Sunday, July 24, 2016

Melanie's Week in Review - July 24, 2016

I am sure you will be glad to know that summer has landed in the UK. This week was 'scorchio'. Tuesday and Wednesday had temperatures in the 30Cs. It was fantastic. Maybe not so fantastic on the tube but I refuse to complain after so many weeks of grey, gloomy days with rain, rain and more rain. This lovely weather meant that I got to spend some time outside reading and watching back to back episodes of Grace and Frankie which I think it is hilarious. So what did I read in the sunshine?

It was another book from SPFBO2016 with Shadows Bear No Names (The Blackened Prophecy Part 1) by Oganalp Canatan. This was a bit of a change for me as it was science fiction and all of the other books I have been reading for this competition have been fantasy. I quite enjoyed this change in genre and the tale of the reluctant hero Ray.
Ray just wants to live his ordinary life as a freighter captain delivering goods around the Consortium but fate has other ideas. After the loss of his crew and the destruction of his ship Ray is determined that he must make amends. However, an elderly priest is just as determined that Ray fulfills his destiny as the new found saviour of mankind. Meanwhile a covert organisation has infiltrated the Consortium and one of it's special agents is on the hunt for Ray. Flight and fight across the galaxy as Ray tries to escape his destiny and not get murdered in the meantime, all in the backdrop of an alien race trying to take over the universe. A hair raising science fiction adventure with a dash of Indiana Jones and healthy sprinkling of Star Trek Voyager.

I quite enjoyed Shadows Bear No Names which is pretty good going for me as I don't always enjoy reading science fiction. I thought that Ray was a believable character and thought he was well supported by Brother Cavill, Sarah and the ancient Ga'an. I also thought that the alien invasion plotline and search for the tools to banish them from the galaxy was interesting. This was a sound debut novel and well done to Canatan. Where I thought it needed improvement was during the battles scenes. These were just too long and I found myself partaking in a bit of skim reading. Had Canatan tightened these chapters up a bit more I think he would have had a fantastic debut.

Book number 2 for me this week was Inspector Hobbes and the Blood by Wilkie Martin. Let me just start off by saving that I LOVED THIS BOOK AND IT WAS HILARIOUS.  Yes, I am shouting...why you may ask? This was the first book in a long time that I really loved reading. It was also one of the first books in even longer that I have read that I laughed out loud while reading even on public transport!

Andy doesn't realise that his life is about to change when he is sent on assignment with Inspector Hobbes. A veritable crime wave has hit the small Cotswold town and the larger than life Inspector Hobbes is on the case. Following ...quite far behind... is the slovenly, unfit and bumbling Andy Caplet. It's not long before Andy is living with the mysterious Inspector and his tooth collecting housekeeper Mrs. Goodfellow, who both scares Andy and delights him with her sumptuous meals. When Hobbes goes missing Andy is determined to fight his fear and find the Inspector. Armed with a leg of lamb and accompanied by an extra large dog Andy is on the case of lifetime.

What more can I say? This is a fantastic read and hats off to Martin for writing such hilarious characters in such hilarious situations. Andy is so inept that you can't help but cheer him on. Book 2 is next on my list and I can hardly wait to read it.

I have been remiss in not telling you about another great book I read a few weeks ago - The Ghoul King by Guy Haley. This is the second novella in the Dreaming Cities series. This instalment is set a few weeks after the events of book 1 and finds the Knight Quinn down on his luck and on the wrong side of the angels. The story is retold by Jaxon, a local healer. Through Jaxon's memories we travel with Quinn and Jaxon as they search for the means of fixing an enigmatic woman's robot. What they find is sooo much more.

I apologise for not telling you much more than that. What I can say is that I loved this book. From the first page there is a huge reveal and by the end your eyes are almost popping out with all the secrets that have been uncovered. I can HARDLY wait for the next instalment. All this plus a great cover

That is it for me for this week.  I had a really good week this week and looking forward to next week where I will hopefully continue the trend. Until then - Happy Reading!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

SPFBO 2016 - Some Reviews by Trinitytwo

Trinitytwo / Tracey reviews 5 of the novels that The Qwillery is assigned for the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off 2016.  With the exception of a few novels that we knocked out early upon a read of the first few chapters we are reading all of the novels though some end up not fully read even after initial interest. We will recap all of this in a post announcing the novel we are putting through .... soon.

A Facet for the Gem
The Tale of Eaglefriend - Book One
by C. L. Murray

Orphaned and unwanted, sixteen year old Morlen has never fit in with the citizens of Korindelf. Morlen's one unlikely friend is the king's advisor, the wizard Nottleforf. As Morlen prepares to leave his birth city behind, the unthinkable occurs. The dying king learns of his son Felkoth's many treacheries against his kingdom and their loyal allies, the Eaglemasters. The king denies him the crown and the depth of Felkoth's malevolence is revealed. Felkoth seeks the mystical powers of the Goldshard to secure his bid for absolute power but is enraged to discover that Nottleforf has beat him to the prize. Before Felkoth can recover the shard, Nottleforf entrusts it into Morlen's care and helps him to escape to the magical Forbidden Isle. it is only when Morlen reaches the Forbidden Isle that his quest to discover his true self can begin. Meanwhile, Felkoth's tyranny has only begun.

C.L. Murray's tale of a young man fleeing for his life and running straight into the arms of destiny is a top notch epic fantasy adventure. Morlen is a likeable hero whose strengths and weaknesses hit all the right marks. The villain, Felkoth is the quintessential megalomaniac. Each heinous act he perpetrates adds to the desperateness of the hero's situation and greatly accelerates the plot. The budding friendship between Morlen and the eagle Roftome is a definite highlight . I also enjoyed learning the secrets of both Morlen's and Felkoth's heritage. My biggest complaint is that there is only one strong female character and although I admire Valeine's bravery, I didn't really connect to her.

I enjoyed the mythos of Murray's world and learning about some of its history. Packed with marvelous creatures, exciting action sequences and a journey of self-discovery, I wholeheartedly recommend A Facet for the Gem to any lover of fantasy.

Dance of the Goblins
Goblin Series Book One
by Jaq D Hawkins

In a post apocalyptic world, humankind reacts violently when it is discovered that goblins live close by. Fear and blind hatred breed an angry mob that sets out to eradicate the presumed goblin threat. Only Count Anton and his community of magicians seeks to maintain peaceful relations with the goblin race. Count Anton works with goblins Hagruf and Talla to prevent a prophesy of potential death and destruction for all. Only by working together can they bring a balance and an understanding between the two races.

Dance of the Goblins piqued my interest with the promise of Goblin mythology. Hawkins sprinkled her story with information of their habits, ethics and way of life that captured my imagination. I was delighted to learn that there are more than one type of goblin and how each type fits into the goblin society. However, as the story progressed, Hawkins became preachy about humanity's endless list of faults. Hawkins' endless call outs of the human race for their arrogance, vanity, disrespect of women, and worshiping a sterile God, just to name a few, made for some tedious reading.

Count Anton was a bit too perfect for my tastes. A handsome, powerful shape shifter, he is one of the only reasonable humans in a world tainted by ignorance. I rooted for his endeavors but didn't feel much of a connection. The goblins, as I believe the author intended, were more to my liking and I enjoyed reading about Hagruf's and Talla's back stories immensely.

Dance of the Goblins has some interesting themes but because I felt bombarded with a constant negativity toward the human race, it raised my hackles. Although this is the only fault I find with this story, for me it is a major one. I enjoyed Hawkins' goblin history and really liked the fact that out of the three main POV's, only one was human. Unfortunately, I was not drawn into the dance but there were moments when I enjoyed it just the same.

The Mighty
Book One of The Druid's Guise
by Michael J Sanford

Fifteen year old Wyatt is unique because he lives in two worlds. On Earth, Wyatt's grandmother and caretaker is hospitalized and he is sent to Shepherd's Crook, an institution for troubled children. He avoids dealing with the trauma of his situation by immersing himself in his imagination, naming himself Wyatt the Mighty and hurling fireballs, lightning, and ice spears at his enemies. Life is unbearable, until with the help of his pendant made of jade and driftwood, Wyatt is mysteriously transported to Hagion, a world where magic abounds. But Hagion is dangerous and Wyatt finds himself in peril almost immediately upon his arrival. Rescued by Rozen, a female warrior of the Draygan race, he is befriended by Mareck and Gareck, a duo from a benign race called the Children. As they teach Wyatt about his new environment and the ways of the Mother, Wyatt learns firsthand about the violent reign of the brutal Regency and boldly vows to free Hagion's inhabitants from their cruelty. For all Wyatt's blustering and assurances of his magical Druid's power, he is still a clumsy fifteen year old; can he really save them?

I feel somewhat ambivalent about The Mighty. The protagonist, Wyatt is not very likeable. I found it difficult to feel sympathy for him, and his habit of sloppy smiles and pushing up his glasses irritated me. However, I kept reading because I wanted to know what was really going on with this troubled teen. Sanford's technique of allowing the reader only brief glimpses into Wyatt's earthly situation will appeal to mystery lovers. Wyatt is clearly emotionally disturbed but although The Mighty contains numerous clues, Sanford leaves unanswered the very real question of Wyatt's sanity

I also really liked Wyatt's odd assortment of friends when he was transported to Hagion. Sanford's characters are really well written and practically burst from the pages. Although I didn't find Wyatt likeable, he was three dimensional. I also enjoyed the cast of supporting characters who were diverse and interesting. The gradual blossoming of Wyatt's relationship with his newfound friends as they encountered a multitude of obstacles on their quest is near perfect.

Problematic are the transitions from chapter to chapter. I was often confused and had to reread passages to figure out where Wyatt was or how he got into certain situations. I feel that some of this is intentional but at other times is not. The story is largely dark and rape, suicide, and mental illness are some of the stronger issues that make up this tale. I would only recommend this YA to older teens as I feel it's too disturbing for younger readers.

The Mighty reminds me of Michael Ende's The Neverending Story but without the emotional connection to Wyatt that I felt with Bastian. As this is only book one I am not sure where Sanford is taking Wyatt, but I fear that the story will get even darker and sadder. Frankly, I'm still on the fence about whether to continue reading future books in the series.

The Music Box Girl
by K. A. Stewart

The Music Box Girl opens as a young man seeks his fortune at the famous Detroit Opera House. Tony is grateful to be hired as a stagehand but he aspires to one day sing on stage. A mysterious cloaked woman promises to give him voice lessons with the stipulation that she remains anonymous. Tony agrees, believing her to be the mysterious ghost that the other stagehands have warned him about. Though odd, Melody's musical knowledge and talent is undeniable and he honors her request as he hones his skill. Tony gets his big break when the temperamental star tenor walks out on the production and he triumphantly steps in. Bess, a close friend from Tony's childhood, happens to be in the audience and the two quickly get reacquainted much to his tutor's displeasure. This complication begins a series of events leading to mayhem, murder and a mechanical monster.

The Music Box Girl is a delightful steampunk adventure that features a few of my favorite things: secret passages, automatons, a dirigible, and a very interesting love triangle. Tony, the would-be tenor, is a genuinely good guy with a heart of gold. He has strong feelings for both the dangerously single-minded Melody, and Bess, the bold explorer. Stewart's third person narrative showcases these characters' wildly diverse motivations and left me hard-pressed to pick a favorite.

There are plenty of action sequences that ramp up the excitement. My favorite is a game of cat and mouse in the many secret passages of the old opera house. Stewart's antagonist garners some sympathy which, coupled with the entertaining descriptions of the backstage antics and inner workings of the opera house, serve to enhance the complexity of the plot. I highly recommend The Music Box Girl; it's a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable adventure that I found difficult to put down.

Yesterday's Prince
By HD Lynn

Yesterday's Prince intrigued me with its opening. While on campaign against his uncle, the wizard Arniel Gains, prince Uther wakes disoriented and tied up in an unfamiliar marshland. As he struggles to escape his bonds, he is discovered by one of his loyal soldiers, yet Brinn looks upon him with hatred. Confused, he chances to glimpse his reflection in the water and realizes he has been somehow cursed to inhabit his uncle's body. Brinn attempts to take him back to camp for execution but the fae intercede on his behalf. He is brought to the home of Malmordra, a fae of exceptional powers, to recover. But how does one recover from a curse?

Yesterday's Prince is a solid fantasy. Lynn does a good job of conveying Uther's range of emotions. Trapped in his uncle's body, he alternates between being scared, frustrated, angry and full of despair. I like the idea of a curse that forces the young prince into his uncle's much older body and allows Arniel to inhabit his nephew's form and easily rule in Uther's stead. Uther's best friend Septimus is also a wizard and although young and nowhere near as powerful as Arniel, he is smart enough to realize that something is wrong. At the start of the story, Septimus is interesting and well-rounded but unfortunately as the story progresses he becomes rather flat and predictable.

There are some continuity problems as Septimus starts out as a wizard who is afraid to perform real magic but once in danger leaps full bore into some pretty grisly blood magic. His spells compel other humans to essentially become his puppets. Lynn mentions at one point near the end of the book what a powerful wizard Septimus is which confused me. When did that happen? Yesterday's Prince needs a bit more editing as typos also abound.

The parts that really drew me in and kept me reading are Uther's interactions with the fae. Malmordra and her daughters and their nonhuman way of thinking kept me entertained and turning pages. I hope Lynn plans on revealing Malmordra's past association with Arniel which is alluded to often in the course of the story. I am also quite attached to the goblin, whom Uther names Rosebud, and think that her relationship with the cursed prince is simply adorable.

Yesterday's Prince has some great fantasy elements and I think readers will root for Uther and his companions. Regrettably, the story lost steam near the end and didn't have much in the way of resolution. However, it shows promise and I'm definitely interested in reading about Uther's further adventures after some of the editing problems get worked out.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Interview with Sarah Fine

Please welcome Sarah Fine to The Qwillery. Reliquary, the first novel in the Reliquary Series, was published on June 14th by 47North.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. You've written over a dozen published novels. Has your writing process changed (or not) over the years? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Sarah:  I'm more aware of story structure than I was when I started to write, so now, as I consider a story, I think about the inciting incident, the midpoint, the break into the third act, etc. I think it helps with pacing and focus. In terms of challenge, I'm learning to write messier first drafts. I used to edit extensively as I wrote, but nowadays I need to be a bit more efficient, which means more willingness to go forward with the plan to go back later instead of obsessively needing to fix everything as I go along.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Sarah:  I plot. I always need to know where I'm going. That said, I think it's necessary to be flexible. Often I find a better route that I couldn't have possibly seen at the beginning of the journey.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Sarah:  I find that I'm often moved to write or ponder a theme for a story after reading excellent nonfiction. For example, I'm writing a novel right now that's inspired in part by In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson.

TQDescribe Reliquary in 140 characters or less.

Sarah:  To save her fiancé Ben, Mattie journeys into an underworld of addictive magic & forms a tense partnership with Asa, Ben’s estranged brother.

TQTell us something about Reliquary that is not found in the book description.

Sarah:  This book is seriously fun, but it goes to unexpectedly dark places in terms of the romantic, sexual, and psychological aspects. Also, Asa is a strict raw vegan who carries magic floss in his pocket.

TQWhat inspired you to write Reliquary? What appeals to you about writing Urban Fantasy?

Sarah:  Reliquary is a story that I wrote at a time in my life where I was making some really tough decisions and in desperate need of true escape, and the story was definitely the playground I needed. In general, UF provides the opportunity to dwell in a real, contemporary world but to preserve a sense of magic and possibility that too often dies in adulthood. It's like grown-up fairytales, basically, which is why I love it.

TQDo Reliquary and the Servant of Fates series (Marked, Claimed, and Fated) share anything thematically?

Sarah:  I guess I could dig around and try to come up with something, but to me, the only thing they have in common are that they were extremely fun to write. The worlds are seedy and colorful and wild, full of possibilities and rabbit holes.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for Reliquary?

Sarah:  Probably the most research I did was for a certain scene that's set in Bangkok that might catch some readers by surprise, but to me made complete psychological and narrative sense. I did a lot of Internet research but also consulted with a specialist colleague of mine to get the details right. I don't want to say more than that for fear of spoiling it.

TQIn Reliquary who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Sarah:  Asa is a challenge because I usually write "good guy" male protagonists who are tough but not jerks. Asa IS kind of a jerk at times, though with good reason, and I had to keep reminding myself of who he was and what he goes through on a daily basis to remain true to his character.

Gracie was the easiest. Probably because she is a dog.

TQWhich question about Reliquary do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Q: Everyone hates love triangles. Why is there one in this book????

A: I know it seems like there is a love triangle, but to my mind, that is just not the focus of the relationships in Reliquary. This series is about Mattie going through a process of becoming what she was always meant to be, and that means she has to decide whether she's willing to let go of the familiar and safe in favor of entering the big, dangerous world. That's not easy for her, and the relationships she has with Ben and Asa are emblematic of that struggle, but not always about the men themselves. And this isn't a romance novel, even though it has romantic elements. I won't promise that she ends up with either one of them!

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Reliquary.

Sarah:  "Hope, Mattie," Asa said. "You’re an addict. And I know a thing or two about addicts. You’re gonna chase that high all the way to the end.”

TQWhat's next?

Sarah:  Next comes Splinter, the sequel to Reliquary, which was possibly the most fun I've ever had writing a book.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Reliquary Series 1
47North, June 14, 2016
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 288 pages

Mattie Carver’s engagement party should have marked the start of her own personal fairy tale. But when her fiancé, Ben, is violently abducted the next morning, her desperate quest to find him rips her away from small-town life and reveals a shattering truth: magic is real—and Ben is hooked. It’s not the stuff of storybooks. It’s wildly addictive, capable of producing everything from hellish anguish to sensual ecstasy almost beyond human endurance.

Determined to find out who took Ben and why, Mattie immerses herself in a shadowy underworld and comes face-to-face with the darkly alluring Asa Ward, a rogue magic dealer, infamous hustler…and her missing fiancé’s estranged brother. Asa has the power to sense magic, and he realizes Mattie is a reliquary, someone with the rare ability to carry magic within her own body, undetected. Asa agrees to help find Ben on one condition: Mattie must use her uncommon talent to assist his smuggling operations. Now, from magic-laced Vegas casinos to the netherworld clubs of Bangkok, Mattie is on a rescue mission. With Asa by her side, she’ll face not only the supernatural forces arrayed against her but the all-too-human temptation that she fears she can’t resist.

An excerpt from Reliquary

         The night before everything fell apart was the best of my life—the last purely happy, uncomplicated hours I would ever have. Looking back, I’m amazed by how lies can soothe the soul, quell every fear, blind you to reality in the most pleasant of ways. Not forever, of course. And only if you really want to buy into the illusion. But back then, I did. Even as the truth sharpened its knives and hunted me down, I refused to see it.
         I was too worried about whether I’d made enough deviled eggs.

“We really could have had this catered,” Mom said, stopping to rub my back as I balanced each egg half on the platter and then sprinkled them all with paprika.
           I blew a lock of curly hair off my forehead. Outside I could hear laughter and the faint caress of Lake Michigan against the shore. “How many people are out there?” I asked, ignoring her comment. “Should I do another dozen?” It’s my engagement party and I want to feed people, I had said. Just appetizers and beer. I’ll be done with plenty of time to spare.
           Ugh. My mother was right. Again.
           Her soft hands closed over my wrists. “We’ll have plenty. But Mattie, you need to be on the deck with Ben, not stuck in the kitchen. Your guests want to congratulate you—that’s the whole point of the party! Let me finish this up.” She held up my hands and glanced at my fingernails, short but coated with a bright-orange polish that set off my mustard-yellow dress and strawberry blond hair. “You’ll ruin these if you keep this up.” Smiling, she grabbed a dishrag and wiped a smear of mayonnaise off my ring finger, and the diamond that now lived there sparkled in the light. “Look—you’ve already done all the prep on the perperoncini wraps and the bruschetta. I’ve got this covered. Go.”
           I glanced out to where my fiancé (fiancé!) was standing, a bottle of beer in one hand, flashing that smile that could melt glaciers. His hair ruffled in the breeze off the lake, the sun glinting off golden strands. I bit my lip and stared. Seriously—how had I gotten so lucky? “You sure, Mom? I feel terrible leaving you with all this work.”
           She chuckled and shook her head. “Honey, that’s my job.”
           My mind skipped through memories of all the times she’d rescued me from my own ambitious schemes. Like when I’d taken on decorations for the senior prom (DIY string chandeliers are harder than they look, damn you, Internet!), or the time I’d decided that I totally had time to make three hundred cupcakes for my sorority’s homecoming party despite the fact that I had to cheer in the actual homecoming game. “I guess I’m the queen of biting off more than I can chew.” I sighed. “Sorry.”
           She pulled me into a hug, brushing my unruly hair off my face. “It’s just one of your many charming qualities.” She inclined her head toward Ben, and when I turned, he was watching the two of us, his honey-brown eyes full of affection and invitation. “And clearly Ben thinks so, too.”
           “Remind him of that after he takes a look at the supply closet at the clinic, okay?” I nodded as he beckoned me to come outside. “I might have tried to install a new shelving system while he was fishing with Dad yesterday.” Ben had told me that it was my practice, too, even though he was the vet and I was just the lab tech and assistant. I’d wanted to show him I could pull my weight. And I could…but unfortunately, the new shelving system could not.
           I explained the catastrophe that had once been Ben’s tidy closet. Mom just said, “We can get Dad over there to take a look at it tomorrow morning. He gets a kick out of fixing other people’s messes.” One of the reasons my dad was the most popular real estate agent in Sheboygan was that he actually seemed to enjoy patching holes and installing crown molding, and it certainly helped with sales.
           “You guys are the best parents. I don’t deserve you.”
           Mom handed me the egg platter. “Pay me back by making sure Grandpa’s having a decent time, okay?”
           “You got it.” I grinned. “I’m a ray of sunshine. I even dressed the part.” I kissed her cheek and scooted through the open sliding door to the deck, where I set the platter on a table already crowded with food.
           A warm hand closed over my arm. “Finally,” Ben said, his voice full of gentle teasing.
           I leaned my head back and let him kiss me, savoring the taste of taste of beer on his lips. “Mm. I think I read somewhere that anticipation is a fine aphrodisiac.”
           He laughed, and it accentuated the adorable dimple in his right cheek. “Is that what this is? I thought maybe you were avoiding me because of the supply closet.”
           “You weren’t scheduled to go in until tomorrow!”
           His arm slid around my waist, and he pulled me against his muscular body. “I had to go pick up some eyedrops for Barley.” His aging golden retriever was falling apart at the seams, but Ben was determined to give him a good life for as long as possible. “And it’s okay, really. It’ll be easy to fix.”
           I buried my face against his shoulder. “You are amazing.”
           He tipped my chin up. “And I’m marrying an amazing woman. Come on. Your friend Chelsea’s just gotten here, and I know you haven’t see her in a while. Also, a couple of your aunts and uncles have already asked me when you’ll appear. We need to greet your guests.”
           Your guests.
           I laced my fingers with Ben’s and looked out over my parents’ sprawling backyard, crowded with my extended family and everyone from my mother’s book club to my preschool gymnastics coach. Chelsea, my best friend from college, lifted her glass and grinned from her spot at the makeshift bar next to the pool.
           “They’re not all mine,” I said quietly. Feeling lame, I waved toward Franz, one of a handful of Ben’s patients (or, rather, the family members of Ben’s patients) I had invited to beef up his part of the guest list.
           Ben laughed as Franz waved back enthusiastically, looking a little lost and desperate as he stood among a group of my parents’ church friends. “I’m really flattered he decided to come,” Ben said. “He’s much more comfortable surrounded by books and wine.” A professor of anthropology at University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan, Franz had invited us over to his home a time or two, where I spent the evening playing with his dachshund, Lemmie, and Ben and Franz huddled in his library discussing lofty topics they claimed were too boring for me to sit through.
           “I’m glad he came, too.” I bit my lip. “But he’s not your family. We could have invited Asa, you know.”
           Ben’s grip turned to iron. “You can’t be serious.”
           “Come on, Ben. He’s your brother.”
           “Listen, even if we could find him, and even if he were sober enough to show up, trust me—you don’t want my brother here.” His jaw clenched over the tremble in his voice. “And I don’t, either. He’s a criminal. A lowlife. He’s—”
           “Ben, he’s the only family you’ve got left.” My heart ached for him. His mother had taken off when Ben was only a toddler, and he and Asa had been raised by their father, who had died a few years back. “Weddings bring people together!”
           “But with some people, that’s more of a curse than a blessing.”
           “You don’t think he’d be happy for you?”
           “Mattie, the last time we saw each other, he threatened to kill me.”
           “What?” My eyes went wide. “You never mentioned that before!”
           He bowed his head and shrugged. “It was a long time ago, and I don’t like to talk about it. But Asa’s just…he’s messed up. He’s got rage inside of him. And he’s always been jealous of me. Do you think it would help if he got a good long look at all of this?”
           I leaned my head on his shoulder. “I just wish you two could find your way back to each other. Family is important.”
           “I’m building a new family, Mattie. And there’s no one I’d rather do it with.” He shoved his left hand in his pocket, and I knew his fingers were running over his lucky agate. Just one of the odd, endearing habits that had made me fall deeper in love with him. I watched his face as he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. And when he opened them, he smiled down at me. His hand rose from his pocket to stroke my cheek. “You are so beautiful,” he murmured.
           I shivered with sudden pleasure. His touch was like a drug to me, and I was the happiest of addicts. As his fingertips trailed down my throat, my entire body tingled, and my hands balled in the fabric of his shirt, barely keeping me from sliding my palms up under it to feel his bare skin. “Do you think anyone would notice if we disappeared for a few minutes?”
           My old bedroom was a few steps away, and I was already envisioning myself on the bed. His grip on my hips would be bruising and delicious. My body was already slick and soft and hot. It felt like I was one deft touch away from having an orgasm, right there on the deck. Ben’s hand spread across my back, steadying me, and he glanced down at my flushed cheeks with an appreciative grin. “What were you saying about anticipation?”
           “Screw it. Or, wait, screw me. That would be even better.”
           “If someone doesn’t bring me a damn plate of food, I’m going to starve!” said a gravelly voice to my left.
           Ben released me instantly and clasped his hands behind his back, like a little boy caught stealing. My reaction wasn’t much better—I slapped my hands over my warm cheeks and turned toward the source of the complaint. “Grandpa! I-I was just coming to find you.”
           Grandpa looked up at me from his wheelchair. Dad had parked him in the corner of the deck so that he could look out over the lawn. His wide-brimmed straw hat shaded his watery, red-rimmed eyes, and his gnarled hands were clawed over the armrests. “Yes, that much was obvious.”
Great. Grandpa had probably heard every word of my scheme to sneak in a quickie with my boyfriend (fiancé!). I blushed from my forehead to my toes. Could I just control myself for once in my life? “What would you like, Grandpa? Summer roll? Deviled eggs?”
           “Surprise me.”
           Grabbing a plate and a napkin, I listened to Ben doing his best to make nice—and to Grandpa having none of it. I scooped up a few appetizers from each platter and turned just in time to see Ben reaching out to shake Grandpa’s hand. When my grandfather didn’t let go of the armrests, Ben saved face by giving Grandpa’s hand a friendly pat.
           Grandpa jerked away like he’d been burned, first glaring at the back of his liver-spotted hand and then up at Ben. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he snapped.
           Ben blinked down at his fingers, the shock on his face similar to my own. “I’m…sorry?”
           “You should be,” Grandpa growled. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to, boy.”
           “Try the eggs!” I said, rushing forward with the plate and nearly tripping in my strappy sandals. Stepping between my gaping fiancé and the tight-lipped old man who for some inexplicable reason had chosen the occasion of my engagement party to lose his mind, I put the plate in Grandpa’s lap because hey, snacks can fix nearly anything. (Despite everything that’s happened, I still believe that.)
           “Mattie, I think I’m going to…um…I’m going to go make sure Franz is having a good time,” Ben said.
           I threw him and apologetic look over my shoulder. “I’ll be there in a few.”
           Grandpa didn’t touch the food. His hands were shaking as I knelt next to him, my sunny skirt fanning around me. “Grandpa,” I said gently. “Are you okay?”
           “Don’t take that tone with me,” he said, though his voice had lost its edge. “My hospice nurse uses the same damn voice when I dare to express an opinion about anything other than whether I would or would not care for raisins in my oatmeal.” His tremulous fingers clutched at mine, and he sighed. “Never get old, Mattie.”
           “I won’t.” My chest squeezed with regret. Just a few weeks ago, the doctors had announced he only had months to live. He looked okay—apart from the rattling cough that kept him up nights and fatigue and pain meds that made him groggy during too many of his waking hours—but lung cancer was taking him down. After the doctors’ verdict, my parents had shipped him all the way to Wisconsin from his home in Arizona so they could take care of him until the end. They’d said it was the best thing for him, and to my surprise he hadn’t objected. But he didn’t seem happy about it—especially because everyone was tiptoeing around him like he was going to keel over any second. I tried to take a different approach. “Hey. In exchange for not using the you’re-a-crazy-old-man voice, I want to know what just happened with Ben.”
           He grunted. “It was nothing.”
           “Nothing? You refused to shake my fiancé’s hand! I mean, if you overheard us just now, that was as much my fault as—”
           “Mattie, how much do you know about him, really?”
           “We’ve been together for three years!”
           “That doesn’t mean you know his secrets.”
           I frowned. “How about you tell me what you’re getting at?”
           Grandpa rubbed at his chest as he looked over at the lawn, where Ben was mingling like a pro. “Ask him.
           Frustration began to creep in. Seriously, he had to pick this night to get all protective of my virtue? They’d spoken for two minutes. What could have gone that wrong that fast? “Grandpa, what did he say to you that has you this upset?”
           “Find out everything you can about him. You owe it to yourself.” He turned back to me, his chin trembling. “You and I haven’t spoken much since your grandma died.”
           I looked away, ashamed. “I’m sorry. I should have written more.” Or called. Or visited.
           “Come have lunch with me tomorrow?”
           “I have to work.”
           “Tuesday, then.”
           “Okay.” I’d have to arrange with Jan, our practice manager, to cover the waiting room during what was usually her lunch break, but that wasn’t anything a box of Girl Scout cookies couldn’t fix.
           “Mattie?” Ben called from the lawn. “The girl cousins are here.” His tone said, Help.
           My aunt Rena’s four teenage daughters were a handful. I stood up and smoothed my skirt. “I’d better get down there before they stick one of their iPhones in Dad’s speaker dock and turn this into a rave.”
           Grandpa squinted at me. “Are you speaking English?”
           “Never mind.” I rubbed his shoulder. “Enjoy those eggs.”
           I floated over to Ben, the incident already behind me. This was my engagement party, and I was marrying the love of my life. Nothing—and especially not my cranky old grandpa—was going to ruin it.

Re-printed with permission from 47North, copyright © 2016 by Sarah Fine

About Sarah

Sarah Fine is a clinical psychologist and the author of the Servants of Fate and Guards of the Shadowlands series. She was born on the West Coast, raised in the Midwest, and is now firmly entrenched on the East Coast.

Website  ~  Twitter @finesarah  ~  Facebook

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Interview with Michelle Pretorius, author of The Monster's Daughter

Please welcome Michelle Pretorius to The Qwillery as part of the 2016 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Monster's Daughter will be published on July 19th by Melville House.

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Michelle:  I started writing later in my life. I needed a change of direction, but didn’t quite know what to do, so I took a writing class and loved it. I always loved school so I decided to apply to an MFA program and got in. I realized that I had always had these story ideas, but didn’t know how to craft them into a novel. I guess that’s the value of formal writing training to me – it taught me to recognize good story ideas, and how to use them.

TQAre you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?

Michelle:  Definitely a pantser. I like to go on a journey with my characters, throw them in a situation, and see what happens. Writing a novel takes a long time, and new events and experiences are constantly influencing the way I think about the plot and characters. I had a vague idea where I wanted the novel to end when I started writing it, but no idea how I would get there. I sometimes had nightmares about tying up all the narrative threads I had introduced. I ended up changing major plot points several time along the way as I discovered new things in my research. Many times meeting a new person, or a small incident observed on the street, would change the way I saw a character or plot point in the novel. You always have to leave yourself open to the possibility of change while writing. I admire people who can plot out a whole novel before writing it, but for me it would dull the excitement of discovery.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Michelle:  To recognize that it is work, hard work, and that inspiration is a very small part of the process. To sit down every day, get rid of all the doubts and excuses, and put words to paper, no matter what, is always a challenge. I have to have a routine. I also have to remind the little perfectionist on my shoulder that this first draft doesn’t matter. That I can rework it and change it before anyone sees it. It’s always easier to make a draft better once you have something to work with, but getting that first draft out is a difficult process. Writing is about making decisions, decisions about your characters, setting, plot, etc. and you have to get rid of the notion that there is only one right answer and that you cannot go back and change it. I cut or rewrote almost as many pages as have remained in the final draft of The Monster’s Daughter, and it was sometimes tough to let them go, but I have to admit that the book is definitely better without them.

TQWhat has influenced / influences your writing?

Michelle:  I try to read a lot and about a variety of subjects. I obviously love reading fiction, especially crime novels, but I’m also very interested in science and history. I love it when seemingly disparate elements converge in a novel and the expectation of genre lines gets blurred. Place is also a strong factor. I didn’t really have a clear sense of the story I wanted to tell until I visited friends who live in the mountains on a very isolated farm in South Africa. All of a sudden I could see this germ of an idea that I’d been carrying around for a while take root in this environment.

TQDescribe The Monster's Daughter in 140 characters or less.

Michelle:  Constable Alet Berg discovers a burned body on an isolated South African farm and discovers how her own past is connected to the murder.

TQTell us something about The Monster's Daughter that is not found in the book description.

Michelle:  History shapes our lives, the way we exist in the present, and interact with the people around us, whether we realize it or not. The Monster’s Daughter takes its characters, and us as readers, on a journey to discover that past, so that we may understand how we are connected to it in the present.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Monster's Daughter?

Michelle:  I grew up in apartheid-era South Africa which meant that the government controlled information in the media and censored all reading materials and information. History lessons in school were skewed towards the religious justification of white rule. Once I left South Africa, I realized that I didn’t know very much about my country’s real history. I started doing a lot of reading on the subject, and the more I read, the more upset and ashamed I became. I wanted to tell the story, not as a history lesson about people in power, but as a piece of fiction from the perspective of the people who lived under apartheid, both black and white. Fiction has the ability to create empathy because it puts you in the head of another person. I wanted to use this powerful tool as a way of exploring the past with my reader, a way of understanding the people of the country’s beliefs, motivations, experiences, and suffering.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Monster's Daughter?

Michelle:  I did a lot of reading! Many books on the subject were out of print, so I owe a great debt to libraries for finding them for me. I went to South Africa to experience specific places and the people of the areas I was writing about, and to find other sources that were only available in Afrikaans and therefore impossible to find in the US. I also watched many documentaries about the country, both historical and investigative. Apart from the history, I had to research genetics, medical technology, vigilantism, necklacings, burn pathology, interrogational torture techniques, aging, crime, camphor poisoning, and host of other things that would probably make strangers looking at my browsing history very suspicious.

TQIn The Monster's Daughter who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Michelle:  Alet and Mathebe were both easy to write. Once I had a clear idea of who they were, they just took over. I believe that all characters are rooted in the personality and views of the author, there’s no getting away from it. Even though the two of them seem very different, they have a lot in common as well. When I have difficulty writing a character, I know it’s because I am only thinking about their function in the story, and haven’t envisioned them as real people yet. In the beginning of writing the novel, I had some trouble writing the black characters, not because I didn’t think of them as real people, but because I desperately wanted to get it right and do them justice. The fear of getting it wrong almost crippled my writing. I had to remember that, even in a world where difference is constantly being put under a microscope, people are a lot more alike than different.

TQWhy have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in The Monster's Daughter?

Michelle:  It is impossible to write honestly about South Africa without including the issue of racism and the aftermath of colonization. They are pervasive elements in the country’s history and part of the root cause of its current social problems. I wanted to understand why and how apartheid happened, and also what its legacy is for the people of the country. South Africa is a great setting for a crime novel, but I wanted the solving of that crime to be a vehicle for addressing the larger picture of what is happening in the country, and to some extent in the world at large.

TQWhich question about The Monster's Daughter do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!

Michelle:  Why I chose to include a science fiction aspect in the novel.

As I mentioned, I’m fascinated by science, especially genetics. I’m a big science fiction fan, although I tend to gravitate towards “mundane” sci-fi. I like the idea of speculative fiction that can, by some strange twist of circumstances, or further research and understanding, become reality. To discuss the issue of apartheid and race, I wanted to have characters that could bear witness to the century unfolding, that were present as history made its twists and turns. To bring the issue of race into the fold, I wanted them to actually be superior humans, whereas the white South Africans only believed themselves to be. And so, Tessa and Benjamin were born, not through the specific intent of a mad doctor, but because of a strange confluence of events that were beyond human control.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Monster's Daughter.

Michelle:  “Johannesburg hazed like a gray dream in the late afternoon, a smoky mirage. Around Tessa, lines of color divided the masses of people trying to eat, breathe, and live, going home to separate areas. Would it fall one day, this city of Gomorrah? Would she alone be standing at the end, eternally a child, and know the truth about misery and the consequences of hate? See the result of their toils, of their poverty, of their greed, while they lived only for what today offered? The loneliness of that future ripped at her.”

TQWhat's next?

Michelle:  I’m busy researching and writing a second novel, a sequel if you will. The Monster’s Daughter dealt with over a hundred years of history, primarily investigating the how and why of apartheid. For the second novel, I’d like to focus on what happened post-apartheid. The New South Africa showed so much promise in 1994, but twenty-two years later, the same social inequalities are still present in the country, along with increasing violent criminality. I think the why and how of that is worth exploring further.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Michelle:  Thank you so much for having me!

The Monster's Daughter
Melville House, July 19, 2016
Hardcover and eBook, 464 pages

Somewhere on the South African veld, 1901: At the height of the Boer War, a doctor at a British concentration camp conducts a series of grim experiments on Boer prisoners. His work ends in chaos, but two children survive: a boy named Benjamin and a girl named Tessa . . .

One hundred years later, a disgraced young police constable is reassigned to the sleepy South African town of Unie, where she makes a terrifying discovery: the body of a young woman, burned beyond recognition.

The crime soon leads her into her country’s violent past—a past that includes her father, a high-ranking police official under the apartheid regime, and the children left behind in that long-ago concentration camp.

Michelle Pretorius’s epic debut weaves present and past together into a hugely suspenseful, masterfully plotted thriller. With an explosive conclusion, The Monster’s Daughter marks the emergence of a thrilling new writer.

About Michelle

MICHELLE PRETORIUS was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. She has written for Bookslut, Word Riot, and the Copperfield Review, among other publications. She received an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago and is currently a PhD student at Ohio University.

Website  ~  Facebook
Twitter @MLPretorius  ~  Instagram

Spotlight: Ghost Run by J. L. Bourne and Day by Day Giveaway


The much anticipated fourth book in J.L. Bourne’s Day by Day Armageddon series—an acclaimed military thriller series of the zombie apocalypse—DAY BY DAY ARMAGEDDON: GHOST RUN (Gallery Books; July 19, 2016; $16.00) is a sure bet for fans of the smash hit show The Walking Dead, bringing all-new tales of the zombie apocalypse! As a commissioned military officer with twenty years of active military and intelligence community service behind him, J.L. delivers an intelligent and suspenseful thriller that will terrify die-hard horror fans and reinforce J.L. Bourne’s reputation as “the new king of hardcore zombie fiction” (Brad Thor, New York Times bestselling author).

“We have a cure. South of Atlanta, Wachovia Tower, CDC site B. Need assistance, position compromised. Doc, TF Phoenix sends…AR. BT BT.”

In a desperate bid to survive a world forever altered…as the hordes of bloodthirsty undead now dominate the ravaged U.S. landscape…a Navy commander on a reconnaissance mission for basic supplies stumbles upon an incredible secret about the possibility of reversing the pandemic’s devastating effects that have annihilated everything in its path. Now there’s no turning back—with only his lifelong-honed skills and the aid of an extraordinary construct, he leads a one-man rescue mission to find Task Force Phoenix and humanity’s final hope. And the agonizing, split-second decisions he must make along the way could mean living one more day—or surrendering to the eternal hell that exists between life and death.

Praise for Ghost Run:
Day by Day Armageddon: Ghost Run is a deeply satisfying read for any fan of survivalist horror, zombie fiction, or military heroes. With its rousing pace and compelling narrator, it's best savored at a breathless sprint. The only real surprise is how this series has reached its fourth installment without a movie or TV deal being set in motion—it’s certainly cinematic enough in its action-packed flourishes.”
—Criminal Element

An interview with J.L. Bourne:

J.L. Bourne’s interview with Survival Punk on Wednesday, July 20th!

Ghost Run
Day by Day Armageddon 4
Gallery Books, July 19, 2016
Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

The acclaimed and eagerly anticipated fourth thriller in the zombie apocalypse series from the author of Day by Day Armageddon and Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile, for fans of the smash hit show The Walking Dead.

In a desperate bid to survive as hordes of bloodthirsty undead now dominate the ravaged U.S. population, a Navy commander discovers an incredible secret about the pandemic in this fourth novel in the acclaimed Day by Day Armageddon series.

Task Force Phoenix may be humanity’s final hope, and the narrator's agonizing decisions could mean living one more day—or surrendering to the eternal hell that exists between life and death.

Ghost Run is a suspenseful, gripping, and intelligent thriller that will terrify die-hard horror fans and reinforce J.L. Bourne’s reputation as “the new king of hardcore zombie action” (Brad Thor, author of Act of War).


Day by Day Armageddon
Day by Day Armageddon 1
September 29, 2009
Trade Paperback and eBook, 224 pages

Once on the fringes of horror, the “zombie apocalypse,” has become one of the most buzzworthy genres in popular culture. Now, in Day by Day Armageddon, J.L. Bourne delivers an intelligent, gripping thriller that will leave both new and die-hard zombie fans breathless--perfect for fans of The Walking Dead.

Sporadic news reports indicate chaos and violence spreading through U.S. cities. An unknown evil is sweeping the planet. The dead are rising to claim the Earth as the new dominant species in the food chain.This is the handwritten journal depicting one man’s struggle for survival. Trapped in the midst of global disaster, he must make decisions; choices that ultimately mean life, or the eternal curse to walk as one of them. Enter if you will into his world. The world of the undead.

Beyond Exile
Day by Day Armageddon 2
July 13, 2010
Trade Paperback and eBook, 288 pages

The terrifying sequel to Day by Day Armageddon—for fans of The Walking Dead. "J.L. Bourne is the new king of hardcore zombie action!" (Brad Thor)

Armies of undead have risen up across the U.S. and around the globe; there is no safe haven from the diseased corpses hungering for human flesh. But in the heat of a Texas wasteland, a small band of survivors attempt to counter the millions closing in around them.


Day by day, the handwritten journal entries of one man caught in a worldwide cataclysm capture the desperation—and the will to survive—as he joins forces with a handful of refugees to battle soulless enemies both human and inhuman from inside an abandoned strategic missile facility.

But in the world of the undead, is mere survival enough?

Shattered Hourglass
Day by Day Armageddon 3
December 26, 2012
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages

The acclaimed military thriller of the zombie apocalypse from the author of Day by Day Armageddon and Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile!

In a desperate bid to take back the continental United States—where hordes of undead now dominate the ravaged human population—a Navy commander leads a global mission to the heart of the pandemic. Task Force Hourglass is humanity’s final hope, and his team’s agonizing decisions could mean living one more day—or surrendering to the eternal hell that exists between life and death.

About the Author

J.L. Bourne is a commissioned military officer and acclaimed author of the horror series Day by Day Armageddon and the dystopian thriller Tomorrow War. With twenty years of active military and intelligence community service behind him, J.L. brands a realistic and unique style of fiction. He lives on the Gulf Coast but is sometimes spotted toting a rifle and a Bowie knife in the rural hills of Arkansas, where he grew up. Visit him at, on Facebook at OfficialJLBourne, and on Twitter @jlbourne…before the grid goes dark.

Day by Day Giveaways!

Thursday and Friday of this week, two blogs each day will give away one bundle (one copy each of books 1-3) in the Day by Day Armageddon series. See the schedule below. You may enter all of the giveaways, but you can only win once. U.S. only.

Wednesday, July 20th

Thursday, July 21st

The Qwillery Giveaway

What:  One entrant will win a copies of Day by Day Armageddon, Beyond Exile, and Shattered Hourglass by J. L. Bourne from the Simon & Schuster. US ONLY

How:  Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on July 28, 2016. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway