Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March Debut Round-Up

Midwinter (US - Canada - UK)
by Matthew Sturges (Website - Blog - Facebook - Forum - Twitter)
Publisher: Pyr (March 24, 2009)
Paperback: 345 pages

Publisher's Blurb:
Winter comes to the land only once in a hundred years. But the snow covers ancient secrets: secrets that could topple a kingdom.

Mauritaine was a war hero, a captain in the Seelie Army. Then he was accused of treason and sentenced to life without parole at Crere Sulace, a dark and ancient prison in the mountains, far from the City Emerald. But now the Seelie Queen – Regina Titania herself – has offered him one last chance to redeem himself, an opportunity to regain his freedom and his honor.

Unfortunately, it’s a suicide mission . . .

Read more at Pyr Books. Matthew Sturges is a former comic book writer for D. C. The author website above takes you to Clockwork Storybook, a group writer blog. Contrary to the "clockwork" part of their name, it does not appear to be a steampunk blog.

Reviews: Fantasy Book Critic - Grasping for the Wind

The Betrayal (US - Canada - UK)
by Pati Nagle (Website - Blog - Livejournal - Twitter - Facebook)
Publisher: Del Rey (March 24, 2009)
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher's Blurb:
The noble and magical aelven were riven by war when a rogue clan embraced a forbidden source of magic: the drinking of blood. In the bitter fighting that ensued, the vampiric Clan Darkshore were cast out of the aelven and driven across the Ebon Mountains. Stripped of their various clan colors, they were thenceforth known only as “alben,” hated and shunned. An uneasy peace now holds over the land, but it is whispered that Shalár, the beautiful and bloodthirsty queen of the alben, is readying a surprise attack to win back all that was lost–and none can say where or when she will strike.

The fate of the clans will depend on two young aelven lovers, Eliani and Turisan, who are blessed with a legendary gift: the fabled power of mindspeech. But this ability comes with great risks. Time is running out as the alben mount their attack–and their ultimate betrayal.

Reviews: Aelven

The review site above takes you to a page of author blurbs. Pati Nagle is a historical novelist making the jump to fantasy. From her bio, she has been a lifelong fan of fantasy and science fiction.

Red-Headed Stepchild (US - Canada - UK)
by Jaye Wells (Website - Blog - MySpace - Facebook - Twitter - Goodreads)
Publisher: Orbit (March 31, 2009)
Mass Market Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher's Blurb:
In a world where being of mixed-blood is a major liability, Sabina Kane has the only profession fit for an outcast: assassin. But, her latest mission threatens the fragile peace between the vampire and mage races and Sabina must scramble to figure out which side she's on. She's never brought her work home with her---until now.

This time, it's personal.

Reviews: Darque Reviews - SciFiGuy.ca

The author got a fabulous book deal for this one; congratulations to her! Her name is already familiar to me--she has been very active on Facebook. Raven has already read Red-Headed Stepchild and her review will be appearing later in the week.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Introducing Debut Roundups

Tomorrow morning, Mulluane and I are unveiling our new Debut Showcase format. For now, it is called Debut Roundup, unless we can think of a better name. You can still find them by using the "Debut News" tag.

The way it will work is we will collect information throughout the month on debuts that are releasing that month. On the last day of the month--or close to it--I will post the whole thing. I don't anticipate more than 7 to 10 debuts in any one month. if I get more than that, I may put up a post around the 15th as well.

This will relax my blog schedule significantly, since I will no longer have to reserve several days a week for Debut Showcases. I'll be able to do more as-I-read-it reviews, as well as fun, informal posts like you saw last week.

Review: Blood Blade by Marcus Pelegrimas

Blood Blade (US - Canada - UK)
By Marcus Pelegrimas (Website - Blog)
Publisher: Eos (January 27, 2009)
Mass Market Paperback: 336 pages

I found Blood Blade refreshing. Although it contains vampires and monsters (specifically various types of werewolves), it offers a fresh take on them, primarily concerning their biology and how they reproduce. Vampirism is transmitted by a spore that attaches to the heart. Werewolfism can be transmitted through werewolf bites, but someone who is bitten won't become a pure werewolf. The world of this book also contains other types of wereanimals who aren't really friendly with the werewolves. Blood Blade is urban fantasy with a setting moving from Seattle to Canada to Chicago and beyond.

The story is about a human named Cole, who starts out a mere computer game developer and ends up a Skinner, which is someone who dedicates his life to fighting werewolves and keeping a fragile peace with vampires (known as Nymar). I felt Cole's initial introduction to the Skinner way of life was a little shaky, since it required him to suddenly decide to take an extreme vacation to the wilds of Canada, where he ran into a type of werewolf known as a Full Blood. This encounter propelled him into the rest of the story. Unfortunately, I could see all of it being set up, and I wished Cole had had more of a reason to be where the Full Blood was. I still don't know why that particular Full Blood was there, but maybe that's being saved for another book.

Once Cole had been propelled into the main story, everything moved along at an enjoyable clip and I didn't have any more complaints about obvious setups. For most of the book Cole is in Skinner training, but of course the things he's fighting don't wait for him to be fully trained before they attack him, so there's plenty of action along the way. Cole isn't an invincible hero by any stretch of the imagination. He's capable, has a good heart, and admits his weaknesses, all admirable qualities. He was fun to read.

His Skinner trainer is a kickass woman named Paige. She could easily have turned into a stereotype, but I didn't think she did. Naturally, Cole lusts after her, but she seems to return his interest only when they're about to die. The rest of the time she just cares about training him so he can help her fight the things that are after them. Readers will notice that the women in the book get much more detailed physical descriptions than the men, and most of the women are attractive. But I still don't know what Cole looks like other than the fact he's got a gut that appeared when he hit thirty. Maybe the gut is why Paige isn't interested in him…

The main villain's motivations were a little murky. On the one hand he was looking for revenge, but I wasn't clear on exactly how he intended to get it. He had a plan, I just wasn't sure what the end result of it was supposed to be. I did like the fact that his monster sidekick, whom I felt sorry for, had good reasons for being the way he was.

There were a few things I would have liked to see added or adjusted. First of all, I would have liked to see more of an origin myth. Cole never asks where the Nymar and various types of werewolves came from, but I wanted to know. Also, I would have liked to see Cole's gamer background play a more integral role in the story. It plays a role, but there was still room for it to become indispensable to resolving the plot. Finally, there were occasional rough patches in the writing. Not a lot, but enough that I noticed them. Awkward wording and the misuse of "lie/lay" stood out, as well as one or two spots where the characters didn't seem to know something they'd been told earlier.

On the whole, however, this was a fun book that kept me reading, and I don't hesitate to recommend it to fans of urban fantasy. Although the book contains lots of dark creatures with dark plans, the tone stays hopeful. The Skinners we follow are a pragmatic bunch who live day to day and don't worry much about angst. I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of dark characters with wounded souls. Well, there aren't any of those here (at least not among the heroes), and that's okay. The characters are fun, the pace was quick, and although the story boils down to a very basic good vs. evil plot, it's an enjoyable ride and a nice introduction to this series.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Regular Posting . . .

. . . will resume on Sunday afternoon. Raven has finished her latest review and all I need to do is spiff it up with links and images.

This week on "hiatus" has taught me something. I have been entirely too serious about this blog. I made it more lighthearted this week--more "me" to be honest--and it was much more fun. I even managed to snag a new reader or two. So expect things to be a bit more relaxed around here.

Have a great weekend and pop on back Sunday Afternoon!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Tonight's Post . . .

. . . is at the Old Bat's Belfry, in the form of a Reader Appreciation Interview. Thanks, Mulluane, who isn't all that much older than me, so I hope she isn't really an old bat.

(I thought of starting a blog called SciFiBroad in acknowledgment of my 40ness. But I already run Fantasy Debut, so maybe that will be the next blog.)

Hmm . . . I need to come up with some sort of reader appreciation gimmick. Mulluane's interview was a lot of fun, and I hope you have as much fun reading it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

And the Winner Is . . .

. . . The Hunt for Dark Infinity by James Dashner. This book had a few things going for it. The most important is that I love the first book in the series, The Journal of Curious Letters. This is a Middle Grade reader book, part of a series called The Thirteenth Reality. Here is my review of the first book.

The second book started a bit slow for me, but picked up nicely. I expect it to be a quick read. Also, Raven read a couple of books while she was on vacation, and she will be posting her review soon.

Aimless Blatherings

Ok, so I'm posting more now that I'm on hiatus. That makes sense, doesn't it?

I've noticed incoming referrals on four forums! If anyone is here from Westeros, EN World Hatrack River or Authornomy, welcome! Normally, I'd be creating logins at this point to find out what's being said about me or this site, but I'm just not feeling that narcissistic today. I have a feeling they're saying good things. If they were saying awful things, the number of visits would be a lot higher.

Social Titles in Reviews

Some of you may have noticed that I've started using social titles in reviews. I'm not sure why I started doing that, other than that I've gotten older and fussier. It could be because I live in a part of the country where the use of social titles do persist--at least to an extent. Hereabouts, I am known as "Miss Tia" among the Under 18 Crowd.

As I've gotten older, I've gotten fonder of the notion of social titles, and I think it's a shame that they have largely gone away. Part of it, I think, is the backlash against Ms., which appears to be universally hated. Ms. does have a purpose, however. Before Ms. came along, there was no default title for females whose marital status is unknown or irrelevant. Here in the South, we pronounce Ms. as Miss, not Miz. I can live with Ms. as long as I don't have to say Miz.

There's something about the use of social titles that conveys respect. My doctor unfailingly calls Mrs. Nevitt, which I appreciate because it conveys mutual respect. After all, I refer to him as Dr. Blank (not his real name). When I use Mr. or Ms. in my reviews, it helps me remain respectful toward the author.

The Effect of Non-Native English Readers on My Writing

I've noticed that I'm using fewer colloquialisms now that I have a number of known readers from Europe. For example, in the above, I almost wrote "Dr. So-and-So". I decided that would be too confusing. I also originally said "the Under 18 Set", but I thought my meaning would be lost.

Thanks, guys, for helping me write clearer!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Subscriber 238

This post is for whoever is subscriber number 238 in Google Reader. That would be the latest subscriber.

Thank you.

I was feeling a bit glum because my lackadaisical postings made my daily visitor numbers decidedly flat. And my Followers number recently slipped from 63 to 62. But despite this, someone--number 238--still decided that my ramblings were worth coming back and reading again.

I'm feeling humbled. (And, I acknowledge, rather silly.)

A Brief Semi-Not-Really-Hiatus

It must be all the Microsoft exams catching up with me, because I'm needing a bit of a break. The posts for the rest of the week will be a bit more lightweight than usual, except maybe an interview that might come in later this week. I won't be posting a Discovery Showcase this weekend. I'll continue to throw my thoughts up--especially on reads in-process--but no in-depth posts until next week. By then, I should be ready to write a review or two.

I suppose another way to put it is I'm going to be a lazy blogger this week!

What am I reading? I'm balancing three books right now, waiting for one to hook me enough for me to set the others aside. A really tempting review copy came in today, but I'm doing my best to ignore it while I sample The Stranger by Max Frei, Griffin's Shadow by Leslie Ann Moore and The Hunt for Dark Infinity by James Dashner.

What are you reading?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Killing Comment Spam

I have started getting comment spam where the spammer leaves numerous links in what appears to be Chinese. This spam is particularly annoying because the post ends up being 20 or so lines long, because it uses one line per link.

Therefore, with some reluctance, I have added word verification to my comments. I also now moderate comments left on posts older than 2 weeks. This only seems to happen when spammers comment on old posts, so I don't think it will affect you regulars.

I hope you won't find the word verification thing so annoying that you stop leaving comments altogether. I'm thinking about suggesting to Google that they have the word verification thing to only kick in after about 48 hours. The spam usually takes at least that long before it starts showing up.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Discovery Showcase - What Happened to the Indians

What Happened to the Indians
by Terence Shannon
Shannon Books

Cover blurb:
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE INDIANS is a sci-fi thriller that makes an analogy between Europeans coming to the Americas and aliens coming to earth.

Aliens make themselves known only to the United States government through a small series of hostile acts. They shoot down a couple of fighter jets and kidnap a commercial airliner packed with passengers. The one communication they offer is a request for an earth base in an isolated canyon in New Mexico. Whether the aliens have come in peace or not is up to the president to decide. The president's advisers split. The hawks say not to give up any territory without a fight, what the American Indians should have done with Columbus. The doves say let them land, that it's insane to start a shooting war with a superior power. The doves hope to deal with them, for the secrets of their technologies.

Chapter One

"Over there," Margolis said from his copilot's chair in the sub-hunting S-3 Viking. He motioned toward the right. "See it? I bet that's it."

Rizzo looked in that direction. The sun was casting an afternoon glare on the cobalt blue water, except for a wide patchy area that was dull as dishwater. It was the first unusual thing they had seen in two hours of looking. He banked the plane sharply.

As they came closer to it, Rizzo could see from their altitude of three hundred feet it was fuel, oil giving off an unmistakable sheen, a dingy lifeless slick that in places reflected green and yellow. "We're lucky the sea's calm," he said. "On a rougher day, it would have dissipated before now."

"What the hell could have happened?" Margolis asked. "An F-16 fighter jet is just sailing along on a clear blue day. The pilot's talking on the radio about nothing. How can there be no indication of trouble right up to the end?"

Rizzo had an idea or two as to what might cause an explosion, but he didn't get to offer anything. Before he could speak he spotted something floating in the water, the end section of a wing, maybe ten feet long. They both saw it. A wing was one of the few parts that would stay afloat due to its hollowness, Rizzo knew. "You see any numbers on it? Anything?"

"No," Margolis said. Rizzo hadn't either, nothing that would confirm it belonged to an F-16.

Just seconds after they saw the wing they flew over something else, a bright orange survival raft. The raft was only partially inflated. "Looks like it's still hung to the ejection seat," Margolis said, turning to him.

Rizzo nodded, but reluctantly. The condition of the raft was strong evidence the pilot hadn't made it.

They saw no sign of a body. Even if the pilot was killed instantly, his survival vest would automatically inflate when it hit the water.

After a few minutes of seeing nothing more Rizzo decided it was time to turn around for a second pass. Margolis did the mark on top, determining the precise longitude and latitude of their position, then radioed the information.

Rizzo found the sight of the wreckage more sobering than he was prepared for. He empathized as one pilot for another, a sense that but for the grace of God it could be him. Margolis showed no effect. He went back to a conversation they'd already had twice. Margolis had met a woman who was visiting San Diego for the Republican National Convention. He was trying to figure a way to sneak her and this plane for a midnight ride.

"You'd have to get the duty officer and a maintenance crew to go along," Margolis said, without a prompt. "It doesn't sound so outrageous, when you say it like that."

Rizzo thought it was tasteless under the circumstances, and he didn't try to hide his irritation. "Why would a bunch of guys who don't know you- what they know of you they don't like. . . Why is anyone going to risk a career, just so you can get laid?"

"What do I have? What would a group of guys like that want?" Margolis sometimes lived in a fantasy world. He tilted back his long face. His eyes seemed to bug-out as he thought it over.

"Charm them," Rizzo said. "If you had any charm at all, you woldn't need an airplane to get this woman in the sack."

"You have to see her. That's all I can say. You have to see her. Know what I mean?"

Rizzo heard the question. As he was hearing it, though, he saw something that drew him far way from it. Out the left side of the plane he focused on something his eyes were temporarily unable to transmit to his brain. It was at least a second, or two or three, before what he was seeing truly reached his mind.

About a hundred feet off the left wing a small silver disc was pacing them. "Three o'clock," he said in a clipped voice. He was trained not to panic. "We've got company like you wouldn't believe."

Rizzo had no idea from what direction it came. It was oddly familiar, almost exactly as he expected a flying saucer to be, thin and round with curved edges. It was solid silver, no windows or markings on it of any kind. The skin appeared to be perfectly smooth.

"Look at that thing," Margolis said in astonishment. "It's beautiful. It looks like it's floating on a cloud."

"How big do you think it is?" Rizzo asked.

"Maybe thirty feet wide, about seven feet high."

Rizzo stayed on the course he had intended without thinking about it. When they were headed toward the wreckage in the water again he leveled his wings. All through the banking the disc remained in the same spot at the same distance away, as if it were stuck there alongside them.

When they were fully leveled out, the disc pulled out slowly ahead, then it slid over about a hundred feet directly in front.

"Does it want us to follow?" Margolis asked.


"Is that what we're going to do?" His tone was agitated, but it didn't indicate that he wanted him to follow or not.

After just a few seconds they had to choose. The disc descended slowly lower. When it reached an altitude of one hundred fifty feet it stopped dropping. Rizzo made the decision not to follow it down. They remained at three hundred feet.

"It's not reflecting light," Margolis said. "You notice that?"


Soon after the disc had settled on its new altitude it flipped, end over end, just once, left end over right end. Rizzo didn't realize it as it was happening, but immediately afterward he did: The disc was over the wing in the water when it flipped. There was absolutely no doubt about it. As it was passing over the wing in the water, the disc rolled once end over end.

"A victory roll?" Rizzo said.

The disc accelerated at an impossible rate of speed as he was saying it. In about the time it took to blink his eyes the disc zoomed out of sight.

In its wake Rizzo sat there dumbfounded. He needed time to get used to it. He was passing through a mountain range of amazements. It was hard to know which peak was the highest.

"They might as well have talked to us," he said at last in a quiet voice.

Margolis stared straight ahead.

"You saw it," Rizzo said, his voice insistent. "That disc gave a victory roll. He was taking credit for the kill."

"It rolled over," Margolis said. "Does that make it a victory roll?"

"Yes, it does." Rizzo turned toward him. "When it's done right over the wreckage, there's nothing else you can call it."

"Probably they don't even know about victory rolls." Margolis laughed. "An alien thinks he's the Red Baron?"

"That was a clear communication. We're reporting it, Margolis. If you're thinking otherwise, you can put it out of your mind right now. We're reporting this, everything exactly as it happened."

Margolis shrugged. "All I saw was a UFO. You want to talk about victory rolls, that's your business."

"There's no other way to interpret it." He was getting upset now. "An F-16 explodes on a clear calm day with no indication of trouble. Then we get buzzed like we did as we're spotting the debris?"

"We saw a flying disc," Margolis said. "That doesn't mean it shot down anything."

"We're supposed to report it. The aliens want us to. A guy lost his life today in the cause. That's what I think. You and I are witnesses to. . ." He was struck with awe. "Don't you realize what just happened? If it was a victory roll, the aliens are communicating with us. Maybe they're trying to get our attention for something. It could be the same thing as dialing us on the phone."

"A caller like that, it's best not to answer."

"Margolis, we're reporting it."

Margolis took a moment to breathe a weary sigh, then said in a threatening tone, "This better not screw up my night."

* * *

Warm air rushed out of the two-story house. A very cold wind jolted Charlie Doyle on the short walk from his car to the door. It was the kind of bitter blast when all you could think about was getting out of it.

"You're late," Katie Clages said, standing with her hands on her hips blocking the doorway. Her hair was honey blonde, shoulder length. She had big green eyes. She'd had another baby since he had seen her last, but it didn't show an ounce, still a fine figure in denim jeans.

He shrugged. "Got stuck on the Beltway."

"Don't give me that Beltway garbage. Someone like you should have made it to Washington about five years ago."

"Maybe I knew the reception I'd get," Doyle said. "Can I come in?"

Doyle was thirty-six years old. At times he had a hard time believing it. Growing up, even in his twenties, he never really thought about it, ever getting this old. He was often mistaken for younger due to his Irish white skin. It was his deep brown eyes that set him apart- steely, clever, penetrating- the kind that let people know he had a mind that was always working. Thankfully, he possessed somthing to offset it, a small mouth that was given to an easy smile, and too often it did.

His body was lithe, athletic. In spite of a fondness for Scotch, he made sure he kept in shape. It wasn't that he was so interested in his health. It was more a matter of self-interest. Extra pounds looked particularly bad in uniform, especially at promotion time. And he liked attracting women.

In the kitchen Katie fixed him Scotch on the rocks without asking. Mike was upstairs giving the kids their baths, she volunteered. Doyle sat at the kitchen table while Katie buzzed about getting dinner ready. He looked around. The refrigerator was plastered with pieces of children's art work. He could see into the dining room, where there was a baby swing and a playpen. Every room he saw was cluttered with domesticity.

"There's someone I want you to meet," Katie said. "A woman friend of mine."

"Yeah?" He was circumspect.

"Yeah. Her name is Ava."

"What's she look like?"

"She's just the way you like -em, Charlie, long on legs and short on morals."

"That'll work."

"I thought so. You ever going to get married?"

"Maybe I'll marry your friend."

"Ha. I told her you're a good guy to go out with, but that's just as far as it goes. . . See, I already did your dirty work for you."

It had been a couple of years since he had seen Katie, or even talked to her. Her last baby was a boy, he thought, he wasn't sure. He hadn't sent a card or in any way acknowledged it, as he hadn't the previous two. The best thing about Katie was she expected so little of him.

This was his third day living in Washington. Saturday and Sunday he had spent setting up his apartment in Georgetown. Tonight he was invited for dinner in the suburbs. Mike had been his roommate when they were midshipmen at Annapolis. Katie had worked as a waitress at a tavern nearby. He and Mike had vied for Katie back then, or Doyle liked to think so.

Katie was standing at the sink, breaking up lettuce for their salad. "Mike says you're in a good spot, working for Thurman Mather. Somebody, somewhere must have noticed you."

Doyle shook his head. "That's putting it in the best possible light. I'm a charity case." With more emotion than he intended, he said, "Thurman Mather wouldn't let me go to the grocery gfor him."

Talking with Mike over a bottle of Scotch was what he came here for. They finally got to it after dinner was over, the dishes were done, the kids were put to bed and Katie was asleep on the sofa.

"China is hurting just as much as we are," Mike said, his running shoes propped on a worn, straw-leaking ottoman. "The only difference is, the Chinese people have the brains not to complain so loud."

Mike was a big guy, tall with a thick body and a round pleasant face. As a detailee from the Navy he had worked for four years now at the Central Intelligence Agency. Unlike Doyle, he had a career going. Mike had risen in rank. His personality was suited for succeeding in a bureaucracy: steady, don't make waves, nose to the grindstone. He had a bright future indeed, especially with Katie pushing him.

Doyle was seated across from him on a cushioned glider, toys piled together at the side of the chair. "The president has to get to economy moving again," he said. "That has to be his number one goal. If it means giving in a little to China and Japan, he has to do it. One way or another, we have to get these damn tariffs lowered. They're killing us."

"They're killing everybody," Mike said. "China and Japan are inches away from crumbling. If the president can hold out about six more months, then we get them lowered on our terms. We might as well get something out of it, for the hell we've gone through on the whole deal."

"That's CIA's assessment?"

Mike tipped his head.

There was no doubt Doyle enjoyed hearing the inside dope, although it hurt his ego, too. He had graduated at the top of their class while Mike finished barely in the middle.

"What's the take on Chairman Li?" Doyle asked. "Don't you think China's overdoing it a little? We got the message already."

"No one knows what to think about Chairman Li. Will the unedrground testing continue? There's no way of predicting."

"I've lost count," Doyle said. "Is that ten bombs or eleven he's set off in the last six months?"

"Eleven. Of course there's more than scientific research behind it. It's also a psychological ploy. Chairman Li is announcing to the world China's willingness to defend itself."

For a long time they talked about China and Japan and their new strategic alliance. It was a concept that was hard to get used to. Eventually, though, the conversation turned inward. "I know the pro at a good course close to here," Mike said. It was after eleven o'clock now. "It's damn good to see you, Charlie." He was almost gushing, some of it having to do with the Scotch.

Doyle smiled. It was nice someone appreciated his arrival. He was feeling a little stoned himself. "It's good to be here, I guess." He picked up a Nerfball from the floor and started tossing it. "It's not exactly the way I had planned it. Instead of a big job at the Pentagon, I've got a small one at the White House." There wasn't the same edge in his voice as there had been when he had talked to Katie on the subject. "Hell, it's not even the White House. I'm across the street."

Mike tried to remain positive. "Plenty of people would kill to be working for Thurman Mather in this administration."

He laughed. "I work for Thurman Mather like a parish priest works for the Pope. . . You know what I found out? I got picked for the job on a payroll technicality. Because the Navy's paying my salary, I'm not officially counted against the White House staff. For that reason alone they tapped old Charlie Doyle to round out the bottom of the barrel."

Mike didn't offer anything to it. He couldn't disagree so he kept his mouth shut.

Doyle wadded the ball in his hand. "I brought myself down," he said in a philosophical tone. "I thought all you needed was ability to lift you in the ranks. That was my mistake. I didn't see you still have to play by the rules, too."

"It was a piece of bad luck, Charlie."

"That's not all it was. Guys have ejected and landed with their careers intact. I brought it on myself by having a reputation. I was always in such a big hurry, that's the joke of it. I've spent more time in the slow lane than anyone in the Navy."

It used to be if you cracked up a plane, you got the boot no matter what, but that was before cutbacks in the defense budget made fully trained fighter pilots not so easily discarded. "They're never going to let me get beyond it. If I had known five years ago what I know now, I would have resigned my commission and gone from there."

A home Congressional office had opened in the vacant building next to his parents' dry cleaning store, that was how he got his appointment to Annapolis. He'd had an unlimited career ahead of him. Anyone who knew him knew it, expected it. All his life he had been loaded down with cranial capacity.

"I used to think I wasn't giving up." He looked down into his Scotch. "It wasn't that long ago I was still optimistic. Now I think I'm just waiting around for my twenty years to be up. That's what I've been reduced to. Instead of achieving something,instead of making something of myself, I'm thinking about a goddamn pension plan."

"There's nothing wrong with planning for your future, Charlie. You're getting smart."

Readers wishing to purchase What Happened to the Indians can either snag the last copy at Amazon, or they can contact the author by mail or email:

Terence Shannon
1963 Berkshire Rd.
Cincinnati, Ohio 45230

His purchase price is 12:95, which is a good discount off the Amazon price.

Discovery Showcase Information

There are currently four excerpts in the queue. I haven't been publicizing this program, preferring to see how it goes by word-of-mouth. I know there's some discussion of it at Authornomy, but I haven't obtained a login to see what it's all about. I'm going to start publicizing it this week, so if you've been on the fence, you might want to make a decision.

Here are the upcoming works, in the order in which they may appear:
  • Gathering of Rain – Volume I of Tales of the Valla
  • Jaunt
  • The Zambinos of Blue Hill: The Proving
If you want to have the first chapter of your unpublished or self-published novel featured at Fantasy Debut as a Discovery Showcase, please read how to do so here.

Comments are welcome, but remember to be nice to my authors.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Debut Showcase: The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

The Adamantine Palace (UK)
By Stephen Deas (Website - LiveJournal - Wonderlands)
Publisher: Gollancz (19 Mar 2009 UK only)
Hardcover: 384 pages

Publisher's Blurb:

The Adamantine Palace lies at the centre of an empire that grew out of ashes. Once dragons ruled the world and man was little more than prey. Then a way of subduing the dragons alchemicly was discovered and now the dragons are bred to be little more than mounts for knights and highly valued tokens in the diplomatic power-players that underpin the rule of the competing aristocratic houses. The Empire has grown fat.

And now one man wants it for himself. A man prepared to poison the king just as he has poisoned his own father. A man prepared to murder his lover and bed her daughter. A man fit to be king?

But unknown to him there are flames on the way. A single dragon has gone missing. And even one dragon on the loose, unsubdued, returned to its full intelligence, its full fury, could spell disaster for the Empire.

But because of the actions of one unscrupulous mercenary the rivals for the throne could soon be facing hundreds of dragons . . .

Mulluane's Take:
DRAGONS! Glorious, wonderful, lovely dragons! Oh I so want this to be released in the US. Supposedly it will be, by Berkley Ace, but there has been no date set as yet. There are those who were fortunate enough to get an ARC of this book so here are a couple of reviews. SFFWorld - Sandstorm Reviews

Tia's Take:
It does sound fabulous! There's nothing like those old fantasy tropes, when done well. I'm not even a huge dragon fan, but I really like the sound of this one. Mulluane and I may be covering the same book. Fortunately, there's room enough in the blogosphere for both of us.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Review: The Crown Conspiracy

The Crown Conspiracy (US - Canada - UK)
By Michael J. Sullivan (Website - Goodreads - Forum)
Publisher: Aspirations Media Inc (October 1, 2008)
Paperback: 310 pages
Excerpt (PDF)

The Crown Conspiracy came highly recommended by bloggers whom I trust, and for the most part, I found the recommendations to be right on.

The story begins with a common movie-style opening, with Royce and Hadrian demonstrating what they do, which is steal things--mostly for nobles who want the item stolen as part of their intrigues. Royce is a thief and Hadrian is a fighter. The mission they complete is loosely woven into the rest of the story, but at first, it just seems like a random mission. Don't let that fool you.

For the next mission, a nobleman wants them to hide the sword of the best swordsman in the land. Why? Because this hapless nobleman must fight said swordsman in a duel, and the sword is rumored to be magical. All this turns out to be a set-up when they find the king murdered. The king's daughter also believes they were set up, and she has a scheme for unearthing the truth. Unfortunately, her scheme involves their kidnapping her brother, the crown prince and new king.

Michael Sullivan is a gifted storyteller. He comes up with likable characters and twisty plots. However, overall, I think the novel needed a bit more. More of what? Well, more conflict, for one. Royce and Hadrian got along a bit too well. Even when Royce disagreed with Hadrian's choices, he went along with hardly a grumble. The two were like a well-oiled machine. When they abducted Alric--the prince--he was a bit too willing to believe their story and work himself into their machine, kind of like a new cog. They pick up a fourth guy, Myron, a sheltered monk who has perfect recall. Another cog. I would have liked to seen a bit more trust-building among the new guys.

I also would have liked to see a female character among the main group. It didn't really need another character, but how much more fun would the story had been if Myron had become Myra? And this was her first time around men . . . ever? I think mixing it up with the sexes makes a much livelier story, even if you don't have any romance going on. As it is now, it was like a meal with all salt, and no pepper.

I did like all the characters, but I really wanted to get inside the heads of Royce and Hadrian. We get to see Alric's and Myron's angsting, but none of that for Royce and Hadrian. They just do their job, and don't seem to have any problems, outside of the main problem of being framed for the king's murder, which, I do admit, is a doozie.

The biggest problem this book had, in my opinion, is its overly-familiar subject matter. This is a Tolkien-derived fantasy with a shot of Dungeons and Dragons--the stuff of Forgotten Realms shared-world novels. In recent years, I've seen very few works of "high fantasy" outside of Young Adult, and they all have had new takes on familiar themes, such as sexy goblins (Magic Lost, Trouble Found), interesting twists (Goblin Quest), and fleshing out the bad guys (Queen of the Orcs, Orcs). I still enjoy this kind of fantasy, but it is definitely not a hot trend.

The ending was brilliant, with just a few snags. Royce had to get by a trap which was so difficult it was over-the-top. If I played this novel as a role-playing game, I would have accused a gamemaster of being a "killer DM"for including such a trap. On the other extreme, a minor character had no trouble at all whipping up the local peasantry to revolt against the guards. Not enough time was given to develop this. People are usually remarkably content with the way things are, and it takes a LOT to get people to revolt.

However, the ending was highly entertaining, and the pages just flew by. I finished the entire final quarter of the book in one setting. Most of the plot threads were tied up, leaving just a few for a subsequent volume. Hints were laid about that, including a rescued wizard who just sort of walks out of the story, never to return. I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him.

Mr. Sullivan has made a good start with this series, but I hope to see him branch out into something more original one day. With the success that this series is already enjoying, I have no doubt he will be very successful.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Healthy Again! Plus, an Off-Topic Milestone!

My lackadaisical posting was due to ANOTHER sickness that I didn't want to bore you with until it was all over. Which it now is. Those headaches from two weeks ago turned into a dreadful sinus thing that kept me out of work two days last week. But I am ALL BETTER NOW.

And a good thing, too. I had to reschedule a certain exam that I have been meaning to take for years now (and I do mean years; it was on my performance review of a few years ago, but never happened. My manager got it to happen this year.) Anyway, I was supposed to take it last week, but I rescheduled it because I was way too sick. I took it today, and I PASSED! So, now I am a

Certified Microsoft Word Expert!
Check out my authorized logo:

What am I going to do with my shiny new credential? I have a few ideas. I have an idea for a technical book, and now that I have a credential, it may actually be sellable. I can work toward my goal of becoming an instructional designer, which is part of my greater plan to become an self-supporting freelance writer by the time I retire.

On Friday I'm taking another exam, this one for Access. Wish me luck!

Upcoming tomorrow morning: my review of The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Slow Going - A Progress Report

It's been slow going on two books that I've been reading, Slathbog's Gold and The Crown Conspiracy. Both of them have two primary problems, in my opinion. Interestingly, they both share the same problems.

The first is a lack of women. In Conspiracy, there are four characters traveling together. In Slathbog, there are eight. I really haven't had patience with such female-exclusionary plots since The Lord of the Rings. (And to be honest, it made me impatient, as well.) I mean, come on. Eight characters, and not one of them could have been a female? Not even a token female? I don't find eight men traveling together very interesting to read about, even if one of them is a boy from our world. I don't find four men traveling together interesting to read about either, but at least Conspiracy does have a major female character.

Both books might have been a bit more interesting if they both didn't also suffer from the second problem.

Lack of conflict. Conflict propels a story along and makes it interesting. In Slathbog, the eight characters get along perfectly. If there is any dissension, it hasn't shown up in 91 pages so far. They just travel and talk, and show the new kid cool things. Whatever the leader says goes with hardly a murmur of discontent. And there's no sign of a woman anywhere. Conspiracy is a bit better at conflict, and I have gotten a lot further along in this novel, but I still think there should have been a lot more tension, especially between a certain royal and his two abductor/rescuers. And I would have liked to seen some conflict between the rescuers as well. There is some interesting conflict elsewhere in the story, but a case of authorial bait-and-switch made me put the book down for a while.

These two novels are also heavily Tolkein-derived. This probably accounts for the male-centric plot. Both have elves and dwarves. One has a dragon. Elves and dwarves definitely seem to be out these days, with the notable exception of books for the Young Adult and Middle Grade age groups (which Slathbog is). The only exception I can think of is Magic Lost, Trouble Found and its sequels--and I bet Lisa Shearin has a lot of YA readers. The only other new book I've read recently with elves in it was Griffin's Daughter. And that was published by a small press, like The Crown Conspiracy.

This isn't really a review--more like a progress report. I'm sure I'll finish Conspiracy--things are heating up for the final conflict now--but I'm not so certain about Slathbog. There's just not much to interest me there. And The Stranger by Max Frei is calling.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Upcoming and Ongoing

Discovery Showcase Update
I never had the influx of submissions that everyone warned me about, but I still have plenty of entries for the next month and a half. Judging from the increase in the number of visitors who check in on Saturday, the Discovery Showcase is getting some readership, even if the entry doesn't always generate comments. I used to have a dip on Saturdays. This isn't typical anymore. The Discovery Showcase announcement post is now my most widely-read post.

If any of my blogging buddies are approached by any self-published authors, please refer them to this post.

Bookspot Central Tourney
Bookspot Central is having a head-to-head matchup of book vs. book. Pick your book and defend it to the death. Some debut-including match-ups include The Digital Plague vs. Black Ships, and Sly Mongoose vs. Sharp Teeth. Check it out here.

Ann Aguirre Book Tour
Ann Aguirre is having a virtual book tour for her new urban fantasy series, Blue Diablo, which comes out on April 7th. She's stopping here. Along with the tour, she's running a giveaway. Ann will be stopping by here on April 16th after touring for almost a month. I hope she isn't burned out by then!

William H. Drinkard Interview
I've arranged for an interview with William H. Drinkard, author of Elom, one of my favorite debuts of 2008. It will be along the same lines as a One Year Later guest post, but formatted as an interview because I had some specific questions for him.

In the meantime, here is a video that Tor made of Mr. Drinkard, in which he discusses his novel, Elom.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Changes in My Reading Habits Since Blogging

It's occurred to me that my habits as a reader are significantly skewed, now that I'm a blogging reviewer.

Once upon a time, the thought of an entire series releasing one month after another would have thrilled me. I would have happily devoted myself to all the books in the series, purchasing and reading one after the other--or maybe even all at once. I did this with some older series, such as those by J. V. Jones, Deborah Chester, Elizabeth Haydon, and Stephen Lawhead. No problem.

Now that I'm blogging on books, I find myself wanting more time between novels. Right now, I'm reading the second book in a series where I enjoyed the first book very much . . . but it's a bit of a chore. I'm not sure if it's the book or me but this is fairly typical of my attitude with other books.

See? Skewed reading habits.

I also now have a "second chance" pile. It used to be that I would read the opening chapters of a novel and if I found I was not really in the mood for it, I would keep at it anyway. Rarely would I set one aside. For example: Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. I had to force myself to read past the first two hundred pages or so, until I reached the part where she finally went back in time. I only did this because a friend said it was worth it. And she was right.

Nowadays, it would have gone into the second chance pile after the first hundred pages. Yes, big bestseller that it is. That same friend has lent me Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, a novel I once would have devoured in about a week and a half. She lent it to me months ago, but it keeps coming out and going back into the pile. Fortunately, she's a very tolerant friend.

What about classics, like Crime and Punishment? No chance. Les Miserables? Forget it. Great Expectations? You've got to be kidding me. These are all book that I've read and loved. However, those were back in the days when I didn't have books arriving every week.

I kind of know how editors and agents feel with their slush pile.

I currently have four books in my second chance pile. Two, I will probably never finish because they aren't really to my taste, but I'm willing to give them another chance. The other two, I expect to read within the next month or so.

And what about those classics? That's another thing. I used to enjoy reading the classics, but I've only read two since starting Fantasy Debut. One was Rebecca and the other was an umpteenth rereading of Pride and Prejudice.

Speaking of rereading, used to love to reread. When I finished reading the abridged version of Les Miserables for the first time, I closed it, turned back to page one, and read it again. I did the same thing with Pride and Prejudice and Huckleberry Finn.

I have not reread one debut since starting Fantasy Debut. I tried rereading Lisa Shearin's Magic Lost, Trouble Found in advance of reading Armed and Magical, but I just had too many books on my plate. I haven't even attempted any others.

At this point, I still love what I'm doing and as long as I can keep my blog-life balance in check, I don't see stopping any time soon. But when I do stop, I'll have a lot of great books to reread! In the meantime, maybe I'll get through The Other Boleyn Girl, yet.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Discovery Showcase - The Hundredth Spring

The Hundredth Spring
by Mary Fagan (book series website)
Adult Science Fiction (teen appropriate)


Six to eight million years ago giant, intelligent birds dominated the earth. What if they hadn’t disappeared? What if they were simply transplanted to another world – by the same meddling species who later misplaced a human housewife among them?

She woke up on a mountainside amid the spectacular wreckage of some sort of vessel. It took a spell to get her wits about her - weeks, maybe. Hard tellin' with the dizziness and sick feelin's and all. But when she did come around and got to exploring some, she made a shattering discovery: she wasn't in Indiana any more! Leastways she'd never seen three moons over Medaryville before! It wasn't long before things got even more interesting. She was right smack between two warring alien races without so much as her rolling pin...
Chapter One

First the flames shot across the windows in long, white-hot streaks. Next a sudden rush of gravity thrust him hard into the supports. Now the little craft was engulfed in sheets of flame giving the cabin a lethal glow. Vibrating violently through the extreme pressures of atmosphere the pilot fought to hold course. The silent, starry darkness of the moment before was instantly a distant memory.

It was a time of blind reliance on instruments and calculations. The slightest error meant total incineration in the blink of an eye.

It was, in short, a typical entry.

Hurtling toward the planet below the pilot knew he now looked like a streaking comet to anyone on the surface – if there was anyone on the surface. No sign of higher intelligence had ever been found there. If there were eyes curious enough to wonder at such a display they were too alien to register on the sensors.

Finally in the clear, the pilot punched the manual override for the surface controls. Despite the dizzying rate of descent he preferred himself to the computer. Even among his kind, his flying instincts were extraordinarily well honed. His keen amber eyes, with unblinking certainty, recognized every feature of the world rushing toward him. Through the sparse cloud cover he identified the continent, the mountains, the ridge, and the particular river curving its way down to the high valley that was his destination. Welcome back to good old Pastoro, Star 689-5, Sector 24N.

Feeling the ship as he did his own body he began bleeding off speed with wide, spiraling turns. There were other ways to do it, of course, but this would give Preet, the tech monitoring his blip, some virtual consternation. There were only two satellites around the planet so far. Preet wouldn’t be getting actual visuals at this point.

While still above the cloud layer the pilot studied the horizon for the others deploying from the massive, orbiting vessel. Yes, there was a streak arcing to the east. That would be Kel heading for Sector 25N. He would be his nearest neighbor on this mission. Sector 23N contained nothing of immediate value for their purposes.

Below the clouds it was time to think about the local winds. He activated the array and took his readings, ruefully noting a sheer near the ground cushion. So much for a glide-in.

At least the sky was clear around his landing site. No lenticulars lurking among the snowy peaks – those flat, peaceful-looking clouds that would as soon slap you upside a mountain as look at you.

On the final circle he tried to spot his shelter. How had it stood up to the seasons since he’d been gone? The metal alloy modulars were probably all right, but he’d bet a few ration cakes his other crude constructions were gone. Unfortunately, approaching at this angle he couldn’t see it for the trees.

The craft swooped over a wide limestone shelf, abruptly stopped, and then gently put down.

“Pike to Preet. I have landed; Sector 24 north, designate 45.6 by 87.8 as planned. No incidents.”

“Yeah? Well, damn near had one here! Could’ve lost my ration cake tracking you in!”

“Next time go scope instead of virtual, my friend. I’ll report next from the shelter. Pike away.”

“Preet away. Be careful down there.”

Pike switched off the com, shut down the rest of the systems and went about gathering his gear.

With a hiss and a whine of hydraulics the ramp at the rear of the craft popped open and telescoped out and down. At once the cabin filled with crisp, glacial breezes and the fragrance of firs. The pilot stopped to breathe it in. How could he have forgotten how wonderful this was?

Dragging his equipment Pike plodded down the ramp and ducked through the opening. As soon as all was pulled clear from the base of the fuselage he stretched up to his full height and took another refreshing lungful of invigorating air - and nearly toppled over! Hastily he flared his wings to catch himself. The cabin pressure was calibrated to his home planet, Palotir. The outside air was thinner and would take some getting used to, not to mention the gravity effects he’d just experienced. He should have thought of that!

Dizzy and a bit nauseous, Pike remained in a hunched-over position for some time to recover and equalize. Keeping his eyes on the relatively smooth, glittery surface, he reveled in the breeze rustling among the towering conifers and brushing through his long, golden brown feathers. There would be no creature noises for a while. The disruption of his landing had precluded that.

Finally he shook himself and tentatively straightened his legs. Yes, it was better now. If he moved slowly he could go ahead and secure his craft.

At length he was ready to sort his supplies into his pack: tools, repair kits, power back-ups, and supplementary rations. Most of the stuff was precautionary. Once snapped together, the shelter’s modules were all but indestructible. The vac-packs that stored food and communications gear inside it had never failed. But that was Mission Chief Kreg for you. He never trusted anything to chance.

Resenting its weight, Pike drew the loop of the pack over his head. Next he reached around to toss the bottom strap over his back, which he then used to cinch the load snugly against the broad curve of his chest. A few feathers were lost when he pulled the tips of his wings free.

He was ready to go.

The ascent from the broad shelf jutting out from the mountainside was not helped by his pack and rarefied mountain air. Fortunately the abundance of ledges, scrub and exposed roots offered good holds for his talons. Aided by the flapping of partially unfolded wings his hops and leaps brought him quickly enough over the crest of the crag and onto the high forest floor.

For a moment Pike stood catching his breath; his articulated neck surveying the magnificent scene all around with a series of swift jerks. His quick, methodical mind gave way to sheer exhilaration. What a wonderful new aerie for his people! How many could be supported here? Well, that was what he was here to determine, wasn’t it?

He was happy to be one of the few sent back to his original sector of research. Once an area’s resources had been mapped, specialists in those elements were assigned for the return mission. But this sector, lacking concentrations of minerals or notable species, was a good fit for him. More pilot and explorer than scientist, he was listed on the team roster simply as General Land Use Surveyor.

Pastoro, the fifth planet of the Star-689 system, was a young world in geological terms. Yet it teemed with life and near-surface minerals. The plates of the outer crust were remarkably stable for this phase of its existence. While the planet’s core was still large and explosive, the vents were well charted and handling the adjustments adequately. No other weaknesses could be detected where surprise eruptions could occur.

During the first physical reconnaissance, the original team members had lived in their sectors through the planet’s entire solar calendar. They had then returned to the ship with extensive records of meteorological readings and other observations. After a period of data correlations the findings were overwhelmingly positive.

Then the testing began. How had their presence impacted the environment? At the outset the ship had been thoroughly purged and its crew screened, tested and inoculated. But had some trace of the devastating disease that had nearly wiped out all avio-sapien life have survived to infect Pastoro? Sample collecting drones produced only negative results. The Avians rejoiced and moved forward.

It had been nearly two years since Pike’s last visit, but there, about fifteen meters to the north, was the wide clearing just as he remembered it. Shafts of sunlight filtered through the towering trees to play on the ferns and the tiny flowers struggling to peek around them. With a sense of the ethereal, Pike’s taloned toes plodded slowly through this undergrowth to the center. There, his eyes bright gold in the light, he spread his wings as far as he could stretch them and turned his face to the sun. Here was hope. Here was home.

Reluctantly he ended the moment, folding in his wings one section at a time. With a sigh he shifted the pack slightly and trudged off toward the shelter. First he would air the place out, he decided, and then he would power up the com. What must the place be like by now; sealed up tight through beating sun and blankets of snow? Yecchy.

After a while he began to catch glimpses of the artificial building through the trees. Strange how the dull, metallic surface could look so shiny after seasons of wear and tear. Maybe it was just the way the sunlight reflected off it at the moment. And perhaps that grove of short, deciduous hardwoods gave more protection than he’d figured.

But when he finally emerged into the rough and rocky clearing he stopped dead in shock.

The shelter was already open.

Discovery Showcase Information

There are currently five excerpts in the queue. Here are the upcoming works, in the order in which they may appear:
  • What Happened to the Indians
  • Gathering of Rain – Volume I of Tales of the Valla
  • Jaunt
If you want to have the first chapter of your unpublished or self-published novel featured at Fantasy Debut as a Discovery Showcase, please read how to do so here.

Comments are welcome, but remember to be nice to my authors.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Debut Graduate Review: Blood Bargain by Maria Lima

Blood Bargain (Amazon USA, UK, Canada - preorder)
by Maria Lima
Juno Books

Publisher's Blurb:
Keira Kelly has settled in at Wild Moon Ranch with handsome Adam Walker, her vampire lover, but her life is not so hot. Not only is Keira still struggling with the Change that will bring her an as yet unknown paranormal power, but Adam's avoiding intimacy and mysteriously growing weak. At least she has Tucker, her 1200-year-old shapeshifting ex-Viking brother, around to help. When a ranch hand is reported missing and some teens disappear, Keira and Tucker have a heap of unexpected trouble piled on 'em. There's a lot of weird doing down around Rio Seco, Texas, and after Keira and Tucker stumble across some dangerous clues in an abandoned cemetery, things get even stranger...

Blood Bargain is the sequel to Maria Lima's debut novel, Matters of the Blood, which Tia reviewed last October. It's also the second book in the Blood Lines series. The blurb in the back of the book reports that Maria Lima is working on a third novel in the series.It should be interesting (and maybe enlightening!) for followers of this blog to compare how Tia and I each related to this series.

Tia really enjoyed Matters of the Blood, even though she's not generally into urban fantasy. However, I ran into problems because these books come very close to being paranormal romance. In fact, I might actually classify them as that. And I'm not very big on romance, particularly when it involves the type of characters and relationship portrayed in these books.

But before I get too far off on a tangent, let me start with some background on Blood Bargain. The story in this second book is still set in Texas and still features Keira Kelly, who is half Sidhe and half something else that's never specified, but isn't human. Her friends, relatives (those left alive and/or in the area), and love interest from the previous book reappear in this one. I have to say my favorite character is probably Keira's half-brother, Tucker, an immortal shapeshifter who alternates between being an annoying older brother and an extremely insightful person.

The book was a quick read just like its predecessor. I would have liked to see Keira with greater personal stakes in the story from the beginning, because that would have increased the tension and moved the book along even faster. By the end, however, the stakes do get very personal for her.

Now we get to the biggest reason this book didn't completely work for me: the romance. Keira's love interest, Adam Walker, is an incredibly handsome and sexy vampire who owns a dude ranch called the Wild Moon (it's actually a sort of retreat where vampires can go to be safe). Adam, who is pure alpha male, is very much the decision-maker in their relationship, while Keira is ruled solely by her emotions and physical desires whenever he's around.

I prefer love relationships that are more equal, with men who are less perfect and women who approach the relationship a little more rationally. In fact, I wouldn't have minded seeing Keira get with Adam's second-in-command, Niko, who is flawed and has a dark past (yes, I admit I have a weakness for dark flawed characters), but somebody equally deserving got Niko (anyone who read Matters of the Blood already knows who).

In other respects, Keira is a strong female character, and I'm sure many people would find her fun to read.

I wouldn't have minded getting a stronger sense of place from the book. The Texas setting is an interesting choice, but aside from the obvious Hispanic influences and references to ranches I didn't pick up on the "flavor" of this setting.

Overall, though, I felt Blood Bargain surpassed Matters of the Blood. This story delved deeper into Keira's heritage and personal issues (although the twist in the very last chapter disappointed me; it was a bit of a cliche). It also delved deeper into some of the secondary characters, giving us a taste of who they are and what their backstory is, which made them richer. It's nice to see a series where the second book is stronger than the first.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Review: THE WARDED MAN by Peter V. Brett

The Warded Man / The Painted Man (US - Canada - UK)
By Peter V. Brett (Website - Blog - Forum -Facebook - MySpace - Goodreads)
Hardcover: 432 pages
Publisher: Del Rey (March 10, 2009)

First of all, in spite of the critiques that are going to follow this paragraph, this is a brilliant novel. When a novel reaches this level of excellence, little nitpicky things tend to stand out more. Keep that in mind as you read this review.

The worldbuilding and the plot are perfectly blended together. I tend to think of demons as either spiritual beings, as rendered in the Bible, or as the red-skinned, horned creatures of the Doom games. Mr. Brett takes the latter approach, with a dash of the former. Demons--or corlings--rise up from the ground as a mist every night, and then coalesce into a corporeal being.

Once formed, corelings proceed to wreak havoc. Most weapons are ineffective. The only thing keeping them at bay are wards painted on houses or walls, behind which people cower on a nightly basis. While I think this is great concept, I wonder how long humanity could have lasted under such conditions. Mr. Brett has them last three hundred years since the corelings first appeared (or re-appeared). During this time, humanity also had to re-discover the wards that kept demons at bay, which were lost to myth.

The story focuses on three characters, Arlen the messenger, Leesha the healer and Rojer the musician. I liked all three characters.

Rojer is a jongleur (or bard) who plays the fiddle. He is missing the first two fingers of his right hand due to a demon attack. One of my nitpicks is that author makes it seem like these fingers are optional when it comes to handling a bow.

He pulled out the bow, and as always, there was a rightness in the way it fit his crippled hand. His missing fingers weren't needed here.
I play the violin. Bow handling is the most difficult part about playing the violin. You could master the fingering and still sound terrible until you master the bow. You don't grip it with your hand; you balance it in your fingers. I have included a photo of me holding my bow.

People compensate all the time for any limitations they might have; I witness it daily. I would have liked to have seen the author spend a little time showing how Rojer compensated in learning to play the fiddle. Rojer had a devil of a time juggling because of his missing fingers, but he never masters juggling. Since the story centers on his fiddle playing, I would have preferred a shift in emphasis.

Leesha is not only a healer. She has the secret of demonfire and a number of other offensive weapons, including a blinding dust that she flings into the faces of overly amorous men. However, it isn't quite enough when she is attacked by a gang. One of them was a mute described as follows, "There was little intelligence in the giant's eyes, but if he lacked the sadism of his companions, his dumb lust was a terror in itself; the urges of an animal in the body of a rock demon."

I hate to see disabled people portrayed as animals. This looks like a poor copy of Lenny from Of Mice and Men. The author doesn't do anything else with this character, but he did leave him alive, so it's possible he will turn up in another book. Maybe he really is a demonic half-breed. But right now, he just sounds like he was autistic. And an autistic man is more likely to masturbate than attack a woman.

Arlen gains his special abilities as a result of his search for knowledge, which leads to the title of this book. Throughout much of the book, he is perused by a certain demon known as One-Arm. The conflict between Arlen and One-Arm was great, even if it didn't reach a personal level. Arlen makes a lot of friends along the way, and who doesn't like a character who can make friends? He also suffers some devastating betrayals, all which lead to his decision to do the things he does.

I loved Arlen because of his willingness to do things that others consider impossible, all the way from surviving a night out alone to taking on One-Arm in single combat. He's not crazy-brave; he believes in his own abilities and he prepares well. Mr. Brett skillfully builds up the suspense for each new impossible thing that Arlen is going to try next.

This novel is all about characters, and everyone who reads this blog knows I love character development novels. There's a lot of hype for The Warded Man; go ahead and believe it. I recommend it highly.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Debut Showcase: Living With Ghosts by Kari Sperring

Living With Ghosts (US - Canada - UK)
By Kari Sperring (Website - Blog - Wonderlands)
Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: DAW (March 3, 2009)
Alternate Blurb by Author (see number 17)

Publisher's Blurb:

This highly original, darkly atmospheric fantasy novel immerses readers in a world where ghosts and other malevolent spirits seek entry into mortal realms—invisible to all but those who are not entirely human themselves. Drawn into the ancient city of Merafi, yet barred from entering by an ancient pact sealed in blood, these hungry haunts await their opportunity to break through the magical border and wreak havoc on the city’s innocent denizens.

And as a priestess and prince weave a sorcerous plot to shatter the pact and bring ruin on Merafi, only a failed assassin-priest who is now a courtesan, a noble lord married into the ruling family of Merafi, an officer of the city guard, a woman warrior who was the former lover of a now-dead lord, and the ghost of that lord himself stand between Merafi and the tidal wave of magic that may soon bring ruin flooding down upon the city.

Mulluane's Take:
The author says that this is a world set in a Paris like Three Musketeers era (I also read that she wanted to BE a Musketeer as a kid!) I love alternate history settings so that is plus number one for me! The second plus is that it is Dark Fantasy. Now, I am not sure if I love dark fantasy because there seems to be so much of it right now or if my love started with Anne Bishop's Black Jewels Trilogy but in either case I am finding myself knee deep in wonderfully dark novels lately and I am loving it. This appears to be another one that falls neatly into that category. It has not made much of a splash yet, the one review I found was mixed but claims that the author shows promise, and promise is good enough for me in a debut.

Tia's Take:
My eyes kept glazing over as I read the blurb, so I sought out the author's alternate blurb, which Mulluane referred to above. I hope Ms. Sperring doesn't mind if I re-post it here:

Gracielis wants to deny his strange abilities and ignore the ghosts that haunt him and the priestess who rules him. Thiercelin wants his wife to love him, but all her time and energy are devoted to the city of Merafi and its Queen. Valdarrien, slain in a duel, wants to find his lost love and to live again. And the soldier Joyain just wants a quiet life.

But in the ancient city of Merafi, you don’t always get what you want. A dark fantasy of haunts, intrigues, star-crossed love, elemental powers, political rivalries and shapeshifters, set in a world a little like the Paris of The Three Musketeers.
Still a little scattered in focus, but overall, much better. The author is a historian who has written three nonfiction books, including The Four Musketeers, The True Story of D'Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis and Athos, and Princess Nest: Seductress of the English. I find it interesting that she writes about history, but chose to use a fictional world for her first novel. Maybe she needed a break.

This is an example of a book that does not hook me at first, but after a bit of digging, I find myself more intrigued.