My Latest Toy (and Other Links)

I got a Kindle Paperwhite!

I was going to wait on a new ereader until the Nook made an appearance in the UK, especially as I wasn’t that keen on the Kindle Fire.  But when Amazon announced that they were also launching the Paperwhite this month, I couldn’t resist.  I was pretty happy with my Kindle, but the screen contrast meant that I struggled to use it in not-so-well-lit conditions, and the Paperwhite with its improved display sounded like an ideal option.  Of course, after I placed my order, I checked the online forums and found some complaints on the screen quality…

Fast-forward a couple of weeks or so, and the Amazon package arrived on my doorstep.  The excitement!  Quick thoughts:

  • I’ve no issues with the screen – the display is definitely an improvement over the previous version.  Some people have reported a degradation over time, so that may change, but for now, I’m really happy.
  • I’m having some minor issues adjusting to the touch screen – I’m more used to pressing a button to change pages instead of tapping or swiping.  I wish there was an option to switch the tap zones around (I think that’s what you call them?).  Also, there’s no quick way to skip to the next chapter apart from going via the menu (unless I haven’t found that feature yet).
  • It helps having had a Kindle before, because I found it pretty easy to navigate and figure out how to do things.
  • I don’t think it’s significantly heavier than the previous version, but I find it a bit more difficult to hold in one hand (I think it’s to do with the taps/swipes than the actual weight actually).
  • I still need to figure out how I’m going to transfer all my old books and collections across from my old Kindle (any tips, anyone?) – in the meantime, I’ve been downloading the ones I want to read from the Amazon cloud.

So initial verdict is a definite yes.  That may change once I see the Nook IRL…

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Possibly tied in to the new Kindle launches – Amazon UK is having an Autumn Book Harvest sale until Nov 7.  Probably only for UK readers, but there are some good bargains.  I snapped up e-versions of the first four Amelia Peabody books for £1.19 (for the set!).  Other bargains that caught my eye (but I refrained from buying):

  • Nora RobertsTAMING NATASHA – £1.09 (Estara and I were just discussing the Stanislaskis family books the other day)
  • Ree Drummond‘s PIONEER WOMAN – £0.99 (I like the Pioneer Woman blog, so was tempted)
  • Jim Butcher‘s STORM FRONT – £1.99 (first in his Dresden Files series – not his best, IMO, but introduces the whole series)
  • HOME IMPROVEMENT edited by Charlaine Harris and Toni Kelner – £1.69 (UF anthology with contributors including Patricia Briggs – I borrowed this from the library as I was only interested in a couple of stories, IIRC, but it’s probably worth buying at that price)

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And a couple of links:

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Andrea K. Höst’s AND ALL THE STARS

For those who have been reading my blog for a while, you may recall my Andrea K. Höst mini-glom earlier this year.  Mini only because there were sadly only seven books in her backlist.  And why yes, I think I read them all within a single month (and I have to admit that I’m pretty impressed I actually have reviews up for all of them – I am obviously not as far behind as I thought!).

Needless to say I was all excited for her newest release – AND ALL THE STARS.  And rightly so.

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And All the StarsAnd All the Stars by Andrea K. Höst

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love how Andrea K. Höst tells stories that feel fresh and new, and AATS was no exception – yes, it’s a post-apocalyptic* YA SF, which appears to be *the* subgenre at the moment, but I don’t think I’ve read one quite like AATS.

It’s set immediately in the aftermath of an initially-incomprehensible appearance of an alien tower in the centre of Sydney, and the story captured me from the first pages onwards – I felt as disorientated as Madeleine was, caught in the chaos of the initial incursion, trying to figure out what was happening and somehow survive. There was something vaguely Robinson Crusoe-like in how Madeleine and her new-found friends bonded together and figured out how to survive in the immediate days following the alien invasion – and oh, a fun element of wish fulfillment too, with the teens having free rein in luxury apartments and hotels.

Madeleine’s voice was a key part of my enjoyment of AATS – she was wry and down-to-earth, and I enjoyed seeing her drop her guard and make friends with her fellow Blues. I loved how diversity was the “norm” in AATS – it made the story feel that much more contemporary and relevant. And I liked how the book was very much grounded in contemporary Sydney – it wasn’t just a generic AnyCity setting.

Plot-wise, oh my. I love being surprised and I was. Minor spoilers ahead (highlight to read)I’ll be honest… a page before THE TWIST, I was thinking that this plot is getting slightly predictable, and then *bang* I swear my jaw dropped open. It’s a risky twist in so many ways, but the author totally pulled it off IMO, and it just added so much more depth to the story.

The book did feel a tad slow in places, and I skimmed the passages on the alien politics and history somewhat, but really, AATS was one of those satisfying reads. I cannot wait to see what Andrea K. Höst will release next.

*Estara commented on my Goodreads review that this is technically an apocalyptic SF, as it deals with the events itself – I have to agree.

Lois McMaster Bujold’s CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE

The Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my all-time favourite series. Regardless of genre.

So when Kerry mentioned the e-version of the latest book CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE was officially on sale at Baen’s website* (hardcover release is early November), I immediately bought it and dove straight in.  Review below – spoiler: I loved it.

*I’ve probably mentioned this before, but big thumbs-up for Baen’s policy of releasing the e-version a couple of weeks earlier than the print version and for a decent price.

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Captain Vorpatril's AllianceCaptain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Well, this was satisfying on so many levels.

A new Vorkosigan book is a rare sighting, and is therefore accompanied by rather high expectations on my part. And this was Ivan’s book. Ivan, who has been in Miles’ shadow for so long, and always cast in the role of (very) unfortunate sidekick (summary version: “Ivan, you idiot”). Ivan, who we all knew had to have hidden depths – it takes incredible talent to be dismissed as amiable but useless when you’re so closely related to the Vorkosigans, and a hair’s breath away from the throne. And so, this is the book where it’s Ivan’s turn to take centre stage, which he does reluctantly, but brilliantly.

There was so much for this book to live up to – and it did. This was a wonderful madcap adventure reminiscent of Miles at his finest. CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE was Ivan’s version of “forward momentum” and gosh, was there a lot of that. Each chapter brought yet more pitfalls and entanglements – definitely a case of the author thinking “what’s the worst thing that can I do to Ivan?” and doing it. Poor Ivan.

LMB excels not just at coming up with hilariously-evil-yet-convincing plots but also portraying relationships, the more difficult the better. Here, I enjoyed Ivan’s fumbling steps towards figuring out his relationship with his um-stepfather. And Tej was the perfect heroine for Ivan – one with a fascinating/terrifying family to rival his (and that is no mean feat) and with no baggage and preconceptions about Ivan, which in turn also allowed us to see Ivan (and Barrayan society) through fresh eyes.

There were in-jokes for the long-time Vorkosigan readers (I nearly choked when Ivan had cause to ponder Cetagandan experiments with animal and plant genes), yet I don’t think they detracted from the reading experience for those new to the series. I suspect that what a first-time reader would miss (or fail to appreciate) is how long-standing repercussions from events in previous books were seamlessly weaved into this book. I especially liked how we got to see Simon (and everyone else) dealing with the fallout from Memory (which remains one of my favourite LMB books). While the whole Vorkosigan gang was present and accounted for, I was impressed by how Ivan was very much the main character and not overshadowed by any of his illustrious relatives (though I’ve to say, The Gregor did steal several scenes – can we have a Gregor book please?).

Really, I loved every single word of this book, and have nothing negative to say, except that it ended way too soon. If you haven’t started reading these books, you need to. ASAP. They are all fantastic books, and CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE is an excellent addition to the series.

Good Books are like Buses (Almost)

Can I paraphrase that buses saying here – you know, good books are like buses, you wait for ages for one and then three come along at once.  And even better, the first two were impulse buys in bookstores – something I find myself doing fairly infrequently nowadays, so bonus!  Here are my thoughts on three YA books – one being a space opera adventure, the second a contemporary romance, and the third a futuristic romance.

The first serendipitous finding was Garth Nix‘s A CONFUSION OF PRINCES, which turned out to be an imaginative YA SF romp through space.  I hadn’t heard of this book before, though having done a quick blog search since, there appears to have been a spate of reviews when it was released earlier this year, which I obviously completely ignored. The engaging (and totally self-centred) narrator, Prince Khemli, made this book for me, and although I normally hate the foreshadowing device, having Khemli announce at the start that this is the story of how he has died three times adds a certain something.

Khemli may be a prince, but in an empire that has ten million princes and all of them vying to be the next Emperor, the title has less meaning than you would expect.  So Khemli needs to figure out just how he can put himself into contention for the Imperial throne – and solve various mysteries on the side, like just why has he, of all the millions of princes, has been assigned a Master of Assassins (head bodyguard, in other words) who is more than competent (not that he’s complaining)?

This is the kind of story where the protagonist manages to get himself slowly but surely entangled in what appears to be a no-win situation, and I had no idea how Khemli was going to pull it off until the very end.  Perhaps as a trade-off for the strong and charismatic first-person narrative, the secondary characters felt less well-drawn, and the love interest was probably the weakest part of this book (I found it difficult to believe that it was the forever kind of love), but all in all, an unexpectedly fun and enjoyable SF story that I finished in one go.  I’d love to read more set in this world, and also really need to get around to reading Garth Nix’s SABRIEL.

The next book won’t be a surprise for those who have seen my recent Goodreads updates as I’ve been busy adding the rest of Miranda Kenneally‘s books to my To Read shelf.  CATCHING JORDAN was another impulse purchase, but this time what tipped me into buying the book was that I recalled seeing positive reviews around the blogosphere for this YA romance centred around American football.

Despite knowing next to nothing about American football*, CATCHING JORDAN really worked for me – I loved that Jordan was so passionate about her sport, I loved her positive relationships with her guy friends on the football team (and her eventual realisation that girl friends were equally as good), and I loved her close family ties (there may have been a few sniffles at the end as Jordan and her father figured each other out).  And while there was potential for too much annoying obliviousness when it came to the “right” love interest, it didn’t drag on for too long, and the eventual romance was swoon-worthy.  I want more, and I’m looking forward to reading the companion book STEALING PARKER.

*Or perhaps because of that – I’ve noted some reviews that feel the sports element wasn’t that realistic.

And the third – Diana Peterfreund‘s FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS.  This wasn’t an impulse buy – I’d been planning to read it ever since it was released back in June.  But I was never quite in the mood for post-apocalyptic YA fiction until now (and if I’m really honest, I don’t think I was really in that mood – I just wanted to get a book off my TBR pile).  So I cracked open FDSTS and started reading Elliot and Kai’s correspondence to each other… and didn’t surface for air until the very last page, which was when I heaved a sigh of pure satisfaction.

I adored this re-interpretation of Jane Austen’s PERSUASION – FDSTS was a perfect translation of not just the romance, but also the unstoppable march of change, to this strange new world of Luddites and Posts.  While the basic bones of the plot owed its inspiration to Austen, Elliot and Kai’s own story had quite a few twists – some which I suspected, and others that caught me by surprise (yet made complete sense in retrospect).

I understood Elliot’s strong sense of duty as part of her inherited obligations as a Luddite. I understood Kai’s frustration with the status quo for Posts and his need for something different.  With an excess of stubbornness and pride on both sides, the scene was set for a memorable love story. But FDSTS was also so much more than just a romance.  I loved the thought that had gone into creating a distant future that could be, providing a backdrop against which age-old money and power conflicts played out.   And there were some scenes… picturing Kai and Donovan’s daredevil stunts when reading the cliff scene made me feel as though I had vertigo, and I think I was actually holding my breath as I read Kai’s final letter to Elliot.

So a good run of books – and getting even better as Lois McMaster Bujold‘s CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE has hit the e-shelves at Baen *happy dance*

Books for October

We’re into the final quarter of 2012, but there are still so many 2012 releases on my must-get list.  And a lot of them are coming out in October.

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Andrea K Höst‘s AND ALL THE STARS (YA SF): She’s an autobuy author for me, so yeah.  And Estara’s read it already and is busy convincing everyone else that they should read it.  Not that I needed any convincing.

Come for the apocalypse.

Stay for cupcakes.

Die for love.

Madeleine Cost is working to become the youngest person ever to win the Archibald Prize for portraiture. Her elusive cousin Tyler is the perfect subject: androgynous, beautiful, and famous. All she needs to do is pin him down for the sittings.

None of her plans factored in the Spires: featureless, impossible, spearing into the hearts of cities across the world – and spraying clouds of sparkling dust into the wind.

Is it an alien invasion? Germ warfare? They are questions everyone on Earth would like answered, but Madeleine has a more immediate problem. At Ground Zero of the Sydney Spire, beneath the collapsed ruin of St James Station, she must make it to the surface before she can hope to find out if the world is ending.

Out Oct 1 (excerpt)

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Karen Chance‘s FURY’S KISS (urban fantasy): Yet another author I love.  It’s been a while since there’s been a new Karen Chance, and I’ve pre-ordered FURY’S KISS, so you can tell how much I’m looking forward to this.  It’s the third book in her Dorina Basarab series, which is a spin-off from the main Cassie Palmer books, but really shouldn’t be read as a standalone series (have I confused you yet?).  Dory’s a lot more kick-ass than Cassie (and I mean that literally), plus there’s no love triangle in these books IIRC, so yes, should be a fun read.

Dorina Basarab is a dhampir—half-human, half-vampire. Subject to uncontrollable rages, most dhampirs live very short, very violent lives. But so far, Dory has managed to maintain her sanity by unleashing her anger on those demons and vampires who deserve killing… 

Dory is used to fighting hard and nasty. So when she wakes up in a strange scientific lab with a strange man standing over her, her first instinct is to take his head off. Luckily, the man is actually the master vampire Louis-Cesare, so he’s not an easy kill.

It turns out that Dory had been working with a Vampire Senate task force on the smuggling of magical items and weaponry out of Faerie when she was captured and brought to the lab. But when Louis-Cesare rescues her, she has no memory of what happened to her.

To find out what was done to her—and who is behind it—Dory will have to face off with fallen angels, the maddest of mad scientists, and a new breed of vampires that are far worse than undead…

Out Oct 2 (excerpt)

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Jacqueline Carey‘s DARK CURRENTS (urban fantasy): So… the last time one of my favourite fantasy authors wrote a UF, it didn’t work out too well.  And Jacqueline Carey’s more recent works haven’t wowed me.  However, that’s not going to stop me from checking out this book.

Jacqueline Carey, New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Kushiel’s Legacy novels, presents an all-new world featuring a woman caught between the normal and paranormal worlds, while enforcing order in both. Introducing Daisy Johanssen, reluctant hell-spawn… 

The Midwestern resort town of Pemkowet boasts a diverse population: eccentric locals, wealthy summer people, and tourists by the busload; not to mention fairies, sprites, vampires, naiads, ogres and a whole host of eldritch folk, presided over by Hel, a reclusive Norse goddess.

To Daisy Johanssen, fathered by an incubus and raised by a single mother, it’s home. And as Hel’s enforcer and the designated liaison to the Pemkowet Police Department, it’s up to her to ensure relations between the mundane and eldritch communities run smoothly.

But when a young man from a nearby college drowns—and signs point to eldritch involvement—the town’s booming paranormal tourism trade is at stake. Teamed up with her childhood crush, Officer Cody Fairfax, a sexy werewolf on the down-low, Daisy must solve the crime—and keep a tight rein on the darker side of her nature. For if she’s ever tempted to invoke her demonic birthright, it could accidentally unleash nothing less than Armageddon.

Out Oct 2 (excerpt)

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Eileen WilksMORTAL TIES (urban fantasy): There are so many things I like about Eileen Wilks’ UF series – how her Lupi world is distinctly different to the other werewolf books out there, that she has a main character who is Chinese-American (and both Lily Yu and her partner Rule rock) and best of all, there’s this overarching series plotline that is building up to a very promising climax.

“Eileen Wilks is a truly gifted writer,” (Romance Junkies) and her Novels of the Lupi have drawn readers into a seductive world of action, suspense, and passion. Now, FBI agent Lily Yu tracks a traitor into the darkest shadows yet…

FBI agent Lily Yu is living at Nokolai Clanhome with her fiancé, lupi Rule Turner, when an intruder penetrates their territory, stealing the prototpye of a magical device the clan hopes will be worth a fortune–if a few bugs can be worked out . . .

But the protoytpe can be dangerously erratic, discharging a bizarre form of mind magic—and it looks like the thief wants it for that very side effect. Worse, whoever stole the device didn’t learn about it by accident. There’s a Nokolai traitor in their midst. Lily and Rule have to find the traitor, the thief, and the prototype. One job proves easy when the thief calls them–and his identity rocks Rule’s world.

As they race to recover their missing property, they find Robert Friar’s sticky footprints all over the place. Robert Friar–killer, madman, and acolyte of the Old One the lupi are at war with–an Old One whose power is almost as vast as her ambition to rock the entire world…

Out Oct 2 (excerpt)

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Sean Kennedy‘s TIGERLAND (m/m romance): I loved Sean Kennedy’s first novel TIGERS AND DEVILS when I first read it a couple of years back.  Despite knowing next to nothing about Australian Rules football, I was completely caught up in the romance and fascinated by the very Australian setting.  So having an unexpected sequel feels like a bonus.

After an eventful and sometimes uncomfortably public courtship, Simon Murray and Declan Tyler settled into a comfortable life together. Now retired from the AFL, Declan works as a football commentator; Simon develops programs with queer content for a community television station.

Despite their public professional lives, Simon and Declan manage to keep their private life out of the spotlight. Their major concerns revolve around supporting their friends through infertility and relationship problems—until Greg Heyward, Declan’s ex-partner, outs himself in a transparent bid for attention.

Though Simon and Declan are furious with Greg and his media antics, they can’t agree on what to do about it. Declan insists they should maintain a dignified silence, but both he and Simon keep getting drawn into Heyward’s games. Simon and Declan will once again have to ride out the media storm before they can return their attention to what really matters: each other.

Out October 15 (publisher book page)

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Kaje Harper‘s HOME WORK (m/m romance): I haven’t really connected with Kaje Harper’s more recent releases, but I’ve enjoyed the previous two books in her Life Lessons series – this promises to be a good continuation of Mac and Tony’s story.

Mac and Tony thought the hard part was over. They’re together openly as a couple, sharing a home and building a life with their two children. It’s what they dreamed of. But daughter Anna struggles with the changes, Ben is haunted by old secrets, Mac’s job in Homicide still demands too much of his time, and Tony is caught in the middle. It’s going to take everything these men can give to create a viable balance between home and work. Especially when the outside world seems determined to throw obstacles in their way.

Out October 5 (author book page)

Random Linkage

I’m looking forward to Eileen Wilks‘ October release MORTAL TIES, the latest in her World of the Lupi series, and this short story about Rule whetted my appetite nicely.  It’s part of Literary Escapism’s School’s In series, and there are quite a few other authors participating.

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Kristin Cashore posted about her editor starting up her own imprint at Penguin:

Penguin Young Readers Group has announced the formation of Kathy Dawson Books, an imprint that will focus on “emotionally driven” middle grade and young adult fiction across a variety of genres.

It sounds interesting (a winter 2014 launch though) – equally interesting (if not more!) is the mention of Kristin Cashore working on a contemporary novel.

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I enjoyed reading Andrea K Höst‘s guest posts on classic mysteries at The Readventurer – her first post was on Agatha Christie books and the second on other classic mystery authors.  I’ve probably read every single Christie published (and multiple times too), but found the second post useful – she highlights less well-known (at least to me!) authors and provides pointers on where to start.

Re Agatha Christie, I loved Hercule Poirot from the start, but found the Miss Marple books a bit slow and boring when I first read them.  They’ve grown on me during re-reads though (maybe they weren’t for impatient teens), and Miss Marple’s now my favourite Christie detective.  As for the rest, I find Tommy and Tuppence engaging, don’t really get on with Ariadne Oliver (which is kind of amusing because she appears to be based on Agatha Christie herself), and really like the two Parker Pyne and Mr Quin short story collections.

Do you have any favourite Christies?

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This is very late, but Ilona Andrews posted the cover for the UK edition of GUNMETAL MAGIC.  They’re self-publishing the UK edition from what I gather (I can’t believe that UK publishers don’t want this series).

I’ve already bought the US edition, so probably won’t buy this when it comes out (though I am kind of torn on this – I want to support their UK sales, but don’t see the point of paying twice for a book). But I do like their image of Andrea – I think she looks harder than the model on the US cover, more ready to do battle and take you down.

 

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Finally, it’s hardly a secret that I’ve fallen for Tammara Webber‘s books recently (I gulped down her Between the Lines series after I finished EASY).  She posted her last rejection letter for the first Between the Lines book – the last because that’s when she decided to take the leap and self-publish.

It made me wonder how many fantastic books are out there unpublished because they’ve not found an agent (or publisher) who believed in them.  This whole e-publishing thing has opened up a new world.