#WhatToRead: BLACK RABBIT HALL + a picture of me with Paul Bunyan

Black Rabbit Hall was one of my October “modern Gothic” picks. I read most of it while traveling to, and staying in, a cottage on the sunrise side of Lake Huron. I’ve never been to Cornwall, but I have a feeling the two places are dissimilar. Still, it was neat reading an atmospheric story set by the sea featuring an old family mansion while curled up on my friend’s couch in her family’s cozy lake house. There were no ghosts in hers (it’s too new) but one whole room was decorated with black and white photographs of four generations of family, as well as more recent photographs of friends who have visited. (That’s us with Paul Bunyan.)

The story opens with a prologue from Amber’s point of view, which sets the tone immediately. It’s “the last day of the summer holidays” and Amber feels safer on a cliff ledge than she does in her house. She’s searching for someone. You get the impression she might be playing hide & seek. But if so, it’s a dangerous game. There’s a feeling that something’s not right. That something will go wrong. Or perhaps that something has already gone wrong and will only get worse. The prologue ends when Amber sees something floating in the water below.

And then three pages and three decades later, we’re following Lorna, a bride-to-be on a mission to find the quintessential wedding venue. Lorna loves old houses… Cornwall… and her fiance, Jon.

Black Rabbit Hall casts shadows and creates silhouettes. The story is as murky as the water Amber is staring into when the book begins. But author Eve Chase paces her reveals well and, since I don’t want to spoil the story, I’ll simply say it deserves the label “Gothic.” It’s not just a novel with a dark, foreboding tone. It’s not just a novel set in an old crumbling mansion. It’s got all the other elements too — family secrets, sinister deeds, psychological distress, love, madness, hatred, and (for one character at least), an acknowledgement that there will be no forgiveness.

Where did I get my copy of Black Rabbit Hall? Baltimore County Public Library 🙂


We left our cozy cottage twice… Once to take a hike in the Huron National Forest along the Au Sable River and the second to have margaritas at the Boathouse Beer Co. & Boozery (followed by a quick trip to the hardware store… where we bought firewood, pickled asparagus, and pink camo baby tights for one of my friend’s nieces. Ya know, just the essentials. 😉 )

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Petrosinella, the Caterpillar, and some other bookish thoughts (#amreading and watching #movies)

Below are my thoughts on two of my July picks, a couple of movies I saw over the summer, and a bonus book for any middle grade readers you know.

The Singing Bones

I loved this because it was different. The fairy tales in this book are 3D retellings, specifically sculptures — beautiful, wonderful, evocative, imaginative, interesting sculptures. There are seventy-five of them in all, each made from papier-mache, clay, and/or wax. The colors are as deceptively simple as the forms — black-as-pitch shoe polish, bright red acrylic, shiny golds, and muted earth tones. Each sculpture is paired with an excerpt from a fairy tale.

There’s a forward by Neil Gaiman, an essay by fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes, an afterward by the artist, and an annotated index, which includes a brief summary of each fairy tale. More than a few times, I found myself flipping to the back of the book to read more about the stories that inspired the sculptures. I tried, unsuccessfully, to figure out how the artist decided the order of the sculptures and accompanying excerpts. (If you’re familiar with the book, please let me know in the comments.) My favorite sculpture was Rapunzel (Rapunzel was the tower), but the collection as a whole is the real masterpiece.

Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone interested in art, especially sculpting, and/or fairy tales. At $24.99, the book’s retail price is steep. If you want to read it but are worried about the cost, see if your local library has it. Mine does!

Bitter Greens

No one can tell a story without transforming it in some way; it is part of the magic of storytelling.” —Kate Forsyth

This book was terrific and part of the reason I took so long to post my thoughts on it was that I wanted to write something better about it. But I ran out of time. Better to share my jumbled notes than nothing at all.

~

The author builds her story around the inquisition, the plague, religious freedom, women’s rights, torture, murder, rape… and yet, the entire book isn’t weighty. Whole sections are devoted to fashion and court life and the fairy tale retelling is written simply at times, especially the dialog. But it’s obviously intentional and it works. Late in the book, another minor character seems to be a stand in for the author herself when she describes how the character weaves her web of words: “It was a vivid tale, filled with reversals and unexpected twists and Henriette-Julie told it with all the drama and simplicity of a good storyteller.”

A great lesson in how to make a good villain. It’s not enough to give the villain as much if not more strength than the heroine. It’s not enough to give the villain a good, or even great, motive. The best villains are people who have the potential to be heroines.

“Three women searching for freedom and love”… is the author testing the theory that a woman can’t have both at the same time?

Wonderfully written. I couldn’t have done it, but if I had, I probably would have left the ending ambiguous. 

Would love to see this adapted by BBC or whoever adapted The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End.

Lots of new vocab words! 🙂

Poniard

Snood

Fontanges

Chopines…

Also found myself looking up Venice’s history and notable people:

Tiziano Vecellio

Charlotte-Rose de la Force

And, of course, Petrosinella

~

Fun fact: while I was reading Bitter Greens, my MIL texted me a picture of this “parsley-eating caterpillar” (who was crawling amidst the thyme) and asked what she should name it. Obviously, I said Petrosinella!! 😀

Movies!

Everybody Loves Somebody

The movie, like its characters, is bilingual (about half of it is in English and the other half is in Spanish). Clara is a successful, devoted obstetrician working in LA who asks her handsome co-worker to be her date for a family wedding back in Mexico. Then her ex (who she still carries a major torch for) shows up.

Lots of romantic comedy tropes could have made this movie a ridiculous cliché, but the acting, a couple of unforeseen plot points, and its non-Hollywood feel (it was written and directed by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta) meant I was laughing with it, not at it.

Who would I recommend this movie to? Anyone looking for a rom com that feels genuine.

Beatriz at Dinner

Should you watch this? Absolutely. Is it getting great reviews? Yes. My take? Hated the ending, but haven’t yet come up with an alternate ending I would have liked better. Have you seen this yet? What did you think?

*Bonus Middle Grade Graphic Novel Recommendation*

Cats in Space!!!

E read these. I tried to get her to review them, but was unsuccessful. I thought about insisting, but was afraid that would take away from her enjoyment of them.

So why am I mentioning them? Well, because (1) Cats; (2) In Space! (3) E really enjoyed them; and (4) Cat astronauts!!! Come on, how could anyone — regardless of how old they are — not want to read these?!

Who would I recommend these books to? Middle grade readers, reluctant tween/teen readers, cat lovers, anyone who wants a gritty, realistic look at what life in space is really like… (okay, maybe not that last group 😀 ).

My thoughts are with those of you in Irma’s path. Stay safe!

 

The #Fae versus #Demons – a few quick thoughts

June’s choices were all awesome and I’d like to continue reading more books featuring the fae. Demon-like in their malleability, they can be anything their creator needs them to be. Karen Marie Moning really used that trait to her advantage in Darkfever. The fae in that book were all varied and imaginative. Unlike demons, however, the fae come with a ready-made uniform mythology for any author to use as backstory if they choose. (There are the dark fae of the Unseelie Court and the light fae of the Seelie Court for starters, this backstory courtesy of the fae’s European origins. Some might consider the fae a subset of demons — Europe’s collective pre-Christianity take on the concept. The light fae seem to share some characteristics with fallen angels whereas the dark fae seem to resemble true demons. Perhaps the Seelie/Unseelie courts are a result of pagan Europe’s inability to imagine a world governed by any structure other than royal houses…?) I’ve often thought about writing a future series featuring fae characters (versus demons or some other type of monster), but it’s always seemed to me, that outside of certain circles, no one’s ever heard the term “fae.” They get a blank look when I mention the word.

So those are my semi-deep, very un-academic thoughts on fae versus demons. If you disagree, have thoughts to add, or want to share a link to an interesting source that discusses this too, please take the time to comment! I’d love to hear from you.

Okay, on to my more specific thoughts on the books.

Darkfever

MacKayla Lane is a young Southern bartender, who initially reminded me of Sookie Stackhouse, which made me curious about who came first. (Sookie. But that’s where the similarities end — at least as much as I can remember. It’s been a long time since I read Charlaine Harris’ first Southern vampire mystery.)

Moning opens her Fever series by introducing readers to Mac, a blonde, pink-loving, cell phone-toting, matching accessory-wearing twenty-something from Georgia whose naiveté comes off as charming, funny, or endearing rather than annoying. (Other readers may feel differently, but I doubt anyone who reads this blog will. We here are appreciative of characters with large growth potential and we don’t have a problem remembering we were all young once. Nobody is born wise.) Mac’s older sister is horrifically murdered and when the local authorities quickly close the case as unsolvable, Mac decides to travel to Ireland to see what clues she can find herself.

I liked that Moning’s fae were true monsters. Even the pretty ones were evil. I was surprised by how much was left open/unsolved/unresolved in the end, but I never felt like Darkfever dragged or didn’t move fast enough. Instead, it seemed to nicely set up future books. I imagine future stories will focus on Mac and Barrons tracking down and killing the Unseelie baddies while simultaneously searching for a way to seal the otherworld door they’re using. (If Jaws had been Darkfever, it would have ended at the part where Brody says, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”)

A Court of Thorns and Roses/A Court of Mist and Fury

Although published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens, my library shelves these under adult SFF, which is where I’d put them too. No doubt, some books can be hard to categorize. Librarians do their best, weighing many things before making their decision. The romantic scenes are well written, but detailed enough to possibly take some younger teen readers by surprise. (Teens who read new adult fiction will be fine.)

Loosely based on Beauty & the Beast with a whiff of Tam Lin and a smattering of Persephone/Hades. There’s also a lot of original worldbuilding, which keeps it interesting. The book opens with the starving Feyre killing a wolf for its prey — a deer. Turns out, the wolf isn’t really a wolf. It’s a faerie and Feyre gets dragged off to a fae court where she is held captive as punishment for killing it. Her captor? Tamlin… whose face is obscured by a jeweled mask.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Arguably the best written of the three (it’s been nominated for, and won, many prestigious awards, including the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel), but not for everyone. It’s long and dense, packed with footnotes and written in a voice that evokes bygone British authors. Set in an alternate 19th century England where magic exists but has long been dormant, the book is written in three parts. The first two are named after the titular characters and the third after the missing Raven King, the man who brought magic to England nearly a millennia ago, whose disappearance caused the gradual withdrawal of magic from England. It’s been adapted into a BBC TV series. Has anyone seen it? If so, tell me what you think in the comments!

Feed your brain, fill your stomach – #eat #read #behappy (April Reading Challenge)

I noticed a couple of my new followers last week had foodie bios. (Did I mention how much I love new followers? I do! Welcome! I also love my long-time followers too, of course. 🙂 ) I’m thinking the timing is probably pure coincidence, but it makes me feel better to ‘fess up now – I’m no foodie. I’m kind of terrible at All Things Domestic. I do the bare minimum… vacuum, dust, do a load of laundry once in a while. And I can cook meatloaf, boil spaghetti, make tacos, and reheat a rotisserie chicken… but that’s about it. I do, however, love to go out with foodies to foodie places. They know where to go and what to order. And I love watching foodie films. Bizarre, right?

Why I am confessing all this? Because my Reading Challenge theme this month is food, which, btw, is as unoriginal as the meals I cook. BCPL’s reading challenge theme this month is also food, and some of my reading choices were pilfered directly from their list.

But many of you know me. I gotta tinker with things. I can’t just do what I’m told. So I’m also adding a few fun cookbooks to my Reading Challenge list.

THIS MONTH’S READING CHALLENGE IS A DOUBLE DARE:

#1 – Read one of the books

#2 – Make something from one of the cookbooks

Hey, if I can make something out of these cookbooks, you can too! 🙂

April Reading Challenge Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads or Amazon)

Sweetbitter

A lush, raw, thrilling novel of the senses about a year in the life of a uniquely beguiling young woman, set in the wild, alluring world of a famous downtown New York restaurant.

“Let’s say I was born when I came over the George Washington Bridge…”

This is how we meet unforgettable Tess, the twenty-two-year-old at the heart of this stunning first novel. Shot from a mundane, provincial past, she’s come to New York to look for a life she can’t define, except as a burning drive to become someone, to belong somewhere. After she stumbles into a coveted job at a renowned Union Square restaurant, we spend the year with her as she learns the chaotic, punishing, privileged life of a “backwaiter,” on duty and off. Her appetites—for food, wine, knowledge, and every kind of experience—are awakened. And she’s pulled into the magnetic thrall of two other servers—a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman she latches onto with an orphan’s ardor.

These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess’s hardest lesson of all. Sweetbitter is a story of discovery, enchantment, and the power of what remains after disillusionment.

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends.

The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details:

Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared.
And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails.
And even her latest comic-book creation is misbehaving.

Also, the world might be ending – which is proving to be awkward.

As Doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems.

Outlander Kitchen

A cookbook of recipes inspired by the Outlander characters—a culinary retelling of Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling series.

Readers and cooks time-travel from Outlander through A Breath of Snow and Ashes, and along the way encounter authentic recipes, modern interpretations, and creative dishes that are both doable and delicious!

Claire’s first lonely bowl of “Mrs. Fitz’s Porridge” in Castle Leoch

“Roast Beast for a Wedding Feast” after her hasty marriage to Highlander James Fraser

A comforting batch of “Mrs. Bug’s Buttermilk Drop Biscuits” at their home on Fraser’s Ridge in North Carolina

Eat Like a Gilmore

The infamous appetites of the Gilmore Girls are given their due in this fun, unofficial cookbook inspired by the show. Fans will eat up the delicious recipes honoring the chefs who fuel the science-defying metabolisms of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. Whether you’re a diehard fan or new to the scene, author Kristi Carlson invites you to pull up a chair and dig in. Luke’s diner menu, Sookie’s eclectic inn fare, Emily’s fancy Friday Night Dinners, and town favorites are the key influences behind these tempting dishes. One hundred recipes, covering all the bases from appetizers and cocktails to entrées and desserts, invoke key episodes and daily scenes in the Gilmores’ lives.

With beautiful photos, helpful kitchen tips, and fun tidbits about the show, this cookbook is a must-have for any Gilmore Girls fan. Easy-to-follow recipes make it possible to cook and eat your way through Stars Hollow. So don your apron, preheat the oven, and put on your favorite episode. It’s time to eat like a Gilmore!

Cook Korean!

Fun to look at and easy to use, this unique combination of cookbook and graphic novel is the ideal introduction to cooking Korean cuisine at home. Robin Ha’s colorful and humorous one- to three-page comics fully illustrate the steps and ingredients needed to bring more than sixty traditional (and some not-so-traditional) dishes to life.

In these playful but exact recipes, you’ll learn how to create everything from easy kimchi (mak kimchi) and soy garlic beef over rice (bulgogi dupbap) to seaweed rice rolls (gimbap) and beyond. Friendly and inviting, Cook Korean! is perfect for beginners and seasoned cooks alike who want to try their hand at this wildly popular cuisine.

Happy reading… and eating! 🙂

When all else fails, join the circus… or just read about it! (#amreading #magical #books)

Below are my thoughts on my March Reading Challenge choices…

Girl on a Wire: The cover is fantastic! Eye-catching and immediately conveys what the story is about. Absolutely loved it. Really enjoyed the story too, although I read it a long time ago and, unfortunately, didn’t take notes. (When I read, I often take notes on my phone’s note app. How about you? Do you take notes on the books you read?) This was a circus redux of Romeo and Juliette (the main character is Jules; her love interest is Remy). Fun fact I remember: the MC is a tight rope walker who idolizes Bird Millman, a real life high-wire performer who toured with Barnum & Bailey/Ringling Brothers back in the day.

Caraval: This was exactly what it was pitched as (The Night Circus meets The Hunger Games) with one caveat – to me, the feel of it (tone, style, etc.) was more similar to Kiera Cass’ The Selection. Initially, I put this book on hold at my library, but it took a while to come in so I bought the digital version for my Kindle. Then, when I was only a couple of chapters in, the print version arrived at the library for me, which gave me a chance to compare the two. (I’ve been doing more of that lately – reading two different versions of a book at the same time. Do any of you do this? I talk to a lot of readers who go back and forth between print and audio versions, depending on whether they’re in the car or not.) My thoughts? Formatting matters. This is a book with lots of letters and a map. Best to experience it in print! 🙂

Writers are illusionists who work in words.”

—Greer Macallister

The Magician’s Lie: The print version I bought a long time ago, but I also read parts of the digital version, which I checked out of the library via OverDrive. This book toggles between two timelines – the present, where a magician is being questioned by a policeman about the death of her husband, and the past, which tells the story of her life. In the book extras, Macallister was asked how she melds historical facts with a fictional story. I loved her answer. She said her intent was to “integrate history in a way that enriches and expands the story” but she didn’t want to feel “hidebound by exactly what happened to whom and when.” Hear, hear! It was interesting seeing how she worked in real people, tricks, and events like Adelaide Herrmann, the Bullet Catch, and the Iroquois Theater fire. Also worth noting: along with the central question (did the MC kill her husband?) there were other small mysteries that propelled the narrative forward. My favorite was whether or not Arden was capable of real magic. Was that question answered? You’ll have to read to find out. 😉

How about you? Did you read anything good in March? I hope so!

In a dark, dark wood… there was a dark, dark house… (My thoughts on Ruth Ware’s debut – #bookclub)

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware was my book club’s February pick. (Originally, the club’s pick was Alexander Hamilton, but after realizing that book was 700+ pages and we had only 3 ½ weeks to read it, the woman who selected it was merciful and changed her selection.)

in-a-dark-dark-wood

The Kirkus review quote made In a Dark, Dark Wood sound more ghoulish than it was. It had tension, and in the beginning, the glass house back in the dark woods where most of the action took place felt suitably foreboding. But the story isn’t as eerie as the black & white title and jacket copy/design suggest. It’s one of those unreliable narrator thrillers.

It opens awesomely. The main character (Noralee, who is also known as Lee, Leo, and Nora) wakes up in the hospital after some sort of accident. She has amnesia (yeah, amnesia. Again. Didn’t these authors get the memo? But it works. Again. LESSON: anything is fair game if it works.) Anywho, Noralee has a deep sense that something is wrong and that she might be responsible.

Other thoughts, in no particular order:

Makes good use of the sage stage advice “Chekhov’s gun” (if you show the audience a gun in Act I, it had better go off in Act II).The author really did show us a gun in the first act… on a stage. That was one of the neatest things for me about the beginning of this novel – the set up. I really liked how Ware made us think that glass house in the woods was a stage. The question wasn’t what would happen, but who was watching.

Nora’s reluctance to share was understandable from a storytelling perspective but it became more irritating than intriguing as time went on.

“People don’t change. They just get more punctilious about hiding their true selves.” Immediately, I thought this sounded like a statement about the novel’s theme or a theory the author was testing. I think I was mostly right.

I liked that the author tipped her hand in subtle ways before big reveals (the Cat on a Hot Tin Roof reference, the Ouija board message).

As a writer, I loved the ending and thought it was brilliant that Ware didn’t say whether Nora clicked DELETE or REPLY. (For the record, I think Nora chose to reply).

I also loved the double meaning of “skeleton” in the traditional Halloween tale epigraph at the beginning of the novel. (You all know I adore stuff like that and try to use similar tricks in my own writing.)

But as a reader, I found the story pretty depressing. Still, I’d recommend it.

Who would I recommend this book to?

Anyone who hasn’t yet read an unreliable narrator story.

Anyone who has and loves them.

Anyone who wants an interesting book to discuss for their book club. (Our host set her own stage by providing tequila shots and a Ouija board.)

Have you read In a Dark, Dark Wood? What did you think?

My Thoughts on the New York Times Cutting Various Bestseller Lists

Quick recap for those of you who may not have been following this news: Last week, the New York Times cut a bunch of its bestseller lists. What does that mean? It means, for the affected formats, the Times will no longer publish a bestseller list. Which formats were affected? My understanding is that mass market, e-books, and graphic novels/manga were among them.

Let’s begin with me acknowledging that I’m not a NYT bestseller, nor was I ever in danger of becoming one. But I’m an author whose books were published in mass market and e-book formats – and I’m a 7 days-a-week print subscriber of the Times. I have been for years – long before it became “cool” to be so. Which is why their recent decision gives me such heartburn.

But I’m not going to unsubscribe. Why? Well, first, because I’m not a child. I do, sometimes, vote with my feet, but the circumstances have to be much more egregious than this. Second, my subscription is actually a gift subscription for my parents. They adore that paper and I’m happy to be able to give them a gift subscription every year. And third, I support the paper because of its journalistic integrity – even when decisions like this one seem baffling.

Why is it baffling? Because I can’t quite figure out why they did it. Various theories have been advanced. The RWA wrote an open letter suggesting sexism was behind the changes, but I’m not convinced. I think it more likely that the Times was motivated by something else and didn’t particularly care about the indirect consequences of eliminating those lists. (Seems hypocritical to cut its e-book bestseller list and then tout its own increased digital subscriber figures. If the Times doesn’t include the preferred formats of a genre that sells more than $1.3 billion a year, those lists are neither inclusive nor accurate.)

A desire to avoid brand dilution may have played a part. Myriad lists and the practice of authors “getting their letters” through boxed sets led to a lot of NYT bestsellers. (I don’t begrudge those authors; part of me wishes I’d joined them!) But, from my perspective, instead of preventing dilution, the Times just damaged its brand.

February’s Reading Challenge – #JaneAusten Inspired #Fantasy

For 2017, I’m doing a Reading Challenge. At the start of every month, I’ll post the month’s reading theme and a list of possible books to read, then at the end of the month, I’ll share my thoughts on at least one of them. YOU are invited to read along by picking whatever book on the list appeals to you and sharing your thoughts –OR– by picking some other book that fits the theme and sharing your thoughts about that. Easy, right? And, hopefully fun too.

Jill Archer, 2017 Reading Challenge, books, fantasy, Jane Austen

February’s theme is:

JANE AUSTEN INSPIRED FANTASY

and the choices are…

(descriptions are from Goodreads)

shades-of-milk-and-honey-by-mary-robinette-kowal

Shades of Milk and Honey

by Mary Robinette Kowal

The fantasy novel you’ve always wished Jane Austen had written

Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

heartstone

Heartstone

by Elle Katharine White

A debut historical fantasy that recasts Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom: gryphons, direwolves, lamias, banshees, and lindworms

They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.

Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.

Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.

It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.

Elle Katharine White infuses elements of Austen’s beloved novel with her own brand of magic, crafting a modern epic fantasy that conjures a familiar yet wondrously unique new world.

sense-and-sensibility-and-sea-monsters

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

From the publisher of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies comes a new tale of romance, heartbreak, and tentacled mayhem. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands the original text of the beloved Jane Austen novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities.

As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon.

Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels? This masterful portrait of Regency England blends Jane Austen’s biting social commentary with ultraviolent depictions of sea monsters biting. It’s survival of the fittest — and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!


So there they are — February’s reading choices. Get to it, people! 🙂

2017 Reading Challenge: January – Books about Books or Bookstores (#amreading #books)

New followers, I’m doing a 2017 Reading Challenge. At the beginning of every month, I’ll post a few books that fit the month’s theme and, at the end, I’ll give my thoughts on at least one of them. Interested in participating? It’s easy! Click here for my 2017 themes + January’s choices. See below for my thoughts on two of this month’s books. At any point during the year, read along with me, share your thoughts on the books I list — or any other. The only thing that matters is that you KEEP READING! 😀


Jill Archer, 2017 Reading ChallengeThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Book lover Sara travels from Sweden to a small town in Iowa to meet her pen pal, Amy, but when she arrives, she finds out that Amy has passed on. Having planned to stay a while, Sara isn’t sure what to do, so she temporarily moves into Amy’s house (the improbable plot point somehow works) and then opens a bookstore with Amy’s massive collection of books. She spends the next month pairing people and books, while the town tries to pair her with its most eligible bachelor. It’s a cute, whimsical story that sacrifices credibility for sentimentality.

The town of Broken Wheel kind of reminded me of Gilmore Girls‘  Stars Hollow or Pigeon Creek (the town that Melanie Carmichael/Smooter is from in Sweet Home Alabama), which is why I started thinking about what this book might look like if Reese Witherspoon bought the film rights. For fun, here’s my casting:

Caroline: Reese Witherspoon

Jen: Jennifer Garner

Tom: Jake Gyllenhaal

Sara: some unknown Swedish actress because both Noomi Rapace and Alicia Vikander seem too intense for the role. Sara’s not a bookish character that becomes a badass. She stays sweet.

Have you read The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend? What did you think?

Are you from Iowa? What did you think of Bivald’s depiction of Broken Wheel?

Jill Archer, 2017 Reading ChallengeThe Bookshop on the Corner

English urbanite librarian Nina loses her job due to staff cuts. Unsure of what her next move should be, she makes a spontaneous decision to buy an old truck and move to Scotland. She makes arrangements with a train conductor (another improbable plot point; they seem more glaring outside of fantasy) to have her vast book collection sent north and she proceeds to turn the old truck into a mobile bookshop (the title was misleading; there’s no bookshop on the corner… Nina’s truck is her only transportation and she drives it everywhere).

Although different in its own way, it felt similar to The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. They were both cozy stories for book lovers who like sweet romances. I don’t mind cozy stories or sweet romances, but after two I was ready for something stronger. (I chose Amanda Bouchet’s A Promise of Fire and was not disappointed. If I have time, I’ll do a full post on it later.)

Have you read The Bookshop on the Corner? What did you think?

Do you like books about books? Which ones would you recommend?


Tomorrow, I’ll post February’s book choices. Until then, happy reading!

#amwatching: 3 Documentaries for #BookLovers

Quick update: Nicole at Feed Your Fiction Addiction posted a great Friday the 13th review of Pocket Full of Tinder. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, beating a dead horse, etc., thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to everyone who has reviewed the book so far! I’m very grateful to those of you who take the time to write and post such thoughtful reviews.

Now on to today’s topic: three documentaries… one about a book club and two about two of my favorite genres… (btw, I’m linking to each show’s JustWatch page so you can see where to buy or stream).

book club

Book Club

Sixty-two years! Can you imagine being in a book club for 62 years?! I just joined a book club for the first time ever this year. If my book club makes it that long, I’ll be well into my centenarian years by then.

This film chronicles the lives of eight women as they discuss what compelled them to start a book club (at the time, women were discouraged or prohibited outright from working once they were married; hard to believe, huh?), what kept them in the book club (spoiler: it was as much about their relationships and supporting one another as it was a desire to keep their minds sharp), and the books they read and enjoyed (various book excerpts are read throughout; the readings at the end are moving and memorable).

Many of the women had husbands who worked in government jobs and they wanted to read and discuss books about religion and politics to offset countless hours of changing diapers and cleaning houses. I laughed — not at them, but at myself — because I’d rather read and discuss books that are magical and otherworldly. My book club has other ideas though. They picked Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton for next month. But my theory is that we look to books to fill perceived gaps in our life: knowledge, feeling, experience… I spent a decade practicing law and three years before that studying it. Only now that I’ve been out of practice for nearly the same amount of time can I bear to think about reading something like Alexander Hamilton for pleasure.

At one point, one of the women explained that their book club was an escape from her laundry pile, and then another mentioned a bygone practice – “listening to the radio while you were refereeing your kids’ fights and ironing.” And then, oddly, impossibly, Penny and E picked that moment to start yelling at each other about a missing pair of ear buds or a pilfered iPhone charger or a borrowed shirt or shoes or something… and I looked down at the pile of laundry I’d been folding and thought. Hmm….

The more things change, the more they stay the same. 😀

Love Between the Covers, romance documentary

Love Between the Covers

A fantastic documentary about romance writers and the genre they write in.

Starts with a riff on Jane Austen by telling us the documentary is a story of pride and prejudice — women’s pride in their work and the prejudices they encounter. Romance is a billion dollar industry. It’s the bread & butter of publishing. It keeps the lights on and yet… there is still a lot of ignorance and condescension about the genre’s importance to publishing and society at large. Mary Bly shares the story of how she was initially discouraged from sharing that she is the über successful Eloisa James because her colleague was worried she wouldn’t get tenure (thankfully, she’s now a tenured professor of English Literature).

The film is chock full of other anecdotes from authors, bloggers, readers, editors, publicists, and more. It explores the contributions of African-American and LGBT authors to the genre. Len Barot, a former surgeon who is now a multi-published author, talks about her journey from writing her first lesbian romance to starting her own publishing house, which now publishes 140 authors worldwide. Beverly Jenkins tells watchers that her path began because she wanted to read romance books with heroines who look like her. Now she’s a USA Today bestselling author who inspires both readers and authors alike.

The documentary makes clear that romance novels aren’t just about sex; they’re about relationships. And the film details many behind-the-scenes relationships as well. Writing might be a solitary endeavor, but published authors have a support team. Various authors’ writing processes were discussed, including collaboration and the role of critique partners.

Finally, the movie highlighted a few of the things that have shaped the industry: book blogs, the digital revolution, self-publishing… There’s even a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene with me! (Parts of the movie were filmed at Nora Roberts’ bookstore, Turn the Page, in Boonsboro, Maryland where I did one of my first book signings.)

If you are a romance fan or romance writer, the film is a MUST SEE. Click here for the website and more info.

the-real-history-of-science-fiction

The Real History of Science Fiction

I watched the time travel episode, which was fun. There wasn’t anything mind-blowing in it, but there were brief interviews with David Tennant, Christopher Lloyd, Neil Gaiman, and Audrey Niffenegger, as well as some background on popular time travel movies like Groundhog Day, 12 Monkeys, and Looper. Other episodes are: Invasion, Space, and Robots. Terrific line up of interviewees, so I’ll probably keep watching.

So, what about you? Have you seen any other documentary movies or TV shows that bookish types or genre lovers might like? Have you seen any of the above? What did you think?

#amreading: My 2017 Reading Challenge – Who’s In?

For 2017, I’m doing a Reading Challenge. Yes, I know lots of other people, publishers, libraries, etc. do them. But I wanted to pick the topics and books myself. So here’s how mine will work: at the start of every month, I’ll post the month’s reading theme and a list of possible books to read, then at the end of the month, I’ll share my thoughts on at least one of them. YOU are invited to read along by picking whatever book on the list appeals to you and sharing your thoughts –OR– by picking some other book that fits the theme and sharing your thoughts about that. Easy, right? And, hopefully fun too.


Jill Archer, 2017 Reading Challenge

2017 Categories

January – Books about Books or Bookstores

February – Jane Austen Inspired Fantasy

March – Set in Circus or Theater

April – Foodie Fiction

May – Steampunk

June – The Fae

July – Fairytale Retellings

August – Beach Reads

September – Nonfiction books that aren’t about writing

October – Modern Gothic

November – Written during NaNoWriMo

December –  Angels & Demons


January Book Choices

Jill Archer, 2017 Reading Challenge

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy’s funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don’t understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that’s almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend’s memory.

All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town. Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is a warm, witty book about friendship, stories, and love.

Jill Archer, 2017 Reading Challenge

The Bookshop on the Corner

Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling.

From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

Jill Archer, 2017 Reading Challenge

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.

So, whadya think? Ready to read more in 2017? Remember, you don’t have to pick one of the books I list. Just use my list of categories as inspiration. Or, if nothing else, just stop by every now and then and tell me what you’re reading. I really don’t care what it is — so long as you keep reading! 😀

#SFF Genre Talk: The Queen of the Tearling and Low-Tech Futuristic Worlds

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen is the first book in a fantasy trilogy featuring Kelsea Raleigh, a nineteen year-old newly crowned queen. One of my favorite parts of the story was its world, which is a low-tech futuristic one.

fantasy, futuristic, medieval, magic, Erika Johansen, The Queen of the Tearling

The story takes place in a fictional country called Tear, which exists at some point in the future (Wikipedia says it takes place in the 24th century, although I couldn’t find where that was mentioned in the book) in a New World (which, I assume is somewhere in the Old World, i.e. Europe??). This vague backstory might be frustrating to some, but I was interested as both writer and reader in how Johansen built her world.

In the distant past, the new queen’s ancestor sailed himself and a bunch of followers from America to wherever they are now. But utopianism didn’t work out as well as everyone wanted and, at the story’s open, the country has been subjugated by the neighboring country, Mortmesne, which is ruled by a queen as evil as her country’s name suggests.

The world of the Tear and Morts might seem odd or inconsistent to a reader unwilling to imagine a low-tech future without a causative apocalyptic event. There are geneticists, but no cars. There are ruling monarchs and magic, but no guns. There are cities, but very few books. There was a Crossing, not a Catastrophe. But I think low-tech futuristic worlds are ripe with potential. (Yes, I’m admittedly biased; my Noon Onyx series takes place in a low-tech futuristic world. As a writer, I love the possibilities of this as yet unlabeled sub-genre… which I’m not necessarily suggesting we label. Are we any closer to understanding what “dark fantasy” is or what type of stories are truly “new adult”? Worth noting, though, that others have already taken a stab at naming it. Best Fantasy Books uses the term “Futuristic Fantasy” and its list of books shows how long the sub-genre has been around.)

Regardless of what we call them, low-tech futuristics seem to offer the best of two other sf/f sub-genres: historical fantasy and post-apocalyptic fantasy. Readers get to immerse themselves in a medieval-ish, make-believe otherworld, but one with recognizable references (e.g. the Brothers Grimm and Leonardo da Vinci). Instead of centering on how the characters will survive the immediate aftermath of some sort of grand catastrophe, a low-tech futuristic story has more room to breathe in terms of plot. It can be epic instead of laser-focused. Its pacing can be slower and less breakneck. Most importantly, however, it provides flexibility for a writer to pick and choose which real world elements work for them and their story. This expansive, though eclectic, approach can lead to a world that feels familiar, but different – to a world that has broken its historical constraints while at the same time remaining accessible and identifiable to readers.

The bottom line is that low-tech futuristic stories allow writers to play with the past, instead of being limited by it.

So what about the rest of the story?

The Queen of the Tearling is part of a trilogy (the third book, The Fate of the Tearling, comes out tomorrow) and this first book feels a lot like Act I of a bigger story, which is fine. There are lots of unanswered questions for future books to address, such as:

Who is Kelsea’s father?

What’s up with Andalie, her lady-in-waiting?

And the Robin Hood-like Fetch? (whose name brings out my sophomoric sense of humor because I could NOT stop thinking of Gretchen from Mean Girls every time his name was mentioned in the book)

Here are a few other brief, disjointed thoughts about the book:

I loved all the fictional epigraphs at the beginning of the chapters. Yes, they seem to give much of the plot away, but somehow story tension remains (see unanswered questions above).

The book has been shelved multiple times on Goodreads under Young Adult, but it’s not YA.

Emma Watson is starring in, and producing, the movie adaptation.

What do you think of low-tech futuristics? What do you call them?

Have you read The Queen of the Tearling? What did you think? Have any other, similar books to recommend?

HallowRead 2016 Book Convention Tickets On Sale Now!

Received this info from Roxanne at Bewitching Book Tours and Rachel Rawlings, HallowRead’s founder. Bought my ticket this morning! Hope to see you there!!

Halloween, books, book convention, HallowRead, Maryland, fantasy, horror

Hallowread is a book festival and mini-con for authors and fans of Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Steam Punk and Horror.

October 21-23 2016 in Havre de Grace, Maryland!

Multi author event with various activities throughout the weekend including Writing Workshops, Ghost Tour, SteamPunk Author Tea, Author Panels, Book Signing, Paranormal Investigation and so much more. Hang out with your favorite authors in our new host city, the haunted and historic town of Havre de Grace, Maryland!

Local Maryland author of dark urban fantasy, Rachel Rawlings, had a crazy idea. Create a book convention for genre fiction and hold it the weekend before Halloween. Haunted and historic Ellicott City held a special place in her heart so there was no other place to take her first ever convention. The town welcomed her and HallowRead with open arms. Each ticket sold helped raise money for the Ellicott City Partnership- a coalition of residents and business owners for the betterment of the town. HallowRead raised money for projects like rain barrels which help reduce the sediment and contaminants running into the Patapsco River and fund grants for projects like Paint Main Street which helped small business owners get a much needed fresh coat of paint improving the moral and over all appearance of the town.

Rachel is excited to take the convention on the road for 2016 and raise funds for Harford County literacy programs and the local library system! One ticket, whether it’s a $10 paranormal investigation or the full monty ticket, makes a difference for the town and the wonderful people who call it home, something Rachel is extremely proud of.

Click here to see a list of HallowRead events http://hallowread.com/events/

Get your tickets here: http://hallowread.com/tickets/

See a list of attending authors here: http://hallowread.com/authors/

Author Opportunities still available!


About the Founder of Hallowread:

Rachel Rawlings was born and raised in the Baltimore Metropolitan area. Her family, originally from Rhode Island, spent summers in New England sparking her fascination with Salem, MA. She has been writing fictional stories and poems since middle school, but it wasn’t until 2009 that she found the inspiration to create her heroine Maurin Kincaide and complete her first full length novel, The Morrigna.

When she isn’t writing, Rachel can often be found with her nose buried in a good book. An avid reader of Paranormal/Urban Fantasy, Horror and Steampunk herself, Rachel founded Hallowread- an interactive convention for both authors and fans of those genres.

More information on Hallowread, its schedule of events and participating authors can be found at www.hallowread.blogspot.com

and www.facebook.com/Hallowread.

She still lives in Maryland with her husband and three children.

www.rachelrawlings.com | www.authorrachelrawlings.com | www.hallowread.com

#Gothic #FlashFiction #BookSpine Story

A dying knight goes to heaven, witnesses a dark battle for a divine crown and the bleak, cold aftermath of immortal war. The everlasting itself seems destroyed, but the knight finds a buoyant, hopeful survivor, who casts a beautiful new world…

That’s a summary of my attempt at a book spine story, which you can read below. I “wrote” it last night, just before and after dinner. Thanks to Carla Richards for the idea!!!

If you try one yourself, take pictures, post, and link to it in the comments. I’d love to read! 🙂

Blink of an Eye, Ted Dekker, The Sword of the Lady, S.M. Stirling, Fallen, Lauren Kate, Fade to Black, Francis Knight, Death Comes as Epiphany, Sharan Newman, book spine poetry, flash fiction, Jill Archer, 1 of 6
1
the five people you meet in heaven, Mitch Albom, Rivals for the Crown, Kathleen Givens, The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova, The Prince, Machiavelli, The Fencing Master, Arturo Perez-Reverte, The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker, book spine poetry, flash fiction, Jill Archer, 2 of 6
2
Instruments of Darkness, Imogen Robertson, The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner, The Battle of Blood and Ink, Jared Axelrod, Steve Walker, City of Bones, Cassandra Clare, Dust, Joan Francis Turner, book spine poetry, flash fiction, Jill Archer, 3 of 6
3
A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Diana Gabaldon, Shiver, Maggie Stiefvater, Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer, Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell, World Without End, Ken Follett, book spine poetry, flash fiction, Jill Archer, 4 of 6
4
In the Shadow of Eagles, Rudy Billberg, Jim Rearden, The Exile, Diana Gabaldon, The Girl Who Could Fly, Victoria Forester, Clockwork Angel, Cassandra Clare, Dream Weaver, Gary Wright, book spine poetry, flash fiction, Jill Archer, 5 of 6
5
New Moon, Stephenie Meyer, Magic Study, Maria V. Snyder, Garden Spells, Sarah Addison Allen, The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco, A Beautiful Mess, Elsie Larson, Emma Chapman, Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, book spine poetry, flash fiction, Jill Archer, 6 of 6
6

Blink of an eye,
The Sword of the Lady fallen;
Fade to black,
Death comes as epiphany.

The five people you meet in heaven, rivals for the crown:
The historian, the prince,
The fencing master,
The golem and the jinni.

Instruments of darkness: the sound and the fury;
The Battle of Blood and Ink;
City of bones…
Dust.

A breath of snow and ashes,
Shiver into thin air;
Gone with the wind,
World without end.

In the shadow of eagles, the exile,
The girl who could fly,
Clockwork angel,
Dream weaver.

New moon magic study;
Garden spells: The Name of the Rose;
A beautiful mess;
Brave new world.

DARK LIGHT OF DAY Pinterest Book Board #Fantasy #Romance #Giveaway

I’m on Pinterest, people! 😀

I made a book board for DARK LIGHT OF DAY. Twenty quotes from the book matched with twenty pictures of items sold on Etsy. The result? A relatively quick, easy, creative project for me and a fun extra for readers and Noon fans.

I plan on creating boards for the rest of the books and will update with new pics and quotes every now and then.

In the meantime, a small giveaway to celebrate the fact that I’ve crossed one item off of my 2016 To Do List (“Check out Pinterest”)—

GIVEAWAY

Winner’s choice: one print copy of DARK LIGHT OF DAY or any other fantasy book from Book Depository up to $10. Open to international. Other details here. (Why not an Etsy gift card? Theirs start at $25. I’ll be giving away an Etsy gift card in connection with one of the giveaways I do for POCKET FULL OF TINDER though…)

I’ll draw the winner from those people who are following the Pinterest Dark Light of Day board by midnight EST on Valentine’s Day. Winner will be announced here. (I’ll also try to reach the winner via Pinterest). Since there are only a handful of people currently following the board, your chances of winning are terrific!

And quick plug for my newsletter – the first one’s coming out next month with some POCKET FULL OF TINDER sneak peeks! Sign up here.

Okay, back to work. 🙂

STILL stuck inside? Sign up for my newsletter! (#read #darkfantasy)

We are slowly digging out from under snow storm Jonas, i.e. Snowzilla. Almost two and a half feet here! How about you? How much snow did you get? Are you still trapped?

If you’re still stuck inside and looking for something to do, you can sign up for my quarterly author newsletter.

What will my newsletter offer?

Newsletter

Quarterly newsletters will be sent every September, December, March, and June. Content will vary but will likely be some combination of:

  • Snippets from old or new work
  • Quizzes
  • Fun quotes and tweets
  • Recipes related to the books
  • Random Facts (background info on characters, etc.)
  • First look at Extras I’ll be adding to my website
  • Interesting stuff I’m researching
  • Meet the Team (bios of people who help me behind the scenes)
  • Be an Ambassador (ways readers can help me spread the word about my books)
  • Contests/Giveaways

Newsletters will also be sent out for each NEW RELEASE!

How will the newsletter differ from the blog?

The newsletter is mostly for readers who like my books and want to hear more about them. Some content, including occasional giveaways, will be exclusive to newsletter subscribers.

This blog will continue to be what it always has been – an inconsistently scheduled mashup of all the things I’m interested in: books, movies/TV shows, writing, day tripping, guest posts, etc.

Feel free to share my newsletter sign up link: http://eepurl.com/bAzF7n

Thanks, everyone! Hope you’re all doing well!

#MindMeld: Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed… #SFF #Books #Reading #Recommendation

SF Signal’s Andrea Johnson asked if I’d do another Mind Meld and, of course, I said yes because I love the Mind Melds. Yesterday’s question was:

Something old, something new, something borrowed. . .

Recommend three books to our readers out of your list of favorites: An older title, a newer title, and a title you discovered because you borrowed it from a friend or a library.

After reading the other responses, I realize I should have read the question better. I read the “and” as an “or” so I submitted two books I bought and one that was given to me, which doesn’t exactly count as “borrowed.” And my “old” book was from way back in 2012. Lol.

But, to be honest, I’ve talked a lot online here and elsewhere about my old, old favorites and I hadn’t ever talked about the 2012 book I loved. I also think that, though panelists should try to be responsive to the questions they are asked, one of the best things about the SF Signal posts is that they are mostly about having fun while promoting SF and related genres. I can’t say I read every post (they post a lot) but I try to keep up. I’ve loved the tone, depth, and breadth of the posts I’ve read.

So click here to read my recommendations (the other two are recent releases) and click here to check out some of the other SF Signal posts and subscribe or follow them.

POLL — Fantasy Fans: What’s your “Gateway” Book?

Months ago, I was at an event with my husband. We were sitting at a table with some people we knew through others. In other words, it was a friendly environment but we didn’t really know anyone. At some point my husband mentioned that I was a writer and that I wrote “adult fantasy,” which, of course, is true, but…

that label evokes different associations depending on who hears it. Sure enough I was then immediately asked, “Oh, so your books are like Fifty Shades of Grey”?

Um, no. Not really. Yes, there’s romance in them. And, no, I don’t always close the bedroom door. But the world within which my stories are written is very different from Christian and Anastasia’s. Without thinking, I blurted out:

“No, more like Lord of the Rings.”

But then I thought about it, and realized that comparison wasn’t any more appropriate than the Fifty Shades one. My writing is as similar to Tolkien’s as it is to E.L. James’. (In other words, it isn’t. And that’s a good thing. Every writer should try to develop their own style.)

The people we were talking to were genuinely curious about what I wrote. They weren’t avid readers and they were simply trying to relate to the type of stories I write. And when people do that, they tend to make references to people, places, and things that EVERYONE has heard of. Otherwise, there’s no bridge, no connection. There’s no jumping off point, no basis for discussion. It’s just people talking at each other, instead of to each other.

But the experience made me think. And even after all this time, I haven’t really answered the question it raised, which is basically:

What’s my gateway book?

So I’m curious if anyone else struggles with this.

Writers – when you are talking to someone who isn’t a fantasy fan (or who may not even be a reader at all), which book do you compare your work to?

Readers – when you meet someone who isn’t a fantasy fan (or who may not even be a reader at all), which book do you use as a well-known example of the genre?

Before we get to the fun part, an acknowledgement:

Yes, I know fantasy is replete with subgenres and endless iterations. I’m aware that your answer to this question is highly dependent on your own reading preferences. But that’s why you must choose something that has a 90% chance of being known by someone who is NOT ALREADY A FANTASY FAN AND POSSIBLY NOT EVEN A READER AT ALL. (In other words, this is not a post about all of the stories people should have heard of because they are great examples of the genre, but rather it’s a post about the books we use to start a discussion in the first place.)

So, here are some choices. But I’m also very interested in hearing from you. I can’t possibly have listed all the options…

Mammoth Book of Southern Gothic Romance Is Out!

A new Mammoth Book of… anthology released yesterday — the Mammoth Book of Southern Gothic Romance. It’s full of all sorts of chilling, romantic tales. My own short story “Dream, Interrupted” is in there. At nearly 13,500 words, it’s a meaty tale, really more of a novelette with lots of story elements that I adore: creepy settings, interesting backstory, a dark mystery, a singularly unique heroine, and a hero who takes the heroine’s breath away. It’s also written in a slightly different style than I used for the Noon Onyx novels. I fused myriad inspirational seeds to create one darkly fun story. If you want to check it out, I’m giving away one print copy (international so long as Book Depository ships to your address). Details on the giveaway are below. Along with my super-long-short story, you also get a bunch of stories from 15 other fantastic authors.

gothic romance, dark fantasy

Set in a lush, steamy world of ceaseless rain, swamps, alligators, overgrown cemeteries, and home-grown magic, these are dark and scary, yet pleasurably thrilling stories that unfold sinister secrets at every turn. These paranormal, suspenseful Southern Gothic romances are by both bestselling authors and bright up-and-coming talents, including Erin Kellison; Jessa Slade; Laurie London; Shelli Stevens; Coreene Callahan; Bec McMaster; Jill Archer; Elle Jasper; Angie Fox; Kait Ballenger; Tiffany Trent; Michele Bardsley; Sonya Bateman; Shiloh Walker/JC Daniels; JD Horn; Dianne Sylvan.

Available for purchase here.

A U.S. print version with this awesome cover…

gothic romance, dark fantasy

will release is the U.S. on January 6, 2015. If you want to wait for that cover, pre-order here.

Add to your Goodreads shelf by clicking here.

More About Dream, Interrupted

What if your snoring really did wake up the dead?

When Corelei Neverest ends up at a sleep disorder clinic, she’s searching for a cure for Apnea Anima, a rare sleep condition that occurs when a person’s snoring wakes the dead. But after countless therapy-filled days and terror-filled nights, Corelei’s almost ready to call it quits when an old crush shows up.

Alluring, irresistible, and beguiling, Caradoc Ambrose has had his eye on Corelei for years. When he hears Corelei is a resident at the Oneiroi Institute, he can’t resist meeting her at breakfast one morning. They’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship that feels like one big dream, interrupted to Caradoc. He wants a chance to convince Corelei to stay with him, forever.

Corelei Neverest, Jill Archer, Dream Interrupted, gothic romance, dark fantasy
CORELEI NEVEREST:
“My goal at Oneiroi since I’d arrived was based on a simple strategy. Act like the white rabbit.
Hide, evade, run.”

The Playlist

During my Bitten By Books release day party for White Heart of Justice, I mentioned I would post the playlist for “Dream, Interrupted.” If you read it, you’ll see that music was a big inspiration of mine for this story. In particular, the songs listed below. I couldn’t reproduce lyrics in the story, of course, but for those of you that want a fantastic immersive reading experience, download these songs and listen to them along with the story:

  1. “She Talks To Angels” by The Black Crowes
  2. Oh, My Darling, Clementine” (American folk song)
  3. “Like the Weather” by 10,000 Maniacs
  4. “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot
  5. “Edge of the Ocean” by Ivy
  6. “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd
  7. “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure
  8. “Breathless” by The Corrs
  9. “How Do You Talk To An Angel” by Jamie Walters
  10. “My Immortal” by Evanescence

The Giveaway

I’m giving away one print copy of the Mammoth Book of Southern Gothic Romance. The giveaway is open to international so long as Book Depository ships to your address. To enter to win, comment below, use my contact page to send me a message saying you are interested in winning the book, OR tweet one of these tweets (one entry per person):

I love gothic romance! Win copy of Mammoth Book of Southern Gothic Romance: http://wp.me/p1G39m-22b @archer_jill #gothic #romance

I love dark fantasy! Win copy of Mammoth Book of Southern Gothic Romance: http://wp.me/p1G39m-22b @archer_jill #fantasy #anthology

Does Corelei Neverest really suffer from Apnea Anima? Win Mammoth Book of SoGoRom: http://wp.me/p1G39m-22b @archer_jill #shortstory #mystery

Will Caradoc convince Corelei to stay? Win Mammoth Book of SoGoRom: http://wp.me/p1G39m-22b @archer_jill #fantasy #romance #mystery

The giveaway will be open until midnight EST on November 30, 2014. I’ll announce the winner here by December 8th.

No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Open to international participants 18 and over. For my official rules for website giveaways, click here.

If you read “Dream, Interrupted” be sure to let me now what you think! One of the best things about writing a short story for an anthology was the opportunity to work with new characters, new beasties, and a new world. This small project allowed me to experiment a little bit. I love how it turned out and I hope you do too!

BALTIMORE BOOK FEST: My Take (+ pics from my engagement party and rehearsal dinner: remember I said it was my anniversary?)

Two weekends ago, I went to the Baltimore Book Fest. Mostly as an attendee, but also as a panelist. It was a wonderful weekend!

The event was held at the Inner Harbor. In years past, it’s been held in Mount Vernon but the Washington Monument is under construction so the event coordinators thought the harbor would be a better venue.

I think current plans call for the festival’s return to Mount Vernon, a historic neighborhood that is home to the Walters Art Museum, the Peabody Conservatory, and the George Peabody Library (if you haven’t seen pictures, click here! it’s a beautiful library!), but I have to admit that I enjoyed attending the festival at the harbor and wouldn’t mind if future festivals were held there. While the harbor lacks the cultural feel of Mount Vernon, the Inner Harbor offers waterfront views and room to spread out.

There were tons of tents, most of them with books and authors in them. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers and Maryland Romance Writers had a tent. Individual authors had tents. Barnes & Noble, indie bookstores, local museums, small presses, and library groups all had tents. It was fun seeing writers I’ve known for years as well as meeting many new ones.

Craig took this pic from Federal Hill.  I'm standing beside MRW's tent with a friend.  Can't you see me waving? ;-)
Craig took this pic from Federal Hill.
I’m standing beside MRW’s tent with a friend.
Can’t you see me waving? 😉

One of my favorite things was walking around the book festival with my family. My younger daughter was away but my husband and older daughter spent time checking out all the tents and exhibits.

Jack Clemons, a former engineer and team leader of NASA’s Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs, did a “Flags on the Moon” presentation at SFWA’s tent. He talked about each of the missions he was involved with from a perspective neither my husband nor I had heard before, focusing on the U.S. flags that were left behind by the astronauts. It’s hard to overstate how much we enjoyed this talk. Jack mixed in video clips, photographs, and his own personal anecdotes and memories. Watching a History Channel documentary is not at all the same as seeing a live presentation by someone who was actually involved in these missions.

My daughter loved meeting Marissa Meyer. She’s currently reading Cinder for her outside reading assignment. I gave her a stack of YA books to choose from and she read the first few paragraphs of each and choose Meyer’s book about a cyborg Cinderella in part because Meyer establishes immediate sympathy for her protagonist. My daughter had her sign Cinder and Scarlet and even got to play Taboo with her, Charles Gannon, Sarah Pinkster, and Michael Underwood as part of SFWA’s Dangerous Voices Variety Hour.

Marissa Meyer's Cinder

The Dark Fantasy panel was great – a much more intimate setting than NYCC’s genre-benders panel in 2012! We opened by discussing “dark fantasy” and what the heck that term really means. I’m not sure a consensus was reached but it was interesting hearing everyone’s take. I shared my thoughts: basically, that the term dark fantasy can be used as a catchall category for works that otherwise defy categorization. When I hear the term I assume the story will have at least one element that is disturbing, unsettling, provocative, or even violent, and that it may not end happily. Other writers shared their view that dark fantasy, including horror, can be cathartic for both writer and reader. Overall, however, I think the biggest takeaway from the panel was this:

Write for yourself. Yes, genre writers want to be commercial and should pay attention to the market. But chasing trends won’t make you a success. Instead, it will almost always guarantee you fail. Why? Because you’ll never get the timing right for one thing (by the time your work is finished, submitted, bought, and published, the trend will be stale). What’s worse though is that your work won’t be genuine.

Jill Archer, dark fantasy panel, Noon Onyx, Baltimore Book Festival, SFWA
Jill Archer
DARK FANTASY PANEL
Baltimore Book Fest 2014

We didn’t spend a lot of time discussing the market, preferring instead to answer questions about our work or share tips for other writers in the audience, but it’s worth noting here that I’ve been hearing various behind-the-scenes chatter about a decreased interest in urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Maybe it’s true. Maybe it’s not. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Because if UF and/or PNR is your love, then write it. Read it. Trends come and go. If I’ve learned nothing else from my time as a writer, it’s that the most important thing is to be disciplined and stick to your own goals. For writers, it’s not the early bird who wins, it’s the one who hunts for the worms they think are perfect, from sunup to sundown… and then on through the night and into the next day… and so on and so forth.

It was also nice just getting down to the harbor. I used to work there and now I rarely get down there. So it was great having lunch with friends – and going to dinner! I mentioned before that it was our 17th wedding anniversary. (17 years?! Jeez, how did I get to be so old?! 😀 )

Saturday night after the Author Meet & Greet, Craig and I cabbed it to Jack’s Bistro in Canton, a waterfront neighborhood to the east of the Inner Harbor. It was tiny and packed but absolutely terrific and just what we were in the mood for. Our waitress was super friendly with all sorts of helpful suggestions. We splurged: apps, wine, ridiculously large entrees, and a dessert.

Since I shared a wedding picture of us for our 15th anniversary, I’ll share two other vintage pics with you for this year: one from our engagement party and one from our rehearsal dinner. Enjoy!

Our engagement party circa 1995. I'm rocking the "young lawyer" look, huh? And some seriously curly hair!
Our engagement party circa 1995. I’m rocking the “young lawyer” look, huh? And some seriously curly hair!
Craig and Jill Rehearsal Dinner 1997
Craig and Jill Rehearsal Dinner 1997

Hope everyone’s week is going well! Tomorrow, I have another guest blogger. (She says she doesn’t like to dress up for Halloween! But we’ll forgive her. It’s a great post! 🙂 )