MisssMeliss Interviews Meg Lacey

Yesterday, I posted my review of Meg Lacey’s latest novel, The Sparrow and the Hawk. Tomorrow over at ALL THINGS GIRL, you can read my interview with her. The direct link is: Author Insight: Meg Lacey. It goes live at 7:30 AM US EDT.

Here’s a preview:

MAB: Is there a particular scene or passage from The Sparrow and the Hawk that you’re particularly proud of? If so, please share it with us, or describe it.

ML: I love the party scene because of the outrageous cast of characters and their conversations with each other.

I love the fact that the party starts as a get together and is full of party manners and dialogue, but eventually deteriorates into something else, something dark and evil, rather repellent. But through the entire scene there is a lot of humor. The humor comes from the characters initially and then evolves into black humor created by the situation that develops.

You can read the review here.

Review: The Sparrow and the Hawk by Meg Lacey

The Sparrow and the Hawk
by Meg Lacey

Product Description (from Amazon.com):
Jillie Harte, code name the Sparrow, a documentary film maker is an agent for the NAS (Normal, Abnormal, Strange) Agency. Her assignment-find The Carmaletta Choker before it falls into the wrong hands and destroys the world. Franklin Doherty and associates are suspected of having the choker, and they are definitely the wrong hands! To get close to Franklin, Jillie is producing a film on “Decoration, Fashion and Accessories Throughout History,” featuring his antique collection. Her assignment is complicated by Griff Ryland, her new, hot cameraman, who is also looking for the necklace. Griff is an enigma. Is he friend or foe? And why is she so distracted by his “pure sex on a stick” appeal? Like the Sparrow, Griff, aka the Hawk, needs to retrieve the choker. It disappeared from his dimension years before, and his job is to bring it back. Since he can shapeshift into a hawk or a mountain lion at a moment’s notice, Griff feels certain of success. But he doesn’t bargain for a sassy, sexy redhead-and for his overwhelming urge to settle their differences in bed. Now Griff and Jillie must not only overcome the deadly dark forces who want the choker, but they must also face their developing relationship. And they thought saving the world from evil and chaos was hard!!!!

My Thoughts:

When I received the ARC of The Sparrow and the Hawk, the latest novel from Meg Lacey, I was already excited. I’d been asked to review it, and was already in love with the story just from the description.

Reading it only cemented my love for this genre-blurring adventure. It’s a paranormal romance, but it’s also an urban fantasy, a black comedy, and a mystery/thriller with a dash of horror. It’s fast-paced, funny, and completely absorbing, and the only flaw is that it’s BOOK ONE in an intended trilogy, so while the core story is wrapped up, there are enough dangling threads to leave readers like me knotted up in frustration and anticipation.

Let’s talk about the main characters: Jillie is an unconventional heroine. Sure, she works for the NAS (Normal, Abnormal, Strange) agency, but she’s also very real – and flawed. She’s a little impulsive and she acts like she has something to prove – as if she’s not working for her own fulfillment but to please her dead mother. Then there’s Griff, whose back story unfolds more slowly. We, the reader, know he’s a shapeshifter, but Jillie does not, though she does know (as do we all) that he’s sex on a stick. (A note about Lacey’s world building here: I like that Griff’s shapeshifting comes at a cost – he has to expend real energy in order to do it, which means it’s not an instant fix to every problem.)

The other characters, sinister Declan, flamboyant Franklin, and Nigel (who seems to run hot and cold) as well as the women (Perdita, especially) are all vivid, as well. Franklin’s house really caught my attention, reminding me of a cross between the Winchester Mystery House and the game board from Clue. (When Jillie makes an offhand remark about the game of Clue, I felt vindicated.) And Franklin himself is a character I would have liked to know better. When we meet him is mostly-dark, but I think seeing his progression – descent, even – would make an interesting pre-quel.

Lacey knows how to set a scene. From Franklin’s house to the Arizona desert to a sort of otherspace within each where the walls between normal and strange completely crumble, there is always a sense of place. You can’t always track the journey from point A to point B, but you always know what each point looks and feels like.

Bottom line? I loved this novel. I’m looking forward to a time when my review queue is a little thinner so I can re-read it. I CANNOT WAIT for the next in the series.

Goes well with…hot tea and a chocolate chip muffin.

In Their Words: Author Kyra Gregory talks about SECRETS CLAD IN LIGHT

When I sat down to read Kyra Gregory’s novel Secrets Clad in Light I wasn’t sure what to expect, but her unconventional 19th-century romantic thriller hooked me fairly quickly. (Read the review here.) Today, Kyra answers my questions about the book, among other things.

Kyra, tell us a little bit about who you are and what hooked you on writing.

I’m a young writer on the island of Malta. I’m quite an introverted personality but I love putting everything out there into a story.

It started out very simply; at a point in my life when I felt like I had nothing I wanted something that was my own. It had to be something I created that nobody could touch or try to take away from me. Writing came quite naturally to me, I still don’t quite know exactly how it started but when a friend of mine found out he pushed me to keep doing it because he said my words made people feel something.

Kyra Gregory (provided by Kyra Gregory)

Secrets Clad in Light is set in the 19th century. What about that period inspires you? Why choose that period for this story?

I’m not sure what it is that I love about that period. It’s so different to now in so many ways but the 19th century was when some things really began advancing, such as medicine. The clothing, the speech, the setting; I think it’s all so beautiful and interesting.

I wanted to write a story in that period for a really, really long time but it was killing me trying. When you write a story set in the past you have to be really committed to the history; you can’t easily blow up a building or something to that extent without needing to provide some sort of explanation as to why we don’t know of this. Unless, of course, you’re writing fantasy. Still, I’m not one to easily give up so I thought I’d try one more time; I was successful finally.

The lead character in this book is in love with another man. Did you set out to write a gay love story, or do you think of it as a love story in which the characters happen to be gay?

Before I started publishing I always saw what I wrote as simply a romance novel or love story, regardless of who the characters were in love with. It was only once I started publishing that I paid more attention to this; to me, it’s still just a love story and the characters happen to be gay.

In addition to romance, Secrets Clad in Light is also a mystery/thriller, and I don’t think Sherlock Holmes would have felt out of place in this story (or at least his Baker Street Irregulars wouldn’t have). Are you a fan of the mystery/thriller genre in general? Did those elements of the story make it more difficult to plot than if it had been JUST a romance?

I do really enjoy the mystery/thriller genre, but I never had any faith in actually writing it. I don’t think there was a week growing up where someone in the house didn’t watch a Sherlock-Holmes-type mystery. I never planned on writing one, but Mary was just so stubborn that she was pushing the story in that direction. I chose to go with it. That direction caused me quite a bit of trouble but I love to experiment with new things so the challenge was fun.

Your characters, particularly Henry and Mary, are very vivid, complex people, each with their own set of secrets. Did you base them on people you know, or are they entirely your own creations?
They developed all by themselves; I gave them a few traits as the story started, but before I knew it they had completely developed.

Henry remained quite similar to what I had first imagined him to be, although he wasn’t really inspired by anyone I knew. Mary, though, became something entirely different; I still look back sometimes and wonder, “What happened to you?” Even as I ask that though, I have no longer have a clue what it was that I had expected from her.

Henry’s love-interest, Seth, is injured when we meet him, and spends the vast majority of this novel recuperating and essentially mute. Did your decision to effectively deny him any dialogue cause any challenges when trying to define his personality?

I often asked myself if I had made a mistake doing that. I really and truly enjoy writing dialogue, so when it came to him I did begin to wonder what on earth possessed me to do something like this.
Then I would remember how much conversation between people is more body language than actually spoken word and it made things a bit easier.

I still feel that there is a certain part of his personality that would have shone better had he been able to speak, but also if that were possible I feel like the story would have been very different.

We, the reader, are doled out pieces of Mary’s story in tiny bits, as she warms up to Henry. As the author, do you have a fully-developed backstory for her? Is there any chance of another book with Mary’s story expanded?

For quite some time while writing, I only knew as much about Mary as Henry did. Now, I can say that I have a bit more of her past, and her personality, figured out. That being said, I’m not too sure if it will ever be revealed. There’s something appealing in keeping it a secret. I’m not too sure though; maybe if I can come up with a story on Mary’s terms she’ll allow me to reveal what I know. I’m sure she’ll find some new secrets to keep from me by that time.

I really loved the two main settings in the novel – the sewer lair where this unconventional family coalesces, and the abandoned bakery they move into later. What inspired you to use the sewers?

Something interesting about the 19th century is the distinct line between the different classes. Most recently we often see the 19th century, and similar periods, as quite extravagant and I wanted something different.

I thought it suited the characters also. In the sense that on the surface late 19th Century London was seen as something thriving, improving, but a lot of people forget what was beneath the surface of it all; that there were still plenty that were poor, hungry and living in slums. The characters are similar; though they appear to be one thing to the social circles they form part of there are layers to their personalities that were kept hidden for the sake of those ideals.

Is there a specific passage in Secrets Clad in Light that you particularly love? What is it?

I truly enjoyed writing the scene between Mary and Henry in the church. It was a moment in which, unexpectedly, Mary and Henry opened up to each other a little about their pasts, their fears and hopes. It felt very easy to write and there was something about it that really touched me.

This is your second direct-to-Kindle publication. What made you decide to publish your work this way?

Although I had never thought of trying to make a career out of my hobby a few years ago I sent a manuscript out to a few publishers just to challenge myself as a writer and see what kind of feedback I would receive.

I got a few rejections, one no-answer and one acceptance. That acceptance was on the condition that I changed the gay romance into a straight one. I’m a control freak and, while I appreciate people’s opinions and advice, in the end I just want to do things the way that suits my vision the best. I don’t like being told a project can’t go the way I want.

For this, self-publishing was the way to go. I started with Kindle to test the waters and I hope to branch out a little more soon.

What should we look for from you in the future?

I want to keep trying new things because I love the challenge. Very soon I will be re-writing and extending a series that I started a few years ago so there’s that to look forward to. I have quite a few projects lined up and hopefully it won’t be too long of a wait.

Social media is a key part of promoting any book these days; where can readers connect with you on the web? How about Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest?

I try not to have too many sites and such; it’s difficult to keep many up to date constantly but I’m always on twitter and recently started a page on facebook. Of course, there’s also my blog.
Twitter: @Kyra_Lyrical
Facebook: Kyra Lyrical
Goodreads:Kyra Gregory

Review: Secrets Clad in Light, by Kyra Gregory

Secrets Clad in Light
by Kyra Gregory

Product Description (from Amazon.com):
London, 1888. Henry decides to abandon all social conventions and rescue his lover, Seth, from an abusive household. He has replayed the moment in his head and has always known it wouldn’t be easy. He has never thought that it would be Seth who would cut his time too short. With Seth barely breathing, Henry must make the hardest decision of his life: try to save Seth, possibly condemning him to a life of suffering, or let him pass on in peace. But the arrival of a young stranger forces Henry’s hand, doing little to ease his qualms of uncertainty as everything he thought he knew changes.

Caught between self-doubt and his own selfish desires Henry learns to fight it all, using this stranger as a light to shine on what he hopes is the right path… All the while aware that there is still so much he doesn’t yet know…

My Thoughts:
Like many mystery lovers, my introduction to Victorian England was through the Sherlock Holmes mysteries. While Kyra Gregory’s novel Secrets Clad in Light doesn’t feature any detectives at all, she’s captured an underside of London that Holmes and his Baker Street irregulars would find familiar. Add to the general mood a subterranean lair in the sewer tunnels and, later, and abandoned bakery turned into a home, and the vivid descriptions will have you (at least at times) wishing for a hot shower and a change of clothes.

But a sense of place is only part of a story, and in the other parts – character and plot – Gregory does not disappoint. Her lead character, Henry is complex and three-dimensional. You see his love for Seth, his concern for him, his concern that he is forcing a relationship, or not making the right choices. In the mysterious Mary, part healer, part helpmate, we glimpse the way women of this period were still hobbled by the conventions of society. And then there’s Seth, Henry’s love, who is injured in the first pages of this novel, and remains essentially mute through the end of the book. In other hands, such a character would fade into near-nonexistence, but Gregory uses body language and non-verbal noise to convey his thoughts and feelings, and leaves us with a man who is no less vivid as his speaking associates.

Also of note is Gregory’s choice to do a period romance about two men. While the story is, itself, chaste (especially as modern romances go), in the late 19th century, such a relationship was certainly not one that would ever be displayed openly – even if “openly” meant “to other denizens of the sewers.” Still, the book puts plot and setting above social commentary. The lovers happen to both be men, but that relationship serves the story without overpowering it.

It struck me, as I was writing interview questions (check back here on 9/25 for the answers) for the author, that the late 19th century, right at the cusp of electricity obliterating gaslight, was really the last time that people in the modern world could live “off the grid.” I have to wonder if that knowledge inspired the author at all, but whether or not it did, Secrets Clad in Light is eminently readable, and even has a compelling twist ending.

Goes well with a steaming mug of English tea (Darjeeling perhaps?) and a bowl of stew.

Retro Reading: Murder Ink, by Dylis Wynn

Murder Ink
Dylis Wynn

Originally published in 1977, Murder Ink is subtitled “The mystery lover’s companion,” and that description is absolutely adequate, because this book is a collection of essays, reviews, trivia and tidbits all about mystery fiction. Gems include an ad-flyer for the perfect Gothic nightgown, a discussion of pen names, and even one author’s fantasy of dining with Nero Wolfe.

My experience with Murder Ink goes back to 1984. My stepfather picked up a copy on a discount table, and it quickly became mine. After all, I’m constantly reading, and I love mysteries.

Ms. Wynn compiled a revised version of Murder Ink in 1994, but I don’t have a copy of it (yet). She also released a volume called Murderess Ink that focused on women in mysteries, which I’ve read, but don’t own.

Even though the original Murder Ink is pretty dated now, I still love it, and I find myself responding to different selections at different times. For example, a recent game of CLUE made me remember the poem in Murder Ink all about the game.

Review: A Brew to a Kill by Cleo Coyle

A Brew to a Kill
Cleo Coyle

Product Description (from Amazon.com):

Coffee. It can get a girl killed.

A shocking hit-and-run in front of her Village Blend coffeehouse spurs Clare Cosi into action. A divorced, single mom in her forties, Clare is also a dedicated sleuth, and she’s determined to track down this ruthless driver who ran down an innocent friend and customer. In the meantime, her ex-husband Matt, the shop’s globetrotting coffee buyer, sources some amazing new beans from Brazil. But he soon discovers that he’s importing more than coffee, and Clare may have been the real target of that deadly driver. Can ex-husband and wife work together to solve this mystery? Or will their newest brew lead to murder? Includes recipes.

My Thoughts

Cleo Coyle’s new Coffeehouse Mysteries have been coming out in early August for the last couple of years, which means I always use birthday money to buy them for myself. A Brew to a Kill was one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received. :)

This new installment of the caffeinated adventures of Clare Cosi and company incorporates two nifty modern trends, social media and cupcakes, and adds a mystery that introduces us to an old colleague of Mike Quinn’s who might be almost as cool (but only almost) as well as new friends, but rest assured the entire gang from the Village Blend is well represented, in all their slam-poetry and art-creating glory, and ex-husband Matt and his mother Madame are both deeply involved in the mystery that involves Brazilian coffee, Asian cooking, drug trafficking, class snobbery, and a mobile version of the Village Blend (if only there was such a coffee van in my neighborhood – Starbucks should deliver, at least in suburban Texas).

Of course there’s a secondary storyline about the ongoing romance between Clare and Mike, but their relationship gets a new twist thrown into it in this book. To borrow a phrase from a favorite character in a totally different genre and medium, “Spoilers, Sweetie.” Translation: I don’t do plot reveals – you’ll have to read the actual book.

What I love about Coyle’s characters is that in both the Coffeehouse Mysteries and in the Haunted Bookshop series (which next installment cannot come soon enough) the protagonists are adults. Clare is in her forties, and Penelope is a single mother. They both have multi-dimensional lives with jobs, homes, and friends, and come across as completely real people. The men, too, are very vivid. Both Mike and Matteo are guys who could easily step off the page. (I confess, however, that in my mind’s eye Mike Quinn is played by Chris Noth and Matteo is played by Michael Sheen, who is Welsh, yes, but has that dark, curly hair that is generic European).

And then there are the recipes. I’ve tried several of the recipes in the Coffeehouse books (the Donut Shop Muffins are a favorite) and not only are they well written, but they never fail to please. For someone who is notorious for having a book with her at every meal, the fact that the author gives us the ability to reproduce key foods makes the books live longer.

A Brew to a Kill was an excellent read, and I’m excited to know that another Coffeehouse Mystery is due out before Christmas. Long live Cleo Coyle! Long live the Village Blend.

Goes well with: a double cappuccino and anything chocolate (I read my copy while enjoying chocolate raspberry birthday cake).

Review: Settling (Solid Book 2) by Shelley Workinger

Settling (Solid, Book 2)
by Shelley Workinger

Product Description/Synopsis (from Amazon.com):“Solid” left off, Clio and her friends realize that they aren’t ready to go home; they’re determined to stay on campus and continue their journey of self- discovery. But someone doesn’t feel the same way and will do anything to drive them away – even kill.

Friendships will be tested, abilities will evolve, and more secrets will come out as the teens race to stop the killer before he sets his sights on one of them…

My Thoughts:
In my review of Shelley Workinger’s first book in the Solid series – SOLID – I mentioned that I’d planned to read the second book almost immediately.

I was not disappointed.

Picking up from the end of book one, book two, Settling expands Clio’s circle of friends, who have all created internships within their camp, but it also adds some jeopardy – there is a killer attacking staffers and students – and it seems to be one of the kids.

If the first novel was all about self-discovery, this one is much about playing detective, and forming teamwork. But playing against it all are normal teenage relationships, romances gone awry, and a bit more information about the special abilities Clio et al have.

While Settling is very much part of a series, it’s enjoyable as a stand-alone novel as well.

I’m looking forward to book three, due out later this year.

Goes well with a fried chicken picnic on the lawn.

Review: Terminal Ambition by Kate McGuinnes

Terminal Ambition
by Kate McGuinness

Product Description/Synopsis (from Amazon.com):
Maggie Mahoney wants justice for women at her law firm.
The firm chairman wants to be Attorney General.
Only one can win in this legal thriller.

Sweeny, Owens & Boyle sits at the top of Wall Street law firms. Brilliant and beautiful, Maggie Mahoney became a partner and the trophy wife of its managing attorney. Her husband’s death renders Maggie an outsider with the firm’s male establishment and creates a power vacuum.

Obsessed with his dream of becoming the next Attorney General, firm chairman, Andy Anderson, chooses a surprising replacement: Jack Slattery, a reputed sexist. Jack’s background hardly qualifies him for such a prominent position. Maggie suspects Jack has something on Andy, but what is it? Forced to become a sleuth, she stages a break-in to gather evidence.

Andy’s ambition drives him to desperate measures. With proof of misconduct in hand, Maggie demands justice, but it comes at a high price.

If ambition rules, can justice prevail in this legal thriller?

My Thoughts:
When I was offered the chance to read and review Kate McGuinness’s legal thriller Terminal Ambition, I was really excited. I may have kissed corporate life goodbye several years ago to be a self-employed writer/actor/improviser, but I still appreciate a good story. (I’m still waiting for someone to write one centered on the mortgage industry.)

I was not disappointed. McGuinness’s protagonist, Sweeney and Owens law partner Maggie Mahoney is as three dimensional as any of the women I know in real life, and I had no trouble connecting with her. As a feminist myself, I also had no trouble sharing her very real frustration at the double standard she had to deal with, as a woman in general and as a woman in an overwhelmingly male industry.

But Maggie wasn’t the only character whose story appealed to me. I was also very much intrigued by Ginger and Rosalinda, as well as by the mystery of what was really going on with managing partner Erling “Andy” Anderson.

Aside from compelling characters, Terminal Ambition also had a story that was well balanced in terms of character development, plot development and pace. I’ll confess that the prologue left me expecting more of a murder mystery than a true thriller, but once I was into the novel, it was a fast read that left me really satisfied.

The last section of the book teases the next novel from McGuinness – another Maggie Mahoney story – I’m already looking forward to reading that.

Bottom line? Terminal Ambition is terminally awesome.

Goes well with…a vodka martini and a plate of sushi.