Books of the Week:
- Undead and Unsure, MaryJanice Davidson
- Skinner, Charlie Huston
- Blood of Tyrants, Naomi Novik
- The Wolves of Midwinter, Anne Rice
I apologize for the long lag between columns. I was finishing a book, myself. And I’ve read some good ones; it’s going to take me a couple of weeks to catch up. This selection is all over the spectrum in tone and genre.
As many people who read my books already know, MaryJanice Davidson is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and her books are just as funny. Queen Betsy has darker adventures these days, but they’re still great reading. I felt I got to know Sinclair, Betsy’s king, much better, in this book. Zombie Marc gets a chance to use his doctoring skills as he delivers . . . . well, I’ll leave that surprise for the reader. And Betsy goes back to Hell. Undead and Unsure is an absolute must-read for those who have followed Betsy’s adventures from the beginning, as I have.
Charlie Huston is a great American writer. Maybe his work is not quite as accessible as that of James Lee Burke or Robert Crais, but I would put him on their level. Skinner was a slow start for me, until I fell back into Huston’s elliptical dialog and spare style. The plot is mind-boggling – a nuclear bomb in India, a genius, and a semi-retired protection agent. I really couldn’t put this book down, and as usual with Huston, there’s surprise after surprise . . . or shock after shock.
I get so excited when I get a new Naomi Novik in the mail! Happily, in Blood of Tyrants Novik is back at full strength. Captain Will Laurence has been cast ashore in Japan following a shipwreck, and he has lost his memory. Meanwhile, his dragon Temeraire is fighting the overwhelming belief that Laurence is dead, which the other Englishmen and dragons believe must be the truth. When the two are reunited, Laurence is still suffering from memory loss, but the political situation demands that Laurence cover this up. Through all kinds of travail, the dragon and his man end up in Russia facing Napoleon.
Luckily for me, and thanks to Anne Rice, I was able to get an advance copy of The Wolves of Midwinter, her second Wolf Gift Chronicle novel. As rich in detail and vision as The Wolf Gift, Rice’s newest book is just as full of movement and startling developments as the previous one. Reuben Golding is facing his first Christmas as a werewolf, and he is learning more and more about his new world from the elder werewolves, the Morphenkinder. They are all living together in the amazing house he inherited in Gift, and at first, all seems harmonious – at least, until Reuben discovers he is about to be a father, courtesy of his discarded human fiancé. A chain of events follows that affects Reuben’s whole family; not only his human family, but his wolf family. Events reach a crisis during the best Christmas party ever. This book will be available in October, and it’s Rice at her best.
I approached World Science Fiction Convention (this year held in San Antonio and called LoneStarCon) with some anxiety, since urban fantasy is not held in high regard by science fiction purists. This may be changing. Despite a rocky beginning (I found I was not scheduled for a signing, and the first volunteer I approached about this was rude and unhelpful) I hit gold with my second query. Sara Cooper not only made sure I had a signing, she helped to publicize it, and was charming in the process. And the only other negative thing I have to say about the con is that some writers did not get panels, which was very startling: Dana Cameron and Kevin Hearne, two of the left-outs that I know personally, are not exactly unknowns. Dana has won multiple awards, though admittedly many of these are in mystery. Kevin’s books are enormously popular. At the same time, I appreciate the complexity of scheduling appropriate panel time for such a large and diverse community of writers.
But issues such as these aside, there were microphones that worked, plenty of volunteers to let you know how your panel was doing on timing, other reliable volunteers to organize the signings, and a lovely green room for panelists. I had a great time on my panels, and was blessed with three moderators who really knew their jobs backward and forward: Darlene Marshall on “I Married a Werewolf: Paranormal Romance,” Melinda Snodgrass on “When Hollywood Comes Knocking,” and Seanan McGuire for “When Will Zombies Die?” All three were good-to-stellar at stating the purpose of the panel, keeping the panelists on topic, and sticking to the rules. That makes a huge difference in the success or failure of a panel. I was in very good company on all of them.
Most happy-making was the time I got to spend with three of my best buddies: Toni LP Kelner (now known as Leigh Perry), Dana Cameron, and bff Paula. Enhancing that was the companionship of two of my board moderators, Aislyn and LindsayB. We had a great evening out, and I can’t tell you how heartening it was to see familiar faces in the audience.
Adding something about science fiction con audiences: THEY KNOW THEIR STUFF. You cannot fake knowledge at a science fiction con. It’s better to confess ignorance and wait to be enlightened. Especially if you’re with Seanan McGuire . . . because she knows everything. I’m not kidding. She was nominated for about a hundred Hugos. Seriously, I think five. She won one, but I would not have been surprised if she’d come away with all of them. Come the zombie apocalypse, I will head for her. She can probably churn butter and make rifles.
Just to end on a happy note, two of my favorite people have new books this week: Denise Swanson’s newest, MURDER OF A STACKED LIBRARIAN, and Leigh Perry (nope, not Leigh Evans, though she’s great too), who has written the first book in a new series, A SKELETON IN THE FAMILY. For those of you who like traditional mysteries, this is a bonanza week.