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

Jilly: Uglycry stories

Do you enjoy books and authors that make you uglycry?

I’m currently participating in an online workshop offered by Jeanne’s RWA Chapter (Central Ohio Fiction Writers). It’s called Inside Out: Crafting Your Character’s Internal Conflict, taught by Linnea Sinclair. So far, so very good—the class is challenging me to dig deep into my characters’ innermost selves. It’s also making me think about how best to use the discoveries I’m making to tell the kind of stories I want to tell.

This week Jeanne, who is also taking the class, raised a question about her WIP. One of the other students offered a suggestion that brilliantly fits the heroine’s situation and is so gut-wrenchingly powerful it would hurt my heart to read it. I know this kind of storyline makes a book unforgettable. I believe it would earn reviews and might potentially win awards. I think it could make lifelong fans of readers who seek out this kind of emotional torture and the catharsis that follows when the heroine triumphs and everything turns out okay after all.

That’s not me. I find that the emotional distress of the tense build-up makes me feel miserable long after the relief of the satisfying resolution has dissipated.

I’m still scarred by the ending of Gone With The Wind, and I last read that when I was a teen 😉 .

Or take Loretta Chase (love, love, love Loretta Chase). I happily read and re-read Lord of Scoundrels, The Last Hellion, and all her Carsington family books, over and over. Those books pack a powerful emotional punch, but the story momentum always heads in a positive direction, and humor balances the serious undertones, so I never feel distressed. I can relax and enjoy the ride. Conversely, her first Dressmaker book (Silk is for Seduction) knotted my heart in my chest. The writing is brilliant. The black moment is one of the best sex scenes I’ve ever read, and it made me uglycry. 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

Kay: Book Squee! Sort of….

I’m reading Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century, a 2011 New York Times bestseller, which I received as a Christmas gift. Peter Graham, the author, is a retired barrister who worked in Hong Kong and now lives in New Zealand.

Anne Perry is an 80-year-old writer of murder mysteries, who, in 1954 when she was 15, participated in the murder of her best friend’s mother. Perry’s family was set to return to England from New Zealand, and while Perry’s father, a distinguished physicist, went ahead to look for work, she and her mother planned to stay temporarily with friends in South Africa. The girls conceived of the murder plot as a way to stay together. (That idea didn’t make sense then or now, but so it was.)

Because they were juveniles, Perry and her friend, Pauline Parker, served five years for the crime. Perry returned to England and has lived what seems to be an exemplary life ever since, taking up writing as a career when she was 39 and producing, by my count, more than 100 works so far. Continue reading

Jilly: Books That Put The World To Rights

When you’re feeling down, do you use fiction to restore your emotional equilibrium? I know I do.

Many of my friends, on both sides of the pond and on differing sides of the political divide, are feeling angry and/or depressed at the state of our world right now. They’re responding in a variety of ways, but the one thing they have in common is that almost all of them are finding their balance by losing themselves for an hour or two in a well-chosen and usually much-loved book.

Some people find catharsis in a story where the good guys smite the baddies and justice prevails. Sometimes I want smiting. Usually I prefer something gentler, upbeat, a fun story in a world where smarts, humor, kindness and generosity triumph.

Austen, Heyer, Pratchett and Crusie are bankers for me, but we’ve talked about them at length here, so chances are you already know whether they do it for you.

With that in mind, I’d like to share three recently-discovered favorites, in the hope that you might find them as restorative as I do.

The Kingpin of Camelot—Cassandra Gannon
A light, twisted and entertaining mash-up of well-known fairytale characters in an alternative Camelot where people are born Good or Bad. Good Folk (who are not all good) are privileged, while Bad Folk (who are not all bad) form the underclass. Following the untimely death of King Arthur, his evil regent The Scarecrow seeks to marry Queen Guinevere and claim the throne for himself. Gwen, who is Good, needs to protect her daughter, which she does by marrying Midas, the biggest, smartest, Baddest gangster in Camelot. This story has contracts, magic, humor, snark, battles, a child who is the antithesis of a plot moppet, a heroine with sweaty stable boy fantasies, a world put to rights and a fabulous Happy Ever After.

Tsumiko and the Enslaved Fox—Forthright
Tsumiko, a teacher at St Midori’s School of the Heavenly Lights, unexpectedly inherits a fabulous estate, a huge fortune, and a butler. Argent is a fox in human form, a powerful trickster who is magically bound to obey Tsumiko. Argent needs Tsumiko for his own survival, but he resents and possibly hates her for it (he’s tricky, so you can’t be sure exactly what he hates). Tsumiko is the first of Argent’s owners to reject the idea that one person should be able to own another. With implacable determination she sets out to free him, uses her new-found wealth and power to build a caring and diverse community, finds a purpose in life and earns lasting love. This book is as delicious as a cup of top notch hot chocolate on a cold day. It hits all my pleasure buttons and I’m eagerly anticipating the second book in the Amaranthine Saga, Kimiko and the Accidental Proposal, which goes on sale in a week or so. Continue reading

Jilly: The Appeal of Foreign Stories

Do you read contemporary stories set in countries other than the USA? What kind of stories are they? What do you especially like about them?

I have a reason for asking.

I’m just back from a most excellent vacation in the States, including an action-packed weekend at the Writers’ Police Academy in Green Bay, Wisconsin with fellow 8 Lady Kay, followed by a few days in picturesque Door County (click here to read Kay’s description of our excursions to the Northern Sky Theater Company).

Before I met up with Kay, I spent an afternoon in Chicago talking all things writing with a developmental editor. Mostly we focused on Alexis, but we also talked about my English/Scottish contemporary romance, which I decided to dust off in time for the next (and final) RWA Golden Heart contest.

The editor gave me the same feedback I heard from a very respected agent a couple of years ago when I tried to shop this book: the writing is strong, but a contemporary British setting, with all British characters, is hard to sell outside the UK. She said that the story offered a kind of insider perspective on life in London and Scotland, which is not what the mainstream American romance reader is conditioned to expect.

In her view, when US readers pick up a foreign-set story, they expect the setting to be either

  1. exotic;
  2. glamorously urban; or
  3. small, close-knit communities where the culture is a large part of the appeal.

Continue reading