able to achieve her dreams.
I never give away endings (though I admit to using spoilers every so often), but I will say that, when you finish this novel, you will want a sequel, as Emily Ann's story is one you will want to know until the end!

Really excellent first novel, with social commentary on drugs, sex and the human conscience. I give it a 4/5.

Purchase Jazz Baby via the following:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Direct from the publisher, Fresh Ink Group

Stay tuned tomorrow for an exclusive interview with the author, Beem Weeks!

COVER REVEAL: "Ruled By Steel" by SM Reine

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I am excited that KSR is revealing the cover for SM Reine's next novel, Ruled By Steel!

The book will be available for purchase on October 30th, just in time for Halloween from Red Iris Books!

Be sure to keep in contact with Ms. Reine online for all the updates!

Twitter

Army Of Evil HQ

Official site

Facebook

Sunday, September 29, 2013

COVER REVEAL: "Hunter's Moon" by Lisa Kessler

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Sasha’s future was stolen from her the moment she was bitten. Now she's on the run from the Nero Organization that transformed her from a human detective into a shape shifting jaguar assassin.When a rogue bounty hunter threatens her younger sister, she'll be forced to fight, and with nowhere else to turn, Sasha will need to trust the one man who has every reason to want her dead.

Aren is a werewolf with a secret. While protecting his twin brother and Alpha of the Pack, he found his one mate for life. Sadly she's also the jaguar assassin who tried to kill them both. Now Aren is struggling between his animal nature to love and protect her, and his loyalty to the Pack.

Pre-order Hunter's Moon via the following:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Monday, September 23, 2013

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Laura Thalassa

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In my last review (posted on Books Make Me Happy), you may have noticed that I gave high praise to the new take on YA paranormal romance in the novel The Unearthly.
Now you, reader (and I!) get an exclusive look inside the history that went behind the book & learn much more about future projects by author Laura Thalassa.

1. It says on your website that you enjoyed fantastical tales since you were young. Do you remember when you became interested in the "otherworldly" types of stories?

I actually do! I was around seven years old and my parents had just separated. My father moved into this apartment that had no kid-friendly toys, so I remember rummaging through my closet and only managing to find a tiny Dracula figurine—the kind you’d get in a Happy Meal around Halloween. I remember lying on my bed with that figurine and coming up with some elaborate haunted house story—complete with a vampire, a damsel in distress, and a bunch of kids who were trying to rescue her from the evil blood-sucker. My fascination with supernatural beings never really went away after that. And yeah, I was a twisted little kid.

2. What authors did you enjoy when you were young? What authors do you love today?

I think the first author that made me love books was R.L. Stine. I’d pillage the local used bookstore for Fear Street novels, and I went through about four to five a week. Up until those books, I never really saw the appeal of novels—my previous exposure had been limited to the classics and Pulitzer Prize winning novels. To a kid that stuff is Valium.
As I got older I loved almost anything by Anne Rice, Meg Cabot, and Katie MacAlister. Today, I’m all over the place. If I had to pick, I’d say my new favorite author is Laini Taylor; if you haven’t read Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I’d highly suggest reading it. So good.

3. How old were you when you decided you wanted to be a writer and why did you decide that?

You know, I always knew I wanted to be a storyteller, but I’m not sure when I decided I wanted to be a writer. While I was in junior high, I remember spending a vacation in Hawaii holed up in a hotel room with my best friend. We both had forsaken the beach to write the next great American novel. So probably by my teenage years I knew I wanted to write.

4. Your boyfriend, Dan Rix, is also an author. Does that make being with him more difficult (as in you see each other as competition) or do you help each other out as writers?

You know, despite us both being a bit competitive by nature, that’s never been an issue. We’re also essentially married in all but the legal sense, so any success is a benefit to the both of us. In addition, success in the publishing world is largely random. I’ve seen awful books do fantastically well, and awesome books do dismally. So to us, success is judged more in terms of visibility, and that’s something that is hard to take too personally. And we do help each other out as writers! We have lots of annoying conversations about plot arcs and character development, which probably makes us unbearable to be around. He’s also my editor and one of the only people I trust to give me good, honest feedback about what works and what doesn’t.

5. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?

I’d probably be finagling my way into writing something else. I happen to love archaeology, and during college I thought that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. However, I don’t think I could wing life as an academic. When I’m not writing, I work as an editor for American Editing Services and help other writers tighten up their stories.

6. In The Unearthly, you take nearly every mythical creature and breathe new life into them. Why did you decide to use a smorgasbord instead of sticking with one or two supernatural creatures?

Oh, I love this question! I’m sort of a geek when it comes to supernatural beings. You already saw that I was a twisted little kid. For years I’ve loved mummies, vampires, ghosts, mermaids, fairies, witches, and all the mythological beings in between. I always thought that if I was going to write a book, I’d want to cover it all.

7. Your heroine, Gabrielle Fiori, is a mixture of a siren, a soulmate and a vampire. How did you decide on that combination?

Ha ha, I know, it’s a mouthful. I think after the Twilight craze I was a bit over your cliché vampire romance, but the idea was already there and just begging to be written down. When I was coming up with Gabrielle’s backstory and series’ plot arc, the combination just sort of fell into place.

8. Do you, personally, believe in any of the creatures you are writing about?

There are definitely some creatures I believe in, but none that I mentioned in this particular book. As for humans with particular abilities, like Leanne, I fully believe that exists. But vampires and sirens and fairies and doppelgangers—I wish they were real, and I’d love someone to prove me wrong!

9. The Unearthly is your debut novel, the first in a series. How many books do you think there might be about Gabrielle, Andre and the rest?

This is tough one! I have the next book and the final book figured out, but I’m not sure how many I’ll insert in between. I’m running with where the story takes me. To give you a hard number, probably five or more.

10. The book is very emotional, as well as thrilling and inventive. Did it turn out as you were expecting it would when you first sat down to pen it?

Ha ha, no way—it turned out much better! Then again, since this was my first attempt at writing a book, I had pretty low expectations. But the idea, before it was put to paper, didn’t have all the gritty angles that real life has. To me that was the fun part—breathing life into these characters so that they became real in the reader’s mind.

11. Your next book will be The Vanishing Girl. Can you give the reader any insights to the plot of that novel and when they can expect it to be released?

Oh, I’ve been so bad about updating my readers on this book. First, it should be out by the end of this year. Second, the book is about a group of teenagers who’ve been genetically modified to teleport. The catch is that they can only do so for the first ten minutes after they fall asleep, and they have no control over where they go, who they’re with, and what they’re wearing. Shortly after the beginning of the book, the main character, Ember Pierce, is sent to a government facility where teens just like her are being trained to use their powers for a seemingly altruistic purpose—national security. But the more Ember learns about the program that recruited her, the more nefarious it appears. She’s eventually faced with an ultimatum: stay and continue to participate against her will, or turn against the government that created her and risk her life in the process. If the choice wasn’t already hard enough, Caden Hawthorne, the guy she’s been paired to train with, makes it even harder. Because she might be in love with him, and he’s firmly in the government’s pocket.

12. Will we see more of Cecilia, Oliver and the other supporting characters in The Coveted?

Yes you will! … But I can’t tell you who. I know, I’m an evil wench of an author.

13. You wrote a short story titled The Lemniscate in the collection Summer's Double Edge under the nom de plume Laura Carlson. What is the story about and why did you use a fictitious name?

The Lemniscate is a short story about a 500-year-old man who’s about to die, and the woman who must inherit his strange ability—collecting knowledge. She just happens to be his very young wife. This is actually the backstory to another novel in the works, but that’s all I can really say about it at this moment. And it’s time I confessed—my nom de plume is actually Laura Thalassa and my real name is Laura Carlson. The choice to go by Laura Carlson rather than Laura Thalassa in Summer’s Double Edge actually had more to do with not giving my overworked editor a headache, since he already knew me as Laura Carlson. I chose a pen name to write under in the first place so that readers could easily find me. I believe there’s already an actress and a professor that share my birth name, and I was not too interested in competing online with them for visibility. Lastly, “thalassa” is the Greek word for "sea", and I chose that name in particular because of my love for archaeology. I spent two summers in Greece excavating, and I fell in love with Pre-classical Greece. The Greeks as we all know them were originally invaders, and they forcefully invaded Greece, wiping out a lot of the prior people and culture. One of the few things that remained of that previous culture was the word for sea. So I chose it. It’s also the name of a bar in Berkeley that I used to go to a lot in college…so now you know that I’m a nerd and a drinker.

14. Where do you see yourself and your career in ten years?

Truthfully? I have no idea. I’m definitely planning on writing a whole lot more books, but as for a side job…that’s what’s unknown. Just in the last few years I went from setting myself up to be an archaeologist, to attending law school (then dropping out when I found out I didn’t want to be BFFs with stress), to starting an editing company. So I’ll go wherever the wind takes me.

15. Thanks again for doing the interview! Can you please leave the reader with three things that might surprise them about you?

D’aww, thank you for taking the time to interview me and asking some seriously awesome questions! Okay three things…
1.     I almost threw away the manuscript for The Unearthly after I wrote it. I thought it was garbage.
2.     I have a sick fascination with mummies. And freaky diseases. I Google them all the time, much to my boyfriend’s disgust. Wimp.
3.     I once participated in an emergency caesarean section—I got to hold the patient’s stomach open. I swear I’m not lying. I was sixteen, interning for a doctor, and as we were both leaving for the night she got paged to deliver a baby. She asked me if I wanted to watch—like I was going to say no. Only once I was in the operating room, the nurses assisting encouraged me to hold open the patient’s stomach. That was about the time I decided I no longer wanted to be a doctor…

Visit Laura's Blogspot!

Laura's Goodreads profile

LIKE Laura on Facebook

Purchase "The Unearthly" on Amazon!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: James C. DeSantis

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Reading new books gives me a chance to delve a little into someone's mind, but not all of it. Doing these interviews, I not only give you, reader, a look into an author's mind, but I give myself a peek as well.
Growing up I always wanted to know more about the person behind the book, and now I get the chance every week.
This week it's the author of the action/adventure/fantasy novel Exterminators: Infected, the first in a five part series: James C. DeSantis.
Enjoy...

1. You published your first novel, Exterminators: Infected, recently. What made you want to be a writer and how old were you when you decided that wasthe case?

*I was 13, when I thought to myself, this is what I want to do. Now over a decade later I finally published a novel. It took some time to get to it, but I wanted to be a bit older before getting my name out there. I knew at the age though that this is what I wanted to do. To give people a world that's exciting, interesting, and a bit scary. Something people would remember forever. That was my goal when I first thought of the idea of Exterminators. *

2. What authors did you enjoy when you were younger? What authors inspire you today?

*I grew up reading a lot of different types of books. In the fantasy world, I enjoyed authors such as Darren Shan, Jonathan Stroud, and even J. K. Rowling. Moving more into the realistic zone I read books from Dave Pelzar, who wrote A Boy Called It. Also, stories from anonymous people such as GoAsk Aliace, Jay's Journal, and Lucy In The Sky. Nowadays I read works from Stephen King a lot, and try to spread the love to other upcoming writers. I have taste that varies, so I never really get bored.*

3. Does reviewing and playing videos games inspire your writing?

*In a way. I review so many games, so that means I go through too many stories to count. This helps me from a story that's original. Nothing like I've played or heard before. At least that's my goal. So reviewing a story,hundreds over the years, has help me become a better writer. *

4. Where did you get the idea for the novel: four teens battling monsters from another realm?

*It's a mix of things. One major goal was to have a group of people in my book. You ever read a book and decide you enjoy the side characters more than the main character? I didn't want that. I wanted you to like my main character. So I created four, very different, people to be the center of attention for the series. So having four personalities, fighting together, was the very first idea I had for the story. It changed a lot but my idea of good vs. evil isn't always simple. The basic idea of the first book is humans have to stop monsters. Monsters are always evil. Yet, I make sure certain characters questioned it. I want to make sure the reader also questions what is happening. If you aren't, I probably have to step up my writing! *

5. Each character in Infected has his/her own, unique personality. Were any of them based on people in real life or were they wholly imaginary?

*Some of their looks are based off of people I know. Some of the names are based off the people I've met or are friends with. However, each character is made up a certain way I envisioned them. Nobody is based off of anyone one hundred percent. I'd be lying, though, if I said I didn't take some people I knew and place their face in the story at least. *

6. Why did you decide to make this a 5-part series? Was it because you had too many ideas to fit it into one or two books or are you more fond of multi-book series in general?

*Actually, the original plan was to have six books! I only recently decided to have it five. The second to last book was almost entirely scratched for a more realistic take to a ending. I do like longer series though. You get attached to characters. You feel for them. They almost become part of your life. *

7. All of the monsters in your story are original, even the Cyclops, asyou gave it a new take. Where did you get the ideas for them?

*When I think of a monster I try to think of something that scares me. Something that makes me wanna throw up just by looking at it. Something deadly, that can kill you in real life. Monsters in fantasy stories are great, and I obviously take some ideas from general fantasy designs, but I decided to give them their own take. Make them live up to their title as monsters. *

8. Why did you decide to make the heroes be kids in high school instead of adults a bit older?

*When you're a kid or a teenager you believe more. You're willing to accept and trust people more when you are young. You also go through the hardest times. Love, betrayal, and figuring out what you want in life. I felt that would be a good age for the boys so that they grow into men. Of course I love to also write the older characters, since they are closer to my age and easier to relate. *

9. When you finished the first installment, did it end up anything like you had originally thought?

*My original ideas slipped into the story. I actually wrote the entire first book back when I was fifteen. I completed it, over fifty-five chapters, but got rid of almost all of it in the rewrite. I re-wrote the story maybe four times through my teens. I then rewrote the story in March of this year, and released it in May. I had a set mind path of where my story would end up this time. Re-reading the story around three times now, I like where it ended up. Sure, I had a few cliches I wanted to avoid but overall it set the blueprint for the next three books. Which makes me very excited to release the next one. *

10. What made you start getting into reviewing video games, as that isyour other niche?

*I was sitting in my room one day with a friend and we were very bored. I had just gotten a camera and I already owned a ton of video games. So we figured, why not try something with both? That's when I decided to review games. It is my other niche, along with other things. I'm always a big believer in do what makes you happy! *

11. The weapon you gave the characters, the Rod, can become anything they want if they believe hard enough. That is a variation of what people tell kids from the time they're young. Did you intentionally want to reinforce that statement--you can do anything if you believe--when you created the weapon?

*Yes! You are the first to pick up on this. In life, I've been taught that if you try hard enough you can achieve anything. I live by that now. I believe that if I tried hard enough I can get what I wanted. This is whatthe Rod represents. It can become anything you want. The stronger the weapon or item is, the harder it is to use or keep around. So you have to train, both physically and mentally, to gain what you want. In a world filled with people telling you that things are impossible, I thought this was a good answer. This world seems impossible, so why not give those naysayers a little of their own medicine!? *

12. Why did you create such unconventional monsters instead of sticking tothe usual route of werewolves (not hybrids!) and vampires?

*While some stories can use conventional type monsters well, I just couldn't. Why? I like to make my own rules up. To many rules in the old tales. I wanted to make my monsters unique and fun. Different than anythingyou've seen before. Even my take on a werewolf is different. A wolf hybrid shares ideas of a werewolf but it's very different in the end. So I like to create my monsters from scratch. *

13. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?

*Probably focus on doing more video game reviews. However, while that'sfun, it isn't my dream. Writing is everything I could hope for. Creating aworld to get lost in. It's amazing. *

14. What can we expect to see from you in the future?

*Well Exterminators: Shadows is coming out in January of 2014. That willbe the second in the series, with the third following behind in somewherelate 2014. I also have a book in the making called Sparks and stars ayoung adult who has obtained two very unique things. The ability to useelectricity with his body. The other one is that he has cancer. It'll beboth a story about heroics and trials to try and survive against the cityhe lives in and the disease he faces. So those are my plans for the nextfew years. *

15. Thank you very much for participating in the interview! Can you pleaseleave the reader with three things that may surprise them about you?

*Thank you very much for giving me an interview! I had a blast answeringall these questions. To finish it off I'll list the three things that might surprise people.
1) I create music. Another hobby of mine since a kid. I write my ownlyrics, produce my own beats, and rap over them. It's a fun hobby of minethat I like to share with the world.
2) Sometimes when I write, I get so absorbed, that I feel like I'm livinginside my books. Almost as if I'm actually apart of that world. It's prettysvary!
3) Each character in the story represents my personality or stages in life.So all together they make me. Pretty crazy, huh? *

Purchase Exterminators: Infected via the following links:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Find James online:

Twitter

Alternate Twitter

Facebook LIKE pafe

Thursday, September 12, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "Lightpoints" by Peter Kassan

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When I'm reading a quick synopsis of a new novel someone wants me to review, there are a few things I look for, one of the main ones being originality. I want to be delivered a delicacy that I have not yet sampled, so to speak, and when I read the blurb about Peter Kassan's urban fantasy novel Lightpoints, I was intrigued.

Upon reading it, I found a murder, out of body experience and near death experience within the first three pages, where a young woman named Amanda Nichols is stabbed in Grand Central station and wakes to find that she can now see people's "lightpoints", the little bit in their foreheads that represents the individual's energy sequence. She calls it the "faculty" and it helps her sense if a person is good or bad, patient or rushed, healthy or ill. She wonders if everyone who had had an OBE and then an NDE have the same faculty, so she goes to a hospital support group for those who have been to the other side and lived to tell about it.
While there, she meets a woman named Lisa during her second session, the only woman in the group who is like her. Lisa invites Amanda to join her "special" group, full of people Lisa has met who are now able to see and sense other humans' energy frequencies.

Throughout the book, we are taken on journeys through many people's lives who have the "faculty"; including a man who kills the people from whom he "steals" energy through a kiss because he has become addicted to the high it gives him.

There is also a man in Atlantic City, New Jersey, who runs a large crime organization. After he is shot, he gets the "faculty" and wonders how best to exploit his new ability for maximun income and influence. After he kills his mistress (by accident, I will say), he realizes he can use it to make people do his bidding and even pass out for a little while.

While the reader wonders what he will do as he begins to gather more and more people who have this same sense, they are shocked when Amanda tells her husband, Chris, about her ability, something Lisa said she should not do if she wants the relationship to last. But when Chris decides he wants to be closer to Amanda and asks her to make him have a near death experience so he can have the "faculty" like her, I don't think I could've been more shocked!

While I have read people describe this novel as erotica, I am not sure I agree. Yes, there are erotic elements in Peter Kassan's debut novel, but they pale in comparison to the scientific and even spiritual elements that make up most of the story. I like that he used physical sexual intercourse and also energy exchange as a form of arousal. Rarely is energy exchange written about in modern fiction, as people usually veer towards typical sexual acts or, less frequently, blood play.
Energy exchange can be quite a sexual and spiritual high and I loved that someone finally wrote about it in a modern, everyday context.

Another thing I loved was the prayer group who healed depressed people with their positive energy. I won't say more, but as a sufferer of depression, PTSD and other mental illnesses, I know how energy effects those ailments and can heal them. Again, it was great to have a modern writer bring these things to light.

My only discrepancy with this book was very minor in detail but I feel I must mention it if this is going to be a honest review. Repeatedly it is mentioned that the people affected with the "faculty" are not vampires because they are not immortal. There are actual scientific studies written about "energy vampires" and "psychic vampires": beings who can sense and feed off of energy, as well as send their own to help and/or influence people. While the characters in the book do not need energy to survive as energy vamps do, everything else is similar to what it is said energy vampires are capable of doing.
(I won't start a debate on if they're real or not, as everyone has their own opinions on that.)
But I just wanted to point out a small factual flaw: energy vampires are not immortal, only "regular" (i.e. blood-sucking) vampires are in the common mythology.

All-in-all, this is a great novel that does not need vampires, werewolves or even ghosts to be sensational and be considered paranormal. Mr. Kassan writes beautifully and fluidly and he created a cast of realistic characters going through some very out-there, yet realistic issues.I loved this book and will be re-reading it again!

4/5--great work, especially for a debut novel!

Purchase Lightpoints via the following links:

Direct from the publisher Melange Books

Amazon

Barnes & Noble (NOOK)

Smashwords

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Peter Kassan

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Peter Kassan is not new to the publishing world: he was a published poet in his teens, and also worked on various popular TV shows as a writer.
He recently released an otherworldly novel about near death experiences, life, love & survival.
Read on in my exclusive interview with him to learn about his past, his future & the inspiration behind Lightpoints.
This was a great interview to conduct & I hope you all enjoy his responses as much as I did!

1. When did you decide you wanted to be a writer and why?

I’ve been writing one kind of thing or another since I was a child, so I don’t think it was a matter of deciding to be a writer. A narrower question, and one easier to answer is, when did I decide to write a genre novel like Lightpoints? I decided to write the novel that became Lightpoints at a very low point in my life. A business I had started had crashed and burned and I found that I couldn’t get a job—or even consulting work—in my field. Working on Lightpoints allowed me to spend time doing something I (usually) liked and felt competent at. It also served to distract me from my situation.

2. What authors influenced you when you were younger? What authors do you enjoy reading today?

I’ve always enjoyed both genre novels and serious literary fiction. When I was very young, I enjoyed the classic science fiction writers, particularly Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. In my college years, I read a great many detective novels and crime novels. I think I read every book by John D. Macdonald. I was also a devoted follower of Ian Fleming. I loved the mysteries of Raymond Chandler and John Dickson Carr. Later, I was particularly struck by Anne Rice—or at least by Interview with the Vampire and some of her other early novels. Among serious novelists, I especially enjoy and admire William Styron and Philip Roth. I enjoyed and admired many Stephen King and Elmore Leonard novels. There are so many other novelists I’ve liked it’s difficult to remember or name even a small fraction of them. Mark Twain. Charles Dickens. J. D. Salinger. William Gaddis. Although I have to admit that I haven’t enjoyed every novel written by every novelist I like and respect—for some, I don’t enjoy every genre they choose to work in, and for others, I think they just go off the rails now and then. In some cases, it seems their success has thrown them permanently off track.

3. You published poems in literary magazines and even in Seventeen magazine when you were still a teenager. When did you decide to make the switch to novels?

Around my freshman year in college, I began to feel that poetry had become a kind of isolating and elitist art form that was no longer relevant to the wider culture—if it ever really had been. Rock and other popular music seemed to be much more central, so I started writing songs. As to fiction, it was only after college that I seriously tried my hand at it. Back then, I wanted to write a Great American Novel, and I wrote three of them (that is, American novels—not great ones). Fortunately, none was ever published, and I discarded the manuscripts long ago.

4. In your twenties you wrote monologues for Bill Cosby. How did that come about?

I was earning a living working as a freelance technical and educational writer. I worked from home, so I could have the television on. I especially loved the show The Electric Company, which was produced by Children’s Television Workshop. (Among its cast was a very young Morgan Freeman who, if I recall correctly, played a character called Easy Reader.) The show was supposed to teach kids to read, and it indulged in a lot of puns and other silliness—my kind of humor. I mentioned to someone that I would love to write for the show, and he introduced me to one of the writers, who in turn introduced me to the show’s head writer. I wrote an audition script that was well received, but unfortunately it was such a great gig that none of the staff writers quit, so there was never an opening. But that meant that my name was on file at CTW. When they decided to do (here’s a mouthful) an adult health education comedy variety show, they asked me to do an audition script, and this time I was hired. Bill Cosby regularly appeared as a special guest. My writing partner on the show and I were assigned the task of writing his monologues. Unfortunately, the show was very badly received (Time magazine called it the “most dismaying new show of the season”). It was pulled off the air to be reconceived and, along with several other writers, I was let go.

5. In Skeptic Magazine you wrote an article about artificial intelligence, which is a polarizing and fascinating subject on its own. What was the article about, exactly, and why did you decide to write it?

The article was an explanation why, after fifty years of bold promises, the attempt to duplicate (or exceed) human-level intelligence in a computer program was a failure, and doomed always to be. I’d been interested in psychophysiology (that is, the physiology of the brain), philosophy, psychology, the problem of consciousness, the nature of intelligence, and other related subjects for at least as long as I’d been a computer programmer. I felt that most discussions and evaluations of so-called artificial intelligence were ill-informed and unfounded, and I wanted to address that deficiency. The article was actually a very brief summary of an entire book I had written on the subject. Unfortunately, even after the publication of the article, I couldn’t get anyone interested in publishing it. Since then, there have been some interesting developments. The original goals have, it seems, been largely replaced with the more modest goals of imitating human intelligence through statistical techniques. Nobody thinks that Siri is actually an intelligent consciousness living in your iPhone—or at least I hope not.

6. Lightpoints is your first published novel. What was the inspiration behind it?

I had a few different inspirations. I’ve always enjoyed stories—novels and movies—about the paranormal and the supernatural. And I’ve always been interested in the problem of someone conveying the idea of a sense to someone who doesn’t have it. The philosopher Thomas Nagel wrote an important and influential paper called “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” (I’m planning to write another novel—or series of novels—with something of the same premise as Lightpoints. In one of them, I intend to have a character who has been blind from birth. To him, he’s going to say, vision sounds like it’s paranormal.)

7. How did it feel when you saw your hard work completed and getting good reviews online?

Thrilling and gratifying. Is there any way else to feel?

8. In Lightpoints, you talk about numerous characters who have the ability to see people's energy, from gangsters to Bible study leaders. Where did the inspiration for them all come from?

I wanted to write a story in which an unlikely premise is followed as realistically and plausibly as possible. If there really were a faculty as I imagined, how would different people behave? I’m sure people would bring their own temperaments and understanding of the world to it, as they do to everything they experience. People who acquired it would be extremely rare and therefore mostly isolated from one another, so there would be no single, consensus interpretation or way of using it. And of course I had to find a villain whose thread would intersect with my protagonist’s, because otherwise there would be no story.

9. As a self-proclaimed atheist, what was it like for you, personally, writing about the Afterlife, NDEs and spiritual powers? What got you interested in the subject?

I’ve always been interested in out-of-body and near-death experiences in terms of their psychology, the subjective experience. I don’t actually think I was writing about the afterlife at all—I don’t describe the experience of anyone who actually dies, only people who nearly do. Also, although my Bible-study group interprets the faculty as a spiritual one, no one else in the book does. My personal interpretation would be very close to that of the physician who has it—he’s sure that there would be a purely rational, scientific explanation of it. By the way, I find it surprising that anyone finds it surprising that an atheist might write a novel of the paranormal—does anyone suppose that Anne Rice actually thinks that vampires as she describes really exist? There’s a reason it’s called make-believe. Lightpoints was intended to be an entertainment—an intelligent and thought-provoking one, I hope, but still it was just meant for fun.

10. You make the point to stress that the characters in your book are not like vampires. Would you put them in a class all their own?

I would. My goal was to write, to coin a phrase, a naturalistic paranormal novel. It was important to me that everyone with these paranormal abilities all start out as ordinary people, and that this paranormal faculty be part of the ordinary world. I’m not aware of any writer who has imagined the faculty I describe in Lightpoints.

11. Besides the supernatural elements in the story, you also show a lot of love between Amanda and Chris, when he wants to be "like her" to be closer to her. Was it difficult to write about such deep love while making sure the book wasn't too "mushy"?

If anything, my concern was that I wasn’t being mushy enough. Again, my goal was to follow the premise of the story as plausibly as I could. If your honey acquired this extraordinary faculty, wouldn’t you want it, too? I’m sure I would. Would I be willing to risk my life for it? That, I’m not sure of. But, in writing this kind of book, you have to push things as far as they’ll go. If that ends up being too far, you can always dial it back. But if Chris just said to Amanda, “Oh, that’s nice, sweetie. You just go and enjoy your new sense,” it would make for a rather dull story.

12. The novel is actually described in some places as erotica. Was that intentional for you or did people just perceive it that way?
[A quick note: I asked this question after reading an individual reader's review; I did not personally perceive the novel as erotica whatsoever.]

Where? Where? I must have missed that—please send me the link. But, seriously, I was writing about a sense, so I wanted to make it as sensual as possible. If the reader can feel what I’m writing, I succeeded. On the other hand, I was writing a new adult novel I wanted to have crossover appeal to the young adult audience, so it was important for me to keep it PG-13 rather than R. There a few scenes in which sex occurs or is implied, but the sex is only characterized rather than described, much less narrated.All that said, I’ve noticed that there’s an overlap of interest between erotica and paranormal—many readers enjoy both. And, again, if readers enjoy the sensuality of my descriptions of the sense, that’s great.

13. You did numerous types of writing—from manuals to educational workbooks—and are now doing novels. What would you be doing if you weren't writing?

I’m a frustrated teacher. I’d love to teach almost anything I know about at the adult level.

14. Where do you see yourself/your career within the next ten years?

I’m no longer young, so what I’d like to see in the next ten years is the next ten years. I’d love to be earning enough from my novel-writing that I could support myself through it. My wildest dream is that Lightpoints or a future novel is made into a movie.

15. Thank you very much for doing the interview! Can you please leave the reader with three facts that might surprise them about you?

1. I studied Buddhism and practiced Buddhism intensively for two years. 2. I play diatonic and chromatic harmonica. 3. I write and publish under a pseudonym in another genre.

Purchase Lightpoints via the following links:

Melange Books (the publisher)

Amazon (USA)

Amazon (UK)

Barnes & Noble

Visit Peter Kassan on the Internet:

Official Site

Goodreads profile

Publisher profile

Sunday, September 8, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "Unsoul'd" by Barry Lyga

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The devil is a hipster.
Yep, after years if people saying Goths were evil, New York Times bestselling author Barry Lyga introduces the King of Hell as a skinny-jean wearing hipster in his first novel directed exclusively towards an adult market, Unsoul'd.
His previous novels were all originally written for teens & kids, but nearly all of them had an adult following stronger than the teen one. So, yes, it was about time (as he wrote at the end of this novel) he write a truly adult novel.
(And, yes, reader, this is a novel for people 18+ ONLY.)

Writer Randall Banner is moderately popular with a "cult following", but it barely makes ends meet & dashes his dreams of being the next Stephen King or J.K. Rowling to a violent death.
While working on his next novel, he becomes so exasperated he types that he'd sell his soul for a bestseller. On cue, the devil appears and, after proving to Randall that he is indeed Satan, writes up a simple contract for him: I give you a hit book, you give me your soul.
No room for loopholes, right? Sure...The novel spans for nearly 400 pages detailing the sudden rise of Randall's career at the hands of a kidnapped college student's rescue. She read his book while she was being tortured & the statement makes Randall Banner a household name. It even gets him laid by the hottest actress in Hollywood, Kiki Newman.

It shows the rise of one man's career, but it also explores the depths of his soul & what it means to be selfless after a lifetime of selfishness.

As an avid Lyga fan, I had no doubts I would enjoy this novel, but I did wonderhow he would do writing for adults. He did an awesome job. His writing is conversational & the reader feels like they are listening to a story, not reading it, if you get my meaning.

While I have made it known that I usually do not care for a story filled with a lot of sex, in this novel everything, even the sex (including but not limited to a threesome, adultery & masturbation), has a purpose in the outcome & also in getting the reader to know the character of Randall.
I was also wondering if I'd enjoy a novel about the devil when I am a believer in God, but I think that it was because I believe that I enjoyed this book all the more.
To sum it up, Mr. Lyga's first adult novel has a great story, great characters & will make the reader stop & examine his or her very own soul.

5/5--I'll repeat now what I said aloud when I read the very last line in the book: "This was fucking amazing!"

Purchase Unsoul'd at the following places:

Barnes & Noble (NOOK)

Amazon KINDLE

Kobo

(iBooks version coming soon!)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Ian J. Keeney

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Independent artists are people to be respected & honored for making their success on their own, without receiving copius accounts of corporate cash to create a genetic piece of work.
Yesterday, I reviewed a novel called A Better Tomorrow by Ian J. Keeney, an indie author, filmmaker & musician. He was kind enough to agree to do an interview with me here today.
Read below to find out more about this talented, up-and-coming writer.

1. You do many artistic things aside from writing novels:  you're a poet, director, producer, screenwriter and musician. How do you balance it all?
I find a lot of joy doing the work. It's fun for me. It's not really about balancing it out but more about never having a moment to be bored. Life is a gift--a short one. I try to make the most of it while I'm here. I have a lot of passions and a lot inside that I need to get out. What excites me most is seeing the joy I brought to people with my work. The more I get out there, the more joy I can bring to people so I do it as much as I can.

2. What made you want to be a writer?
I think I was just naturally born a writer. I never said to myself, "I think I'll write something today." I've just always been writing and creating stories.

3. What authors did you read when you were young? What authors inspire you today?
My favorite writer is Edgar Allan Poe. I find myself relating to him not only as a writer but also as a person - his struggles and his tormented mind. I can be my own biggest critic and be very hard on myself. I look to his work as not only telling great stories but doing so in such a beautiful language. He can tell the most disgusting thing and make it sound pretty in his language. I also appreciate Stephen King. I know some people may roll their eyes at that one but if you look at his body of work as a whole, he's written many books that were genius. I will admit he had a few bombs in there but overall that man really has great ideas. As I got older I discovered Nick Cave. He is more a musician than he is an author. He has two books out but he's written music for decades. I find his lyrics very inspirational. I definitely would say he is the biggest inspiration on my writing.

4. If you had to choose one profession to do for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
I would choose to be an author. Although I love everything else I do, writing is my favorite of all. I can take a blank page and create an entirely new world. I enjoy the solitude sometimes, pouring from my mind these racing thoughts onto the page. Everything else is such a complicated and technological process. With writing it is just me and the page and I can see my results right away.

5. Was it a choice or act of God that you remained an independent writer and filmmaker?
It's a little of both. I did not seek out a publisher for either of my first two books. I wanted to prove myself as a writer. I put so much hard work into what I wrote that I didn't want someone changing it around for publication. I've read a lot of what is on the best seller lists and I was unimpressed; however, I've read books that got hardly any recognition that were amazing. I decided to go the independent route but that certainly comes with its own woes. I think for my third novel I will seek out a traditional publisher, only because I'm having a hard time reaching many people as an independent. I simply do not have the money to market like a publishing house does.

6. In your latest novel, A Better Tomorrow, you write about reality (or lack thereof), time travel, the multiverse, science experiments, live, loss and so much more, all in vety eloquent prose. What was the inspiration behind the story?
Honestly, the inspiration behind the story was boredom. I had nothing going on at the time and I felt the need to create. I wrote this book just for something to do. I didn't expect to do anything with it. I had a friend read it and he was extremely impressed with it, surprisingly so to me. I decided to revisit the novel. I went through it and polished it up and found that I was quite happy with it as well. Regarding the themes of reality, time travel, the multiverse, science and the like, these are things that I think about on almost a daily basis so it's only natural that they would make their way into my writing. I have sort of a philosophical mind, always pondering the mysteries of the universe. The eloquent prose (thank you for that compliment) comes from my inspirations of Edgar Allan Poe and Nick Cave. I would naturally want to write something I would want to read.

7. Jordan and his father in the novel are both very religious. Does religion play an active role in your everyday live?
Yes and no. I wouldn't say I'm overly "religious" but I do have my beliefs. It's important to me that I don't beat my beliefs over people's heads, and I especially wouldn't want that to get in the way of a good story. I feel like it works well for this story to show just how much Jordan falls. My faith itself is very complicated. I do read the Bible and to pray to Jesus but I would not call myself a Christian in the modern sense of the term, as you can see in my latest film The Meaning. It's a documentary about the so called war on religion in America. I grew up as an atheist and only began reading the bible more recently. I'm accepting of all faiths and love everyone (so long as it's not extremism) and I would never want to alienate my readers by creating something that was too heavy handed with religion or too against it. I'm not against taking risks or a stance but I want to give people an enjoyable reading experience and not insult what anyone may or may not believe.

8. Would you never make a film based on A Better Tomorrow or your debut novel, A Thousand Pieces?
I think A Better Tomorrow would make a really awesome summer movie but I don't think A Thousand Pieces would translate well into a movie. Maybe it could but I never thought of that one as a movie. A Thousand Pieces is more like a fictional memoir whereas A Better Tomorrow is an action packed story.

9. In much of your work you seem to be partial to thrillers. What is it about this particular genre that makes you, personally, enjoy it more than others?
Ironically, as a viewer, I gravitate toward comedy. In fact, I'm a very comedic person. I'm always smiling, laughing and joking about something. I also do have a deep philosophical mind and I think where I can joke and laugh with people in real life, writing satisfies my inner curiosity for the mysteries of the universe. I can put them on the page.

10. Will you never publish a collected volume of your poetry and short stories?
I'm beginning to see that there is much more interest in my poetry than I had realized. Lately I've been getting a lot of compliments on my poetry which sort of surprises me. I never thought of myself as a poet. I just did it for something to do - to satisfy my urge to always be creating something. I am actually in the process of creating a CD of my best poetry. I think poetry is better heard than it is read. I probably won't ever publish my poems myself in written form (aside from on my website) but I will be publishing that CD. Regarding short stories, publishing houses often seem to look down on them. I do have plenty of short stories written and only just began sharing them with the public. If people respond well to them and like them, I'll consider publishing a volume of short stories.

11. Your band, Wolves In Clothing, are recording their debut album. Can you please tell the reader a little about the band and how/why you got into music?
I've been a drummer for most of my life. I've recently started learning to play guitar and attempting to sing. Sometimes I sing well, sometimes I sound like a seal choking on a clam. It depends on the song. I really love music. In fact, before I went to college I had to think really long and hard about which career I was going to pursue, music or film. Ultimately, I went to college for film but even while in college I remained in bands. I love writing songs. It's a great outlet for me. I often write songs when I'm stressed or sad and have some sort of emotion I need to get out of me (which is quite often actually). Not all my songs are so cut and dry though. I rarely write typical love songs. I try to write things deeper than whining about some girl leaving me.

12. You have called yourself the "epitome of a starving artist", as you are struggling financially to make your dreams come true yet you won't give up. Very inspirational for the indie writers who might be reading this. What is it that spurs you on and do you have any advice for others in your position?
What spurs me on is that I really can't see myself being satisfied doing anything else in life. I feel like I was brought into this world for these creations, so that makes it impossible to abandon these aspirations. In fact, it would be selfish to abandon my work. As I said, I create these works to see the excitement and joy people get--the entertainment and escape it provides. If I gave up it would be depriving people of that joy. I have a handful of fans and they're the best. They won't let me quit, no matter how hard things get. They've always been a great moral support and I'll never forget who's been there with me since the beginning. I really have no interest in making millions or being the most famous writer to ever live. All I really ask for is a roof over my head, my bills paid on time and food on the table. Other than that, I just want my work to be out there for people to enjoy--but I don't want to go broke in the process. It's really quite a balancing act. As far as any advice for others, I'm not really sure. We all have our own unique struggles. I think the most important advice I could give anyone is never let your ego get so big that you think you can do this all by yourself. Your friends, your fans, your family--they are just as important as you are. Love people. Treat people with respect and never forget how important those people are in your life.

13. You're a vegan and promote many animal and humanitarian causes. What causes in partcular do you support and why did you make this life decision?
I decided to become vegan because I don't believe in killing if I don't have to. There are endless delicious things I could eat without causing harm to innocent animals. Not only that, the way these animals are treated on farms is atrocious. Being vegan also reduces waste and cuts down on pollution. It also helps curb hunger in that most of the grains that could go to feed people are being fed to animals. Twenty pounds of grain into an animal only produces one pound of meat for humans. There are many reasons and I don't want to come across as preachy with being vegan. The facts are out there if people are interested. Regarding humanitarian causes, the biggest one for me is modern slavery or human trafficking. There are more slaves in the world today than at any point in history. I do a lot to try to raise awareness of where slavery is and how we can prevent, rescue and assist people who have been victims. I'm also very against any crimes against children and donate money from my first novel to Child Find America who help find missing kids.

14. Where do you see yourself and your writing career in the next ten years?
Right now I am not making a living on my writing. Ten years from now, I'd really like to be able to make a comfortable living with my writing.

15. Thank you for participating in the interview! Can you leave the reader with three things that might surprise them about you?
I have a tattoo on my left butt cheek of a Nard dog....uhh...just kidding about that one. Three things? I'm pretty much an open book. Sometimes I wonder if I share too much with people. If I were to think of three things off the top of my head that people may not know: 1. My favorite cute animal is the ring-tailed lemur and my favorite complex animal is the elephant.  2. I have sort of a phobia toward furless creatures that lay eggs such as snakes, lizards and fish.  3. My two favorite movies are Big Trouble in Little China and The Big Lebowski.

Find Ian J. Keeney at the following places online:

Official Site

Facebook LIKE Page

Twitter

IMDb

Purchase Ian's work via the following links:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

BOOK REVIEW: "A Better Tomorrow" by Ian J. Keeney

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Rarely in this day & age--where sex, blood & uneducated writing styles are what sells books--can one find a thriller that is written tastefully & eloquently.Ian J. Keeney's novel A Better Tomorrow, is that rare book.I was "introduced" to Mr. Keeney over Instagram, of all places, and was glad to be reading a novel which had a description unlike anything else I've ever read.Elliott Jordan is a writer of spiritual books for children, he has a beautiful girlfriend & a loving father. But he also did something...something he needs to undo but doesn't think he can.He takes an offer from a study group, and he thinks his wish might come true somehow, but he has no idea what he's really getting himself into.This thriller has more than a hint of sci-fi details & quite a few murders...some characters even get murdered more than once. But, even with the shootings, reading Mr. Keeney's prose is like a breath of fresh air in a stagnant world.Every word flows together & it is no wonder that he is also a poet. Yours book reads like a motorcycle rides on new tarmac.Time-travel, bending reality, and contemplation of one's own soul are what makes up the components of A Better Tomorrow. I wish I child give you more details, reader, but that's why I provided purchase links [below]. Every scene, every detail, has meaning.The only thing I can liken this novel to is Stephen King's screenplay [published in the collection Nightmares And Dreamscapes] "Sorry, Right Number". It has that sense of unreality to it.With likeable characters (even the murderers!) & a beautifully written story that contains, not just what I described, but also a sense of family, love & Christianity (without being preachy), this book is worth reading...more than once.

5/5--one of the best pieces of art I've read from a modern writer!

Purchase A Better Tomorrow via the following links:

A Better Tomorrow on Amazon

A Better Tomorrow from Barnes & Noble

Find Ian J. Keeney online:

Ian's Official Site

Follow Ian on Twitter

LIKE Ian on Facebook

Ian's IMDb profile