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The Book Smugglers invited me to write a post as part of their Smugglivus seasonal celebration, so OF COURSE I made a massive list of comfort books I read and loved this year!* You can read the whole list here (including MG, YA, adult f/sf, and adult romance recs) – and I’d love to hear any recommendations of your own!
*Equally of course, the very moment that I sent off my list, I started thinking guiltily of all the other books that SHOULD have been included on the list as well, because I loved SO MANY books this year – but I took a deep breath and restrained myself from sending an endless stream of updates, because honestly, I think 18 book recs in one post is probably a reasonable limit. ;)
So. Today is the first day EVER that both of my kids have been in full-time school, and I am…well, honestly I’m in shock. But it’s a good kind of shock! (I think!) ;)
Of course, for as long as I’ve had young children (nearly nine years now!), I’ve thought: Once they’re in full-time school, I’ll get EVERYTHING done! – Whereas actually, today, all I want to do is *flop*…because for the last nearly-4-weeks we’ve had one family health (mini-)crisis after another, and honestly, I’m exhausted.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned as a parent, it’s that you cannot count on getting any long stretches with both kids in school. If I take a day off just to flop, I’m more than likely to find my next two days lost to the newest set of germs to be brought back home by one of the kids, so…it’s time to get back to work!
But I really do need some tricks and self-persuasions to get it done when I’m so tired. So I’ve gone art-and-craftsy with my rewrites for The Girl with the Dragon Heart. The other day, I printed out my whole manuscript and put it in a box file decorated by print-outs of the cover art – the UK art on one side and the US art on the other. (The one bonus of being late on my edits: I have seen my beautiful cover art already. Talk about the perfect – and most seriously motivating! – art to be able to glance at as I write! :) I truly wish I could share it with you guys here.)
I also have this motivational figurine sitting next to me. She may not have much in common with Silke, my fabulous, tricky, storytelling heroine, but to me, Diana symbolizes the quintessential heroine being told that something is too hard – even impossible – for anyone to ever do…and then doing it. Which – as well as being thematic to my book – is quite a helpful symbol for me as a writer tackling a big rewrite in the midst of health mini-crises, etc! ;) Would Diana give up in the face of any of these challenges? Never. So: onward, Amazons!
And oh, I’m so grateful for everyone who’s already taken the time to review Snowspelled on Amazon and elsewhere! In the last few days, I saw two new book-blog reviews that made me really happy. Writing & Coe said “It’s fairytales, Regency house-parties, feminist worldbuilding and magic all mixed up in a political mystery, along with a large dash of romance – and it’s fabulous.” (Full review here.)
And A Fantastical Librarian said, “When I was sixteen I fell deeply and utterly in love with the writing of Jane Austen. […] Fast forward 22 years and here we are in the present where I fell in a similar kind of love with Stephanie Burgis’ latest novella Snowspelled, the first in The Harwood Spellbook. […] Snowspelled is a delightful start to what looks to be a fantastic series.” (Full review here.)
And for a reading recommendation of my own: have you guys all read Genevieve Cogman’s The Invisible Library series yet? I just finished reading Book One yesterday, adored it (you can read my full Goodreads review here), and have already dived into Book 2 (The Masked City). The Invisible Library really was the most purely fun, witty and delicious fantasy adventure novel for adults that I’ve read in a long time, and I’m so glad to have the next two books in the series already out in the world and ready to devour (with Book 4 arriving in December – so there’s time to catch up now!).
Oof. My parents left today, ending this summer’s family visit, and I already miss them a lot. I really, really love where I live, but still – it is hard to live in a different country from my parents and brothers!
For comfort, I’ve been listening a LOT to one of my favorite albums, Yo-Yo Ma (and Edgar Meyer and more)’s Goat Rodeo Sessions, which is basically the musical equivalent of a big warm hug. Pebbles is purring on my chest, and earlier today, as comfort for all of us, my 8-year-old read me ALL of his latest best-beloved book, Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties, while my 4-year-old cuddled on my lap listening and giggling as well.
I think Dav Pilkey is brilliantly clever, and I loved listening to my son read to me with so much enthusiasm – but actually, when I’m feeling sad, the first thing I want to reach for is a good romantic fantasy to take my mind off it. So – with my own romantic fantasy novella coming out on Monday, in just 4 days (!!!) – now seems like a good moment to re-link to this list of some of my favorite romantic fantasy novels. (I know it claims to be a list of 5, but, well…I cheated! There are actually 8 books on that list. I couldn’t narrow it down to only 5 after all! And of course I’ve discovered even more new ones since that list was published last year.) I’ve read all of these books many, many times when I needed perfect comfort-reading.
Aaaand…with just four days left before publication day, USA Today’s Happy Ever Blog just posted an exclusive excerpt of Snowspelled! (Which is, of course, the novella I wrote for comfort/escape in the aftermath of last year’s U.S. election.) I really hope you guys will enjoy it. It’s taken from about a third of the way through the novella, but don’t worry – I was very careful to choose a scene that didn’t include any real plot-spoilers. However, it does of course include romance, magic, AND fun family dynamics, because…well, you guys know me. I just love writing all of those things! :)
It’s been a busy couple of weeks since we arrived in America. I’m surrounded by people I love, which makes me very happy. The kids are busy with great activities that make them happy, too. And I’m working on my edits for The Girl with the Dragon Heart, a book I love intensely!
Unfortunately, although the edits are going well, they’re also going sloooowly…partly, I have to admit, because I love this book and this heroine SO MUCH, and parts of it are SO personal to me. That’s making me a horrible perfectionist with this edit – I want it to be perfect! – which is, of course impossible for any book, but…I’m really trying!
In other words, this has to be a brief check-in, so that I can dive back into the book before my editors completely lose their patience with me. :)
Quickly, though, I wanted to share some of my favorite new discoveries of the past couple of weeks!
First, my favorite musical discovery in quite a while: Julie Fowlis’s Scots Gaelic version of “Blackbird”:
Then my favorite new graphic novel (collecting Issues 1-6 of the new comic series): Spell on Wheels, Volume I, written by Kate Leth. It’s an incredibly sweet, fun urban fantasy series about three witches (best friends) in their 20s on a supernatural road trip, and it’s perfect for fans of Practical Magic or Charmed. You can read my Goodreads review here!
And my favorite new card game (introduced to me by my brother Ben and sister-in-law Jenn): Fluxx! It took me about 5 minutes of feeling disoriented in the first hand we played and then it clicked…and now I love it! I’ve just bought myself a pack for our family to take back home to the UK later in the month.
Speaking of passing time…it’s exactly one month until Snowspelled will be published! Wooot! Patrick printed out a proof of the cover yesterday, and oh, the paperback is going to be so pretty! (You can see a whole album of photos here.) I love Leesha Hannigan‘s cover art, and I love Patrick’s cover design! I can’t wait to share this book with you guys.
I never know whether to refer to Snowspelled as a novella or a novel, to be honest. Officially, novellas are only up to 40,000 words while novels are 40,000+, and this story is 42,000 words. So…novel?
But then again, it’s a romantic fantasy story for adults, and most adult romantic fantasy novels would be at least 80,000 words. So…novella????? I don’t know! I’m calling it a novella to be on the safe side, but: it’s 8,000 words longer than my novella Courting Magic, and I hope that it’ll be a really satisfying length to sink into and enjoy. :) The ebook is currently priced at $2.99, but I’m debating whether to raise the price to $3.99 after it’s been out a week, to reflect the fact that it is longer than most novellas. I don’t know! I still haven’t made up my mind. But if you want to make sure to get it at the cheaper price, you might want to:
I’ve spent the last three days in a cottage by a lake with Patrick and the kids, and it was absolutely wonderful. I spent the morning of my fortieth birthday drinking coffee by the lake, we visited a fun dinosaur park that afternoon, and I am VERY happy with my pile of birthday books:
I’ve already finished tearing through the Breaking Cat News collection (my favorite comic in the world! I got a Breaking Cat News cocoa mug for my birthday, too), and I’m in the middle of Jen Wilde’s Queens of Geek, which is really, really fun. (It’s about two fabulously nerdy teen girls both having their own romances in the middle of a con – how could I not have fun reading it? It’s making me feel hugely nostalgic for the time when Patrick and I used to go to a lot of cons together – if you’re an f/sf geek like we both are, it really is a romantic thing to do!)
I also spent one of my days by the lake devouring Sandhya Menon’s When Dimple Met Rishi, which was just amazing – the best romantic comedy novel I’ve read in ages, and now one of my favorite rom-coms ever. You can read my full review here.
It was a gorgeously relaxing, refreshing long weekend away, but now we’re home, we’ve retrieved Pebbles from the (very nice) cattery where she stayed while we were gone, and at this moment, she’s purring on my chest, so all is feeling Very Right With the World. :)
I’ve hit the point where I’m desperately counting down the days (and hours and minutes) to our first big family holiday of the year (less than two weeks to go!), so in other words, it has been A Week (to say the least), but here are some of my favorite moments from it:
1. Devouring Sally Nicholls’s upcoming YA suffragette novel Things A Bright Girl Can Do, which was utterly fabulous, immersive storytelling – by far the best historical novel I’ve read in ages – and written with wit and warmth and wonderful characterization throughout. You can read my full Goodreads review here.
2. Visiting our town’s new local comics-and-figurines shop with my boys, who broke into cries of glee when we stepped inside. This place could have been made for our family! Patrick and I have already promised each other to make a return visit together while the boys are at school, so that we can actually take time to browse for our own delights. (I’ve already spotted a Black Widow figurine that I just might need… ;) )
3. Reading an ARC of Cressida Cowell’s truly magical upcoming MG novel The Wizards of Once with my eight-year-old. It’s less light-hearted and slapstick than the early How to Train Your Dragon books (which I love) but it is genuinely, thrillingly full of magic and wonder, and my older son and I are both loving it. My biggest challenge has been keeping to my vow to only read it with him and not cheat by reading ahead on my own!
4. Signing contracts for the French edition of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart. Oh, and seeing the gorgeous German cover, too! So far, this book has sold in seven languages, which is a first for me, and it’s incredibly exciting.
5. Blowing bubbles in the back garden with my kids last night. The garden is bursting with flowers, it’s been lovely and warm here, and watching the bubbles fly up high in the early evening light felt really magical.
What about you guys? What are some of your highlights from this week?
Lush, gorgeous instrumental-only folk music from Wales. Listening to this album makes me feel like I’m absorbing emotional sunshine! I love it, and I can’t count how many times I’ve listened to it since I bought it last week. You can hear the first song for free here.
Another lush pleasure! This time, it’s an adult fantasy novel set in a magically post-apocalyptic Paris with fallen angels and a fabulous, underwater dragon kingdom inside the Seine river. Ohhhhh do I love this book. I read it first as an e-ARC months ago and then started re-reading it yesterday afternoon as soon as my pre-ordered paper copy arrived. I’m loving it even more the second time through! It’s so rich and absorbing and magical and satisfying. It’s also the second full-length book in her Dominion of the Fallen series, and as much as I loved Book One (The House of Shattered Wings), this one is even better. I adore this whole series!
I still like reading paper books most of all, but one of my favorite things about online- and ebook culture is that it’s now possible and easy for authors to publish all sorts of fun tie-in stories related to their series. After I read and loved Aliette’s The House of Shattered Wings last year, I devoured every one of her tie-in stories, which took the same setting and characters and gave them fun adventures and romances that had only been hinted at in the backstories of the full-length books. I adore them all (and you can find the whole list here), but my personal favorites are her Of Books and Earth and Courtship and Children of Thorns, Children of Water. Both of them give fascinatingly different perspectives and new insights on familiar characters from the series.
And I love getting to see the world made larger through those tie-in stories, too! Patrick’s YA novella The Dinosaur Hunters is a completely standalone story with original characters that don’t appear in any of his MG novels – but it’s set on the same world of Regency-era British Mars, and it all sprang from a throwaway mention in his first book. It’s one of my very favorite novellas ever, it is SO MUCH fun, funny and exciting (think: an Agatha Christie-style mystery with T-Rexes and girl detectives!), and – while you don’t need to have read any of his books before reading it – it gives a whole different view on the world of his books. (You can find out more and read the opening of it here.)
There’s a whole added pleasure for me as a reader to discover these smaller stories filling out side-characters and backstories from the larger novels and to get glimpses at the wider life of the world outside of the novels that I’ve loved. Each time I read a good tie-in story, I get to fall into the world again and again, and it becomes more real and rich to me with each new dip inside it.
And of course, as an author that kind of story is just incredibly fun to write. Without ebooks, I couldn’t have published my own YA novella Courting Magic, a standalone story that gives my MG heroine Kat her own grown-up romance – much less Flying Magic (a short-short story about Kat’s own kids!), Dueling Magicks (a short story set between the first two Kat books) and Forbidden Magic (a short story about Kat’s parents that’s coming out tomorrow, huzzah)!
Novels work really, really well with traditional publishing, and I personally love publishing my full-length books that way. But when it comes to shorter, quirkier lengths and tie-in stories, it is SO great to have the freedom that hybrid publishing gives!
I’d love to hear about any of your own favorite tie-in stories to series that you’re following!
Every time I do an event for kids, I’m reminded of why I want to keep writing kids’ books forever. Last Wednesday, I got on the train to Oswestry, a lovely town just across the border into England, where I got to hang out in my hotel with fab authors Sibéal Pounder and Andy Griffiths, along with our wonderful publicists (Lizz from Bloomsbury for me and Sibéal; Catherine from MacMillan for Andy) and Carrie and Tim, the owners of Booka Bookshop, who had organised an amazing World Book Day Event for Thursday.
Thursday morning, Sibéal, Andy and I talked to 500 students from the local schools about World Book Day and of course our books. (Click on the picture to see the fullsize image.) Sibéal – with the kids’ enthusiastic direction! – dressed two teachers up as fabulous witches. I found out about some of the secret creatures hidden behind the kids’ own exteriors (just like my ferocious heroine Aventurine is secretly a dragon inside her harmless-looking human form). Andy had the kids literally screaming with laughter as he showed them through the treehouses of his books and played a balloon symphony for them.
Afterwards, as we signed our books, I got to talk individually to so many interesting, creative kids – who ranged from secret dragons to wizards, warriors, and even bats. It was so much fun…and it left me absolutely buzzing with inspiration. As I took the train home that afternoon, I felt charged full of happiness and wonder that I get to do this amazing job and connect with such enthusiastic, generous kid-readers.
Of course, the M.E./CFS always demands a physical payback after I make any big trip, so I spent the next few days resting instead of writing…but today I finished the new Chapter Two of my MG work-in-progress (veeeery tentatively titled A Grumpy Princess’s Guide to Ice Giants and Other Catastrophes), and I’m hoping to finish Chapter Three by the end of this week. I’ve also been in touch with a fabulous artist who may be doing cover art for my upcoming adult novella, Snowspelled, later this year. I can’t wait to share more details as I figure them out!
And if you’re a longtime reader and have ever wondered what my first heroine’s parents were like when they were young…I’m sending out my next newsletter on Wednesday with a brand-new short story all about Kat’s parents. If you’d like to read it, just sign up here!
Now it’s time for me to dive back into my new novel before the kids get home from school, but I can’t close out without talking about two things I’ve really loved over this past week.
I read Renée Watson’s Piecing Me Together on the train rides back and forth from Oswestry, and oh, I devoured it! It’s so gorgeously written, so intensely compelling, and so uplifting. It’s one of my very favorite books I’ve read in a long time, and you can read my full Goodreads review here.
And – although I know I’m very late to the party here! – my kids and I watched My Neighbor Totoro yesterday and looooooooooved it. There was one point halfway through when I realized I’d just been grinning steadily for ages, and I kept on helplessly beaming at the screen for the rest of the film. It was so joyful and full of such a sense of wonder and love. If you haven’t seen it yet (is there anyone else who hasn’t seen it by now?): do it! You won’t regret it. :)
What about you guys? What’s one thing (book/movie/life event/whatever!) that’s made you happy lately? I would really love to hear about it!
It’s January 12th – which means it’s exactly one year to the day from the day that Patrick’s Secrets of the Dragon Tomb was published!
I can’t even count how many times I’ve read this book – and I loved it more and more every time. When I read the first draft, well before it sold or even found an agent, I knew immediately that it would be published. It was so sparky and funny and exciting and heartfelt. It was just wonderful! And I loved every new version more. The final, published version absolutely blew me away…and I wasn’t the only one!
Samphire’s swashbuckling tale is both a pitch-perfect pastiche of a Victorian serial and a well-rounded, three-dimensional story of a boy learning that the world is more complicated than he thought. Abundant humor, intricate worldbuilding details, and precisely timed slapstick and mayhem mesh as neatly as the gears and levers of the water abacus, producing a gorgeously articulated clockwork of a novel.
It’s a wonderful book, full of hilarious moments, exciting action adventure, wild pterodactyls, dangerous clockwork crabs, spies and mysteries and infuriating (in the best possible way) family members. I looooove practical, put-upon Edward and his family full of eccentric geniuses and social climbers.
I love this book!
And look – it has a brand-new cover lined up for its paperback edition:
Isn’t it cool?
The paperback edition won’t come out until July 18th, though, on the same date that Book Two – the wonderful The Emperor or Mars – will be published, carrying Edward and his sisters on even more fabulous adventures. (Sea serpents! Museum heists! And a very, very awesome girl thief!) So if you want to catch up in time to grab Emperor on its publication day, I vote for you to buy Secrets of the Dragon Tomb now, in celebration of its one-year birthday.
I posted last week about my favorite MG books read in 2016, and I promised to do a followup post about my favorite adult reads. Of course, I always have less time than I expect over the kids’ school holidays…so this followup is a little late for holiday shopping. Sorry! However, if you (like me!) are a last-minute holiday shopper, or if you just want to look for more fun new books to read yourself, here’s a list of adult fantasy novels that I genuinely loved in 2016, along with snippets of the reviews that I wrote for them on Goodreads (and links to some of the longer reviews):
Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory
A fabulously fun steampunk adventure story with a great, sympathetic (and very diverse) cast of characters and a completely gripping narrative voice. Karen, the narrator, is just *awesome* – matter-of-fact, brave, loyal, funny, and far more impressive than she realizes – and I cheered for her arc of empowerment by the end. I also loved her sweet, fumbling romance, and Priya, her love interest, is truly wonderful too. (Read my full Goodreads review here for more details and discussion.)
Laura Anne Gilman’s Silver on the Road
A slow-paced but truly lovely fantasy novel, set in an alternate version of the 19th-century American west in which the Devil staked his own territory centuries earlier and the rest of the territorial borders have shifted around that. The heroine, Izzy, is a sixteen-year-old coming of age and coming into her own as the Devil’s Left Hand, traveling the roads of her boss’s territory with a mentor who has magical issues of his own. The alternate history setting is fascinating and well thought-out, the writing is absorbing, and the characters are wonderful. By the time I was halfway through reading this book, I’d already preordered Book 2, which is coming out next month – I can’t wait to read it!
Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine Complex
Evie Tanaka is the put-upon personal assistant to San Francisco’s glamorous local superheroine, Aveda Jupiter…who was once her best friend Annie long ago, before a rift between dimensions scattered random superpowers across the city. Annie grabbed onto her new superpower whole-heartedly and flung herself into the spotlight, renaming herself Aveda Jupiter and fighting demons on livestream to the delight of her internet fans; Evie panicked and hid as deeply in Annie’s shadow as she could. But when she has to take Annie/Aveda’s place at an event with the help of a magical glamour, she’s finally forced to recognize her own true strength in more ways than one….with the help of a very nerdy, very hot scientist, lots of great friends, AND her rebellious little sister.
This book was so funny and fun and so full of real heart, it filled me with pure delight throughout. It’s full of fun urban fantasy adventure, hot (AND sweet and funny) romance, intense female friendships and complex, important family relationships. Basically, it has everything I love most in a book! And it’s all done so well. (Read my full Goodreads review for even more raving. I LOVED THIS BOOK.)
Ilona Andrews’s Magic Binds
This turned out to be one of my very favorite books in the whole Kate Daniel series so far (which is, by far, my favorite-ever urban fantasy series – I didn’t click with Book 1, but when I started again with Book 3, I got hooked HARD). I love the combination of humor with real emotion, tension and adventure, and these characters all feel like old friends by now. I loved the mixture of madcap wedding planning moments along with genuinely heartwrenching issues, freaky magic and fun fantasy action. I adored all the different kinds of relationships between women in this book, including one I would never, ever have guessed at any earlier in this series – it came as a delicious surprise in this book. And most of all, I cannot wait for the next book!
What about you guys? What were your favorite f/sf reads in 2016? I’d love to hear about them either here, on Facebook or on Twitter. (You will not be surprised to hear that I am ALWAYS looking for new recommendations! :) )