Katherine Fabian & Iona Datt Sharma’s SING FOR THE COMING OF THE LONGEST NIGHT

42957404You may recall I read Iona Datt Sharma’s lovely historical fantasy short “Penhallow Amidst Passing Things” as part of the anthology THE UNDERWATER BALLROOM SOCIETY earlier this year.  It was one of my favourite stories in that anthology, very deftly mixing some old-school smuggling with romance and magic.

So when she offered me an ARC of her new novella (co-authored with Katherine Fabian) SING FOR THE COMING OF THE LONGEST NIGHT, I said “yes please!”.

The world you know is underneath the substance of another, with cracks in the firmament that let the light of its magic in…

Layla and Nat have nothing in common but their boyfriend – enigmatic, brilliant Meraud – and their deep mutual dislike. But when Meraud disappears after an ambitious magical experiment goes wrong, they may be the only ones who can follow the trail of cryptic clues that will bring him safely home.

To return Meraud to this world, the two of them will confront every obstacle: the magic of the wild unknowable, a friendly vicar who’s only concerned for their spiritual wellbeing, and even the Thames Water helpline. All of which would be doable, if only they didn’t have to do it together.

But the winter solstice is fast approaching – and once the year turns, Meraud will be lost forever. In this joyously queer novella, Nat and Layla must find a way to overcome their differences before it’s too late.

My quick scan of the blurb somehow left me with the impression that this was SF (goodness knows why, as having re-read it properly, there is nothing science fiction-y about it at all), which meant I was slightly thrown by the very contemporary opening at a London school nativity play and it took me a while to play catch-up.

Once I did, I was fully absorbed in Layla and Nat’s story, which wasn’t really about their quest to save Meraud.  Well, it was and it wasn’t.  I thoroughly enjoyed watching Layla and Nat figuring out their own relationship, independently of Meraud.  For a novella, it packs in a lot – there’s great character growth and fantastic supporting characters, some very hilarious moments, and equally some rather touching moments.  The writing was beautifully smooth and brought to life the London I know, not a Disney version of it.  And I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that it closed on a feel-good note.  It’s a wonderfully queer novella that reminds you it’s really about the family you make for yourself, a perfect read for this festive season.

Review copy courtesy of author

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A Rec, Plus New Kindle Paperwhite Impressions

33266523So off the back of the recommendations from the KJ Charles tor.com article I mentioned last week, I grabbed Anna Butler’s SF novel GRYFALCON – free on Kindle is always a great price.  With the caveat I’m still around the three-quarters mark, I’m loving it.

I found the first chapter was a bit hard-going, I admit.  It’s one of those openings where you’re dropped in the middle of so much action, and find it hard to figure out what’s going on or why you should care about the characters.  Plus she has this narrative quirk where she repeats scenes from different POVs, which confused me at first.

But there is excellent emotional pay-off, and I am also a sucker for space opera-type adventures.  I’ve already bought the second (it’s a five-book series) and I suspect I will fly through the series.

Also my new Kindle Paperwhite has arrived! I bought the basic wifi-only version as I thought the 3G-enabled version was way too expensive, especially since I am rarely in a place without wifi and I’ll probably use my old 3G Paperwhite when travelling.

First impressions – if your older Paperwhite is working well, you don’t need this one.

It’s definitely lighter, and possibly faster when it comes to opening books (there’s more storage space and my old Kindle was reaching its limit).  There are more fonts available (I think?) but I’m a creature of habit, and tend to stay with the default one.  Setup is very straightforward, as it’s been with all my Kindles to date.

I’m still getting used to the touchscreen – am occasionally flicking back on accident when I mean to flick forward, possibly because the screen is flat with no raised edges.  No issues with the backlight nor with charging (so far anyway).

Overall, I’ve no regrets about getting this version as my older one was starting to slow down, especially as it was discounted, but it’s not a must-have upgrade if you’ve one of the more recent Paperwhites IMO.

Still Here…

How in the world are we in mid-November already?  It feels like only yesterday that I was sweltering in the Heatwave of 2018, and now the heating is on, Christmas adverts are appearing on telly… and it’s been almost three months since my last post.

My blog hiatus has been slightly inadvertent in that I’ve managed to lose the habit of blogging, so this post is really more about me trying to remind myself that posting something can be a matter of minutes, not a couple of hours.

So a couple of tor.com posts I enjoyed:

I read and re-read Tamora Pierce’s Alanna books in my teenage years (and beyond!), and I really enjoyed this take on her books: Revisiting Tamora Pierce’s Tortall as a Mother of a Daughter

KJ Charles is one of my autobuy authors, and this post made me want to re-read Simon Feximal.  Great recs in the comments too.

Finally for UK readers – the newest Kindle Paperwhite is on sale for the next week (£30 off).  I have been debating getting an Oasis for ever, but could never quite justify the price tag.  So I caved and bought a new Paperwhite (my current one is years old, so I expect to be suitably wowed by this one – will report back).

Recent Re-Reads

I’ve said before that I’ve fallen out of the habit of re-reading.  I used to re-read my books all the time, evidenced by some of my teenage favourites that are on the verge of falling apart and have spines that are pretty much only sticky tape.  But then – and I suspect this probably coincided with the time I started getting a monthly pay cheque and therefore could spend without (much) guilt – my TBR pile started growing, and re-reading became a casualty of too many books, too little time…

But ebooks!  I succumbed to a few too-good-to-pass-up Kindle offers recently, and in addition to the assorted paper versions on my shelves, I now have e-copies of quite a few Georgette Heyers, Mercedes Lackeys, and Mary Stewarts (yes, I appreciate that is a fairly mixed bag).   It has been years since I’ve read these books (in the case of Lackey, nearing two decades), and I wondered how they would stand up to the test of time – more on that to follow.  What really struck me about my recent binge of re-reads was how much I had actually forgotten about the actual plot.  I kind of loved that I had a vague memory of where the story ends up, but still got caught by surprise by the actual events unfolding on the page.

176797First up, Mercedes Lackey – I started with her Vows and Honor omnibus (and I have to say, I am the biggest fan ever of ebooks, but there is no replacement for the sheer awesome-ness of the original covers – I mean, look at Tarma and Kethry on this DAW cover).  The good: old-school Lackey is so much better than current Lackey in terms of world-building, story-telling, and pacing, and the magic that drew me into her Valdemar world was still very much there.  The bad: Did I never notice how rape-y this series was?  Gendered violence galore, some very stereotyped thinking, and I ended up skipping the Tarma/Kethry origin short story, because I just couldn’t.

Having said all that, I definitely want to re-read the sort-of sequel BY THE SWORD and am currently in the middle of her Exiles of Valdemar omnibus, which I don’t believe I have actually read before (I lost interest in the series about the time Alberich’s story came out, IIRC).  I also want to re-read the Elspeth books, but haven’t bought that e-omnibus (yet!).

32108And as for the Georgette Heyers – there are a handful of Heyers that I re-read every now and again (COTILLION, FREDERICA, THE GRAND SOPHY, and VENETIA spring to mind), but equally, there’s a huge list of Heyers I’ve read only once or twice.  So having bought a whole heap of her e-editions (the only criteria being that they were £0.99 or less), THE TOLL-GATE was the first one I cracked open, and ah, Heyer’s love of period slang, whether real or not, was in full evidence here.  There’s a good story buried underneath with some very engaging characters, but I found it hard-going and there’s obviously a reason why it’s in my lesser-read Heyer pile.

THE TALISMAN RING, though, was much better, with an implausible setup which Heyer carried off with style.  Totally farcical comedy, but with heart; I loved the inevitable romance, and it had a perfect last page.

Bring on the YA Fantasies…

I’ve been in a YA fantasy kind of mood recently.

I succumbed to the lure of the FairyLoot subscription box a few months back.  It was their May Save the Kingdom theme that persuaded me, and how could I resist their June Rebels in Ballgowns box?  Having had two of their boxes now, I probably wouldn’t buy another – while I like the book exclusives, the design of the accompanying products are on the too-dramatic side for me (they photograph well though, and I suspect I’m in the minority!).

40619940So the May and June FairyLoot boxes had Mindee Arnott’s ONYX AND IVORY and Tracy Banghart’s GRACE AND FURY respectively – I found the former a bit middling and predictable, while the latter was more satisfying character and relationship-wise, but had a “to be continued…” kind of ending.

29346870A recent bookstore visit then yielded an impulse buy of Erin Beaty’s THE TRAITOR’S KISS and when I closed the book, I immediately one-clicked the sequel, THE TRAITOR’S RUIN, which had just come out.  Hurrah for serendipitous release schedules!  These books aren’t perfect (too much angsting, some confusing history, and gosh, Sage & co come across as being either way too young or incredibly mature for their ages depending on what they’re doing), but they’re addictive reads.  Plus despite being part of a trilogy, bonus points for each book being relatively self-contained.

Melissa Caruso’s THE DEFIANT HEIR was another recent read. I was not overly-enthused about the previous book in this series despite the hype (or perhaps because of!), but I felt she hit her stride here.  I could do without the love triangle (and Amalia’s wishy-washiness on that front), but that aside, it had some vividly-imagined set pieces and twists, and was full of tension and drama at the right moments.

31450960And the most recent book I’ve finished is Sarah Tolcser’s THE SONG OF THE CURRENT.  I can’t remember who rec’d it now, but it was solid.  The romance was a bit on the insta-love side (yes, I know – I am hyper-critical of romance subplots), but I liked the world-building and the complicated family dynamics.  I am totally up for the sequel.

So any YA fantasy recs for me, ideally those without insta-love or love triangles or cliffhanger endings?  I don’t ask for much obviously…

Quick Recaps: The Romance One

Slooowly clearing my backlog of new releases for the early part of 2018…

There was definitely more SFF than romance on my 2018 Want list so far, but here are the new releases in romance that I’ve read – basically four books by two authors:

Kelly Hunter’s SHOCK HEIR FOR THE CROWN PRINCE and CONVENIENT BRIDE FOR THE KING: Kelly Hunter is probably the only Mills & Boon author that’s still on my autobuy list, and despite the sheer OTT-ness of the titles, I snapped up these two books on release day.  Loved her snappy dialogue and humour as always, though the “secret baby” trope felt a bit tired in the former.  I’m a sucker for friends-to-lovers though so enjoyed Theo’s wooing of Moriana, and am looking forward to the next two in this mini-series.

Josh Lanyon’s THE MAGICIAN MURDERS: I admit I was hoping for some conclusion to the romance arc here, but it looks like the series is going to run for a bit longer.  Still, solid story, though her writing is starting to come across as a bit workman-like.

Josh Lanyon’s MURDER TAKES THE HIGH ROAD: Perhaps more a “mystery with romantic elements” than straight-up romance.  Mystery-wise, there were red herrings a-plenty, though I’m not sure there were enough clues to let the reader have a fair stab at figuring out the ending.  I assume this was inspired somewhat by the real-life Anne Perry story, which makes me uncomfortable enough to avoid reading her books, so yeah, not sure.  I liked the whole Scottish Highlands bus tour setting though.

Karina Bliss’s RESURRECTION

There’s nothing like discovering a new-to-you author whose writing just clicks with you; I’ve a Kindle Unlimited subscription, and it is certainly good at encouraging me to give new-to-me authors a go (more misses than hits, I have to admit, but there have definitely been some knock-it-out-of-the-park hits).

33815369Having said that, there is something about knowing that you’re in for a really satisfying read, and that’s how I felt when I cracked open Katrina Bliss’s latest, RESURRECTION (out June 17).  It’s the fourth (and final?) book in her rockstar romance series, and by now, I know I’m in for a treat.  Because her series isn’t your run-of-the-mill rockstar romance – yes, there is certainly music and celebrity, but friendships form the core of these books, and that lends depth to the stories.

No more rock stars. Ever.

Lily Hagen Stuart has done that scene to death. Her new career in early childhood education is way more rewarding and she deals with far fewer tantrums. Then a stolen sex tape is posted online and her future is in jeopardy. She needs to get away from the paparazzi and the only place that offers refuge is the world she swore never to return to: the music world. Fine.

A few months—tops. That’s all she needs to get her life back. And keeping her hands off gorgeous Moss McFadden? Should be easy since they’ve always avoided each other.

Moss McFadden may be a rising rock star, but he’s quite happy to keep everyone at arm’s length. Until Lily needs help, that is. They strike a deal that puts them in closer proximity than is good for his equilibrium. Still, he can keep his growing fascination with her in check. 

Or can he? 

Because when she lends him a hand in a life-changing situation, all his defenses are shot. And as he goes down in a wave of longing, he wonders if she just might be his salvation.

RESURRECTION is about Lily and Moss healing from past hurts and rediscovering themselves, both independently and together.  And if that sounds a bit heavy, that’s on me – Bliss handles it with ease and humour.  Her trademark snappy banter is present and accounted for, previous characters are given just the right amount of page time, and seriously, female friendships for the win here.  I appreciated that there was no slut-shaming, especially with #metoo stories fresh in my mind.  Rockstar romances can veer towards the wrong side of the line at times, so kudos for how Moss and his past was portrayed.

There’s also a lovely rhythm to Bliss’s prose, making it easy for me to sink into the story.  Here’s a passage from early on in the book, when Moss is faced with a technical issue onstage during their first performance:

He started strumming, just to have something to do with his hands, not a song but an improvised riff that didn’t know where it was going. Seth picked up the beat, Jared added bass notes, and suddenly they had a melody, subversive and sly.

However, I have to say, melodrama much?  On top of the sex tape leaks referred to in the blurb, there’s another later twist.  I’m not going to give it away, but I was left impressed at how Bliss wrapped up the story within the available page count.  Also, no spoilers, so I’m going to stay vague (sorry!),  but I was left wondering if a different decision could have been made in the end.  Bliss certainly has the skills to sell a less traditional resolution, and perhaps that would have felt more fresh.

All in all though, a really solid romance, and definitely a series I’d recommend.

Review copy courtesy of author

Quick Recaps: The SF/F One

A belated look at the new releases for the first umm… third of the year?  Starting off the ones I’ve actually read in the SF/F space…

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s NEOGENESIS: Latest Liaden installment, and unlike the more recent releases, I felt there was FINALLY some progress in the overall series arc.  I am still on the fence around some kind-of-icky cultural appropriation when it comes to their Bedel community, but hurrah for actually moving on with the story.  Could have done with fewer plot threads to track, but you can’t have everything…

Elizabeth Moon’s INTO THE FIRE: I probably would have benefited from a series re-read before diving into this book, and there were a few too many random POVs tossed in for my liking.  Also, the main protagonists (Ky, Stella, and yes, Grace) came across as being way too whiny, especially for people who are meant to be actual grown-ups.

Karen Healey and Robyn Fleming’s THE EMPRESS OF TIMBRA: A new-to-me author pairing and an interesting take on traditional epic-fantasy-type happenings, as it’s told from the POV of teenagers on the periphery of events.  I thought it a bit reminiscent of Sherwood Smith’s YA fantasy books.  I’d definitely pick up the next book.

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s OBSIDIO: I’ve loved their innovative take on epistolary-style storytelling.  This concluding volume brought all the previous strands together, and yes, I shed a tear or two.

Jodi Taylor’s AN ARGUMENTATION OF HISTORIANS: She’s 100% an autobuy author and I wasn’t disappointed with this book.  As always, her writing is rich in historical detail without compromising entertainment (honestly, I’ve learnt more history from her books than I did at school).  There’s some properly suspenseful moments in this book, balanced out with lovely touches on the relationships front.    Really satisfying, and one of my favourite books this year so far.

Eileen Wilks’s DRAGON BLOOD: Way too much info-dumping and introspection.  The story just about came together at the end, but this was really the second half to the previous book.  Both books could have been edited down into a single volume IMO.

Patricia Briggs’s BURN BRIGHT: Ah, I loved seeing Anna & Charles again.  And Leah was the proper revelation in this book.  A solid Briggs, so if you like her writing, you’d like this book; if you don’t, this isn’t going to change your mind.

Oh Hey

*dusts off blog*

Safe to say that I’ve had a rather hectic start to 2018, and the easiest thing for me to shelve (temporarily!) was blogging.  But the urge to blog hits me every now and again, and a couple of weeks ago, I was itching to write a post about all the good books I had read over the first couple of months of the year.  Then the Santino Hassell and Riptide Publishing mess came to light, and that kind of sapped all my blogging energies for a bit…

But it’s Easter and the start of a new quarter and technically spring (despite the freezing temperatures and pouring rain), so here’s some book-ish updates to ease back into  the blogging swing of things.

38201274I won an ARC of THE UNDERWATER BALLROOM SOCIETY anthology, edited by Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent (out end April).  I loved the idea of a fantasy anthology centred around a real-life underwater ballroom (okay, a smoking room under a roof aquarium, but still) and it didn’t disappoint.

Standouts for me was Burgis’s own “Spellswept” (a prequel to her fantasy novella SNOWSPELLED – and just as charming), Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “The Queen of Life” (a haunting take on the world of the fae with a rock’n’roll flavour), Iona Datt Sharma’s “Penhallow Amid Passing Things” (what’s not to like about a genderbent tale about  age-old rivalry between smugglers and Revenue inspectors, with magic thrown in for good measure), and Patrick Samphire’s “A Spy in the Deep” (a whodunnit in a alt-hist Regency setting on Mars – I know and yes, it works).  There were others that I didn’t connect with as much, but overall, a strong anthology, and it introduced me to quite a few new-to-me authors that I’ll be looking up.

In other news, the 2018 Hugo nominations are also out!  I’m thrilled that Sarah Rees Brennan got a nod in the (not a Hugo) YA category for IN OTHER LANDS, which I utterly loved.

Other thoughts on the nominees:

Best Novel: I’ve enjoyed John Scalzi’s THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE, but in the way I’ve enjoyed all his books – they’re entertaining and fast-paced, and then I struggle to remember the actual plots a few weeks after.  I’ve the Yoon Ha Lee on my Kindle, waiting to be read, and I’ve been meaning to pick up both the Ann Leckie and NK Jemisin at some point.  I’ve heard of the other two nominees, but neither appealed – I may take a closer look.

Best Novella: Martha Wells appears to be getting a lot of love for ALL SYSTEMS RED – deservedly so!  I’ve always thought she flies under the radar somewhat.  On my to-read list is Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy (I think?) and the Sarah Gailey one.  Also tor.com is pretty much sweeping the nominations in this category, and it shows what can be done when a publisher really focuses on a particular length IMO.

Best Semiprozine: Hurrah for the Book Smugglers!

Best Series: Interesting.  I’m still not sure if this category is going to have the depth to stand the test of time, but again, good on Martha Wells for the Raksura series nomination.  I’ve given up on Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series, but seeing that it’s seven books in and going strong, I’m probably in the minority.  Needless to say, I’m a Lois McMaster Bujold fan, so yay for the Chalion series getting some love. The first book of the Marie Brennan series is on my Kindle, so that may give me the nudge I need to start.   I’ve also not really been interested in the Brandon Sanderson books (this is very definitely a minority view) and the Robert Jackson Bennett series is only faintly on my radar, so perhaps I need to check them out.

Finally and more generally, I’m thrilled with the breadth and diversity shown in the nominations list.  Not all may be to my taste, but I’m starting to feel the Hugos are truly representing the SFF reading (and writing) population.

2017: Lists and Numbers

It’s only two weeks into 2018, and typing 2017 is starting to feel so old-school.  Or is that just me?

Before I bid a final farewell to the year, I wanted to log my annual reading stats for (online) posterity – here’s my 2017 in lists and numbers.

2017 new-to-me authors

I read a total of 36 new-to-me authors this year (up from 21 last year – go me!).  There’s nothing like discovering authors who write stuff that speaks to you, and here are the authors I’m really glad I discovered over the year:

Glynn Stewart: I read pretty much his entire backlist in the space of two months, and trust me, it was a sizeable list.  Plus his December release was one of my favourites of 2017.

Intisar Khanani, Kate Stradling, and WR Gingell: All of their books made (my version of) honourable mentions of 2017 – I’ve loved their take on the fantasy genre.

MCA Hogarth: Okay, I admit it – I was a bit lukewarm on the one book of hers I read in 2017.  Then I read the Her Instruments series (conveniently packaged in a box set) in the first week of the new year, and am now reading through her backlist.  Non-stop.

SK Dunstall: Another one of my 2017 honourable mentions, and seeing I read their books way back at the start of 2017, this author pairing doesn’t feel like a new-to-me one!

Tansy Rayner Roberts: I really enjoyed her SF gender-swapped interpretation of Three Musketeers.

Authors most glommed during 2017

Err… Glynn Stewart by a mile – I read 22 of his books over the year.  Ahem.  The fact his books are in Kindle Unlimited* definitely helped, but I would have probably one-clicked them anyway.

My second most-read author was Megan Derr – I read 12 of her books, mostly during the first quarter of the year, I think.

*I posted about my early experience with KU a month or so after I subscribed, but want to do a follow-up (including a proper cost-benefits analysis!) in a few months.  I read somewhere that KU is more about discovering new authors as opposed to reading old favourites, and I definitely see that happening.

And the numbers…

I read *drumroll* 192 books over 2017, which is by far the highest annual number of books that I’ve read for a while (I usually average around 150, with last year being even lower than usual).

Why the leap in volumes?  It’s not what I was expecting, especially as 2017 has been incredibly full-on (both good and not-so-good), and I’ve felt like I’ve been running on empty for a good few months of the year.  So perhaps there’s nothing like escaping into a make-believe world for a few hours.

For the record, just under half of the books I read last year were published before 2017 (hurrah for backlists!), and about 60% of books read were published via non-traditional channels (this is the exact opposite of 2016, when that percentage was 40%).

Breakdown of genre and numbers over 2017 (obviously it was the fourth quarter that made all the difference):

2017 1

I should say my fantasy/SF genre split is rather subjective, as quite a few authors appear to be writing fantasy disguised as SF – or vice versa…

Finally – here’s my 2017 compared to previous years:

2017 2

And that’s it!  I’ve managed to log all my books in Goodreads (majority sans any actual review (for now, anyway), but with a rating) so here’s the fancy Goodreads summary.