Thursday, September 21, 2023

Stolen Songs Release Party: Interview with Sarah Beran


Hello, all! We're onto our third Stolen Songs release: Sarah Beran's My Fair Mermaid, a blend of The Little Mermaid with Pygmalion (which y'all may better know in its movie form as My Fair Lady). After this, we'll take a break until about mid-October, when the remaining two Stolen Songs release . . . but until then, we have this super fun read! I got the chance to interview Sarah Beran, so read on for that. Or you can hop over to Light and Shadows to get my thoughts on the book!

About My Fair Mermaid

The Little Mermaid meets Pygmalion…

Maribel has learned to stay quiet. As an orphan relying on the generosity of family, and with six outspoken and energetic cousins, silencing her own voice is often the easiest way to keep the peace and ensure her own acceptance. After helping her cousin rescue Prince Frederick from a shipwreck, Maribel finds herself as the unwitting accomplice in her cousin’s plot to marry the human prince. The plan is simple: Maribel will distract Frederick’s grumpy best friend, Professor Hadrian Higsley, so that the scheming mermaid can cozy up to the prince.

Between a friendly wager over slippers, her growing attraction to a certain translator, the appearance of a foreign fiancée, and an increasingly desperate cousin, Maribel finds it harder and harder to remain a silent observer. Will she finally find the courage to speak? Or will the little mermaid choose once again to give up her voice?

Find it on: Amazon || Goodreads

Interview with Sarah Beran

Welcome to the blog! To start out, please tell us a little about yourself. Who are you, what are your favorite hobbies (aside from writing) or favorite books (outside your own), and do you prefer coffee or tea?
My name is Sarah Beran. I am a fairy tale author by night (and weekend), as my day job is actually a music teacher. I teach PreK-6th grade general music, AP Music Theory, and a highschool handbell choir. I love playing the saxophone, long-distance running, and reading. My favorite books are the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain. Both greatly influenced my love of fantasy and the types of characters I love to put in my books, and I'm still pretty certain that I want to be a hobbit when I grow up.
Coffee is the superior beverage. Tea is lovely, but coffee is king.
I will have to disagree with you there, but I digress . . . So, let's talk about your book! Where did you get the idea to combine The Little Mermaid with Pygmalion?
I don't remember how exactly it came about, other than I was trying to brainstorm a new approach to the Little Mermaid and coming up with a list of all the different angle and approaches to having a voice stolen. Is it a literal voice? A metaphorical voice? Voice as agency? My Fair Lady has always been a favorite of mine, and I love how in both the play Pygmalion and in the musical version, Eliza is not only taught to speak (literally given a voice), but she also learns how to stand up for herself. One thing led to another, and, well, here we are.

Here we are indeed, with pretty great results if you ask me! If you could have My Fair Mermaid adapted into another form of media, what would you pick?
That's a hard one. Maybe another musical? That could be fun. 

I can definitely see My Fair Mermaid as a musical, and not just because of the source material. Moving on, what's something you learned while writing this book?
This story involved a lot of body language that was challenging to translate into written words. I spent of a lot of time posing and making faces and analyzing just exactly what was happening. There were several times I'm sure my husband thought I was crazy.

Ha! Such is a writer's life. To finish up, can you tell us a little about what you're currently working on and what we can expect from you next?
I'm currently working on a retelling of Stravinsky's Firebird for my "Seasons of Music and Magic" series, which retells stories from classic operas and ballets. There's also a sequel for Freddy and Eliza in the works that may or may not involve a lot of ice...
Both of those sound awesome . . . but I'm definitely more excited for the second one, not going to lie.

Thank you to Sarah Beran for answering my questions, and thank you to you all for reading! Does My Fair Mermaid sound like something you'd enjoy? Please tell me in the comments!

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Stolen Songs Release Party: Song of the Selkies Sneak Peek [IT'S HERE]


You know what today is? It's RELEASE DAY for Song of the Selkies! And I couldn't be more excited! The process of writing this book has been a journey in which absolutely nothing went as expected (and very little happened on the original schedule), but I have fallen in love with these characters and this world anyway. And now I get to share them with you! Which is delightful and terrifying. (Releasing a new standalone or series start is, for the record, always terrifying. When I write Bastian Dennel sequels, I know that people already love the characters, and that's half the battle. And I think y'all will love the cast of Song of the Selkies — my beta readers and ARC readers certainly do! — but setting them out into the world is still daunting.) Anyway, I know that some of y'all already preordered and are probably just as excited as I am, but in case any of you need a little convincing, I'm giving you a sneak peek at the first chapter — or you can hop over to Light and Shadows to discover five reasons why I think you should give the book a try.

About . . .

Song of the Selkies

Undercover in a foreign land, a princess discovers the secrets behind a generations-old enmity.

The youngest princess of Atìrse, Ceana always planned to marry for the good of her people and let love come later. With her sisters' marriages ensuring peace with the nearby human kingdoms, Ceana sets her sights on their last unallied neighbor: the magical and reclusive selkies. The two peoples have experienced a wary peace for generations, and the time seems ripe for a deeper alliance that will benefit both kingdoms. The last thing Ceana expects is for Fionntan, king of the selkies, to take the proposal as a grave insult.

With relations between the two peoples suddenly precarious, Ceana is determined to set things right. Aided by her grandmother, she disguises herself as a selkie and travels to their hidden home of Emain Ablach, where she hopes to discover the reason behind King Fionntan's reaction. But the more she learns about the selkies, the more she uncovers long-kept secrets of her people — and her heritage — that shake the foundations of how she viewed the world. Her growing friendships with and affection for some of the selkie nobility, including King Fionntan himself, further complicate matters, especially as her admiration for the selkie king begins to blossom into something more. No relationship built on a lie can survive, but revealing her true identity as an Atìrsen princess will doom her efforts towards peace.

In order to bridge the divide between selkies and humans, Ceana will have to overcome generations of selkies' suspicion and reveal the insidious evil that's taken root in her homeland. But the greatest obstacle to her success may be her own heart.

Discover a magical new world in this Little Mermaid retelling from the author of Through a Shattered Glass and the Bastian Dennel, PI mysteries

Find it on: Amazon || Goodreads

Song of the Selkies Chapter 1

As betrothal ceremonies went, Ceana couldn’t help but feel that this one was rather lackluster. She should know—she’d attended five before this just for her own sisters.

True, all the elements for such a ceremony were present. The seats of the castle chapel were filled with the most notable Atìrsen nobles, along with many of the lesser lords and ladies who lived within a week’s travel and ambassadors from most of Atìrse’s nearer neighbors. The chapel, while not as grand as the one at the royal seat, looked lovely. The afternoon sun streamed through the many tall, narrow windows, setting the enameled murals on the walls aglow, gleaming on the pale stars beneath the Maker’s Hand, the scarlet footsteps of the Shepherd’s Path, and the vibrant flames of the Gèadh Naomh. Banners hung on either side of the murals, displaying the colors of both Atìrse and Glassraghey.

And Mirren herself, standing at the front of the chapel with King Seòras and Queen Isla, her and Ceana’s parents, and Lord Pherick, the Glassraghean ambassador, looked so lovely that she might have been ready for her wedding, not just her betrothal: serene and solemn, her honey-brown hair falling past her shoulders beneath a web of thin braids held in place with gold pins tipped with tiny jewels that matched the sunset hues of her kirtle and gown. The skirt, sleeves, and neckline of the gown were nearly covered in embroidery, all done by Mirren’s own hand, the tiny stitches forming designs intricate enough to be the envy of any woman. It was, Ceana knew, Mirren’s favorite gown, and she added to its embellishment any time she came up with a new idea. Beside her, everyone else practically faded into obscurity. Still, something seemed to be lacking.

With effort, Ceana tried to focus her attention on the ceremony itself and on King Seòras’s speech. “We are honored by the chance to join our family to that of Glassraghey and to solidify the bond of peace between our peoples. Dèanadair has truly laid His blessing upon Atìrse, allowing us to seek friendship with our neighbors and lay aside suspicion, and we seek to honor Him in maintaining that peace …”

Perhaps that was part of the problem. King Seòras had given nearly the same speech a year and a half ago, when Rhona, the third-youngest of the sisters, had been betrothed to Prince Gwynfor of Addewedig. He’d changed some of the details for today, removed some small parts and added others, but much of the flow and wording remained the same. Of course, after having given similar speeches five times before, he was probably running low on new things to say. All the same, Ceana couldn’t help wondering how many others had noticed.

King Seòras finished his speech, and Lord Pherick began his. “On behalf of Prince Martyn and their majesties, King Austeyn and Queen Mureal, allow me to express the royal family’s joy at this coming union, and their great sorrow that they could not be personally present …”

Ah. That was another part of the problem—the greatest part, even. The whole ceremony would have been far better if Mirren’s intended were actually here, rather than represented by Lord Pherick. True, Prince Martyn and his family had good reason for their absence. Just the week before, they’d sent a mirror-message to say that several members of the royal household, Prince Martyn included, had fallen gravely ill, and so it would be best if Pherick stood in their stead. Even so, it wasn’t the same, and Mirren really did deserve better.

A sharp nudge in Ceana’s side warned her that her thoughts were beginning to show—or, at least, that they were visible to Onora, the crown princess and Ceana’s eldest sister, who stood beside her. Ceana hastily recomposed herself. If she couldn’t give Mirren better, she could at least keep from spoiling things further by letting her thoughts show.

At the front of the chapel, Lord Pherick went on with his speech. “The greatest gift Dèanadair grants any of His people, after the gift of the Path, is the opportunity for each of us to serve our neighbor. And with this union and the greater peace it brings between our lands, so may our two nations more freely partake of this gift …”

Well, that much was true! And that—the betrothal, not the betrothal ceremony—was the important part. Every betrothal and marriage between Atìrse and her neighbors was another step towards ensuring a friendship between the nations that would, Dèanadair willing, last for generations. Ceana and Mirren, like their sisters, had grown up knowing it would be part of their duty to contribute to this peace—duty and honor both! For what greater service could there be than ensuring peace for one’s people, both in the land of one’s birth and the land of one’s marriage?

And, technically, they needed none of this pomp to make a betrothal official. Atìrsen law only required that any royal betrothal be finalized in the presence of a certain number of noble witnesses. Making it into a grand affair just provided an opportunity for the nobility who wouldn’t be able to travel for a foreign wedding to show their support for the union. In that respect, today’s ceremony was more than sufficient.

Lord Pherick finished his speech, and now came Mirren’s turn to speak. She flushed slightly as she began: “I am truly honored to have been accepted as Prince Martyn’s future wife. Though I do not yet know the prince, I know of him, and I look forward to building a life with him that will benefit both Atìrse and Glassraghey and will honor the name of Dèanadair. May His blessings be upon us both and upon our countries.”

Even with the blush, she delivered her statement well—as she ought, given that she’d practiced it nearly a hundred times last night and made Ceana and Onora listen to most of those repetitions. Onora had privately commented afterwards that she’d felt less nervous about her own wedding than Mirren evidently did about this ceremony—but that was Mirren for you!

With the speeches now ended, King Seòras, Queen Isla, Lord Pherick, and Mirren all bent and signed the betrothal contract, one after another. Then King Seòras and Lord Pherick shook hands, and Lord Pherick bowed to Mirren. Had Prince Martyn been here, he would have kissed her hand—but he wasn’t, so he couldn’t. With that, the ceremony ended, and King Seòras offered his newly-betrothed daughter his arm to depart the castle chapel for the banquet in the great hall.

Lord Pherick followed just behind, escorting Queen Isla. Next came the Dowager Queen Moireach, Ceana’s grandmother, leaning on an elegantly carved ivory cane. Then came Onora, escorted by her husband, Prince Alasdair. Ceana brought up the rear of the procession, escortless—for now. Not for long, if she knew her father and mother.

She stepped outside just in time to see King Seòras give Mirren a quick squeeze of the shoulders, then leave her with Onora and Alasdair as he, the queens, and Lord Pherick moved off to speak together. Now that the ceremony was over, Ceana dropped her formal pace and hurried over to hug Mirren. “Congratulations! How does it feel to be properly betrothed?”

“A lot like being not-betrothed, so far.” Mirren wrinkled her nose, but returned the hug. “And Glassraghey can still back out.”

“But they won’t. They want an alliance as much as we do.” Ceana released Mirren, though she kept her arm looped through Mirren’s. “Isn’t that right, Onora?”

“If Glassraghey changes their mind at this point, it means something has gone very wrong indeed.” Onora raised herself on tiptoe to give her husband a kiss on the cheek, then pushed him in the direction of the main keep. “Go distract anyone who tries to enter the Great Hall, won’t you? That ceremony finished faster than I thought, and I don’t think the servants have had enough time to set up.”

“Bossy,” Alasdair teased, returning the kiss. “And who’s lord of this castle, I’d like to know?” Nonetheless, he set off towards the keep, walking as if it had been his idea in the first place.

Onora took Mirren’s other arm. “See what you have to look forward to?” Still, she laughed. “Don’t you worry. Everything will be fine. By all accounts, Prince Martyn is quite taken with what he’s heard of you.”

Ceana grinned around Mirren. “Oh, your agents afield are keeping track of our allies’ love lives now, are they?”

“Well, naturally,” Onora replied, raising an eyebrow. “Part of their job—” She paused as a stub-tailed cat darted over to rub himself against her legs. “Oh, bother. Càirdeil, what are you doing out here?” She let go of Mirren’s arm, bent, and scooped up her cat. “As I was saying, part of their job is to find out who would be best suited and most amenable to an alliance so I can advise Athair and Màthair. Should Prince Martyn be infatuated by some local lass, we’d not about send one of you off to marry him.”

“I’d go anyway,” Mirren murmured, though she didn’t sound entirely certain of her statement. “If I needed to. I’d have every cat in the palace to keep me company if the prince didn’t care to.”

Càirdeil chose this moment to let out a rumbling meow, as if to say he approved. Onora gave a little shake of her head. “Maybe, but a marriage with nothing between husband and wife is a dishonor to Dèanadair and a disservice to both countries it binds.” She set off towards the keep, and Ceana and Mirren followed her. “I don’t know why we’re fussing over this anyway. I already told you that Prince Martyn fancies you, as much as he can without having met you.”

“True, you did.” Mirren’s lips quirked upwards. “So if you’re helping Athair and Màthair find marriages for the rest of us, who do you have in mind for Ceana? It’s her turn now.”

Was it Ceana’s imagination, or did a hint of worry cross Onora’s face? But Onora just shook her head. “What Athair and Màthair have planned is for them to say in their own time. I’ll not spoil the anticipation—not before Mirren’s feast is over!”

“As if they won’t tell her anyway in a few days!” Mirren protested. “Surely you can tell us.”

“’Tis theirs to tell, not mine.” As they neared the keep, Onora turned towards the great doors. “I’d best see how the servants are faring. I’m sure Alasdair can only hold the crowd so long. Go mingle, and I’ll see you at the feast.”

She hurried away, her full skirts swishing around her legs. Ceana and Mirren called farewells after her, then made for the crowd gathering in front of the main doors.

As soon as they reached its edge, guests started coming forward to offer Mirren their congratulations. Ceana stood politely by her sister, smiling and occasionally nodding or responding to comments made in her direction. But her thoughts were already flown past the feast towards her own future. Tomorrow, she knew, the king and queen would come to her or call her to meet with them so they could tell her who they had in mind for her to marry, just as they’d done for all her sisters.

But who would it be? That was the thrilling question. Someone from Addewedig to the south or from the Talaschean Kingdoms to the west would be most likely—and that would put her close to either Rhona or Mey. Joining Mey in Talascheal would make sense; they had five royal families there, plus a high king, and that meant plenty of potential matches—and more opportunity for Ceana’s marriage to really mean something. Addewedig had been a strong ally to Atìrse for generations upon generations, but the Talaschean Kingdoms had only recently made a proper alliance. And surely it would be worthwhile to create ties to all five kingdoms?

With effort, Ceana pulled herself back to the present. Today they celebrated Mirren’s betrothal; she ought to focus on that. She’d have plenty of time to dream later.

Thankfully, the doors to the Great Hall of the keep opened not long after, signaling the beginning of the feast. The crowd streamed in to find their seats: Mirren in the place of honor between King Seòras and Queen Isla; the rest of the royal family, various Glassraghean representatives, and other particularly important guests arranged around the high table; and the remaining attendees at lower tables according to their rank and where they could find space. King Seòras blessed the meal, thanking Dèanadair for Mirren’s good match and the bonds of friendship forming between Atìrse and Glassraghey.

And then the servers brought forth the food! The dinner began with thick, savory vegetable and barley stew. Next to the table came every manner of fish, perfectly roasted, some in cream and some in sauce, some on beds of wilted greens and flecked with spices, and some served over crisp-edged potatoes and brushed with parsley sauce. Along with the fish came a splendid venison roast, so tender the meat practically fell off the bone at the first touch of a knife.

Ceana could have happily finished with the venison and fish—but the servants next brought forth roasted poultry: peacock for the high table and those nearest it, and duck and goose for the rest. One servant slipped Ceana a plate of duck without having to be told, and Ceana gave him a quiet thank-you in return, making a mental note to tell Onora the same later. An occasion like this demanded the fancier peacock meat, which Ceana had never much cared for, but duck prepared by Onora’s cooks was a delight, common fare or not. With the fowl were roasted vegetables and fluffy rolls still warm from the oven, their tops glistening with butter.

At last, however, only bones remained of the birds, and the servants cleared away the platters, replacing them with trays containing tarts laden with creamy custard and spiced stewed pears. Ceana could only manage one, she felt so full from the rest of the feast, and she couldn’t even touch the accompanying bowls of honeyed plums and candied nuts.

Yet when the court musicians struck up a tune and King Seòras escorted Mirren down to the floor to open the dancing, Ceana sprang to her feet and hurried down after them. She allowed Onora’s brother-in-law, Evander, to claim her hand for the first dance and set to the steps with as much energy and enthusiasm as she could muster. Failing to dance, after all, would be an insult to her family and to Glassraghey—and it would be bad luck for both her and Mirren, besides.

She stepped and spun through seven dances before her stomach and legs’ mutual protests convinced her that she had better rest a moment. So, she made her way back to the high table. King Seòras had returned to his seat as well, she noticed, and Lord Arran, along with his wife, had moved up to sit across from him.

Onora still danced, so Ceana slid into her seat beside the king without hesitation. King Seòras gave her a side-smile as she did, but Lord Arran only nodded and went on with the conversation with barely a break. “Your majesty, with all due respect, I urge you to push for better terms when the treaty with the selkies is renewed. That they should maintain such harsh sanctions over an offense that was old and half-forgotten when our great-grandparents were children is, frankly, ridiculous.”

“That we refrain from hunting seals is no great hardship, Arran, nor is paying the little they ask.” King Seòras spoke with a tone of weary patience. “We have paid more for safe use of ports in some other lands, and had less good of it.”

“Your majesty looks far too kindly on such extortion.” Lord Arran’s face was all thin, disapproving lines. “The sea belongs to no one, human or selkie, and it is madness that these seal-folk think they can claim it as their own.”

“Yet the selkies travel the same routes we use, and they have done so longer than we have. If we can claim the land as ours, I am willing to let them have the sea.” King Seòras shook his head, leaning forward with his arms resting on the table’s edge. “And I have no desire to anger them such that they start attacking our ships again.”

Lord Arran just scoffed. “Your majesty should have more confidence in your people. The selkies would find us far harder to sink than they have in the past, and I think they would soon learn to leave our ships alone.”

Ceana stifled a sigh and instead exchanged a sympathetic look with Lord Arran’s wife. Lady Eilidh’s expression suggested that she’d heard this rant too many times before. True, she almost always looked like she were trying and failing to remember what a smile felt like, and her eyes—huge and dark as the storm-tossed sea—frequently held the kind of bone-deep weariness that Ceana mostly associated with grieving mothers. But today, she seemed especially defeated.

Another day, Ceana might have invited Lady Eilidh to walk and talk with her. Though the lady spoke little, and she struggled when she did speak, she always seemed to appreciate the escape from her husband’s presence. However, today, Ceana needed to sit, so she remained where she was, listening to King Seòras and Lord Arran debate policy and treaties until she’d recovered enough to leave them again and rejoin the dancing.

The next time she looked towards the high table, Lord Arran had gone, and Queen Isla sat beside King Seòras, leaning into him, her head on his shoulder and his arm around her as if they were still young newlyweds who could be excused such things. Ceana smiled as she saw them and mentally whispered a prayer to Dèanadair asking for that same blessing for Mirren and herself. She knew her parents had met the first time only a few days before they wed, but they had been as determined then as they were now to do right for their countries, and love had sprung from that shared determination like snowdrops after the first spring thaw.

Someday, that would be her fate. Someday soon, she hoped. Now that only she among all her sisters remained unattached, it was only a matter of time.


What did you think of that sneak peek? Are you excited to read the rest? Tell me in the comments! (And if you want to find out what happens next, make sure you go order your copy!)
Thanks for reading!


Friday, September 15, 2023

Fall 2023 Reads

Hello, everyone! I am running around like mad, and my head is full of selkies. I may have brainstormed another sequel to Song of the Selkies in the last couple days, because obviously I need another book on my to-write list. (It's going to be great as soon as I get around to writing it, y'all.) I think I need about ten more of me so I can write all the books, work, keep up with blogging . . . oh, and read all the books coming out this fall, 'cause we have some really good ones. And I do mean really good. 

(Normally, this is where I'd tell you that there's a pared-down list over on Light and Shadows, but there are so many good books coming out this season that I couldn't actually pare the list down basically at all — I just kind of squished most of the Stolen Songs into one item. This is, I will note, an absolutely delightful problem to have, and now I'm inflicting it on the rest of you. You're very welcome.)

Oh, one last thing — if you haven't already, make sure you go vote in the Silmaril Awards! We have some excellent finalist lineups this year (and, I'm told, some very close races), and I'm super excited to see who wins!

Fall 2023 Reads

1. Second Chance Superhero by H.L. Burke (September 9). You may have caught my review of this book when it released just last week. I won't repeat myself too much, but to sum up: this is a superhero romance (emphasis on the romance) featuring estranged high school sweethearts, snark, and a lot of varied and fun to read family dynamics. It's also an excellent fall read, so go pick it up and thank me later.

2. When on Land by Kendra E. Ardnek (September 18). Here we have the first of many Little Mermaid retellings (and Kendra E. Ardnek releases) on this list! I'll be reviewing this in just a couple days, so I'm not going to say a lot, but it's an interesting take on the fairy tale.

3. Song of the Selkies by Sarah Pennington (September 19). Have you preordered my selkie role-swap take on The Little Mermaid yet? I've been working like mad this last month (especially the past week) polishing it up and getting it ready for y'all to enjoy. The more I work on it, the more obsessed I am with this book and these characters. Normally, by the time a book release rolls around, I'm very much ready to be done and move on to the next thing, but with Song of the Selkies . . . I just cannot stop thinking about it. (That may be why I already have four more books planned in the series, actually.) And given the reactions of my beta readers, I don't think I'm the only one . . .

4. My Fair Mermaid by Sarah Beran (September 21). I quite enjoy My Fair Lady (even if I have Opinions about the ending), and I'm super excited to see what happens when it's combined with The Little Mermaid. The concept certainly sounds like it has a lot of potential! I have an ARC of this, and I'll be reviewing it next week, so check back to see if it holds up to my hopes.

5. Black and Deep Desires by Claire Trella Hill (September 26). I don't normally go in for vampire stories — or vampires in general, outside of JinYeong and Grand Duke Vasily — but this came highly recommended by the authors of those exceptions, so of course I had to sign up for an ARC. And, y'all, I have already read that ARC, and I loved it so much. It has all the eerieness and mystery you'd expect from a Gothic novel, and the characters are magnificent. Especially Salem, who buries himself in books so he can't become more of a monster than he feels he is and who quotes Shakespeare at people when they bother him (or he wants to bother them). I'm still not a vampire fan, but y'all, I will definitely be rereading this book.

6. Steal the Morrow by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt (September 26). This Oliver Twist retelling is set in the same world as the Turrim Archive, the first book of which I've previously raved about on this blog. I'm super excited to return to the world and see what else Jenelle has in store for us there. I've also never seen someone retell Oliver Twist before, and I'm very curious how that's going to come together. As a note, this is one in a whole multi-author series of classics retold, which you should definitely check out! Steal the Morrow is just the one I'm most excited about.

7. Dark & Stormy by Suzannah Rowntree (September 29). On one hand, the release of this book means the series is almost over, and that is a tragedy. On the other hand, I am so excited for one more adventure with this crew. Especially an adventure in which we get to meet Grand Duke Vasily's family (who are both vampires and bonkers, though apparently those two are not connected?) and hopefully see the fulfillment of all that's been growing between various members of the crew. And, of course, attempting to steal a fortune out from under the noses of a clan of bloodthirsty vampires sounds like it'll be a magnificent heist.

Note/Correction: I have been informed by Suzannah herself that this is, in fact, only the halfway point in the series. I am OVERJOYED. Everything else I said still stands, except that I suspect we will not exactly be seeing the fulfillment of any crew members' arcs. Not that I'm complaining. I will absolutely not complain about having three more books than expected of Molly and Vasily figuring themselves and each other out.

7. Unexpected Encounters of a Draconic Kind and Other Stories by Beka Gremikova (October 1). To be perfectly honest, I've seen so much about this book that I thought it had already released. But apparently it doesn't come out for another few weeks. It sounds super fun, though, with lots of clever stories in it. (Just reading the summaries, I can take a guess at some of the twists, and I look forward to finding out if I'm right or not.) And can we just appreciate that cover? It's gorgeous and I love it, and I wish I were that good at cover design.

8. Wormwood Abbey by Christine Baehr (October 6). Like Black and Deep Desires, this book comes highly recommended by W.R. Gingell and Suzanne Rowntree, and so I have very high hopes here. It's giving me vibes of Miss Percy's Pocket Guide, but Gothic instead of Austen-inspired. (Side note: I am apparently having a very Gothic summer and fall, what with this, Black and Deep Desires, Dream by the Shadows, and, of course, Dracula. It's grand.) I love a good dragon story, plus we have family secrets and, to quote the blurb, "the perils of friendship." I really think I'm going to enjoy this one!

9. Locks of Gold and Eternity by Abigail Falanga (October 18). Back to the Stolen Songs releases! This is the sequel to A Time of Mourning and Dancing, one of the Tattered Slippers releases from back in 2020. It has pirates in it, along with a human princess who's been turned into a mermaid (which is an interesting flip on The Little Mermaid). I was a bit meh on the first book in the series (didn't love it, didn't hate it), but I'm reasonably interested to see where it goes.

10. A Little Persuaded by Kendra E. Ardnek (October 19). This blend of Persuasion with The Little Mermaid is the final entry in both the Stolen Songs releases and the Austen Fairy Tale series. Having recently learned something more about the story of Persausion, I have some guesses about how it's going to go, and I am very much looking forward to finding out if I'm right or not. And I'm sure it'll be lovely to return to the world of this series for one last adventure.

11. The Olympian Affair by Jim Butcher (November 7). Y'ALL. IT'S FINALLY HAPPENING. WE'RE GETTING AN AERONAUT'S WINDLASS SEQUELI am so hyped. I know plenty of people have been waiting even longer than I have — it's been nearly ten years since The Aeronaut's Windlass released — but that does not make me any less excited. I cannot wait to rejoin Captain Grimm, Gwen, Bridget, Benedict, Rowl, and the rest for this new adventure. Also, yes, I do think this means it's time I reread book one, just as soon as I finish working through my ARCs . . .

12. To Destroy an Illusion by Kendra E. Ardnek (December 12). As with Steal the Morrow, this is one instance in a whole multi-author series that includes multiple books I'm interested in. But I am most interested in this one, partially because I beta read it and partially because it's retelling a really obscure fairy tale. Having beta read it, I can say with confidence that it's a very cool book and that I really like how Kendra wove the pieces of the story together. As for the rest of my opinion, you'll have to wait for my official review.

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

Friday, September 8, 2023

Thoughts on Second Chance Superhero

Hey'a, all! First of all, today is the final day of nominations for the Silmaril Awards, so if you haven't already gone in and nominated and seconded your favorite characters, make sure you do that before it's too late! Moving on: as y'all may know, I've been following H.L. Burke's Supervillain Rehabilitation Project universe for a while now. While I'm not totally caught up, I did manage to snag an ARC of the latest book in this world, Second Chance Superhero. This is the third in a set of standalone spinoffs that focus more on the superhero side than the supervillain side of things. I really enjoyed this book — as I have pretty much all the books in this universe — and since Second Chance Superhero releases tomorrow, I thought I'd stop in and share my thoughts.

About . . .

Second Chance Superhero

Once a slacker, now a superhero, but will his ex buy the change?

Eleven years ago, Brayden Water's high school sweetheart slammed the door in his face. Floundering, he found purpose first in the military, then by volunteering for genetic enhancements and joining the Department of Super-Abled as a full-time hero. Just when everything's looking up, a family emergency summons him back to the hometown he gleefully put in his rearview. And guess who else is back in town?

Rachel Blum has had it with men in general. A single mom who managed to scratch her way through medical school, she's accepted that she can't depend on anyone ... especially not her sometimes criminal baby daddy, and definitely not her high school ex who has popped up out of nowhere after a decade of radio silence. Dang, though, Brayden's even hotter than she remembered, and there's ... something different about him now, though she can't quite put her finger on what. Could he really have finally gotten his act together? Can she take the risk?

Brayden's bitterness over Rachel's rejection slowly turns to admiration and begrudging affection. But even if he drops the fact that he can now fly and shoot lasers out of his eyes, will she ever see him as anything but a small-town loser? When her son's father starts causing trouble, though, Brayden realizes, she might just need a hero in her life after all.

Order on Amazon || Add on Goodreads || Discover the SVR series

H.L. Burke

H. L. Burke has written more books than she can count—because she's written a lot of books, not just because she can't count very high. Easily distracted by shinies, she has published in many subgenres including fantasy romance, Steampunk, and superhero, and always creates story worlds with snark, feels, and wonder.

Married to her high school crush, she spends her time writing, spoiling her cat, and supervising her two supervillains in training (aka her precocious daughters).

An Oregon native, she wilts without trees and doesn't mind the rain. She is a fan of delicious flavor, a follower of the Light, and a believer in happily ever after.

Find Heidi online at: Author Website || Facebook || Instagram || Twitter

Thoughts on Second Chance Superhero

  1. This is definitely a romance first and a superhero story second. Some of you are looking at me and saying "No duh, Sarah, it says Superhero Romance Project right there in the series name. What did you expect?" Whether or not you are one of those people, I would like to point out that many of H.L. Burke's superhero or supervillain romances are superhero and romance in equal part. Second Chance Superhero, on the other hand, is primarily a romance that happens to involve a superhero as one half of the romantic pair. There's a little bit of suspense and action, and what's there is very well-done as always, but it's far from the main focus of the book. That's not a bad thing by any means, but it is good to know what to expect going in.
  2. Speaking of knowing what to expect: pretty much everything you love about H.L. Burke's writing and the SVR-verse is here. Well, unless you read these books exclusively for the Powell and Park families. But otherwise, this book has everything! Superheroes! Snark! Humor! Characters who feel like real people, with all the messiness that entails! Excellent relationships of both the romantic and non-romantic varieties! So much good stuff!
  3. The romance is very sweet and shippable. Well, it ends up sweet. It starts with heartbreak that both parties are still feeling fifteen years later (even if they deny it). Basically, you have childhood/high school sweethearts who broke up but still care a lot about each other, and I am so here for it. Burke handles the relationship so well — acknowledging the inherent awkwardness of the situation without dwelling on it too much, letting the feelings well back up at a good pace, allowing for the inevitable period of I'm-totally-just-being-friendly-I'm-not-in-love-what-are-you-talking-about without dragging it out. (Side note: the "Noooo I'm totally not in love" in-denial trope is hard to do well, but when it is done well, I actually really love it. It gives such delicious irony.) And, as in all of Burke's books, the romance is a good balance between physical attraction and admiration of the other's character.
  4. I love that the parent/child relationships in this book are almost as important (if not just as important) as the romance. Like, yes, the romance here is the main draw. But this is very much also a book about parent-child relationships, some good (like Rachel and her son, Danny, or Rachel and her father, Joel) and some awful (like Brayden's relationship with his mom, who is going to end up one of the most despised characters in SVR for the same reason that everyone hates Umbridge in Harry Potter). Burke spends a good bit of page time exploring the ways that these relationships have shaped the characters. Also on this note: I absolutely love Joel Blum. I'm a sucker for granddad characters, and I also loved the interactions between him and Rachel. I could be forgetting things, but I feel like positive relationships between parents and adult kids are really rare in speculative fiction? And here we have one that's loving and healthy and important, and it's so good.
  5. I would definitely read more about these characters. Do Brayden, Rachel, and Danny need another book? Not really. But would I read more about them anyway, if Burke came up with another storyline featuring them or decided to bring them into other stories. I love the characters as individuals, and I love their relationships and dynamics together.

Does Second Chance Superhero sound like your cup of tea? If so, make sure to preorder it on Amazon and add it on Goodreads. And before you go, tell me in the comments: in the balance of superhero and romance, do you prefer an equal blend or more of one or the other? Also, if you know of any spec-fic books featuring positive parent-and-adult-kid relationships, please let me know of that too.
Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 1, 2023

August 2023 Doings!

Hello! Welcome to September! I'll be frank; I'm really glad that August is over. I'm not happy that summer is almost over, to be clear — just that this bit of it is done. I feel as if the theme for this August, at least for me, was something along the lines of "Well, it could be worse." It's not that nothing good happened, and it's not that the worst thing possible ever happened, but I did spend a lot of the month, especially the second half of it, feeling worn and stressed and worried. And, of course, when you're in the middle of being worn and stressed and worried, you can't remember what it was like not to feel all those things, and I didn't really stop feeling any of those things for longer than about three hours at a time until the evening of the very last day of the month (yesterday evening, if you're reading this the day it was posted). But! It could have been worse! Some things were actually very good! Like the writing, which we're going to talk about now.


  • As one might expect, my dominant project this month has been editing Song of the Selkies. I received the rest of my beta feedback over the first week-and-a-bit of August, and pretty much all of that was very good and very helpful for figuring out how to make the story the best it could be. I hoped that I'd be able to finish the first edit by the end of the month — not an unfeasible goal, since I knew most of my first draft was pretty clean — but I ended up having to rewrite more scenes and write more new bits than I expected, so I was only able to get up to about Chapter 24 as of the writing of this post. Still, that's over half done, and the back half should be easier than the front half. It almost always is, at any rate, since in the first half of most drafts, I'm still somewhat figuring out the story, characters, and world, while I usually have those well-sorted by the end. I'm wrapping up the month with 78,034 words edited, 13,126 of which are newly written or rewritten (plus whatever I did last night after writing this blog post).
  • Even though I am not where I want to be with the editing, I will say that I still love this story so, so much, and I am so excited about it. Literally all I want to do right now is work on it, not just because of deadlines, but because I really enjoy it, and I'm having such fun spending time with the characters, and I want to be able to share the story and characters with y'all. Has it been stressful at times? Absolutely yes. But I still love the book.
  • (And I'm currently commissioning character art for it! I'm working with a new artist, and she seems very good. I've seen a finished piece for one character and roughs for several others so far, and I just love her style and the way she's managing to capture my characters. I'm super excited to get to show off the finished pieces!)
  • Also on the topic of Song of the Selkies: would you like to help spread the word about this book or any of the Stolen Songs releases? Signups are now open for both the release party and review copies. Check out the release page for a full list of all the books and links. Word of mouth is very important in helping indie books succeed, so whether you're sharing premade graphics and a blurb on social media or going all-in with interviews, reviews, and guest posts, I really appreciate anything you do to share about Song of the Selkies and the other Stolen Songs stories.
  • Outside of Song of the Selkies, I did work some on Bastian Dennel, PI #4 at the start of the month. I have another two chapters penned (about 3,786 words), bringing my chapter total to 27 and my plot almost to the climax. Once Song of the Selkies is released, BDPI #4 will go back to top priority, and I'm looking forward to finishing this up.
  • Speaking of finishing things: also at the start of the month, I finished writing my D&D Feygate adventure! I also started running said adventure, and it's been a lot of fun so far. We had one session that was 90% the players trying to solve a longish riddle that will partially determine how the rest of the adventure goes, and I am really proud of how well they did with it — they even managed to come up to an answer to part of it that was way better than what I originally planned. One of the party members also decided to adopt a Displacer Beast kitten and is now trying to tame it, which I . . . did not expect. We're going to see how that goes, but if anyone has any advice on how to approach this (or how to approach non-familiar party pets in general), please feel free to share.


  • I read exactly two physical books this month. Everything else was on my Kindle. That's not a statistic I usually include on here, but the Kindle app has started doing these reading challenges — perfect week, perfect month, read so many books, read so many days, read books in X category, that sort of thing — and of course only Kindle books count. And in June or July, I came really close to a perfect month, and the perfectionist in me was like "No, we gotta get it this time. We're gonna do this." So . . . lots of Kindle reads.
  • The two physical reads, if you want to know, were The Battle at Hackham Heath and Spinning Silver. Hackham Heath completed my Ranger's Apprentice reread, although it wasn't a reread. It was ok? I didn't love it but also didn't hate it. Spinning Silver is a Rumplestiltskin retelling (with shades of other fairy tales), which I read because several of the Realm Makers faculty recommended it. It's one of the books where I'd learned all the spoilers, and I wanted to see how they happened in context, and then the actual context turned out to be nothing like what I expected. It was a good book, though I didn't always love the writing style and I really wish the author or someone had labeled the shifts in POV.
  • The highlight of the month was, of course, Wet Behind the Ears, the latest in W.R. Gingell's Worlds Behind series. This one had lots to love, including some great character moments and the return of a few old friends — well, technically they returned in the previous book, but we got more of them here. The story was excellent, and now I'm more excited than ever for book 4.
  • Dream by the Shadows and Network Effect were also both very good. Dream by the Shadows is a dark, gothic-y fantasy centered on dream magic. I requested it as an ARC because, well, dream magic, plus I was promised a Beauty-and-the-Beast style enemies-to-lovers romance. And I can say that it did deliver on both of those things, though not entirely in the way I expected. Though the beginning was very dark and hard to read (particularly because I was super tired and stressed when I started it), once the story started spending more and more time in the dream realm, things improved, and I really did enjoy it. I originally planned to post a full review on my blog, but, uh . . . there was a fade-to-black scene towards the end, so I don't know now.
  • Anyway. You know what had no fade-to-black scenes (except when the main character literally collapsed a few times)? Network Effect, the fifth book in the Murderbot Diaries. This is possibly the best entry in the series yet, and I had a very hard time putting it down. There's so many good character dynamics and character arcs, the action bits are excellent, and the . . . antagonistic force, for lack of a better word, is cool. Weird, but cool. Ten out of ten; probably will reread.
  • As for the rest of the books pictured in this month's reading, they were all varying levels of good (none worse than average), but I don't have much else to say about them.
  • Last thing to note on the reading front: since I finished listening through all of the Dear Hank and John podcast, I decided to work through the backlog of Re:Dracula, which is basically Dracula Daily but in audio drama podcast form. (If you don't know what Dracula Daily is: it's an email subscription where you read the classic novel Dracula in real time, and it's one of the best things the internet has come up with in the last ten years.) At this point, I'm caught up with Re:Dracula to about a quarter of the way through August, and I'm very much enjoying it. The voice actors all did a marvelous job. I will say that I don't like the voice actor for Quincy Morris, as his take on the character's accent makes him sound like Jim Weiss — granted, I like Jim Weiss, and his CDs were a major part of my childhood, but it is not at all right for Quincy.


  • So, yes. Here's where all the "Well, it could have been worse" comes in.
  • To be perfectly fair, the start of the month was pretty good. Work was quiet, I was having video calls with my sister every couple days so I wasn't lonely (even though I was home alone), and the fact that I was still waiting on beta feedback meant I had some spare time to watch things (mostly YouTube), play Hearthstone, get to bed at a reasonable time . . .
  • And then I got rear-ended in a parking lot, and everything kind of went downhill after that.
  • Before anyone worries: I'm fine. Everyone else involved is fine. My car wasn't even badly damaged — just a bit dented, and it's fixed now. But I had never been in an accident before, and I definitely freaked out, and thank God my dad was there to take the lead on things like getting the other person's information and asking for a witness statement from someone and all that sort of thing. And thank God as well that I have good insurance so I could get my vehicle fixed and get a rental in the meantime . . . but the fact that it could have gone worse didn't mean it wasn't scary.
  • It didn't help that work had just gotten a lot busier and a lot more stressful, or that those trends continued through the rest of the month. Half the content for the fall newsletter was delayed longer than I'd planned for it to be (for good reason, but good reasons don't change mailing deadlines). We had two short-notice funerals in the space of a week. Preparation for fall ministries and activities started ramping up. We discovered that the system we're using for our new online directory sends alarmingly-worded emails to people whenever you add them to said directory, which means I had to run damage control. (Note: I don't actually mind running damage control on this; it mostly just involves sending emails, and I'm good at those. But it's still an extra thing to worry about.) And almost every time I thought I'd have a quiet day, half a dozen new projects suddenly appeared to drop themselves in my lap.
  • (On the upside, we're way ahead of schedule on materials for the Stewardship campaign — almost everything is ready to send to the printer, and that event isn't until October. So, yay for that.)
  • Additionally, remember how I mentioned that my mom went back to Pennsylvania at the end of July to stay with my grandpa for a few weeks? A few weeks turned into the whole month and nearly turned into until the middle of September due to the hospitals not being able to get their act together until the last minute. She did get to come home for one weekend in the middle of the month, which was good . . . but that doesn't change the fact that I missed her when she was gone, and it didn't take away the stress of the two-ish weeks in which we all worried she wouldn't be able to come home for a month and a half. (She's home now, though, which is why I'm actually able to be semi-optimistic again.)
  • Oh, and because all that wasn't enough: I started grad school two weeks ago, still in the midst of worrying about whether or not my mom would be able to come home before the turn of the month, still worrying about my car . . . that was not a good week, let me tell you, and it was a rough start to the semester. The first couple days were so bad that I genuinely wondered why I'd thought this was a good idea — and while I'm used to feeling that way in the middle of a class, it seemed like a bad sign that we were starting at that point. Everything felt like Too Much. Nothing on its own was more than moderately hard, but everything together, on top of what I already had going on, seemed like a crushing weight. I made it through the first week, though, and the second week might be a little better — we'll find out once I actually manage to do the half of the assignments that I keep putting off because other things take priority.
  • And for the record, I do feel bad complaining about all this because I know so many people who have it worse. Like, I am getting off lightly in every way. I'm stressed about when my mom is coming home? My mom's the one away from home, taking care of my grandpa, not knowing when she'll be able to leave. I got into an accident? Two of my friends got into worse ones — at least my car was driveable and I was able to get in touch with insurance and get a repair appointment quickly. I'm tired from cooking and laundry? I'm doing a fraction of what other people do, and their additional workload isn't any lighter than mine (and they're doing it with chronic pain or fatigue besides). I'm stressed about work deadlines and projects? I'm not the one running the events; I'm not the one going through the personal stuff that's causing the delays. I'm worried about my editing pace? I know people who've written books this close to the publication date and done just fine. I'm overwhelmed by grad school? I'm only taking one class, and I don't even have any big papers or exams yet. I have no right to be upset.
  • But telling myself all that just makes me feel worse — and feeling worse just makes everything harder.
  • (All this may sound like I'm fishing for pity, or sympathy, or something. I'm not. I honestly debated whether or not to say half of it because, as I said, lots of other people have it worse, and I didn't want to complain. But . . . I write these Doings posts for myself as well as for others. I write them so I can look back and remember where I was. So I'm leaving it in for future me.)
  • I don't want to end this section on a downer note, so let's talk about something more fun: the latest from the D&D group I play in (not the one I run), wherein we finally defeated one of our nemeses. It was glorious — he's a schemer who's spent the last several months (out of game) hitting us wherever it'll hurt the most. He's the reason why we're wanted in about half the campaign world (because he framed us for murder), the reason why there's a war on . . . and, most recently, the reason why one party member decided to essentially disappear and retire, because he took one loss too many. We arguably hate him more than we hate the actual big bad villain of the campaign. He's gotten the jump on us so many times . . . but we managed to find out where he was and teleport in on top of him, and the whole thing was just immensely satisfying. Oh, and we may have made some tentative allies among the drow, and I am very excited about that in- and out-of-character. A lot of this campaign has been centered around making friends out of enemies in order to deal with bigger enemies, and I'm glad we might be managing to do that with the drow as well as other groups. Also, my character somehow became very rapidly attached to one of the drow — a young woman in whom I think she sees a lot of herself and her younger sisters — and I really hope I can continue to develop that. I think it's going to give lots of good storytelling opportunities in the future.
  • Oh, and I learned the basic strokes of modern calligraphy through a free online course my mom told me about. That was kinda cool. I thought about going on with the next course (which I would've had to pay for), but September's going to be busy, so I think I'm going to wait on that. It was fun, though.

September Plans

  • Song of the Selkies needs to be finished and uploaded by September 15. So . . . that's going to be my next two weeks. That and preparing for the release party.
  • (Storms, is it really only two weeks?)
  • After Song of the Selkies is done and released . . . well, we'll see. I may take a week or two off, or I may jump straight back into writing BDPI #4 (though at a slower pace). It'll depend how I feel and where I am with other projects.
  • Almost as exciting: I get to see my sister this month! Our Bible study and the Bible study she goes to (which are connected via many close friendships) are doing a joint retreat, so we'll all be going on that. I get to spend a weekend in one of my favorite places with some of my favorite people; it's going to be good. Hopefully I can actually enjoy it and don't just spend the whole time stressing about Stuff That Needs to Get Done.
  • Another happy thing: September is also Silmaril Awards month! I will be hosting a category again, even though some might question where I'm finding the time to do so. I like it too much not to do it, though. However much stress it adds, the fun balances it out. Keep an eye out for nominations opening next on Monday!
  • Less happily, grad school will probably eat up a lot of time as well. I'm hoping that it'll get better now that I have fewer other things to be stressed about, though. I do think this class has the potential to be interesting if and when it shifts away from just being Workplace Writing 2.0, and I'd like to be able to give it enough thought and attention to actually find things in it to enjoy, rather than just pushing through one assignment and another and another.
  • As far as work goes . . . I do not foresee anything slowing down until about January. Fall is also my least favorite church season to design for; it's hard to find good imagery for most of the annual events, and the color palette's arguably the hardest one to work with (at least for me). Still, I'm ahead of the game on Stewardship (as already mentioned) and on graphics for the big fall service project (because we've already started promoting it), so that should help.
  • Last on the list, I'd like to do some baking since I didn't get to do any in August. In particular, I really want to make bagels again. We'll see if that happens or not, though.

How was your August? What are you looking forward to in September? What's your favorite audio adaption of a book? Are you signed up for the Stolen Songs release party? Please tell me in the comments!
Thanks for reading!