Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig #15in2015

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Blackbirds (Miriam Black, #1)Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book 6 of #15in2015

One of the many ways you can categorize urban fantasy is whether it leans toward the fantasy stakes or crime stakes. Is the character on a quest to recover the ancient fang of Curlique before The Bad Guy can use it to take control of the were-lions of Little Rock? Or has someone you care about gotten into debt to/stolen something from/slept with the wife of A Very Bad Person and need to be saved?

Or, is this going to be a story about a threat to the succession of some made-up organization of magical beings, or is it going to be a search for the truth behind the death of a single person?

Both of these are fictional conceits, of course, but one is not grounded in the concerns of real people and one is, and I suspect you can tell by the tone of my comments which I prefer.

BLACKBIRDS falls into the crime-stakes end of things, and I’m glad of it. Premise: The first time Miriam Black touches someone, flesh to flesh, she knows how they’ll die. Then, one day, she touches the hand of a truck driver who helped her out of a tight spot and discovers that he’ll die in one month, while saying her name.

Aside from some vision/dream sequences that might be advice/harassment from Mysterious Entities, that’s it for the fantasy elements. The rest is lifting wallets, roadside harassment, blackmail, a mysterious suitcase, and criminal psychopaths.

Miriam herself is profane and damaged. Not only does she have this awful gift, but she knows that she can’t prevent the deaths she foresees; any attempt to save the doomed person only ensures events will play out as prophesied. Throw in an abusive childhood and you have a cynical fatalist who lives like a vulture. She never kills people, but she’s nearby when they die so she can lift their cash.

And of course the events of the novel destroy all that.

The tone is very gritty, a sort of rural noir that almost reminds me of JUSTIFIED (without the dialog). It’s a powerful story, especially if you’re a fan of low thrillers, which I am. Good stuff.



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Bucket Nut by Liza Cody #15in2015

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Bucket Nut (Eva Wylie trilogy)Bucket Nut by Liza Cody

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Part comedy, part tragedy, this book follows one Eva Wylie, a big ugly brute of a woman trying to make a name for herself as a baddie in professional wresting. She wrestles under the name of the London Lassassin, but her (anti-)fans call her Bucket Nut.

She lives for their boos and their insults, but she’s living a marginal life. After a childhood spent in foster homes and years living homeless, she’s only now beginning to put her life together, with a job watching over a junkyard, petty theft, and running errands for a local gangster.

Then everything goes to hell and Eva finds herself caught in a war between rival gangs.

The real appeal here is Eva’s voice, which comes across as loud and brutish even on the page. It’s not often readers get a crime novel where the POV character is as clumsy and comically clueless as this one. Everything has to be explained to her, because she’s always looking elsewhere when important clues pop up.

There are two more in this series but I don’t think I’ll continue reading it. I enjoyed this one, and I liked the way it ended. I’m satisfied. Book 5 of #15in2015



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Mr. Kiss And Tell, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham #15in2015

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Mr. Kiss and Tell (Veronica Mars, #2)Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Browser crash ruined my first version of this review, but let’s try again:

This book was going so well, until it fell apart at the end.

As I mentioned in my review of the first book, I’m a fan of the Veronica Mars tv show. I’ll admit that I didn’t watch every episode multiple times, but I’m pretty sure there was never an episode where Veronica got the criminal to confess by bringing in a huge bruiser to beat the confession out of him.

Poor book-Veronica doesn’t have half the devious wit of TV/movie-Veronica, because book-Veronica just can’t think up a way to catch the bad guy without having his bones broken. Sure, in the TV show there were fights and physical dangers. Logan brandished a gun to pull her out of a tight spot. Keith faced off with Aaron Echols. Logan got himself thrown in prison to kick the shit out of the Hearst rapists.

But at no point did Veronica ever pull a lazy, shitty stunt like torturing a suspect into a confession.

Did I mention that a major subplot in the book involves the fight against corrupt local police?

Here’s the thing: Veronica was a trickster character. She put on disguises, played with people’s heads, and tricked them into incriminating themselves. She used her brains. In this book, not so much.

Anyway, that’s a massive, massive disappointment. I expect better. I wouldn’t want to drop a series for one terrible creative choice, but I’ll be borrowing book 3 from the library, and if the authors pull this lazy shit again I’m out.



No buy link this time.

Book 4 for #15in2015

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham #15in2015

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The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars, #1)The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Obviously, I was a fan of the show and I backed the Kickstarter. I even went to the theater to see the film. When this book came out, I bought it right away, but it languished on the shelf.

It shouldn’t have. It’s not the deepest detective novel I’ve ever read, but it was addictive as hell. I lost half a work day pushing through to the end.

This is the first novel I’ve ever read about characters from another. medium and being able to picture the actors delivering the dialog had a strange effect. There was a flush of warm feeling because I enjoyed the show so much, but it took me out of the story, too. Every time a scene with Wallace would end, I’d start thinking about Percy Daggs’s career, and wonder how much acting work he was getting now.

Still, it was compulsively readable, funny in spots, and while the scenes between Keith and Veronica didn’t have the warmth of the TV shows (because how could they without those two actors) it was still Keith and Veronica.

Good stuff. Recommended if, like me, you enjoy private investigator novels.

Book 3 in #15in2015



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The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

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The Janissary Tree (Yashim the Eunuch, #1)The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The whole time I was reading this, I kept thinking This is why I give terrific books like MAPLECROFT four stars, because I need room for THIS.

Then I got to the end, and the whole thing fell flat.

The setting is Istanbul in the 1830’s, and an army officer has been murdered, his body displayed in a gruesome way. Imperial operative Yashim is brought in to solve the killing, and to find the other three officers who disappeared at the same time. Yashim is a man of some breeding who can move unobtrusively through all levels of society, including the sultan’s harem… because he’s a eunuch.

Anyway, historical fiction is something of a research competition. Writers immerse themselves in the time and place, studying the details that will make the reader feel that they’re really experiencing this other time and place, with just enough details to ground the story without turning into a travelogue. Then readers come along, looking for nits to pick… It’s a whole thing.

And it bores me, to be honest. As a fantasy reader, I love the sense of place and don’t worry too much about accuracy. Anathema, I know, but there it is.

In truth, the novel made me wish there were more novels with the same feeling of complexity and nuance that the real world has. I wish I were capable of it, myself.

Yeah, this is a murder mystery with far-reaching political implications. If the protagonist was a little slack in his investigation, well, that’s a nice change. The denouement didn’t work, unfortunately, and the “action” scenes deserve the air quotes. There was violence but none written with the sort of tension that makes the heart race.

Still, the description of everyday life in 1830’s Istanbul was a delight, and made me wish I could visit right now. The characters were complex and interesting. The genre stuff was tatty window dressing, and disappointing in the end.

If you’re a reader who enjoys reading fantasy novels for the settings, try this. Seriously.

Book 2 for 15in2015



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Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

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Maplecroft (The Borden Dispatches #1)Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before starting this book, I knew nothing of Lizzie Borden except that old nursery rhyme and that she’d been acquitted. So, an epistolary historical fantasy that, being familiar with much of Priest’s work, was sure to take a turn toward horror? I was in.

And I was glad of it. There were a few minor missteps, but they were very minor. Overall, the book combines Priest’s usual flair for historical detail with the slow-building dread that comes from nightmarish, inexplicable narrative.

In short, people in the small town of Fall River, MA are becoming sick, which means they’re actually transforming into weird inhuman creatures with a connection to the sea. It’s *not* a Shadow Over Innsmouth situation, although that’s obviously what it sounds like here. In real life, Borden’s murdered father and step-mother were ill for several days before they were murdered; Priest takes this detail and runs with it, imagining the elder Borden’s becoming monstrous and deadly, forcing Lizzie to kill them in self-defense.

After her acquittal, Lizzie realizes that others in town are showing the same symptoms as her parents, and sets out to do something about it.

The book seems to be marketed as the start of a series, which frankly weakens the tension by a lot. I also wish there hadn’t been a mention of Miskatonic University. Turning the page and thinking “Oh. This is Lovecraft.” has become more of a disappointment than anything else. The story could have gone anywhere, but once I read that word, I felt possibilities narrow.

I also would have been happier with more Lizzie and less Dr. Seabury. He’s a fine character, but he’s not as interesting as Lizzie and I felt he took over the narrative too much.

But like I said, minor stuff. I haven’t read all of Priest’s work, but this is my favorite so far. It’s tangible, has great characters, and is genuinely spooky. Recommended.



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“Your Margin Is My Opportunity.”

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The water cooler talk around ebooks and self-publishing is that revenues for self-published authors are falling and it’s not just for authors in the Kindle Unlimited program.

For those who don’t know: Kindle Unlimited works like Netflix Streaming. Readers pay a set fee and can read as many books available in the KU program as they like. One fee, limited choice, unlimited reads.

One of the reasons that self-publishing took off as well as it did was because there was a bunch of voracious readers out there who could tear through a book a day, and they liked buying cheap books. With the sales commission that Amazon took (do not speak to me of “royalties” from Amazon), authors could do pretty well with this readership. Some did very well indeed.

And those authors grew to love Amazon and Bezos himself for fixing the distribution issues that have long limited self-published work. But of course, that quote in the subject header is from Bezos himself, and everyone knew the sweet payouts that Amazon’s been turning over to indie authors would come to an end soonish.

Now it appears to be happening. Instead of taking a commission, Amazon has started setting aside a pot of money, and dividing it between authors. Bringing new readers into your series by making book 1 permanently free isn’t really viable any more, since so many of those readers are in KU. Instead, self-publishers are releasing shorter and shorter works–or serializing their novels–to increase the number of shares they get in that pot.

Still, it appears that Amazon has skimmed off self-publishers’ most fervent readership. Instead of taking commissions, they offer what they like. So much for our margins.

I’m not sure how this affects me. I’m not really aiming for the readership that likes them cheap and disposable. I can’t; I’m not prolific enough. I have to price my work a little higher and hope to attract readers who see my books are more of an event. If I’m aiming for the “This is affordable; I might as well” crowd, I’m doomed. (Those readers are welcome to give my books a try, I encourage it! but I doubt they will in great numbers.)

Not that there aren’t other options: Nook, Kobo, iBooks, Indiebound, etc etc. Right? Except that, speaking for myself, the majority of my sales come through Amazon’s Kindle program. (I should do a post on that.)

The problem, I think, is not that there’s a glut of terrible books. There’s also a glut of really good books. I’ll never be able to read all the awesome books in the world, even if I did nothing else for the rest of my life. Even if your book is great, it can be difficult to catch the attention of new readers.

Which means it comes back to discoverability, and reaching the “early adopters” of the book world–those readers willing to try an author for no reason other than they like the cover or the title. If those readers are giving their credit cards a vacation by turning to Kindle Unlimited, some new way must be found.

At the moment, the only genuinely reliable method is reader word of mouth, which is the least-new thing about new developments in publishing.

Read more on this.

15 Books in 2015

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I don’t usually make New Years resolutions (because why wait for the start of the year to make a change? I prefer to spread my disappointment out over the year) but this year I’m making an exception.

I’m going to read 15 books in 2015, and I’m going to write reviews of them on Goodreads, then post the reviews here.

Some of you are going to laugh at that, because you read 15 books in a month, but I’ve always been a slow reader. So I’m going to try to finish a book every three weeks or so… about the time my library lets me borrow one.

And graphic novels don’t count.

I foresee a year of very few brick-sized epic fantasies, and a lot of mid-twentieth century crime thrillers.

The Silkworm by “Robert Galbraith”

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The Silkworm (Cormoran Strike, #2)The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Well whaddaya know, I guessed the killer!

Usually I never even try to guess the killer of a mystery novel; that’s not what I read them for. I like the characters, the conversations, the hidden narratives, but I don’t much care about puzzles.

Still, looking at one of the elements of the mystery (no spoilers, don’t worry), I thought I know how I’d do that if I were the killer and from there it was obvious.

Not that this ruined the book.

I confess to having a soft spot for private eye novels, even though no one is publishing them any more (supposedly). The good news is that Rowling apparently intends to continue writing the series indefinitely. Hey, she revived the boarding school genre, maybe she can make PIs marketable again.



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I have a story up at Podcastle(!!!)

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Well, how about that!

The story I wrote for John Joseph Adams’s HELP FUND MY ROBOT ARMY!!! and Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects has been turned into an audiobook (audiostory? audiofic? radioplay?) and is live at Podcastle right now–“Help Summon The Most Holy Folded One”, my Lovecraftian Taco Kickstarter story.

I guess it should be listed as a radioplay, since they have an actual cast, not a single reader. And that cast has some names in it. Yikes. Imposter Syndrome, ACTIVATE!

I’m listening as I type this, and… is it embarrassing to announce that these guys made me laugh aloud?

Give it a listen, and check out the other stories they’ve done: for example, there’s an N.K. Jeminsin story that includes the disclaimer “Rated X. Contains sex and wolves.” ::sprains mouse clicking finger:: (My story is PG.)