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Guest Post by Darynda Jones, Author of "Seventh Grave and No Body"

SeventhGraveandNoBodyDarynda Jones, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of “Seventh Grave and No Body,” shares with us her top five favorite women sleuths.

Women sleuths are my favorite kind of sleuths to read. I think it’s because of their (oftentimes) total lack of confidence that ultimately leads to a brilliance that surprises even themselves. They can be just as tough and hardboiled as their male counterparts, but they’re not afraid to stumble and to learn from their mistakes. We all make bad decisions, and it’s these decisions (and what we do afterward) that define who we are. These series are evidence of that. Here are five of my absolute favorites in no particular order.

Susan M. Boyer’s Liz Talbot 

Set in the island culture of South Carolina, Liz Talbot is a PI whose charm and tenacity will win over even the staunchest readers. Susan’s mysteries are full of intrigue, hijinks, and that twisted sense of humor that can only come from a Southern-born writer. I absolutely love this series.

Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone

Sue Grafton has been a staple for years. I cut my teeth reading her mysteries and have loved them one and all. Kinsey Millhone is a former cop who leaves the force to become a PI. She has issues galore, and that’s what makes her, and her cases, so interesting. So real and down-to-earth. I highly recommend this series to any fan of mystery.

Toni McGee Causey’s Bobbie Faye 

Oh, my gosh. What can I say about Bobbie Faye Sumrall? You know that cousin you have who is clumsy, always in trouble, rarely reverent, and you never quite know where her marbles went? Yeah, that’s Bobbie Faye. These books are so fun and so full of life, razor-sharp wit, and the craziest situations you can imagine, that they are an absolute must read. Just don’t drink anything while reading. They are a choking hazard.

Diane Kelly’s Tara Holloway

Tara Holloway is actually an IRS agent. She works in the Treasury Department’s Criminal Investigations Unit. In Tara’s first book, Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure (an RWA Golden Heart-winning manuscript) she is chasing down an ice-cream vendor who is selling narcotics out of his ice-cream truck and failing to report his illegal income on his taxes. THAT! I laughed at the premise of this book, at the hijinks and the tenacity of Tara. Diane created a winner with this series, and I hope you will enjoy Tara’s imaginative world, and her romantic quandaries along the way.

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple

Cue the song Nobody Does it Better. That is the magnificent Queen of Mystery: Agatha Christie. Even today, her works have the intrigue and ingenuity to keep an audience glued to the page. She is witty, clever, and sharp-minded, as are her sleuths. Miss Marple is no exception. The Miss Marple series has been my very favorite for decades. I first read her in middle school and I marveled at how she always solved what seemed like the unsolvable, and she did it with such grace and style. If I could have dinner with anyone, Agatha Christie would be at the top of my list.

Ben Lieberman: My Book in 15 Seconds

Ben Lieberman shares an overview of his new book The Carnage Account in 15 seconds. 

 

Guest Post by Writer/Director Wes Craven

Prolific horror writer and director Wes Craven shares the origins behind his new comic book series, "Coming of Rage" that he created along with Steven Niles and artist Francesco Biagini. 91iNuzfZZGL

About a year ago I had the beginning of an unwritten joke come into my head: A Vampire, a Werewolf and a Zombie walk into a bar.

Just that.

What was the punch line? Who cares – I just liked the sound of it. My imagination went crazy thinking about what could happen when three such impossibly different characters were thrown together.  I’d never seen anything like it, and I wanted to know their story. So, it had to be written.

I met with comic book legend Steve Niles, (30 Days of Night). We hit it off, and decided to beat out the story of a very special young man’s coming of age, and the two unlikely friends who helped him to survive it. After a bit of hard, fun work, a five issue series of comic books was born, telling not only the story of how these three ended up on the run together, but how the central character, Ritchie, lost his innocence and became one of the most powerful vampires in the world.

And the title would be "Coming of Rage."

The three that walked into that bar? They turned out to be more fascinating that we ever hoped. We knew they had to be outcasts, seen as monstrous and worthy of nothing but death by the straight world. But unlike the giant gorillas, winged dragons and creepy extraterrestrials that fill much of our contemporary mythology, vampires, werewolves and zombies are very much human too. In fact they are the “Other,” the outliers, the monstrous dark side of us all. But that’s not a truth many want to look at, so the pitchforks and torches come out fast.

That’s a problem for our three.  But not the worst.

These three kids are literally half human. Their special bond is that they all have one parent that is a normal human being. Because of that, they can move like ninjas through one world as stealthily as the other, fighting monsters the rest of us don’t even see, and outsmarting the fat cats at the very top of the human food chain, and robbing them of their moral plunder.

They begin our story in full out flight, of course, but they end up being a fighting trio with a powerful mission – a mission that forms the spine of our story.

It all falls on the shoulders of our central character, Ritchie, the unknowing vampire of the group. His story is constructed in the classic format of the hero’s journey. The one who is basically clueless to who and what he is, is set upon the path towards wisdom and power by a quirk of fate.

What I love about this story is that it affords us all sorts of really strong human angles. We’ll see the world of the super rich, preying on the poor. The world of magic and monsters. The world of authority figures breaking heads and killing for powerful men who pay them to do as they are told – no matter how awful the assignment. And we’ll also see the human side of things. We’ll get to know Ritchie’s human mother, a trophy wife who has come to see what she has married and is horrified. We’ll see the roots of our Hispanic werewolf, his mom and dad, his village in Mexico – and learn the story of the murder of our zombie’s entire family. We’ll find that zombies are people too, just people with a terrible curse, and that many want nothing more than respect.

Ritchie’s rise from idle ignorance to a young man/young vampire with a deep knowledge of the world, both the good and the bad, is fascinating to me. And that he finds his place, his mission to be something we can actually admire. He and his two friends will not be predators of the innocent. But they will be hunters – hunters of evil. And when they ferret it out they will do battle with it to the death, until the world is just a bit safer for the rest of us.

-Wes Craven

 

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Exclusive Q&A with Brian Azzarello

All good things must come to an end. "Wonder Woman #35" marks the conclusion of Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang's epic run on the iconic Amazonian. Brian shares his biggest surprise, proudest achievement, and more. 91u3xeyUZDL

Charlie Chang: First of all, congratulations on an amazing run with Wonder Woman. Do you feel like this final product is any different than what you envisioned when you started?

Brian Azzarello: Well, it's not exactly but it's the story that we set out to tell three years ago. When we pitched this to DC we had a story that was going to take us three years to tell. We figured it would probably take six volumes for the books and it was going to be an epic journey and we convinced them that people would go along with that. It was going to be different enough from the other books that DC was publishing and we were doing something long-form which is not something that they were really into doing.

CC: I think that's a great way to describe the series. It really is long-form in every sense of the word. It's been the most consistent ongoing story that has stayed true to "Wonder Woman #1" back from when The New 52 first started.

BA: Oh yeah, the last issue will reference things that happened in the first issue.

CC: All of the characters in this story are so unique and nobody is one dimensional. What was a big surprise for you as the story went on?

Continue reading "Exclusive Q&A with Brian Azzarello" »

My Favorite Zombie Scares

91d2FZHsoVL._SL1500_Joe McKinney, author of the "The Savage Dead" shares with us his favorite zombie moments that sent chills down his spine.

There was a time when I could honestly say I had seen every zombie movie ever made and read every zombie story ever published. I can’t say that anymore, not truthfully anyway. Over the last few years, there’s been an abundance of zombie books, comics, video games, TV, movies, and stories—it almost equals the zombie apocalyptic scenarios described in those materials. I have tried to keep up though, and I’m glad I have, because there is some wonderfully terrifying stuff out there. There are some real duds of course, and you have to take the good with the bad, but I think I can help with the good. I was asked to list what I thought were the five most terrifying moments in the zombie genre, and while the field is large, my choices were surprisingly easy to make.

My top five most terrifying moments in the zombie genre:

“Bitter Grounds,” Written by Neil Gaiman

This short story, first anthologized in Mojo: Conjure Stories, edited by Nalo Hopkinson, and later collected in Neil Gaiman’s short story collection, Fragile Things, tells the story of an emotionally broken man who happens to meet an anthropology professor while driving through the American South. It is a complex, and very subtle story of loss, love, pain, and terror that comes from the deserts of the mind, rather than the slathered gore where most zombie stories get their money shots. There is a scene at the end of the story, where the main character sees the chicory girls walking down the halls of his hotel that sent chills up my spine. But even that chilling moment was overshadowed by the realization the reader makes about the main character long after the story is told. There is a long-standing adage among fiction writers that the first line of your story should mean one thing when you read it for the first time, and something completely different by the time you finish the tale.  Nowhere is that adage more deftly illustrated than in this terrifying story.

Night of the Living Dead, Directed by George Romero

Romero, and others, have revisited the Living Dead franchise so many times it’s hard to keep the whole thing straight.  But for all the different versions and remakes and deleted/added scenes, to my mind, the franchise never again reached the high water mark it achieved with the original 1968 black and white release of Night of the Living Dead. There were moments in that film, especially those long shots of the zombies staggering through the Pennsylvania countryside, so terrifying they prompted a very young teenage version of me to go to bed for months afterward with a baseball bat cradled in my arms. Few horror movies have ever truly scared me, but Night of the Living Dead most certainly did. In fact, it was the reason I started writing zombie stories.

“Dead Like Me,” by Adam-Troy Castro

This one tops the list as my all time favorite work of zombie fiction. Zombie stories have long been recognized for their capacity to capitalize on metaphor, and nowhere is that more provocatively displayed than in Castro’s powerful indictment of conformity as a form of death. Aside from the story’s technical brilliance, its presentation of a man so scared of death he’s willing to become it left me trembling the first time I read it. Rarely has zombie fiction reached such a pitch. I think this story should be mandatory reading for any author wanting to publish a zombie story; it’s that good.

Serpent and the Rainbow, Directed by Wes Craven

This 1988 film, loosely based on the book of the same name by Wade Davis, is probably Wes Craven’s best movie. In it, a Doctor named Allen goes to Haiti looking for the drug that causes zombiefication. Like Gaiman’s “Bitter Grounds,” the book and film are both throwbacks to the pre-Romero voodoo zombie, which hasn’t attracted the same slavish devotion from zombie fans as Romero’s zombies. I think that’s a shame, I find the zombies of films like as Val Lewton’s I Walked With a Zombie and Halperin’s White Zombie extremely scary. Serpent and the Rainbow is a worthy descendant of those early horror films, it attains many moments of true terror in its 90 odd minutes. The best, and easily the most terrifying of those moments comes in a dream sequence, as the main character, Dr. Allen, dreams of being pulled into the earth by the rotting corpses of Haiti’s dark and troubled past. This one wins an A+ on the terror grading scale.

Cargo, Directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke

Horror is one of those genres best served short and sweet. There have been countless great horror novels and films, but rarely do the scares work as powerfully as they do when delivered in short stories. And, more recently, in short films.  One of the biggest surprises for me came from Cargo, the award-winning Australian zombie film from directors Howling and Ramke. Often jokingly dubbed “The Walking Dad” by zombie fans, this movie is far from funny. In fact, it’s one of the most grueling and emotional horror films you’re likely to find. It tells the story of a father bitten by a zombie, his wife already dead, hideously changed into one of the walking dead, and he knows he doesn’t have long before he suffers the same fate. The real terror comes when we see his year old infant is blissfully unaware of the impending danger, and completely dependent on her dad to get her to safety. The dad knows he won’t make it far, and if he’s to get his daughter to safety, he has to think of something quickly. His solution is both brilliant and heartbreaking, and for a father like me, it represents a terror so real and immediate that if it doesn’t bring you to tears, you need to check your pulse, you’re probably already a zombie.

And, because there are so many great zombie video games out there, and because I didn’t include one in this list, I’ll give you an Honorable Mention.

Dead Trigger 2

Right now, I’m totally addicted to this first person shooter game. It’s available as an app for most tablets and smartphones, though I play it on my iPad. I love the lush environments the game offers, the easy interface, but above all, the chilling sound effects really manage to make you feel like the living dead are closing in from every side. For me, that claustrophobic closeness has always been at the heart of why zombie stories terrify, and this video game comes the closest to capturing that feeling outside of a book.

Do you agree?  If not, challenge me with yours. What are your favorites?

Distressed Damsels Inspire Hannah Howell's Latest Novel

Romance author Hannah Howell talks about how the ever-popular damsel in distress archetype inspired her latest novel, "If He's Daring." Plus, the author gives us an exclusive excerpt from the upcoming 2015 release,"Highland Guard."

If hes daringThe inspiration for If He’s Daring came from a news report about a missing child. As I marveled at the speed the Amber Alert went out (even to the electronic sign boards along the highways), I found myself wondering how people might have dealt with the theft of their child in earlier times, like say 1790. Lady Catryn Gryffin deWarrenne has the advantage of knowing who took her child and why when she sets out after the man who stole her son. When her horse falls lame, Lady Catryn steals Sir Orion Wherlocke’s carriage to continue the pursuit and he becomes a useful ally.

The unique Wherlocke/Vaughn family in this series came about after my long fascination with psychic gifts.  I chose the late-Georgian time period (part of The Enlightenment and The Age of Reason in Britain) because it was past the time of the worst of the persecutions against witches, but superstition was still strong enough to establish a need for families to be secretive and cautious, yet continuously battle disbelief and ridicule. It also made families tightly knit to protect each other even as the study of science and logic matured.

In If He’s Daring, Lady Catryn’s troubles require all of Sir Orion’s unique gifts and skills.  Sir Orion has a psychic gift, as do most of the members of his expansive family, and he believes himself eminently qualified to help her even as his interest in her deepens. He shares her determination to save her son from her late husband’s brother, who want’s the boy’s inheritance, no matter how many obstacles are tossed in his way.

Highland guardExcerpt from Highland Guard:

    “M’lady!”

    Annys started at the shout from the door yanked her out of her thoughts and she stared at the tall, too-thin young man who had burst into the solar.  “What is it, Gavin?  Please don’t tell me there is more trouble to deal with.  It has been so blissfully quiet for days.”

    “I don’t think t’is trouble, m’lady, for Nicolas isn’t bothered.”  Gavin scratched at his cheek and frowned.  “But there are six big, armed men at the gate.  Nicolas was going to open the gates for them and said I was to come and tell ye that.”

    “I will be right out then.  Thank ye, Gavin.”  The moment Gavin left, she looked at Joan.  “How are six big, armed men nay trouble?”

    “If they come in answer to your message?”  Joan hastily tidied Anny’s thick braid.  “There, done.  Now ye look presentable.  Let us go out and greet our guests.”

    “Guests don’t come armed,” Annys said as she started out of the room, Joan right at her side.

    “They do if they come in reply to a lady’s note saying help me, help me.”

    “I didn’t say help me, help me.”

    “Near enough.  No gain on talking on it until we actually see who is here.”

    “Fine but I did nay say help me, help me,”

    Annys ignored Joan’s soft grunt even though she knew it meant the woman was not going to change her mind.  She stepped out through the heavy oak doors and stared down the stone steps to the bailey only to stop before she reached the bottom.  The man dismounting from a huge black gelding was painfully familiar.

    Tall, strong, and handsome with his thick long black hair and eyes like a wolf, he had been a hard man to forget.  She had certainly done her utmost to cast him from her mind.  Each time he had slipped into her thoughts she had slapped his memory away.  Writing him that message had brought his memory rushing to the fore again, however.  Seeing him in the flesh, looking as handsome as he had five years ago, told her that she had never succeeded in forgetting him.  Annys began to regret asking him for his aid no matter how badly they needed any help they could get at the moment.

    She fought to remind herself of how he had ridden away from Glenncullaich all those years ago without even a quick but private farewell to her.  It had hurt.  Despite knowing it had been wrong to want that private moment to say their goodbyes, despite the guilt that wanting had stirred in her then, and now, she had been devastated by his cold leave-taking.

    Harcourt looked at Annys and his heart actually skipped a beat.  He would have laughed if he was not so filled with conflicting emotions.  Such happenings were the stuff of bad poetry, the sort of thing he had always made jest of.  Yet, there he stood, rooted to the spot, frantically thinking of what to say and how to hide the tangled mass of emotion that was nearly choking him.  He nodded a greeting to her and watched her beautiful moss-green eyes narrow in a look that did not bode well for an amiable talk later.  Talking was not what he was thinking about, however.  He was recalling how soft that long blood-red hair of hers was, how warm her pale skin felt beneath his hands, and how sweet those full lips tasted.  That was a memory he needed to smother and fast. 

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Guest Post by Steve Robinson, Author of The Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Series

SteveRobinson_Interested in some amateur sleuthing? Steve Robinson author of the Jefferson Tayte Genealogical series, talks to Kindle Most Wanted about unearthing the mysteries lurking in your own family tree.

Almost everything we do these days leaves a trail, but that’s really nothing new. For centuries there have been records kept for businesses, records of employment, including apprenticeship records, travel records such as ships’ passenger lists and all manner of journals and other written material, all of which can help put the pieces of the puzzle together. When the idea of a genealogist using family secrets and history to fight crime came to me, I soon discovered, that the business of detecting and solving such cold cases using genealogical methods and resources required the kind of sleuthing that even Sherlock Holmes might have been proud of.

When I began writing my debut book, In the Blood, I already had the murder in mind. The idea started with a National Trust pamphlet that I was given while staying in Cornwall in southwest England. It contained a verse written by a local farmer in 1803 about the often tardy ferrymen who operated the Helford River ferry service at the time.  I thought it was such a damning verse that I imagined the farmer in question had been murdered for having written it – such is the mind of a crime fiction author. Here it is:

Of all the mortals here below

Your drunken boatmen are the worst I know;

I’m here detained, tho’ sore against my will,

While these sad fellows sit and drink their fill.

Oh Jove, to my request let this be given,

That these same brethren ne’er see hell nor heaven;

But with old Charon ever tug the oar,

And neither taste nor swallow one drop more.

To forever pull oars with Charon across the River Styx – the Greek mythological boundary between Earth and the Underworld – is damning indeed, although in the end, the motive for the murder turned out to be very different from how I first imagined it. The farmer remained as the victim though, which gave me the setting for my opening murder and the historical time period, but rather than writing a purely historical murder mystery, I wanted to solve it from the present day, so I had to find an alternative way to get to the past crime. That’s how my lead character, American genealogist, Jefferson Tayte, came along, because the idea of a family historian digging up the past seemed entirely logical to me – after all, that’s what genealogists do, isn’t it?

It’s a given that no crime mystery should be easy for the detective to solve, and that also makes genealogy as a means to solve the case ideal, because, as is often typical with the clues to a murder investigation, genealogical records are equally fragmented by nature. The genealogical detective cannot simply find one piece of information and wrap up the case, any more than someone researching their own family history can expect to complete their research by looking at a single archive. It is this need to find and connect the clues that forms the basis of any investigation, and for that reason, genealogy and crime fiction go hand in hand.

Newspaper archives can prove invaluable to anyone researching their family history, and if there’s a serious crime involved it’s almost certain that it will have been reported in the newspapers of the time. And when you consider that many crimes deemed to be minor today were serious enough to be hanged for in the past, it’s clear that newspaper archives can be used to reveal the details of a great many of our ancestors’ misdemeanours.

Old photographs are also a key component of genealogical research. They can prove useful in making connections between people, or in tying someone to a particular place and time – all of which could prove as useful to a murder investigation in the past as it can to police detectives today.

If you haven’t explored the world of family history before, you might think the subject stuffy and boring – something best left to classroom academics in their tweed suits and bow ties. I’d like to dispel that image, because while physical archives can be interesting places to visit – especially when you’re hot on the trail of a distant ancestor whose secret you’re about to bust wide open – nowadays, a good deal of research can be carried out just about anywhere you have an Internet connection. New archives are going online every week, meaning that the data needed to piece your own family history puzzle together has never been more accessible. The world of genealogy is full of intrigue. It’s a place where we all get to play private detective, and who knows what secrets we might uncover for ourselves?

 

Perhaps you have a family mystery of your own waiting to be solved – a dark secret no one wants to talk about. Whether you’re already into family history, or are planning to have a go, just be aware that some people will go to any lengths to keep the past buried. If your family history turns out to be anything like Jefferson Tayte’s assignments, maybe even murder. But don’t worry, that’s just fiction, isn’t it?

Guest Post by Charles Finch, Author of The Charles Lenox Mysteries

CharlesLenoxMysteries_Charles Finch author of the Charles Lenox Mysteries, shares with us his historical research process and how it's included in his mysteries.

The first thing to say about historical research is that any writer who claims not to use Wikipedia is a liar.  Don’t trust them alone with your valuables.

 I’ve written eight mystery novels set in Victorian England, all featuring gentleman sleuth Charles Lenox, and it’s true that I mostly draw the history in them from books about the period.  My favorite of the bunch is the fifth, A Burial at Sea, which also happens to have required more research than the other seven combined.  When I wrote it I was living in Oxford, England; every morning I went to the same carrel at the Bodleian Library, where the stack of books I’d left the evening before would be sitting there, patiently awaiting my return.  They had enthralling titles like The Navy in Transition and The Royal Navy: An Illustrated Social History, 1870-1982 – in that one the butler did it, as I recall – because A Burial at Sea is set on a royal navy ship bound from London to Egypt.  (I thought a shipboard murder would make a cool variation on the classic locked-room mystery.)  I filled three notebooks before I wrote the words Chapter One…

And yet, very little of that information actually made it into the book.  That’s because there are two ways for an author to give a reader history. The first is just to put it in. Example.

“I say, is that a corpse?” asked Lord Hoover.

“It is.”

Lord Hoover pondered this for a while, then said, “Did you know that there’s a seat in Parliament for a town that was washed away into the sea thirty years ago?  It has eight voters.”

“Rum, that.”

“Very rum.”

This is certainly an efficient method.  Not very elegant, though. To me, the second way is better – which is for a writer’s knowledge to suffuse the text, to be present everywhere, even if it’s invisible. For every fifty facts I learned about the navy, one made it into A Burial at Sea, but my knowledge of the Victorian navy was, I hope, lurking behind every word I wrote. The more confidence the reader has in the authenticity of an author’s world, the faster and more unconsciously they can slip into the story.

This gets to a larger point: in historical fiction, atmosphere is what really counts.  I love learning from books, but the facts in my favorite writers of historical fiction, Patrick O’Brian or Hilary Mantel for instance, are never obtrusive, never primary.

What matters, instead, is that a writer captures some of that ineffable quality that made a period of time itself – makes us believe that people lived back there, that it’s all more than a list of statistics.  When I start writing a new Lenox book these days, I tend to read the writers who inspired me to write my series because I loved their worlds so much, Anthony Trollope, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, George Eliot.  My next book, The Laws of Murder, took very little hard research in comparison with A Burial at Sea, and lots of this “softer” research.  As I wrote it, I was constantly thinking: am I getting the voice right?  Is this how they thought, how they felt?  Are these the words they would have used?

That was what I obsessed over, not dates, not street names.  After all: if I ever needed those, I could just run over to Wikipedia.

Rysa Walker, "Time's Edge" Author, on Her Time Travel Favorites

TimesedgeRysa Walker, author of Timebound and the new follow-up Time’s Edge, discusses her passion for time travel novels and recommends a few of her favorites.

When I read, I want to experience things I've never seen, could never see, and might not want to see even if I could. Science fiction, fantasy, historical fiction, horror—those are the books that jump off the shelves and into my hands. Contemporary slice-of-life need not apply.

Time travel covers multiple bases for me which is why I'm drawn to the genre as an author.  Writing Timebound and Time's Edge, the first and second book in the CHRONOS Files series, gave me a chance to combine a splash of historical fiction with a healthy dollop of sci-fi and roll it all together. 

Sadly, I've had to avoid time travel stories since I began writing the CHRONOS Files, simply because I don't want tesseracts, time-turners, or DeLoreans sneaking into my scenes. But here are a few pre-Timebound favorites that grabbed my imagination and landed on my re-read and recommend list:

Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson My very first time travel book, I checked this out from the library in my early teens. No one else got a crack at it for months because I selfishly hoarded it. I later learned it was reissued as Somewhere in Time in 1980 and won a World Fantasy Award in 1976. All I knew back then was it made me cry buckets. 

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer didn't interest me. I grew up in the Deep South, and they were too much like kids I knew. Still, their presence on mandatory reading lists led me to this snarky bit of social commentary in a time travel wrapper. And this book pointed me toward Letters from the Earth. Those two alone earned Twain a spot on my list of favorite writers.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle A trip through the tesseract is Time Travel 101 for many kids but I didn't stumble upon this series until my late teens. I wish I had found it sooner as it might have helped me weather the conformity of high school.  

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling Hogwarts and time travel?? Yes, please.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver Most readers know Lauren Oliver for her Delirium series. I liked those books but I absolutely loved this earlier standalone that reminded me a bit of the movie Groundhog Day. You can't help but pull for Samantha as she struggles again and again to finally get a critical day right.

Guest Post: Alexandra Bracken, Author of “In the Afterlight”

AfterlightAlexandra Bracken discusses the importance of music in the Darkest Minds series. The final book in the trilogy, In The Afterlight, is out on October 28.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Darkest Minds series is made up of unlikely parts.

It was the product of circumstance, really. I had just moved to New York City after graduating from college and was unprepared for how rough of an adjustment it would be. That’s a polite way of saying that I hated it. My first job left me silently crying in a bathroom stall at least twice a week, I was horribly homesick, and I was subsisting on ramen noodles six days out of seven. If you’re thinking to yourself, Wow, this girl didn’t have an ounce of emotional grit…you are exactly right.

As a survival tactic, I coped by escaping into writing a story I filled to the brim with things I love: sci-fi, road trips, old minivans, teenagers with super powers, the state of Virginia, Waffle House, impossible romance, a “found family” of friends, and classic rock.

Would it surprise you to find out that, of everything element in the series, I get asked the most about the classic rock?

Throughout the books, you’ll find references to songs and bands from the 1960s and 1970s serving as a soundtrack to different scenes, starting with the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” We move through some fine Led Zeppelin selections, the Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” and Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Some are mentioned by names, some are merely snippets of lyrics, but all were chosen for a reason.

There are number of layers to this. The first was that it was a world-building choice. The series is set in an America in which 98% of the under-eighteen population has died… meaning there just aren’t these young bands to create new music. The economy is shot, so even there’s a business around to produce and package the music, the customer pool is incredibly shallow. And, truthfully, in hard times I think we tend to turn to the comforting, the familiar, to feel something is stable.

More importantly, though, the majority of the songs referenced were written in direct response to times of political, social, and economic strife. They’re protests, accusations, and calls to action, many of which have lost some of their teeth forty years removed from the events on which they’re commenting. A younger generation reading the book might not know the back story that ties them to the Vietnam War, for example, but they’ve become classic because they are universal, and the struggles they depict are ongoing. They even apply to a fictional version of America that’s been ravaged by tragedy, poverty, and fear.

Then, there are the personal reasons: my own parents raised me on a steady diet of the good stuff. We debated bands on long car rides and were woken up by my dad blasting the Moody Blues’ greatest hits every weekend. There’s a feeling I’m always trying to capture, the one that comes when your favorite song is suddenly on the radio and you crank it up. The sunlight is streaming in through the windshield and you’re singing and singing and singing along. One character proudly declares the Allman Brothers’ “Ramblin’ Man” is “the music of [his] soul,” not because it describes his life, but because he’s chasing the feelin--that all-consuming, lifting feeling that comes with hearing it.

And, as much as the book is about teens with dangerous superpowers, let’s face it: the Darkest Minds series is also one epic cross-country road trip, and no ride is complete without a good set of tunes.