Release-Day Review: “Bai Tide” by Erika Mitchell

BAI CoverI couldn’t be more excited to finally be sharing my review of “Bai Tide,” by my good blog-friend and author extraordinaire Erika Mitchell. Erika and I have been in correspondence since she published her first book, PWNED, and I am always on tenterhooks waiting for her next release.

Erika writes thrillers for those of us that wouldn’t necessarily characterize ourselves as thriller-readers. If I was stranded at an airport and forced to choose between the latest sugary YA Vampwolf Saga or Steve Berry, you can guess which way I’d go.

All that was definitely turned on its ear when I started reading Erika’s work. She takes characters from unlikely circumstances (A professional StarCraft player and an accountant among them) and allows them to grow into the protagonists that she needs. Bai Hsu is her first “typical secret agent,” but even his assignment in the beginning of the novel is far from mundane.

We pick up shortly after “Blood Money,” with Bai on assignment at a private Girls’ School for the daughters of high profile political figures in California. Erika makes good use of the humor of the situation off the bat, with Bai making multiple remarks about his undercover work mixed with the more mundane aspects of his cover as a gym teacher.

As an undercover counterintelligence operative, however, it was a matter of no little concern that I hadn’t caught and questioned the man who’d blown up a car to get away clean. I’d need to phone in to headquarters about this one and do a little digging, to say nothing of the inevitably unpleasant conversation I was going to have to have with [the headmistress] about why I’d failed.

All that and a volleyball tournament next Friday. It was shaping up to be a busy week.” (pg 4)

The action in this book doesn’t take long to kick off- from the first page you’re thrown in and scrambling along with Bai as he attempts to find out who on Earth would break into the school’s Welcome Formal and what their motives are. The plot is far from crystalline, though. There are some clever side plots involving other teachers and students at the school thrown in for interest. There’s even a thorny bit of romance for those of us who tend to lean more toward books with more kissing than butt-kicking in them.

The story is populated with a number of convincing characters, with distinct mannerisms and backstories. A particular highlight to me was Agnes, the headmistress of the school, who I immediately pictured as an “M” from James Bond (Most recently played by Dame Judi Dench).

The similarities to Bond don’t just end there though- Erika creates a twisty villain on par with some of the Bond villains, were there are far more dangerous motives lying beneath a pleasant façade. I wanted to keep reading, but at the same time almost wanted to look away for fear of what would happen when the end fireworks began.

For fear of giving away too much of the plot, I won’t say more, but definitely need to give props to the writing itself. I’m always in awe of just how much research goes into books, and it makes it that much more impressive when you’re in contact with the author and can picture her poring over martial arts styles and international airport terminal layouts. The challenge of getting a character from plot point a to plot point b is confusing enough without having to know the architecture of Beijing international and the perks of particular firearms. I think it’s fabulous that she’s managed to avoid some TSA watchlists, to be honest. 😉

In all seriousness, the action sequences are impressive, with great descriptions of hand to hand combat. Erika clearly did her research to make the fight sequences exciting, and not a standard recitation of “kick kick kick punch punch ow blood.” She also writes very well from the point of view of a cocky CIA agent. It was fun to get to know Bai a little better, and to see some vulnerability from him as well. He’s an entertaining hero with a young voice who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Though he’s obviously an elite agent, he’s far from stuffy and his internal monologue is relatable for a younger generation of readers looking to venture into espionage thrillers for the first time.

Also, a certain blogger that you’re familiar with may or may not make a very well-dressed cameo appearance as a junior officer at the San Diego field office, and gets to flirt with Bai just a leeeeeeetle bit.

I was not blushing, I swear.

Ok, I was. Book crushes, for the win.

By the way, if you think I’m finished talking about “Bai Tide,” you’d be sadly mistaken. I have some more fun posts in store, including the first in a new series I’m hoping to start and an interview with Ms. Mitchell herself to coincide with the paperback release. I have all kinds of surprises up my sleeve!

As the weather is starting to FINALLY warm up, download your copy of “Bai Tide” and enjoy some early summer reading! You’ll be just as hooked as I was!

Bai Tide is available every downloadable books are sold- Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Kobo and Google Play. There’s even a giveaway right now over on GoodReads.

Also, pop over to Erika’s blog today for some more trivia about the hottest new superspy around. 😉

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The TxtingMrDarcy Life List

Some time during my pseudo-blogtirement, I celebrated my 30th birthday. Well, I use the term “celebrate” lightly, because the day was mostly spent prepping for a bridal shower the next day and staying out of the home that we were trying to sell. Also I had my second broken foot in three years. So there’s that.

(Note to self: add STOP BREAKING BODY PARTS to Life List.)

Anyway, something about hitting that milestone birthday got me thinking about the many, many things that I’d like to experience in the wild and wonderful time that’s ahead of me. It might have been turning 30, an age which was associated with being “over the hill” by the generation before me. It might have been the feeling that Army Boy and I only have so much longer before we need to really make a decision about having children and all the changes that come with that enormous step. Or it might have been the feeling that so far I’ve lived a pretty “safe” life, and need to push myself a little more to do things that scare me or seem out of reach for one reason or another.

Either way, I’d find myself making a mental list during time that I was alone and during the quiet hours of the night when I was supposed to be attempting to fall asleep.

I know, I know… the “Life List” is like, so five years ago in blogland. But honestly, five years ago I had just moved into our first house and was thinking about getting engaged and planning a wedding. Those BIG! SHINY! THINGS! were right in front of me, and I was incredibly focused on building a home and a family.

ANYWAY…. These are some of the things that I’ve been dreaming up (and doing) since then. And I tried REALLY hard not to make the entire thing travel-related. Because obvs.

  • Get a Tattoo
  • Add a “different” color to my hair (June 2014)
  • Learn to Paddleboard
  • Go wine-tasting in California
  • Visit 100 bookshops (at least)
  • See the Northern Lights
  • Appear in a Book*
  • Swim with Dolphins
  • See and swim with Whale Sharks
  • See an Opera at The Met
  • Visit 20 whiskey distilleries
  • Taste Midleton Very Rare Whisky (March 2015)
  • Have afternoon tea at The Ritz and The Plaza
  • Drink on Bourbon Street
  • Buy a ridiculously impractical and expensive pair of heels
  • Learn how to apply a perfect red lip (September 2014)
  • Ski in 10 different states/countries
  • Attend a Black Tie New Year’s Eve party
  • Go Back to Ireland
  • Go Back to Scotland
  • Spend at least a week in England (That is a life list all its own…)
  • See Prince William and Princess Kate in person
  • Travel to:
    • Norway
    • Italy
    • Germany
    • Denmark
    • Quebec City
    • Lake Louise
    • Vancouver/Whistler
    • The Caribbean
    • Nantucket
    • Iceland
  • Go to Universal Studios Florida/ the London Harry Potter Studio Tour
  • Ride the London Underground
  • Renew our wedding vows in Vegas
  • Learn to make sushi
  • Visit Yosemite National Park
  • Go “Glamping” (Sorry Army Boy, that’s as close to camping as I’ll get)
  • Travel the Trans-Canadian Railroad

Like I said, this is just a start to the list…. I expect it to constantly evolve and change. Is there anything that I’m missing? Have you started a life list of your own?

*Coming sooner than you would think!

Life List Item: Try Midleton Very Rare Whiskey

One of the highlights of our honeymoon to Ireland was what could actually be considered one of the misfortunes of the trip. We were delayed in Philadelphia by engine trouble for long enough that we had to spend the night there (so frustrating, as it’s only an hour and a half from our home and we could easily have caught a train to our next destination). When we did manage to get on our flight the next day, we were given separate seats on the short flight to Newark.

There I sat, already exhausted by a full day of travelling with a broken foot, and the gentleman sitting next to me began to make small talk. He was amused by my wedding stress-fracture adventures, and appropriately sympathetic of our missed day in Ireland. We passed an enjoyable hour in the air, and by the time we landed he had introduced himself as “Cousin Rob” to Army Boy and shepherded us into the Continental Club so that I would be able to put my foot up for the day before our next flight.

We spent some time talking before he caught his flight, during which time he ALSO called our airline and somehow mysteriously pulled stings to get us bumped to first class for our return trip home. He then walked off into the terminal, leaving us completely stunned and marveling over the kindness of strangers. We tried upon returning home to contact him and thank him for his generosity, but too much random questioning at his company could probably get one posted on the TSA watchlist.

He did, however leave us with two bits of advice- while in Ireland, visit the location of “The Quiet Man”, and make sure to try Midleton whiskey.

Somehow, we managed to fail at both of those tasks, being limited in our activities by my charming walking boot. We kept a quiet week around the small town of Clifden with some short drives to nearby attractions in Galway. We’ve already planned that our return trip to Ireland will be much more like our recent vacation to Scotland, with loads of driving and much more of the country seen.

This week, we finally managed to enjoy Midleton whiskey at an amazing whiskey pairing dinner at a local restaurant.

The menu was five rich courses focusing on Irish/British cuisine and highlighting some of the common tasting notes found in whiskeys. Each course was paired with a different variety of whiskey, from regular Jameson to Red Breast 12-year, culminating in a tasting of the Midleton Very Rare. It was fun to see the sparkle in the eye of all the diners as the Midleton was brought out, as all of us were equally looking forward to tasting this rare dram. Paired with velvety grilled duck, it was a completely sensuous experience.

The evening was a bit unique for the shared seating style that we enjoyed- we were paired with a group of four gentlemen enjoying a work dinner. We made introductions, and quickly got down to discussing our respective whiskey adventures. Each course we chose a “table trivia” topic (Favorite foreign food enjoyed, most disappointing vacation spot, most random celebrity encounter) and the conversation was as much fun as the meal itself.

At one point, the gentleman on my left looked at Army Boy and I and toasted to us, staying “I just read somewhere that finding a woman who likes whiskey is as precious as gold.” We both grinned at each other like nerds, and laughed because it’s something we’ve definitely learned about and come to enjoy together.

But, as he said that I was reminded to glance around the room. There were far more men there than women, and I was the youngest among them. One of the wives remarked, “I’m here for the food! At least I have a happy husband!”

So, what gives? Where are all my fellow whiskey-drinking women at?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a taste that was acquired all at once. In fact, the first time we went whisky tasting in Scotland I was actually pretty disappointed. We pulled up to the gorgeous Dalwhinnie distillery nestled in the foot of the Cairngorm mountains, and it smelled amazing. There was this warm, grainy scent of mash permeating the air with notes of honey and vanilla, and I couldn’t wait to taste Scotch straight from the source.

It was…. STRONG. And burny. And I somehow missed all of the delicious flavors that I could smell in the air. What was I doing wrong?! I couldn’t reconcile this bracing, almost astringent liquor with the booze so sensually savored in the local pubs.

Not ones to be daunted by disappointment, we tried a tasting highlighting whiskies from the different producing regions of Scotland. While it was easy to distinguish between the styles, I wouldn’t necessarily have called any of them “delicious” at that point.

We completed three more tastings during our time in Scotland, each one more informative than the last. We learned about swirling the whiskey in the glass, adding a drop of water to release the flavor and breathing while sipping to allow the aroma to reach your soft palate. By the end of our trip, we’d narrowed down our search to the lowland malts, including Glenkinchie 12-year and Auchentoshan. Those came home with us, and we continued tasting and studying while back home in the states.

A year and a half later, there are definitely occasions that call for a few fingers of whiskey, rather than a beer or a glass of wine. One of these occurred recently while I was on a trip for work. It was my first solo business trip, and at the end of my stay I felt like I wanted to celebrate a bit. I stopped in at the hotel bar downstairs, amidst a crowd of other business travelers.

A group of men who looked to be in their mid-to-late 50s was at the bar ahead of me, ordering up a round of margaritas and bantering with the bartender. They stepped aside as their drinks were served, and the bartender turned to me.

“What’ll it be tonight?” he offered.

“Can I have the MacCallan 12-year on the rocks?” I asked. You could have heard a pin drop.

“Is that for you??” questioned one of the other patrons in the bar. I must have looked confused, because he elaborated, “Not many women your age drink Scotch.”

“Yup, it’s for me,” I smiled, taking a sip and heading back to my room.

 

 

 

Author Interview: Erika Mitchell

small photoOne of the true marvels of being a blogger is connecting with people from all over, regardless of age, location, or life experience. I started reading  Erika’s blog when I was a baby bloggerling, and was immediately drawn to her wit and fellow geek-girldom. I mean, of course I was hooked when she decorated her son’s nursery in a Mario Bros. theme. Can you think of anything cooler?!

Luckily for me, we struck up a blog-friendship that has lasted a few years, two children (for her) and now two published novels! Oh, and she’s not even thirty yet. Let me pause and let that sink in. (Really, I’m pausing while I re-evaluate my life goals. Don’t judge, y’all.) I had so much fun doing a Week of Erika Mitchell when PWNED came out that I jumped at the chance to do it again for Blood Money.  But enough of me blabbing…. Erika was kind enough to answer my questions about life, the book, and everything in between.

I really have to ask- what gave you the idea to make the protagonist of this book an accountant?? After reading it, it makes perfect sense, but I’m dying to hear about your ‘lightbulb moment.’

Accountants never get to be the hero, you know? They’re kind of like the gears inside a watch, they keep everything going but you never see them. When I was coming up with this story, I knew the protagonist had to be someone no one would ever see coming, someone in a position to do some real damage. It just goes to show you: Never turn your back on an accountant.

 I make absolutely no secret of the fact that I’m an unabashed anglophile, and loved that the beginning of the book was set in London. Why did you choose to make that Omar and Azzam’s “home base”?

Whenever I write a book, the main character kind of just walks up to me and introduces him/herself. Azzam had an English accent right from the start, and it was up to me to figure out how my Iraqi accountant came to sound like he hailed from London. It puzzled me at first but I figured it out eventually. Since London is an international business hub, it made sense to me to have Sun Corp headquartered there. I’ve never actually visited the city in person, but I’ve had a craving to go ever since I wrote the first draft of this book.

You and me both, obviously. Only if we can do a wee bit of royal watching in the process. Princess Kate Baby Bump Whaaa?

*Ahem*

The amount of research that went into this book had to have been immense. (Unless you are actually a secret Muslim counter-terrorist accountant in your free time.) Did you ever feel overwhelmed as the scope of the book got bigger and bigger? 

Ha! No, not overwhelmed. God bless Google. I mean seriously, what did writers do before Google? I spent so much time Googling everything from pound/dollar exchange rates to how long it would take to ride the Underground from Hampstead Heath to Charing Cross to biological weapons, and even to how to use C4. It was a lot of fun to find out things I thought I knew from movies (like how long it takes to pick a lock) are wrong (it takes a few minutes, even if you’re pretty darn good at it).

Did you have the plot for Blood Money mapped out from the beginning, or did you learn about events as you wrote them? Does a character or plot twist ever come out of nowhere and surprise you?

I had the seed of an idea when I first started writing this book, I was as surprised as anyone about what happened as I went along. I remember when I was about three quarters of the way through the first draft when an idea tackled me in the shower and I raced out all sopping wet to jot it down on a notepad before I forgot it. That idea turned out to be a pretty big twist in the story, but it truly came out of nowhere. It was awesome.

I felt like Blood Money was a very sensory experience. From the floor of the mosque, to Azzam’s greasy American food, to a certain hard wooden chair, I really enjoyed all those details that kept the reader sucked into the story. Is that something you focused more on in this book?

Yes! It tickles me that you noticed. I took a writing seminar in 2011 and the presenter said something that stuck with me. She said that modern novels are nowhere near smelly enough, and I took that to heart. It’s fun to write that way, using all the senses to tell a story.

I would say that you definitely accomplished that! As well as giving me fast food cravings multiple times throughout the story.

shah1If this book were made into a movie, who would be your dream cast? For some reason I was picturing Azzam as an older Dev Patel the entire time I was reading it. Which is totally the wrong ethnicity and why I’m not a casting agent.

When I was writing, I kept picturing Shah as being played by Naveen Andrews (he played Sayid Jarrah on Lost). He has the look and the body type and would play that part perfectly. I’m not sure who would play anyone else, though. Who would you cast?

Is it wrong to suggest Maggie Grace for Ashley? It could be that I am really behind the rest of the world and JUST saw “Taken,” but she is who immediately springs to mind when you need someone who could be both vulnerable and have the emotional steel needed for that role. Plus, she’s really got a “girl-next-door” quality that Ashley needs.

…Which also just happens to be a perfect segue into my next question: Ashley shows remarkable strength and composure throughout the story. Would you picture yourself handling her situation similarly?ashley1

I hope so, I really do. Ashley is a very special character in that I felt her emotions deeply when I was writing her scenes. To a somewhat alarming degree at times. I had a lot of fun thinking about what I would do in that situation and problem solving in as realistic a way as I possibly could. It was a fantastic theoretical exercise.

When you wrote your first book, you were balancing writing and being a mom to a busy toddler. Now you’ve got TWO little ones at home. Has the juggling act changed for you at all?

Oh my gosh yes. When I wrote Blood Money I had just the one tiny human and I wrote that book during his nap times. Now I have two tiny humans whose nap times don’t always happen concurrently. That means I work in fits and starts and frequently lose track of what I was doing or thinking about. This is why I haven’t written any new novel-length stuff lately, it’s just not possible for me to work like that. My kids are adorable distractions.

You are fabulous at coming up with unlikely combinations for your heroes (Azzam, Sean, and your ballerina jewel thief notable among them). Have you thought of some other protagonists that you haven’t shared with the world?

I literally have a running roster of main characters (and villains) I’m just waiting to get to know better. An autistic college student who saves the world from the zombie apocalypse, an unemployed social media marketing expert who runs PR for a guy who overthrows despots, you name it. The minute I have more spare time I’m going to let these characters run wild.

Both of your protagonists so far have been male- was that intentional, or were they just clamoring for their stories to be told? Do you find it easy to write from a male point of view?

I don’t know why, but yes. I do find it easier to write from a man’s point of view. I’m not averse to writing a woman’s story, I just haven’t had many female protagonists snag my attention. I really liked Ashley from Blood Money, and enjoyed her streak of quiet courage, but I’m still waiting for that one special lady who can carry a whole story on her own.

When I talked to you about PWNED, you mentioned that you’d started writing a third novel. How’s the progress on that? Is it the same story that you worked on during NANOWRIMO this year?

You are talking about my unfinished novels number three and four and unfortunately they’re both languishing on my hard drive, unfinished. I love them, though, and I miss them. I’ll finish them someday when my kids don’t need my help/attention/boobs every five freaking minutes.

 I have to admit, I had a little literary crush on Bai. He was level-headed, capable, and just a little bit mysterious… Would you ever consider a sequel following him to his next assignment? (Please say yes!)

You liked Bai, huh? He was the most fun character of the novel, for sure. Just for you, Brooke, I will consider writing a sequel following his exploits post-London. It would definitely be fun to spend more time with him.

*Updated to Add*:

twitters1

If it happens on Twitter, it has to be true!

As always, Erika, it has been a real pleasure. I eagerly await the further results of your literary endeavors, however long they may take.  Thank you for “stopping by”!

Just as a reminder, Blood Money is available to download via Amazon, OmniLit (in a variety of formats), Kobo and directly from the publisher, Champagne Books.

(author photo courtesy of E. Mitchell, other photos via Google)

WATCH THIS SPACE!!!

Happy Super Bowl Sunday, any and all faithful readers who continue to check my poor neglected blog despite months of radio silence.

I wanted to crank up my line to the Interwebs a little early this week to let you know that I’ve been scheming with Erika Mitchell again, and we have an exciting week planned for the release of her new book!! *Squee!!*

Please check back Tuesday for my review of Blood Money, as well as links to buy your own copy. Wednesday, I’ll have an exclusive interview with Erika herself, which I couldn’t be more excited about.

Just to further entice you, here is a photo of Henry Cavill, shirtless.

henry cavill

He does not appear in the book, but this is not at all gratuitous. Not at all.

*drool*

Update for those Male readers*:

lperdue2

*-Yes, CJHannas. I’m talking to you. That’s as gratuitous as I could get with an Olympian… but gotta give the girl credit. She looks cute in a swimming cap. (Bathing cap? Diving cap? Head-swimmy water-maker-faster-thing?)

(Image via here)

Who NOT To Trust As A Housesitter

This past weekend we made the trip up to New Hampshire for my cousin’s beautiful wedding. We sent Wesley off to the puppy spa, locked up the house, and turned off the water. We thought we had everything pretty well under control.

For some reason, I totally forgot to make sure that America, You Sexy Bitch was somewhere that it couldn’t get into any trouble.

And then I come home to these.

Sleeping pills + Twitter = BAD IDEA

Crocs Heaven ❤

Supporting Our Troops

Exercising Its Second Amendment Rights

I definitely expected this book to challenge some of my perceptions… but, erm?

AYSB, you are SO grounded.

Final Music Selections for the Not-So-Royal Wedding

One nugget of wedding wisdom that gets passed around is that when you’ve found your dress, STOP LOOKING. Don’t continue to ogle dresses in magazines, or watch countless episodes of “Say Yes to the Dress.” The only think you’ll do is confuse yourself with more choices. Since I found my dress 13 months before the wedding itself, I had plenty of time to get confused.

The same tenet should hold true for most decisions that are wedding related. Go with your gut, choose your songs/readings/colors and then stop looking. For music, that was a little harder than other things. We’re constantly surrounded by music, whether it’s on the radio, on tv or in the movies we choose to watch.

At the end of the last post, I’d practically decided to use the “Love Theme” from “Elizabeth: The Golden Age” for my entrance. The only problem that I was having was turning my brain OFF and leaving “bridal music mode.”

One evening, Army Boy and I were curled up watching Starz’ reboot of “Camelot” on Netflix, and ANOTHER song jumped out at me. I couldn’t get the plaintive melody out of my head ALL night, and I knew I had to download it. It probably didn’t help that it was played when Guinevere was marrying Leontes, and the lyrics were really lovely as well.

(ps- The video is captioned wrong… but I wanted the actual wedding scene because it was so effective in context.)

And if the storm howls through our land

I’ll be your shelter, I’ll be your shelter

If you’ll be my light, If you’ll be my light.

And if the world should fall to winter

I’ll be your warmth

If you’ll be my light

And if the skies should cloud to darkness

I’ll be your light

If you’ll be my light.”

It’s primal, and sweet, and basic…but I started to wonder if I wasn’t veering just a little bit too far on the theatrical side. While my more music-loving friends in the crowd would appreciate it, I wasn’t sure about Army Boy’s traditional Christian family, or my Catholic relatives.

So we’d decided on a recessional, some pieces for the prelude, and the entrance of the bridal party, but still nothing for my entrance. Through my various searches, I’d gotten closer and closer to what I was looking for, but was just missing the mark. By millimeters. I definitely wanted orchestral pieces, like Princess Kate chose for the Royal wedding. I was in love with warm strings and lush harmonies, but didn’t want anything as obviously “genre specific” as the “Braveheart” love theme or “Be My Light.” I wanted a little bit of dissonance, like the suspensions in the piece from “Elizabeth,” but not an overwhelming air of sadness (because, DUH, wedding.)

I wish that I could tell you exactly what sparked my lightbulb moment… but one evening I felt an overwhelming urge to download ANOTHER soundtrack by  James Horner (one of the most prolific movie composers of our time, and composer of the “Braveheart”soundtrack) off iTunes. I listened to the whole thing incessantly, until I had it narrowed down to TWO selections. One of those is now with my DJ, ready for my walk down the aisle with my dad.

The best part? He doesn’t know what it is. Neither does Army Boy. And honestly? Neither will you. Because I am an evil evil girl who drew out my music selection process over 3 posts only to clamp the safe shut

I will, however, permit guesses. And give you two clues- NO, it’s not from “Titanic.” Nor is it from ANY movie about space travel, or the theme for the CBS Evening News.

Actually, by my count, that’s three clues. Now you can’t say I wasn’t generous.

In case you weren’t studiously taking notes, some of the selections that we will be using throughout the day are:

Prelude:

“Dawn”~ Jean Yves Thibaudet (from the “Pride and Prejudice” soundtrack)

“El Noi de la Mare”~ Jean Felix Lalane & Muriel Anderson (from the “Vicky Christina Barcelona” soundtrack)*

“Love Theme”~ Craig Armstrong & AR Rahman

Reception Highlights:

“Marry You”~ Bruno Mars

“One Last Drink”~ Enter The Haggis

“I Do”~ Colbie Caillat

“The Way You Look Tonight”~ Harry Connick Jr

“Marry Me”~ Train

*This would make a gorgeous processional too!