By true here, I don’t mean factual. I’m going for the older sense of the word, using it to mean loyal or steadfast or faithful. It may seem strange to think of a book, an inanimate object, as having those qualities–or any others that imply choice or character. But think about it a minute. When was the last time a favorite book let you down?
There are books that have been on my keeper shelves a very, very long time. I don’t necessarily read them often–after all, I know them pretty well by now–but I know that I’ll read them again at some point. And when I do, the experience will be as comfortable as a chat with an old friend. I’ll fall into the book’s groove as easily as I can fall into conversation with people who remember huge chunks of my life. And so I’m unlikely ever to get rid of it.
For those of you who don’t re-read books, I imagine this is a strange concept. But I’d bet you have hobbies or favorite activities that offer you the same familiarity and internal comfort–even if they involve muscle aches and sweat on some level. A gym or a swimming pool or a hobby shop or a needlecraft store may offer you the same kind of escape I get from books.
One of the first books to grab me this way is as good a candidate for the title Great American Novel as any ever written. A Pulitzer prize winner, it has been in print since 1960. Of course it’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
I don’t read a lot of mainstream fiction, but I love this book. Love the movie (even more than original Star Wars). Don’t reach for either very often, but I like knowing they’re there.
I first encountered To Kill A Mockingbird in eleventh grade. Our lit class was divided into two. I’d chosen the Brave New World group because, hey, futuristic and science fiction. I didn’t realize it was also going to have a serious downer ending.
I read pretty fast, and Brave New World is a fairly short book. I didn’t really need class time to read, so the discussion in the other half of the room caught my attention–about the time Jem Finch decapitated mean old Miz Dubose’s flowers. If you’ve read the book, you know how Atticus made Jem atone, and why.
I started listening to that discussion every day. From there, it was a short step to buying the paperback and actually reading it for myself. And then I read it again. And again. And the book, being a cheap paperback on acidic paper, did what such books do when read a lot. It fell apart. But I kept it, all the pages lovingly tucked in, until I could afford to buy a hardback edition.
One of my favorite memories of the boy’s high school years was reading To Kill A Mockingbird as a family. He’d been assigned to read it, knew I loved it, and asked if we could read it aloud together although he’d long since outgrown being read to.
My keeper shelf devotes a lot of space to Georgette Heyer. I also discovered her when I was in high school. Our family was on vacation at the beach, and I saw a copy of Regency Buck, with this same cover, in a drugstore. I devoured it and also picked up Frederica, The Conqueror (one of Heyer’s few medievals) and Charity Girl on that same trip.
Lord Worth is a bit too overbearing for me, especially in the beginning. His behavior gives him a lot to make up for. His brother, Captain the Honourable Charles Audley, though, is wonderful. Because this is the book that introduced me to Heyer, it has a nostalgic hold on me. I do re-read it from time to time though not as often as Frederica or The Unknown Ajax or The Conqueror.
Fast forward a few years, and you’ll find me watching The Racing Game, an adaptation of Dick Francis’s novels, on PBS’s Mystery. I admit to caring little about horse racing. I was watching it for the English countryside, just like I sat through Rob Lowe in Oxford Blue to see Oxford and remember my summer there. (Yeah, I know. Silly. Ahem.) The Lowe movie didn’t lead to anything else, but the PBS program sent me to the library.
I hate to admit it, but I don’t remember which Dick Francis mystery I read first. I read a lot of them, a big batch, and went through his backlist pretty quickly. The Sid Halleys are his best known, but I find them difficult to read. Sid is always in danger of losing his good hand. That means I do a lot of cringing.
My favorites are Break-In and its sequel, Bolt, maybe because they feature telepathic twins and are connected books, a rarity for Francis. I bought Bolt at a little hole-in-the-wall bookstore, probably not unlike many during the Regency except that it had electricity, on Fleet Street. I’d gone to London with my mother for a few days. She was off on a tour with a friend, and I was roaming on my own.
I went to Westminster Abbey (back when only the chapels had an admission fee), had a sandwich at a little shop that’s gone now by Westminster Bridge, and walked around. Somehow, I stumbled across this little bookshop run by an elderly man who was inclined to chat.
It was dark when I walked out with Bolt and headed back to the hotel. So the book is not only something I love for itself but a cherished souvenir of a delightful, if cold, day.
You know we aren’t going to do a list of my longtime favorite books that doesn’t have any science fiction or fantasy on it. Representing that genre, we have Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451. A childhood friend introduced me to it when we were in high school. A world where tech has taken over, where firemen burn books and independent thought is discouraged isn’t one I’d love.
One thing I most like about the book is the way the hero, fireman Montag, realizes he doesn’t care for it either. His character’s perceptions change until he’s forced to make an irrevocable choice. If he’d simply become disillusioned, or if he’d been captured and killed in the end, I wouldn’t have ever read the book again. And I doubt my friend would’ve recommended it.
When I taught this book, most of the students hadn’t read it before. They found quite a few parallels between the technology Bradbury extrapolated in 1953 and the gadgets available today. And in the ways some people respond to them.
One of the first romances I read as an adult, by which I mean after I got out of school and had an actual job and a home of my own, was Shirlee Busbee’s The Spanish Rose. I’d gotten out of the habit of reading romance, just as I got out of the habit of reading comic books for a few years. But I was interested in checking out the genre, so I went into the bookstore and looked at the authors who had the most titles on the romance shelf.
If I did that today, I’d see almost all NYT bestsellers, but back then, there was more variety on the shelves. Shirlee Busbee, who happened to be a New York Times bestseller, had a nice selection of shelf space. I pulled books off the shelf and started reading blurbs. TheSpanish Rose captivated me. I love Caribbean pirate stories, and this was one of those sweeping sagas so common then. The action also took place in England and Spain.
The Spanish heroine’s brother killed the English hero’s father and enslaved the hero, Gabriel, who (of course) vowed revenge. He escaped on a pirate ship and eventually captured the heroine, Maria, enslaving her in turn. And of course they fell in love.
One caveat: Gabriel’s actions in enslaving Maria and demanding her compliance, and hers in falling for him anyway, mark it as very much a book of its time. Yet he’s such a good guy in every other way and Maria is so brave and compassionate, and the emotional arc is so powerful, that I’ve kept it despite mentally reprimanding him when I re-read it.
The covers of all these books have been updated, but the ones in the post are on the editions I own. I was delighted to find them.
Those are a few of the books on my keeper shelf. What about yours? What are your favorites, and why? Please tell us a little about them and how you discovered them. If you don’t have a keeper shelf, what’s the equivalent of a comfort read for you?
One commenter today will receive a sampling of books from the RWA conference.
Sorry about the late blog, everybody! My head was wrapped around a different day, but I’m here now and ready to roll.
There are certain books or videos I go to when I need to kick back, relax and read or watch something I know I’ll enjoy. Anything by Georgette Heyer makes that list, and I’ve built up a good collection of her books. If I want to see a smart, brave guy with a wicked sense of humor turn the tables on his snooty, condescending relatives, I go for The Unknown Ajax.
Or I might reach for Frederica (love the way the Merrivilles upend Alverstoke’s neatly ordered and self-centered life) or, if I want something a little darker, Regency Buck (is the hero really a hero? Or is he a villain in disguise), or, if I’m the mood for clashing swords, The Conqueror (can an invading Norman knight win the heart of a Saxon maid while his liege tries to win the country?).
Those are my top four favorites of hers.
In the clashing swords video department, with a touch of mystical fantasy thrown in, is The Thirteenth Warrior, starring Antonio Banderas. Our frequent guest Gerri Russell recommended this movie to me. I love the Viking elements and the evolution of Banderas’ character from scholar to warrior. And, of course, the thirteen warriors risking themselves to protect a kingdom from bear cult marauders has a lot of appeal.
My all-time favorite ever book is To Kill A Mockingbird. I was so disappointed that the museum in Monroeville, AL, was closed when we were in that area last summer. But it’s not a comfortable choice. It’s a thought-provoking book, a beautifully written book, with justice served at the end, but it’s sad, too.
Books or movies with a heavy eew factor also don’t make the list. Eew moments are not relaxing. Sagas also don’t qualify for me. So the LOTR trilogy, book or film, doesn’t qualify as a comfort choice. Now, there are some eew moments in The Thirteenth Warrior, I have to admit. Sword fight are not, er, tidy. But the rest of the movie outweighs the eew factor, so maybe it’s better to say the eew has to be outweighed by the fun stuff
Boom, on the other hand, why, that’s very cathartic. Hence the presence of SWAT on my comfort list and my video shelf. It has lots and lots of boom and stars Colin Farrell as the sympathetic hero (Farrell’s character, Jim Street, played by the late Robert Urich, was my favorite of the TV SWAT guys).
Samuel L. Jackson is the tough mentor, Jeremy Renner is the sleazy bad guy, and Michelle Rodriguez is great as the kick-butt female cop. Maybe we should qualify this, though, by saying that the boom cannot be accompanied by the spurting blood and graphic depictions of injuries that some action films love to linger over.
If I want romantic suspense, I reach for Dee Davis or Cindy Gerard. I love Dee’s A-Tac series and Cindy’s Black Ops, Inc. I’m so sorry to see A-Tac about to wind up. But one of the joys of owning a book is the ability to read it again. Pictured at right is Double Danger, the latest release in the A-Tac series.
Anything by Patricia Rice qualifies for the list. One of my favorites is Merely Magic, the book that introduced the Malcolm and Ives families. I loved the interplay of the siblings, the Georgian setting, and the mysterious man who threads his way through the series until he takes center stage in the final book.
Another favorite by Patricia Rice is an oldie, Denim and Lace. It’s a western and opens with the heroine shooting the hero. It has romance and boom! What’s not to love?
For superb writing, excellent performances, and a balance of comedy and drama, you can’t beat early Boston Legal. If I’m in the mood for something like that, I might watch an entire disc at a sitting. All three of us loved this show.
For paranormal romance with a fabulous arc, hot romance and plenty of boom, I’ll take Jessica Andersen’s Nightkeepers. Now that the series is complete, I can go from book 1 to book 7, secure in the knowledge that I’ll be happy when I get to the end.
It’s hard to pick a favorite book in that series. The first, Night Keepers, is a wonderful setup for the entire series. But I also love the fourth, Demon Keepers, for the geek-to-hero transformation of Lucius. Choices, choices.
As our regulars know, I grew up in a small town and have one in my Protectors mage series. So it probably isn’t surprising that I have a weakness for books set in small towns. One I’ve read many times is Nora Roberts’ Northern Lights. I love escaping to the little town of Lunacy, Alaska, and seeing the hero, Nate Burke, come back from personal tragedy in his new job as its top cop.
I don’t like the oversize paperback format (the picture at right is not distorted but proportioned for that format), but that’s not a problem on an e-reader, which is how I usually read it. Yet the book stays on my keeper shelf because, hey, never know when the power might go out.
I do like the Alaska setting. One of my guilty pleasures is Alaska State Troopers on NatGeo. I’m not sure why, except the setting. I don’t watch any other police reality shows. Except I did like Police, Camera, Action! out of the UK, which was shown on TLC for a while. And, hmm, also not set where I live.
Anyway, getting back to the topic, I also love Nora’s Chesapeake series and her Sign of Seven trilogy. And, of course, Chasing Fire, which is not set in a small town, as these others are, but features the small, close-knit community of the Missoula Smokejumpers.
These are some of my favorite go-to books and videos. What are yours? Do you go for pure romance or suspense? Do you want some magic or some book thrown in?
I’ll give one commenter today a choice of a Protector or Renegade ARC. The winner can also opt for a download instead of an ARC if downloads are available in the winner’s home area.
And tonight I’ll post my winner and Jennifer McQuiston’s from last month. I just realized I hadn’t done that. The announcement will be in the comments and will go up as a booty post.
If you haven’t already clicked “like” on my Facebook page and inclined to, you can find it here.
Today’s guest, M. J. Scott, writes the Half Light City series for Roc. I fell in love with the first book, Shadow Kin, couldn’t wait for its terrific sequel, Blood Kin, and loved the latest installment, Iron Kin! I’m delighted to have M.J. back in the Lair.
Welcome back, M.J.! For new readers, can you tell us briefly what the Half Light City series is?
The Half-Light City series is gaslight fantasy with a strong dose of romance. It set in a city where there are vampires, shifters, Fae and humans (some of whom have magic). There’s a treaty between the races that has kept the peace for a few hundred but that treaty is starting to seriously fray around the edges. The humans and the Fae are trying to stop that happening but it’s not quite working.
How does Iron Kin, your latest release, fit into the lineup?
Iron Kin is the third book, following on from Shadow Kin and Blood Kin.
Who are Saskia and Fen, and what obstacles do they face?
Saskia is the younger sister of Simon and Guy DuCaine, who featured in the first two books. She’s a metalmage and wants to break free of her overly protective brothers and take part in the upcoming negotiations to re-secure the treaty.
Fen is a half-Fae psychic who comes from the wrong part of town, drinks too much to control his visions and just wants to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately for him, neutrality is rapidly becoming impossible. But when he discovers Saskia has something he wants, he gets dragged into the peace process and things start to get interesting…
Would you like to share an excerpt?
Here you go…this is Fen’s POV.
Simon and Guy had moved out of my line of sight, leaving just the women, still talking animatedly. Beside Holly stood a girl I didn’t recognize. Her back was half turned to me, so all I could really see was the pale pink sweep of her dress and dark—reddish perhaps—curls falling down to hide the line of her face and neck. Both Holly and Lily were smiling at her—perhaps she worked at St. Giles Hospital, where Simon was Master Healer?
Reggie reached the group and obviously reported my recalcitrant behavior. Holly craned her neck to frown at me over the unknown girl’s shoulder. I tipped my glass to her, then turned back to the bar before she could send me any further indicators of her concern. The starched white linen covering the polished wood offered no reproval, at least. No answers to any of my problems either.
When I turned to look again, the girl in the pink dress had disappeared, leaving just Lily and Holly and Reggie clustered together. As I watched, a young buck in immaculate evening dress came up to Reggie and bowed. There. She had a partner. She was safe. No need to feel guilty.
“Don’t you like to dance?”
The voice came from my side, low for a female and somewhat amused. I turned my head. It was the girl in the pink dress. Tilted green-gray eyes watched me with interest and she smiled, revealing a dimple in her left cheek that only added to her prettiness.
I tipped my head, taking her in. The pink dress floated over sleek curves, to curl around her feet in a sea of flounces. Her hair was unadorned, apart from a single bar of pale pink pearls that matched those at her ears. Lovely. Lovely enough to distract me for a while at least. I smiled at her. “I don’t generally dance, no.”
Her smile widened—there was something vaguely familiar about that smile and the dimple. “Oh good. I hate it too.”
I blinked. Not what I expected a well-brought-up human female to say.
The girl turned to the barman and asked for champagne. Another blink. I would have thought her a little young to be drinking champagne. “Why are you at a ball if you don’t like dancing?”
She wrinkled her nose, sipped champagne, swallowed, and then sighed. “My mother requested my presence.” She flexed the hand not holding the champagne glass. She wore long gloves of an even paler pink than her dress . . . a pink that almost wasn’t. Her skin, bared between the top of the glove just below her elbows and the floating ruffled sleeve halfway down her arm, was faded gold, not pale white. And there were muscles under that skin, smooth curves revealed with the movement of her hand. Where had she got those?
“My mother has a way of talking people into things.”
“My sympathies,” I said. “I know a few people like that.” I cranked up my own smile a little.
A bored young thing at a ball. A bored, young, slightly unconventional thing. Perhaps my night wasn’t going to be a complete waste of time after all.
She laughed, then offered the gloved hand. “You’re Fen, aren’t you? I’m Saskia. Saskia DuCaine.”
I almost choked. Saskia DuCaine? This was Simon and Guy’s little sister? I took her hand gingerly and shook it, then released it as quickly as I could without being rude. The kid leather slipped over my skin softly, warm from her body as our fingers slid away from each other. I tucked my hand into my pocket before I could reach for hers again. That would be a very bad idea.
This particular bored young unconventional thing was not for the likes of me. For starters, her brothers were a sunmage and a Templar, respectively. I was fond of my head being unfried and attached to my neck. True, both Simon and Guy had chosen women who weren’t exactly the type that heirs of a powerful human family were expected to fall in love with, but I wasn’t stupid enough to think that the DuCaine daughters would enjoy the same leeway.
You use dual first person points of view in these books, and that’s a bit unusual. What led you to take this approach?
When I started writing Shadow Kin, I’d just written a couple of urban fantasy single first person POV books but I knew for Shadow Kin I wanted to be able to show both the heroine’s and the hero’s POVs. I actually wrote Shadow Kin with first for the heroine and third for the hero but ended up changing it to dual first. It’s definitely a writing challenge…particularly when the main characters change for each book but it’s fun to try and get it right.
I see the next installment is Fire Kin. Can you tell us something about that?
Fire Kin is the last book in the series, so it will tie up most of the loose ends. I’m keeping quiet about who the hero and heroine are for now but I’ve almost finished writing the first draft and it should be out early next year.
The series is ending? Oh, no! But I see you also write as Melanie Scott. Please tell us a little about her.
Ah, Melanie. Yes, I am officially two people. Or something. I haven’t quite figured out which one is the evil twin. Melanie is writing contemporary romance for St. Martin’s Press and the first three books are about three guys who are trying to save the New York Saints, the worst team in baseball. They’re third person and I’m having lots of fun with them!
For more about M.J. Scott, visit her website, find her on Twitteras melscott, or check out her Facebook page, where she’s AuthorMJScott.
For more about her alter ego, Melanie Scott, you can use the same Twitter info or check out Melanie’s website and her Facebook page, where she’s writermelaniescott.
M.J. is giving a copy of Iron Kin to one commenter today. Who are your favorite lovers from a book, movie, or TV show who, like Saskia and Fen, are socially mismatched?
There were a couple of times in my life, before I met the dh, when I was attracted to guys who were seriously wrong for me. Seriously, totally, obviously wrong. Did that stop me from being attracted to them? Of course not, because then life would’ve been too easy.
This is the exact problem Josh Campbell and Edie Lang, the hero and heroine of my just-out-now novella, Protector, have. We’ll get back to them in a minute because I’m launching their story today, but first–Welcome! Give your drink order to Marco over by the bar, sample some of Sven’s canapes, and pull up a chair.
The idea for this novella came from the reading I did about wildland firefighting a couple of years ago. Nora’s Chasing Fire got me interested, and I pursued the subject the way I do all my new interests, which is to say rabidly. Just ask the dh if you don’t believe me.
Anyway, that was the year the Honey Prairie fire burned for months in Georgia’s Okefenokee Swamp (Those of you who’re regulars knew the swamp was going to come into it, didn’t you?). At left is a burned tree trunk near the water’s edge. The fire raged over much of the swamp before it was done.
That’s actually good for the swamp in the long run. The ranger station at the wildlife refuge sold t-shirts describing it as a “fire-dependent ecosystem,” but the short term damage was extensive.
Here’s a photo of the plants along the Suwanee Canal in May of last year, a little less than a year after the fire was finally out. Everything should be green, but you can see that it isn’t. A lot of the trees, especially the cypresses, recovered, but others had to be taken down.
The ghouls, who’re villains in my series, think they can use the swamp’s energy, so I wondered what might happen if they were working powerful magic there and something went wrong.
Here’s the blurb:
Danger is nothing new to mage firefighter and paramedic Edie Lang, but she’d run cheerfully into a blazing forest rather than face Josh Campbell. The hot-as-hell flyboy is less the one that got away than the one who pushed her away—and Edie will be damned if she’ll go there again. But everything changes when they are connected by an evil that threatens their magic—and their lives.
For Josh, flying his helicopter in and out of fires is nowhere near as nerve wracking as dealing with Edie. She’s more than just another mage, and he hasn’t forgotten a single scorching moment of their brief time together. Now a dark, unseen force is attacking them both. It is draining their power, forcing them to search together for a cure . . . and making them live each moment as if it were their last.
Here’s the opening:
Of all the helicopter pilots who could’ve flown this medevac run, why did Josh Campbell have to be the one who showed up? Edie Lang snatched a sidelong look at him. His tall, broad-shouldered form seemed to take up more than his share of the cockpit space. Or maybe her unwelcome awareness of him caused that crowded sensation.
His headset and tan ball cap hid most of his sun-kissed, light brown hair but emphasized his profile. Josh’s straight nose and strong chin might’ve graced a classical statue. Intently tracking the burning landscape, his eyes were green today, like his flight suit, but an intriguing mix of green and brown when he wore street clothes.
He still looked as sexy and, unfortunately, as aloof as he did three years ago, when they’d last worked together. They’d been part of a helicopter firefighting crew in Wyoming until she’d left.
Not that their history mattered now.
At least he would get her to the injured firefighter in one piece. Josh had his faults, but no one flew wildfire rescue better than he did. Although fire-generated air currents buffeted the chopper, his piloting skills, combined with a bit of magic, kept it steady above the flaming, smoky swamp.
It was his skill at other things that made her edgy.
She suddenly felt self-conscious about her grimy face and the smoke and ash stains on her fire-resistant yellow shirt and green pants, not to mention her hair that probably looked more gray than blond by now. She’d fought the wildfire until she got the injury call and switched her brain to paramedic mode.
So what if she and Josh had almost done the deed once when they worked together? That’d been a freak incident, a mistake he’d realized before they made it worse by going all the way.
It was just her bad luck this fire was so big that her crew from Colorado and his from…wherever had been rotated into Georgia to fight it.
Unfortunately, their one intimate encounter had etched itself into her memory. She knew every warm, sleek contour of the sculpted form under that flight suit. Those hard, smooth shoulders of his flowed into a firm chest and muscular, well-toned arms. The man was good with his hands in ways that had nothing to do with aviation.
Edie shifted in her seat. Best to get her mind off what had so briefly been and never would happen again.
If only his spicy aftershave didn’t remind her.
The magic they shared resonated between them, but Josh projected all the warmth of a steel door in a freezer. He probably hadn’t expected to see her again any more than she’d expected to see him.
Still, his silence was aggravating. One aborted night together didn’t give either of them a claim on the other, but they weren’t strangers. Damned if she’d put up with his attitude any longer.
“So,” she began, “when did you leave Wyoming?”
“Couple of years ago.” His offhand tone signaled boredom.
Tough for him. “Any special reason?”
“Got a better job.”
“And that would be…?”
He glanced at her, green eyes baffled and brows raised. “Does it matter?”
“We worked together for two summers,” she reminded him, trying not to sound as hurt as his reticence made her feel. Had he really blocked off their time as helitack crewmates so thoroughly? “I’m interested.”
He shrugged. “I wanted a change.”
“So what are you doing now?” Besides irritating her with his minimal responses—deliberately, she suspected.
“Jesus! You just don’t give up.” But his glance this time held wry humor and warmth that might’ve been affection.
It made Edie’s heart turn over. Momentarily speechless, she stared at him, and his gaze softened and warmed. His vibe in the magic between them seemed less distant.
Josh wrenched his eyes to the side, barriers rising again. His abrupt withdrawal left Edie feeling bereft. She swallowed hard, waiting for the needy quivers in her gut to settle. It was so not fair that he could make her feel this way after three years of noncommunication.
“I fly combat missions and medevac for the Southeastern Shire Collegium , better known as the Georgia Institute for Paranormal Research,” he said.
The mageborn organized their governing districts by shires, disguising the combined headquarters and government centers they called C ollegiums as Mundane businesses. The deception allowed them to live and work safely amid their Mundane neighbors. She hadn’t visited Georgia before and had never heard the Southeastern Shire Collegium’s cover name.
“So they loaned you and this chopper to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and reconfigured the rear for medevac?”
He shrugged. “The wildlife refuge has a helicopter service contract, but that bird was already working another fire. The Collegium mages like to be good neighbors, and some of us hang out in a little town near here, Wayfarer.”
“Yeah, I stopped there on the way in,” she managed around the lump in her throat. “Nice place.”
She might be better off if he hadn’t shown her that flash of warmth, hadn’t underscored the brief, bittersweet memory.
Wildland firefighters shared a rare camaraderie. For Edie and Josh, being mageborn should’ve created an ever deeper trust, but the man kept her at the same distance he maintained with every other woman on the fire line.
Except for that night at Compadres Gulch, when grief ripped through the firefighters’ encampment because they’d lost three of their own in a deadly burnover. She and Josh had briefly found refuge in each other’s arms, but his pager had interrupted them, summoning him to make an emergency retardant drop. He hadn’t kept his promise to return afterward.
If only she could forget that incident. He clearly had. The next day, he’d treated her with his usual cool courtesy. As though nothing had happened between them.
What an idiot she was, to regret that after so long.
That’s their reunion, and their road gets rockier from here.
There are some familiar faces in the story as well. Griff, Val, Will and Stefan from Renegade are all here, and part of the story takes place at the Collegium. In addition to some magical conflict with the ghouls, there’s a bit about Stefan and the woman he loved and lost, leading up to the release of his book, Guardian, in July.
Protector is being released as an ebook, and there are currently no plans to offer a print edition. Forever Yours did have a few ARCs printed up, though, uncorrected manuscript proofs bound in trade paperback size with the same gorgeous cover as on the ebook–only bigger!
One commenter today will win one of these ARCs, signed, and a Keeper Kase with signed Renegade and Protector cover cards.
Everybody comfortable? Good. What did Marco give you at the bar, and what’s your favorite of Sven’s treats? Did you ever have a crush on someone you knew was totally wrong for you? How did you deal with it? Do you have any questions about Protector or the series in general?
Today is an exciting day and also a sad one. Having Jessica Andersen in the Lair is always a pleasure, but she’s here to talk about Spellfire, the last book in the her wonderful Nightkeepers paranormal romance series. I love these books, as many of you know, and while I’ll be glad to see the Nightkeepers triumph (at least, I hope they will!), I’ll miss knowing there’s another book ahead. Spellfire is a Romantic Times Top Pick, with a 4.5-star rating, so the series is ending on a high note.
Welcome, Jessica! How did you feel when you turned in the manuscript for Spellfire, knowing it was the last Nightkeepers book?
Sad. Drained. Giddy. In dire need of a pool boy bearing a scorpion bowl … yet elated at the same time, because I’m really, proud of this series and how it came around to (in my opinion, anyway) a really satisfying conclusion.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been writing these books since 2006 (the launch book, Nightkeepers, came out in June of 2008). So much has happened, both in the world at large and in my own small corner of it, that it boggles the mind. Not the least that the first book acknowledged my fiancé, the last book is dedicated to my amazing husband, and they’re most definitely not the same guy!
I’m love how this last book of the series brings it home. And whenever I get sad, knowing I won’t be writing another Nightkeeper book, I look over at my shelf. It helps knowing that I can visit them any time, both on the page and in my head. That’s the awesome thing about books!
I know I’ll be visiting them on the page again. Please tell us a bit about Spellfire.
This is Rabbit and Myrinne’s story … It had to be, really, because even though Rabbit wasn’t in the original outline, the eight-book series wound up not just being about the Nightkeepers’ war to save mankind from the 2012 doomsday, but also about Rabbit growing up (and blowing stuff up).
He started out as a snotty teenager who just appeared out of nowhere in one of the first few scenes, and tried his darnedest to steal every book along the way. Now he’s all grown up (and then some, rwor!), and his love of self-destruction has the potential for some very big consequences.
As for Myrinne … well, I know lots of readers aren’t so sure about her as Rabbit’s heroine (I wasn’t either, until I got to know her better), but she’s come a long way, too, baby. She’s finally got the magic and power she’s always wanted, only to find that it comes with responsibilities she never even dreamed of. And where the Nightkeepers are almost always stronger together than apart, it seems impossible to believe that she and Rabbit can put the pieces of their relationship back together before the end date … or that they should even try.
What has writing the Nightkeepers you learned about writing a series?
Keep It Simple, Stupid!
Okay, not really, because there’s nothing simple or stupid about these books. However, I did learn the importance of focusing the camera lens on the moments that are most important to the main characters of the current book. Yes, everyone’s lives are marching forward as time passes, and yes, it’s important for me to know what’s going on in the other characters’ lives, but in books as long and complex as the Nightkeeper books, it can’t all fit on the page.
Also in terms of simplifying, I’m currently working on a trio of books that are set in the same story world as each other, but don’t really have overarching plot connections. Partly it’s because that’s the way these books are writing, and partly it’s because I want readers to pick up one of these new books having never read the prior ones, and be able to dive right in. Which isn’t necessarily true for the Nightkeepers.
While writing this series, you’ve also written the terrific Bear Claw Crime Lab books. How did you juggle these projects so successfully?
Aw, thanks for saying I’ve been successful at it! It was a struggle sometimes, I’ll admit, especially given that I alternated writing the two series.
Usually I would stop in the middle of writing a Nightkeeper book to write the outline and first three chapters of a Bear Claw book, submit that for approval to Harlequin, finish up the Nightkeeper first draft, submit that to NAL, write the rest of the Bear Claw book, and submit it just in time to do the first round of revisions on the Nightkeeper book. It was crazy!
I think I’ve said it here before, but I’ll say it again: Fonts are my friend. I always wrote the Nightkeepers in Times New Roman and the Bear Claw books in Courier New. It was a visual cue that helped tell my brain whether I was writing a paranormal or a romantic suspense. That, as much as anything, helped me keep things straight!
That’s a cool idea! Does not having another Nightkeepers book ahead feel strange?
Everything feels strange right now, but in a good way. After years of writing four to six books a year while also running a small horse farm and freelancing as a science editor—and basically sleeping six hours a night and never taking a day off—I’ve dropped back to writing two books a year, doing a bit more editing, living in a great little house with my hubby and a couple of cats, and taking nights and weekends off to mountain bike and do family stuff. Which is just …weird. But good weird, you know?
As for writing-weird, yes and no. It’s strange not to be in the Nightkeepers’ world anymore, but at the same time, I’m in such a different mental space than I was when I started writing these books. The writing I’m doing now is better for who I am now, if that makes any sense.
Besides, if and when I feel the urge to cause some literary mayhem, Mayan-style, the new opportunities in e- and self-publishing might give me an outlet to write, say, the stories of Patience and Brandt’s twin boys, all grown up in a near-future storyline …
Is there anything in particular you would like readers to take away from this series?
This is definitely one of those ‘you can see the author in the stories’ deals, as each of the books deals, in one way or another, with the concepts of being an outsider and finding your place in your community, family, and/or relationship.
It’s something I’ve struggled with most of my life, and something I think lots of us can relate to. I can’t say that I’ve come up with any great take-home on the topic, but if my last few years are anything to go by, I can say this: huge, tremendous, die-for-you love—the kind that we write about and read about—exists, even for an outsider. And you don’t have to be a magic user to find it.
What are you working on now?
Ahh, that’s the question, isn’t it? Well, I guess I can ‘fess up now, because there’s an excerpt of the new book at the end of SPELLFIRE.
I am … wait for it … going West! Yep, writing as Jesse Hayworth, I’m going to be doing contemporary Western romances about a Wyoming cattle station-turned-dude ranch, the three-generation family that runs the place, and the guests that come through. The first book, SUMMER AT MUSTANG RIDGE, is in production for a June release from Signet.
Although it’s a departure from the Nightkeepers and Intrigues, I think some of the same voice comes through in the strong heroes and heroines. In this case, though, they’re working on their own little corners of the world rather than trying to save the whole thing.
Thanks as always for the opportunity to celebrate the new release with the Banditas!
For more about Jessica and her work, visit her website.
Jessica is giving away a copy of Spellfire to one commenter today. So tell us, what series have you enjoyed, and what did you find satisfying about their conclusions? If you read westerns, either contemporary or historical, which ones do you like, and why?
Remember the sound a crystal goblet makes when a metal object lightly taps it? That clear ping carries over a roomful of people talking. It’s an elegant sound, a pure and beautiful sound. Only crystal makes it. Glass produces more of a thunk than a ping. The glass may be beautiful, but it doesn’t yield the same kind of sound.
Similarly, a book or a movie or a musical composition can also be extremely good without quite generating the inner ping, that extra measure of delight that comes from reading or seeing or hearing something that flows almost perfectly.
One of the movies that gives me that ping is, believe it or not, Galaxy Quest. It made a profit but never rose higher than fifth in box office weekend rankings, maybe because its focus on a science fiction television show and its fans turned off some potential viewers. If so, they missed a treat.
Galaxy Quest, for those of you who managed to miss it (and really, you need to correct that!), is about a group of actors who starred in a hit science fiction series but have been unable to find other work since the series ended. They survive by making convention appearances. Unbeknownst to them, however, the transmissions of their show have traveled into space and reached a people known as the Thermians, who think the episodes are “historical documents.”
The Thermians have reshaped their society around the principles of the series and have even built a replica of the starship from the show, the NSEA Protector. When their world comes under attack from a brutal warrior named Sarus, they decide they need the big guns, the people who really know how to fight a battle in space, the Protector’s original crew. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say here how the crew ends up flying into a battle they know they’re ill equipped to wage.
Tim Allen has never been one of my favorite actors. He’s very good, but the projects he chooses don’t generally draw me in. As Jason Nesmith, the actor who played the starship commander, he’s spot-on. Sigourney Weaver, in a change of pace, is wonderful as actress Tawny Madison, the ship’s communications officer. Alan Rickman played Alexander Dane, the ship’s doctor–really, do I need to say more? The man disappears into whatever role he plays.
Tony Shalhoub was great as the tech officer, and Daryl Mitchell did a fabulous job as the former child prodigy helmsman. Sam Rockwell, in one of his film first roles, nailed the fanboy actor who taps his inner officer potential. The cast’s facial inflections, gestures, and vocal inflections all added to the strength of their portrayals.
The Thermians are brilliantly done. Enrico Colantoni of Just Shoot Me plays their commander, Mathesar. The Thermians look human, but they move oddly, as though imitating human strides but unable to get the movements right, and maybe that’s because they’re actually squid-like beings using image projection to appear human. Their vocal inflections are also just not quite right.
When things go south (and we knew they had to eventually), a group of the show’s fans comes to the rescue via interstellar radio, or “vox.” Their leader, Brandon, is superbly portrayed by Justin Long (Mac in the PC/Mac ads) in his movie debut. Even the actors who play his parents, roles that don’t carry a lot of screen time, broadcast the perfect air of bemused tolerance. You can trust me on this. As a lifelong fangirl, I know that expression well! The other fans (“fen,” in fannish circles) are excellent in their roles, and the convention atmosphere was just right.
(This is the official movie trailer, uploaded by Paramount Pictures to YouTube)
There are a few “oh, come on” moments, but I didn’t notice them until I’d seen the movie several times and actually stopped to think about it. The film simply strikes one perfect ping after another.
Much as I love Galaxy Quest, I’m glad they never made a sequel. The fish out of water element was a big part of the movie’s appeal, as was the characters’ growing solidarity. A sequel wouldn’t pull those off as effectively.
For me, obviously, Galaxy Quest generated a clear and elegant ping. What books, movies, or TV shows do that for you?
Those of you who stop by here regularly know Trish and I go to Dragon*Con pretty much every Labor Day weekend. You may not realize I rarely stay late on Monday. When I went by myself, I usually left mid-morning Monday so as to miss the worst holiday traffic. The dh isn’t as leery of that as I am, so we stayed a bit later when the guys went with me. There’s usually some kind of great panel on Monday morning, and the crowds are thin, so you can just walk in without standing in line.
This is the Centennial Ballroom of the Hyatt as it looked on Labor Day morning. It’s notable for what you don’t see, namely legions of fen (the plural of “fan”) in costumes or t-shirts milling about or waiting in line.
All the ballroom areas were like this. I was able to walk into the Battlestar Galactica panel Monday morning at the Marriott without waiting and got a seat on the 11th row. It was great.
While not waiting in line seems like nirvana after days of dealing with crowds, there’s a down side. Most of the costumes are packed away, and the fannish energy is dwindling as people head home.
Some of you may have seen my tweets (every time I use that word, I feel as though I should be playing a piccolo) from the convention, especially those about food court seating. Monday morning, finding a seat was no problem. This is what the food court looked like.
It got busier around lunch time, and not being able to find a seat was actually a relief. Energy and enthusiasm still filled the air, if not to the degree they had all weekend. I didn’t feel as much like I was hanging around after the fun was over.
It wasn’t, of course. The exhibit halls were still open. Panels were still going on. Quite a few of my buddies were still hanging at the Daily Dragon or in the Writer Track, and I did see a few people in costume at the Marriott.
This is the masquerade winner, from the children’s book and movie My Neighbor Totoro. I saw him posing with a fan outside the exhibit hall Monday morning. Some of you may remember that the boy loved My Neighbor Totoro as a child. He watched the VCR tape so much that he literally wore it out.
When I turned around after photographing Totoro, this pair from The Wizard of Oz were coming off the escalator. I thought it was cool that I’d just seen one of the boy’s favorite characters and now was encountering two from one of the dh’s favorite books. It made me wish my two favorite guys were with me.
So even though I started the day feeling kind blah and let down, all of these things cheered me up considerably.
I always feel a bit bummed when something I enjoy is over. It may be after I finish a book I love or, worse, the last book in a series. Or when I’ve been looking forward to a movie or TV show (Castle season premiere, anyone?), and it’s as fabulous as I thought it would be…but then it’s over. I felt that way when the lights came up after Return of the Jedi ended.
I suspect I’m going to feel that way when I close the cover of Spellfire, Jessica Andersen’s final Nightkeepers book. The dh and I shared that feeling when Season 2 of Justified ended and even, to my surprise, when we watched the last episode of Downton Abbey‘s second season. He’s not as big on costume dramas as I am. Or crime dramas, come to think of it!
I loved my years at Davidson. Even though I was ready to move on, to take my life in a new direction, a part of me was sorry to see that part of it end.
We were so proud of the boy and so happy for him when he graduated from high school last year, but we were a little sad that the part of our lives when he lived mostly at home and we knew everything he was doing was coming to an end. Its doing so was right and proper, but we do miss him. For us, the party was over.
There’s one party that’s still going strong, even though its beginning also marked an ending. The dh and I ended our single lives and began a new one together 25 years ago today. I wanted to include a candid photo from our wedding reception, but those are in the albums with the sticky pages that have peel-down covers (not a great choice on my part, but at the time it seemed perfect). I was afraid that if I pulled one to digitize it, the page wouldn’t re-stick.
So instead I’ve included this one, from our first trip to London together, in October 1988. That’s the wall walk at the Tower of London. Before they moved lots of the armor and weapons to Leeds.
So what about you? When was the last time you had that The Party’s Over feeling, and how did you deal with it?
One of our buddies reminded me I hadn’t announced a winner for Virginia Kantra’s Carolina Home (from my July blog-eep!). So I’ll be doing that in the comments about 11:30 p.m. eastern time tonight.
I’m giving a Keeper Kase (an album for keeping signed ebook covers, though it works for print book cover cards as well), a signed Renegade cover card, and a sneak peek at Renegade via NetGalley to one commenter today. I’ll also post that winner in the comments at 11:30 tonight and will do a booty announcement as well, with both winners.
Leave a comment, and you’re entered to win. For more information about Keeper Kases and a way to get a Renegade cover card, you can check out this page on my newly refurbished website.
Now, at 3:15 pm, I’m amending this post to add that I just posted Chapter 1of Renegade on my website. I’m so excited to share it!
Paulo eyed the fruit and veggie tray Sven was arranging. “I could take care of that.”
“Nice try. You sample too much when you put platters together, and this is due upstairs. You can take that tea service up to the library, where Nancy’s entertaining some other writers. I’ll bring this up in a minute.”
“What other writers?” Paulo took a step back. ”They’re not blowing things up, are they? You know, I forgot to give Ermingarde–”
“The dragon can wait. And of course they’re not blowing things up, not in the library. Go on, now. Take that plate of chocolate chip cookies, too.” As Paolo grabbed the tray and headed for the elevator, Sven sighed. Really, that kid needed a backbone. It was a wonder he’d lasted this long in the Lair.
Sven stepped back to admire the purple and white pansy cluster he’d put in the middle of the platter. Yes, it would do. The effect was perfect. He set the platter on a tray with a stack of small, turqoise Fiestaware plates and a long, white segmented dish containing caramel dip, raspberry vinaigrette, and bleu cheese dip. Carrying his tray, he headed for the service elevator, which arrived just as he pushed the button.
Upstairs, he found Paolo arranging the tea service and cups on one end of the conference table. At the long table’s other end, Nancy sat with her guests, Maureen Hardegree, Barbara Monajem, Louisa Cornell, Gerri Russell, and Eilis Flynn. Paolo hurried from the room, but Sven took his time quietly passing plates to the guests and arranging the food in the middle of the table. Writer talk was always so interesting.
Nancy glanced to her right, at Eilis Flynn. ”What are you reading these days, Eilis?”
“I’m reading The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes, basically the guide to the British series. It explores the world of Edwardian England and the life of the family currently inhabiting the estate, and how they are unknowingly on the cusp of the end of an era, with hints of a new one. I’m enjoying the book because it covers a period that hasn’t been overexplored, and I have long loved the fashions of the time – not quite the stiffness of the Victorians (though the corsets are still there), with a touch of the freedom to come. A little formal, a little wild! How can you not love it? And those hats! Those wonderful, wonderful hats!”
“What are you working on?” Louisa Cornell asked, pouring a cup of tea.
”A man finds himself attracted to the comatose eyewitness of a murder, and though he’s never met her, the more he learns about her, the more he seems to know. Moreover, he finds himself dreaming about her, talking to her, and comes to realize that they’re not just dreams: They are in fact meetings in a dream-state reality – and she refuses to come out of it, knowing that her recovery will be painful and protracted. It doesn’t help that her very existence is being threatened, with someone around him leaking information about her whereabouts to those who want her dead. Will must protect her, convince her to wake up – and make sure she is alive to do it.”
”Sounds like fun,” Louisa said.
Maureen glanced across the table at Barbara Monajem. ”What are you reading and working on, Barbara?”
“I’m reading The Cocoa Conspiracy by Andrea Penrose.
“Arianna, Countess of Saybrook, and her husband, the Earl, discover that someone they hold dear is incriminated in a treasonous plot. They journey to the Congress of Vienna to unmask the real traitor — armed only with their wits and their expertise in chocolate.
“I’m loving this book because 1) it’s a combination of my two favorite genres, Regency and mystery, 2) the historical detail is spectacular, and 3) there’s a chocolate recipe at the beginning of every chapter. What could be better?”
As everyone nodded agreement, she continued, “My work in progress is a Regency romance. Lively, romantic Sally Carling puts up with the tedious rules of society in the hope of meeting her True Love, but when her reputation is accidentally ruined, she faces a heartbreaking choice: either become an outcast with no chance of marriage, or wed Viscount Garrison, a man so cynical that he doesn’t even believe love exists.
“It has a happy ending, I swear. ”
“I hope so,” Nancy said. ”It sounds painful, but sometimes that’s the best kind of romance. What about you, Louisa? What are you reading and writing?”
“Currently I am reading A Trail of Ink by Mel Starr. The third book in the Chronicles of Hugh de Singleton, Medieval Surgeon, finds Hugh in pursuit of the lovely Kate, a bookseller’s daughter and in search of books stolen from his mentor, John Wyclif, Bible scholar. Life in medieval Oxford is tough enough without someone trying to murder a poor surgeon at every turn. One of Kate’s other suitors? The book thief? Or maybe a disgruntled patient? God only knows and no matter how much Hugh talks to him, God isn’t talking.
“I love this series! It submerges the reader in medieval England so seamlessly you don’t realize it is happening until you catch yourself throwing chicken bones on the floor. Hugh is a wonderful character, aware of his shortcomings, clever as they come and never afraid to question God about anything.”
“I love medieval settings,” Gerri said.
Nancy nodded agreement and hastily swallowed the bite of cookie in her mouth. ”Louisa turned me onto Jeri Westerson’s Crispin Guest medieval mysteries. Crispin is knight who’s been stripped of his spurs. Very atmospheric. What are you writing, Louisa?”
“I’m working on His Charming Seductress – Pride and Prejudice meets the Addams family. In search of his missing friend, Dylan Crosby braves the most notorious house in England and meets the girl of his dreams. If he can just get past Eve Tildenbury’s pet python, her gun happy uncle, her casket sleeping grandmother, the lovely cousin who raises flesh-eating plants, a biting butler and a house that seems to grow a new wing every day he might just get the one thing he vowed he never wanted – a family.”
Eilis slid pineapple chunks on to a plate. ”What’re you doing now, Gerri?”
“I’m reading Anna Campbell’s Midnight’s Wild Passion, a fabulous historical romance about a rake’s redemption. Love those rakes…and the women who tame them. Campbell’s dashing rake, the Marquess of Ranelaw, is set upon revenge. He vows to ruin Godfrey Demarest’s daughter for ruining his own sister. But the girl’s companion, Miss Antonia Smith, turns his thoughts from revenge to desire as they banter their way through society and into each other’s arms. It’s a fabulous read!”
Sven smiled, having heard the banditas complain about Anna Campbell tearing at their heart strings.
Louisa ignored the mutter and asked, “What are you writing, Gerri?”
Gerri poured a cup of tea. “I’m writing a Scottish historical that is a reunion story: one of my favorite plots. I love it when two tortured souls come back together in a way that is both sizzling and heartbreaking. I’ve tossed in a bit of paranormal elements as well, just to keep things exciting.”
Putting a cluster of grapes on a plate, she asked, “What about you, Maureen?”
“I’m currently reading Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. James, who is a mystery writer, revisits Pemberley six years after Elizabeth and Darcy marry. The murder occurs on the night before a ball at their estate. I like the book because James succeeded, in my opinion, in capturing Austen’s voice and I adore Pride and Prejudice. The fact that my husband, who has been know to buy me Christmas gifts at car washes, went into a bookstore to purchase this novel and really thought about what I’d like is a bonus.”
As everyone laughed, Maureen continued, “I turned in What a Haint Wants, Book Four of my middle grade/ YA Ghost Handler series March 1st, which features high school freshman Heather’s dealings with a lunch lady ghost. At the moment, I’m taking a breather before starting the fifth book. My current focus is getting costumes ready for the Northeast Atlanta Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty which opens March 16th and working on the concordance for my series.”
“Congrats on finishing,” Nancy said. ”And good luck with the ballet.”
“I’m reading Robin Perini’s Finding Her Son, a romantic suspense. Her hero and heroine have both known betrayal and heart-breaking disappointment. The hero is a cop working as a detective until his injured leg heals enough for him to return to SWAT. The heroine is suspected of complicity in causing the wreck that killed her husband. Her son was stolen out of the mangled car, and she’s determined to get him back.”
Barbara said, “You’re writing, aren’t you?”
“Yep. I’m trying to get the proposal done for Book 3 in my mage series. Then I’ll do a series Bible because I’m already getting confused, and then I have a Napoleonic Wars historical to dive into.”
Nancy glanced at Eilis. ”Are y’all ever coming to Dragon*Con? It would be so fun.”
Sven slipped quietly from the room. The women seemed to have everything they needed, and he, like Mr. Carson in that Downton Abbey series Eilis mentioned, prided himself on efficient and unobtrusive service.
Speaking of service, he’d loaned Cassondra the key to the supply closet. She’d hung it over the bar faucet, as he asked, and he’d picked it up . . . or had he? He patted his pockets, in case he’d stuck it into one instead of hanging it around his neck, as usual. No key. Hmm. Maybe he’d put it down somewhere.
What with the dragon throwing a tantrum, the bandits celebrating with Barbara Vey, and company in the Lair on a regular basis, the month had been a bit chaotic. And the Ides of March hadn’t yet arrived, even.
He’d get the hockey hunks and the other cabana boys to help him look. And tell them to say nothing to the gladiators. Demetrius would laugh himself silly if he knew Sven had lost the key.
Sven shook his head. He had only himself to blame. Deviating from routines, like hanging the key around his neck immediately upon regaining it, always led to trouble.
Where each guest’s name appears above her answers, the name is a link to her website. Thanks to my buddies for joining us today!
Stay tuned for more on Sven’s problem.
Meanwhile, we have a book giveaway package for one lucky winner. We have Haint Misbehavin’ and Hainted Love from Maureen, a download of Riddle of Ryu and a print copy of The Sleeper Awakes from Eilis, and Kindle downloads of Barbara’s Regency novellas The Unrepentant Rake and The Wanton Governess. So tell us, what are you reading? What are you writing or working on as a project? Are you a Downton Abbey fan?
Disclaimer: Our guests run the gamut from personal friends, to interesting authors who've asked to appear, to authors whose books we love. We have not always read our guests' books before hosting them here. Some of them provide us with free books though most do not. We do receive a commission from Amazon for every book purchased through links on our site. For purposes of making purchasing decisions, visitors should assume the bandit sponsoring the guest has a personal connection of some kind to her guest and may have received a free copy of the guest's book.