The Megaladon, the prehistoric ancestor of today’s great white sharks, has been long considered extinct, until a group of marine scientists begin studying the depths of the Mariana Trench. For thousands of years these enormous creatures have been trapped 7 miles below the ocean surface in the warm depths of the trench – heated by geothermal ducts – unable to pass through the frigid temperatures above. Finally, because of a mistake by the oceanographers, the monster is released.

What’s better to read at the beach than a book about a 60-foot, giant shark? I sit hear listening to the sounds of children laughing and dogs barking, the rolling of the waves and the the calls of the seagulls and I have to wonder … what if?

I picked this book expecting a cheesy book version of shark movies produced by The Asylum – which I love. But it was actually an unexpectedly well written thriller. According to Wikipedia, Alten has been shopping the story around production studios. I would so watch this movie!

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Released in late April, Paul S Kemp’s Lords of the Sith is one of the newest installments in the Star Wars canon. Find it hard to keep track of what is now canon? I do too, but I have found this Star Wars wiki to be a great resource. This novel takes place about 5 years after Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side.

Emperor Palpatine, the secret Sith Lord, and his apprentice, Darth Vader, are heading to Ryloth, the Twi’lek homeworld, where a group of freedom fighters has become more than a pesky annoyance to the Empire. When Cham, the Twi’lek leader of the dissidents, learns of their imminent arrival, he formulates a plan that would cripple the oppressive Empire. Meanwhile, the emperor senses the impending confrontation as a disturbance in the Force and uses it to test his apprentice’s abilities, and his loyalties.

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A female Twi'lek

Kemp has truly captured the inner struggles that Darth Vader is going through; his memories of childhood and of Padmé trouble him. We are given our first look into the tension that grows between Master and Apprentice. And we see how truly terrifying and powerful these Sith Lords are to the galaxy. As readers, we have born witness to their strengths through the movies, but now we see how word will begin to spread of Darth Vader, and how far the Emperor will go to keep his power a secret.

Pain fed his hate, and hate fed his strength. Once, as a Jedi, he had meditated to find peace. Now he meditated to sharpen the edges of his anger.

Plus there’s lots of great Force fighting!

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Well, it’s been a while but I finally finished another book, and can check off the next box on my 2015 Reading Challenge list: A book based on, or turned into, a TV show. I borrowed an actual, physical book and read Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. This is the first of 7 books about Dexter Morgan (the 8th and final installment is coming in July of this year) which inspired the very popular Showtime series, Dexter.

Dear ol’ Dexter is a sociopath, but a good sociopath. He works hard to fit in and pretends to care and fakes emotions to appear normal. He has a good job as a blood spatter analyst for the Miami PD, and even has a girlfriend. But inside he has an evil need that calls to him, his Dark Passenger. With help from his foster father, he has learned to control this need, and feed it after careful research and preparation. For his victims he selects people who deserve to die for horrendous acts they have committed. Does that make Dexter a good guy or a bad guy? Well, it’s complicated.

What I do know is that Dexter Morgan is witty and his story has a dark humor to it which i greatly enjoyed. I am one of the few people who has not watched the Dexter series, but reading this book has inspired a binge watching.

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Well I have a fun story about my latest read: Kate Mulgrew’s Memoir Born With Teeth.

A few weeks ago I was walking through a book store and noticed a flyer for an upcoming event, and I stopped in my tracks: Kate Mulgrew was coming here to Seattle on her book tour!! Insert total geek-squeel moment. I was going to this event. Luckily the tickets were readily available.

The event was last week, and it was everything I hoped it would be. Kate came out and talked about her ties to Seattle; she had lived here with her then-husband, Robert Egan, and graced the stage of the Seattle Repertory Theatre through one pregnancy, and most of another. But most touching of all was her story of her daughter. Early in her career Kate became pregnant, and upon receiving advice from her mother — that she could not have both a successful acting career and be a mother — she placed the baby girl up for adoption. For 20 years she tried to locate her daughter. Then one day while on the set of Star Trek: Voyager she received the call she only dreamed she might get, her daughter had been located and would be calling her. At this point in the evening she did a reading from her book reflecting this exciting and terrifying moment in her life.

To the delight of the audience, Kate then brought her daughter, who now lives in the Seattle area, onto the stage with her for a Q&A session. The questions were a mixture of thought provoking and embarrassing.  But what was revealed through the hour of questions was that Kate is amazingly gracious to all her fans.

And then I got my book signed!!

The book? Kate bares her soul in this memoir: the good, the bad, and the ugly. As memoirs go, it was enlightening and tragic all at one. Kate Mulgrew has a strength and determination to succeed in this life that I can’t help but admire.  She shares the stories of her triumphs and mistakes with a light of truth that must have left her raw and vulnerable throughout the writing process.

And as a bonus, I can check off another item on my 2015 reading challenge: a memoir.

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For years, author Steve Berry has produced exciting thrillers filled with international espionage,  high – stakes intrigue, fast-paced action sequences, and deadly political maneuverings centered around poignant moments throughout history. Berry’s reoccurring hero, Cotton Malone, is a retired Justice Department agent who finds himself drawn back into the intelligence game as a freelancer. His newest novel, The Patriot Threat, is the next great installment in this series.

I would be hard pressed to name another author who can turn a debate over the legitimacy of the United States Constitution’s 16th Amendment, which pertains to income taxes, into a deadly race to uncover damning documentation that could bring both the U.S. and Chinese governments to ruins. Cotton Malone and his team must retrieve stolen documents and unravel a century old mystery while dodging bullets.

I had the great opportunity to ask Steve Berry a few questions.

RS: You published your debut novel, The Amber Room, in 2003 after 12 years of rejections. It would have been so easy to just let the story go and focus solely on your highly successful legal career. But instead you pushed through the disappointments until Ballantine Books finally said yes. Where did you find the strength to overcome any self-doubt that must have crept over you?

Steve Berry: It was the little voice that all writers have in their head, the one that nags at us everyday and only quiets when we write.  That voice kept me going.  It still keeps me going to this day.  I used to think I was a little crazy.  But I’ve learned that every single writer in the world has that same little voice, and its command is short and sweet.  Just sit down and write.

RS: Your first few novels were standalone stories, then in 2006 the first Cotton Malone novel, The Templar Legacy, was released. How long had the character of Harold Earl “Cotton” Malone been developing in the back of your mind before you found a place for him?

Steve Berry: Once the publisher and I decided that a series character was the way we wanted to head, I began to conceive just such a character.  But he changed.  I actually wrote 30,000 words of The Templar Legacy, the novel where Cotton is born, before a new version of him came to me.  I was in Copenhagen, in Hojbro Plads, a busy square, having dinner when he appeared in my brain.  I realized that Cotton had to be retired from the Justice Department, now living in Copenhagen, running on old bookshop —- right where I was sitting.  So I went back home, tossed out the 30,000 words, and started over, creating the Cotton Malone that now exists.

RS: The Patriot Threat, your 10th full length Cotton Malone novel, has just been released; congratulations on a great series! Each installment is a standalone thriller, but every successive book reveals more of Malone’s character and history. Have you had this guy all figured out from the beginning?  Or does he develop with each new adventure?

Steve Berry: He’s definitely a work in progress.  Each book explores some new facet of Cotton, and that’s intentional on my part.  I want him to grow, develop, and change.  And he has.  The Cotton Malone from The Templar Legacy is a different person from the Malone in The Patriot Threat.  I think that’s a good thing.  Characters should evolve, otherwise a series could rapidly become stale.

RS: Your personal interest in historic events is directly reflected in your work — this is what drew me to your books to begin with. Do you feel that capturing the spirit and legend of these events presents an added level of literary responsibility, over and above creating a great thriller? Because, in essence, you are writing both a historical fiction and a thriller all in one book. How much time do you schedule for research when you sign on for a new novel?

Steve Berry: I learned early on that a lot of people are learning their history from novels like mine.  That’s not necessarily a good thing since a novel, by definition, is not real.  That’s why I try and keep my stories about 90% accurate to reality, tripping up only that 10% for entertainment value since, after all, that’s my main goal — to entertain the reader.  I also place a writers note in the back of each book that I spend a lot of time developing.  There I explain what’s real and what’s not, so there’ll be no misunderstandings.  That note reflects the research that goes into each story.  For me that’s an 18 month process with each novel.  Research consumes the lion’s share of my time.  But it’s important, and it’s even more important to get it right.

You can find all of Steve Berry’s novels on Amazon.

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I read Cassandra Duffy’s novel The Gunfighter & The Gear-Head back in 2013 and found it to be a refreshingly unique and fun science fiction story, with a great cast of characters. I am a sucker for post-apocalyptic movies like Mad Max, The Postman, and Waterworld. I find the genre fascinating and exciting; survival tactics, ingenuity, and determination. In these settings, there is no place for the weak or timid, but being strong doesn’t have to mean total domination; enter the “reluctant hero”.

In The Gunfighter & The Gear-Head, Cassandra Duffy has skillfully blended lizard aliens, wild-west gun fights, steam-punk blimps, cults, and lesbian romance drama into an exciting adventure using wit and well developed persons and places. Provided glimpses into their lives pre-invasion, the reader is able to connect with the characters as real people and become invested in their survival post-invasion.

Cassandra has a sarcastic sense of humor that translates well to her characters. “If I get lynched for being a scientist, Buddhist, lesbian, witch, don’t blame me.” Being able to successfully capture so many aspects of humanity is a rare talent, especially in the lesbian genre.

I asked Cassandra a few questions about her writing career.

RS: Your early work came out–on Amazon–in 2011, but you must have been writing before then. How did you first get into writing? Did your stories center around lesbian characters from the get-go?

CD: All through high school I wanted to be a game designer or do something in the video game industry. I loved games with strong plots like Knights of the Old Republic and thought it was a really cool medium for telling a story. In college it became clear I didn’t have the computer aptitude or attention span for the tech side of game design. I still wanted to tell stories, so I tried creative writing classes and it stuck. Starting out I still mostly wrote fan fiction about video games until several of my professors told me to knock it off and come up with something of my own.

My stories have always focused on lesbian characters. I’m a gold star lesbian so my knowledge of boy/girl romance and sex is entirely theoretical. I was so unsure of my skill, especially early on, that I had to stick to things I thought I knew or could at least learn quickly and that meant writing lesbians and in my very first book, the Gunfighter and the Gear-head, lesbians from California.

RS: I read…a lot. But I admittedly don’t read a lot of lesfic because the genre is so saturated with plotless smut. When I discovered your series “The Raven Ladies,” however, I couldn’t resist giving it a try. I was pleasantly surprised when I found a great story, with strong female characters. What would you say to other readers that tend to avoid lesfic?

CD: I’d say the landscape of fiction as a whole is changing, and lesfic is one of the primary genres benefiting from the changes. It used to be that any fiction for the LGBT community had to fit a very small, very narrow scope to remain profitable enough for large publishers to even consider. For lesfic, that meant smut that would also appeal to straight male readers, and mysteries, lots and lots of mysteries for some reason. Don’t get me wrong, I like smut as much as the next girl, but I like smut for women by women, which is kinda rare. When the ereader market pretty much blew open the flood gates to allow a much wider range of options through to readers, a lot of really good fiction for traditionally under-served, under-represented groups hit the market. Before, you had to hope someone at Penguin or Harper thought it was a good idea to have a tiny run of books with a lesbian protagonist of color, and it was probably going to be a very safe offering. Now, if you want a lesbian protagonist, you can find them in almost any flavor you like doing things in stories that were formally deemed too risky for the big publishing houses to touch.

For readers, especially lesfic readers, this is a golden age of options that has never existed before. If you want lesbian pirates, knights, astronauts, cowgirls, space explorers, lawyers, doctors, artists, whatever, there is a book available somewhere. And, if you like some smut, but want it to be for lesbians by lesbians, there’s plenty of that now too.

RS: Most authors tend to stick to a certain sub-genre, typically what they themselves would want to read. But while your novels all contain lesbian themes, they vary greatly in genre: from wild west – steampunk – alien apocalypse,  to paranormal, to knights of old. When beginning a new story, do you already have a character fleshed out that determines the setting you place her in? Or does a setting develop first and the characters later?

CD: I was practically a kid in a candy store when I started getting my stories and books picked up. I felt the options in lesfic were so restricted and so narrow that I immediately wanted to expand the genre with every kind of book I enjoyed reading because I felt that a lot of people were like me–one genre might be a favorite, but it’s more fun to read all sorts of books. I kind of get narrowed down to steampunk, I think mostly because it’s popular now and there aren’t many authors in that genre yet, even fewer who are lesbians, but it’s just one of the many story types I enjoy writing. Aside from a few short stories, all my writing is character driven. Even if I start with a concept like I did with Divine Touched, I ultimately approach the story via the characters I want to tell the story through. Often the setting evolves to match what I want the character to be challenged by.

RS: When stepping into a new genre, the must be alot to understand before making a story work, like developing a sense of mechanics to speak intelligently about steampunk gadgets. What kind of research do you do before diving into a new story?

CD: I come from a scientifically minded family. My dad is an aerospace engineer and my sister is a chemist. For the most part, they tolerate a lot of my silly questions when I’m trying to get a better concept of what would and wouldn’t work for airships and fuels and what not. I’m pretty sure my dad has only a rudimentary concept of what I do for a living since it’s not a traditional job and it involves really strange research. My sister actually came up with the idea for the origin of Slark fuel for the Raven Ladies series, so she’s a far more willing participant in the process.

Aside from consulting with experts, inside and outside my family, I read up a lot on the areas I need to read up on and go out and try new things as needed. I’m not a huge fan of guns, but a lot of my characters are, so I’ve had to go to shooting ranges and gun stores and talk to military folks to make sure I was at least in the ballpark when it comes to weapons.

RS: Who are your favorite authors right now?

CD: I’m not sure if I can call Frank McCourt a favorite author right now, although that’s who I’m reading. I thought it was high time I read Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis even though bleak isn’t really my thing. Angela’s Ashes especially was a remarkable, powerful book that I felt I suffered through rather than enjoyed. It’s one of those books that I don’t think you’re supposed to enjoy it so much as you are supposed to be impacted by it. Impacted like a punch to the stomach in many instances. I love Frank McCourt’s writing but I’m pretty sure I won’t be re-reading either of his books.

To refresh and cleanse myself after the crushing emotional impact of McCourt’s autobiographies, I’ll be reading so many Batwoman comics this summer.

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Last year I stumbled across author Matthew Mather’s exciting, and terrifyingly realistic, novel, CyberStorm. It offers a graphic look at the undoing of society when people are faced with pure need to survive. Matthew has captured the fear and panic that a man feels when trying to keep his family alive when the world goes to hell.

Mike Mitchell is one of the oblivious millions living in New York City, even mocking his best friend Chuck for his “prepping” lifestyle. When the power first goes out across the city, it’s quite inconvenient. Then a winter storm drops feet of snow and the temperatures drop below freezing. Within days, Manhattan becomes a war zone. Lucky for Mike and his family, Chuck is ready with a locker full of supplies.

I had a chance to talk to Matthew about his book last year.

RS: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me, Matthew. Congratulations on the success of your apocalyptic thriller CyberStorm. Not just in readership, but with 20th Century Fox’s interest in the movie rights. How did that come about? And how exciting was that discussion?

MM: I started out as an indie writer, but I purposely sought an agent once my first book took off, and when my second book was even more successful, my agent decided to shop it around for film rights. I wasn’t expecting anything, but out of the blue an offer came in within a few weeks. It was amazing! A dream come true for an aspiring writer.

RS: You have had quite a techy career. How did you navigate to writing?

MM: I’d always been interested in writing. Even when I was young, I’d always be sketching ideas for book, writing short stories…but nothing came of it. When I went to college, I decided on engineering as a “sensible” choice to make a living. But, when I reached my 40th birthday, I decided to take a year off and take a try at writing a novel. By my 44th birthday, I was earning enough to quit my regular job and write full time. Living the dream!

RS: The SciFi world has really exploded lately with “survival after civilization collapse” stories. How long had yours been a “some day” idea before finding its way to paper?

MM: I had the idea of CyberStorm kicking around in my head for maybe three years before finally putting pen to paper, but once I started, I wrote the whole thing in under three months. It was an idea just waiting to get out!

RS: You mentioned in your blog that you passed on the opportunity to publish CyberStorm with a major publishing house in favor of self-publishing in the domestic market. What was behind that decision?

MM: Yes, last year I had several six-figure offers from some of the big-five publishers. It was tempting, but at the time I was making more money from self-publishing…so I decided to keep doing what I was doing. On the other hand, I’ve signed deals with several of the big publishers in foreign markets, so in effect I am doing both things at the same time – self-publishing and working with traditional publishers. I think this is the way of the future.

RS: You chose to write CyberStorm as a first-person narrative. I often wonder how much of him- or herself an author puts onto such characters. How much of yourself can be seen in Mike Mitchell?

MM: Haha, good question. There is some of me in him, of course. There’s some of me in every character. But the reason I chose to go first person on that book was really to place the reader inside of his head, to soak up the paranoia and fear that comes with a siege mentality. I even fasted for almost three days when I was writing the book to give myself the sensation of what it might feel like to starve—the inability to sleep, the constant circling of thoughts about food, how it degrades your ability to think clearly and so on.

RS: Good thing for Mike, his best friend Chuck was prepared for everything you put them through. What about you, Matthew? Where do you fall on the preparedness scale?

MM: Since I wrote that book, I have actually started to think about being prepared more. I keep a few dozen gallons of distilled water stored in the garage, keep a well-stocked medical kit with antibiotics, masks and so on…and lately have attached a full generator to my cottage in the mountains up north. I’m not paranoid, but it doesn’t cost a lot for a few small things. You never know! Even with this Ebola thing or a new flu virus, who knows if it might be wise to suddenly have to stay indoors for a few days.

In March Matthew published a new thriller, Darknet. Available on Amazon for only .99, it is also included in Kindle Unlimited. I am definitely going to check it out and report back–maybe I can get a few more questions in with him.

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