Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ten Reasons Why Vampires Aren't Sexy (For Me)

Long-term readers know that I'm not a fan of vampire fiction. I can see some of the appeal in a vampire lover--such as the mystique-- but not much. I have a real disbelief-suspension problem when it comes to vampires. Here are some of the reasons why.

1) Um . . . they're dead. Sex with the dead = necrophilia. Yuck. Ok, so they have some semblance of life. But still, I just can't get past the dead thing.

2) They're soulless. You may be able to cheat the Angel of Death, but I don't think you're going to be able to cheat God. And when He says that your time's up, that soul is outta there. So what do you get, instead? Maybe a demon? Who knows? And whatever it is, who would trust it?

Yeah, maybe you can say in YOUR vampire mythology, the soul behaves in other ways. That's where I run into the disbelief suspension problem, mostly because of my own beliefs.

3) The whole bloodsucking thing. Anyone whose ever bit their tongue knows that blood tastes terrible. How gross would it be to kiss someone who has just downed entire gulps of blood? Blood has an aftertaste. Ick. They'd have to swill gallons of mouthwash, and even then, the stomach would send up fumes for hours afterward. Kind of like onions.

4) No sunshine. You'd have to rearrange your sleeping life to accommodate your lover, or you'd have to watch him play dead for hours on end. You'd never get to see what your sweetie's eyes look like in the sunshine. Bummer.

5) No sleepy snuggling. While you are sleeping, he's actually dead. Who wants to snuggle up to a dead guy?

6) The pallor. No sunshine = unhealthy pallor. And since when is a pallor attractive?

7) The fangs. Any teeth sharp enough to puncture skin is going to make kissing a hazard. Things are already bad enough with the coppery blood aftertaste, but now you have to dodge fangs as well. And if he happens to nick you, he's going to then want to feed on you? Besides, if his teeth are always hanging out of his mouth, he's going to drool. Now he's got all the sex appeal of a Doberman Pincher.

8) The perpetual youth. His eternal youth might be nice at first, but what about when you turn 40? 50? My taste in men has evolved over the years, and nowadays, I actually appreciate a bit of gray. Besides, a 50-year-old woman is going to look like a cradle robber if she's with a guy that's perpetually 25.

9) No children. Even if a vampire could father a child (I don't want to even think about a female vampire mothering a child), why would you want your child's father to be someone who is dead all day? You'd have to keep the kid up all night to accommodate the half-dead lifestyle. And children need sunshine. And they need to be around other children.

10) No warmth. I just can't imagine a vampire as a warm and loving kind of guy. Both literally and emotionally. He wouldn't have any body heat unless he just fed, and then you'd have the whole blood-breath problem, covered above. Besides, without a soul, how would he feel love? The best he's going to do is feel remembered love, probably for some long-dead girl.

I know lots of people enjoy vampire fiction, so feel free to argue in the comments. If you find vampires sexy, I'd love to know why.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Matters of the Blood by Maria Lima

Matters of the Blood turned out to be an enjoyable urban fantasy. For fans of the genre, I can't see it disappointing. It did turn out to be more of a vampire novel than I expected, but it held my attention to the end and I sailed right past the midway point without posting. While that's not good for the blog, it does demonstrate that the novel was able to hold my attention.

Matters of the Blood is about Keira, an undefined sort of fey human-looking character who is about to undergo a "change," where she will finally come into her fey powers. Unfortunately, the book didn't delve into Keira's background nearly as much as I hoped. I was dying to learn exactly what she was and what her family was, and my curiosity was left somewhat unsatisfied. Some things were explained, but I wanted more! I suppose that's why they make sequels.

While Keira is still strugging with her emerging powers--which tend to pop up when she least expects it--her cousin Marty is murdered. Keira wants to get to the bottom of his murder not because she was overflowing with love for her somewhat repugnant cousin, but because he was her responsibility. Since he was a throwback human in her family line--sort of like a reverse mutant--the family keeps an eye on him to make sure he didn't get into trouble with the powerful bad boys. Of course, that doesn't stop him from finding trouble, anyway.

The evidence leads to Adam Walker's luxury ranch. And there, Keira's ex-boyfriend Carlton--the town sheriff--comes sniffing around. Carlton isn't quite ready to let Keira go--even after a fifteen year absence--but he doesn't exactly light Keira's fire anymore. On the other hand, Keira finds Adam quite intriguing, and she's almost willing to violate her own no human boyfriends policy in order to have him.

This novel turned out to be more of a vampire novel than I expected. This was a rather stupid expectation on my part, because right on the cover it says, "Forget Transylvania--Keira's got to deal with supernatural Texas . . ." The author has done interesting things with the vampire mythology. They band together in enclaves for protection, and they are not necessarily demonic--some are even practicing Christians, and they went to a church for refuge from persecution back during World War II.

One of the novel's strengths is that it was able to engage my interest even though I'm not a fan of vampire protagonists. I'm especially not a fan of vampire lovers, and thankfully this novel spared me any vampire sex. I enjoyed the struggles that the vampires had with their own natures, their desire to hunt and to suck fresh human blood, which is like a drug for them. The dialog was especially well done, snappy without being snarky. My favorite character was Tucker, Keira's shapeshifting half-brother who is over a thousand years old.

I do wish Keira had more of an active role to play in the ending, and that the ending could have been resolved without the deaths of certain characters. However, bravo to the author for not pulling a power out of Keira's hat in order to save the day. Keira had to deal with stuff the same way the rest of us do. The ultimate villains--who were not who I expected--had ways of dealing with vampires that I found very resourceful and imaginative. Due to the sympathetic nature of the villains, I sometimes found myself cheering for them instead of Keira and her allies. Not that I didn't want Keira to win, but I just didn't want the villains to lose. Sympathetic villains are a good thing.

I can recommend this novel to fans of urban fantasy or vampire fantasies. I'm not sure if it will lure non-vampire fans into the vampire fold, because it didn't do so for me, but there is a lot to like.

As an added bonus, there is an excerpt from the sequel, Blood Bargain, in the back.

Amazon links: USA, UK, Canada

I'm Back

I took a few days away from blogging while getting over a rather nasty case of a stomach virus and the flu. Yes, I had both at once. Lucky me. I'm also behind on my blog reading so you may see me popping up on your blog over the next few days, commenting on week-old posts.

I did do some reading and I finished Matters of the Blood--which I enjoyed--and I'll try to get a review up tonight. (I also read a short mystery called Access Denied, which is part of the Turing Hopper series.) For my next review, I'm going to take a turn away from urban fantasy. I'll either get out my copy of The Name of the Wind and resume reading that, or I'll get on over to the library and pick up that copy of The Sword-Edged Blonde. When I'm finished with those, I'll be ready for some science fiction. Maybe Grimspace; I've read a lot of good reviews about that novel.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

One Year Later - Alex Bledsoe

Alex Bledsoe is the author of the intriguingly-named The Sword-Edged Blonde, an "Eddie LaCrosse Mystery," which is also a fantasy. Night Shade Books released it as a hardcover last year. I've neglected Alex terribly here, doing little other than showcase his book when it released. However, his book always did seem interesting to me because it blends my two favorite genres. My interest unfortunately got buried under the avalanche of review copies that I received about this time last year. So when it came time to do a One Year Later post, I thought of Alex and his novel. Here is his update.
* * *

Thanks for inviting me to give a quick update, Tia. The Sword Edged Blonde came out in the fall of 2007 and received the kind of great reviews I never realistically expect to get again. It was an idea that took a long time to find its voice, and I began to worry that maybe it was just too off-kilter (Sam Spade with a sword??) for the reading public. Thankfully that hasn't been the case, and I've heard from readers all over who "got" it and said some very nice things about it (my favorite so far is the young blogger who said the hero, Eddie LaCrosse, was "pretty cool for an old guy"). It will be available in both paperback and audiobook in the summer of 2009, prior to the hardcover release of the second Eddie LaCrosse novel Burn Me Deadly in the fall. Currently, my Western short story "Draw Down" can be found in The Pagan Anthology of Short Fiction. And in the spring of 2009, my 70s vampire novel Blood Groove will be released. It's about an Old World European vampire who's staked in 1915 Wales, and awakens in 1975 Memphis. Add to all that the birth of my second son, and it's been quite a year. Thanks again for plugging The Sword-Edged Blonde, and for the chance to give your readers an update.

* * *

You're welcome, Alex, and it sounds like you've had a great year.

Additional note: when I showcased Alex's novel last year (here's the link, but I warn you--my showcases then left much to be desired), I had the following observation, "His website contains descriptions of five other unpublished novels! Now that's tenacity!" If memory serves, Blood Groove was one of those at-the-time unpublished novels. Glad to see it found a home. If you browse his website among all his fiction projects (labeled "THE WORLDS"), you will find a plethora of free stories set in Alex's various fantasy settings.

If you have any questions for Alex, be sure to ask them in the comments. He has promised to stop by once or twice to answer comments.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

This and That

Special thanks are due to Graeme Flory for naming this blog as one of his favorites in an interview with Mark Thwaite of The Book Depository. Thanks, Graeme! I'm flattered!

Sick again. This keeps happening, darn it. I'm comforting myself with Matters of the Blood, which is getting better with each page I turn.

I'm noticing that I've put myself on a bit of a schedule. I tend to do guest posts on Thursdays, because that's my best night for web traffic, and I want to give my guests the best traffic that I can muster up. For that reason, my next "One Year Later" guest post will be up tomorrow. Which means I'll be writing my part and setting it all up tonight, if I can manage to stay up. (I just took a TheraFlu, and it will probably kick in in oh, about fifteen minutes from now.)

Anyway. About my schedule. Wednesdays I sometimes do "editorials". If I post anything at all on on Saturday, I try to leave it up as the top post until Sunday evening, because web traffic is lighter on Saturday, with a surge back toward normal on Sunday. I tend to do shout-outs as my weekend posts. On Mondays, I do Debut Showcases, and on Friday as well, if I have more than one to showcase in a week. This hasn't happened lately, but things might get crazy again next spring. For the rest of the week, I do my reviews and review segments.

If I post more than one post a day, I try to have one fat post and one skinny post, with the skinny one on top. This is because the headline for the fat post will show without scrolling, thus tempting you (I hope) to read the fat post.

So that makes my schedule something like this:

  • Sunday Evening: Review segments
  • Monday: Showcases
  • Tuesday: Review segments
  • Wednesday: Editorials/Rambles
  • Thursday: Guest Posts
  • Friday: Showcases/Review segments
  • Saturday Morning: Shout-outs
Will I make this schedule official? Probably not. I hate to be tied down. But it makes me at least fairly predictable. I'm not sure if that's a good thing, so I'll probably mix it up from time to time.

Anyway, be sure to check in tomorrow for my next One Year Later installment.

Matters of the Blood - Opening Chapters

I never announced Matters of the Blood (by Maria Lima) when it came out last year through Juno Books (excerpt) as a trade paperback, so I'll include links as I go along. My excuse (do I really need one?) is that it came out before this blog started. Juno Books has re-released it as a mass-market paperback, and they sent a copy to me.

I was glad to get a copy because I've been trying out some urban fantasy, which is a new genre for me. (Sorry, Mulluane!) I am about a third of the way through. The novel is written in first person, which seems to be typical for the genre. Although the voice has a bit of attitude, I don't find it particularly snarky, which for me is a plus.

The story begins as thirty-something Keira is starting to undergo a Change of sorts, where she comes into a power inherited through a bloodline. Except she has no idea what kind of power she'll get. There's a remote chance that she'll get all of the powers. Most of her family is magical in some way or another . . . except Marty. Marty is a genetic aberration--he's an ordinary human. He works as an undertaker. It sort of goes right along with the family business, since Keira's family all have necromantic powers. Her and Marty live in a po-dunk Texas town in the middle of ranch country.

Marty calls Keira for help as the story opens, asking her to come by the ole family mortuary. However, it seems that Marty has cried "wolf" one too many times. Keira (I keep wanting to spell it "Kiera," so forgive me if one slips by) thinks that Marty just wants to borrow money again, so she ain't about to let his little emergency interrupt her breakfast.

Turns out to be a bad decision when Marty turns up dead.

The pace is good and the characters are all intriguing. There's a former lover, Carlton, who now works as County Sheriff. For him, the flame for Keira has never gone out. Even though he's now married. And there's Keira's former flirtation, Adam, who now runs the local dude ranch. Which happens to be on the site of Keira's former family . . . er . . . hunting grounds. Plus we have Keira's best friend Bea and her thousand-year-old brother, Tucker. (Did I mention that near-immortality was part of the family heritage?)

The setting in Texas is original; I can't remember the last book I read (if ever) that was set in Texas, or anywhere but the east or west coast. And it has a Hispanic flare that anyone who has ever lived in the Southwest will recognize as authentic.

So far, Matters of the Blood is moving along at a good pace; quick without being frantic. I'll keep reading.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Editor Paula Guran Weighs In

Paula Guran, editor of Juno Books, weighed in on the Bell Bridge Books discussion with a bit of a lesson on the whys and hows of when books get stocked on the shelves of the chain bookstores. To read it, check out the comments thread of the Bell Bridge Books showcase. Thanks for stopping by, Paula!

Debut Showcase: Moonstone

Moonstone (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
By Marilee Brothers
Trade Paperback
Bell Bridge Books (Excerpt, Book Trailer)

The girl voted least likely to save the world may have to do just that.

A sickly mom. A crappy travel trailer. High school bullies and snarky drama queens. Bad-guys with charming smiles. Allie has problems. And then there's that whole thing about fulfilling a magical prophecy and saving the world from evil.

Welcome to the funny, sad, sometimes-scary world of fifteen-year-old Allie Emerson, who's struggling to keep her act together (not to mention her mom's) in the small-town world of Peacock Flats, Washington. A zap from an electrical fence sets off Allie's weird psychic powers. The next thing she knows she's being visited by a hippy-dippy guardian angel, and then her mysterious neighbor, the town "witch," gives her an incredible moonstone pendant that has powers only a "Star Seeker" is meant to command. "Who, me?" is Allie's first reaction. But as sinister events begin to unfold, Allie realizes she's got a destiny far bigger than she ever imagined

If she can just survive everyday life, in the meantime.

This is the Bell Bridge Books novel that originally attracted my attention. The excerpt looks fun. The opening lines are particularly fun. The trailer is intriguing. And it already has several good reviews, including Kimberley Swan's review at Darque Reviews.  

Monday, October 20, 2008

Debut Showcase: Empire in Black and Gold

Empire in Black and Gold (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
By Adrian Tchaikovsky (website)
Trade Paperback

Seventeen years ago Stenwold witnessed the Wasp Empire storming the city of Myna in a brutal war of conquest. Since then he has preached vainly against this threat in his home city of Collegium, but now the Empire is on the march, with its spies and its armies everywhere, and the Lowlands lie directly in its path. All the while, Stenwold has been training youthful agents to fight the Wasp advance, and the latest recruits include his niece, Che, and his mysterious ward, Tynisa. When his home is violently attacked, he is forced to send them ahead of him and, hotly pursued, they fly by airship to Helleron, the first city in line for the latest Wasp invasion.

Stenwold and Che are Beetle-kinden, one of many human races that take their powers and inspiration each from a totem insect, but he also has allies of many breeds: Mantis, Spider, Ant, with their own particular skills. Foremost is the deadly Mantis-kinden warrior, Tisamon, but other very unlikely allies also join the cause. As things go from bad to worse amid escalating dangers, Stenwold learns that the Wasps intend to use the newly completed railroad between Helleron and Collegium to launch a lightning strike into the heart of the Lowlands. Then he gathers all of his agents to force a final showdown in the engine yard . . .

Ok, so I missed this one when it came out in July. Here it is now. The author's website describes it as "ancient Greece meets World War 2. With insects." Which certainly sounds unique. Over at Fantasy Book Critic, Robert loved it and says not to let the cover art and blurb fool them, that this novel is "is much more than a traditional epic fantasy and readers would be making a big mistake by overlooking this spectacular debut".

Friday, October 17, 2008

Small Press Showcase: Bell Bridge Books

Every once in a while, a small press attracts my attention. I have only worked with a few, and I'm terribly selective. I want to make sure that I'm covering books that are properly supported by a publisher, not simply mechanisms to make money off authors who dream to appear in print, while the author spends a mint. I have had exchanges with disappointed authors who thought they were getting good book contracts, but who end up doing everything including editing, cover design and distribution. If you sign on for that by self-publishing your work--great. But if you think you're getting a more traditional publishing arrangement and you end up doing as much work as if you'd self-published it anyway, that ain't cool.

But I must admit that on the surface, Bell Bridge Books appears to stand out from the crowd. Why? First, it is an imprint of Belle Books. Belle Books has been around for almost ten years, publishing Southern fiction. Another reason is that it's run by a group of successful writers--some of them New York Times bestselling authors. They have been willing to put their names behind it, so they are going to want to make it work.

And lastly, one of those writers--who serves as publicist and editor--took the time to fill out my little form for each of the fantasy novels they have in print, all of which are debuts. This impresses me because she obviously wants her writers to succeed. And the writers can undoubtedly write. How do I know? Bell Bridge Books is confident enough to post excerpts of all books they publish. Those excerpts show skill and polish, and the books look like a lot of fun.

And what about these covers? They are unquestionably professional.
Therefore, in order to support an impressive new publisher, I am going to showcase all Bell Bridge Books in the future, starting with these three in the next few days. As far as I can tell--I havn't written to the editors yet--their books are not yet stocked on shelves of bookstores, but they are available to order, both through bookstores and at all the online outlets. Maybe if they are a success, they'll be able to get the big chains to stock them, like Juno Books does.

I wish them luck and much success.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

One Year Later - Carole McDonnell

Carole McDonnell is the author of WIND FOLLOWER, which was published by Juno Books last year. She also writes short stories and is an active Christian writer and blogger, and a blogging book reviewer. Here are her thoughts on what her life has been like since her novel was published.

* * *
Hi Tia, thanks for inviting me back for a One Year Later post.

Well, things have definitely changed since I became a published writer. Imagine, a year ago I was waiting for my very first book to be published.

I'll tell you about my new work-in-progress a little later but first I'll tell you about what's happened in the aftermath of the WIND FOLLOWER publication. Well, let's see. A year later, I have made some good friends -- fellow write rs on Juno's list, writers who read my book, reviewers. Of those are, Sylvia Kelso, author of Amberlight, whom I email pretty much everyday. She is on the Juno list and I probably wouldn't have read her wonderful book if we hadn't met through Juno. That really is one of the great things about being published by a small press. I also got contacted by some great writers who have read Wind Follower. The great Charles R Saunders, author if the Imaro and Dossouye novels emailed me to say he loved WIND FOLLOWER. That just made me super-happy. He's so highly respected in the black community as one of the fathers of Black Fantasy. And to think he liked my book! I also felt a little more worthy of some of my fellow writers. Online one gets to know so many writers. Folks in The Carl Brandon Society the Black Speculative Fiction community, for instance. Folks in Christian Speculative Fiction communities. Writers from all over. But once one has gotten a book published, somehow one feels more real. And when one's fellow writers can see one's work, it really helps one's ego if they find the book worthy. Folks are always supportive but it's good to know that one's stuff is really liked or understood.

I also got to know some bloggers. That was neat too. You [as in the author of this blog -tn], Chris from Stuff as Dreams are Made On, Harry from Temple Library Reviews. Quite a few others.

There is also the respect and kindness from folks in the hood. People are happy for me and that makes me happy that they believe in me and see me as representing success.

On the whole it's been fun but there have been hurdles. When you send your baby out into the world, you and God alone know what you went through to write it. WIND FOLLOWER was written when I was in a very depressed suicidal mood and when someone gives it a bad review, the bad review really cuts deep. People don't know what writers go through. So although I have never been one to give a book a bad review, now more than eve r whenever I read a book, I aim not to give it a bad review.

WIND FOLLOWER was given some good reviews and was even presented in two workshops. Once at Wiscon and another at an Australian academic on science fiction and minorities and feminism. That was really nice!

My friend, Nick Wood, a South African YA spec fic writer, says that I and my stories tend to walk the borderlands. I liked that. And it's true. My stories tend to bring together issues about race, religion, etc. And they often lead to lively discussions. For instance, my alternate reality story Homecoming at the Borderlands Cafe was on a podcast at Escape Pod.

And wow! Talk about lively!

Right now I'm working on my work-in-progress, The Constant Tower. Most of my stories deal with interpretation of some kind. WIND FOLLOWER dealt with the interpretation of Scriptures and spiritual things. Constant Tower is about storytelling and the interpretation of text. The main story is about a world where living humans are transported every night to other regions. Most of them live in towers that can be steered if one understands how to steer them. There is a myth of a constant tower which never transports. People seek this tower. It's a story about science, specifically the science of towers and how to operate them. So it's really about technology and resources and how those who have greater technology tend to control most of the resources. (Okay, I've been watching too many stories about the World Bank.) Anyway, this story i s told inside a frame. Like the Thousand and One Nights. In this frame, we learn that the people of a particular planet have a history of the folklore of other planets. Their storytellers have built on these histories, for better or worse. When Constant Tower begins, an aged nameless master storyteller is telling the story of The Constant Tower to a young-also-nameless prince who has ascended the throne and who is intent on killing his murderous stepmother. The young prince wants the story to go in certain directions but the old storyteller has his own ideas. The young prince has heard the story before, though, but he has heard the story from another teller of tales, one the old man speaking to him doesn't respect. There's also the problem of the Studier of Worlds who wrote the written history. He apparently hated the main character of the story. So there is a problem of what to believe. It's fun.

After that, I'll shift gears entirely. It's a dark mystery about a succubus and a Black Christian lady in upstate New York. She meets a bi-racial Chinese-Caucasian man whom this succubi intends to take. It's a multi-culti may-september love story with religious and horror elements. And very erotic. It's actually working. I didn't think it would but it's been a surprise. I hope my Christian fans will accept it. So that's about it.

Life is good.

* * *
Thanks, Carole!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Villain Monologue

The villain monologue isn't traditionally all that prevalent with traditional fantasy, but it's a staple of mystery. Since urban fantasy is usually centered around a mystery, and since urban fantasy is infiltrating other subgenres of fantasy, I am seeing it more and more.

The Incredibles did a delightful mockery of the villain monologue. The gag starts here:

Lucius: So now I'm in deep trouble. I mean, one more jolt of this death ray and I'm an epitaph. Somehow I manage to find cover and what does Baron von Ruthless do?
Bob: [laughing] He starts monologuing.
Lucius: He starts monologuing! He starts like, this prepared speech about how feeble I am compared to him, how inevitable my defeat is, how the world will soon be his, yadda yadda yadda.
Bob: Yammering.
Lucius: Yammering! I mean, the guy has me on a platter and he won't shut up!

And it leads to this:

Mr. Incredible: I was wrong to treat you that way. I'm sorry . . .
Syndrome: See? Now you respect me, because I'm a threat. That's the way it works. Turns out there are lots of people, whole countries, that want respect, and will pay through the nose to get it. How do you think I got rich? I invented weapons, and now I have a weapon that only I can defeat, and when I unleash it . . .
[Mr. Incredible throws a log at Syndrome, who dodges it and traps Mr. Incredible with his zero-point energy ray]
Syndrome: Oh, ho ho! You sly dog! You got me monologuing! I can't believe it . . .

I have noticed two types of monologues:
  1. When the hero tries to keep the villain talking, so the hero can figure out a way out of the fix he's in.
  2. When the villain is simply bragging, as above.
Either way--and let's face it--the villain monologue is simply a way to infodump the reader with any missing pieces to the plot puzzle. My preference would be that the hero figure most of it out for himself. It might make the novel a bit longer, but as long as the action keeps coming, I can't see that as a bad thing.

The monologue usually occurs in first-person novels, or in close third-person, where the villain doesn't get any time as the POV character. It doesn't usually happen in traditional fantasies, where you know who the villain is and your job is to stop him/kill him/render him harmless. But when you have twisty plots, I can appreciate the fact that it's difficult to communicate all the twists to the reader without resorting to a monologue.

I mostly see monologues in the lighter mysteries. I don't recall any monologues in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, or in Maisie Dobbs. Both novels feature smart heroines who manage to figure it all out, with a bit of help from their friends. And I love both series.

What do you think of villain monologues? Good? Bad? Indifferent?

* * *

I have something special planned. I have started working on a One Year Later series of guest posts. I already have four authors who have agreed to participate. For these posts, I have asked the authors to tell us about their first year as a publish author. I plan to cover both authors that I have coverd before, as well as authors who will be new here. I hope you enjoy it.

Check back tomorrow for the first installment!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin

My instincts were right with this one. All year I've been showcasing urban fantasies without much interest in reading any of them (well, except for Jim Butcher, but he's hardly a debut author). Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin stood out from the bunch right from the start. For me,  it was a great and long-overdue introduction to the urban fantasy genre.

Rardin invented a great deal of vampire mythology, but she saw fit to keep all the traditional aspects as well. One can fend a vampire off with a cross, and holy water will cause even the most deadly vampire to back off. And see all those tiny stakes in an ammo belt on the cover girl's hip? Well, she's got a nifty gun to go with them. Poof. Another vampire up in smoke. And she's got lots more gadgets, too, several that I can readily envision on the silver screen with computer generated imagery.

But the vampires are not all bad guys. Vayl--short for Vasil--is one of the good guys, even though he's an assassin. Jaz is his assistant. Their assignment is to take out a plastic surgeon who specializes in reconstructing the faces of terrorists. Turns out this plastic surgeon has connections. And compared to his bosses, he's strictly small-time.

The pace is quick; the dialogue is snappy and the action is high. And just when you think you know where the plot is going, it takes a twist that you never would expect. The last battle has a lot of great how-can-they-possibly-win moments. However, one complaint I have is that except for a brief aside, the story ended rather too abruptly after the final battle. I wanted more! Jaz and Vayl were supposed to discuss all this stuff on the trip home! Now I have to read the next book to find out what they discussed.

Oh, yeah. Right. That's the whole idea.

Something unique--after the ending of the novel, there's a brief interview between Jennifer Rardin and her character, Jaz Parks. And it leads right into an excerpt from the second book, Another One Bites the Dust. Very clever. I wonder if this keeps up in the subsequent books.

In case you haven't caught on by now, this novel's a lot of fun. It has a lot of laugh-out-loud moments, as well as some bittersweet moments. The vampire-human sex scene that I feared never occurred (thank God). I'd love to see it come out in mass-market paperback as a boxed set.

Amazon Links: (US, UK, Canada)
Jennifer Rardin's website, myspace, facebook
My interview with Jennifer
My original debut showcase
Review part one: Opening Chapters
Review part two: Piling on the Problems 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

ONCE BITTEN, TWICE SHY - Piling on the Problems

Jennifer Rardin's strength as an author appears to be piling problem after problem onto her characters. She also has a knack for metaphors and imagery, such as:

"No," he said quietly, his eyes on the wall, as if someone had projected some horrifying memories there.
The magic snapped past me, leaving me mentally singed, as if I'd stood too close to a burning soul.
Jaz is an easy character to like. As I said in my previous post, she's something of a headcase, so much so that I wonder if she shouldn't go for a psych eval. She has a tendency to think of things that make her giggle at highly inappropriate moments. For example, when told about demons that eat souls, she has a mental picture of a waiter asking a demon how well his soul tasted, as if he were at a soul resturant.

All her family baggage--and there's a lot of it--has places in the pile of Jasmine's problems. Plus, Vayl has decided to bestow a gift upon her--a gift that makes them as close as man and wife, and that makes his "late" wife--who made him a vampire (not giving awything away here since it's in the blurb)--insanely jealous.

(Which brings up an interesting problem. When you pledge 'til death do you part, what happens to that vow once you're both undead? I guess technically you have died, so your vows are clear?)

In fact, their mission to save the nation almost seems like a backdrop against which they must solve their personal problems and resolve age-old conflicts. I have a few issues. Supporting characters tend to give Jaz valuable information with very little prompting and scant building of trust. There was even a "trust at first sight" moment that seemed out-of-character for Jaz. Four entire chapters went by while Jaz and Vayl were in their hotel room. And Jaz and Vayl tend to agree to not discuss things while the reader is screaming for those very things to be discussed. Argh! (But I suppose that isn't a bad thing, because it's kept me reading.)

There is an interesting mix of religion and the supernatural here. God is acknowledged to exist, so items such as holy water and crosses have the traditional effect upon vampires, even if the delivery method has been modernized in clever ways. However, there are also beings that are Cthulhuoid in their scale and power.

Although valuable clues, powers and equipment items tend to drop in Jaz's lap, I can't really call that a critique yet--it depends on what she is up against. I admit to having a fondness for characters who take on awesome foes while armed with nothing more than quick thinking and a toothpick. However, if she's up against a Cthulhu-scale monster, even I must admit that a toothpick would be of little use. So we'll see how that plays out.

The pace cranks--even during the hotel room chapters--and my interest has yet to sag. I think Jaz is an interesting enough character to support the series of books that she has already spawned. I breezed right by the halfway point and am now closing in on the final third of the book. I should be finished tonight or tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Debut Showcase: The Way of the Shadows

The Way of the Shadows (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
By Brent Weeks (website)
Orbit Books
Mass Market Paperback

The perfect killer has no friends. Only targets.

For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art. And he is the city’s most accomplished artist, his talents required from alleyway to courtly boudoir.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned the hard way to judge people quickly — and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics — and cultivate a flair for death.

Hmm. The cover--wicked as it is--looks like the "look" for Karen Miller's books. So much so, that one might mistake it for a Karen Miller book. I'm sure this isn't intentional. This novel is garnering a lot of positive attention, and at first it looked too dark for me . . . but then I read the blurb for the second book over at novel's website. Now I'm more interested. Hmm. Orbit is releasing the three books in this series in three consecutive months.

Monday, October 6, 2008

ONCE BITTEN, TWICE SHY - Opening Chapters

Whew! I figured I'd better get writing if I wanted to have a "part one" review of Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin.

This novel marks a milestone for Fantasy Debut. Not only is this the first Urban Fantasy that I've read (since Charles de Lint, and the genre has changed quite a bit since then), but it's the first vampire I've read since I attempted (and failed) to read Interview With the Vampire. (She lost me with the little girl vampire. I hate seeing children tortured.)

Anyway, so far, Once Bitten, Twice Shy has been great fun. I just got to the part where she gets bitten, if you've read the book. Jaz is a likable heroine with a mysterious past. She's a headcase half the time, and she kicks ass the other half. Vayl, the vampire, is like a virtuous knight. He is definitely the good cop in their good cop/bad cop pair. Oh, did I mention that they are CIA agents? Yup, ole Vayl has been fighting crime since the 1920s. (Now wouldn't that have been cool? An urban fantasy set in the twenties with vampires?)

It's going to be a bit of a hurried post, but I wanted to get going with this novel and let you know how much I'm enjoying it. I can't imagine it disappointing me.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

I love Your Blog Award

Wow. I've never been nominated for one of those pass-around blog appreciation awards. Until now. The Book Smugglers, Darque Reviews and SciFiGuy all nominated me in the past few days. Thank you so much!

Now's the hard part. Deciding who to award it to next. I'm supposed to award it to at least seven others. In the interest of spreading the love, I'm not going to nominate any blog that appeared in the above lists, although a few certainly deserve re-nominations! Some of these may be unknown to you, because they are personal blogs. Here are just a few of the blogs that I love to read.

Kristophrenia. I've been following Kristin's blog for almost two years now. This is a personal blog. Her posts are very funny. Pay attention to those footnotes! She posts once or twice a week on writing and on life.
Star Captain's Daughter. My husband and I both read this blog. Kimber An is very funny and she always has apt pictures on her blog posts. She blogs in writing, living in Alaska, and being a mom.
Katie Lovett. Superwench runs the last of the personal blogs that I'm nominating today. Katie writes about writing, popular culture, and the world of science fiction and fantasy.
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards. Ok, so I've mentioned this site before. Mulluane reviews entire series at a time, and she and I have such similar tastes that it is scary. Oh, and she also helped me with my three-column template. Plus, we're both over 40.
The Book Swede. What can I say? Chris runs a great blog and he, like me, plays the piano. We occasionally shoot emails about what we are trying to learn. You never know what to expect when you visit Chris's blog.
Grasping for the Wind. Home of "Ask the Blogger" and lots of reviews, news and insightful articles. Every time he recommends an article, I know it's going to be something interesting.
The Fantasy Cafe. This beautiful blog is the creation of Kristen, who also seems to have tastes that run similar to mine. Now if I can just make my blog as pretty as hers.

I love your blogs!

BLACK SHIPS by Jo Graham

BLACK SHIPS is one for the keeper shelf. Which means I have to go get a copy, because I read a library copy.

BLACK SHIPS follows the life of the Sybil of Aeneas, a prince of fallen Troy, or Wilusa. A sybil is what the Romans called an oracle. An alternate spelling is sibyl, and a Wikipedia entry on sibyls can be found here. Sybils were always female, and they always serve for life. This sybil--whose given name is Gull--is the daugher of a slave, born of rape after the first fall of Wilusa. Her mother gave birth to her in the town of Pylos, in the Greek pennunsula, but always reminded her that she was of "the People".  Her mother also gave birth to a son by an Achaian (Greek) father, and his name was Aren.

When Gull is still a young girl, an accident leaves her crippled. Since her mother cannot take care of a crippled daughter, she takes her as an offering to the shrine of the Lady of the Dead. The oracle there--called by the Achaians as Pythia--is reluctant to take her, but when Gull has a vision of black ships, Pythia knows she has found her replacement.

So Gull grows up and eventually takes over as Pythia. Shortly afterward, the she is driven by her goddess to a hilltop early one morning. There, she sees the black ships of her vision. She hurries to the town of Pylos just as the invaders begin to put the city to the sword.

And what happens next is not anything you would expect.

The rest of the story is based on the story in the Aeneid, the epic poem by Virgil, based which tells how Aeneas founds the city of Rome. Gull travels with Aeneas's fleet, in a ship captained by Xandros. Xandros is in love with Aeneas, but he also grows to love Gull. Gull is in love with Aeneas, but she also loves Xandros. As for Aeneas's feelings? He clearly loved his dead wife and displays no particular passion for Xandros beyond trust and friendship. And he has a very dangerous romance midway through the story. And his feelings for Gull? Time will tell.

Don't expect modern homosexual attitudes. This is the way it was in ancient times. Just read about Julius Caesar's life.

My critiques are few. A sex scene, when it finally happened, was surprisingly awkward. So was a subsequent birth scene. And during one squabble scene, a character drops the F-bomb, which I felt was totally out of place in this novel, since this was the only place where it appeared. My only major critique concerned a long-anticipated battle. Since Gull is a woman and didn't participate, she only learns about the battle after-the-fact. I felt the author missed a chance to use Gull's powers as an oracle to put the reader in the midst of the battle.

Otherwise, this was a marvellous novel. A while back, I wrote a post on how much I love character development novels. BLACK SHIPS is such a novel. If you enjoy ancient history and getting lost in the life of an extraordinary character, I think you'll enjoy BLACK SHIPS.

* * *
BLACK SHIPS Amazon links: USA, UK, Canada
Jo Graham's website and blog

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Random Updates

Just finished Black Ships and I loved it. I'll get my review written in the next day or so. It was a library copy so at some point, I'll be getting a copy for myself, because this is one for the re-read pile (one day when I don't have a stack of debuts to read). When I do post this review, it will be my first in a while. I've had a difficult time getting through a few books and I just had to take a break and set them aside for a while. I may pick them up again soon, but for now I needed to read something different.

I also have a library copy of another novel, which I have long promised myself I would read. And with that novel will begin a new epoch here at Fantasy Debut, where I finally embrace Urban Fantasy. I have not one, but two urban fantasies to read, one of them being--horrors--a vampire novel!

So as to not keep you in suspense, the first urban fantasy on my list is Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin. I interviewed her a while back and it was somewhat embarrassing to interview the author of a novel I had not read, so I promised myself I would read her novel. Hers is the one and only vampire novel that has appealed to me since starting Fantasy Debut.

The other novel is a Juno Books novel called Matters of the Blood by Maria Lima. Juno Books sends me all their debut novels (thanks, Juno!) and this one looks especially good. In fact, I have already read the opening chapters.

On the non-debut front, I have also read the first few chapters of Harry Turtledove's The Valley-Westside War, and it rocks. Expect that in the future.

On the non-skiffy front, I've sampled a library copy of a mystery series, The Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson. I learned about this series through Mystery Robin's review at Enduring Romance. The copy I managed to snag is not the first book in the series, so I may just turn it back in and try to get the first book. I read the first few chapters and there are some established storylines that I'd rather read from the start.

So, as you can see, even though there has been a dearth of reviews here, it has not been for a lack of trying! Plus, I was involved in a super-secret project that only a handful of you know about, which took up a lot of my time and which will be sucking away at my time again in the near future. Still, I'll try to continue to post at least three times a week.

Ok, I'm done here, so why don't you jaunt over to Spacefreighters Lounge, where it has been deemed Science Fiction Romance Week? The weekly themes really are catching on!

100+ Google Reader Subscribers!

I was going to put up a "Hurray!" post when Fantasy Debut reached a hundred subscribers through Google Reader, but it has been languishing at 94 faithful subscribers for weeks. Well, I had not looked at Reader for a few days and I decided to catch up on my reading over lunch. When I looked today, lo and behold, I have 109 subscribers!! How the heck did that happen?

Welcome to all new subscribers!

New Jennifer Estep Series!

Jennifer Estep has sold her next big project--and this one is an urban fantasy outside of the Bigtime world. Check out her announcement for all the details!