Friday, July 1, 2022

June 2022 Doings!

Hello, y'all! June is ended, July is here, and I have another month's worth of Doings to report! But first, a quick bit of housekeeping: I'll be taking a blogging break for most of the month of July, both because I want the extra bit of attention to focus on Bastian Dennel, PI #4 and because Realm Makers, writing, work, and family stuff mean I'll likely be pretty busy. I will still post my Mid-Year Book Celebration/Book Roundup next Friday as usual, and I'll be on the socials, but otherwise, things will be quiet for the month. I haven't yet decided what to do about the On the Taleweaver's Desk update, but I may push it off until early August, since it would normally go up the same weekend as Realm Makers. We'll see.

Writing!

  • Writing-wise, this month's focus has mostly been on Bastian Dennel, PI #4, which is currently title-less. In contrast to Through a Shattered Glass, which I wrote very rapidly, this one is coming along quite slowly. I spent almost a week working through the initial outline until I got stuck, at which point I decided — y'know what? I know who did the murder. I know why they did it. I know what clues I need to lay and some red herrings to slip in. Let's just get this story started.
  • (Realistically, I think this was the best option. The problem was one that wouldn't be easy to solve without knowing the story better than I did at the time, so hopefully things will come together once I get closer in the actual draft.)
  • On the Through a Shattered Glass front, the book went out to beta readers early in the month, and I've been slowly getting feedback from various people. I haven't really read most of that feedback because I've been focused on BDPI#4, but I look forward to doing so.
  • And on the D&D side of things, I did just enough prep to cover the two times we met over the course of the month, plus the start of our next session (whenever that ends up being). The first of those two sessions went about how I expected it. The second . . . well, I didn't really know how my players would react to the situation, but I don't think I was expecting what actually happened? In a good way, though. I also figured out how I think I want to approach large-scale combat, which is good, because that's coming up pretty quick.
  • Oh, and I got to have some fun designing author swag (business cards, stickers, and bookplates) in preparation for Realm Makers! That was exciting, though also stressful once I realized how expensive sticker singles can be. I eventually figured stuff out, though, and everything so far has looked very nice.

Reading!

  • I expected that this would be a month full of rereads. That said, only about a third of them were the rereads I expected.
  • I started the month by finishing up my Jackaby reread. That went well, though I don't think I liked the second half of the series (the last book especially) as much on the reread as I did the first time around, particularly since I've grown more familiar with one of the central myths and am now annoyed at how Ritter handled said myth.
  • The other main rereads of the month were about half the Chronicles of Narnia, sparked by the fact that we watched the movie version of Prince Caspian and that made me want to read the actual book. And then I figured I might as well reread some of the other books that I've been thinking of revisiting . . . Lewis's style is a major shift from most of what I've been reading lately, but it's been fun to go back to these old favorites.
  • In between the rereads, we had three new-to-me books. The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm is a collection of short stories from the world of Algaesia, and it was . . . fine? To be honest, I feel like it's the least interesting out of everything I read this month.
  • The other two new reads are much more exciting and were both last-minute impulse reads. Free-Range Knitter was something I picked up on a whim at the library and ended up quite enjoying. It very much falls into the genre of "Unexpectedly popular 2000s blogger memoirs," but, hey, it was an enjoyable read, and it had some nice observations about knitting and life and people.
  • And then there's The Goblin Emperor, which abruptly shot up from somewhere in the depths of my TBR list after I saw a dozen-odd fanart pieces on a friend's social and realized that I needed to read this book immediately. It was, let me tell you, one of the best decisions I made all month, because this book is so good. It's not particularly fast-paced, and it's mostly concerned with the main character figuring out how to be emperor and navigate an unfamiliar and not particularly friendly court and grow into the person he's meant to be, and yet I stayed up long past midnight one night reading it. There's intrigue and mystery and occasional assassination attempts, but most of the book is very character-focused, and . . . I just love it, ok? Possibly because I really love the main character, Maia, who is an absolute sweetheart. He was never supposed to be emperor, but now that he is, he's trying his best to be a good one and to not repeat the mistakes of his predecessors. (I'm also very disappointed that there's not a true sequel — the other books in the world are about a side character and don't really have anything to do with this story.)
  • Oh, and I'm still reading Dracula via Dracula Daily . . . and I may have signed up for a bunch of similar serial story e-newsletters. I have no regrets, but I may when they all start at once in six months.

Watching!

  • Glory hallelujah, we are done with the Reani episodes of Critical Role. I'm sorry; I recognize that the player was trying to do something interesting, but I just did not vibe with her. I am pleased with my decision to go back to Campaign 2 instead of pushing on with Campaign 3, though. It's been fun to be back with the Mighty Nein. I'm currently halfway through Episode 69, and I've enjoyed the last few episodes, particularly the developments with Fjord.
  • Aside from Critical Role, I watched a couple movies this month: a rewatch of Prince Caspian, as I already mentioned, and Jurassic Park, which I had never seen before except for clips and snippets. My roommate enjoys JP, though, so I was excited to see it. I liked it, though I did end up hiding behind a pillow during a few moments when I suspected there was going to be something particularly gorey on the screen. I can definitely see why it became such a cultural phenomenon.
  • I also started watching Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, though I'm only a couple episodes in. A friend helpfully pointed me towards the best place to watch it, and I'm trying to get through it in relatively quick fashion. It's nice to have something to watch where the commitment is 20 minutes plus ads instead of an hour or better. I will have to get used to the voices, though, as there's exactly one character who sounds like I imagined him. Colonel Mustang and Al are the two who throw me off the most, though. (You would think Mustang would be the one who I expected, since I knew Travis Willingham voiced him, but nope! Every time he says anything, I'm like "Wait. What? Oh, right." I'll get used to it, I suppose.)

Life!

  • The main themes of this month have been "Sarah makes stuff!" and "absolutely NOTHING happens when it's supposed to unless we paid in advance for it." It's fine.
  • I actually did a fair bit of baking this month. I started June with my first sourdough loaf using fresh herbs from the ones we planted in May, and that turned out very well, though I probably should've chopped the herbs a little smaller. Then, a bit later in the month, I gave focaccia a whirl and was pretty pleased with the result. (I also made some regular rolls, but, y'know, I've made those a dozen times before.)
  • I intended to get a lot of cosplay prep done in June as well. Unfortunately, that didn't go quite as well. I did finish my flowy-sleeved top (it's far from perfect, but it'll do what I want it to do), and I found a few of the other items I needed, but I didn't make as much progress on either dress as I wanted to. Apparently, purple is not an "in" color right now (so I haven't been able to find any purple dresses in stores, let alone ones with pockets), and I kept hitting a particular delay on the dress I'm making — specifically, I needed my sister to help me drape a pattern, and she was continually not available at the same time I could do work. On the upside, we did eventually resolve that, so I have a pattern. Now I just need to cut everything . . . and sew everything . . . and make adjustments . . . and embroider things . . . yeah. There's a lot left to do. At least this weekend is a long one.
  • One of the highlights of the month, though, was just last weekend, when my sister and I got together with a friend to do an escape room! This one was a little harder than the one we did last summer, but I actually feel like it went somewhat better — if nothing else, we got out with more time to spare, probably because everyone had at least a little experience with how these kinds of puzzles work.
  • At work, things have alternately been super quiet (because half the office is out) or comfortably busy. We have made progress on some of the big projects, though, so that's good. They're going slowly, but so do most things that involve change.
  • Oh! D&D news! The group I play in had our first really big boss fight, which was super exciting. We were taking on our warlock/fighter's patron (an aberrant dragon), which involved gathering reinforcements and traveling to another plane and all sorts of stuff. It was pretty epic, especially the final fight — especially since the boss ended up having, figuratively speaking, two health bars. But we survived! With minimal insanity! And leveled up twice! And we got our first-ever legendary item!
  • I think that about covers it. June was definitely a much quieter month than May, but you know? That's far from a bad thing.

July Plans

  • REALM MAKERS! We're now in the month of, and I am SO HYPED. There's still a lot left to do — cosplay prep, finishing up some of the swag that I didn't complete last month, figuring out some final logistics, figuring out if I need to pre-sign books (since Kendra E. Ardnek will be selling my books alongside hers) and so on — but it's going to be good. I'm excited to learn, but I'm arguably more looking forward to the opportunity to meet others in the writing/author community.
  • Most of my plans revolve around Realm Makers, but aside from it . . . we'll have family visiting midway through the month, which should be nice. I'm looking forward to that.
  • Work will probably continue to be quiet, since we'll have people out on either mission trips or vacation.
  • Writing-wise, I'll be splitting my time between Through a Shattered Glass edits and Bastian Dennel, PI #4 drafting. I don't know yet what that split will look like, but I'll figure it out once I see how much editing needs to be done.
  • And on the reading front, most of my book choices will probably be influenced by the various adult summer reading programs I'm doing through local library systems. At the moment, I'm attempting to essentially do three challenges (two systems, two variations within one of those systems) with no overlap, but I may put in some retroactive overlap if we get towards the end of the summer and it looks like I'm not going to make one or more of them.
  • That seems to be everything. There may be something I'm forgetting about, but if there is, oh well. I'll remember it tomorrow night, probably.

How was your June? Any exciting plans for July? Will you be at Realm Makers (either virtually or in person)? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 24, 2022

Summer 2022 Reads

Well, it's very much summer now. We've passed the solstice, the library reading programs have begun (and I'm delighted that there's an adult version as well as a kid version), and this year's crop of summer reads has started to appear! Realistically, it's anyone's guess how many of these I'll actually read this season (or even this year), but . . . I can be excited anyway? Right? Right.

 

Summer 2022 Reads

1. The Wolf's Daughter by Kendra E. Ardnek (June 15). This is the first in a new series of short stories Kendra's releasing: fairy tales turned on their heads, with heroes and villains switched. I've already read it, but I wanted to spotlight it because it really is a cool take on the story. I can't say much more about why I like the twist . . . but the title should give you a clue.

2. Blood and Moonlight by Erin Beaty (June 28). Fantasy mystery! I'll be honest, between the cover and the fact that the blurb is hinting at a love triangle, I'm kinda giving this one a little bit of a side-eye. But on the other hand, I can't resist a good fantasy mystery, so I'll be watching the reviews to see how things look.

3. The Dream Runners by Shveta Thakrar (June 28). I read an excerpt of this on the Tor blog, and it was entrancing, so I'm excited! We've got Indian fantasy, dream magic, an amnesia plotline . . . it definitely has potential to be awesome, and it's a standalone — no getting suckered into a series. (And, of course, the cover is super pretty.)

4. Her Dark Wings by Melinda Salisbury (July 7). It's a modern Hades and Persephone retelling! This particular myth is getting a lot of attention in the last few years, and I've seen some fabulous takes on the story, so this definitely has a lot of potential. It's not at the top of my reading list, but still, potential.

 


5. Castle and Key by W.R. Gingell (July 15). New Two Monarchies! About Susan! Who is Isabella's sister and is just as prone to mischief and poking her nose into things as Isabella herself, and therefore has all the makings of a new favorite character once I get five pages of her POV. Plus, this is a Bluebeard retelling, which promises a DELIGHTFULLY murdery mystery. I've already preordered the book, and there's very good odds I'll read it the day it comes out.

6. The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope (August 9). It's a Jazz Age historical fantasy, y'all! Not only that, but it's a heist narrative! I don't know about the rest of y'all, but I love a good fantasy heist almost as much as I love a good fantasy mystery, and the particular setting of this one just makes it even better.

7. The Drowned Woods by Emily Lloyd-Jones (August 16). Speaking of heist stories . . . this one involves Welsh mythology, so of course I'm super excited for that. The main character apparently has water-based magic and is trying to bring down the evil prince she used to work for. The blurb hints at fae involvement and also promises, and I quote, "a corgi that may or may not be a spy," so . . . yeah. I'm definitely going to pick this one up!

8. Beguiled by Cyla Panin (August 23). This story is giving me Rumplestiltskin vibes, and that's not a fairy tale you see retold very often, so I'm interested simply because of that. But we've also got elements of Celtic folklore (yesssss), so that's two reasons to keep an eye on this release.

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

 

Friday, June 17, 2022

Books I Love to Reread

I was going to start this post by saying that I feel like I've been rereading a lot lately, but then I realized . . . there has never been a time when I didn't reread quite a bit. Because here's the deal: my to-be-read list may be tall enough to reach the International Space Station and weighty enough to bring said space station crashing down to earth, but that will not stop me when I feel like rereading an old favorite. Or, in some cases, an old semi-favorite. Or just a book that's been on my mind lately. But, you know, the mark of a great book is that you can read it over and over again and never love it less, so . . . maybe it just speaks to the quality of the books I've read? There definitely are certain books I tend to come back to more than others or that are just a special treat to reread, and today, I'm spotlighting a few of those.


Books I Love to Reread

  1. The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. This has got to be one of the most rereadable series I know of. If you've read the Queen's Thief book, you know that these are subtle, marvelously plotted stories and that Turner is a master of foreshadowing and perfectly prepared twists. This becomes even more clear on the reread, when you can pick up all kinds of clues you missed the first time around. In fact, I'd argue that you have to reread them at least once for the full experience. This is balanced by the fact that they're just the right length to be easy to pick up and reread — you can get through them fairly quickly without feeling guilty about taking a full month away from your library books and to-be-read list. (Plus, it's physically impossible to not love the characters more every time you read their stories.)
  2. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Speaking of falling in love with characters all over again . . . every time I reread Howl's Moving Castle, I find new reasons to love this story and these characters. That said, the bigger reason why it's on this list is that it's very much a comfort read for me, and it has been from the first. If I'm stressed or upset and need to be very quickly cheered up and pulled out of my troubles, and if whatever I'm currently reading doesn't seem like it'll do the trick for whatever reason (or if I'm not currently reading anything), this is my first choice of what to pick up. Even a few chapters are often enough to get me perked back up, thinking reasonably, and able to deal with whatever has me in a tizzy.
  3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Of course, LOTR has to make the list! For several years, I did a yearly or bi-yearly reread of this series, usually scheduled around either my birthday or half-birthday (since I read the trilogy for the first time within days of when I turned either twelve or thirteen, if I recall correctly). That dropped off, but I did recently reread these books, and they were just so lovely to come back to — even better than I remembered, since you really do notice new facets of the story each time. The only reason it's not at the top of the list is that the length does make this a bit more of a time commitment than some other books. (Technically, the Queen's Thief series may be longer in total, but each book is a quicker read.)
  4. The All Creatures Great and Small series by James Herriot (especially the first book). Like Howl, this is very much a comfort read, but of a somewhat different kind. It's a wonderfully steadying, heartwarming in the realest possible sense. I reach for Howl when stress and frustration reach a boiling point, and it makes me laugh and forget my problems for an hour or two. I reach for All Creatures when my world feels uncertain, and it helps me remember that everything will be ok in the end (because, even if Herriot never alludes to God or anything particularly spiritual, many of these stories come out to the lesson of the sparrows). Of course, I don't only pick it up in times of emotional turmoil; it's a lovely read any time I need something comparatively low-stakes and optimistic and sincere and funny.
  5. Entwined by Heather Dixon Wallwork. This is both one of my favorite fairy tale retellings and a Christmas read, thereby giving me two excuses to pick it up over and over again. While I don't tend to notice new things about this story as much as I do other stories on this list, it's always a pleasure to rediscover moments I'd forgotten or reexperience the best bits and to come out of the story feeling immensely cheered and pleased.

Do you like rereading books? What are your favorite books to reread? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah

Friday, June 3, 2022

May 2022 Doings!

Hello hello hello! I am, at the moment of writing this, quite tired (for reasons unknown), and as per the usual, I have no idea where this month went. But I shall do my best in this post to figure out the answer to that very question.

Writing!

  • I spent most of the month doing the first rewrite/edit of Through a Shattered Glass, which went well. This book is on a very extended timeline, which means I get to test different feedback configurations — namely, I had Wyn Owens (a good friend, fellow Arista Challenge author, and beta reader on most of my past books) alpha reading the book. That was super helpful in terms of keeping me motivated and having someone to talk through things with.
  • On a related note, I am looking for beta readers for Through a Shattered Glass. If you're interested, check out my post on it.
  • I also finished the front cover for Through a Shattered Glass! I was originally going to hire someone, but while procrastinating, I managed to find a picture that looked like my main character and fit the vibe, so I messed with it . . . and kept messing with it . . . and almost gave up and went back to the "hire someone" plan . . . and then went back to it one more time and figured out how to make it into something I quite like! So, you know, that's a relief.
  • On the D&D side of things, one of my campaigns didn't get to meet at all this month, but the one I run did get together for one session. The party spent most of the session talking to horses and setting up camp, but we had fun, and not having to worry about writing session material did mean more free time for working on TaSG.

Reading!

  • Lots of rereads this month! I finished my Dragons in Our Midst/Oracles of Fire reread, which I posted about last week. And conversations with Wyn about (A) her WIP and (B) Welsh myth made me decide to reread The Dark King's Curse (even better the second time around! also I love Laisren so much) and the Jackaby series (also delightful; I'm currently about halfway through).
  • In between all that, my copies of Fullmetal Alchemist volumes 5–7 came due at the library, so I hastily read those before I had to return them. I'm still enjoying the series, and I really need to request the next several! (I'm also thinking of watching the show, though I need to figure out where/how to do that.)
  • And we have a couple miscellaneous reads. Dawnsong is a novella by Bryn Shutt, and it was fairly enjoyable. I'll probably pick up the rest of the series when it releases, as I'm curious about the characters. Stolen Midsummer Bride is a Midsummer Night's Dream retelling by Tara Grayce, and I was pretty excited about it . . . and then pretty disappointed in how it turned out. I didn't vibe with the characters and wasn't impressed with the author's treatment of fae. It wasn't bad? It just also really wasn't great. It's possible other people would like it more, though — romantic fantasy is not my primary subgenre!

Watching!

  • So, I have more or less given up on Critical Role Campaign 3 for the moment and gone back to Campaign 2 — I miss Caleb and Jester and Fjord, and I don't have the same attachment to the new crew. I managed to get through C2 Episode 66 and halfway through Episode 67 — I've been looking forward to 67 for a while for several reasons. While I still don't love Reani, and I'll be glad when she's gone, it's nice to be back with the rest of the Mighty Nein.
  • Otherwise, I really haven't watched anything this month. Not really surprising.

Life!

  • Honestly, this has been a fun month, but also a very busy one — we've had something going on pretty much every weekend.
  • It started with two things I'd been looking forward to for a while: my sister getting home from college and our Bible study's retreat at White Sulphur Springs. Those actually happened at the same time — which is to say, my parents went straight from Ohio (where they were retrieving my sister) to WSS, where I met them after driving up on my own on Friday.
  • The retreat went quite well on the whole. It was nice to have some time to relax and time to spend with friends, though some of the other study families had to back out at the last minute. We spent a good bit of Saturday playing card and board games, which was delightful. And, of course, the food at WSS is pretty much always delicious.
  • The next weekend would've been fairly quiet . . . except that my sister and I found out that there was going to be a Viking Festival about twenty minutes from our house, and obviously we had to go check it out. As it turns out, "Viking Festival" translates as "very specifically themed mini Renaissance Festival," so we got to see a replica Viking longship, hear some Celtic music, and browse the various vendors. I may have spent a little more than I intended at those vendors . . . but the items I bought were all either practical (a new hairstick that will work a little better for the current state of my hair) or things I needed for Realm Makers cosplay, so it's fine.
  • The weekend after that was a little bit quieter, thankfully. But we did still have some excitement in the form of a cheese-and-board games party with a friend — I had bought a bunch of slightly fancy cheese (which is to say, not regular grocery store block cheeses) for a photograph earlier in the week, and I needed help to eat them. Whether or not the photograph was 50% an excuse to buy cheese remains a mystery . . . but the cheese was tasty, the games were fun, and some of my D&D group joined the final game of the evening via video chat, so it was a good time all round.
  • And that brings us up to Memorial Day weekend, when my family decided to go visit my grandpa. We'd originally planned to visit around Father's Day, but since that would have to be such a short trip, we decided to go up for the long weekend.

  • In between all this, I've been doing some crafting — not as much as intended because of all the other stuff, but still. To be specific, I attempted to make a flowy-sleeved top, which failed because I forgot to multiply the central measurement by two, and gave embroidery a whirl, which I consider to have been a success. I've done two samplers so far, one of which is shown above, covering most (if not all) of the major stitches, and I'm genuinely enjoying it! It also goes much faster than I expected, which is the opposite of most of the handcrafts I try, so, y'know, that's nice.
  • Work has been going about as usual — this is a quieter season, after the chaos of Lent and Easter but before summer programming starts up. (Also, big projects keep getting delayed because we had several weeks of either one pastor or the other being out of the office.) I did successfully update my how-to-do-my-job documentation, and I printed out a copy to keep at my desk, so if anything ever comes out where I have to be out on short notice, it'll be easier for someone else to temporarily pick up the essential tasks. (Not that I anticipate that happening . . . but after being out for most of a month last year, I don't want to take any risks.)
  • Oh, and I have finally embarked on a project that I've been intending to start for ages, which is revamping the playlists on my main music streaming app so they reflect my current taste in music and are a little more tailored than just dumping every album that's sort of a particular mood or genre onto a particular list.

June Plans

  • I expect that June will be a quieter month than May, but I really don't know.
  • My main writing goals for this month are to get Through a Shattered Glass out to beta readers (info here if you want to know more) and to start drafting the fourth Bastian Dennel, PI book. I've been looking into this installment in the BDPI cases for a fair while, and I'm excited to write it — I can't say too much yet, but it's going to be a murder mystery, and Bastian and Kona will be the main POV characters again.
  • I also plan to keep working on cosplay and other crafting projects. I want to retry the flowy-sleeved shirt with different fabric (and with correct measurements), plus I have a medieval-ish overdress and some props to make. I also need to find a purple dress with pockets somewhere, which is proving more difficult than anticipated. I need everything done in time for Realm Makers in June, so not much time to waste!
  • On the reading front, I don't really have many plans. I have some rereads that I want to continue (namely Jackaby and Legends of Karac Tor — and, ideally, The Great Hunt), and I need to read The Shepherd's Crown so I can officially finish with the Discworld series. But I don't have any ARCs at the moment, so mostly I can just mood read without guilt or pressure.
  • Otherwise . . . I don't think I have much planned? Yeah. Hopefully, it'll be a peaceful month.

How was your May? Any exciting plans for June? Have you done any fun rereads lately? How do you feel about sewing and embroidery? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Want to Beta Read Through a Shattered Glass?

If there's one thing you absolutely have to do before you publish a book . . . well, you can't pick just one. But among the most essential items on the list is making sure that there are other eyes besides yours on your book. Making sure your story gets in front of people who will read it and point out what works and what needs to be better.

I've been blessed with a great team of beta readers who I love dearly. However, general life stuff on both my end and theirs means that some slots on the team are opening up. So, I have a question for y'all . . .

Do you want to beta-read Through a Shattered Glass?

Through a Shattered Glass is a dark-ish portal fantasy remix of The Snow Queen with Alice in Wonderland/Alice Through the Lookingglass. It's about 30,000 words long. I'll send out the Word Doc, probably via email, on June 7, and I would need comments back by July 9.

What kind of comments? In general, I'm looking for suggestions of how to make the story better that don't start with "So, you'd have to totally rewrite the story to implement this, but . . ." More specifically, I'm looking for the following:

  • Feedback on both technical and stylistic elements of the actual writing (aka, "did I use words the right way?" and "does this sound good?").
  • Thoughts on elements (character choices, worldbuilding, plot progression) that may need to be clarified or areas where the themes of the story could be strengthened. 
  • General reactions to the story, characters, and writing.

If you're interested, click here to sign up. I would prefer it if you've read at least one of my previous books so you have an idea of my usual style, but it's not a requirement — especially since, if you read this blog, you probably already know something about my writing.

If you have any questions, feel free to drop those in the comments.

Thanks in advance for your help making Through a Shattered Glass the best it can be!

Friday, May 27, 2022

On Rereading Dragons in Our Midst

My favorites list, whether speaking of authors or series, has changed quite a few times since I first got into fantasy. Wayne Thomas Batson, once in my top three favorite authors, now doesn't even make the top ten. J.R.R. Tolkien stood alone at the highest rank — until Anne Elisabeth Stengl and Brandon Sanderson proved themselves worthy to join him. I spent a heady six months obsessing over Ted Dekker's Circle Trilogy, only for it to fall dramatically out of favor when I tried to reread it a few years later.

But amid all this, there are some authors and books that have consistently remained — well, if not in my top three, at least in my top ten. Chief among them (aside from Tolkien again) is Bryan Davis, particularly with his Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire series. These were two of the first non-classic fantasy series I fell in love with — and I think it's fair to say that I was really, really into them. I reread them multiple times; I even memorized some of the poetry. And about seven months ago, I decided to return to the two series, reread them, and see how they stood up to the test of time. For the results, well, read on.

 

On Rereading Dragons in Our Midst

  1. Most of it is as good as I remembered . . . and some bits are better. I'm not going to claim that this series is the pinnacle of literary art, but it remains a genuinely enjoyable, exciting story with a lot of emphasis on family and some very deep, powerful themes. The things about the book that I loved originally, I still love. I also found that I could appreciate some elements of the book that I didn't really get (or didn't love) when I was younger. This is particularly evident in The Candlestone and Enoch's Ghost, which used to be my least favorite books in the double-series and are now . . . well, neither one is my new favorite (I still love Circles of Seven best), but they're both several places higher on the list because I finally get what the author was trying to say with them.
  2. There's so much less angst and edginess than there could've been. I didn't appreciate this enough as a preteen/teen originally reading the series — but, of course, then I didn't have all the experience with other YA (particularly secular YA) to compare it to. Davis gives quite a few members of his cast enough tragic backstory to make the edgiest D&D rogue's story look like a comedy, so he'd be well within his right to make them equally angsty, and he just . . . doesn't. Is there introspection? Emotion? Of course! Do characters hit some pretty low lows? Absolutely. But it doesn't saturate the characters or the narrative, which is really nice, and the characters who would have the most reason for angst (namely, Bonnie, Sapphira, and Elam) end up the exact opposite character type. Granted, that can be frustrating for different reasons, but it's less frustrating than the alternative.
  3. It's really fun to go back to a series that's so family-focused. Very family-focused indeed, actually, given that DiOM/OoF give Kendra E. Ardnek's Rizkaland Legends a run for their money with how large a percentage of major characters are related. And whatever else you say about this series, you have to appreciate how Davis makes a point of writing active, healthy parent-kid relationships into the story and having multiple generations taking on adventures, challenges, and battles together.
  4. Bryan Davis really just does what he wants, doesn't he? This was less evident when I initially read the series, since (A) the YA fantasy genre and its conventions were still somewhat being established and (B) I hadn't read enough to really be aware of what conventions there were. But on rereading the series, it becomes very clear that Davis is a man who looked at trends, said "Nah," and proceeded to make a career out of writing what he thought would be cool. And so, in this series — You have dragons and King Arthur in the modern day. You have multiple variations of an afterlife and interdimensional travel between them, along with so many resurrections. You have sci-fi-ish stuff like Ashley's inventions and her supercomputer/AI, as well as (arguably) two different completely unrelated variations on people being grown in plants. You have everything about Abaddon's lair. And you know what? It works. And it's wonderful. (I would even argue that it works because everything is so all-over, but if I get into that, this point will end up being its own blog post.)
  5. This is, if possible, even more spiritually in-your-face than I remembered. No one can deny that the way Christian fantasy is written has changed since the 2000s when these books were published. Even if you look exclusively at Davis's books, you'll see that over time, the stories lean less into allegory and get more and more subtle with their spiritual messages. So, going back to Dragons in Our Midst and Oracles of Fire, two series which I remembered as being extremely heavy on the Scripture and spiritual stuff even compared to the series' contemporaries, was a bit of an interesting experience. On one hand, the heavy-handedness of some sections and elements (and the emphasis on purity) can pull you out of the story . . . but on the other hand, it was honestly refreshing to read something that's so up-front about being based in Christianity and so saturated in Spiritual truth.

Whew! That was a bit longer than I intended. I had fun both returning to an old favorite and analyzing how I feel about it now, though. If you're still reading, please tell me in the comments what your favorite Bryan Davis book or series is (or which of his works you think looks most interesting). Also tell me if you'd be interested in that blog post about why I think the way Davis mixes so many different elements into his story works so well; I kinda want to get more into this now.
Thanks for reading!
-Sarah

Friday, May 20, 2022

Non-European Fantasy Favorites

I have mixed feelings about a lot of recent trends in fantasy and speculative fiction . . . but one trend that I absolutely love is the move towards settings based in locations and cultures other than medieval, Edwardian, or Victorian European ones (specifically those from northern and western Europe). While I will always appreciate the classics when they're well done, it's nice to get some variety. And since I've never actually compiled a list of my favorite non-European fantasy stories, I thought I should remedy that this week! Not all of these are recent releases — actually, most of them have been out for a while, since I'm SUPER behind on any recent books that I didn't agree to review — but they're well-loved by me and well worth a read!

(Please note that I'm not including any urban/contemporary fantasy on this list — while my love of the City Between and Dragons in Our Midst series is deep and well-documented, these genres aren't as overwhelmingly Europe-based as many other fantasy genres are.)

 


Non-European Fantasy Favorites

1. The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. I debated a lot about whether or not I could include this series because, you know, it's heavily inspired by ancient Greece (with a side trip in one book to ancient Persia), and Greece is technically European? But it's very much not your standard medieval European fantasy, and that's evident in everything from the lore and mythology to the food to the architecture to the landscape to the language and names. It's so great.
Bonus Greek-inspired fantasy recommendation: Coiled by H.L. Burke.

2. Golden Daughter by Anne Elisabeth Stengl. I would like to be very clear that the only reason this isn't first on the list is that it's the seventh book in the series — it's a gorgeous Asian-inspired fantasy epic (and, realistically, you could pick it up without having read any of the other Goldstone Wood novels, though there are certain elements whose significance you might not pick up on). As in the Queen's Thief books, this isn't just a standard fantasy novel with an "exotic" aesthetic tacked on — the location informs the culture, which informs the characters and storyline, and everything just comes together so well.
Bonus Asian-inspired fantasy recommendation: The Dragon's Flower by Wyn Estelle Owens

3. The Books of the Infinite trilogy by R. J. Larson. Arguably the least like traditional European fantasy out of everything on this list and everything that I considered putting on this list, the Books of the Infinite take place in a world much like Israel and its neighbors in the second half of the Old Testament. It's a story of prophets and kings, of signs and miracles and mercy and judgment, and it's generally well worth a read.
Bonus Biblical fantasy recommendation: Overpowered by Kathryn McConaughy

4. Horseman by Kyle Robert Shultz. This Wild West-inspired tale takes place in Shultz's Afterverse, and while I don't love it quite as much as the original Beaumont and Beasley series, it's still a lot of fun. You've got classic Wild West and fantasy tropes, plus the kind of colorful assortment of characters you can only get in this type of setting, plus reimaginings of American folklore — it's great.
Bonus Wild West fantasy recommendation: Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale

5. Jackaby by William Ritter. Storms, I haven't read these books in ages, though the last one has been on my mind lately because of some of the myths and folklore I've been reading. Anyway, this historical fantasy-mystery series is set somewhere in New England in the late 1800s — the author doesn't specify which state, which I can't entirely blame him for. And it does feel pretty American, particularly leaning on the idea of America at the time as a blending of people (and, in this case, magical beings) immigrated from other cultures and countries.
Bonus American fantasy-mystery recommendation: The Lost Plot by Genevieve Cogman

What are your favorite non-European fantasy reads, whether recent or not? Please tell me in the comments; I can always use more recs!
Thanks for reading!

 

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!