Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Shakespeare retellings


There are that many Hamlet retellings? I had no idea.

As always with Book Riot posts, I half expect to see Watership Down on this list, but I expect that will never happen again. Probably everything on this list is an actual retelling of Hamlet. But let’s see.

Okay, their first choice: Foul is Fair.

Jade, Jenny, Mads, and Summer rule their glittering LA circle. Untouchable, they have the kind of power other girls only dream of—until the night of Jade’s sweet sixteen, when they crash a St. Andrew’s Prep party. The night the golden boys choose Jade as their next target. They picked the wrong girl. Sworn to vengeance, Jade transfers to St. Andrew’s Prep. She plots to destroy each boy, one by one. And she and her coven have the perfect way in: a boy named Mack, whose ambition could turn deadly. Golden boys beware: something wicked this way comes.

That does not sound at all like Hamlet to me. In fact, “Foul is fair” is part of a quote from the witches in Macbeth, not a line from Hamlet. Same with “something wicked this way comes,” that’s from Macbeth as well. I have to say, this sure sounds like it’s supposed to be Macbeth-flavored rather than Hamlet-flavored. Nothing about the scenario really evokes either play. At least, I don’t see how that description fits either one. Except the vengeance thing. I guess that could fit Hamlet.

Well, without reading it, I don’t know.

Okay, the rest of them do look very Hamlet-adjacent. Several are movies, not novels, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Oh, Here’s the choose-your-own-adventure version by Ryan North! The Romeo and Juliet one he did was quite funny.

The Dead Father’s Club sounds pretty good, and also wow, what a similar title to The Dead Girls Club in the previous post. This one sure got a better cover design:

You can actually read the title quite clearly! Also, I like the ghosts-as-smoke thing and the whole cover in general. The description:

In this 2006 novel, the character of Hamlet is reimagined as Phillip, a young 11-year-old boy who is visited by the ghost of his dead father. Phillip’s father says that he was murdered by his brother Alan. Now Phillip must avenge his father’s murder and prevent Alan from taking over the family pub. If Phillip is unable to avenge his father’s death by murdering Alan within the next three months, Phillip’s father will fall prey to the Terrors.

Here’s one which gets pretty creative:

Nutshell by Ian McEwan.

 Ian McEwan’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is narrated by a fetus. This fetus witnesses a classic tale of murder and deceit from within the womb: Trudy has betrayed her husband John and is sleeping with John’s brother Claude. Together, John and Claude have hatched a plan to rid themselves of John forever. But what can a poor fetus do to stop the murder of his father other than kicking his mom from inside her womb every now and then?

Huh. I certainly wouldn’t have thought of that.

Personally, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of Shakespeare’s tragedies. I guess I should look up retellings of the comedies! Except not The Taming of the Shrew. Wow, I have seen so many re-makes of that one — remember the one from the tv show Moonlighting? But I am not crazy about the original play and I guess I got tired of re-makes of it.

Anybody know of a good retelling of one of the other comedies?

Please Feel Free to Share:


Cover design: Unreadable title edition

Observe this cover:

Who thought that breaking “inhabited” into two pieces and hypenating them was a good idea? Why did this person think that was a good idea? Why did the editorial staff sign off on this notion?

Is there anyone — anyone at all — who thinks this works well?

Here’s another:

Who took a minute to read this? I saw both “Glue” and “Glub” before I figured out the last word is “Club.” I wonder if the “G” in “Girls” paved the way for seeing a “G” in the third word of the title as well. Was that just me? Did anybody else stutter visually over this title?

Other than the title, I sort of like this cover, actually. I don’t like anything about cover of The Inhabited Island, but I like the colors and the jungly plant thing in The Dead Girl’s Club.

Here’s another:

Thumbs up or thumbs down on that one? Is it at all difficult to read the title? I found my eye stumbling over that thumbprint. I don’t immediately perceive that this is the word “Anyone.” Granted, it didn’t make me stumble as badly as The Dead Girls Club.

I personally think there’s a lot to be said for a completely readable title. There are plenty of ways to be artistic with the title without making the reader pause to figure it out. Like this one:

That’s simple, artistic, and instantly readable. Maybe cover designers should try for something more like this when they’re going for creative, interesting ways to handle the title on the cover.

All these are from the latest mailing from the Science Fiction Book Club. That “Inhabited Island” is so bad it made me pay attention to cover design in general throughout the mailing. Still a lot of black and very dark and monochromatic covers, I notice. But it was definitely title design that caught my eye this time.

Please Feel Free to Share:


Things that get a pass

From Janet Reid’s blog: Query me for anything you want but these almost always are a pass

The reader’s version is of course: I’ll try any novel, but these almost always get a fast DNF.

For Janet, topics that aren’t going to work include: abuse memoirs, pedophilia, serial killers, vampires. Other things too; click through to see the full list plus comments.

There are plenty of things that get a pass from Janet Reid that generally or sometimes appeal to me. Vampires, say. Serial killers, sometimes. Apocalyptic pandemics, though perhaps that’s a bit to topical just at present to be attractive in fiction.

But there are several “pass” categories here that are “DNF” categories for me. The most definite:

5. The novel you wrote to prove a point.
I am entirely story-based. If you have a compelling story, you can make any point you want to, but I’m not going to read your novel to hear how global warming is a problem.

I’ll go further:

I am entirely story based AND I hate being bludgeoned over the head with a message no matter how compelling your story is.

If you have a message, kept it soft and bury it in the story and I’m fine with it. Whip out a club and whap me with it and I’m done, even if I agree with your message and even if the story is otherwise good. This doesn’t include things like “Hitler was bad and Nazis were evil.” That’s not a message; that’s just background.

However, that isn’t the kind of thing that usually stops me, or any reader, in the first chapter. It would be a very odd book if it whipped out a club in the first chapter, right? I can’t think of one that did that.

Let me see, let’s say specifically: Things that make me stop short and declare a DNF if they do in fact appear in the first chapter.

a) Too gritty. Fill the streets of your fantasy city with sewage and start out by dumping somebody in the gutter and I’m too grossed out to continue. Elisha Barber is the example that comes to mind.

b) Start me off with a protagonist, then kill the protagonist in the first chapter, and I’m probably done unless the story is a murder mystery.

c) Oh, here’s one — have the protagonist do something unjustifiably awful in the first chapter and I’m gone. I’m absolutely thinking of The Fifth Season here.

d) Things start off in too awful a place. If the protagonist is in a terrible situation, I may not be able to tolerate sticking around until she pries herself out of that situation. I wouldn’t say that’s always the case, but it can happen. I would prefer that horrible situation to be in the backstory. Let the author build up an understanding of that background slowly, after the protagonist is already involved in other things.

e) I’ve never seen this, as far as I can recollect, but I don’t recommend the author kill a dog or other pet in the first chapter. I doubt I’d get past that scene.

How about you? What’s something that, if it appears in the first chapter, makes you put down a book at once?

Or, is there nothing? Are you’re the kind of reader who always finishes a book if you start it, even if you hate it?

Please Feel Free to Share:


Great sentence from recent reading

So, I’m in the middle of T Kingfisher’s newest frothy fantasy romance, Paladin’s Grace. I paused to read that one while still in the middle of a much more serious military SF novel called Cry Pilot, by a new-to-me author named Joel Dane. I like that one a lot and I’ll definitely write a review of it later, but it’s more tense and I wanted something gentler for right before bed.

I don’t normally read two novels at once, but it’s getting to be a more frequent habit than it used to be. Out of curiosity, how many of you do that routinely?

Anyway, last night I came across a sentence from Paladin’s Grace that is so fantastic I must share it with you. I’ll give you the whole paragraph to set up the sentence.

The carriage had pulled into the formal quarters for visiting dignitaries, which resembled a cross between a small palace and a large hotel. It was in the formal style of Archenhold, all stone and arches and tall pillars. Grace was rather fond of how clean the lines were here compared to the style of Anuket City, which never saw a facade it didn’t want to ornament or a stone that couldn’t be carved into ten animals and an allegorical representation of Prosperity.

Ha ha ha! If that doesn’t give you a feel for the novel’s general tone, what could? And look, T Kingfisher is effortlessly using this really trivial moment of description to build Grace’s character as well as hold to the light tone of the story overall. So impressive!

Cry Pilot has offered some very nice lines as well, in a completely different style. I’ll have to make a note of the next such line and share it with you. I will try to make a regular thing of it, because it’s just amazing how one throwaway sentence here and there can effortlessly show off a writer’s skill.

Please Feel Free to Share:


2000-year-old seeds

A Long-Lost Legendary Roman Fruit Tree Has Been Grown From 2,000-Year-Old Seeds

It’s not actually as neat as the headline makes it sound, because this is a type of date palm. Date palms are all very well, but there are about a thousand varieties of the fruit-bearing date palm known today. Three varieties are grown in California.

The name of the species is, admittedly, great: Phoenix dactylifera. I didn’t know that before I read this article, so that alone makes the article worthwhile. But from the headline, well, I would have liked a tree species that was extinct in the modern day, something unknown since Classical times.

Still, it’s pretty good to get 2000-year-old seeds to germinate. Six out of thirty-two germinated, which is 18% — not bad at all after that long.

Incidentally, not as scientifically interesting but more personally delightful, of the ten magnolia seeds I planted last fall, six are up.

Let me tell you all about my babies!

The 4 are Yulan seedlings, that is, seedlings of M. denudata, a hexaploid species, probably pollinated by M. x loebneri, a diploid, itself a hybrid of M. kobus x M. stellata. This is the only non-sterile magnolia I have that overlaps significantly in bloom time with the very early Yulan magnolia. The seedlings would probably be tetraploids, most likely perfectly fertile with many other species and hybrids of magnolias.

Anyway, here is the Yulan flower:

Here is the M x loebneri flower

I’m guessing M denudata x M x loebneri are likely to be smallish trees, probably with — this is a guess — fewer petals than the loebneri, but almost certainly in the white/pink range somewhere. I actually have two older seedlings of probably the same cross that are about four years old and getting close to my height. I hope they flower in 2021, as they don’t seem to have set flower buds for 2020.

Now, the other two seedlings are even more interesting!

These are hybrids with the seed parent being “Woodsman,” a fascinating, unusual tetraploid hybrid of M acuminata x M liliflora. It’s not unusual because it’s tetraploid; all sorts of ploidy conditions are normal for magnolias. The interesting part is the unique flower color. Here it is:

Isn’t that neat? The buds are purple-black and then open to this pink-green-tan blend that is, I will admit, not as eyecatching from a distance, but so different and interesting!

“Woodsman” blooms really late. I hand-pollinated it with Magnolia “Butterflies,” a yellow-flowering pentaploid hybrid of M acuminata and M denudata, which was the only nonsterile magnolia I had blooming at the same time. Here is “Butterflies:”

5n hybrids are not sterile, but their fertility is not great compared to trees with even ploidy numbers. I got six seeds and planted them all; these two germinated. These babies could be tetraploid or pentaploid or some weird ploidy in between.

All the seedlings are healthy so far btw. The damaged leaves you see in the picture resulted from the seedlings being unable to break open the seed coat, which in one case I cracked with pliers and ripped off. That is not great for the baby, but damage to the seed leaves doesn’t matter once they get real leaves.

Please Feel Free to Share:


First new-to-me word of 2020

I don’t encounter new words very often, excluding medical jargon and stuff like that — also excluding new slang. I mean real words that I just have never happened to bump into before.

I remember the first time someone said something was copacetic. I blinked and went off and looked it up and every now and then I probably use it. That was in the nineties sometime, I think.

CJ Cherryh introduced me to chatoyant. She used it in her Foreigner series. Fabulous word, which I have taken considerable pleasure in using occasionally ever since. Very suitable word for high fantasy.

I remember bumping into antepenultimate — was that just last year? What a great word.

One new word so far this year, which I encountered in some article or other online over the weekend:


Did you all know that one? I didn’t get it from context, but looked it up:

A wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action. “The notion intrigued me, but remained a velleity.”

I like it! That’s actually a word I could imagine using in conversation. Certainly a familiar situation or state of mind. A wish not strong enough to lead to action! Not as poetic as chatoyant, but a good, useful word.

If any of you have happened across a new-to-you word lately, drop it in the comments! But such a thing probably doesn’t happen very often to anyone who comments here.

Please Feel Free to Share:


Oh, right, Valentine’s Day

From Book Bub, a helpfully relevant post so that I don’t have to write my own at the last minute:

9 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books That Double as Touching Love Stories

Yep, that’s a top-notch choice. I’m never going to read it because I am not remotely into lovers-to-tragedy as a story arc.

Actually, I’ve never read a single book on this list, though some are on my radar.

All right, fine. Surely I can do a very rapid list of SFF (or other) romances that I’ve read lately. 2020 is barely underway, but I have read a scattering of books that certainly qualify for a Valentine’s Day list.


a) I’m re-reading the Touchstone trilogy right now, so: Cassandra and Kaoren. Particularly good slow-burn romance, as you all know.

b) I’ve read several more Heyer romances this year already, so Black Sheep by Georgette Heyer.

c) A great new find to start of 2020: A J Demas and her Classical-ish novels. I especially like this long novella / short novel, with startlingly well-developed romance considering the whole thing takes place during a long day and night.

If you’ve read a story with a good romance already this year, toss it in the comments!

Please Feel Free to Share:


Astronomy continues to be surprising

‘Baby giant planet’ discovered just 330 light-years from Earth

“Baby” giant planets? And why is this interesting, anyway?

My first impression was that this was a very small giant planet, which didn’t immediately make sense. In fact — and you may all have caught on faster than I did — the headline is referring to a giant-giant planet that happens to be really young.

“The dim, cool object we found is very young and only 10 times the mass of Jupiter, which means we are likely looking at an infant planet, perhaps still in the midst of formation,” said the study’s lead author, Annie Dickson-Vandervelde

This is evidently one of the youngest planets we’ve found so far. It’s also a puzzle because it’s very far from its sun, and people are trying to figure out how it formed way out there, or at least how it wound up way out there.

I like this because I get a kick out of how very little we know about planetary science. I like how we trip over something weird and inexplicable practically every time we turn around. That makes the universe seem, I don’t know, bigger and more exciting.

Here’s another Astronomy one:

“Toffee Planets” Hint at Earth’s Cosmic Rarity

The concept of a planet made of toffee is entertaining, but I found this an easier headline to understand immediately. I figured it meant exactly this:

If these rocky super Earths have thick, Venus-like atmospheres or are especially close to their parent star, they might exhibit no familiarly brittle geology at their surface at all. Instead, … their surface rocks would be strangely malleable over long timescales, flowing a bit like the stretchy, sugary confections on offer in any earthly candy shop.

I like this one because it’s all wildly speculative. This particular suggestion — of how planets form and behave — depends on a tiny bit of data and a lot of mathematical modeling. The reason we trip over surprises all the time is first because we can’t get out there in space and look at stuff, and second because anything can be made to look plausible if you tweak the math the right way.

Please Feel Free to Share:


First sentences: The World In a Grain of Sand

From PJ Parrish at Kill Zone Blog: Finding An Opening Line Is Like Seeing
The World In a Grain of Sand

… the first sentence is important. Don’t we preach that all the time here at TKZ? A great opening line is a promise you make to your reader that they are in for something special, a hell of a ride. No pressure, right?

One of my writing heroes, Joyce Carol Oates, says “The first sentence can’t be written until the last sentence is written.” That is not some Buddha-esque mumbo-jumbo. Oates is saying that a great opening line comes from you the writer having a complete understanding of what your book is about at its soul.  And usually that is something you discover not at the first step but during the journey.

The most interesting part of this post: the list of “qualities of a first line.”

–It can be vivid or suprising.

–It can be funny.

–It can presage something bad to come.

–It can introduce the voice of the protagonist.

–It can be a simple statement of fact.

–It can set the mood.

–It can establish the theme.

–It can be beautiful.

Parrish provides various examples for the above categories. They’re good examples; click through and take a look if you like. I’d like to complicate the question of first sentences in several ways:

First, I think lots and lots of opening sentences do more than one of those things. Here’s one everyone will recognize:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

Just plain beautiful, sets the mood, establishes the theme.

Second, it’s pretty obvious that other first lines, perfectly good and successful ones, don’t do any of the above. Here’s the first line of Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract:

“The library at Fontley Priory, like most of the principal apartments in the sprawling building, looked to the south-east, commanding a prospect of informal gardens and a plantation of poplars, which acted as a wind-break and screened from view the monotony of the fen beyond.”

This is a case where the first line sets the scene. I wouldn’t say this is a statement of fact. I wouldn’t say it’s an example of particularly beautiful writing either. It’s not setting the mood — there’s no mood yet. Setting the scene is different from any of those, so this is an additional type of job a first sentence can do.

Third, here’s another first sentence that sets the scene. In this case, it also suggests the mood, or we might say the tone, or style. This might be a different category of first sentence or maybe not; it depends on whether you think “mood” is the same thing as “tone.” Anyway, take a look:

Morning light the sulphur colour of the mine dumps seeps across Johannesburg’s skyline and sears thorugh my window. 

This sentence immediately — I mean instantly, without needing to read the second sentence — suggests that the novel is going to be bleak, probably gritty, possibly nihilistic in tone. This is Zoo City by Lauren Beukes and, in fact, I DNFed it after the first couple of chapters because it was a lot too gritty and grim.

Fourth, How about this entirely different first sentence:

I had a sister once.

What does that do? It is vivid and surprising, but not immediately. It sets the mood, but not instantly. I think it takes just that tiny bit of a pause to process this sentence and realize what it means. This is from a dark fantasy novel called Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner. Is this the same kind of category as the above, or is a kind of slow-motion creepiness something different?

Fifth, some sentences absolutely cannot be read alone. The job they’re doing is completely lost unless you consider the sum of several sentences in combination. Here’s an opening sentence that’s just a pure statement of fact, and perfectly boring:

It was snowing again.

You have to read that one in combination with the next few sentences to get a feel for the writing:

It was snowing again. Gentle six-pointed flakes from a picture book, settling on her jacket sleeve. The mountain air prickled with ice and the savor of pine resin. 

Including fragments in the first paragraph is generally the mark of either a great stylist or a real amateur. In this case, it’s the former: this is from The Silent Land by Graham Joyce, which I mentioned a couple of days ago when thinking about plot twists. Anyway, this is a way of noting that the first sentence is sometimes entirely unimportant because it’s not supposed to stand by itself, it’s supposed to be read as part of the first paragraph.

Here’s the entire first paragraph:

It was snowing again. Gentle six-pointed flakes from a picture book, settling on her jacket sleeve. The mountain air prickled with ice and the savor of pine resin. Zoe pulled the air into her lungs, feeling the cracking cold of it before letting go. And when the mountain peak seemed to nod and sigh back at her, she almost thought she could die in that place, and happily.

Wow! First, that’s a fine paragraph, beautiful writing, but also, once you’ve read the book and know where it’s actually going . . . wow. Have any of you read this one? Because I think you have to read this paragraph again after finishing the book to really appreciate it.

Please Feel Free to Share: