Hand of Fire by Judith Starkston

Hand of FireJudith Starkston

     In Hand of Fire author Starkston has pulled off a remarkable feat.  She has taken a briefly mentioned character from Homer’s Iliad(whether she actually existed is debatable) and brought her to life.  Impeccably researched, this fictional realization of the Bronze Age, in all its quotidian and cosmological aspects, ensnares the reader in a story that is both alluring in its strangeness and all too close to our own present day.
Through Briseis, our heroine, Starkston presents an alternate view of the Iliad.  Seen through the eyes of a young woman, who because of her status, becomes a pawn in the powerful forces that raged in Troy at the time, we become privy to a version of the story that is unique.
While Homer is a combination of history and mythology this book weds these themes in a straight forward manner that makes it all accessible to the modern reader.  I was fascinated by Starkston’s view of Achilles.  We see him via the sensibility of Briseis, who loves him, while his struggles, both mythological and existential, rage within and without.
Most readers will already be familiar with the broad outlines of Homers epic so I will forgo reiterating the plot.  For those who do not know Homer’s tale then this is a great place to learn about it.  What I will emphasize is that once one begins this tale one is transported back thousands of years to a time both ancient and modern all at the same time.  Reading Hand of Fire is akin to entering a time machine.  I felt the age come alive through Starkston’s subtle manipulation of her research and her narrative skill.  These fully fleshed-out characters leap off the page and a time that is far away chronologically becomes all too real.  This a wonderful introduction to both Homer and the late Bronze Age.  Any reader from teen-ager on up will find this both a fascinating history lesson and a thrilling novel.
Judith Starkston will be appearing at the Poisoned Pen bookstore on September 10th at 7 pm to discuss and sign this wonderful novel.Reviewed by Steve Shadow Schwartz

Writers Workshop with Dana Haynes on 9-14 at 12PM


Dana Haynes

Mystery Writing: It Ain’t Rocket Surgery

Mystery writing isn’t some grand art or arcane
science, it’s a craft. Dana Haynes, the author of
four thrillers from St. Martin’s Press and three
mysteries from Bantam Books, will walk you
through some simple steps that will get you
started, help you maintain momentum and get
you to those elusive words,”The End.”

Cost: $30.
Includes a copy of his new book Gun Metal Heart


Selected World War One Non-Fiction in Stock

Selected WW I Non-Fiction in stock
Compiled by Patrick Millikin

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Clark, Christopher. The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914($18.99). Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize (History). The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 is historian Christopher Clark’s riveting account of the explosive beginnings of World War I. Drawing on new scholarship, Clark offers a fresh look at World War I, focusing not on the battles and atrocities of the war itself, but on the complex events and relationships that led a group of well-meaning leaders into brutal conflict.

Clark traces the paths to war in a minute-by-minute, action-packed narrative that cuts between the key decision centers in Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Paris, London, and Belgrade, and examines the decades of history that informed the events of 1914 and details the mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals that drove the crisis forward in a few short weeks. Meticulously researched and masterfully written, Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers is a dramatic and authoritative chronicle of Europe’s descent into a war that tore the world apart.

Clark traces the paths to war in a minute-by-minute, action-packed narrative that cuts between the key decision centers in Vienna, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Paris, London, and Belgrade, and examines the decades of history that informed the events of 1914 and details the mutual misunderstandings and unintended signals that drove the crisis forward in a few short weeks. Meticulously researched and masterfully written, Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers is a dramatic and authoritative chronicle of Europe’s descent into a war that tore the world apart.

Fussell, Paul. The Great War and Modern Memory ($19.95). Winner of both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award and named by the Modern Library one of the twentieth century’s 100 Best Non-Fiction Books, Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory was universally acclaimed on publication in 1970. Today, Fussell’s landmark study remains as original and gripping as ever: a literate, literary, and unapologetic account of the Great War, the war that changed a generation, ushered in the modern era, and revolutionized how we see the world.

Graves, Robert. Good-Bye to All That ($16.95) In this autobiography, first published in 1929, poet Robert Graves traces the monumental and universal loss of innocence that occurred as a result of the First World War. Written after the war and as he was leaving his birthplace, he thought, forever, Good-Bye to All That bids farewell not only to England and his English family and friends, but also to a way of life. Tracing his upbringing from his solidly middle-class Victorian childhood through his entry into the war at age twenty-one as a patriotic captain in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, this dramatic, poignant, often wry autobiography goes on to depict the horrors and disillusionment of the Great War, from life in the trenches and the loss of dear friends, to the stupidity of government bureaucracy and the absurdity of English class stratification. Paul Fussell has hailed it as “”the best memoir of the First World War”” and has written the introduction to this new edition

Max Hastings. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War ($17.95). World War I evokes images of the trenches: grinding, halting battles that sacrificed millions of lives for no territory or visible gain. Yet the first months of the war, from the German invasion of Belgium to the Marne to Ypres, were utterly different, full of advances and retreats, tactical maneuvering, and significant gains and losses.

In Catastrophe 1914, acclaimed military historian Max Hastings re-creates this dramatic year, from the diplomatic crisis to the fighting in Belgium and France on the western front, and Serbia and Galicia to the east, and shows why it was inevitable that this first war among modern industrial nations could not produce a decisive victory. Throughout we encounter high officials and average soldiers, as well as civilians on the home front, giving us a vivid portrait of how a continent became embroiled in a war that would change everything.2

Keegan, John. The First World War ($17.00). The First World War created the modern world. A conflict of unprecedented ferocity, it abruptly ended the relative peace and prosperity of the Victorian era, unleashing such demons of the twentieth century as mechanized warfare and mass death. It also helped to usher in the ideas that have shaped our times–modernism in the arts, new approaches to psychology and medicine, radical thoughts about economics and society–and in so doing shattered the faith in rationalism and liberalism that had prevailed in Europe since the Enlightenment. With The First World War, John Keegan, one of our most eminent military historians, fulfills a lifelong ambition to write the definitive account of the Great War for our generation.

Strachan, Hew. The First World War ($19.00). “This serious, compact survey of the war’s history stands out as the most well-informed, accessible work available.” (Los Angeles Times). Nearly a century has passed since the outbreak of World War I, yet as military historian Hew Strachan argues in this brilliant and authoritative new book, the legacy of the “war to end all wars” is with us still. The First World War was a truly global conflict from the start, with many of the most decisive battles fought in or directly affecting the Balkans, Africa, and the Ottoman Empire. Even more than World War II, the First World War continues to shape the politics and international relations of our world, especially in hot spots like the Middle East and the Balkans.

Strachan has done a masterful job of reexamining the causes, the major campaigns, and the consequences of the First World War, compressing a lifetime of knowledge into a single definitive volume tailored for the general reader. Written in crisp, compelling prose and enlivened with extraordinarily vivid photographs and detailed maps, The First World War re-creates this world-altering conflict both on and off the battlefield—the clash of ideologies between the colonial powers at the center of the war, the social and economic unrest that swept Europe both before and after, the military strategies employed with stunning success and tragic failure in the various theaters of war, the terms of peace and why it didn’t last.

Tuchman, Barbara W. Guns of August ($18.00). In this landmark, Pulitzer Prize”“winning account, renowned historian Barbara W. Tuchman re-creates the first month of World War I: thirty days in the summer of 1914 that determined the course of the conflict, the century, and ultimately our present world. Beginning with the funeral of Edward VII, Tuchman traces each step that led to the inevitable clash. And inevitable it was, with all sides plotting their war for a generation. Dizzyingly comprehensive and spectacularly portrayed with her famous talent for evoking the characters of the war’s key players, Tuchman’s magnum opus is a classic for the ages

The Writer’s Life

Ace Atkins (2)
Ace Atkins, Jay E. Nolan

Ace Atkins: The Story of the Returning Soldier

Ace Atkins is a former journalist who received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for a series of articles investigating an old unsolved murder. He has written more than a dozen novels, among them the Quinn Colson series, about an Army Ranger who returns from Iraq and Afghanistan to become sheriff of his native Tibbehah County, Miss. (The author also resides in Mississippi with his family.) The fourth in the series, The Forsaken, was released July 24.

Atkins was also chosen by the Robert B. Parker estate to continue the late author’s popular series about famed private eye Spenser. The latest installment, Robert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot, was published in May.

Some nonfiction writers say they have a hard time writing fiction because they’d have to make everything up from scratch, while some fiction writers say they struggle with writing nonfiction because they have to stick to the facts and can’t shape the story to their liking. You’ve done both. Which form do you find easier?

I don’t think I really came into my own as a writer until I started to blend the two for my novels. My first four books were somewhat surreal, and it wasn’t until I started using my background as a reporter in my fiction that my stories took on an added dimension. My fifth novel, White Shadow, really changed everything for me in my writing style and approach to novels. I work much in the same way now with my Quinn Colson books.

That much said, I also still write stories for magazines, and the challenge–and the fun–is the hunt for the truth and those little details.

For novels, I take a huge amount of inspiration from the filmmakers of late ’60s and early ’70s and their commitment to realism. I don’t like to write characters; I like to write about people. I don’t really have a favorite. I enjoy alternating between fiction and reporting with the challenges and pleasures of each.

The Forsaken, Ace AtkinsWhy did you decide to write about the plight of the American soldier returning home after being at war?

My longtime editor at G.P. Putnam asked me to consider developing a series character in contemporary times. Coming off four novels based on true stories set long ago, I was searching for someone specific to the South, where I live, and who offered an exciting story to play out in future books.

This was in 2010, after nine years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. By this time, you’re talking about many thousands of young people who served their country–sometimes on multiple tours–returning home in big numbers. I kept on running across a lot of guys like Quinn in Mississippi. Some of them were friends in town who served in the [National] Guard; some, professional soldiers you’d meet here and there, once at a playground while our kids played together. The story of the returning soldier is as old as The Odyssey and as contemporary as the Billy Jack movies. It just seemed a perfect fit for these times and deep Mississippi.

The voice of the Spenser novels is different from the one in the Quinn Colson series. After you finish a book for one series, how much down time do you allow for the mental shift before you start work on the other series? Do you ever find one voice bleeding into the other?

That’s probably the toughest challenge I have. Spenser is unique and the style of the books is much different than my own. I probably have a harder time getting into the Spenser books because I’m thinking, “What would Robert B. Parker do?” With Quinn, there isn’t that added level of mental gymnastics.

Writing Quinn is as easy as slipping into a pair of well-worn cowboy boots. I usually take off a week or two to adjust. Listening to a different soundtrack–Spenser’s jazz to Quinn’s classic country–certainly helps.

You’ve said you write the Spenser novels in the spring and summer, so logic says you write the Colson books in the fall and winter. Is that a conscious decision to write the grittier novels when days are colder and darker?

That’s a great question! But it’s not my decision. It’s just how the production schedule falls. But no doubt some of the ominous feeling in the Quinn books comes from the lonely winters down South. It’s hard to be too brooding over a nice spring or summer day in Oxford, Miss., or in Boston.

Readers’ reactions to the Colson novels have included relief that your characters are multifaceted instead of caricatures. What are some of the biggest misconceptions you’ve seen in stories about the South?

Wow. That would take all day. I’m not a real fan of the way the South is portrayed in movies or TV. We always fall somewhere between Steel Magnolias and Mississippi Burning. As you’ll see in The Forsaken, I’m not an apologist for the Deep South’s rotten history. But as far as the New South, I like to show the complexity of the people. It goes back to what I learned from my favorite authors and those filmmakers from the 1970s. You write about the real stuff, not those redneck stereotypes. (Although I must admit some people I come across are even too wild for a comedy routine or my books.)

William Faulkner is among your influences, and characters in the Colson series even have Faulknerian names like Bundren and Varner. If the Colson books were taught in schools, what would be the course overview and the topics and themes you’d expect to see covered?

I’ve been fortunate to have some of my books taught in high school and college courses. For the Quinn novels, I think there’s much to discuss on the classic journey of the hero (along with studies on Joseph Campbell, who is a big part of my work), redemption, race, religion and, mainly, hypocrisy and greed. One thing that never changes in the South is the evil that rules when good men and women do nothing. I admire anyone, like Quinn and Lillie, who challenge an old and ingrained system.

What’s happening with the Quinn Colson TV pilot script you wrote with your wife, Angela?

The project is being developed with veteran Hollywood director/producer Jeremiah Chechik [Burn Notice; Chuck]. The process can be long and slow and we have a high level of hope the stories can be translated intact. All of us want to see a faithful telling of the Quinn stories and the world of Tibbehah County.

You have a complete John D. McDonald collection, including a novelization he wrote of a Judy Garland movie. If you were to write a book based on a movie, what would it be?

I’d like to do a novelization of 1973’s White Lightning. It’s a classic Southern action film with so many elements I love. I continue to draw a lot of inspiration from this film. —Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

The 6th Extinction by James Rollins



Tenth Anniversary of Sigma, Tenth Book in the Sigma Force series: THE SIXTH EXTINCTION


In my biggest book to date in scope and excitement, Commander Gray Pierce and Painter Crowe battle on opposite sides of the planet to save it from a brilliant madman.


The new novel is full of frightening facts about who we are as a species today and where we’re headed. It also delves into historical mysteries going back to a time when Antarctica was once green and full of life.


But most of all, it’s a nonstop thrill ride like no other. I knew I had to make this tenth Sigma book spectacular, touching upon everything that I love about the

Sigma series: historical mysteries, cutting-edge science…and yes, strange and wondrous landscapes full of the monstrous and the beautiful.


In THE SIXTH EXTINCTION, I unveil new hidden worlds found on our planet:  one born out of the ancient past, another that offers a view into our future.


As a newsletter exclusive, here’s one of those species from the ancient past, a deadly little organism that you’ll encounter in the new book (along with many others). This sneak peak into this book’s bestiary is only available here. Feel free to print it up and I’d be happy to sign it at one of my tour stops (see my appearances below).




A Must See Event! Jeff Abbot signs Inside Man – Appearing with Megan Abbott – Tuesday July 1st 7 PM

Not to Miss!  Jeff Abbott’s INSIDE MAN


@ the Poisoned Pen

Thriller Award”“winner Abbott draws on Shakespeare’s King Lear for his outstanding fourth Sam Capra novel (after 2013’s Downfall). When Steve Robles, an old friend of Sam’s, is shot dead outside the Miami bar that Sam runs, Sam, a former CIA agent, resolves to find Steve’s killer. Under the name Sam Chevalier, Sam goes “inside” the luxurious Varela family compound in Puerto Rico, where Steve was working a security job for frightened Cordelia Varela. Meanwhile, Cordelia’s father, patriarch Rey Varela, is dividing his shipping empire—which is not entirely legitimate—among his three children, playing one against the other.