So, we’ve seen a flurry of recommendations in the comments here recently. Let me pull some out and take a look. (If you have recently made a recommendation and I missed it, drop it BACK in the comments to THIS post, and I’ll try to pay better attention next time.)
All right, here we go.
Alison: I’d like to (again) recommend Fire Logic and Earth Logic by Laurie Marks: great world building, great writing, amazing symbolism, great story, great endings. I think I may prefer Earth Logic (the sequel) to Fire Logic because of the baker, but, no spoilers.
1. Fire Logic by Laurie Marks
In the border regions of northern Shaftal, the peaks of the mountains loom over hardscrabble farmholds. The farmers there build with stone and grow in stone, and they might even be made of stone themselves, they are so sturdy in the face of the long, bitter winter that comes howling down at them from the mountains.
The stone town of Kisha would have been as insignificant as all the northern towns, if not for the fact that Makapee, the first G’deon, had lived and died there. His successor, Lilter, had discovered the manuscript of the book in which were laid out the principles that were to shape Shaftal. Suring the next two hundred years, the library built to house the Makapee manuscript had transformed the humble town into an important place, a town of scholars and librarians who gathered there to study and care for the largest collection of books in the country. The library had in turn spawned a university, and the scholars, forced to live in the bitter northern climate, tried to make their months of shivering indoors by a smoky peat fire into an intellectual virtue.
All setting and backstory! I don’t dislike it, though, and that’s because of the writing itself. If you’re going to open with setting and backstory rather than with the story, then it’s a good idea to have sentences such as “build with stone and grow in stone and might even be made of stone themselves” and so on.
Where does the story start? Ah, in the very next paragraph. “Emil Paladin considered frostbite a small price to pay for the privilege of being a student in the university at Kisha.” Nothing’s happening yet, but as far as I’m concerned, when the protagonist steps onto the stage, the story has probably begun. If not, there may be a problem.
I will add, “Emil PALADIN,” really?
Alison again: I also recommend Joel Shepherd’s Tracato series (free on Kindle Unlimited) which starts with Sasha, again great world building, but it’s very dense and may not be for everyone.
2. Sasha by Joel Shepherd
Sasha circled, a light shift and slide of soft boots on compacted earth. The point of her wooden stanch marked the circle’s centre, effortlessly extended from her two-fisted grip. Opposite, Teriyan the leather worker matched her motion, stanch likewise unwavering, bare arms knotted with hard muscle. Sasha’s eyes beheld his form without true focus. She watched his centre, not the face, nor the feet, nor especially the wooden training blade in his strong, calloused hands.
An intricate tattoo of flowing black lines rippled upon Teriyan’s bicep as his arm flexed. Thick red hair stirred in a gust of wind, tangled where it fell long and partly braided down his back. High above, an eagle called, launched to flight from the row of pines on the northern ridge overlooking the Baelyn valley of central Valhanan province. The westerly sun was fading above the ridge, settling among the pines, casting long, looming shadows. The valley’s entire length was alive with golden light, gleaming off the wood-shingled roofs of the houses that lined the central road and brightening the green pastures to either side. Nearby, several young horses frolicked, and exuberance of hooves and gleaming manes and tails. From a nearby circle, there came an eruption of yells above the repeated clash of wooden blades. Then a striking thud, and a pause for breath.
Here we are opening in the story. This is a good example of integrating action into the setting so that you’re building character and setting at the same time. I can’t take the world “frolicked” seriously. It just looks silly to me. Despite my personal distaste for that word, this introduction appeals to me.
One more from Alison: My January favorite read was not fantasy or sci fi, it was Jackson Pearce’s Six Ways to Write a Love Letter, which is all about songwriting and performing and is a romance but super well done. It’s also available on Kindle Unlimited.
3. Six Ways to Write a Love Letter by Jackson Pierce
It was midmorning when Remy woke up. Or at least it was probably morning. It was hard to tell sometimes in Venice Beach — the area had that yawning, cheerful sense of dawn late into the day. The sun was always fresh and white-gold, the shadows always gentle and beckoning, the scent of hibiscus and sand and salt always bright in the air.
Nice writing there, but I’m biased. I read this contemporary romance last week, and a review will be appearing shortly. I will just say here that I loved it.
Mary Anderson: I wanted to recommend The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy by Megan Bannen. I picked it up fairly randomly and read it last weekend, and was so pleasantly surprised. Loved the characters, the world building and didn’t stumble over the writing. I kept trying to figure out if I was reading steampunk, or western fantasy, or alternate world. It was cool, and fun.
4. The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy
It was always a gamble, dropping off a body at Birdsall & Son, Undertakers, but this morning, the Bride of Fortune favored Hart Ralstone.
Out of habit, he ducked his head as he stepped into the lobby so that he wouldn’t smack his forehead on the doorframe. Bold-colored paintings of the death gods — the Salt Sea, the Warden, and Grandfather Bones — decorated the walls in gold frames. Two green velvet armchairs sat in front of a walnut coffee table, their whimsical lines imbuing the room with an upbeat charm. Vintage coffee bean tins served as homes for pens and candy on a counter that was polished to a sheen. This was not the somber, staid lobby of a respectable place like Cunningham’s Funeral Services. This was the appalling warmth of an undertaker who welcomed other people’s deaths with open arms.
Now, that is funny and unexpected! Actual undertakers — and that last line there is also funny and unexpected. I like this a lot.
5. Halls of Law by VM Escalada (Violette Malan).
Kerida Nast stood at ease outside the Cohort Leader’s tent, trying hard not to look as though she was listening to the discussion inside. That the Cohort Leader was her older sister Ester wouldn’t make much difference to her punishment if she were caught.
“You people checked her every year from ten to fifteen — like everyone else in the Polity — and never found anything,” her sister was saying. “Talents just don’t manifest this late.”
“It is rare.” the dry voice of the Talent Inquisitor sounded familiar. Kerida held her breath. “but rare is not impossible. We have the right to investigate every reported occurrence of Talent, no matter the circumstances.”
That’s the beginning of a prologue. I didn’t page ahead to see how long a prologue this might be. I’m not especially interested right off the bat. This looks pretty much like The Chosen One With The Special Talent. Talents just don’t manifest this late. I’m sure that when they do, it’s very special. I will add, the inclusion of griffins in this world naturally makes me more interested. From the acknowledgments at the front, it’s clear the griffins are important and, like dragons, griffins improve almost any story.
Melanie provided several recommendations. Here’s her first:
In YA fantasy, I’d recommend Hilari Bell. … My favourite is the Farsala trilogy – After their highly stratified kingdom is overrun by a neighbouring country, which is kinda like Rome, 3 teenagers from 3 different classes end up working to fight back for independence, and to preserve the best parts of their country, each in their own way, also learning to work together. I enjoyed the worldbuilding and magic, the plotting, and the themes of legendary tales being reimagined to meet current needs.
6. The Farsala trilogy by Hilari Bell.
Jiaan ducked, and a bronze cup shaped like a ram’s horn crashed into the wall behind him. It didn’t clatter on the floor, since the thick carpets that had already absorbed its contents muffled the sound. He hoped the carpets wouldn’t be too hard to clean. Jiaan knew that some people found it harder than others to fight off the djinn of rage. But he didn’t think the lady Soraya was even trying.
“Lady, if you’ll just lis–“
“I have listened,” the girl snarled. Her grip tightened on the second cup.
Followed by a detailed physical description of the girl, who was “probably the most beautifully feminine creature Jiaan had ever seen,” so, I mean, that’s a bit of a turnoff for me personally. However, given the description, I would of course turn the page.
Also from Melanie: Also excellent is A Matter of Profit, a standalone novel about interstellar conquest with a pacifist twist. All her work is fun to read and also thought provoking.
7. A Matter of Profit, also by Hilari Bell.
He would have to tell his father. He couldn’t tell his father.
Ahvren hoisted his three overstuffed gear bags and tried not to let his reluctance slow his feet as he boarded the shuttle that would take the spaceline’s passengers down to T’Chin. The voyage from teh Mirmanidan had lasted five interminable months. Ahvren was probably the only one aboard who wished it had lasted longer.
That’s a great couple of sentences to kick off this story. I’m immediately interested and sympathetic. Now, that could change, depending on what Ahvren’s problem turns out to be. But my immediately feeling is very positive.
This is also one of the few beginnings that succeeds even though it avoid using the protagonist’s name in the first sentence, that uses a pronoun instead. I think that may be because the first two sentences are so short and the name is provided in the next paragraph.
Another from Melanie: In YA SF, I’d recommend Maria V. Snyders trilogy Sentinels of the Galaxy. I love the main character here, her relationship with her archaeologist parents, and her growth throughout the story. I think the plotting is very well done, though it is not fast paced. This feels like older YA to me than Bell’s trilogy above. (Even more than above, I do NOT recommend Snyders’ latest series, Archives of the Invisible Sword. I tried the first book, and it was so persistently gruesome it felt more like grimdark to me. The series may end hopefully, but I wouldn’t know. I couldn’t stand it.)
8. Sentinels of the Galaxy trilogy by Maria V Snyders, first book Navigating the Stars
“The answer is no, Lyra.” My mother utters her favorite — I swear — phrase.
“End of discussion.”
Arguing is usually futile. But I’m not about to give up. Not this time.
We are having dinner in our housing unit. I’m picking at my reconstituted mashed potatoes, wilted broccoli and mystery protein … er … meat … while my dad scans his list of packing supplies on his portable, only half-listening to my mother’s efforts to convince me that traveling to the new planet will be a grand adventure.
Sounds like there’s plenty of room for growth, as at the moment Lyra sounds like a bit of a twerp.
One more from Melanie: in romance, I’d recommend Jo Beverley. And here I can happily say I like everything by Jo Beverley. She wrote many historical romances set in England: some in the Medieval period, more in Georgian times, and even more in the Regency. All of them are well researched and give you a good sense of the mood and atmosphere of their settings. Most are not low tension, they have quite a bit of high stakes adventure built in. The writing quality seems really good to me, though I am not an expert in that like some people here. I can say that they are intelligent and entertaining. My favourite would be the Malloren series, set in Georgian times, starting with My Lady Notorious. The series gets better as it goes on, so I’m not exactly sure how to suggest you read it. The individual novels do benefit from being read in order, but don’t need to be. My favourite 2 are Secrets of the Night, and Winter Fire.
Why be a slave to convention, right? Here is
9. Winter Fire, by Jo Beverly, book six in its series.
“Many people pray for tedium,” Genova Smith’s mother had often said to her as a girl if she complained that she was bored. It had not convinced her then, and didn’t now. Two long days in a slow-moving coach, no matter how luxurious, had tested her tolerance to the breaking point.
I certainly like Genova’s mother’s turns of phrase better than Lyra’s. I may start quoting that whenever someone complains they’re bored. Of course I’m a big, big fan of a tedious life myself. I have stuff to do. My personal motto could be “No Excitement, Please.”
Okay, of the above, I am have already read Six Ways. I’m most likely to start Fire Logic because people keep mentioning it. I’m drawn to A Matter of Profit, though I know two paragraphs is not enough to actually decide to read something. I think the writing itself looks exceptionally good in The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy, but good in many of these.
Meanwhile! Nine is not a round number.
10. Something to recommend? Drop it in the comments!
19 thoughts on “Nine Recommendations”
W. R. Gingell! Her City Between series is a wonderful comfort read for me, and her Lady of Dreams is very well written. I’m a big fan of found families and people who do the right thing despite their own inclinations, and Gingell is good at writing both.
On the basis of the recommendations on your blog, I read Emily Wylde and Halls of Law and liked them both. I agree, Wendell is a terrific character. Both books were high tension books for me though! I agree with Melanie, Hilari Bell is a great YA author. Her books are always interesting. I’ve read Maria Snyder’s book, but perhaps liked Jessi Mihalik’s Hunt the Stars series a little more. It’s interesting how you put snippets of the first part of the books on your blog, Bc I’m not sure if you can decide right away if you like a book or not. Jackson Pearce’s book: yes, it struck me immediately as crazy good, but it took a little time for me to get into the other two. Thank you, Kindle Unlimited. Without it I would never have read this book, or Beth Brower’s books. Your books, Rachel, I would buy, regardless of price.
Alison, you definitely can’t decide that fast — I mean, sometimes, sure, but usually not. But there’s only so much I can type as a snippet! I really like the “sample” feature for new-to-me authors. Now that I remember to use that, it’s much easier to decide without having to buy the whole book. I believe the sample is always 10%, which is almost always ample.
Yes, Kathryn, you’ve definitely mentioned that one before. I think I have a sample already … yep. I guess I should pull it up toward the top (again).
I’ll note that Fire Logic includes the abrupt genocide of a small tribe – one of the main characters is the only survivor. I finished that book but have been unable to bring myself to go on with the series, as I don’t generally enjoy being kicked while reading.
There is way too much going on in the second paragraph of SASHA for my taste. I think I like the sample of HART & MERCY the best, with the intriguing worldbuilding and narrative voice—I’ll keep an eye out for that.
Interesting observation, Mary Beth. You know what would probably have solved that is some sentence in the general form of “Sasha settled herself, becoming aware of her surroundings” before the flurry of description of the setting.
I’ll recommend A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers. It’s available on KU, and it’s short. I enjoyed the perspective, the world building, and the characters, but fwiw I didn’t like the second one nearly as much.
I read Hilari Bell’s Farsala and enjoyed it— but ages ago, so I can’t comment. Similarly, I remember Poison Study (+sequels) by Snyder as well written; haven’t read anything else of hers, but now I see she has a lot to explore.
I DNF Sasha. Just wasn’t interesting.
Recent reads or about to reads based on the Teen’s enthusiam: About to: Vespertine by Rogerson. Part of the blurb: When her convent is attacked by possessed soldiers, Artemisia defends it by awakening an ancient spirit bound to a saint’s relic. It is a revenant, a malevolent being whose extraordinary power almost consumes her—but death has come, and only a vespertine, a priestess trained to wield a high relic, has any chance of stopping it. With all knowledge of vespertines lost to time, Artemisia turns to the last remaining expert for help: the revenant itself.
Teen is very hard to surprise when it comes to what path stories are going to take. This one surprised as well as impressed.
Recently read and recommend: Six Crimson Cranes & sequel The Dragon’s Promise by Elizabeth Lim. It looks like an Asian flavored retelling of the Swan Princes story. It isn’t, exactly. Although princes do get shifted into the titular cranes. There’s a lot more going on than the narrator realizes at first. And the narrator, the sister, comes across as an ordinary person who rises to the occasions, not a super special heroine type, which I also appreciated. Although sometimes I got fed up with her, and her first scenes … well, she’s the youngest royal kid. It shows. Decent heart, but badly needed maturing.
Rachel, I think that’s it exactly. The last lines of the first paragraph told us Sasha was watching her opponent’s center, perceiving without truly focusing, presumably so she could be aware of his next movements. And then the next paragraph is telling us about his tattoos, the birds overhead, the horses in the next pasture? It’s contradictory as well as cluttered!
It really is, isn’t it? I agree, once you focus on your opponent, that’s where your attention should be unless there’s a good reason to look away.
Sasha is, as I said, very dense, and hard to follow, until you get to around the middle, and continues to improve. I totally get that it’s not for everyone. Fire Logic and Eartb Logic, as I’ve said before, may be the most comprehensive anti war novels I’ve ever read but again, it takes some time to realize it, and that may not be worth reading for many people. I started up Patreon again to find out what happens with Senrid and Liere. I think Sherwood Smith is doing an excellent job of growing Liere into a character I can once again admire.
My major contribution as a beta reader was to say, with a great deal of emphasis, YOU MUST PUT MORE CHAPTERS WITH LIERE IN THE FRONT HALF. She said thanks, she had taken out more than she’d really wanted to, but then she wound up leaping over an event that was, we shall say discreetly, fairly important to Liere. I made other suggestions about another plot point … come to think of it, that was also about Liere, partly.
Personally, my heart belongs to a good many of Detlev’s boys. Those guys have been my favorites for quite a while.
Though my all-time favorite of Sherwood Smith’s books is A Stranger to Command. I like the tight focus on a competent character, plus I happen to like school stories.
I’m looking forward to trying Fire Logic et al, though as always, not sure that’ll be right now. I actually started a Carla Kelly romance yesterday, after belatedly realizing it was Valentine’s Day and deciding a romance might be a good choice.
I thought Sasha was fine, though I can see why it’s not for everyone. And parts of books 2 and 3 are weak. Also, if you like fight scenes, it’s hard to beat! There’s at least one skirmish and one major battle in every book.
I liked Gingell’s “Between” for a while, but the series is way, way too long. Gingell has better books: 12 Days of Faery and Wolfskin are fine fairytale retellings.
I will again mention the Abhorsen trilogy. For YA and MG there’s Stephanie Burgis, but I think you’ve already mentioned her in the past.
I’m quite curious about Sasha now!
And for me, there’s no such thing as a series that’s too long as long as the individual books continue to be good. I’m not bored with Foreigner, for example. Although certain things about the latest couple of books annoy me (a lot), those things have nothing to do with series length as such.
I am now reading the City Between series by W.R. Gingell, and am almost done. Thanks for the recommendation Kathryn, and for your comment Pete! I am enjoying the series, though it isn’t perfect, it’s still fun to read and has many strengths. I second the recommendation. I don’t find the series too long, but probably would have felt differently if I had to wait for new books to come out, since each one ends on a cliffhanger. However, the series is now complete at 10 main books, with some complementary stories. Each of the main books is not all that long.
Checking back in to report on Vespertine, which I mentioned above. It surprised me, too, in a good way. And while the narrator has one of the worst childhoods I’ve come across in any form of fiction, it is not belabored, we find out about it in snippets such as the exchange with the revenant wherein it realizes she just doesn’t recognize hunger or pain as sensations to register and do something about. But mostly, when I summed up my reaction to the book later, to the Teen, I said “it’s full of hobbits.” People of all ranks and responsibility who through decency keep doing the right things.
That sounds really good, Elaine — thanks for the update!
Elaine T, I really liked Vespertine. Scary, but the author was really able to convey a sense of religious exaltation with the Lady. Glad you and your teen suggested it!