Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

Book Recommendations, Just ‘Cause…

with 3 comments

Folks, it’s Friday. I’m preparing to go to my friend and mentor Tim Bell’s funeral. So I need diversion.

Fortunately, I have a number of books I’ve been meaning to recommend anyway…and today seems to be the day.

So, I’m going to divide my suggestions into fantasy, science fiction, and romance. (Yes, I have a romance to suggest, this time around.)

First, the science fiction. I’ve read two anthologies lately that I have enjoyed; one is A FISTFUL OF CREDITS, edited by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey. It’s a tie-in to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse universe, but I had no problems reading these stories without having any prior knowledge at all.

So, if you like lots of adventure, along with intrigue, drama, wordplay, and don’t mind some violence with your military SF, this is the anthology for you. (Note that two of my friends, Chris Nuttall and Jason Cordova, have stories in this anthology. If you haven’t read either of ’em yet, you should.)

The next one is FORGED IN BLOOD, edited by Michael Z. Williamson. This is set in Williamson’s Freehold universe, and all of the stories revolve around one rather bloody-minded sword. You don’t need to have read any of Williamson’s stuff before to understand these stories; all you need is some time and a love for military adventure. (Again, I have two friends in this anthology. This time it’s Chris Smith and Jason Cordova. Jason’s been busy with his short-story writing lately, and that’s a particular strength of his. But Chris Smith’s story was a revelation…you should enjoy those two stories, guaranteed. And the rest are quite intriguing, too.)

As far as novels go, I like Becky Chambers’ A LONG WAY FROM A SMALL, ANGRY PLANET. This was a joy to read, and there’s some great stuff about how people change, make choices, and endure difficult and sometimes extremely painful events in their lives. The prose is effervescent, and the characterizations all worked well. (No, I don’t know Becky Chambers at all. More’s the pity.)

The fantasy? Well, you can’t go wrong with Patricia C. Wrede. I’ve been re-reading her Enchanted Forest Chronicles, along with Katharine Kimbriel’s Night Falls series…these are uplifting books with heart and humor. (More humor in the Wrede, granted.) They may seem like lighter reads, but you’ll go away from them with more purpose and a heart that seems positively buoyant. (In other words, it’s great stuff.)

And the romance? I’ve been reading Adele Clee, Jillian Eaton, and Alina K. Field in Regency romance. I like all of these authors, but I have to say the best romance I’ve read lately is Anna D. Allen’s MISS PRITCHARD’S HAPPY, WANTON CHRISTMAS (and the consequences thereof).

Anyway, if you like uplifting fantasy, military SF, “regular” galaxy-spanning SF, or romance, check some or all of these books out. You will enjoy them. And they will give you a few hours away from your problems…guaranteed.

Advertisements

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 27, 2017 at 3:53 pm

Flu, Day 5, and Newest Guest Blog

with 2 comments

Folks, I start to slowly improve.

My voice is better. I have a teensy smidgen of energy. My temperature is down and stays down, providing I don’t do very much…still can’t write much, still can’t edit, and thinking is slow, but I’m a whole lot better than I was over the weekend and am grateful for that.

Anyway, I have another guest blog up today at Confessions of an Eccentric Bookaholic…doesn’t that seem like a good place for me to be appearing? (Hey, eccentric is one of the nicer things I’ve been called in my life. Something about being a SF&F writer makes most people say, “What?” and sidle away, slowly…)

This, of course, is in support of CHANGING FACES, my newest novel, a LGBT-friendly contemporary fantasy/romance.

Here’s a bit from that guest blog:

Mayra Calvani: Please tell us about Changing Faces, and what compelled you to write it.

Barb Caffrey: Changing Faces is all about the power of love regardless of outward form. I wrote it because I saw two people in love—Allen Bridgeway, a heterosexual man of thirty, and Elaine Foster, a bisexual and transgender woman of twenty-eight—who were about to make a major mistake. Elaine felt that Allen could not understand her being transgender, you see, as she has just told Allen and he’s floored. (She uses “she” as the default pronoun, is a feminist scholar, and there’s absolutely no way he could’ve known this.) Allen wants to marry Elaine, but doesn’t know what to make of these revelations; Elaine is so upset that despite a nasty winter storm, she demands to be taken to a hotel. So Allen drives her, inwardly praying that they not be separated.

And his prayer is answered.

They will get a second chance at love, but with conditions. He’s now in her body. And she is inside his, but in a coma, speaking with an alien/angel known as an Amorphous Mass (a type of shapeshifter). He can tell no one he’s Allen; she cannot speak with anyone except the alien/angel. Both still want to be with each other, but how can they get past this?

Thus, Changing Faces.

M.C.: What is your book about?

Barb Caffrey: The power of love, and the realization that LGBT people are just like anyone else. They want love, and happiness, and understanding, and to be desired for themselves. And that if someone can see inside you—see your soul, rather than the outward form of your body—that’s what true love is all about.

Allen truly loves Elaine. The outward form doesn’t matter that much to him, even though at first he is absolutely thrown when she tells him, at long last, that she is transgender. She feels she’d be better off in a male body, but she’d still want to use “she” as her pronoun, and that is just deeply confusing to him. He loves her, and wants her, and desires only her…even when he’s confused, and doesn’t understand what she’s telling him, he does know that much.

Which is why he prays, and is answered…

In case you think this is giving short shrift to Elaine and Elaine’s wishes, though, don’t. Elaine, too, actually wanted the same thing. (These aliens/angels do not exist in our linear time, exactly. So one of them knows that Elaine, on her deathbed, after becoming outwardly male, wanted another chance with Allen and felt she’d made a bad mistake in refusing to stay with him.)

That’s why the aliens/angels do this. They believe in love. And they want love to have its day, even if it means both Allen and Elaine must change their faces so they can have another chance.

As I’ve been saying, I think CHANGING FACES is an important story for our current political climate, especially considering the Trump Administration’s recent reversal of the previous Obama directive regarding transgender students and bathrooms. (I wish we didn’t need a federal policy on this; my friend Kamas Kirian commented a few days ago about this, in fact. But there are some states that are less forward-looking than others, and it’s in those states in particular that the LGBTQ community needs its rights protected.) Reminding people that folks who aren’t straight are the same as everyone else and want love, compassion, personal satisfaction, and happiness is important right now.

Did I write this as a message novel? No, I didn’t. I wrote it as a romance, period. But if you want to see a message there, beyond the fact that I think souls are a whole Hell of a lot more important than bodies could ever be, I’m not going to stop you from seeing it.

Beyond that, if you’ve already read CHANGING FACES, please go and leave a few words about it. I have no reviews, currently, and am having trouble finding anyone to review it at all…to spend nearly fifteen years on a book without any reviews (and not the sales I was hoping for, though the year is young and all that) is very difficult.

Granted, I’m still dealing with the flu, so maybe it seems worse than it is. Still, I urge you to please read my sample chapters at Twilight Times Books if you haven’t yet checked out CHANGING FACES, then go pick up a copy as an e-book as it’s still just ninety-nine cents.

Now, I’d best get back to resting, so I can kick the remainder of this flu.

 

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 28, 2017 at 5:42 pm

When Love Disappoints, What is the Point?

leave a comment »

img_8906The title, above, is the main question at the heart of CHANGING FACES, my new fantasy romance set in modern-day Nebraska featuring a bisexual and gender-fluid woman, Elaine Foster, and her heterosexual boyfriend, Allen Bridgeway. These two have overcome much to find each other, fall in love, and now want to get married — but Elaine’s been keeping her gender-fluidity secret, as she’s desperately afraid Allen will not be able to understand it.

The problem is, when you don’t have open communication, love has no way to grow and becomes less sustaining and fulfilling. Ultimately, if you are holding a big secret inside, as Elaine is at the start of CHANGING FACES, it starts to poison your relationship…that secret has to come out, or you end up with the question I posed above: when love disappoints, what is the point?

See, you need to share all of yourself, when you’re in love with someone else. The good stuff, the bad stuff, the in between stuff…it all has to come out, or you aren’t truly joining with someone else. (That “two shall become one” Bible verse is not just about children, after all.) You have to be willing to be vulnerable, to open yourself up to potential ridicule — though someone who truly loves you isn’t going to do that, we are all human and we all worry about such things — and to hope that your love will grow, change, and flourish over time.

In the case of CHANGING FACES, Elaine is worried that Allen can’t possibly understand her gender-fluidity, as she barely understands it herself and she’s lived with it her entire life. She also was a child of the foster homes, as was Allen…while Allen was able to find a loving adoptive home after a while, Elaine never was, and worse, Elaine was raped while resident of her last foster home by five young men. It’s because of this atrocious act that Elaine can only barely accept Allen’s love for her in the first place, and it adds stress to an already stressful situation.

You might be wondering why Allen keeps trying, hey? Well, he truly is in love with Elaine. He sees who she is, even if he doesn’t know about her gender-fluidity (he doesn’t care about her bisexuality at all; he figures he looks at women, she looks at women too, and they only go home with each other so that’s fine), and he loves her indomitable spirit. He sees her, entire, sees her soul, and loves her for who she is.

But of course, when she finally tells him about her gender-fluidity (and how she believes she’d rather live as a man, maybe get the surgery down the line to become a man outwardly, even though she’d always think of herself as a woman — did I mention that Elaine is a feminist scholar? No?), Allen is completely thrown.

Who wouldn’t be?

I mean, you live with someone for seven years, right? You love that person wisely and well, knowing how much she’s been hurt, appreciating that despite it all, she’s willing to turn to you and give you everything she has…and then you find out this secret.

Allen’s a very good man. He wants to be with Elaine so much, even though he doesn’t understand any of this, he prays that she won’t leave him (as she’s confused, hurt, and upset, and is about to do that very thing even though she still loves him every bit as much as before).

And his prayer is answered by two quirky, shapeshifting angels…

Look. My view of love is very simple. Love matters, period. You have to have communication and trust and honesty, or love can’t flourish as it should. (I think it dies, personally, if you don’t have those things, but maybe that’s just me.) The right person at the right time in your life can work wonders — refer back to everything I’ve said about my late husband Michael if you don’t believe me (I have a category for it, even, if you haven’t read anything about Michael before, on the side of the blog) — but you have to be open and vulnerable and real and tell the truth about yourself, or love will be ultimately less than fulfilling and highly disappointing.

Telling the truth and being vulnerable is a big risk. That’s why it’s so hard to do. And it’s even harder when you’re someone like Elaine who’s been badly hurt and who doesn’t really know how to explain who and what she is…she’s not lying to Allen, but she’s not able to tell him everything, either, and thus, a wedge grows between them.

A wedge that can only be fixed by the two quirky angels and their solution of changing Allen and Elaine’s faces (that is, putting Allen in Elaine’s body, and Elaine in Allen’s, so they’re now both, in effect, transgender in every sense).

As I’ve said in the past several days, I believe in love. I believe in honesty. I believe in miracles, faith, optimism, second chances all unlooked for, and I think we need more of it in this world.

I’m proud to have written CHANGING FACES, and I hope you will enjoy it as well. Do let me know what you think…especially about how you, yourself, have transcended the disappointments you’ve found in your own love relationships (as trust me, every single one of us has been disappointed in a love relationship one way or another — it seems to be part of the human condition).

********

Edited to add:

Here are all the places you can find CHANGING FACES…Chris the Story-Reading Ape put it in this format (so thank you again, Chris!):

Barnes & Noble

Amazon:

USA  –   UK  –  CA  –  AUS  –  IN

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 12, 2017 at 12:35 am

Seven Things You May Not Know About My Writing

with 3 comments

A few days ago, author Aaron Lazar tagged me on Facebook with a new type of blog challenge: Name seven things people probably don’t know about your writing, and link back to him.

As Aaron gave his list on Facebook, I can’t link properly to his list. (I can only link to his webpage instead.) But I can write down seven things people may not know about my writing…and here they are.

  1. I’ve been a writer since age ten. My first story was about a girl who wanted to be a ballboy at Milwaukee County Stadium. (There was no such thing as a “ballgirl” in the 1980s.) She was prepubescent and looked like the guys; her parents and the team were in on the deception, and gave her a room all to herself to change in. She was OK until she started a friendship with one of the other ballboys…and then I didn’t know what to do, so I ended the story. (Hey, I was only ten.)
  2. I started writing poetry and science fiction stories when I was a teenager; I started writing fantasy in my twenties.
  3. True story: In my high school creative writing class, the teacher asked everyone to grade themselves. (We had to come up with a grade for ourselves, and defend it.) I was the only person to go in and say, “I deserve an A.” (And I got my A, too.)
  4. My first-ever short fiction was a SF story about characters from the “Star Trek” lower decks. (Yes, this was long before Star Trek: The Next Generation came out, much less the episode with the low-ranking officers.) I got a note back with my rejection, but as I was only 19, I didn’t know that meant I was doing something right. So I put my writing aside for a time.
  5. I started writing nonfiction again around age 27, and worked as an opinion and arts and entertainment reporter for the Parkside Ranger News (the student newspaper of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside).
  6. Later, I was the only non-journalism Master’s candidate to ever write regularly for the Daily Nebraskan. (This is the student newspaper of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. One of my regular “beats” was to let the arts and entertainment writers know what was available. Usually I wrote the stories myself, but occasionally someone else would be sent out to attend an opera or band performance.)
  7. The ELFY duology was not my first-ever attempt at a full-length fantasy. CHANGING FACES was my first attempt…but I couldn’t figure out how to end the story until I met my late husband Michael. And by that time, I’d started ELFY, so I put CHANGING FACES aside for a while.

Now for a few bonus facts:

  • The first writers I remember reading in the SF&F genre were Poul Anderson (especially the Dominic Flandry series), Andre Norton, and Isaac Asimov.
  • The comedic fantasy and SF writers I’ve enjoyed include Piers Anthony, Robert Asprin, Esther Friesner, Jody Lynn Nye, and Douglas Adams.
  • My late husband Michael helped me come up with the Bilre language (used by the Elfys).

So how’s that for a few interesting factoids?

Now, as for some other writers to tag? How about Jason Cordova, Chris Nuttall, and Mrs. N.N.P. Light?

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 26, 2015 at 10:09 pm

What’s Good About Science Fiction and Fantasy?

with 4 comments

Folks, for the past several days I have been wired for sound over this SF&F contretemps (which I referenced here a few days ago).

But I can only handle so much stress. (And make no mistake about it: watching people I respect and admire savage each other is not my idea of a good time.) Which is why when Mary Robinette Kowal put up a post a few days ago asking people to talk with her about being a fan of SF&F, it got me thinking.

What is good about science fiction and/or fantasy? What do I like about it?

At its best, science fiction and fantasy can lift you out of yourself, because both genres are about ideas. And ideas have power, and value, and can inspire…

There are so many wonderful authors out there, and so many great books. They’re full of ideas. And ideas can inspire, entertain, lift you out of yourself, maybe give you a new slant on an old problem…you never know where an idea might lead you, in short.

So what’s good about science fiction and fantasy? Plenty.

Try to remember that, amidst this current controversy. And concentrate on the stories, because it’s the stories that all made us want to be SF&F fans in the first place.

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 16, 2015 at 8:24 am

Book Discussion: “Schooled in Magic,” “Kindred Rites,” and More

leave a comment »

What makes a book interesting enough that you want to pick it up immediately and start reading? Or, for those of you who exclusively read e-books, what makes you willing to sit down and read the sample pages?

While no one’s quite sure of the answers to the above questions, one thing’s for certain: Books aren’t written in a vacuum, and it’s hard for them to gain traction if no one knows about them.

Even if you’re an author with a following, as is the case with Christopher G. “Chris” Nuttall, Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, and Rosemary Edghill, it’s unclear what makes someone decide to read one of your books as opposed to another. Sure, there’s genre preference and all — some people just enjoy reading, say, fantasy-romances, and if your book falls into that category, you’re more likely to be read. But a book that’s so good that people are willing to fall all over themselves recommending it is rare . . . unless you’re a regular book reviewer, as I am.

Then, perhaps, it’s not so rare.

At any rate, Chris Nuttall’s newest novel is SCHOOLED IN MAGIC, the first in a series about Emily, a girl from our Earth who’s transported to another world and finds she can do magic . . . but only if she can get away from the necromancer who transported her there, first.

I’ve read SCHOOLED IN MAGIC and found it to be an interesting take on the old “fish out of water” tale . . . what Emily does in this brand-new world is often life-affirming, but she can’t help but make mistake after mistake due to being unfamiliar with this world and its environs. (Note that this new world is never named; it’s simply “the world.” That’s done for a reason, as the people of this world are decidedly backward by Earthly standards, being roughly at a feudal level.)

A sample chapter is available here for your perusal . . . if you like what you see, please follow the links from that page (there are many) and get yourself your own copy (’cause I’m not sharing mine).

I recently reviewed two of Rosemary Edghill’s books over at Shiny Book Review, IDEALITY: VENGEANCE OF MASKS and FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT. The former is a dark fantasy with elements of SF and horror (tough to quantify, very interesting to read, and extremely thought provoking), while the latter is a series of short stories about Ms. Edghill’s popular character Bast, a Wiccan detective who has only her wits and her faith to help her solve crimes. Bast is extremely intelligent, makes many witty asides, and can be exceedingly trenchant in her opinions . . . which is one of the reasons I enjoy reading about her so much.

FAILURE OF MOONLIGHT is one of those books that you just can’t stop thinking about once you’ve finished reading it. While the one-liners are great and well worth the price of admission, it’s Bast’s mind, thoughts and opinions that call me back again and again. Bast is moral, ethical, and principled, and while she mostly walks apart from others due to her Wiccan faith being profoundly misunderstood (even by other NeoPagans), she’s someone many people would want to befriend if they ever met someone like her outside of a story.

Best of all, if you enjoy these stories, there are three excellent novels about Bast available in BELL, BOOK AND MURDER. These, too, are well worth reading, and are books I return to again and again as I ponder various thoughts and wonder just how Bast managed to come up with the answers this time . . .

Finally, what can I say about the incomparable Katharine Eliska Kimbriel that I haven’t said before? Her work in both hard science fiction with her Chronicles of Nuala series and now in dark fantasy/frontier fantasy with her Night Calls series is outstanding; best of all, she’s currently working on the third book of the latter series even as I write this.

Her most recent release is KINDRED RITES, book two in the Night Calls series; I reviewed it over at SBR back in January. It features Alfreda “Allie” Sorensson. Allie is now thirteen, a burgeoning magician with unusually strong powers, and is studying with her Aunt Marta as she must learn self-control. Fortunately, Allie is a good-hearted young lady who has no wish to coerce others; she only wishes to live her life unmolested, and help others as need be.

In other hands, Allie could easily have turned into a Mary Sue-type of character. Instead, Ms. Kimbriel wisely shows Allie struggling with the things any young girl struggles with — boys. How other girls treat boys. Puberty (or at least the fact of it, as inexorable as the sun coming up in the morning). Learning her craft, which includes birthing babies, digging for herbs in foul weather, and many other unpleasant things . . . and dealing with the effects of magical “hangovers” when too much magic is expended, no doubt. (This is more sketched than shown, but is there nonetheless.)

And, of course, because Allie is so powerful, other people want to steal her away before she can fully come into her own, magical birthright.

In other words, there’s many practical elements to both of Allie’s stories, NIGHT CALLS and KINDRED RITES, plus many speculative elements, and both add immeasurably to the richness of these tales. Allie’s innate goodness is refreshing, while her natural curiosity and wisdom also appeal . . . in short, if you’re looking for YA fantasy done right, look no further than Katharine Eliska Kimbriel.

So there you have it — three fine works of fiction by three disparate writers, all different, each with something interesting and special to offer. I consider all of them “comfort books” for different reasons, and enjoyed them all immensely.

Your next assignment, Dear Reader, is to figure out which one you want to devour first . . . then have at.

Just Reviewed Ash Krafton’s “Blood Rush” at SBR

leave a comment »

Folks, I just reviewed Ash Krafton’s BLOOD RUSH at Shiny Book Review (SBR for short, as always).  It’s a worthy sequel in many ways to the excellent BLEEDING HEARTS (previously reviewed at SBR), but it features one thing I had a really tough time getting past — an odd, almost completely nonsensical romance.

Normally, a book like BLOOD RUSH would be featured during SBR’s “Romance Saturday” promotion, but I just couldn’t do it this time because of the nature of this particular romance.  Krafton’s main character in both books, Sophie Galen, has taken up with the brother of her former lover, Rodrian Thurzo, for reasons that aren’t well-rooted.

It’s tough for me to review a book like BLOOD RUSH, which does so very many things right as it has great dialogue, interesting plotlines, excellent characterization, and fits Krafton’s own DemiVampire (DV for short) into the prevailing “otherworld” mythos alongside better-known magical races such as Vampires and Werewolves (note that Krafton does not use an -s for either DemiVampire or Vampire), but doesn’t root the romance to the same depth as all the rest of it.

I actually put BLOOD RUSH down for a whole month because I was afraid of what Krafton was going to do with the nascent Sophie-Rodrian romance.  Wisely, she found a way out of that morass (no, I’m not going to say how).  But going there at all didn’t make any sense to me.

Krafton’s writing is so good, I expected better from her even though this is only her second novel.  My guess as to why she’d put this strange romance into BLOOD RUSH is because she probably wanted to show that Sophie is just as human and fallible as everyone else despite having great power as an empath (which is why Sophie’s been called to become a Sophia, or wise counselor/problem solver, in the first place).  If so, I can understand why she did it even though I still don’t like it.

As a reviewer, I have to mention it whenever I have big problems with a plotline, no matter how much I love the rest of the book.  I did so recently with my review of Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s DRAGON SHIP — those two are among my very favorite authors and have been so for a very long time.  I did so, most spectacularly, in my review of Debbie Macomber’s HANNAH’S LIST, even though there was a time in my life where Macomber’s Heart of Texas series helped me get through a nasty divorce (this being long before I ever met my wonderful late husband, Michael).

It’s tougher to do this with a novelist with only two novels under her belt as compared to a pair of authors with over a dozen (Lee and Miller) or someone with over a hundred (Macomber).  I don’t like doing it.  But I do a disservice to myself and my readership if I fail to point out something I really don’t like, even if the rest of the book is good and I still plan to read the rest of the series.

Overall, my hope for the third book in the Demimonde series is that either Marek will somehow be able to come back to Sophie or another strong character completely unrelated to Marek or Rodrian comes into the picture and is a worthy match for Sophie.  Anything else doesn’t make sense, and as a writer myself, I know I’d rather write a worthy foil for my romantic lead than someone who really isn’t up to par for this character, even if he might be a good match for 99 out of 100 other women.

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 25, 2013 at 6:11 am