Today I’m happy to have a guest post by debut author Alex Hughes to share with you! Alex’s novel Clean, the first book in the Mindspace Investigations series, was released earlier this month, and this post gives some background on the world it is set in. Hope you enjoy reading about it!

Clean by Alex Hughes

A Quick Guide to the World of Clean
By Alex Hughes

  1. Tech Wars
    Sixty years ago, the world was broken when a madman and his followers turned technology against the people. Cars turned against them, phones publicized all financial data, and the smart houses turned into prisons. People died in deliberate car wrecks, went penniless overnight, companies imploded, and your neighbors literally rotted in their homes. Even now, decades later, the people can’t forget. Any computer technology bigger than the chip that powers your oven timer is strictly forbidden. Of course, that doesn’t mean the power to make it doesn’t exist…
  2. Fusion-Powered Flying Cars
    Turns out you can modulate a small-scale fusion engine with a very tiny chip on the scale of that oven timer. And fusion is stable, relatively clean, and powers cars (and anti-gravity fields) very well. We’ve run out of fossil fuels, sure, but really, who needs them anyway?
  3. Telepathy, etc. etc.
    A small but significant portion of the population now has mental Ability. Sure, that means a lot of telepaths of various strengths, but it also means precognition, telekinesis, teleportation, and pyrokinetics. But that’s the fun part.
  4. The Guild & Jurisdiction
    After the Guild stepped up to save the world at the end of the Tech Wars, they’d earned themselves both fear and respect. They also won the Koshna Accords, where they get total jurisdiction over their members… and where membership gets compulsory at a certain strength of telepath. Born with Level Seven Telepathy? Welcome to the Guild, your new home/prison/family/collective. Mind the rules – they’re enforced swiftly and strongly.
  5. Internet & Privacy Laws
    Remember those cameras in public places? Gone. Electronic banking? Gone for the likes of us. The little Internet is still full of superviruses and scary things, and even email takes three days to go through Quarantine. It’s okay though. For the first time, this country finally has the privacy laws it’s always needed so desperately.
  6. Pollution
    Yes, the rain is carcinogenic, but with advances in medical science, they can take care of most of the cancers in an afternoon. Plus produce artificial organs if yours wear out. So the horrific pollution really isn’t so bad…
  7. Lingering Technology
    If you see Tech left over in your local reclaimed buildings, please report it promptly to the Tech Control Organization. We rely on citizens like you to help us keep these dangers off the street. Remember, a safe world is a Tech free world. Thank you.

About Clean:

A RUTHLESS KILLER—
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND

I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars.

My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it—real scary.

Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city—and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.

About Alex Hughes:
Alex has written since early childhood, and loves great stories in any form including scifi, fantasy, and mystery. Over the years, Alex has lived in many neighborhoods of the sprawling metro Atlanta area. Decatur, the neighborhood on which Clean is centered, was Alex’s college home.

On any given week you can find Alex in the kitchen cooking gourmet Italian food, watching hours of police procedural dramas, and typing madly.

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The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week’s post is a short one since the only book that came in this week was a book I won from a Goodreads giveaway.

First, just a brief update about reviews and guests coming up. Alex Hughes, author of Clean, is going to share a guide to the world in the Mindspace Investigation series next week. I finished reading Clean last weekend, and I’m going to start on my review today so that can go up next week as well. A review of The City’s Son by Tom Pollock is in progress, and my next review after that will be the book I’m reading right now, The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer (which I am enjoying so far!).

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

The Warded Man (Demon Cycle #1) by Peter V. Brett

I remember hearing a lot about this book a couple of years ago, and most of my Goodreads friends really liked this one. One of the cover quotes mentions it’s dark fantasy and the reviews also mention it being character-driven so it sounds like something I might like!

In the UK and Australia, the title of this book is The Painted Man. The Warded Man is available in mass market paperback and ebook and as an Audible audiobook (and you may be able to find a hardcover, although that doesn’t seem to be as easy to find now as the other formats). The second book in the series, The Desert Spear, is also available. The Daylight War, the third book, is scheduled for release in February 2013.

An excerpt from The Warded Man can be read on the publisher’s website.

As darkness falls after sunset, the corelings rise—demons who possess supernatural powers and burn with a consuming hatred of humanity. For hundreds of years the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards—symbols of power whose origins are lost in myth and whose protection is terrifyingly fragile. It was not always this way. Once, men and women battled the corelings on equal terms, but those days are gone. Night by night the demons grow stronger, while human numbers dwindle under their relentless assault. Now, with hope for the future fading, three young survivors of vicious demon attacks will dare the impossible, stepping beyond the crumbling safety of the wards to risk everything in a desperate quest to regain the secrets of the past. Together, they will stand against the night.

Today I’m happy to be participating in the blog tour for The Midnight Court by Jane Kindred! I haven’t yet read this or the first book in The House of Arkhangel’sk series, The Fallen Queen, but have been very interested in these books since reading the first chapter of the first book. Read on to find out more about The Midnight Court and how to enter the international giveaway for an ebook copy of either book in this series – your choice! If you did miss the first book, here’s where you can find out more about The Fallen Queen and read an excerpt.

The Midnight Court by Jane Kindred

About The Midnight Court:
Against the pristine ice of Heaven, spilled blood and a demon’s fire will spark celestial war.

The exiled heir to the throne of Heaven, Grand Duchess Anazakia and her demon companions, Belphagor and Vasily, have made a comfortable home in the Russian city of Arkhangel’sk, but their domestic bliss is short lived. When their daughter Ola is taken as a pawn in Heaven’s demon revolution, the delicate fabric of their unorthodox family is torn apart—threatening to separate Belphagor and Vasily for good.

Anazakia is prepared to move Heaven and Earth to get her daughter back from Queen Aeval, risen in Elysium from the ashes of temporary defeat. But Aeval isn’t the only one seeking Ola’s strange power.

To conquer the forces amassing against them, Anazakia is prophesied to spill the blood of one close to her heart, while Vasily’s fire will prove more potent than anyone suspected. In the battle for supremacy over Heaven’s empire, loyalties will be tested and secrets will be revealed, but love will reign supernal.

Read an Excerpt from The Midnight Court


Jane Kindred

About Jane Kindred:
Jane began writing romantic fantasy novellas at the age of 12 in the wayback of a Plymouth Fury—which, as far as she recalls, never killed anyone…who didn’t have it coming. Born in Billings, Montana, she was soon whisked away to Tucson, Arizona where she spent most of her childhood ruining her eyes reading romance novels in the sun and watching Star Trek marathons in the dark. Although she was repeatedly urged to learn a marketable skill in case she couldn’t find a man to marry her, she received a B.A. in Creative Writing anyway from the University of Arizona.

She now lives in San Francisco with her son Samson, two feline overlords who are convinced she is constantly plotting their death, and a cockatiel named Imhotep who punishes her for sins in a past life (and whom she frequently imagines tastily smoked, dried, and splayed on a stick like omul fished from Lake Baikal).

Her pen name was inspired by the twin sister of Philip K. Dick who died shortly after their birth, and by whom he felt haunted until the end of his life.

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The House of Arkhangel’sk Giveaway

Courtesy of Entangled Publishing, I have one ebook copy of The Midnight Court to give away. If you haven’t read the first book in The House of Arkhangel’sk yet and win the giveaway, you can get a copy of The Fallen Queen instead. The winner will also have a choice between ePub and mobi files for the book selected.

For further opportunities to win one of these books, check out these sites on the date listed:

Sept 18 – Brazen Reads
Sept 20 – Buckeye Girl Reads
Sept 21 – Beth Yarnall
Sept 24 – Shortie Says
Sept 26 – K-Books
Sept 27 - Paranormal Urban Fantasy Reviews

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen (AT) fantasybookcafe (DOT) com with the subject line “The Midnight Court.” One entry per person. This giveaway is open to anyone from any country in the world and a winner will be randomly selected. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Saturday, September 29.  The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with which book and file type they would like).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Note: Now that the giveaway is over, the entry form has been removed.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week – old or new, bought or received for review. Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

This week’s post is a short one since the only book that came in this week was the one I ordered for National Buy a Book Day.

Queen's Hunt by Beth Bernobich

Queen’s Hunt (River of Souls #2) by Beth Bernobich

Queen’s Hunt was released earlier this year in hardcover and ebook. An excerpt from the book is available on Tor.com.

I read and reviewed the first book in this series, Passion Play. While I had some reservations about it, I also enjoyed reading it and am looking forward to seeing what happens in the next book in the series. If you missed the first book, you can read some of the beginning on the author’s website. A related short story titled “River of Souls” is also available to read on Tor.com. (I thought the short story was really good.)

Four books total are listed on the author’s website. Book 3, Allegiance, is scheduled for October 2013. The Edge of the Empire, book 4, is scheduled for October 2014.

Queen’s Hunt is the second title in Beth Bernobich’s River of Souls novels, following her startling debut, Passion Play. Filled with dark magic and sensual images, this is fantasy writing at its best.

Ilse Zhalina has left to start a new life in a garrisoned fort, leagues from her estranged lover, Raul Kosenmark. The violent quarrel that ended Ilse and Raul’s relationship was quite public. And also, quite fake. They hope to mislead Kosenmark’s enemies so that he can continue to influence the politics of the kingdom in an attempt to stave off an ill-advised war, while keeping Ilse safe from royal assassins who would kill anyone Raul is close to. Ilse longs for Raul, but is set on her own quest to find one of the three fabled jewels of Lir. One of the jewels is held by King Dzavek, sworn enemy of Veraene, who has used the jewel’s power to live for centuries. Ilse seeks one of the other stones to counterbalance Dzavek’s efforts to destroy her country.

In her search, she encounters a shipwrecked prisoner from another land, a woman who has a secret of her own…and the second jewel in her keeping. The two women become allies in their quest for the third jewel, because finding and controlling these stones could mean salvation for both of their nations. And their failure the ruin of their peoples.

Check out Rachel Neumeier’s guest post about writing House of Shadows and enter to win a signed copy (giveaway open internationally)!

House of Shadows is the most recent fantasy book by Rachel Neumeier, who has also written the Griffin Mage trilogy and two young adult fantasy books (The Floating Islands and The City in the Lake). While the author has mentioned she has an idea for a sequel, House of Shadows is a story that stands on its own and is wrapped up in the end.

Once there was a merchant with eight daughters ranging in age from 9 to 19. Each one of these daughters fit into the household or managed a portion of the business in some way – except for Nemienne. Nemienne lacks a special talent and is prone to getting distracted from her tasks, leading to burned bread or even no bread when she returns from the market empty-handed.

One day the merchant dies suddenly, leaving his daughters with more debts than they can handle and a business they cannot legally own. After much discussion, they come to the conclusion that they must face the hard truth: in order to pay off their debts and keep their father’s business, some of the sisters must be sold. Since she has no skill that is useful to the household, Nemienne is the first to volunteer to be one of these sisters. Karah, the most beautiful sister, sensibly suggests she attempt to sell herself to a flower house as a keiso, one of the glamorous women who entertain men in social gatherings. The two sisters meet the Mother of the highly reputable Cloisonné House, who pays a sizable sum to make Karah part of her house. Nemienne does not fit in with the sophisticated keiso any more than she did her own household; however, the Mother of Cloisonné House recognizes that Nemienne has a talent for magic and arranges for her to earn her keep as a mage’s apprentice.

While Nemienne learns magic and explores the strange house she’s now living in, Karah becomes a keiso earlier than is normal. At her first social gathering as a keiso, Karah is introduced to Taudde, a bard from Kalches. Due to hostility between the country he is visiting and his own nation, Taudde must keep both his knowledge of sorcery and his homeland a secret. Unfortunately for Taudde, some men involved in a conspiracy against their own kingdom discovered his secret and used it to blackmail him into being part of their plot. When Karah catches the eye of the conspirators’ target, she is nearly killed and is only saved by Nemienne’s magical influence, drawing both sisters into the scheme against their kingdom.

House of Shadows is enchanting with lovely writing and a character-driven story. It reads like an original fairy tale, full of magic, wonder, and beauty. I was utterly charmed by this book and so absorbed in it I could barely manage to put it down before it was finished.

From the very beginning, I was quite taken with the family of eight sisters and their plight. The characters and the immediacy with which I sympathized with them were a large part of what made this novel shine. In particular, I was struck by Nemienne and the way she felt out of place in her family:

 

But sometimes, especially on those evenings, she felt her father’s puzzled gaze resting on her, as though he understood how each of his other daughters fit into his household but did not quite understand where Nemienne might exactly fit. Sometimes Nemienne herself wondered what kind of puzzle it might be, that had a Nemienne-shaped piece missing out of its middle. [pp. 3]

As Nemienne learned magic, I just grew to love her more for her vast inner strength, courage, and sharp mind. She was a refreshing character since she was both one supposed to be intelligent and one who acted like it. Once she was presented with evidence, it didn’t take long for her to figure out what was going on. She did perhaps seem a little too quick to catch on at times, but I didn’t mind that much since I prefer that to a character who struggles with the obvious, dragging out the plot needlessly in the process.

Like her sister, Karah is a bit on the perfect side but in a completely different way. Karah is beautiful, kind, innocent, and prized by the flower house for her sweet naivete. Yet I found her extremely likable and even sympathetic, probably because she did still have uncertainty about her new role and so much innocence that she could be blinded by it. One aspect of Karah that I really enjoyed was that she was more than just an attractive woman – her beauty captured the attention of others yet it was her wit and attentiveness that held their attention.

While important, Karah is actually not a point of view character and much of her time at Cloisonné House is viewed through the eyes of Leilis, a servant who used to have a more prestigious role. Leilis has experienced firsthand just how terrible some of the women in the flower house can be and acts as a guide to Karah, all while slowly revealing the details of her downfall. Since she does have some very understandable bitterness, she nicely balances out the two sisters’ innate goodness and still manages to be a character one can root for at the same time.

Out of all the major characters, it took me the longest time to warm up to Taudde since his point of view was the most removed from the two sisters in the beginning, but by the end he was my favorite of all. He was the most multi-faceted of these characters, and I think that is largely because he was the one who was tested the most. When he was blackmailed, he had to make a decision that had a big impact. While he didn’t always do the right thing, his actions were rational making it easy to continue to empathize with his situation and like him.

Although I feel like I am spending too much time on the characters in this review, I have to discuss the major villain a little before moving on. It’s revealed pretty quickly that he’s not exactly what he first appeared, but depending on whose perspective you were reading from, you saw a different side of him. In the end, he was clearly the bad guy, but I thought there were enough different sides to his personality that it was hard to really view him as extremely evil until then. The way he acted made it seem reasonable that the other characters didn’t see that he was a villain because he wasn’t the cackling bad guy with obvious pure evil intent to many of them.

The prose and descriptions were often quite beautiful, and I also thought they were well balanced. There were descriptive sections, but there was never so much description dumped on the page at once that it seemed excessive. The more detailed passages were spread out so they never lost their loveliness.

In addition to the characters and writing, the magic also stood out. Nemienne’s mage studies showed us one side of the magic that was about light, dark, and sympathy. Taudde’s bardic sorcery showed us a different type of powerful magic that was also fascinating. There’s also the mysterious mage house with its passageways and doorways that suddenly appear, and a dragon who embodies magic in an interesting way.

There’s really very little I didn’t love about House of Shadows, but it did bother me a little that everything worked out very neatly and easily in the end. As mentioned, I also did feel that Karah was almost too perfect and Nemienne almost too smart. Both did have situations that balanced that out a little and made them sympathetic – Nemienne starting as an outcast and Karah beginning her life in the flower house feeling a bit unsure. However, I enjoyed the book enough that these are minor quibbles.

All wordiness aside, I loved House of Shadows. The characters, writing, and magic captivated me, but there was a lot to love in the details as well – the dragon, the cats who are characters in their own right, female characters with different situations and types of inner strength, and just a little bit of romance. It is a simple book in some ways yet it all fits together so effortlessly that it is not, and it has enough beauty and wonder to make it truly memorable.

My Rating: 8.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I was contacted about reviewing the book by the author and received a copy of the book from her publisher.

Read Preview on Google Books

Other Reviews of House of Shadows:

Today I am pleased to welcome Rachel Neumeier, author of the Griffin Mage trilogy, The Floating Islands, and The City in the Lake. I recently read her latest fantasy book, House of Shadows and enjoyed it immensely due to the beautiful writing, charming characters, and delightful magics. I’ll tell you more about why I loved it tomorrow in my review, but first I’m going to let Rachel tell you about the book and her writing process. Also, she has a signed copy of House of Shadows to give away!

House of Shadows by Rachel Neumeier

Thanks for inviting me to post on Fantasy Book Café, Kristen!  It’s a pleasure to be here, and I’m delighted you enjoyed HOUSE OF SHADOWS.

HOUSE OF SHADOWS is, of course, my sixth book to hit the shelves.  It’s an unusual book for me, in a way.  Not in having three point-of-view protagonists – all of my books so far have at least two – but in how misleading the back cover copy is.  It’s amazing how difficult it is to write back cover copy that is both intriguing and accurate!  In the past, I’ve literally written the back cover copy before writing the book – and I write without an outline, so this means the back cover copy was written before I had much idea about the plot!

For HOUSE OF SHADOWS, the back cover copy was a team effort, since the folks at Orbit had a lot of input in the final draft – which I think is effective, even if it is misleading.  The back cover strongly implies, of course, that the story is going to be about two sisters.  And it is.  But only one of those sisters is a point-of-view protagonist.  The other is a linchpin around which the story turns, but she’s not actually a protagonist.  Instead, one of the other two protagonists is the “foreign bard” mentioned on the back cover, and the other isn’t mentioned on the back cover at all.

Why did I end up with a story so complicated that writing the back cover copy turned into such a challenge?  Well, because I actually started this book three different times and in three different ways.  Then, of course, I actually found I liked all three different beginnings and wound up braiding all three protagonists together into a single plot.  I think this worked quite well, but it did lead to a complicated structure.

From this, you may gather that, as a writer, I’m about as far from an “outliner” as you can get.  That is so true!  While I may write a brief outline, I usually don’t even do that until I’m halfway through the book – and then only if I’m stuck.  This leads to some predictable issues.  For example, if you suspect I sometimes I have to go back and make pretty substantial changes, you are so right.  In HOUSE OF SHADOWS, I actually wrote about 40 pages leading up to the climactic scene, realized it was all wrong, deleted all those pages, and started over.  The climax worked much better after I realized there was a dragon involved!  Obviously I had to make lots of little changes all through the book after I figured that out.

You may think this is a lot more trouble than outlining would be.  You’d be right!  But for me, and for other “pantsers,” it turns out that forcing an outline kills the story.  I completely lose interest in writing the story if I’ve worked out too much of the plot and world beforehand.  A rough idea is fine, an ending scene to end with is great, but too much detail is deadly.  Just one of those things you have to keep in mind if you’re writing:  you have to do it the way that works for you, even if it doesn’t seem like the sensible way to do it.

I’m pretty pleased with how HOUSE OF SHADOWS turned out, even if I didn’t write it the “sensible” way!

Thank you, Rachel! I enjoyed hearing about your writing process and the creation of the back cover copy, and I am happy you realized there was a dragon involved in House of Shadows as well. I was a big fan of the dragon!

House of Shadows Giveaway

Rachel has a signed copy of House of Shadows to give away! Anyone can enter this giveaway regardless of country.

Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen (AT) fantasybookcafe (DOT) com with the subject line “House of Shadows.” One entry per person. This giveaway is open to anyone from any country in the world and a winner will be randomly selected. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Saturday, September 22.  The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book to).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winner. Once the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Update: Now that the giveaway is over, the form has been removed.