Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Coming up: new fantasy trilogy

So, I’ve recently decided to take a really long fantasy novel that’s been sitting here for quite some time, cut it into pieces, and self-publish it. It’s a portal fantasy, more or less, with a tremendously important backstory. You can think of it as a story that asks the questions, “And after the hugely important quest has been achieved, what then? What if destroying the Dark Lord was seriously traumatic? Where do you go from there?” I basically took a big epic fantasy and put the whole thing in the backstory and then moved on from that point.

This is an interesting story to me because I was trying to do several things I haven’t done in other novels. One of the most important influences was Dorothy Dunnett, because I was deliberately trying to do something unusual that Dunnett pulled off perfectly: separate the roles of the pov character and the protagonist. The pov is a person from our world, but the protagonist — the person who drives the action — is not that person and never takes the pov.

I worked and reworked this story several times … I remember referring to it as The Neverending Revision From Hell for a while … but it’s been finished for a long time. So, now that I am seriously trying to increase sales and income from self-published work, this seems like a good time to bring it out. That won’t be tomorrow. I need to do a fair bit of tinkering to get it ready. I’m thinking early next year.

Stuff I need to do to complete this project:

a) Cut it up. That part is done. I have chosen to break this story into a prequel novella that will be about 150 pages followed by two novels that will each be about 350 pages. The novella takes place in our world, then there is a natural breaking point as we leap forward 16 years, then the story picks up just as we move through the portal and into the secondary world.

There are a lot of benefits to breaking off that novella. Not only is that a natural breaking point, but the tone shifts a fair bit. The novella is almost more literary than fantasy. The rest of the story is more fantasy than literary. That is the only natural break. Setting that part aside lets me cut the rest into two average-sized novels.

b) Write new transitions. Now that I have the story cut into pieces, I have to write an introductory scene that helps guide the reader from the novella into the first book and both ending and introductory scenes that help move from the first book into the second.

Moving from the prequel into the first book will be challenging. I want to make it at least possible for a reader to get into the first book without reading the prequel (though that will not be an ideal way to approach this story).

The transition from the first book to the second will be much less challenging. This is because the novella resolves, but (sorry) the first book will not resolve. That’s going to just inevitably involve some sort of cliffhanger. Given that there will be a cliffhanger, there will not need to be much of a transition, as readers will either go immediately to the second book or they won’t, but they’re not likely to pause in the middle.

If you hate cliffhangers (and doesn’t everyone?), that shouldn’t matter too much, as that I will bring all three works out on the same exact day, so it won’t be like anyone has to wait to find out what happens next.

c) Proofreading. This is a story I have been over and over and OVER. Nevertheless, I expect there are some typos in the manuscript. I will, of course, be grateful if some of you are willing to do a proofread in return for getting an early look at this story.

d) Titles. Right now, the working titles are Tenai, Talasayan, and Nolas-Kuomon. These names will not do. One-word weird names are far too much like the Tuyo series. Even with an entirely different cover style, I think I had better come up with better titles that much more clearly indicate that this is a different and self-contained series. (Aargh.)

Also, HOW DO I NUMBER THESE?

Prequel, Book I, and Book II?

Book I, Book II, and Book III?

If I go with the first option, then how do I make it clear that really, the reader should read the prequel, that it changes the entire reading experience if you skip it? I’m afraid if I indicate in any way that this is a prologue or a prequel, readers will often be inclined to skip it. But if I call it Book I, then it’s really short to be treated as the first actual book.

Thoughts on this would be (very) welcome.

e) Covers. I would prefer the novella cover have a literary/fantasy vibe and the other two a fantasy/literary vibe, but they all need to look like they belong to one series. This is something I’m thinking about. I really do not know what direction to steer a cover artist. I have an idea about the novella, but I’m not entirely sure how to do the fantasy element. Maybe a sword somewhere.

I am not remotely sure what to do about the other two. I certainly do not need to contact an artist about these covers until I have titles, but still, hmm.

***

Stuff that I am doing right now that is not this:

I am actually sort of thinking I might finish the third Tuyo book, TARASHANA, or come close to finishing it, this weekend. We’re not doing much for Thanksgiving. If the weather is terrible, I won’t be doing much with the dogs either. (If the weather is nice, we’ll head for the park / go out for long walks / I really need to do some training with the youngsters / every one of the dogs could really use a bath and thorough brushing).

I hardly know what kind of weather to wish for. If I write 20 pages a day for four days, that might be just about enough to finish it. That will, btw, bring it to about 600 pages. I will probably be doing some trimming and tightening before I ask anyone to read it, but a couple of you may get that request yet this this year. No rush for this either, as I will not bring this book out this year regardless.

I will need a cover for that, too. It’ll need an animal on the cover. Maybe an eagle would be suitable this time.

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The charm of the large word

A delightful and intriguing title for a post at Jane Friedman’s blog: The Charm of the Large Word.

When I see a blog title like this, I instantly stop and think of particularly wonderful long words. Perspicacity! Quintessential! Brobdingnagian! (I don’t believe I have ever used that last one personally. I had to look up how to spell it.)

Anyway, by all means, let’s see which long words get picked out in this post …

To earn its place in a text, a big word must be two things: the right word and the best word.

It’s the right word if its meaning is what you intend.

It’s the best word if using it reduces your overall word count.

Well, okay. By all means, only use words you understand! If a word’s meaning is not what you intend, well, oops! I am now, almost involuntarily, thinking of the (popular, successful) fantasy novel where the author used the word parameters when she meant (probably) perimeter. I am still astonished that no copy editor caught that — and more astonished if the copy editor DID catch that word, but the author steted it back to the wrong word. Anyway, yes, the point is, only use words if you know what they mean!

Reducing the overall word count … okay, that’s fine, if you really want to reduce the overall word count. Not sure this strikes me as super important (unless you have a hard limit for the word count, I guess).

I guess, actually, I’d take that Rule 1 without argument, but for Rule 2, I’d go with:

It’s the best word if it best suits the rhythm of the sentence and the tone of the story.

For example, chatoyant is a great word. I used it a couple of times in The Floating Islands, for the eyes of the dragons:

Great heads as fine boned and delicate as a bird’s, chatoyant eyes glimmering with pale opalescent colors 

Replacing chatoyant with reflective of light would hardly improve that description. Chatoyant isn’t the better choice because it’s one word instead of three or more. It’s the better choice because it’s way more artistic.

The author of the linked post adds:

One of the English language’s most beautiful features is its many words, each with a shade of meaning ever so slightly distinct from its next nearest relative. This feature lets us write with precision, which gives our ideas clarity, which improves communication, which is, after all, the point of prose.

To which I would say, yes, clarity is important, but precision of meaning doesn’t just improve the clarity of prose. In addition to improving clarity, precise words that are also beautiful improve the elegance and artistry of prose.

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Tangled up with verbs

A good post by PJ Parrish at Kill Zone Blog: Tangled Up With Verbs

Parrish starts off more or less like this:

You’d think this would be easy. Pick a noun, pick a verb. Repeat until you’ve written oh, about 300 pages that might resemble a novel.

But it’s not easy. Verbs are the lifeblood of what we do. The good ones juice up our writing and help readers connect with our plots and characters.

Next time someone asks me how to write a novel, I may say, Pick a noun, pick a verb. Repeat until you’ve written 300 pages that resemble a novel.

Parrish goes on:

But verbs are on my mind also because a friend, novelist Jim Fusilli, posted on Facebook a terrific article by music producer Tony Conniff called “In Praise of Bob Dylan’s Narrative Strategies…and His Verbs.”

Now, I am not a huge Dylan fan, but I do appreciate that he is a poet. (officially). And as I read Conniff’s analysis of the song “Tangled Up In Blue,” I understood how powerful the right verb in the right place can be. Take a look at just one verse of the song:

She was married when they first met
Soon to be divorced
He helped her out of a jam,
I  guess, but he used a little too much force

They drove that car as far as they could
Abandoned it out West
Split up on a dark sad night
Both agreeing it was best

She turned around to look at him
As he was walkin’ away
She said this can’t be the end
“We’ll meet again someday on the avenue”

Tangled up in blue.

Conniff says that most of the story is conveyed in vivid verbs — the action, drama, conflict and emotion. “The verbs tell the story,” he writes, “the story of how being with this other woman, probably for a one-night stand, led his thoughts back to the one he couldn’t forget or let go. Every verse, every chapter of the story, leads back to the same woman and the same impossible emotional place—Tangled Up In Blue.”

Now this poetry analysis is a really neat way to look at verbs, and I like the observation that the story is conveyed by the verbs. Although I think “married” here, and probably also “divorced,” are participial adjective rather than actual verbs.

Parrish goes on:

The right verb gives your story wings. The wrong verb keeps it grounded in the mundane.

Now here’s the caveat. (You know I always throw one out there.) Not every sentence you write needs a soaring verb. “Said,” as we’ve said over and over, is a supremely useful verb that, rightfully so, should just disappear into the backdrop of your dialogue. And in narrative, when you’re just moving characters through time and space, ordinary verbs like “walked,” “entered,” “looked” do the job. If you try to make every verb special, you can look pretentious and, well, like you’re trying to hard. Sometimes, smoking a cigar is just smoking a cigar.

Good advice, basically!

I’ll add an important caveat to the caveat: Said does not always disappear. If the author doesn’t take care, it can be as obtrusive as tags like “he expostulated.”

I know I have said that before. Oh, here is that post. THIS is how said can become obtrusive. My post was all about dialogue tags, not verbs. Click through and re-read this post and I think you will agree that said can be obtrusive.

Parrish has a lot more about verbs, though. He picks out a bunch of paragraphs from various books by different authors and looks at the verbs. I enjoy that — I should do something like that. Imagine how different verbs would be in Pride and Prejudice vs a hard-boiled detective novel, say.

Plus an exercise! The kind I actually like! Pick one:

Let’s use the poor old verb “walk” as a lesson here. Your character is a sophisticated spy entering the Casino de Monte-Carlo to meet the evil villain Emilio Largo. He’s not just walking in; it’s a grand entrance that sets up the next plot point. How do you describe this?

  1. He walked into the casino and paused when he spotted Largo at the baccarat table with his mistress Domino.
  2. He walked haughtily into the casino but then came to an abrupt stop when he saw Largo at the baccarat table. He had to take it slow, assess the man and the situation.
  3. He sauntered into the casino, like a king surveying his realm. But when he saw Largo at the baccarat able, he paused, and then ducked behind a palm and watched Largo, like panther eyeing his prey.
  4. He strode into the casino, but when he spotted Largo at the baccarat table, he slid behind a pillar so he could observe him without being seen.

Which do you think works best, and worst? (I think the worst is very clear.)

Click through to see which version Parrish likes best and why.

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Man’chi is not liking

A post at tor.com: “Man’chi” Is Not the Same as “Liking”: Intercultural Communication in C.J. Cherryh’s Foreigner Series

My very first reaction: well, of course not. No one translates man’chi as “liking.” It would be more correct to translate it as “loyalty.”

Reading the article, I see that it spends rather more time on a plot summary of the first three books than I would prefer, and then focuses on linguistics. The linguistics part is interesting, but not as interesting as the concept of man’chi. That’s what I want to focus on.

It’s not that humans mis-translate man’chi as “liking” or “loving.” That isn’t the problem. The problem is that humans expect atevi to feel friendship or some similar positive emotion in the same contexts that humans feel that kind of positive emotions, and therefore act in the same way a human would act. Then those those expectations get in the way of predicting atevi behavior.

But man’chi doesn’t mean anything similar to “liking.” It’s a word that, when atevi use it, always means something more like “loyalty” — or so it seems to me. Speaking as someone who has read the whole series several times.

It seems to me that it works like this: man’chi is a direct sense of hierarchy; an emotional tropism toward the leader. Those individuals who all feel man’chi toward the same leader are associates and feel some positive emotion toward each other that might best be expressed as “that person can be relied on.”

Thus, for example, I don’t believe it’s correct to say that Banichi and Jago feel man’chi toward each other. They both feel man’chi toward Bren and toward Tabini, but they feel something toward each other that is different. I would argue that this is something like a sense that the other person has rock-solid reliability in the identical man’chi. Atevi do not appear to have a word for this feeling, but it seems to me that this is the feeling that replaces “friendship.”

It’s even quite possible they use the word man’chi to mean both kinds of feelings, just as English uses the world “love” to mean a boatload of different feelings. That doesn’t mean the emotion is the same, and in fact, it cannot be the same.

As it happens, English has a word for “positive emotions toward other individuals.” This word is “affiliative.” It encompasses the positive emotions a person feels toward their spouse or lover, toward their parents, towards their children, and towards their friends. All of those are positive. All of them can be called “love.” All of them are different. I hereby declare that this word — affiliative — can also be used to encompass at least three distinct types of positive emotions that atevi experience toward other individuals.

The affiliative emotions atevi feel must, at a minimum, include:

–man’chi, a feeling directed toward a leader.

–something else, possibly also called man’chi, a feeling that someone else reliably feels man’chi in the same direction and can be depended on.

–something else, probably not called man’chi, a feeling toward an individual whose loyalty is unimportant; for example, a young child. Some emotion has to cause a mother to take care of her baby. Tabini cannot feel man’chi toward his son Cajiri. He has to feel some other affiliative emotion. This is that.

It is important to note that these are all positive emotions and that it is quite all right for a human to think that an ateva feels a positive emotion toward him. The emotional experience is not the same, but it’s an emotion and it’s positive and that’s why Bren’s emotional needs can in fact largely be met by atevi.

If one defines loyalty to the leader as the central atevi emotion, and a feeling that others can be relied on to share that loyalty as the emotional glue that holds people together, then poof! Atevi social behavior at once becomes predictable. If humans had framed Atevi associations in that way to begin with, and acted in accordance with that understanding, they wouldn’t have accidentally caused the War of the Landing.

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What makes good back cover copy?

From Book Riot: WHAT MAKES GOOD JACKET COPY?

Good question! Here’s what I think:

–SHORT

–SHORT PARAGRAPHS

–NO SPOILERS

–Also, it’s nice if the back cover copy also gives a sense of the “feel” of the story.

I think it’s almost impossible to provide more than the most basic suggestion of the initial problem the main character is facing, and a mistake to try. It’s a worse mistake to throw a bunch of names in the back cover copy, even if a bunch of characters are important.

That’s basically what I think, I guess. I believe I’ve posted before that the basic structure is pretty much like this:

When [Character] faces [Problem], can she overcome [Challenge] in order to [Resolve the problem]?

To which the astute reader assumes the answer is yes.

Here’s a longer and funnier fill-in-the-blank version based on one I saw a long time ago, in a post that appears to have since been deleted:

(Main Character name) is a ____________. She lives in ________ and what she wants most in the world is _________. But that’s not possible because ________. So she ______. However, that didn’t work out very well because_______ and ______. Then along came _________. He/she/they did ___________ and __________ and ______. That made things even worse because _________. Now it looked like (Main Character name) would never get what she wanted. But then, one day, __________happened. Would (Main Character name) finally find the __________ she was seeking? This (suspenseful, gripping, lyrical) story of (intrigue, mystery, romance), captures the spirit of (setting or tone) and confirms the power of (theme or message).

It’s funny to think how close a lot of back covers come to that basic pattern. Break that into SHORTER PARAGRAPHS and it would basically work.

Shorter paragraphs are a lot easier to read online than longer paragraphs. That’s basically why I would suggest breaking up back cover copy into short, one- or two-sentence paragraphs.

Well, okay, that’s what I think. Let’s see what Book Riot thinks.

Here’s the editorial director of Graywolf Press:

“It’s essentially advertising copy, and during my attempts early in my career I felt like I was learning a new language. There’s definitely an art to it: you want to, in some ways, channel the tone or mood or style of the book while doing some very concrete things very quickly to catch a potential reader’s interest. There are also shoals to avoid: empty adjectives and adverbs, dead words, words that only ever appear in the context of catalog or jacket copy, transparent hyperbole.”

That sounds basically right, but what are those “very concrete things”?

Ethan then shared ­with me Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino, a recently published Graywolf book, as an example of jacket copy he finds enticing. …

Okay, let’s take a look!

In this madcap, insatiably inventive, bravura story collection, Julián Herbert brings to vivid life people who struggle to retain a measure of sanity in an insane world. Here we become acquainted with a vengeful “personal memories coach” who tries to get even with his delinquent clients; a former journalist with a cocaine habit who travels through northern Mexico impersonating a famous author of Westerns; the ghost of Juan Rulfo; a man who discovers music in his teeth; and, in the deliriously pulpy title story, a drug lord who looks just like Quentin Tarantino, who kidnaps a mopey film critic to discuss Tarantino’s films while he sends his goons to find and kill the doppelgänger that has colonized his consciousness. Herbert’s astute observations about human nature in extremis feel like the reader’s own revelations.

The antic and often dire stories in Bring Me the Head of Quentin Tarantino depict the violence and corruption that plague Mexico today, but they are also deeply ruminative and layered explorations of the narrative impulse and the ethics of art making. Herbert asks: Where are the lines between fiction, memory, and reality? What is the relationship between power, corruption, and survival? How much violence can a person (and a country) take? The stories in this explosive collection showcase the fevered imagination of a significant contemporary writer.

Okay, well, I think that is pretty long, BUT it’s hard not to write longer jacket copy if you’re doing it for a collection of short stories.

I do think the above is very good back cover copy. I am not at all interested in reading these stories, but obviously this description does a great job of advertising the collection to the readers who would be interested.

I would not, however, use the phrase “fevered imagination” except perhaps ironically. Or to discuss cliched phrases. “Ruminative” is a great word, so that at least partly makes up for the use of “fevered imagination.”

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Public service message: some trees do not go well with spaniels

Okay, so, every year I suffer through LEAVES and RELATED VEGETATION falling from trees to the ground, then being gathered up and transported inside by the boxcar load by the spaniels. If I can prevent EVEN ONE person from having to endure the same fate, then this blog post will be worth it, right?

This is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in full coat. Note the long hair, especially on the ears, chest, belly, legs, and tail. This longer part of the coat is referred to as the dog’s “furnishings.” This coat is soft, not coarse like the coat of a terrier.

This is Conner. Isn’t he handsome? He is also MUCH SHORTER than, say, an English Setter. My guess is that a Setter would also pick up a lot of trash in his coat, but probably not as much because his belly would be farther from the ground.

Conner’s coat picks up EVERYTHING. Most particularly burrs. Even after I walk through the yard and other areas where the dogs run, destroying every burr plant I can find, a dog occasionally comes in COVERED with burrs. Naming no names, but Conner’s sister Kimmie is by far the worst offender.

That’s the best picture I’ve ever taken, maybe, and you wouldn’t think it to look at her, but WOW does this dog have prey drive! She dives through underbrush without even noticing, particularly if she thinks there might be BIRDS, but also if she has suspicions about bunnies. She is a genius at finding burr plants no matter how carefully I search for and destroy them.

But anyone could guess that burrs wouldn’t be a happy companion plant for spaniels. Let me show you the WORST TREE.

This is a bald cypress, courtesy of Seth Betterly on Unsplash because I do not want to take the time to go through my phone and find a good picture of my own trees.

The bald cypress is one of my very favorite trees. It is one of the few needled deciduous trees. A bald cypress is beautiful as a sapling, beautiful as a youngster, beautiful as a mature tree, and beautiful in old age. The delicate green of the spring foliage is nice, the fall color is this handsome toasty color, and I love the shape of the trunk, so I like them even in winter. They are one of the rare specimen trees that looks great with branches all the way to the ground but also great if you limb them up, however high you choose to do that.

But see those frond-like leaves that have turned color? Those fall off the tree. They are about a fingerlength long with little spiky bits off the sides. They might as well be coated in GLUE. Every single time I forget and take the dogs under my bald cypresses, I have a ton of work to do with an extremely sturdy wide-toothed comb. The only good part is that these trees — I have three — are not actually in the yard. But they do overhang the driveway and the road, so avoiding them is difficult.

We’re a long way from spring, but while we’re on the subject, oaks, almost every one of the 500 or so species, are almost as bad as bald cypress. Not only do the dogs bring in leaves in the fall — not so much trouble, as oaks have big nonsticky leaves — but sometimes they try to eat acorns. Acorns are moderately toxic to dogs, so this is not ideal. But worst of all, in the spring, oaks flower abundantly, like this:

Image from Pixibay. Someone with a better camera than mine took this highly detailed picture. These are strands of male flowers. They will fall off the tree in massive quantities. I was exaggerating when I said bald cypress leaflets are coated in glue. THESE flowers actually sort of are. They produce pollen. Pollen is sticky. They are TERRIBLE for spaniels. I’m not actually tempted to cut down the fifty-year-old oaks in my yard, but … okay, maybe I am tempted.

Anybody with a spaniel should look UP at the TREES before buying a house. If planting trees, if you have a fluffy dog, do not plant these trees no matter how much you love them! Plant something else!

You know what the best trees are for coexistence with fluffy dogs?

This is my magnolia “Ann,” which blooms sporadically all summer. This is one of the late blooms, which is why the little tree is leafed out while flowering. Way more flowers in early spring, but this is nice all summer.

Here’s another:

This is my big Yulan magnolia.

My point is: the leaves of all magnolias are big and heavy. The dogs never pick up those leaves. The flowers are big, with big petals. The dogs never pick up those petals. Magnolias produce zero detritus that makes its way into the house. If you have a spaniel? Or any coated dog with abundant furnishings? THIS is the right genus of tree for you.

Also, magnolias are beautiful.

Detail of a Yulan flower.

Magnolias are my favorite trees. I do wonder, when combing infinite numbers of bald cypress leaflets out of Conner’s furnishings, if perhaps their cleanliness might be why. It certainly doesn’t hurt.

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Recent Reading: The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell

Okay, this was just about the perfect book to read, especially right before bedtime. Calm, very slice-of-life, nothing bad happening to anyone. Everyone is nice to everyone else, except the niece, but honestly nothing much bad happens to her either except losing a court case she should never have brought against her uncle.

Roger Mulligan takes the niece’s job to look after her aged uncle and keep him alive for a year and look after the house in a small way; eg, be a butler and also the full staff of the house.

Roger, an ex-army medic and ex-EMT, finds being a butler a soothing change of pace and is luckily not all that thrown when he finds out that old Mr. Shackleford is a wizard. Everything works out for everyone, the end.

I mean, there’s a cursed artifact, and I suppose it was POSSIBLE something (else) would go wrong at the court hearing, but really, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a lower-stress story.

Also! I would say that Nathan Lowell’s improved markedly as a writer since Quarter Share. I liked the Ismael Wang series quite a bit, but various quirks of the writing did irritate me. That wasn’t the case here.

Definitely recommended for anyone who would like to read a calm story about a guy discovering he likes being a butler, with nice people getting their lives in order plus rather easily thwarting a minor bad guy.

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Best animal photos of 2019

Thought you might like this: National Geographic’s best animal photos from 2019.

It’s hard to beat the tigers. But that orphaned giraffe with its keeper probably manages.

I will add that most of these pictures are fine, but one is not fine. If someone is going to include a miserable or tortured animal in a photo lineup of great animal pictures, I would appreciate a warning. If you click through, that one is picture #24 out of #28.

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New cover: NIKOLES

Just thought you might like to see this. I haven’t got the paperback version just yet. The new ebook cover won’t be live till later today or perhaps tomorrow, but here it is:

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Female detectives in books and movies

So, looks like The Passive Guy is on a roll. Recent posts:

Women and Crime Writing: We’ve Always Been Detectives

Why do we enjoy reading about female detectives?

No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

Jane Tennison

20 Greatest Fictional Female Detectives and Sleuths

So, okay, that’s a theme.

I liked No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency quite a bit, but had no idea the series was up to 21 books. Wow. I only read the first one. In fact, I think that was the only one at the time I read it. More recently, I liked the Tannie Maria series a lot. The books in the latter series include an emphasis on cooking, almost guaranteed to appeal to me.

I haven’t clicked through to read the post about Why We Enjoy Reading About Female Detectives, but one reason some readers probably do is that cozy mysteries are essentially a subgenre of romance as well as a subgenre of mysteries. That might not be relevant to the linked post, because in cozies, the female detective is an amateur sleuth, not a professional detective. Nevertheless, if someone (a) likes mysteries, and (b) wants something low-stress to read, then cozy mysteries that follow romance tropes and are guaranteed to have a happily-ever-after or a happily-for-now ending are going to appeal to that person.

I’m currently reading, and enjoying very much, Nathan Lowell’s The Wizard’s Butler. But for the rest of the year, and probably some time to come, I expect cozy mysteries and romances and so on are going to be filtering up to the top of my TBR pile.

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