Archive for Books



I have some big news that I’ve been waiting to share: I’ve sold a new book!

This one is going to be kind of different because it’s an Audible Original. That means I’m writing it specifically to be an audiobook. After the exclusivity period runs out, it may get published as a print/e-book, but for about a year it will only be an audiobook.

It’s an entirely new story not related to any of my existing series, but it is a light contemporary fantasy, so I suspect Enchanted, Inc. fans will like it. It’s the story of a tourist who gets way more than she bargained for, including a rather magical adventure, when she stops to help a little old lady.

When I’ve mentioned having something I need to finish this year before I can work on anything else, this is what I’ve been referring to. The deal’s been in the works for most of the year, but it’s taken a while to finalize. I’m wrapping up editing on the ninth Enchanted, Inc. book today and getting that off to the copyeditor, and then I’ll be drafting this new one.

I’ve only written a proposal so far, and I’m excited to finally really delve into this story.

I don’t know exactly when it will come out, probably sometime next year. Don’t worry, I’ll keep everyone posted.

And now, I have three more chapters to edit.


Spooky Fall Reads

We got our first real cold front of the season, and it feels like fall. Hooray! It will be a good day for snuggling up with a good book. Okay, it’s a book I’ve written, but I think it’s pretty good.

Since it’s nearly October, I need to pick my Classic Horror read for the year. Or, more accurately, Classic Spooky, since I’m a real wimp and probably couldn’t deal with real horror. A couple of years ago, I read Frankenstein. Last year it was Dracula. Now what? I guess I could do Fall of the House of Usher. Or House of the Seven Gables (since I’ve actually visited and toured the house that inspired it). Any other suggestions of the sort of classic book that everyone should have read that’s spooky and atmospheric?

Though, I must say that reading these kinds of books on a tablet loses some of the atmosphere. They seem to belong in a slightly musty old book that you read by lamplight on a cool, windy evening while bundled under a blanket. Tapping to turn the page seems all wrong. Maybe I should check the library to get a real book instead of just going to Project Gutenberg to get the books for this project.

And then I need weather cool enough for that kind of reading experience before Halloween.


Weird Meta-Fiction

I’m still not back to 100 percent, but I have reached the point of illness at which I’m annoyed about not feeling up to doing things and the state of the house is bothering me (when I’m really sick, I’m too sick to care). Thinking is also kind of a challenge. I’m okay at absorbing information, but creating things takes more energy than I really have. Which means research reading!

I realized yesterday that I was reading an entire book to research a part of a character’s backstory that happens when he’s too young to remember it. So that means it’s probably going to be entirely offstage, unless he runs into someone who was there who can tell him about it. But I feel like having credible details might help at some point.

And I just thought of how it might apply to the present in the story, so maybe I’m not just over-researching minor details.

Anyway, I’ve also done some fiction reading, including an odd little book called The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet. It’s basically an author’s wildest dream and biggest nightmare.

An award-winning young adult novelist is facing a career crisis when his latest book flops and his agent informs him that she can’t sell another one of his books about troubled teenage boys. But she could sell an epic fantasy. That what editors are demanding, and she might have hinted to one that he’s working on that sort of book. The problem is, he’s never even read that sort of thing. He checks a bunch of books out of the library, and he hates them. He’s sure he could do better, but he can’t think of any ideas. After an afternoon of drowning his woes in the pub, he pauses in his stagger home by the local standing stones, where he falls asleep and dreams a fantasy novel, complete with narrative. When he still remembers it upon waking, he hurries to write it down. It’s like transcribing rather than writing, it’s so easy. But then he reaches the end of the part he dreamed and has no idea what happens next. That’s when he’s approached by a strange little man — the narrator of the story — who offers to give him the rest of the story if he’ll help in a quest to retrieve an amulet of great power that’s been lost in this world. It seems easy enough, but then he needs a sequel …

As an author, I feel somewhat judged/targeted by this book, though I have the reverse situation, where what I want to write is fantasy and I’ve had editors ask if I can do a non-fantasy contemporary YA, but I don’t really like reading that and I have zero ideas. No mysterious teens have appeared in my life to dictate their stories to me, though.

I would say that this is an interesting read, but it’s not necessarily fun. The main character is a real jerk, so I have mixed feelings about what’s happening to him. It goes to some pretty dark places. I’m not sure what the author is trying to say about fantasy. I got this one in the goody bag at either the Nebula weekend or the World Fantasy convention, so I suppose it’s classified as fantasy, but it also gets in a lot of snark about fantasy. I can spot some of the things he’s mocking, and I don’t entirely disagree, but at the same time, I feel a bit judged about my reading taste.

The thing that I find interesting is the concept that a fantasy novel might be the real history of events in some other place — and you may or may not be able to trust the person telling the story. We’re used to thinking of the primary viewpoint characters as the protagonists, the good guys, but is that just because we’re seeing things from their perspective? As a writer, I’ve had a few books that felt like I was transcribing dictation. I didn’t feel like I had to make many decisions or figure out what to do next. I just typed the words that were flowing. Were those being fed to me by some other dimension?

I suppose you could say I recommend this if you’re intrigued by meta fiction and have read enough fantasy to get the satire. I’m not sure how this would play to anyone else. I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think I’ll be keeping my copy.


Fixing a Classic

I’m still on a reading roll, and I found a book that I think those who love — or hate — Jane Eyre are sure to love, My Plain Jane, by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows (the authors of My Lady Jane). This is an alternate history/alternate universe take on Jane Eyre that’s part spoof, part “fix,” and I had so much fun with it.

In this universe, the Duke of Wellington runs a “ghostbuster” type organization that captures troublesome ghosts. Jane Eyre can see and talk to ghosts, so she’s an attractive recruit for this organization. Unfortunately, she claims to have her heart set on being a governess and isn’t interested. This stance baffles her friend, Charlotte Bronte, who thinks this sounds far more exciting than being a governess. Charlotte would really like a job with the ghostbusters, and she thinks maybe she can prove her value if she can recruit Jane to their cause. She and a handsome young ghostbuster team up to infiltrate a house party at Thornfield Hall, where they soon learn that not all is as it seems.

This is theoretically a YA book, but I think adults who are familiar with (and have an adult perspective on) Jane Eyre will like it even more than teens do. In spite of being a sendup of the original novel that makes the author a character in it and adds ghosts, it’s surprisingly true to the original book. After reading this, I was inspired to rewatch the 2006 British miniseries version (to me, the definitive version), and I kept giggling when we got to scenes I remembered from this book. In a lot of respects, all the wacky stuff could be seen to be what’s going on behind the scenes of the original story, not necessarily changing most of the actual events (well, until later in the story). It may now be hard for me to read/watch Jane Eyre without imagining the ghost of Helen there to make remarks that only Jane can hear.

As in My Lady Jane, there are loads of pop culture references (including a whole scene that’s a fun take on The Princess Bride) and commentary on social mores of that era. These books are just the thing if you want to laugh and you want to fix literature or history to make it come out better. I don’t know if there are any other Janes whose lives they’re planning to improve, but I sure hope so.


Still More Reading

I’ve got another book to talk about that I forgot about because I read it just before I got sidetracked by vacation: How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig.

I’d classify this one as mainstream literary fiction with speculative fiction elements. The plot is very sf/f, but I think it’s executed in more of a mainstream way, though I can’t quite put my finger on why I say that. I just think a fantasy author would have given us a very different book based on this premise and with this plot. When I describe it, you’ll think science fiction (or maybe fantasy), but the book itself isn’t quite what you might expect from that description if you’re a science fiction/fantasy reader. If that makes sense.

The main character has a condition that means he ages very slowly. It’s sort of the opposite of the disease that makes children age so rapidly that they die of old age in childhood. I think maybe one of the things that makes this more mainstream than sf is that it never really gets into what causes this — is it something scientific like a mutation or something magical? The main character is more than 400 years old, but he only looks about 40. He works for an organization designed to keep this condition a secret and protect the people who have it from being turned into scientific experiments or from any kind of persecution. In exchange for going on the occasional mission to determine if a person has the condition and to bring that person into the fold to keep it secret — or possibly deal with threats to exposure, if necessary — he gets the funding and documentation he needs to live a reasonably normal life somewhere for about eight years, which is the length of time someone can generally go before the lack of aging becomes obvious.

The story flashes back to various points in his history, including his youth, before he realized what was happening to him and he made the mistake of getting married — they were two young people getting married, but after years went by, it looked like a middle-aged woman married to a teenager. Worse, that was a period of witchcraft scares, and not aging looked awfully suspicious. In the present, he’d really just like to have a normal life. It gets lonely not being able to maintain a relationship with someone who isn’t like him for more than eight years. He thinks he has a daughter somewhere out there who’s like him (he had to separate from his family because of that witchcraft thing), and he’d like to find her.

This was a fairly quick read, and it was quite engrossing and fascinating. I love history, so I enjoyed visiting the various time periods. I did have a bit of cognitive dissonance as a Doctor Who fan, since old person who looks young and doesn’t seem to age, bouncing around in time, reads to me as Time Lord, and so I kept expecting him to recognize major events that were about to happen. Then I remembered that it was only the story that was bouncing around in time. He’d actually experienced these events the slow way, in the proper order (as the Doctor would say).

There were jacket blurbs swooning about how romantic the book was, but as a former romance author who tends to write things with romance in them, I didn’t find it that romantic. It’s Guy Literary Romance, which is basically a young woman being fascinated with a middle-aged (looking) man. So, if you’re looking for something deeply romantic, this won’t scratch that itch.

I’d say this is a great choice if you want to sneak something science fiction or fantasy into your book group that isn’t normally into that sort of thing. It’s also a fun read for Doctor Who fans, if you want to imagine the main character as a Time Lord. It sounds like I’m not really praising it, but I did like it. I just don’t want anyone to be disappointed from expecting it to be something that it really isn’t. And now I’d kind of like to try writing the book that I expected this to be. Because I need more story ideas to add to the list.


Sailing with the Liveship Traders

I have more books to discuss! Earlier this year, I read the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb. After a little break (now that I’m aware of the dangers of binge reading and know it’s wise to put some space between books if I don’t want to burn out on a series), I dove into the Liveship Traders trilogy (starting with Ship of Magic), and I loved it even more. Part of that may be that I’m fascinated with sailing ships and love reading about seaside cultures, but I also loved the scope of the series and the varying viewpoints.

This series is about a community built around a group of seagoing traders who sail on magical ships. The ships are built from enchanted wood that’s particularly sturdy. It also absorbs memories from the people on board, and after a few generations of a family working on the ship, with family members dying on board and having their blood absorbed, the ship “quickens” and becomes sentient. The figurehead becomes a living being who can talk and move, and the ship can just about sail itself. But there are costs, as a family goes into deep debt to get such a ship, and it can take generations to pay off that debt. A bad year can get a family in trouble so that they risk losing everything.

At the beginning of the series, things start to go horribly wrong. There are newcomers granted land by a distant ruler who come in and want to make changes. A young woman who believed she would inherit her family’s ship when her father died is shocked to learn that her parents decided to give it to her sister, to be captained by her outsider husband, with his young son (who’d rather be a priest) as the family member who needs to be on board to interact with the ship. The new captain, worried about the family’s debts, thinks that transporting slaves is the only way to make money quickly enough. Meanwhile, there’s a pirate captain who hates slavery and believes that if he could just capture himself a liveship, he could take out the slavers and make himself king of a pirate kingdom. And there’s a group of sea serpents with a vague sense that there’s something they need to find that would explain who they are and what they’re supposed to be. All of these story threads, and a few more, gradually weave together.

I would say that this isn’t the best series to read when you’re stressed because it’s very intense. Bad things happen to characters you like. People make bad decisions, and there are terrible consequences. But it’s incredibly satisfying seeing how it all plays out, so it rewards patience. The characters are really complex. There are few who are totally good or purely evil. The good people make mistakes and the bad people do some good things. There’s a character I hated in the first book who goes through some difficult things that result in a remarkable amount of growth, so by the end I’m cheering for her. There’s a character I go back and forth on — he seems terrible at first and is an antagonist, but then in the middle of doing some awful things he ends up making things much better for a lot of people, including a character who really needs to be helped. He does a lot of good while also being vain and a bit of a megalomaniac, but then he does something I can’t forgive (and I’m not asked to), even as I learn some of what made him the way he is and why he’s been doing these things. Depending on whose viewpoint I’m in and where we are in the story, I sometimes want him to be defeated, sometimes want him to prevail.

The multiple plot threads that seem disconnected that all come together is one of my bits of reading catnip, and what I loved here is that the way things fit together is set up well enough that I had the satisfaction of figuring out what was going on just before it was spelled out in the text — not so far ahead that it felt predictable, but giving me just enough time to get excited about what I’d figured out for myself before it was confirmed. There were a lot of “Oh!” moments in the last half of the last book.

Recommended for those who like a deep dive into a fantasy world and enjoy complex characterization and storytelling, but probably not the best thing to read if you’re under a lot of pressure and have a lot going on in your life (unless reading about people who have worse problems than you do relaxes you or is cathartic). This isn’t a cozy read by any means, but it’s definitely worth the torment.


Jealousy Isn’t Romantic

I don’t normally veer into controversial or political territory, but I have something I need to get off my chest.

I think maybe authors, particularly those writing for young people, should call a moratorium on the “jealousy is romantic because it means he cares” trope. Most of the school shooting incidents have been triggered in some way by romantic jealousy — the guy gets so outraged that he comes to school with a gun because either the girl doesn’t want to date him and is with someone else or the girl broke up with him and is with someone else. And yet, this attitude, short of the actual shooting, is shown to be the sign of great passion and romance in way too many books. It’s especially twisted when the jealous, possessive guy is triangled with the supportive friend, whose relationship with the heroine is seen as safe but passionless.

It really struck me in a book I was reading just before vacation. The heroine was already in a relationship with Guy 1, and he was irking me because his point of view chapters came across as very controlling and possessive to me. He thought of the heroine less by name and more by “my girl.” They worked in the same field and had equivalent skill and training, and she had abilities beyond his, but he still tried to keep her out of action and hated when she was doing her job because he wanted to “protect” her. Guy 1 even got the heroine pulled off a mission, in spite of the fact that she was most qualified for it, and lied to her about it because he wanted to keep her out of danger. I was very much in “oh, honey, you do not want to tie yourself to this one” mode.

Then the heroine has to work with Guy 2, going through all kinds of adventures and dangers with him. He respects her abilities and trusts her to be able to handle the situations they’re in. They put themselves on the line to help and protect each other, but in a way that’s more about being comrades and not about “you’re my girl, so I must protect your delicate, fragile self.” I was thinking that the author was going to pull a bait and switch on us, setting up Guy 1, then introducing Guy 2 as a contrast.

What really made me think we were meant to switch loyalties to Guy 2 was when Heroine and Guy 2 had been in terrible danger and were hiding out, then Guy 1 found them, and his first instinct was to reach for his weapon in a jealous rage because “his” girl was with this other guy. Never mind that he knew they’d been on the run together and he’d been looking for them to get them to safety. He doesn’t actually act on the rage, but he does go into a massive snit until the heroine has a chance to explain the situation to him. Guy 1 was dead to me at this point and I was sure that she’d end up with Guy 2.

Nope. Guy 2 was just a good friend and Guy 1, the one with all the jealous rages, possessiveness, lies, and control, was her true love. And I nearly threw the book across the room.

This pattern shows up time and time again in young adult fiction, and it’s a terrible model to present for romance. It’s not even about the “bad boy” vs. the “nice guy.” In this case, both of the guys would have probably been considered on the “nice” side. Neither was dark and dangerous. Both were sort of boy-next-door types. But the relationship that struck me as reasonably healthy was rejected in favor of the relationship that was a gun away from a school shooting.

Of course, fans are going to fan, and no matter what the author does there will be a big Team Jerk faction, but the author doesn’t have to stack the deck. Why can’t heroines swoon over guys who trust and respect them and be turned off by jealousy and control? Why show a relationship based on mutual respect and trust as being only worthy of friendship, not romance? If you can’t make a healthy relationship romantic and exciting, you need to work on your writing skills. The jealousy is just a crutch for a way to convey passion and deep feeling. It’s a shortcut, an easy out.

If you moved your romantic hero into a present-day high school and the counselors would red-flag his behavior as a potential shooter, the guy who’d snap if the girl he liked dated someone else, you’ve got a problem, and maybe you shouldn’t be presenting this to impressionable young people as something positive.


Vacation Reading

While I was on vacation, I managed to get through some of my e-reader backlog, finishing one book I’ve been reading on airplanes for a while (it’s a collection of short stories, so it’s not as though I’ve been stopping a novel mid-way and forgetting about it until the next flight) and reading three others. One of them was a bit of a disappointment (and based on the reviews of the sequel, I won’t be bothering with it unless I can get it from the library), the other was so-so, but one I can actually recommend — Matchmaking for Beginners, by Maddie Dawson.

I know “chick lit” is kind of a naughty term in publishing now and no one wants to be associated with it, but I think this really does fit the pattern of the British kind of chick lit — after her life gets upended, the heroine finds new hope in a new place among a quirky cast of characters. Only this is set in the US and she finds her new life in Brooklyn, as opposed to the British books where the heroine ends up in a village. But, really, this probably would best be described as magical realism chick lit.

An elderly woman has become quite the matchmaker because she has the ability to actually see love, as though it’s a physical force. Not only can she tell which people are made for each other (or not), but she can see the things people need. Now she’s ill and dying but still has some projects left unfinished. Then she meets her great-nephew’s fiancee and can tell that this young woman is like her — and not meant for the great-nephew.

When her relationship falls apart rather spectacularly, this young woman first tries to move on in a very conventional, safe way, until she finds out that her ex’s great aunt left her a Brooklyn brownstone containing a number of people who need her to use her gifts.

This was a really sweet, fun romantic comedy full of endearing characters. It’s a very cozy book, just right for a vacation read. I know this kind of book often gets sneered at for being “fluff,” but I always find it inspiring, making me think about choices I’ve made in my life and what I could do to make my life more fulfilling while bringing joy to others. After reading it, I found myself wanting to be nicer to people and really pay attention to the people I encountered.

I think people who like my Enchanted, Inc. books would like this. It’s not outright fantasy with wizards and such, but there is a touch of magic along with the slow-burn romance and fun secondary characters.


Forgotten Fantasy

I’ve seen a few articles lately about major fantasy works published in the 1980s, the works everyone should have read, or the wave of what one writer referred to as “extruded Tolkien byproduct” fantasy that came out in the 70s and 80s. But what’s weird is that although I was a fantasy reader in the 80s, I hadn’t read most of the works referred to.

Which got me wondering what, exactly, I did read. I know that before I finished high school in the mid-80s I knew I wanted to be a fantasy novelist. I was already scribbling bits of stories in spiral notebooks. I knew all the tropes. But how did I manage to get to that point without having read a lot of the books that supposedly all fantasy nerds were reading at that time?

I was a big fairy tale fan as a child, with books of the tales, as well as the books/record albums of the Disney movies. I went through a “witch” phase in second and third grade, when Bewitched reruns were the big thing among the girls at school, but most of the books I read then wouldn’t really fit with the kind of fantasy I later to write (though they were closer to what I have ended up writing). I read The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis during my “horse” phase, but I don’t think it registered to me as fantasy, in spite of the talking horses, perhaps because I didn’t know it was part of a series. And, I guess, when you’ve read plenty of horse books that are actually narrated by horses, the talking horse thing doesn’t seem quite that fantastical. I read a lot of the Oz books, as well.

Probably my first experience with fantasy as fantasy would be The Hobbit, which I read in fourth grade. In sixth grade, I got into the Narnia books as fantasy, and then read The Lord of the Rings. Soon afterward, I read all of the Lloyd Alexander Prydain books.

I know I read the Katherine Kurtz Deryni books starting sometime in maybe my junior year of high school, and they were a huge influence on me wanting to write fantasy. I must have read The Sword of Shannara somewhere around this time because I know I was excited to find The Elfstones of Shannara in a used bookstore my senior year of high school. I had all the Alan Dean Foster Spellsinger series. I recall trying to read the first Thomas Covenant book and being repulsed, but I did read Donaldson’s Mirror books. I read Mary Stewart’s Merlin series, but that read more like historical fiction than like genre fantasy.

Otherwise, I’m not entirely sure what I was reading that made me aware of the tropes and wanting to write fantasy. At the time, there was no library in our town, so we had to get memberships in the library in a nearby small town, and I don’t think we found that option until maybe my sophomore year. Their fantasy offerings were rather limited, though I know that’s where I found the first Deryni book, The Sword of Shannara, and the Thomas Covenant book I tried. The only bookstore in the area with new books was the mall bookstore, which had maybe one shelf of fantasy, but there was a big used bookstore, and I remember spending a lot of time scouring the fantasy section (though, oddly, my current shelves don’t seem to reflect that, but I don’t get rid of a lot of fantasy books).

A lot of the stuff from that era I ended up reading in the 90s or later, like the Tad Williams Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series or the Eddings books.

I read pretty widely, so it wasn’t all fantasy. I also read a lot of mysteries, World War II thrillers, spy novels, and historical novels. Maybe I was captivated enough by the fantasy I did read to want to do that. Maybe some of what I read was obscure enough that it doesn’t show up on those lists. I have learned that some of the books from those “of course everyone has read these” lists don’t always hold up well. If they were among the first fantasy you read, back in the 80s, I’m sure they were captivating. If you read them for the first time more recently, after having read (and written) a lot more, they come across as kind of trite.

Maybe there were things I read that I don’t remember now but that planted some kind of seed in my imagination.


Recent Reading: A Magical Sherlock

I have one more scene to write, the “whew, we made it, and now we’ll live happily ever after” wrap-up, before I’m done with this book. Well, this draft of this book. I already know the last few chapters will need revision because I was mostly just getting stuff out there, and now it will need fine tuning. But it will be nice to have the whole draft done and an ending.

Meanwhile, I’ve been somewhat remiss in talking about what I’ve been reading. I’ve been on a non-fiction kick of some fairly esoteric things, just working on continuing my own education, but I’ve also been making more time to read novels.

I dug into my To Be Read pile of books I got at the World Fantasy Convention last fall, and I found a new series to devour. The first book in the series is Jackaby, by William Ritter, and the best way I can think of to describe it to my readers is if Lord Henry became a detective and Verity was his assistant. Or maybe if a young Sherlock Holmes had magic.

Our Heroine is a teenage runaway from England, an archaeologist’s daughter who thought that dig sites would be more exciting than they turned out to be when she ran off to work on one, who ends up in America, mostly because she doesn’t want to go home and doesn’t have anywhere else to go. She needs a job, fast, so she goes to the address on a card posted at the post office, and there she finds a rather unusual detective. This young man can do the full Sherlock thing of knowing where someone’s from and where he’s been, but he’s not picking up on tiny clues like the color of the mud on a person’s shoes. He has a gift for seeing the magical creatures that are invisible to everyone else, and it’s those magical creatures that clue him in to what a person’s been up to. That means he can solve cases that elude most detectives and the police. The more open-minded police welcome his help, but others can’t abide him.

And so, our heroine finds herself living and working in a haunted house (the former resident is actually rather nice) with an eccentric detective, a former assistant who’s suffered a magical accident and doesn’t want to be turned back to his original form, a frog you don’t want to look at, and a swamp in the attic. And they’re investigating what seems to be a serial killer.

This was a fun fantasy mystery that I think fans of my Rebels books would enjoy. As I said, the characters are along the lines of Henry and Verity. And, like my books, these are published as young adult, but I think they’d appeal to all ages. I need to read the rest of the series (there are 4 books now, plus a story that’s free for Kindle).