I love the classic historical romance time periods like Regency England, but I also love unexpected settings, like World War I or, as is the case with Marissa Campbell's print debut, the year 869. Avelynn is the story of the forbidden love between a Saxon noblewoman and a Viking warrior.
In this guest post, Campbell tells us how she landed on Anglo-Saxon England as the setting for Avelynn and reveals the real events that helped inspired her.
I’m often asked what inspired Avelynn, and in all honesty, it was the cold dark nights between Outlander novels. I had just finished reading my hot-off-the-shelf hardcover copy of Diana Gabaldon’s An Echo in the Bone and was waiting longingly for the next installment, when I decided I would write a novel to help other lost and bookless readers like myself.
Avelynn popped onto the page all spit and vinegar—I loved her immediately—but I needed a time period that would allow me to play with her tenacious personality. I picked the Anglo-Saxon era because, well, men and swords, but also because women had a modicum of power. They could lead men in battle, as the real historical figure Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, does some 20 years after Avelynn is set. They could own land and chattel and bequeath them onto their children, and they had an influential voice in Council, the chief court of the time. Avelynn even had a fantastic role model in England’s very first queen, the historical Queen Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald of Francia. Judith rebelled against social norms and her father’s reach and power, eloping with her true love, Count Baldwin of Flanders. Women were making things happen during this time period, and I knew Avelynn would fit in wonderfully.
I was diligent in my study and research of the world, but I didn’t want a historical bogged down in political machinations and minutiae. What I wanted was an escape—a romance with strong historical details that would transport readers to the land of Vikings and Anglo-Saxons. The thing that always made me return to Gabaldon’s novels was the connection between Jamie and Claire. I wanted to create two characters with a deep love built of respect and equality. I wanted a love story that would resonate with readers. Which led me to my favourite movie of all time: Grease. One year alone, I’m pretty sure I watched it 365 times! The story of Danny and Sandy always stuck with me. With Avelynn and Alrik, I wanted just that, a summer love that was (sing it with me) ripped at the seams . . . but ah/oh those summer nights!
I’m also a huge fan of “Game of Thrones” and the Mists of Avalon, so a straight-up historical wouldn’t do. I wanted an element of the mystical and otherworldly. In a time when elves caused disease and witches uttered hexes and curses, there was plenty of magic to be found in 869 Anglo-Saxon England, and Avelynn wanted to play her part in that.
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Sadly, summer—and summer reading—are officially over, but that doesn't mean it's time to cut back on reading! These six paperbacks, on sale today, are an excellent way to kick off the fall reading season. Leading the list are two books that are being adapted into highly anticipated films:
By Bruce Cook
Grand Central • $15.99 • ISBN 9781455564989
Almost 40 years after it was first published, Grand Central is bringing out two new paperback editions of Bruce Cook's 1977 biography of Dalton Trumbo, the Hollywood screenwriter blacklisted after refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. The two new editions, this trade paperback and a movie tie-in, are linked to the November 6 release of Trumbo, a film version with a star-studded cast that includes Bryan Cranston in the title role, along with Helen Mirren, Louis C.K. and Elle Fanning.
By Mitchell Zuckoff
Twelve • $16.99 • ISBN 9781455582280
A #1 bestseller in hardcover, Zuckoff's account of the controversial 2012 attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, is told from the perspective of the Annex Security Team—six Americans who attempted to avert the tragedy that claimed the life of the ambassador and a foreign service officer. A movie adaptation by director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Transformers) is set to premier in January.
Liar Temptress Soldier Spy
By Karen Abbott
Harper Perennial • $16.99 • ISBN 9780062092908
In a history book that reads like a suspense novel, Abbott portrays four women who operated as spies during the Civil War—two for the Union and two for the Confederacy. Abbott's vivid writing earned the book slots on best books of the year lists from Library Journal and the Christian Science Monitor.
By Kim Zupan
Picador • $16 • ISBN 9781250074782
This arresting debut novel from Montana native Zupan captures the unexpected bond that develops between a lonely Montana sheriff's deputy and a convicted killer locked in the county jail. When their friendship leads to an act of violence, the poignant story takes a harrowing turn.
By Alix Christie
Harper Perennial • $15.99 • ISBN 9780062336026
Christie offers a masterful portrait of the brilliant inventor through the eyes of a reluctant apprentice in Gutenberg's workshop. It is young Peter who must oversee the printing of Bibles on a secret printing press—an act that will shock the world and change the course of history.
The Paying Guests
By Sarah Waters
Riverhead • $17 • ISBN 9781594633928
When a financially strapped London widow and her daughter take a young couple into their home as boarders, it changes their lives in ways they never imagined. Waters' tense psychological novel ranked #48 on the BookPage list of Best Books of 2014.
National Suicide Prevention Week is September 6 - 12. Suicide and depression aren't the easiest subjects to talk about, but they're often addressed unflinchingly and thoughtfully in young adult fiction. Ann Jacobus' upcoming debut YA novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light, is a haunting and surprising story about a girl in Paris who falls for two boys while struggling with intensely dark inner demons. Along with writing, Jacobus also volunteers weekly on a suicide crisis line. Here she writes about the necessity of speaking honestly and openly about suicide.
It’s National Suicide Prevention Week.
Kindly repeat after me: “Are you feeling suicidal?”
Most people don’t want to ask a depressed friend or family member this question. Even or especially if the person is exhibiting any telltale signs. We’re frightened into silence on the whole subject. We’re also afraid that we might plant the idea in someone’s head.
Believe me, if the idea is not in a person’s head, you won’t be able to put it there unless you’re an incredibly skilled hypnotist.
If the idea of suicide is there, your friend will likely be deeply relieved to acknowledge the truth to you.
At San Francisco Suicide Prevention, a crisis line where I volunteer, we ask this question hundreds of times a day. It gets easy to ask. Many people who call in answer “no.” They just feel depressed and overwhelmed and need someone to listen.
In a nationwide Centers for Disease Control study of tens of thousands of high school students in 2011, almost 30 percent had felt hopeless and depressed for more than two weeks running, just in the previous year. Seventeen percent had seriously considered attempting suicide and 8 percent had attempted. It’s the second leading cause of death for youth ages 15 to 24. That’s a lot of people. You’re likely to know one. They not only have the idea of suicide in their heads but are dealing with the kind of pain and despair that makes dying seem like a viable option, instead of a devastating permanent fix to temporary problems.
The subject of suicide has been a taboo too long (in the West anyway). This diehard stigma has cost us untold numbers of lives and it intensifies the suffering of surviving family.
We can’t address this problem if we can’t talk about it.
Once upon a time, I was one of those high school students seriously considering suicide. I could admit it to no one, and didn’t for many years. I’m grateful and lucky to have gotten through that period alive.
One way to tackle this subject is with stories. Happily, in the last 15 years, more and more books have been written for young people that deal frankly and accurately with suicide and its heartbreaking aftermath. I only had Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, but it did a fine job of reassuring me that I wasn’t alone.
My new YA novel, Romancing the Dark in the City of Light (out from St. Martin’s Press October 6), features an 18-year-old protagonist who is suicidal. It’s fiction—a thriller—but based on hard facts. Stories are how we readers and writers make sense of the world.
I now understand that talking about suicide is up to me, my colleagues at SFSP, those who have survived thinking about or attempting to take their own lives, and all of us worried about depressed and possibly suicidal friends or loved ones.
Let’s talk about it, this week and every week.
Ann Jacobus writes children’s and YA fiction, blogs and tweets about it, teaches writing and volunteers weekly on a suicide crisis line. She graduated from Dartmouth College and earned her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in San Francisco with her family. Romancing the Dark in the City of Light is her first novel. To learn more, visit: www.annjacobus.com/
Lauren Groff's new novel, Fates and Furies, follows the beautiful love story of a couple—and the vicious dissolution of their marriage. Our reviewer writes, "Groff’s writing is intelligent, knowing and deliciously sexy." (Read the review.)
We asked Groff to tell us about three books she's read recently.
Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
It’s summertime, which means I need to flee Florida because excessive heat does bad things to my psyche. I found cheap tickets to France, and for the past three weeks, I have installed my two little boys and myself in a series of Airbnb apartments in Paris and Normandy. I had the idea that my sons would pick up French as easily as they breathe, but beyond the ability to order any cake they want from any boulangerie, they're proving resistant. There's an animated version of Le Petit Prince in movie theaters, and I love the book excessively, so I bought it at a Fnac store and have been reading it to the boys, first in French, then in a spontaneous, slightly awkward English translation afterwards, in the hope that they'll at least pick up a few words. It's as beautiful as I remember it.
High Dive by Jonathan Lee
I get lots of books to blurb, and wish I could respond lovingly and fully to every single one, but my time is so tight that I can't seem to get to more than one or two a season. That said, I brought a few with me to France, and I didn't sleep on the plane because I was so entranced by this beautifully written, exciting, atmospheric book; it's political, but in a human and empathetic way. Jonathan Lee is such an economical, sensitive writer that I think we're going to hear quite a lot about him in the future. This book comes out in the U.S. in March 2016.
L'histoire du pied et autres fantaisies by J.M. Le Clézio
At the edge of this tiny fisherman's village in Normandy where we're living, with its single baker and butcher and church and vast white cliffs, is a beach of fist-sized stones. Perched like a seagull between the beach and the Casino is a little white free library where my boys and I spend hours every day in the cold wind, reading Tintin and Guy de Maupassant and children's books, which I sometimes have to scramble back into English. One day I accidentally stole L'histoire du pied when I was rushing a child somewhere, and read the stories from the Nobel Prize winner all night long; they are brilliant, very different, very strange. They are mostly about African women, and all are extremely sensitive and beautiful. Yes, I gave the book back the next day. And yes, I wish I'd kept it.
Thank you, Lauren!
(Author photo by Megan Brown)
The latest from Iain Pears—author of the worldwide bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost—is an ambitious literary work with a sci-fi twist. Actually, "ambitious" might be an understatement: This book is so complex that there's an app to help unravel it. (Is that a first? I'm pretty sure that's a first.)
Arcadia follows several different characters—including an Oxford professor, a teenager, a mathematician and a scholar's assistant—through 10 storylines that span decades and maybe even centuries. Knopf will publish it in the US on February 16.
Pears wrote in the Guardian that he decided to build an app to make it easier to play with narrative structure, and to allow readers to leave out any threads that "may displease." But it also taught him new ways to write: "Most peculiarly of all, I found that the story was most easily structured by looking at it visually; whole strands were expanded or even deleted simply to create a more pleasing shape in the writing program I was using. On every occasion, the more satisfactory the appearance, the better the story read, and I still haven’t quite figured out how that works."
The book has just gone on sale in the UK, so I guess we'll have a chance to see whether readers there embrace reading via app before Arcadia lands on US shores. Will you look for it in February?
The summer heat is (thankfully) on its way out, and warm and comforting dishes are coming back around. Let Heidi Swanson's recipe for Baked Oatmeal ease you into the fall season. Her vegetarian, whole foods-focused cookbook, Near & Far is our Top Pick for September.
pluots ° kefir ° almonds
I suspect the baked oatmeal recipe in my last book made it into more kitchens than any other recipe I’ve ever written. It’s still a regular here at home, in various guises, and this is a version worth celebrating. Made with crimson-fleshed Dapple Dandy pluots, it rides the line beautifully between the sweetness of the summer fruit and the tanginess of the kefir or buttermilk. Other stone fruit can be substituted.
Preheat the oven to 375°F | 190°C with a rack in the top third of the oven. Generously butter the inside of an 8-inch / 20cm square baking dish (or equivalent), then sprinkle with lemon zest.
In a bowl, mix together the oats, almonds, baking powder and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, kefir, water, egg, half of the butter and the vanilla. Arrange the pluots in a single layer in the bottom of the prepared baking dish. Cover the fruit with the oat mixture. Slowly drizzle the kefir mixture over the oats. Gently give the baking dish a couple of raps on the countertop to make sure the liquid moves through the oats.
Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is nicely golden and the oat mixture has set. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Drizzle the remaining melted butter on the top and serve. Finish with a bit more maple syrup if you want it a bit sweeter, and a thread of cream to bring it all together.
Ted Kosmatka's latest novel, The Flicker Men, touches on the role that genetics plays in the age-old argument of free will vs. fate. In this gripping sci-fi thriller, disgraced scientist Eric Argus begins to explore the paradoxical double-slit experiment, and his explorations lead him to the conclusion that only humans possess souls—but not all humans. In a guest post, Kosmatka details how quantum physics inspired The Flicker Men.
Weird doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I remember the first time I heard about the two-slit experiment—that classic illustration found in many science textbooks that delineates so clearly the boundary between that which makes sense in the world of physics and that which does not.
The experiment was originally designed to answer whether light was a wave or a particle, but instead proved it was both. I recall first reading about it in high school—photons changing from waves, to particles, then back to waves—and thinking that it couldn’t possibly really work that way. How could the mere act of observation change the outcome?
The seeds for my novel The Flicker Men were probably sown in my first brush with this strange line of research, but over the years I’ve come to suspect that quantum mechanics isn’t just strange; there’s something fundamentally transcendental about it. To look deeply into quantum mechanics is to look beyond the bounds of ordinary experience. You’re treading on territory where even scientists throw up their hands. Not because they don’t know the answers anymore, but because they do. You can’t argue against quantum mechanics. To be a physicist arguing against quantum mechanics would be like a geneticist arguing against an observable phenotype. It just is. You have to deal with it, make sense of it somehow, even if it can’t possibly be right. And in the end, it all circles back around again to the observer. But what is an observer, exactly?
The Flicker Men began as a way for me to explore this question and was a challenge to write precisely because the answer hinges so clearly on results which have been tested and retested, but which lack an intuitive base from which to extrapolate. Quantum mechanics, to some extent, is a descriptive science. It can be used to predict phenomena, and yet at its core, what it says about the macro world remains unclear. This is perhaps why there are so many different interpretations, so many different theories about what is really going on behind the curtain. In its own way, this book is another one of those theories, though with a healthy dose of storytelling and artistic license tossed in for good measure.
One of the major themes of the book is the revelation of hidden knowledge. There are certain truths that can be explained in different words, and with different frames of reference, and yet still produce a spark of recognition among people as diverse as quantum physicists and gnostic philosophers.
The more I’ve learned over the years, the more I’ve come to realize that different systems of thought behave like the golden ratio found in nautilus shells. Once you see the pattern, you begin to see it other places, too, as if there was some hidden structure to the world all along—and it’s only gradually being revealed to you. The world is a jeweled box. Quantum mechanics is one of its stranger keys.
BookPage is thrilled to reveal the cover for There Is a Tribe of Kids, the upcoming new picture book by Lane Smith! It will be released next spring from Macmillan Children's. Click to view larger.
Lucky devils that we are, we were granted a sneak peek of the book, and readers can expect a rich and absorbing—and very funny—exploration of collective nouns. Smith answered a few questions about the new book:
BookPage: What inspired your new picture book?
Smith: In the summer of 1969 I was an 8-year-old boy living in the foothills of Corona, California. One evening after several hours of exploring caves and climbing rocks I found myself lost and unable to find my way home.
That night I stumbled onto a herd, also called a tribe, of goats. Mostly kids, as their young are called. They shared their food with me and led me to water. If it had not been for these goats who knows what might have happened to me. As the night grew colder, I found warmth in their fur as we huddled together to sleep. In the morning, they led me home.
I never saw them again.
Over the years the memory of this night faded, and I haven’t thought much about it until your question, ‘What inspired There Is a Tribe of Kids?’ I wonder, could There Is a Tribe of Kids have something to do with that time so long ago, that dreamlike night under the stars with that other Tribe of Kids . . . ?
NAH! I think I just wanted to make a book with lots of different animals.
In choosing groups to feature in the book, what do you think is the silliest group name? Most unfair?
I’ve always thought a Murder of Crows was both the coolest collective noun ever and the most unjust. I love crows. I feed them every morning and could watch them all day long. They are smart, clever and funny and don’t seem the slightest bit murderous.
Why is this book important to you?
I don’t know if important is the right word. I try to avoid “statements” with my books. But the fun thing about picture books is you can do something wildly, stylistically different with each one: sometimes realistic, sometimes cartoony, sometimes goofy, sometimes abstract. I wanted this one to be dreamlike but also a believable journey, so the art is a mixture of the scribbly and the rendered. It’s probably the loosest book I’ve done.
What are you most excited about for young readers to discover with your new book?
I think it will be a good book for group discussion. I never really say if the boy in the story is lost and trying to get back to his “tribe,” or if he was born alone and looking for acceptance with different animal groups. It will be fun to hear what young readers think.
If there were a large group of Lane Smiths, what would that group be called?
My wife Molly said, “an Annoyance of Lanes,” but I think she only said that because she wasn’t sure how to spell “an Adorableness of Lanes.”
Picking this book up, I thought I was in for another fluffy novel about an overworked woman who finds herself and starts really living life. But thankfully, Moulin's book has more heft than that. Sure, Ally Hughes, a college professor and single mother, finds herself—in bed with a younger man, Jake. Who is also her student. And then her newfound ‘freedom’ starts to look like a mistake. The narrative flashes back and forth between this realization and 10 years later, when Jake reenters her life on the arm of her now-grown daughter. Moulin has written a funny, breezy debut, but with the added weight of mother-daughter dynamics and difficult choices, it’s not so light that it will blow away.
She hung up as Jake knocked. She turned and froze. Could it be Meer? “Yes?” she called. “Who’s there?”
He had called Monday and booked twenty minutes of office hours to talk about his failed final paper.
She moved to the door and opened it. When she saw him, she drew back, surprised. “You’re Jake?”
“I have an appointment.”
“Yes! Okay!” She moved aside so Jake could step in. “We’ve never met.” She closed the door. Jake turned and held out his hand. Ally shook it. “Sorry. With two hundred students—I can’t always put a face to a name.” Ally had thought that “Jake Bean” was the big blond guy who smiled all the time and sat down front.
She couldn’t believe it. This was Jake?
Jake Bean was the boy in the back?
They hadn’t talked, but the boy in the back had haunted Ally for three years.
What are you reading?