My Books

New Book Tomorrow!

Mystery of the Drowned Driver Book CoverTomorrow is new book day! This month kind of got away from me. I had planned all kinds of promo stuff, and then suddenly Mystery of the Drowned Driver is coming out tomorrow and I haven’t done anything.

At any rate, you can pre-order now and get it first thing tomorrow, and the paperback is available to order from Amazon. It will eventually be available in other places, but it takes a while to propagate through those systems. You can find the various links to order here on the book’s page.

I had a lot of fun writing this one. It includes one of my favorite ghosts, someone I kind of wish I’d used as a character before I killed her and made her a ghost, but then I’m afraid I wouldn’t have been able to kill her. I’m learning that’s one of the tricky things about mysteries. If you make the victims sympathetic and interesting enough for readers to want their murders solved, then you feel sad for having killed them. I still get weepy about the valedictorian who was killed in the backstory of the first book in this series. I’ll actually tear up thinking about her wasted potential, and then I remember that she never existed. I made her up, and she was already dead when I made her up.

I wonder if I really have the temperament to write mysteries. Until these books, I hadn’t killed a character in a novel. I generally don’t even kill villains in my fantasies. They got punished, but they lived. I’d actually planned for Mimi to get eaten by a dragon in No Quest for the Wicked, but when I got there, I couldn’t do it to her. Not so much because I liked her too much to kill her, but because I felt it would change the tone of the book too much. It was funnier for her to come out alive with no idea what had really happened.

I think having victims for murder mysteries is a little different, since their purpose in the story is to be dead. It’s not like killing off an existing character who’s been in multiple books. I don’t think I’ll be drawing upon my ongoing cast of characters to come up with new victims. I might set up future villains that way, and maybe victims for lesser crimes, but I don’t think that any of the gang of regulars is going to get murdered.

And now I really need to come up with a crime for the next book. I’ve got the character story stuff figured out. I just don’t know what the main plot will be.


The New Age of Sea Shanties

One positive thing to come from the pandemic and related lockdowns and isolation is that people have been exploring new things, with some delightful results.

One of the latest trends has been a new wave of discovery of sea shanties, the old work songs sailors sang to help them coordinate their actions — when you need a lot of people to pull or push at the same time, music is a great way to get everyone on the same tempo. Someone posted a video singing a sea shanty on TikTok, and then other people added on to it, bringing in harmony and instruments, and it went around the Internet to the point that people all over the world were walking around singing “Soon may the Wellerman come, to bring us sugar and tea and rum.”

Here’s a compilation someone put together that brings in some of the better additions.

I think part of what makes this so entertaining is the collaboration, that people who’ve never met are making something lovely together. There have been other things kind of like this, like when a bunch of people created a musical about a scene taking place in a grocery store, with one guy singing a song, then someone turning it into a romantic duet, and then others bringing in the perspective of other people nearby. It was beautiful and hilarious. But the sea shanty is designed to be sung as a group, so it really lends itself to this kind of collaboration. I wish I had the chops to pitch in, but I don’t even want to deal with TikTok, and while I’ve got a decent singing voice, I don’t have the music theory to be able to improvise harmonies. Give me sheet music and I’ll do well, but without someone telling me what to sing I’m pretty hopeless.

Of course, fantasy writers perked up at this whole trend because it’s the sort of thing that adds color to a fantasy world. There’s something romantic and stirring about voices rising together on an old sailing ship. I realized it was exactly the touch for an idea I’ve been playing with. The sound and the imagery of this video out of Norway, with men in the rigging singing their way into port, is probably going to make it into a book. They seem to be singing in English, oddly enough, but apparently it’s an Australian shanty, with them just changing part of the words to “in Norway” instead of the original — but the “Norway” is English because in Norwegian it’s “Norge.”

The musical collaboration is really making me miss choir. We’ve done some pieces where everyone records their part at home and it gets edited together, but that’s so isolating. With this sort of thing, the later people are at least singing along with the earlier people. I miss the sensation of singing with others. We had a couple of attempts at rehearsals, outdoors, wearing masks and standing at a distance, but then you might as well be singing alone because you can’t really hear the other people.

So I guess I’ll sit at home and sing sea shanties with people on the Internet. I can feel like I’m singing along, though I’m not going to record it and post it online.


Pandemic Hands

I never really think of writing as being a “physical” job. I sit and type, or I write by hand when I’m brainstorming or plotting. But it turns out that if you have problems with your hands, writing can be hard. It seems that I’ve had a perfect storm of things leading to what I’m calling “Pandemic Hands.”

It started when I noticed a blister on my knuckle. I figured it was a burn from bumping against something hot while I was cooking. I do that often, as I’m a bit of a klutz in the kitchen. But then another blister appeared on another knuckle, and I knew I hadn’t burned that finger. I’d been careful and hadn’t been cooking. That blister was surrounded by tiny blisters of a sort that I sometimes get on my hands. A few more blisters came up, so I did some research, and it turns out that this is a form of eczema (I should note that I used to do PR writing for the dermatology department at a medical school, so this isn’t just the usual “look it up on WebMD” thing, since I do know something about this area). The pandemic has created something of a perfect storm because this happens to people who are already prone to eczema when their skin gets dry, they’re exposed to irritants, and they’re under stress. Strangely, it’s only on my right hand, but I think, based on the pattern of blisters, that it may have been initially triggered when I was chopping peppers because it’s in the places where juice tends to spray when you’re chopping things. Then there’s hand sanitizer, wipes, lots of hand washing, cold weather, and it’s been a wee bit stressful lately.

The treatment is the kind of ointment you usually put on rashes, so I’m basically using hydrocortisone cream as hand lotion. Once I started treating the blisters like a rash rather than burns, they started getting better. Fortunately, it doesn’t hurt all that much unless I move the affected fingers in a certain way that stretches the blisters or if I touch or rub against the blisters. Unfortunately, typing is one of those things that stretch the blisters, and writing by hand means the pen and my other fingers rub up against the blisters (which may have something to do with why I have blisters in those spots). So, I’m trying to take it easy for a while. It’s a good time to do some reading.

This has made me realize how many times a day I wash my hands, even aside from pandemic issues. While I’m at home, I wash my hands in the bathroom, before, during and after I cook and before and after I eat. And now I really scrub up when I come back from any excursion that involves touching something outside my house. I’ve bought some food prep gloves to use when I chop things and while I’m cooking so I can wash a few fewer times. I can rinse off the gloves between cooking tasks instead of my hands. I’ve had the small blisters before after I used cleaning wipes, so I may have to be careful about that. I may need to get some medical gloves to wear outside the house so I don’t have to scrub my hands so much.

And then there’s stress. I hope some of that will ease after today. I’m a lot less concerned that I’ll lose my ability to have health insurance, which has been a big worry for freelancers for the past few years. It may even be my body releasing stress after a long period of tension that set this off. I’m doing yoga and trying to spend time relaxing. It’s probably a good time to be re-reading a book so that I’m not tense about the outcome. I know how The Lord of the Rings goes.

My Books

New Lucky Lexie Book!

Mystery of the Drowned Driver Book CoverIn case you were wondering what would happen next with Lexie and the gang, the wait is almost over. Mystery of the Drowned Driver, book 3, is coming January 28, and you can pre-order it now. This is the fastest I’ve ever released books, but I doubt the next one will come quite so quickly. I’d already written the first draft of this book before the second book was published, and I don’t yet have a firm plot idea for book 4. The tricky thing is that I know what books 5 and 6 will be about, but going straight to the plot for book 5 would mean skipping a lot more time than I’d like, so I need to figure out something that will come in between.

I’m afraid I’ve been distracted by a number of other story ideas that have popped up and begun demanding attention. Not to mention all the events going on in the world outside my head that have been distressing and upsetting. This is a difficult time to work in a field that requires focus and creativity and that means we have to tap into our emotions to do it well. When your emotions are like “AAAAAGGGHHHHHH!” it’s hard to write, but if you shut the emotions down, you end up with something that reads like a user manual.

I’m in brainstorming mode for all the projects I’ve been working on, just thinking and jotting down ideas as they come to me. Right now, I’m letting myself play with that fantasy journey idea and seeing if it’s something I want to pursue. Next week I may go back to trying to think of mystery plots. I would like to have a new book in that series by May or so, which means I’ll have to get to work on it soon.

I used to have a button that said “so many books, so little time.” It was supposedly about reading, but it’s become true about writing, too. There are so many stories in my head, dying to get out, but I can only write one at a time, and there’s a limited amount of time I can spend writing in a day before my head explodes.

I’m putting order links on my website as I find them, and you can find the scoop on the new book on its page here. I’ll add an excerpt soon.


All About the Journey

Since I’m in a fantasy mode, I did some digging around on Amazon to find a fantasy movie to watch (a lot of “people who watched this also watched this” rabbit trails) and ended up finding one called The Crown and the Dragon. It had a promising start. The scenery was lovely (it seemed to have been filmed in Ireland), the acting was quite good (the cast members don’t have very extensive IMDB listings, so I’m wondering if they were Irish and British stage actors), and I even liked the costumes. Early in the movie, the heroine and her aunt are traveling to take The Thing to The Place (as you do), and we knew the villain was looking for The Thing. The heroine and her aunt are set upon by the villain’s soldiers, who have with them a prisoner. The (handsome, of course) prisoner uses the guards’ harassment of the two women as a distraction to manage to attack his captors and free himself. The aunt is killed in the melee, the heroine grabs The Thing, and the escaped prisoner gets her to flee with him.

This was when I paused the movie to make popcorn because I could see the setup for what I’ve realized is one of my favorite fantasy tropes: the mismatched duo thrown together and having to go on some kind of journey/mission/quest, during which they bicker a lot, but they start to come together as they go through adversity and gain new respect for each other. That’s like catnip to me.

This movie hit all the expected beats. We had the bonding moment after the big ordeal in which they each saved the other’s life, so then they’re sitting by a fire, drying out wet clothes, drinking wine, and getting cozy. We had falling in with a group having a party and having a “moment” while dancing together. And, naturally, we had the moment in which his obligation is fulfilled, but he turns back for her, just in time for the climactic fight.

My favorite thing that fits this mold is Stardust, and this movie wasn’t nearly that good, but it sort of scratched a similar itch. But I found myself trying to think of other examples. If there’s something I love and know well enough to know when they’re hitting the right beats, there should be a lot, right? Other than Stardust, most of the things I could think of are animated films. That’s the Anna and Kristoff part of Frozen, Tangled, the animated Anastasia.

I remembered that there was an item on the Evil Overlord List that went around Usenet in the mid-90s to the effect of “If I’m ever the Evil Overlord and there’s a couple traveling through my realm who cooperate and get along, I’ll ignore them, but if they bicker constantly, except for when they save each other’s lives and have moments of sexual tension, I’ll have them executed immediately because they’re likely to be my undoing.” Or something like that. Anyway, if this was a known trope in the mid-90s and all my examples come from after that, I had to wonder where it came from. The main thing I can think of is the movie Willow, which is another good example (I haven’t seen it since I saw it in the theater when it first came out, so I’m iffy on it, but I recall being delighted with this aspect of it). I think Dragonslayer from the early 80s might also fit. In books, there’s an element of this in the Belgariad series by David Eddings, though my memory of that is fuzzy (not because I read it so long ago, but because I read it relatively recently, after I was already familiar with fantasy, so it didn’t make as huge an impression on me as it might have if I’d read it as a teen). The Elfstones of Shannara sort of fits, throwing in a bit of a romantic triangle, with the girl who has to take The Thing to The Place, the guy whose mission is to get her there, and another girl who joins to help. There’s another one I vaguely recall reading when I was in college that seems to have fallen into this category, with the guy having to get the girl and The Thing to The Place.

But these few things hardly make for a trope to the point of getting put on the “here’s what villains keep getting wrong” list. The TV Tropes site has an annotated Evil Overlord List with links to pages for the tropes, but there isn’t a separate trope listing for this specific thing. They link separately to the people thrown together on a mission trope and the hate to love trope, but the good examples I can think of for the trope I’m thinking of aren’t on the lists. I know it’s a big trope in the romance genre, with lots of books about the guy having to get the girl from one place to another, them hating each other at first, and then falling in love along the way, but they seldom bring down the Evil Overlord while they’re at it. I do think it shows up in a lot of fan fiction. If you think two characters who don’t get along would be hot together, then a story that forces them to team up and travel together is a natural way to explore the relationship.

It’s funny, in the early 90s I came up with my own idea along these lines, started writing it, and even won a contest with the start, but the book didn’t come together very well. I just this week, in thinking in terms of the trope, realized some of where I went wrong with it. Now I’ve found myself thinking about it again, and I’m tempted to give rewriting it a shot. I’ve allowed myself a couple of days to play with the idea to see if it starts falling together, and so far it seems to have done so. I may end up rewriting it. Or writing it again, since I’m not really rewriting the thing I’ve already written. I’m starting fresh with a new execution of the same basic story idea. It’s more a case of gutting a house down to the studs before starting a remodel than a case of repainting and new flooring. I figure if an idea has stayed vividly in my head for more than 30 years, then maybe I should do something with it.


Revisiting The Hobbit

It’s been an interesting few days, to say the least. It was definitely a good time to sink into The Hobbit, which really is a charming book and the perfect escape.

This book was one of my early exposures to fantasy, though when I first read it, nothing really clicked for me. It didn’t turn me into a fantasy fan (not that I was opposed to fantasy, I just didn’t think of it in terms of “I want more books like this”). I was in fourth grade, and my teacher would read a book out loud to us, a chapter a day, every day after recess, as a way of settling everyone down. I suspect she might have been something of a geek because most of what she read to us was fantasy or fantasy-adjacent. I remember a lot of Roald Dahl, and then there was The Hobbit. She read that to us around the time the animated movie version came on TV. I was never patient enough for the chapter a day pace, so I’d usually check the book out of the library the next time I went and read it straight through. I remember doing that with The Hobbit and watching the movie, and I’m pretty sure I liked it, but it wasn’t as though it grabbed me so intensely that I wanted to find more books like that. I’m not sure why. I was mostly obsessed with Star Wars at that time, so I think anything that wasn’t Star Wars couldn’t get a toehold on me. I was looking for more stuff like that and reading books with spaceships and robots.

Ironically, I’d have probably found more of the stuff I loved about Star Wars by reading fantasy, since Star Wars is essentially a fantasy in science fiction trappings, what with its mysterious wizard knights with their magical swords and cloaks, hidden “chosen one” farmboy and feisty princess. But I didn’t yet know enough about genre and story structure to realize that, so I was reading books with spaceships on the cover.

I didn’t get into fantasy until a couple of years later when I discovered the Narnia books and it really flipped a switch. I read The Silver Chair (yeah, a strange one to read first), then got into The Lord of the Rings. I’m pretty sure I reread The Hobbit around that time, too. I know I reread it a year later when I read it out loud to my little brother.

The last time I remember reading The Hobbit was about ten years ago. I’d written the fifth Enchanted, Inc. book for the Japanese publisher, which finished out my plans for the series, but then they asked if I’d consider writing a sixth book. My initial inclination was to say no because I didn’t have any ideas, but then an idea hit me. I thought it would be a lot of fun to set a traditional fantasy quest kind of story in modern Manhattan, and I’d have the whole thing take place in one day. Thus No Quest for the Wicked was born. To outline it and come up with ideas to spoof and play with, I rewatched the Lord of the Rings movies. I didn’t have time to read that series, but I found a copy of The Hobbit at my parents’ house and reread that (it must have been one my brother left there because I found a boarding pass with his name on it stuck in the book, so he seems to have reread it as an adult after I read it to him when he was a little kid).

I think I’m liking it a lot more this time around. I keep finding little things I love about it. I had to empathize with Bilbo when all those dwarves showed up at his place and he was overwhelmed, as well as when Gandalf was trying to get him to go on the quest. It seems that people are always trying to get introverts to get out more for their own good. I think when we can get back to socializing, at parties I’m going to shake my head sadly at extroverts and tell them they really should have stayed home and done something quiet, that they need to do more of that, for their own good.

The thing that’s struck me on this read is the fact that the stakes and motivation for Bilbo are almost entirely internal. There’s no threat to his home, his community, or his way of life if he doesn’t go on this quest or if the dwarves fail. If he doesn’t go, life will go on as it has. The book makes it clear early on that Bilbo is already reasonably wealthy. He doesn’t need the treasure. He only goes on the adventure because the way Gandalf described him to the dwarves made him see himself in a different way, and he wanted to be the person Gandalf saw him as. He’d never imagined these possibilities for himself before, but once he starts thinking that way, he’ll be dissatisfied if he doesn’t find that within himself.

That makes this an oddly intimate book. In the midst of this epic journey that has Bilbo and his companions battling trolls, goblins, wolves, giant spiders, elves, and a dragon, it’s really mostly about one small person’s inner journey to figure out what he can be. That’s why I think the movies based on this book missed the point entirely. They more or less ignored Bilbo and focused on the epic, turning even small incidents into huge deals. This book is so very filmable and would make a lovely film if they just stuck to the book instead of bloating it. Martin Freeman’s face is basically a special effect, so you know he could have conveyed the inner journey.

It’s so very encouraging to see Bilbo rise to the occasion, to go from being paralyzed with fear to coming up with a plan and coming to the rescue. I want to cheer for him and hug him. I’m just at the part where things get really tense, though. Then this may not be such relaxing reading. It’s still hopeful reading, though.

But if I need something to send me to sleep, I’ve got The Silmarillion, which is somewhat fascinating but not exactly leisure reading. I’m in awe that these are essentially Tolkien’s worldbuilding notes, written as though they’re scriptures in the poetic language of the King James Bible. Mine are more like cryptic scrawls. I don’t worry about wordsmithing when I’m coming up with the backstory for my world.

writing life

The State of the Shanna 2021

Happy New Year!

I love the chance to reset and make a fresh start on a new year, starting with a blank calendar and all my usual forms and charts being clean and ready to be filled in as I make progress. I’ve made a business plan for the first half of the year. What happens after that will depend on how the first half of the year goes. In my business, it’s hard to plan too far in advance because I don’t know how long it will take me to do the things I planned.

I figure this is a good time for a general “how things work here” post. I’m going to stick with the Wednesday and Friday blogging schedule. That gives me time to write posts without interfering with my best writing time. Any news that falls between blogging slots will be in the “news” box on the front page of my web site and/or I’ll announce it on social media.

You can find me on social media on Twitter, where I talk about all kinds of things, not just my books, and on Facebook. There’s a page that focuses on my books and you can also discuss with fellow fans. My personal profile is fairly public. I only accept friend requests from people I actually know and have interacted with, but most of my posts are public, so you can follow me without being a “friend.” That’s where I talk about life and interact with friends and family. I haven’t been as active on Facebook lately because I loathe their new design and can’t bear to look at it. I cross-post my blog to Goodreads, but I don’t accept Goodreads friend requests (there have been some issues with people not being allowed to post Amazon reviews because Amazon thinks them being social media friends with authors means they’re friends, so their reviews don’t count). About all I do on Goodreads right now is cross-post the blog and occasionally respond to comments when that’s warranted. I have an Instagram account, but I don’t do much with it now because I only really use my phone when I leave the house, so I don’t think about Instagram when I’m at home, and I’m at home all the time now.

I have a newsletter that goes out once a month with book news and some behind the scenes info about my books, and if you’re signed up for that list, you also get alerts when there’s a new book. I’ve been trying to let newsletter subscribers know about stuff earlier than I put it out in other places. Today I’ll be sending out a newsletter with the cover of the next Lucky Lexie book and the release date. There are also short stories available exclusively to newsletter subscribers, with an Enchanted, Inc. aftermath story from Owen’s perspective and a backstory episode in the Lucky Lexie universe, with Jean on the case when the carnival gets stuck in town. You can sign up for the newsletter here.

The plan for the year is to do a few more mysteries, with one coming out in January, one sometime in the spring, one in the summer, and one in the fall, but that depends on how the writing goes. I also plan to do a print (e-book and paperback) edition of the book that was an Audible exclusive last year. I still haven’t heard whether they want me to write more books in that series, so I guess that would depend on whether the e-book and paperback sell well enough to make it worthwhile for me to keep doing (and I’ll have to check my contract to see if I’m allowed without sending Audible a proposal to reject first). I’m developing a new fantasy series, but I haven’t yet decided how I’m going to approach it, whether I’ll release as I write, write several and release them around the same time (a month or so apart), or possibly even submit to publishers. I won’t have a good sense of that until I get something written.

So, that’s the State of the Shanna for 2021. A couple of years ago, I went through a bit of a career crisis in which I seriously considered quitting and decided I liked writing too much and hated the idea of a regular job too much. Now the odds of even being able to get a regular job are pretty slim and I don’t really want to have to work outside my home, but unless I can make the writing pay off a bit better, I’m going to have to figure something out. This is my year to see if I can build a little more momentum and try some new promo methods to see if I can build an audience.

writing life

2020 Hindsight

One last post for the year, looking back on a year that didn’t quite go the way anyone hoped or planned.

At this time last year, I was looking up activities and groups, making plans to get out there and do the things I enjoy doing but never seem to get around to doing and to meet other people who do those things. I got a good start to the year by going on a group hike at a state park on New Year’s Day, then I went to a Sisters in Crime meeting in February as part of my effort to find a good writing support group.

And then a couple of weeks later, everything came to a screeching halt. There would be no more meetings or group activities.

I’m pretty much built for lockdowns. In some respects, it took some pressure off me. There were no obligatory gatherings that I went to reluctantly, no rehearsals or meetings. I sometimes missed socializing, and I wished I could do more of the kind of socializing I’d prefer to do (something else I was planning to make more of an effort for), but for the most part, holing up inside my house is my comfort zone.

I think I used the time pretty well. I took a few online courses, attended a lot of online lectures, and started learning Norwegian (in case we can ever travel again and I can take my dream trip). I wrote two books start to finish, revised another and did a final round of editing on another. I released three new print books and two audio books. I also did a lot of the work toward developing a new book that I plan to write next year.

Unfortunately, all those new releases didn’t add up to much, financially. People seem to like my new series, but not very many people are buying it. I’m hoping that with each release the word will spread and more people will find it, and I’m going to try some new promo things around the release of book 3. If it doesn’t catch on, I may have to rethink that series. Right now, I’m not making minimum wage with it. But I figured it was worth a shot, and I learned a lot about writing productivity from it. I broke my personal record for time spent on writing activities this year.

Oh, and I had my first short story sale, took on a new volunteer role, and got a new freelance client. I guess it was a busy year, considering I seldom left the house.

Meanwhile, I also broke my personal record for number of books read this year. I just about gave up TV, since there wasn’t much on, and I spent that time reading instead. By the end of the year, I’ll have read at least 112 books, depending on how much I read in the next couple of days. It’s cold and rainy, so I’m planning a big reading binge.

I’m pretty much at the bottom of the vaccine priority list, since I can safely isolate and am not in the really high-risk groups (I just have a lot of conditions that are considered possible moderate risk), so I don’t see things changing too much for the first half of next year. I’ll be releasing book 3 in the mystery series next month. I’ll probably do an e-book/print version of that Audible exclusive book. I want to get started on that fantasy series I’ve been developing.

With that in mind, my main plan for January is to do a deep dive into “traditional” fantasy. That was what I first fell in love with that made me want to be a writer and what my first stabs at writing were in, though I haven’t published anything like that. I plan to reread The Lord of the Rings for the first time since I was in college and try to figure out what it was that so enthralled me when I first read it in sixth grade. Then I’ll branch out to some of the newer stuff. I may enhance the experience with appropriate food and drink. At the same time, I’ll be digging into the more specific worldbuilding and plotting for my series.

I don’t think I’m going to make real resolutions this year. I just want to build on what I started this year, working on good habits and consistency. And I hope I get a bit more payoff from the previous work.

Happy New Year, and see you in 2021!


Holiday Reads

I had a question after my last post about Christmas-related books I’d recommend. I go through these like candy, so I had to check my reading log, and it only goes back to 2009, so I had to try to remember the earlier ones. These aren’t all necessarily great books, but they have worked for giving me a bit of holiday spirit.

I’m dividing these into two categories: books with Christmas elements and Christmas books. The books with Christmas elements are books that happen to be set around Christmas, but the story isn’t necessarily about Christmas. The holidays may up the emotion, but you could have the plot take place at other times, and it wouldn’t feel weird to read these books at other times of the year. To compare to movies, I’d put Die Hard on this list (for those in the “Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?” debates). It’s set at Christmas, and that raises the emotions and stakes, but you could set the same story at another time and it would still work, and it was released in the summer. I’d also put The Holiday on this list — it’s set around Christmas (though Christmas itself is a minor blip), but you could switch out Christmas for another vacation and the story would still work. It just wouldn’t be as pretty.

So, books with Christmas elements:
A Promising Man by Elizabeth Young — a young woman meets the perfect man, but it seems he’s already dating her nemesis from school. How much loyalty does she owe to someone who tormented her? Set at Christmastime in London (with a visit to a village), and a subplot is about how the heroine was planning to celebrate the holidays with friends in the city and gets abandoned at the last minute. This was actually the book that got me started looking for Christmas reads. I’d just picked up a book to spend a day reading when I gave myself a day off during the holiday season and didn’t realize it was set at Christmas. There’s nothing on the description or packaging to suggest that this is a Christmas book, so it was a pleasant surprise and I started trying to replicate the experience.

The Rose Revived by Katie Fforde — a group of women who for various reasons are down on their luck room together in a canal boat. There’s a pivotal part of the book taking place at Christmas.

Life Skills by Katie Fforde — a woman takes a summer job cooking on a hotel boat, with unexpected consequences. The climax of the book takes place at Christmas.

Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos — a seemingly perfect man comes into the shop where a woman works, and then his young daughter shows up, looking for him there, which gets the heroine tangled up in all sorts of drama. Set at Christmastime. This one is a real tearjerker. Incidentally, it was edited by the same editor who first published the Enchanted, Inc. books.

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis — in case you want some science fiction Christmas. In the near future, an Oxford historian is sent back in time to study the medieval period. But soon after she leaves, a terrible flu epidemic sweeps through the city, and meanwhile, she learns she was sent to the wrong time, just in time for the Black Death to hit. Takes place at Christmas. I’m not sure how fun this would be to read this year. It ranges from laugh-out-loud funny to heartbreaking and is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s alarmingly prescient about life during an epidemic — there’s even a toilet paper shortage and the Americans resist all lockdown efforts. I may have to reread this one next year after we’ve (I hope!) made it through this pandemic and I’ll have a different perspective.

One Day in December by Josie Silver — this fits into that subgenre of British books about people who meet, then go through all kinds of things over the course of years before they finally get together. On a December day, a young woman sees a man through a bus window and just knows he’s the guy for her, then sets out to try to find him. Lots of key events happen around Christmases over the years.

I like rereading The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame at Christmas. There is a pivotal scene that takes place at Christmas, but the whole book makes me feel cozy. It’s a good read-aloud if you have kids.

We Met in December by Rosie Curtis — A young woman moves into a house share arrangement in a big London house and falls for one of the housemates, but there’s a strict policy about not hooking up with any of the other residents. Pivotal scenes at beginning and end take place around Christmas.

A Winter’s Tale by Tricia Ashley — a woman inherits a manor house from her estranged grandfather and sets out to make it a tourist attraction, over the wishes of the distant cousin who expected to inherit it. Set in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with a nice Christmas scene.

Christmas Books are those that are about Christmas. It would be hard to remove the Christmas element without changing the story, and they’re marketed as being about Christmas. For a movie comparison, these would be like the Hallmark Christmas movies. Remove Christmas, and there’s not much there, and it would be weird to read them when it’s not Christmas (unless you’re the sort of person who likes Christmas year-round).

Debbie Macomber has a bunch of Christmas books, many of which have been made into Hallmark movies. The ones I’ve read are mostly the Angel books, which is about a trio of somewhat inept angels trying to play matchmaker. I’ve also read Trading Christmas, which is a lot like The Holiday, only it’s a middle-aged mother who wants to get away from home for the first year her daughter won’t be spending Christmas with her and a man who wants to get away from Christmas entirely switching homes (what he doesn’t realize is that her home is in a town that’s basically Christmas USA). “Debbie Macomber Christmas Books” is actually a search term on Amazon.

I have one called Christmas at the Comfort Food Cafe by Debbie Johnston on my list, but I can’t remember anything about it.

Jenny Colgan has done Christmas books for most of her series. There’s Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe for her Cupcake Cafe books, Christmas at Rosie Hopkins’ Sweet Shop (I think this is also called A Christmas Surprise) for her Rosie Hopkins books, and An Island Christmas for her island books. You’d probably need to have read at least the first book in these series to follow the Christmas books, as these series are kind of like soap operas, with a cast of recurring characters that we catch up on in each book. And, fair warning, she’s prone to what I think of as “throw the kid under the bus” plotting in which the emotional breakthrough comes through something bad happening to a child. It all works out in the end, but if you’re emotionally raw and don’t want too much drama, these may not be ideal.

Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz — a sassy modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice set at Christmas. They made a Hallmark movie based on this, but I would imagine it would have to have been changed significantly to fit their brand. It’s basically Jack and Karen from Will and Grace going through the holiday season in the heroine’s hometown.

If you’re not up to reading about plague but still want a science fiction Christmas, Connie Willis has two collections of Christmas-themed short stories, Miracle and A Lot Like Christmas. There’s a lot of overlap between the two books, but there are some stories that are unique to each.

You Make it Feel Like Christmas by Louise Marley — I just read this one. A woman who grew up in the family of a British Martha Stewart type who specializes in Christmas and who used her family as props wants to get away from the TV nightmare and have a “normal” Christmas that’s not on camera, so she heads to what she thinks is a hotel but is actually an old owned by her ex-boyfriend, but the whole family follows her with a reality show crew in tow as her mother desperately tries to save her TV career.

To be honest, I have a hard time finding just what I want in seasonal reads. I prefer the ones where Christmas is just the setting, but since those aren’t marketed as Christmas books, it’s hard to tell which ones might be what I’m looking for. There’s one on my to-be-read pile that I set aside earlier this year when it turned out to be set near Christmas. Now I have to remember which one it was and where I put it. Then there’s the disappointment when I think I’ve found one, since it’s set in December, but there’s almost no Christmas content. Some of the Christmas ones that are marketed as Christmas books go a little over the top and get a bit sappy. It’s really hard to strike a good balance. If you’ve got recommendations, please share!

Books, My Books, movies

Gray Days, Old Houses, and Christmas Reads

We’ve had actual winter-like weather lately, with cold, gray days, so I’ve followed my personal policy of declaring days like that to be reading days. I’ve spent time curled up under a blanket on the sofa, reading Christmassy books. I’m enjoying doing that more than I’ve enjoyed watching Christmas movies. I can lose myself in a book, but I get sidetracked when watching something.

I think it also helps that the books are a bit more to my taste. It seems that the Christmas romantic comedy book is a big thing in the UK. The “chick lit” trend never really died there the way it did in the US, so you can still get that kind of book that’s got a romance, but it’s more about the heroine’s life in general, dealing with work, family, friends, etc. And now there are a lot of those set during the Christmas season, not necessarily about Christmas, but against that backdrop and the way the holiday tends to amplify existing issues.

I wonder if the Brits have their own versions of the holiday movies, like the Lifetime and Hallmark movies in the US. Are there movies about the high-strung career woman from London having to spend the holiday in the quaint little village where she grew up so she can help save the family bakery? That might be a fun change of pace.

A lot of the books seem to be about saving the historic family home — the medieval or Tudor manor—which I guess is similar to the American version of saving the family farm. I don’t know why I’m such a sucker for the “saving the crumbling medieval manor” type plot, given that I find the maintenance on my 1984-built house overwhelming. It’s fun to read about, but I imagine wouldn’t be as much fun in real life.

I burned out on the movies I tried to watch because I just couldn’t take the “return to hometown and get together with guy from high school” story yet again. Having to move back to my small hometown is the sort of thing I have nightmares about, and I’ve seen the guys I graduated with. Nope. I was sad in school that no one wanted to date me, but I really dodged a bullet there. I have a couple of old favorites that I know don’t have that plot, so I may give those a shot. When I’m not reading and listening to Christmas music.

In book-related news, I’ve done a paperback version of Spindled, the book I serialized on the blog earlier this year. You might still be able to get delivery by Christmas if you’re a Prime member. It should eventually be available through places other than Amazon, but that will take time to get through the system. You can order it here.