Sunday, November 28, 2010

"The Confession" by John Grisham

Okay, so Grisham was one of the authors that first got me reading thrillers.  That doesn't necessarily mean that all his novels are going to be the same level of thrilling.

Thriller readers, fear not.  There is still plenty of tense story driving in this one.  It will pick you up and take you along for the ride.  I'm just not sure that it's going to whisk you away in a whirlwind the way that some of his first novels did.  Still plenty of driving action, plenty of brisk pacing, plenty of heart-pounding moments.  If you're an adrenaline junkie, this will be more than enough of a fix.

However, if you're not, you'll find this to be a pleasant departure (depending on your politics) from the legal thriller genre.  There's a lot of social commentary in this one.  Perhaps too much, for some.  I like my moralizing well masked and this wasn't particularly.  It's been compared to Upton Sinclair, who frankly is not one of my favs, but I gotta say...I've read his stuff and found it compelling.  Same story here.  If you don't agree with Grisham's premise, you may get a little hot under the collar, but it will definitely give you food for thought.  If you do, you'll find plenty of reasons to rave about it.

Ultimately, The Confession deserves a read, and not just because we "owe" it to Grisham because of his past triumphs.  It stands on its own and would find a voice even without Grisham's name attached.  Get it and enjoy it, whether you're a die-hard thriller reader or not!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cristyn West (@cristynwest) and "Plain Jane: Brunettes Beware"

This is a guest blog from Ben Hopkin (@actingnodrama), brought back for a second time, because...well...he's awesome!

You'll notice I put the writer first in the title.  There's a reason for that.  Before I talk about how awesome Plain Jane: Brunettes Beware is (and wow, it is), I have to talk about the enigma that is Cristyn West.  I thought I'd do it now, because it's her birthday this week.  Happy Birthday/Thanksgiving Cristyn/Carolyn/Craftycmc!

Cristyn West is the pen name for the incomparable Carolyn McCray, an amazing veterinarian-turned-writer-turned-screenwriter-turned-producer/director.  In short, she's done it all.  I had the unique opportunity to meeting her kinda backwards.

I encountered her first wearing her screenwriting hat.  I was a part of workshopping a number of her screenplays, which I found to be incredibly well-crafted and compelling.  When she produced and directed her first short film, I jumped (okay, leaped) on board as her lead.  From there, I was able to start reading her novels, and finally had the chance to see her at work with animals.

You would think with all she has going on, one of those areas would suffer.  Not even a little bit.  Her writing is amazing, her filmmaking brilliant and her work with animals absolutely endearing (which, when you read some of her darker works, is a very good thing to have in the balance).

Okay, enough about the person, what about the book?  Well, Plain Jane kept me up at night.  I mean that in two ways.  I was kept up at first because I couldn't put the #$%#$!* book down!  Then I was kept up thinking about it (okay, and because I was a little bit scared, but don't tell anyone), mulling it over, walking through all the twists and realizing how seamless it all was.

Plain Jane is a thrill ride, plain and simple.  It's got compelling, three-dimensional characters that I cared about, a plot that felt as driving as a jackhammer and dialogue sharp enough that I found myself wanting to steal for my own uses.  It's alternately chilling and steamy (great recipe for a case of the literary sniffles, by the way...where the only cure is another Cristyn West book which better be coming soon, dammit!), with such great sexual tension between Kent and Nicole that at times I felt like I shouldn't be watching/reading.

As an actor, here's the kicker for me.  If I not only can see it as a film, but want to have a leading role in it, it's a home run.  This was a grand slam.  I would be willing to be an extra in this sucker!  And then pay premium theatre prices (with popcorn and drink) to go see it.

And if all this isn't enough for you, the e-book costs $2.99 on Smashwords.  Three bucks!  Are you kidding me?  A good hamburger costs more than that.  So, I guess what I'm saying is, get it now.  Read it.  You won't be sorry.  And if somehow you are, come and talk to me on Twitter--@actingnodrama.  We'll have a fun little conversation about it. :)

Ben Hopkin started his career in entertainment at the age of 10, where he performed alongside his father in the opera Gianni Schicchi.  Since then he has gone on to perform in theatre, television and film, often working with Tony and Emmy award-winning actors and directors.  Ben is a graduate of the renowned Old Globe Theatre MFA program and was Director of the Acting for Film Undergraduate and MFA programs at the New York Film Academy at Universal Studios for five years.  As a director and producer, Ben has won awards for his work in television and his films have screened at festivals around the country.  Currently Ben is co-founder of Off Our Meds MultiMedia, which has a full slate of commercial, television and film projects.  He also teaches online acting and dialect classes and workshops (go here to find out more and/or sign up) and you can find him on Twitter.  He's also got a radio show that you can find here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (@Zafonescrituras)

Not your typical thriller, granted.  But, hey, we're not your typical reviewer.

Holy cow, this novel will grip you and take you on a ride.  It's the kind of Gothic thriller that seeps into your bones, invades your dreams and haunts your every waking moment.  I don't know how she did it, but Lucia Graves, the English translator, somehow manages to make it feel like you're reading the original version in Spanish.  I lived in Spain for a couple of years, and this novel took me back with so many subtle little details.

Zafon bleeds magic into every page.  Even though there's really nothing that's not possible in the real and rational world, this almost feels like a paranormal thriller.  I love thrillers that grab me by the throat and pummel me.  This one wrapped me up in gauzy, silken strands and then whipped me around like a rag doll.  And yet, at the end, in spite of (or maybe because of) all the many tense and horror-filled moments, I felt gently, but shaken...back in my own bed.  Where I promptly revisited the world Zafon created in my dreams.

That's kind of what the novel feels like.  A beautiful, haunting and very realistic dream.

You see that I'm waxing poetic in an uncharacteristic way.  So, let me put it to you this way.  If you love thrillers, this will be an awesome departure from the norm for which you will want to kiss me square on the mouth.  If you're not a big fan of thrillers, this is one of those that you can brag about at your book club while STILL ENJOYING THE NOVEL!!

That's right!  All the literary clout you could hope for...stunning prose, razor-sharp characters (wait until you meet Fermin...he'll keep you in stitches), and a plot that will whack you upside the head with all the weight of a century old cathedral.  But at the same time, it's a page-turner.  It kept me up at night, trying to read just a few more pages before my eyelids sagged.

I'm telling you, read the stinkin' book!  You will be very happy that you did.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"Law of Attaction" by Allison Leotta (@AllisonLeotta)

This is not your typical thriller.  While it does have some truly gripping sequences that are quite suspenseful, it's the overall feel of the novel that's building tension.  You know that something's up.  You know it's coming.  You're just not sure exactly what.

This is Allison Leotta's debut novel, and at moments it shows.  The novel became immensely more compelling about halfway through.  But I gotta say, it was worth getting there.  Once it took off, I had a tough time putting it down.  You thriller lovers are perhaps not going to find as much adrenaline here as you're used to, but you will find some nice twists and turns and a building sense of "what's coming next" that'll keep you engaged.

Those that can take or leave the thriller genre will find quite a bit more here.  There are well-drawn and charismatic characters, including a convincingly green but well-meaning and good-hearted heroine.  Some very steamy sex...steamy enough to get me to loosen my collar (and make some other not-to-be-named romance authors step up their game).  Finally, a secondary family plot line that will tug at your heartstrings.

In short, Allison Leotta is an up-and-coming author to watch very closely.  I'm glad I read Law of Attraction and look forward to her next!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Interview with M.J. Rose (The Reincarnationist)

So, Thrillers Rock Twitter decided we really wanted to talk to M.J. Rose (author of The Reincarnationist series) and she graciously (or foolishly, depending on your outlook) agreed.  She had some fascinating things to say, and also told us that she's willing to give away a copy of The Hypnotist (3rd in The Reincarnationist series) to one of our lucky readers. #score!

Thrillers Rock Twitter:  Okay, tell us you REALLY write every single day?  REALLY?? :)
M.J. Rose:  Nope. And I never said I did
There are stages for me in writing a book.
First stage – research. Up to 3 months. I don’t write pages at all – but I make a scrapbook for my characters and take notes and have fun getting them and their lives in my head.
Second stage – first draft.  6 months. I try to write 6 days a week at least 3 hours a day. I just make a mess and keep going. I usually mange three weeks like that and then flake off for 4 or 5 days in a row and have to force myself back.
Third stage – 3 months. Right before I give it to my agent – and I’m really fixing every single sentence and reorganizing and obsesSING. And I do write 6 or 7 days a week for at least 4 hours sometimes 6 or 7.  And then I have to force myself to take time off because I really am crazed with the book and so frustrated that I can’t get it right.
What are your favorite excuses...ahem...reasons for not writing?
Any excuse will do in stage 2.

Now, we've all heard the "what got you into writing" question.  I want to know, what nearly kept you out of writing?  Just about every writer has it...that moment where you could go either way.  What was yours?

Oh I gave up. For three years. I’d had it with my agent not being able to sell my first two novels despite all the rave rejections. I’d had it with the rave rejections. I just didn’t want to hate walking into bookstores anymore. So I quit and didn’t even look back for those three years. It was really very freeing in once sense.  Scary in another.

Again, we know the "what's your favorite character" thing.  Do you have a least favorite?  Or, even better, one that you love to hate?  Both?

If I don’t like a character I don’t read past the first 10 pages of the book.  I’m not very patient. Too many great books to read to bother with the others. 

We'd love hearing about what your inspirations are, but I think even more telling is where you choose to write.  Does it change, or do you have a writing cave?

I had to reach myself to write anywhere. A bunch of family medical issues forced me to learn to write in waiting rooms. My cave is inside the laptop.
Be totally straight with us...when you were deciding upon a genre, did future sales enter into the equation, or was it fully a passion of yours from the start?

I didn’t decide on a genre.  I wrote what I wanted to read. And what came out was a mishmash of genres. Still does. I don’t fit any genre well. And that’s why I still have a day job. I often wish I could write to the market but seem incapable.  

As far as the thrills you deliver in your novels, are you drawing at all from real life, or do you use up all the adrenaline in your stories and then cuddle up with a nice mug of hot cocoa afterward?

I’ve actually had some terrifying experiences and emotionally draw on them… held up at gunpoint… walked into a double shooting… caught in an explosion… but my life is thankfully dull 99.9% of the time.

Was there ever a novel you were writing where afterward you just thought, "Wow.  That was unexpected."?

Yes, all the time. Thank God. I don’t think I’d keep writing if I didn’t have those moments.

Okay, this one's for the budding authors out there.  If there were one thing that you wished you had known (or that someone had told you) "back then", what would it be?

I was so stubborn I wouldn’t have listened. HOPEFULLY THEY WON'T EITHER. YOU'VE GOT TO MAKE YOUR OWN MISTAKES.  (But in my case it would have been not to leave my first publisher after that second book and follow my editor to a new house.)

Finally, if there's something you could tell your readers that you know will never come up in another interview, NOW is the time!  Carte blanche!

Yes, I want to live in a Frank Lloyd Wright house and was left back in 7th grade.


We at Thriller Rock want to thank Ms. Rose again, both for writing some majorly kick-butt novels and also for letting us ask her off-beat questions!  For those that would like to participate in the give-away, please follow our blog and comment below (make SURE to leave either your email address or your Twitter handle so that we can get in touch with you).  The winner will be announced on Sunday Nov. 7th at 7 pm Pacific Standard Time!