Friday, March 1, 2024

Hello, all. February is over, and March is over, which means it's time for another Doings! post. This has been a long and tiring month — exactly what I expect February to be most years, actually, but not what it usually actually is. The past several years, I've gone into February with dread and found it wasn't half as bad as I feared. This year, I went into the month with an impressive level of optimism, and now I am tired.

Writing!

  • This was . . . well, it was a frustrating month, writing-wise. Technically, it was very productive, as I added about 30K more words to Daughters of Atirse #2, which is the same number of actually-drafting words I wrote in January. Unfortunately, I was hoping for about 10K more than I actually achieved, thus my frustration.
  • Why the (comparatively) lower wordcount? There are two factors in play in the answer to that question. For one thing, in January, I spent multiple Saturday mornings doing writing sprints with the RealmSphere group, while in February, I had to set up my own sprints if I wanted them . . . and, of course, I had relatively few free Saturdays to spend sprinting. For another thing, I had a lot more days when I came home really tired from work, had a hard time starting my evening writing session (or focusing once I'd started), and ended up saying "I wrote something, and that'll be good enough; I'm going to bed."
  • The fact that I was also navigating a section of the book where I had fewer clear ideas of what happens when also didn't help. I had several key scenes figured out, but I didn't have a good idea of exactly what connected them, and navigating that is always tricky. I am almost to the point where that problem should start to clear up, thankfully.
  • As for other writing projects: I made a little progress on my D&D adventure (not as much as I should've, but still better than nothing, given that it was not at any point this month my first, second, or third priority), and I did not work on my DOSA Files story. Originally I was going to wait to write it until I finished Onora's story, but at this point, I'm halfway wondering if taking a week or weekend mostly off from Onora to focus on that might help more than it would hurt.

Reading!

  • My reading was another pretty mixed bag, though I did get to some books I'd been meaning to read for a long time, and almost everything I read was new to me.
  • The month started out strong with Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow, which I meant to read back at Christmas and didn't get to — it's not a Christmas book, but it has some significant Christmas-related scenes. I'm not sure why it has Christmas when it's not set on Earth, but . . . it's a middle grade novel, and it's fun and whimsical without lacking heart. And while it does flirt with a trope that has made me put books down in the past (magical secret world that looks down on the mundane world outside), it gets a pass by being very clear about the fact that the secret world has its problems too and also by being a little more justified in its secrecy and closed-off-ness than some other secret worlds I can think of but won't name here. It's not a perfect book, and I guessed several of the twists, but it was a fun read.
  • The fun thing about February is that it's Blind Date with a Book month. I only had two blind dates this year: Dragonsong, which I've meant to read for a while, and The Tiger's Wife, which I'd never heard of before now. Dragonsong was a good book with an interesting world and, of course, dragons, but I had a really hard time getting through the first half because I kept wanting to give side characters a good shaking. It picked up in the second half, though, which happened to be the half that involved more dragons. As for The Tiger's Wife, it was magical realism set in the Balkans, about a young doctor and her memories of and relationship with her grandfather and her grandfather's memory of his past. I had mixed feelings about it — it's well-written, and it uses a little-known fairy tale in a very interesting way, but it's also vaguely depressing in the way many literary fiction books seem to be, and so I don't think I'm likely to reread it.
  • My other three new-to-me reads all fell in the category of "didn't love it, didn't hate it." I'd heard good things about the Detective Conan manga series, but the first book didn't wow me — the mysteries are good, and the concept is interesting, but there's a major side character who makes me mad. I plan to try to continue the series in order to give it a fair trial, but yeah. Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off is a creative nonfiction thing about the cultures and practices that surround knitting, and it was ok, but I like her more memoir/autobiographical books better. Lawless is a book with a cool concept — Western-dystopian-ish sci-fi retellings of the book of Judges — but it's also an anthology, and as is typical of anthology, I really enjoyed some stories ("The Mark," a retelling of Gideon, was probably my favorite), really disliked others, and had no strong feelings one way or another about the rest. Also . . . it's Judges. "Every man did what was right in his own eyes" and all that. I appreciate some well-applied grittiness, but sometimes it went a little further than what I, personally, was comfortable with.
  • We finish up with the rereads. Rumplestiltskin's Bargain is another of Kendra E. Ardnek's Twisted Time series, and it's a pretty cool take on the story of Rumplestiltskin. And DragonKnight was, of course, excellent. It's my favorite in the DragonKeeper Chronicles, and returning to the story is always a joy. And I got to read it alongside someone who was discovering it for the first time, so that was also a lot of fun. Definitely a good way to finish up the month.

 Watching & Playing!

  • I watched exactly one thing this month that wasn't a short-form YouTube video, and that was The Princess Bride right before Valentine's Day. As always, it was a delight. I think I shocked the rest of my family by saying that not only was I definitely interested in watching something on my surprise-free-evening, but I also had a very specific movie I wanted to watch! But I had seen a lot of Princess Bride-related posts in the previous weeks, and I hadn't watched it in a while, so it seemed like a good time. And, again, it was.
  • Also, because I want to keep this section interesting, I'm expanding it to include other types of non-book media I enjoyed during the month, specifically podcasts and video games. I made this decision in large part because I've been listening to the Wolf 359 podcast, and it is so good. I technically started it back in January, but I really got hooked this month. It's a sci-fi story about a small crew on a deep space mission orbiting a star far from earth, and the storyline slowly expands from sitcom-style shenanigans to intrigue, betrayal, and mystery. I'm about halfway through Season 2, and again, it is so good. If you are a fan of either Star Trek or Schlock Mercenary (or, you know, sci-fi in general), check it out! Also! It's only about sixty episodes long, so it won't take that long to get through, especially if you (unlike me) listen to podcasts more than just on one half of your commute.
  • I've also been doing some gaming, sometimes as a reward for actually finishing my to-do list early and sometimes as a way to give my brain a break between tasks. Mostly I've been playing through The Stanley Parable: Ultra-Deluxe, which is a re-release that came out a few years ago and has quite a bit of new content. I know this game isn't for everyone, and it does get a bit nihilistic or absurdist at times . . . but it's fun, and a lot of it is about storytelling — the types of stories we tell, the ways in which we tell them, and also what it's like when your characters (or your players, if you're a D&D DM, which is a form of storytelling as well) repeatedly defy you. So, obviously, I appreciate that element.
  • And, in usual Sarah fashion, I'm finally playing the Portal 2 co-op levels with my sister. We did one gaming session together this past weekend in which we completed the first two sets of levels, and we had a grand time solving the puzzles together, being silly with the gesture function, and snarking back at GLaDOS when she makes sarcastic comments at us. I introduced my sister to Portal a couple years ago via playing simultaneously with her one summer, and I'm really glad I get to play with her again. (It's anyone's guess when we'll play next, but . . . y'know. Hopefully it won't be too long.)
  • (Also, in case anyone, including my future self, was about to say or think something to the effect of "You know, the fact that you've been gaming might also have something to do with your lower wordcount this month," I just want to clarify: I had five gaming days across the entire month of February, one of them was also my highest wordcount day of the month, and all but one of them were on days I wrote at least a thousand words. The games are not the problem here. My brain, my schedule, my energy levels, my characters, and my outline are.)

Life!

  • This has been a busy month, but not in a way that produces a lot of stuff worth talking about.
  • Grad school stuff is still going well, though it's definitely picking up with some larger and more effort-intensive assignments. I'm still enjoying the class reasonably well, but I'm also ready for it to be done. The biggest assignment of the class is due this weekend, and I'm very thankful that I've been able to use some stuff I've already done for work to put it together so it's not taking quite as much time.
  • On the topic of work: I expected this month to be dominated by the start of Lent, and that has taken up a lot of my time and attention . . . but much more of my energy has been taken up by funerals and tech troubles. We had internet-connectivity issues with our livestream towards the start of the month that were super annoying and time-consuming to sort out and that required me to stay late a few times and come in early one day. I did get comp time, so I'm not complaining, but it wasn't fun for me or anyone else involved. We've also had funerals pretty much every weekend, which has been . . . a lot. Funerals aren't hard, exactly, on my end, but they are energy-intensive due to the fact that there's so many moving parts and so many things that get decided at the last minute. And, of course, you're working with the family, who's grieving, and you're trying to find the balance of "be gentle and patient because they're going through a hard time" and actually, you know, getting all the necessary info so the program can be printed on time. It's a great ministry and a wonderful opportunity to show love to people when they need it most, but, again, it's energy intensive at the best of times, and February is not the best of times.
  • Ok, this has been very depressing; let's find something more cheerful to report.
  • Valentine's Day happened! I didn't do anything much for it, but my mom made cheesecake with strawberry topping, and it was delicious.
  • Also, two days after Valentine's Day, I got to have brunch and writing time at a French-Asian inspired cafe near my house, and that was both tasty and fun. I don't go often because it's expensive, but that particular morning I had some other stuff going on that meant I could justify the trip. I got milk tea, a croquette, and some little mochi cheese pancake-things with a cream cheese filling, none of which I'd tried before, and all of which were tasty. This particular cafe does a lot of filled breads and scones and such, and I kind of love it.
  • In yet more food-related news, my Baking Yesteryear recipe for the month was chocolate potato cake. This is one of the first really good recipes I remember seeing in Hollis's videos, so obviously it was pretty high priority. The cake is more like a spice cake than a birthday cake in terms of texture and flavor, but it is very tasty! You would not guess that there's potato in there. I know this for a fact, as, when I took it to Bible study and asked people what they thought the secret ingredient was, absolutely no one suggested half a potato. I don't think I'd make this cake often, as I don't like washing the potato-masher and it's more of a chocolate chip cake than a chocolate cake, but I would make it again.
  • Moving on to something non-food-related: I finally finished the shawl I've been working on! I expected to use two full skeins, but ended up stopping earlier than that because I decided the shawl was long enough (and also using up the second skein would've taken me until June, probably, at the rate I was going). I'm still waiting for an opportunity to wear the shawl, but I probably won't get that for a couple weeks yet, possibly another month.
  • We'll wrap up with the latest in D&D news. In our long-running campaign, we had several sessions' worth of diplomacy and intrigue, which . . . went a lot better than it could've, though not quite as successfully as we hoped. Long story short, we're less popular in-world than we used to be, at least in my character's home country, but we exchanged our popularity for peace by proposing and arranging a treaty that ended a war and freed a people group that was being abused and oppressed, so . . . worth it. And, I mean, we might be less popular, but we're also not considered criminals anymore, so that's also a win. (Again, long story short: absolute ages ago, we went to warn someone about a fiend we were tracking, the guy we were warning was in league with the fiend and tried to kill us, and then we were blamed when he died. And, yes, that was because one of our party members killed him, but it was self-defense, not murder.)
  • I also had my first session of a new campaign with an online friend, her daughter, and some of her friends/family, and I think that went well. It's a 4e campaign instead of a 5e campaign, and the DM's style is kind of different from that of the DM of the other campaign I'm in, so those things will take some getting used to. I had fun, though, and I like my character (a half-elf rogue named Mythe), and I'm excited to learn more about the other player characters, so it should be good. I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes.

March Plans

  • I have one more week in my current grad school class! Again, I'm ready to be done with it. At least the last week is fairly light in terms of workload. Then I have about a week's break before the next class starts. I admit that I'm not looking forward to the next class — it's on editing, layout, and publishing, which is very much in my wheelhouse, but it's also basically one big group project. Besides that, looking at the syllabus, I'm pretty sure that between my day job and the fact that I've self-published seven books, I'm already past a lot of what they're going to cover. I don't say that thinking I know everything there is to know about editing, layout, or publishing — I know there's more I can learn — but, again, it looks pretty basic, especially for a graduate-level class, and I suspect the main thing I'll get out of this class is finding out exactly how much I dislike using Google Docs for formatting.
  • Speaking of writing and publishing: I'm once again aiming for adding 40k to Daughters of Atirse #2 in March. I don't think I'll finish the book this month, even though that was my original goal, but I think I can get close. I also hope to draft my DOSA Files submission, probably during the break between grad school classes.
  • That said, I'm also going to try to make a point of not jumping straight into trying to write on evenings when I'm really tired, as lately that just seems to result in me having trouble focusing and getting far more easily distracted than I usually am. But I'm also not going to fall into the trap of saying "Oh, I'll just watch one or two YouTube shorts and then I'll get started." Instead, if I'm tired enough that I can tell it'll be a problem, I plan to give myself between fifteen and thirty minutes (depending on just now tired I am) to do something that will actually recharge my brain — long enough to read a bit, watch something a little more substantial than shorts, play a level or two of a game, or do another activity of that nature. I hope this'll help — though I also hope that it won't be necessary and that escaping February will also free me from enough of my tiredness that I'll be able to write more easily.
  • As for work: it's the month of Easter. I will continue to be busy, and I will probably only get busier as the month goes on — but at least we don't have any funerals scheduled for this month! And I already have some good designs for a few of the graphics I'll need, so I have that going for me.
  • I didn't get to any ARCs in February, so I'll need to prioritize those in March. I'm also planning to reread at least some of the Prydain Chronicles (technically, I already started on that, but I haven't finished any yet) and hopefully read the Emily Wilde books that I keep hearing are so good. I also have beta reading to do! I may try to get a good bit of that done this weekend, actually.
  • I also need to find a good next project for crafting. I have a good idea of something I want to do, but I can't find a free pattern for it, and I'm currently debating whether I like the idea enough to spend money on it. Whatever I do, it's going to be something short and satisfying to balance out all the time I spent on my shawl!
  • I'm also trying to figure out some stuff with my blogs and my online presence in general, and I probably should work on that in March . . . but it's anyone's guess if I'll actually have the time or energy for it. We'll see.

How was your February? Any plans for March? What's your strategy for writing while tired? What's something good you've read recently? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

 

Friday, February 23, 2024

On the Taleweaver's Desk Issue 11: February 2024

Hello, all! Welcome to the first Taleweaver's Desk update of 2024! To conclude the scheduling saga of the last few of these posts: I think I'm going to stick with doing these quarterly for now, as I do have some new developments to report, but a three-times-per-year schedule isn't entirely off the table yet. I also have a question for y'all: frequently, the "Shelved for Now" and "Stacked on the Side" sections don't actually have any changes from quarter to quarter. (This "Stacked on the Side" section does, but it's an exception.) Do you like that I include these for context and record-keeping purposes even when there's not really any major changes? Or would you prefer that I just include the sections where there's an update? Please tell me in the comments after you finish reading. And on that note, let's get on with the update.

On the Taleweaver's Desk Issue 11: February 2024

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.

Daughters of Atirse #2

What is it? A Goose Girl/Puss in Boots retelling, the second book in the Daughters of Atirse series, and the prequel to Song of the Selkies.

Status: About 50k words into the first draft.

I'm a little behind where I'd like to be on drafting this, as I wasn't able to start until the beginning of January and my writing speed in the last couple weeks has been . . . not what I'd like it to be. That said, I am really enjoying spending time with these characters and their story and their slowly-unraveling secrets. Onora is proving herself to be an enjoyable-to-write (if very stubborn) main character, and the second-most significant character is her cat, who is delightful. I love him very much. (On a side note, I just realized that, since Gilded in Ice, I have been alternating between significant-cat books and no-cat books, which is . . . interesting? We'll see if the pattern holds.) Another aspect of this book that I'm really enjoying is the faith element. I've said that Song of the Selkies was my most Christian story, but Onora's story is a step even further than that, with Onora's faith forming a major part of her character arc. (I say this not in the sense that it's a salvation story, for the record, but in the sense that she spends a certain amount of time wrestling with a particular aspect of her faith, and only when she resolves that wrestling can she start to really solve other problems.)

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: Working on the next adventure . . . slowly.

I am running out of time to write the next adventure, but like a fool, I decided to do something complicated and then prioritized it under pretty much every other writing project. I know what I want to do; I just have to figure out how to make it work. I've made progress, though! I probably have a session's worth of material, if push comes to shove, and once I finish the next step in the writing process, I'll actually have a lot of the hard part done. I just have to, y'know, finish that next step.

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).

Bastian Dennel, PI #5

What is it? Originally Book 4 in my Bastian Dennel, PI series, now book 5. Bastian takes on a murder mystery involving far too many Families.

Status: Drafted; in need of a rewrite. I need to write the new Book 4 before I dive back into this, unless I decide to do something weird, but it's still pretty high on the priority list. I'm looking at a 2025 release, if all goes well.

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. I still love this story, but I don't know when I'll get back to it.

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 (and a useful excuse/motivation for prioritizing those 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 last 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.

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. May get bumped further up the priority list depending on certain other factors, but probably not for a while yet.

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. Of everything in this section, this is the most likely book to move up to Stacked on the Side or On the Desktop, as I occasionally have wild thoughts of editing it and shopping it 'round to traditional publishers. However, that actually happening in the next couple years is improbable, due to Atirse and Bastian Dennel taking priority.

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. There's a particular character who's getting a whole new arc, and I'm really excited to write it . . . when I 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. Book 4 will be Jack and the Beanstalk (yes, I'm serious); other stories planned include The Little Mermaid, The Goose Girl, The Nutcracker, and Pwyll & Rhiannon.

Status: I continue to poke at series order, trying to produce something where there's not a huge gap between books but also I don't have too many stories too close together and I can write the stories I'm most excited about sooner.

Future Daughters of Atirse books

What is it? What the headline said, again. Multiple other stories connected with Song of the Selkies. Specifically, I have plans for some variation on Beauty and the Beast (sequel), Tam Lin (prequel), and Pwyll & Rhiannon (sequel), as well as a prequel and at least one other sequel that don't have specific fairy tales but will be written because I want to tell their main characters' stories.

Status: Lots of plans, and I only write so fast, but I spend enough time brainstorming these with a friend that I should have them pretty well planned out by the time I actually get to start drafting.

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, but it's an idea with a really good soundtrack. Still not going to be tackled until after Blood in the Earth. May end up being set in the same world as Daughters of Atirse, though not in the same series and later in the world's timeline.

Miscellaneous Short Stories

What is it? A potential story for H.L. Burke's DOSA Files anthology and a few other ideas that are ping-ponging around in my head.

Status: The DOSA Files story needs to get written in the next month and a half or so. (Technically, I have until the end of April, but I don't want to wait until the very last minute, since I'd like to run the story through beta readers.) I have a couple weeks off from grad school in mid-March, so I may try to fit it in then; otherwise, I'll jump into it at the start of April. I'm also toying with the idea of trying to write some other short stories that I've had in my head for a while so I can maybe do an anthology of my own sometime, but we'll see how that goes.

What projects (writing or otherwise) are you working on currently, and how are they going for you? Tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

 

Friday, February 16, 2024

February Is Fantasy Month: Favorite Romance Tropes

Hello all! With Valentine's Day just behind us, I think it's safe to say that many of us have romance on the brain. So, what better time than now to talk about some of my favorite romance tropes? And to link in with February is Fantasy Month again, for every trope, I'm going to include a few fantasy book recommendations that I think really showcase what I'm talking about.

Favorite Romance Tropes

  1. Slow Burn. I think my love for this trope is well-established — the surest way to make me enjoy a romance is to make it a good slow-burn, where the question isn't isn't "Will they or won't they?" but rather "How long will it take both of them to realize what's going on?" After all, half the joy of a slow burn is spotting it long before the characters do and then making much of hand-touches and smiles and definitely-not-dates. Whether this takes place over the course of a series or in a single book, I'm certain to enjoy it.
    If you want to read this, try . . . For a single-book slow-burn, I happen to be very fond of my most recent release, Song of the Selkies. Not only does it have a proper "crockpot romance" (which is to say, everything is lovely and tender and there's pining), it comes with bonus Faramir and Eowyn vibes. That said, I would also classify Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones as this type of romance — even though the book is short, the love story is drawn out and clever readers see the romance coming long before the characters will admit it. And for a series-long slow-burn, there's W.R. Gingell's City Between.
  2. Princess and Rogue Parings. This is a another trope that I've mentioned loving plenty of times and that I enjoy writing as much as I enjoy reading. Happily, this dynamic shows up fairly frequently: a man — perhaps an actual rogue, perhaps just someone with roguish traits — who's been living only for himself meets a woman caught up in what everyone else needs (or expects) her to be. As a result, he finds a reason to be selfless, and she has a chance to be seen and loved solely for herself. And for the reader, that means we get two characters who probably play off each other in really fun ways, probably a healthy dose of snark, and a redemption arc. Plus, it frequently overlaps with the Ladykiller in Love trope, in which a guy known for liking the ladies in general, but not getting permanently attached to any of them, finds himself head-over-heels in love — probably with the one woman who'd never fall for his usual advances. What more could a girl want?
    If you want to read this, try . . . So many good choices — though some of my favorites examples of this trope are actually in movies, not books (and not always fantasy movies either). But probably my favorite bookish example (aside from Howl) is found in   Starflower by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. Bard Eanrin may not be a rogue, but he shares most of the essential characteristics, and Starflower certainly fits the princess profile . . . and their relationship is one of my favorite aspects both of this book and the series as a whole. I also love the way this plays out in books 3 and 4 of The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer, and you'll also find it in a lot of H.L Burke's Supervillain Rehabilitation/Romance Project books. (I'm pretty sure Accidentally a Superhero would be the best example, but I haven't read that one yet.)
  3. Friends to Lovers. This frequently overlaps with the slow-burn trope, but there's just something lovely about seeing a pair of friends turn into something more, or in reading an established romance where it's clear that the couple cared about each other as friends long before they even thought about kissing. I especially love the childhood-friends-to-lovers variant and the idea that these two characters have always been and always will be by each other's sides.
    If you want to read this, try . . . If you want the childhood friends version of this, pick up Lady Dragon, Tela Du  or Snowfield Palace, both by Kendra E. Ardnek. (It's also in the backstory for Through a Shattered Glass, just saying . . .) On the other hand, if you'd like a version that overlaps with the next trope on this list, you'll probably be very pleased with the romance in the DragonKeeper Chronicles by Donita K. Paul, which has a lovely antagonists-to-friends-to-lovers-to-happily-married-couple sequence over the course of books two through five.
  4. Antagonists to Lovers. This is more commonly known as enemies to lovers, but I'm using the broader term of "antagonists" because the category of books I'm describing includes everything from legitimate, blades-at-the-throats enemies to people who are more just . . . rivals, or who annoy each other until they start to see things differently. In any case, the journey as couples in this trope come to see from one another's perspectives, sympathize with someone they disliked, and usually find some kind of redemption in the process is just so lovely to read . . . and the fact that the characters usually have a lot of deliciously snarky and charged interactions, as well as begrudgingly tender moments, doesn't hurt either.
    If you want to read this, try . . . For actual enemies to lovers, you can't go wrong with An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson or Gothel and the Maiden Prince by W.R. Gingell. On the other hand, if you're looking for characters who are merely antagonistic, but not necessarily outright enemies, pick up A Thieving Curse by Selina R. Gonzalez or Echo North by Joanna Ruth Meyer.
  5. Married Adventure Couples. Does this count as a romance trope? I don't know, but I absolutely love when a fictional couple gets married and then continues having adventures and being awesome, with the added benefit of being secure in their relationship so they know they already have each other's backs and becoming a fabulous battle couple (if they aren't that already). It's both a nice change of pace from the drama of pre-marriage couples and a reminder that "happily ever after" doesn't mean nothing interesting ever happens again.
    If you want to read this, try . . . As already mentioned, this appears in the last two books in the DragonKeeper Chronicles by Donita K. Paul. It's also heavily present from book 4 onward in Kendra E. Ardnek's Bookania Quests series — and, conveniently, book 4 is one of the series entry points. Unfortunately, I can't think of many other examples — if you know of any, make sure you let me know!

What are your favorite romance tropes? What are your favorite books including those tropes? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 9, 2024

February Is Fantasy Month: Favorite Fantasy Subgenres

Hey'a, friends! As you may have seen, this year, Jenelle Leanne Schmidt brought back February is Fantasy Month, a month-long celebration of all things fantasy! This includes daily posts over on her site, a blog post linkup, giveaways, and an Instagram challenge. And because I love both fantasy and prompts that help me figure out what to post about, I'm borrowing today's Instagram topic, fantasy subgenres, for today's post. Now, I've met very few fantasy subgenres I don't enjoy . . . but I definitely like some more than others, so today, I'm sharing my top five favorites (roughly in order), along with some recommendations in each of those subgenres. 

As a note, I am not including fairy tale retellings as a subgenre because any fairy tale retelling is necessarily also at least one other subgenre. Not that some of these other subgenres don't overlap, but they don't have to overlap, you know? With that out of the way, let's get on with the list.


February Is Fantasy Month:
Favorite Fantasy Subgenres

  1. Fantasy mystery. That this makes the top of the list shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. Before I discovered fantasy, I devoured mystery books like they were going out of style. It took me a surprisingly long time to discover that the two can be combined — but once I did, I was delighted. The only thing better than a good whodunnit is a good whodunnit in which the culprit might be a dragon and the detective a wizard. Or, you know, vise versa. I am 100% on board with dragon detectives, and if anyone knows of a good such book (other than A Tale of Two Castles), please tell me so I can read it.
    If you want to read this, try . . . The Knight and Rogue series by Hilari Bell was the first fantasy-mystery I encountered, and it has both some very well-crafted mysteries and a really fun dynamic between the two main characters, Michael (a would-be knight errant with a sense of honor to match) and Fisk (a former thief and con artist with a better heart than he lets on). It's more low fantasy, but if you want something more magical, try The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman, which includes dragons, fae, alternate dimensions, and librarian-spies. And, of course, I have to mention my all-time favorite fantasy mystery, Masque by W.R. Gingell, which turns Beauty and the Beast into a murder mystery.
  2. Epic fantasy. While I read less of this than I used to, I still love it. Epic fantasy (especially quest-based epic fantasy) is where I learned to love the genre, and it contains many of the stories that make my heart sing. The greatest heroes and the darkest villains are often found here, and so is some of the most magnificent worldbuilding in all fantasy.
    If you want to read this, try . . . The obvious recommendations here are Tolkien and Sanderson, and I love both of them — The Lord of the Rings was one of the subgenre originators, and The Stormlight Archive is one of the most epic of epic fantasies I've ever read. But Tolkien and Sanderson are also both long and well-known, and so I also want to include a couple more obscure recommendations. Moonscript by H.S.J. Williams is a beautiful, thrilling tale of adventure, salvation, friendship, and the battle between light and darkness, with notes of both The Lord of the Rings and The Tales of Goldstone Wood. And speaking of Goldstone Wood, I love the whole series, but Golden Daughter is both the most epic and one of my favorites in that series.
  3. Heist fantasy. Much like fantasy mystery, heist fantasy takes an already awesome genre (who doesn't love a really clever, exciting heist/con story?) and makes it better via the addition of magic, magical beings, and fantastical locations. If you've ever watched Leverage and thought "you know what this needs? a dragon. or a vampire," then you and I are on the same page. On one hand, imagine the schemes a crew can pull when their team could include wizards, fae, or even dragons! On the other hand, imagine the schemes they'll have to come up with when their mark can read minds or famously has (or is) a dragon guarding his treasure! (Oh, wait, that's just The Hobbit. Though that one worked out more due to luck than any clever scheming on Bilbo and the dwarves' part . . .) While I haven't read a ton in this genre, I've enjoyed 95% of what I have read, so it definitely makes the favorites list.
    If you want to read this, try . . . So, I can't get you Leverage with a dragon, but I can get you Leverage with a vampire (or, well, ex-vampire) in the form of Miss Dark's Apparitions by Suzannah Rowntree. I absolutely love this crew of inventors, schemers, and con artists, both for their adventures and for the interactions and dynamics between them. (Obviously, if you want something a little more epic, Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn and Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows are both also excellent. But y'all probably know about those already.)
  4. Portal fantasy. Portal fantasy seems to be out of style at the moment — or, at least, I don't see very much of it — which is tragic, as it's so fun. It has all the benefits of epic fantasy, but with the additional plus that you're experiencing everything alongside someone who's as new to it as you are. And, of course, there's all kinds of interesting things you can do with the tension of feeling caught between two worlds, with adapting to back home after your adventure, and so forth.
    If you want to read this, try . . . Probably my favorite portal fantasy (outside of Narnia) is the Legends of Karac Tor by D. Barkley Briggs, a Christian series that blends elements of Norse, Celtic, Welsh, Arthurian, and Native American mythology in its worldbuilding — plus, it has fantastic characters, lots of family dynamics, and a fantastic storytelling voice. Brandon Mull's Beyonders is another excellent trilogy that plays with some tropes and includes some very unique worldbuilding elements. Also, while it's not exactly portal fantasy (more time travel), Kari Maaren's Weave a Circle Round has a lot in common with the subgenre, lots of references to literature and legends, and absolutely no romance.
  5. Urban, Historical & Gothic fantasy. I'm combining these three for two reasons. Urban and historical fantasy fit together because I love them both for the same reasons: I enjoy seeing the way authors weave together magic and magical beings with reality, coming up with wondrous secrets behind even the most mundane matters. As for the Gothic fantasy, most of this subgenre is also historical fantasy. Plus, many of my favorite historical fantasies are also Gothic — it's that extra edge of darkness, creepiness, and mystery that makes everything more exciting and provides opportunities for light and redemption to show up even better. That said, these elements do have to be used in moderation, which is where a lot of urban fantasy especially goes wrong.
    If you want to read this, try . . . For urban fantasy, you know I have to recommend W.R. Gingell's City Between. (No surprises there; I yell about it every few months, it seems.) For historical fantasy, try . . . well, literally anything by Suzannah Rowntree, but also Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, a multi-faceted Rumplestiltskin retelling set in Russia. And if you're after some Gothic fantasy, you can go cozy with The Secrets of Ormdale series by Christina Baehr, or you can aim dark and romantic with Black and Deep Desires by Claire Trella Hill.

What are your favorite fantasy subgenres, and what books in those subgenres do you especially recommend? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, February 2, 2024

January 2024 Doings!

Hey'a, friends! We're officially a month into 2024, and I feel like the year has had a pretty good start. While January had some rough spots, I've had a reasonably pleasant month involving a new hobby, some gaming, and a lot of writing. So, let's look back and see what was good!

Writing!

  • I'm happy to say I've had a very productive January, writing-wise! Daughters of Atirse #2 has about 30,000-some words of rough draft to its name, plus 10,000-odd words of outline (from which I have already diverged, but it's fine — it's mostly scenes happening in a different order than I expected). That comes out to a pleasantly palindromic total of 40,204 words towards this project. My productivity was partially due to writing deadlines and partially thanks to the fact that the RealmSphere (aka, Realm Makers social media) held a NaNoWriMo alternative this month called JanNoWriMo. Participating in that, particularly needing to report daily wordcounts and having people to sprint with on Saturday mornings, helped a lot with staying on track.
  • Also helping the writing productivity is the fact that this book moves a bit quicker than Song of the Selkies in terms of pacing. This is partially due to the type of story I'm telling, partially due to the fact that I don't have to do as much setup at the start, and partially because of differences between Onora's personality and Ceana's. (Notably, Onora is much more decisive than Ceana.)
  • And since the book is going so well, I'm sharing a snippet from the first chapter:

“So may it be,” Onora echoed softly. Dòmhnall’s hands left her shoulders, and she stood. “Thank you, Aoghaire. I appreciate your prayer, and I hope you will not cease to pray on my behalf.”

“I have been doing so long before now, your highness, and I have no intention of stopping.” Dòmhnall looked as though he might have laughed but caught himself just in time. “And if there is aught else a priest may do for a princess, I am at your service.”

“I am of the opinion that a princess always needs a priest.” Onora smiled wryly. “Or so my royal father and mother have taught me. They take council often with Deòrsa, the head priest nearest our castle. I hope I will be able to call on you for advice in the same way.”

Dòmhnall bowed my head. “It would be my honor, your highness, as well as being my duty before Dèanadair.”

“Good! Then I have no doubt we will see much of each other.” Even from this brief interaction, Onora had no doubt that Dòmhnall would be a valuable councilor. He was younger than Deòrsa, but he was devoted and seemed to know the words of Dèanadair well. “And do not hold back in your council, please. If you see me walking down a foolish path, or a path that would dishonor Dèanadair, warn me of my folly, whether I ask for it in the moment or not. No king or queen is above such warnings when given by a servant of the Maker.”

“I will do my best, your highness,” Dòmhnall replied. There was a hint of humor in his voice as he added, “And you will forgive me if, should such warnings be necessary, I remind you that you made this request.”

  • I haven't gotten as much done on other writing, unfortunately. My DOSA Files anthology submission has not yet been transferred from my brain to paper or screen, even in outline form. I also didn't do a lot of D&D writing, though I did at least start on the next adventure, and I have a decent bit of the introductory stuff done. The trouble is that the next bit of introductory stuff is the part upon which the rest of the adventure hangs, and so it will take more time and thought than I've had to spare thus far.
  • We did get a couple D&D sessions in, though! And they were fun, though rather chaotic, due to various people deciding that violence was the answer to problems that probably could've been solved via a simple conversation. (I am mildly bewildered. But people had fun, and this is not exactly uncommon for D&D groups, so we're fine.) Next session should be the climax of this adventure, which is exciting!

Reading!

  • Due to everything else I had going on, I didn't do a lot of reading in January — just six books, plus one that I've been reading via email subscription and finished around the start of this month. That said, I liked most of what I read, so I'm not complaining!
  • About half of my reading was in ARCs: Wishing on a Supervillain, Mantles of Oak and Iron, and Drake Hall. I posted my thoughts on Mantles and Drake Hall earlier this month, so I won't repeat myself except to say that both of these were excellent both as sequels and as stories in their own right. Wishing was also excellent — it has everything I love about the SVR books, but as a standalone with largely new characters, it would also be an easy entry point for anyone looking to get into the multi-series. To that end, it's currently free on Amazon, so if you're interested, definitely go pick it up!
  • The other half of my reading consisted of rereads. I read DragonQuest with a friend group readalong, and that was a lot of fun — it's one of my favorites in the series. I also started it on Dragon Appreciation Day, delightfully! Then I reread The Vanishing Sculptor because I couldn't go onto DragonKnight before the rest of the group got there (alas). I then ended the month with Broken (In the Best Possible Way) by Jenny Lawson, mostly because I needed to read a Goodreads Choice Award winner for a reading challenge I was doing, and that one was easy to get my hands on and counts towards my other goal of injecting more non-spec-fic books into my reading diet.
  • As for Kidnapped!, which I read in the form of an email subscription: this is a classic and a fun story that I wish I'd learned about ages ago. While I did end up periodically exasperated with various characters, I enjoyed the adventure and drama of the tale overall. Plus, it's set in historical Scotland, so how can one argue with that?

Watching!

  • I didn't watch much outside of YouTube this month, as I either didn't have free time or chose to spend that free time in other ways — as I may have said before, the thing about movies is that if I have two or three hours "free," then I typically can think of three to five other things I really should be doing with that time, so I do those other things instead. The only way I really watch anything longer than an hour (on a really good day) or twenty minutes (on a normal day) is if I'm watching it with someone else — typically because we either scheduled it a minimum of 24 hours in advance or because my family caught me on an evening when other plans I had were cancelled.
  • (Side note for people who watch movies or multiple TV episodes by yourselves on the regular: how the pumpernickel do you just casually decide to do that? How do you not look at a block of time that long and say "That is way too many minutes to commit to just sitting here and basically doing nothing"? Because I cannot do that. It's not a "I can only focus on one thing for so long" issue. If given the proper opportunity, I can easily read for the length of your average movie, and my favorite board game takes about that same amount of time. Movies are just . . . I can't. I could be writing. I could be doing classwork. I could be making a thing. I could be gaming. I could be reading. I could be doing multiple of those things. And yes, I can knit or crochet or sometimes embroider while watching a movie, but that only goes so far, and after a while your hands get tired, you know? Anyway, the point is, I do not understand how people can do that, and I would like to know your secrets because I am so behind on pretty much everything.)
  • All that to say: I did see two movies this month, both with my family. Towards the beginning of the month, we watched Footloose, specifically the more recent version, which was actually pretty fun. It's a good story, some good music, and I appreciated that the main character was actually a genuinely good guy instead of a Bad Boy with a Heart of Gold like he very easily could've been. Later in the month, we watched Arsenic and Old Lace, which I wanted to see because it had Cary Grant in it and I knew it was a popular play. I did not love that one, frankly. Parts of it were good, or at least funny, but mostly it was just weird.

Life!

  • While January was a good month (broadly speaking), it was definitely one of those months that felt much longer than it actually was. I think that's due to the fact that none of the weeks were really routine? I could be wrong, though.
  • As usual, we ended 2023 by celebrating with our Bible study — I think that was the largest gathering we've had in a while, as some people who've moved away or switched to hosting their own studies came back for the holiday, and a lot of other people brought additional family. It was a fun time, though as chaotic as one would expect. While we had our countdown at nine, my family ended up staying a lot later than usual to chat with people, so I actually was still up at midnight. (This was a shock to my sister, who responded to my scheduled "Happy New Year" text with "Why are you still awake?")
  • Then we started 2024, also as usual, by taking down the Christmas tree and other Christmas decorations. It's the first time I can remember not having all four of us there to take them down, so that was a little weird, but it went more smoothly than I feared it would.
  • Jumping ahead to MLK Day weekend, we, like a lot of the rest of the country, got a ridiculous amount of snow on Monday, which I was salty about because I already had the day off. Don't get me wrong; it was pretty, but it's still snow. Then it snowed Tuesday too, so I did get that day off, at least (aside from the work-from-home stuff I did so I wouldn't have to cram everything into a two-day week). Even so, by the time Friday's snowstorm hit, I was ready to be done with cold, snow, and ice.
  • Thankfully, it did warm up by the 28th (last Sunday), when I went up to Longwood Gardens with my friend Wyn and her family! Granted, "warm" was only in the 40s (and raining), but that's still far superior to teens and 20s as far as temperature goes. Even with the rain, I had a great time seeing the gardens, taking lots of pictures in the conservatory, and just hanging out with Wyn and talking about books and life and whatever else we felt like.
  • Moving on from events to more overarching narratives of the month, I decided to give a new hobby a try and learned Coptic stitch bookbinding. This came on my radar back in October when I saw some gorgeous handmade journals, looked at the binding, and thought "Hey, that looks like crochet; I bet I can do that." As it turned out, I was right! So, over the course of the month, I made three journals, plus one — which is to say, I made three, but remade one of them so I could test a different type of cord without having to use up more of my paper and board. The last journal I made turned out well enough to give it as a gift, which was my goal, so I'm pleased about that. I don't think bookbinding will become an all-the-time hobby like knitting, crochet, and embroidery, mostly because it's not very portable. However, I think it'll be a good skill to have in my back pocket, and I'd like to keep doing more of it and maybe try some other techniques as well.
  • I also did a fair bit of baking this month. For New Year's Eve, I made starchies from Baking Yesteryear to take to the party. Starchies are cookies made with cornstarch, sweetened condensed milk, and butter, and they're a unique little cookie — kind of dry, but with a good flavor. Then, on MLK day, I made peanut butter bread, also from Baking Yesteryear. This is one of the top recipes from that book that I wanted to try, and I was not disappointed at all! The bread was pretty easy to make, and it tasted great! I did learn, though, that I need to let it cool all the way before cutting; otherwise it's kind of crumbly. That same weekend, I made soft honey cookies for a work party, which were . . . ok. They tasted fine, but they were kind of boring, to be honest. Finally, I wrapped up the month with two loaves of sourdough bread (one for my family, one to give as a gift). As it turns out, making two loaves at once is pretty workable, and it has the additional benefit of using all the sourdough starter I don't need to feed, so I don't end up with discard.
  • Additionally, this month saw the start of my next grad school class. This one is on technical writing, and it seems ok so far. I don't think it's going to be my favorite class I've taken, but it's not bad. The fact that I'm already comfortable with the topic definitely helps, and I think I'll be able to have some of the future projects overlap with things I need to do anyway at work.
  • On the topic of work: this month has been a little crazy due to the fact that we had an astonishing number of funerals and the fact that Lent starts so early. Plus, various people have been traveling, which means everyone back in the office is a little more stressed. Still, things are going ok, and I'm keeping up with what needs to be done.
  • Finishing up with a D&D update: we only got to meet twice this month, but both of those sessions were really good and included both great character moments and cool combats. My character got a new sword (which is an artifact-level Holy Avenger, y'all), and we got some reveals about another character's backstory. I'm a bit nervous about the upcoming sessions (because they will involve a lot of diplomacy and that always stresses me out), but yeah. It's been good. I really love both my group and my DM, and I'm so grateful that I get to adventure with them.

February Plans

  • Well, I managed to write 40K in January . . . so now I'm going to see if I can do it again in February! I made good progress on Daughters of Atirse #2, but the book's still a long way from finished, and I want to have it fully drafted by the end of March if at all possible. I also want to work on my DOSA Files submission and my D&D campaign — the former is only if I have time, though. The D&D campaign will probably be a necessity unless we end up missing almost all the sessions in February. I have a plan for the D&D stuff! I've had a plan for over a year! The problem is just that some of the setup for said plan will be . . . complicated. And I really should've worked on it sooner, but I opted to prioritize my novels instead, which was the right choice but does mean more work now.
  • Work will probably continue to be busy, since Lent begins in the middle of the month. (Fun fact: Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day are the same day this year!) I'm hoping to work ahead as much as possible on various projects related to Lent and Easter, just so I can minimize stress in March.
  • My grad school technical writing class will continue for all of this month, and I'm hoping it continues to be non-frustrating and fairly chill. Based on the assignment descriptions, I think it should be, but we'll see how things actually work out.
  • As far as reading goes, I have more exciting ARCs waiting for me, as well as a handful of memoirs and classics I'd like to get to. (I'm trying to be proactive about my reading goals here.) Plus, I get to reread DragonKnight, one of my favorites of the Dragonkeeper Chronicles, so I'm looking forward to that!
  • Finally, on the crafting front, I'm hoping to finish the shawl I've been crocheting for the last few months. It seems like it should be done soon, but because it's a loop, it's hard to try on. I know I haven't been working on it that long — I want to say that I started it in October or November — but it feels like it's been an eternity! I will definitely plan to do another short project or two once it's done. (I haven't decided what yet.)
  • So, yes. I'm hoping for a quiet month in February. Whether or not I'll actually get it . . . well, only God knows that, and I guess the rest of us will find out.

How was your January? Did you get any of the snow, and if so, did you enjoy it, or were you more like me? If you're a frequent movie-watcher, how do you not get caught up thinking of all the other things you should or could be doing with that time? Any plans for February? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

 

Friday, January 19, 2024

Reasons Why Drake Hall Is an Absolute Delight

Hello friends! Some of y'all may remember that back in October, I absolutely raved over Christina Baehr's Wormwood Abbey, a cozy gothic fantasy about family and dragons and tradition and change. Well, the sequel to Wormwood Abbey, Drake Hall, just released this week (the week of Dragon Appreciation Day, very appropriately), and I am here to tell you that it is every bit as delightful as the original — and in some ways, it's even better.

 


Reasons Why Drake Hall Is an Absolute Delight

  1. It's grounded in family (for better and for worse). This was one of the things I loved best about the first book, and it continues here. Since Wormwood Abbey, Edith, her immediate family, and her cousins have all grown closer, and it's beautiful to see the bonds that have formed (and continue to grow) between them, whether that's Edith encouraging Gwendolyn as she steps outside of what was expected of her and towards her dreams of the future, Gwendolyn helping Edith navigate life as a keeper of dragons, or just George, Violet, and Una having their own adventures in the background. That said, this book also hits on the ways that family shapes you — and, particularly, how family can cause pain and hurt, whether that's intentional or not. We see this in multiple characters, particularly Gwendolyn, Una, and Simon. However, Baehr keeps the promise that there can be change and healing firmly in view, so this never becomes overly disheartening.
  2. There are so many lovely dragons! Wormwood Abbey gave us a glimpse of a few notable dragons — but now that Edith, her parents, and her brother have been initiated into the secrets of the abbey, we see far more of these magnificent creatures. These include both the familiar — Francis and the wyvern both are frequently present on the page — to new types of dragon like the river dragon on the cover. We also see dragons from many different lands: European, Asian, and more — plus, more dragon lore! Y'all know I love lore.
  3. It's simultaneously the perfect summer book and the perfect winter read. I have, to this day, only read one series that is quite as infused with the essence of summer as Drake Hall is. (That series, by the way, is the summer-vacation half of the Penderwicks books.) Baehr's description brings the lush warmth of this glorious season to life alongside the feeling of possibility that summer brings. Those qualities, plus the highly enjoyable voice, make it the perfect book for enjoying on a summer afternoon . . . or on a winter night, when the narrative will make you forget the snow outside and feel as if some of that summery-ness has found its way to you.
  4. We get to know Simon Drake much better. We knew from Wormwood Abbey that he is, of course, an Excellent Gentleman well-versed in the secrets of the abbey and the dragons it guards. In Drake Hall, as one might expect, we see more of him than almost any character aside from Edith — it's not quite his book as much as hers, but it certainly comes close. As one might expect, that means we get to understand him — and the forces that shaped him into who he is — far better than we did when we started the book. And while I can't give spoilers, I will say that getting to know him more is a very pleasant experience . . .
  5. The tension between tradition and change is handled very well. Aside from the family elements, the other big theme in the Secrets of Ormdale books seems to be the tension between tradition and change. Wormwood Abbey, Drake Hall, and Ormdale are very rural, traditional places, and some of those traditions are good . . . but sometimes, clinging to tradition because it's traditional or it's how things have always been can cause more hurt than harm, and we see that quite clearly in these pages. Baehr acknowledges both sides of this conflict, recognizing the good in each, and as with the family themes, she never lets the reader lose sight of the hope that things can be better than they are.

Are you excited for Drake Hall? What's another grounded-in-family fantasy that you love? And if you haven't read Wormwood Abbey and you're curious, you're in luck — the ebook is on sale for $0.99 through January 20, so make sure you pick that up!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 12, 2024

Mantles of Oak and Iron Release: Interview with Captain Marik

Hello, friends! Today is the release day for Mantles of Oak and Iron, book two in Jenelle Leanne Schmidt's epic gaslamp fantasy, The Turrim Archive! I'm super excited to help celebrate this release — moreso because I got to interview my favorite character in the series, Captain Marik of the airship Valdeun Hawk! I'm also sharing my thoughts on the book over on Light and Shadows, so make sure you check out that post as well. And if you're entirely new to the Turrim Archive, I have good news! Book one, The Orb and the Airship, is currently on sale in Kindle format for $0.99, so you can pick that out and get started on your adventure! Or, again, you can stick around here for the interview.

About Mantles of Oak and Iron

Grayden thought he had four years to decide his future… he was wrong.

War is imminent. The Igyeum has already begun incursions across Telmondir’s borders. The headmaster of the military academy issues a new directive: all students will be fast-tracked through the program. They will be full-fledged defenders by the end of the year. But when a training exercise turns deadly, Grayden must keep his head and become the leader his friends need.

Captain Marik has witnessed evil beyond imagining. Enough to make him sign on to the wizard Dalmir’s cause. But will the council of the west accept a pirate among their ranks? And will Marik’s crew join this mission, or will they consider him a traitor to all they once stood for?

Meanwhile, deep in the mountains lurks a hidden danger that threatens them all.

Find it on: Amazon || Goodreads

Find Jenelle online

Interview with Captain Marik

Captain Marik, art by Chloe Grace
Hello, Captain Marik! Welcome to the blog! I have to say, I'm a big fan of yours . . . but not all my readers know you, so to start out, please tell us a little bit about yourself: who you are, what you do, anything that you feel is important for us to know so we can understand what makes you, you.

Hello, thanks for having me over to this… blog, you said? I’m not sure what a blog is, but it’s always nice to meet a fan. I am a pirate by trade, though I started out as a treasure hunter. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that there wasn’t much treasure in the treasure hunting business, so we had to make a switch to piracy. Crew needs to eat, airships need cynders, pesky things like that drove us to it. We try not to harm people, but sometimes you can’t avoid it. Personally, I try to make sure that those who pay the most are those who have harmed others, or that I’m the only one in my crew who has to make the hardest decisions. I’m under no delusions that I’m the good guy, you see. But if I can protect those under my care from having to descend into the same darkness I walk alongside, then I will.

I know that you do your best to protect your crew, and that's one of the reasons I'm a fan. I understand you're currently making a career change of sorts — pirate to, well, something else. What's been the biggest struggle with that shift for you? Conversely, what's something that's come out of it that you've really enjoyed or appreciated?

I didn’t realize that was already common knowledge, but… yes. My crew and I recently encountered a man named Dalmir who helped change the trajectory I was on. I was mostly bent on survival and revenge, you see, and he showed me that I could do more to right some wrongs.

The hardest thing about this shift is not really knowing exactly what my responsibility is at any given moment. Working for the Council of Telmondir is not something I saw myself doing… working on any side of the law is not something I ever saw myself going back to. But here I am. For better or worse.

Something that’s come out of it that I appreciate is, well, a sense of working for a much greater good than I could have done on my own. Having a clear conscience, I suppose you might say.

It's not common knowledge (unless you read the blurb at the top of this post). I just know things. Moving on, as an airship pirate, I can imagine you've had some pretty impressive adventures. Can you tell us about one that's particularly memorable for you or that you felt was an especial triumph?

My favorite place in the world is a little hamlet in Vallei. The houses are small and humble, but the walls are covered on all sides with rice paper that has been painstakingly decorated by the people living in each home. Green mountains rise up on all sides and people work out in the fields from dawn till dusk just trying to carve a living out of the meager crops that grow in the area.

(Marik shakes himself here and gives a rueful little smile.)

Of course, the whole village is gone now, just a pile of ash left in wake of a regiment of Igyeum soldiers.

As for where I’d still like to go, I’d love to explore beyond the edges of the continent someday. Maybe fly out over the ocean and see if there is anything out there.

I'm sorry that your favorite place is no more, but I hope you can explore like you hope to someday. Changing topics a bit, a good captain needs a good crew . . . so tell us a little about some of the people in yours. Anyone you're especially close to?

My crew mostly consists of Oleck, Raisa, and Mouse. We hire others on at times, but those are the three that stay with me and live on board the Valdeun Hawk. Oleck is my first mate and right hand man. He’s steady as a rock, despite his fairly pessimistic outlook on life. I always know I can depend on him to have my back. Raisa is like a little sister to Oleck, and I sort of see her like a niece. She’s got a steady hand and a weather eye, and there isn’t anyone else I’d trust more at the wheel. Mouse is our little scamp. Kid sort of followed me home one day and I can’t get him to tell me where his family is. I couldn’t just leave him on the streets, but someday I’ll figure out how to take him home. I’m happy to have him on board, though, kid is quick-witted and good with locks.

Sounds like you have some good friends, then. I have to say, I'm curious about Mouse . . . hopefully someday he'll decide to reveal his background. One last question: how do you hope that people, either those in your world or those who read about you, remember you?

Like I said earlier, I know I’m not the hero of any story. There are things I’ve done that I’m not proud of. But I also know that there are monsters in our world, masquerading as men, and if I could take them with me, then I’d be happy to go out fighting against them to my last breath. I won’t ask anyone else to risk their lives for it, though.

I think you might be wrong about not being the hero of any story, Captain. If you're not there yet, your answers say you're headed in that direction . . . and I look forward to seeing where that path takes you. Until then, thank you for appearing on my blog and answering my questions; it's been a pleasure to have you!

Are you excited to meet Captain Marik? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 5, 2024

2023 End-of-Year Book Celebration

Hey'a, friends! How's the first week of the New Year treating you? I have one last post to wrap up my 2023 recaps: my 2023 End-of-Year Book Celebration! I always do these a little into the new year, just in case I read something amazing (or at least noteworthy) the last week of the old year. I want to make sure I celebrate all the books deserving of celebration! Also, as a reminder, this post covers books I read in the six months since my Mid-Year Book Celebration back in July — so anything I read in the first half of the year isn't included here. Doing two book celebrations lets me spotlight twice as many books, and it also saves me from going out of my mind trying to fit a whole year's reading into one post. (I know other people do it, but this is more fun for me.)

As usual, if you want the short-and-sweet top five, you can go check out my Best of 2023 (Part the Second) list on Light and Shadows. But if you want all the categories, keep reading!

2023 End-of-Year Book Celebration

As always, we start with the statistics! According to Goodreads, I read 158 books, well past my goal of 101, and 42,818 pages, which neatly doubles where I was at my Mid-Year Book Celebration. That's also twice as many pages as I read in 2022 and almost twice as many books. My average book length is 271, about the same as last year, and I actually only read five books longer than 500 pages this year — I'm out of practice with epics, it seems. To be fair, I've reread a lot of series of short books, and I also read a good bit of manga. And, once again, my average book rating is 4.4 stars.

So, my overall statistics show a good reading year. Hopefully that makes up for the fact that my specific reading goals had somewhat . . . mixed results.

  • For my goal 12 books published (or written) before 1975, I've actually read 18 books in this category, which is great! However, the second half of my goal was that at least nine of them (or 75% of them, depending) not be aimed at children. In that respect, I did . . . less well. I finished six books and one short story that were written before 1975 and aren't considered children's literature. (I did read Dracula twice, sort of, but I'm only counting it once for purposes of this goal.) Granted, I'm still in the process of reading Moby DickKidnapped, and Dante's Inferno, so if you include those, I have nine books and one short story . . . but the eleven children's books I read still dominate pretty heavily.
  • As for my goal of reading 15 non-speculative fiction books, I again came close but didn't succeed. I read 11 non-speculative-fiction books, though two of them are sort of in a grey area (in that they could kind of go either way). Of those, three were poetry, three were general nonfiction, two were somehow about cooking, and three were children's classics. So, I had a good variety here, at least.
  • And when it comes to my recommended reads list . . . despite some very good intentions on my part, I only managed to read one book on it, and that was all the way back in April. Ah well. It was a good thought, but it was all too quickly forgotten (I say in passive voice, as if I wasn't the one doing the forgetting).

For more statistics or the full list of everything I read in 2023, check out my Goodreads Year in Books or my tracking form results. Or read on for some specific books I want to highlight!

1. Best book you've read in the second half of 2023:

The fact that I read a lot of sequels and rereads in the last six months makes this question a little easier than usual — but even if that weren't the case, Wormwood Abbey by Christina Baehr and Black and Deep Desires by Claire Trella Hill would probably still be at the top. I loved both of these Gothic fantasies — one a cozy tale of dragons and mysteries and family, one full of vampires, monsters, haunting dreams, and lovely romance — and expect to reread both many times. If I had to pick just one, Wormwood Abbey might come out a smidge on top (because I will always pick dragons over vampires), but they're both so good.

As a runner up, I have to mention Steal the Morrow by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt, which is a lovely gaslamp fantasy retelling of Oliver Twist. It takes the essential bits of the original and gives them new life and a new look . . . but it's also distinct enough that even if you aren't a fan of Dickens, you'll probably like this.

2. Best sequel you've read in the second half of 2023:

This one is not actually a difficult question because Dark and Stormy by Suzannah Rowntree was so good in every possible way. The crew's schemes, the machinations of Vasily's family (all of whom are utterly mad), the dynamics between the characters, the growing feelings between Molly and Vasily, the various characters all figuring themselves and each other out . . . and the ending! I'm still not over it.

Oh, and speaking of things I'm still not over: W.R. Gingell released two new Worlds Behind books that could challenge Dark and Stormy, but Behind the Curtain is my favorite of the two and my new favorite in the series as a whole. It's so good. And I can't even say half of why because spoilers, but suffice it to say that I will never not love it when people who think they're only for causing pain find they can, in fact, do other things and do them well, and also I have never been so happy about someone non-villainous getting stabbed. Just go read the series and you'll see what I mean. (But make sure you read City Between first.)

3. Best book you've reread in the second half of 2023:

The Illuminae Files by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff are just as good the second or third time around as they were the first — they're better in some respects, since you can appreciate what the author is doing more when you're not panicking about whether or not your favorite characters will survive.

 4. New release you haven't read yet but want to:

Despite being thoroughly hyped for The Olympian Affair, I still have yet to read it, and the release date rather snuck past me without my noticing. I shall have to remedy that soon! Though I need to reread The Aeronaut's Windlass first . . .

5. Most anticipated release for 2024:

You'd think my answer would be the new Stormlight Archive novel — but actually it's Dark & Dawn by Suzannah Rowntree. We all know I'm a sucker for these gaslamp fantasy heists . . . but I'm especially looking forward to this installment. After all the everything in Dark & Stormy, I desperately need to know what happens next! Goodreads and Amazon currently have this coming out in September, but Rowntree has said there's a chance it'll be sooner, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for that.

Additionally, Christina Baehr has said that we can potentially look for all four of the remaining Secrets of Ormdale novels in 2024! Drake Hall comes out in a little over a week, and Castle of the Winds, book 3, is on Amazon and Goodreads with an April 14 release date. The other two don't have official listings yet, but are slated for July and October. I am thoroughly excited, and I don't know if I'll stop screaming all this year.

Besides these, I'm looking forward to No Man Left Behind, the conclusion of W.R. Gingell's Worlds Behind series. I'll be very sad to say goodbye to Athelas (again), Harrow, Camellia, YeoWoo, and the rest . . . but I also can't wait to see how Gingell wraps up their stories! Also, that cover is giving me Suspicions, and I will be delighted if I'm right.

Last but not least, we have more Turrim Archive novels from Jenelle Leanne Schmidt! Mantles of Oak and Iron releases next week (and I'm very belatedly reading my Kickstarter ebook copy right now), and according to the Kickstarter, we can look forward to Book 3 sometime later this year. After all the excitement of The Orb and the Airship, I'm looking forward to seeing where the rest of the story takes us — and seeing more of Captain Marik!

 

6. Biggest disappointment:

This is a reread, not a new read, but I was disappointed that Magyk didn't hold up as well as I hoped. I've spent a lot of this year rereading old favorites, and they've all still been so good on the reread, but Magyk just . . . wasn't quite doing it for me. To be clear, it's still a good book and a fun read, but it didn't enchant me the same way it did in the past.

7. Biggest surprise:

I think this is probably Second Chance Superhero by H.L. Burke. I was fairly certain I'd like it going in — after all, I have yet to encounter an SVR-verse novel that I don't like. What's more surprising is that Second Chance Superhero is solidly a romance first and a superhero story second (as opposed to equal parts of each), but it might be one of my favorite SVR books anyway.

I also have to mention Black and Deep Desires again here — not because I didn't expect to love it (W.R. Gingell and Suzannah Rowntree both endorsed it, and I met the author at the June book signing, so I was pretty sure it would be a four-star read at minimum) but because teenage me would be utterly scandalized that adult me is not only reading but recommending (and fangirling over) a novel about vampires. I'm not sure if this counts as character development or not, but it's something.

8. A book that made you cry:

No actual tears, but I do get emotional at several points in the Illuminae Files.

9. A book that made you happy:

I read Twelve Days of (Faerie) Christmas by C.J. Brightly just before Christmas, and it's such a fun, clever, sweet story with a lovely romance, a cool twist on the Twelve Days of Christmas song, and characters I quickly fell in love with.

10. Favorite post you've done this half of the year:

A lot of my posts this year have been either Doings!, reviews, or seasonal reads, so there's less to choose from than usual. But I enjoyed writing Five Years Published for the five-year book birthday of Blood in the Snow (and the start of my author career).

11. Most beautiful book you've bought/received this half of the year:


 

This is a two-way tie again. Yumi and the Nightmare Painter is the most beautiful in terms of pure aesthetics — I love the blue and pink and the art style, and I think it might be the prettiest of the Secret Projects. But the Dracula Daily hardcover is also beautiful — maybe a little less so aesthetically than Yumi (though I do think it's very nice-looking), but because of what it represents, because of the community and collaboration that sprang up around this 200-year-old book.

That wraps things up for me — but what about for you? What are the best books you've read in the second half of 2023? Also, what's the best book or series you've reread? Tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!