Five Reasons You Should Read Seanan McGuire’s October Daye Books

rosemaryrue

The latest book in Seanan McGuire’s long-running October Daye urban fantasy series, Once Broken Faith, came out a little over a month ago. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a McGuire fangirl. I love her writing, and I recommend this series every chance I get.

But now we’re 10 books in…and frankly, it can be a little intimidating to start a long-running series. I’ve seen many series lose steam and direction after a few books are out.

That’s not the case here.

I thought I’d break it down, point by point–the five reasons you should pick up the October Daye books if you haven’t already:

1) The long-term payoff. One of the big problem with long-running series is that they often lose focus as they go on. Not true with the October Daye books. You can tell that McGuire has a firm hand on her world and characters. Information will be revealed in one book that may not pay off until several books later. Even 10 books in, we are still waiting for answers to a lot of important questions. A lot of the tension in the story builds from the fact that other people know things that Toby herself does not. McGuire uses this tension skillfully, and it’s very much to the story’s benefit.

2) Fantastic worldbuilding. One of the things I’ve always admired about McGuire’s writing is her amazing ability to build worlds. Whether it’s the ghostly Midwest of yesteryear in Sparrow Hill Road or the mythological creature-rich world of her InCryptid series or a boarding school for kids who have been sucked into parallel universes in Every Heart a Doorway, McGuire has an incredible ability to create a world out of the fantastic that feels real in its vividness and complexity. In this series, fae live among humans, hiding in plain sight. There are rules, social norms, dress codes, territories, and conflicts, and they are all drawn out so vividly that you feel like you’re there.

3) Slow-burn romance. These books definitely sticks more to the urban fantasy side of the urban fantasy/paranormal romance spectrum, but that doesn’t mean Toby is completely romance-free. But it takes a long time to get there, and it may not be with the person you initially expect. But by the time you do get some payoff from the romance, you really feel like they’ve earned it. In addition, it’s not—shall we say—graphically depicted, so those who prefer less explicitness in their fiction are in the clear.

4) Real consequences. Some writers seem to believe that “fantasy” is essentially a “get out of jail free” card. Killed off a beloved character? Just bring them back to life! Burned down a major city during your epic battle? That’s okay, you can just use the magic restoration potion to fix everything. But in the October Daye universe, things stick. Bad things happen, and there are sometimes long-term consequences. McGuire is also—be warned—willing and able to kill beloved characters…permanently. But the bad things in Toby’s world make the good things seem all that much more special.

5) Great side characters. Sometimes in urban fantasy, the side characters don’t feel as complex or developed as the protagonist. Not so here. Everyone from the King of Cats to the ancient sea witch to Toby’s teenage squire to Toby’s death omen (long story, don’t ask) have rich, compelling inner lives. As a bonus, McGuire has written several short stories and novellas set in Toby’s world featuring many of these characters as protagonists. (Many of these stories are free on McGuire’s website.)

And as a bonus…

6) LGBT representation. McGuire is a very outspoken advocate for inclusion in fiction, and she practices what she preaches. Bisexuality is the norm in fae culture, particularly among pureblooded fae, so you get to see many of the characters engage in same-sex relationships. One of the secondary characters is also transgender, but we don’t find out until well after the character has been introduced, and it’s dropped into the story so casually you might forget about it. But the coolest part about the inclusion is that it’s not a big deal within the story. Nobody makes an issue of it, and it’s not the defining characteristic for any of these characters. They are not included in the story as the “token” queer characters; they each play roles in the story that have nothing to do with their sexuality or gender identification.

So there you go. If you haven’t done so already, pick up Rosemary and Rue. It’s a great book, and the books get stronger as you go along. And if you have, let me know what you think!

 

DemonWithin CoverOn another note…

My Goodreads giveaway is still running through November 11. I’m giving away 15 signed, personalized copies of my urban fantasy novel, The Demon Within, about a young woman who finds out that she’s half demon–just in time for the entire angelic population of Manhattan to start hunting her down. If you’re interested, you can enter here.

 

Demon Within Giveaway!!!

DemonWithin Cover

I am so excited!!! I am giving away 15 free copies of The Demon Within on Goodreads. The giveaway runs from now until November 11, and I will sign and personalize each copy for the winner.

The Demon Within is what I’d consider “dark urban fantasy”–it has paranormal elements, and it’s set in a contemporary, realistic world. But it’s darker and grittier than some other urban fantasies you may have heard of, like the Sookie Stackhouse books (on which the “True Blood” TV series was based). It’s not YA; I’d say the appropriate age group is probably 16+.

Here’s the book description:

Heaven is hunting Dale Highland…

For 10 years, she’s been on the run, plagued by violent blackouts and increasingly baffled by a growing array of superpowers–mind control, super strength, enhanced healing abilities.

What Dale doesn’t know is that Heaven’s greatest bounty hunter, John Goodwin, has been on her trail the whole time. When John finally corners her in New York City, he reveals the source of her powers: her mother was a demon.

The forge an unlikely connection and go on the run. In pursuit are his fellow bounty hunters, a deadly guild of angels known as the Thrones. Their goal: eradicate all demons–which includes Dale. As they flee across New England, Dale delves into the mystery of her own heritage and discovers that she’s a key figure in the ancient war between angels and demons.

Only this time, the angels are the bad guys.

Fine print: the giveaway is open to readers in the United States and Canada. Winners are selected at random by Goodreads, and I won’t get the winner list until after the drawing.

I’m very excited about this, and I hope to have more giveaways coming up in the near future.

 

 

Tuesday Book Rec: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

EveryHeartDoorway

I’ve been focusing a lot on promotional stuff as of late, but I wanted to take today to return to my Tuesday Book Recommendations.

I get these “author crushes.” Basically, it’s when I look at another author with a combination of envy and awe. And yes, I know—we all have our own voices and styles, etc. Still, it doesn’t stop me from looking at the work of other authors and thinking, “I wish I could do that!”

Seanan McGuire is one of those authors for me. Every book I’ve read of hers, whether it’s her fae fantasy October Daye series or her zombie political thriller Newsflesh trilogy (written under her Mira Grant pseudonym), every book I’ve read of hers has been entertaining and engaging, with great characters and story. But what really gets me about McGuire’s work is her worldbuilding. Every sci-fi/fantasy universe that she creates is so complex, well-realized, and they’re each so different than one another.

In Every Heart A Doorway, McGuire’s new novella, she describes multiple, unique worlds, each of them a love child of Lewis Carroll and Tim Burton. At the heart of the story is a question: what would happen when Alice and Dorothy Gale and the Pevensie children came home? They’ve had these big adventures in this fantastical worlds, and then they come home and are expected to act like nothing has changed. Their family and teachers and friends have certain beliefs about who they are and what they’re like—but they no longer fit.

The book takes place at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. The families of these children believe they’re attending a school to cure them of their otherworldly fantasies, to turn them back into the people they were before their disappearances. But really, this is a retreat for children who have gone to another world, long desperately to go back, and have to learn to live in the world knowing the doorway back “home” will probably never open for them again.

There a murder mystery, but that was the least interesting part of the book for me. The most interesting were the stories of the students and their respective worlds: Nancy and the Hall of the Dead, where stillness and silence reign; Jack and her Frankenstein-esque scientific pursuits; Jill and her vampire-master; Christopher and the bone princess with whom he fell in love.

But the story that touched me the most was Kade’s, a transgender boy. Kade was kicked out of his world, after years of being a hero there, when they realized that the girl they thought they had taken was really a boy. But Kade’s parents cannot accept that he is transgender, either, so he’s stuck at the school as Miss Eleanor’s ward, not really belonging anywhere.

There are deeper metaphors here, about growing up and finding a place where you belong and not fitting in with the world around you. It was sad and sweet and beautiful, and it touched me in ways I can’t quite articulate. Maybe because I was one of those kids who never quite fit in. I would have loved a school like this one.

I also loved McGuire’s treatment of gender and sexual identities in the story. Nancy, the protagonist, is asexual. Kade, the leading male character in the story, is transgender. This story is not about that, and for the most part those aspects of their characters are treated as no big deal by the other students. For Nancy and Kade, their sexual and gender identities are just one more way they don’t fit with the world around them.

To be honest, I almost didn’t pick this book up. I got sick of YA novels after reading a lot of them several years back, and I’ve mostly avoided them since. I did so because I’m a McGuire fan, and because the premise sounded interesting.

And I’m so glad I did. It touched me in ways I didn’t expect, more deeply than any other story has in a long time.

Tuesday Book Recommendation: TRULY by Ruthie Knox

Truly Ruthie KnoxI’ve discovered recently that the romances I like best are the ones that are about messed-up, broken people discovering love in spite of themselves, which is probably one of the reasons why I gravitated to Truly by Ruthie Knox.

The story follows May, a New York City transplant who recently turned down an engagement by stabbing her boyfriend with a lobster fork. (But in fairness, he kind of deserved it.) She hates the city, and wants nothing more than to return home to Wisconsin. But a series of unfortunate events leaves her without money or identification in a Manhattan sports bar, where she meets Ben. Ben is a former chef who lost his restaurant in his divorce. But that restaurant nearly cost him his health, between high blood pressure and anxiety issues. Now, as a rooftop beekeeper, he’s much more at peace—if not exactly happy.

Both of the leads here are incredibly broken in their own ways. May is a people-pleaser who has allowed others to dictate how she acts and feels about herself: she’s the plain one, the steady one, the ordinary one. Even after years away from the high-pressure restaurant business, Ben can barely control his temper, and he initially comes across as unlikeable and surly.

But the magic in this book is how they discover each other’s better selves. Underneath Ben’s surliness is a kind, compassionate heart, and when May stops trying to make everyone happy she becomes a confident, intelligent woman. It happens slowly, layers being peeled off, with one step back for every two steps forward.

The other thing I loved about this novel were its vivid, beautiful descriptions of New York City. I went to college in New York City, so the frenetic, overwhelming city has always had a special place in my heart. Early in the book, Ben sets out to make May fall in love with the city as he once did. Their half-touristy, half-city insider journey through New York reminded me a lot of Before Sunrise, the 1995 Ethan Hawke/Julie Delpy film about two young adults on vacation who fall in love while exploring Vienna. Knox gives New York City that same kind of beauty and magic.

But unlike the idealistic lovers of Sunrise, May and Ben are older, more seasoned, harder in a lot of ways. Their romance doesn’t have the ephemeral quality of Before Sunrise, but you also feel like whatever happiness they can get, they’ve really earned. It makes the story that much more triumphant.

 

Buy this book on Amazon

Buy this book on Barnes & Noble

Tuesday Book Recommendation: THE TAMING OF THE BILLIONAIRE by Jessica Clare

TamingBillionaire

So I am going to start trying to recommend a book I like every Tuesday. It won’t necessarily be a recent release, and it won’t necessarily be a fantasy or science fiction book. (When you write it all the time, sometimes you don’t want to read it anymore!) It’s just going to be a book I really liked and want to spread the word about.

My first Tuesday Book Recommendation is The Taming of the Billionaire, a contemporary romance by Jessica Clare.

So I realized some months back that contemporary romances about billionaires are my book crack—which makes Jessica Clare my main supplier. There are a lot of books on the market right now featuring billionaire heroes—it’s wish fulfilment, amiright?—but for my money, none of them are as sexy, funny, or just plain entertaining as Jessica Clare’s. Her Billionaire Boys Club focused on a secret society of billionaires who helped each other to success. Now that series has ended, and Clare has moved on to another series, Billionaires and Bridesmaids, set in the same world, with many of the protagonists from the previous series playing secondary roles.

The Taming of the Billionaire is the second book in this spinoff series, but you don’t need to read any of the other novels to enjoy it. While I liked Clare’s other books, this one had some elements that seemed specifically designed to appeal to me.

–A video game programmer hero.

–A cat behaviorist heroine with an—ahem—acerbic personality.

–Lots and lots of cats.

Seriously, it’s like she took a look at my Twitter feed and said, “What can I write for this girl?”

The book is a take on The Taming of The Shrew. The heroine, Edie and her sister Bianca attend an engagement party, and one of the groomsmen, Levi, falls hopelessly in love with Bianca. But Bianca is Edie’s assistant; Edie was disabled in an accident several years earlier and now has difficulty sitting, walking, or standing for long periods of time. Bianca gives Levi an ultimatum: find someone to distract my sister so I can go out with you.

Enter Magnus, Levi’s brother, who unfortunately didn’t make such a good impression on Edie during their first meeting. (She overheard him insulting “crazy cat ladies.”) He comes off as sort of a jackass when you first meet him, but you start to see his softer, more caring side quickly. He’s a video game programmer, and he and his brother made billions off of a game they created years before. My fiancé is a programmer, albeit not video games, and Clare’s portrayal of Magnus makes me think she must have known a programmer or two in her time. The scene where Magnus is sitting at his computer, headphones cranked up full-blast, cursing at the screen was very, very familiar to me. Verisimilitude at its finest.

But what really made me love this book was Edie. Edie has a take-no-shit kind of personality that leads others to sometimes call her bitchy. (Boy, can I relate!) She seems to keep people at arm’s length, lashing before they can get close enough to hurt her. But some of her takedowns—like her evisceration of the guys who she overhears making sexist comments at the engagement party—are things of beauty. Her disability is dealt with directly. You see some characters react quite poorly and trip all over themselves, and some treat it matter-of-factly. One of my favorite aspects of Edie and Magnus’s relationship is how he just accepts her disability without angst, and he tries to find ways of accommodating her and making her life easier without treating her like an invalid.

…And the cats, did I mention the cats? Edie is a cat behaviorist (think Jackson Galaxy, only without the tattoos and guitar case), basically my dream job when I forget that I’m still a teeny bit afraid of getting my eyes gouged out. As a cat lover and animal shelter volunteer, I loved that this book dealt so honestly with the realities of cat behavior and the difficulties of adopting out older or sick cats. Kittens, on the other hand, are sweet and cuddly and adorable. One of the reasons I do the volunteer work I do is that I hope I can help, in some small way, get the adult cats adopted out faster and make sure they find the right homes. So right away, I was in Edie’s corner, fighting the good fight with her.

This is a sweet, sexy love story that will appeal to fans of the billionaires…and of course, fans of cats. For me, it hit exactly the right notes.

 

Ilona Andrews and the Hugh D’Ambray Book

First things first: I’m sorry for not posting this sooner. My only excuse was that I was closing on a house in December, plus celebrating the holidays, so things were a bit chaotic. But I should have posted this last month.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that Ilona Andrews is one of my favorite authors. Regardless of whether it’s the Kate Daniels urban fantasy, the Edge paranormal romances, or the basically unclassifiable Innkeeper serials, Andrews’ books are among the best in the genre. Both the worldbuilding and character development are kickass, and they have a knack of making their bad guys more complex and sympathetic than many.

Which is probably how this whole thing started.

About a month ago, I wrote an entry asking whether Ilona Andrews was punking us. I had been scanning the comment section of one of her blog entries, and she referenced writing a Hugh D’Ambray book–one of the aforementioned complex, sympathetic villains in the Kate Daniels series.

It was a very quick comment, and things don’t always translate very well online. And certainly, a blog comment isn’t the same as an announcement. What you guys don’t know is that I reached out to Ilona on Twitter afterwards. And then this exchange happened:

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Welp. That certainly sounds like a “this book is going to happen” to me! *Cue squeeing.*

Now, this isn’t an official announcement. Things could change, they might change their minds, etc. But it’s certainly better than an April Fools’ joke, right?!?

Carolyn Crane Blurbed THE DEMON WITHIN

Mind Games

USA Today bestselling and RITA award winning author Carolyn Crane gave an amazing blurb for The Demon Within:

This inventive and exciting tale had me breathlessly flipping the pages—and I loved every minute! Get ready for a sexy, twisty, dangerous ride that crackles with pure awesomeness.

I’m ridiculously flattered by this. Carolyn is an author whose work I’ve loved for a long time. Her Disillusionists trilogy (Mind Games, Double Cross, and Head Rush), about a woman who weaponizes her hypochondria to become a crime fighter, is one of the coolest, most unique entries in the urban fantasy genre.

As a fan of her urban fantasy, I was a little nervous when I found out Carolyn was writing a romantic suspense series. I’m kind of picky about romantic suspense. With some romantic suspense, I feel like I’m reading the same story (damaged sexy hero and TSTL heroine on the run from a serial killer) over and over again. But The Associates novels focuses on a quasi-legal worldwide spy organization–and of course, everyone involved is super suave and sexy. Think James Bond spy stuff meets The Thomas Crown Affair intrigue and sex appeal. Also, the heroines are as badass as the heroes. One of them is a not-quite-reformed criminal safecracker; another is one of the leaders of the Associates who goes undercover to infiltrate a drug cartel.

 

Basically, it seems like no matter what genre she’s writing in, Carolyn looks at the rules and tropes…and then ignores them altogether and does something completely different. It makes her books unexpected and awesome.

 

Carolyn CraneI interviewed Carolyn for the CC2K pop culture blog back in 2010, and I’ve spoken to her quite a bit on Twitter and Facebook since then. This summer, I actually got a chance to meet and speak to her during the Romance Writers of America Conference in New York City. She was a wealth of information about writing and publishing, and the experience was one of the highlights of my year. (She’s also super sweet, and just one of the coolest, most generous people I’ve met in the writing world.)

 

 Thank you again to Carolyn for this amazing blurb!

Guest Blogging at Geek Girl Authority

WritteninRedI am being featured over at the Geek Girl Authority blog today talking about five kick-ass women of the urban fantasy genre. The complex, compelling female characters–I hesitate to say “strong female characters” because that’s become a loaded term–are one of the reasons I was drawn to urban fantasy, both as a reader and as a writer, and I’m so glad I’m finally getting a chance to talk about some of my favorites. Check it out: 5 Kick-Ass Women of Urban Fantasy.

Special thank you to Audrey Kearns for giving me the opportunity to write for her blog.

Why Romance is Feminist

Earlier this week, Heroes & Heartbreakers published a piece on whether “feminist romance” was an oxymoron.

In a word: no. In two words: absolutely not.

The H&H article also comes down on the side of “no way”—not surprisingly, since H&H is a romance blog. But there were a few other points that I wanted to touch upon:

Romance is a genre written primarily by women, for women

UnboundRomance is the only genre dominated so wholly by female readers and writers. And that’s pretty amazing. Last year, I attended the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Conference in New York City. Never before have I been to a writing conference that felt so inclusive and welcoming to me—in spite of the fact that I was an unpublished writer who, technically, didn’t even write romance. (Although there is a lot of crossover between urban fantasy and paranormal romance, but that’s another story.)

Studies have shown that, in group atmospheres, women don’t talk as much when they’re outnumbered by men. So in creating a predominantly female environment, whether at a conference or on an online forum, you are creating a space where women’s voices will be heard.

Romance showcases female desires

I’m not going to deny it: I read some romance novels simply because they turn me on. I’ve likened romance novels to “girl porn” in the past. Five years later, I still think that description is accurate, if maybe a little reductionist.

As I said then, the lines between romance and erotica are blurring more and more, and that trend has only continued. In the last five years, I’ve seen more and more romances meant to appeal to a woman’s “darker” (read: kinkier and less socially acceptable) desires.

HostageBargainTake Cara McKenna’s Unbound, about a woman who meets a mysterious British loner who turns out to have a hard-core rope fetish. Or Annika Martin’s The Hostage Bargain, about a woman who gets kidnapped by three hot bank robbers and ends up having kinky sex with all of them. Or Jessica Clare’s Beauty and the Billionaire, about a woman who moves in with a horribly scarred billionaire and introduces him to sex for the first time. And those are just three of the ones I’ve read.

Hell, why do you think 50 Shades of Grey, despite its mediocre writing, is a thing?

For generations, women have been taught to suppress their desires, that they were dirty and wrong. It’s a mentality that, unfortunately, many women still haven’t broken out of. Today’s romance novels take that sentiment and declare bullshit.

And feminine desire doesn’t always fit into the pretty little, “They fall in love and get married” box that our society is comfortable with. (Though we have romance novels for that, too.) Some women have rape fantasies. Some women are dominant or submissive. Some women want to have polyamorous relationships. Some women want to participate in orgies or partner swaps. Some straight women are turned on by m/m or f/f sex. We’re seeing an expansion of what the romance genre encompasses, thereby appealing to the desires of more women.

The romance community continually questions itself

Romance readers, writers, and reviewers are some of the most self-aware, self-questioning people I’ve ever met. What I mean is that they are constantly questioning their genre and its tropes, considering its relative strengths and weaknesses. Romance readers and writers are constantly critiquing the genre regarding its consent norms (specifically, that “consent” seems to be dubious in some romances). More recently, on the Smart Bitches Trashy Books blog, I recently read a post talking about slut shaming in romance—which, unfortunately, is still much more prevalent than it should be. If you dig into the comments, they get into a very thoughtful discussion of the “Not Like Other Girls” syndrome, something that has been discussed in feminist media quite a bit, but can pretty much be summed up by the Taylor Swift song “You Belong to Me.”

Earlier this month, I received my copy of Romance Writers Report, the magazine for RWA members. On the first pages, it discussed the first meeting of the 2015-2016 RWA board, and this jumped out at me:

Diversity. For multiple reasons, members of color, LGBT members, and disabled members have felt marginalized. RWA leadership is dedicated to ensuring every member feels welcome. […] Work on diversity issues is an ongoing priority.

The section discussed suggestions from the Diversity Committee on how to improve the situation, including changes in how RWA speakers are selected; adding a section to their Policies and Procedures manual mandating that no RWA-affiliated professional shall refuse to work with any member on account of race, ethnicity, age, marital status, or disability; ways the RWA can better accommodate differently-abled members, such as priority seating, closed captioning, and an on-call ADA staff member; and a discussion of the diversity problems in the publishing industry. (I remember that last discussion coming up quite a bit at the RWA conference last year.) Obviously, it’s not a perfect organization—otherwise, the discussion never would have been needed at all—but what got my attention was the fact that the RWA leadership saw the issue and is taking steps to address it. It’s taken 87 years and the threat of a boycott by several prominent industry professionals to get the Motion Picture Academy to take similar steps!

 

Romance as a genre is not perfect, by any means. There are still huge representation and diversity problems in the genre. Some romances are not very sex-positive or women-positive. Some seem to promote rape or coerced sex as “romantic.” (The hero just couldn’t help himself, because he wanted the woman so much!) And yes, many romances do continue to promote the idea that all a woman wants is a man, and that she’s incomplete until she has said man in her life. But what I’ve found, over my years of reading romance, is that it’s one of the most flexible, evolving genres out there. I believe that, combined with the woman-dominated readership and authorship, make the genre incredibly feminist.

Is Ilona Andrews Punking Us?

So I am a huge Ilona Andrews fan.

Ilona Andrews is the pseudonym for a husband-and-wife writing team, and their books are amazing. Seriously. The Kate Daniels series has some of the best worldbuilding and characters in the urban fantasy genre. It took me a couple of books to get into it initially, but now its one of my auto-buy series. In fact, Andrews is one of my auto-buy authors, and when they release something–whether it’s the more romance-centric Burn for Me or their kooky, unclassifiable Innkeeper serials, I’m there.

Well anyway, last April, Ilona (the wife half of the team) played a prank on her readers, giving us a book blurb with Hugh D’Ambray as the protagonist. In the Kate books, Hugh is very much, unapologetically the bad guy–but a sexy one. Ilona has implied that he’s a sociopath. But their characters are so complex and interesting that I’m not sure it matters. I think they can plausibly redeem Hugh and turn him into a romantic figure. Or maybe not. Maybe he’ll just stay the mostly bad guy. Or all bad guy.

Look at Kresley Cole’s Lothaire. Lothaire had been the ambiguous villain in that series since the beginning. He’s still the villain after it’s over. Yet it’s one of Cole’s highest-rated books. We like our bad guys. Maybe it’s a little bit of wish fulfillment.

So anyway, today Ilona wrote a blog post, and I caught this in the comments:

Screenshot 2015-12-06 19.37.17

Ummm….does that say what I think it says?

Anytime the possibility of a Hugh book has come up in the past, Ilona has denied the possibility.

It’s not April 1 again, is it? *Checks the calendar.*

It’ll be a tough sell, convincing readers that Hugh is still “good” enough to be a hero, in any way, shape, or form. (Like I said, basically a sociopath.) But I think if any authors can do it, it’s the Ilona Andrews team. Count me as one fan hoping this one is true.