Michaeline: Review: “Masquerade in Lodi”

"Masquerade in Lodi" by Lois McMaster Bujold, A Penric and Desdemona Novella. Penric and a girl in a long party dress (both in masks) cross a bridge over a canal during a festival in Lodi

“Masquerade in Lodi”. Image via Amazon.com

Good news for me this month! Lois McMaster Bujold’s newest Penric and Desdemona novella came out on Oct. 14, 2020 for Kindle and iBooks (as of this writing, there were still problems with the Barnes and Noble upload).

And of course, there’s nothing like a masquerade for October!

Although, I stretch the point a bit – Lodi looks a lot like our Earth Venice on the edge of the Print Era. The masquerade is a five-gods holiday called Bastard’s Eve, and is set during midsummer. It’s celebrated with revels and fools and drinking and masks of all sorts. And food onna stick! It’s not a harvest festival like Halloween or a pre-fast festival like Mardi Gras.

The book will stand by itself just fine, I think, but for readers who have read other Penric and Desdemona novellas, it falls between “Penric’s Fox” and “Penric’s Mission” – just after Penric’s unwritten nervous breakdown as a doctor who can’t save everyone, and before he becomes a spy and political operative.

In many ways, Penric is in limbo. He’s recovering from his breakdown. He’s quietly engaged in translation (what Desdemona scornfully calls “busywork”), and he looks forward to Bastard’s Eve because everybody will be out of the temple, leaving him alone to his thoughts and mild rehabilitation.

But of course, his boss and his god (the Bastard) have other plans for him. A mad sailor has Continue reading

Jilly: Multi-Generational Stories

An unexpected corona-bonus is that author book launches have gone digital. Which means fans who would never have the chance to attend a physical talk and book signing can join in the fun.

This week the Cary Memorial Library in Massachusetts hosted a conversation with fantasy romance authors Ilona Andrews (Ilona and Gordon, in Texas), Nalini Singh (in New Zealand), and Amanda Bouchet (in Paris). I watched from London, and now it’s on Youtube. How cool is that? Click here if you’d like to check it out.

There were lots of good questions about world building, what makes a strong character, what makes a great villain…but one that caught my attention was something like: do you have any plans to make your much-loved stories multi-generational? In other words, to give the kids of your bestselling characters their own story or series. Amanda Bouchet and Nalini Singh weren’t at that point, but Ilona Andrews are currently writing Blood Heir/Ryder, whose heroine is Julie, the adopted daughter of Kate and Curran from their bestselling Kate Daniels series. I’m super-excited about this book (click here for an early squee) and already have it on pre-order.

Ryder feels like a natural progression. After a ten-book series Kate and Curran are due a hard-earned Happy Ever After, but many fans aren’t ready to say goodbye to the world, and the series is rich in secondary characters. It’s made easier by the fact that Julie (alias Aurelia Ryder) was a street kid in her early teens when she first encountered Kate, so she’s only half a generation younger. That means the Ryder book can begin eight years after the conclusion of the Kate Daniels series—long enough for everything to be the same but different.

The question caught my attention because I’m currently writing a multi-generational epic fantasy series. Unlike the natural flow of the Ilona Andrews stories, mine crept up on me. After I finish with my Elan Intrigues books (one currently published, one book and two novellas in the works), I have a series in my head, set in the same world, starring the adult children of the main characters of the Elan Intrigues series. Alexis, the heroine, is twenty-five years old at the beginning of the main series. That’s a whole generation after the end of the Intrigues books. It didn’t occur to me to question it until now.

I started to think about how many other multi-generational stories I’ve read and enjoyed. I love Georgette Heyer’s Devil’s Cub, about Vidal, the son of the characters from These Old Shades. Loretta Chase has Last Night’s Scandal, starring characters we first met as children in Lord Perfect. That one didn’t quite work for me, though I’ve often wished she’d write a story for Dominick, Dain’s illegitimate son from Lord of Scoundrels. The most obvious example, which I haven’t read but I know Michaeline loves, is Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga. Other than those, I’m coming up empty.

So I thought I’d turn the question over to you. Does the concept of a multi-generational series appeal to you? Have you read any good (or bad) ones?

Michaeline: Plague Books for Fun and Education

Medieval painting of people enjoying the country scene of The Decameron

Seven ladies and three gentlemen escape the plague-filled city to have some fun and tell some stories in The Decameron. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Pandemic. All the stuff stemming from the pandemic including death, illness, poverty and hardship. Murder hornets (remember murder hornets?). Asteroid misses. Earthquakes. Locusts. Oh yeah, tornadoes. I’m sure I’m missing a few.

I won’t count protest. It needed to happen. It still needs to happen, and unfortunately, it will continue to need to happen, I’m afraid. I could wish that everyone had gotten totally frustrated, fed up and ready to change the system for good when Trayvon Martin was murdered in 2012 (or any of the other times a black death at police hands sparked protest and outrage). However, I see why it is happening now, instead of last August. What with unemployment and staying at home, people have time to protest, maybe for the first time in their lives. And the pandemic’s side effects have certainly intensified everyone’s anger and outrage. Maybe this time, we’ll see a long-lasting change for the better.

But, back to the Corona. Oddly enough, most of the books I read in May ( 3 and 1/2 books . . . when will I be able to read again?) had something to do with The Plague. The Decameron (J.M. Rigg translation) was a bunch of really rich people who said, “Let’s escape all this crap, and sing and dance and eat good food in the good country air, and tell stories every night.” Two weeks later: “OK, bored now. Or going to get bored soon. Let’s go back to the plague-y town.” It took me a month and a half to read through two weeks of tales (with four days off for hairwashing and piety – on the characters’ part).

The Ozark tales sometimes borrow from The Decameron. (Image via Open Library)

It’s worthwhile to read this once in your life, I think. However, if you need something lighter, I would read Pissing in the Snow and Other Ozark Tales, collected by Vance Randolph. The best of the dirty jokes of The Decameron, but with down-home people. (Caveat: I last read this book in my 20s; it stuck with me, so it’s good. But there’s probably A LOT of problematic material in a dirty joke book that just didn’t register on my young radar. So, you have been warned.)

The new Penric story by Bujold, The Physicians of Vilnoc, was so good. Doctors working to solve the mystery of the plague, using cooperation and understanding and compassion and BRAINS. (The people of the Decameron did not apply their brains toward solving the problem at all. They applied their brains towards distraction, which is a good strategy, as far as it goes.)

I’ve been meaning to write a review of this, and it deserves one. Aside from the story of the plague (which is an engrossing mystery with higher stakes than any country house whodunit), it also provides justification for Penric’s

Penric and his demon, Desdemona, race to prevent a pandemic in The Physicians of Vilnoc. (Image via Goodreads)

path – he trained as a healer in his 20s, but suffered from a breakdown and almost committed suicide. In this story, he has to deal with his fears of burnout, and a reckoning of abandoning a healing path. He discovers that many of the doctors he runs into have heard of his translations of medical books. As a healer, he could have directly saved hundreds of people. But through his translation work, he indirectly saves millions over his lifetime and the future. This is a sideplot, if you can even call it a plot, but it’s an extremely satisfying aside.

Finally, by chance, I picked up an old novel (1909) called When a Man Marries. I picked it up mostly because one of the cover shots I saw was an omnibus with an unfortunate design, so it looked like the book was, “WHEN A MAN MARRIES THE MAN IN LOWER TEN” which sounds like a thrilling, ahead-of-its-time sort of book.

The author, Mary Roberts Rinehart, writes very well and has great characterizations, but also slaps the reader constantly across the face with the fan of casual, middle-class white racism. In this particular book, she writes crappy comments about a Japanese butler, South American native women, and the Irish. Her characters very obviously build their lives on the backs of lower class people, and so I feel I must include this as a trigger warning before I go into the pandemic part. She was definitely part of the problem.

That said, I was very surprised when this screwball comedy (and it IS very funny when it sticks to observations about its own class) centered on a smallpox quarantine. Jimmy Wilson is depressed because it’s the second anniversary of his divorce (in 1909). Kit, our narrator and Continue reading

Michaeline: New Penric Novella by Lois McMaster Bujold

a plague doctor in a long beaked mask with a robe, gloves and hood

The doctor is in, and I think I’ve found the cure for my reading blahs! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

All right, book fans, I have been out of action for 42 days. No writing, and as for reading, I only did about four days of the 10-day-long Decameron. It’s been a rough quarantine for story for me — I haven’t even watched any TV stories or movies aside from a special Quarantine tribute to Lil Sebastian by the Parks & Recreation cast. (2:44)

And this week is not going to be any less busy. My father-in-law’s 49-day death anniversary is coming up this week, and the crops have to be in the fields, and my daughter is starting online Quarantine College classes . . . .

But it looks like I could bust right out of this horrible, boring rut I’m in. I write this on Friday evening my time; by the time it posts tomorrow at 5 a.m. GMT, there could be a new Penric novella by Lois McMaster Bujold out! Details about The Physicians of Vilnoc are in her Goodreads blog here. You can read the first section on Patreon here. (I’ve been seeing Tweets about The Decameron Project for days, and it sounds like a wonderful way to sample a lot of the people writing fantasy and science fiction today. 

I have, and the first 100 words had me squealing in delight. Oh, this is going to be a great book, and perfect for the times we live in. I’m hoping it’ll prove inspirational as well. I don’t know if I can write a physician in a time of plague, but I bet I could find a journalist character who reports on a plague during an era of magic and upheaval. Steampunk? Contemporary urban/rural fantasy? Or maybe something set on a space station?

At any rate, I’ll put The Decameron aside for a few more days, and dive into a wonderful read after I’ve done my duty and my chores on Saturday. Fingers crossed!

(I’ll update with Amazon info as soon as I have it!)

Michaeline: New Reading! Penric 7, or: “The Orphans of Raspay”

Cover of The Orphans of Raspay with Penric kneeling in the hold of a ship with two girls regarding him with suspicion.

“The Orphans of Raspay”, a new novella by Lois McMaster Bujold in the Penric and Desdemona series, came out July 18, 2019. Image taken from Amazon.com.

A Review in Three Stages

If “The Orphans of Raspay” is your first Bujold: Penric is an archetypical hero, and sharing a mind with an entity is an old and wonderful trope; Lois McMaster Bujold does her trope-twisting magic with both. You won’t have any trouble following the story on this level. This is an exciting tale with a happy ending, and lots of things that go boom. Some people may feel leery about the fact that the Orphans could be sex-trafficked. I’m squeamish myself, but Lois has a light hand, and while I worry about the girls, I know they are going to be fine. The girls are really well done, too. So often, writers turn child-characters into plot moppets, or precocious brats. These kids are essential to the story, and they act like kids. If you like clever tales of adventure, this is well worth a few hours of time. Penric and his demon, Desdemona, are a great team!

For people who have read the Penric series, but not much else:
CAUTION: HERE BE SPOILERS FOR THE PREVIOUS NOVELLAS (maybe).

It’s another Penric and Desdemona! Fabulous!

Let me get the bad news out of the way first: Continue reading

Michaeline: Review of the new Bujold “Knife Children”!

(Note: no spoilers in the post, but there may be some in the comments. You’ve been warned.)

It’s been a bad few years for reading for me. First, I blamed it on my eyes, but now that I’ve had my reading glasses for a little over a year, I have come to realize it’s only partly about my eyes. Next, I blamed it on the internet – short, addictive bits of reading that reward almost instantly – and if they don’t, well, there’s another post or article to read. And hand-in-hand with the internet is the absolute drama of the past two years in the real world. Trump, Brexit, #MeToo – all that drama, all that conflict. Do I really need a real story when I’m sated with cat pictures on the one hand, and gutted by all the real world on the other?

It turns out, yes, a real story does hit the spot, and Lois McMaster Bujold published another e-novella in her Sharing Knife series on January 24, 2019.

 

"Knife Children" cover

A new book from Bujold! (Cover via Amazon.com)

“Knife Children” has that easy-going rhythm that is part and parcel of the Sharing Knife series. It touches on old Bujoldian themes such as taking responsibility, and the ever-present possibility of redemption. It also deals with the “one damn thing happens after another” aspect of life, and “go lightly over the rough ground”.

On the surface, “Knife Children” is 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

Michaeline: New Stories from Bujold and Crusie!

A lady reading at a desk in her bedroom. She's wearing a warm robe.

It’s going to be a good year for reading! (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Since Christmas, I’ve been on internet half-rations – I’ve only checked the news, the blog and some YouTube. Yesterday was my first day back, visiting my usual haunts, and boy, the stuff I missed! (Trigger warning: FOMO!)

On December 25, 2018, Lois McMaster Bujold announced a new novella on her Goodreads blog! The story, set in her Americana Wide Green World universe, features Lily and Barr. She says it will be a stand-alone, but since she’s aiming to self-publish the story in “late January”, there’s time for long-time fans to have a leisurely re-read of the four Sharing Knife novels (starting with Beguilement; link to Amazon here). Whoo-hoo!

And on January 1, 2019, Jennifer Crusie wrote on her blog, Argh Ink, “Happy 2019, everybody. I’m gonna finish a book this year.” Well, a happy new year to all of us fans, too! I’ve been following the book-in-progress on her blog from its conception, and the first act promises a lot of fun: demons, cops, murder mystery, romance and some really excellent vicarious diner food. The Nick-and-Nita book may not be out in 2019, but at least it’s almost out of Jenny’s hands – she has excellent taste, and I think the biggest barrier to more Crusie out in the wild is that she doesn’t let ‘em go until she’s reached a point of satisfaction. It’s probably for the best. We fans are voracious, and the most frequent response to a new story is “more please”, which is simply not sustainable. At any rate, in a few weeks (according to an ETA on Jan. 4), it’ll be in her editor’s hands.

What a convergence of the stars! My two favorite living writers are going to release new stories! And I know a lot of my favorite bloggers (right here on Eight Ladies Writing) are also going to release new stories in 2019! (Please comment, Ladies!) And of course, keep an eye on the Friday writing sprints here on 8LW. Our readers are welcome to play, and of course, our Eight Ladies often put up a short, sweet nugget of fictional delight. Are there any new stories that you are keeping your eye on?

It’s going to be a good year for reading, y’all! Get your reading glasses polished!

Jilly: Menu Gourmand

In romance there are basically two kinds of series. The first, which Nancy discussed last Monday, focuses on a community: a family, or schoolfriends, or regimental comrades. In this kind of series, each book tells the love story of a different member of the community. It works really well in historical romance.

The other kind of series follows the adventures of one couple over multiple books and is a natural fit with fantasy and urban fantasy. That’s what I’m busy writing.

At its best, this kind of series is like a tasting menu from a really, really good restaurant. Delicious, ambitious, and not to be attempted by the faint-hearted.

  • Choose your cuisine.
  • Decide how many dishes you plan to offer.
  • Each dish should stand alone as a tasty, balanced, harmonious whole.
  • Every course should be delightfully different, offering contrasting flavors and ingredients but in a cohesive style.
  • The menu should flow, offering a natural progression leading the diner from piquant to savory to a delightful sweet finish and possibly some perfect petits-fours.
  • The content of each dish should be perfectly judged, leaving the diner neither over-hungry, nor sated too soon, but wanting more until the final satisfying conclusion.
  • The sum of the whole should be greater than each of the parts.

To whet your appetite, click here for the Land and Sea tasting menu from one of my favorite restaurants, The Three Chimneys on the Isle of Skye.

In literary terms, this kind of story is exemplified by Dorothy Dunnett’s Scottish Historical Lymond Chronicles, or Karen-Marie Moning’s Celtic urban fantasy Fever series, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife books or more recently by Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy trilogy.

This is what I’m aiming for: something a little different, offering fine local ingredients combined with flair and executed with skill. If I get it right, hopefully my Menu Gourmand will be mouth-watering, memorable, and a treat worth saving up for 🙂 .

Justine: Finding My Own Cover Models and Staging a Shoot (part 1)

photo shootThis will be the first in a many-part post (which will happen over several months) about finding my own cover models and doing a custom photo shoot for my future book covers.

It stems from a lovely conversation-in-the-comments the Eight Ladies had with Ron Miller from Black Cat Studios, who designs many (if not all) of Lois McMaster Bujold’s covers. He talked about the creative process and showed us, via a series of links, how he goes from a simple picture of his wife or daughter (frequent models for him) to the final cover.

This and other conversations on various Facebook groups got me thinking that it might be worthwhile to find my own cover models, because here’s the problem in historical romance: there is a lack of original stock photography (assuming one wants a lady or man in proper historical clothing…I could always go for the 80s prom dress look as some authors have done, but that doesn’t suit me). Continue reading