Interview with a Vampire (Master), by Sarah McMullan

Walking into The Museum Hotel, I wasn’t really sure what Justin Cronin would be like. We followed each other on Twitter and he seemed affable though not a digital native. I knew he had been travelling for several months already talking about The City of Mirrors – the final book in his successful Passage trilogy.
Experience told me that by the time most authors made it to NZ, they were often a little bit tired. Life on the road is hard and the constant stream of interviews, readings and hotel rooms wears thin, so I was a little surprised to see a shorter than expected somewhat chipper man bouncing around a snooker table asking if anyone knew the rules, and debating if he could handle a cue in both hands.

Deciding that two cues one author may not have been the safest move for the beautiful tables, we instead sat down and started talking about what life is like now for a man that just fired himself from a job he’s had for the last decade: writing about Amy and the Virals.

‘It’s not like there’s one moment and you’re suddenly finished” he said, momentarily relaxing back on the chaise lounge. “When you hit save on that last chapter, that’s one point. Then it goes to the editor. Then it comes back. When they’ve finished with it that’s another end point. Then there’s the design side of things. And the marketing and release side. Then there’s publicity. And it’s always about sales numbers. So, I haven’t really come to the end yet, but it’s starting to form off in the distance. It’s strange because I’ve sort of fired myself!”

He leans forward and places his empty cup on the table. “I feel like I should have some big exciting story about how it feels to finish the trilogy but I don’t have one.”

I can’t help myself; “Are you working on something new?”

“Yes. And I’m not telling you anything about it, other than it’s different to what I’ve been doing for the last 10 years.” He settles back into the couch, smiling. I get the feeling he’s been asked that a lot lately.

“So you needed a change?”

“Not a change exactly, just those characters ended the story I had in mind for them. It was time to leave them.”

“Was it hard to write the ending for some of those characters? I know as a reader who’s been following their journey, it was really quite emotional fare-welling some of these characters, especially some who didn’t get the endings they fought so hard for. I’m not ashamed to say I cried happy and sad tears. Were you sad writing their demise?”

He pauses, “No. I never felt sad for my characters. Just a sense of satisfaction that they were achieving what they were supposed to. Their arcs were concluding. I had created them to do this, to reach this point.”

cv_passage_trilogyIt turns out, Justin Cronin manage to secure a deal for all three novels of the trilogy up front, so right from the very start he knew what he was going to do with the story, how and when. He pitched it that way, and believe it or not over the nearly 10 years it took to write The Passage, The Twelve and The City of Mirrors, the characters never deviated off on their own journey. They stayed on the path he had planned for them right from the very start.

As an experienced author with three previous titles to his name; Cronin’s approach to writing the trilogy was no different, though perhaps his inspiration was a little unusual.

“It began with me going running with my daughter. She’d be on her bike and I’d be running, and we’d make up stories. The rules were they had to be about a girl saving the world, and she had to have red hair because my daughter did. And it went from there.”

“What about other influences? You’ve been likened a lot to Stephen King. Are you a fan?”

Shifting slightly, Cronin laughs, “Actually no. I mean, I haven’t read a lot of his work. Maybe when I was younger…” he trails off. “I read a lot. I always have and there are a lot of different influences that I think are visible in the books, Different writers, different genres, different titles… I like to think there are little Easter eggs hidden in there.”

cv_1st_onthebeachI nodded, hoping my literary knowledge wasn’t going to make me look like an idiot. “The Australian link – was that a nod to On the Beach, by Nevil Shute?” He grinned at me. I continued. “Cormac McCarthy’s The Road popped up for me, George Orwell 1984, Lila reminded of Mrs Dalloway …”.  He laughed. I’m still not sure if that’s a yes or a no but I still maintain she does.

“… and yes I get the likeness to Stephen King, but as a lifelong reader of him I’d have to say it’s really only The Stand, and it’s a superficial likeness really. It’s a post-apocalyptic novel set in a world brought low by a virus where good squares off against evil, it’s super long, it’s easy to read and while it’s horror it’s not just blood and guts and it will get in your head and scare you.”

“I’m happy with that” he says.

I see his publicist looking at her watch. Time is nearly up.

“Two quick questions” I say. “How did you come up with your signature author pose?”
He looks at me like I just sprouted an extra head. “My what?”

“Your signature author pose. This…” I say showing him photos on my phone. “Your signature author pose seems to be ¾ to front on, arms folded, seriously eyeballing the camera. Why that one?”


Jeffrey Deaver

He flops back looking quite perplexed. “There are other signature poses for authors?”
“Oh there are loads. Jeffrey Deaver does the side on looming thing. They make him loom everywhere. Clive Barker does the thoughtful head tilt, often with an open necked shirt; Stephen King usually get cropped at the neck and is face on, and most female authors get cropped across the shoulders or end up in some complicated leaning / arm thing designed to make them look either relaxed or powerful. There seems to be quite an art to it. I just wondered how you came up with yours?”

“Well, I’m usually the one taking photos at home, and I don’t like having my photo taken so I just do what they tell me. I never noticed that before. You’re right. I’m crossed arms guy! I’ll have to see if that’s on all my books.”

“Which brings me to my last question: do you have a copy of all yours books? All the different editions from around the world? “

“I do. But I don’t look at them. It’s a contractual thing. They arrive and they go straight to storage. God knows what we’ll do with them when I die. Congratulations, here’s 350 copies of the same book! I mean it’s not exciting to see them arrive. Most of them have the same covers – or one of two designs.


Probably not this one.

“But I do remember when my first book came out, and it was snowing and the delivery guy couldn’t get through the snow and I wanted to see it and show everyone and I had to go out in the middle of the blizzard to get my copy and I remember standing on a street corner under a streetlamp ripping open this package, or trying to because I had mittens on, and seeing my book with my name on it for the first time, and it was just an incredible feeling. And even though I’d been researching and writing and editing and all the rest for what felt like years, that moment was when I felt like an author for the first time.”

A big thank you to Justin Cronin for giving up his time; to Sarah at Booksellers NZ who made it happen; to Gemma at Hachette NZ for letting me near her author and The Museum Hotel in Wellington for not evicting us at the first mention of two handed snooker playing.

By Sarah McMullan @sarahmcmullannz

The Passage (9780752883304) & The Twelve (9780752883335 ) are available now as paperbacks. RRP $25.99. Orion.
The City of Mirrors is available as Trade Paperback. RRP $37.99. Orion.

Review & Interview: Under Italian Skies, by Nicky Pellegrino

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_under_italian_skiesUnder Italian Skies is the latest book by Nicky Pellegrino. Nicky was kind enough to answer questions about her book and I’ve incorporated them into this review.

Stella, a sensible soul, is faced with needing to reevaluate her life after her friend (and boss) dies. She is unsure what she wants to do in terms of employment, just knows that she needs new direction. She is inspired by the concept of a gap year, and comes across the idea of an international house swap. Unlike women portrayed in similar novels, she does not fall apart and she isn’t running away. She just creates a scenario where she can get inspiration. I asked Nicky(below right) if she had a real life inspiration for Stella:

pp_nicky_pellegrino“I tend to avoid change in my own life. But often it’s forced on us and we have to deal with it; which is Stella’s situation. I think she does panic to begin with because she’s a person who is used to having a plan and making things happen. Then when she comes up with the house-swap idea she throws herself into it with all the efficiency she brought to her working life. The character wasn’t inspired by any one real person but I guess I always take bits and pieces of things that people say and do, and end up stitching them into my stories.”

My favourite aspect of the story was the character of Stella. Stella seeks direction and in watching her do so, we learn a lot about her life, career, friendships and relationships. She is not defined by any of these domains and is a very well-rounded character. Nicky says, “I think about my characters all the time; like I would a good friend who was at a crossroads in their life. I might be driving along or walking the dogs or lying in bed or blow-drying my hair; but my brain is busy turning them and their situation over in my mind. So in the end they are real to me and hopefully to the reader.

I think in my books the story is generally driven by the characters, so it’s important they are rounded and balanced.”

A lot of books that are involve the protagonist visiting a foreign location see the setting through the character’s eyes only. The setting is there just to be different, and is really there just for the character to comment on its difference. I was really impressed with how strong the fictional ‘Triente’ came across in Under Italian Skies. This is helped by Triente having such a passionate advocate – the owner of the house Stella swaps with is keen for her to experience the region through visiting interesting destinations and meeting people. He enjoys her emails discussing her adventures and really wants her to love the house and Triente as he does. The beauty of the region is well explained, without being corny.

Maratea_real_trienteNicky Pellegrino spent her childhood summers in Italy and I asked if there was a particular influence for Triente. Nicky says,”It’s actually a real place, called Maratea (image to left), which is beside the coast of Basilicata in the south west of Italy. My father’s cousin has a house there which we’ve stayed in several times: that is what Villa Rosa is based on. It’s a beautiful area – kind of like Amalfi but without the crowds – but I changed its name because I wanted to be free to do a bit of creative “town planning”. There is a linen shop there though, that is very like the one in my books. And many churches and a harbour area with lots of seafood restaurants. It’s become a special place to me over the years.”

This is great sit-by-a-sunny-window read – an inspiration for creating change or resetting your life without requiring extreme chaos to do so. There are so many fantastic supporting characters – people who are helped by Stella as she is helped by them. I could think of real life acquaintances who remind me of these characters, so had quite a giggle. Under Italian Skies can be quite funny at times but its success as a novel ultimately rests in the strength of its characters and their interactions. I really enjoyed reading it.

Review and Interview by Emma Wong-Ming

Under Italian Skies
by Nicky Pellegrino
Published by Orion
ISBN 9781409150862

Book Review: Ghost Flight, by Bear Grylls

cv_ghost_jacketAvailable in bookstores nationwide.

Most of us have heard of Bear Grylls. He’s appeared in numerous television programmes and is recognised as an adventurer and author. His television show Man vs Wild
/ Born Survivor
was one of the world’s most watched shows with over 1 billion viewers.

My first choice when choosing a book to read would always be a thriller – I’m always drawn to read them as I enjoy the anticipation and excitement that tends to leap out of every page; a book that gives that adrenaline rush with every turn of the page.

Will Jaeger is living and teaching in a small school on an island off the coast of Africa. He ran to the ends of the earth to escape the torture and images of the abduction of his wife and child – his helplessness is eased by the simplicity of the life he has lead for the last two years. He is arrested and tortured for some imagined crime, then rescued by his friend Raf. There is something much more important Jaeger is needed for – to head a mission, an almost impossible mission to bring back a missing German aeroplane – one that is somehow linked to Will’s personal history. The mission is funded by a television company, with every part of the search and recovery filmed.

Will agrees to head the expedition into the Amazon jungle. The crew that congregate to head off into the wilds are all former members of undercover government organisations from around the world. How the journey links with those of his family members is part of the emotional and personal journey that Jaeger undertakes, but whether or not it offers the answers he is looking for, time will tell.

This is a gripping read with every page filled with anticipation as each stage of the journey is undertaken .I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful tale. I’m hoping there is a sequel and perhaps more answers to the many mysteries.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Ghost Flight
by Bear Grylls
Published by Orion
ISBN 9781409156826

Book Review: One Summer in Venice, by Nicky Pellegrino

Available now in bookstores nationwide.
I have to say first off, I like Nicky Pellegrino as an author. Her books make a nice change in my preferred choice of reading material. This book is no exception – it is light, funny and at times thought provoking. We all get stuck in ruts, often not realising we are in them.

The main character, Addolorata (Dolly) Martinelli’s life seems to be a bit of a car wreck; her marriage to her husband Eden is in tatters, and she’s exhausted from working long hours in her family’s Italian restaurant. Dolly’s sister Pieta encourages her to take leave and travel to Venice for a week’s holiday. Of course it doesn’t work out like that – as most travellers to Venice do, she falls in love with the place, the music and the people she meets and of course not forgetting the gorgeous food. Dolly meets an elderly woman called Coco, who makes her take stock of her life and encourages Dolly to stay for a summer.

After a lot of soul searching Dolly decides that’s not a bad idea. Coco of course has a solution as to where to live – the hotel where Dolly has been staying is much too expensive and not conducive to living like a Venetian, but Coco just happens to have an apartment above her own that she also owns and occasionally rents out.

Meanwhile back in Clerenwell in the U.K, life is continuing on without Dolly. Her husband Eden is working on a building site, Dolly’s parents have come back from their retirement in Italy to run the restaurant while Dolly is away and her daughter Katia is enjoying being spoiled by grandparents.

Dolly learns to tango; she tastes dishes in restaurants and then recreates them in her own kitchen. She relaxes and starts to make a list of what makes her happy. As time goes on she adds to her list, coming up with ten things that make her happy; this includes parties, a glass of chilled Prosecco and being surrounded by water.

I became rather fascinated with the idea of making a list – Dolly’s criteria was that everything that went on her list had to make her truly happy. I think I would interpret that to mean “to make your heart sing”, and this is probably harder to do than most of us would imagine.

This story does have a happily ever after ending, which I think fans of Pellegrino will be happy to see. I enjoyed this book, and managed to read it in two days, despite life’s usual interruptions.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

One Summer in Venice
by Nicky Pellegrino
Published by Orion (Hachette)
ISBN  9781409159452

Book Review: Glory, by Rachael Billington

Available in bookstores nationwide.cv_glory

Mozart once referred to Opera as a conversation with many people all speaking at once, and yet all are perfectly understood. In this, the Centenary year of the Gallipoli campaign, there will be many conversations, many stories and many points of view. As I write this, Kiwis are joining in mass commemoration of those who fell in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign of 1915. And, no doubt we’ll be involved in further recognitions of the tragic losses that were to come thereafter. This is the year of the Great War, after all.

Into this space, veteran author Rachael Billington adds her own take with an epic tale of relationships, love and heroism at Gallipoli, from the British standpoint. It’s easy to look at the campaign only with ‘black-tinted’ glasses but in fact Britain lost nearly 73,485 troops, nearly 5 ½ times that of the ANZACs. The Anglo angle in this book is prominent. Viewers of Downton Abbey will recognise the common themes of egalitarianism over class and the betrayal of the patriotic dream when the great adventure turns horrific very quickly.

Interwoven with the gruesome details of on-the-ground battles are the fates of a promising lawyer, Arthur and his girlfriend Sylvia. Arthur is almost immediately flung into the fray, unprepared and naïve. He survives by disobeying orders and befriending an intelligence officer aboard the landing ship, leading him to an alternative fate. At home Sylvia sits in her ‘perfect’ world on the estate, awaiting the titbits, from her correspondents, that tragically float back from ANZAC cove.

Another key figure is Dorset country boy Fred Chaffey, who is literally flung out of the first landing boat onto the shores of the peninsular by the first page. He spend three days sheltering behind the dying, pinned down by snipers and isolated from his unit. Eventually, he becomes a runner for an Australian captain and spends much of the book travelling between like landmarks like Quinn’s Post, Chunuk Bair and Shrapnel Alley whilst encountering a raft of personalities from across the Empire, and of course our friend Arthur. Their stories will eventually intertwine like some mad helix of fate.

Supporting the story are a host of other players, including real personalities from the time such as Sir Ian Standish Monteith Hamilton, Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean, the blundering fool behind the decision to dig in, rather than retreat, when troops were mistakenly landed at the wrong cove. He’s described as a man with a “silly voice and even sillier habit of writing in his diary – filled with long Greek quotations” and, “far worse, his manner of giving commands as if they were invitations.” It shows Billington has done her homework. There is even a selected bibliography in the back.

“My grandfather died at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, on August 21st 1915, she writes on her website. “(Yet) my grandmother …continued to believe that he would emerge from a Turkish hospital or prison camp.” In a sense the inspiration behind Glory was a mix of that story and the new horrors from her WWII childhood. “Publishing Glory is an emotional business. Naturally people are interested in my grandfather’s story…his heroic and pointless death is bad enough. But for me it exemplifies the muddled thinking that surrounded both the idea of the campaign and its execution.”

In layer after layer, Billington deftly presents this in her book and one can’t help finishing with a real sense of sadness that the whole thing was such a futile waste. New Zealanders will come together this year, along with the world to commemorate this most deft act of incompetence and horror. If we learn one thing from Glory it will be to thoroughly question the actions of our leaders and challenge their right to lead, because lest we forget, they are as fallible as anyone else. Glory is an epic tale, thought-provoking and slightly familiar. It doesn’t cover new ground but, like a good movie, it will cover ground and leave you wiser for it.

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

by Rachael Billington
Published by Orion
ISBN 9781409156697

Book Review: The Killing Lessons, by Saul Black

This book is now available in bookstores nationwide.cv_the_killing_lessonsa

Why did it take three years over eleven states before seven murders were connected as the work of one killer? A creepy and sick behaviour pattern is the link, and San Francisco homicide detective Valerie Hart is driven to pursue the cold cases – and the new murders.

Special agent Carla York is brought in to replace a colleague on sick leave – but why then blight Detective Hart’s reputation with hate mail, reporting her blackouts, her alcoholism, and an attempt to frame her as a drug user?

The serial killer is no longer working alone, and killings continue, with the intervals between killings reducing over time. So far, so usual…

Except Black gives us a direct point of view into the delusional, crazed alpha killer and his simpleton beta partner. The killer has a reason for his killing trail, not yet complete, risen from his macabre past. It drives him closer to insanity as he continues – and we are with him all the way.

We are also with his latest victims, as they suffer the most chilling sadistic treatment, and a humiliating death.

The outcome is not an easy read – it’s damned scary, and although I love being scared as I review as good crime writing as I have for this review blog, this story is the only one yet encountered which has had me so wound up in the terror that the closure for one character and another brought tears of relief. Now that’s good crime writing.

Reviewed by Lynne Street and previously reviewed on her blog ‘Red-Penn reviews

The Killing Lessons
by Saul Black
Published by Orion
ISBN Hardback: 9781409152941
ISBN Paperback: 9781409152958
ISBN Ebook: 9781409152972

Book review: When in Rome by Nicky Pellegrino

This book is in bookstores now.

Over time I have heard many good comments about Nicky Pellegrino’s novels, and when people said they got an urge to travel and eat as they flicked through the pages of her books, I never really understood it… until I laid my hands on one myself. You really do gain an appetite for international food and an urge to pack your bags and travel to beautiful places that some can only dream of (or like me just close your eyes and you’re there).

When in Rome is set in Trastevere, Rome in the 1950’s. Serafina, the eldest of three sisters, spends her days caring for her siblings. Together they sing at the Piazza to busk for change and flick through magazines as the girls listen to the Mario Lanza records they secretly play over and over while their mother is out at work.

When Serafina discovers Mario is coming to town to be in a movie, her and her sister head out to meet him. Standing at the train station Serafina’s sister is ready to preform for Mario and his family; using this opportunity as an attempt to become famous herself she is left disappointed when an influx of people makes this an impossible task.

In search of Mario the girls find out where he is staying and upon arrival at his hotel, Serafina manages to get up to his suite in an attempt to make Mario hear her sister sing. But with a twist of fate she is offered a job working for the Lanza family as their Governess, which leaves her sister disappointed once again.

From here the story leads into detail of Serafina’s journey as she lives and works for the Lanza family, and slowly begins falling for Pepe the chef. With a mix of facts and fiction of Mario Lanza’s life, this is an enjoyable and emotional tale of love, food, passion and the battle to be a star.

Truly a book that keeps you hanging on and wanting more. I will certainly be heading out to buy one of Nicky Pellegrino’s previous books as I wait for the release of her next novel and make a trip to see her on her current book tour through New Zealand.

Reviewed by Jessica Moore

When in Rome
by Nicky Pellegrino
Published by Orion
ISBN 9781409133773

Winner of a copy of When in Rome by Nicky Pellegrino
Thanks to our generous friends at Hachette, we had 
a copy of When in Rome to give away. We took entries on this blog post and chose a winner using
Congratulations to our winner… Margo. We’ve emailed you to chat about how to send out the book.