Urban Fantasy Autumn Reads

I’ve almost made it through my stack of summer reading…and just in time. The new crop of autumn urban fantasy releases starts hitting shelves in about a week and boy, oh boy, are there some books I’m excited to read.

A whopping five of my favorite series have new titles coming out in the next three months. Here’s what’s in the queue:

Shifting ShadowsMercy Thompson. Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson is one of my favorite heroines. She’s a tattooed, martial artist, Volkswagen mechanic, who also happens to be a Native American coyote shapeshifter. Briggs has built a nuanced world for Mercy—an alternative American West, filled with werewolves, Fae, shamans, and witches. Regardless of any individual book’s plot, the realistic politics and complex relationships in Mercy’s life make the whole series worth reading. The upcoming installment, Shifting Shadows, is a short story collection, including four never-before-published pieces. It’ll be out September 2.

The Winter LongOctober Daye. Seanan Mcguire’s coffee-guzzling changeling, Toby Daye, straddles two worlds—a modern, fae-infused San Francisco and the classical, storybook kingdoms of Faerie. Mcguire’s characterization and world-building are impeccable. I binge-read the first seven books in this series without so much as a pause, and then promptly sought out the rest of her books, as well. The eighth Toby Daye book, The Winter Long, comes out on September 2.

The Witch With No NameThe Hollows. I almost can’t think of this release without crying. For twelve books, I’ve been following Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan on her voyage of self-discovery through a magic-broken Cincinnati. Even her sidekicks (Ivy, a sexually-charged living vampire, and Jenks, a high-strung and smartass pixie) have grown and changed over the course of the series, with story arcs almost as big and important as Rachel’s own. Harrison’s Witch With No Name, out September 9, will be the last Hollows book. It’s time to say goodbye, and I’m so not ready.

Broken SoulJane Yellowrock. Jane is a vampire-hunter working for vampires in post-Katrina New Orleans. It’s not so hard to wrap your mind around. In Jane’s world, the vampires police their own, just as humans police other humans. Of course, vampire justice is a bit more swift than its human counterpart. Jane also has an advantage when it comes to bounty-hunting. Not only does she have her own, ancient shape-changing magic, she shares her body with the soul of a real mountain lion. I love Jane Yellowrock and all her motorcycle-riding badassness. And, book after book, the master plot keeps getting more satisfying. Book number eight, Broken Soul, comes out October 7.

Black WidowElemental Assassin. Jennifer Estep actually released another Elemental Assassin book over the summer, and I neglected to mention it, because I’d only just discovered the series. My bad. Seriously, Estep’s Gin Blanco is the ultimate anti-heroine. She’s a retired assassin with elemental powers over ice and stone. The woman kicks five kinds of ass, knows what she’s good at, and is utterly unapologetic about it. And yet, there’s no question about whether to root for her, because from page one, I liked Gin. Let’s face it, my real life friends aren’t particularly nice either. I’m still not entirely caught up on the Elemental Assassin books, but you better bet I will be by the time Black Widow comes out November 25.

There’s already a nip in the morning air here in Colorado, and soon it’ll be high time to curl up with a cup of tea and get lost in a good book. What’s on your autumn list?

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Talking About Books With Strangers On The Street

The Joy (And Importance) Of Book TalkAnother weekend, another show. I hauled my Palimpsestic wares to Old Town Fort Collins again yesterday for a Freedom Market.

Today’s a recovery day. It seems like it always takes a day to return to myself after time spent out in the world interacting with people, especially after something like the Freedom Market, which literally involved spending the day in a tent set up on a downtown street. I’m not shy,—I’m more than willing to chat with my customers, and I enjoy doing so—but I am an introvert, so I’m always grateful to return to my quiet house, my books, and my laptop.

One of my favorite things to do when I am out interacting with customers, though, is to ask about the books they love. Talking about books with any of my customers is fun, but the younger ones are my absolute favorites. This weekend, I met a seven-year-old who liked to read Junie B. Jones books and “some things by Judy Blume.” I talked to a gaggle of tween girls who adored Divergent, but also have been reading Tom Sawyer and thinking about Treasure Island. I chatted with college students whose favorites included both Sherlock Holmes and Ray Bradbury.

It makes me ridiculously happy to know that the love of books is alive and well out there.

Talking with my customers about their current favorites and their fond memories of stories from their childhood made me think. One of the reasons I make the things I do is to remind people of the role books have played in their lives. I hope that people who bring home an Agatha Christie wreath or a Little Women garland will look at it and remember the joy those books brought them the first time they read them. Then, maybe, they’ll pick up something new, something they haven’t read before. Maybe they’ll fall in love all over again. And if someone visits and sees that wreath hanging on their wall? If they start a discussion about it? It’s a chain reaction.

That’s what talking about books is all about. I’m realizing I don’t do it often enough. What’s the best discussion you’ve had about a book recently?

Urban Fantasy Summer Reads

Okay, I mentioned earlier that I think it’s important to read widely. And I do. I try to venture out of my comfort zone on a regular basis. That being said, I do have my favorites, and summer is, hands-down, the best time to indulge in some awesome urban fantasy. Summer days (and summer nights) are perfect for digging into a long series and devouring paperbacks without the slightest smidge of guilt.

Not that I feel much guilt about that any other time of year.

Summer also means new releases from some of my favorite authors, so here’s a rundown of some series I love that have new installments this summer. Every single one of these books is either on my iPad, waiting to be read, or pre-ordered for a release-day delivery.
By the way, all the links below go to Powell’s, but I won’t get any affiliate dollars. I just wanted you to have a convenient place to buy if you wanted to!

 

9780451464392The Dresden Files. Jim Butcher’s long-running series is on its fifteenth installment, so if you’re one of the few fantasy readers who hasn’t yet discovered Harry Dresden, you’re in for a binge-read of epic proportions. Luckily, Dresden inhabits a gritty, magical Chicago underworld with enough vampires, fae, werewolves, and cultists to keep the city’s only wizard-for-hire busy for a very, very long time. The most recent book in the series, Skin Game, came out on May 27.

 

9780345548481The Iron Druid Chronicles. When this series started, Atticus O’Sullivan was the last living Druid on earth and he and his Irish wolfhound, Oberon, were running for their lives. A lot has changed over the course of seven books, and number eight, Shattered, was just released on June 17. Author Kevin Hearne’s take on Irish and Norse mythology is what makes this series for me, but if you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy it even more for Oberon’s dog’s-eye-view of the world.

 

9780425256220Kate Daniels. If I had to pick my favorite UF series, let’s face it, it would be whatever I was currently reading. But if you gave me a little more time, I’d probably come around to Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels. Kate lives in an alternate-history Atlanta, where technology and magic flow in and out of influence like tides—erratic, unpredictable, random tides. While the series falls firmly on the urban fantasy side of the UF/paranormal romance divide, the relationship between Kate and her mate, Beast Lord, Curran, is what makes these books so hard to put down. Trust me, you’ll fall in love with both of them. The seventh Kate Daniels novel, Magic Breaks, will be out on July 29.

 

0451415205.01._SY200_SCLZZZZZZZ_Chicagoland Vampires. What can I say? I grew up in Illinois, so Chicago-based novels have a special place in my heart. Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires are especially appealing because their story is told by Merit, a bookworm graduate student turned badass bloodsucker. If urban fantasy has offered up a more relatable undead narrator, I have yet to meet her. Throw in some scary-powerful mages, a gang of motorcycle-riding shifters, and a level of political intrigue that could only happen in Chicago, and you have a series that I will drop everything to read when the tenth installment, Blood Games, comes out on August 5.

 

031622846X.01._SY200_SCLZZZZZZZ_Prospero’s War. Last but not least, the Prospero’s War series only has one book out so far, but that first one was a doozy. Take a gritty police procedural, add fantasy-weird informants, wizard gangs, and potions more addictive than drugs and that will give you a good idea of the problems facing Jaye Wells’ decaying metropolis of Babylon, Ohio. The second book, Cursed Moon, drops on August 12. It’s especially important to pre-order this one, as Wells is a Hachette author. That publisher’s well-publicized battle with Amazon could put the longevity of this series at risk, if readers don’t step up and order from other sources.

 

This is just the tip of the iceberg for my summer reading list, but I can’t wait for these new releases to arrive. What’s in your to-be-read pile for the next few months?

Why I Read Everything…Now

20140608-164738-60458027.jpgOnce upon a time, I was a literary snob.

Other people talked about being voracious readers, devouring two or three books a week, and I sniffed through my judgmental nose and thought, “That’s easy to do when you’re not reading anything of substance.” I, on the other hand, was working my way through the modern literary canon. I made a checklist of Pulitzer prizewinners. I didn’t devour my books. I read slowly and savored the offerings of the literary elite.

I admit it, I was horrible.

I wasn’t always that way. When I was a child, I read everything from Laura Ingalls Wilder and Judy Blume to Piers Anthony and C.S. Lewis. I read the entire Trixie Belden series and all the Babysitters Club books. I read Gone With the Wind in fifth grade. In junior high, I hid in the 800s section of the library to read Waiting for Godot and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I read everything Kurt Vonnegut wrote, and every one of Noel Streatfeild’s Shoes books too. I read Choose Your Own Adventure and Encyclopedia Brown and also Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Until I got to college, I simply loved reading, and I didn’t differentiate between what was trash and what was worthwhile, or what was important and what was fluff.

Then, I started working on my English degree. I read (okay, skimmed) James Joyce’s Ulysses and all the works of Toni Morrison. I took an in-depth class on Hemingway, who I’d always loved, and I learned to love him less. I analyzed T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” and Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. I fell in love a little with Haruki Murakami.

(But the book that made me show up late for my job at the library, eyes puffy and red-rimmed, was The Bridges of Madison County.)

All that education translated into an understanding of language and character and theme that I can’t imagine being without. It also made me forget how to love a book for doing what a book does best.

A recent study on the effect of reading on the brain found that reading a book isn’t just an exercise in analyzing and interpreting language. It literally adds to our life experience.

“We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

The brain interprets events we’ve read similarly to events we’ve lived. In a very real sense, reading transports us into a different life. It exercises our ability to empathize and allows us to extend our experience far beyond what could otherwise be accomplished in a single lifetime.

Any avid reader probably could have predicted that. That’s why we love reading.

And the reason I love beautiful language is I love reading. The reason I love a tightly-told story is I love reading. The reason I love clever wordplay and brilliantly-expressed themes and prescient social commentary is I love reading.

It’s also the reason I love saucy comebacks. And not knowing whodunnit until the last chapter. And that delicious first kiss. And sword battles. And fistfights. And bar brawls. And a different first kiss. Long trips through unknown territories. Long trips through unknown galaxies. Dystopian futures. Utopian futures. The heightened senses of a werewolf. The clomp of horses’ hooves on cobblestone streets. Or sage-strewn desert. The first glimpse of a magnificent steam-powered contraption. The unsubtle horror of a craving for brains.

I want to experience all of it.

I’m not a literary snob anymore.