Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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A first look at a dozen new arrivals

So, let me share with you some of the most recent acquisitions to my TBR pile. Here I’m not distinguishing between full books and samples, just opening up twelve of the newest books to arrive on my Kindle / at my house. They’re certainly stacking up, I must say. I have 38 samples now, plus 146 books on the virtual TBR pile, plus three and a half shelves of physical books on the real TBR shelves (there are only three shelves; the rest of those are piled on the floor). Who knows how long it’ll be until I finally get to any particular title?

Still, let’s take a look at them:

1. MIRAGE by Louise Cooper

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Are you awake, in the dark and the silence?

Do you have eyes to see, and ears to hear? Do you have hands to reach out and clutch at the emptiness?

Can you feel? Can you know hate, loneliness, love, despair?

Yes: you are alive. You can sense blood trickling through your veins, count the muffled beats of your heart; and you know that, after what might have been centuries of waiting, sleeping without dreams, without memory or identity, you exist. And although as yet there is nothing for your awakening senses to grasp, something is approaching you It draws nearer, like a half-recalled nightmare, and it pulls and calls, demanding that the call be heeded.

Evocative! Does the second person work for you here? That continues for about a page, so you can consider this a prologue, though it isn’t set aside with that word – probably wise, since many readers think they’re allergic to prologues and won’t touch them.

2. TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING by Ada Palmer

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You will criticize me, reader, for writing in a style six hundred years removed from the events I describe, but you came to me for explanation of those days of transformation which left your world the world lit is, and since it was the philosophy of the Eighteenth Century, heavy with optimism and ambition, whose abrupt revival birthed the recent revolution, so it is only in the language of the Enlightenment, rich with opinion and sentiment, that those days can be described. You must forgive me my ‘thee’s and thou’s and ‘he’s and ‘she’s, my lack of modern words and modern objectivity. It will be hard at first, but whether you are my contemporary stil awed by the new order, or a historian gazing back at my Twenty-Fifth Century as remotely as I gaze back on the Eighteenth, you will find yourself more fluent in the language of the past than you imagined; we all are.

Daring! That first sentence is 82 words long. I’ve seen various reviewers just raving about this recently released title, and I’m betting it’s on a lot of award shortlists next year.

3. THE SPYMASTER’S LADY by Joanna Bourne

She was willing to die, of course, but she had not planned to do it so soon, or in such a prolonged and uncomfortable fashion, or at the hands of her own countrymen.

Catchy! Is there anyone who wouldn’t read the second sentence? Yes? Anybody? I didn’t think so.

4. EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan MacGuire

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The girls were never present for the entrance interviews. Only their parents, their guardians, their confused siblings, who wanted so much to help them but didn’t know how. It would have been too hard on the prospective students to sit there and listen as the people they loved most in all the world – all this world, at least – dismissed their memories as delusions, their experiences as fantasy, their lives as some intractable illness.

Promising! Everyone seems to love this book, so, I picked it up when there was a Kindle daily deal or some such sale. I admit with a little trepidation. I loved FEED, but I had major reservations concerning various plausibility issue with the plotting. I thoroughly disliked DISCOUNT ARMAGEDDON, though probably part of that was because I listened to the audiobook and audio format magnifies flaws out of all proportion, imo. Well, we’ll see. Also, let me add that this is much shorter than I expected, either a novella or close, just FYI.

5. ROSES AND ROT by Kat Howard

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Marin sat on my bed, next to my half-packed suitcase. “I wish you weren’t leaving, Imogen.”

I couldn’t say the same, not and answer honestly. “I’d be leaving for college in two years anyway.”

“Yes, but that’s two years from now.” She picked through my t-shirts, separated one with a rose embroidered in tattered ribbon on its front from the pile. “This is mine, by the way.”

“Sorry, forgot,” I said. I took her hand, rubbed my thumb over her fading scars. Mine hadn’t healed as well, which had been the point.

Slow. Honestly, there’s nothing in this that particularly makes me want to turn the page. However, I would certainly go on with the story because many people seem to just love this book.

6. A NET OF DAWN AND BONES by C Chancy

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Darkness, illumined only by the seeping red glow of magma cracks below, the shimmer of ice falling over black cliffs to rumble and hiss into the spreading lava plain. The creak of rock and ice to steam and the wailing souls caught between them wove a net of agony that covered the world, shrouding one small cove of silence.

“… In nomine Patris, et Filii –”

“I cannot believe you still pray, after all these years.”

“… Et Spiritus Sancti, amen.” The spirit in the form of a young woman glanced up, certain of what she would see. And therefore worried.

Intriguing! That net of agony stuff is a bit off-putting. But given our recent discussions about religion in SFF, I would definitely go on.

7. WINGS OF FIRE by Tui Sutherland

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A dragon was trying to hide in the storm.

Lightning flickered across the dark clouds. Hvitur clutched his fragile cargo closer. If he could make it over the mountains, he’d be safe. He’d escaped the sky dragons’ palace unseen. And the secret cave was so close . . .

But his theft had not been as stealthy as he’d thought, and eyes as black as obsidian were already tracking him from below.

Dragons! This is a middle-grade story, part of a series, featuring dragons as the characters (no humans, just dragons). Quite a lot of MG fiction reads too young for me, but I thought I’d give this a try because, you know, dragons. I will say, it’s got great drawings. MG authors certainly do get all the cool illustrations.

8. VULCAN’S KITTENS by Cedar Sanderson

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Linnaea looked out the tiny window of the tiny plane and marveled at the mountains below. They had flown out of the Boise airport just a half hour before, but already she could see few signs of civilization. Her trip had started that morning in the Seattle airport. She leaned her head against the cool window glass and relived the earlier scene with her mother.

Another slower start. After this, we get at least several paragraphs of backstory dropped on us. Well, we’ll see.

9. A LONG TIME UNTIL NOW by Michael Z Williamson

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First Lieutenant Sean Elliott sat sweating in an MRAP in the ass end of Afghanistan, waiting for the convoy to roll.

Time travel! I know you can’t tell from this sentence, but I got this sample because I saw a description someplace – something about how military units from all kinds of times and places wind up back in . . . the Pleistocene? I don’t remember; some earlier epoch, anyway. That just sounds like it might be a whole lot of fun. I’ve never read anything by Williamson as far as I remember; I must say, the sample function is super-handy for risk-free browsing of titles that catch your eye.

10. IRONA 700 by Dave Duncan

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“I’m not going,” she said. “It’s a waste of time.”

Crammed in, shoulder to shoulder around the tiny table, her brother fed like starving sharks and did not meet her eye. Her father continued to chew, staring at the gap in the wall above her where a rotten plank had fallen out. He kept promising to mend it.

“We’d just walk until our feet hurt and then have to walk all the way back again!” This time Irona glanced over to the bed, where her mother sat, nursing the latest baby and surrounded by Irona’s sisters, all waiting their turn at the food.

Gritty. Not a setting I much care for, but then I expect Irona is shortly going to be leaving this difficult family situation.

11. AURORA by Kim Stanley Robinson

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Freya and her father go sailing. Their new home is in an apartment building that overlooks a dock on the bay at the west end of Long Pond. The dock has a bunch of little sailboats people can take out, and an onshore wind blows hard almost every afternoon. “That must be why they call this town the Fetch,” Badim says as they walk down to take out one of these boats. “We always catch the brunt of the afternoon wind over the lake.”

So after they’ve checked out a boat, they have to push it straight off the side of the dock into the win, Badim jumping in at the last moment, hauling the sail tight until the boat tilts, then aiming it toward the little corniche around the curve of the lakeshore.

Startling! SF, really? This is a surprising way to start this novel. Also, present tense? That’s kind of a departure for KSR, isn’t it? Well, it’s interesting, though I wouldn’t have expected it.

12. DRINKING GOURD by Barbara Hambly

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“Well now, Mr Tambo,” drawled the Interlocutor, as the row of black-painted white men cased their spirited rendition of ‘The Bee-Gum Tree’ on banjos and bones and the little backing orchestra – a dark tableau against the painted backdrop, in the mild light that filtered through the canvas walls of the show tent – softened to a gentle plunking like the beat of a sleeping heart. “How are you at mathematics?”

Unexpected! Anybody see that line about mathematics coming? Actually, the first lines of this particular book don’t matter much to me; this is the latest Benjamin January novel and so of course I’ll be reading it soon. I don’t like every single installment in this series equally, but overall it’s my favorite mystery series out there, so I’m really pleased Hambly is still going on with it. This one sounds promising if you read the back cover copy. I had to google “drinking gourd underground railroad” to get the title, though. Did any of you get the reference without google?

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11 Comments A first look at a dozen new arrivals

  1. Megan

    I love the Wings of Fire series! Actually all the Tui T. Sutherland books I’ve read have been excellent… try the Avatars YA trilogy or The Menagerie (gryphons!!) MG trilogy for more. Wings of Fire tends to get better as it goes, too. Some of the latest books have been extremely good.

  2. Kristina

    I’m not ashamed to admit that I love the Wings of Fire books as much as my preteen son does. I agree with Megan that the series is only getting better. My son and I both found the first cycle very satisfying, but the second cycle has us waiting impatiently for each installment. We just fought over who got to read Darkstalker first (he won, but had to promise he wouldn’t reveal any spoilers).

  3. charlotte

    I’m a Wings of Fire fan too!

    But not so much a fan of Aurora…I was never able to particularly care about Freya, who seemed just a narrative lump to me.

    And yes, I got the drinking gourd reference–the boys learned a song about it in elementary school.

  4. Elaine T

    I wrote something here that hasn’t appeared. If it eventually does and this duplicates, apologies.

    I’m afraid my first thought about the Sutherland was: what an awful looking excuse for a dragon. The Teen went into more detail about wing size, neck wrong, head shape, back legs…

    Anyway.. sorry, not much interest here, although given others’ enthusiasm I may browse it at the library.

    I read and enjoyed some Louise Cooper back when. Not Mirage, but the Time Master trilogy, which for its era was unusual in making the forces of Order the worse guys. If you enjoy this one, it might be worth looking up those.

    Seanan McGuire and I don’t get along.

    I’ve downloaded the sample of Joanna Bourne’s SPYMASTER, that looked interesting.

    My husband is pleased to be reminded of the Michael Williamson, he’s been grumbling about running out of reading material. (he’s a paper only reader, unlike me.)And he’s liked other books by Williamson.

    The Cedar Sanderson had an interesting concept and she gets details right, but overall my take is ‘meh’.

    Dave Duncan and I are hit & miss, he keeps writing different things, and they don’t always call to me. This one may work, though. (downloads another sample, along with the Hambly. I love the sample feature!)

    Is ‘net of agony’ easier to take if you know the scene is set in Hell? Which you find out in a few more short paragraphs, so I don’t think it’s a spoiler. You know I liked that book, I hope you do, to. If it does work for you, the author just put out another rather different one, a..’comedy of vampire bromance’: Count Taka and the Vampire Brides. Chancy says the title is cheesy and it’s what she got first and the story fits it. I though it was great fun.

  5. Kim Aippersbach

    Every Heart a Doorway was creepier than I was expecting; interesting, odd, beautifully written, but it left me feeling a little … not unsatisfied exactly, but … unsettled?

    Spymaster’s Lady was great fun: hot romance but a nice intricate plot, too.

    Too Like the Lightning sounds amazing.

    I would not have picked up Roses and Rot based on its title, but the author’s discussion of it on John Scalzi’s blog makes it sound fascinating. http://whatever.scalzi.com/2016/05/25/the-big-idea-kat-howard/

  6. pete mack

    Tell me how the Williamson goes. I tried one years back and bounced hard, from the heavy-handed politics.

  7. quartzen

    Yay Mirage! I need to give that a reread myself. My sister is a big Wings of Fire fan- she got into them because she likes the Warriors cat books, and Sutherland is (if I recall) one of the authors who works under the Erin Hunter pen name used for that series.

    I had mixed feelings on Every Heart a Doorway, but overall I think I liked it, and I’m curious to read future works in the setting. As a warning, though, it was much more violent than I expected! It was my first read by McGuire though, so that may not be atypical for her work.

  8. Rachel

    Well, it certainly sounds like everyone votes for the Wings of Fire series! Good to know, good to know. I am definitely interested in Every Heart a Doorway after reading everyone’s comments here.

    Kim, I totally agree about the title Roses and Rot. I think it’s a terrible, terrible title, though of course maybe it appeals to lots of people who aren’t me. And I’m glad to hear you give The Spymaster’s Lady a thumbs up.

    Elaine, I don’t know why occasional comments get shunted into the spam folder. Such are the vagaries of WordPress and spam filters, I guess. I must admit that I wasn’t critiquing the dragon particularly, especially since after all it’s for a MG book. I just declare it’s flying because it’s magic and move on.

    I expect I’ll try the Williamson and Cedar Sanderson pretty soon (for broad definitions of soon), since I hope I’ll be able to tell whether I really like them pretty quickly.

  9. Allan Shampine

    I just finished Every Heart a Doorway. I enjoyed it but was surprised by the tone. I don’t mean that in a negative way, just that it wasn’t what I was expecting from the author. Seanan McGuire is one of the few authors I know who consistently writes in a number of pretty distinct tones and genres. As Mira Grant, she does zombie horror; as Seanan McGuire she does her Cryptid series (which is lighthearted modern fantasy fluff), and her October Daye series (which is dark fantasy). This stand-alone book was fairly distinct from the others.

  10. Rachel

    Nothing would surprise me from Seanan MacGuire, given she wrote both FEED and the Cryptid series. I still think maybe she’s just kidding about being the same person as Myra Grant.

  11. Elaine T

    Pete, I expect you wanted Rachel’s take on the Williamson, but since my husband just finished it, I thought I’d pass on his take: slow but interesting.

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