Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Acquisitions: Novel Openings

So, as always, new books have been appearing on my Kindle – both the full books and samples. I have 145 unread books on my Kindle, I see. (That doesn’t count samples.) That does seem like kind of a lot, though I guess it’s about average. It would be nice to whittle that number down this year, though I would hardly call that a goal. Not even an intention. More a faintly wistful thought.

Anyway, it does seem like about time to take a look at the first paragraph or so of some of the most recent acquisitions and see if the TBR pile might be trimmed a bit just on the basis of the first page.

Let me see, looks like I have here an UF, a contemporary romantic thriller, a historical romance, and a handful of fantasies. All right, in reverse order of acquisition, most recent first cause it’s at the top:

Kindling the Moon by Jenn Bennett.

I knew better than to be preoccupied when Tambuku Tiki Lounge was overcapacity. Crowds are ugly; it doesn’t matter if they’re human or demon.

Our bar held a maximum of sixty-five people per California fire code. My business partner treated this rule as more of a suggestion on Thursday nights, when Paranormal Patrol made us a midtown hot spot. Easy for her; all she had to do was sweet talk the county inspector out of citation. She wasn’t the one being expected to break up drunken, demonic brawls.

Obviously an UF. Well, this opening seems okay. Not especially catchy, but nothing much to turn me off either. Other than a feeling that the protagonist has kind of snide attitude and perhaps should occasionally hang out with a better class of crowds. Still, fine, I would keep going with this for a bit and see where it goes.

Beyond the Rules by Duranna Durgin

He’s still there.

Still following us, dammit.

Kimmer Reed glanced in the rearview mirror and gave an unladylike snort completely at odds with her shimmery taupe jacquard tunic, her carefully understated makeup, and the lingering taste of an exquisite luch on Captain Bill’s Seneca Lake cruise.

The big man filling the passenger seat of her sporty Mazda Miata immediately understood the significance of such a noise. Rio Carlsen turned his gaze away from the picturesque wine country scenery speeding past them – spring green everywhere – to stretch a long arm over Kimmer’s bucket seat, glancing behind them and bracing herself as she took an unsignaled left turn. “Suburban. Big. Old. Can you say ‘eat my dust’?”

Kimmer shook her head, short and firm, eyes on the road. She could outrun him . . . but she wouldn’t.

As it happens, I’ve read and enjoyed Durgin’s other contemporary romantic thrillers, so I’m certainly expecting to enjoy this one. Now that I’ve reminded myself I have it here on my TBR pile, maybe I’ll get to it pretty soon.

His Forgotten Fiancée by Evelyn Hill

“Who am I?”

Liza Fitzpatrick dropped the cleaning rag onto the counter of the dry goods store and spun around. A man stood in the doorway, his rough, working-class clothes soaked through. He was staring at her as if she were the first woman he’d ever seen.

Ten steps to the back room, half a minute to grab Pa’s rifle. She might be able to make it. Sober, the long-legged ma could easily outpace her. But not the way he was swaying from side to side. It was getting dark outside, and she found it difficult to guess his age in the light from the single lantern, but beneath the beard and the bedraggled brown hair that fell to his shoulders, he looked under thirty.

“Well?” Impatience edged his tone like a well-honed knife.

Okay, obviously a historical. The set-up is like this: the man demanding “Who am I?” is Liza’s fiancé, but he’s lost his memory. Now, a lost memory is a trope that makes me immediately recoil – I don’t know if I’ve encountered it too often or if it just intrinsically doesn’t appeal to me – but I have learned to ignore that and press forward because sometimes it turns out I really like a story that depends on that trope. Come to think of it, the first of Durgin’s contemporary romantic thrillers, Hidden Steel, used the lost-memory trope and I liked that one a lot. There’s a lost-memory beginning to the last of the Lindsay Chamberlain mysteries and that worked well for me even though I did flinch at the first Who am I moment.

Hill’s story is both a romance and a western – that’s fine with me; I used to read Dad’s westerns and still occasionally pick one up. I’ll certainly go on with this.

Dragonhunters by Sabrina Chase

It was a spell of great power. Even Sonam could tell that. The master’s face was contorted wit effort, sweat beading on his lined forehead, but Sonam made no move to help, obedient to the master’s command. He glanced away from the dusty, rocky trail to the green valley below and saw a little blue kai-ling fly up and them tumble back down with a high-pitched shriek. Sonam smiled with relief. The barrier was working!

“There.” The master wheezed and reached up a shaky hand to the cliff wall to support himself. Foreigners were always pale, but now his face had no color at all. Sonam quickly ran to his side. “It’s done.” A cough wracked his frail body, followed by another, and another. Sonam pulled out the flask of medicine tea and raised it to the master’s lips. The coughing stopped, but the man could hardly move. “Good lad,” he whispered.

“Sir should rest,” Sonam ventured.

“The dead rest, Sonam. Have you warned the people?” Sonam nodded. “The ward should hold for a year at least, but it will grow weak before then. They must be ready.”

Okay . . . actually, not very keen on this one, just from this little snippet.

I’m not in the least opposed to adverbs, but is that “quickly” really necessary in front of “ran”? This is the exact kind of adverb use that gives adverbs a bad name.

For these and other reasons — why is the author not paragraphing as she switches from “the master” to Sonam and back again? — the writing in this one just does not seem very strong.

Yet . . . I read the first book in this series and liked it quite a bit (The Last Mage Guardian). For that reason alone, I would go on with this. I would expect to get back to characters I liked from the first book, and I would kind of expect to see the writing actually improve as the story gets out of what I think is probably a prologue kind of scene. If not, I will be pretty disappointed.

A Cold Wind by CJ Brightley

Lani came running to me when I was folding sheets with Sayen out in the courtyard. “Ria, come see him, if you want to see him alive. Saraid says he won’t last the afternoon.”

She’s much younger than I am, my cousin, though we could hardly be more different. She was fourteen then and even the prospect of a hero’s death couldn’t sober her for too long. She’d been assigned to bring the dying soldier his meals, though he’d eaten none of them yet. He’d spent the last day and a half out of his mind with fever.

I followed her through the halls to the door of his room. Saraid rolled her eyes at Lani and me when we entered. “Have you no decency? The man’s dying.” She was trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to spoon honeyed wine between his lips.

I’d never seen a Dari before, and I stepped closer for a better look. His skin was very dark, the color of olives with the same rich greenish undertone. His face was different from Tuyet faces, with a straighter jaw and a slightly narrower nose, all hard flat planes rather than the long elegant curves of a masculine Tuyet face.

Not super keen on this opening, but this is the second book of Brightley’s Erdemen Honor series and I liked the first book well enough to go on. Given that, of course I will continue with this book for at least a chapter or two, and I will expect to like it well enough to read it all the way through.

An Oath of Dogs by Wendy Wagner

Duncan’s murderer shoved him across the bench seat until the open glove box filled his field of vision. One of Olive Whitley’s drawings was in there, crinkled under the weight of Duncan’s favorite wrench. He wanted to get up, to look anywhere else, to get himself someplace safe. But his hand only scrabbled weakly against the cheap fabric of the seat. He could hear the bubbles popping in his lungs as his airways filled with blood.

The other bastard, the one who’d picked up the bolt gun and cleaned off the prints, said something. His voice was too low to make out clearly.

“Then hide it in the woods.” Duncan’s killer gave Dunc’s leg a shove. “The dep woods – someplace no one will go.” He pulled himself up into the utility vehicle with a little grunt. The door slammed shut. “You brought this al on yourself,” he said, his voice conversational, as if he was just making small talk at the Night Light over pool. “You shouldn’t have come out here, Duncan. Huginn is no place for a limpwristed treehugger like yourself.”

Well, that’s certainly striking. This is actually science fiction. All this is taking place on the moon of a gas giant. Listen to this, after the bad guy drops Duncan under a “horsetail tree” and walks away:

A leather bird dropped down beside him. Its eyeless face stretched toward him, its nostrils vibrating as it drew in his scent. The creature’s soft clicking, the sound of a scorpion’s feet on dry stone, made his skin prickle. Another landed next to the first.

So plainly an alien ecosystem. Then I think Duncan dies? Not totally one hundred percent sure. The viewpoint switches to someone else, apparently someone being revived after cryofreezing.

Interesting! I read about ten pages because I got intrigued. That’s a good sign. However, I hate it when the first character you meet dies (except in murder mysteries, where’s that is so common I don’t get confused into caring about the murderee). So, since this isn’t a murder mystery, I’m not crazy about this opening. Also, I didn’t like the woman pov character at all. That is definitely a bad sign. But perhaps she will grow on me.

Ghosts of Tsavo by Vered Ehsani

It’s an uncommonly known fact that a strong pot of tea will obscure a werewolf’s stench. Given that one doesn’t normally walk around with a teapot in hand, this fact will be of little comfort to a human unless she happens to be sitting in a teahouse.

So it was a jolly good thing that I was, at that moment, in a teahouse.

I slurped down that most marvelous of beverages and eyed the suspected werewolf. I say suspected since I had yet to confirm if she was in fact one or simply a naturally hairy woman of dubious lineage.

In either case, she really should never wear that red dress again as it did nothing to cover her horrendously hairy arms. The only fortunate aspect of the outfit was the color, as it matched the heavy velvet curtains framing the large, street-facing window perfectly. Thus I entertained myself while wondering what to do next.

Cute. If I’m in the right mood, I can enjoy this kind of arch, stilted narrative voice.

You may know the original “ghosts of Tsavo” were two maneless male lions who killed a lot of people during the late 1800s. Given the lion on the cover of this book, I really wonder if the plot at some point connects to the famous maneaters of Tsavo?

So, what is that, seven ebooks I’ve picked up recently. Any of them stand out for you? For me, the most intriguing is that SF one, though that’s certainly not the one whose opening I *like* the best.

What have you picked up this month that looks especially interesting? Or that turned out to be fantastic?

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2 Comments Recent Acquisitions: Novel Openings

  1. Elaine T

    The last one holds my attention the most. The SF entry made my eyes glaze over. Not sure why – it ought to be interesting.

    Just for fun I ran them all up against that First Page Sins criteria from a few days ago: they all do convey there’s story happening. But that first one, in the bar, might fail because we don’t find anything out about the character – except through the narrative voice, which the ‘Sins’ writer didn’t mention at all. But it conveys quite a lot. In almost all of them the voice is doing heavy lifting. I don’t think the Chase entry has it. (I’ve got a sample of the LAST MAGE GUARDIAN but haven’t looked at it yet.) Brightley’s voice isn’t very strong either, but it does what it needs to. You don’t always need a strongly characterized voice.

  2. Rachel

    I agree that the novel by Chase doesn’t have a narrative voice that works — I expect it will improve when (if) she switches back to familiar characters from the first book.

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