Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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20 Beginnings

At the moment I have 20 samples in my “Sample” folder on my Kindle. They’re stacking up because I’m not reading much new fiction right now; because what I am reading is not samples I might or might not like, but stuff I have been anticipating and can’t bear to put off; and because I’ve finally more or less trained myself to get a sample of anything by a new-to-me author instead of risking buying the full book, most of the time. Well, some of the time. At least half of the time, probably.

Some of these samples have been on my Kindle more than a year (Owen; I’ll Meet You There), but a surprising number only made their appearance this week (Key, Egg; Beastkeeper; Spotless). I pick up most of them because of a recommendation from one or more of you all, some from recommendations from people I follow on Goodreads, and a few because a comment on Twitter caught my eye.

Of course you realize this is the other “Sample” folder, not the one with all the Beauty and the Beast retellings in it. And since I did a quick survey of the first lines of all those, it seems only fair to do the same with all these. Right?

Pretty soon I will need to go through both Sample folders and read everything and decide what to get rid of and what is promising enough that I should buy the full book, though by then I expect the number of samples will probably have doubled. (“Pretty soon” is defined in this context as sometime this year, or at least surely no later than next year.)

So, in alphabetical order

1. A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark (Connelly)

Evening had fallen on Seattle, and there were a great many people going somewhere they didn’t want to go. An ER nurse with an aching back, a recent graduate about to ask his father if he could move back in, a middle-aged woman facing another evening of her boyfriend’s tedious anime and even more tedious sex – all felt the helpless resignation that comes before an unpleasant, unavoidable task.

Of those thousands of people, none were expecting a warmer welcome than the man standing at Marley Jacob’s front gate, and none were more mistaken.

Not *so* intrigued. The comment that made me pick this up was one that compared this book to Tea With the Black Dragon by MacAvoy, but my instant response is that I am not thrilled with the woman with the boyfriend. Helpless resignation? For heaven’s sake, is she such a hopeless loser that she can’t dump the boyfriend if he’s not right for her?

Of course I would go on with this a bit and see what’s going on with the guy at Jacob’s front gate.

2. I’ll Meet You There (Demetrios)

The Mitchells’ backyard was packed, full of recent and not-so-recent grads in various stages of party decay. The girls leaned against one another, wilted flowers that looked on while the guys got louder, sweatier.

Not too catchy right off the bat. But I picked up the sample because of this review at Random Musings, so I expect I will actually love this book.

3. Court of Fives (Elliot)

We four sisters are sitting in the courtyard at dusk in what passes for peace in our house. Well-brought-up girls do not fidget nor fume nor ever betray the least impatience or boredom. But it is so hard to sit still when all I can think about is how I am going to sneak out of the house tomorrow to do the thing my father would never, ever give me permission for.

I like this.

4. Fire With Fire (Gannon)

The Taiwanese captain bowed quickly when his temporary commander – USSF Admiral Nolan Corcoran – rounded the corner. “Admiral Corcoran, I –”

Corcoran, a tall, broad-shouldered man whose sharp blue eyes and trim physique belied his advancing age, raised a silencing hand. He ignored the captain’s waiting covert ops team and moved instead to the cryogenic suspension unit resting on a gurney just behind them. “Is that the intruder?”

The description is pretty clichéd, but I must admit, I’m mildly intrigued by the intruder.

6. Beastkeeper (Hellisen)

The air was full of ice the night Sarah’s mother packed all her bags and walked out. That was the thing Sarah remembered most. How it was so cold that the weatherman had said it might snow. She lay awake, listening for snow hushing against the roof – and instead she heard her parents arguing.

I picked this up because a reviewer on Twitter said it was so atmospheric and moody and beautifully written. Despite this beginning, which could be contemporary, this is a fantasy. I couldn’t tell from the Twitter comment whether this has echoes of Beauty and the Beast, and I didn’t take a close look at the description before I picked up the sample.

7. A Business of Ferrets (Hilgartner)

The Yrkhaffe waterfront churned with activity. The Metara Kentis was in port. Even the stifling heat wasn’t enough to still the grunts and curses of the longshoremen as they unloaded barrels and crates: the fabled wine of Kalledann; wheat from Mebharev; and liquor from the shipmaster’s home port in Amarta.

Ferret watched the bustle with a shrewd and practiced eye.

I wasn’t too interested until we got to Ferret. I bet she’s a thief. I like thieves.

8. The Killing Kind (Holm)

The streets of downtown Miami shimmered in the evening heat, the summer air rich with spice and song. Neon and rum and the warm ocean breeze conspired to make the city thrum with lurid anticipation. It was, after all, a Friday night in one of the most vibrant cities in the world. Still, no one who walked that night beneath the broad modern portico of the Morales Incorporated Building suspected they’d briefly occupied the spot where a man was about to die.

I quite like this. Omniscient viewpoint isn’t my favorite thing, usually, but I’d certainly go on with this.

9. The Story of Owen, Dragon Slayer (Johnston)

Before the Thorskards came to Trondheim, we didn’t have a permanent dragon slayer. When a dragon attacked, you had to petition town hall (assuming it wasn’t on fire) and they would send to Toronto (assuming the phone lines weren’t on fire), and Queen’s Park would send out one of the government dragon slayers (assuming nothing on Toronto was on fire).

I love this! This is my favorite so far, by a mile. I’m almost sure it was once again Brandy at Random Musings who put this one on my radar ages ago. I bet I love it. I should probably just go on and pick up the actual book and not fool around with a sample, but on the other hand my TBR pile is a lot deeper than my Sample folder, so I may get to it faster if I just leave it here.

10. The Wolf’s Hour (McCammon)

The war went on.

By February 1941, it had leaped like a firestorm from Europe to the shores of northwest Africa, where Hitler’s commander of German troops, a competent officer named Erwin Rommel, arrived in Tripoli in support of the Italians and began to drive the British force back to the Nile.

I know this is a werewolf story during WWII. The werewolf is a good guy, a spy or agent or something. That’s what I remember from the description. Sounds like a set-up I would enjoy.

11. Spotless (Monk)

I could start by explaining why my parents called me Island, or the many reasons why being the daughter of a Frenchwoman and an American curmudgeon can traumatize a child for life . . . but I suspect no one really cares. So let’s start with the day my apartment got cleaned – I promise this is more interesting than it sounds.

Sherwood Smith reviewed this on Goodreads and it sounds like fun! This is a very promising beginning. I very much enjoy the last sentence of this snippet.

As a side note, how long do you suppose it will take me to adjust to a protagonist named Island? Frankly, I think that is a distracting, annoying name. Just as bad as Corporal Carrot and so on in the Diskworld books. Actually, it would bother me less if the protagonist were named after a particular island, like Madagascar or something. Well, I suppose I will be able to tolerate it if the book is good.

12. Clockwork Heart (Paglliassotti)

Taya cupped and fanned her wings, slowing as the iron struts of a wireferry tower loomed before her. The massive construction blocked the gusting winds, and she sighed with relief as her thick boot soles hit the girder. Bending her knees to absorb the impact, she crouched and folded her arms, ducking into the safe harbor.

Ooh, wings!

13. Act Like It (Parker)

Almost every night, between nine and ten past, Lainie Graham passionately kissed her ex-boyfriend. She was gruesomely dead by ten o’clock, stabbed through the neck by a jealous rival. If she was scheduled to perform in the weekend matinee, that was a minimum of six uncomfortable kisses a week. More, if the director called an extra rehearsal or the alternate actor was ill. Or if Will was being a prat backstage and she was slow to duck.

This is one I picked up because Chachic recommended it. A very enjoyable beginning. I love the first sentence and how it leads into this paragraph.

14. The Anvil of Ice (Rohan)

It was the chill before dawn that woke him, and the snuffling and stamping of the great bull in its stall. The dawns were always cold then, whatever the season, in the Long Winter of the Old World; in the dominion of the Ice. So the chronicles record, and though copied and recopied by many hands, the voice of one who has seen, and felt, speaks still from their pages.

I think I like this. I would certainly go on with it.

15. An Accidental Goddess (Sinclair)

It wasn’t the first time Gillie has hazily regained consciousness flat on her back in sick bay, feeling stiff and out of sorts. And unable to account for a missing two or three hours. Pub-crawling did have its side effects.

But it was the first time she’d been unable to account for a missing two or three hundred years.

16. Finders Keepers (Sinclair)

The Careless Venture’s intruder alarm erupted through the cavern with a harsh wail. Trilby Elliot shot to her feet, knocking over the makeshift repair table. Sonic welder and integrator cables clattered against the cavern floor.

You probably remember these came up during a recent-ish SFF romance post, right? Several of you recommended them. The first one has a more intriguing first few lines, but I thought both had good, enticing back cover copy and actually lean toward reading #16 before #15.

17. The Walls Around Us (Suma)

We went wild that hot night. We howled, we raged, we screamed. We were girls – some of us fourteen and fifteen; some sixteen, seventeen – but when the locks came undone, the doors of our cells gaping open and no one to shove us back in, we made the noise of savage animals, of men.

This is supposed to be very literary – I can’t remember if it’s supposed to be fantasy or contemporary. Certainly that’s a beginning that grabs your attention.

18. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (Valentine)

By 1927 there were twelve girls who danced all night and never gave names, but by then the men had given up asking and called them all Princess.

I’ve heard tons about how wonderful this retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses is, particularly from Maureen at By Singing Light. I’m longing to read this.

19. The Just City (Walton)

She turned into a tree. It was a Mystery. It must have been. Nothing else made sense, because I didn’t understand it. I hate not understanding something. I put myself through all of this because I didn’t understand why she turned into a tree – why she chose to turn into a tree. Her name was Daphne, and so is the tree she became, my sacred laurel with which poets and victors crown themselves.

One gathers it’s Apollo speaking. Of course it’s Athene who sets up the Just City in this book, right? I know this is a very high concept kind of book and I want to read it, but I’m not sure I will really like it even if I appreciate it intellectually. Someday I will get to it and find out!

20. Nightside: The Long Sun (Gene Wolfe)

Enlightenment came to Patera Silk on the ball court; nothing could ever be the same after that. When he talked about it afterward, whispering to himself in the silent hours of the night as was his custom – and once when he told Maytera Marble, who was also Maytera Rose – he said it was as though someone who had always been behind him and standing (as it were) at both his shoulders had, after so many years of pregnant silence, begun to whisper into both his ears.

I tried The Book of the New Sun a long, long time ago. You know how I mention from time to time that I like a slow pace? Well, when I’d read about a zillion pages and Severian was still in the city, I gave up. I don’t know whether I was too young or whether it was really the book. Maybe both.

Also, torturer as protagonist, that’s a really tough sell for me. I will probably never touch a Joe Abercrombe book again ever in my life, but actually he did manage to make the character who was a torturer, Glokta, work for me. Glokta and his subplot were the only aspects of that trilogy I actually liked. And you’ll notice that despite being sort of sympathetic, Glokta was still actually almost completely evil.

Well, never mind, my point is, the idea for the Long Sun books works a whole lot better for me, and I think I really ought to try something else by Gene Wolfe, so…

And I have to say, I think this the above is a great beginning.

Now, I notice that there are a lot more beginnings here that really appeal to me than there were on the Beauty and the Beast list. That’s not surprising: those were all picked up because they were Beauty and the Beast retellings. Most of these were picked up because someone whose taste matches mine recommended them. So naturally I like a lot of them.

For me, going just by these snippets … of course I might read any of them first, it totally depends on my mood, but picking just for appealingness of the beginning …

#9, Owen, is a standout.

So is #11, Spotless. And #18, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club.

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Those may be my top three out of these twenty. What do you all think?

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22 Comments 20 Beginnings

  1. SarahZ

    After consulting goodreads, it seems that I thought Beastkeeper was a mostly enjoyable variation on beauty and the beast, but it suffered because the characters were a bit thin. I use goodreads as an extension of my memory – it’s easy to remember that I liked (but didn’t love) a book, but much harder to remember the reasons.

  2. Evelyn Alexie

    Thank you for this list — I’m getting lots of recs for future reads. I’ve already checked out #1 from the library.
    I’ve read #16 and #15, and I greatly preferred #16. More conflict, less unconvincing religiosity. (I’m going to pretend that’s a word.)

  3. Phineas

    I really liked Accidental Goddess, but I admit I have a pretty low bar for plausibility, most of the time. Anyway, I liked the premise and the execution was entertaining.

    I really like the way Gene Wolfe’s The Knight begins. Something about it seems so haunting and atmospheric. And the book was pretty good, but I’ve never been able to finish anything else by him, including the sequel.

  4. Kim Aippersbach

    Owen lives up to its first sentence. Such an original story; interesting world-building; great characters. She’s a fantastic writer.

    Kingfisher Club and Just City are on my TBR; I know what you mean about Just City, but I also know I like her writing, and it’s available at my library, so I could always just bring it home, see if it grabs me. (I love libraries!)

  5. Rachel

    There’s this space between plausible and ridiculous that can be awkward, where you feel like the author thought the plot was plausible and you think no way. That’s where you get kicked out of the book. If you feel like the author wasn’t taking the book too seriously and wasn’t expecting you to either, then implausibility can be just another facet of the story to enjoy.

    … or so it is for me, anyway.

    I wonder which side of the line An Accidental Goddess will fall for me? I feel like probably if the Romance tropes are obvious enough, the plot will be fine for me. I don’t necessarily hold a Romance to the same plausibility standards as epic fantasy or hard SF.

    And I think “religiosity” is a word.

  6. Rachel

    Kim, good to hear another up-vote for Owen! And yes, I, too, would love libraries, if any were handy. Not that I’ve checked the local-ish library lately, but it is quite small and I wouldn’t expect it to have many newer books that don’t have a lot of buzz behind them, or that have a lower appeal to a broad readership. In other words, probably not The Just City. And they charge for ILL, or they used to.

    The instant availability of Kindle books reduces my impulse to drive that far in order to check out their selection to about zero.

    My brother walks by a good library on the way home from work every single day. Wouldn’t that be nice!

  7. Pete Mack

    Well, I picked up Business of Ferrets as airplane reading yesterday, and all I can say is:it’s complicated. There are a whole lot of characters, and quite a number of POVs. Perhaps more than I really like in a story.

  8. Mary Anne

    Owen is an awesome book, as is the sequel. Not easily forgotten. And I think I read Act Like It on a recommendation from Chachic and liked it a lot – enough to find the book written by the author under another name. Enjoy!

  9. Pete Mack

    Also,I can recommend Clockwork Heart. Very nicely done story, with one protagonist a deviser in the Steampunk sense, the other is of course the flyer.

  10. Rachel

    Everyone seems to agree that Owen is really good. I’ll look forward to trying it!

    Pete, sounds like the Ferret one may not be altogether to my taste, although sometimes I guess I get into a book with a zillion pov protagonists. Clockwork Heart sounds good!

  11. Maureen E

    I loved Owen as well! And Clockwork Heart surprised me with how good it is, although I haven’t managed to get around to reading the sequels.

  12. Allan

    I went to order the Owen story on Amazon and mistyped “stor of Owen”. To my surprise, the story itself didn’t appear for several pages. Instead, I got a series of tool boxes, dog cages, and, very strangely, a t-shirt for “Kittyer’s women’s free birds”. The stor of owen is indeed an unusual place…

  13. Rachel

    Allen, you made me laugh! That is so peculiar. Kittyer’s women’s free birds, really?

    Maureen, I was thinking I’d seen a review from you for Owen also, but since I’m not organized enough to maintain a detailed spreadsheet saying who recommended what, well . . .

    I’m glad you give Clockwork Heart a thumbs up, too! That means I’ll probably like it. I just added a sample of Exit, Pursued by a Bear to my Kindle because of your comments a day or so ago.

  14. Macsbrains

    I actually think you would like A Business of Ferrets (and its much-improved sequel A Parliament of Owls). It bounces around a little has weird naming conventions that are difficult to spell, (though all the really important characters have animal names), but it’s also anti-grimdark. It’s not my usual cup of tea, but I ended up enjoying it anyway.

  15. Rachel

    Well, tagging something as “anti-grimdark” guarantees I’ll go into it in a positive frame of mind!

  16. Vic

    From a purely penurious point, Spotless is on Kindle Unlimited and therefore on my list, now. I was just casting about for something to read next (having just finished the Griffin Mage trilogy yesterday) so it’s nice to have this pop up.

  17. Aimee

    I *LOVED* The Girls at the Kingfisher Club as well. Not a fantasy, but it is probably in with my favorite fairytale retellings. I hope you like it, if you decide to read it!

  18. Rachel

    I will definitely read Kingfisher Club, everyone seems to love it. I should make a top ten list of books-I-most-want-to-get-to-this-year; I think that one would be on it.

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