Michaeline: For the Love of Barbara Allen

Pretty young lady with a check or plaid dress.

An autumn version of Barbara Allen/Barbara Allan. (via Wikimedia Commons)

There are a lot of different variations of the old Scottish/English/Appalachian song about Barbara Allen, but I was first exposed to the lyrics through a Bugs Bunny cartoon. (0:14) Porky Pig was dressed Friar Tuck, and strolled around singing about the merry month of May.

It was a great tune, and memorable lyrics. “A young man on his deathbed lay, for love of Barbara Allen.” (“Robin Hood Daffy,” 1958.) 

Later in high school or college, we sang a different version in choir. The lyrics could be sung to Porky’s melody, though, so I’d switch between the two in the shower, depending on if I wanted to be light and lovely, or dark and mournful. Continue reading

Jilly: Another Shiny New Cover

Another week, another seven days closer to the end of this pandemic, whenever that may be. I hope you’re safe and well.

And Happy Easter to everyone who’s celebrating today. Even though this is an Easter like no other, I hope you’re able to find the joy in it.

Here in England the weather has turned gorgeous, which makes it even harder to stay inside. I’m lucky that we have a small garden, and if I work at the table in the kitchen I can open the double doors and get a hit of birdsong and sunshine. It helps a lot.

I’m still waiting for the edit report on Daire’s novella, now officially called The Seeds of Exile, but I have a cover, and here it is. You might remember that I found a stock photo of a guy I thought was perfect for Daire—hair, face, expression—but who wasn’t a golden historical fantasy prince. I hoped my cover designers would be able to turn him into one, and I must say they surpassed my expectations.

What do you think? I hope you like it as much as I do.

I’d love to know what signals it gives you. Does it look like your kind of book? If you noticed that cover as you were browsing online, would you click on it to check out the blurb?

Thank you in advance for your comments, whatever they may be.

And huge thanks to the team at Deranged Doctor Design, who are a delight to deal with, not to mention brilliant creatively and technically. I feel very privileged to be working with them.

Jilly: Self-Isolation Past and Present

Boundary Stone, Eyam
(via Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday Michaeline shared a fascinating Reddit post about how a foreign resident in China is dealing with food and cooking during the lockdown imposed by the authorities in an attempt to contain the outbreak of coronavirus/covid-19.

In the UK we only have 9 confirmed cases of the virus, but Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of National Health England, has said people may increasingly be asked to isolate themselves here too. This BBC article explains who should self-isolate and what precautions they should take.

It’s sobering to think that one of the world’s most effective tactics for preventing a global pandemic has been around for centuries and depends on ordinary people showing selflessness and self-discipline.

I first learned about self-isolation more than 40 years ago, on a school visit to a local historic site: Eyam, a picturesque village in the Derbyshire Peak District. Eyam is a scant few miles from stunning Chatsworth House (Pemberley!) and Haddon Hall (Prince Humperdinck’s Castle!) but its place on the tourist trail was earned in much grimmer circumstances.

I blogged about Eyam, Historic Plague Village, five years ago, but given current events it seems fitting to revisit the story. Continue reading

Jilly: Bujold’s Sharing Knife Books, Old and New

I was super-excited to learn from Michaeline’s post a couple of weeks ago that Lois McMaster Bujold is to publish a new novella in her Sharing Knife universe. I’m a huge fan of the original tetralogy and somehow I never expected her to revisit this story world, so I feel a squee brewing. Yay! Fingers crossed!

The new novella, called Knife Children, should be published later this month. I see from LMB’s Goodreads blog (link here) that it can be read as a standalone, so if you’re tempted to take a look, don’t assume you have to read the original four books first.

That said, if you’re short of something to read right now, and you enjoy engaging, subtle fantasy stories, you could always try Beguilement, followed by Legacy, Passage, and Horizon. I usually revisit these books once or twice a year, so I’ve been enjoying a leisurely re-read this month while I wait for Knife Children.

I’ve also been pondering, not for the first time, exactly why these books fit so well with my personal id list—the tropes, characters, premises and details that I, as a reader, really, really like (click here to read more about id lists).

I’ll try to describe in a fairly generic, non-spoilery way what I enjoy most about the stories.

The books are set in an imaginary pre-industrial country that looks a lot like America. There are typical fantasy elements—romance, a hero with mage-like powers, scary mythical creatures, blood magic, powerful objects, horses-n-swords, success against overwhelming odds—but here the story is so grounded in normality that the fantastic aspects blend seamlessly with the familiar.

Right from the start of the book the hero and heroine’s romance is as inevitable as it appears improbable. Fawn is a dewy eighteen-year-old farmer’s daughter, two months pregnant after a disappointing tryst in a cornfield, who runs away from home rather than be branded a slut. Dag is a fiftysomething-year-old one-armed battle-scarred widower who has nothing left in life but thankless duty. From their first desperate encounter with one of the aforementioned scary creatures, Dag and Fawn rescue one another, and it rapidly becomes apparent to them (if not to anyone else) that their differences make them perfectly suited, empowering them both. Her common sense, logic, honesty and hungry curiosity challenge his idealism and stimulate his talent for innovation, leading him to develop all kinds of hitherto unsuspected abilities.

Continue reading

Justine: Recipe Week at Eight Ladies

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 1.47.13 PM

Image (c) Shutterstock.

This week, in honor of US Thanksgiving, some of the Eight Ladies will be sharing their favorite recipes…and not just food recipes, either (although there will likely be plenty of that…see below!). Be sure to check in each day to see what sort of goodies we’re revealing!

I started thinking about recipes for the kind of books I like while discussing with Jilly some of my favorite romances. My recipe for a good romance includes competent women and men who DO things for them, plus a dash of community.

In the era of women’s rights and #metoo, I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to writing (and reading) romance. Not that I have anything against competent women who can do for themselves, who know their potential, and who go for what they want. In fact, I AM one of those women, trying to make a career out of writing while raising two kids, taking care of two pets, and managing a household with a husband who travels…a lot.

It means I DO a lot…from helping with homework to shuttling kids around to fixing leaky toilets and installing ceiling fans. And most of the time, when something’s gotta give, it’s me and my work. Sometimes, though, I just want another person to do the shuttling/fixing/installing for me, without me having to write a check.

That’s where my heroes come in…both the ones I read and the ones I write.

Without a doubt, I admire heroines that are self-sufficient, capable women. And I like it when their heroes understand, accept, and especially celebrate that. But in my mind, what better way to show your love for a lady than Continue reading

Jeanne: Writing the Unlikable Protagonist

Some of my very favorite books have unlikable protagonists:

  • Ain’t She Sweet, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  • A Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby
  • Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn,
  • Girl on a Train, by Paula Hawkins
  • A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy O’Toole
  • Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.
  • Citizen Vince, by Jess Walter

But, you point out, most of those novels are literary fiction. Only one is a Romance.

True, but I’ve never subscribed to the notion that Romance can’t take on the same challenges as other genres. The only two rules your book has to follow to be a Romance are:

  1. Must have a central love story.
  2. Must end with a happy ever after.

That’s it. Somewhere along the way, a lot of romance authors (and, to be honest, readers) have added a third, unwritten rule: The protagonist must be likable from Day One. I beg to disagree. Continue reading

Nancy: The Big Reveal: Harrow’s Finest Five Series

If you’re a long-time follower of the blog, you’ve no doubt seen Harrow’s Finest Five mentioned in many of my blog posts. It seems like I’ve been discussing this series for years because, well, I’ve been discussing it for years! You might have wondered if the stories in this alleged series would ever see the light of day. You wouldn’t be alone – I’ve had the same question myself. But today, I’m happy to announce the first novella, which launches the series, is coming out this November!

Next week, I have so many things to share about that upcoming release: the cover, the back-cover blurb, how to sign up to be an ARC reader, and where to read an excerpt of the first book PLUS a free prequel short story and sample chapters from the next two books! And, if all goes according to plan, I’ll also be able to share the exact release date of the book.

In the meantime, though, it occurs to me that while you’ve heard of the series existence, I haven’t told you much about the whys and wherefores. Today, let’s remedy that, shall we?

What: Harrow’s Finest Five Series, seven (we’ll get to that shortly) mid-Victorian era romances centered around five old school mates from Harrow, one of the handful of boarding schools for boys from all the best British families (read: titled and wealthy). They were given their tongue-in-cheek name by novel 3’s hero, who is also the group trouble-maker and all around fun guy.

But let’s remember these are romance stories! So they’re as much about the fab women these men love as they are about our Harrow mates. Here’s the series tagline: Continue reading