Friday, May 13, 2022

Thoughts on Search for the Astral Dragon

Hello hello! As I've mentioned several times, today I'm sharing my thoughts on Bryan Davis's latest release, Search for the Astral Dragon. I remember reading an early version of the first chapter years and years ago, when Davis was still doing writing advice and critiques on his blog, so it was cool to get to see the finished story now. I can tell you up front that it's a story well worth picking up — read on to find out why.

 Thoughts on Search for the Astral Dragon

  1. This story has the same vibes as Dragons in Our Midst, and I'm here for it. I keep trying to figure out how to explain what I mean by this, and I don't think I'm going to be able to articulate my precise thoughts, but — reading Search for the Astral Dragon feels very much like reading Dragons in Our Midst, even though the stories and characters are quite different indeed. I don't think that feeling is just because this is a middle grade/early YA novel (versus the adult works Davis has mostly been writing lately), nor do I think it's just because of the comparative ages of the characters. The fact that it's less gritty than Reapers or Oculus Gate probably does have something to do with it, but I think it's also the themes and the general "attitude" of the book. Whatever the source, I very much appreciated it.
  2. Davis does space adventure quite well. Bryan Davis has plenty of experience in sci-fi writing — even his fantasy series have a healthy dose of science-fiction elements. However, this is the first time that he's taken his stories into space, and he does an excellent job of it. The space travel and space combat elements felt believable, and we have a nice variety of planets and beings living on these planets. (I will say that I had trouble differentiating or, to some degree, picturing some of the alien races, whose names I can't currently remember . . . but that may also be a me problem.)
  3. I liked the characters, though I didn't get super attached to them. I mean, I very much cared what happened to them and whether they made it to the end of the story, but I don't think any of them will be living rent-free in my head. Megan Willis is a spunky, determined lead who feels pleasantly different from any of Davis's previous protagonists. Oliver, Crystal, and Dirk were all interesting in their ways, and Perdanthus was probably my second-favorite character (though I don't think I could put my finger on why).
  4. Some of the "humor" was pretty juvenile. Humor, for the record, is in quotation marks because I didn't find the bits I'm referring to particularly funny. Davis is usually pretty good at including lighthearted moments in his stories, typically via friends teasing each other or, if the situation allows, being goofy as friends often are, and these moments generally feel pretty natural. However, there's a particular running "joke" in Astral Dragon (at least, I assume it's meant to be funny) that made me groan each of the half-dozen times it came up, and not in the "That pun was so bad it's good" way. It's not offensive, it's just . . . not funny to me, and probably not to anyone except maybe a preteen boy. (I remember having a similar problem in Wanted: A Superhero to Save the World, so it could just be a thing with how Davis writes for younger audiences.)
  5. The themes were excellent. A common theme in many of Davis's books is the tension between justice and mercy, and that's particularly evident in Search for the Astral Dragon. Davis encourages readers to ponder along with Megan when and if it is right or wrong to take a life — even a villain's life — and what an "acceptable sacrifice" really means, if it exists at all. Weighty topics for a middle grade novel, but Davis handles them well, with enough nuance for adult readers and enough sensitivity for younger ones.

Does Search for the Astral Dragon sound like your cup of tea? If so, you can pick it up on Amazon or on the author's site — and please tell me in the comments what element of the book you think sounds most interesting! If you've read it already, do you know what I mean about it feeling like Dragons in Our Midst?
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah

Friday, May 6, 2022

April 2022 Doings!

April has, unsurprisingly, flown right by, and here we are in May already. I think you all already know what the month's main events were (one of them was pretty hard to miss if you follow me anywhere online), but we'll get on with the Doings all the same.

Writing!

  • Mask of Scarlet is officially published and out in the world! Huzzah! We did have a little delay on Kindle Unlimited availability due to my forgetting to click the "make available in KU" button, but otherwise, the release went pretty well. Many thanks to everyone who participated!
  • Other than Mask of Scarlet release stuff, my main writing project was starting the rewrite/first edit of Through a Shattered Glass (formerly known as the Super Secret Mystery Project). This has been going a bit slower than anticipated — I had a couple busy weeks when I didn't get to do as much as I wanted. But in general, it's coming along well, and the fact that I'm working with a much more extended timeline than usual means I can get in an extra round of feedback, which I'm happy about.
  • I also did some work on the current module of the Defenders of Serys D&D campaign I'm running, though we missed several weeks this month, which meant I didn't have to do too much. (The current adventure also has too many possible path branches for me to prep too far in advance.)
  • In general, stuff was pretty quiet on the writing front, but that's fine — it's always nice to have a more restful month.

Reading!

  • Well, this was a better reading month than March was.
  • Unsurprisingly, this month included a lot of ARCs. I've already posted my thoughts on most of those, but I'll provide a quick recap:
    • Tall & Dark was a delightful con/mystery adventure followup to Miss Sharp's Monsters. Highlights included the same memoir-ish style as Miss Sharp, the same dark and exciting world full of monstrous royalty, a new and clever MC, and a return of Grand Duke Vasily (who is having, just, the worst succession of bad days). I reviewed this at the start of the month.
    • My Soul to Take is the third of Bryan Davis's Oculus Gate series. It's a worldhopping Davis book, so obviously I enjoyed it — read the rest of my thoughts here.
    • Crown and Cinder and Cindy Ellen were my fellow Midnight Curfews books, and I enjoyed both very much! Crown and Cinder is a blend of Pride and Prejudice and Cinderella that just works wonderfully well (my thoughts), and Cindy Ellen is a short and sweet Old West Cinderella story (again, my thoughts here).
    • Search for the Astral Dragon is the only ARC here that I haven't already posted about — that's coming next week. In the meantime, I can say that it's a thrilling space adventure that I definitely recommend picking up.
  • Outside of ARCs, we have a nice assortment of stories. I did finally finish Raising Steam, though it took me pretty much all month (reading between ARCs and due library books). I stand by what I said earlier — it's a good story, but it's not a great Discworld novel. It lacks the usual spark, and I think it's largely because no one is an underdog anymore. At this point, I only have one book left in the series (well, plus Small Gods, which I may or may not read), and I'm hoping very hard that it doesn't suffer from the same problem.
  • On a more cheerful note: Every Living Thing is the final James Herriot memoir, and it's just as lovely as the others. This one deals a great deal with Herriot's family and with the new assistants who come through the practice, which was fun. Fullmetal Alchemist Vol. 4 was exciting, though I kind of can't believe that I didn't see a particular twist coming. Finally, Leading Edge is an anthology that contained a couple ok stories (interesting premises, but too open-ended for me) and one really delightful story about fae magic and goblin markets and true love. It's a pretty cheap ebook, and I'd recommend picking it up just for that one story.

Watching!

  • Aaaaand we're back to the watching-stuff slump, probably because I was too busy to spend much time on the treadmill or set aside work early enough to watch anything. I finished Critical Role Episode 8, watched a little bit more No Evil, and that's pretty much it.

Life!

  • . . . What the pumpernickel happened this month?
  • Outside of the book release, most of this month's activity centered around work and Holy Week . . . usually at the same time. Last year, the church was still in pandemic mode, so Easter was comparatively low-key. This year, we had a big Good Friday event in addition to services and promo graphics and regular weekly stuff, and . . . it was a lot.
  • And then I ended up getting hit hard by allergies and a little bit of a bug midway through Holy Week.
  • It was not a good time.
  • But everything got done that needed to be done! And I still got to go to Easter lunch with the Bible Study!
  • And I made a coconut cake, and it was delicious! It's a recipe from my former supervisor (the one who retired in January), and it was my first time trying it. I was a little nervous, but it turned out super well!
  • Other than Easter stuff . . . we spent two weekends working outside, one to cut and split a fallen tree into logs and one to split and stack all the wood we got from other fallen trees that we'd only cut into sections. That was, y'know, a lot. I'm just the person carrying things, and I was tired.
  • I ended the month with another cake, this one chocolate with chocolate icing. Mostly by accident, I ended up making it on the day of Mask of Scarlet's release. (I mostly made it for dessert at Bible study that evening.) It was also very tasty, though putting sprinkles on it was a mistake because they kind of . . . went everywhere.
  • I did not do very well with walking on the treadmill, nor did I figure out a stretching routine like I intended. I did start working on another goal, though, which is learning (via YouTube) some popular line dances. I'm hoping that, by the time September rolls around and I have another wedding to go to, I'll be able to actually participate in some of the dancing rather than just sitting on the sidelines.

May Plans

  • The most exciting bits of May are happening at the same time: my sister coming home from college for the summer and our Bible study's yearly retreat. I'm honestly not sure which I'm more excited about.
  • I intend to finish the first edit of Through a Shattered Glass by the end of the month — maybe a second round of edits as well, if things go extraordinarily well.
  • I also really need to figure out what's happening with the TaSG cover. Which probably means biting the bullet and hiring someone to make it, because once you factor in the cost of stock art, it's a pretty reasonably priced option. I'm just procrastinating because my favorite cover designer isn't available.
  • At work, I think May will end up being the Month of Signage . . . unless stuff keeps getting delayed, which is entirely possible. It will, if nothing else, probably be fairly quiet since we sorta dropped the summer newsletter that would normally be taking up a lot of time. (In theory, this means that I should also take the month to update all my how-to-do-this-job documentation and maybe print a copy so that other people can reference it. Will I actually do that? Who knows.)
  • One solid plan I do have is that I'm going to participate in Bryan Davis's big 20-years-of-authordom celebration contest! Which means y'all will be seeing a fair bit about Davis's books on my blog and social media accounts. (Don't worry; I will intersperse it with non-Davis-related stuff.)
  • This also means that I want to finish rereading Oracles of Fire so I can write the "rereading DiOM/OoF" blog post that I've been planning for months. I should probably get back to finishing up my series rereads in general, honestly . . .
  • I also want to work on crafting projects! Specifically, cosplay-related stuff for Realm Makers! My plan is to do more low-key cosplays three days (which will have a base of primarily items that I either already have in my closet or can wear as normal clothes in addition to in a cosplay), plus a "centerpiece" outfit for the Awards Banquet. I am very excited, and I'm trying to manage my expectations, but . . . yeah. I have gotten very few opportunities in my life to cosplay, so I like taking advantage of the opportunities I do get, especially because I've been watching a fair number of Morgan Donner videos in the last year.

How was your April? Any exciting plans for May? Did you pick up any of the Midnight Curfews releases? What's your favorite cake (to make or to eat)? Do you enjoy cosplay? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 29, 2022

5 Reasons to Read Mask of Scarlet

And it's here! Mask of Scarlet has officially released! If you preordered the ebook, it should have hit your Kindle or Kindle app this morning, and if you've been holding out for the paperback, you can order that now on Amazon! Quite a few people have already told me how excited they are about this book, and to all of them I say . . . thank you. Y'all are wonderful.

On the other hand, maybe you're on the fence about picking it up. Maybe you want to know what to expect and look forward to in this story. If so, I'm going to give you five reasons why you should absolutely pick up Mask of Scarlet.

About . . .

Mask of Scarlet

Bastian Dennel, PI #3

Bastian Dennel is a detective, not a matchmaker.

But he’s also not one to turn down easy mazuma. So when one of Innsjøby’s richest young sheiks hires him to find his so-called true love — a girl he’s met only once at a masked party — Bastian is on the case. After his last few high-risk adventures, he’s ready for a job where the most difficult part will be collecting his payment. Sure, all he has to go on is a guest list and a description . . . but how hard can it be?

Of course, easy money always has a catch, and what should’ve been a simple search turns out to be anything but. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on who this mystery girl should be, whether or not it matches reality, and even the Families are getting involved. To make matters worse, Dayo is acting cagey, and Bastian doesn’t know why.

Bastian’s business is the truth. But what can he do when everyone around him has already decided what they want the truth to be? Find out in this Jazz-Age take on “Cinderella,” book three of the Bastian Dennel, PI mysteries!

Find it on: Amazon || Goodreads

 

5 Reasons to Read Mask of Scarlet

  1. Because you need more of Bastian in your life. Bastian seems to be a fan favorite out of all my characters . . . for good reason; I love him too. (He would point out that I have a very strange way of showing it, especially in this book, but, y'know. Authors are like that.) In any case, Bastian wouldn't call himself a hero, but he is a genuinely good guy, and Mask of Scarlet is a story in which I think he really proves his character.
  2. Because the only thing better than one Dennel detective . . . is two Dennel detectives. That's right! After her adventures in Gilded in Ice, Kona is joining Bastian as his assistant as he investigates this mystery. And that, of course, means some very fun interactions as Bastian shows Kona the ropes of detective work.
  3. Because you want to meet Dayo's family. Fun fact: Dayo actually has a very large family — the only major character whose family might be bigger is Caio. We don't meet all of Dayo's family here, but we do meet quite a few members, including some who play a large role in the book.
  4. Because this is a family-focused book . . . in more ways than one. In Innsjøby, there's family and there's Family, and both are quite important in this story. The latter is a side of Innsjøby that I haven't gotten to explore much in previous books, but which will play a larger role in some later stories I have planned. So it was cool to get to work with it a little more here.
  5. Because you want to see more of your favorite Innsjøby couples. Bastian and Dayo's relationship plays a pretty significant role in this story — I'll let you decide whether or not that makes you worry. But Mikael and Kona also get a couple turns in the spotlight. And while I'm still keeping romance pretty low-key . . . well, let's just say there was some excited squeeing in the beta comments over a few scenes.

Are you excited about Mask of Scarlet? What are you most looking forward to about it? Is there anything you're hoping to see either from this story or future Bastian Dennel, PI stories? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 28, 2022

5 Thoughts on Cindy Ellen

Hello, everyone! It's DAY TWO of the Midnight Curfews release party, and today we're celebrating Rachel Roden's Cindy Ellen, book 3 in the Wunstaponia series of Old West fairy tale retellings. This is a nonmagical short story retelling, and it's pretty fun. I'll be sharing my thoughts on it here, but first, let's get the rundown of book and author.

About . . .

Cindy Ellen

Wunstaponia #3

Once upon a time, way out west...

Cindy Ellen runs the local store, selling supplies to foresters, ranchers, and prospectors while her stepmother gives her neverending orders and spoils her stepsisters. She can't do anything right, even as she's the only one doing anything. Can one ball change her life forever? Perhaps not, but at least it might give her one night of freedom.

Find it on: Amazon || Goodreads

Rachel Roden

Rachel Roden is a natural storyteller, capable of weaving the most hilarious of fairy tales. She fell in love with the Lone Ranger in her teens, but ended up with a basketball referee instead. A homeschool mom of four, she also teaches with VIP Kids and tutors any other kid who wanders across her path. She might also be the sole human who still uses math after college.

Find her online at: Blog || Goodreads || YouTube || Instagram || Twitter

5 Thoughts on Cindy Ellen

  1. Old West fairytales are just fun. This isn't quite the same brand of Old West as Rapunzel's Revenge (a delightful graphic novel retelling of, you guessed it, Rapunzel), but it still has the vibes. And, of course, it's a nice change of pace from the usual fairy tale settings.
  2. It's always interesting to see non-magical retellings. I would say Cinderella is probably one of the easier stories to rework without magic, but it's still neat to see how the author changes things to suit a setting that doesn't support fairy godmothers and enchanted pumpkins.
  3. I liked the twists on the prince character. It's difficult to say a lot here without spoiling things, but I will say that the prince in this story is almost as much of a mysterious figure to the community as Cinderella is, and there's some elements traditionally associated with her that get switched over to him. It's definitely not a full-on genderbend, but it is rather clever.
  4. I do have a little bit of uncertainty around the timeline? This normally wouldn't be worth mentioning — some days, I can hardly keep track of real-world time, let alone story time. But it does affect the age gap between the members of the main couple, which is . . . I'll be honest, it's a bit on the wide side for a story in which one character isn't an immortal elf or something similar. It's not necessarily out of place for the setting, just . . . yeah. Your mileage may vary.
  5. All in all, it's a fun take on the classic fairy tale. Is it the best Cinderella I've ever read? No. But it is a pleasant read and a creative twist on the original, and I'd say it's well worth picking up.

Are you excited about Cindy Ellen? How do you feel about non-magical retellings? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Midnight Curfews Release Party: 5 Reasons to Read Crown & Cinder

Hello, everyone! Welcome to the Midnight Curfews release party, where we're celebrating the release of THREE new Cinderella retellings! You can learn about all three at the release info page, but we'll be taking it one book at a time. The first of these? Kendra E. Ardnek's Crown & Cinder, the sequel to Rose Petals and Snowflakes. This take on Cinderella, blends it with Pride and Prejudice, and then derails both stories, to magnificent effect. This was the Austen Fairy Tale that I was most excited about and had the highest expectations for, and I very much enjoyed what I got. I'll tell you why in a minute . . . but first, a bit about the book and author.

About . . .

Crown & Cinder

The Austen Fairy Tale #2

It is a fact universally acknowledged that a girl, in possession of stepmother and stepsisters, must be in want of a fairy godmother to come whisk her away to some ball, where she might fall in love with a prince and live happily ever after...

Lizzy hated facts universally acknowledged.

Lizzy is a Cinder. However, conjuring fire at one’s fingertips isn’t considered appropriate in polite society, so she hides among her family's servants. Besides, her ruse also serves to protect her country from the Mistress's mad quest for power. No, it's much better all around if she lets her stepsister live her life.

But now the Gardener has taken the Mistress's throne, her motives unknown, and three royal balls have thrown Lizzy into the path of the most irritating king in the land. Meanwhile, can her beloved stepsister ever find a man willing to look past her farmer father? It's a complicated mess and Lizzy only wants out.

Too bad the Forest doesn't care what she wants.

Find it on: Amazon || Goodreads

 

Kendra E. Ardnek

Kendra E. Ardnek is the self-proclaimed Arista of Fairy Tales. She lives in the Piney Woods of East Texas with her dragon babies and massive herd of mini-giraffes, and she is still waiting for one of of her fifty nutcrackers to come to life and marry her. When not writing, you can usually find her sitting in a random box, and she's frequently known to act before she thinks.

Find her online at: Website || Blog || Goodreads || Facebook || Twitter || YouTube || Newsletter || Instagram || TikTok || Amazon 

5 Reasons to Read Crown & Cinder

  1. Cinderella and Pride and Prejudice are a match worthy of Austen herself. I think it's fair to say that a lot of people's first instinct when combining Pride and Prejudice with a fairy tale would be to pair it with Beauty and the Beast. Which isn't unreasonable . . . but the dominant themes and concepts in Pride and Prejudice fit much better with those of Cinderella. Both are stories about, as Kendra put it, "class distinction, falling in love at balls, and dysfunctional families" — and, of course, a young woman escaping a disadvantaged situation through an unlikely romance.
  2. Look, when we said "derails," we meant derails. The tagline for this book is "When Pride and Prejudice derails Cinderella" — though I would argue that the derailment is pretty much mutual. This is not the kind of P&P retelling that's a scene-for-scene retelling of the original, just with a new setting and a little twist or two. Kendra hits all the important story beats, and she has some fabulous takes on the classic scene (Darcy/Darren's first proposal is particularly excellent), but this is still very much its own story.
  3. I really enjoy Kendra's versions of Lizzy and Darcy. And most of the characters, really, but particularly those two. This version of Lizzy is fiery in more than personality — she's a Cinder, which means she can produce flames from her fingertips and which also makes her of questionable status in her society. On top of that, her efforts to protect her home and family from the Forest's Mistress have made her a bit of a schemer, which is fun. On the other hand, Darren (this story's Darcy) is the king of a neighboring country, Ember, and while he doesn't have the initial bite of the original, he's pretty great. (We also get to see his interactions with his sister on screen, which is, y'know, lovely.)
  4. All your favorites from Rose Petals and Snowflakes are back. As is the fallout from that book! We see the effects of the change in management, as it were, of the Forest, as well as the results of some broken curses and how they affect other lands. And, delightfully, Elinrose and Earnest are both significant characters in Crown & Cinder. It was really fun to see them back.
  5. You don't have to read Rose Petals and Snowflakes to enjoy Crown & Cinder. You will get spoilers for RP&S . . . but anything that's important is explained in the book to the degree necessary to understand what's going on. Of course, once you read Crown & Cinder, you'll probably want to go back and find out what happened before . . . but the point is, you can read Crown & Cinder first if you want to.

Are you excited about Crown & Cinder? What's your favorite retelling of Pride and Prejudice? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

 

Friday, April 22, 2022

On the Taleweaver's Desk Issue 4: April 2022

 Hello, everyone! Hope y'all are having a good spring. I've certainly had a productive few months — though, strangely, the writing side of things has felt less stressful and busy than it did six months ago, even though I'm arguably getting more done. Stuff's weird. Also, despite my productivity, this list hasn't changed much . . . though I do have some updates for you! As always, if you want more information on any project in this post, you can find that on my Works in Progress page!


On the Taleweaver's Desk Issue 4: April 2022

On the Desktop

These are the projects you might find open on my laptop or desk if you took a peek at it during a normal day. They're currently in progress and at the top of the priority chart.

Mask of Scarlet (Bastian Dennel, PI #3)

What is it? Book 3 in my Bastian Dennel, PI series, a Jazz Age mystery take on Cinderella (with a little inspiration from "The Red Shoes" for extra spice).

Status: Releasing in one week! Don't forget to preorder the ebook! Also learn how you can join the release party and help spread the word.

It's wonderful how much faster every stage of editing after the initial edit/rewrite is. You go from "This will take a month if I'm lucky" to "Two weeks and I'm through" to "I'll go slow and take three days" to "Eh, I can get it done this afternoon." I actually managed to get this finished well ahead of schedule — pretty impressive, considering the fact that I originally expected to be working up to the last minute — and at this point, everything is ready to go. All I have to do is hit "publish" on the paperback and send out promo materials to those who want something special to share for the release.

Super Secret Mystery Project . . . aka, Through a Shattered Glass

What is it? A dark-ish portal fantasy remix of Lewis Carroll's Alice books combined with The Snow Queen.

Status: TITLE REVEAL TIME, Y'ALL! Also, drafted and currently in the first rewrite.

I drafted Through a Shattered Glass over the course of about three weeks while Mask of Scarlet was with beta readers. I've vaguely considered doing an Alice retelling for a while, but I didn't come up with the idea of combining it with The Snow Queen until October 2021. I let the concepts stew for a while until after I finished Mask of Scarlet, by which point the storyline was . . . well, not solidly in place, but firm enough to outline and then write. It's a very different animal from the Bastian Dennel, PI books, which I think helped me write it so quickly. (It's also first person POV. Storms I've missed first person POV.) I then let it sit while I finished up Mask of Scarlet, and I just picked it back up to start rewrites this week. At the moment, I'm about three chapters in.

D&D Campaign: Defenders of Serys

What is it? Defenders of Serys is the homebrew D&D campaign that I run for my D&D group.

Status: Slowly writing Season 4 Module 2.

Look, we've been playing kind of sporadically, and the material I had stretched over more sessions than I expected it do, and my motivation to work on this has been low. Also, the party is in Middle Earth, meddling with the affairs of The Lord of the Rings after they derailed the story several sessions back (as in, they derailed LOTR, not the campaign story), so I feel pretty confident in my ability to improv. After all, I already have a framework to work inside of, and if we end up in a combat scenario I didn't anticipate, well, I have a pretty limited scope of enemies to pick from. In any case, I have the next couple sessions pretty much prepped, so I'm not worried.

Stacked on the Side

These are the stories that I'm not actively working on (at least not officially), but I'm keeping close at hand because I plan to get back to them soon (or I just work on them sporadically as the urge takes me).

There are no significant changes to any of these projects since my October 2021 update, but I'll leave the list here for anyone who hasn't seen it before!

Blood in the Earth

What is it? Blood in the Earth is the sequel to Blood in the Snow and a retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses crossed with the myth of Hades and Persephone.

Status: First draft finished; awaiting rewrites. Probably won't happen this year unless there's a miracle . . . even though I do genuinely want to go back to this sooner rather than later.

Once Upon a Dream

What is it? A light steampunk (or gaslamp fantasy?) Sleeping Beauty retelling; the predecessor to The Midnight Show

Status: Edited several times over. Awaiting another round of rewrites/expansion/edits.

Shelved for Now

These are stories that are also on hold, but which I don't have specific plans to work on very soon. They're still within easy reach should I decide to return to them, but they aren't a top priority.

There are no significant changes to any of these projects since my October 2021 update, but I'll leave the list here for anyone who hasn't seen it before!

Dust of Silver

What is it? Classic-ish fantasy retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses crossed with Rapunzel, the first book in what has the potential to be a rather long series. Also, a rewrite of a book I wrote years ago that won't let go of me because CHARACTERS.

Status: Several chapters into the rewrite, though those several chapters haven't been touched in a few years. I swear I'll get back to this . . .

Between Two Worlds

What is it? A portal fantasy adventure about what happens when you come home from the adventure, only to discover that the adventure isn't quite as done with you as you thought.

Status: Awaiting another round of edits/rewrites while I write other things and daydream about its sequels.

The Way of the Pen

What is it? Self-aware fantasy adventure about a girl and her author.

Status: The first draft is sitting on my shelf, patiently waiting for its turn back in the spotlight, as it has been for some time.

Berstru Tales series

What is it? A classic epic fantasy series and the longest-running series I've worked on (either in the number of books written or in how long I've worked on it.

Status: Needs to be rewritten from the ground up, but the bones are good. I did come up with more new and exciting ways to make the characters' lives difficult, so . . . there's that?

A Tower of Portals Campaign

What is it? A second D&D campaign inspired by one of my favorite video games.

Status: On hold; worked on as I come up with new ideas and have time.

Awaiting Delivery

These are the stories that are on their way, but haven't quite arrived yet to the point where I can write them: ideas I'm toying with but haven't even started to draft because they're still too nebulous.

Additional Bastian Dennel, PI novels

What is it? Exactly what the heading said.

Status: I have solid, albeit unwritten, plans for the next two Bastian Dennel, PI novels, and I plan to start outlining and drafting Book 4 once I get to a good spot with Through a Shattered Glass, and Book 5 is next in line after that. I possibly have Book 6 pretty well figured out as well, though I may end up switching it in terms of series position with one of two other ideas — that'll depend on some other factors. I'm keeping plotlines close to my chest for the moment, but I can tell you that at least one of the stories in the pipeline is a murder mystery.

Novellas from the world of Blood in the Snow

What are they? Currently, three ideas for spinoffs, most of which are also fairy tale retellings: one Puss in Boots (no, really), one Orpheus and Eurydice (probably crossed with a similar Japanese myth, Izanagi and Izanami), and one that's not currently a fairy tale retelling but would be about Gan and Azuma before they were animal-keepers at the emperor's palace (inspired the summer I spent watching a lot of Hogan's Heroes.

Status: Won't be written until after I edit Blood in the Earth.

Unnamed Fantasy Murder Mystery

What is it? Exactly what the headline says. A prominent noble is murdered; his adoptive daughter is poised to inherit his lands and position — but some are saying her hand was behind his death.

Status: Still just an idea. Still not going to be tackled until after Blood in the Earth.

Worldhoppers Inc./Mythology D&D Campaign

What is it? Yet another homebrew D&D campaign. Or two. Technically it's two possible themes for series of connected one-shots and short-term adventures, with a few adventure ideas for each theme and a chance that I'll just try to combine them.

Status: Probably not going to work on this until I have a lot of spare time, need a new campaign for my D&D group, or have reason to prioritize the Welsh myth adventure. I'm also moving some of what I had planned for it into Defenders of Serys, which is going to be great.

And that about covers it! What do you think of the concept of Through a Shattered Glass? Are you more excited for Mask of ScarletThrough a Shattered Glass, or the future Bastian Dennel, PI books? Tell me in the comments! And once again, don't forget to preorder Mask of Scarlet and RSVP for the Midnight Curfews release party!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 15, 2022

Thoughts on My Soul to Take

Hey'a, everyone! A couple years ago, I reviewed Bryan Davis's Heaven Came Down, the first in the Oculus Gate series of post-apocalyptic fantasy novels. Recently, Mr. Davis was kind enough to pass along an ARC of the latest book in the series, My Soul to Take, which releases today on Amazon. Mr. Davis has said he considers this the best book in the series, and while I'm not sure if I prefer this or Invading Hell, it is pretty great.

Thoughts on My Soul to Take

  1. Worldhopping Davis books are the best Davis books. It's no secret that my favorite Davis books tend to be the ones where the characters spend a lot of time hopping world-to-world or dimension-to-dimension — books like Circles of Seven, the Time Echoes series, or the previous Oculus Gate book, Invading Hell. As in that previous book, the storyline is spread over three different worlds, with characters trying to escape one and save two others. It's pretty great.
  2. The family element is awesome. One thing I love about Davis books in general is that he often has families — found and natural — working and fighting side-by-side, supporting each other in the direst of circumstances. This book is no exception.
  3. The crossover is strong with this one. If you read Invading Hell, you know that the Oculus Gate books fit in the same storyworld as Time Echoes and Reapers. While there were a few crossover elements in that book, the crossover and references are much stronger here, and it was really fun to be able to say "Hey! I recognize that!" That said, if you haven't read the other series (or you've started them and haven't finished them), you can still enjoy this story. Anything you need to know is explained in text. (That said, you should absolutely read Time Echoes. It's great.)
  4. You definitely want to reread the previous Oculus Gate books before picking up this one. There are some series where it's easy to just pick up the latest book and fall naturally back into the narrative. Oculus Gate is not one of them, or at least it wasn't for me. While I wasn't outright bewildered at any point, there was more than one instance when I found myself trying to remember who or what something or someone was or whether or not a particular comment was a reference to a past Oculus Gate book or to something that happened in one of the other connected series. A caveat here: I read about 50% of this book after 11 PM (and I finished the book at 3 AM-ish after waking up in the middle of the night because allergies), so my brain was not exactly functioning at top capacity. That said, I do think it has a lot to do with the fact that Heaven Came Down is a rather different story than the other two books in the series — same characters, yes, but very different problems.
  5. That ending, though. Obviously, I can't say a ton without giving away spoilers. But I will say that I got to the end of the book and I couldn't believe there weren't more pages — I literally tapped the next page function on my Kindle several times trying to figure out where the rest of the book was because I needed to know what happened next. And that's not a reaction I have terribly often.

On a related note, y'all might want to know that in May, Bryan Davis is having a contest to celebrate twenty years of writing — which, look, y'all. That's super impressive. Anyway, you can earn points by sharing about the books on various social media, and the prizes for those who earn the most points are pretty shiny. Click here for all the details if you want to check it out.

Have you read the Oculus Gate series? If so, which book is your favorite? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah

Friday, April 8, 2022

You Absolutely Need to Read Tall and Dark

Ladies and gents — it's back. And by "it," I mean stories set in the world of Suzannah Rowntree's fabulous historical fantasy mystery series, Miss Sharp's Monsters. But this time, we're following Miss Dark, a young woman with the ability to see ghosts (sort of) who gets roped into impersonating a missing princess in order to con a family of royal monsters out of a fortune. Tall and Dark is the first in Miss Dark’s Apparitions, the successor series to Miss Sharp's Monsters, and it's every bit as good as the original. I was lucky enough to get a review copy, so I'll be sharing my thoughts with y'all today. 

You Absolutely Need to Read Tall and Dark

  1. You don't have to have read Miss Sharp's Monsters to enjoy it. While this is a successor to Miss Sharp, it's not a direct sequel. We have a mostly new cast, a new conflict, a new story type — rather than solving the mystery, we're causing it, so to speak, though we do take a bit of a turn into detective work at one point — and explanation enough that the new reader won't be lost.
  2. If you did read Miss Sharp, everything you loved is still there. Well, Liz Sharp and Inspector Short aren't (though one character a very definite reference to Miss Sharp at one point). But you've got the same world, the same excellent mix of fantasy and historical detail, the same storytelling style . . . you get the idea. Plus, while this isn't a sequel series, you do see some of the effects of Miss Sharp's adventures, cameos from and references to the previous books . . . and also one excellent crossover character, but we'll get to him in a minute.
  3. The writing voice is excellent. Like Miss Sharp, Tall and Dark is written in a sort of updated version of the Victorian memoir style: first person, with asides and comments to the reader, but still fairly quick-paced. I will say that there are a few sections that are essentially third person, in which the narrator relates events that she wasn't there for (but which she was presumably told about later), which are . . . kind of jarring? But on the whole, I liked the style just as much as I did in the previous series.
  4. The characters are excellent. Molly Dark is our POV character, and while she's not quite as strong a presence as Liz Sharp was, she's still excellent. She's doing her best to support her family and make use of her particular gift — the ability to see imprints, or memories of the deceased, to do some good for others. And then she gets wrapped up in trying to con a family of royal monsters out of a fortune and proves to have several devious bones . . . as well as a healthy sense of romance to balance out her learned and necessary practicality. (She also has a fun tendency towards malapropisms, which makes for some interesting dialogue and narration.) Nijam, the brains behind the scheme, is also an interesting character — very logical, very scientific-minded, very blunt and no-nonsense, but also very much motivated by matters of the heart as much or more than she is by matters of practicality, no matter how much she would probably dislike admitting it. And, of course . . .
  5. Grand Duke Vasily is back! He has not been having a good time of it since the end of his adventures with Miss Sharp, that's for sure. But I was delighted to see him return, and more delighted still by the fact that he gets to be a main-main character this time around rather than dropping in and out of the narrative as the story demands.

Tall and Dark came out just this past weekend — have you read it yet? Are you going to read it? If you're a fellow Miss Sharp fan, how excited are you to return to this world? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 1, 2022

March 2022 Doings!

A third of the year is already gone . . . hard to believe, isn't it? It's been a busy month for me in many ways, but a restful one in others — and a good month, I'd say, all round. Let's get on with the Doings so you can see what I mean!

Writing!

  • This has been another busy writing month! A little less so than February was, but still very busy and very productive.
  • I spent the first week and a half of the month hard at work on my Super Secret Mystery Project (TaSG), averaging about a chapter a day — except on the day I spent mostly in the car and the day I finished the draft, on which I got several chapters written. It's been a while since the words flowed that readily on any given project. I think it was a combination of a tight deadline and low pressure — TaSG isn't directly connected to any of my previous projects, and I hadn't fully committed to anything with it, but I did need to get it done by a particular point in time for what I wanted to do with it.
  • After finishing the Super Secret Mystery Project, I took a bit under a week off while I waited for the last of my Mask of Scarlet beta feedback to drift in, and then I dove back into edits on that project. I've been working on that on and off through the second half of the month — I'll finish a round of edits, take a few days, then edit again. At this point, I'm at the ebook formatting stage, which is exciting. I'm testing a new method of doing chapter headers that I hope will make my life a little easier. (Also, I remembered to start with ebook formatting this time rather than print. Thank goodness.)
  • On that note, there's still time to sign up for an ARC of Mask of Scarlet or the other Midnight Curfews, Crown and Cinder and Cindy Ellen! The goal is to have ARCs available sometime the week of April 10.
  • Outside of my novels, I've been working writing the next adventure for my Defenders of Serys D&D group. That's going a bit slowly because I don't have a ton of time or energy to put to it, but I do have the next couple sessions ready, and the fact that we basically didn't meet this month meant I had some extra time to plan. If worst comes to worst, the nature of the next adventure means I already have a good framework and plenty of pre-made NPCs to improve with, and a very limited number of options for enemies if I need a combat scenario on short notice.

Reading!

  • Ugh. This month started out really well in terms of reading and then everything just . . . fell apart. It's starting to look back up, but yeah.
  • I started out by steaming through three more Discworld books, two of which were new to me and one of which was Making Money, which, while not on the same level as Going Postal, is still excellent-quality Moist von Lipwig content. The two new ones were good as well, particularly Thud!, though not anywhere near my favorites list.
  • Then I switched over to arguably my favorite book I've read this month, Cinderella Must Die by W.R. Gingell. I posted about how much I loved this one earlier this month, so I won't repeat myself except to say that it was an absolutely delightful romp of a fairytale murder mystery.
  • Back to Discworld, I read Snuff, the last City Watch book. And it was . . . fine? It was a very good book. But it lacked some shine or spark that had made me love the other Vimes books, and I couldn't quite put my finger on why. It wasn't that Vimes was out of the city — The Fifth Elephant is one of my favorite Discworld novels. It wasn't that there wasn't stuff happening. It was just . . . missing something.
  • At this point, I was starting to think that maybe I was reading too much Discworld, and I'd remembered that I had a Kindle Unlimited subscription that would expire in a month and a bit that I needed to use. So I worked through a few indie reads — Sorcerer and the Swan Princess was an interesting take on Swan Lake, though it wasn't as substantial as it could've been, and Stolen Mayfly Bride featured a properly Other take on fae — before realizing that if I wanted to do a Discworld post in March, I needed to get busy.
  • And so I started Raising Steam . . . and that's where it all fell apart because I could just. not. get into it. I should've been all over it, because it's Moist von Lipwig and Vetinari and so on . . . but it just wasn't doing it for me. Eventually, I realized why: I'm a good third of the book in, and it still doesn't feel like there's real stakes. There have been challenges, but it's nothing the main character can't deal with and hasn't dealt with before. There's not even the usual risk to Moist's life, since he got himself into the current situation. And I think it's the same problem I had with Snuff; while there was action and mystery enough, I rarely felt like there was any risk of the conflict not being successfully resolved.
  • Anyway. Raising Steam is currently on hold while I read my ARC of Tall and Dark, the first in Suzannah Rowntree's successor series to Miss Sharp's Monsters, and I'm enjoying that very much thus far. So at least the month's ended on a high note.

Watching!

  • If this month was a bit of a slump when it came to reading in some ways, I made up for it in what I watched! I spent a lot of time in the car at the start of the month, plus I've been making an effort to use the treadmill a couple times a week, so that's given me a little more space where I don't feel guilty about watching longer stuff rather than writing, editing, blogging, or doing something else "productive."
  • I actually watched three whole movies this month! Most exciting to me was finally seeing Encanto, which was a lovely movie. I'm not sure if it was quite as amazing as everyone hyped it up to be, but it was still excellent. I do love a good family story, and a magical family story in an equally magical house is even better. I have to say, though — why's everyone so obsessed with not talking about Bruno when "Waiting for a Miracle" is right there? Y'all are sleeping on the good stuff.
  • Anyway. I didn't love the other two movies, though for different reasons. Meet Me in St. Louis is an older slice-of-life-ish musical, and, it was . . . fine? I spent most of it mentally shaking my head at the characters. As for No Time to Die, the new James Bond . . . well, let's just say that the title is inaccurate on multiple levels. I will give it credit for good costuming (the major female characters are in actual practical clothing!) and for character depth and having family actually be a good thing and a motivating factor? But it was so long.
  • Outside of movies, I fit in another episode and two halves of Critical Role (bringing me up to midway through Campaign 3 Episode 8 and introducing me to Chetney. I also started watching No Evil, which is a YouTube animated serial featuring mythology and legends from North and Central America. I didn't expect to love it, but I've gotta say, I'm kinda hooked.

Life!

  • The highlight of the month was, of course, my sister being home for spring break for a week at the start of March. The whole family drove up to pick her up, which was a lot of time in the car — but, as I said, it was some good quality writing time, and we got to meet one of her friends, so that was fine. We didn't do a lot during the week, but we did watch a movie and play a couple rounds of Sentinels, and we finished out her break by visiting my grandpa in Pittsburgh . . . where it snowed. And was cold. But getting to see him was still nice.
  • Since then . . . most of the excitement is stuff I've already covered in other sections. I will say that work has been very busy, as I'm knee deep in materials for the church's Good Friday event, other Lenten and Holy week materials, and trying to solve problems of signage around the church on top of my normal work. It's . . . a lot. I'm not complaining by any means, but yeah.
  • Pi Day was a nice bright spot in all the stress, though! We celebrated with spaghetti pie and strawberry mallow pie, both of which were DELICIOUS.
  • We did finally get some warm spring weather, which is just . . . hallelujah thank you God. And then it promptly froze again the next couple weeks. But now it's warming up again! I'm wearing short sleeves (under a cardigan, but still)!
  • I also got new tennis shoes, which are slip-ons instead of traditional lace-up shoes, and I am delighted.
  • So, yeah. It's not been a quiet month, but it has been consistent in its business, so I won't complain.

April Plans

  • Mask of Scarlet comes out THIS MONTH, y'all! If you want to get in on helping with the tour, keep checking my spaces — Kendra and I will be releasing details on how to get involved soon. And, of course, you can still preorder the book.
  • I also plan to edit the Super Secret Mystery Project, so that'll be fun.
  • I am not doing Camp NaNoWriMo. It's just not the place I'm in, and I don't feel like I need the extra motivation.
  • Of course, I'm looking forward to Easter. Our Bible study is planning the usual Easter lunch gathering, and I'm thinking about what I want to contribute. I may attempt coconut cake using the recipe that my supervisor gave me before she retired. We shall see.
  • On the work front, I don't anticipate life getting any less busy anytime soon. Even once Holy Week is over and done, we'll have summer to prepare for . . . and we're thinking of redoing some of the church signage, which means I get to do a bunch of research to figure out what that even looks like.
  • I'm not even going to try to plan out my reading, other than the fact that I'll have several books to read or finish for review and I want to get some more mileage out of Kindle Unlimited before it goes back to full price and I cancel the subscription. I'm too tired to be anything but a mood reader.
  • I want to keep using the treadmill semi-regularly. You might be saying, "But Sarah! It's spring! Go outside!" and to you, I reply: I do not like walking on the road. If I liked walking on the road, I would not have spent time and effort campaigning for a treadmill. I do hope to go outside and read, ideally in a hammock, and I will almost certainly end up outside to help clear up the tree that fell down in our yard the other day. (Don't worry! Nothing was damaged! It's not even a really big tree, thank goodness, and we knew it would come down eventually.) But I like to do my excercise where I can pair it with Critical Role or Leverage or another show. 
  • I also kind of want to get better about stretching regularly so I don't end up with really bad consequences from sitting and staring at screens all the time? But I have to do research before I can properly commit to that. I'm just saying it here now so I'll have extra motivation to work on it.

How was your March? Any exciting plans for April? Have you preordered Mask of Scarlet and/or requested an ARC yet? Are you happy about spring's arrival? And do you prefer to do excercise inside or outside? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 18, 2022

Spring 2022 Reads

Hey'a, everyone! Spring officially begins in just a few days, which is lovely, and that means that it's time to check out a new crop of book releases! We definitely have some good ones coming out in the next few months, so that's lovely. As usual, I'm posting my full list here, but if you just want the quick top picks list, you can find that over on Light and Shadows.

 

Spring 2022 Reads

1. A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin (March 29)Asian fantasy! Tea magic! A heroine determined to save her sister's life! While there are other reads on this list that I'm more excited about, I'd still call this a good start to the season, wouldn't you?

2. Tall and Dark by Suzannah Rowntree (April 2). We're returning to the world of Miss Sharp, and I don't think I could be more hyped! I didn't think that this was coming out until August . . . and then Rowntree's latest newsletter hit my inbox and I learned that I only have two weeks to wait! In my case, not even that, because she was opening up ARC applications and I barely managed to finish the sentence before hitting reply to ask for a spot on the team. Miss Sharp herself doesn't feature in this new series, but Molly Dark sounds like a fabulous new heroine, and we have Grand Duke Vasily back, which is immensely exciting.

3. Hotel Magnifique by Emily J. Taylor (April 5). So, we've got two Belle Époque historical fantasies releasing within days of each other . . . but this one sounds like it'll have more magical realism vibes. The blurb suggests Night Circus vibes, which certainly sounds intriguing. And maybe we'll get a good sister relationship between Jani and Zosa? (Side note, I love the names here.)

4. Nettle and Bone by T. Kingfisher (April 26). I'm not sure what to make of this one — it sounds like it'll have some fascinating dark fairytale vibes, with strange tasks and weird magic and the youngest of three sisters out on a magical quest. On the other hand, I'm kind of concerned that it'll turn out like The Blacktongue Thief, which also had promising vibes but ended up just being unpleasant.

5. Crown and Cinder by Kendra E. Ardnek (April 27). It's the first of the Midnight Curfews and the second in Kendra's series of Austen Fairytales! I'm a beta reader for this one, and so I can already tell you that it's good. Pride and Prejudice derails Cinderella, and vice versa, to magnificent effect! We have some characters reappearing from Rose Petals and Snowflakes, if you read that, and we get a pretty fun take on Lizzy/Cinderella and her particular situation. If you want, you can preorder it now on Amazon — I'm sure Kendra would appreciate it.

6. Cindy Ellen by Rachel Roden (April 28). This is the second Midnight Curfew and the third book in the Wunstuponia series of Western non-magical fairytale retellings. While I still need to catch up on the series, I'm sure this new installment will be good. Again, it's up for preorder on Amazon if you're interested.

7. Mask of Scarlet by Sarah Pennington (April 29). We're so close to the next installment of Bastian Dennel, PI, in which Bastian finds himself on the job of finding Cinderella herself! I'm very excited to share this with y'all, especially after getting some very good feedback from my beta readers. We have more of Bastian, more of his sisters, a bit more Dayo, and some new characters who I think you'll enjoy meeting. If you haven't already, make sure you preorder on Amazon (unless you're holding out for the paperback, in which case, fair).

8. The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah (May 17). This sounds like it has Arabian Nights vibes, which is delightful — I don't encounter enough of these kind of stories. And I do very much like the dynamic of sheltered noble/streetwise rogue, whether it's platonic or romantic, and I think we'll be getting that in here too.

9. Murder for the Modern Girl by Kendall Kulper (May 24). This is Jazz Age urban fantasy, which means reading it definitely counts as writing research . . . right? We've got a mindreading heroine who's been dispensing vigilante justice and a genius shapeshifter who sounds like he has a scientific bent, so those sound like very promising main characters. I think this will be a fun read!

What book releases are you excited for this spring? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!