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!

Books, favorites, fiction, influences, philosophy, quotes

DE Stevenson

“I am grateful for all my blessings; amongst them the Gift of Storytelling, which seems to please and amuse so many people all over the world.”

“It seems to me that this job of interpreting my own people to other people is the most important contribution I can make to the world and to peace.”

-D.E. Stevenson.

I discovered D.E. Stevenson thanks to Goodreads recommending her “Miss Buncle’s Book” to me based on my fondness for Miss Read. Curiously enough, the Miss Buncle series are among my least favorites of her work; I prefer her stand-alones, or the ones with two or three loosely-connected books. However, they were enough to get me intrigued, and now I’ve read everything of hers our library has, and am starting to expand through ILL to others in our network.

Like Miss Read, Stevenson writes stories about ordinary people, stories in which (generally) not a lot happens. Nice, friendly, meandering stories, that give you a glimpse into somebody else’s life and fit into their shoes for at least a few brief moments. Stories which, as a kid, bored me to tears, and now I love.

And along with enjoying her books, I appreciate her philosophy as well. Aren’t those quotes up above lovely? Sums up a lot of my feeling toward writing and storytelling.

So, if you enjoy “quiet” stories, give D.E. Stevenson a try! She wrote dozens of books; if you enjoy them, you won’t run out of reading material for a long, long time. Also? She was the cousin of the great Robert Louis Stevenson!

Books, reading list

Book Recommendations: Cozy Mysteries

I asked for some book recs on Twitter the other day, as I’ve gotten burnt out on too much YA (when all the protagonists start sounding alike and you want to shake them all for normal, teenage behavior, I think it’s a clue that it’s time for a break). I got some good suggestions, but it occurred to me how difficult it is to give recommendations when you’ve only got 140 characters to understand what sort of books the other person likes and dislikes. So I thought it was time for a new series on the blog – Book Recommendations!

This will be where I list off various books I love, like, etc. in a genre, and you can feel free to offer up suggestions for others based on what I already like. I’ll throw in some specifics of things I dislike as well, to provide balance.

This isn’t purely selfish, either: I’ll update the post with suggestions from the comments, and then whenever someone is looking for a good book in a particular genre, they can just click on the post and have a handy list right at their fingertips.

So, to start off: Cozy Mysteries!

Cozies I Love:

Agatha Christie, of course. Still, and always, the Queen of Crime! (But I’ve no intention of reading the new Poirot novel, because that to me seems like even greater sacrilege than Jill Paton Walsh’s attempts at Lord Peter.

And speaking of Lord Peter … Dorothy L Sayers. I love Peter, and I love Harriet, and I love Bunter, and I most especially love the way she writes.

Ellis Peters. I have almost all the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and I just started collecting the Inspector Felse series. At this point in my life I almost even prefer Felse to Cadfael. Shocking, yes?

Mrs. Pollifax. Dorothy Gilman’s other books are a little weird for my taste, but I adore Mrs. Pollifax. More adventures than mysteries, they’re still pure entertainment, and pure delight for me to read.

Josephine Tey. The woman was brilliant. That’s all.

Cozies I Like:

Ngaio Marsh. Sometimes she can be a little too dry for my taste (it seems half the mysteries are less “mystery” and more “Alleyn and Fox collect evidence and by the end of it know who did the crime, and sit around and snigger at Nigel’s ignorance until they Reveal All), but she’s still brilliant.

Carola Dunn. I have read all the Daisy Dalrymple books, and the Cornish mysteries, and while they aren’t necessarily the best things ever, they are delightful period pieces. And since they are set in the ’20s in England, I can justify buying them as “research” for my own stories. Score!

Margery Allingham. Sad to say I recently gave away all my Campion books. I like them, but not enough to let them continue taking up space on my shelves.

Laurie R King. I only like the Mary Russell stories (I read Touchstone and hated it so much I couldn’t read anything by King for months afterward), and even those have started appealing to me less with the most recent books. Not exactly cozy, but also not really hard-boiled or noir either.

Charles Todd. These can get a little grim for me (and I can never, ever read them late at night), but they are brilliantly crafted. Like the Mary Russell series, these are a little darker than typical cozies, but they also don’t fit into any of the other mystery categories.

Anna Dean. The Dido Kent books are imperfect, but they stay true enough to the time period (Regency) while still managing to feature an intelligent and independent heroine, that I thoroughly enjoy reading them.

Anthony Berkeley. Technically I’ve only read one Roger Sheringham book (they are even harder to find than Campion books), but it cracked me up, and I’ve been on the lookout for more ever since.

Cozies I Sorta Like:

Elizabeth Peters. These hover between farce and genuine mysteries, and I wish they’d make up their mind which they are, because the in-between makes it hard to like them, but there’s a lot of brilliance in them all the same.

The Cat Who books. I pick them up every once in a while, enjoy them for a bit, and then promptly forget about them afterward.

P.D. James. Are these even cozies? I really don’t know. I like them all right, but I can only read so many in a row before I have to turn to something else.

Georgette Heyer. They’re OK, but I always expect the detective to be much more clever than he/she ends up being, and I inevitably guess the culprit long before anyone else. Which is lovely for my ego, but does get boring to read after a while.

Cozies I dislike:

Anything that takes a real person and turns her (it’s usually a her) into a detective. I’ve tried a few of these, and I end up hating them with a passion every time. (Tell the truth, I’m not really a fan of any book that fictionalizes real people, unless said book is by said person him- or herself, i.e. the Little House books.)

ANY mystery featuring Jane Austen characters. Please, no.

Cozies that insist on featuring the exact same characters and developments and “quirks” in every single story, that go through a dozen books and never let the main character grow in any way, that feature protagonists being Too Stupid to Live or doing idiotic things like hiding evidence from the police for no other reason but that they want to prove something, that rely on people being idiots in order to keep things a mystery. Whew.

Anything too “cutesy.” Most themed mystery series get on my nerves after the first book or two. I realize that themes are an essential part of many cozies, but they tend to get repetitive quickly.

~

I’m sure I’m missing some, but that sums it up as best I can. Make your suggestions in the comments, and I’ll update the post with them as they come in!

Update:

If you don’t mind real people fictionalized, Stephanie Barron has written a Jane Austen mystery series which is rather well done.

Over on FB, someone mentioned the Flavia de Luce series by Allan Bradley, which are written for adults despite featuring an eleven-year-old protagonist.

The Phryne Fisher series is delightful fun for the most part, even though I had to quit them after a few books due to my own personal inability to read casually about child abuse.

The Nero Wolfe series is not quite cozy, but reportedly not too hard-boiled, either.

The Mrs Bradley series is quite extensive and shooting to the top of my list of books to find!