Succubus Blues by Richelle Mead

Georgina Kincaid has a supernatural ability that most women would gouge out their left eyeballs for. In the blink of an eye, she can morph into a Victoria’s Secret model.  Heck – she can order a full-fat white chocolate mocha without ever having to worry about fitting into her size-2 micro-mini. Come on ladies, you know that would rock!  But there’s just one little catch: To charge her shape-shifting batteries, she must suck the life force out of unsuspecting men.

For centuries the demonic seductress has captivated men with her preternatural feminine wiles, luring them into bed to slowly drain out chunks of their lives. Sure, she may seem like a diabolical villain in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but really she’s just like any girl who dreams of falling in love and becoming a mother. But given her insatiable need to feed off of men in the throws of passion, she must steer clear of potential Mr. Rights.

A lonely bookstore manager by day, Georgina fills the void with good books and white chocolate mochas. And when she needs a quick soul-sucking fix, her boss – a slimy corporate bookstore tycoon – is always on hand for a romp. It isn’t so bad if she drains the philandering husbands, right? Everything seemed to be going just fine until bestselling author Seth Mortenson becomes the bookstore’s resident writer. When Georgina inadvertently catches the eye of the sexy author, who just so happens to be the mastermind behind her favorite book series, she must do everything in her power to turn him away.  Her self-control is really put to the test when she accidentally ropes herself into a date with Roman, a smooth-talking linguistics professor with a mysterious past.

Life really gets chaotic when Georgina discovers someone –or something – is committing a string of murders in Seattle’s demon underground. And all eyes are on her when her boss- a middle-management demon who bares an uncanny resemblence to John Cusack –  points out that all the victims are on her naughty list.

Who – or what – is attacking Seattle’s most despicable supernatural beings? Is it an amateur Van Helsing? Or is something more sinister at work? With some help from her vampire sidekicks, Georgina probes into the mystery and discovers a whole new breed of evil is coming their way – and it’s up to them to stop it!

To be honest, I expected sex as the main plot-point in a book titled “Succubus Blues,” but this just goes to show you should NEVER judge a book by its cover! This fast-paced, supernatural thriller – chock full of witty dialogue and a bevy of  intriguing paranormal beings –  is mesmerizing reading indeed! Richelle Mead, well-known author of the Vampire Academy, really knows how to create a strong, sexy heroine with a heart of gold.  Fans of Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake looking for a less intense version of the supernatural seductress should definitely check out this series!

A Q&A with Cynthia Leitich Smith

If you’re a fan of gothic fantasy and paranormal romance, you should sink your teeth into Cynthia Leitich Smith’s newest book Blessed, a young adult thriller filled with brooding shapeshifters and night crawlers set in Austin.  The third installment in a gothic triology, the story revolves around Quincy Morris, an orphaned teenager who’s struggling to keep her parent’s vampire-themed restaurant afloat while saving Central Texas from a legion of rogue vampires. While fighting off blood-sucking fiends, Quincy must keep her new thirst for blood at bay, salvage her soul and clear her best bud and soul mate –a hot-blooded werewolf cross-breed – of murder charges.  Wow – and I thought my high school days were hellish!

Adding a unique spin on the ever-evolving vampire genre, she  gives readers exactly what they want: fast-paced thrill rides filled with vampire lore, preternatural bad boys and steamy romance.  If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, Tantalize or Eternal, you’re in for a treat!   

I had the pleasure of meeting Cynthia at (be still my heart!) a vampire book launch party, and she graciously agreed to chat with me about blood-suckers, her love for dark fantasy and what’s up next!

Welcome Cynthia! Tell us about yourself. When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?  

Thank you! I first began reading and writing from a very young age. I recall that my first “performed” writing was a short story I wrote in second grade about catching crawdads. It was read over an intercom system at my Kansas City, Missouri area elementary school.

By sixth grade, I had a column, “Dear Gabby” in Mr. Rideout’s class newsletter.

In junior high and high school, I served as editor of my school newspapers.

I went on to major in news/editorial and public relations at the White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, taking several fiction-writing classes as electives.

I continued onto The University of Michigan Law School (with the idea that I’d eventually become a media law professor in a journalism school or first amendment professor in a law school) and continued pursuing journalism through internships at small town and suburban papers as well as The Detroit Legal News and The Dallas Morning News.

The fiction bug bit me hard after graduation while I was clerking for the Department of Health and Human Services in Chicago. I became a full-time writer at age 27.

I couldn’t think of a better city for a vampire-themed restaurant than Austin! How did you come up with this concept?  

Thanks! I’d always been a fan of spooky stories and gravitated heavily toward the horror shelves in the bookstores. Though I began writing realistic fiction, I longed to explore Gothic fantasy from early on. 

It struck me that Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) was perhaps the quintessential horror novel (or one of them anyway) and, being a big classics geek, drew on that for inspiration.

 More personally, I’d worked as a waitress in my teens—first at a Mexican chain restaurant and then at an athletic club (both in Overland Park, Kansas). It struck me that restaurants were such terrific stages for drama. They have thematic music, décor, menus, costuming. Sometimes people even burst into song. 

And sure, folks tend to think of vampires as more drinkers than diners, but I thought that might give my story some of the fresh blood I was looking for. 

Could you give me an example of how you incorporated Austin’s unique culture in your books? 

Tantalize and Blessed are heavily set in Austin. Eternal, only in the beginning of the story. 

That said, the series exudes Austin-ness. Sanguini’s, the vampire-themed restaurant in the book, is set on South Congress, which is an eclectic restaurant-dining-entertainment district. Heroes Quincie and Kieren live in the Bouldin Creek and Fairview neighborhoods respectively. Danger lurks along the hike-and-bike trail to either side of Lady Bird Lake.

Beyond that, there’s a strong sense of the community here. University profs and tie-dyed hippies, indie musicians and filmmakers, professional bikers and politicos and millionaires. 

It’s welcoming, sunny, optimistic, diverse in every sense of the word, and proudly itself. 

Austin isn’t trying to be another city. Austin is Austin and loves it. You feel that in the characters. 

Unlike other protagonists in popular vampire fiction, Quincie is strong-willed and unwilling to sacrifice her soul for love. How does she embody the characteristics of a tough Texan?

Quincie is smart enough to realize that her soul is who she is. If she gives herself up, there’s nothing left. Not her evolving patchwork family or the business she inherited from her mama or her amazing connection to Kieren. He loves her, the real her, not some monster walking around in body. She fights for herself because she has value intrinsically and to those who truly care about her.

As to how Quincie embodies Texas characteristics, I think she’s a particularly Austin flavor of Texan. She’s very open-minded and accepting and loyal to the folks in her life. She’s independent and ambitious and has one heck of a work ethic. I associate all that with Texas, though she’s also the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, who’ve built their business from scratch, and she values that too.

If your vampire books hit the big screen, which actors would play Quincie Morris and her lifelong best friend and love interest, Kieren?

Honestly, I couldn’t begin to say. At the moment, I’m completely enchanted with how Ming Doyle has brought them to life in her early sketches for the graphic novel, coming this fall.

What is your all-time favorite vampire movie/book? 

That’s a toughie. Other than Dracula, I’m going to go with “Lost Boys.” It’s very 1980s in all of the best possible ways—spooky, funny, and romantic. I’m all about that.  

What is the most important piece of advice you could give to an aspiring YA author? 

Write! Don’t play writer. Don’t just talk about writing and go to conferences and haul around that same manuscript for a decade. Show up to the page day after day after day and mean it. 

Can you give me a sneak peak into what you’re working on now? 

Next up is Tantalize: Kieren’s Story, which is told from the point of view of one of my favorite characters, the hybrid werewolf Kieren Morales.  It’ll be released in August by Candlewick Press. 

I also have an essay called “Isolation” coming out next fall in Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories, an anthology edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones from HarperCollins. 

Beyond that, I’m working on a fourth novel in the Tantalize series, which will be more of a sequel to events in Eternal. At the moment, it’s told in multiple point of view by three of the most popular characters in the series and set in both Austin and rural Vermont.

Take a look at Cynthia’s website to learn more about her books.

“Wolfsbane and Mistletoe” edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner

Once again Christmas has roared to a screeching halt. Time to pluck off the ornaments and rake up the mountainous rubble of shredded paper underneath the tree. Although we must say goodbye to the decorations, fat-riddled goodies and yes, even the falalala Lifetime movies, there’s no reason to stop reading Christmassy stories! If you, like me, need something to stave off those post-holiday blues, you should pick up “Wolfsbane and Mistletoe,” a holiday feast of 15 short stories filled with werewolves, shapeshifters, vampires and oodles of romance! I’d like to give you mini-reviews for all 15, but that could take all day and I have some after-Christmas shopping to do! Here’s a taste of three of my favorites. 

For the funny bone
“S.A.” by JA Konrath 

When Robert Westin Smith attends his first Shapeshifters Anonymous meeting, he discovers Santa has a dark side – close ties with Satan to be exact. The not-so-jolly old elf teamed up with none other than Lucifer himself to rid the world of therianathropes, a special breed of shapeshifters with an appetite for evildoers. With his “salvation army” of demonic bell-ringing elves, Santa leaves toys as consolation prizes for children after devouring their parents. Wow – and I thought Billy Bob Thornton was a bad Santa!  Things really get ridiculous when Santa and his band of minions swoop in on the goofy group of shifters to systematically wipe them off his naughty list. I’m not sure what’s funnier about this story, the were-tortoise shouting “man your battle stations” or a wannabe shapeshifter who likes to dance in a hypo costume. Either way, this twisted-beyond-belief holiday tale is sure to tickle your funny bone!

 For Sookie Stackhouse fans
“Gift Wrap” by Charlaine Harris

For many happy couples, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. But for Sookie Stackhouse, it’s downright depressing. Sad, single and alone on Christmas Eve, she can’t stop brooding over her string of fanged and furry ex-boyfriends. Like a gift from the paranormal gods – or perhaps a well-meaning relative – a wounded, naked were-man is left for dead in the winter-bare forest surrounding Sookie’s house. Never one to turn away from a stray were-man (who just so happens to be smoking hot), Sookie wraps him in a blanket and nurses him back to health – and boy does she have good bedside manner! If you aren’t up to date on the series, you may want to catch up before reading this little story because it contains some major spoilers.

 For the naughty list
“Christmas Past” by Keri Arthur

This Christmas isn’t so merry for Hannah. Rather than cozying up by the fire with a tall glass of eggnog, she must brave a snowstorm dressed in a skimpy elf costume – jingle bell shoes and all –to hunt down a vampire serial killer with a penchant for Christmas charity collectors. But the humiliating costume and the unrelenting snowstorm isn’t the worst of it. She’s forced to partner up with hunky Brodie James, werewolf expert and chief investigator for Para-Investigations Squad. Owner of a killer smile and smoldering eyes. And the man who broke her heart precisely one year ago. Frostbite and bloodthirsty vampires are the least of Hannah’s worries when Brodie attempts to lure her out of her elf costume and into his bed. Out of all the stories in this collection, this one’s the hottest! I recommend reading this with a hot toddy and a decadent slice of chocolate cake.

Boys that Bite: A Blood Coven Vampire Novel by Mari Mancusi

What do you get when you throw together a pair of distinctly different twin sisters, a tubby, pimple-faced vampire slayer, an Orlando Bloom look-alike with fangs, and a gaggle of money-grubbing Druid monks? A refreshingly unique teen vampire series that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Unlike her vampire-obsessed sister, Sunny McDonald would rather play field hockey and make moony eyes at the resident  high school hottie than hang out in graveyards and Goth clubs. Her averageness vanishes, however, the night her sister dragged her into Club Fang. Wearing a t-shirt brandished with the words “Bite Me,” Sunny catches the eye of Magnus, a vampire hottie who mistakes her for her sister.  After sinking his teeth into Sunny’s neck, she discovers that she will soon join the ranks of the walking undead. Even worse – she would miss the prom! This turns out to be very inconvenient for her sister Rayne, who secretly signed up to be converted into Magnus’ bloodmate.

With less than a week to reverse the curse and rejoin the land of the living, Sunny must track down the Holy Grail and devour the last remaining drops of the blood of Christ. Just when things couldn’t get more complicated, Sunny finds that her quest to reverse the bite may lead to a fate worse than turning into a fanged pumpkin after her week is up: falling head over heels for the bloodsucker who bit her.

If you’re in the mood for a good vampire story, but burned out on the formulaic star-crossed-lover melodrama, then pick up this book. The tounge-in-cheek humor and madcapped misadvenures  will send readers – especially fans of Buffy – into  fits of giggles. Mancusi keeps the quips coming without overdoing the sarcasm, and her take on vampire lore will intrigue and entertain even the most jaded vampire fans. The first book in the series, “Boys that Bite will definitely leave readers thirsty for more. I know I can’t wait to sink my teeth into the next installment!

“Insatiable” by Meg Cabot

 When I found out Meg Cabot, the literary queen of cutesy teen princesses, wrote an adult book about vampires, I couldn’t hit the pre-order button fast enough. For all you ladies who would rather read the instruction manual to your DVD player than pour through another predictable vampire love story – don’t roll your eyes just yet. Unlike many cheap Twilight and True Blood knockoffs – this one doesn’t suck! Very punny, I know.

Fans of Sookie Stackhouse and Buffy the Vampire Slayer looking for a lighter version of the vampire huntress should cotton to Meena Harper, a quirky New York City gal who really wants to be normal, but suffers from pesky precognitive powers that force her to see how everyone she meets is going to die. 

Plagued by images of her pregnant best friend’s untimely demise, Meena’s luck  goes from bad to worse when she gets bypassed for the position of  head dialogue writer for the daytime soap “Insiatiable,” and the producers decide to pump up ratings by incorporating steamy, spiky-haired vampires into the script.

 Things really get complicated when the endearingly dingy protagonist up and falls in love with – who else – the  Prince of Darkness.

 The prodigal son of Dracula Lucien Antonescu  abhors human bloodletting and will stop at nothing to put an end to the murderous vampire hijinx in Manhattan. But despite his noble ambition, Meena sends him packing when she discovers she’s been kanoodling with a walking dead guy.

 Enter the smoking-hot vampire adversary – Alaric Wulf (a very clever last name, I might add). A member of the Paletine Guard, a secret society of vampire annihilators, Alaric has a bit of an anger management problem and a major beef against vamps. Hot on the trail of the Prince of Darkness, Alaric swoops in on Meena and finds that it’s not just her link to Lucian and conveniently useful psychic powers that he’s after.

 With punchy jabs at the Stephanie Meyers vampire franchise and literary references to Bram Stoker’s Dracula,  this fast-paced read will definitely leave readers wanting more. The deft touch of Cabot’s trademark humor is evident in the snappy dialogue. Even the most loyal Twihard will giggle at lines like, “Guys have been asking me to do their hair like his for weeks. Like it’s an actual style and not something accomplished with a razor blade and some mousse. People are psycho for that guy.”