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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"The Cold Kiss" by John Rector (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official John Rector Website
Order "The Cold Kiss" HERE

John Rector lives with his family in Omaha, Nebraska. He's an accomplished short story writer who has contributed fiction to several publications, including The Seattle Review, Black October Magazine, NFG, The Edge: Tales of Suspense, The 13th Warrior Review, Prose Ax. He also won the Porterhouse prize.

John Rector has worked previously as musician, Mac technician, network engineer, etc. He previously e-published his book "The Grove" which became an Amazon bestseller & now will re-released by Amazon's Encore publishing arm, while this book is his print debut. It has also been optioned and a film is in development.

BOOK BLURB: All Nate and Sara want is a new life in a new town, away from the crime and poverty of their past. So, after being approached at a roadside diner by a man offering $500 for a ride to Omaha, they wonder if their luck might be changing. At first it seems like easy money, but within a few hours the man is dead.

Now, forced off the road by a blizzard and trapped in a run-down motel on the side of a deserted highway, Nate and Sara begin to uncover the man's secrets. Who he was, how he died, and most importantly, why he was carrying two million dollars in his suitcase. Before they know it, Nate and Sara are fighting for their lives, and in the end, each has to decide just how far they are willing to go to survive.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 285 pages divided over forty-three chapters, three parts and a geographically titled section which serves as an epilogue of sorts. The narration is in the first person from Nate's POV. The Cold Kiss is a solo thriller.

ANALYSIS: John Rector's The Cold Kiss opens up in a café and introduces us to the main characters, Nate who is contemplative and reserved & Sara who's talkative and extrovert. They wish to escape their previous lives and get away from Minnesota and all the snow. Their destination is Reno and they can't seem to go there any faster. On a routine pit stop at a café, Sara notices another customer who's coughing as if he were terminal ill. She asks Nate to check him up and though her partner is a bit reluctant, he complies. However his cordial questions are rebuffed and the man leaves.

As soon as they fill up their gas tanks and are about to leave, the man with the cough returns and introduces himself as Sylvester White and offers them five hundred dollars for a ride to Omaha. Nate is still hesitant, but Sara jumps at the opportunity and agrees to take him along.

On the way, Sylvester's cough worsens and they have to make a stop as the snow storm catches up with them. They find a slightly rundown motel which luckily offers them succor. Checking upon Sylvester, they are surprised to find blood soaked bandages on his chest and the mystery man appears to be near death's door. What is extraordinary about the situation is that they also find almost two million dollars upon him & now they have to make some hard decisions as to what they will do regarding the cash and the near-dead man with them.

From here the story kicks into high gear as the choice Nate makes, leaves them suspicious about everyone. What further complicates their stay in the motel is that the people around them appear to be equally laconic and a bit strange. The plot then kicks in as the reappearance of a certain thing causes even more grief for Nate & Sara.

The story virtually explodes as circumstances keep on changing and suspicions arise about Nate and Sara. They are forced to make harder choices which keep on unraveling. Also what goes against them is the fact that both of them are young people who have had previously troubled lives and therefore are damaged in their own ways. Psychologically, they aren't equipped for such circumstances, especially Nate who is haunted by his headaches as well as his past mistakes.

As the story unfolds there are revelations about his past which showcase him in a totally different light. The night wears on and the other characters in the motel start interacting with Nate & Sara and perhaps get a clue as to what might have happened to Sylvester. Finally in this mix is also the name which Sylvester keeps on muttering to himself before his lapsing into unconsciousness - Lilith who is the woman that Sylvester is running away from.

John Rector has delivered a very taut tale which will keep the readers on their strung nerves as frequently the tale twists and then turns making it very hard to guess the eventual outcome. The added claustrophobia of the snowed-in motel, the devious nature of the tale and the quite difficult to decipher characters were main draws for me. The novel is set within the space of 2-3 days and the author keeps an unrelenting pace.

I read The Cold Kiss within one sitting as the story kept me hooked from its beginning, all the way to its gruesome end. The prose is very effective and manages to draw the reader in, whilst not being overtly dramatic.

The Cold Kiss is a very accomplished print debut for John and this also led me to read his previously published book "The Grove" which was a horror-thriller with elements of the fantastic and it was possibly one of the darkest themed books I have ever read. I'll be reviewing "The Grove" around its release date in November.

Thus after reading both of his titles I can safely vouch that John Rector is one of this year's talents so don't be shy to give "The Cold Kiss" a try and find out why this guy has been perceived by many as a superb story teller.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Guest Author(s) Post: Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett on Writing Collaboration

Fantasy Book Critic is pleased to present Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. They are the authors of the "Mechanical Dragons" series, of which Havemercy was published in 2008, Shadow Magic in 2009, Dragon Soul in June 2010, while the fourth installment Steelhands is on track for a 2011 publication date.


The one thing people ask about Havemercy most often is, "Wait—you wrote the manuscript in how many days?" And then, sheepishly, one of us answers the same as always: "Well… Yeah, it was eighteen days, I guess." Because it's true, and that's exactly how long it took to write the first draft of the first book we'd ever manage to get published. It was a frenzy of ideas, of trying to make our schedules fit, of writing in between shifts at Starbucks or while editing a country decorating magazine. From start to finish, we didn't eat much or sleep much, and our entire lives were spent waiting for the next part to show up in our inboxes. At no point did we have any idea how the book was going to end. We just had a handful of characters, a whole lot of enthusiasm, and the desire to figure out what was going to happen for ourselves. Except when we were finished, we just didn't want to let go. Our brains were still firing on all cylinders; we were going a million miles a minute, just because we felt too lonely to let those characters go.

As much fun as it was at the time, and as fondly as we do speak of those blissful days, we never wrote a book like that again. And there are so, so many reasons why.

Havemercy underwent a lot of transformations after those eighteen days, first with a few trustworthy readers, then with our agent, then with our editor. And, admittedly, that process might have been a whole lot easier if we hadn't written the book in (yeah, we guess) eighteen days. It was the first time either of us had to edit something more than a college paper, where the most you have to do is tweak for grammar and maybe change the conclusion to be a little punchier.

Massive rewrites? A ten page edit letter? What did our agent see in us? What did our editor see in us? Maybe they'd all made some horrible mistake—and maybe we'd made a horrible mistake, too. It was pretty overwhelming at the time, and if we hadn't been working together, afraid of letting each other down by dropping the ball, we might just as easily have let the panic take control. Who knows where that manuscript would be right now if we'd let that happen? Who knows where we'd be?

Fortunately, we did have each other, three packages of multicolored post-it notes, and that same nervous thrill as when we finished the "final" page of Havemercy: not to let the characters we loved so much down by keeping them hidden away on some word document, buried in our inboxes.

Still, a lot has changed since that first manuscript and the two most recent ones we turned in, our third and fourth books—Dragon Soul and Steelhands, respectively. Both were ideas we had right when we finished Havemercy and we needed to combat that sudden loneliness, and both were ideas that changed massively from the first inception to the final draft that our editor gave her mark of approval. Not that we knew what was happening at the time, but in writing multiple manuscripts, we actually started to learn something about writing. Crazy when that happens, right?

For two people who used to feel like the magic spark of a good idea would die if we didn't pound out the pages as fast as we possibly could to start slowing down and planning things seemed pretty impossible at first. We're both incredibly impatient writers, who like to discover things as we go along, and neither of us likes to be kept waiting. But a book doesn't exactly work like that. The reader needs to experience that surprise, but it's probably not for the best if the writers are just as surprised as the readers are every step of the way. Neither of us worked too well with a plan—we liked to think of ourselves as being charmingly spontaneous—but because we'd had these ideas for so long, it became natural to do the unthinkable…and start working with an outline.

Not only that, but we wanted to get back to telling all the tales we'd missed out on in Havemercy. We wanted to get back to the stories that had fallen by the wayside because we were moving so fast, afraid we'd lose steam if we started to slow down. There are so many details we only had the chance to touch upon in our first book that we find ourselves coming back to, time and time again, searching to expand and, hopefully, to improve upon that original ideal, that spark that really got our engines going. Mechanical dragons.

It worked out the first time, crazy as it sounded at the time. But we still want to make it better. We want to make it work even more.

There's something in between slamming on the brakes and stepping on the gas, even if neither of us is all that good at cruise control. The problem for us has never been a lack of ideas, but of trying to refine them, not to mention trying to find the right pace. If we've learned anything between writing our first book and writing our fourth, it's that not everything has to happen immediately. If we're not able to write a book in a month, it's not the end of the world, but rather a sign that we're taking the time to do some self-editing. And hopefully our editor ends up grateful, too.

Collaborating on a book definitely allows us, as writers, to work at a more rapid tempo than either of us would be able to do separately. However, we've also learned a lot about how to maximize our productivity so that the end result is something we can be proud of—or at least something we can criticize a little less. We both like to think that it's no coincidence that our fourth book, Steelhands, had the least structural edits to date. (But it still had a ten page edit letter.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The First 2011 Major Fantasy Titles I Have - "The Hammer" by KJ Parker and "The Fallen Blade" by JC Grimwood

I have started to gather material for the list of my Anticipated Books of 2011, but in the meantime I want to talk a bit about the first two major fantasy novels from 2011 that I am very lucky to have got so far, one that I have recently read and already became a "hard to top" one, the other that will be my next read.

For readers familiar with KJ Parker's work, The Hammer can be summarized as the family drama of The Fencer series, the driven hero of The Folding Knife and the setup of The Company.

I put a long mini-review of The Hammer on Goodreads and opened a thread on sffworld and of course a full review of it and of the author's superb novella "Blue and Gold" (mini-review on Goodreads too) will come here in due course, while in the meantime you can also see my take on The Scavenger series, The Folding Knife, Purple and Black and the anthology story A Rich Full Week.

The Hammer is one of those "gotta work hard" to top it books.


Jon Courtenay Grimwood is one of the contemporary masters of sf with 10 books which range from very good to superb - even his cyberpunk is still interesting today due to its alt-history setting - and he makes his fantasy debut in early 2011 with The Fallen Blade the first novel in the Assassini trilogy.

JCG's sf consists of four loosely linked cyberpunk novels set in an alt-history future: neoAddix, Lucifer's Dragon, reMix, RedRobe, the Ashraf Bey series: Pashazade, Effendi, Felaheen set in a different alt-history future and then the loosely linked contemporary sf trilogy: Stamping Butterflies, 9 Tail Fox and End of the World Blues.

JC Grimwood is an amazing writer and I have yet to be disappointed by any of his books - I read all of course - with RedRobe, Pashazade, Stamping Buterflies and End of the World Blues being my favorites.

Fallen Blade -
from which I read several pages and it starts awesomely so it will be my next read - starts in Venice of early 1400's where the descendants of Marco "Millioni" Polo rule as dukes and poison is the preferred way of settling disputes and ensuring successions - or maybe blades, not yet clear and there is a promised vampire too who is on the cover.

Here is the complete blurb:

"In the depths of night, customs officers board a galley in a harbor and overpower its guards. In the hold they find oil and silver, and a naked boy chained to the bulkhead. Stunningly beautiful but half-starved, the boy has no name. The officers break the boy's chains to rescue him, but he escapes.

Venice is at the height of its power. In theory Duke Marco commands. But Marco is a simpleton so his aunt and uncle rule in his stead. They command the seas, tax the colonies, and, like those in power before them, fear assassins better than their own.

In a side chapel, Marco's fifteen-year old cousin prays for deliverance from her forced marriage. It is her bad fortune to be there when Mamluk pirates break in to steal a chalice, but it is the Mamluks' good luck - they kidnap her.

In the gardens beside the chapel, Atilo, the Duke's chief assassin, prepares to kill his latest victim. Having cut the man's throat, he turns back, having heard a noise, and finds a boy crouched over the dying man, drinking blood from the wound. The speed with which the boy dodges a dagger and scales a wall stuns Atilo. And the assassin knows he has to find the boy.

Not to kill him, but because he's finally found what he thought he would never find. Someone fit to be his apprentice.

In the meantime you can download for free the author's debut Neoaddix HERE and read Robert's take on End of the World Blues.

Edit 11/22 I finished The Fallen Blade and it was mildly disappointing though I am still interested in the sequel.
Here are my quick thoughts (unedited and all) from Goodreads with a full review in due course:

I was somewhat disappointed in this book in the sense that i expected a blow me away A++ novel based on prior experience with the author's novels (read all 10 so far) and the premise of this one - alt-history fantasy set in an Earth with some magic in the early 1400's Venice.

The book has a lot of goodies: extremely good atmosphere, you can really visualize and even "feel" the Venice of 1400;s so good are the descriptions; great vivid characters in Tycho, Atilo, Giuletta, Desdaio, Alexa and several others and some twists and turns that are excellent, while all the world building and differences from our world are very well inserted at crucial points.

But the novel's style is very fractured, full of narrative walls, the book just does not flow which surprised me a lot. It is very "jerky" and the plot does not hold scrutiny in some key parts that seem to happen only because the author wanted it so his selected set of surviving characters could get away from hopeless situations which of course kill his "sacrifice" characters... No rhyme or reason beyond authorial fiat and that was the second major negative

I would give it a B for the many goodies and while I am interested in the next book, it won't be the asap as this one was. I hope the author will raise the quality of the prose and plotting to the level of his early novels since the series has high potential.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Selecting Books: A Case Study Using the Locus List of Selected Forthcoming Books (by Liviu Suciu)

Book selection, book selection, book selection...

I always note that this is the most important element that allows me to read lots of books - sure I make the time, read whenever and wherever I can but ultimately *book selection* is the key since while it means spending time and effort to find the most interesting books, it also means I always have something on tap that keeps my interest high. I look at tons and tons of titles - mostly new but also anything old that attracts my attention, though the older titles tend to be non-sff by and large - and I am always excited to find unexpected books, while of course there is a large "asap"/"on publication" list too. I will have a Top Anticipated 2011 Books post too, maybe split in several parts with a continually updated collated post as I did for 2010 books.

Today of course "book selection" is much easier with lists of upcoming books, samples and all and I find it hard to understand why people persist in reading meh books, rather than looking for those special ones that will brighten their life...

So as a case in study, I took the recently published Locus list of selected upcoming sff from September 2010 till June 2011 and to keep the post of reasonable length, I picked some random months (November 2010, March/May/June 2011) and did a quick look through and commented on each book as I always do "in my mind" when I look at such lists.

Note that the books on the list are only a partial sample of sff releases and also publication dates change, so this list is just one of several sources I use to find out about new sff.

Of course most books - as is the case in general since *an arbitrary book is most likely not of interest for an arbitrary reader* - are of "no interest" to me, which does not mean that I think the book will be bad in any "objective" way - it just means what it says. In many of the "no interest" cases I am acquainted with the respective author's work and found it "not for me", while in a few cases - I would say UF first and foremost, but tie-ins too - it is just a matter of the subject being way outside my interests; in the situations I am not sure, I marked it as such and will take a look whenever.

November 2010

  • Adams, John Joseph, ed. • The Way of the Wizard(Prime Books, anth, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Akers, Tim • The Horns of Ruin(Pyr, tpb)
  • begged for an arc since the book was a huge anticipated one for 2010; read it on receive but sadly the book turned out to be far from my tastes

  • Armstrong, Kelley • Counterfeit Magic(Subterranean Press, nva, hc)
  • no interest

  • + Bakker, Scott • Disciple of the Dog(Tor/Forge, hc)
  • no interest

  • Ballantine, Philippa • Geist(Ace)
  • will check but unlikely to be of interest
  • + Banks, Iain M. • Surface Detail(Orbit USA, hc)
  • begged for an arc, currently reading; top expected book of the rest of 2010 by far
  • will be late October most likely, with the UK edition early October

  • Barnes, Steven • Assassins(ISFiC Press, cln, hc)
  • will check but unlikely to be of interest

  • Bear, Greg • Hull Zero Three(Orbit US, hc)
  • an arc would be nice, but a try on publication otherwise

  • Briggs, Patricia • Wolfsbane(Ace)
  • no interest

  • Bujold, Lois McMaster • CryoBurn(Baen, hc)
  • read on publication; this one moved to October too from what I hear

  • Butcher, Jim • Side Jobs(Roc, cln, hc)
  • no interest

  • Card, Orson Scott • Pathfinder(Simon Pulse, nvl-ya, hc)
  • no interest

  • Clark, Simon • The Gravedigger's Tale: Fables of Fear(Robert Hale, cln, hc)
  • no interest

  • Cook, Glen • Gilded Latten Bones(Roc)
  • no interest

  • Cook, Glen • Surrender to the Will of the Night(Tor, hc)
  • I read the first two and got an arc of this one and will read it but not a big asap since my taste evolved a bit away from this series

  • + Cornish, D. M. • Factotum(Putnam, nvl-ya, hc)
  • no interest

  • Cornish, D. M. • Monster Blood Tattoo, Book Three: Factotum(Fickling UK, nvl-ya, hc)
  • no interest

  • de Lint, Charles • The Painted Boy(Viking, nvl-ya, hc)
  • no interest

  • Fenner, Cathy, & Arnie Fenner, eds. • Spectrum 17: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art(Underwood Books, anth, hc)
  • will look at it in store

  • Fforde, Jasper • The Last Dragonslayer(Hodder & Stoughton, nvl-ya, hc)
  • no interest

  • Gribbin, John • The Alice Encounter(PS Publishing, nva, hc)
  • no interest

  • Gurney, James • Color and Light(Andrews McMeel, art, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Hoban, Russell • Angelica Lost and Found(Bloomsbury, hc)
  • no interest

  • Jemisin, N. K. • The Broken Kingdoms(Orbit US, tpb)
  • an arc would be nice, but read on publication otherwise

  • Jones, Stephen, ed. • Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels and Heavenly Hosts(Ulysses Press, anth, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Jordan, Robert, & Brandon Sanderson • Towers of Midnight(Tor, hc)
  • no interest

  • Kearney, Paul • Corvus(Solaris US)
  • got an arc and read it on receive - excellent mil-fantasy
  • will be late October most likely

  • Kidd, Tom • OtherWorlds: How to Imagine, Paint and Create Epic Scenes of Fantasy(F + W Publications/Impact, tpb)
  • no interest

  • King, Stephen • Full Dark, No Stars(Simon & Schuster/Scribner, cln, hc)
  • no interest

  • Lansdale, Joe R. • Flaming Zeppelins: The Adventures of Ned the Seal(Tachyon Publications, cln, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Lee, Sharon • Carousel Tides(Baen, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Leiber, Fritz • Strange Wonders: A Collection of Rare Fritz Leiber Works(Subterranean Press, cln, hc)
  • no interest

  • MacLeod, Ian R. • Wake Up and Dream(PS Publishing, hc)
  • maybe if a pdf arc shows up

  • Martin, George R. R., & Gardner Dozois, eds. • Songs of Love and Death(Simon & Schuster/Gallery, anth, hc)
  • will try on publication

  • McDevitt, Jack • Echo(Ace, hc)
  • an arc would be nice, but read/review on publication otherwise as I do with all Jack McDevitt novels

  • McKinley, Robin • Pegasus(Putnam, nvl-ya, hc)
  • no interest

  • McLeod, Suzanne • The Bitter Seed of Magic(Gollancz, hc/tpb)
  • no interest

  • Nicholson, Scott • Transparent Lovers(PS Publishing, nva, hc)
  • maybe if a pdf arc shows up
  • Painter, Deborah • Forry: The Life of Forrest J Ackerman(McFarland, nf, hc)
  • no interest

  • Rambo, Cat, Paul Tremblay & Sean Wallace, eds. • Worlds of Fantasy: The Best of Fantasy Magazine(Prime Books, anth, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Reed, Robert • Eater-of-Bone(PS Publishing, cln, hc)
  • maybe if a pdf arc shows up

  • Rickert, M. • Holiday(Golden Gryphon Press, cln, hc)
  • no interest

  • Rushdie, Salman • Luka and the Fire of Life(Random House, nvl-ya, hc)
  • no interest

  • Sargent, Pamela • Seed Seeker(Tor, hc)
  • will try on publication

  • Snyder, Lucy A. • Shotgun Sorceress(Ballantine Del Rey)
  • no interest

  • + Stroud, Jonathan • Bartimaeus: The Ring of Solomon(Disney-Hyperion, nvl-ya, hc)
  • no interest

  • Swenson, Patrick, ed. • The Best of Talebones(Fairwood Press, anth, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Valente, Catherynne M. • The Habitation of the Blessed(Night Shade Books, tpb)
  • will try if it comes into my hands or a large sample is available

  • VanderMeer, Ann, & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. • Steampunk Reloaded(Tachyon Publications, anth, tpb)
  • will try if it comes into my hands or a large sample is available

  • Warrington, Freda • Midsummer Night(Tor, hc)
  • asked for an arc and got it; blew me away, one of the best 2010 novels I've read; review in due course

  • Williams, Tad • Shadowheart(DAW, hc)
    no interest

March 2011

  • Barnes, John • Daybreak Zero(Ace, hc)
  • will check on publication; unlikely to try it though

  • Beagle, Peter S. • Sleight of Hand(Tachyon Publications, cln, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Bear, Elizabeth • Grail(Ballantine Spectra)
  • no interest

  • Bishop, Anne • Twilight's Dawn(Roc, cln, hc)
  • no interest

  • Buckner, M. M. • Gravity Pilot(Tor, hc)
  • will try on publication

  • Bullington, Jesse • The Enterprise of Death(Orbit, tpb)
  • an arc would be nice, will try and maybe read on publication otherwise; this one sounds much more interesting than the author's debut and it may be a 'sleeper" top 2011 book for me

  • del Toro, Guillermo, & Chuck Hogan • Eternal Night(Morrow, hc)
  • no interest

  • Feist, Raymond E. • A Kingdom Besieged(Harper Voyager, hc)
  • no interest

  • + Fforde, Jasper • One of Our Thursdays Is Missing(Viking, hc)
  • no interest

  • Furey, Maggie • Exodus of the Xandim(Gollancz, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Gentle, Mary • Black Opera(Night Shade Books, tpb)
  • high, high interest and top anticipated novel of 2011, will try and get it asap; not sure about publication date, but this one is an apriori best of 2011 candidate

  • Godwin, Parke • The Prince from Nowhere(PS Publishing, nva, hc)
  • no interest

  • Gustainis, Justin, ed. • Those Who Fight Monsters(Hades/EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy, anth, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Harrison, Kim • Pale Demon(Eos, hc)
  • no interest

  • Herbert, James • Ash(Macmillan UK, hc)
  • no interest

  • Howe, Harrison, ed. • It Never Sleeps: Tales from the Darker History of New York City(PS Publishing, anth, hc)
  • no interest

  • Jakober, Marie • The Demon Left Behind(Hades Publications/EDGE SF and Fantasy, tpb)
  • will look at it, most likely no interest

  • Kent, Jasper • The Third Section(Bantam UK, tpb)
  • will try on publication and hope it will revert to Twelve's form rather than the somewhat disappointing Thirteen Years Later

  • Lynch, Scott • The Republic of Thieves(Ballantine Spectra, hc)
  • make or break series book for me though the excerpt so far is disappointing since I am tired of the 'buddy, buddy" storyline.. an arc will be nice but a try/read on publication otherwise

  • Matheson, Richard • Other Kingdoms(Tor, hc)
  • no interest

  • McKenna, Bridget, & Marti McKenna, eds. • End of an Aeon(Fairwood Press, anth, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Moon, Elizabeth • Kings of the North(Ballantine Del Rey, hc)
  • no interest

  • Remic, Andy • Cloneworld(Solaris, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Rothfuss, Patrick • The Wise Man's Fear(DAW, hc)
  • high expectations book, will try and get and read asap; another apriori candidate to top of 2011

  • Strahan, Jonathan, ed. • The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Five(Night Shade Books, anth, tpb)
    will look at it

May 2011

  • Anderson, Kevin J., ed. • Nebula Awards Showcase 2011(Tor, anth, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Canavan, Trudi • The Rogue(Orbit US, hc)
  • no interest

  • Deas, Stephen • The Order of the Scales(Gollancz, hc/tpb)
  • asap novel, will read on arrival, very high expectations book and top anticipated book of 2011

  • + Erikson, Steven • The Crack'd Pot Trail(Tor, nva, hc)
  • no interest

  • Foss, Chris • The Art of Chris Foss(Titan Books, art, hc)
  • no interest

  • Freeman, Pamela • Ember and Ash(Orbit, tpb)
  • will try on publication and maybe read the trilogy ending Full Circle in the process; I liked the first two books in the milieu but the third dropped on my pile for now and this, the fourth, may be the spark to rekindle my interest

  • + Hobb, Robin • Inheritance(Eos, hc)
  • no interest

  • Hobson, M. K. • The Hidden Goddess(Ballantine Spectra)
  • will look at it, but most likely no interest

  • Lachlan, M. D. • Fenrir(Gollancz, hc)
  • will look at it, but most likely no interest

  • Lee, Tanith • Court of the Crow(Night Shade Books, hc)
  • no interest

  • Martinez, A. Lee • Catching the Moon(Orbit US, hc)
  • no interest

  • McCaffrey, Anne, & Todd McCaffrey • Dragon's Time(Bantam UK, hc)
  • no interest

  • Miéville, China • Embassytown(Ballantine Del Rey, hc)
  • high, high expectations book; will read asap; top 10 expected sf of 2011

  • + Rajaniemi, Hannu • The Quantum Thief(Tor, hc)
  • I assume I have made my mind already based on the September 2010 UK edition - either a top book or a not for me one, depending on how the author' style matches my taste

  • Roberts, Adam • Beggar's Banquet(Gollancz, hc/tpb)
  • high expectations book; will read/review asap as I do with all of the author's (original) work

  • Rusch, Kristine Kathryn • City of Ruins(Pyr, tpb)
  • will try though unlikely to be of interest

  • Scalzi, John • Fuzzy Nation(Tor, hc)
  • no interest

  • Valentine, Genevieve • Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti(Prime Books, tpb)
  • will take a look and decide the interest then

  • Whates, Ian • The Noise Revealed(Solaris)
  • beg for an arc book; one of the top anticipated sf of mine in 2011 and of course very, very high expectations
  • Wilson, Robert Charles • Vortex(Tor, hc)
  • will ask for an arc and will read asap; another very high expectation sf of 2011 especially that the author never disappointed me - I may not have loved equally all his novels, but I never found one I did not like


June 2011

  • + Abraham, Daniel • The Dragon's Path(Orbit US, tpb)
  • interesting one; will try and see if my dislike of the author's acclaimed tetralogy was a fluke or it is just that his writing style does not chime with my taste; try on publication, though an arc will be nice

  • Baxter, Stephen • The Bronze Summer(Gollancz, hc/tpb)
  • may spark my interest in getting the first book in the series - update, got Stone Spring and did not like it that much so far, but will try again

  • Carey, Jacqueline • Naamah's Blessing(Grand Central, hc)
  • beg for an arc, read asap and a very high expectations fantasy of 2011

  • Carroll, Lee • The Watchtower(Bantam UK, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Duncan, Dave • When the Saints(Tor, hc)
  • no interest

  • Englehart, Steve • The Plain Man(Tor, hc)
  • will look at it, but unlikely to be of interest

  • Goonan, Katherine • Collection(PS Publishing, cln, hc)
  • no interest

  • Grant, Mira • Deadline(Orbit US)
  • no interest

  • Hamilton, Laurell K. • Hit List(Berkley, hc)
  • no interest

  • Hartwell, David G., & Kathryn Cramer, eds. • Year's Best SF 16(Eos, anth)
  • will look at it

  • Horton, Rich, ed. • The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2011 Edition(Prime Books, anth, tpb)
  • will look at it

  • Kowal, Mary Robinette, ed. • The Hugo Award Showcase, 2011 Volume(Prime Books, anth, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Martin, George R. R., ed. • Wild Cards: Fort Freak(Tor, anth, hc)
  • no interest

  • Newton, Mark Charan • Book of Transformations(Tor UK, hc)
  • beg for an arc, read asap, a top 10 anticipated fantasy of 2011

  • Rawn, Melanie • The Diviner(DAW, hc)
  • no interest

  • Sinclair, Alison • Shadowborn(Roc, tpb)
  • no interest

  • Sparks, Cat • Effigy(Angry Robot, tpb)
  • will look it, cannot say offhand

  • Steele, Allen • Hex(Ace, hc)
  • no interest most likely, but will take a look just in case

  • van Eekhout, Greg • Last(Bloomsbury USA, nvl-ya, hc)
  • no interest

  • Vaughn, Carrie • Kitty's Big Trouble(Gollancz)
  • no interest

  • Yep, Laurence • City of Ice(Starscape, nvl-ya, hc)
    will look at it since I heard good things about the author
Friday, September 24, 2010

"Room" by Emma Donoghue (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Emma Donoghue Website
Order "Room" HERE
Read an Excerpt from Room HERE
See an Interactive Image of *the* Room

INTRODUCTION: "Room" came to my attention when it was first longlisted and then later shortlisted for the prestigious 2010 Man Booker award. It seemed to be one of the most controversial novels on the list and looking at its blurb, it is easy to imagine why.

"It's Jack's birthday, and he's excited about turning five. Jack lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 feet by 11 feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real - only him, Ma and the things in Room."

"Room" is a book that needs to be approached without knowing too much about it since the first two parts: "Presents" and "Unlying" have different flavors if you let Jack's voice to guide you in exploring what's what or if you already know.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Room" stands at about 350 pages and is divided into five parts each named by one word that is actually quite important in what follows. Jack narrates throughout and his voice never falters and remains credible to the end.

Contemporary fiction at its best and a truly emotional novel; maybe you need to have a child to truly appreciate it, but I would still highly recommend it to everyone.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. "Was I minus numbers?""

So Jack wonders in the superb first paragraph of Room that decided me to read the novel. I was skeptical that the author will maintain the credibility of a five year old boy's voice throughout several hundred pages, but she did...

The five year old does not know anything else since he was born and has lived all his life there - he has a TV with 3 channels and "bunny years" that can make them clearer or fuzzier, but his viewing schedule is regulated by Ma so "his brain does not turn to mush".

Jack and Ma also have 10 books - five picture ones, though the latest one has too many "old words" and five with pictures only on the cover - the titles are really funny,
Twilight and Da Vinci included - and some other stuff like five colored crayons so he has quite an interesting perspective on the world. Jack also has a tight schedule every day and its exploration forms a big part of the novel in the beginning, so we can call "Presents" and "Unlying", "normality in strangeness".

After the short transitory third part which is the weakest one of the novel since the happenings there stretch a little bit the suspension of disbelief, especially considering the whole carefulness in the setup of the "room", the book switches focus but Jack remains the same wide-eyed five year old trying to cope with what he sees now as "weirdness". So while the enjoyment of the first half of the novel was derived from "normality in strangeness", the second part deals with "strangeness in normality" and keeps the tale fresh and interesting.

Room (A++) is an impressive achievement and the one novel that imho - based on finishing three and reading enough from two more of the six shortlisted novels - deserves to win the Booker.
Thursday, September 23, 2010

"A Devil in the Details" by K.A. Stewart (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Kari A. Stewart Website
Order "A Devil in the Details" HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kari A. Stewart seems to have taken the J.K. Rowling route when it came to the publication of her debut. She lives in Kansas City with her family. She's currently contracted for two further installments in the same series, of which the second one is complete & she is working on the third.

BOOK BLURB: Jesse James Dawson was an ordinary guy (well, an ordinary guy with a black belt in karate), until the day he learned his brother had made a bargain with a demon. Jesse discovered there was only one way to save his brother: put up his own soul as collateral, and fight the demon to the death.

Jesse lived to free his brother--and became part of a loose organization of Champions who put their own souls on the line to help those who get in over their heads with demons. But now experienced Champions are losing battles at a much higher rate than usual. Someone has changed the game. And if Jesse can't figure out the new rules, his next battle may be his last...

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 307 pages divided over twenty-three chapters with no prologue or epilogue. Narration is in the first person done exclusively by the main hero Jesse James Dawson. The plot is a self contained one however this is book 1 in a series and the series is contracted for 3 books at the moment.

ANALYSIS: "A Devil in the Details" is Kari Stewart's debut but it really doesn't feel so. The novel begins with Jesse battling off a crab demon for the soul of perhaps the country's numero uno citizen. Jesse manages to save his skin and win the battle as well, but not without some significant injuries to himself. Thus with such an action packed beginning the reader is welcomed into the world of Jesse James Dawson.

He's your average person but with a difference: he's the guy you might have to turn to when you strike up a Faustian bargain and aren't ready to live up to your end of the bargain. That's where he and his ilk come in as they try to fight off the specific demon that comes to claim the soul as per the bargain struck before. Life isn't exactly a bed of roses for Jesse but he manages to get by with the help of his wife Mira and his daughter Annabelle. Also there's a broad informal network of champions [Warriors akin to Jesse] who communicate with each other and help to keep track of what's happening on the astral side.

The story begins when a famous baseball pitcher approaches Jesse detailing his problem. What differentiates this case is a referral from one of Jesse's past clients and the fact that Jesse believes in the client's repentance. Jesse's odyssey begins here as the reader gets a window into the mundane aspect of his life. He works at a clothing store and also helps his wife out at her store whenever possible. Amidst all of this he also tries to stay away from temptation as a demon named Axel has formed quite a "Frenemy" relationship with him. Almost every other day he comes by and tries to trick Jesse into signing over his soul - due to his Champion status, he's become quite a catch for any demon to reel in.

When Jesse accepts this case he doesn't realize where it will lead to. Adding to the confusion is the disappearance of Mexico's champion Miguel. On conferring with the overseer amongst the Champions, a Russian man named Ivan Zelenko, it dawns upon both of them that there might be other missing champions which could potentially signal a whole new level of trouble. Ivan is also trying to find out more about this spate of disappearances. Jesse also has to deal with his Mom's birthday present which he cannot forget to buy under any circumstances and there is his scheduled fight with the demon as well. All of the action occurs within the span of a few days.

So the main story begins and we will see Jesse fight demons, find out the mystery of Miguel's absence, and possibly not forget his mother's birthday gift. There's a lot more to this than the aforementioned events, namely Jesse's laconic & dry wit which gives us an honest view of his life and his thoughts. Kari Stewart needs to commended for writing such a terrific debut involving such a character. She has established a wonderful voice in Jesse James Dawson who is funny, evocative and human at the same time.

He's the stereotypical hero model but he's presented in such a way that you empathize with his life, life which isn't easy due to his routine demon battles which have left him with more scars than he would like. And he's frequently getting dropped by Insurance companies which I thought was a wonderful way to highlight the inadequacies in our current medical system. The only drawback to "A Devil in the Details" is the predictability that has set within this genre and it is in evidence here too. You easily see what will happen in the end, but the author has made the journey as pleasant a read as possible and this very quality makes this book one of the excellent UF debuts of 2010.

In the world of Urban Fantasy thrillers, currently "The Dresden files" by Jim Butcher is the standard against which series are measured & Kari Stewart can rest easy as her novel can stand quite well against her idol. With such an enticing setup and with the promise of more mayhem to follow, courtesy Axel's revelation in the end, Kari Stewart has made sure that readers bookmark her debut series as one to be followed in the future too.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"The Sword and the Dragon" by M.R. Mathias (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official M.R. Mathias Website
Order "The Sword and the Dragon" HERE(Kindle) or HERE(Smashwords) or HERE(print)
Read an Extended Excerpt (~100k words or ~43%) from the novel HERE

INTRODUCTION: Several weeks ago I wanted to find some new independent books to read - I did some posts about the ones reviewed by me and Mihir in 2010 - and I spent an hour or two checking Smashwords sff books: blurb, first page and then random pages from the excerpt if interested.

Out of maybe 50 novels I looked at, The Sword and the Dragon was the only one that intrigued me since despite the traditional sounding blurb, the first page attracted me and then I liked what I read in the random pages I tried. I downloaded the extensive excerpt linked above - at about 100k words it is as long as a regular novel - and I read it and then I bought the full book.

The Sword and the Dragon is the debut of the author and the first novel in The Wardstone trilogy of which the second book is early next year, but it tells a pretty complete story in itself ending the main threads introduced here while planting the hooks for the next volumes.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: The Sword and the Dragon is available only electronically for now and it stands at about 235k words, so the equivalent of ~700 print pages. There are 59 numbered chapters and an Epilogue, while the main POV's are the two Skyler brothers Hyden and Gerard, the squire Mikahl and to a lesser extent the wizard Pael and his daughter Shaella. Several other secondary characters get interlude-like segments that present the happenings in various places outside of the main characters' locations at the time. A map of the novel's mainland kingdoms is available HERE, though there are hints of distant places and people.

The Sword and the Dragon is true epic fantasy with all the tropes associated - dragons, elves, wizards, giants, dwarves, fairies, trolls, lizard people, zombies, quests, destined heroes, dastardly villains, powerful demons that are ready to escape their containment and bring evil to the world, magical animals, people that can talk with animals, kings, lords, warriors, you name it, it is probably there - that manages to be absolutely fresh and zany with some great twists. I want to emphasize again that while there will be a sequel soon, The Sword and the Dragon ends its main arc so it is a standalone part of a greater tapestry.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Gerard Skyler used his free arm to wipe the sweat from his brow before it had a chance to drip into his eyes. Scaling the towering, nesting cliff for the second time was far harder than he had expected it to be. No one had attempted the climb two days in a row before. His body was still sore and raw from yesterday’s climb, but he could not afford to stop and rest. He was more than three hundred feet above a rocky canyon floor. A fall would undoubtedly be fatal. The last thing he needed, at the moment, was burning eyes and blurred vision."

So the novel starts and I liked the above paragraph so I kept reading and got hooked on the story. In essence The Sword and the Dragon is set to be the replay in the present of the novel of events of long ago, when escaped demons brought darkness to the world until a king with a magic sword made by dwarves, giants and elves working together - races that tend to dislike each other and humanity to boot - and a sorcerer that could talk with animals, united all the living things to defeat evil and imprison the nasty demons with a powerful dragon guarding the Seal.

But the dragon was smart enough not to want to be trapped for ever in guarding the portal to the underworld, so she put in an escape clause that will trigger when humans start doing some bad things; enter evil wizard Pael who is set to use dark magic, nasty tricks and the wiles of his daughter Shaella to put in motion events that will lead to the breaking of the seal...

Well, so it goes but what if Shaella actually falls in love with the "sacrifice boy" that Pael needs at a crucial moment, or what if the story as retold is not quite complete missing some ingredients, or what if a key magic artifact goes to the wrong brother and the magic sword loses its magic and goes to the wrong heir? Read the novel and you will find out some answers...

Hoping that the above will give you an inkling why I found
The Sword and the Dragon so much fun, I want to talk a bit about the actual execution of the storyline above. The first thing I noticed about The Sword and the Dragon is that it's a true work of love from the author. The world of the novel is described in quite a lot of detail, while the characters have a lot of pages that allow us to get to know them. However the book mixes well descriptions with action, so I never felt the narrative flow stalling.

The Sword and the Dragon starts with essentially two threads, one following the life of two of the secretive Skyler clan youngsters: brothers Gerard and Hyden and one following the squire Mikahl trying to fulfill the last wishes of his protector plus some "behind the scenes" action from Pael that sets the scene so to speak, but at some point it manages to skilfully switch the threads into the more familiar ones - quest to stop the bad guys - though not without introducing some twists in the narrative. The Sword and the Dragon manages to keep the balance between the threads and when as expected things start converging, the tension ratchets up and the book becomes impossible to put down till the end.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a high level of editing for a quite long independent novel - there are some little mistakes here and there and occasionally character names are misspelled a little but no typo stands out. While a traditional fantasy in many respects, The Sword and the Dragon does not shy from explicit language when appropriate and characters, even ones readers may get to like may die or be transformed in unexpected ways.

Overall The Sword and the Dragon (A+) is an impressive debut - a traditional fantasy that manages to be fresh and a novel that while it is the start of a series, it succeeds in offering a complete reading experience. I suggest to try the extended sample linked above and if you love it as I did, get and read it!


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