Bookish Gifts

Oh WordPress.  I disappear for eight months and you completely change the blog post interface.  This is making me feel old.

Anyway, anyone up for a #firstworldproblem?  

I’m not one of those people who plan out their present list well in advance. My present-buying technique basically revolves around wandering around the shops to find something that I think the recipient will like (usually a few days in advance), and then tossing in a couple of (small-denomination) gift cards in case they think it’s the worst present ever. 

Obviously, the first part is out of the window this year. And buying gift cards online turns out to be way more complicated than I thought. I had no idea so many stores don’t actually offer gift cards online. Or if they do, you can only spend them in-store. Or only online. Or they expire in six months.  Or something else. And let’s be honest, I’m hesitant to splash out too much on gift cards because who knows if the store is still going to be around in six months’ time with the way the economy’s going…

So all of this basically means I’m having to spend a bit more time thinking about gifts this year. And with potentially longer than usual delivery times, being a lot more organised.  (Which is why you’re getting this post mid-November.)  Unfortunately, not everyone is as into books as I am, else present-buying would be a lot simpler.  But hey, if you do have a book-loving friend in your life, here are my ideas!

Disclaimers: All links are non-affiliate/non-sponsored. I’ve bought from these sites before and had good experiences, YMMV. Also I’m based in the UK so while I found shipping costs/times reasonable, obviously this will vary based on where you live.

Know someone who has an e-reader (or is getting one for Christmas)?  TashaTwo’s Etsy store sells great e-reader sleeves for people who are a fan of minimalist design.  I’ve bought both Kindle and tablet sleeves from her, and can vouch for the quality.  I love the pop of colour against the neutral gray sleeves, which stops them from looking a bit too dull. And they’re perfect for travelling – the padding provides protection without adding too much bulk, and the outside pocket keeps charging cables handy. 

The Bookishly Classic Book crate is a lot of fun if you’re looking for a subscription (or one-off) box idea.  I love the concept of book boxes, but find I end up giving away a lot of the accompanying items because they’re not my style or I can’t find a use for them.  The Bookishly items tend to be a bit more relevant and I’ve just noticed they’ve a Build Your Own Crate option which looks perfect.  Also if you know someone who journals, they have a Journal for Life option which means that if you pay a nominal sum when buying a journal, they will send out a new journal every time you finish your existing one – this is such a great idea.

38580035._SY475_Limited edition books are everywhere, and can be gorgeous presents.  I’ve definitely caved a couple of times *eyes stack of books with spray-painted edges*  Goldsboro Books specialise in first-edition, signed books, which can be stunning and more reasonably priced than you may think. For example, this is marked as a flawed version, but you can see how beautiful their edition of Kester Grant’s COURT OF MIRACLES is (I’ve the Waterstones edition myself, and it is very lovely as well if not as fancy as the Goldsboro version – oh, and I loved the story too, Grant took Les Misérables and truly made it her own).  If you’re feeling flush, they also do a Book of the Month subscription.  I’ve been eyeing their Science Fiction & Fantasy Fellowship monthly subscription for a while (which is currently waiting list-only) as some of their previous editions have been amazing. 

What do you think about these ideas?  Any other gifts you would suggest for a book-lover?

Oh Hey

It’s been a while, huh? I will not miss you at all, 2020.

Every time I thought about writing a blog post, it felt like something somewhere in the world would go up in flames (literally or metaphorically, or sometimes both) and… I just didn’t have the headspace to craft anything resembling an actual post. I have a half-finished draft titled “Pandemic Reading”, which I started back in May, and never quite got around to completing*.

But this weekend, it feels like there is a glimmer of hope in the world. Yes, we’re in a kind-of lockdown in England, but (and it may just be me) it doesn’t feel like it’s a lockdown – I haven’t exactly been out shopping/partying/whatever-ing in the past few months so it’s not a huge change. Trump is on his way out, and hopefully, so is all the divisive rhetoric that seems to have been a substitute for actual thought everywhere.

And I feel like I should start talking books again (before something else blows up?). I’ve just started re-reading Rachel Neumeier’s Black Dog series. The latest instalment, COPPER MOUNTAIN, reminded me of how good these books were and I am thoroughly enjoying re-acquainting myself with Natividad and the world of Dimilioc again. I have fond memories of being glued to the final pages of the previous book while on holiday in New York City and taking a sneaky break in the NYPL Reading Room to finish off the story, because I had to know how it ended.

Up next on my list is Megan Whalen Turner’s RETURN OF THE THIEF (hurrah!), though I am debating whether I should re-read the entire series before starting this one to make sure I don’t miss any single detail.

*I totally glommed SJ MacDonald’s Fourth Fleet Irregulars series over this period. There’s a bit of a bumpy start to the series and it’s slightly repetitive if you read all ten books back-to-back like I did, but it’s one of those series that is somehow a comfort read even if it’s the first time you read it. Also, it’s in Kindle Unlimited if you have a subscription. Oh, and ignore the covers.

Checking In – and How Are You?

I’m not sure what to say.  2020 has been a surreal year, and we’re not even three months in.

I certainly didn’t expect to be signing off from work calls with a “stay safe”.  I never expected to be in a situation where I’m not going to be seeing friends in person for weeks (possibly months?).  Or have debates around what “social distancing” means v. “self-isolation”. Watch daily press conferences from the Prime Minister.  Stress about whether London would be locked down and what that would mean (even typing those words feels wrong).  And yes, succumb to panic about whether there was sufficient stores of loo roll in the house*.

I’m incredibly fortunate in that I can work from home, and fingers (and everything else) crossed, my job seems secure.  I’m worried about those who can’t work from home and all the small businesses that are facing collapse, and am really hoping that there’ll be sufficient support to help everyone get through this.

I’m trying to limit my time on news websites and social media (it’s really not helping!) and I’ve a whole TBR pile of books I’m determined to wade through.  I also suspect that I’m going to have a fair amount of time on my hands now to pay this (neglected) blog a bit more attention.

How are you doing?

 

*Answer was yes – after an unfortunate incident years and years ago, I always have a spare pack…

2019: Lists and Numbers

Because I’m geeky like that.

2019 new-to-me authors

I read books by 37 new-to-me authors over 2019, down from last year but still pretty good going.  The numbers were definitely helped by my Kindle Unlimited subscription and surprisingly, book subscription boxes.  I don’t always buy the boxes (I have a major subscription box weakness and then give a lot of items away, so I try to refrain!) but they are great at bringing new names to my attention.

Of the 37 authors, here are the ones I’ll be keeping an eye out for in 2020.

Mary Burchell: Well, no surprise here.  I’m hoping more of her backlist gets digitised, else I’m going to have to find a (cheap) way of tracking down the paperbacks.

Meg Pechenick: I said to Chachic on Twitter that I found Pechenick’s Vardeshi Saga books faintly reminiscent of Andrea K. Höst’s Touchstone trilogy.  Expanding slightly more – it was the immersion-in-an-alien-culture angle, I think, coupled with the protagonist’s self-sufficient attitude.

Janet Edwards: I was on a bit of an SF kick, and raced through her incredibly readable Earth Girl trilogy.  She has another series which I’m planning on reading this year.

Charlie Adhara: I’m late to the party on this, I think – her books were all over last year’s best-of lists.  I finally got around to them in 2019 and thought each book in her Big Bad Wolf paranormal romance was better than the last, so looking forward to her 2020 release!

Elin Gregory: No wallpaper historicals here, the period details in Eleventh Hour made the setting come alive.

Author most glommed over 2019

Mary Burchell with 15 books (no surprise there), but Rachel Neumeier was a close second with 14.

Kindle Unlimited usage

I do find myself DNF’ing KU books quite often, but it’s an easy way to try new-to-me authors and I discovered 15 of my 2019 new-to-me authors via KU.

I finished 76 KU books over 2019, so averaging £1.26 a book (I’ve a £7.99/month subscription).  Also ~40% were 4* reads, which is better than last year, so I think I’m getting KU to work for me!

I admit the stats were helped by Mary Burchell’s books being in KU (I feel like I’m mentioning her name all the time now), so it’ll be interesting to see how 2020 pans out.

The numbers and graphs

I read 172 books over 2019, which sounds great in theory but my reading really tailed off over the second half of the year.  I blame spending too much time doing the mindless scrolling thing on my phone (I have a new phone which does pretty much everything for me, but is incredibly bad for my attention span).  My 2020 resolution is to put my phone down.  Seriously.

2019

And compared to previous years – well, no substantial changes over the past couple of years.

overall2019

And that’s it.  As always, all books on my Goodreads shelf (actual reviews sadly lacking but I am always happy to talk about what worked and what didn’t, just ask!) and of course, the annual My Year in Books Goodreads infographic.

2019: My Favourite Books

Happy New Year, everyone!

I’m doing my now-traditional yearend reading wrap-up, and either I’m getting pickier with age or I’ve really had a so-so reading year (very likely).  Excluding re-reads, I’ve only had two 5* reads in 2019.  And I thought having only four 5* reads in 2017 was bad…

So my two very favourite books of 2019:

KJ Charles’ ANY OLD DIAMONDS (romance): KJ Charles continues to be an autobuy author for me this year, and ANY OLD DIAMONDS lived up to my expectations.  I went in thinking the pretext was slightly flimsy, and uh… I was wrong, to say the least.  An utterly delicious and satisfying romance.

Rachel Neumeier’s BLACK DOG (fantasy): I finished making my way through Neumeier’s entire backlist this year and have no regrets.  BLACK DOG (and its sequels) is a bit different to the rest of her novels in the sense it’s urban fantasy, but not your everyday urban fantasy.  As I said earlier in the year, “Yes, there are werewolves and action, but it’s full of feels and relationships, and of course, great worldbuilding”.

And because that feels a bit light, here are some of my other favourite reads of 2019 – not quite 5* reads, but not far off either.

  • Obviously, the rest of Rachel Neumeier’s Black Dog series, including all the short stories
  • T Kingfisher’s CLOCKWORK BOYS was such a fun hilarious romp – I’ve bounced off her fantasy books before, but this one really worked for me
  • Mary Burchell’s Warrender series – as I said here, the combination of period-contemporary London and Burchell’s evident love of music was catnip to me, and I pretty much inhaled these books
  • Alex Acks’ WIRELESS AND MORE STEAM-POWERED ADVENTURES was the perfect follow-up to last year’s MURDER ON THE TITANIA – they’re madcap steampunk heist stories with heart, and more people need to read them
  • And last but not least, I feel Kate Stradling’s writing gets more and more confident – her Cinderella retelling SOOT AND SLIPPER was beautifully-written, and her surprise release OLIVER INVICTUS ended Oliver’s story on the most perfect note

 

 

 

 

 

A Belated Merry Christmas

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  I know it’s time to dust off my blog when I’ve the urge to talk about what I’ve been reading (or not reading), though I find myself woefully out of practice. (I must have written and re-written the previous sentences at least five times.)

I’ve started to collate my favourite reads of the year, which has turned out to be an interesting way of looking back over 2019.  There’s some “oh yes, I was on holiday when I flew through Rachel Neumeier’s Black Dog series” and “ah, I had a total glom of Mary Burchell’s backlist when I was working out my notice period”.  Also a bit of “how on earth did I have time to read so much” (to be fair, this was possibly tied to me switching jobs and having some, ahem, winding down time).  Having said that, I feel like my reading has tailed off dramatically in the second half of the year, especially when I look at the number of books I was reading in the first few months of 2019.  And I had forgotten how many re-reads I completed earlier in the year as well (practically all of Andrea K. Höst’s backlist, I think).

The various “best of the 2010s” articles out there had me wondering how my annual favourites have held up over the years (scroll down a bit for the listing by genre).  You know what?  I look at the titles on that list and, bar a handful, I have really fond memories of reading each book (I possibly need to revisit the ones I don’t quite recall).  Not all the authors listed there continue to be autobuys for me, but as you’d expect, my reading tastes have changed over the past ten years.

Right, enough rambling for now.  It’s nearly the end of the holidays and I’ve a couple more books I’d like to finish this side of the new year (plus I need to finish adding all my 2019 reads to Goodreads!).  Whether you celebrated Christmas or not, I hope you’ve had some time off to recharge batteries and prepare for a new year (and a new decade, depending on how you count decades!).

Catching Up

Alternate title: You know you’ve not been blogging for a while when you can’t figure out how to get to the New Post page…

*****

I splurged and bought the Kindle Oasis when the previous generation was on sale at Amazon a while back.  It was eye-wateringly expensive (£250) but on sale (usually £290) AND the current version was selling at £320 so I convinced myself it was a bargain.  Especially since I had been eyeing it forever.  And this was the 3G enabled version so I could take it on holiday and download books anywhere as opposed to having to find a wifi hotspot… see, I can talk myself into anything.

The Oasis arrived and well, it was fine.  I’ve had Kindle Paperwhites for a while and I didn’t see a massive improvement in the reading experience.  Don’t get me wrong, the backlit screen is lovely – but so is the Paperwhite screen.  Yes, there are click-y buttons for page turns – but I don’t mind swiping (in fact, I prefer it).  There’s the piece at the side you can use to hold the reader, you can flip it upside down and the screen automatically rotates – but well, really, bearing in mind I paid £90 for my Paperwhite, was all of these worth the extra £160?

So I quietly regretted my impulse buy and filed the purchase under “mistake, do not repeat” folder.

But.

Because of reasons, I ended up only having my Paperwhite with me – and gosh, I noticed the difference immediately.  What I hadn’t appreciated is the larger screen size of the Oasis – it’s a subtle upgrade, but it definitely makes a difference to the reading experience.

Conclusion: I’m still not 100% convinced all the Oasis-only features are worth the extra money, but I can tell the difference and have moved all my ebooks over to the Oasis (which wasn’t easy, though I did take the opportunity to do some TBR-culling…).  I’m still of the opinion that the Paperwhite remains the best ereader around in terms of value for money, but well, I’m not sorry I bought the Oasis now.

*****

47482302._SY475_Did you know Sharon Shinn has released THREE new books?  The Uncommon Echoes trilogy were audiobook originals released earlier in the year, but the ebooks (Kindle Unlimited!) came out very quietly last week (or at least, I wasn’t aware of the release dates).

Very happily, I stumbled upon them on Friday, and spent the weekend flying through all three.  As I said in the comments section of the Dear Author review of the first book, this is Shinn back to her best IMO.

I’ve not really connected with her more recent books, but these stories grabbed my attention from the first chapter.  Like all her backlist, these straddle the border of romance and fantasy.  The concept of echoes (basically silent copies of people) fascinated me, and I really liked the backdrop of intrigues and machinations, and how the complexity and stakes increased throughout the trilogy.  There is so much more I could say about these stories – the contrasts in agency between protagonists, the diversity in the world she’s created, the repeated theme of found family, and her treatment of abuse are all angles I’d love to discuss, but well, this “quick” blog post is already much longer than I planned.

All three books are very different stories, and I’m finding it hard to decide on my favourite.  I’m leaning slightly towards the first book, ECHOES IN ONYX, but they are all very lovely and satisfying reads.

*****

And finally, Dublin 2019 Hugo winners (and the breakdown of votes) are out!  I haven’t had much time to digest the results, so opinions to follow (hopefully).

 

Ah Summer…

Summer isn’t my favourite season (I dread the boiling Tubes, stifling buses, and actually, thinking about it, everything to do with making my way around a city that isn’t designed for temperatures above 20 degrees).  But summer does mean holidays, drinks in the sunshine, and of course, tennis and Wimbledon especially!  Which is a long-winded way of saying, yeah, I’ve been neglecting this blog.

37712577Let’s see – what have I been up to reading-wise?  I’ve just finished Ilona Andrews’ new release, SWEEP OF THE BLADE.  I skip their online serialised version (because I’m all about instant gratification, and can’t deal with waiting for new chapters), so any Innkeeper story is always brand new to me.

I found SotB lots of fun, it’s the kind of story that doesn’t take itself too seriously and I whizzed through the book over a couple of nights. The Innkeeper series is probably my favourite of the Ilona Andrew books – it feels less… overcrafted somehow?  I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but most of their recent releases feel just a bit too carefully put together to me.  There’s so much description, which throws me out of the story, and I end up skimming.  I stalled halfway through the final Kate book – will have to go back and pick it up again.

I’ve also somehow found my way back to buying physical books.  Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration – I think I’ve bought six over the past month, but that’s probably not far off how many I bought in total over 2018.  There is something to be said about about browsing in bookstores and impulse buys (or random discoveries).  I haven’t actually finished any of them yet (see summer distractions above), so I’ll have to report back.

On a tangentially-related note, I was really sorry to hear that Less Than Three is closing their doors.  I appreciated how they published books across the queer spectrum which probably would have struggled to get out there otherwise, but totally see how it’s tough for an indie publisher to keep afloat in these times.  Their approach to winding down their business and reverting rights appears to be exemplary though.

So that’s me – how has summer (or winter depending on where you are!) been treating you so far?

 

My Reading List for the 2019 Hugo Awards

I’ve a supporting membership for Dublin 2019, which gives me access to this year’s Hugo Awards voter packet (basically a collection of most of the shortlisted works in a mix of e-formats).

The packet came out over the weekend, so here are my musings about what I want to read between now and August (end July being the voting deadline).

Err… it’s ambitious to say the least.

Best Novel

  • Naomi Novik’s SPINNING SILVER is the only one I’ve read so far in this category (in fact, it was one of my favourite reads in 2018).
  • I already have the Becky Chambers but in paperback, so am grateful to get my hands on the e-version which makes it ever-so-slightly more convenient to read.  I think RECORD OF A SPACEBORN FEW is a companion book as opposed to a sequel, so I don’t have to read her other two books (which are both included in the Hugo packet as she also has a nomination for Best Series, and err… I also own but not read).
  • I also already have Yoon Ha Lee’s REVENANT GUN, but haven’t yet read the second book RAVEN STRATEGEM (which is queued up on my Kindle – okay, yes, I do have a TBR problem).  This is definitely a trilogy, so I should really try to finish both.
  • I’m more on the fence for Catherynne M Valente’s SPACE OPERA (tried an excerpt previously and it didn’t work for me), but hey, it is Eurovision this weekend so I may be in the mood for it!
  • Rebecca Roanhorse’s TRAIL OF LIGHTNING has been on my to-buy list for a while, so I’m really pleased the full book’s in the packet.  The only reason I haven’t one-clicked it yet was because I heard it straddles the fantasy-horror boundary and horror isn’t really my thing, but on the other hand, it’s had really good reviews.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal’s THE CALCULATING STARS is provided only in PDF format, which is an utter pain.  I’ve had a go at converting this via Calibre, so we’ll see if it’s worked.  I haven’t bought this one because umm… it sounds stupid but it’s a prequel to her short story “The Lady Astronaut of Mars”, which I loved, and therefore I didn’t really want to read the run-up to the events in the short.  Ha.  I’ve enjoyed her novels previously, so I will try to read this – it’s also recently had a UK release so my library may have a copy.

So that’s four books I’m definitely going to read + possibly the Valente and Kowal, depending on whether I bounce off the former and if I can get a readable version of the latter + the two other Becky Chambers for the Best Series nom.

Best Novella

  • Again, I’ve only read one of the shortlist previously (the Aliette de Bodard).
  • I’ve Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy in hardback, so will definitely make time to read all three novellas.
  • Martha Wells’s ARTIFICIAL CONDITION is currently retailing for around £7, hence me being delighted to see it in the Hugo packet (I’ve just whizzed through it).
  • I’ve been interested in the P. Djèlí Clark and Kelly Robson novellas for a while, so ditto on being happy to see them included.
  • And I’ve the first of the Seanan McGuire novellas, so I probably should read it before BENEATH A SUGAR SKY?  Loosely-connected though.

Possibly seven more novellas to get through here – all have been highly-rated though, so I suspect I’ll fly through them!

Best Series

  • Okay, the first thing to say is that ALL TWELVE of Seanan McGuire’s October Daye books are in the Hugo packet (via NetGalley so time-limited admittedly, but still!).  The second thing to say is that I own all of them already (you know I adore Toby, right?)… definitely a top contender for my vote.
  • I’ve not heard of Malka Older’s Centenal Cycle books before, but definitely keen to give them a go – all three are included.
  • I’ve eyed the Charles Stross series previously but have never read them – I think four novellas are provided, so will see what they’re like before deciding if I want to get hold of the novels.
  • I’ll be covering the Becky Chambers and Yoon Ha Lee books as part of the Best Novel reads (useful overlap, this!)
  • I think I may have read a few of Aliette de Bodard’s Xuya works before.  I like but don’t love them, so we’ll see.

So really it’s only the Older and Stross works here for me to read, perhaps some of de Bodard’s stories as well.

Lodestar Award (Best YA)

  • Ha, broken record but again, I’ve read only one book in this category (Holly Black’s THE CRUEL PRINCE).  The publisher’s provided an excerpt for the packet, so that’s rather fortunate on my part (also I thought it was rather generic YA fantasy, so not top of my list).
  • Rachel Hartman and Tomi Adeyemi’s books are provided via NetGalley, so yay – I haven’t read either one and want to read both.
  • Dhonielle Clayton’s is marked “To be provided” so perhaps something will follow?
  • Peadar O’Guilin’s duology comes across as more horror to me, I’ll give his books a a go, but they may not really be my thing.

I’ve not really read much YA fantasy recently (or so I think anyway!), will definitely read at least two here.

And as for the other categories

  • I’ve read most of the shortlisted works in the Novelette and Short Story categories already – I just need to have a think!
  • Campbell Award – I’ve read SA Chakraborty, have the first Katherine Arden book, and may read RF Kuang’s THE POPPY WAR (apparently grimdark-ish?).
  • No real thoughts about the rest of the categories, I’ll read through the pieces provided in the packet to decide on my votes.

So that’s me (it may be an SFF-heavy couple of months…) – if you’ve signed up for Dublin 2019 and plan on voting, what are your thoughts?

Recent and Upcoming Reads

Andrea K Höst, whose books are an autobuy for me, posted a couple of weeks ago about hitting 15000 stars on Goodreads.

I’d been meaning to re-read her backlist this year (fitted in between all the new books that I really need to stop buying*) and that was just the prompt I needed.  I was going to start with the Touchstone series, which are probably the most popular of her books, but ended up picking HUNTING because I was in the mood for a standalone fantasy.

13456081This was one of those re-reads where I’d only had a vague memory of the plot outline, and it was a joy to refamiliarise myself with the world and its characters.   HUNTING is packed full of my favourite things really – it’s filled with secret identities and half-truths, murder mysteries and red herrings, all alongside the rekindling of old friendships and making of new allies (and potentially more), so of course I ended up staying up way too late to finish the book.  Now if only there was a sequel…

*Pre-orders that have appeared on my Kindle over the past week (nicely-timed for the Easter weekend, I have to say)

Alex Acks‘s WIRELESS AND MORE STEAM-POWERED ADVENTURES (steampunk fantasy) – the first collection of stories was so much fun, so I’m really looking forward to diving into this one

Jordan Castillo Price‘s MURDER HOUSE (paranormal romance) – I wasn’t blown away by the more recent installments, but I have loved previous PsyCop books so we’ll see!