Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 95 - 13 Reasons to Read ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes Year 1 by Susan Helene Gottfried

Thursday Thirteen is back!!! Oh God, how I missed it! When the originators of the original Thursday Thirteen put it to bed due to a family illness for one of its creators, I felt its loss in my week like a gaping hole. I continued on with the basic format, renaming my posts Thursday Thoughts. I was just getting ready to put together my 8th version of Thursday Thoughts, when I discovered to my delirium of joy that Thursday Thirteen has been resurrected. Hallelujah!

And what timing, as I'm doing a book review for the incomparable Susan Helene Gottfried. I discovered Susan through Thursday Thirteen, so this is a real joy to be able to give you 13 Reasons to Read ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes Year 1.

1 - ShapeShifter: The Demo Tapes Year 1 is a publication, under their Literature & Fiction category. This novella-length collection of episodic scenes introduces readers to the members of ShapeShifter, a metal band hailing from Riverview on the west coast of the United States.

2 - These scenes originally appeared on Susan's blog West of Mars between April 2006 and April 2007. She collected them into The Demo Tapes due to popular demand. Can't beat that!

3 - Susan's novel about ShapeShifter is called Trevor's Song, now being shopped to publishers. She began posting scenes about the characters in her novel to share their backstory with her blog readers. It didn't take long before Susan had her very own groupies, clamouring for more, more, more about Trevor and the boys.

4 - Trevor Wolff is by far the readers' favorite. He's the Very Bad Boy of Rock. The band's bass player has an acid sense of humor and a darkly attractive way with the ladies. Who can resist him? No one I have yet to meet...

5 - But Mitchell Voss is my personal favorite. He's the white-blonde, long-haired rock god - ShapeShifter's front man. He's also Trevor's best friend from childhood, a childhood that saw Mitchell pulling Trevor from the wreckage of his family and into the security of the Voss home. *swooning now*

6 - Daniel anchors the band from his drum set, as well as providing charm to the media when Bad Boy Trevor and Rock God Mitchell won't co-operate for the journalists. Eric plays lead guitar and lavishes long, thoughtful interviews on guitar magazine writers. They provide much-needed stability to balance the drama left in Trevor's and Mitchell's wakes.

7 - Susan's Demo Tapes begins at the very beginning, with a scene that brings Mitchell and Trevor together for the very first time. Mitchell thought he was just tagging along as an unwanted chaperone on his sister's date. Trevor thought he was checking out a new chick. Neither of them knew their lives would change that day in the lobby of the movie theatre. But a stadium-filling metal band was born the moment they met.

8 - Each scene works on its own as a brief snapshot from a larger work. The Demo Tapes delivers to readers what a real demo tape does for musicians. Susan shows us her chops. Her world of Riverview and ShapeShifter, the musicians, the road crew, the family relationships, the romantic entanglements - they're as real to me as the stubble on a tour bus morning. Having been a bass player's girlfriend myself, having done my share of lugging amp cords and gear into clubs, I recognize these guys every time I turn the next page.

9 - I really, really love Susan's dry humor. It shines best when she writes about Trevor.

"That didn't surprise Trevor in the least. He knew he was ugly. Trevor Wolff did not blame others for his own issues, thankyouverymuch. Not that being ugly was an issue; issues, you could fix somehow. Ugly, you were just stuck with."

10 - Susan creates truly distinct POV voices for her female and male characters. Trevor's world view is miles away from Kerri, the woman who wins Mitchell's heart from the adoring throng. She gives us Mitchell's middle class mom, dad and sister. We meet the early band groupies game enough to follow Trevor and Mitchell to a rather disreputable hotel. Then there's Val. She's Daniel's main squeeze, a talented chef who is picky about her ingredients, and a total bitch when she wants to be.

11 - The Thursday Thirteen format gave Susan a perfect platform to launch hilarious tidbits our way. Even if you'd never encountered a Thursday Thirteen before picking up The Demo Tapes, you'd assume a list of thirteen was dreamt up by ShapeShifter themselves, a la David Letterman's Top Ten.

This left me in tears of laughter, when I first read it on the blog, and again in The Demo Tapes:

"Thirteen Things Mitchell Used to Get the Green Out of His Hair

1. Lemon juice

2. Mountain Dew

3. Coffee

4. Milk

5. Tea (Might have worked better had they brewed it instead of rubbing wet tea bags on Mitchell's head.)

6. Toothpaste (Mitchell smelled minty fresh!)

7. Beer (Made it shiny.)

8. Honey

9. Mayonnaise

10. Mustard (What's one more condiment?)

11. Orange juice

12. Vodka

13. Corned Beef (This was Trevor's half-joking solution. At this point, Mitchell figured he had nothing to lose. Including, it turned out, the green.")

12 - Susan's backstory scenes cover an extensive range, from the boys' teenaged years just forming the band, through their 20's carving a place for themselves gig by gig, and into their prime as stadium rockers. The Demo Tapes gives us a little taste of every era. My personal favorite is their very beginning. Most likely because she's writing about my own high school years. And hits every target, every time.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"The show tonight had been a disaster, there was no sugar-coating it. From the lead singer who fell off the stage and broke his guitar to the drummer putting a stick through the head of his snare and not having a backup handy to the lighting and the sound, there was only one good thing that could be said: not many people had been there. Patterson had counted about twenty, including himself and Sonya.

Trevor was, of course, grinning like the night had gone perfectly. For all that boy had been through, Trevor never stopped seeking the joy in life; it was that quality that Patterson had noticed the first time Amy had brought him home. It was that unfailing optimism that had led Patterson to take custody rather than let him face jail time.

Mitchell, though, was the opposite. Head down, shoulders slumped. It wasn't unreasonable to think that there'd be no more band come morning.

'Son,' Patterson said, trying to be gentle and not startle the boy.

It didn't work. Mitchell's head shot up and his eyes widened. 'Oh, hi, Dad,' he said when he recovered. He grimaced. 'You going to rub it in?'

'No,' Patterson said slowly, tilting his head at the empty spot on the bumper of his Bronco. As Mitchell sat, Patterson noticed Trevor hovering, just within earshot.

Well, Patterson figured, this would be good for Trevor to hear, too. 'Even if I could make it sound good, I wouldn't. You needed a night like this,' he said. 'You needed to know what it feels like to fall on your face.'

'What?' Mitchell half-rose to his feet, then caught himself, as if he was suddenly aware of who he was speaking to.

'You can't succeed without tasting failure,' Patterson said. 'If you never fail, you never get to find out what you're made of. So. What are you made of, Mitchell?'

Mitchell shook his head, his hair shaking and dancing, somehow as dejected as the boy.

Trevor tossed his own hair over his shoulder and lit a cigarette as he watched.

'Are you tough enough to suck tonight up, learn what you can, and move forward? Or is the band over now that you broke your guitar?'

'What am I supposed to play? You can't be a guitar player without a guitar.'

'True,' Patterson said. 'Is that the only problem?'

Mitchell cocked his head as he thought. 'I've been trying to save up for another one, but it's not doing so well. I had to dig into it to pay for the latest run of t-shirts.'

'Not taking your investment back out?'

Mitchell shook his head. 'I figured it was worth it. Didn't think this sort of thing would happen.'

'But it did, so where do you go from here?'

The boy grimaced. 'I figure out how to get a new guitar.'

'We'll steal you one if we need to,' Trevor said with a shrug. 'Sorry, Dad. You didn't hear that.'

'That's true. I didn't.' Patterson paused, noticing that Trevor had started to fade into the shadows.

Mitchell turned to Patterson. 'I want this.'


'The band. A new guitar. Hell, a better guitar.'

'Fame, fortune, and all the rest?'

Mitchell grinned at his father. 'You betcha.'

'Then, son,' Patterson said, turning to him. 'You know what it's going to take to get there.'

'Yeah,' Mitchell said, wiping a hand over his face. 'A shitload of work.' He stood up and fumbled in his pocket. 'I'd better get busy. Trev, you ready?'

'To do what?' Trevor eyed Mitchell and looked ready to bolt. Patterson bit back a smile. Getting that particular boy to do anything he didn't want to was impossible.

'Go home and get some sleep,' Mitchell said, possibly the only thing that Trevor wouldn't rebel against just for the sake of rebelling. 'We need to find me a new guitar.'

Patterson held out his hand, palm up. 'I'll drive. You two can start plotting.'

With a grin that said it all, Mitchell handed over the keys."

- Susan Helene Gottfried, 2008

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thursday Thoughts - 7 - Book Review - Enemy Enchantress by Amy Ruttan

This is my third book review for an Amy Ruttan latest release. As I just celebrated my second blogiversary on Feb. 5th, this means Amy is smokin' hot when it comes to delivering new goodies to savour.

I know. She is amazing.

1 - You can check out all her reviews in My Book Reviews archive.

2 - Enemy Enchantress is the first book in Amy's three-book Enchantress series. In Enemy Enchantress, the heroine is a Anglo-Saxon Age Sidhe, born with one foot in the earthly realm and one in the realm of the fairy folk of yore. Not the tiny fairies we think of today, but a lordly race of otherworldly beings. She knows her kind is losing ground to the new cult of Christianity, and must take care to remain one step ahead of those who would see her burn for witchcraft. Especially when she's turned over to her enemies, the Saxons as a bride for one of their own.

3 - Part of Eternal Press's Fantasy Romance category, Enemy Enchantress gives us a Saxon hero with Norse blood who fights for his king and marries to secure peace with the same unshakable sense of duty. The heroine foresees a Saxon husband in her future, but the hero's tall Viking stature clouds her faith that she's foreseen the truth after all. Could her powers be waning under the force of the Saxon God?

4 - Enemy Enchantress is a 200-page novel. As a fan of the 300- to 400-page-length novel personally, a quick read like this just makes me want twice as much. Amy, why do you tease me so...? We won't even get into the 50-page Masque of Desire. That's cruel and unusual punishment...

5 - We meet Lord Edwin, loyal fighter for King Alfred in Anglo-Saxon Britain. The Treaty of Wedmore forces Edwin to bow to his king's command. He must take a Mercian bride to foster peace between their people. As he braces himself to couple with whomever he finds chosen for him, Edwin discovers a brilliant, ethereal warrior woman in the woods. He is instantly enchanted by her in every way.

6 - Aislinn draws a sacred circle in the forest and prepares to cast a spell, a prayer to guide her. She has been promised in marriage by her father to a Saxon lord. Her private meditations are disturbed by a mesmerizing, dark warrior with icy blue eyes and an unsettling way of looking at her. Why must he fire her blood so? Now that she's laid eyes on him, why must she submit to a man who was an enemy only a heartbeat ago?

7 - Amy gets a Three heat index from Eternal Press: "Frequent, explicit love scenes described using graphic and direct language." The love scenes are always perfectly intertwined with the storyline. She's a master at keeping character development front and center during every scorchy scene.

8 - Amy pulls us into Mercia and Wessex with absolute authority. I haven't felt this at home in one of my favorite time periods since I first opened the pages of Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave. Thank you, Amy. *mhua* *mhua* Thank you.

9 - Yes, this book has lots of steamy scenes. But it also has sword fights - yes! - witchcraft - *chewing nails nervously* - ancient healing arts - *sitting on the edge of my seat* - political maneuvering between noble houses - *wiping sweat from my brow* - brave individuals entering marriage as a peace offering - *heart breaking for their courage and loyalty* - and main characters in real jeopardy *thud*. All I can say is...thank God there are four more books in this series.

10 - Amy really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

"Edwin’s voice was cold, his eyes dark and full of fire as he glared dangerously at Lord Cedric. 'Lord Cedric, I appreciate your hospitality, and I know you are a well respected thane and my friend, but kindly remove your hands from my wife.'

Lord Cedric stared at Edwin, his eyes narrowed as if weighing the options. It seemed like an eternity to Aislinn before he released his grip on her arms.

Lord Cedric began to chuckle uneasily. 'Come now, Edwin. Surely it does not matter which Mercian bride you get? I do not mind that you have bedded her and just think, you can have another virgin.'

'I am not some chattel to be traded, Lord Cedric,' Aislinn said hotly, finding her voice and her courage again. 'I am married to Lord Edwin and your religion states that a man and wife shall remain married forever, until death do they part.'

'Come now, my lady,' Cedric laughed coldly. 'You are a heathen. What do you know of religion? Besides can you honestly say you love Lord Edwin?'

No, she could not say that. She didn’t know yet if she loved Edwin. She wanted him, she desired him. He was a respectful man, a great warrior, but did she love him? She didn’t know, and could not answer that. Fortunately Lord Cedric saved her from answering. He took her hand and held it to his chest. She could feel his heart beating.

'I will keep you safe and in luxury all your days. I will honor you always.'

'Lord Cedric, I am married to Lord Edwin.' Walking away from them, she headed towards the stairwell, hoping that she would be able to find a serf who could direct her to where Edwin and she were staying for the night. She did not look at Edwin as she left. She didn’t want to see his face because she couldn’t express how she felt and she did not want to hear Edwin say that he did not love her either. Even though it was too soon, she knew it would hurt too much if she heard Edwin say it."

11 - Amy's upcoming Enchantress releases:

Sorceress From the Sea, Book 2

Edwin's brother Alfwyn rescues a woman from the sea, only to embark on a passionate adventure with Scottish witch Morag, fighting to escape a demonic warlord and to protect her new love.

Healer of the Heart, Book 3

Bridgit of Mercia, a healer, rises above her father's calculated arranged marriage for her to haunted widower Lord Cedric. But can she protect herself from her father's wicked plan to sell her into a second marriage? Or convince Lord Cedric that her betrayal is not of her own doing?

12 - Amy also writes for Cerridwen Press and Ellora's Cave.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt from Enchantress: The Fey. Enjoy!

"Aislinn's hand curled under the pillow and her hair spread around her head like a halo. He walked to the side of the bed and brushed back her silken strand, tucking it back behind her ear.

By Loki, her ear is pointed. He took a step back when he saw that pointed tip through the red curls.

Aislinn stirred and then opened her eyes. She sat up and covered her ears with her hair. She looked panicked, frightened.

'What did you see?'

'Why are your ears pointed?'

Her face fell. '’Tis nothing, my lord.' She waved the question off.

He sat down on the bed beside her, taking a delicate hand in his. 'It is not nothing, Aislinn. Are you fey?'

She nodded. 'I am
Sidhe, an enchantress of the Sidhe. One of the last in this world.'

'So that is why the abbot at the monastery said you were a blasphemy.'

Her gray eyes flew open in shock. 'You heard that?'

'Aye, and I am to say that this,' he again pushed back her hair to reveal her fey ear, 'is the reason he called you an abomination. Being
Sidhe is nothing to me. I was worried he found a devil mark or something.'

Leaning forward, she smiled at him, her eyes twinkling. 'I do have a devil mark you know.'

Cocking an eyebrow, he chuckled huskily. 'You do, do you? Well then perhaps I should try to find it.'

'Oh please, my lord. That could prove to be quite exhilarating.'

Brushing her cheek with his knuckles, he gave her a kiss. 'Good. I look forward to finding this devil’s mark on your person. Now, where can it be? Is it here?' He began to tug at the laces of her nightgown, pushing it down her shoulders.

A soft sigh escaped her lips. This would be the first time he would get to really see her naked. Swallowing, he took a steadying breath. He was going to enjoy this. They had not been together since their wedding night, when she had mounted him. How different this would be. He was going to take his time with her and leisurely make love to Aislinn in a comfortable bed.

She tried to pull the gown back up her shoulders, but he took it in hand, pulling it off over her head.

'Lean back, I need to find this mark.' She smiled at him and laid back against the pillows, naked save for the sheet that covered her from the waist down. Well, he would change that momentarily. He peeled off his tunic. She reached out and ran her fingers down his chest, her touch firing his blood. Her fingers traced over the pale puckered battle scar on the right side of his body.

Sucking in a deep breath, she sat up and pushed him down, straddling him against the mattress. The light from the fire licked her body like a lover. Like he wanted to. He ran his hands down the curve of her back to her hips.

She leaned over him, her hair brushing his skin. She kissed him and bit his lip playfully. 'Do you see the mark yet?'

'Well, I cannot tell with you holding me down.' He quickly sat up, grabbing her wrists and pinned her to the mattress. 'That’s much better. Where should I start to look for the mark, my lady?'

She grinned and shrugged. 'Usually the mark is hidden someplace where people do not usually see it.'

He began to kiss his way down her body, brushing his lips against her hot skin. He could hear her sighs of pleasure, feel her body tensing under him. 'No, no mark there.' He let go of her wrists and slid further down. 'None here either.'

'Sweet Freya,' she cried out. She looked at him, her gray eyes glowing and glazed in passion.

He couldn’t remember anyone else he had been with. All he could remember, all he could think of was her. Past dalliances were a blur of meaningless couplings to satisfy an urge. This was something more, something deeper that was beginning to grow and unfurl.

She reached out to him. 'Any mark there?'

He smiled. 'I did not look.'

Leaning over, she kissed him. 'Well, you’re just going to have to check again.'

- Amy Ruttan, 2009