Winter Warmer: Nobody’s Child

“Jeri combines V.I.’s social conscience with Kinsey’s bad-ass attitude and a snappy narrative voice… Dawson manages to blend her social criticism into a rich plum pudding sprinkled throughout with memorable characters.”

Those were the words of Maureen Corrigan in the Washington Post Book World, and they sum up the novel Nobody’s Child by Janet Dawson excellently.

Nobody’s Child is one of thirteen titles in the Winter Warmer bundle. I read it several weeks ago and enjoyed the book very much.

Its private investigator protagonist, Jeri Howard, felt utterly human and real. I especially liked that she was a well-grounded, middle-aged woman struggling with the normal issues that confront women in their thirties and forties, trying to discern the way she wants her life to be and how to make it so. I sympathized with her, liked her, and wanted her to succeed.

Amidst her own struggles, she pursues a missing person case that lands in her lap.

Unlike so many detective novels, this one features neither the highly dramatic neuroses of a dysfunctional detective (such as an alcoholic), who can’t relate healthily to those around him, nor the entirely carefree quilter or cook who solves mysteries on the side and seems to have no substantive problems at all.

Jeri Howard has problems, but they are honest ones, and she tackles them with honesty and good sense, just as she brings those qualities to bear on her missing person investigation.

In the course of Jeri Howard’s search for Maureen Smith and her toddler daughter, Nobody’s Child thoroughly explores all the issues surrounding the plight of the homeless. It avoids falling into either extreme pathos and melancholy or melodrama, steering flawlessly and informatively through the reality in way that educates the reader without browbeating him or reducing a complex situation to simple solutions and a political agenda.

Because the topic is dark, Nobody’s Child is a dark book. It could easily have proved too dark for me, but the protagonist, and her normal and healthy relationships with family and friends, balanced the sadness of the homeless so well that the story did not plunge me into gloom.

Additionally, the plot of the story was well constructed, and the pace of events and revelations moved along at a good clip, keeping me intrigued and interested throughout.

Here’s the official blurb:

It’s a cold rainy winter. Oakland PI Jeri Howard is having a tough time getting into the Christmas spirit—and dealing with a prickly client. Naomi Smith’s daughter Maureen ran away three years ago. At various times Maureen was homeless. Now she’s probably dead and her two-year-old daughter is missing. It’s dangerous out on the mean streets of Berkeley, for an adult let alone a child.

Can Jeri find the little lost toddler before time runs out?

Bundles remain available for a short time only, usually about 6 weeks, sometimes a bit longer.

The Winter Warmer bundle is now gone, but the stories that were in it remain available separately. A few are so good that each was worth the price of the bundle all on its own.

I urge you to check out the individual titles with an eye to purchasing the ones that particularly appeal to you.

Nobody’s Child by Janet Dawson is available as an ebook and in paperback on Amazon and in paperback on Barnes & Noble.

For more about the stories and novels from the Winter Warmer bundle, see:
Winter Warmer: Phoenix
Winter Warmer: Nutball Season
Winter Warmer: Desperate Housewitches
Winter Warmer: Winter Glory

 

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Winter Warmer: Nutball Season

I love Christmas stories, from the original about the babe in a manger through Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to Connie Willis’ Miracle and Other Christmas Stories and more by other contemporary authors.

As I was reading through the Winter Warmer bundle (in which my novella Winter Glory appears), I encountered a new Christmas story to love: “Nutball Season” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.

I’ll share the official blurb and then talk about a few of the elements that charmed me. Here’s the blurb:

According to Officer Nick Mantino, Nutball Season runs from Halloween to Christmas. This Christmas season, he sees more than his usual number of nutballs.

First, there’s the geezer who thinks he’s been cast in Miracle on 34th Street. Then there’s Mrs. Billings, who has told everyone she’ll shoot Santa if he lands on her roof.

Mrs. Billings has scared the local children, and Nick Mantino must investigate. What he finds in Prudence Billings’ house scares him too—and makes him wonder if he hasn’t just joined the lists of candidates for Nutball of the Year.

So why do I love this story?

The biggest reason is Officer Nick Mantino, who’s lonely and longing for family, but making the best of it, doing his job and dealing with the crazies brought out by the holiday season. He’s an experienced cop, a realist, and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Yet he finds his pragmatism conflicting with his basic decency and niceness, causing him to treat a Santa impersonator with kindness.

I loved Nick and found myself believing in him, rooting for him, and liking him. He’s very human and very much the heart of the story. But the plot of “Nutball Season” is clever and fun, and the happy ending is completely in the spirit of the season, encompassing healing and new beginnings.

I won’t say more, because I don’t want to give away all the good stuff. Get it, read it, and enjoy it!

“Nutball Season” is available solo, but I urge you to pick up your copy via the Winter Warmer bundle, because then you’ll obtain several other stories with it that are equally good.

Bundles remain available for a short time only, usually about 6 weeks, sometimes a bit longer.

The Winter Warmer bundle is now gone, but the stories that were in it remain available separately. A few are so good that each was worth the price of the bundle all on its own.

I urge you to check out the individual titles with an eye to purchasing the ones that particularly appeal to you.

“Nutball Season” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.

For more about the stories and novels from the Winter Warmer bundle, see:
Winter Warmer: Phoenix
Winter Warmer: Nobody’s Child
Winter Warmer: Desperate Housewitches
Winter Warmer: Winter Glory

 

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Winter Warmer: Phoenix

“My blood seethed with power.
       “The ones who didn’t fear me wanted something from me.
       “I was the Serpent. The original tempter. The one who convinced humanity that the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge belonged to them, too. People assumed I was evil because their books told them so. They blamed me for everything wrong in their lives, including their own crappy decisions. They ought to have thanked me instead. Wasn’t for me, they’d still be walking around naked in a paradise that was more like a prison. Wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t have two brain cells to rub together.
       “Evil? No. Bringer of knowledge? Yes.”

“Blood to Blood,” Leslie Claire Walker

I first encountered Leslie Claire Walker and her short story “Blood to Blood” in a book bundle containing The Uncollected Anthology: Magical Motorcycles. I knew within the first few pages of the tale that I would want to read more by her.

Walker presents a world in which the serpent of Eden has become Malek, a tattoo artist who speaks only in sign language and who inks magical and deadly tattoos with his own poisonous blood. Old gods with new names stalk the night—The Mayor, Gator, and other monstrous powers—while the Fae cross the deadly In-Between to emerge from Faery and meddle in the affairs of men.

“Phoenix,” another short story by Walker, tells the tale of Stacy, a human witch who steals one of three most precious possessions from a princess of Faery. Something more precious than blood, safety, or home.

I loved both “Blood to Blood” and “Phoenix.” When I encountered “Silver Dust,” which continues where “Phoenix” left off, I loved it as well.

Malek appears in all three stories; he is the protagonist in the first, while the young witch Stacy takes that role in the second, and the Faery princess Silver in the third. Each of them engaged my partiality and pulled at my heartstrings.

I found it fascinating how each installment felt fully complete and satisfying in itself and yet also filled in different segments of a larger saga, approaching the whole from different angles and using different themes.

I’m eager to read more of Walker’s works.

So, why am I telling you about Leslie Claire Walker and her stories? Well, first off, she’s good and her stories are excellent. Check them out!

But, secondly…I have another of my own titles in a book bundle along with Walker’s “Phoenix” and a number of other stories by authors that are well worth reading. Let me tell you a little about the Winter Warmer bundle. 😀

Winter, a time of festivity, of hardship, and cold. Perhaps it remains the most superstitious of seasons and for many the most beloved. Snow, feasting, gifts, religious significance, family and getting together. A time for storytelling!

Thirteen tales about, or set in, the harshest of seasons. From witches to icy realms and faery kings, to holiday nutballs who might be less nutty than they seem. From detectives up against wintery crimes and mysteries to Christmas romance and second chances, there’s something for everyone in this winter warmer.

Available for 3 months only — December, January, and February.

“Sanctuary” by Leslie Claire Walker
“Snowman’s Chance in Hell” by Robert Jeschonek
Tollard’s Peak by Michael Kingswood
“Phoenix” by Leslie Claire Walker
The Tuxedoed Man by Marcelle Dube
“Nutball Season” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The Dreamweaver’s Journey by Diana L. Wicker
Dark Dancer by Jaleta Clegg
“Coconutty Christmas” by Ann Omasta
Nobody’s Child by Janet Dawson
Freak Sanctuary by Ann Stratton
“Desperate Housewitches” by Dayle A. Dermatis
Winter Glory by J.M. Ney-Grimm

And here’s the official blurb for “Phoenix” by Leslie Claire Walker:

A mystery girl appears in the midst of a winter thunderstorm, seeking a witch to break a terrible curse: the girl has accidentally destroyed the Realm of Faery.

Seventeen-year-old Stacy, young to the Craft but growing in power and reputation thanks to her hand in thwarting the last apocalypse, might be able to save both Faery and the girl.

If Stacy refuses to help, both the realm and the girl will die. But helping the girl can only lead to heartbreak—and a choice that will change them both forever.

An impossible problem. A heroine with the courage and heart to take on the challenge against all odds. To enter the magic, read “Phoenix.”

Bundles remain available for a short time only, usually about 6 weeks, sometimes a bit longer.

The Winter Warmer bundle is now gone, but the stories that were in it remain available separately. A few are so good that each was worth the price of the bundle all on its own.

I urge you to check out the individual titles with an eye to purchasing the ones that particularly appeal to you.

“Phoenix” by Leslie Claire Walker is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.

For more about the stories and novels from the Winter Warmer bundle, see:
Winter Warmer: Nutball Season
Winter Warmer: Nobody’s Child
Winter Warmer: Desperate Housewitches
Winter Warmer: Winter Glory

For more about other bundles, see:
Here Be Dragons
Spring Surprise
Immortals
Remembering Warriors
Mythic Tales
More than Human

 

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Mythic Tales: Magic for a Rainy Day

I first discovered Alexandra Brandt when I read her short story “The Flat Above the Wynd” in the book bundle entitled More than Human. I found “Flat” wholly engaging and charming, so I was delighted to learn that the Mythic Tales bundle included Brandt’s short story collection Magic for a Rainy Day.

“The Flat Above the Wynd” appears again this collection, and I was happy to re-read it, especially because its prequel story “Sidewynd” gave me a deeper appreciation of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile (the setting for both tales) and for their protagonist, Sky Patel. I’m definitely looking forward to the novel about Sky that Brandt has underway.

The other three stories in the collection are equally appealing. “Banoffee Pie and Black Pudding” was pure fun, “(Not a) Fairy Tale” brightly amusing, and “They Stole My Love Last Night Night” as hauntingly lovely as the Gaelic melody that inspirits it.

Here’s the official blurb for Magic for a Rainy Day:

Set in Scotland, Ireland, and the Pacific Northwest, these five stories share three things: a little rain, a little fantasy, and a lot of heart.

In “Sidewynd,” Sky Patel balances life between Edinburgh and its mirror in the faerie realm. Until the balance breaks. In “The Flat Above the Wynd,” Sky’s inherited responsibilities double when past mistakes come back to haunt her.

In “Banoffee Pie and Black Pudding,” Alyssa Granville’s troubles begin with a strange gift from a stranger Irish man.

In “(Not a) Fairy Tale,” a bullied teenage girl learns a startling truth. But fairies don’t go to high school…do they? In “They Stole My Love Last Night,” Celtic music, fairies, and ghosts collide, turning a bitter story sweet.

In these pages, a rainy day might bring excitement with a whiff of danger. Or the kind of magic that brightens your week.

Bundles remain available for a short time only, usually for about 6 weeks, sometimes a bit longer.

The Mythic Tales bundle is now gone, but the stories that were in it remain available separately. A few are so good that each was worth the price of the bundle all on its own.

I urge you to check out the individual titles with an eye to purchasing the ones that particularly appeal to you.

For reviews of the stories and novels from the Mythic Tales bundle
(plus the odd character interview), see:

Mythic Tales: Beneath the Knowe
Mythic Tales: Caught in Amber, Character Interview – Fae
Mythic Tales: A Sword’s Poem
Mythic Tales: Tales of Erana
Mythic Tales: Tempus
Mythic Tales: Author Interview
Mythic Tales: Raziel’s Shadow

 

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Mythic Tales: Raziel’s Shadow

Raziel’s Shadow by Joseph Robert Lewis is the penultimate title in the Mythic Tales bundle. I read it last week (last week, as I type this) and enjoyed it a great deal.

I found the world building especially fascinating and well done. It’s an intriguing mix of the Arabian Nights and African mythology seasoned with a dash of pseudo-Biblical elements. The young protagonist, Zerai, is engaging and sympathetic. And the plot is well conceived, well told, and kept me guessing all the way through to the end.

Here’s a little more about the novel:

The young falconer Zerai thought he was a long-lost prince. He thought he would be granted supernatural powers to slay an army of demons. He thought he would reclaim his grandfather’s empire.

He thought wrong.

After years of living in the wilderness, hiding from killer mercenaries and lethal monsters, Zerai has lost all of his friends, leaving him alone on a quest to save his country. But even after he joins a company of legendary warriors and seers from the east, his chances of success seem bleak against the vast southern armies, packs of bloodthirsty ghuls, and huge fiery ifrits that have claimed his homeland.

Drawn from elements of African history and mythology and inspired in part by the Arabian Nights, the epic fantasy series Angels and Djinn takes readers to a dark world where heroes and lovers confront fantastical creatures out of the strangest of dreams and the worst of nightmares.

Because it’s been a few weeks since I first announced the Mythic Tales, I’m going to give a refresher below about the contents of the bundle as a whole.

Remember those epic legends of heroes and monsters? Stories of great adventure woven with magic and myth live once more in this collection; read of ancient lore, magic swords, wicked beasts, courageous souls, desperate champions, and unholy bargains. Fairy tales and bold ventures come together in this boxed set.

Beneath the Knowe by Anthea Sharp
Tales of Erana by A. L. Butcher
A Sword’s Poem by Leah Cutter
On the Edge of Faerie by Stefon Mears
Sorcha’s Heart by Debbie Mumford
Tales Fabulous and Fairy by Kim Antieau
Tempus by Janet Morris
Caught in Amber by J.M. Ney-Grimm
The Warden of Power by Karen L. Abrahamson
Beautiful by Barbara G. Tarn
Lost: Cinderella’s Secret Witch Diaries by Ron Vitale
Tales of the Faie: The Beginning of Days by Diana L. Wicker
Raziel’s Shadow by Joseph Robert Lewis
Magic for a Rainy Day by Alexandra Brandt

Bundles remain available for a short time only, usually for about 6 weeks, sometimes a bit longer.

The Mythic Tales bundle is now gone, but the stories that were in it remain available separately. A few are so good that each was worth the price of the bundle all on its own.

I urge you to check out the individual titles with an eye to purchasing the ones that particularly appeal to you.

For reviews of the stories and novels from the Mythic Tales bundle
(plus the odd character interview), see:

Mythic Tales: Beneath the Knowe
Mythic Tales: Caught in Amber, Character Interview – Fae
Mythic Tales: A Sword’s Poem
Mythic Tales: Tales of Erana
Mythic Tales: Tempus
Mythic Tales: Author Interview
Mythic Tales: Magic for a Rainy Day

 

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Mythic Tales: Tempus

Tempus was the fourth story I read fom the Mythic Tales bundle. It’s a complex tale, and it drew me in so completely that I felt disoriented when I finished and needed to emerge from the world of the book into my own life.

I’m still pondering the story, mulling over the metaphysical arguments that lurk in its foundations, and contemplating the exotic nature of the setting and the vibrancy of the characters. Because it’s a book that’s going to linger with me, I find I don’t want to simply give you the brief, official blurb and skate onward with nothing else. I want to share a bit more.

So I will. 😀

But first, the blurb:

Relive the iconic adventures of Tempus and his Sacred Band through the eyes of Nikodemos, his right-side companion, as Niko seeks his spirit’s balance on Bandara’s misty isles. Five iconic Sacred Band stories from a world of thieves, plus tales available nowhere else. Join the Stepsons from their earliest days.

Nikodemos is a soldier in a mercenary force called the Sacred Band. Niko has come to the town of Sanctuary in the van of his commander, Tempus.

Tempus is an immortal, a demi-god, sworn to the service of the war god.

The novel Tempus tells the story of what happens to Niko in Sanctuary and how the events there shape him, transforming him from boy into man.

That story is interwoven with a frame story in which Niko re-examines his years in Sanctuary in order to see more clearly what transpired there and to learn from his experience.

At the story’s beginning, Niko’s commander, Tempus, is presented as a force for good. Niko says of him that he “never turned away from injustice, never left a problem for another to solve . . . never let the pain or difficulty of an undertaking persuade him not to pursue a resolution his heart thought was right.”

Justaposed against Tempus is Askelon, the sorcerer lord of dream and nightmare and death. Askelon is portrayed as haughty, angry, crushing, and evil.

But Niko, in the course of his scrutiny of the past, realizes that he must reconsider his love and loyalty for his commander, Tempus, as well as his fear and hatred for the dream lord Askelon, who courts Niko’s fidelity.

Along with Niko, the reader sees that Tempus often does great evil in pursut of his principles, while Askelon “brings healing for the tired mind . . . wonder for the ailing spirit,” as well as compassion.

The mood of Tempus is dark and rich. The mythological stature of its characters reminds me of Tanith Lee’s Tales from the Flat Earth series, while its melancholy tone calls to mind Days of Grass, also by Lee. A tantalizing obliquity present in Tempus, similar to that in E.R. Eddison’s Mistress of Mistresses, contributes to its great sense of depth.

For those reasons, it’s a demanding book, but it pays exemplary dividends on what it demands of the reader.

I quite enjoyed Tempus, despite the fact that it verges on being too dark, too violent, and too disturbing for me. Somehow Janet Morris handles the disquieting elements deftly enough so as not to overwhelm.

I will note that the frame story leaves the matter of Niko’s allegiance unfinished. Niko says, “I know what I’m doing. I’m choosing — or choosing not to choose. My heart is still with you, Commander.” By which I conclude that Niko is now a man divided, his head seeing Askelon’s purposes as redeemed, but his love still given to Tempus.

I speculated that the loose threads of the frame story were present to allow for the many sequels that I understood existed, but a little surfing the web proved me wrong in that speculation. Although the sequels are indeed numerous, the chapters of Tempus were originally written as stand-alone short stories, and the novel was created from them later. The interweaving of the chapters with frame story was so skillfully done that the result forms one whole cloth.

But never mind how it was written; Tempus is worth reading!

Bundles remain available for a short time only, usually for about 6 weeks, sometimes a bit longer.

The Mythic Tales bundle is now gone, but the stories that were in it remain available separately. A few are so good that each was worth the price of the bundle all on its own.

I urge you to check out the individual titles with an eye to purchasing the ones that particularly appeal to you.

For reviews of the stories and novels from the Mythic Tales bundle
(plus the odd character interview), see:

Mythic Tales: Beneath the Knowe
Mythic Tales: Caught in Amber, Character Interview – Fae
Mythic Tales: A Sword’s Poem
Mythic Tales: Tales of Erana
Mythic Tales: Author Interview
Mythic Tales: Raziel’s Shadow
Mythic Tales: Magic for a Rainy Day

 

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Mythic Tales: A Sword’s Poem

I’ve read and enjoyed several of Leah Cutter’s novels. Poisoned Pearls is probably my favorite to date, although her body of work is large, so I have a lot of pleasurable exploring ahead of me.

When I saw that Cutter had a novel in the Mythic Tales bundle – A Sword’s Poem – it leapt to the top of my want-to-read list. Nor did it disappoint.

The rich world building and compelling story telling swept me straight into the milieu of classical Japan (794 – 1185) and the spirit beings who have stepped out of myth and legend into the wild places within the forests and on the flanks of mountains: fairy foxes, enchanted fish, and the kami of the rivers and glens.

Sword’s mood is striking, possessing some of the melancholy and fatalism of Shogun by James Clavell, but brightened with scintillas of youth and innocence and hope.

The protagonist, a fox fairy named Hikaru, captured and held my interest, but I came to love two of the secondary characters – Iwao (lord and guardian of Mount Shirayama) and Kayoku (his lady) – just as much.

All in all, A Sword’s Poem is excellent. Here’s the official blurb:

Hikaru and her one true love Norihiko defy both their families and kitsune (fox fairy) tradition by getting married.

However, an evil magician kills Norihiko, steals his soul, then reforges it into a sword.

Hikaru seeks the sword, determined to break the curse and bring back her one true love, no matter the cost to herself or her family.

Set in Heian era Japan and composed of three novellas: The Making, The Breaking, and The Reforging.

Bundles remain available for a short time only, usually for about 6 weeks, sometimes a bit longer.

The Mythic Tales bundle is now gone, but the stories that were in it remain available separately. A few are so good that each was worth the price of the bundle all on its own.

I urge you to check out the individual titles with an eye to purchasing the ones that particularly appeal to you.

For reviews of the stories and novels from the Mythic Tales bundle
(plus the odd character interview), see:

Mythic Tales: Beneath the Knowe
Mythic Tales: Caught in Amber, Character Interview – Fae
Mythic Tales: Tales of Erana
Mythic Tales: Tempus
Mythic Tales: Author Interview
Mythic Tales: Raziel’s Shadow
Mythic Tales: Magic for a Rainy Day

 

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Courage, Kindness, Youthful Awkwardness & Compassion

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a book recommendation. Four years! (I just checked.)

My previous recs were all old favorites, books that I’ve read and re-read, books that I know I’ll re-read yet again in the future.

Today’s rec is a new favorite: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.

I read it first in December 2015, but I’ve already re-read it at least three times in the eighteen months that have passed since. It’s truly wonderful.

Here’s a little bit about it:

Maia awakens in the middle of the night to learn that his father, the emperor of the Elf-lands, is dead in an airship accident, along with all three of Maia’s half-brothers. Now Maia – a half-goblin who grew up in exile, poverty, and neglect – must grapple with governing the vastly complex elvish Ethuveraz.

His father’s chancellor hates him almost as much as his father did. His father’s dowager empress hates him more. And all too many of his father’s courtiers hate him, too. Maia toys with the idea of running away to obscurity, somewhere, somehow.

The Elf-lands have not been kind to the boy-emperors of the past, claiming their lives more often than not. Maia is not a child – he’s eighteen – but he’s nearly as inexperienced as those numerous dead boys whose tombs line the sacred hall in the imperial palace. Failure to grapple with the Ethuveraz – whether through ineptitude or through flight – leads only to another tomb like theirs.

* * *

The world building, characterization, and storytelling in The Goblin Emperor are all superb. And its protagonist, Maia Drazhar, beguiles me afresh each time I re-read the book with his unique blend of courage and kindness, and his struggles to overcome both youthful awkwardness and his (understandable) resentment toward his former guardian.

Here’s a brief excerpt – the very beginning of the story – to introduce you to Maia and The Goblin Emperor.
 
 

Maia woke with his cousin’s cold fingers digging into his shoulder.

“Cousin? What…” He sat up, rubbing his eyes with one hand. “What time is it?”

“Get up!” Setheris snarled. “Hurry!”

Obediently, Maia crawled out of bed, clumsy and sleep-sodden. “What’s toward? Is there a fire?”

“Get they clothes on.” Setheris shoved yesterday’s clothes at him. Maia dropped them, fumbling with the strings of his nightshirt, and Setheris hissed with exasperation as he bent to pick them up. “A messenger from the court. That’s what’s toward.”

“A message from my father?”

“Is’t not what I said? Merciful goddesses, boy, canst do nothing for thyself? Here!” He jerked the nightshirt off, caring neither for the knotted strings nor for Maia’s ears, and shoved his clothes at him again. Maia struggled into drawers, trousers, shirt, and jacket, aware that they were wrinkled and sweat-stained, but unwilling to try Setheris’s ill temper by saying so. Setheris watched grimly by the single candle’s light, his ears flat against his head. Maia could not find his stockings, nor would Setheris give him time to search. “Come along!” he said as soon as Maia had his jacket fastened, and Maia followed him barefoot out of the room, noticing in the stronger light that while Setheris was still properly and fully attired, his face was flushed. So he had not been wakened from sleep by the emperor’s messenger, but only because he had not yet been to bed. Maia hoped uneasily that Setheris had not drunk enough metheglin to mar the glossy perfection of his formal court manners.

Maia ran his hands through his hair, his fingers catching on knots in his heavy curls. It would not be the first time one of his father’s messengers had witnessed him as unkempt as a half-witted ragpickers child, but that did not help with the miserable midnight imaginings: So tell us, how looked our son? He reminded himself it was unlikely his father ever asked after him in the first place and tried to keep his chin and ears up as he followed Setheris into the lodge’s small and shabby receiving room.

* * *

The Goblin Emperor is available in many bookstores. A few links:
Amazon I Apple I B&N I Book Depository I Google Play I Kobo

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

 

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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

 

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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!

 

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