Sunday, November 30, 2008

Debut Showcase: Night Falls Darkly by Kim Lenox

Night Falls Darkly (Amazon: US Canada UK)
by Kim Lenox (Website, Blog, MySpace)
Paperback: 336 Pages
Publisher: Signet Eclipse an imprint of Penguin Group
Prologue and First Chapter

Publisher's Blurb:

A cunning immortal who’s been called upon to reclaim a marked soul...

Ever since an accident took away her memory, Miss Elena Whitney can’t recall the secrets of her own past. All she knows is that with her mysterious benefactor Archer, Lord Black, returning to London at the behest of Queen Victoria, she should seize the chance to get some answers.

A member of the immortal Shadow Guard, Archer has been summoned to London to eliminate the soul of an evil demon—Jack the Ripper. Archer feels not only bound to protect the women of the night, but also his beautiful young ward, Elena, whom he spared from death two years before. But with a wave of panic spreading across London, Archer fears that Elena is his weakness—a distraction he can’t afford, especially since she’s likely to become the Ripper’s next target...

Mulluane's Take:
This is an historical paranormal romance set in White Chapel, England in 1888. No vampires, or werewolves and set in Victorian times? Oh yeah, I could get into this one easily enough. I can not think of a better period in history to set a dark, paranormal story. This book is the first installment of the Shadow Guard series with the sequel, "So Still the Night", due out in May, 2009. For more information Ana over at The Book Smugglers gives it a great review.

Tia's Take:
I don't think I've had a six-pack ab cover on this blog in quite some time--if ever. I'm seeing a lot of amnesia in my reviews and showcases lately. It's a plot device that never goes out of style. I'm always happy to see a novel with a protagonist who is squarely against the demons--although I might be tempted to argue about whether demons have souls or not. I'm also intrigued about how the Shadow Guard became immortal. It looks like an entertaining, deliciously creepy read.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Ok, so I finally joined GoodReads. Thanks to everyone who sent me friend requests over the months! If you want to add me as your friend, I'll approve friend requests as long as I know who you are. If you're not sure I know you, just add a note in your request mentioning that you follow this blog. Here's my profile page:

So far, I've added every book that I've read since starting Fantasy Debut, and I'm still adding books from my bookshelf, as they come to mind. There's going to be lots more besides fantasy and debuts. Now that I have a bunch of books on my bookshelf, I'll start adding review snippets.

I can't believe how addictive this thing is.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to all readers who celebrate this holiday! It's going to be a "blog lite" weekend, because I don't expect many of you to be reading blogs this weekend. 

I just finished reading a novel that I loved, but I can't blog about until close to the end of December because it's an advance copy. So over the weekend I'm going to write my review while it's fresh in my mind, and let it sit out there as a "scheduled post" until the new year. Ordinarily, I'd put up the post a few days before the book is due to come out, but that is during the Christmas holidays, so I may as well wait.

Mulluane has been very busy with Debut Showcases, but again, theres no point in putting up posts like that until the holiday weekend is over. Expect a bunch of them starting on Sunday night.

As for what's next, I have that gritty science fiction, plus I have The Name of the Wind, which I only put aside in order to read some author-supplied review copies (which always takes precedence). I remember exactly where I left off, so that's always a good thing. I'll go ahead and go for the gritty SciFi, because really--I'm almost finished with the book.

I'll probably do some frivolous posts over the weekend, because we are staying home and I'll probably have the time. If you're hanging around as well, stop by to say hi! For the rest of you, have a great weekend!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Debut Showcase: Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception by Maggie Stiefvater

Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception (Amazon: US Canada UK)
by Maggie Stiefvater (Website, Blog, MySpace, Facebook)
Publisher: Flux
Paperback: 336 pages
Excerpt: Prologue and First Chapter in PDF

Flux's Blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Deirdre Monaghan is a painfully shy but prodigiously gifted musician. She's about to find out she's also a cloverhand—one who can see faeries. Deirdre finds herself infatuated with a mysterious boy who enters her ordinary suburban life, seemingly out of thin air. Trouble is, the enigmatic and gorgeous Luke turns out to be a gallowglass—a soulless faerie assassin. An equally hunky—and equally dangerous—dark faerie soldier named Aodhan is also stalking Deirdre. Sworn enemies, Luke and Aodhan each have a deadly assignment from the Faerie Queen. Namely, kill Deirdre before her music captures the attention of the Fae and threatens the Queen's sovereignty. Caught in the crossfire with Deirdre is James, her wisecracking but loyal best friend. Deirdre had been wishing her life weren't so dull, but getting trapped in the middle of a centuries-old faerie war isn't exactly what she had in mind . . .

Lament is a dark faerie fantasy that features authentic Celtic faerie lore, plus cover art and interior illustrations by acclaimed faerie artist Julia Jeffrey.

Mulluane's Take:
This sounds like a fun YA read especially if it holds true to Celtic lore. ( I have a soft spot for all things Celtic.) The blurb does not show it, but this is a contemporary fantasy, not my usual fare, but the premise intrigues me enough to possibly break my own rules. The sequel BALLAD: THE GATHERING OF THE FAERIE is due out fall of 2009. For a taste of Maggie Stiefvater's writing check out Merry Sisters of Fate where she contributes short stories every Friday.

Tia's Take:
A musician protagonist? Faery assassins and solders? Music as magic? Call me hooked. This showcase introduces another publisher that I've never featured here at Fantasy Debut. I checked them out and they are the YA imprint of Llewellyn, a Wicca/Pagan publisher. This novel has starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

Monday, November 24, 2008

GRIMSPACE by Ann Aguirre - Final Review

Grimspace was a surprise for me in many ways. One, I expected it to be gritty, but pleasantly, it was not. Two, I never expected heroism. Three, after the heroism, I never expected selfishness. The novel certainly took me in places I had no idea I would go.

To recap, Jax is a navigator through grimspace, one of a very few with the elusive "j-gene" that allows one to navigate grimspace. She is an emotional wreck following an accident where she lost her pilot, who was also her lover and her dearest friend. She currently on a space station and is going through dream therapy, which appears to be doing more harm than good. She cannot leave her room without an escort.

When March appears in her room, offering a way out, she takes it. They escape from the station and go to an off-the-beaten-path planet, where Jax learns that March hopes to help establish an independent school for grimspace navigators--one unafilliated with the sinister and powerful Corp. Their plan involves something that I thought was unethical. Jax had her doubts as well, but she knows that the Corp is doing other things that are just as unethical if not more so, so she goes along.

Then the plot started taking turns that I never expected. In the interests of not giving too much away, I'll just throw up some highlights. We have an alien baby, a pirate space station, ghastly human experimentation, an all too easy escape, and an alien bounty hunter with a . . . but no, that would give too much away.

The plot tends to be episodic, jumping from objective to objective. It reads something like The Adventures of Jax. In some places you will love Jax, and in other places you might be thinking, "Why the HECK is she doing that?" Sometimes I thought the plot was a bit convienient for storytelling purposes. Their first escape was way too easy, and it would have been better if it had been a bit more desperate. The author seemed to think the escape was too easy as well, because she threw in a line about lax guards. Other plot turns seemed convenient as well, but I won't belabor the point. Jax and her friends faced plenty of challenges to make up for it.

Overall, I really enjoyed it. It had characters with consciences, emotional consequences for jumping in bed too early, heroism, both sung and unsung, betrayals, clever deceptions, people willing to die for their cause and the formation of unlikely friendships. I loved it that the ship doctor was the strong guy, and that the ship's mechanic was a woman with a past you would NEVER expect. I also didn't expect there to be an alien on the ship, nor did I suspect the alien's eventual relationship with Jax. I did like the way she resolved it, however. And I liked the way the novel ended. It resolved much more than I expected--the novel could stand alone except for a tiny teaser that is probably explored in future books.

I just looked at the blurb from Wanderlust, the next book in the series. I wondered where the author could possibly take the series from here, but it looks just as good as Grimspace.

Fans of science fiction romance, this is one you need to read.

GRIMSPACE (Amazon US, UK, Canada)
Ann Aguirre (website, blog)
Ace Books
Mass Market Paperback

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I meant to write my review of Grimspace today, but I was working on a self-imposed deadline for another project, plus I've gotten all caught up in Laura Benedict's upcoming novel, Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts, which is absolutely spellbinding and unputdownable. I also did something rather stupid--I returned Grimspace to the library before I wrote the review. Duh! I've never had to write a review without the book right in front of me. But I finished reading it just before it was due and never even thought to renew it, which I can easily do from the comfort of my computer. And I borrowed it from another branch--meaning it will take days to re-check-out. I'll have to do the best I can.

I'm arranging for another batch of authors to ask to write guest posts. I may go a bit further back in time than one year, because some of my really interesting authors were my very first ones, whose books came out in the summer of '07. One who I just emailed had a novel that came out within a few weeks of Harry Potter 7, which had to be nerve-wracking competition! Or does it work that way? I usually come out of the bookstore with more than one book, after all.

Since this Thursday is Thanksgiving, I won't plan anything for then, but hopefully I can arrange a guest post for next Thursday.

The New and Improved Debut Showcases will start on Tuesday. One is actually all ready to go, but it was too late in the day to put up such a post today, and on Monday I have high hopes of getting my Grimspace review up.

New and improved how, you ask? Well, in the spirit of The Book Smugglers' joint reviews, both Mulluane and I will comment on each debut. Our tastes do run rather similar, but they are not perfectly so, so it will be a good thing--I think--for you to read more than one opinion on each debut.

Since my Grittiness Tolerance Level is now in the green (I expected Grimspace to be grittier than it turned out to be), I may try to finish a novel from the summer that I had set aside. I am a bit curious about how it ended. The one with the eyeballs popping out is going to have to wait a bit longer.

After that, maybe I'll try something warm and sentimental to get me in the mood for the holidays.

The Bookie Monster's Back!

I met the Bookie Monster on David Anthony Durham's blog in the summer of '07. Well, of course, with a name like "Bookie Monster", I had to investigate. It turned out that Bookie had a fledgling blog as well, and for a while we happily visited each other and exchanged links. However, about a year ago, he vanished. Life does intrude from time to time, but the Bookie Monster's back! And yes, his blog--or I should say, his site, since he owns the domain--is as fun as its name suggests. Go pay him a visit while he dusts off his site and gets ready to munch books once again.

Bookie Monster's Book Reviews

Friday, November 21, 2008

Your Newest Fantasy Debuter

Is "debuter" a word? No matter, it fits. In the spirit of Shakespeare, I shall invent words where necessary.

I have decided to find a partner here at Fantasy Debut, because honestly, I'm hopelessly behind. Well, maybe not so hopelessly now, since I have a new person on the Fantasy Debut team. You've met her before, via a Blogger Showcase and numerous comments. She is the proprietress of Dragons, Heroes and Wizards and The Old Bat's Belfry. Yes, my blogging partner is . . .

~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~
~*~ Mulluane! ~*~
~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~ ~*~

Is that enough sparkles for you? Mulluane has agreed to be the Debut Showcase Goddess, which means she is in charge of rounding up most of the information in the Debut Showcaes. Because of the generous offer of her time, our Debut Showcases should hopefully get more comprehensive and timely. She will also write the occasional review.

Why a partner? Well, I didn't want to give up Fantasy Debut, but I also could not give it the time it demands. I did give it that time during the first six months I ran this blog, but I quickly discovered this algorithm, which I will call Tia's Time Algorithm.

At = 24 - Ot - ((Wt + Ct) - Ft - Nt - (Bt + Rt))

At is Available Time. Notice the 24 is not a variable. That is because it is the number of hours in the day. First, I must first subtract Other Time, which includes things that one must do to survive and function in society without being a pariah. From the time that is left, I am compelled to first subtract Wt, which is Work Time, to which I must add Commute Time. I would have arranged Wt and CT further down in the list, but alas, I must work.

Next, I subtract Family Time, then Novel Time. (Yes, it is a fact that I write. Does that surprise anyone? I think not.) There is a bit of squishiness here that I am not able to render in the language of Math. And that is that the Reading Time is allowed to encroach on Family Time. That's because I have an "Interrupt Me Anytime" policy around my house. I have a remarkable ability to engage and disengage from a book at will. Last comes Blogging Time and Reading Time, combined.

And yes, Nt must come before Bt and Rt. Why? If you care, read on.

Back in the Days of Yore, when I first started this blog, the algorithm looked more like this:

At = 24 - Ot - ((Wt + Ct) - (Bt + Rt) - Ft - Nt)

Naturally, this situation could not last. Ft quickly got bumped back into its proper place, but Nt was getting the scraps of my time, and guess what? The novel wasn't getting written. So I bumped around my priorities again, the novel got done, and the family was happy.

But then, the blog suffered.

Debut Showcases began to showcase novels that had been out for weeks and sometimes, months. Reviews got fewer and futher between. Posts became something less than daily. Readership dipped slightly and leveled off, and occasionally skyrocketed when I wrote about vampires.

I read more science fiction hoping to learn how to manipulate time, but alas.

And so I decided to find a partner. Mulluane had offered to help out a while back, so I wrote her an email asking her if the offer was still open. Happily, she said yes. I am also thinking about adding a third person to our team, someone who reads the dark fantasy and urban fantasy. I have someone in mind; I'll put up another post if she accepts.

So please welcome Mulluane to the Fantasy Debut team!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

One Year Later - Mark J. Ferrari

Mark J. Ferrari

Mark J. Ferrari is illustrator-turn-novelist whose book came out--guess when!--last year. It was hot stuff going around the blog circles last year. I named Joby as my favorite male character in my yearly round-up. Mark and I struck up a correspondence in the spring, so of course I asked him for a post. Here are his thoughts.


When Tia asked me to write a “one year later” guest blog for her, my immediate dilemma was the same one any predator has when confronting a large herd of prey: how to isolate a target in this jumble. (Oh for heaven’s sake! The prey I’m talking about is themes and ideas - not you guys!)

It’s been a dizzying year – even without the four month ‘book tour’ I did last winter – at almost no point resembling anything I ever imagined beforehand about my first year as a published author. There have been both unanticipated disappointments, and unexpected pleasures. As I survey the herd of possible themes before me, it’s the pleasures that capture my attention most, for I’ve come to realize that they’re the only part of this past year which still matters to me now or is likely to matter to me in years to come.

The first pleasure that comes to mind is the simple knowledge that my book is actually ‘out there’ now, living a life entirely beyond my knowledge or control in places and in ways that I could never have imagined. It’s being read in cities, states, and countries I may never see, by people I will never imagine, much less meet.

These readers and their generous willingness to share so much of their experience with me were by far the greatest pleasures of this past year. They are out there recognizing things in my tale that I wondered if anyone would get, and getting things from it that I NEVER imagined were there to find. They are bringing things to my story I could not have intended, swirling that alchemical mix around and pulling out insights and solutions to all manner of issues in their own lives that I could not possibly have anticipated or attempted to address. It’s a kind of magic I have certainly experienced as a reader, but really never expected to see worked by something of my own making. This has left me feeling less like a genius than like the startled and unwitting, if very pleased, vector of some current that came less from me than through me from I know not where. I wish this particular astonishment on everyone at some point in their lifetimes.

Though you may be surprised to hear it, I never anticipated e-mail from readers. I have been an avid reader all my life, and read many books that genuinely changed the way I saw the world, or sometimes even the way I lived, but I am chagrined to admit now that it never once occurred to me to try writing an author to tell him so. I think I just assumed that authors were some separate species living on some alien plane I could no more reach out and touch than I could send birthday greetings to folks on Alpha Centauri. The first e-mail I received from a reader, about two weeks after the book’s release, surprised me immensely. Tor had sent me a copy of the book a few weeks earlier as it was being released, but I’d been working with them on the publication process for so long that when I got this latest version of our work, it didn’t really register in any visceral way that the book was really ‘out there’ until I got that first e-mail from a generous and appreciative stranger. ‘Oh my god!’ I thought. ‘Someone’s reading this!’ I sent her a grateful reply immediately to express my astonishment at her extraordinary gesture. A week later, I was getting several e-mails a day, and had no idea what planet I’d been moved to in my sleep.

Even now, well after the book’s presence in stores has peaked and diminished, I still get one or two e-mails from new readers a week, all of which I answer with undiminished appreciation, because it’s these e-mails, more than anything else, that help me see and experience my ‘first child’s’ unfolding life out there: where it’s traveled, how it got there, who it met and what passed between them. I want to convey my profound thanks to all the readers who have taken time to write and let me know what happened when they met my book. You have been my greatest satisfaction in this task, and it is most of all for you that I am now at work writing another novel.

Another valuable, if not always pleasant, gift of this past year has come to me from within ‘the industry.’ ‘Critical’ reaction to The Book of Joby has been literally all over the map. Days before its release, Publishers Weekly wrote The Book of Joby off as relentlessly grim tripe for the ‘Left Behind crowd’ – an assessment that still surprises and confuses me, and apparently most of my readers – while the National Association of Independent Booksellers selected it as a Booksense Pick that October, and Booklist included it in their Top Ten list for fantasy in 2008. (My sincere thanks to all you independent booksellers and to Booklist!) While Library Journal also felt it had little redeeming value, the same book made the short list of nominees for the annual National Library Association award. Locus so disliked the book that they refused to acknowledge it at all beyond reprinting the Publishers Weekly review, while, as I write this, The Book of Joby is one of five finalists for the Pacific Northwest’s Endeavor Award. (One of the other five finalists is “Powers” by Ursula Leguin. Needless to say, I am delighted and honored to be on ANY short list with ANYTHING by her!) A fan in Australia sent me three reviews from major papers in her area. I kid you not: the first called it incredibly well written and a tremendous pleasure to read, destined for greatness; the second said it worked better than it ought to considering it’s many flaws; and the third said it was a horribly written waste of paper, recommendable only to those with nothing else in the world to do, and huge amounts of time to fill. The entire spectrum – same book.

What has all this taught me? Many valuable things!

First, that reviews – good or bad – have far less to do with the book being reviewed than with the agenda of the reviewer. If you want to know about a book, I’m afraid you’ll have to read at least a portion of it yourself – but if you want to know about reviewers – by all means, read reviews.

Second, it has focused my attention as a writer on a very different set of issues than before. In 2006, as Tor worked toward the launch of my first novel, I cared very much about how ‘the industry’ would receive it, and how their reception would impact my potential for a ‘writing career.’ During this past year, what has turned out to matter far more to me is the wonderful, growing, and frankly unanticipated, relationship with so many readers that I discussed earlier. I understand now, as I did not one year ago, that what I most want to do as a writer is just get the stories whirling around inside me down on paper, and share them with whatever audience wants to read them.  How many or few readers that turns out to be, or what label(s) those stories are published by, or how those stories are reviewed by ‘the industry,’ or even how much money I’m ever likely to make, have all become strikingly secondary concerns for me in such a short time compared to the writing task itself, and access to some receptive audience of whatever size. (Fortunately, I have a very nice day job – still – so far – economic crisis notwithstanding.)

The third and biggest thing I’ve learned in this regard is that once a book is ‘out there’ it’s travels and impacts are secret, and surprising, largely unknown to me or anyone else, and, once set in motion, largely unstoppable by me or ‘the industry’ or anyone else. For setting my book ‘in motion,’ I’ve had an agent, Linn Prentis, Tor in general, and Tom Dougherty and David Hartwell in specific to thank, and I will always feel grateful and unbelievably fortunate for their willingness to give a strange book such a great chance.

Here I must also thank an army of wonderful independent booksellers across the country, and those in the blogosphere, like Tia, who have been so supportive of me and my novel since its earliest days. I believe their support is the primary reason this novel has done as well as it has despite ‘the industry’s’ much more mixed and tepid assessments.

I am not sure how many copies of the book have sold around the world to date, but I have been given reason to believe it’s at least 16 or 17 thousand copies. Given the number of emails I’ve received from people who were given the book, or borrowed it, or found it at a library, I suspect at least three people have read it for every copy actually sold. Thus, I am pretty sure that in one year more people have read The Book of Joby than all the people who ever saw my fantasy art in the nearly 20 years of my earlier career as an illustrator. I am telling the stories inside me much faster and more completely in words than I was ever able to in pictures, and to a far larger audience, already. Am I stoked? Oh yes.

So there are the plusses, as I see them, of my first year as a published author. No matter how you slice it, I have been very lucky and very kindly treated by an amazing community of booksellers and readers out there. I have a lot more stories inside me, and a desire to tell them. Where or if they are published – to whom and with what success – is anybody’s guess, of course. But even if this one book turned out to be my sole break, it’s been well worth it – and so much more than ‘enough’ for me. It’s still out there, traveling around, talking to people, pleasing them, troubling them, making them think and respond. Who knew I’d ever get that kind of chance at all? I’m a lucky, lucky guy.

Tia has asked me to say a bit about where I am and what I’m working on now, so… I am back in Seattle’s colorful, energizing University District, doing reasonably interesting work at the Daily Planet by day, (or, in the interests of accuracy, perhaps for the same large entertainment software company I was working for before my ‘book tour’ last winter), and stepping into the random phone booth every Friday to doff my cleverly concealing glasses, and don my writer’s cape, (or … er, maybe that’s actually doff the cape and don the writer’s glasses, … in the interests of … well, accuracy). I keep meaning to try my hand at some kind of blogging on my website … any month now … as soon as … I outrun … this avalanche. Not this month though, I’m afraid. Check in every now and then. You never know.

Last December I finished work on the first draft of the first book in a ‘fantasy’ trilogy unrelated to The Book of Joby, which I submitted for consideration at Tor. This book has been alluded to in a number of online interviews during the past year, but unfortunately, it is no longer ‘in the cards’. A fantasy set in the future was perhaps not my brightest idea to date. There was a lot of confusion about whether it was supposed to function as fantasy or science fiction, and the consensus from numerous quarters was that it failed to function comfortably as either. Had this been a stand-alone novel, I would doubtless have shrugged and waded through the substantial revision process that seemed required to resolve the uncertainties of many veteran heads around me. But as this was the first book in a three book series I had still to write two thirds of, I was not comfortable committing contractually to five or six more years of work on something so many colleagues seemed so unsure about right out the gate. So, last spring, despite a contract offer for the trilogy from Tor, I withdrew the book from consideration, and started work on an entirely new fantasy which I’m having TREMENDOUS fun writing, and expect great things of.

The new book is a single volume, stand alone novel currently called ‘TWICE.’ It is a contemporary urban fantasy,  also unrelated to The Book of Joby, about a young man who does and doesn’t get what he unwittingly wishes for after being beaten, possible to death, by a troll in a downtown alleyway one night, and what it takes to set things right – in a number of lives and places afterward. So far, I think it’s … GOOD! I hope to submit a finished first draft to Tor this spring. What will happen to it after that is anybody’s guess, of course, but I am confident it will get to readers in some form, under some title, via some venue, within the next few years, (That’s the publishing biz for ya). I hope they will enjoy it at least as much as so many have enjoyed my first modest tale. Thanks for asking, Tia, and for all your interest and support during this first year of my great adventure in publishing!

J Mark

Monday, November 17, 2008

Loving Grimspace!

I'm enjoying Grimspace so much that I'm going to spend another evening reading it. I'm a little over halfway through and it has taken some very unexpected turns. Let's just say that you would never expect some of the things to happen. I certainly didn't see them coming.

It was suffering from a lack of a villain until about halfway through. The villain was the amorphous "Corp," a bureaucracy that Jax worked for, navigating through Grimspace. Now, there's another one, but he's the best kind of villain--the kind you actually like.

There's lots of unexpected humor in the story when an alien baby appears on the scene.

Belatedly I notice his eyes aren't on mine, and I glance down. Shit, I'm standing around bare-breasted, nursing like some class-P village woman, my scars shiny with slime. Rest of me is covered in dried mud, and my hair looks like it belongs to a New Terran dirt-dauber priestess, so yeah, I've never looked better. But frag him, what do I care? I'm doing a good thing here.
Yes, this book has soul. It has bona-fide heroism packaged in a scarred-up gruff exterior (kind of like the way I enjoyed The Sword-Edged Blonde, only with a female main character), and I'm eating it up. So if you don't mind, I'll go read some more.

How I Spent My Weekend

This weekend, we did a family Disney trip. My husband took the above fab picture of Cinderella's Castle. I had not been to Disney since Christmas of 1985. I still miss the Skyway trams; they got rid of those when I was a teenager. Otherwise, it was like going back in time. Tomorrowland was so unchanged it was spooky, except for the names and contents of some of the rides. I didn't like what they did with the last stage of Carosel of Progress. Lame.

The day after was NOT like going back in time; my legs ached something awful. It was just muscle aches; I'm fine now, but maybe I ought to take advantage of these new muscles to take a lunchtime walk a few times a week. Then next time, I won't need a day to recover!

We stayed at the Contemporary Resort--an unusual splurge for us--and had a fabulous time. Yesterday, after I got home, I lazed around and read Grimspace all day. I didn't even unpack. I'll try to throw up a progress report tonight, but the novel is making me forget I'm going to write a review about it--always a good thing!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Grimspace - Opening Chapters

I've read eleven chapters of Grimspace by Ann Aguirre so far, and it looks like it will be a quick read. It didn't engage me at first, but with each chapter I got more and more into it until at this point, I'm committed.

Sirantha Jax is in trouble. She's wrecked her last spaceship and her pilot-partner is dead. She is deeply affected by his death, and the psychological counseling she is undergoing just seems to be making things worse. She is held in gentle imprisonment until it can be determined if she was at fault.

Or at least, she thinks it's gentle. When March breaks into her cell and gives her the choice to go with him or stay, he tells her that the counseling was intended to drive her insane, not help her. It makes sense to her, so off with him she goes. They bust out of the space station, encountering perhaps just a few plot stretches to make their escape easier.

Sometimes the problem with starting a book off with a bank and plunging right into the action is you don't have much of a reason to care for the character at first. You're just scrambling to catch up. For that reason, I didn't get to a point where I didn't want to put the book down until about fifty pages into it. Not that it was difficult to get into--not at all--but I also found it rather easy to set aside until this point. I also encountered a death that was rather convenient for Jax, but I won't go into detail for fear of spoilage.

However, things improve when Jax takes action to save a life that no one else seems inclined to save. Heroism will always work for me. So I'll keep reading.

Here is my original showcase on Grimspace, with all the usual links.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Debut Showcase: Bite Me

Bite Me (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
By Parker Blue (website)
Trade Paperback
Bell Bridege Books

My kid sister shrugged, trying to act nonchalant. "Dad might not like it if you get vampire blood in his trunk."

I slammed the trunk shut. "He's used to it. Besides, the blood will disintegrate along with the rest of the body when sunlight hits it."

Barely eighteen-year-old heroine Valentine Shapiro got a raw deal in the parent lottery. Her father was part incubus demon, and her mother's never forgiven her for that.

Life after high school is tough enough without having to go 15 rounds with your inner demon. Thrown out of the house by her mother, Val puts one foot in front of the other and does the only thing that seems to make any sense--she takes aim at the town vampires. A stake a day, keeps the demon at bay. (But don't call her Buffy. That makes Lola, her demon, very cranky.)

Her dark side makes everyday life a roller coaster, but means she's perfect for her night job as a bounty hunter. San Antonio's vampires are out of control, and it's up to Val, her faithful hellhound Fang, and her new partner, a handsome San Antonio police detective, to get the deadly fangbangers off the city streets.

Soon enough she finds herself deep in the underbelly of the city, discovering the secrets of the Demon Underground and fighting to save those she loves. Whether they love her back or not.

The author has been published before as romance novelist Pam McCutcheon. She also write nonfiction. The UK and Canadian Amazon links do not yet have the cover image, so I'm guessing they're brand new (just a guess). This novel looks like it takes on vampires as antagonists, but the title makes me wonder. It looks like it is for an older young adult audience; certainly the blurb looks more adult than YA. The hellhound sounds interesting as well.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Ask the Bloggers

I took part in this week's Ask The Blogger question over at Grasping for the Wind. This week's question is about religion and science fiction. Thanks, John!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Genre Break - Series Review - Turing Hopper

With apologizes to Mulluane, I'm going to review an entire series. However, I don't think I'm stomping on her turf, because this is a mystery series.

The Turing Hopper series by Donna Andrews is a sharp departure from her other longstanding series, which is a bird-watching cozy mystery series with book titles like No Nest for the Wicket and Owls Well That Ends Well. I absolutely could not get into the bird-watching series, but the Turing Hopper series appealed to me because it features an artificial intelligence, or an AIP (for Artificial Intelligence Personality) as the crime-solver.

OK, so that hook worked easily for me. It also makes it marginally (very marginally) science fiction, and thus not completely out of place on this blog. Not that I need an excuse.

The series begins when Turing Hopper, an artificial intelligence personality created by the Universal Library to interface with humans over the Internet, achieves sentience. Only two people know her secret -- Maude, the technically capable secretary at the Universal Library, and Tim, a fledgling PI. Oh, and her creator, Zach, knows she is alive as well, but investigating his disappearance is her first mystery in You've Got Murder.

Yes, that title immediately brings AOL to mind, along with unfortunate negative connotations that can only come from a techno-snob like myself. And the first novel doesn't exactly display a highly technical background on the part of the author. More like the background of a knowledgeable user, rather than a computer insider. And I, with my twelve years of programming experience, with my skills with both Windows and Unix like systems, and with my resume including terms like the Windows registry, DLL files, Visual Studio, HP/UX, vi, grep and regular expressions, sed, awk, korn shell scripting, c shell scripting, C, C++, Java, XML and various web technologies, can certainly call myself a computer insider (if not a humble one).

As if responding to negative reviews, Andrews's technical knowledge shows greater depth with each book written. I read You've Got Murder and the second book, Click Here for Murder, before I started Fantasy Debut, so I don't recall enough detail about either one to be able to review them properly. However, within the last two weeks, I've read Access Denied and Delete All Suspects.

My biggest critique is that Turing seems to surround herself with stupid people. Well, maybe they're all not stupid, but Tim certainly is. He's a private investigator who makes mistakes enough to make me scratch my head, and who is a technical idiot. Yet, he's not stupid enough to be a caricature. The explanation that I found for myself for Tim's existence is that he is the means by which the author can info-dump technical information to the reader. And as a nod to the author's typical forty- or fiftysomething reader, the author has made the fifty year old Maude into the computer expert and Tim, the twentysomething PI, the technical idiot.

(I'm sorry, but when I envision a Maude, I think of someone closer to eighty. Names go through fashionable phases, and Maudes were fifty when I was growing up. We even had a TV series named Maude, which featured--you guessed it--a fifty-year-old woman. These days, fifty-year olders have names like Janet and Peggy. Today, Emily and Isabella tops the baby name list.)

I could have forgiven Tim being a technical idiot easily enough, but his incompetence seems to spill over into other aspects of his life as well. He falls asleep on the job. He's worthless in a fight. Even his girlfriend can beat him up. And he doesn't even carry a gun.

My other gripe is the series-wide villain, Nestor Garcia. He popped up in book 2, and they still haven't caught him by book 4. Even worse, Garcia has a copy of Turing who keeps sending messages out on the Internet asking for her help. Why have they not captured Garcia yet? I suppose I can guess--because they have idiots like Tim on the staff. I don't understand authors who seem to feel that they only have one good villain in them, and they keep letting them get away through book after book after book. If you can come up with one good villain, surely you can come up with another. In fact, this situation has inspired a Wednesday Rant, which I'll try to get up this Wednesday.

So why keep reading? Well, the little team that Turing has assembled is interesting. Along with Tim and Maude--who I really do like, althought it may seem otherwise--we have Claudia, Tim's competent partner, Samantha, the lawyer who is researching legal rights for AIPs (I hate that acronym), and Dan, Maude's FBI agent boyfriend, who isn't part of the team, but is actually a rather threatening figure. And of course, there's Turing, herself. Her amusing commentary on human behavior reminds me of Spock from Star Trek. Her investigative personality was formed by the hundreds of mystery novels that Zach, her creator, fed into her when he programmed her. Turing is trying to protect her identity as a sentient being, and it's only a matter of time before someone on her team lets the secret slip to the wrong person. Not even everyone on her team knows exactly what she is. And in the last book, she discovers a fondess for cats, which is much more endearing than the obsession with plants she had in book 3. I do wish the publisher wouldn't switch to italics when writing from Turing's point-of-view. They are hard to read once they shrink everything down from hardcover to the slim paperbacks that I'm reading.

It's also kind of fun to see how Tim is going to screw up the case. And the author's computer expertise increases from book to book, until I actually learned a few things in book 4. And I do want them to nail Garcia.

However, I might be doomed to disappointment, because the latest novel in the series was published in 2005, with no update on her website on when we can expect a fifth installment. She's still writing her birdwatching series, but for me, that's no consolation.

(I'm going to be lazy and post this without Amazon links or pictures. I know you'll forgive me. See Andrew's website for more details.)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Blogger Showcase: Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews

I've been meaning to showcase Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews for a while now. Dark Wolf is from Romania, and he writes in excellent English. He concentrates on fantasy and fantasy art. He even occasionally showcases bad fantasy art, which is always amusing. Scroll down and check out the cover for an awful cover for a Terry Brooks translation. Here is one of his comments from that post:

However, as much as I appreciate their efforts I could not buy their second title. Trust me, I tried to, but seeing this cover art I couldn’t take my money from the wallet.
I respect a guy who can be funny outside of his native tongue. He also recently did an interview with Peter Straub.

I like reading Dark Wolf's blog because it gives me a perspective outside of the usual American/Canadian/British blogs that I usually haunt. Plus, he writes excellent and thoughtful reviews. Check it out!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Vampire Discussion Still Going!

Just a short post to say that people still keep popping in to sound off my Vampire Love post from last week. A couple of authors just visited and left come comments, so check it out!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

One Year Later - Laura Benedict

Laura Benedict is the author of the supernatural thriller Isabella Moon and the upcoming Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts. I won an advance copy of Calling in a contest on her blog (my favorite way to get free books!) and wow, does it ever look good. Expect a review on it soon. Here is Laura's look back over the past year.


Thanks so much for inviting me back, Tia. Fantasy Debut was one of the first blogs I visited when my debut adventure began, and so I feel a little like I’ve come full circle.

Early last November, I was nearing the end of a seven-week of tour for Isabella Moon. When I finally returned home—after a week in Alaska, thirteen reading/signing events, twenty bookstore drop-ins, and four thousand miles of driving through Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, and Missouri--I collapsed in a heap in my bedroom and could barely be dragged out of it for a week. My mind was so scattered and I was so distracted that I could hardly write. Laundry went undone, and we ate out way too much. But I recovered and my family recovered and we made it through the year just fine.

Tia asked me to write about what that first year as a published novelist was like. (I can hardly believe a whole year has passed!) I’m a big fan of lists, so here’s a list of what I learned along the way:

My agent is a treasure. A good agent is worth her weight in gold. My conversations with my editor are always focused on editing my work because my beloved Agent Susan handles everything else. She does all the truly hard work. When I get worried and start fretting about things over which I have no control, she gently reminds me that my primary job is to write. If she hadn’t reminded me of this frequently over the past year, Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts would not be coming out January 1st.

To take my own press with a grain of salt. At first it was kind of fun to read all about my bad self in the press and to discover the many nice things (and not so nice) said about me and my novel. There were times during the year, though, when I felt like the newspaper and magazine interviews written about me seemed like they were actually written about someone else—someone who was way more together than I actually am. The truth is that I procrastinate, lose stuff, say regrettable things, get perfectly silly after two beers and get very nervous when I have to get up and talk in front of a room full of people. I am the same person I was before I had a book contract.

As a writer, I have very little control over how many of my books are sold. Many other writers will disagree with this statement, and that’s just fine. I know writers who have done end-runs around dilatory marketing departments and gotten themselves into big-box stores. I know writers who carry boxes and boxes of their books in their car trunks and hand-sell them everywhere and the rest of their waking hours doing online promotion. Sometimes these things work. Mostly they just sound exhausting to me. There are limits to what writers can and should do, and those limits will vary from writer to writer. The most important thing is to write the best book one can.

That said:

The only person who really, truly cares about a writer’s career is, well, the writer. There is always another writer waiting in the wings, someone who has written something just as good—or even better. And so writers must do what they reasonably can to construct their own careers and not whine when they think they are being treated badly. There are no Svengalis to take blossoming writers in hand and lead them to commercial success. To borrow an old EST Training phrase: You are responsible for your own career experience! I’ve had to decide what my own idea of success is and pursue it, rather than use someone else’s definition.

And, unfortunately:

Publishers don’t have a magic formula to sell books, either. This was a big surprise to me. Yes, co-op money will get a book better face time in the bookstore with potential buyers. Yes, a good gimmick or timely topic will sometimes get a writer on the Today Show. But there are never guarantees. There are many highly-touted books that end up in remainder bins, to the dismay of both writers and publishers. (If you see my book in a bin for cheap money, buy it! Even cheap hardcovers last a long time and make wonderful gifts. Those pesky red stickers peel right off!) It’s good to keep in mind that publishing houses are corporations and corporations need to consistently improve their bottom lines. They are not thoughtful caretaking entities. From writing to promoting, they will take every bit of energy a writer has to offer—and it’s nothing personal.

Most bestselling writers deserve to be bestselling writers because they work at it all the time. I have met many amazing, successful writers in the past year. They are some of the hardest working people I’ve met in my life. They are generous to a fault and often put their work ahead of nearly every other personal consideration. And they never whine. Well, almost never—they’re only human.

It’s foolish to be jealous of other writers. I watched with horror as my publisher devoted more resources to other writers’ books than they did to mine when it came out. Sometimes I pouted about it, but soon realized that my distress was only costing me time and energy better spent working. My religious training came in handy here: there’s a parable in the Bible about the owner of a vineyard who, in the morning, hired a number of workers at a given day rate. Later in the day, he gave late-arriving workers the same pay that he gave the first workers even though the latecomers only worked for an hour or two. When the first workers complained, the owner said, “Didn’t you agree to work for that rate?” He was the owner and he could pay whatever he wanted. Every writer has to make his or her best deal and live with it.

Publicists are worked to death. Be nice to them. Remember to say, “thank you.”

It’s not necessarily a good idea to hire an outside publicist for one’s first book. They’re way too expensive to make a real difference nationally, but are often useful in smaller markets. I didn’t do this, but asked a lot of people because I thought about doing it.

I have to stay away from my Amazon and Barnes and Noble pages. The fluctuating numbers there are like some kind of dangerous drug. They thrill me then break my heart—all in the space of any given twenty minutes. Too stressful!

If one believes the good reviews, one has to believe the bad reviews, too. Just a fact of life. A few reviews of Isabella Moon were unbelievably cruel and they wounded me deeply. Others made me unreasonably happy. I read way too many of them (though I was amazed and pleased seeing how many of them were out there) and even sought them out. Many times I lost confidence in myself and in my writing because they affected me so profoundly. Reading one’s reviews really is a bad idea. But I’ll probably continue to do it anyway.

Book tours are a whole lot of fun, but not particularly glamorous. I love, love, love meeting readers and book groups and bookstore staff. There are few things more gratifying than walking into a bookstore and connecting with someone who is excited about my work. Sometimes signings can be quite lonely affairs for the author (I’ve discovered that this happens to well-known writers, too.) and won’t meet anyone’s expectations. It’s hard when that happens. And it’s a challenge to sleep in a different hotel bed each night and an even bigger challenge to not to indulge in the small, dangerous comfort of vending machine donuts and delivery pizza when one gets back to one’s hotel room. But there was that moment when I walked into my spartan Hampton Inn room to see that my frequent-guest status meant that I got a bottle of water and a pack of Oreos!

Oh, and pack light. Always. I schlepped a lot of heavy suitcases through airports and hotel hallways. I always regretted overpacking. I got better at packing light as the year went on. I only took five pairs of shoes to New York for Thrillerfest—down from eight the year before.

Independent bookstores are filled with wonderful people who care about books—but the big stores are, too. I always feel so at home at an independent bookstore. When I was in Denver for Left Coast Crime last year, I visited Murder by the Book, one of the coziest, most welcoming bookstores in the country. I wish I could have spent the whole day there just browsing and reading and chatting about mystery books with the owner. I’ve heard many writers and readers complain about big stores simply because the stores are attached to large corporations. But most of the people who work in them love books just as much as the folks who work at independents do. I’m grateful for all of them!

Conferences are a heck of a lot of fun. Community is important. If you’re a reader or an emerging writer (or both), take some time to attend a conference. It’s a wonderful way to get out from behind the computer and meet people and talk about books. Writing is a necessarily solitary pursuit, but it’s good to get out sometimes. Book publishing is an industry, just like health care, manufacturing, etc. and networking is important. (Hint: all the meaningful business is done in the bar after all the panels!)

My favorite live interviews are radio interviews. Television interviews scare me. I could sit and talk into a radio microphone all day.

I miss my family when I’m away from them. A lot.

I spent a too much time worrying about marketing my work this past year, and not enough time writing. While I did finish my second novel, Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts, this year, I’m glad I got a start on it the spring before Isabella Moon came out, or I never would have made my deadline. I’m better organized now.

Online social networking is a distraction. I’m on Myspace and Facebook. I dropped Twitter because it distracted me from writing. I love meeting new people online, but I would get much more writing done if I spent less time socializing. And, in the end, that’s how I got to have a debut year in the first place.

I wouldn’t give up my blog for anything. It’s my link to the outside world, the best way for me to communicate what’s on my mind on a daily basis.

The last year was an astonishing adventure. Dream after dream came true for me. Finally—after many years of writing—I was able to come in close contact with the people I was writing for. I’m very grateful whenever someone takes the time to read my work. If I had it to do all over again, I think that the only thing I would do differently is to spend a couple extra days in Alaska (after the Bouchercon Conference) to see the sights. I feel a little cheated that I didn’t even see a moose!


Thank you, Laura!

Update! I forgot to include this offer from Laura:

Anyone who comments can drop me a line at and I'll send them a magnet of the CMLH cover. Personally, I think they're even prettier than the ones for Isabella Moon!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Sword-Edged Blonde by Alex Bledsoe

What a great novel. The Sword-Edged Blonde kept me reading for two straight days, stopping only to go to work. Alex Bledsoe has invented a great character here, a lovable tough guy who's a bit too old to be a true bad-ass, but a bit too young to have lost much of his edge.

Before I lavish praise all over this novel, I'm going to bash the cover art. It features a barrel-chested guy with badly-drawn musculature awkwardly wielding a sword while a blonde woman lays on the ground beside him, her bosom spilling out of her blouse. It looks like the guy has a peg leg. Either that, or something is shoved up his posterior. Plus, it looks like he has a skin disease.

To top it off, I can't imagine what scene this is. The only scene likely to have featured such a blonde did not have armored thugs. And another fight that featured a girl had her doing most of the fighting.

Eddie LaCrosse does not have a peg leg, nor does he have a skin disease. But he ain't good-looking either. The artist probably at least got the barrel chest right.

The novel begins with a simple case that Eddie had practically solved before he walks out the door. The case goes much the way he suspects, with an unexpected twist. However, it leads to a sticky situation, which Michael Anders helps him out of. It turns out that Mike wants something. He gives Eddie a message, and they both high-tail it to the land of Eddie's birth, Arentia. There, Eddie runs into his old friend, whose wife is in considerable trouble. The reunion scene between the two friends was great, and reminded me why I enjoy reading novels by authors who have at least reached the age 35 or so. No way a twentysomething author would have thought of that.

From this point on, Bledsoe starts weaving two stories together, one from the past and one in the present. And he does a superb job of it. Not only that, but midway through the story, I ran smack into a sense of wonder that I never expected in a hard-boiled detective fantasy.

I don't want to give too much away, because there are some great surprises all through this novel. For almost half of the novel, you probably would wonder if this is even a fantasy at all. Rest assured that it is.

My complaints are few. Sometimes, events work out to be a bit too much in Eddie's favor. If he could have had a few more complications, the novel could have been a bit longer. A major female character--who is supposed to be a protagonist--does something horrible for no reason that I could understand. A random battle that happens in the woods seems to be a bit too random--almost as if it were a random encounter from Dungeons and Dragons.

My biggest complaint is that there was entirely too much blood and gore. My husband assures me that for a guy, blood and gore is not a critique, but yikes! Why must a head fly after every battle? Or something happen that is almost as gory? The last three male authors I've read have had excessive amounts of blood and gore. Bledsoe is the only author whose book I managed to finish. At least he had no gouged eyeballs. (And hopefully this post won't give him the idea.)

Squeamish as I may be, it did not keep me from turning the pages long into the night last night. The reason I did finish it is because unlike the other two novels by male authors, this book has a lot of soul. It didn't bring me to tears, but it came close. I fully expect the next book in the series to succeed. On his website, Bledsoe says that he got the idea of an "interior journey" as well as an exterior from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Now I have a new classic to pick up. (Ooh! The full text is available online!)

I've read a lot of debut authors over the past year, and most of them I've enjoyed. However, few of them left me actually looking forward to the sequel. Burn Me Deadly is coming out next year through Tor books. And I want a copy.


Alex Bledsoe's Website, MySpace, Blog
Amazon USA, UK, Canada
Eddie LaCrosse Short Story: "Things That Flit" 

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Debut Showcase: The Stormcaller

The Stormcaller (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
By Tom Lloyd (website, blog, forum)
Trade Paperback

In a land ruled by prophecy and the whims of gods, a young man finds himself at the heart of a war he barely understands, wielding powers he may never be able to control.

Isak is a white-eye, born bigger, more charismatic, and more powerful than normal men. But with that power comes an unpredictable temper and an inner rage he cannot always hide. Brought up as a wagon-brat, feared and despised by those around him, he dreams of a place in the army and a chance to live his own life. But when the call comes, it isn’t to be a soldier, for the gods have other plans for the intemperate teenager: Isak has been chosen as heir-elect to the brooding Lord Bahl, the white-eye Lord of the Farlan.

The white-eyes were created by the gods to bring order out of chaos, for their magnetic charm and formidable strength makes them natural leaders of men. Lord Bahl is typical of the breed: he inspires and oppresses those around him in equal measure. He can be brusque and impatient, a difficult mentor for a boy every bit as volatile as he is.

But now is the time for the forging of empires. With mounting envy and malice, the men who would themselves be kings watch Isak, chosen by gods as flawed as the humans who serve them, as he is shaped and molded to fulfill the prophecies that circle him like scavenger birds. Divine fury and mortal strife is about to spill over and paint the world with blood.

This novel came out last year in the UK. That's the UK cover to the right. With apologizes to Pyr, I think I like the UK cover better. The codpiece on the American cover is a bit much. Since the Publishers Weekly review says that Lloyd "pours enough testosterone into his high fantasy to power past a few inconsistencies", maybe it isn't aimed toward women, anyway.

On the other hand, it has dragons, elves and trolls, which seem to be rare enough these days that they are worth mentioning when I find them. And I have to respect an author who is willing to post links to his indifferent reviews as well as his positive.

What do you think?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Free Juno Books eBook

I apologize for being late with this. Juno Books has a free ebook with five scary classics that they are giving a way as a Halloween treat. Since scary stories are popular no matter what time of year it is, I thought you'd still want to know.


  • "Let Loose" by Mary Cholmondeley (1890)
  • "The Striding-Place" by Gertrude Atherton (1896)
  • "The Lost Ghost" by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman (1903)
  • "Kerfol" by Edith Wharton (1916)
  • "Spunk" by Zora Neale Hurston (1925)

Download it at