Jilly: The Murderbot Dilemma

How much would you pay for an ebook? Or a series?

I’ve been trying to decide whether to invest in Martha Wells’ Murderbot books. I don’t usually dither over book purchases, but this series has me hovering over the buy button.

The community on Argh Ink (Jenny Crusie’s blog) loves Murderbot. Jenny loves and re-reads the series. These are smart people. They read a lot. They’re sharply observant and constructively critical about their recommendations and DNFs. They tend to like the kind of stories I like. So that’s a strong positive.

I read the first novella, All Systems Red, and really enjoyed it. I wasn’t desperate to read the next book immediately, but I haven’t forgotten it and moved on. I felt like that about Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles—had a hiatus of maybe a couple of years before I bought the second book—but that series became a favorite and one that I regularly re-read.

The Murderbot premise is great—an introverted, self-hacking robot protagonist who’s technically not a person but who has an engaging personality–fascinating, funny and conflicted. The author makes you care about the character. The writing is clever and complex. The stories are sci-fi, with lots of great world-building and action, but deeply character-driven. As far as I can see from a quick scan of the reviews, the first four novellas arc to a satisfying conclusion.

There’s really only one argument against Murderbot. The price. According to the many disgruntled reviews on the Zon, the first four titles are essentially one book, with each act published as a separate novella. According to Amazon US at the time of writing, they are: Continue reading

Jilly: Behind the Scenes

I enjoyed Michaeline’s post yesterday, about her love of secret passages and rooms, trap doors, hidden compartments and all kinds of mystery architecture. She loves them as a reader, so she likes to incorporate them into her own stories.

She set me thinking.

Mystery architecture is a wonderful tool for storytellers. There are so many good examples, but below are a few of my favorites.

The hidden basement and secret shelter in Jenny Crusie’s Agnes and the Hitman.

The smugglers’ cellar and well-oiled trapdoor that Francis Crawford of Lymond uses to sneak into locked-down Edinburgh in Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings.

Another smugglers’ construction— the concealed tunnel between Darracott Place and the haunted Dower House in Georgette Heyer’s The Unknown Ajax.

All kinds of hidden delights, from ancient temples to sneaky palace passageways, in Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief and its four sequels.

I like all that undercover stuff, but what really thrills me is an insider story. When I see a swan gliding serenely along, I want to see the feet paddling like mad under the water. I love, love, love to watch characters working on their craft. I need to share their setbacks, mistakes, failures and ultimate triumph. I like to write those stories too.

In real life I love it when restaurants offer a chef’s table so diners can watch the kitchen in full flow. I really like that pro tennis has been experimenting with allowing players to talk to their coaches mid-match—and we all get to hear their discussion. And some of my best trips to the Royal Opera House have been to watch working rehearsals, or to see costumes being made, props being constructed, and choreography developed. To give you an idea of what I mean, click here for a ten-minute video of the Royal Ballet working flat out on the big sword fight between Tybalt and Romeo in Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Romeo & Juliet.

One of my favorite movies ever is Baz Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom—double dealing, dirty tricks and the private language of competitive ballroom dancing. Christopher Guest hilariously gives dog shows the same treatment in his mockumentary Best in Show. And for books, what about:

Faro’s Daughter (Heyer again), where the heroine is a gambler’s daughter who runs a fashionable gaming house with her delightfully clueless aunt; or

Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor—half-goblin Maia loses his entire family in an airship crash and unexpectedly becomes Emperor. He has no training, no allies, and seems an easy target for every ambitious, manipulative, scheming courtier in the palace. Maia outwits them all by learning the system from servants, soldiers, airship crews, and other ordinary people that make his world work.

A hairdresser friend of mine once told me he’d never book a chef’s table. He’s spent his entire working life behind the scenes and he knows exactly what happens. When he reads a novel, or goes to dinner, or to a movie, he wants a finished product, all glossy and shiny. He’ll take the fairy tale presentation every time.

Where do you stand on insider stories? Are you a fan, or would you rather sit the other side of the curtain, watching the action from the plush seats?

Jilly: Ryder

I’ve been reading a lot lately and I’ve never been so grateful for the ability to escape reality for a while in favor of a world where you know the toughest challenges will be overcome and the good guys will prevail.

I’ve read new releases by authors whose work I like a lot, well reviewed first-in-series by new-to-me authors, and genre classics of yesteryear, but the thing I’m most enjoying right now is a new urban fantasy serial from the husband-and-wife team who write as Ilona Andrews.

I posted here a couple of months ago about their Innkeeper Chronicles “plague sale” (99 cents for the first three books; all proceeds, net of their literary agency’s costs, to be donated to the CDP Covid-19 Response Fund). The new serial is even cheaper. It will eventually be edited and self-published, but for now it’s free to read on the authors’ blog.

The story has an official title, Blood Heir, but the working title is Ryder. It’s urban fantasy, in the Kate Daniels universe, and the story takes place eight years after the end of the bestselling KD series. The protagonist is Julie, Kate’s adopted daughter, who’s returning to Atlanta in secret with a new face, a new name (Aurelia Ryder), even a new scent. Her mission is to save Kate from a terrible, prophesied, but currently unrevealed, threat. When the first chapter was posted, the authors’ plan was to offer a snippet as a treat for KD fans. The response they received persuaded them to keep going, and now, twelve chapters later, they’ve confirmed that Blood Heir/Ryder will become a book, likely to be self-published in the first quarter of 2021. That news made me so happy!

They’re uploading each chapter as they write, more or less once a week. It’s classic Ilona Andrews—engaging characters, strong community, high stakes, fantastic worldbuilding, and snappy dialogue. I’m loving it so much. Every new chapter is a treat. If you like the sound of this, and you’re not already following along, check out the story so far here.

Have you read anything good lately? It’s a long time between Ryder installments. Any and all recommendations would be most gratefully received.

Jilly: Getting Away From It All

It’s a holiday weekend here. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and we’re in limbo, waiting for the corona-crisis to be resolved or at least assimilated into our post-pandemic daily lives. Wherever you are, I hope you’re safe and well.

Usually around now people in the UK get the first inkling that summer is around the corner. That promises vacation, relaxation, maybe a change of scenery, perhaps a beach read or two. Except this year relaxation is not an option, and the scenery is depressingly familiar. Mr. W and I had tickets to visit San Francisco at the end of July for RWA Nationals. We expected to meet up with California-based friends and to enjoy a civilized meander down the coast with Kay. Clearly none of that will happen. We’ll be lucky if we’re allowed to hop on a train and visit friends and family outside London.

Many of my friends have reported increased cabin fever lately, and I wonder if at least some of it is down to the loss of that holiday promise, the anticipation of a treat or just the idea, the possibility of something new. Chez Jilly we’d have shared days and weeks’ worth of fun planning our road trip, investigating possibilities online, talking to Kay about places to stay, discussing landmarks to visit, imagining food and wine we might sample. Planning a vacay is like a free holiday-before-the-holiday, with only the good bits—no budget constraints, no sunburn, and no jet lag. I think being robbed of that fantasy is almost as bad as missing out on the trip itself. Continue reading

Jilly: Quarantine Bargain

Another week checked off the calendar. Another week closer to the end of this pandemic. Fingers crossed. I hope you and yours are safe and keeping as well as can be expected.

While we’re waiting this crisis out, would you be interested in a great read, at an incredible price, for a good cause?

Any regular reader of 8LW will know that I love, love, love anything written by the husband and wife team who write as Ilona Andrews. Their books are enjoyable, intelligent urban fantasy adventures packed with action, romance, mythology, humor, kindness and much more.

I especially love the Innkeeper Chronicles, a self-published series featuring Dina DeMille, the proprietor of a magical B&B in Texas that serves as a secret waystation between earth and the rest of the universe. There are heroic werewolves, chivalrous martial space vampires, fabulous creatures, smart magic, epic fights, great dialogue and lots of jokes.

I already own the books, but if you don’t, and you feel tempted to try them, you’ll never have a better opportunity. Right now the first three books of the Innkeeper series are on sale for a princely 99 cents. All proceeds, net of Ilona Andrews’ literary agency’s costs, will be donated to the CDP Covid-19 Response Fund.

Go on, try them. You know you want to. The Zon link is here.

I’m pretty sure there will never be a better time, a better price, or a better cause.

Take care, stay safe, and see you next week.

Michaeline: Review: From the Moderne Vampyre Genre

Accounting ledger in French which is also the cover of the book; title in Dynatape

*The Utterly Uninteresting & Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant* by Drew Hayes. (Image via Amazon US.)

I’m not a huge fan of vampire stories, but it turns out I really like the ones where Everyman (or Everywoman), the unspectacular and messed-up mortal, gets turned into a vampire. There’s just something about that juxtaposition of cool immortality with lingering mortal uncertainty that really interests me.

I loved the first few MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead series with Betsy, Queen of the Vampires – in the first book, Undead and Unwed, a former Bridget Jones-type gets thrust into the Vampire lifestyle after an accident. And What We Do in the Shadows is a sweet movie about vampire “sharehouse” in Wellington, New Zealand. (I’m referring to the 2014 film; I didn’t know about the 2019 TV series until now. See? Blogging has some great side benefits!)

Now there’s another vampire world I can add to my list: I just read The Utterly Uninteresting & Unadventurous Tales of Fred, the Vampire Accountant by Drew Hayes and had a lot of fun!

All three of these vampire universes share characters who are very much aware of the vampire tropes, and how they (as vampires) turn tradition on its head. They don’t want to be evil bloodsuckers, and their main focus in life isn’t their next meal, but trying to “live” an undead life with a degree of comfort – and they want to be better people.

Fred is particularly aware in many ways that he’s part of the Vampire Story. He thought he’d turn into a suave and effortlessly cool vampire after waking up under a dumpster drained of his blood, but Continue reading

Jilly: Sara Whitney’s Tempting Heat

An unexpected upside to becoming a writer is that I find myself reading books written by friends, and friends of friends. I love seeing people I know become debut authors and then go on to build their lists. There’s something thrilling and insider-ish about being part of their adventure.

Here on 8LW we’ve shared the excitement surrounding the publication of Jeanne’s Touched by a Demon books and Nancy’s Harrow’s Finest Five series, and we’ve enjoyed interviews with some of Jeanne’s fellow Golden Heart alumnae. This week was another first for me: the debut of Sara Whitney, one of my Golden Heart classmates.

Tempting Heat is a contemporary second-chance romance novella set in Chicago, with the two main characters stranded in forced proximity during an epic snowstorm. I really like those tropes. Second-chance stories raise the emotional stakes quickly because the characters already have shared baggage for the author to play with, and forced proximity adds extra pressure because the characters literally have nowhere to go—they have to face Whatever Went Wrong first time around.

An unexpected downside to becoming a writer is that I find it hard to lose myself in a book. My inner editor starts offering critique and before I know it I’m assembling a list of things I’d tweak or change or rewrite instead of enjoying the story. So I was ridiculously happy to find myself immersed in Tempting Heat, sharing Finn and Tom’s long-overdue reconciliation-cute.

The story starts when Fiona (Finn) discovers a half-awake, hungover Tom emerging from her flatmate’s bedroom some hours after said flatmate departed to deal with a work emergency involving a weekend-long trip to Las Vegas, and just as a gigantic snowstorm shuts down all transport options. Continue reading

Jilly: Victorian Tales of Terror

It’s that scary time of year.

The nights are getting shorter, darker and colder, at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere. We just passed Halloween (previously the Celtic festival of Samhain), when the barrier between our world and the realm of ghosts and spirits melts away and supernatural types return from the grave to threaten our orderly existence.

In other words, ‘tis the season for ghost stories and terrible tales.

We dipped a toe into the icy water here recently with our tag-team Scottish flash fiction adventure featuring the restless ghosts of tragic Alanis McLeish and her twin baby daughters (go here for Kay’s fabulous final instalment and links to the rest of the tale).

That tempted me to re-read Jenny Crusie’s Maybe This Time, her smart, scary homage to Henry James’s influential 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw, complete with isolated, crumbling gothic setting; orphaned children; sinister housekeeper; and murderous ghosts. Thank heavens for the Crusie-heroine-turned-temporary-governess.

Maybe This Time whetted my appetite for Victorian horror. Click here for an interesting feature in Atlas Obscura explaining why the Victorian era was such a boom time for scary stories. It seems to be linked to the rise of the periodical press which fuelled a demand for genre fiction, combined with a period of rapid technological advancement in which things which had previously seemed impossible suddenly became real and normal.

Then yesterday, with uncanny serendipity, I found Victorian Tales of Terror, a recently republished anthology of carefully curated period fiction edited by Hugh Lamb. There are sixteen spine-chilling stories by famous (Dickens, de Maupassant) and little-known authors, male and female, English, European and American.

Continue reading

Jilly: One More Day, One More Book

Can you believe it’s September already? Me neither.

Michaeline said yesterday that she plans to linger in summer for a few more weeks.  I’m allowing myself one more day. Today 😉

Tomorrow I need to get back to work. Forget Halloween, I’ve been counting the days to Christmas as I need to put together a sensible schedule for rest of the year. I know that’s sixteen whole weeks away, but in that time I would like to to publish and market The Seeds of Power, write a new draft of Alexis’s book, submit that draft for developmental editing,  (ideally) write the short novella that bridges the two books, and (in a perfect world) add some more structure to my ideas for the rest of the series.

Yeah, I need a plan. My shopping list is ambitious, but I *think* it should be do-able if I put my mind to it. Watch this space 😉

That’s for tomorrow. Today is the last day of my self-appointed staycation, and I have time to squeeze in another couple of books. I’m thinking Jackie Lau’s Ice Cream Lover (thanks, Michaeline!) would be a good way to start the day, but I’d love to find just one more excellent read to finish with.

I was planning to check out Juliet Marillier’s new book, The Harp of Kings (Warrior Bards Book 1). That would have done nicely, except it’s not available until Tuesday 😦

I already read Ilona Andrews’ Sapphire Flames, and have to confess I didn’t enjoy it as much as I had expected. I suspect part of the problem is that I set my hopes extremely high. I’ll still buy the next book in the series, and anything else Ilona and Gordon choose to publish.

I also read T. Kingfisher’s Clocktaur Wars duology, Helen Hoang’s The Bride Test, and Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons. All well-written, interesting and enjoyable books, but for various reasons none of them quite hit the squee button for me.

I’d love to end my mini-break with a Good Book Squee. Fingers crossed for Jackie Lau. And whichever other book I find for my Last Read of Summer.

No pressure, but…does anyone have a recommendation?

Jilly: Reading Week

I’m scouting for book recommendations.

I got back from New York last Sunday. Usually seven days would be plenty long enough to recharge my batteries, but not this time. I’m still sleeping 12 hours a night, and when I am awake I’m mostly lolling on the sofa, gulping coffee.

RWA was fun. It was wonderful to catch up with fellow 8 Ladies Jeanne, Elizabeth, Justine, and Nancy, and exciting to meet the Omegas (my fellow Golden Heart finalists). The schedule was exhausting though. In addition to the usual workshops and keynotes there was a half day retreat for the Golden Network RWA chapter, a get-to-know-you dinner for the Omegas, a rehearsal for the Golden Heart ceremony, a finalists’ cocktail party with agents and editors, a certificate ceremony, the Golden Heart lunch itself (I didn’t win a shiny necklace, but that’s ok), a set of new author headshots, some informal author photos, and a breakfast for the Omegas to share self-publishing plans and schedules.

I’d been building up to the conference for a whole year. Ever since RWA announced that 2019 would be the last ever Golden Heart contest, and I decided to give it my very best shot, I’ve been hurtling from one deadline to another. Now it’s all over. No wonder I feel as though I’ve been hit by a truck.

I’m about to embrace a new challenge. If I want to get The Seeds of Power published this year (I do!), then the next four months will be another intense, deadline-filled marathon.

I’m thinking the best way to prepare myself is to take a staycation for another week, maybe two. I’ll enjoy the long summer days, do a little editing, watch cricket, drink wine, mull over my plans, but most of all, refill my creative well by catching up on the reading I haven’t had time for lately.

On my list right now:

Just One Damned Thing After Another: The Chronicles of St. Mary’s, Book One (Jodi Taylor)
The first of a series of very British time travel adventure comedies set around the St. Mary’s Institute of Historical Research. The heroine is a smart-mouthed historian academic. Madeleine “Max” Maxwell and her colleagues take a hands-on approach to their research by revisiting the past. They resolve unanswered questions and get themselves in and out of scrapes while exchanging much snarky dialogue. I’m halfway through this book, and so far I’m really enjoying it. Continue reading