New Author Challenge and February mini-Challenge

One of the Fantasy review sites I have in my blogroll, Literary Escapism has issued a challenge to all comers: read as many new authors as you can in 2010. There are no restrictions on which books to read (novels greatly preferred), but the authors themselves must be new to you. But wait! There’s more! Once you have read them, you have to review them.

For me that is going to be the hard part: usually when I finish a book, I take a couple hours to let it percolate in my brain but then I start jonesing for a book in my hand and I have to grab something new from my TBR pile (bookaholism: it is not just a figment of my imagination).

Still, I have signed up and by golly I am going to do it! I challenge myself: 25 books. That’s right 25 books read – and more importantly 25 books reviewed. I can do it. I know I can. I just have to concentrate…

Literary Escapism takes on The League of Reluctant Adults in February
As a second part to this challenge, Literary Escapism is, for the month of February, doing a mini-challenge, asking folks to read new authors from the League of Reluctant Adults (another of my blogroll gang and the group I most want to join when I get published).

I personally think this is great because the League is full of amazing authors whose books kick UF/PR butt while also make you snicker at all their character’s wonderful snarkiness. I have read works by most of the Leaguers and discovered that, of those I hadn’t read yet – their books were already in my TBR pile just waiting for me to crack ‘em open. Literary Escapism’s challenge to read up to 5 different authors from the list of Leaguers should be a piece of cake! (Yeah, yeah, again, it’s going to be the review writing part that’ll get me).

I am going to do my darnedest to meet this mini-challenge too, though I hope you’ll forgive me if I end up reading a new-to-me book by a known-to-me member of the League. Not strictly kosher, I admit, but at least I am making the effort.

Here is the list of Leaguers:
Mario Acevedo
Stacia Kane
Kat Richardson
Michele Bardsley
Caitlin Kittredge
Michelle Rowen
Dakota Cassidy
Kelly Meding
Diana Rowland
Carolyn Crane
Richelle Mead
Jeanne Stein
Molly Harper
Nicole Peeler
Anton Strout
Mark Henry
Cherie Priest
Jaye Wells
Jackie Kessler
Jennifer Rardin

Urban fantasy versus Paranormal romance

Are you confused about the difference, because I know I am!

Essentially, urban fantasy is fiction, set in a modern setting, that has a supernatural ‘fantasy’ element to it. Good examples are Charles De Lint’s Newford stories, Tanya Huff’s Blood series, Kelley Armstrong’s Otherworld stories, or Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files. All fairly straightforward urban settings (some easily recognizable, like Toronto, Miami or Chicago), that just happen to be inhabited by vampires, fairies (or faeries as the case may be), werewolves or all manner of fantastical beasties.

Paranormal romances are fairly similar but the big divide occurs on the romance side: urban fantasy may have a bit but the focus isn’t it, while paranormal romance sits clearly on the side of more romance is good. So yes, the tale may be about a vampire living in a modern city, but in a PR book, said vampire is more interested in getting into your pants than any thing else.

(Okay, I’ll admit it: I am a reading snob. I don’t like the idea of being caught reading a ‘romance novel’. Single chick reading a romance novel: how cliche! I’d rather be ‘that older chick who clearly never grew up because she is still reading fantasy books’. So just because a book has a vampire in it doesn’t make it a fantasy novel. A romance novel with werewolves in is still a romance novel.)

The problem, as I see it, is that while those definitions may work in general they don’t necessarily work with how the publishers or writers define the books. Yes, I do understand that it is often the writer who decides which genre they fall in. Many, I am told, do this for one simple reason: money. Based on the genre categorization they can get more (or less) for their work. Which may explain why many authors bounced back and forth over the divide. Kelley Armstrong, for example, has her series listed as urban fantasy but some of the short stories – still based in that world – show up in paranormal romance anthologies. Simple economics for the writer. Confusing as heck for the reader.

Here are some examples of books I have read that I would have defined differently:

  • Keri Arthur’s Riley Jensen series. This has been listed as urban fantasy on Amazon, and in bookstores, yet I would argue this one falls firmly in the paranormal romance category. Riley is constantly juggling the many men (term used loosely) in her life as well as her work with the Directorate of Other Races. Perhaps it is deemed fantasy because of the several men she bounces between (rather than romance which tends to focus on one coupling), but when the majority of the novel focuses on love/sex rather than the base plot, I know which category I’d put it in. (That being said, Arthur is a fantastic writer and I always grab her books as soon as they come out).
  • For the longest time Yasmine Galernon’s Sisters of the Moon series was listed as paranormal romance, though I see that is slowly changing (at least on Amazon). Still, chances are if you are looking for these books in your local bookstore you are more likely to find them in the romance section. To my mind these are clearly urban fantasy. Sure there is a smooch fest (or two) but the core of the book is about the half-human, half-Fae sisters and their work for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency.
  • Then you have folks like Laurell Hamilton, whose Anita Blake series was clearly on the side of urban fantasy to start but gradually morphed over and would, I think, be best termed as paranormal erotica now. Her Meredith Gentry series started in paranormal erotica and is still firmly there today.

I am not sure where that leaves things. There is clearly a difference between the two genres, but it can be tricky to find sometimes. If you, like me, prefer urban fantasy (though don’t mind a sweaty snuggle or two as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the story), you may have to start trolling the romance section of bookstores from time to time. Even that can be hit and miss (and I have a stack of too-PR-for-me books to prove it). Or you can search sites like Amazon or Chapters.Indigo. Or talk to others who are interested in this. Or hit your local library.

Good luck.

Trying to get more books in before I have to take time off

44) On the Prowl, Patricia Briggs, Eileen Wilks, Karen Chance, Sunny. If you like urban fantasy/paranormal romance… get this book of novellas. Okay, so I am not sold on Sunny’s Mona Lisa series even after reading a couple of her novellas, but the other 3 tales… awesome! Big fan of Patricia Briggs’ series and really like the byplay between Charles and Anna in Alpha and Omega.

45) Birthright, Nora Roberts. Interesting premise; a child is kidnapped as a baby, never told she was adopted and suddenly stumbles on her birth family. Set this on top of the archeological find of the century. An enjoyable read, though I admit I picked this one up because of the whole archeological find aspect. And that wasn’t really explored – a ‘B’ story than gets relegated to ‘C’ level.

Enjoy it when fantasy authors take on important issues.

39) Summoned to Tourney, Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon. Sometimes earthquakes happen and sometimes the bad guys try and make them happen. A story from the beginning of the Bedlam Bard series and one of the good ones.

40) Wheels of Fire, Mercedes Lackey and Mark Shepherd. How I wish it were true that elves were there to rescue kids who were being abused. It would make the world a better place. Here the elves are not only trying to save a child from abuse, they are also taking on a radical religious cult. Another reason why I have rejected organized religion; there are far too many people in the world you use it to justify horror, abuse and violence against others. Oops, better not get onto that tangent…

41) Fire Me Up, Katie MacAlister. So not the book to read after a book about child abuse. It was just too fluffy and light. Needless to say; didn’t enjoy it much.

42) Sacred Ground, Mercedes Lackey. Clearly I needed to go back to one of my fave authors. This was about environmental and aboriginal issues. For not being Native, I think Misty did a great job. Of course neither am I so all I can say it that it felt good to me.

43) Over the Moon, Angela Knight, MaryJanice Davidson, Virginia Kantra, Sunny. Four paranormal romance novellas (in other words kissy kissy stuff with werewolves, Fae and other spookies). Interesting tales; liked MaryJanice Davidson’s best. Light, but the byplay between our two potential lovers was deliciously snarky.

More reading

35) Bloodfever, Karen Marie Moning. Not all Sidhe are good Sidhe. Heck, not even the good ones are all that great, as MacKayla Lane has found out. This is the 2nd in a series that is really shaping up well. Lots of twists and turns, with interesting characters.

36) Every Secret Thing, Laura Lippman. After reading The Last Place, I was keen for another Lippman book, but this one just didn’t resonate with me. Not sure why. It was good, with lots of twists, but something just… I dunno.

37) By a Spider’s Thread, Laura Lippman. I enjoyed this one much better than the last. Maybe it was because I already knew the characters, though one of the people in Every Secret Thing did make an appearance here. Like the last one, there were plenty of twists.

38 ) Hound the Falcon, Judith Tarr. When mysteries are leaving you feeling a little flat, do a switch! Pick up a fantasy novel – in this case a trilogy (all in one book so I’ll count them as 1) set in the Crusade period. With elves. Nice elves. And evil churchfolk (and some nice ones too). And kings and princes and saints. A nice break from reality…