Holiday Gift Ideas 2021

Like the last two years, I want to post some ideas for mid-winter gifts. This year, to do my personal utmost to fight the pandemic and still support bricks-and-mortar and small businesses, I’ve mostly avoided crowded shops and post offices and instead ordered online. As always, my favorite gifts to give are books, and I ordered all these from my local indie bookstore.

But Christmas is fast approaching. If you have a local indie, check with them to see if they have time to get your books by Christmas. Or you can use Barnes & Noble – their website notes if you order by Dec. 20th you can get books shipped just in time with express shipping.

These are the books I’ve gotten for my loved ones – and some for myself!

my own copy

For picture-book lovers of all ages: The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper. The text is a poem from the Christmas Revels, and celebrates the return of light into the darkest of times. I love this poem so much I bought a copy of the book for myself.

For young middle-schoolers: Stuntboy by Jason Reynolds. Full disclosure: I haven’t read this book, but I was greatly impressed by the book Stamped Jason Reynolds co-wrote with Ibram X. Kendi, and by hearing Jason talk at a book-signing. Also, his description of the book was so charming, I knew I wanted to get it for my nephew. Here’s Jason’s description of Stuntboy aka Portico Reeves: “he’s awesome. He’s got a hightop fade, a cape, a cat, a grandmother, a best friend (which has been hard for me to get used to because I thought I was his best friend) and lives in a castle. Most importantly, he has a super power.”

my advance copy

For young adults and older: For All Time by Shanna Miles. This is a great story of star-crossed lovers meeting and being parted across time, with vivid glimpses into times past and some excellent twists. I feel honored to have gotten an advance reader’s copy, and hope to post a more full review in the new year.

my own copy

Also for young adults and older: Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche by Nancy Springer. One of my favorite books of the year – I highly recommend it for anyone who has read all the previous Enola Holmes books. For fans of Sherlock Holmes, Victorian mysteries, and the Enola Holmes movie – I highly recommend starting with the first book, Enola Holmes and the Case of the Missing Marquess.

Photo Provided by Laura Selinsky

For adults young and old: Whitstead Christmastide edited by Abigail and Sara Falanga. A collection of short stories set in a Dickensian village where the veil between worlds is thin, and wondrous things can happen. I read one of the stories as my friend Laura Selinsky was polishing it, and that inspired me to buy three copies, one for myself. I am reading it presently, and it is warming my heart.

For animal lovers: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. The wonderful stories from the life of a Yorkshire veterinarian; if you’ve seen the excellent adaptation on PBS, know that the stories are even richer.

For more ideas, I invite you to see my blogposts from 2019 and 2020.

May we all celebrate the light, and share it.

Good News from a Writing Friend

My friend Aud recently shared this splendid news: her novel Frama-12 is going to be published by The Wild Rose Press!

I have read Aud’s draft of this novel and I loved it. The characters Winnie, Mickey, and Kip made me laugh, warmed my heart, aggravated me, and made me tense with worry during their exploits in a wild, wacky world. I can’t wait to see their story shine out from the covers of a book!

Aud talked about this book in our joint blog about the writing conferences we took part in. And you can read about her process of getting Frama-12 out into the world on her blog, where she’s in the midst of chronicling the journey.

Aud, I’m happy to be along for the ride!

In Memory of Rachel Caine

Last week the sad news came that Rachel Caine had died after her long, hard battle against cancer. Rachel Caine was a wonderful writer, and a wonderful woman, and she is sorely missed.

I first got to know Rachel Caine through her Morganville Vampire novels – fast-paced page-turners about what it’s like to go to college in a Texas town run by vampires. I worked at a bookstore then, and we had the great good fortune to have her come to a signing at our store.

Morganville Wristband and Whimsical mint tin
Book-Signing Gifts

In fact, I took one of the early calls setting it up. A woman on the phone asked to speak to my manager; well-trained, I asked who was calling. It was Rachel herself. “Rachel Caine! Rachel Caine! Rachel Caine!” I exclaimed, jumping up and down. Yes — I literally jumped in the air, and literally yelled in my excitement, right into the phone. Three times. Rachel just laughed her warm laugh.

Bookmark
Ghostly Bookmark

She was just as warm and friendly in person – so down to earth, so fun to be around. We had the pleasure of hosting her twice. The second time was for Prince of Shadows, the story of Romeo and Juliet but also the story of Benvolio, Romeo’s friend and cousin, a master thief who becomes close with Rosaline, Romeo’s unrequited love. I loved Rachel’s Morganville stories, but this book is just a marvel. Told through Benvolio’s eyes, it immersed me in a Renaissance Verona that’s lush and gritty. The stories unfold from unexpected corners, and with surprising twists and turns and depths. It’s a gorgeous book.

Cover Art of Prince of Shadows
My Treasured Copy

Rachel’s writing, which I loved from the start, just kept getting better and better. I was hooked and grabbed by The Great Library series. She wove an entire world for this series, full of rich characters fueled their love of books, invention, and knowledge. The main character, Jess, is a book-smuggler in a society where it’s a mortal crime to own your own book. Because this world is run by a tyrannical Library which has absolute power over all books and all knowledge, and they enforce their law with terrifying automata – pitiless lions, sphinxes, and gods. The story moves from England to Egypt to the wild, rebellious America. I am not half doing these books justice. If you enjoy fantasy, especially with a steam-punkish edge, go, take a look yourself.

Rachel was a prolific writer, who wrote so much more than I have had a chance to read. There’s her Weather Warden series, adult urban fantasy about Wardens, “gifted with a supernatural ability to control the weather … sometimes. On a good day…But the Wardens—Earth, Weather, and Fire—work as much against each other as with, and their captive Djinn are on the constant verge of rebellion. Add to that a sleeping, but intelligent, Mother Earth, and this could get very messy.”* Outcast Season is a companion urban fantasy series about an outcast Djinn. These sound like books I have to explore.

And there are more. Stillhouse Lake  is the first in a series of adult thrillers. My husband and I started the audio book – it was gripping and intense. Too intense for us, honestly; it may be the audio format was just too vivid, or that we’re just not thriller people. The writing was excellent. If you like enthralling, chilling thrillers, go and check this series out.

There are even more fantasy, paranormal, and sci-fi novels and series to explore on her website. For anyone who loves great writing in these genres – go, have a look.

I got to know Rachel more through her Twitter. Even as she fought an aggressive cancer, she was warm, kind, passionate, and honest – an ally and advocate for writers and people in need in general. I learned still more about her through a tribute written by people who knew and loved her.

Rachel’s legacy lives on in the books she’s written and the lives she’s touched. It was my honor and pleasure to meet her, and to grow to know her in her writing. Readers and lovers of good writing, you can help keep her legacy alive. Find her books, and dive deep into new worlds.

You can find her books in bookstores, at Barnes and Noble, and at Amazon. Many of her ebooks are on sale now for a very good price. And you can watch her Morganville Vampire series on Amazon Prime.

*Quote from Rachel’s website

Of Horses, Horns, Wings, and Tails

Feb. 26th was National Tell a Fairy Tale Day, so this seems a fine time for an adventure into the wilds of words and mythical beasts.

What do you call a unicorn with wings? The Oxford English Dictionary blog once posed that question. As a word nerd with a passion for mythical beasts, that fired my interest! The blog, sadly, was taken down, but it gave several possible answers. Since that venerable and wide-reaching source gave no one definitive answer, I have to conclude there isn’t one.

A search of the web similarly brings up lots of possibilities, including pegacorn, unipeg, unisus and other portmanteau combinations of unicorn and pegasus. I have to say to my eye and ear these seem rather inelegant and clunky, conjuring up images of flying pigs and peg-legged unicorns. Cerapter is a clever alternative, from the ancient Greek keras for horn and pteros for wing.* To me it has a sort of dinosaurian flavor, though.

And then there is Alicorn. This is a lovely and historic old word I first encountered in my copy of The Lore of the Unicorn by Odell Shepherd.

Cover of the Lore of the Unicorn

He traces Alicorn back to 14th century Italian and later Arabic; he uses the term to mean the horn of a unicorn,** a most precious, almost sacred object. It was the sovereign antidote to all poison, and it could heal the sick, even of the dreaded Plague.

In the dark corner of a museum, I once had the privilege of seeing an Alicorn. Well, at least its mortal cousin.

Narwhal skull and tusk
A Mortal Alicorn

This is the skull of a narwhal, found in a whaling museum. I’d never seen one before, though I’d read about them. It gave me a shiver of pleased recognition to lay eyes on it.

Alicorn is a word of both elegance and substance to my mind. But since it already refers to something other than a winged unicorn (or horned pegasus), I’d suggest a slight variation. My proposal: alacorn, from the Latin āla for wing and cornū for horn. (Like cerapter, only without connotations of velociraptors and pterodactyls.)

Now for a somewhat related question: what do you call a sea-going unicorn?

For example, this magnificent beast:

Hipporn by Sarah Minkiewicz
Hippicorn by Sarah Minkiewicz

This incredible creature is the work of the artist Sarah Minkiewicz (bought for me as a gift from her Zazzle store).

It is called a Hippicorn, and since that name was given by its creator, there can be no more fitting title. Hippicorn is a doubly hybrid word, a portmanteau of hippocampus (from Greek roots) and unicorn (from Latin). More on that later.

Some might wonder what a hippocampus is.*** I’m so glad you asked! (Pretend you did, even if you didn’t.)

A hippocampus is a mythic seahorse, the equine equivalent of a mermaid. Sometimes it has a dolphin-like tail, sometimes a fishy one. Here’s a fine one found on Cape Cod. It seems to have a fondness for jewelry and scarves.

carved hippocampus in shop window
An Elegant Hippocampus

The name is from ancient Greek, hippos for horse, kampos for sea monster. It is, I think, a close cousin to the campchurch, which is another kind of sea-going unicorn, but rather different from Sarah Minkiewicz’s wild hippicorn. It has no tail, but webbed hind feet. Here it is where I first encountered it in one of my favorite childhood books.

illustration of campchurch
from Georgess McHargue’s Beasts of Never

Here the marine cousins are together:

illustration of campchurch and hippocampus
Cavorting Together

And here is another close relative, found in the same whaling museum as the alicorn, carved out of whale ivory.

whale ivory hippocampus pie crimper
Bicorn Hippocampus?

Because I am a word nerd, I wondered where the “church” in campchurch came from. Webster’s Unabridged dictionary was, alas, no help. Even the massive Oxford English Dictionary was silent on the matter. Liddell and Scott’s Lexicon of Ancient Greek vouched for the antiquity of hippocampus, but had no trace of campchurch.

An online search brings up a lot of opportunities for worship while camping, but very little about sea-unicorns. I found one woodcut image of a campchurch from 1575 – walking flat-footed on dry land!

Could the “church” of campchurch have come from the modern meaning of house of worship? It seemed unlikely, but Webster’s and the OED do agree that “church” is derived from the ancient Greek kyriakon, and ultimately kyrios, lord and kyros, supreme power. Could campchurch mean something like the lord of sea monsters? I’m left to wonder…But Sarah’s hippicorn is certainly a lordly beast!

I also wonder what else might one call a horned hippocampus or marine unicorn? What about mericorn? (I think I kind of like that).

The truth is, if I should ever be so fortunate as to see any of these mythical beasts, I’m certain I’d be unable to call them anything at all, being struck dumb with awe and wonder!

If you, too, like mythical beasts – one of these creatures lurks in the pages of Running Wild Anthology of Stories V. 3! I won’t tell you which one, but the title gives a clue. Why not go explore? You’ll find several supernatural creatures hiding among those excellent stories.

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Our New Anthology

Check back in a couple of weeks for another interview with one of my anthology colleagues!

 

*I encountered this term here: https://mythicalmagicalbeastsandbeings.com/alicorn.html (2020-02-17). The other terms showed up several places, including Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winged_unicorn (2020-02-17).

** Lexico, the online dictionary authored by Oxford University Press, agrees with the usage if not entirely with the derivation.  https://www.lexico.com/definition/alicorn (2020-02.17)

***This post is about supernatural creatures, so we’ll leave aside the area of the brain, which got its name from the beast, anyway.

Urban Fantasy Magazine Reviews Our Anthology

I’m very pleased to report that Urban Fantasy Magazine has reviewed Running Wild Anthology of Stories V.3.

Cover of Running Wild Anthology of Stories Vol. 3
Our New Anthology

There’s a rich variety of stories in our anthology; not all of them are urban or contemporary. (Take, for example, VT Dorchester’s haunting Western, Under the Eye of the Crow, and Monique German Gagnon’s Creach, which takes place at an indeterminate time.) And by no means all involve elements of fantasy. But as Katrina points out, “There’s an air of mystery that ties all the stories together; the sense that something more is going on in the scene below the surface.” And the very variety of the stories included is one of the anthology’s many pleasures

Along with her thoughtful review, Katrina (editor) also generously posted an interview with me. Elsewhere on the website you can find helpful and interesting reviews of books of speculative fiction both new and old. It’s well worth taking a look!

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