Sunday, March 30, 2008

Debut Showcase: A Curse as Dark as Gold

by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Arthur A. Levine books (Scholastic)
Book Trailer

The gold thread shimmers in the fading light . . .

It promises Charlotte Miller a way out of debt, a chance to save her family's beloved woolen mill. It promises a future for her sister, livelihood for her townsfolk, security against her sinuous and grasping uncle. It might even promise what she didn't know she needed: lasting hope and true love.

But at what cost?

To get the thread, Charlotte must strike a bargain with its maker, the mysterious Jack Spinner. But the gleam of gold conjures a shadowy past -- secrets and bonds ensnaring generations of Millers. And Charlotte's mill, her family, her friends, her love . . . What do those matter to a powerful stranger who can spin straw into gold?

A fairy tale retelling! I love it! This is a YA novel that I found through ClassOf82k. The author seems to be getting some pretty good buzz, as you can tell if you follow this Google search. I'm pretty late in announcing it, since it came out on the 1st. I had so many debuts to announce that I forgot to look at ClassOf82K this month. (I know--excuses, excuses.)

The closest thing that I could find to an excerpt is on the Amazon page, of all places. As usual, if someone can provide me with a link to an excerpt, I'll update this post.

Friday, March 28, 2008

This and That

I'm in the midst of reading Armed and Magical, in preparation for an advance review. I plan to post my review just before the book releases, but I needed to read it early in order to prepare some other stuff I'll be doing in conjunction with the release. In the meantime, I have unfortunately had to set aside Griffin's Daughter, but the author knows that I had commitments and I hope to be able to get back to it soon.

Also competing for my attention are Mad Kestrel (pirates!), Clockwork Heart (steampunk!), In the Eye of Heaven (knights!) and Elom (prehistory!). I have sampled all of them, and something fires up about each one. It may come down to a coin-toss to decide which to read next. And these aren't even all the books in my stack.

Unfortunately, because of the size of my reading stack, I have been turning down all review requests for the past few months. I don't see this changing any time soon. In addition to the above books and books I have not mentioned, I have some non-debuts and non-fantasies that I want to buy and read. I'll blog about all of them here.

In the meantime, Raven has agreed to review Truancy! It should already be on its way to her. I have offered to arm-wrestle her over another of the books in my stack, but since we live clear across the country from each other, and because I have so many other books to read, I may let her win on that one. (wistful sigh!) Which book is this that has inspired such competition among review buddies? You'll have to wait until she actually starts reviewing it to find out!

In order to help supply my book-buying habit, I have activated an Amazon Associates account, and all USA-based purchases from this website will earn me a small referral. When I accumulate ten bucks, I'll get an Amazon gift card. In the interest of preventing avarace from contaminating my reviews, I will only place an Associate link on debut showcases, not on reviews. I showcases all debuts, whether I think I'll enjoy them or not. When I post a review, I'll simply link back to the showcase post.

This weekend I need to scrutinize the publisher newsletters for any debuts that I may have missed. The rate at which they are releasing seems to have abated, or else I've gotten lazy (extremely likely). I also would like to do a linkfest, because so many of my fellow bloggers are reviewing debuts and they deserve to be recognized!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Character Development Novels

I love what I call "character development" novels. These are different, in my mind, from a character-driven plot, although they are similar. They are novels that follow a single character over a span of months or years. Think Jane Eyre, Tess of the d'Urbervilles, and Les Miserables. Usually, these novels actually focus on two people, the protagonist and an antagonist, and how their relationship changes over the years. In Jane Eyre, it was Jane and her Aunt Reed. In Tess, it was Tess and Alec d'Urberville. In Les Miserables, it was Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert.

I learned a new word in researching this article, the bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel. However, I'm not specifically talking about a coming-of-age novel, which is why I included Les Miserables in my examples. Jean Valjean was over 40 when the novel starts. And Tess was a young woman. I never studied literature in college (at least not extensively), so if there's a specific word for what I'm talking about, I don't know it.

For today's post, I'm going to examine some more modern examples, all at least nominally speculative, and why I liked them: Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, Sheepfarmer's Daughter by Elizabeth Moon and The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari.

Of all of these, Sheepfarmer's Daughter was probably the least expertly rendered. And yet, I loved it. A good reason why I loved it might be that I am from a military background and I loved the Basic Training scenes. Sergeant Stammel wasn't nearly tough enough, but then, my own Sarge was something of a softie as well, and his wife made us a cake for Christmas Day. (Yup, I was in Basic Training during Christmas.) Anyway, the novel opens when Paks runs away from marriage and joins the marines. Or rather, she joins a mercenary company owned by Duke Phelan. She feels honor-bound to pay her father back for her dowry, which did a great deal to help establish sympathy for her.

There's no clear villain up front. In fact, there's really no clear villain throughout the entire series. This novel is about Paks, and how she grew to become a living legend. She's not a great fighter and she's not terribly brilliant. But she's a good leader and people like her. So did I as a reader. I enjoyed watching Paks grow from a girl to a competent soldier and leader. This novel has everything except romance, because Paks is somewhat asexual. It has fierce friendship, deaths, magic, chases, being chased, battles, revenge and miracles. I have read it again and again, and I'm working on wearing out my second copy of this novel.

The Book of Joby came out last year and is about Joby's struggles with no one less than Satan, himself. As in the Devil. God and Satan have a bet that Satan will not be able to make Joby evil. And just as God turned Satan loose on Job in the Book of Job in the Bible, God gives Satan almost free rein over Joby.

I enjoyed reading about Joby the boy more than Joby the man. Joby the boy was a joyous creature, and he was able to thwart all of Satan's schemes without even knowing that he was fighting Satan. Eventually, Satan begins to persevere and he almost succeeds, until Joby stumbles on a little patch of heaven on earth--literally. Joby the man had serious issues, mostly because he couldn't seem to succeed at anything despite having significant ability. Imagine having the genius of Mozart but not succeeding at even being a church organist. Not making it into an amateur orchestra. I don't really do it justice here; it sounds like a trivial problem, but to actually live through it would be something else entirely.

It all comes to a head when Satan decides that all his minions are idiots, and that he will deal with Joby himself. And then--well, I'd hate to give away the ending, now wouldn't I?

I saved the best for last. Clan of the Cave Bear, which I've read dozens of times, is my favorite coming-of-age/character development novel. Ayla is only five at the start of the novel and she is given a villain right away, when a young man named Broud's manhood ceremony is overshadowed by the discovery of Ayla's unexpectedly strong totem spirit--that of the Cave Lion. This one scene sets the stage for the entire book. Broud hates her . . . but he is also one of the most important men in her life. And she is the most important woman in his life, whether he will admit it or not. One gets the impression that if Ayla had not come into Broud's life, then he might have turned out to be a fine man. However, I'm tempted to believe that if Ayla had not been there, then Broud would have found some other way to ruin his own life. Some people are just destined for trouble.

Ayla emotionally becomes a woman when she is only eight years old, and is a mother before she reaches her teenage years. When reading this novel, you live so tightly inside Ayla's head that you feel all her emotions right on queue. The author is a master at manipulating the reader's emotions. When the novel ends--if memory serves--she is only about fourteen or fifteen. The series continues with The Valley of Horses. I have not followed this series to the more recent volumes. Although I enjoyed The Valley of Horses, I felt that Jondalar, her love interest, was too deeply flawed for me to connect with. When the author attempted to make him get over all his prejudices, it simply didn't convince me.

Also worth mentioning are some other novels I've read recently that follow this sort of pattern: Wind Follower by Carole McDonnell (where you actually follow two protagonists) and the Queen of the Orcs series by Morgan Howell. I suspect that In the Eye of Heaven by David Keck will follow this pattern as well, but I have not finished reading that novel yet.

While I love breathless plots as much as anyone else, sometimes I just want to slow down and spend some time with a beloved character. These are usually the type of novels that I read again and again. In these cases, the thicker the book, the better, because I never want them to end.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Staked by J. F. Lewis

Staked(Amazon UK, Canada)
J. F. Lewis (website, blog)
Pocket Books
Trade Paperback
Google Books Excerpt


Eric's got issues. He has short-term and long-term memory problems; he can't remember who he ate for dinner yesterday, much less how he became a vampire in the first place. His best friend, Roger, is souring on the strip club he and Eric own together. And his girlfriend, Tabitha, keeps pressuring him to turn her so she can join him in undeath. It's almost enough to put a Vlad off his appetite. Almost.

Eric tries to solve one problem, only to create another: he turns Tabitha into a vampire, but finds that once he does, his desire for her fades -- and her younger sister, Rachel, sure is cute. And when he kills a werewolf in self-defense, things really get out of hand. Now a pack of born-again lycanthropes is out for holy retribution, while Tabitha and Rachel have their own agendas -- which may or may not include helping Eric stay in one piece.

All Eric wants to do is run his strip club, drink a little blood, and be left alone. Instead, he must survive car crashes, enchanted bullets, sunlight, sex magic, and werewolves on ice -- not to mention his own nasty temper and forgetfulness.

Because being undead isn't easy, but it sure beats the alternative.

There's a longer blurb at the SFWA website that makes this novel look much more intriguing. His one true love is in her 80's and still sticking by him? That's just downright sad. I'm much more interested in her than any sassy girlfriend. John Scalzi featured Lewis on his blog last week, which had to have been a great boost for him.

One of my co-workers has the same name as the author, so I just had to check and see if my co-worker was a clandestine novelist--but apparently there are two of them.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The 13th Reality by James Dashner

THE 13TH REALITY is the first volume of THE JOURNEY OF CURIOUS LETTERS by James Dashner. I found it a complete delight.

Tick (short for Atticus) is your ultimate unlikely hero. He has a birthmark on his neck that he hates so much that he wears a scarf year-round. The school bullies call it the "barf scarf" and when we meet him, he is in the midst of being bullied. That very day, he receives the first in a series of curious letters, each with have a clue (or two). What are they clues for? Well, if he solves the riddles in time, they will "reveal on a certain day, at a certain time, at a certain place, something extraordinary will happen."

This novel is about a kid finding courage and learning that he is stronger than he thinks.

One problem that authors of children's novels have is how to get rid of the parents. In order for a child to have dangerous adventures, the author must somehow get rid of the parent or render them impotent. So we therefore have children at boarding schools, dead parents, absent parents, incompetent parents, stupid parents, kidnapped kids, runaway kids, kids vanishing into other worlds, etc.

James Dashner hit on a solution that I loved. I don't want to give it away, because it was a truly magical moment in the story. Tick has an excellent relationship with his excellent father, whose only fault appears to be that he is very overweight. His mother is a bit more distant in the story, but since this story is as much about a father-son relationship as it is an adventure story, I found it appropriate.

Along the way, Tick uses the Internet to find other kids who got letters as well. Unfortunately, his activities online also attracts the attention of someone who works for the enemy. The enemy's attempt to hurt Tick ends up with Tick unexpectedly meeting one of his fellow riddle-solvers. Her name is Sofia and she's a somewhat Hermione-like brainy girl, except she's Italian. Later in the story, Tick meets the wonderfully refreshing Paul, who is, in his own description, "fourteen years old, six feet tall (yes, six feet), African-American, and drop-dead handsome. I love to surf, I play the piano like freaking Mozart, and I currently have three girls who call me every day, but my mom always tells them I'm in the bathroom." I can't imagine Paul being anyone's sidekick.

A fourth youth turns up once the "extraordinary" thing happens, but I won't say too much about him. The extraordinary thing involves many secrets being revealed to both the reader and to Tick, after which the four youths embark on an adventure similar to Dorothy having to steal the Wicked Witch's broomstick.

It's a rousing adventure story. Once I started reading, I had a difficult time putting it down. I really enjoyed the father-son relationship and the oddball characters who assist the mysterious riddle-writer. Some of the riddles were easy to solve, but most would have involved significant brain work. Two of them would have involved me getting out a piece of paper and doing lots of math, but I wasn't that ambitious and I just let Tick solve those riddles for me. But all were solvable by the reader.

It is a fun book and I can definitely recommend it for children of any age (including adults), but it would probably most appeal to kids between the ages of ten and fourteen.

I never announced this novel, so here's all the links:

Amazon USA, UK, Canada
James Dashner (website, blog) (the website has a riddle game similar to the riddles in the book)
Shadow Mountain Books
(No excerpt found)

And wow; The Soulless Machine did a four-part review of this novel! How did I miss that? Here are all all the parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Friday, March 21, 2008

I Miss Bookstores in Malls

I saw this article on PubRants about Border's financial woes, and it got me to thinking how much I miss bookstores in malls.

Back in the 80s and the early 90s, whenever we went to the mall, we had a very specific routine. We'd hit, at the very least, three types of stores. The computer store, the record store and the book store. (Yes, the record store. I come from the stone age. This was during a time when record stores would also routinely stock a selection of sheet music. Those days are gone.)

Anyway, at the book store, I usually picked up a paperback and would sit reading on a bench outside the bookstore waiting while my husband perused the war books. (My husband reads two types of books: war books and true crime.) There was a Waldenbooks and a B. Dalton. We always hit them both. Sure, the stores were small. But they were crammed with books. Waldenbooks always organized their classics better than B. Dalton, so I'd go to Waldenbooks to pick up whatever classic I was hankering to read, and to B. Dalton to pick up anything that Waldenbooks didn't stock.

When Waldenbooks opened up a standalone bookstore on Dobson Road, I wondered what they were thinking. Did this mean that they were closing the bookstore in Fiesta Mall? Sure enough, that bookstore soon closed. Sure, the bookstore on Dobson Road was about twice as big as the one in the mall. But there was nowhere to sit and read.

When Borders opened up on Southern Avenue, it was huge in comparison to that Waldenbooks. Then Barnes and Noble came along and threw in a coffee shop. Great. I don't drink coffee. At least there were places to sit.

But you know, I didn't get to the bookstore quite as often as when they had it in the mall. Nowadays, in order to recreate my trips of yesteryear, I have to drive to CompUSA, then drive to Borders, Barnes and Noble or Books-a-Million, then to the music store (which doesn't stock sheet music--go figure). Sure, I can go to BestBuy and get CDs there, but no books. I suppose I can also get CDs at the bookstore, but they never stock computer parts or software.

As for the mall? I hardly ever go there. Sure they have music stores, but since I'm already going to BestBuy or the book store, I don't need to go to the mall. To get sheet music, I have to go to a different type of music store. The only reason I go to the mall anymore are for air-conditioned walks, and to take my daughter to the Disney Store (and to get a cookie).

It's all terribly inconvenient. No wonder book sales are down.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Debut Showcase: BLACK SHIPS by Jo Graham

BLACK SHIPS (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
by Jo Graham (website, blog)
Orbit Books
Trade Paperback


The world is ending. One by one the mighty cities are falling, to earthquakes, to flood, to raiders on both land and sea. In a time of war and doubt, Gull is an oracle. Daughter of a slave taken from fallen Troy, chosen at the age of seven to be the voice of the Lady of the Dead, it is her destiny to counsel kings.

When nine black ships appear, captained by an exiled Trojan prince, Gull must decide between the life she has been destined for and the most perilous adventure—to join the remnant of her mother’s people in their desperate flight. From the doomed bastions of the City of Pirates to the temples of Byblos, from the intrigues of the Egyptian court to the haunted caves beneath Mount Vesuvius, only Gull can guide Prince Aeneas on his quest, and only she can dare the gates of the Underworld itself to lead him to his destiny.

When I saw the cover, it made me think of a 1920's movie star named Clara Bow. My mistake, I guess, because the blurb is straight out of mythology. This is the second ancient-world fantasy debut I've seen in the past two weeks. I love ancient history and I love mythology, so this looks like another good one.

Here's a photo of Clara Bow, the "It Girl."

Arthur C. Clarke

As you are probably aware by now, Arthur C. Clarke has died.

During last week's column, I mentioned that Arthur C. Clarke was one of the first speculative fiction authors I ever read. Let me amend that. Arthur C. Clarke was THE first speculative fiction author I ever read. Dad was rereading 2001, A Space Oddessy, and it piqued my interest. I had started moving away from teen fiction (as they called it then) and was exploring romance (Kathleen E. Woodiwiss), general fiction (Clan of the Cave Bear, which can nominally be called speculative), plus lots of historical fiction (John Jakes). I had not tried science fiction, so I absconded with Dad's book when he had finished.

I couldn't put it down.

Clarke made space travel so real. He had captured the excitement of the moon landings, which I am just old enough to remember. (If you are not old enough to remember the moon landings, rent the movies, The Right Stuff and Apollo 13. They will give you some idea of the excitement, but there's nothing like living through it.) It was so cool, the mysterious monolith which stood there as a sort of an alarm, which when struck by sunlight, blared a radio alarm that must have said something like, "Hey guys! Humanity's rooting around in space now! Better do something about it!" The novel just got better from there. I read both 2001 and 2010.

Then, a few years later, I got into the Rama novels. Just this past year, I returned to Clarke when I read The Songs of Distant Earth.

I didn't read a lot of Clarke's novels, but each one that I did read was unforgettable. What a storyteller.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Debut Showcase: Truancy by Isamu Fukui

TRUANCY (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
by Isamu Fukui


In an alternate world, in a nameless totalitarian city, the autocratic Mayor rules the school system with an iron fist, with the help of his Educators. Fighting against the Mayor and his repressive Educators is a group of former students called the Truancy, whose goal is to take down the system by any means possible—at any cost.

Against this backdrop, fifteen-year-old Tack is just trying to survive. His days are filled with sadistic teachers, unrelenting schoolwork, and indifferent parents. Things start to look up when he meets Umasi, a mysterious boy who runs a lemonade stand in an uninhabited district.

Then someone close to Tack gets killed in the crossfire between the Educators and the Truants, and Tack swears vengeance. To achieve his purpose, he abandons his old life and joins the Truancy. There, he confronts Zyid, an enigmatic leader with his own plans for Tack. But Tack soon finds himself torn between his desire for vengeance and his growing sympathy for the Truants...

Wow; the author wrote this when he was fifteen! Check out some further blurbage from Tor:

Isamu Fukui wrote Truancy during the summer of his fifteenth year. The author’s purpose is not just to entertain, but to make a statement about the futility of the endless cycle of violence in the world as well as the state of the educational system. And, as he put it, “I need to be in school myself if I want to write about it.”

All the world loves a wunderkind (or do they?) so it's no surprise that this novel has garnered some attention already, as you can see at the main page of the author's site. I can imagine that teenagers love reading books by actual teenagers. My own high school years were highly positive, so I'm not sure I would be able to identify with this novel.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Interview with Rosemary Jones!

I was interested in interviewing Rosemary Jones because she writes for a shared world, the Forgotten Realms. As an occasional reader of Forgotten Realms (and occasional player of AD&D--not D&D; we never upgraded), I was curious about how the process worked. Plus I had a few other questions.

Please tell us a bit about your inspiration for THE CRYPT OF THE MOANING DIAMOND. Does Wiggles the small white dog have a real-world counterpart?

A friend once owned a Maltese that used to climb on the top of her sofa and bark into the phone whenever she was talking to me. That's where the earsplitting yip came from!

I knew it! -TN

This novel appeared to leave room for a sequel. Do you have anything else in mind for these characters in future books? If not, what else are you working on?

Like any author, the minute I finished this story, I thought “oh they could do this now.” But my editor at Wizards has no plans for a sequel (and she's the one who gets to make that decision, not me!). At the moment, I'm finishing up a big nonfiction project for Collector Books and doodling around with some other ideas.

I loved how you incorporated the unglamorous job of the sapper into your story. Are you a student of history?

I love reading histories and historical fiction. The sapper aspect came from reading a magazine article about how the “sappers” might have brought down the walls of Jericho. Which got me intrigued with the role of sappers throughout history and then thinking about how that would work in the Forgotten Realms.

What's your favorite historical period?

In my college, the majority of my history classes were Asian history, particularly dynastic China. Right now, most of the historical fiction that I'm picking up is either Tudor England or Roman Empire. But really, any period is interesting if the author has a good story to tell. I love the books of Pip Granger, who sets her mysteries in post-WWII Britain, and the fiction of Judith Merkle Riley, which ranges from middle ages to the period of the Sun King in France. Laurie King's Mary Russell series mixes historical and famous fictional characters from early 20th-century Europe and America. Gillian Linscott's Nell Bray series uses the fight for the vote in the England as a springboard for the mysteries. And since this is a blog devoted to fantasy, I'd also recommend Judith Tarr's
Throne of Isis and, even older, the works of Mary Renault such as The King Must Die.

I also loved how you twisted stereotypes in your novel. Yes, there's a big, strong warrior, but she's a gentle-hearted half-orc with a big voice. Yes, there's a mage, but she's more worried about her appearance than amassing power. Yes, there's a dwarf, but he's more of a thief than a warrior, with an assortment of yipping dogs. Can you discuss how you develop your characters?

This is toughest question for me to answer because the characters tend to develop subconsciously. I know exactly where the plot idea of sappers started but my characters grow more organically in writing. The “halfs” in D&D character classes, like half-orc and half-genasi, inspired some ideas. I kept thinking, what if all the “halfs” in my story came from one family where the father was human and kept marrying different types? So that led to these two sisters who are very different physically but have a definite big sister and little sister relationship.

Mostly though, I wanted to write about a group that were really good friends, liked working together, and got dumped into this crazy adventure! And their personalities developed from there, because they had to be the type of people that I would want to hang out with for a year or more (which is about how long it took to write the novel, rewrite, and edit).

You work as a writer for an opera company. Did you write your scenes with any particular music in mind?

I wrote a lot of scenes where somebody isn't able to sing but has to sing to get out of a situation. I was hired for my ability to write about opera in press releases and websites, not for my musical talent (which is basically zilch). But, of course, I'm surrounded by people who can break into amazing harmonies at the drop of a hat.

At home, I play a mix of stuff when I'm writing which ranges from classical to crazy groups like Red Elvises. So some scenes should be read to the sound of Russian immigrants playing surf music and others are more Puccini or Bach.

What was your favorite scene to write?

Oh, any of the fights, but probably that big finale where everybody gets to rush around and hit something! And some pretty weird magic happens.

Which part gave you the most trouble?

Saying good-bye to everyone. The conclusion kept getting longer and longer, and more and more minor characters kept crowding in to have one last speech. I actually went back and trimmed a lot in editing. Perhaps some of that will resurface some day in another story.

Crypt of the Moaning Diamond takes place in the Forgotten Realms shared world. How does one break into writing for Wizards of the Coast? Is there a selection process or did you get noticed with your short stories?

Basically, I followed the guidelines on the Wizards' website. Actually I wrote to them first and asked “how do I write for you?” They wrote back and said very politely “check our website for submission guidelines.” Which is what I should have done first.

That year, there was an open call for a Forgotten Realms novel called “The Maiden of Pain.” My submission for that was rejected but the editor liked my writing style and asked if I'd be interested in doing something else for the Realms series.

After that, I was rejected several times until they bought the idea that became
Crypt. During that period, they also bought a short story from me called “The Woman Who Drew Dragons” which appeared in Realms of Dragons II.

Anticipating the reader of this interview's next question, I went and checked the website. Wizards will open submissions in September for the new Discoveries line. (

Without discussing contracts or anything else that might not be our business, can you tell us what happens to your characters once they go off into the great Forgotten Realms mythos?

I like to think that the two bugbear brothers finally get girlfriends.

What authors have you admired?

The list is huge. I live in a small apartment with more than a thousand books in all genres and from all periods. For example, I own more than a dozen “automobile romances” published between 1900 and 1919. There's a sub-genre most people don't know! I post what I'm currently reading at Good Reads or on the My Space blog ( If I like an author, I always want to hunt down everything that she has written. Right now, I'm busy reading my way through P.N. Elrod's Vampire Files and Cherie Priest's wonderful series that begins with
Four and Twenty Blackbirds.

But the author who has had the biggest influence on my professional life is my mother, Diane M. Jones. She's my first reader on all projects and the consummate professional who has sold more than a dozen novels and numerous nonfiction projects. We co-wrote one nonfiction series together and we talk about writing all the time. When I e-mail her a chapter, she's also the one who says “you need to beat up your hero a little more! Don't be soft on your characters!”

Thank you, Rosemary!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Griffin's Daughter - Continues to Impress

Although the story has hit a bit of an impasse, GRIFFIN'S DAUGHTER by Leslie Ann Moore continues to impress. Moore keeps tension on every page and the plot continues to move.

At first, I thought this was a European based novel--and I still think that--but imagine a Europe before Christianity, when slavery and the practice of keeping concubines still existed. Throw in some elves and give it a lot of racial tension between elves and humanity.

You guys know I'm not given to excesses of praise, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a critique other than just a touch of a mid-book slowdown. At first I thought I found a mistake in timing, but upon rereading the section in question, I'm inclined to think it was my own mistake rather than the author's. The closest thing to a critique I can think of is that Jelena, the heroine, has determined that she will "never love again" which I always find hard to swallow. Never? She's only eighteen!

But of course, such a sentiment might well come from an eighteen year old, so that can't really be a critique either. It's not the author's fault that I'm a heartless forty-something!

GRIFFIN'S DAUGHTER is ranking right up there with any fantasy I've read recently from the major presses. The subject matter may not be gritty enough to be fashionable these days, but I'm hardly one to find fault with that. I'm continuing to enjoy the story and I'll put up another post when I'm finished.

Here's my first post on this novel, which contains all the links that I usually put in debut showcases. (I didn't write a debut showcase for this novel, because it came out before I started this blog.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Debut Showcase: Mad Kestrel by Misty Massey

by Misty Massey (website, blog, argh!)
Tor Books
Trade Paperback

In a world where infants with magical powers are torn from their parents to be raised by the mysterious and powerful Danisoba, who have a monopoly on magic, Kestrel has managed to keep her abilities concealed—and herself free. First hiding in back alleys as a street urchin, she hid when they killed her parents, and then served as a young tavern maid before escaping to sea, where magic is cancelled by water.

Now an adult, as the quartermaster of a pirate ship, Kestrel loves the freedom of living on the seas. But her way of life could end if anyone on board learns her closely guarded secret—that she has magical control over the wind.

One day a black ship appears, and her life changes. Its captain is a handsome rogue of whom Kestrel is strangely, constantly aware.

When Kestrel’s captain is led into a trap and is arrested, she gathers her crew and sets sail in relentless pursuit. . . .

This one looks like a lot of fun. There's been a lot of pirate fantasies out lately, and I haven't read any of them. Well, now I'll get my chance, because Tor generously provided me with a copy of this novel. I'm especially intrigued by her being able to cancel out her magic by living at sea, yet she still has some sort of magical control over the wind.

Look for this as a Featured Debut soon.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Debut Showcase: Elom by William H. Drinkard

ELOM (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
William H. Drinkard
Tor Books

Excerpt (Webpage, PDF)

Fire from the Goddess and the meat and furs of the mammoth are all that the People need to live. It is a harsh life but a good one and it is one that all cherish.

Young Geerna knows that the time has come for her to become a woman and take up the tasks to keep her people safe. She waits in the Awakening Place, fearful and hopeful as her ordeals come to an end. Then, on the eve of her Womanhood, a shining light descends upon her and her world is torn asunder.

And she embarks on a journey that none of her people could ever envision...

Eons have passed. Cycle upon cycle the Way of the People have remain unchanged: women are artists, men are hunters. Geerna’s Law is the covenant by which humans live in harmony and peace.

But all is about to change. A call has come for The People to choose their champions, and a summons to meet the mysterious creatures who selected Geerna so long ago.

All is unknown. As the brave souls who are chosen venture forth, they will come to discover just how much that pact that Geerna made so long ago has cost them.

And they will have to confront the choices that might help them to finally know true freedom.

Oh, this one looks so cool. The further back in time you go, the more interested I become. That's a leftover trait from when I wanted to be a paleoanthropologist when I was in high school. I must resist; I have a whole stack of books that Tor has generously sent already.

Lou Anders did a spotlight on William Drinkard back in October.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

An Interview with Sandra McDonald!

Sandra Mc Donald has had a great start to her career. Her first novel, The Outback Stars, came out last spring and was very well received. It was one of two debuts to make it to the Nebula Preliminary Ballot, and now it has been nominated for another prize, this one for debut novelists. (She has told me which prize it is, but has not authorized me to repeat it. Since she has not made it public on her blog, I'll be mysterious and keep quiet as well.) Her second novel, The Stars Down Under, comes out in hardcover in March and she's slated to have a third novel published in 2009. Her short fiction has been published over twenty times.

Here she answers questions on her novels and on writing.

FD: I loved the little twists in THE OUTBACK STARS. Instead of having some glamorous position on the bridge, Jodenny is a supply weasel, stuck in the bowels of the ship, far from any potential action. Rather than having some cute space jock as a romantic love interest, Terry is one of her subordinates. Please tells us about your inspiration for THE OUTBACK STARS.

While I was serving in the U.S. Navy as a commissioned officer, many of my friends were Star Trek fans. And many were officers in the Supply Corps. And some were both! When I sat down to write my tales of adventure in deep space, I knew I wanted military characters -- but I wanted the men and women who did the behind-the-scene jobs that no one ever noticed until things went wrong. I wanted to tell the story of people doing the tedious, unrecognized work that keeps the military going day to day.

FD: Tell us a bit about your military background. Were you a supply officer or something similar? Did you serve on a ship? Did you have any malingering subordinates to deal with (loved that!)

When I graduated from Ithaca Collge after studying television and radio, I had a lot of dreams but also a lot of student loans. My dad and brother and both been in the Navy, and I had uncles who served in the Marines and Army, so I joined, too. Because of my speciality, I served overseas instead of on ships. Though I did spent some time on an exchange program with a Canadian destroyer, and their customs of dressing for dinner and allowing beer on the ship eventually made it into THE OUTBACK STARS. As for malingers, every supervisor has them -- in the military and outside it!

FD: Rather than an American-centric future, THE OUTBACK STARS features a future based on the Australian Navy. No seamen (or worse, "spacemen"). Instead we get "regular technicians" and "able technicians". What made you decide to focus on Australia as the cultural basis for your novel?

I love Australia! I find the whole history fascinating -- transported convicts thrown into a wild new land without the resources or skills to survive, and still they survived anyway. I admire the Australian national spirit and their long-term opposition regarding nuclear power. And, okay, my favorite character in Space: 1999 was the Australian, Alan Carter. (The "able technician" comes from Canada -- their "able seaman" and "leading seaman" etc.)

FD: You managed to steep your novel in Australian culture without resorting to the use of cliched dialect. Nary a "g'day mate!" to be found! Have you been to Australia? Do you know any Aussies? Or was this all just the result of great research?

It's mostly research. And wishful thinking. I've been to Sydney and the Blue Mountains, and hope to get back soon to the Barrier Reef and Melbourne.
All the Australians I know are in the blogsphere, but I would love to attend a sf convention down under or teach at Clarion South in Brisbane.

FD: What was your favorite scene in THE OUTBACK STARS?

I love all my scenes :-) But when Jodenny and Myell are trapped in the cargo tower facing certain doom, I had a lot of fun.
FD: Which scene gave you the most trouble?

There's one scene I really hate, really really hate, but I could never get it to work properly and finally had to just move on. Wild dingoes couldn't make me tell you what it is, though!

FD: Can you give us a teaser about the sequel, *The Stars Down Under*, and any future Jodenny novels?

THE STARS DOWN UNDER is more adventure, more romance, and more space travel. It's got crocodiles and epic treks across the Outback and aliens, which I had a lot of fun creating. There's a scene where someone gets to climb naked up a tree full of spiders; that was fun to write! Though I refrained from trying it myself for research purposes. In book 3, THE STARS BLUE YONDER, I get to use some of that great Australian history in a time-travel plot. That's been a blast to write.
FD: You have spent some time attending writers' workshops and retreats. Which ones have you attended? Can you tell us a bit about what they are like?

My favorite workshop was Viable Paradise, which is held every autumn for one week on Martha's Vineyard. There I met my fabulous mentor, James Patrick Kelly, and my now-editors, Patrick Nielsen Hayden and James Macdonald. The workshops, symposiums and general chit-chat convinced me that to be a professionally published writer I had to really up my commitment level -- no more writing when I "felt inspired," no more letting fear of rejection get in the way. After VP, I ended up enrolling in a writing graduate program at the University of Southern Maine, where I got to study with best-selling author Dennis Lehane and other amazing writers.

The best thing about any workshop is getting and giving feedback -- no workshop or program can make you a better writer, after all. Only you can do that. But an effective workshop teaches you to become a better reader -- to approach the text, whether its your own or someone else's, with a critical yet helpful eye.

FD: How helpful do you think these workshops were to your growth as a writer?

Enormously. Plus, for several years I was part of a writer's group in Boston and I have one now in Florida; these monthly commitments keep me on track and focused, and I love helping other writers the same way they help me.
FD: You have quite an extensive short story publication list. Most of the authors I've interviewed have very scanty bios. Please tell us how you broke into short story markets and how (if) that led to a novel publication.

Short fiction is a lot of fun for me to write and read. I think it's horrible how short fiction has declined as a national reading experience. When you look at post-WWII America, and the magazines that were publishing back then vs. now, it's a huge letdown to be a short story afficionado in our era. Still, there's a lot of great work being down in short fiction, and as a writer you have more freedom to experiment with ideas, themes and characters without having to commit to a an 80,000 word novel.

I broke into short fiction the way most do -- writing, sending stuff out, experiencing the sting of rejection, send out again, repeat, repeat, repeat. I've had twenty-something short fiction sales and two hundred or so rejections to get there. Writing and publishing shorts didn't lead me to novel sales per se, but definitely improved my writing skills. I know I'll still be learning as a writer fifty years from now; that's what keeps it all interesting.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Griffin's Daughter by Leslie Ann Moore

Normally, I have a strict books-on-shelves policy concerning review copies. That policy is simple. I only cover novels that can be found on the shelves (not via special order) of bookstores throughout the country. The reason for this is not snobbery. Let's get real; what do I have to be snobbish about?

I'm looking for authors who have achieved the dream of major press publication. It's exciting to cover those authors. They are always excited about their books and it's just plain fun to read their books, to exchange emails with them, to occasionally have coffee with them (ok, so this only happened once) and to interview them.

I decided to make an exception to this policy with GRIFFIN'S DAUGHTER (Amazon USA, UK, Canada), which I'm not sure is even available on shelves at all.

(BTW, two interviews of recently-featured authors should be incoming this week.)

Leslie Ann Moore has no idea that I've actually known about her book for quite a while. Back when I first started FD, I surfed around in Locus Magazine's Monitor section and took note of her book. However, since it came out in January of last year, almost six months before I started FD, I gave myself a pass on her book, along with other much more prominent books like oh, say Patrick Rothfuss's The Name of the Wind.

In January, she sent me a very professional email, asking if I was interested in her book. And I was. I looked at her website, which although somewhat incomplete, looked reasonably professional. I've seen worse websites from major-press authors. Then, I took a look at her publisher and noticed it was a very small press. I told her that I'm reluctant to take books directly from authors (which is true) and that if she could ask her publisher to send me a review copy, I'd take a look at it. Well, Avari Press ended up sending me a very nice press kit along with the copy. So I was impressed again.

Then, this weekend, I started reading it, and I was impressed a third time.

First, the cover. While I don't hate the cover, I must say that I like the back of the cover much more than the front. The artwork on the cover appears to be a watercolor and the subject matter is not particularly compelling. The back has a stylized griffin, but it, unfortunately, is covered by an over-long blurb. The white text on the griffin is hard to read. The cover looks slightly amateurish, and I'm afraid it probably hurts the author's efforts to get it into bookstores.

Which is a shame, because what is inside has been a wonderful surprise.

The novel begins with a prelude, but don't let that fool you. The prelude is action-packed with a warrior elven princess fighting her father. She had his concubine steal his magic ring, from which he derives vast magical power, which has driven him insane. If you think we're headed full-steam into a stereotype, just read a few pages more, for they end up ripping the magic out of the ring and stowing it safely within the body of a descendant far in the future. Did you expect that? I certainly didn't. The dark lord screams in agony and outrage and the story is over.

Unless, you happen to be the owner of the body in which they stowed the magical power. Since Jelena was a child in the womb when it happened, she didn't exactly comprehend what was going on. Her mother turns out to be the human sister of a duke, and when she dies during childbirth, Jelena is left at the tender mercies of her uncle. Who'd rather not admit that she exists. Humans have some serious hatred for elves, who they believe to be the soulless spawn of demons. Therefore, Jelena's foster mother--the castle midwife--brings her up as a servant.

Chapter one begins with Jelena waking up, but don't let that turn you off. She wakes up on the Day Everything Changes.

Jelena is easy to like in a sort of old-fashioned way. She doesn't have a lot of spunk and sass that you see in a lot of fiction nowadays, but she is loving and loyal, and once she makes up her mind to do something, she doesn't wait around. She also doesn't sit back and take abuse.

Avari claims to publish "a literary class of fantasy literature, or high fantasy, which is characterized by rich, intricate plots with well-developed characters, races, locations, magic systems, and themes." High fantasy describes this novel quite well, with its human and elven cast of characters. Moore's writing is decorative without being overwhelming. Similes salt the pages, but I found them clever. Let's grab one from a random page. It needs a bit of context:

Only the kitchen boys remained. There were three of them, orphans all, and they earned their keep by turning the spits, tending the fires, and running errands. They made their beds by the main hearth, huddling together like puppies in winter . . .
Which I found delightful. I'm still reading, and I'll put up at least one more post on this novel.

The author has also done podcasts of her novel, which you can find here.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Saturday at the Movies

I've never reviewed a movie here before, and I probably will only do so occasionally. (For example, I'm counting the days for Enchanted to come out, and I'll probably inflict that upon you once I've seen it.) I was given an opportunity to review a publicist-provided DVD of Highlander, the Source, so I decided to give it a try.

Since I had not seen any Highlander films beyond the first one, I did a little research and found out the differences between Highlander the films and Highlander the TV series. This movie is definitely for viewers of Highlander, the TV series. In the interest of complete disclosure, I feel compelled to say that I've never seen an episode of the Highlander TV series. (In fact, I hardly watch TV at all.)

I bushed up on the TV series history at Wikipedia and sat down to give it a watch. A bit of background was definitely necessary, and I found myself explaining things to my husband as the movie went on. Here's the blurb:

Immortals, they have secretly dwelt among us for thousands of years but their origins have been shrouded in mystery. The answers, Prophets say, are to be found in The Source. The last band of eternal warriors, lead by Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander, have set out on a treacherous quest to find the origin of their immortality. But to learn the truth, they must first defeat The Guardian of the Source, a powerful killer who will destroy all who seek its secrets.

My husband didn't enjoy this movie at all, and I only found it slightly more enjoyable than he. The movie was grittier than I like, and the tendency to play loud rock music and use eerie lighting every time the Guardian came onscreen was annoying. And why was something called a "guardian" actually a destroyer? The blurb promises answers to longstanding mysteries of immortality, but I didn't hear any answers that I understood. The footage of the planets lining up deserves a complaint; we never see the planets from earth as huge disks in the sky. (It would really mess with our ocean tides if we did! )

However, I found the quest for mortality interesting, along with how the immortals lost their immortality the closer they drew near the Source. The ending had a gentle touch and probably put an end to any hope of any more sequels.

The DVD is supposed to have the usual features, but I could not get the closed captions or subtitles to work. This could have been operator error, or I may not have had a fully functional DVD. The special features include several features such as a behind-the-scenes documentary, storyboard-to-scene comparisons and a tribute to Bill Panzer, one of the producers, plus more.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

House of Whispers by Margaret Lucke

by Margaret Lucke (website)
Juno Books
Mass Market Paperback

Claire Scanlan is launching a new life and a new career in real estate. She has a chance to sell a spectacular house but, as the site of a mass murder, the property is not attracting buyers. When Ben Grant, the handsome brother of one of the murder victims, shows her the empty house Claire experiences strange sensations that are both fascinating and repellent. Claire is also fascinated (and not at all repelled) by Ben Grant. But if Claire accepts her new-found paranormal power as real, she must also accept the responsibility for solving a bloody crime--even though Ben seems to be a prime suspect.

Paula Guran, the editor of Juno Books, wrote to me about this novel back in October. The author is actually not a debut novelist, but her last novel (she's written nonfiction since then) was long ago and in another genre, and was nominated for the Anthony Award for Best First Mystery Novel. This novel has garnered some respectable blurbs.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Looking for that Sense of Wonder

It appears to me that wonder has gone out of style.

As I do debut announcements, I see little but dark and gritty. Many times, humor is laced between all the grit and dark, but still. The only "wonder" fantasies appear to be YA. And many of those appear dark and gritty as well. Look at Harry Potter. Plenty of wonder at first, but it got dark and gritty fairly quickly--certainly by book four.

None of the novels I've read recently have been particularly dark or gritty, however except as mentioned above, they also didn't have a memorable sense of wonder.

What sort of wonder do I mean? Wonder such as:

  • When Lancelot is given his miracle in The Once and Future King.
  • When Pakesnarrion returns to Brewersbridge in Oath of Gold, and the subsequent sessions with the Kaukgan.
  • When the Companions encounter the Forestmaster in Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and when they reach Godshome in Dragons of Spring Dawning.
  • When the hobbits reach Rivendell in Fellowship of the Ring.
  • When spring arrives in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
  • When Karigan encounters the Berry sisters in Green Rider.
I don't only see it in fantasy. Here's a few from SF:
  • The first glimpse of the inside of the spaceship in Rendezvous with Rama.
  • The scene where they establish orbit with Jupiter in 2001.
  • The entire alien world in Sentenced to Prism (which I read at the urging of a friend, and I never expected to enjoy).
One interesting thing about this list is that all three of the first fantasy novels I ever read are on it. Of my first three fantasy novels, two are universally acclaimed (Tolkein and White's) and the other is often derided (Weis & Hickman's). The first science fiction author I ever read--Arthur C. Clark--shows up on the list more than once as well. Obviously, a sense of wonder is what attracted me to this genre.

Some novels, like Tad William's Otherland series, attempts to dip the entire novel in a vat of wonder. I loved Otherland--Renie is one of my favorite characters, ever--but wonder, like chocolate, is best served in small doses.

Of all the debuts I read last year, I can only think of three that aspired to a sense of wonder. The authors may not have even done this on purpose. Interestingly, all three novels are at least partially derived from Christian themes. They are The Book of Joby, Auralia's Colors and Wind Follower. I found that interesting because only one or two novels in my above lists are particularly Christian.

I think all novels need that sense of wonder, even ones that are gritty, dark and snarky. After all, Arthur C. Clark managed it with hard science fiction.

If you are an author or aspire to be one, does your novel have an unforgettable "oh, wow!" moment? Will I be able to remember, twenty years later, the exact moment when the characters met the point of wonder? The grit and dark and snark might be diverting and popular at the moment, but will it all blend into the rest of the grit and dark and snark as I read other novels? Will I remember your novel as that one, or will I say, "Oh, yeah. I read that novel. What was it about?"

Will I purchase multiple editions of your book? Or will I eventually give it away?

To illustrate with a popular example, I enjoy reading Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum, but after a while, they all blend together. I could tell you the plot of the first novel. The plot of another novel stood out because she went after an illegal alien, not a criminal. But the rest of the 11 or 12 Plum novels I've read sort of blend together. And one I remember because I hated the entire premise.

Give me a bit of wonder, and I'll remember your novel forever.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti

by Dru Pagliassotti (website, magazine)
Juno Books
Mass Market Paperback

Taya soars over Ondinium on metal wings. She is an icarus, a courier privileged to travel freely across city's sectors and mingle indiscriminately among its castes. But even she cannot outfly the web of terrorism, loyalty, murder, and intrigue that snares her after a daring mid-air rescue. Taya finds herself entangled with the Forlore brothers, scions of an upperclass family: handsome, brilliant Alister, who sits on Ondinium's governing council and writes programs for the Great Engine; and awkward, sharp-tongued Cristof, who has exiled himself from his caste and repairs clocks in the lowest sector of the city. Both hide dangerous secrets, in the city that beats to the ticking of a clockwork heart...

Yes, you read that right; the author has a fantasy/horror magazine called The Harrow, which she has run for ten years. She also has a list of short stories published. This story sounds very imaginative. I like how the name of the city sounds like an element from the periodic table of the elements. And I love that cover.

Verbs vs. Nouns

Sometimes, picking the right word is just so important. All this time, I've been calling my debut announcements just that--announcements. How ho-hum.

However, Urban Fantasy Land put up a round-up saying that I "showcased" Mark Henry's Happy Hour of the Damned. I like that so much better. From now on, I don't do debut announcments. Instead, I showcase debuts. Thanks, UFL!

In the next few days, I hope to have a few more showcases ready for your reading pleasure, plus one of those sort of musing posts that always seem to get me in trouble.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Happy Hour of the Damned by Mark Henry

by Mark Henry (website, blog, other blog, communal blog, MySpace)
Kensington Books
Trade Paperback


Seattle. One minute you’re drinking a vanilla breve, the next, some creepy old dude is breathing on you, turning you into a zombie. And that’s just for starters. Now, the recently deceased Amanda Feral is trying to make her way through Seattle’s undead scene with style (mortuary-grade makeup, six-inch stilettos, Balenciaga handbag on sale) while satisfying her craving for human flesh (Don’t judge. And no, not like chicken.) and decent vodkatinis.

Making her way through a dangerous world of cloud-doped bloodsuckers, reapers, horny and horned devils, werewolves, celebrities, and PR-obsessed shapeshifters—not to mention an extremely hot bartender named Ricardo—isn’t easy. And the minute one of Amanda’s undead friends disappears after texting the word, “help” (The undead—so dramatic!) she knows the afterlife is about to get really ugly.

Something sinister is at hand. Someone or something is hellbent on turning Seattle’s undead underworld into a place of true terror. And this time, Amanda may meet a fate a lot worse than death…

Ok, I've been putting so many links on this novel into my "Other Debut Coverage" sidebar that I practically feel like I've read it. It looks clever and amusing, although dark fantasy isn't my thing. I know Raven would probably like it, as would Kimberly and Scooper.