The Bastard, Belinda, Blood, & Bewitchery

It’s time for more book recommendations. Here are four!

Painting of Ista saving soulsIsta, mother of Chalion’s ruling royina, lives retired in Castle Valenda under the care of her anxious kinswoman and ladies in waiting. Considered a madwoman for years, and still a little … unbalanced, from her long ordeal, she endures the loving vigilance of her caretakers. A vigilance that only wearies and annoys her. But how to escape their loving restrictions, her culture’s limiting constraints, and the bitterness of her past baffles Ista. Until by chance she encounters a vulgar widow on pilgrimmage, and inspiration strikes.

I can’t decide whether I love Paladin of Souls or its prequel The Curse of Chalion more, but they both vie for the spot of most favorite read ever. In the classic choice of one book and a desert island, Paladin would be it. Unless it were Curse! Two books? No problem: both these!

Ista has spent nearly twenty years submerged in a prolonged eclipse. Now she stands poised for rebirth, ready even to shine. Reading her journey is sheer magic for the heart and soul.

Paladin of Souls at Amazon

Paladin of Souls at B&N

 

White gowned Regency lady on a balconyGilly – that is, the Most Noble Adolphus Gillespie Vernon Ware, the Duke of Sale – hates disappointing those who care for his interests. His devoted valet chooses his raiment, and Gilly acquiesces to all his selections. His estate agent informs him that his progressive notions are naive, and Gilly swallows the reproof. His garulous companion from his Grand Tour through Europe threatens to render his visit to London hideous, and Gilly shows him courtesy. But when his solicitous and autocratic guardian, Lord Lionel, announces that he’s arranged Gilly’s marriage, the duke decides he’s carried his amiability too far.

Gilly eludes his entire retinue to pursue adventure: a solo quest to save his young cousin from a villain bent on blackmail. Or, as Gilly tells his other cousin, his favorite one: “to slay a dragon.” But Mr. Liversedge is a canny scoundrel, well able to defeat his inexperienced adversary. Can Gilly – so amenable and civil – possibly prevail?

Like all of Heyer’s Regency romances, this one cavorts from absurdity to absurdity, improbably so, yet curiously plausible and thoroughly delightful. Her characters are so real they make the proverbial leap from the page, and her world-building, so superb, I wander Regency England while I read.

The Foundling at Amazon

The Foundling at B&N

 

Dark and ominous view of a candlelit candelabraShe never even heard them coming. But you don’t, Rae Seddon tells us. Fed up with her family, fed up with the coffeehouse – the family business, fed up with just everything, this young baker who loves feeding people drives out into the country by night to meditate at the lake. There, those darkest of the Others – the bloodsuckers – capture her to feed to a special undead prisoner: Constantine, a master vampire hated by their own master, Bo.

But Rae possesses an unusual lineage and unusual powers deriving from her hitherto-ignored legacy, and something strange happens in the derelict mansion where the vampires stake her as bait for Con.

I must make a confession: I don’t like straight-up romances. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the dance that ensues when boy meets girl. I simply need something more for the story to enthrall me. Add humor and stellar world-building, like Heyer, and I’m enchanted. Add mystery and deep emotional insight, like Sayers, and I’m engrossed. Add military adventure and intense inner journey, like Bujold, and you cannot pry me away.

So, how does this relate to McKinley’s Sunshine?

Well, it occurred to me as I wrote the above synopsis that the plot appears to follow the formula for paranormal romance: young woman with special powers that she doesn’t know about, must discover, and then master; undead or otherwise powerful and threatening counterpoint; and the unique path these two must tread to relate to one another fruitfully. So why do I like Sunshine? That formula proved insufficient for my taste when I attempted it previously. The answer: exquisite world-building paired with saving said world from utter destruction. The book riveted me to its pages. So much so that I’ve re-read it three times and will undoubtedly repeat the experience many times through the years.

Sunshine at Amazon

Sunshine at B&N

 

Painting of a tall, bizarre, rickety towerTwelve-year-old Conrad Tesdinic knows he’ll die in agony before the year is up. It’s his fate. In a previous life he either did something bad that he shouldn’t, or failed to do something good that he should have. And no one knows what it was. But his Uncle Alfred pulls strings to get him a job as footman in Stallery Mansion where he can clear his karma.

Conrad would much prefer to continue his schooling, to aim for university, to become someone brilliant: an aircraft pilot, a famous scientist, a great surgeon, anything other than staying in Stallchester drudging in his uncle’s bookstore, polishing boots at the mansion, or cooking meals for his mother and uncle. But karma calls, along with the clever wickedness lurking in Stallery.

So Conrad goes, but his new employment proves utterly different than he’d imagined. Secrets upon secrets lie piled in the mansion, and Conrad must unravel them all, including a few that connect right into the heart of his own family.

I love all of Jones’ stories, but my favorite was always Charmed Life, the first tale by her I ever read. No matter how much I enjoyed the rest of her stories, I never suspected another might knock Life from its preeminence. Until I read Conrad’s Fate. I can’t say it truly tipped Charmed Life from its throne, but surely it shares the seat. Sparkling, funny, and poignant by turns, its wheels within wheels entertained and astonished me through to the very end, when all the mysteries lay revealed, and everyone’s karma, balanced!

Conrad’s Fate at Amazon

Conrad’s Fate at B&N

 

For more book recommendations, see:
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing, & Synchronicity
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency

 

Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

cover imageI dug in my heels, strongly resistant to Bujold’s switch from science fiction to fantasy, and resistant to her departure from the transformative exploits of Lord Vorkosigan. I wanted more of the Vorkosiverse, not something new.

By the time I reached the bottom of the first page of The Curse of Chalion, my resistance vanished utterly, converted into a torrent of enthusiasm. I was hooked! Now I clamor for more Chalion stories as loudly as I ever did for Vorkosigan books.

In Chalion, we meet Cazaril, a former courtier and soldier, making his slow way home from coastal Ibra to landlocked Chalion. He’s broken in body and spirit following his betrayal by the highest power in the realm and subsequent stint as a galley slave. Traveling alone and on foot, he downgrades his hopes and aspirations. How can he beg a place in a noble’s retinue when he wears beggar’s rags? A menial and anonymous spot in the kitchens will have to do.

But Cazaril turned his life and will over to one of the gods – the Lady of Spring – three years ago, desperate for the rescue of the soldiers under his command. And she has other plans for him.

Cazaril’s story explores the notion that opening oneself to divine inspiration carries the gravest of risks – death of the body, death of the soul, and forfeiture of self-will – but also leads to one’s deepest fulfillment and greatest achievement.

The Curse of Chalion at Amazon

The Curse of Chalion at B&N

 

cover imageI enjoyed Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries in a casual way. They are good, and I do like a good mystery, but I prefer a mystery more entwined with the inner growth of the characters involved. When Lord Peter finally meets Harriet Vane in Strong Poison, the arc of his personal development really begins. And that’s when I became a Sayers fan.

Like her author, Harriet Vane writes mystery novels. She knows all about poisons – a necessary part of her vocation – and she stands accused of her fiancé’s murder. He died in a manner identical to that portrayed in one of Harriet’s books.

Lord Peter sees Harriet by chance. He’s an amateur sleuth, often about and around the bastions of law. He catches the beginning of her trial, tumbles top over tail in love, and determines to prove her innocence.

Can he do it?

The matter hangs in some doubt. Peter arrives rather late, after Harriet’s trial has begun. The evidence is damning, and Harriet escapes conviction only because one stalwart member of the jury doesn’t believe she’s guilty. Lord Peter has one month to dig up new evidence before the re-trial.

Strong Poison at Amazon

Strong Poison at B&N

 

cover iamgeI’ve been a Heyer fan since my mid-teens and still enjoy her work. Her romances deploy a dry irony similar to Austen’s, but mix in effervescent fun for leavening. Her world building is as impeccable as the most dedicated fantasist. And her secondary characters are hilarious.

In False Colours, Kit Fancot comes abruptly home on the intuition that all is not well with his identical twin, the volatile Earl of Denville, Evelyn Fancot. And intuition proves correct.

Evelyn is not only missing, but in desperate need of serious cash – cash to the tune of 20,000 pounds, give or take a few thousand! In a scheme to get his hands on his own inheritance (held in trust for another five years), he’s offered a marriage of convenience to a sensible girl who won’t mind if he is less than devoted to her.

Kit jumps in to rescue his twin – who will surely turn up any day now – by impersonating him at his betrothal party. There, he discovers Cressida Stavely to possess quiet charm, a sense of humor, and intelligence. Surely she deserves a husband who actually loves her.

Heyer takes this romp of a tale through every kind of complication with wit and pizzazz, proving in the end that if you must be bold, it’s best to be very bold indeed.

False Colours at Amazon

False Colours at B&N

 

cover iamgeInside Job is a novella, and I purchased the hardback by mail order ignorant of that fact. Out $30 when I discovered its slim 92-page length, I was appalled. The story couldn’t possibly be good enough to justify that kind of money!

I’m here to tell you: it was. And I’m glad to have the book on my shelves, because I re-read it every year. (The e-book edition, available these days, but not in those, is much more reasonably priced.)

Rob, professional skeptic and publisher of The Jaundiced Eye – a magazine dedicated to exposing fraudulent psychics, mediums, spiritualists, etc. – hired beautiful and intelligent Kildy Ross to be his assistant one year ago.

Now Kildy brings a new charlatan to his attention: Ariaura, previously a channeler of “Isus,” a spirit from the astral plane, appears to be channeling H.L. Mencken, the late reporter and bane of shysters and crooks in the 1920’s.

Rob and Kildy set out to expose Ariaura, but things get complicated. Is Ariaura really a fraud? Could she actually be channeling Mencken, beloved by all skeptics? And if she’s for real, what then happens to Rob’s life work?

With her characteristic wit and a lively sense of the ridiculous, Willis translates the conflict between good and evil into a delightful skirmish in the battle of science and reason and logic against quacks and con men.

Inside Job at Amazon

Inside Job at B&N

More book recommendations:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing, & Synchronicity
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic

My next blog post would normally appear here next Friday on March 15. But my writing and publishing schedule is unusually heavy right now!

I’m writing a prequel to Rainbow’s Lodestone, I have two new short stories ready to publish, and I must finish the print editions of Sarvet’s Wanderyar and Livli’s Gift. So I’ll be taking a week off from my blog.

My next post will be in two weeks on March 22. See you then!

 

Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic

If you’ve never read any Bujold, A Civil Campaign is a great book to start with. Ditto Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley. The other two volumes in this list might hold up well under stand-alone reading, but they’re best following books one and two in their respective series.

Gregor and Laisa dance on their wedding dayEkaterin Vorsoisson has declared matrimony a no-go zone. Once was enough: the entire population of women in Vorbarr Sultana can have her share of eligible bachelors, thank you very much. But Miles Vorkosigan, count’s heir to his home district, hopes to persuade her otherwise.

Ivan, Miles’ cousin, decides settling your affections on a woman before you’ve even begun the courtship courts anything but a happy-ever-after. Time to dig up some rivals. Never mind that Miles plans to woo under camouflage, lest Ekaterin bounce him back before he starts. Some competition will do him good.

That’s where this “comedy of biology and manners” starts, but political cloak-and-dagger work, incompatible planetary sexual mores, an old Cetagandan scandal, and a bio-genetics experiment escaping the basement lab spin cunning strategies into a whirl of humorous confusion and conflict. With friends like this, who needs enemies? But Miles has those as well!

A Civil Campaign at Amazon
A Civil Campaign on Kindle

A Civil Campaign at B&N
A Civil Campaign on the Nook

 

Bren and Jago ride mechietiHuge differences create insurmountable barriers between alien societies, but resourceful individuals sometimes mediate the innate prejudices successfully. Bren Cameron, the paidhi from Mospheira, is one such individual. He stands between the human interlopers on the world of the atevi and the Western Association, the only governing body amongst the natives powerful enough to rule its diverse factions.

The Western Association under Tabini aiji engages in a breakneck space race, and Bren must supervise the program, translating the complex engineering diagrams needed to build a shuttle. The schedule is tight, the stress heavy, but as long as nobody starts shooting again, that counts as peaceful.

Troublemaker and patsy for a bigoted political group – Deanna Hanks – has been bundled back to the island of the human enclave. Jase Graham, intrepid rep for newly returned human spacefarers and potential friend, managed to drop safely to earth on an ancient petal-sail. Life is good.

Until illicit radio messages from across the strait impel the atevi elite to maneuver for advantage, and an unspoken dissatisfaction turns Jase morose and hostile. Bren declares a real vacation a necessity and turns to his ally Ilisidi, aiji dowager, for help. Ilisidi suggests Saduri, a fortress from medieval times for their destination. But Ilisidi possesses a hidden agenda for the trip, as does Jase Graham. Can Bren keep the precarious peace between species while his cohorts pursue competing goals?

Inheritor at Amazon

Inheritor at B&N

 

Heris Serano on horsebackSpace opera at its best, Winning Colors mixes interstellar mafia with a horse-mad 90-year-old, a cashiered ex-navy captain, and an assortment of spoiled young aristocrats to deliver up marvelous mayhem sprinkled with insightful exploration of the human spirit. Third in the Familias Regnant series with Heris Serano and Lady Cecelia.

Winning Colors at Amazon

Winning Colors at B&N

 
 
 
 
 
 

photo of pink roses against a blue skyRobin McKinley wrote Beauty, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, as her debut novel and never dreamed she’d return to the story twenty years later. Uprooting herself to marry English writer Peter Dickinson, she waited to sell her lilac-covered cottage in Maine. Later, parting from her old home, severing one more tie to the land of her birth, proved surprisingly fraught. And her favorite fairy tale roared through her storyteller’s heart once more: Rose Daughter poured onto the page. Compelling and richly imagined, her new rendition of Beauty and the Beast conveys fresh perspective and insightful wisdom.

 

Rose Daughter at Amazon

Rose Daughter at B&N

 

For more of my favorite reads, check these posts:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing & Synchronicity
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

 

Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing, & Synchronicity

Four more of my favorite fiction reads by four of my favorite authors.

profile with battle sceneDoes one small error in judgment lead inevitably to worse? To the worst mistake of all? On home ground, Barrayar, Miles Vorkosigan learns of loss, redemption, and the resilience of the essential self while tracking a wily traitor through a maze of smoke, mirrors, and memory.

Memory at Amazon

Memory at B&N

 

 

Bren Cameron, the paidhi, and his elite bodyguard, JagoTwo species – humans and the native atevi – share a world: uneasily, ever on the brink of war, never with the resilience to weather abrupt changes. A special mediator – the paidhi – serves as interpretor for all communication between the two cultures. When the space craft that originally left the human colonists on the planet unexpectedly returns to the skies, it disrupts the fragile status quo.

Will human arch-conservatives ally with the ship folk to prevent atevi access to space? Will atevi conservatives start a genocidal extermination of the human colony? Will the ship captains play both planet-bound factions against one another? Bren Cameron – the current paidhi – must rise above mere linguistics to interpret essential truths between all three sides. Can he keep the peace without betraying his own humanity?

Invader at Amazon

Invader at B&N

 

Space yacht amidst balloonistsCaptain Heris Serano and Lady Cecelia Marktos team up again to ferret out corruption – this time at the highest levels. Their threat to state secrets triggers swift reprisal and a desperate confrontation with the vulnerable essence of being human. How much can one lose and still retain it? And when the one oppressed by the many fights back, how much of the universe will she change with her perseverance?

Sporting Chance at Amazon

Sporting Chance at B&N

 

 

Chaos theory image of butterfly plus blond tressesSandra Foster works in R&D at HiTek studying fads. HiTek management wants to know how to start them to make scads of money. Sandra would prefer to know how to combat them: why do people forsake the brains nature gave them to follow the Pied Piper of fashion, folly, and prejudice?

Interdepartmental meetings and sensitivity exercises mix with mis-delivered mail and a million-dollar grant to generate break-through’s both scientific and personal. With unique wit, Willis ridicules corporate culture, pop culture, and human blindness while exploring individual integrity and the notion that losses combine together to generate ultimate gain.

Bellwether at Amazon

Bellwether at B&N

 

For more of my favorite reads, check these posts:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

 

Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers

Four of my favorite fiction reads.

two brothers face off against a backdrop of outer spaceAction marries philosophy! Mark Vorkosigan embarks on a quest as the knight errant he imagines his brother Miles to be. And it all goes horribly wrong. To save both himself and his brother, Mark must confront, navigate, and triumph over the hell lurking within his own soul — a hell mapping his most broken and wounded places — while devising a way to defeat a sadistic enemy.

Mirror Dance at Amazon

Mirror Dance at B&N

 

 

A diplomat and his two bodyguards, space station in backgroundHuman mediator Bren Cameron wields diplomacy, wit, and cultural sensitivity to keep an unstable peace. His alien atevi friends wield lethal force to do the same. Will their unorthodox partnership be enough? C.J. Cherryh creates the most exotic and immersive alien culture ever!

Foreigner at Amazon

Foreigner at B&N

 

 

 

Brun is space armor with weaponDescendant of admirals, Heris Serrano resigns her military commission under a cloud and accepts the captaincy of a luxury pleasure yacht. Could she sink lower? Even disgraced officers must eat. But Heris discovers that opportunity to confront the enemy while serving something larger than oneself hides in unexpected places. The fox she hunts under Lady Cecelia’s aegis proves wilier than V. vulpes and viler than a mere beast.

Hunting Party at Amazon

Hunting Party at B&N

 

 

View of the way to Babylon along a deep chasmEarth needs three Magids – magical guardians who nudge the right people to do the right things at the right time. Three, but one of them just died. Rupert Venables, the junior-most, seeks a replacement. Unfortunately his top candidate can’t stand Rupert. And, after their aggravating first encounter, Rupert can’t stand her either. If only the other four candidates weren’t worse. And if only the fate of the entire multiverse didn’t stand in the balance. Deep Secret romps from plans gone awry through grievous first impressions to ancient secrets hidden in plain sight.

 

Deep Secret at Amazon

Deep Secret at B&N

 

For more of my favorite reads, check these posts:
Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing & Synchronicity
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

 

Beauty, Charm, Cyril & Montmorency

I′ve shared many of my favorite non-fiction reads with you. I thing it′s long past time that I share favorite fiction! Here are four of the best.

illustration of rosesBeauty′s given name is Honour. Her nickname comes of a child′s childlike error, but the name chosen by her parents is no mistake. That quality will get her into trouble and out again in the course of this fabulous retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

Beauty at Amazon

Beauty at B&N

 
 
 

illustration showing Cat and Gwendolyn ChantYoung Cat Chant endures great changes and great losses, all the while clinging to his big sister Gwendolyn. But Cat must learn to stand on his own two feet and to make his own decisions. The safety of his world depends on it.

The Chronicles of Chrestomancy I:
Charmed Life
& The Lives of Christopher Chant
at Amazon

The Chronicles of Chrestomancy I:
Charmed Life
& The Lives of Christopher Chant
at B&N

 
 

montage image of cathedral, cat, Ned, VerityA romp through miscommunication, cross purposes, and the Victorian era turns serious when time travel creates a paradox. Ned Henry sets off to correct the anomaly with the goal of doctor-prescribed recuperation from time lag after he restores the space-time continuum, but said restoration grows more complex by the minute.

To Say Nothing of the Dog at Amazon

To Say Nothing of the Dog at B&N

 
 

illustration of men boating on the ThamesGeorge, Harris, J, and J′s dog embark on a boat trip up the Thames River in search of rest, recuperation, and recreation. The three men agree that their livers or other organs are out of order and office work is the cause. Rest and recuperation receive short shrift, but humorous adventure ensues.

Three Men in a Boat at Amazon

Three Men in a Boat at B&N

 
 
 
 

For more of my favorite reads, check these posts:
Duplicity, Diplomacy, Secrets & Ciphers
Mistakes, Missteps, Shady Dealing & Synchronicity
Courtship and Conspiracy, Mayhem and Magic
Gods & Guilt, Scandals & Skeptics

 

You!

I’ve been thinking about you, my readers. Who are you? What do you like to read? What interests you? Some of you I know already, and I have answers (or clues to answers) for those questions. And some of you I have yet to meet. Perhaps we’ll encounter one another at a book signing or a convention. I’d like that. Until then, I’m guessing at what you like.

Sometimes blind guesses work astonishingly well. Intuition or synchronicity guides the guesser, and the answer is . . . good! I do have a nudge of inspiration at this moment. But it’s not truly about you, front and center. It’s more of an intuition of what to do next. Which is: trust that you and I have something in common. Perhaps even somethings in common. So I fall back on someone I do know: myself!

I’m going to write a series of posts about who I think you might be. But they’ll also be about who I am. I’m a reader and a writer. I love beauty, and I’m intensely curious about . . . almost everything. I like to introspect. I like to learn new things. And I like to change my life around after a bout of learning. Perhaps you share some of these traits too.

But don’t worry: the posts about you and me won’t be created all in one go. After each, I’ll write a post or two (or more) that I think will appeal to the loremaster or the curious monkey or the art-lover. Process does interest me, but not to the exclusion of content! I hope to have both here.

Today I’m thinking about those of us who enjoyed the appendices of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I was so glad the story had multiple endings: Frodo and Samwise safe in Ithilien, Aragorn crowned king and united with Arwen, the Shire scoured, Frodo aship for the West, and Sam’s “I’m back.” I didn’t really want it to end even then. But it felt right, that ending. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But thank goodness for the appendices! The story was over, but I didn’t have to leave Middle-earth just yet. And I could gratify my curiosity about its history, calendar, languages, and much more. Whatever did happen to Gimli? And was the North-kingdom successfully revived?

When I’ve read a great book, I nearly always want more of it. And yet I recognize that it starts and ends in exactly the right spots. Appendices are the perfect solution for my longing. So I’m an aficionado of appendices. Are you? I’d like to know.

Next week I’ll post about the magic featured in Troll-magic (both that of trolls and that of safer folk) for those of you who like appendices and for those who merely have questions about antiphony and incantatio and theurgia.

In the meantime, consider commenting here. Perhaps we might discuss appendices and our appreciation for them!

(Feel free to ask other questions or to start other discussions also!)