April 25, 2010

Blogging Barnes and Noble & Ants in My Pants for Chaos Bites

The first thing I did last night when I got to work was checked to see if Lori Handeland's Chaos Bites had come in. It had not. Next I checked to see if we had Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim. We did...it came in Thursday and was shelved Friday, without any promos, meaning copies were simply shelved in the section. Tonight I must rectify that and will local-store-list it to New in SF/F.

Ten copies of each book been ordered, and for the past two weeks every Jim Butcher customer I waited on got a slip of paper with "Richard Kadrey - Sandman Slim" written on it, accompanied by this verbal pitch: "It's a very dark, sarcastic, and violent urban fantasy novel. This guy gets sent to hell and escapes 11 years later...and he's pretty angry about it. It's awesome."

I grabbed two copies, among other books I thought I'd try to sell, and went up to Cash/Wrap. Jeff, another bookseller, was there, and a few minutes later, as he checked out a customer with Patricia Briggs books, he sort of opened his body language up so I could see what he was doing. I came over with the Kadrey book and my little spiel, and the woman took the book out of my hands, gave it to Jeff, and asked him to ring it up. Before she walked away, she had an entire list of authors and books to try, and I'm guessing she'll try some of them. Hopefully we have another happy customer.

I sold the other copy of Kadrey's book later in the evening. It wasn't my greatest ever hand-sell night ever (though I did well with new memberships), but historical romance readers did hear about the upcoming Mary Balogh release - A Secret Affair - which is my first Desert Isle Keeper in ten months (that link is to my review at Amazon Vine). I also managed to hand-sell a book I'd not even taken up to the counter with me. It was about ten in the evening and a very nice couple came up with several books. Both were clearly serious readers, and as a result of what I saw, I gave them my The Fifth Mountain (Paulo Coelho) talk, which goes something like this:

"You've probably heard about The Alchemist, but this book is much less well-known. It's incredibly beautifully written, very spare...every word counts...and is a fictional re-telling of the prophet Elijah. I don't usually read books like this, but it's amazing. Whenever we have a copy in the store, I try and remember to bring it up with me to hand-sell. You'll love it."

Although I didn't have the book with me, the husband was interested, so I called the Info desk. Jamie, the store manager, actually picked up, and when she brought me the book, the man indicated I should add it to their other purchases. As soon as I handed the bag to him, he removed the book. He had that look in his eye - I knew he planned to start reading Coelho's book immediately, but I cautioned him to wait. If he started tonight, he wouldn't be going to sleep until he'd finished, at some point in the middle of the night. He said it would be a struggle, but promised he wouldn't start it until today.

All that aside, I've got ants in my pants for Chaos Bites. Both it and the Kadrey book share the same sale date (April 27)...so where the hell is it? As I write this I've got to finish a book for a PW review tomorrow, and then there are two Amazon Vine books that arrived a few days ago. But the Kindle version of Handeland's book will be available for download on Tuesday, and it'll get moved to the top of the pile. Honestly, I can't wait.

What makes the Phoenix Chronicles so fantastic is that Handeland goes beyond the usual vampires, werewolves, and the fae. To be sure they exist in the series, but they're not just random monsters. She uses biblical lore and Native American mythology, among other religious and ancient motifs, for an incredibly rich and vibrant world. The excitement and action of great urban fantasy is there, but it's better for the world-building and because of Handeland's romance background. Say what you will about romance authors, but good ones know how to craft three-dimensional characters. Handeland accomplished what L.A. Banks tried to do in her Vampire Huntress series, but she did it oh, so much better. Even the final book in Banks' series, which was chock full of action, bored me in comparison to what Handeland has accomplished so far in her series, particularly in the first and third books. Each left me wanting the next entry immediately.

Here is the PW review I wrote for book one in the series, Any Given Doomsday:

Handeland (Thunder Moon) launches the intriguing Phoenix Chronicles urban fantasy series with a strong story that's only missing one thing: a glossary of the multitude of paranormal creatures tied to biblical lore. Psychic ex-cop Elizabeth Phoenix reluctantly takes the case after her foster mother, Ruthie, is murdered by monsters. Soon she's pointing out demons to her ex-boyfriend Jimmy, a half-vampire battling an army of Nephilim who plan to enslave and destroy humanity. They fight their way from Wisconsin to the southwest, where Jimmy leaves Elizabeth with Sawyer, a powerful Navajo shape-changer who awakens her libido as well as her psychic powers. Elizabeth's wry demeanor and complex relationships with Sawyer and Jimmy share center stage with the dramatic story line. The biblical component, while often confusing, adds dramatic dimension, and the demons' evil plans and vividly described handiwork create immense suspense for the final battle.

I wish now that my review had been even stronger, but at the time I wrote it, I'd not yet become as immersed in urban fantasy as I am today. So I hadn't read all the books now under my belt and didn't know just how much better the Phoenix Chronicles are in comparison to most. Had I written a stronger review, perhaps more readers would have discovered the series.

I tell those I've sold the first three books together that book two - Doomsday Can Wait - isn't quite as strong as books one and three, but it's still a good read. Here's the blurb:

"It took the near annihilation of humanity for Liz Phoenix to understand the true meaning of her premonitions. Liz is one of the sacred few on earth who has the psychic powers to fight the malevolent forces that have tried to wipe out the human race since the beginning of time. She battled these beings once, thwarting Doomsday but losing most of her soldiers in the massacre. Now she must replenish her troops quickly—because the supernatural war isn't over yet.

"As the new leader of the federation, Liz is marked for death by a Navajo witch with a link to her past. To survive, she must rely on her few remaining allies—her mentor, a shaman with too many secrets, as well as ex-lover, Jimmy Sanducci. Bringing Jimmy into the mix is a dangerous move, for Liz's darkest desires are razor-sharp—and her longing for Jimmy is at a fever pitch. But can Liz afford to give into the cravings that burn inside her, with the next shot at Doomsday just around the corner? This time, if evil wins, chaos will reign—and the world as we know it will be lost forever..."

The third book in the series, Apocalypse Happens, is as good, if not slightly better, than book one, and part of the reason why is that Handeland goes balls-to-the-wall in terms of what she's willing to do to propel the series' arc. Not that she does anything simply for dramatic effect - no - yet this is anything but a safe ride. To say more would give spoilers, but what happens near the end of this book is something I might have expected in a much later entry in the series...if at all...because no doubt a sub-set of readers will have a difficult time accepting the outcome. While I was shocked out of my seat, I'm totally in for the remainder of the ride, and can only hope it'll be a lengthy one. That said, there's only one additional title listed (Demons at the Gate) on Handeland's website.

Before ending this blog entry, here's the blurb for book three:

"Elizabeth Phoenix is one of a select few with the power to battle those who have escaped from the darkest level of hell—demons bent on destroying humanity and reclaiming earth once and for all. Liz is determined to stop yet another Doomsday. But this time, it's going to be more difficult than ever because someone she thought was dead isn't dead anymore...and is bound and determined to destroy Liz and everyone she loves in the upcoming Apocalypse.

"Liz has arrived in Los Angeles to ferret out a nest of varcolacs: half human, half dragon creatures who crave the destruction of the sun and moon. But before she can prevent the kind of eclipse that would bring the world to an end, Liz must mine the depths of her own heart. She and her former lover Jimmy Sanducci have some personal demons to battle—and there's always her mentor, the Navajo shaman Sawyer. Is he on their side or isn't he? In the end, the three of them must find a way to fight together...or perish alone."

Again, for all those urban fantasy readers out there, if you've not yet picked up Lori Handeland's Phoenix Chronicles, please do. She can only continue to write them if enough people buy them.

Because this blog entry is so lengthy, and because I have a review to write tomorrow, I won't write here again until Tuesday Wednesday, after I've had a chance to read Chaos Bites (that link is for an excerpt at the author's site).


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