A Fever in the Heart

A Fever in the Heart
by Ann Rule
358 pages, Kindle Edition
Published: 1 October 1996

Rating: 3 stars

~

Description

A Fever in the Heart tells the story of a tumultuous love triangle that spirals out of control, fueled by the jealousy of a mad man. Lives were ended and families torn apart due to one man’s burning desire to get the woman of his dreams back. Ann Rule originally covered this story in 1976 for Cosmopolitan Magazine; she didn’t feel as though she had enough materials for a full length book. Shortly after, a woman named Olive Blankenbaker, mother to one of the victims, approached her pleading for her to look further into the case and release a full book. After twenty years of research, insight and hindsight, Ann Rule had delivered a powerful novel that delves into the twisted, dramatic and convoluted facts of a murder case that shook the small town of Yakima, Washington.

The Last White Rose

The Last White Rose
by Alison Weir
544 pages, Hardcover
Ballantine Books
Published: 10 May 2022

Rating: 3 stars

Elizabeth, the daughter of Edward IV of England, lives out the end of the War of the Roses and the start of the Tudor dynasty, but throughout she remains haunted by the unknown fate of her younger brothers.

This book covers the story of Elizabeth of York from her early memories of taking sanctuary in Westminster Abbey to the end of her life. Most of my understanding of this period of English history comes from the show The White Queen, so it was interesting to get a more serious look at these events and characters.

I enjoyed the clear way that Weir managed to distill complicated events into the narrative, though I think it helped to follow what was going on because I already knew a bit about the story. I also liked how Elizabeth was put at the fore of the story, and the ways in which she engages with and enforces her own agency in a world that was very limited for women.

However, I wished there was less distance between the characters and the reader. Though Elizabeth deals with a lot of problems – being on the run, the deaths and disappearances of family members, and the pursuit of her uncle – I never really felt her emotions. I also wished we better understood the other characters. Elizabeth is the narrator, and so we must go more off her impressions than the actual actions of the other characters to get to know them.

~

Description

Elizabeth of York is the oldest daughter of King Edward IV. Flame-haired, beautiful, and sweet-natured, she is adored by her family; yet her life is suddenly disrupted when her beloved father dies in the prime of life. Her uncle, the notorious Richard III, takes advantage of King Edward’s death to grab the throne and imprison Elizabeth’s two younger brothers, the rightful royal heirs. Forever afterward known as the Princes in the Tower, the boys are never seen again. On the heels of this tragedy, Elizabeth is subjected to Richard’s overtures to make her his wife, further legitimizing his claim to the throne. King Richard has murdered her brothers, yet she feels she must accept his proposal.

As if in a fairy tale, Elizabeth is saved by Henry Tudor, who challenges Richard and defeats him at the legendary Battle of Bosworth Field. Following his victory, Henry becomes king and asks Elizabeth to be his wife, the first queen of the Tudor line. The marriage is happy and fruitful, not only uniting the warring houses of Lancaster and York–the red and white roses–but producing four surviving children, one of whom, Henry VIII, will rule the country for the next thirty-six years.

As in her popular Six Tudor Queens series, Alison Weir captures the personality of one of Britain’s most important consorts, conveying Elizabeth of York’s dramatic life in a novel that is all the richer because of its firm basis in history.
~

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.

This post contains affiliate links to Bookshop. If you purchase a book using this link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!

What I Learned About Submitting Short Stories to Magazines

Of course this is the logical follow-up to that last post. Not only did I teach and tutor throughout college, but I am also a Big Sister. Both roles entail a propensity for giving advice.

I came into this process as a total newb. I have never bothered much with the quality of my short stories – they are primarily ways for me to play around with plot bunnies and themes that I wasn’t willing to commit myself to, and consequently many of them were a mess. And to be honest, while I was vaguely aware of a few big name magazines, I knew very little about them – I am more likely to read short story collections or anthologies.

How does one so haphazard tackle the submission process then? Well, first I had to figure out what works I wanted to submit. I selected four pieces – three short stories and a flash fiction piece, though I ended up primarily submitting one of the short stories and the flash fiction. Here’s what I learned.

Get a Second Opinion

I’m not going to tell you to make sure you edit and refine your short story, because that should be obvious. Shirley Jackson may have sold The Lottery with a practically unedited manuscript, but most first drafts are require a lot of work before they’re ready to see the light of day. I dutifully revised my work quite a bit.

But something else that I really found useful was having a reader sort through my work. As I mentioned in last week’s post, the story that was selected for publication was not the one I was most confident in, while a piece I thought was stronger got a lot of rejections. It’s awfully hard to get distance from your work as its writer, and harder still to look at it through the lens of a reader, to figure out if it’s an enjoyable read.

I don’t mean a beta reader – that’s a rather more involved process, and harder to find. I just picked out a dozen or so stories and had my sister read them, and had her say yea or nay depending on if she, as a reader, found them engaging. Of course her word is not final, but it’s a good way to get a sense of what worked outside my head and what didn’t, to figure out what stories I should focus on revising.

Know Your Market

There are literally thousands of short story magazines out there, paying and not, that publish stories in a plethora of genres. But it’s incredibly important to understand what magazines publish stories like yours. I was submitting SFF works, and SFF magazines can get pretty specific about the subjects they are looking for.

A good way of getting a feel for the kinds of stories that a magazine is looking for is to read the ones they’ve already published. You can do this for free for a lot of magazines that publish online, and it’s a really good way of figuring out if it’s worth submitting your story. Many larger SFF magazines don’t accept simultaneous submissions, so a submission can tie your story up for quite a while – for months, even. For this reason, it’s important to consider if your story would be a good match for them.

It’s also important to understand what exactly you’re selling. The SFF pro- and semipro-zines that I submitted to were usually buying first publication rights, which means that they wanted to be the first place where the story is ever published. They also asked for exclusive publication rights for some amount of time – for example, the story I sold cannot be published anywhere else, including this blog, for 180 days after the magazine publishes it.

The Cover Letter

A phrase that strikes fear in the heart of every reader.

Luckily, the cover letter for a short story submission is a lot less intensive than the one you send to an agent. In the first paragraph, mention the title of the story, the genre, the approximate word count. You can also add a one line summary of the premise, though I didn’t always do this.

In the second paragraph, introduce yourself equally briefly, mentioning any information that may be relevant story (for example, “I lived in India for many years” when you are submitting a piece about the British Raj). This is also the place to mention any significant publishing credits you have, though obviously it doesn’t count against you to indicate you’ve never been published before.

And – this is very important – make sure to provide or omit identifying information wherever it’s asked for! I say this as someone who mistakenly sent in a submission without a signature, requiring the editor to email back asking who I was. Don’t be like me.

Track Your Submissions

This is important! Especially when working with simultaneous submissions, you have to know where and when you’ve submitted a story, as well as its status. And it can be useful to track things like how long it took to get a reply, and if you got a form or personalized rejective. As someone in the public health field I am a devotee of data.

Originally I used an excel sheet to track all this, but then I discovered Submission Grinder, which is a really excellent free resource that not only allows you to track submissions, but also helps you find new markets that suit your story’s specifics. I like the stats feature a lot, where you can see all this excellent data how long it usually takes hear back, the acceptance and rejection rate, and so on. I am aware of a similar website called Duotrope which is supposedly better for literary fiction. But it requires a subscription, and besides I write very little litfic.

Keep Calm and Carry On

The nature of the beast is that you’re going to get a lot of rejections. It’s a tough market to be in, but really very rewarding too – you’ll never forget your first sale. Good luck with you submissions!

The Spear Cuts Through Water

The Spear Cuts Through Water
by Simon Jimenez
544 pages, Hardcover
Del Ray Books
Published: 30 August 2022

Rating: 5 stars

The Moon, lured from the sky, generations ago, has been held a prisoner for centuries – until now. Over the course of five days, she will be escorted across the land by her grandson and a mysterious outcast – if they don’t die on the journey.

The blurb of this book promises a book like nothing I’ve ever read before – and unlike many book blurbs, The Spear Cuts Through Water actually delivers.

I can see the narrative style being divisive – it is more complex than anything I’ve read before. The author uses first, second, and third person to carry different strands of the story forward, and these strands make up layers that overlap and sometimes interconnect in very surprising ways. It ends up creating a lovely chorus of voices that highlights the oral tradition and how it has played a part in so many epics.

The plot too has plenty of twists and turns and transgressive moments, and feels epic on a scale that’s hard to achieve in a standalone. And it’s so many things – an origin myth, the story of immigration and identity, a horror novel and a love story… it really boggles the mind. The writing, the characters, the beats of the plot are all pitch perfect.

It’s a tough book to describe, but it’s one that really has to be experienced.

~

Description

Two warriors shepherd an ancient god across a broken land to end the tyrannical reign of a royal family in this new epic fantasy from the author of The Vanished Birds.

The people suffer under the centuries-long rule of the Moon Throne. The royal family–the despotic emperor and his monstrous sons, the Three Terrors–hold the countryside in their choking grip. They bleed the land and oppress the citizens with the frightful powers they inherited from the god locked under their palace.But that god cannot be contained forever.

With the aid of Jun, a guard broken by his guilt-stricken past, and Keema, an outcast fighting for his future, the god escapes from her royal captivity and flees from her own children, the triplet Terrors who would drag her back to her unholy prison. And so it is that she embarks with her young companions on a five-day pilgrimage in search of freedom–and a way to end the Moon Throne forever. The journey ahead will be more dangerous than any of them could have imagined.

Both a sweeping adventure story and an intimate exploration of identity, legacy, and belonging, The Spear Cuts Through Water is an ambitious and profound saga that will transport and transform you–and is like nothing you’ve ever read before.

~

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.

This post contains affiliate links to Bookshop. If you purchase a book using this link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!

The Seventh Bride

The Seventh Bride
by T. Kingfisher
236 pages, Paperback
47north
Published: 24 November 2015

Rating: 4 stars

When Rhea is proposed to by a nobleman, she can’t refuse him, because commoners don’t say no to lords. But Lord Crevan is a sorcerer who has been married six times before, and stripped something from each of them – and now he wants to take from Rhea.

I like fairytale novels, but not always fairytale retellings, so The Seventh Bride managed to hit that particular spot in spectacular fashion. Though the story is clearly inspired by Bluebeard, it goes in its own wonderfully weird direction.

I loved the way that the dreamlike strangeness of the story was wedded with Rhea’s intensely practical nature. There are worlds of difference between how Lord Crevan and his wives see the world, which is why the scene at the well in particular almost cracked me up. Magic in this world is both a high and low thing, and I liked seeing the many ways it was present in the book. And I loved the hedgehog.

I did wish we were able to explore some characters like Maria and Ingeth more deeply, though – I am a little confused still about what drove Ingeth in particular. I also wished there was more of a denouement to the book, but this may be because I enjoyed the story so much I wished it hadn’t ended so quickly!

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Description

Young Rhea is a miller’s daughter of low birth, so she is understandably surprised when a mysterious nobleman, Lord Crevan, shows up on her doorstep and proposes marriage. Since commoners don’t turn down lords–no matter how sinister they may seem–Rhea is forced to agree to the engagement.

Lord Crevan demands that Rhea visit his remote manor before their wedding. Upon arrival, she discovers that not only was her betrothed married six times before, but his previous wives are all imprisoned in his enchanted castle. Determined not to share their same fate, Rhea asserts her desire for freedom. In answer, Lord Crevan gives Rhea a series of magical tasks to complete, with the threat “Come back before dawn, or else I’ll marry you.”

With time running out and each task more dangerous and bizarre than the last, Rhea must use her resourcefulness, compassion, and bravery to rally the other wives and defeat the sorcerer before he binds her to him forever.

~

This post contains affiliate links to Bookshop. If you purchase a book using this link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!

Serious Face: Essays

Serious Face: Essays
by Jon Mooallem
320 pages, Hardcover
Random House
Published: 17 May 2022

Rating: 4 stars

Throughout the essays in this book, Jon Mooallem dives into the pathos and bathos of everyday life.

The first book of essays I ever read was Slouching Towards Bethlehem, which is admittedly a very high bar to beat. Since then I’ve read a handful of books of essays, and generally enjoyed them all.

What really works for this book is the sense of gentle tragedy that Mooallem brings to the fore in many of the essays, tempered with an edge of wistfulness. For the most part he tackled issues I’d never heard of, and I liked the very human side he brought out in his subjects. Life can sometimes be very inexplicable and weird, and the author does a good job of showing this.

However, I didn’t enjoy the essays that leaned into more mainstream subjects as much as I did the others, though I am unsure why. I think it may be because the author did not tease out the reasons why we should care as much as he did with the more obscure subjects.

My favorite essays in this book were “Why These Instead of Others?,” which is about an accident that befell Mooallem’s friend in a remote region, and “A Cloud Society, about an amateur society of cloud watchers who identified a new cloud feature.

~

Description

Beneath the self-assured and serious faces we wear, every human life is full of longing, guesswork, and confusion–a scramble to do the best we can and make everything up as we go along. In these wide-ranging essays, Jon Mooallem chronicles the beauty of our blundering and the inescapability of our imperfections. He investigates the collapse of a multimillion-dollar bird-breeding scam run by an aging farmer known as the Pigeon King, intimately narrates a harrowing escape from California’s deadliest wildfire, visits an eccentric Frenchman building a town at what he claims is the center of the world, shadows a man through his first day of freedom after twenty-one years in prison, and more–all with a deep conviction that it’s our vulnerability, not our victories, that connect us.

Mooallem’s powers of perception have established him as one of the most distinctive, empathic, and clear-sighted narrative journalists working today. The Wall Street Journal has called his writing “as much art as it is journalism,” and Jia Tolentino has praised his “grace and command.” In Serious Face, Mooallem brings to life the desperate hopes and urgent fears of the people he meets, telling their stories with empathy, humor, insight, and kindness. These elegant, moving essays form an idiosyncratic tapestry of human experience: our audacity and fallibility, our bumbling and goodwill. In moments of calamity and within the extreme absurdity of everyday life, can we learn to love the people we really are, behind the serious faces we show the world?

~

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.

This post contains affiliate links to Bookshop. If you purchase a book using this link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!

High Times in the Low Parliament

High Times in the Low Parliament
by Kelly Robson
160 pages, Paperback
Tordotcom
Published: 9 August 2022

Rating: 3 stars

Lana Baker, a London scribe, is sent to work in the Low Parliament, which is in danger of being drowned if the members cannot come to an agreement on their politics.

Highs and lows is absolutely right for this book. There were parts I loved, as well as parts that really began to wear on my nerves.

There was certainly interesting world-building at play – crotchety fairies live alongside humans, and it seems only women populate this world. I especially loved the relationship between Lana and Bugbite, and how their friendship grew deep despite the dislike that fairies and humans traditionally held for each other. And to my surprise, I liked Lana, who genuinely charmed me despite (or was it because of?) her feckless, cheerful personality.

However, the plot underwhelmed. I definitely understood the analogue between the events of this book and Brexit, but I did not understand Angland’s motivation for their actions here. There also was a good deal of tension lacking despite the threat of imminent death hanging over everyone’s heads. I also wished I had known beforehand that this book has been described as “lesbian stoner buddy comedy.” I do not, alas, much enjoy stoner comedies, and I was certainly taken aback by the amount of “yeast” and “mushrooms” that were ingested in this book.

I listened to this book as an audiobook, which was narrated by Amy Scanlon. I thought she did a great job in performing Lana’s chirpy personality, and I liked how she did the voices of Bugbite and the other fairies. Despite all the female characters, I was able to tell all the voices apart easily.

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Description

Award-winning author Kelly Robson returns with High Times in the Low Parliament, a lighthearted romp through an 18th-century London featuring flirtatious scribes, irritable fairies, and the dangers of Parliament.

Lana Baker is Aldgate’s finest scribe, with a sharp pen and an even sharper wit. Gregarious, charming, and ever so eager to please, she agrees to deliver a message for another lovely scribe in exchange for kisses and ends up getting sent to Low Parliament by a temperamental fairy as a result.

As Lana transcribes the endless circular arguments of Parliament, the debates grow tenser and more desperate. Due to long-standing tradition, a hung vote will cause Parliament to flood and a return to endless war. Lana must rely on an unlikely pair of comrades–Bugbite, the curmudgeonly fairy, and Eloquentia, the bewitching human deputy–to save humanity (and maybe even woo one or two lucky ladies), come hell or high water.

~

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.

This post contains affiliate links to Bookshop. If you purchase a book using this link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!

I’ve Sold a Short Story!

I must admit it was very fun to write the title for this blog post.

I have been writing for a pretty long time. I started back when I was eight, with a fantasy adventure about a young girl who (naturally) is orphaned and becomes friends with a fairy. I swear it is rather darker than it sounds.

Since then, I completed three novels, four novellas and novelettes, and over seventy short stories. In addition to these, I have countless unfinished pieces, including another nearly complete novel-length works. In short, I write a good deal.

I never paid much attention what I was going to do with that writing, mostly because I love the actual act of writing itself enough to be satisfied with it alone, if I must. But while I never wrote for an audience, I did enjoy having one at times – my friends, my teachers, and even people on Wattpad at one point. This past April, with the help of my friend, I ended up self-publishing my novella Sun and Shadow, a fantasy romance set in an analogue of Ancient Greece.

It was around this time that I seriously started considering seeking traditional publication for my writing. I began querying agents with a historical horror novel, but I also polished up some short stories and sending them in to various magazines as well.

There were a lot of submissions, and a lot of rejections. Also, I learned that it is very hard to judge what will sell, and what won’t. I shopped around three short stories and one piece of flash fiction, but the short story that was eventually picked up had been an afterthought, submitted to just two magazines. It was certainly not the piece I was most confident in!

What’s the story called? Where will it be published? I am afraid I must be a little mysterious about that for now, as I just signed the contract today and the story may not be out for a little while! The header picture does provide a hint about the setting. I’ll write closer to the publication date about where you can find it, and what you may uncover in its pages.

La Maupin

La Maupin
by Jordan Stratford
184 pages, Paperback
Outland Entertainment
Published: 9 August 2022

Rating: 1 star

Raised in Versailles, Julie gets married, becomes the mistress of a royal, runs away from home, and duels an awful lot of people.

I was introduced to Julie d’Aubigny years ago, I think in a Cracked listicle. She led a fascinating life, but one that is documented very haphazardly, and so I was excited to see how it would be turned into a narrative in this book.

Except I would argue that the book did not have much of a narrative. The author adopted an odd style of writing, a sort of stream-of-consciousness that hops around in the timeline and doesn’t manage to engage. There’s no coherent plot to follow, and I found myself often confused by what was happening – who Julie was bedding, who she’d killed, who she was working for.

I also found myself very frustrated with the character of Julie. She is portrayed as a devil-may-care chameleon, adapt with a sword and good at wriggling out of the many scrapes she gets into. However, we never get much of an explanation of how a young girl from the court of Versailles gained most of these skills, or what drives her incredibly reckless behavior. And her narration is oddly bereft of emotion.

This book really disappointed me, ultimately. Though it has a fascinating subject in its lead, I found the execution very strange and did not learn anything beyond the little I already knew.

Do not recommend.

~

Description:

Teenage swordswoman. Grave-Robber. Arsonist. Nun. Assassin. Superstar. La Femme Nikita of the 1600s.

The true story of 17 year old Julie d’Aubigny, who took 17th century Paris by storm, by stardust, and by steel. Queen of the underground dueling scene among the wealthy sons of noblemen, daughter of the King’s fencing master, she rose in scandal, blood, and reputation to become the leading star of the Paris Opera.

Distilled from French “Yé Yé” pop, 1980s Delacorta beach novellas, and Luc Besson films, Sword Girl: La Maupin is a Rococopunk sugar-frosted hand grenade.

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Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.

This post contains affiliate links to Bookshop. If you purchase a book using this link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!

The Stars Undying

The Stars Undying
by Emery Robin
528 pages, Hardcover
Orbit
Expected publication date: 8 November 2022

Rating: 4 stars

To win a civil war against her twin sister, Altagracia must gain the alliance of the Empire of Ceiao through its Commander, Matheus Ceirran – but their ambitions may get in their own way as their stars rise.

Obviously I snapped this book up. It’s a Cleopatra and Julius Caesar retelling – set in space! I even reshuffled my TBR to read a short biography of Cleopatra in preparation, because I’d heard that my experience The Stars Undying would be richer for it. I was not disappointed.

Robin introduces us to a lushly built world with plenty of history and politics to keep my intrigue-loving self satisfied. The theme of religion was explored in a truly fascinating way, and I found myself turning the philosophical questions over in my mind long after I finished the book. And the characters! The central trio of Gracia, Ceirran, and Anita are well-realized and deliciously morally grey. I also liked the complicated relationship between Gracia and her twin Arcelia.

However, I did have one major quibble with this book – I didn’t necessarily buy the romance between Gracia and Ceirran. I enjoyed their intellectual sparring very much, but I did not think the feelings between them were on the epic scale that the events of the book imply. (However, I did love the tension between Gracia and Anita!)

I also thought the secondary characters in Ceiao – Jonata, Otávio, Celestino, and the rest – were rather underutitlized. My main question now that I am done reading is whether or not there will be a sequel, as I think this second problem will at least partially resolved with a second book.

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Description

In this spectacular space opera inspired by the lives and loves of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, a princess finds the potential for power–and romance–after meeting the most influential military man in the galaxy.

Princess Altagracia has lost everything. After a bloody civil war, her twin sister has claimed not just the crown of their planet Szayet but the Pearl of its prophecy, a computer that contains the immortal soul of Szayet’s god. Stripped of her birthright, Gracia flees the planet–just as Matheus Ceirran, Commander of the interstellar Empire of Ceiao, arrives in deadly pursuit with his volatile lieutenant, Anita. When Gracia and Ceirran’s paths collide, Gracia sees an opportunity to win back her planet, her god, and her throne…if she can win the Commander and his right-hand officer over first.

But talking her way into Ceirran’s good graces, and his bed, is only the beginning. Dealing with the most powerful man in the galaxy is almost as dangerous as war, and Gracia is quickly torn between an alliance that fast becomes more than political and the wishes of the god–or machine–that whispers in her ear. For Szayet’s sake, and her own, Gracia will need to become more than a princess with a silver tongue. She will have to become a queen as history has never seen before–even if it breaks an empire.

~

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley. This is my honest and voluntary review.

This post contains affiliate links to Bookshop. If you purchase a book using this link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you!