Tuesday, April 04, 2006


Often I randomly pick up novels by authors I don't know and have never read. I've had pretty good luck with this method; by using it over the years I've discovered great writers like Patricia Briggs, Harlan Coben, Linda Howard, and Mark Kurlansky.

A few weeks ago I picked up this novel at random:

Rob Thurman's Debut Novel

It caught my eye for two reasons: the great cover art, naturally, and the fact that Rob Thurman and I write for the same imprint but I'd never heard of him.* I read the first page, was intrigued, decided to give it a whirl, and brought it home.

I'd never heard of Rob Thurman because Nightlife is his first published novel. As debuts go, it's ambitious and impressive. Very few writers can do dark urban fantasy that is as funny as it is frightening, but Rob Thurman nailed it his first time at bat.

There's also something rather audacious that this author does with the protagonist midway through the book that I have never seen done as well or in quite the way he did it. Technically speaking, I thought it was superb (and no, I'm not spoiling things by telling you what.) They say we old creaky pros can't learn anything new? I'm betting Rob Thurman could teach me a few tricks. We need to watch this guy.

Despite the pervasive humor, Nightlife is not a fuzzy bunny book, so I don't recommend it for the faint of spleen. This novel is a very dark, action-oriented and violent urban fantasy, with an emphasis on dire straits, bleak comedy and what I'm going to call mythpunk for want of a better word. If you're into books by writers like Douglas Clegg, Stuart MacBride, Tamara Siler Jones, and the really dark stuff I've done (Red Branch and the other Ravelin stories), then Nightlife is something I think you'll enjoy a lot.

You all don't take my word for it: let's do a giveaway. In comments to this post, tell us the title of a book that has impressed you, and the reason it did by midnight EST on Wednesday, April 5, 2006. I'll pick five names from everyone who participates and post them here on the blog by noon EST on Thursday, April 6, 2006. The five winners will receive an unsigned copy of Nightlife by Rob Thurman. Giveaway open to everyone on the planet, even if you've won something here in the past.

*Added: The author may be female; I can't confirm his/her gender. (Thanks to Karen W. for catching this.)


  1. Anonymous12:43 AM

    Elizabeth Moon's Marque & Reprisal impressed me. I haven't run across many authors who would kill off almost half the cast of a series the second book in. Life long friends and family members of the main character were in no way spared the same fate. It was unexpected and made the impact of it happening ten times worse. No cop-out of simply killing one or two characters whose death would barely make a blip in the main characters emotions. Oh, no. This author likes to make her characters lives a liivng hell. Shake up her characters lives and let her readers watch how the characters pull themselves out in the end and grow. It makes for some fascinating reading.

  2. I've just finished reading the Kingmaker/Kingbreaker duology by Karen Miller (aussie author). (Innocent Mage and Innocence Lost)
    I'm not a big fantasy reader, but I found myself dashing around bookshops just before closing time last week trying to get hold of the second volume.
    It's an impressive pair of novels, and I hope they make it to the US.

  3. Anonymous1:06 AM

    Believe it or not, StarDoc. And no, I'm not just saying it because it's yours.

    It was the first real science fiction book that I've read that I really, really enjoyed. I had stopped reading SF in college, because it seemed to be all gloom and doom and oh-so-very depressing (or maybe I was just picking the wrong books). Who needs that?

    At any rate, I gave it a try, and now I'm hooked. I don't care what anyone says - you do SF good. Oh, and when's the next one coming out???


  4. David Weber's Mutineer's Moon and The Apocalypse Troll. The titles were just so intriguing, I had to peek. I was hooked and equally intrigued by the well-crafted ideas and story. Both kept me reading long into the night.

  5. Summer of Night by Dan Simmons is one of the first horror novels I've read that made me fear for the characters.

    Usually I hate reading books where kids are the main characters, but Simmons made his very believable, and very vulnerable. It was tough tting the book down if I didn't feel the boys were left off at a "safe" point.

    Believable children in a genuinely scary horror novel. Now that's impressive.

  6. Anonymous1:46 AM

    Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem. It's an SF homage to Raymond Chandler's fiction. Other SF authors have tried to mimic Chandler, but Gun, with Occasional Music was the first one that ever really worked, IMO (and I've read a few that failed miserably).

  7. Anonymous2:20 AM

    Going the Distance by Christina Jones, a British author. It was one of the first books that ever made me laugh out loud, and the romance between the heroine and hero was a bit shocking for its time (1998). I've managed to collect all but one of her books so far, and enjoyed them all, but Going the Distance is still my favorite, and can still make me laugh.

  8. Anonymous3:19 AM

    Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
    I'm currently in the middle of this book, and I don't want it to end because I am in love with the style. I never would have predicted I would like it when I first picked it up... which I did because it was a bestseller and I was keeping up with current trends. It's a bestseller for a reason. The characters are detailed and realistic, and the descriptions of both the real and magical worlds surprise and delight me. There is one description I can't get out of my head where a man is described as having a face like pale cheese that, sometime during the cheese making, flies had fallen into the cheese and now their crooked black legs (stray black hairs) stuck out from the man's face. Amazing.

  9. Just out of pure curiousity... do you ever sleep?

    one that comes to mind is Laurell K Hamilton's Nightseer I read and enjoy her books for the most part, but that one blew me away. Excellent world building and the way it ended had me panting for me. Wish she would have written more in that world.

  10. Anonymous6:38 AM

    The Trespass by Barbara Ewing

    I picked this up because firstly the cover caught my eye, and secondly because it was historical fiction, and I love reading about things set in the past.

    Oh my, it turned out to be so much more! It's about gaining female power in a time when (in particular rich) females had so little. It's about abuse and over comming it. It was just so much more than what I was expecting, and consequently has gone on to be one of my favourite books.

  11. Anonymous7:02 AM

    *Harvest* by Tess Gerritsen. I'm not even finished it but I like her style, and her use of third person limited perspective floored me. It's so clean! And it's quite suspenseful, and the characters are well done. So. Yes, quite impressed, even though I'm like, half through at best.


  12. Anonymous7:19 AM

    I just read the Shattered Rose by Jo Beverley in which the hero has been faithful through the Crusades, but the heroine's infidelity has resulted in a baby and complicated life greatly for everyone. It is such a turnabout for a romance novel that I was facinated by it when I read and thought how well it worked.

    Robin F

  13. Anonymous7:54 AM

    Autumn Bridge by Takashi Matsuoka.

    This book impressed me because it is a second novel and a sequel and in my experience, the sophomore effort tends to not live up to the first book, especially if the first book was excellent. (Though I admit it took me a little while to get into A Cloud of Sparrows but once I did, I was gone.) However, not only did Autumn Bridge live up the promise of its predecessor, it was light years better than it in so many ways -- prose, plot, story, structure. I loved it so much, and the ending was so bittersweet it made me smile.

  14. I picked up Jasper Fforde's first novel, The Eyre Affair partly on the recommendation of a friend and partly because he lives not far from me. As soon as I read it I just had to go and get the rest of the series. His inventiveness is quite awe-inspiring and the writing just carries you along in a wonderful suspension of disbelief. Who else would have his books interspersed with advertisements from the Toast Marketing Board? Or set their story in a 1985 where England is still fighting the Crimean War and Wales in an independent republic?

  15. Anonymous8:06 AM

    Just finished A short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. He covers Big Bang theory, the origins of species, DNA and the life of cells, and climate change. Among other things.

    What blows me away about this book is how well he brings together such disparate and daunting topics. He tells endearing tales of the people who searched fo answers to the biggest questions. He plays with the incomprehensibility of why we're here and what a miracle life is. The author charmed me from the first page. I was sorry to see this book end.


  16. Anonymous8:08 AM

    I would have to say Seeker by Jack McDevitt. It was a refreshingly different science fiction book. The mix of science and archeology created an enjoyable read that made me not want to put the book down. I even caught myself wondering what was going to happen next when I wasn't reading it.

  17. Anonymous8:22 AM

    Declare by Tim Powers. An engrossing mix of espionage and mythology, "tradecraft meets Lovecraft". I was especially impressed by the way Powers blended history and fiction into this story, weaving magic and djinni into the Great Game and the lives of Kim Philby and T E Lawrence (among others).

    It's left me with a great fondness for WW2 espionage, Britain's Special Operations Executive -- pretty much anything mentioned in the book :).

  18. One Corpse Too Many by Ellis Peter. I really like her writing. She manages to describe a lot with minimum use of words.

  19. I would have to go with the Recluce series by L.E. Modesitt Jr. He manages to make you think about the ideas of law and chaos, order and freedom in a subtle, clean way while serving up a riveting set of stories where the main characters live, eat and breathe in a way that makes them completely alive. I've never seen someone take tasks like smithing or ironworking and make them completely entrancing, rather than window-dressing. The series starts with "The Magic of Recluce" and goes from there, and even the time jumps from book to book are well done. I remain impressed, as the series continues even now.

  20. Apocalypse Array by Lyda Morehouse. On the whole, the three books that come after it are much better, but this book really impressed me when I read it, because the author respected the reader's intelligence. Early on, I figured out one of the characters' secrets. I kept reading, waiting for the moment when this secret would be overtly explained in the book and I could feel smug. But then I realized that the author was writing as if the reader had already figured this out - she had assumed we would. This happened throughout the book. I liked reading a book that assumed the readers were sharp enough to figure these things out.

  21. Anonymous9:30 AM

    Amy's Eyes, by Richard Kennedy. I was about eight when I read it, and it still has a profound effect on my imagination. It plays out like a fairytale, and operates symbolically on the same level. It's a simple story about a little orphan girl who brings her Captain doll to life, and then shrinks down to doll size herself. The Captain rescues her and brings her with him on a treasure-hunting adventure on a ship crewed with ex-stuffed animals.

    All right, maybe not that simple. But the reversals are profound, the surprises actually surprising, and where else can you read about a rubber duck's plan for mutiny, or a pair of long underwear's obsession for the book of Revelations?

  22. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. This is a debut novel and one of the strongest first novels I've ever read. She skillfully mixes a scifi like premise (a man with a genetic defect that makes him an inadvertant time traveller) with a story that is a metaphor for staying in relationship with someone you love. And she tells it in alternating first person between the husband and wife's POV. It is a non linear story that had me hooked from the first page.

  23. Anonymous9:43 AM

    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith.

    A book that pulls no punches in terms of poverty and its problems, but still maintains that the world is a good place. I found myself dreading the end even as I raced closer and closer to it. I didn't want to leave Francie's world. That to me is the sign of a great book, wanting to stay inside its covers.

  24. Anonymous9:44 AM

    Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart. It started out as a kind of amiable romp, a comedic mish-mash of ideas. I found it amusing, but was a bit disappointed because so many people had recommended it to me and praised it to high heaven. But the more I read, the more the at-first kaleidoscopic confusion of ideas resolved itself into beautiful, harmonious shapes. Slowly, the various storylines and songs seemed to merge into a SINGLE story, and a single song. Every time I started to get restless, two or three things that I thought were completely crazy would become sane and logical, making me sigh with admiration. And at the end it all suddenly made sense, and I finally understood the title and the point of everything, and, to be quite honest, it was orgasmic. What a book!

  25. Most recently, the book His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis has impressed me! I picked it up a few months ago at the airport in Philly, without really knowing what to expect.

    I was impressed with the quality and breadth of the material, but moreso with Ellis' treatment of what might otherwise be rather dry subject matter. I’ve never felt George Washington to feel so much like a PERSON, until reading this book!

  26. Anonymous10:21 AM

    Moon Called by Patricia Briggs. I loved her world building, the different slant she took on werewolves, vampires and the fae. I also paticularly loved her treatment of secondary characters. To me minor characters are decoration for the main characters and to help the plot to progress. In Moon Called there was a minor character that touched my heart, this does not happen often to me. But I am so glad I read this book and can't wait for the sequel.

  27. Anonymous10:22 AM

    LOL I am the anonymous that commented about Moon Called. I forgot to put my name in.


    AngelaW :o)

  28. Anonymous10:25 AM

    Talyn, by Holly Lisle. I have been impressed with her works for quite a while, and when I read Talyn I was hooked. It had a different feel from the last couple of trilogies of hers that I read, and, even though a few reviews harped on the fact that there were two different POV (one in first person, the other in third) it was so well done that you didn't even notice it. Bravo Holly!

  29. Anonymous10:36 AM

    Spin State a hard SF debut novel by Chris Moriarty. It's predominantly a mystery wrapped in a far distant future populated by pure humans and geneticly grown human "constructs". What the author does with that concept and Emergent AIs is a fast fun read. And the MC, Catherine Li, is a construct who is passing herself off as part human (a requirement in this UN controlled universe). Catherine has all the kick-butt attitude you could ever want in a heroine. So the combination of characters, intriguing plot, and fantastic SF worldbuilding makes this a great read.

  30. I walked by Kazuo Ishiguro's "The Unconsoled" in my school library. I stopped. I walked back, picked it up, skived off all my day's classes to read it right there in the library. Then I took it home and stayed up till four a.m. finishing it.

    If you can believe it, I hadn't heard of Kazuo Ishiguro at that time (yeah, Booker prize winner, and I'd never heard of him!), and his name was intriguing, too. And the first page itself, which I read standing by the shelves, was a surprise in its non-Japaneseness... a surprise made sweet by how the writing hooked me instantly.

    But I think it was the title that really did it. "The Unconsoled". How can you not read the book after seeing that?

  31. GENTLEMEN & PLAYERS, by Joanne Harris, which is as far from her previous Chocolat as possible - not that there's anything wrong with Chocolat! GENTLEMEN & PLAYERS is clever, takes place at an exclusive British school and boasts not one but two unreliable narrators who spin out their gleefully devilish tale of mystery and suspense.

  32. Anonymous10:49 AM

    One of the most recent books that impressed me was Marjorie M. Liu's Shadow Touch (which I found via your blog). I was blown away not only by the story and concept of the world itself (it reminded me of my beloved comic book youth, but without the silly spandex and monologues), and but also her voice. I'm getting better with understanding what "fresh" and "original" voice and all of that, but WOW, hers blew me away.

  33. The Scar by China Mieville. His prose is wonderful--I don't typically fall in love with prose, I merely ask that it not be a clunky mess--and the story just comes together very well. It's like he read my Perdido Street Station punchlist and made all the little tweaks I wanted to see.

  34. ...And I just realized I posted the title of the wrong book in the series. Apocalypse Array is the final book. The one I was thinking of, the first one, is Archangel Protocol.

  35. Anonymous10:59 AM

    Califia's Daughters by Leigh Richards. I'd never heard of the book or the author when I picked it up at the bookstore. I was SO pleasantly surprised. This book went right to my top 10 favorite books. I'm just a sucker for post-apocolyptic survival-of-the-fittest type novels.

  36. Anonymous10:59 AM

    The Otherland series (cause it might as well be one biiiig book) by Tad Williams. I found it to be so unique and yet very believable. I couldn't believe the variety in all the worlds he creates in it, not to mention that they're all crazy ideas. Also, by the end of it, I was convinced that some of the slang words the kids used were real words.

  37. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
    A Rumor of Gems by Ellen Steiber

    And I have to admit, Across The Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn caught my eye too.

    Thought the cover art played a big part on whether or not I bought them, the titles themselves caught my eye.

    Nightlife, though, is going at the top of my to buy book list. It's the cover art. :) And the fact that it is a dark urban fantasy.

  38. Anonymous11:05 AM

    The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers. Hands down, my favorite book. I was a lowly customer service assistant in an independant bookstore fresh out of college, tasked with the heinous job of pulling paperbacks for stripping, when the title caught my eye. I pulled it out, scanned the back cover and HAD to have it. It remains, to this day, the best time travel novel I have ever read.


  39. When the Sacred Gin Mill Closes, by Lawrence Block. I love the way the main character, Matt Scudder, evolves in this book. This story sets up all the changes the character goes through in the next books in the series--I didn't always like the changes but because of this book they were grounded in the character's reality.

  40. Anonymous12:17 PM

    I loved Mind of my Mind, by Octavia Butler. I've never seen motivations portrayed with that kind of stark and unflinching clarity, and Doro is one of the most fascinating villains I've ever come across.

  41. Anonymous12:26 PM

    The Eye of Night by Pauline J. Alama. I picked this book up at the bookstore on a whim and waiting a long time to read it and when I did, I wanted to smack myself for not doing it sooner.

    Her voice just drew me in. The characters were amazing and real and the stakes, both personal and worldwide, were very high. Nothing got done until I reached the end and recovered. I went searching for more books by her but so far this is the only one. :-(

  42. Anonymous12:40 PM

    Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.

    I love the way he weaves together so many different stories, and creates genuinely intelligent and believable characters. Not an easy book to follow at times, but I found myself slowing down towards the end because I didn't want to story to stop.

  43. Bear Daughter by Judith Berman.

    Wonderfully-written fantasy that's set in a pre-Columbian Pacific NW instead of the standard psuedo-Europe. Terrific book.

  44. Anonymous1:03 PM

    I picked up Terri Windling's The Wood Wife on the strength of that yummy alliterative title and the gorgeous cover art by Susan Seddon Boulet.

    Poetry, magic, and the desert: it has become an Essential Book to me, one I won't lend out because I want it in the background, always whispering to me.

  45. Anonymous1:12 PM

    I second the vote for G.R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones. This was the first book where major characters died early on that I didn't immediately want to burn. Usually I just _hate_ when that happens, especially to multiple characters I actually care about, but the way he handled the characters and the story just made them and their deaths matter so much. Their deaths pretty much _had_ to happen.

  46. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

    I held my breath starting it, waiting for it to be a boring old book, but absolutely loved it and fell in love with Mr. Darcy. It's definitely a classic--I can relate to it now as well as people did 200 years ago.

  47. I picked this book up on a whim and ended up loving it. It's not like most books I read. I'm not sure what exactly, since I read a ton of urban fantasy, but it's very different.

  48. Anonymous2:04 PM

    I lack will power. I couldn't chance not winning so I went out and bought it on my lunch break.

  49. The Well-Beloved, by Thomas Hardy. I bought it in a university bookshop sale about three years ago, and it had been languishing on my shelves until I picked it up a week ago. Wow! The characterisation is amazing... and the story tragic yet not melodramatic (like Tess of the d'Urbervilles undoubtedly was). Just gorgeous. And it made me cry. AND any book that makes me do that gets two thumbs up (and an approving bark from my six month old collie puppy).

  50. Anonymous2:53 PM

    I just wanted to say that I, too, loved NIGHTLIFE, and I've been recommending it to my customers at the bookstore. Isn't "Rob" a "she" and not a "he," though? I noticed the copyright said "Robyn Thurman."

  51. Anonymous2:55 PM

    The Stand by Stephen King. This is the deepest, most enthralling, and best characterized book I've ever read. The characters are so real that I spent three days reading basically nonstop, delving into the book for intervals of three or four hours, taking a quick break, and going back in. The Stand is enormous, unmatched, and utterly fantastic.

  52. "On Basilisk Station" (and the other Honor Harrington books) by David Weber.

    I almost never read military fiction, much less military science fiction, but it sounded interesting, so I picked it up to try. Weber does an amazing job at not only making his technology understandable, but his characters are real and make for a wonderful read.

    I eagerly look forward to every book in this series, to the point that I actually buy them in hardcover!

  53. The Republic by Plato.

    Why has it impressed me? Short answer, it taught me to think outside the box when I have to use the rules of the box. Since then, logic studies has been a favorite pasttime of mine.

  54. Anonymous4:54 PM

    Karen W, Wrote: Isn't "Rob" a "she" and not a "he," though? I noticed the copyright said "Robyn Thurman."

    I checked around and have no clue -- there's not a lot of info out there on this author. Some effort is being made to avoid pronouns, too (the author bio refers to Nightlife as "Rob's first novel" versus "his" or "hers." So, could be a female author being marketed as a male.

  55. Anonymous6:47 PM

    The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It's funny, light, deep, thought-provoking and a good read whether you're 8 or 108. My copy is falling apart in the spine from so much love.

    I especially adore the line, "If you are not totally satisfied at the end of your journey, your wasted time will be refunded."

  56. The Kelitad books - all 8 of them, by Patricia Kennealy Morrison. Celts in space!


  57. Anonymous8:52 PM

    I'd have to put A Fire Upon the Deep in here, because it showed me what truly epic science fiction can and should be. It's literally a galaxy-spanning novel, filled with alien races at once mind-boggling and believable, and it's got action and adventure to spare. Plus I'm a computer geek, so the postings to the Net of a Million Lies were a big selling point too.

  58. Anonymous10:27 PM

    There are so many I could say, but I'd have to go with a recent book I picked up: Neverwinter by Neil Gaiman. It was so bizzare, but at the same time felt so real and alive. I never really knew which turn he was leading toward until he got there. Overall it was a book I couldn't put down. I feel that if I ever dare to pick it up again I'll be wisked away for a few hours through the speeding story and plopped unceremoniously back into my chair when I close the book.

  59. I blogged about this book a week ago. Picked it up at the bookstore and read the first couple of pages and was hooked. I haven't finished it yet, but so far I LOVE it.

  60. Anonymous3:25 AM

    Manda Scott's "Dreaming" quadrology - can't remember without looking it up which the first is, but I think it's "Dreaming the Eagle" - the others are "Dreaming the" - "Bull, Hound, Serpent". The author is a vet who follows modern shamanism, which makes her pretty unusual to start with. The books are about Boudicca (Boadicea) and the occupation of Britain by the Romans, from the perspective of a Celtic society where shamanism is a real and powerful thing. They are very, very vividly written and credible - anyone who likes ancient history would be intrigued by them, I think.

  61. Anonymous8:29 AM

    Elizabeth Peters for writing the Amelia Peabody series which started in the mid 70's and is still going. Love how she developed the characters and brought them forward mixing in acutual history both current and ancient.

  62. Anonymous9:35 AM

    I picked up Jennifer Government by Max Barry and really enjoyed it. A really fun read.

    Jim Tinney

  63. Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series, in particular Lord Foul's Bane and The Power That Preserves. I read a lot of fantasy where the characters are throwaways. They don't linger afterward. They're elves or dark mages or whatever, but their stories are basically the same. Thomas Covenant was something different. Dark, flawed in human ways, and so very human. His story moved me as no fantasy series has ever done since.

  64. Marsha Moyer's Last of the Honkyton Angles because well, she's just a freakin' phenomenal writer. I don't think I've EVER seen first person done so well.

    And Lolly Winston's Good Grief because who the hell ever knew death could be so funny!

  65. I really liked Kim Harrison's "The Good, The Bad, and the Undead". The alternate world she has created is well thought out, complete and fascinating, and the humor in the book is great. But maybe I just like it because I'm kind of sarcastic myself. Hm... I also really liked the third book in that series, "Every Which Way But Dead".

  66. Anonymous11:10 PM

    Elizabeth Bear's Hammered really struck me-- I like Bear's writing and I like what I know of her, which is kind of a weird occurence.

    Also Tamara Siler Jones' Threads of Malice which was not only good but one of the only books I've found by someone I sort of know that I've really liked independent of the person.