Books, reading list

Self-Published Fantasy Month Week Three

Better late than never! I wasn’t sure I’d manage to get a post up this week at all, but thankfully, here we are. I hope you have all had a good start to your week–we spent the weekend enjoying some sunshine at the beach, and are now fully in school-and-work mode, happy to be moving forward into autumn properly. It is chilly enough this morning that I had to put on wool socks and my cozy Jesus College sweatshirt! Hard to believe I was strolling barefoot on the golden sand just a few days ago.

On to the post! I hope you’ve been able to find something to enjoy in my previous book recommendations. If nothing in those posts has caught your fancy, though, never fear: I have three more authors to throw at you today.

First up: M.L. Wang, author of The Sword of Kaigen.

This book is considerably darker than my usual reads, though it never falls into the category of grimdark, or darkness for the sake of darkness. You guys don’t have to worry about that on this blog–I will never, ever recommend a book that glorifies darkness. The Sword of Kaigen, though, definitely explores some heavy topics and depicts a lot of violence. There were a few times when I wondered if I was reading a tragedy (yes, I admit–I peeked at the back just to make sure I wasn’t). But it did end with hope, even if it was a hope tinged with sorrow and grief, and even if everything wasn’t beautifully rosy and happily-ever-after. The prose in this story is beautiful, and the characters are real and vivid. This book won the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (more usually known as SPFBO) in 2019, and reading it makes it easy to see why.

Next we have Sabrina Chase, who I discovered just now has written a substantial amount of books I was not aware of, but who I primarily know as the author of the Guardian’s Compact books.

Set in an alternate world very similar to ours in the Victorian era, save with magic and elements of steampunk included, these books follow the two main characters as they stumble into adventure and intrigue, building close bonds with each other and a few other good friends as they go about doing the right thing even when it seems fruitless or too hard. In other words, exactly up my alley!

Finally for this week, we have Francesca Forrest’s Pen Pal, one of the most memorable and hard-to-categorize books I’ve ever read.

The basic premise is: a young girl living in a floating community off the Gulf Coast in the US tosses a message in a bottle into the sea. It eventually ends up with a political prisoner in a fictional country on the other side of the world. As the two continue to communicate–well, that’s as far as I am going to describe it, because pretty much anything else is going to spoil the story–and this is one story where it absolutely pays to go into it unspoiled. Thoughtful, luminous, heart-breaking, hopeful … this is absolutely a story worth your time to read.

There you have it, three more authors for you to discover! Only one week left to go–have I missed your favorite self-published fantasy author? Drop me a line in the comments and maybe I’ll be able to add them to next week’s post! As it’s the final week I think I can allow myself to go with more than three should I need to.

Have a wonderful week, my friends!

Books, reading list

Self-Published Fantasy Month Week Two

I hope you all had a wonderful Labor Day weekend (for those of you in countries which celebrate, anyway). We certainly did, with family time, beach time, ice cream, sunshine, lighthouses, and lots and lots of laughter.

Now we are really feeling like summer is over: today is the first day of school for our two. Their first time in public school, no less! (I know, what a year to choose to switch from homeschooling to public school … as their advisors said, at least this year all of the other kids are going to be just as unsure and confused about what to do as our girls are, because everything is different and strange for everyone.)

I have three more self-published fantasy authors for you to check out this week, hurrah!

First up, Rachel Neumeier, author of the Black Dog series as well as the newly released Tuyo, among others. Neumeier is technically a hybrid author, as many of her books are published traditionally, but the above-mentioned books are self-published.

I am not generally a fan of urban fantasy, of werewolves and vampires and fae all living and operating in the real world. But somehow, despite all that, I really enjoy the Black Dog books. Neumeier is especially skilled at creating vivid, well-drawn characters, and if you know anything about me through this blog or my own writing, you know I’ll happily read almost anything if the characters are engaging enough–and if it is hope-filled rather than bleak. Things can get dark in Neumeier’s books, but the reader need never despair, because she never leaves things in that dark place. There is always hope in the darkness.

CJ Milbrandt has written the Galleries of Stone series, as well as a younger chapter book series I have not read.

Galleries of Stone is, I think, closer to middle grade than anything else, but it most certainly can be read and enjoyed by adults–in fact, I think in some ways adults might be even more likely to enjoy it, unless you have that rare kid who really loves quiet fantasy. They are meandering stories that simply follow the patterns and rhythm of life, rather than relying on plot. We see the slow blossoming of friendships over time, of gentle romances, of prejudices overcome and trust built. They are simply lovely, and I’m always hoping the author writes more.

Finally for this week is Steve Turnbull, author of the Dragons of Esternes series, among others.

The world-building is so intricate and detailed in this series, and Turnbull does an excellent job of examining real world issues of power and prejudice in a fantastic setting. His characters are relatable and engaging, and overall these are just fun stories to read.

And that’s this week’s recommendations! I hope something here catches your interest–let me know if it does!

Books, fiction, reading list, stories

Self-Published Fantasy Month Week One

Happy September, friends! We survived the summer, and now we get to enjoy cooler temps, harvest delights, cozy sweaters (that’s cosy jumpers for my friends across the pond), your hot beverage of choice … and self-published fantasy books galore!

I saw Self-Published Fantasy Month advertised yesterday and decided it was the perfect chance to highlight some of my favorite self-pubbed authors, as well as hopefully finding some new ones to appreciate as well. I’ll try to do one post every Monday morning after this week–but we’ll see how well I am able to keep up that schedule once school begins for the kids!

I am starting off with my three most favorite self-published authors, and the ones whose books I return to again and again.

First up is my good friend A.M. Offenwanger, who has written and published the Septimus series: Seventh Son (free across all platforms, so a perfect way to introduce yourself to the series!); Cat & Mouse; Checkmate; and Star Bright. There’s also a free short story available on her blog!

These books follow Cat, a woman whisked from our world to one where magic is subtle, domestic, and omnipresent, and where she has a particular gift of her own. The cast of characters expands as the books progress, as does the world, yet they never lose that quiet, close-knit feel.

Next is Stella Dorthwany, who has written Sand & Storm and Blood Traitors, as well as some short stories in the series, and has newly released a standalone book, Song & Flame (I have this on my Kindle but I haven’t read it yet–I’m saving it for a time when I really, really need a brand-new good read. I know it won’t disappoint).

Dorthwany’s books contain some of the most detailed and complex world-building I’ve come across, fascinating magical structures, and characters who are vivid and complicated. Warning: these are not stories that are easy to put down!

Finally, for this week anyway, is Laura Josephsen, whose Dust & Gold is one of my favorite comfort reads; I find myself picking it up along with Miss Read, Agatha Christie, and LM Montgomery on days when I feel particularly gray. She’s also published the Rising quadrology, which is heart-rending in places but ultimately hopeful.

If you’ve ever wondered how the characters in a fairy tale might really react to their situations, Josephsen is the writer for you. Dust & Gold, as well as the Rising books, looks at the personal consequences that would come out of kingdom conquests and other standards of fantastic fiction, and then manages to bring redemption, love, and even joy out of them. These stories never sugarcoat pain, nor is magic ever a, well, magic cure for anything, but the darkness is never allowed to triumph, either.

And there are our first three authors for this month! I hope at least one of those has whetted your appetite. Go, check them out, and then come back to let me know how much you loved them!

writing

First Fruits

Happy Lammas Eve!

Lammas is one of those old holidays I had no idea existed until I moved to England for a time. I knew about May Day (May 1) and All Saints Day (Nov 1), but Candlemas (Feb 2) and Lammas (Aug 1) were nothing more than vague names that occasionally popped up in the English novels I read, akin to “Michaelmas,” which at one point in my childhood I thought was the British way of saying Christmas.

But no, those four days mark the four quarters of the year in Britain, and Lammas is the Harvest Festival. Its name is most likely derived from “loaf mass,” and traditionally it was marked by bringing bread made from new grains to the church to be consecrated, thus symbolically blessing the harvest.

Last Lammas, we were still in England, and I was still running my Patreon, writing monthly flash fiction, among other things, for my patrons. Since this story was published a year ago, I think I can safely share it here on my blog now, to mark this Lammas. This particular adventure did not actually happen to me, but such is the magic of Cambridge that I was pretty sure it could have, had I cycled down by the river at just the right time.

Enjoy.

First Fruits

By E.L. Bates

It was the first of August, and Effie had just cycled past a two-headed dog.

It flashed past her so quickly the oddness hadn’t registered at first. By the time she whipped her head back to look again, the dog and its owner were out of sight.

Probably just two dogs so close together it looked like only one body, she told herself, but a sense of unease remained.

Usually this was the time of year she liked best in Cambridge: it was warm and sunny, the students had all gone home, the tourists weren’t too bad outside of city centre, and everything was peacefully awaiting the start of the new school year.

Today, though, everything seemed off. As she rode along the Cam, she caught glimpses of oddities all along the other side of the river … a boy with goat horns poking through his curly hair sitting cross-legged under a willow, waving cheerfully at her before returning his fingers to the holes in the panpipes held to his lips … a strange, sinuous creature that was surely no fish raising its head briefly out of the water, green riverweed dripping from its sharply-toothed mouth … a girl in a delicate green dress with meadowsweet crowning her leaf-like hair dancing barefoot along the bank … two owls sitting on a single tree branch though it was the middle of the day, watching her solemnly.

Effie applied her brakes abruptly and skidded to a stop. “Okay,” she said under breath. “This has gotten weird.”

She briefly wondered if someone in one of the houseboats that lined the river in this part had been smoking something that had affected her. It didn’t seem likely, but neither did … this.

“Whooo?” asked an owl.

Effie looked up to see it had left its original branch and was sitting on a tree branch above her head.

“Great, now I’m talking to animals,” she muttered, then cleared her throat and spoke more clearly. “I’m Effie. Who are you?”

The owl stared at her unblinkingly. Effie blushed scarlet and hoped no people had been close enough to hear her. Had she really expected an answer? What an idiot.

She glanced around, but thankfully no one was around.

That was strange in and of itself. Where had everyone gone? Granted this wasn’t the touristy part of the river, past Midsummer Common as she was, but still … there were always some people out and about.

But now, no matter how far she looked in any direction, Effie could see no other human but herself.

The sounds of cars from the road had faded, too. No boats came down the river. A swan floated serenely past, but that was the only sign of life.

Effie swallowed. “This is officially creepy.”

“Whoo?” the owl insisted above her head.

Effie glared at it. “I told you, I’m Effie! What else do you want from me?”

“You’ll drive yourself mad trying to get sense out of old Henry,” chimed in a new voice.

Effie spun around to see the goat-horn boy had crossed the river and was now standing behind her. Now he was standing, she saw that his legs were fully human, but a goat’s tail switched behind him to match the horns.

“Not a faun,” she abruptly said aloud. “You’re a satyr.”

He bowed, eyes twinkling merrily. “Well done! Come along, we don’t want to be late.” He waved up at the owl. “It’s all right, Henry, she’s with me.”

He took Effie’s arm and led her down the path before she could think to argue. “That’s all he wanted, to know whose guest you are.”

“Guest for what? Where are we going?”

“The festival, of course. I have to play for it, but don’t worry, no one will expect anything from you. Guest, you see.”

Effie didn’t see, but her new satyr friend was whisking her along at such a rapid pace she couldn’t spare any breath for questions.

 At last they stopped at Stourbridge Common, or some version of it.

Wild, mythical creatures of every description filled the green, some coming up out of the river, others fluttering down from the trees, still more pouring in from every side. They had nothing in common with each other, any more than they did with Effie, save that each one carried a small, round, golden-brown loaf in their hands, talons, mouths, or tentacles.

“I’m off,” the satyr said abruptly. “Must tune up for the dancing that follows the blessing. Join the queue there, and I’ll see you later.”

He vanished into the crowd, leaving Effie utterly bewildered.

With no better options, she joined the end of the queue as suggested, right behind a naiad whose gown clung to her body and legs and shimmered when she moved.

“Um,” Effie said. “Sorry, but—what are we doing here?”

“Receiving the blessing on the loaf,” the naiad replied. “Didn’t Myles tell you?

Assuming Myles was her satyr friend, Effie shook her head.

“That numpty,” the naiad said. “Today is Lammas. We bring a loaf baked from the first harvest, it is blessed, and then we celebrate with a feast, music, and dancing.”

“I … don’t have a loaf,” Effie stammered. She couldn’t quite wrap her head around these fantastic beings receiving a blessing, just as though they were villagers going to church.

And yet, why not? Weren’t they all creatures of the same King?

She could see the priest now at the head of the queue, a centaur with a golden horse’s body and flowing beard, and the wisest, deepest eyes she’d ever seen on any living creature, human or otherwise.

“Here,” the naiad said, tearing her loaf in half and handing part over. “You can share in mine.”

Effie took the bread, suddenly deeply, humbly grateful. She had no idea why she’d been chosen to attend this celebration, why she got to experience this magic, but the memory of it would stay with her forever.

“Thank you,” she said.

The End

1920s, goals, mystery, publishing, Sci-fi, writing

Projects

I sat down the other day and wrote out a list of the stories I am working on, and the ones I would like to be working on within the next few years.

It’s quite the list.

First, there’s the next Whitney & Davies book, and the two I have loosely plotted to follow that one. (Both Yorkshire and Cornwall inspired a new W&D story, and I’m really looking forward to getting those written and revisiting both places in my imagination.)

Newnham College in Cambridge provided the inspiration for W&D Book 3–set at the fictional Saint Dorothea’s, the college for magicians hidden inside Cambridge University
The ruins of Fountains Abbey in the Yorkshire Dales provided the inspiration for W&D Book 4
The gloriously wild and rugged (or at least it was gloriously wild when we were there, thanks to all the storms) Cornish coast is the setting for W&D Book 5

Then there’s the unexpected sequel to From the Shadows, which might??? lead to a third book? I’m still not sure. Quite frankly, there wasn’t even supposed to be a sequel, so clearly I am not the one in charge of these stories, I just go where they direct.

I have plot outlines sketched in for a total of six novellas in the Pauline Gray series, and I would hope to be able to carry that series out even longer so long as the characters and stories don’t get stale–for readers as well as for myself.

You would think that would be enough, wouldn’t you? But no–I have ideas for a middle grade fantasy book, a young adult fantasy book, and a cozy mystery series. And this doesn’t even take into account the stories that pop into every author’s imagination and demand to be written!

I’m not complaining, not at all. It’s wonderful to have such a wealth of stories to play with, so many different worlds and characters to explore and share with readers. I am in no danger of getting bored for the next several years, that’s for certain.

So tell me: what sort of projects do you have teeming in your brain these days? What are some of your short-term and long-term creative goals? Whether it be gardening or knitting or sewing (oh, don’t get me started on my knitting and sewing projects!) or pottery or painting or baking or anything else creative at all! I’d love to get inspired by what’s inspiring you.

There’s a story waiting to be revealed here, too, it just hadn’t made itself known to me yet. Maybe you’ll be luckier … or more attuned to its whisper.