Checking In

I’m indoors watching the tennis World Tour Finals semis being shown on the BBC – an excellent match between Murray and Nadal, as well as being an excellent way to spend a rather freezing winter afternoon.  But I’m feeling vaguely guilty at neglecting this blog, so here are some links of interest I’ve stumbled upon recently:

A Sharon Shinn interview at BSC Reviews – Ms Shinn is one of the authors who tend to keep a low profile online, so this is a relatively rare sighting.  She talks about her previous fantasy series, Twelve Houses, as well as her recent release “Troubled Waters”, and drops some tantalising hints about her upcoming urban fantasy (only due for release in 2012, though):

It’s set in present-day St. Louis and the main character is a 30-something woman named Maria who’s been in love with a shape-shifter since college. Except…she’s never actually seen him change shape. He leaves for weeks at a time, claiming to be off in his other form, and she’s chosen to believe him. But things start happening to make her question whether he’s telling the truth—and if he is telling the truth, if he’s done some terrible things—and if he’s done some terrible things, if she can still love him. No kickass heroine, no vampires, but a lot of emotional tension and a few intense love scenes.

I’m late to the party, but here is the first chapter of Sarah Rees Brennan‘s “The Demon’s Surrender”, out June 2011.  I fell in love with the previous book “The Demon’s Covenant”, and am counting down the days to this one.

Seanan McGuire talks about using a pseudonym (Mira Grant), and what it’s like being two people.  Fascinating.  I love her Toby Daye books (she describes them in that post as “fairy tale noir”, which is such a good way of describing them!), but have not felt the urge to read her Mira Grant book, “Feed”.  As much as I like her writing, I’m not at all keen on zombies…

Books for November

Yes, we’re in the second half of the month.  My excuse is that I’ve been on holiday (two things of note: (a) I have read so many books – total bliss! (b) why did no one tell me that Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci books are so much fun) and then fell into a bit of a post-holiday blogging slump – you would not believe how long it’s taken me to write this post.  Seriously.  I came thisclose to canning the entire post and just listing the titles.

However, many bars of chocolate later for some much-needed energy, here are the November releases on my to-buy list:

31BbrhQSomL._SL160_ Patricia Briggs’ “Wolfsbane” (fantasy): The sequel to “Masques”, which I read when it was re-released a couple of months back.  I also re-read another of her older fantasy novels, “When Demons Walk” last month – compared to her recent Mercy Thompson and Alpha & Omega UF books, I have to say both of these came off as having slightly rough edges, both still good reads though.  I’m really looking forward to reading “Wolfsbane” and seeing how she now writes fantasy.

Blurb from Amazon:

Shapeshifting mercenary Aralorn leads a dangerous existence. Now she must return home for her noble father, the Lyon of Lambshold, has passed away. But when Aralorn and her companion Wolf arrive, they find he’s not dead, but ensorcelled by the ae’Magi, using him as a conduit to destroy Aralorn and Wolf. She must overcome this mysterious mist or fall to the blackest of magic.

Out now (excerpt)

 

51co3aHGhL._SL160_ “Songs of Love and Death”, edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois (fantasy/SF/romance): I really need to kick the anthology habit – I have so many sitting around half-unread because I tend to read a couple of stories before abandoning the entire book.  I have no idea why, short attention span?

But with some of my favourite fantasy and romance writers amongst the contributors to this anthology (Neil Gaiman, Diana Gabaldon, Jim Butcher, Jacqueline Carey, Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney to be more specific, full table of contents at SF Signal), I had to cave and get this.  My only concern is the “star-crossed lovers” aspect – I’m hoping this will not be a tear-jerker of a book.

Out now

 

311iJRfOQNL._SL160_ Nalini Singh’s “Play of Passion” (paranormal romance): Ninth book in her Psy-Changeling series.  I’ve a confession to make: I wasn’t exactly going to rush out and get this one straightaway.  Don’t get me wrong – I like these books well enough, but I’ve been finding myself reading them months after release date.  Also, “Blaze of Memory” (the seventh book) was not one of my favourites; I didn’t connect with the h/h, the resolution came off as a bit deux ex machina, and even the larger Psy plot arc which normally intrigues me didn’t quite capture my interest.  Umm… yeah, safe to say BoM didn’t work for me.

However, last week I read the eighth book “Bonds of Justice” (see massive book reading binge note above), and ended up really enjoying the romance as well as wanting to know what would happen next, which is always a good sign.  So yes, I’ve already bought “Play of Passion”.

Blurb for “Play of Passion” from Ms Singh’s website:

In his position as tracker for the SnowDancer pack, it’s up to Drew Kincaid to rein in rogue changelings who have lost control of their animal halves—even if it means killing those who have gone too far. But nothing in his life has prepared him for the battle he must now wage to win the heart of a woman who makes his body ignite…and who threatens to enslave his wolf.

Lieutenant Indigo Riviere doesn’t easily allow skin privileges, especially of the sensual kind—and the last person she expects to find herself craving is the most wickedly playful male in the den. Everything she knows tells her to pull back before the flames burn them both to ash…but she hasn’t counted on Drew’s will.

Now, two of SnowDancer’s most stubborn wolves find themselves playing a hot, sexy game even as lethal danger stalks the very place they call home…

Out now (excerpt)

 

51QVnfBTpTL._SL160_ Sharon Lee’s “Carousel Tides” (urban fantasy): I’m only familiar with Sharon Lee’s writing as part of the Sharon Lee & Steve Miller writing team for the Liaden books (and they have just sold three new Liaden books – yay!), but as those rank amongst my favourite books, Ms Lee’s solo effort was certainly on my radar.

I’ve already read this one and liked very much – I actually found it slightly reminiscent of Tanya Huff’s equally-enjoyable “The Enchantment Emporium” because of the way the fantastic is seamlessly blended with the real.  “Carousel Tides” is not the all-guns-blazing type of urban fantasy; in fact it takes you quite a while to realise that this book is not a straight contemporary.  I loved how this played out and also the unusual setting (a Maine amusement-park coastal town), which is so clearly portrayed that it is almost a character in its own right.

Blurb from Baen’s Webscriptions site:

Kate Archer left home years ago, swearing that she would die before she returned to Maine. As plans go, it was a pretty good one — simple and straightforward.

Not quite fast enough, though.

Before she can quite manage the dying part, Kate gets notice that her grandmother is missing, leaving the carousel that is the family business untended.

And in Archers Beach, that means ‘way more trouble than just a foreclosure.

Out now (excerpt)

 

HF_AMidwinterPrince_coversm Harper Fox’s “A Midwinter Prince” (m/m romance): I don’t think I’ve mentioned Harper Fox on my blog this year (unfortunately not an unusual occurrence – I haven’t blogged about many things this year, have I?), but she’s one of my new-to-me author discoveries this year.  I’m a total sucker for angst-filled stories, and boy, does Ms Fox deliver on that front.  She also has a knack of writing characters that stay in your mind for way after you finish the last page, and I love the way she makes her very British settings come alive (her debut, “Life After Joe”, was all grimy industrial Newcastle, while the beauty and isolation of Cornwall came across wonderfully in her second novel “Driftwood”).

Blurb from Loose ID’s site:

When Laurie, son of a wealthy London baronet, takes a homeless young man off the bitter winter streets, he only means to shelter him. But Sasha is beautiful and passionate, and he knows what he wants. Soon the two are entangled in a wild and illicit romance. Sasha, an illegal alien, has dangerous connections and a violent underworld past that won’t let him go. Privileged Laurie has problems of his own — a brutal father who holds the keys to Laurie’s golden cage and would rather kill him than accept his son and heir is gay, let alone in love with a street urchin. Laurie’s only hope is to run. In a Romani encampment with Sasha, he finds not only a safe haven but sexual fulfilment beyond his wildest dreams.

But their new happiness is fragile. Sasha’s secrets run too deep, and he vanishes, leaving Laurie desolate, as much an exile in his own city as Sasha has been. Now Laurie must grow up and find his own strength. Can he break free of his suffocating aristocratic world in time to save his lover and himself?

Out now (excerpt)

 

51ps0frjlSL._SL160_ Jim Butcher’s “Side Jobs” (urban fantasy): This is a collection of Harry Dresden short stories, most of which I’ve probably read already.  The one story I know I haven’t read – and the reason why I want this collection – is “Backup”, which was the limited-edition novella published by Subterranean Press and narrated from Thomas’s point of view.  I love Thomas, but could not quite convince myself to shell out $20 (IIRC) for a 72-page novella.

Actually I lie – there would be a second story I haven’t read yet in this collection, as it also contains a previously-unpublished story taking place after the latest Dresden book.  This one from Murphy’s viewpoint, apparently.

Blurb from Jim Butcher’s website:

The first short story collection in the #1 New York Times bestselling series-including a brand-new Harry Dresden novella!

Here, together for the first time, are the shorter works of #1 New York Times bestselling author Jim Butcher-a compendium of cases that Harry and his cadre of allies managed to close in record time. The tales range from the deadly serious to the absurdly hilarious. Also included is a new, never-before-published novella that takes place after the cliff-hanger ending of the new April 2010 hardcover, Changes. This is a must-have collection for every devoted Harry Dresden fan as well as a perfect introduction for readers ready to meet Chicago’s only professional wizard.

Out now

Epistolary = Love

I have a thing for epistolary-style books.

I’m not precisely sure why – perhaps it’s because I get to fill in the blanks, to read between the lines and figure out what’s left unsaid based on what has been written and what hasn’t.  The text is personal in a way you normally only get from first-person POV, yet at the same time the story isn’t (usually) just from one person’s perspective.  There are so many different ways the author gets to flesh out his or her characters – the salutations used, the medium, the style… they all add to the sheer fun of reading one of these books.

One of my all-time favourite books – and probably the first epistolary book I read back in my teens – is Jean Webster‘s DADDY-LONG-LEGS*.   I remember when I first started the book, I was wondering when the letters from Jerusha (Judy) Abbott to her benefactor would end so that the real story could begin.  I think I was halfway through when it suddenly clicked that this was the story… Anyway, Judy’s letters to her mysterious orphanage trustee were a lovely way to watch her develop from a cautious girl fresh from an enclosed orphanage environment to a young woman brimming with confidence  – they were hilarious at times, beautifully poignant at others.  The ending was wonderfully romantic to my teenage self – and still is.

ETA: DADDY-LONG-LEGS is available as a free public domain ebook in the US and possibly other countries depending on local copyright law.

What inspired this post, you ask?  Reading Jaclyn Moriarty‘s FINDING CASSIE CRAZY (a.k.a THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS in the US) last night and absolutely loving it.  I know – I’m late to the party, aren’t I?  This is my first Moriarty but certainly won’t be my last.  Ms Moriarty first came to my attention in Ana’s 10/10 review of THE GHOSTS OF ASHBURY HIGH, followed by her “I love this series” post on the Ashbury/Brookfield books.  I initially thought the former was a paranormal YA and thought “maybe later” … I was wrong!

One of the pitfalls of epistolary narratives is that it is difficult to write the ending – because the events have already taken place in the characters’ real lives, how do you write it without falling into the “As you know, Bob…” trap, yet ensuring your readers close the book satisfied?  Ms Moriarty did it by providing one of the most satisfying transcripts ever – I was mentally cheering on Em and Lydia and Cassie over the concluding pages of the book.

I’ve also loved Steve Kluger‘s ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE and MY MOST EXCELLENT YEAR (both rec’d by Nath and definitely living up to her glowing reviews), which are told through a very varied mix of emails, diary entries, lists, posters and oh, all sorts of other media.  And one of my favourite series, Lisa Lutz‘s Spellman books, is partly in epistolary format, this time in the form of interview transcripts and lists.

I also have to mention Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevermer‘s wonderful SORCERY AND CECELIA – OR THE ENCHANTED CHOCOLATE POT, which unfolds in the form of correspondence between the Cecilia of the title and her best friend Kate, and set in an alternate Regency England.  There are also two sequels, but my favourite remains the first – a perfect blend of magic, friendship, adventure, and romance.

Finally, I was racking my brains trying to think of more examples (drawing a blank, unfortunately) and idly wondered how an urban fantasy would translate – and then I realised Ilona Andrews had posted an example on her blog.  If only!

What do you think of epistolary novels?  Like them?  Hate them?  And oh, any recommendations most welcome.

******************

*Although I am more on the fence about its sequel DEAR ENEMY, which falls into the “very much a product of its time” bucket.

New Look

So what do you think?

I’ve been bored with my previous blog theme for quite a while, not helped by WordPress releasing a number of tempting new themes over the past few months, but never quite had the time to play around and see what suited me until now.

I wanted something with two sidebars so that I could give my blogroll a bit more prominence without losing my monthly releases widget.  A custom header area.  Fonts that I could live with and block quotes that didn’t look funny and ummm… some spacing around my pictures.  I’m not picky.  Really.

Anyway, this theme, Fusion, appealed to me most – it met all the criteria above, and although it doesn’t offer a custom colour scheme, that really fell under the banner of very-nice-to-have. So after a minor panic attack (I thought I lost my entire blogroll at one point) and a few swear words (the Categories widget almost defeated me by refusing to disappear from where I didn’t want it to be), I think I have the new blog template pretty much there.

Except the header. Sigh. I’m not 100% happy with it, but it’ll do until I have more time to spend on sorting it out. I used Wordle to create the graphic based on my blog – however, it only takes the most recent posts so it is rather biased towards what I have been posting about recently, which made me laugh. Fortunately you have the option of deleting words you don’t want included…

So, does this look okay on your screen?  This is the free version of WordPress, so I am pretty limited in what I can change – I can change my header and widgets on the sidebars, but that’s pretty much it.  I may give TypeKit a go, which allows you to customise some fonts, but that will have to wait until I have more time to figure out how!