Tag Archives: urban fantasy

Fantastic Voyages

My family didn’t really take vacations when I was growing up. We’d go on day trips instead, packing the car with a picnic lunch and some beach supplies, then tooling around northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania looking for adventures. Most of the time we’d end up at either Pymatuning State Park or Conneaut Lake Park. Both are magical, fun places, and I highly recommend that you visit them. However, now that I’ve just returned from my first real vacation (complete with oceans, tasty food, and intense scrutiny from airport security), I’m completely hooked on the experience, and am planning/saving for the next one.

Spotted at Tahoe Unveiled.

Spotted at Tahoe Unveiled.

Taking a cue from Melissa, I brought along some beach reads, leaping at the chance to spend some quality time with the kind of books I like best: fantasy and speculative fiction. If you like that sort of thing, or are open to trying it, these fun, fantastic reading picks will keep you entertained as you lounge on the beach, by the pool, or under a palm tree, sipping your tropical beverage of choice.

awareThe Aware, Glenda Larke. Book one of the Isles of Glory trilogy introduces us to Blaze Halfbreed and her piratical lifestyle, forced upon her by the constraints of island society. Thanks to her mixed parentage, she’s denied citizenship in the Isles, and must work as an adventurer-for-hire to earn her keep. Luckily, her ability to sense magic makes her valuable to the various political factions who rule the islands. One faction, the Keepers, has recently hired her to find a runaway princess, fleeing from an unwanted marriage. As the plot thickens, however, Blaze learns that there are some things she just can’t do, even for a chance at full citizenship. Filled with swordplay and nautical shenanigans, this adventure yarn will appeal to readers who like salty language, strong female characters, sexy situations, and, perhaps, Suzy’s recent pirate post.

Chicks Kick Butt, Rachel Caine, ed. Curious about urban fantasy, but not ready to commit to a whole novel? Try this short story buttsampler on for size. Caine–an accomplished fantasy writer with several successful series to her credit–has assembled stories from various writers in the genre that showcase its greatest strength: the tendency to feature heroines who kick butt rather than kiss it. My favorite piece was Karen Chance‘s “In Vino Veritas,” which features a high-stakes paranormal drinking contest (trust me, it’s hilarious), but the whole volume is solid, and will open up a whole pack of new authors for you to try, if this is your first stab at urban fantasy.

magePaper Mage, Leah R. Cutter. Historical fiction fans will want to try this tale on for size. Our heroine, Xiao Yen, is on a quest to fulfill a promise she made to her aunt: win glory, and bring home an immortal peach. Because she’s a highly trained paper mage, Xiao Yen can make beautiful origami creations that come alive, which is useful when you need, say, a tiger to protect your campsite after dark. On her current assignment, bodyguard to a delegation of foreigners, Xiao Yen accidentally offends a goddess in disguise, and amends for her error by taking up the immortal lady’s quest as well as her own. The pace is slow and stately, showcasing the manners and customs of ancient China while exploring a very different sort of magic. Lovely, sad, and haunting.

zombieMy Life as a White Trash Zombie, Diana Rowland. Closer to home, on the Louisiana bayou, Angel Crawford wakes up in the hospital with no clue as to how she got there. When she checks out, she receives a brown paper bag with a change of clothes, several jars of what looks like iced coffee, and instructions to report to the morgue on Monday to start her new job. What the heck? Angel soon learns that her accident was a lot worse than she thought, and that what’s in those jars? Isn’t iced coffee (though it is delicious). As Angel adjusts to being one of the undead, she finds–much to her surprise–that her afterlife has the potential to be a whole lot better than her human life…unless, of course, whoever is killing all the local zombies catches up with her. If you’re willing to suspend your belief a teensy bit and have a good time, Angel will take you for a great ride. It’s an outrageous premise, but it’s got lots of heart, and I’ll definitely be looking up the sequels.

What can I say? There’s nothing I find more relaxing than a book about girls saving the world, especially if there are magical/paranormal elements involved. What do you like to read on vacation? Are super-powered super-heroines up your alley? Or is there some other genre that spells “beach read” for you?

–Leigh Anne

with apologies to Lakeside and  Coolio


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Dresden Files: Late to the Game

A couple of weeks ago I started reading the Dresden Files series of urban fantasy novels penned by Jim Butcher. Dresden Files tells the stories of Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only practicing wizard. It’s set firmly in the urban fantasy genre of popular fiction, and features the main character’s struggle to keep the darker aspects of the supernatural at bay, while still making enough money to pay his rent!

This series has been running since 2000, and I am very late to the game. Somehow, for all of that time, I have managed to avoid the spoilers. It’s not easy. There are numerous web sites with great info on the series, including a really thorough Wiki page (but beware the spoilers).

There’s also a pretty awesome pen & paper RPG coming out soon from Evil Hat Studios.  It’s already for sale in PDF for folks who aren’t averse to books in electronic format.  Since we’re discussing Dresden in other media, there are also graphic novels and a short-lived TV show.

I am on the third book, Grave Peril, now, and Butcher’s first-person narrative style has really grabbed me. I often find first-person a little constraining, but Butcher knows his character so well he’s never at loss for letting the reader know exactly what he or she needs to, while holding back certain tantalizing elements for later revelations.

It’s kind of nice being late to the game.  For a while at least, when I finish a book, I can just grab the next one in line.  I’ll catch up eventually, but my assiduous avoidance of spoilers for Dresden has paid off!


P.S. If you’re already familiar with Jim Butcher and his Dresden Files and you’re interested in exploring other urban fantasy writers’ work, check out the Urban Fantasy Writers web site, and you can get some decent mileage out of a similar keyword search on our Catalog.

P.P.S. I have only read the first two Harry Potter books, so please don’t tell me how it ends!


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Out of town reading list

Being a committed pedestrian means that I get to escape thinking about rising gas prices most of the time. When I travel outside of Pittsburgh, though, my concern rises right along with the rest of the country. Airfare is too pricey for this librarian these days, which means that as you read this I will be very economically taking the Greyhound out of town. Unlike my nearly 20-year old car, the bus is air-conditioned, and gives me nearly 8 hours of uninterrupted reading time. Below is a short list of what I will be listening to and reading to pass the time.

  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames, by David Sedaris: I love pretty much everything that has ever come out of David Sedaris’s pen, and have been impatiently waiting to read this book for a while now. Fortunately, my hold and my trip coincided, and I’m anticipating that this book will be as hilarious as his past books have been. In a starred review Publishers Weekly said that Sedaris “triumphs in this sixth essay collection.” As a recent ex-smoker, I’m particularly looking forward to the essay “Smoking Section,” in which Sedaris chronicles his own experience of quitting smoking in Tokyo. If you haven’t read anything by Sedaris yet, check out the library’s holdings of his work here.
  • Twilight Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko: My fellow blogger Leigh Anne introduced me to Lukyanenko’s urban fantasy series, and by the time I was a few pages into the first book (Night Watch) I was hooked. Living undetected among humans are Others– vampires, shape-shifters, magicians, witches and all manner of supernatural beings– who have all chosen to either be Light or Dark. The Night Watch is made up of Light Others who police the Dark, and the Day Watch is made up of Dark Others who police the Light, all while trying to maintain the precarious balance between the two forces. Instead of a cliched good guys vs. bad guys plot, Lukyanenko manages to instill the characters with a complexity that goes beyond easy categorization. I read the first two books in the series (the aforementioned Night Watch and its sequel, Day Watch) over the course of a weekend, ignoring phone calls, hockey playoffs, and loved ones in favor of reading. It’s been a while since a book hooked me that completely; I’m hoping the third in the series is equally good.
  • Once Upon a Time in the North, by Philip Pullman: Pullman is another writer that I am completely addicted to. I’ve read the His Dark Materials series a couple of times, and have also enjoyed Pullman’s other novels and critical work. Those familiar with The Golden Compass will already know the characters of Lee Scoresby and the armored bear Iorek Byrnison, who are the focus of this story. As two of Pullman’s most vivid characters, I’m looking forward to learning about how they met.
  • No Thanks: The ’70s Punk Rebellion: This box set has the usual suspects (The Ramones, New York Dolls, The Clash), but what I really like about this CD collection is that often-overlooked bands of the ’70s punk era– like Suicide, Magazine, and the Modern Lovers– are also featured. This set segues nicely from punk to post-punk, and with four CDs will give me good music to listen to for a good chunk of my trip.



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Romance Redux: Another Perspective

I am an unabashed romance reader and have been since I was a girl. Each summer, my neighbor Kathy and I would go to the Woods Run Branch. She’d check out her 6 books and I’d take mine. Rosamond du Jardin, Lenora Mattingly Weber, Maureen Daly…we’d read them all and then switch books, thus filling our summers with countless hours of enjoyment. The first romance I remember reading was Beverly Cleary’s Luckiest Girl, in which teenage Shelly experiences her first crush on basketball star Hartley. From those teen titles we progressed to the great gothic authors of the 1960s and 1970s – Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney. Forty five years later, Kathy and I are still friends and we still sometimes share books we like.

Romance was in the air last month in Pittsburgh as the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention was held at the Hilton, downtown. I took a few vacation days to attend. Hundreds and hundreds of women (and a few men) attended the 25th annual event. The convention offered three tracks – one for publishers, one for budding writers and one for readers. I signed up for the reader’s track so that I could get to meet and hear some of my favorite authors.

The grande dames of historical romance, writers Bertrice Small, Janelle Taylor, Roberta Gellis and Jennifer Blake are sticklers for historical fact. They derided the current Showtime hit The Tudors for playing fast and loose with truth of those ribald royals.

book jacket       book jacket       book jacket       book jacket

Romantic suspense authors Barry Eisler, Heather Graham, Brenda Novak, and F. Paul Wilson talked about the importance of creating a gripping mystery without ever losing sight of developing a realistic love interest between the protagonists.

Vampires and urban fantasy specialists MaryJanice Davidson, Christine Feehan and J.R. Ward drew the biggest crowd of readers. These authors were wacky and bawdy, and spoke about creating and populating erotic alternative worlds filled with love and the eternal struggle between good and evil. I’ll admit that I just don’t get the current fascination with this genre.

Some of my favorite Regency Historical authors – Mary Balogh, Nicole Jordan, Mary Jo Putney and Patricia Rice gave a wonderful peek into the 19th-century worlds they create. Their stand-alone books and series are often written several years in advance of publishing. They work hard to please their readers by threading major and minor characters from one book to another to sustain interest and to achieve the happy ending romance readers expect.

book jacket       book jacket       book jacket       book jacket

Over 350 authors were in attendance. Many were recognized on Thursday at the Annual RT Awards luncheon. For a list of winners, click here.

Best of all at the Convention was the book signing on Saturday where I got to meet and talk to about ten romance authors whose books I collect. It was really fun to do and just looking at the crowds lined up at the tables and the smiles of the authors selling and signing their books, it was evident that they were all having a great time too.

If you are looking for a few good romances to take to the beach with you this summer, here are a few titles you will surely enjoy:


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