Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Top Twelve Books I Read in 2012

“I know what I’ll do,” I said to myself a few days ago. “I’ll write a post sharing the best books I read in 2012. That should be fun and easy, and it lets me do my favourite thing and recommend good books to people who may not have come across them.

Yeah. Great idea, Jo.

Over the last few days, I’ve been desperately trying to whittle my list of 69 books down to the top 10 must-reads. But I just couldn’t do it.

“I know,” I said to myself, never afraid to keep up a conversation in my own head. “Just treat a series as a single entity. I read lots of books that were part of a series last year.”

Yeah, didn’t help much. I managed to get my list down to 6 stand-alone novels and 10 series.

When I vented my frustration on Facebook and Twitter, Richard Lake suggested I make it a Top 12 list. You know, since it was 2012. That’s not cheating, right? Right?

So here you have it. I’ve divided my list into 6 stand-alone books and 6 series, and written a super-short description of why you should read them. (Note: I’ve listed them in alphabetical order by author. Because that’s just how I roll. And that way I didn’t have to find a way to rate them in comparison to each other.)

Stand-Alone Novels

Tiger Lily — Jodi Lynn Anderson

Tiger LilyA retelling of the Peter Pan story from the perspective of Tiger Lily. It’s a beautiful, tragic love story that had me laughing out loud, feeling awe and wonder at the beauty and casual cruelty of Neverland, and crying pitifully for the last few chapters. It’s rare that I’m so moved by a story. When I finished I clutched the book to my heart and carried it around with me, because I wasn’t ready to let it go.

City of the Lost — Stephen Blackmore

City of the LostJoe Sunday is not a nice guy. He’s a thug, a leg-breaker, and a sometime killer. And that’s before he’s murdered and turned into a zombie by a maniacal old man intent on achieving immortality.This bloody, visceral, gore-filled horror novel is amazing. Joe Sunday’s voice is what really makes it work. Despite his thuggish ways, he’s honourable, courageous, and the consummate hero — even when his deeds are less than heroic. I couldn’t get enough of him.

Ready Player One — Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneIf you know there’s a difference between an African and a European swallow, you’ve ever written “Don’t Panic” on the front of a notebook, or you know how many lions it takes to form Voltron, this book is for you. The plot revolves around Wade Watts, a VR computer game known as OASIS, and a search for hidden clues and treasures. But more than that, this book is an homage to the ’80s and geek culture. I loved every moment of it. Oh, and Hello, Firefly-class spaceship!

Addition — Toni Jordan

AdditionThis is a romantic drama about a woman living with extreme OCD, while searching for love and meaning in her life. It’s an authentic look at the mindset of someone whose own mental faculties seem to be working against them. Grace is unable to hold down a job, and struggles with the day-to-day necessities of choosing what to wear and doing the shopping (ten bananas, ten toothbrushes, ten eggs…). While I didn’t like the ending, I appreciated the story and think it would appeal to readers who enjoy Jodi Picoult and similar authors.

Goodnight Nobody — Jennifer Weiner

Goodnight NobodyWhen a free-spirited fashion journalist and ex-singer goes from being a single girl-about-town in New York to the suburban mother of three kids under 4, she’s pretty sure her life is over. And then one of the ‘Perfect Mommy Brigade’ is murdered, and she can’t help but investigate. Especially when she finds out her ex-boyfriend is somehow involved. This romantic crime novel is easy to read, relatable and engaging.

Giants of the Frost — Kim Wilkins

Giants of the FrostA romantic thriller involving supernatural elements by way of Norse Gods. An english scientist takes a posting to a remote Scandinavian island when her engagement goes horribly wrong, and finds herself embroiled in a love story a thousand years in the making. She’s the reborn soul of the God Vidar’s true love, and now that she’s back in the world Vidar is prepared to sacrifice anything, including his divinity, to be with her. It’s scary and exciting and romantic and tinged with enough tragedy to make it a truly authentic love story.

Series

The Morganville Vampires — Rachel Caine

Glass HousesI read all 13 Morganville Books in 2012. This is a Young Adult series set in a small town in Texas where vampires run the city and attempt to live amicably and openly with humans. Claire is 16, super-smart, and completely unprepared for what she finds when she starts college in Morganville. Packed with interesting secondary characters, an engaging plot, and more twists and turns than I can count, this series is a great example of YA writing at its best. I look forward to more Morganville in the future.

Revivalist — Rachel Caine

9780451464132_WorkingStiff_CV.inddI read the first two books in 2012, and am looking forward to the next book in the series coming out in 2013. First, let me say that this is the same Rachel Caine who wrote the above Morganville Vampires series. But if you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t know it. The tone, theme, and writing style are completely different. Bryn is a hard-working, no-nonsense, ex-soldier who decides to start a new career as funeral director. All is going well until she’s turned into a zombie. Not a slobbering, brain-eating, apocalypse-causing zombie. Oh no, something much better. A zombie created by… (wait for it!) Science! The series has it all — action, horror, romance, secret conspiracies, evil corporations, and enough double- and triple-crosses to keep me guessing from start to finish.

The Athenian Mysteries — Gary Corby

The Pericles CommissionI only read the first book in 2012, but will be reading more. The Pericles Commission is an historical crime novel set in Ancient Greece. When the older brother of Socrates has a corpse almost dropped on his head, he sets out to solve the crime. There’s plenty of real historical information and people, and an amazing crime story. I loved the cleverness and wit in the writing, and it’s a really easy read, even with the names (which were all Greek to me…).

The Disillusionists Trilogy — Carolyn Crane

Mind GamesUnlike many Urban Fantasy series out there, this one is a set trilogy of books. I read the whole series in 2012. The series centers on Justine Jones, a neurotic hypochondriac, and her role amongst the Disillusionists — a group of vigilantes set on finding the wicked and disillusioning them of their selfish behaviours. For a fee, of course. It’s a dark, gritty series set in a world of psychic powers, super-villains, and treachery, where no one can be trusted — least of all your allies — and reads like a dark superhero story.

H&W Investigations — Jess Haines

Hunted by the OthersI read the first two books in 2012, and am looking forward to reading more. This series is everything an Urban Fantasy series should be. It’s full of vampires, werewolves, and mages — but the protagonist is PI Shiarra Waynest. Human. With a major grudge against Others — the name given to supernatural creatures as a whole. The vampires are seductive and dangerous and the werewolves are honourable and prone to bursts of aggression. The series reminds me of a World of Darkness RPG. Only better. Much, much better.

Downside Ghosts — Stacia Kane

Unholy GhostsI read the first three books in 2012, and the next two are first off the rank in 2013. This is a dark Urban Fantasy series set in a near-future world where ghosts killed most of the population and magic is part of every day life — as long as it’s Church-sanctified magic. Let me say again, this series is dark. There’s ritual sacrifice, murder, drugs, disease, and betrayal. Chess, the main character, is as screwed up as it’s possible to get, and the mysteries she solves are intertwined with her own traumas and drug addiction. It’s an amazing series, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who prefers their fantasy to be full of rainbows and unicorns.

Honourable mentions also need to go to:

  •  The Black Sun’s Daughter series by M.L.N. Hanover
  • Croak by Gina Damico
  • Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi.

Have you read any of these books/series? Do you want to? What were your top reads of 2012?

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On Writing and Developing Characters

It’s taken me a little while to write this post today. Yesterday’s post was much more intense and (potentially) controversial than usual, and I wasn’t sure how to follow it up. I don’t want to keep talking politics (I’ve said my piece) but I didn’t feel right going into a funny anecdote about my children, either.

So I’ve decided to find some middle ground and talk about writing. Specifically, about the process I’m going through at the moment: Developing my characters.

I talked a bit about my need to revisit my character development a couple of weeks ago, and then touched on some reasons I think it’s important to create fully developed characters at some point during the writing process, whether it’s before you start writing, in the middle of a project (like I’m doing now) or after you’ve finished your first draft. And that’s what I’ve been working on over the last week and a half.

One of the ways to get to know your characters a bit better is to do a ‘Character Interview’. This is where you sit your character down and ask them a whole range of questions — you know, like you do on a first date.

(Disclaimer: It’s a long time since I’ve been on a first date.)

For the non-writer’s in the audience, yes this sounds crazy. Yes, the characters aren’t really real. But trust me, it works.

I’ve had some success with character interviews in the past, but had lost the interview template I used. So I asked around, and was pointed to this awesome character questionnaire. I read it and was hooked.

The quiz has 50 questions in total, although some are really follow-on questions rather than stand-alone ones. I’ve been enjoying putting my characters through their paces on this one, and my husband and I have also used it to get to know some of our RPG characters better.

Click through. Read it. Try it. Let me know what you think.

And in the spirit of fun, I thought I’d share a few of the answers so far. These are answers from a mix of different characters in the urban fantasy novel I’m working on (four different characters are represented here). Hopefully you’ll find some of the answers as amusing and/or interesting as I do.

  1. If you could change anything about yourself…
    • It would be my tusks. They’re… look, it’s not that they’re small. But it never hurts to have bigger ones, right?
  2. What’s your favourite food?
    • My father used to cook me a meal called grautr. It was like… salted porridge with smoked herring. I didn’t like it. Now, it’s the only thing in the world I want to eat. I cooked it for my boyfriend once. He didn’t eat it.
  3. What’s your favourite drink?
    • There’s this Japanese wine that tastes like distilled sunligh– I mean, whiskey. Yeah. Straight up.
  4. Do you have any hobbies?
    • [character 1] Murder, mayhem and motorbikes.
    • [character 2] Don’t laugh, but I collect rocks. I told you not to laugh.
  5. Have you been honest with these questions?
    • Only the unimportant ones.

Do you interview your characters? Do you have a particular set of questions you like to use?

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Exciting Writing

I’ve had a much more successful week this week. Finally. I’m on Day 37 of the 100 Words for 100 Days Challenge, and seem to be slipping into a better routine/habit with my writing. Part of that may be because I’m starting to get to the “interesting” part of my novel. Which is not to say the rest hasn’t been interesting. It has. I’ve had goblins, and enchantments, and guns, and a clumsy PI. But now that I’m in the meat of the novel, I’m building towards my first magical fight.

Quick side-question: According to my husband, magic has to be “flashy” to be interesting. He grew up on Magic Missiles and Fireballs, and then transitioned to Dresden’s blasting rod, so I know the kind of “flashy” he means. But I tend towards a more subtle type of magic in my stories — cursed items, disguise spells, “charm person” enchantments and the like. What do you think? How much flash do you expect out of Urban Fantasy magic?

I’ve done some editting of my first draft this week (I’m sure I wrote something recently about the importance of not doing that!) and so lost word count when I hacked and slashed some pointless prose, but I’ve still finished 1900 words up on last week. It may not be 5000 a week, but I’m doing a heck of a lot better than I have been lately!

I had four people volunteer to read my short story last week, and have had two people come back to me with their thoughts and feedback so far. They’ve both been a great help, and I’m looking forward to getting all the feedback in so I can get started on some reworking. Yay for feedback! I also wrote another flash fiction story for Chuck Wendig’s weekly competition.

And in further excitement, I’ve booked my tickets for the Brisbane Writer’s Festival this year. I’m so excited. This will actually be my first time going to the festival, and I’m already counting the sleeps. (Only 23 to go!) For anyone interested, I’m attending a couple of workshops/masterclasses (The Australian Writer’s Marketplace Industry Masterclass and Tell Me a Story: How to Find Your Voice) as well as 4 ticketed sessions and 1 free session. I can’t wait!

I’ve also been thinking about Writing Retreats after hearing about Laura Stanfill‘s recent expedition, and wondering about the wisdom of partaking in one myself. Would it be a valuable chance for me to focus on my novel? Or is leaving my husband and two boys alone for an extended period of time (ie. more then 6 hours) just a recipe for disaster? So far, I’m undecided.

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Book Review: Hounded

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

Hounded is the first book of the Iron Druid Series by Kevin Hearne. I heard about it a couple of months ago (it was released in May), and have been dying to get my hands on it ever since. Firstly, it’s urban fantasy without a hot, leather-clad female protagonist, and secondly, it’s a book heavy in mythology — specifically the Tuatha de Danaan, who are an Irish pantheon of Gods, and a particular interest of mine.

If those two points were all I was looking for in a book, I would have been thrilled with Hounded.

Atticus O’Sullivan is an interesting character, with a fascinating earth-based magic style, and a wonderful sidekick named Oberon. Oberon is a dog. An Irish Wolfhound, to be exact. He can speak with Atticus, and is a fabulously funny and exuberant character in his own right. (What is it with awesome doggy sidekicks at the moment?) Plus, the mythology in Hounded was well-researched and delivered, from the Tuatha de Danaan to the Icelandic werewolves.

I thought Hounded was entertaining. I was entertained. If it had been a play, I would have applauded. If it had been a song, I would have tapped my foot in time. But I wasn’t inspired to give a standing ovation or to dance. I wasn’t moved. 

The reason for this is quite simple. Atticus O’Sullivan is awesome. Too awesome. I didn’t at any point feel like he was in real danger. And he didn’t seem to feel like he was in danger, either.

I’m about to be attacked by a group of fae. I guess I better kill them.

A group of Fir Bolg are about to attack me. I guess I better kill them.

A God might be going to attack me. I guess I’ll make preparations so I can kill him if I need to.

This guy is unstoppable. Well, almost unstoppable. His magic has one serious and easily exploitable weakness. But every time this could be a problem for him, one of his allies just happens to be there to stop him being killed. Or hurt. Or inconvenienced in any way, shape or form.

(If I’d been a beta reader for Kevin Hearne, I would have pointed this out. Sadly, not every published author asks me to read for them.)

This isn’t the greatest book I’ve ever read, but I did enjoy it. If you’re looking for an entertaining book with an Irish accent and a doggy sidekick, you could do worse than read Hounded.

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Five Influential Authors

I was supposed to be writing a book review for today’s post, but with everything else happening this week, I didn’t have a chance to finish reading one. Okay, that’s not exactly true. I could have. I got about 100 pages into a book. But then I made the not-unmomentous decision to stop reading it. (This isn’t the first book I’ve stopped reading, as I mentioned here, but it’s still not something I do lightly.)

This book, which will remain nameless, suffered from my largest pet peeve of a first person narrative: the reticent host. As far as I’m concerned, if you’re a first person narrator, and you’re experiencing something that you understand, then you should explain it to the reader. You don’t keep it to yourself in order to have a “grand reveal” midway through the book. Anyway, enough of that.

I uhmmmed and ahhhed about what to put in today’s post. I even considered not writing one today. (Shock! Horror!) But then something that had been percolating around in my brain for a while floated to the surface.

Whenever you read an interview with a new-ish band, one of the questions they’re asked is something along the lines of “Who are your influences?” And every musician can (and is allowed to) name a few other musicians who have influenced their style. But it’s not something you often hear asked of an author. Surely an author has just as many influences as a musician, though. I know I do.

As a child, I wrote a lot. Sadly, none of the stories I wrote survived to this day. But I remember some of the “best” ones.

There was the amazing tale of Basketballhead the Monster. He was a monster with a basketball for a head. He went around terrorising villagers and living in a smelly cave, but was soundly defeated by a troupe of travelling basketball players.

There was an alien abduction, where the protagonist had to complete a series of three missions in order to be allowed to return to Earth. He won by relying on his superior intelligence to navigate his way through a maze with the use of only a super-large piece of string. And then, in classic fashion, he woke up and discovered it was all a dream. BUT – shock twist – he still had some string in his pocket. So… where did it come from???

Those early stories were, by and large, horrendous. But they taught me how to string sentences together to form a basic narrative structure. Then I read books, and my writing world expanded. So, without further adieu (or any more general waffling), here are the top 5 authors who have influenced my writing style.

Douglas Adams

When I read H2G2 as a young teenager, I had a revelation. Books could be funny. And not just joke books – actual, real, story-oriented books, with characters and a plot, could be funny. You were allowed to take perfectly normal, serious, and stand-up words and use them in a funny way. All of a sudden, Basketballhead developed one-liners, and the description of his cave became less earnest and more sarcastic.

 

Clive Barker 

I was first introduced to Clive Barker through Weaveworld, which I read when I was about 12. I fell in love with his style, and the idea of an entire world contained within the threads of a carpet, and promptly asked my parents to buy me a Clive Barker book for Christmas. They bought me Imajica, which is the single most amazing book I’ve ever read. Of course, if they’d known how much (often gratuitous) sex and violence is in there, they never would have let me get anywhere near it. This book is…. I don’t even have the words. It is master storytelling at its best. It’s a beautifully crafted world full of interesting and odd characters that inspired me to feel emotions that I’d never before experienced at the tender age of 12. And even now, when I reread my old, dog-eared copy of Imajica (being careful not to turn the pages too quickly and risk more of them coming unglued from the spine), I feel those same senses of wonder, enticement, fear, sadness, and the ultimate tragedy that permeate the very pages. Clive Barker taught me that there is beauty in horror, horror in beauty, sadness in joy, happiness in death, and tragedy in a happy ending. He taught me that wholly unlikeable characters have redeeming features, that wholly likeable characters are probably trying to sell you something, and that the interaction between those characters is what makes them both loveable and memorable.

Terry Pratchett

Much like Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett taught me that stories could be funny. Even not-funny plots could be funny. His early books were straight parodies of fantasy clichés, but in his later books, there was often a serious storyline. If you look at books like The Fifth Elephant, or Thud! you’ve got serious situations that mirror, in some way, situations in the real world. They deal with serious issues like war, racism, and tradition. But when you’re reading these books, you barely notice all that serious stuff, because you’re so wrapped up in the characters and the humour. Characters who are clearly written as jokes (possibly as punes or plays on words) have a serious role to play in the unfolding story, and characters who are part of the serious side of the novel are written irreverently. What I learned from this was that humour doesn’t have to be used as a battering ram. It can be the chocolate topping on a ice cream sundae. You can still have dessert without it, but it adds a delicious, irresistible sweetness.

Raymond Chandler

I don’t write mystery stories, but I firmly believe that, much as all good tales have some romantic element, all good stories have a sense of mystery about them. Raymond Chandler is a master mystery storyteller. What I learned from him is that you can take a boring, dark, seedy, or dangerous situation and still write about it with beauty. He’s renowned for his use of metaphor, and there isn’t a single page of his writing that isn’t dripping with them. He was a man who loved the english language, and could spin words into gold. Without the need to trade favours with a bad-tempered dwarf.

Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files were the first urban fantasy books I ever read. They have humour, magic, mystery, and characters that are real enough you could invite them to sleep on your couch. But these books taught me two things. (1) Urban fantasy rocks, and is the genre I want to write in. Before this, I was struggling to write high fantasy. I loved the setting and plot options, but hate extensive world building. Urban fantasy gives me everything I need. (2) First person is not a dirty word. Two words. Whatever. These were the first books that I read and enjoyed that were written in first person, and I found myself wanting to practice and emulate that style.

 

 

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Book Review: NUM8ERS

Numbers, by Rachel Ward, is a Young Adult book that was released early in 2010. I picked this book up for 2 reasons. Firstly, it was a brief foray into the world of modern YA fiction. Secondly, it got a really good review over at All Things Urban Fantasy, and the plot seemed quite different to a lot of other YA urban fantasy out there. (ie. there are no vampires!)

Jem is a 15-year-old London girl, who was a special ability. When she looks someone in the eye, she sees their number. That is, she sees the date that they are going to die. She’s had the ability her whole life, but it wasn’t until she witnessed her mother’s drug overdose at age 7 that she really knew what the numbers meant. She’s lived as an outsider her whole life, avoiding contact with other people as much as possible, but when she reluctantly befriends Spider, another young outsider, her life seems to be taking a turn for the happy. The two of them head into the city and are at the London Eye when Jem realises that something is terribly wrong. Everyone waiting in line has the same number, and it’s today. Terrorists are about to attack.

Thus begins the story, which focuses on Jem and Spider’s headlong escape through the english countryside, to an imagined nirvana at the seaside.

The concept is, quite honestly, awesome. I love the idea. I love the way that Jem avoids eye contact with people, and is cast in the role of weirdo outsider by her peers, because she’s too scared to look them in the eye. She lives with the constant fear of death–not her own, but the death of everyone she meets.

The trouble with this is that I found it really difficult to like Jem. She’s so wrapped up in misery and tragedy, that there’s no way to hug her without spiking yourself through the eye.

Spider, on the other hand, is even less obviously likeable. He deals drugs. He runs with gangs. He’s unkempt and stinky. But, despite all of this, his good points shine through. He’s loyal to a fault, gallant, and generous. And I found myself warming to Spider long before I was willing to risk trying to get close to the ever-prickly Jem.

With that in mind, I found it really hard to feel involved with these characters. Maybe it’s because I’m not english. Maybe it’s because I’ve never experienced the soul-crushing life of an underpriveleged streetkid. Or maybe it’s just because I’m 20 years older than the protagonists and target audience. Whatever the case may be, I found most of their actions completely ridiculous, and mostly wanted to give them both a good shake and tell them to stop being so damn silly.

Up until about page 150. When, all of a sudden, it got good.

There’s a fabulous scene where Jem and Spider are bruised, battered, and injured and hiding in a barn in the country. They have no idea how to survive in the countryside, and Jem is terrified of the cows nearby. But when it starts to rain, she goads Spider into joining her for a “shower”. This moment is so well portrayed, that I went from feeling vague unease and disdain towards the characters to loving them in about one and a half pages. (If only that feeling had come closer to the beginning of the book!) 

Numbers had me, then, all the way through the phenomenal climax and to the aftermath. I couldn’t get enough of it. And then the last 1 1/2 pages lost me again.

I don’t want to ruin the ending, but I can tell you that I didn’t like it. I felt like it was a cop-out. I didn’t feel that there was an appropriate narrative reason for the ending to play out as it did, although it did create the perfect hook for a sequel. (Numbers: The Chaos came out earlier this year.) I won’t be reading it, though.

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Urban Fantasy in Review

I have a number of books on my “to be read” pile at the moment. I’m reading a lot of urban fantasy right now, and trying to get my head around what the current trends are within the genre. Plus, I really enjoy urban fantasy. (Although not paranormal romance, for reasons listed on my recent Book Review.)

I’d like to share with you the covers for some of the books that I’m intending to read in the coming weeks. See if you can spot the apparent trend.

Yes, that’s right: hot chicks, preferably with bare midriffs and blades.

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