It’s the end of the calendar year, and that feels like a great time to recommend a few books I enjoyed this year, in the hopes that you might like some of them too.
As a librarian, I always feel sort of weird about recommending books without a conversation about what someone’s looking for. What I like might be quite different than what you like, for all sorts of great reasons. On the other hand, sharing things I enjoyed is fun.
So please take this in the spirit of ‘you might find these interesting’ and if you don’t, that’s fine! Read what makes you happy.
A note: The Amazon links are affiliate links (if you buy through them, I’ll get a small referral fee). I’ve also linked to GoodReads, for those who prefer other sources.
I am such a fan. These are books about people being good to each other (if sometimes in rather unexpected ways), and thoroughly rooted in the times and places they take place.
(Check out her website for much more, also interesting blog posts, and some free stories.)
New reads this year included:
- Any Old Diamonds (Amazon, Goodreads)
- Proper English (Amazon, Goodreads)
- Henchmen of Zenda (Amazon, Goodreads)
- The Rat-catcher’s Daughter (Amazon, Goodreads)
- Gilded Cage (Amazon, Goodreads)
(I also reread An Unseen Attraction, An Unnatural Vice, and An Unsuitable Heir, as well as Think of England and Band Sinister. They’re very much comfort rereads for me.)
My favourites are probably the Think of England/Proper English duology, but it’s a hard choice.
I was hooked on this one as soon as I saw the comment of it being an Agatha Christie mystery with a m/m romance. It’s utterly delightful, both parties are dealing with their past history, the eddies of village life are delightfully detailed. Good fun.
I love the Reluctant Royal series for great characters, intriguing situations, and the fact that people do (eventually) deal with things like adults with a thought about the long-term. This f/f novella is a second-chance romance with a secondary character from the first book.
A f/f novella in the Worth Saga – I have not caught up on those, and this was a fun read even without that background. Courtney Milan has a great knack for character, for making complex plots flow well, and for anchoring the story so you can roll around and enjoy it.
The Burning Cove series by Amanda Quick and Jayne Krentz
- The Girl Who Knew Too Much (Amazon, Goodreads)
- The Other Lady Vanishes (Amazon, Goodreads)
- Tightrope (Amazon, Goodreads)
Three books are out now, with a fourth to come in 2020 (Quick and Krentz are the same person, she uses her pen names to differentiate series.)
Loosely tied into some of the Arcane Society books, these can be read independently, and also independently of each other (characters from other books in the series will turn up, but there’s plenty of explanation of them in context.)
I love these books for the tight focus on place, and a grand sense of the time (a resort town in 1930s California, to be specific). There’s a bit of everything here – murder, mystery, espionage, a touch of magic (stage and otherwise), and of course romance (m/f in this case) with competent stubborn heroines.
An anthology where all the stories feature an underwater ballroom of some kind. I picked it up because I’ve been enjoying the magic and society of some of the other Stephanie Burgis books, but I enjoyed every story in this collection in some way. Some are more romance, some more fantasy, or science-fiction, but it’s a great theme.
Third, and apparently last in a series about Greta Helsing, doctor to monsters. I’ve really loved the worldbuilding in this series, from the various patients Greta sees, to the implications of society for the undead and very long-lived. This book starts with Greta taking over temporarily as head of a very posh spa for mummies in the south of France.
There are romances in the series (more than one of them!) but while there are happy endings, the books make more sense to me if I read them with my fantasy-reader hat on rather than my romance-reader hat.
A collection of Seanan’s short stories, some of which I’d read in other sources, and some of which new to me. One of the things I love about her work is the range – and there’s a little bit of everything here, from fantasy to horror (mostly the medical side) to her deep love for folklore and ghosts.
I’ve been trying to broaden my reading of other people writing about the 1920s, and I love the Perveen Mistry books (currently two are out, this is the second). These are mysteries, with occasionally romantic elements.
The main character is a lawyer who read law in England, and returned to India. At the start of the series, Perveen is Bombay’s only female lawyer, and extremely well positioned to assist with cases that involve women, especially those who (for various religious and social reasons) do not interact with unknown men.
A fascinating immersion in the time period and places, and a host of interesting characters.
(Content note: the first book includes domestic violence and abuse in the context of Perveen’s marriage.)
A book I love for the depth of magical theory worldbuilding inherent in the system. (As it were.)
Alex Stern is the survivor of a multiple homicide. Recruited to come to Yale due to her particular gifts, she is thrown into a life she has to figure out – and fast. Apprenticed to learn the skills needed to keep Yale’s other secret societies magically in line, the book is told in a series of current and flashback stories, as she tries to get her footing.
Content note: This is a very dark book, and lots of awful things happen – murder, abuse, manipulation, degradation, humiliation, and rather a lot of revenge. However, it’s also a book about what we do with power, what we do when other people have power and we don’t (or don’t have power they’re paying attention to, anyway…) If you’d like a more specific breakdown, a number of the Goodreads reviews have details on the content warnings.
Best wishes for 2020
I hope you have lots of time for great reading in 2020, whatever it is you choose to read (and I’ll have more books coming out then too!)
I’m so excited for the release of this book. In The Cards is out now. As I write this, the Amazon editions are up, and others are rolling out. Join Laura, Galen, and his best friend, Martin, as they deal with Galen’s match-making mother, a brash American, a murder, and far too many family secrets.
Writing a locked room murder mystery turns out to be a lot harder than I’d guessed, and the editing process involved adding three full chapters and a couple of half chapters, as well as moving a bunch of pieces around.
But I love Laura, and Galen, and Martin, and the varying ways they interact. Coming up with (at least part) of a Tarot deck suitable for the story was also a great deal of fun, and something I’ll be continuing to explore in other books as it’s relevant.
I’m planning a few posts here (and on Facebook) with some further thoughts about both the locked room mystery parts and the Tarot parts of this story over the next few weeks.
(And if anyone reading this is an artist and interested in trying their hand at illustrating some Tarot cards, drop me a note through the contact form….)
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry (who is deafblind) just won a Hugo Award (one of the major awards in Science Fiction and Fantasy) for her work on the issue Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction.
She started a Twitter thread of recs and comments about works by and about people with disabilities – there’s some great stuff there from a wide range of genres and perspectives. (And a lot more I want to go read that I haven’t yet.)
I don’t usually identify myself bluntly as disabled but I have half a dozen chronic health issues. They add up to somewhere between mildly and moderately disabling depending on what’s flaring at the moment, but my life is mostly set up that a lot of it isn’t that noticeable. Embodiment is weird.
But I missed the Twitter thread originally because it was a migraine day. (Thanks, weather…)
If you’ve read my books, you’ve probably noticed that they have a bunch of main characters with disabilities and chronic health issues that affect their lives. For the books that are out now, that includes:
- Rufus and Carillon who both deal with with what we’d now call PTSD (trauma from the Great War) that come out in different ways. (They had different experiences and are different people, so that makes sense.)
- Laura, who has survived tuberculosis (but spent the better part of a decade in and out of sanitariums and other treatment).
- Giles, who was blinded in a (magical) gas attack in the war.
- Magician’s Hoard doesn’t have a character with an explicit disability, but a main character has a highly stigmatised magical ability.
And in books you haven’t gotten to read yet, we have Laura’s point of view (and romance), a secondary character with a major facial injury, a secondary character who is deaf and who signs, and an autistic hero. (Coming in the not too distant future!)
How those stories come out on the page is (of necessity) mediated by the fact I’m writing about the 1920s. Our language and understanding of some of these things was different (and those communities and the tools people used were also different). But I truly want to write books that reflect the lives that I and my friends live – which are full of all kinds of people.
Wards of the Roses is out today! (Head on over there if you’d like to buy a copy – this post is about some of the inspiration behind the book.)
I’ll be honest, this is my favourite title so far! It’s also the first book where I got to talk a lot more about how the magical community of Albion came to be.
I’d been wanting to do a book about Kate since she showed up at the end of Outcrossing, as her confident secure self. Wards of the Roses is the story of how she got there, and how her relationship with Giles gave her a chance to grow into that confidence and competence. I wanted to write a bit more about how the Guard works, and how the politics of the Guard work, and show off a couple of their historical traditions, like the Lost Tongue.
The 1920s is a fascinating time in disability history, in large part because of the Great War. Blindness is no exception to the general rule here – many of the modern tools we associate with people who are blind (like a long white cane or the use of a guide dog) come out of rehabilitation work done after the war. Those things don’t quite exist yet in 1920, and I loved having a chance to write about the important work of St Dunstan’s, and the tools that were available. (And of course, writing a character where blindness is part of his life, but it’s mostly the least interesting part.)
For people who love worldbuilding, there’s more information about the series and the world in the About menu on the website. (And if you subscribe to my newsletter, you not only get told first when I have a new book out, but you get a longer guide to Albion and some other treats. I’ll be sending out a couple of interviews Giles did with other possible assistants later in August, for example.)
Next up: getting In The Cards ready to publish, the story of Laura Penhallow.
This post talks about the ideas behind Outcrossing. (There are no major spoilers here, but I do talk about some general setting and plot inspirations.)
Talking about the idea for Outcrossing is a little odd, because it wasn’t the first book in the series I knew I wanted to write. (That was Goblin Fruit). Instead, I wanted to think of a book that would set the stage for Goblin Fruit (which has a fair amount of explicit magical worldbuilding) and serve as an entry to the world as a whole. What does that mean?
I wanted main characters who were not highly skilled at magic. I didn’t want to risk losing the reader in lots of complex magical theory early on, and one of the easiest ways to avoid that is to not have either of the main characters have much knowledge about it.
In this book, we have two different takes on that lack of skill. We have Rufus, magically quite powerful, but who has had only enough training to stop him being a danger to himself and others. Ferry, on the other hand, went to one of the best magical schools, and yet wasn’t allowed to take the courses that she might have been really good at. She did well in school academically, but it didn’t lead to a life she wanted to live.
I wanted a strong sense of place. Some of the books in this series take place more strongly in the magical community, but I wanted the first one to be in a village that would feel at least somewhat at home to anyone familiar with village life in Britain in the 1920s.
I wanted places I could suggest more complex magic and worldbuilding. There are mentions in this book of things I wanted to develop later on. The mention of a wand as a complex magical item that’s roughly equivalent to somewhere between a high-end computer and a car. The idea of the Silence (and that some places are Silence-warded) without doing extensive explanations that the characters would not go into. The mentions of ritual magic at the end of the book. The fact there’s a Guard who does some kind of law enforcement. I didn’t want to develop any of these things too far, but I wanted to lay the seeds for what kinds of stories might come up further into the series.
From there, the plot was driven by those choices. Smuggling is an age-old activity along the southern coast of England, and there are quite a few stories of harrowing events in the New Forest and the nearby harbours. And of course, if you have magical creatures whose feathers or flowers have special properties, some people will try and steal them.
Welcome to a series of posts about each book (find the others in the ‘ideas to books’ category.) Authors start writing from very different points.
I start my books with characters, usually. I want to get to know my characters, and figure out their stories, their connections. I want them to be in complex interconnected worlds, and I want to get a sense of what that means for them.
The Mysterious Charms books are what is sometimes called a loosely connected series. You can read them in any order, but they have related characters. (And, I should note that the publication order is not the chronological order of the series.) As I write, I think about which secondary characters I’d like to explore in future books. Because the books are tightly focused in terms of point of view and character goals on the main characters, we see only slices of the much larger world they live in. Each new book is a chance for me to explore a different slice of that world.
As I write this blog post, I’m recently finished book 6 in the series, On The Bias. It’s the story of Thomas Benton (Lord Geoffrey Carillon’s valet, seen briefly in earlier books), and Mistress Castalia Jones, a dressmaker. I’ve been describing this one to people as “Valet and dressmaker foil plots.” I’m in the process of learning more about both of them, and to focus on people who aren’t well-off, or from well-off families.
But how does that play out?
I start with a character or two (now that I’m well into the series, I have a list of about eight future possible books, usually starting from a secondary character in a previous book I want to know more about). I’ve got a particular interest in writing characters who are dealing with things that affect how they interact with the world, whether that’s the after-effects of the Great War, surviving tuberculosis, a stigmatised but also useful magical ability, or something else.
(Why? I’ve got my own host of chronic health complexities and I’ve also got friends with a wide range of chronic stuff. I want to write books where we aren’t sappy inspirations, but get to live our lives, do interesting things, and find love. Also, there were a lot of people dealing with these things in the 1920s, and I don’t want to leave it out of the story. That’s lazy worldbuilding and bad history.)
Then I figure out what they’re interested in, what kinds of puzzles they might want to solve or things they’re trying to do with their lives. Sometimes they want to keep advancing professionally (and do something more interesting than traffic duty), like Kate in Wards for the Roses. Sometimes they’re trying to figure out how to get a bit of freedom from their family (Ferry, in Outcrossing). Maybe they’re going along living their lives when an interesting puzzle drops in their lap. (Ibis, in Magician’s Hoard).
And from there it’s a matter of outlining the basics of what’s happening, sitting down to write regularly, and seeing how the story unfolds.
Curious about how I keep myself organised doing all the things I do? I did an interview with Kevin Sonney, at the great podcast Productivity Alchemy, and the episode came out today (May 16th, 2019).
On it, I answer the seven questions he asks all his guests (see below), and talk about various of my projects outside the Celia Lake books.
His wife, Ursula Vernon, usually is also on for a portion of each episode (though not this time, she was down wrangling livestock with a friend of theirs…) and the interview guests come from a wide range of backgrounds, including a bunch of creative types.
Feel free to get in touch if you’ve got a question about any of it, or the tools I use. I’m always glad to geek out about that kind of thing.
The seven questions Kevin uses are:
- Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do.
- How do you keep yourself organized?
- What systems and/or habits are valuable to you?
- How do you decide what to do first?
- What is the best advice or feedback you’ve been given?
- Do you celebrate your success, and if so, how?
- How to you deal with failure or when you miss a goal?
Don’t tell my other books, but this one might be my favourite so far.
It features Pross Gates (widowed bookseller who’s taken on some research projects, previously seen in Outcrossing) and Ibis Ward, Anglo-Egyptian researcher who’s using his skills to translate items in the Petrie Collection.
- The world’s most adorable hedgehog.
- A thoughtful discussion of the complexities of Kipling and empire-building
- A look at Schola (the most elite of the magical schools in the series)
- Kemetic religious practices, including my ‘I can’t believe I just inserted a bit of a hymn to Hetheru (Hathor) in a romance novel, I love my life’ achievement.
Many many thanks to Kiya, my editor, for not only for the usual amazing job taming my commas, wrangling my missing sentences, and telling me I need more ponies, but particularly for consulting on the Egyptology on this one. (Expertise on tap should be used and valued!)
If this sounds like your kind of thing (or that of someone else you know), a proper blurb and buy links are available here. Currently available at Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, and others are working their way through the system.
Also keep an eye out here and on my Twitter feed for some more posts in the coming days. I can’t resist sharing some awesome Egyptological images I’ve been stockpiling including adorable turquoise hedgehogs.
Welcome to 1924, when a mysterious, addictive, and quite possibly dangerous new magical drink is sweeping the house parties of Albion. You can read the blurb over here (along with links to purchase from your favourite sites).
I’ve loved Dorothy L. Sayers and her mystery novels for a long time. I was introduced to them by my father, and read the copies I inherited from him so often I’ve had to replace them (a couple of them twice…) Goblin Fruit grows out of that love in many ways.
Lord Geoffrey Carillon is not Wimsey – they differ in a number of specifics. But they both had a bad war, that shook their sense of self. Carillon spent several years on expeditions to wild and lonely places, before inheriting the estate from his older brother. There’s pressure on him to support and protect the people on his lands, marry, and do a dozen other things.
Lizzie Penhallow has had a bad few years. She worries about whether her sister will have a relapse of tuberculosis, about how to keep the chimeny on their family home from falling down. And about whether anyone will ever hire her for anything she’s good at, after her father and uncle disappeared on an expedition (along with all the money invested in them.) Like Harriet Vane in the Sayers novels, she’s dogged by scandal, but also very practical about using her skills and her intelligence to try and find a way out.
I’m mostly not a poetry person, but I’ve also been a big fan of Christina Rosetti’s poem Goblin Market for a long time, and been fascinated about the way the sisters interact. Lizzie and Laura here sometimes have a hard time. They don’t always trust each other, they get things wrong. I love having a chance to explore that (and don’t worry, Laura gets her own book down the road – In The Cards, book 5 in the series, tells a lot more of her story and what happens next for her.)
There’s so much more to tell, so there’ll be a few more blog posts coming your way, as well as some short stories for the mailing list.
Outcrossing is the first book in the Mysterious Charm series, and I am so delighted to be able to share it with you. You can buy it as an ebook from a wide range of online stores (more in progress, but that link will have all the available ones in one tidy place), and print on demand via Amazon will be available shortly. If your favourite isn’t up there, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do.
The official blurb is over here, but I want to take a moment to tell you why I love this book.
I wrote this series because of my idea for the second book (coming in February, Goblin Fruit). I wanted to explore the kind of parallel magical community we see in the Potterverse. (Like a lot of people, I have a very complex fannish history with Harry Potter). This is my own take on how that might work, the demographics, the education, the communities.
Outcrossing is a look at that world on a very small scale, the lives of people in and around a small magical village in the New Forest. There are ponies and runes and smugglers. There’s a folly – one of the ridiculous buildings on some grand estates used for summer parties and dalliances and an escape from the formal main house. It has magical creatures (fan art would be a lovely thing, if you’re inclined, and I’ll be glad to share it here and elsewhere), and seasonal traditions, and a bookstore you’ll see more of in later books. (Especially book 3, Magician’s Hoard, which features Prosperina Gates as a main character.)
And it’s got an introduction to my glorious ridiculous homage to Lord Peter Wimsey, Lord Carillon. You’ll see a lot more of him in Goblin Fruit.
This series is loosely connected, you see – you can read the books in any order, and each one has a happy ending with no cliffhangers. I really love a richly interconnected world, so there are characters who appear in multiple books, connections between places and magics and ideas. I hope you’ll enjoy exploring the worldbuilding with me. As more books come out, I’ll also have additional resources here on the website to help you find more about particular characters or places.
Please do let me know what you think and what parts of the world you’re curious about. I welcome notes through the contact form, or through any of the social media links.