Summer Reads: What’s on YOUR list?

We’re having Juneuary, that stretch of time between the end of May and the Fourth of July when the temperature sits in the 50s and 60s (that’s 10-15 degrees C) and it rains and everybody whines about how summer’s never coming. It’s a Seattle thing. We always act like rain in June is a huge surprise.

Every year.

At least I haven’t turned the heater back on. (Yet.)

To remind myself that it is summer – on the calendar, at least – I thought it would be fun to make a list of the books I’m most looking forward to reading once beach weather starts for real. Lately my kindle has been heavy with non-fiction – cool stuff, but not light and fluffy beach reading material.

For example, I’m in the middle of “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World” by Melinda Gates. She uses personal glimpses into the lives of women world-wide to illustrate the appalling way women are treated, and while I have no doubts about her commitment to her foundation’s causes, I wish she’d taken a more academic, less-Hallmark tone. She’s walking the walk when she really doesn’t have to, and I respect that. That said, when I finish, I’m definitely going to be ready for something lighter.

With that in mind, here’s a handful of books I can’t wait to dive into!

Caveate: I’ll have to start a couple of these in the next week or so – before Seattle’s summer meanders in – because the Seattle Public Library has a way of dumping *all* my hold requests on me at once.

Who needs to clean house? Not me…sigh…

First up is “The Affair of the Mysterious Letter” by Alexis Hall. It’s a Sherlock-adjacent fantasy novel, and I cannot wait! Here’s the blurb:

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham is drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark.

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas’ stock-in-trade.

This book has had such amazing reviews! I’ve never read anything by Casey McQuiston before, but a number of my reading buddies have been singing the praises of “Red, White & Royal Blue”, and I can’t wait to dive in. Here’s the blurb:

What happens when America’s First Son falls in love with the Prince of Wales?

When his mother became President, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius―his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with the actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex-Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family, state, and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: staging a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instragramable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations and begs the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through? Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue proves: true love isn’t always diplomatic.

And finally, I’m dying to read Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian. It’s a cozy mystery set in post-war England and it has LIV’S CATNIP written all over it. Here’s the blurb:

A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.

The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.

As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.

“A Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics” by Olivia Waite is another book that’s had great buzz. It just came out this week, and I can’t wait to dive in! Here’s the blurb:

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

So yeah, this is shorter than my usual to-read posts, and it also seems to be very white. Hmm…I need to make diversity more of a goal. Is that something you think about? What’s on your reading list for the summer? If you have any suggestions – diverse or otherwise (as long as it’s not some heavy non-fic tomb) I’d love to hear them.


Rhythm in Writing

The other day, a friend asked me to beta-read her newest story. (Meaning the project was still a draft and she wanted me to make comments on what worked and what didn’t work.) I love her stuff and was happy to give her new one a read.

Here’s the comment I made on the very first line: You might want to cut <redacted> because it’s a cliche and it messes up the rhythm of the sentence.

Now, ranting about cliches certainly deserves it’s own post, but for today, I want to focus on the second half of that comment.

“….it messes up the rhythm of the sentence.”

Do you pay much attention to the way a sentence flows? I do. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing. I love fiddling with words, because sometimes a small change can take a mundane idea and make it pop.

Here’s an example from my story Change of Heart:

My family disproved the term poor as dirt. See, we was poor, but we had plenty of dirt. We just couldn’t get much to grow.

Now, there are a bunch of different ways I could have communicated the same ideas – the character’s family was poor and their farmland was worn out – but for me, the paragraph’s structure emphasizes the beats.

Is that vague enough for you? Let me see if I can break it down a little more. To my ear, the first sentence has four even beats: my FAMily disPROVED the term POOR as DIRT. The commas in the second sentence scramble that steady rhythm: SEE (pause) we was POOR (pause) but we had PLENTy of DIRT. And then the last sentence picks up the steadiness of the first sentence, but with three beats instead of four: we just COULDn’t GET much to GROW.

Now, when I wrote that paragraph, I didn’t set out with an agenda. I didn’t think “I want X beats here and Y beats there.” I just kept fiddling with the lines until they sounded interesting. I only analyzed the rhythm after the fact – like today, writing this post.

Here’s another example where the rhythm of the sentence really works for me. This is from Alexis Hall’s book, Glitterland.

And when he kisses me it feels a bit like fear and tastes a bit like tears, but it’s as bright and sweet as sherbet, and I decide to call it joy. 

The music in this sentence comes from the way he links the phrases together, mostly by repeating the word “and”. Alexis is a master of cadence. He’s one of the writers I turn to when I need some inspiration to break out of a slump.

Another example is from Sarah Perry’s fantastic The Essex Serpent

He felt his faith deeply, and above all out of doors, where the vaulted sky was his cathedral nave and the oaks its transept pillars: when faith failed, as it sometimes did, he saw the heavens declare the glory of God and heard the stones cry out.

“….and heard the stones cry out.” … sigh …

I’ve only recently discovered Sarah’s work – I read Melmoth last week and OMG spooky and wonderful – and she’s a lovely writer. Her words just flow.

Writing prose isn’t like writing lyrics to a pop song, where there’s a set number of beats to every line. But it is like writing lyrics to a pop song, because when the rhythm is right, your work will sing.

As long as I’ve got your attention, I’ve got a couple books on sale this week. AQUA FOLLIES (gay romance set in 1955 Seattle) is marked down to $0.99 (regular $4.99). Also, HAUNTED (Reluctant psychic meets skeptical historian. Shenanigans ensue) is on sale for $0.99 too!
Jump HERE for AQUA FOLLIES.
Jump HERE for HAUNTED.

Happy reading!!

Margie Lawson has a post over on the Writers on the Storm blog that talks about creating compelling cadence – same idea, different words. Margie’s an excellent teacher, so you should check out her post!

Should writers write reviews?

I’m going to start with a disclaimer, because about a week ago I did something funky to my shoulder, so in addition to having worked last night – and missed my prep time for this post – I took pain meds before writing it. Lord only knows how this is going to come out…

This is a post about book reviews, the golden currency of publishing, though I’m not touching the current dust-up over authors behaving badly toward reviewers. My post is on a much smaller scale.

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I recently joined Netgalley, which is a service used by publishers where they’ll give free copies of selected books in return for reviews. That simplifies things quite a bit, but my logic for joining went something like this: I have a blog. I often struggle for blog content. I read lots of books and love to tell people about them. Sometimes I post reviews on Goodreads & Amazon.

Therefore, if I publish reviews on my blog, I’ll have a new source of content and build an audience.

And free is good.

For example, my last post for the Spellbound Scribes was a book review. Jump HERE if you want to see what I thought of “Prosperity”, a fantastic new Steampunk novel by Alexis Hall that I obtained through Netgalley. In addition to my blog post, I published the review on Amazon and Goodreads. I would have shouted this one from the mountaintops, because it’s a great read, but what happens when I don’t absolutely love a book?

My friend Amanda writes book reviews for her blog (jump HERE for today’s post), for Netgalley, and for the Vampire Book Club. They’re sharp, insightful, and often cost me money because she makes the books sound so good. Every now and then I’ll be reading a book and send her a snarky comment about it, and she always calls me on the carpet when I give said snarky-commented-book a 4-star rating on Goodreads. She has no problem calling a dog a dog, while I tend to abide by the kindergarten rule of, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

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I happened to be sitting next to Amanda at a master class given by Kristen Lamb. She’s a great (hysterically funny!) teacher, with some very wise things to say about establishing your author brand through blogging. And you know what KLamb said?

Authors shouldn’t put book reviews on their blog.

Kristen’s rationale goes something like this:

  • If an author says something nice in a book review, no one will believe them because they’re, well, TeamAuthor.
  • Conversely, if the author says something harsh in a review, that’s bad form because members of TeamAuthor shouldn’t tear each other down. We get enough of that from TeamEveryoneElse.

Those are good points, and I have to say there’s a solid chance my “Prosperity” review will be the last one I post to a blog – though I’ll still put reviews on Amazon & Goodreads.

Taking things from a slightly different perspective, I recently saw a Goodreads review written by KJ Charles, a fabulous author who I tend to get a little crazyfangirl over. Ms. Charles gave a book 3 stars, and just because of that, I won’t likely read it.  My reaction suggests that whether you’re influencing one person or 100,000, you need to pay attention to how you wield your clout.

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When it comes right down to it, I’d much rather beta-read someone’s work than write them a book review after it’s published. Beta reading is fun, because things are still malleable and you can balance your criticisms by calling out the good stuff.  What do you think? Are you an author, and if so, do you write reviews? Where do you publish them? Do you ever give one-star reviews? I don’t, because I worry I’ll end up on a conference panel with the recipient of my negative energy. Leave me a comment, because I’d love to know what you think.

Peace,
Liv

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early Review: Prosperity

Prosperity_Alexis Hall

Amazon link          Goodreads link

Blurb

A breathtaking tale of passion and adventure in the untamed skies!

Prosperity, 1863: a lawless skytown where varlets, chancers, and ne’er-do-wells risk everything to chase a fortune in the clouds, and where a Gaslight guttersnipe named Piccadilly is about to cheat the wrong man. This mistake will endanger his life . . . and his heart.

Thrill! As our hero battles dreadful kraken above Prosperity. Gasp! As the miracles of clockwork engineering allow a dead man to wreak his vengeance upon the living. Marvel! At the aerial escapades of the aethership, Shadowless.

Beware! The licentious and unchristian example set by the opium-addled navigatress, Miss Grey. Disapprove Strongly! Of the utter moral iniquity of the dastardly crime prince, Milord. Swoon! At the dashing skycaptain, Byron Kae. Swoon Again! At the tormented clergyman, Ruben Crowe.

This volume (available in print, and for the first time on mechanical book-reading devices) contains the complete original text of Piccadilly’s memoirs as first serialised in All the Year Round. Some passages may prove unsettling to unmarried gentlemen of a sensitive disposition.

Review

First things first: right now, before you read any farther, go to Amazon and wish-list this book. Even better, pre-order it. Then go to Goodreads and add it to your “want to read” shelf.  Because seriously, it’s that good. Here are the links again:

Amazon link          Goodreads link

It doesn’t come out until October 27th, but I got a sneak peek at a copy from Netgalley, and it flat-out blew me away.

“Y’know, not everything has to be about everything. Sometimes it’s just about now.” (Piccadilly to Ruben, on the difference between love and sex.)

The story is told from the point of view of Piccadilly, an “urchin with a heart of gold”. He’s a petty thief from the Stews of Gaslight who’s traveled to the sky town of Prosperity with simple goals: acquire enough cash to eat and sleep, and if there’s someone to warm his bed, all the better, regardless of the bits under their clothing.

Piccadilly runs a successful caper, which gets him in the cross-hairs of Milord, an evil and amoral and absolutely honest crimelord. Instead of ending up dead at Milord’s hands, however, Piccadilly gets adopted by the crew of the Shadowless. Over the course of his adventures, he loses some things and gains others, though in the end, his biggest achievement may be finding a place he belongs.

Here’s what I loved about it…

The perfect language and cadence.  For this post, I was half tempted to just compile my favorites out of all of Mr. Hall’s fantastic sentences, and while I did include a few, I figured it would be more informative if I included my thoughts as well.

So here’s my most prominent thought: Piccadilly’s voice rocks. It’s a consistently creative mash-up of periods, like a British Steampunk version of Huckleberry Finn. There were a few bits of modern slang, but the whole thing was such a patchwork I found them entertaining rather than annoying. Beyond the voice, I found the descriptions were colorful and surprising, and the rhythm kept me humming along with pleasure. (And I’m not even exaggerating. This is the kind of book where I’d read a sentence, then re-read it just because it was fun.)

Piccadilly’s surprising wisdom. 

‘Tis often the way, I find, when the job is done. Cos I keep thinking sommat’s waiting on the other side. I dunno what, but I’m sure it’s there, just out of reach… But there’s nowt. There’s only silence. And the things you filch ain’t ever the things you want, and I reckon living itself is a filched business. (Piccadilly, on the consequences of living life as a thief.)

Because of his creative grammar and self-professed inability to make letters behave, Picadilly’s observations always came as a bit of a surprise. He’s a deep and wise and charming soul, and his thoughts on life will stay with me.

The absolute boldness of the story. Prosperity is a Steampunk fantasy with romantic elements, and those romantic elements are almost exclusively same-sex. I’m putting that out there because, while I’ve been reading a lot of queer romance, not everybody’s been hanging out in my head. The romance was part of the story, not the point of the exercise.

More interesting to me was the character of Byron Kae, captain of the Shadowless, and the best gender-ambiguous character I’ve read in a long time, possibly since Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness. I didn’t mind the use of the plural pronouns when referring to Byron Kae, possibly because my kids are growing up in a world where asking a new friend which pronouns they prefer is considered good manners. Byron Kae was beautiful and mysterious and I hope they star in one of Mr. Hall’s upcoming novels.

There. I’ve compared Prosperity to Huckleberry Finn & The Left Hand of Darkness. That’s bold. That’s ambitious. That’s a whole ‘nother playing field from most of what I’ve been reading lately.

Any concerns? The denseness of the language. While it’s gorgeous and amazing and entertaining as all hell, it took me a while to learn it. On my first read, I moved slowly through the opening chapters, intrigued, fascinated, but a little confused. The more I read, the easier it got, though in all honesty I felt a greater emotional impact on my second read-through, even though I already knew what would happen next.  I was more fluent in the language, and the critical scenes near the end tore me up.

I give this book five stars, simply because it reaches higher than anything I’ve read in a long time. I’m in awe of the author’s ability to create vibrant characters and to weave thoughtful commentary about real life throughout a wonderful fantasy. And you know the best part? There are four more books in this world scheduled for release in January! I hope you look for Prosperity on it’s release in a couple weeks. It’s a truly amazing ride.

Peace,
Liv

She was black, with fittings of silver, except ’twas a kinda black beyond the everyday, as though it’d swallowed down all the other colours in the world and they was swimming about inside it like rainbow fish. (Piccadilly, describing the airship Shadowless.)