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Introducting My Cohorts. Plus Some Requests.

You might have noticed that the first two reviews here at Debuts & Reviews were not written by me. I have cohorts!

I have been following Superwench’s blog since 2006, when I “met” her during one of Rachel Vater’s query contests. She is my beta reader, and has read both of my novels (I’m still waiting to read hers). I noticed that she was reading a lot of things that I was announcing. Since almost exactly the same thing happened with Raven, I invited her to review here.

Superwench–aka Katie–has tastes that are very similar to mine, so expect her to read things that I can’t get to, and then for me to leave comments saying things like, “Oooh, I wish I read this!”

In the meantime, I continue to count on Raven to read the darker, grittier stuff that I don’t go for. She’s no huge fan of urban fantasy either, but she reads them occasionally enough for the purposes of this blog. She also reads horror. She has an aversion to romance, which is okay because a little romance is just fine by me. One of the things I appreciate about Raven is I almost have to give her no instructions. She models her posts very similar to mine, even using the same tagging scheme without my asking her to. Therefore, all I have to do is slap a cover image on it and post it. She is so very easy to work with! Raven occasionally blogs as well.

Please welcome them aboard!

A while back, on Fantasy Debut, I put up a post asking for an urban fantasy reviewer. And although I had many kind responses, my heart wasn’t in it. Urban Fantasy just isn’t my thing, and I really had little desire to cover it, especially since so many of them run right smack into my red flags. (Demonic/angelic/vampiric lovers–ugh! I prefer my male heroes to be actual men.) I will continue to showcase any debuts that I hear about, of course.

Blogroll Stuff

I have added a few blogs to my “Longtime Readers” category. I am still adding people; it’s going to be a work in progress.

I am also looking for some recommendations for blogs that cover the Mystery, Christian and Historical Fiction genres. Some of the things I look for when I consider adding a blog to my blogroll:

  • Lack of long rants. I don’t mind rants, as long as they’re short and succinct. If I see a lot of long rants, I won’t be interested in adding it.
  • Not cluttered by ads. I don’t mind some ads. But if the  sidebars consist of nothing but ads, I probably won’t link it.
  • Has a blogroll. I’m interested in linking to blogs that might reciprocate.

And that’s about it. Know of any good ones?

Debut Review: The Birthing House

The Birthing House
The Birthing House (Amazon USAUKCanada)
By Christopher Ransom (US Website, UK Website)
UK Publisher: Little, Brown (Sphere) (Jan. 1, 2009)
USA Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (Aug. 4, 2009)
Hardcover
Excerpt (pdf)
Review copy provided by Little, Brown.

Reviewed by Raven.

I started The Birthing House (debut showcase here) with high hopes. A birthing house, which I had never heard of before, is apparently a house owned by a doctor, and women would go there to give birth. The idea behind The Birthing House is that birth, the beginning of life, is just as traumatic an event as death, the ending of life, so it’s just as likely to open the door to evil and result in a house becoming haunted. This concept intrigued me, and I liked the writing style in the excerpt, so although I rarely read ghost stories, I wanted to read this book.

Having read it, I still think the concept is intriguing. I enjoyed the way Christopher Ransom pulls the reader into the head of his main character, Conrad Harrison. However, a couple of things kept me from enjoying the book as much as I wanted to.

One biggie was I felt Ransom didn’t exploit the concept fully. He set up a lot of births and upcoming births (several pregnant women, a clutch of parthenogetic snake’s eggs, and a number of odd, apparently ageless children born in the house). The problem was none of these setups really paid off. Instead the book took off in a different, less original direction, and most of these intriguing mysteries never got explained. The less interesting story we got instead even made me roll my eyes at one point, unfortunately.

I guess I’ve read books before where the author seems to run out of steam in the second half, although I see it more often in movies. Most of the time it seems to happen in works with a high, easily explainable, original concept. Well, this book has one of those. It hooked me with the “birth opening the door to evil” idea. But, as seems to happen with these concepts all too often, the author didn’t explore every angle. So, while the concept made me read the book, I wasn’t satisfied.

So, a note to writers writing strong, original concepts: follow through. In the case of The Birthing House, the whole book should have reflected the birth/evil idea. But instead this idea seemed to go by the wayside halfway through.

I also wished the hero were more active and, well, more heroic. Instead of working to solve the mysteries he was encountering, he moped around and reflected on his past. Granted, his past tied into the theme, but I would’ve loved to see him presented as a guy taking action to whip this house and its ghosts instead of letting them whip him.

But I probably could have forgiven the hero for being passive (okay, maybe I could have) if the novel had been strong in the second half. Can you tell I’m gritting my teeth with frustration because it wasn’t? The mysteries I wanted to see resolved are still mysteries.

Has this happened to you? You’ve been hooked by a concept and disappointed by the execution? It really does frustrate me, because strong concepts have so much potential to become strong novels (or movies) that I hate to see them not do so.

Debut Showcase: The Windup Girl

TheWindupGirl
The Windup Girl (Amazon USAUKCanada)
by Paolo Bacigalupi (website)
Night Shade Books (includes excerpt and stories from the same world)

Hardcover – 24.99

Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? In The Windup Girl, award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi returns to the world of “The Calorie Man” ( Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winner, Hugo Award nominee, 2006) and “Yellow Card Man” (Hugo Award nominee, 2007) in order to address these poignant questions.

I recently got a large stack of books from Night Shade books, but this one was not among them. John Ottinger over at Grasping for the Wind called it “good, if depressing, fiction.” This is one case where the title hooks me more than the blurb. If I saw this on the shelf, I’d be tempted to buy it on the strength of the title alone. However, I’m not sure I get the premise, because it mentions things like calorie companies without giving any clue as to what that is, and how bio-terrorism can possibly bring about corporate profits. John Scalzi has a Big Idea post on it.

Debut Review: The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker

MissPercyParker
The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker
(Amazon USAUKCanada)
by Leanna Renee Hieber (site includes blog and book trailer)
Leisure Books
Mass Market Paperback

Reviewed by Superwench83

Blurb
What fortune awaited sweet, timid Percy Parker at Athens Academy? Considering how few of Queen Victoria’s Londoners knew of it, the great Romanesque fortress was dreadfully imposing, and little could Percy guess what lay inside. She had never met the powerful and mysterious Professor Alexi Rychman, knew nothing of the growing shadow, the Ripper and other supernatural terrors against which his coterie stood guard. She knew simply that she was different, haunted, with her snow-white hair, pearlescent skin and uncanny gifts. But this arched stone doorway offered a portal to a new life, an education far from the convent—and an invitation to an intimate yet dangerous dance at the threshold of life and death…

A Victorian ghost story with a hint of Bronte and a splash of myth: such is The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber. In an almost-hidden realm in Victorian London, the supernatural occasionally bubbles into the normal realm to cause events which most cannot understand…but then, Alexi Rychman and his friends are not most. And Percy Parker is about to stumble into their world.

There is richness and passion in the people on these pages, and it shines forth even through the constraining veil of Victorian manners. Or perhaps it shines so brightly because of this contrast? There is Percy Parker, as pale as the ghosts no one but she seems to see, haunted not by specters but by the cold eyes of all who scorn her for being different; the brooding and handsome Professor Alexi Rychman, for whom Percy cannot shake her fascination; and Rebecca Thompson, the no-nonsense headmistress with a connection to Alexi which Percy doesn’t understand. Not to mention kind and friendly Michael, ever-sarcastic Elijah, and the rest. These characters’ relationships are both bitter and sweet, full of the complexities of all human relationships. And the mood these conflicts create sets the stage very nicely for the gothic gloom and mythological beauty.

The mix of myth, history, and the supernatural in this novel is refreshing. In a novel set in England, one might expect to deal with myths of fairies and Celtic spirits, but not a legendary love story of another ancient land. And to tie it into stories of famous English ghosts and Jack the Ripper is just something no one else has ever thought of. The magic and mystery tumble open in a series of breathtaking circumstances which fly by with each eager turn of the page. The book is short enough to read comfortably in a day, and that’s a good thing because I, for one, couldn’t put it down. It clips along at a steady pace, balancing mystery, romance, and action scenes so that things never get static.

The plotting wasn’t perfect, mind. There was a bit of predictability here and there, and I can’t grasp why no one saw through the villain right from the start; the villain was so transparent to me. Also, one particular assumption the Guard makes over a definition bothered me because their definition was so narrow—which was rather convenient in allowing them to overlook something important. And in the powers of the Guard, Rebecca is supposed to be Intuition. But regarding the one thing which leads directly to the climax, I didn’t find her very intuitive. Also, Michael’s power seems vague, weak. I’d like to have seen a better display of the Heart, what it means, and why it’s so essential. Despite this, though, The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker was more than a worthy read.

For those who love dark old London, mannerly mysteries, magic, and gothic romance, this is a book for you. It’s like a student in a mythology class crashed into a British Literature student and their notes got all shuffled together. The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is a haunting and, yes, beautiful story. It is the first in a series of Strangely Beautiful tales, and Leanna Renee Hieber has set the bar high for herself. There is much potential for these next books.

As an added benefit, I got to meet Leanna Renee Hieber recently. She’s a Cincinnati area native like myself who came home to do an Ohio book tour. At her reading and signing, she talked briefly about the coming books in the series. She plans for a series of five books, not all of them featuring the characters from The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker. The series will include a prequel, taking readers back to the Guard’s origins, and will run into the twentieth century at the time of WWII. (Or did she say WWI? I can’t remember!) She is super, super nice, not to mention fascinating. Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, which certainly made her reading interesting. Not every writer can read each of her characters in a different voice!

Suffice it to say that this is one instance where the author is as charming as the world she has created. I can’t wait to read the next book.

About Debuts & Reviews

For over two years, I have run a successful review blog called Fantasy Debut. The tag line was “all debut fantasy, all the time.” After a while, I was compelled to stick an “almost” in there, because I kept straying from my own niche. Why? Several reasons:

  • It proved to be very difficult to read all debut fantasy. Often, I wanted to read the author’s next book, too. Therefore, I capriciously coined a phrase: debut graduate. And so I reviewed second books. And thirds. No fourths yet, but I already have one in my possession. Flatteringly, authors think of me and want to send me their books, and I, quite frankly want to keep reading them.
  • From day one, I included the definition of fantasy to include science fiction. So the title of my blog was never entirely accurate.
  • It proved to be unreasonable of me to expect publicists to remember that I focus on debuts. Therefore, I have received a lot of non-debut novels, usually as surprises in the mail.

I have several other reasons for starting a new blog.

  • I am frustrated with Google’s inability to deal with comment spam. I like opening up my comments to all and sundry, whether they wish to leave a name or not. But when I do, I get comment spam that takes precious time to go in and delete. I have been told that WordPress deals with comment spam much better than Blogger, so here I am.
  • I have my own domain, and it is all based on this WordPress blog. That made this domain easy to set up. I like easy, because easy = fast.
  • I read historical and mystery as well, and I wanted to cover those without going off-topic. Therefore, I decided that this blog would not be focused on a specific genre.

I’ll be honest. I almost stopped blogging altogether. But stopping the flow of review copies is much like rebottling a genie without making a wish. Therefore, I took a step back and figured out what I found frustrating about Fantasy Debut, and what I enjoyed. If this isn’t an enjoyable hobby, then it’s not worth doing.

What I’m Keeping

  • Writer Wednesday. This proved to be a popular feature, so I will continue it here.
  • Discovery Showcases. Now open to any genre, and posted sometime on Sunday.

What I’m Changing

  • Debut Showcases. These will be posted weekly, and will be more round-ups than full-fledged showcases. I hope to cover a wide variety of genres, not only speculative fiction.
  • Debut-focused reviews. I will now review any novel that fits in my areas of interest. I still expect to read a lot of debuts, since I will learn of them through the debut round-ups. As ever, I prefer to be queried, rather than sent unsolicited copies.

What I’m Eliminating

  • Can’t think of anything.

What I’m Adding

  • More genres. I have my favorites, but I’m not going to limit myself.
  • More personality. Expect me to go off-topic more frequently. I enjoy lots of things, not just reading.

If you came over from Fantasy Debut, thanks so much for following me. If you just found me, welcome! I hope to see you’ll around the comment threads. Thanks for visiting and please let me know what you think!