What I’m Reading, June 2016: murder and walking spirits

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Real life has been interfering with my recreation a lot lately, so this blog has rather fallen by the wayside. Mea culpa! Still, even if I haven’t been here to blather at you about it, you can bet I’ve been reading. Here are two of my recent favorites. And if you notice a certain theme, well, what can I say? A girl knows what she likes. 😀

The Ghost Bride, Yangsze Choo — Yangsze Choo’s debut novel is the kind of story that makes someone like me go “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that.” Pan Li Lan, a young woman living in late-19th-century Malaysia, receives an offer of marriage–from the family of a dead man. It would mean security for life, but Li Lan is being troubled by eerie dreams of her would-be ghostly groom and isn’t quite prepared to marry someone who’s not only dead, but a creep. Yet when an attempt at barring the ghost from her mind goes drastically wrong, Li Lan may get a chance to confront her tormentor face-to-face, uncovering the tale of how the young man died and discovering who she wants to be.

This book hit all the right notes for me. There’s a touch of romance (though from an unexpected corner), a whiff of haunting, and when the second act takes us through Choo’s version of the Chinese afterlife, we follow Li Lan into a truly eerie world of paper people and ghost lights. Li Lan herself is in an awkward position, struggling to figure out what she wants from life and to separate the desires of her heart and her head. As for Er Lang … well, I’ll leave you to meet Er Lang. Adorable little stinker.

The Corpse-Rat King, Lee Battersby — I described this on my Facebook page as “Terry Pratchett via Burke and Hare,” and I stand by that. The Corpse-Rat King is the tale of one Marius, a professional liar, thief, and gentleman of misfortune, who robs the wrong body on the wrong battlefield and ends up dragged down into the stygian pits by the dead themselves, who believe that God has forsaken them and want a king–God’s anointed–to of their own to make things right. Marius proves not to be the king they want, and they release him in a somewhat zombified state, with orders to either fetch them a king or suffer extreme consequences. After all, where can you run that the dead won’t follow?

Marius lives in a big, sprawling, pseudo-medieval fantasy world, with just enough conscious parody to make me think of Pratchett’s Discworld. The details, though, are suitably grimy, and Marius’s own disgusting profession and degenerating condition lend a ripe touch of body horror to the proceedings. Marius himself may owe a little to George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman (or, if you prefer, Sandy Mitchell’s Ciaphas Cain), being a coward and liar who’s out for himself but somehow ends up being called upon for heroism. And he delivers, too–cursing and complaining all the way. As he flees from his responsibilities he meets multiple kings, has a memorable underwater encounter with a lunatic, gets told off several times by his now-dead apprentice, pines after the girl of his dreams, and falls in a lot of gross substances. Black humor is definitely the order of the day.

 

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This Halloween, the Fair Folk fight dirty

I’ve been sitting on this news for about a month now, and it’s time to finally let the cat out of the bag.

They're watching you.

They’re watching you.

Fell the Angels is getting an early release!  That’s right, the sequel to Thief of Midnight will be available in print from Stark House, October 2015. Just in time for Halloween! This time around it’s a story about power plays, ambition, and magical murder most foul …

Just days after Christmas, Midwestern sorcerers begin turning up in pieces, and monster hunter Abby Marquise finds herself on the trail of a literal fairy tale. There’s a whiff of conspiracy in the air, but what could those sorcerers have possibly done to die so quickly and so gruesomely? And with fairies running amok in Chicago–and her teenage son still trying to process his own encounter with a very real bogeyman–Abby is going to have her hands full just surviving until the New Year.

Also featuring, but not limited to: a homebrewed war zombie, a shapeshifter who takes up way too much space, the words “Church of Satan suicide helpline,” ways a yoga mat bag can help in urban combat, and a devout Catholic trying desperately not to swear when faced with all of the above.

I can’t wait until you guys get to read this! Fell the Angels was always in the cards, but it took a long time to finally come together, and I think I can honestly say it’s the hardest, most complex book I’ve written so far. A challenge, but one I did my best to meet, and I think you’re going to like it. 🙂

And to celebrate, I’ll be doing another giveaway closer to time! In addition to copies of the book and some nifty other prizes, I’m going to have custom Fell the Angels items available as fun add-ins. Watch this space!

Three words that we need to use more

I love words. I am a word nerd. (A werd?) Unfortunately, cornering a random coworker and eagerly blathering about the correct way to pluralize “platypus” isn’t the best way to make friends. Worse, many of my favorite words don’t have any real use in modern English, so I can’t justify including them in my books. It would take a real stretch of the imagination–and the reader’s patience–to cram “kinderfeindlichkeit” into casual dialogue.

Sometimes, however, you run into an obscure or weird word that deserves to be better-recognized. Usually these are words that fill a linguistic hole, identifying a concept or summing up a complex notion in a way others can’t. Sometimes they’re just plain fun to say.

Here, then, is my list of three amazing words that deserve to be used more. Two of them are useful, but one is just fun to say. But–perhaps most importantly for a word nerd–all three of them can be used to absolutely slaughter your opponents in Hangman.

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What I’m Reading, April 2015: Peasant 101

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I’ve mentioned before that I always have multiple projects going at once to cut down on the possibility of boredom or burnout. Well, in addition to the usual UF stuff, I’ve been recently dabbling in YA high fantasy, and my decision to make my heroine an illiterate peasant in an Iron Age Near-East-like setting has led to some questions. Namely: what exactly would she do all day? How do you spin thread? How does a loom work? And what the heck is an adze, anyway?

Of course, once I started researching, it was hard to stop. It amazes me just how many skills people in the old days had … Skills learned in childhood, too, many of which most adults in modern western countries couldn’t manage to save their lives. Thoroughly informed and mildly ashamed, I present my reading list for Peasant 101.

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Celebrating “The God Collector” — Giveaway!

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This month The God Collector (Amazon, B&N) officially goes on sale, and yes, I’m excited! This is a book I’ve been wanting to write for years and years–my fond tribute to urban fantasy, romance, museums, and ancient Egypt. And to celebrate, I’ve assembled some nifty prize packs for a giveaway!

Here’s how it works. Leave a comment here, on this post, telling me what your favorite historical period or event is and why it’s your favorite. It doesn’t have to be ancient, either; if you have a burning passion for the 1990s, say so. That’s all you have to do. One entry per person, please!

The contest closes at 11:59 PM CST on March 10, 2015, so make sure you have your entries in by then. Once it closes, I’ll pick three winners by using a random number generator to select three from the list of entries. I’ll post the winners here on the blog and on my Facebook, and you can e-mail me to claim your prizes.

And what are the prizes? Well …

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Fairy tales, female characters, and Ivan the gormless wonder

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When I was young, there was one book in the house I loved more than any other. That book was Tales from Central Russia by James Riordan, and it contained forty-seven fairy tales that seemed to come from another world. A world of tiny villages and deep forests, where it always seemed to be winter and that winter had a personal grudge against you. Magic and Christianity existed side-by-side–every village had its priest, who was usually depicted doing something foolish–and the animals all knew more than they were letting on. Riders with spiked helmets cantered through the forest, bringing night behind them.

And when it came to boys and girls, the girls would end you. Nicely.

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The God Collector is now available for preorder!

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Preorder for The God Collector is available as of February 8th. You can find it on Samhain’s site here, and currently both editions are at a reduced price–$4.55 for the ebook and $11.20 for the trade paperback.

This is a story about mummies, magic, and two people struggling to reconcile the distant past with the very dangerous present. There’s also robberies, golems, ghosts, a bit of sneaky business with an ancient inscription, and a rather unromantic memory of Cleopatra.

And then there’s the shabtis. I’m looking forward to letting you all meet them. 😀

What I’m Reading: classic adventure, ancient history, and Gold Rush murder

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Christmas is beginning to loom on the horizon, and in my family, that means “Books for everyone!” Occasionally we change it up by giving food or jewelry or a silly t-shirt, but really, it’s not a Butzen holiday until three or more of us are gathered around reading each others’ new books. This means that I end up going to lots of book stores, and however virtuously I plan and budget, half the books I buy are going to end up on my shelves alone.

Here, then, are three books that somehow sneaked their way onto my shopping list recently.

Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs, Jo Forty (1998) Or as I like to think of it, Pharaohs: A Spotter’s Guide. This is a nicely concise work covering the reigns and notable achievements of Egypt’s known pharaohs in chronological order. Considering the sheer number of pharaohs they had over the millennia, not to mention their habit of sharing names and rewriting each others’ histories, a straightforward reference book is a big help to anyone writing about ancient Egypt, and this one is pretty darn useful.

Skull in the Ashes: Murder, a Gold Rush Manhunt, and the Birth of Circumstantial Evidence in America, Peter Kaufman (2013) Exactly what it says on the cover. Skull in the Ashes examines a landmark 1897 case involving Frank Novak, an Iowan storekeeper who burned down his shop and left someone else’s body in the wreckage. Novak flees, and when the truth about the body is discovered, Detective Red Perrin tracks him all the way to the Yukon.

What held my attention wasn’t just the examination of a historical crime, but the author’s focus on evoking the world the crime occurred in. Kaufman shows us America at the end of the nineteenth century: modernized in fits and spurts, very much a society in transition. The last third of the book, including a description of prison life in the 1890s, described a way of life both fascinating and weirdly alien.

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson (1883) Everyone knows this one. It was one of my favorite books growing up, but when I moved to Iowa the family copy stayed in Chicago. Now I finally have my own–and when an Iowa winter is moving in on you, staying indoors and reading about tropical islands and buried treasure is a great way to pass the time.

One thing I found interesting about the Barnes & Noble edition of Treasure Island was the addition of academic notes and discussion questions. Question #2 made me laugh a little, though: “Is this just a story for boys or young-at-heart men? What is there in this novel for girls or grown women?” Pirates, sword fights, buried treasure, daring adventure and the Black Spot nicely fit the bill for everyone, I think.