Not a 2012 Wrap-up

For those who celebrated Christmas, a belated happy Christmas – I hope you had a wonderful day with your loved ones.  For those who don’t, I hope you took full advantage of the quiet over the holiday period and had a relaxing break!

I’ve had a bit of a writer’s block (blogger’s block?) about this post, partly spurred by the fact that I’ve started seeing the first of the Best of 2012 posts appear, and I’m nowhere near collating my thoughts about books read this year.  As a result, I’ve started to panic slightly about being behind in terms of tracking my 2012 reads – you may have seen a flurry of my Goodreads reviews appear for books read in July this year (and yes, I’ll cross-post them here at some point).

So this is not my 2012 wrap-up post – that will come sometime during the next couple of weeks.  Instead, here are my thoughts about a few (randomly selected) trends I’ve seen in 2012:

Crowdfunding and KickstarterKickstarter is growing in popularity, and in the literary world, authors are looking to use crowd-funding to support their latest ventures.  Tobias Bucknell posted his thoughts about the Kickstarter campaign he ran for his latest novel – a bit on the long side but interesting, especially in terms of what worked well and what he would have done differently.

15715749I’ve only participated in one Kickstarter to date, which was sourcing funds to publish a shared-world fantasy anthology.  I can’t remember who/what brought it to my attention now, but I thought the editor had a strong line-up of authors and so tossed in $5 in return for a copy of the ebook when it was ready.  It was a positive experience – I was actually surprised when the ebook came out three months later in July (sooner than I expected for some reason) and I thought the anthology was good value for money.  IIRC, the ebook ended up on sale on Amazon for slightly cheaper than $5, but I didn’t mind – $5 was a fair price IMO.

I’ve not supported any other Kickstarters, but that’s due to not having the time to wade through the numerous campaigns out there (and the ones I have seen haven’t appealed to me enough).  I’d definitely participate in another one if I liked the concept enough.  Having said that, I’ve read cautionary tales about various Kickstarter campaigns that have been funded without providing a return, so I would say caveat emptor – you’ve to do your own research on the reliability of the person and/or viability of the proposal, and go in with the view that you may never get anything back for your investment.  Also, unless I’m a massive fan of the author, I’d probably never go beyond paying for an ebook copy of their latest project, but it’s fascinating seeing what rewards are proposed at the higher funding levels.

Inclusion of new short stories in mass market paperback releases: A pet bug-bear of mine, and one that I’ve seen happening more and more over 2012.  Yes, I get that publishers want to attract new readers when re-releasing in a different format, and offering bonus short stories appear to be an option.  But I’m annoyed because it feels as though the readers who have paid for the hardcover release (i.e. the hardcore fans) are being penalised and having to shell out additional cash if they want to read a new short story.  And let’s face it, if you’ve bought the hardcover, you probably want to read additional stories in the same world.

I’m not opposed to bonus material in general – go ahead and include excerpts from the next book, reading guides, maps, character biographies etc.  But not exclusive short stories that are then released separately for sale as e-shorts.

My ideal solution?  Apart from not doing it in the first place, declare upfront that the MMP release will have bonus material.  And let me make the decision to purchase a hardcover edition based on that knowledge.  Umm… I know.  Not going to happen, is it?  My one-woman protest will probably be not to buy the hardcover in the first place for the serial offenders and wait until the paperback.

Ebooks taking off in a BIG way: 2012 is the year when Kindles became commonplace on the Tube.  I remember when I got my first ereader (Sony Reader back in 2008), it was a rarity to see another ereader in public.  Now, every other person on my commute in to work appears to have a Kindle or iPad.

12594400What this also means is that a host of self-published authors are suddenly able to access this large reader community directly, instead of having to go through traditional publishing channels.  I’m not going to talk about the pros and cons of self-publishing – there are numerous articles out there that debate this topic far more knowledgeably that I can.  But for me as a reader, what this means is that I can discover new authors that I would never have had otherwise – Andrea K Höst and Tammara Webber are just two fantastic authors that I would have never have read if it wasn’t for ebooks and self-publishing.  Yes, there’s a lot of flotsam out there in the self-published ocean of books, but I keep an open mind on self-published novels because of them.

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So, your thoughts on the above or any other trends that have struck you in 2012?

Books for December

Yes, this post is late, but on purpose this time!  There just haven’t been many December new releases that I’m interested in, so I’ve been holding off in the hope that I’d come across a few more.  Unfortunately that hasn’t been the case, so here’s the list of December releases on my radar – I will admit I’m fairly lukewarm on a few.

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13547361Sarah A Hoyt‘s DARKSHIP RENEGADES (SF): This is a follow-up to DARKSHIP THIEVES, an impulse borrow from my library a couple of years back and one I ended up liking very much.  I’m glad a sequel has finally been released, but my memory of the first book is somewhat hazy.  Also, this is published by Baen, so in theory, you should be able to purchase the e-version at both the Baen ebookstore or Amazon following their announcement last week.  I can see the price is now $8.99, as opposed to the original $6, so I’m assuming that’s gone through…

After rescuing her star pilot husband and discovering the dark secret of her own past on Earth, Athena Hera Sinistra returns to space habitat Eden to start life anew. Not happening. Thena and Kit are placed under arrest for the crime of coming back alive. The only escape from a death sentence: return to Earth and bring back the lost method for creating the Powertrees, the energy source of both Eden and Earth whose technological origins have been lost to war. But that mission is secondary to a greater imperative. Above all else, Thena must not get caught. If she does, then suicide is to be the only option.

With the odds heavily stacked against not only success, but survival, Thena comes to understand what her cynical accusers do not: it is not merely one woman’s life on the line anymore. For it’s on Earth where the adventure truly begins. Thena realizes that what is truly at stake is the fate of Eden and Earth alike, the continuance of the darkship fleet–and freedom for all in the Solar system–and beyond.

Out now (excerpt)

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13589141ELEMENTAL MAGIC, edited by Mercedes Lackey (fantasy): December normally signals a new Valdemar anthology, but not this year – it’s the turn of Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series.  It’s the same concept as the Valdemar anthology – various authors (the usual suspects, plus a few others) contribute short stories set in Lackey’s world.  I always end up buying the Valdemar anthology, which tends to be a mixed bag (i.e. a couple I really like and the rest ranging from decent to mediocre), but then again, I have a soft spot for Valdemar stories in general.  I’m not as fond of her Elemental Masters books, but I suspect I’ll also end up buying this one.

Among Mercedes Lackey’s many novels, few are as critically acclaimed and beloved as those about the Elemental Masters. The novels in this series are loosely based on classic fairy tales, and take place in a fantasy version of turn-of-the-century London, where magic is real and Elemental Masters control the powers of Fire, Water, Air, and Earth. Now other authors join Mercedes Lackey to add their own special touches to this delightful alternate history, in a world where magic is always just around the corner…

Out now

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1600621616007364Carina Press also has their Christmas (holiday?) anthologies out this month – the previous ones I’ve read have been good value for money, so I keep an eye out for them.  This year, their three anthology themes are contemporary romance (ROMANCING THE HOLIDAY), erotic romance (RED HOT HOLIDAY), and SF romance A GALACTIC HOLIDAY.  I’ve already bought the latter two based on generally positive reviews (and am especially excited about the SF one), and will probably get the contemporary one at some point.

Out now

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13561603Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway‘s A LADY MOST WILLING (historical romance): This is a follow-up to the previous collaboration between the same authors, which I haven’t read yet, but I’m guessing these three authors should have put together a pretty fun and Christmassy read.

During their annual Christmas pilgrimage to Scotland to visit their aged uncle in his decrepit castle, the Comte de Rocheforte and his cousin, Earl of Oakley, are presented with unique gifts: their uncle has raided an English lord’s Christmas party and kidnapped four lovely would-be brides for his heirs to choose from… as well as one very angry duke, Lord Bretton. As snow isolates the castle, and as hours grow into days, the most honourable intentions give away to temptations as surprising as they are irresistible.

Out Dec 26 (excerpt)

Quick Links

Big news (or at least for Baen ebook readers) – Baen’s moving to Amazon (and potentially other third parties) as a distribution platform for the ebooks as of the 15th.

I have mixed feelings about this.  I’ve posted previously about how much I love their current ebook distribution model – ebooks released 2 weeks before the official street date, DRM-free, and for $6 even if it’s a hardback release (and potentially even cheaper if you buy as part of a bundle).  On the other hand, this model was always aimed to encourage ebook adoption, and now that ereaders are taking off in a big way, it makes monetary sense for Baen (and their authors) to move to a distribution system that gives them the widest audience.

I’ve not seen anything about release date changes (i.e. whether it will now tie-in with the official street date), but they will stay DRM-free.  Prices will rise (hardbacks from $6 to $10), so buy now is the message if you’re planning on any Baen ebook purchases.  Bundles stay, but will be on sale for a limited time period (i.e. pre-sale only).  E-ARCs also stay (though I’ve never bought any).

More info @ Baen’s Bar (logon required).  It kind of feels like the end of an era – I remember my very first ebook was from Baen (Catherine Asaro‘s RUBY DICE, because I’m sure you really want to know), and I was so on the fence as to whether ebooks would work for me.  Ha.

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Diana Peterfreund responds to a claim that the cover of FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS was white-washed (spoiler: it’s not).  It’s a measured response and worth reading.  And I was totally oblivious to the fact FOR DARKNESS was set in New Zealand. *blinks* It makes so much sense in retrospect.

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Jo Walton‘s insightful posts at Tor.com are a must-read for me – she either makes me think about old favourites from a different perspective or introduces me to books that sound right up my street.  Here’s the former – her take on Lois McMaster Bujold‘s CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE as well as a comparison between Aral and Miles.

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Patrick Rothfuss is running his annual Worldbuilders fundraiser for Heifer International – a chance to win books AND support a good cause.

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A snippet of Patricia Briggs’ upcoming novel FROST BURNED on her forum – it feels like a very long time since we’ve last seen Mercy.

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Sarah Rees Brennan has announced she’s doing a retelling of A TALE OF TWO CITIES.  This could be amazing.  I mean, seriously amazing.

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Kristin Cashore posted about how BITTERBLUE (very slowly) took shape.  I’m impressed.  Also, I can’t believe she actually wrote the story out by hand.  Several times.  And that her writing was still legible by the end.

Tanya Huff’s THE SILVERED

I mentioned how much I loved THE SILVERED in my November releases post – here’s a longer post.  There’s actually a whole lot more in the story that I haven’t even mentioned, but I’m hoping you give it a go so that we can discuss!

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The SilveredThe Silvered by Tanya Huff (fantasy)

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book so much – it’s the kind of tale that leaves you wanting more, not because it feels incomplete or unfinished*, but because there’s potential for more stories in this world… and it’ll be a shame if this imaginative world only gets one outing.

The setting is inspired by the Napoleonic era, and the story starts off by juxtapositioning grim battlefield scenes with glittering high society balls. Tanya Huff seamlessly introduces werewolves and mages of the Pack into this environment, and makes it feel real – the frenetic gaiety and matchmaking parents and very civilised evenings at the opera doesn’t hide the not-quite-acknowledged fear that this world is about to be torn apart. And as you expect, it is and quite brutally too – the commencement of war combined with the kidnapping of the most powerful mages of the Pack causes confusion and terror… and that’s the setup for a most satisfying fantasy.

In retrospect, Mirian and Tomas’s decision to go right into the heart of the enemy Empire to rescue the kidnapped mages appears slightly ridiculous – how does an almost-mage and young werewolf expect to go up against an all-powerful emperor? But while they’re doing it, it doesn’t come across as stupid or naive. It’s easy to empathise with Mirian – she’s caught up in the romance of the moment, she wants to do the “right” thing and at the pivotal moment, finds the courage to do so and what’s more, follows through. Equally, Tomas, who has come through the battle through pure luck, is shellshocked and needs to rescue the remainder of his Pack.

It’s not all a mad action-packed dash for glory – there are poignant moments a-plenty, and while not overt, there is some romance. I liked how Tanya Huff showed that there was a price to pay for everything, and also the bad guys were portrayed as people and not this faceless enemy. There’s redemption too, and it’s done in such a way that leaves you feeling optimistic.

One of my favourite books that I’ve read this year, and as I said at the start, I’m left wanting to know what happens next.

* It’s a standalone fantasy, and how rare is that?

A Bit of Everything

I’m starting to realise I actually read a lot last October, despite doing what I thought were 15-hour working days.  Here’s what else ended up on my Goodreads shelves (as always, additional commentary in italics).

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Angels of DarknessAngels of Darkness by Ilona Andrews (urban fantasy)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

ANGELS was an anthology that was worth the money for me. Usually anthologies tend to have at least one author I’m indifferent to, but this one had the bonus of me liking (if not loving) all four contributors.

I loved the peek into Ilona Andrews’ new Alpha world – more please? It was definitely darker and scarier compared to their Kate/Curran books, more reminiscent of their The Edge universe somehow. Sharon Shinn’s Samaria novella – well, I’m a total Samaria fangirl and while this was not the strongest story ever, just being able to revisit the world made the story worth it for me. And I liked Meljean Brook’s Guardian contribution despite me having stalled out early in her series (I suspect I would have gotten a whole lot more out of this story if I had known the full backstory), while Nalini Singh’s novella was enjoyable even though I haven’t loved her latest Guild Hunter books.

I think this was one of the anthologies I was most excited about last year, especially as it had a Samaria story.  I didn’t regret splashing out on the trade paperback edition.

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Explosive Eighteen (Stephanie Plum, #18)Explosive Eighteen by Janet Evanovich (mystery)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It used to be I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the next Stephanie Plum book. Nowadays, I put in a library request and it sits unread until close to the due date.

I didn’t care for Smokin’ Seventeen but EIGHTEEN surprised me – and in a good way. Alongside the usual zany antics from Lula et al plus the usual Morelli-or-Ranger dilemma, there was actually a plot that made sense. Yes, the usual suspects turn up, but Stephanie has actually developed some skills – both in bounty-hunting and self-defense AND she may – just may – be taking responsibility for her own actions.

I’m cautiously optimistic about the next book (but I’m still getting it from the library).

Ha.  I have just put in my library reservation for NOTORIOUS NINETEEN, as it happens.  I will keep you posted on whether the slight upwards trend continues (probably in a year’s time at the rate I’m going).

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Shadow Kin (The Half-Light City, #1)Shadow Kin by M.J. Scott (fantasy)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn’t quite sure if this was urban fantasy or not when I picked it up – answer: it’s not, despite the very UF-like cover. Which was a bonus, because I was in the mood for something different.

And this was different – to an extent. I liked the magic system, especially sunmages, but struggled with the incorporation of vampires and beastkin (i.e. shapeshifters/werewolves). I think the world-building suffered somewhat from the too-many-paranormal-creatures syndrome. The story is told in alternating POVs, which was slightly confusing as I really couldn’t tell the difference between the voices. I finally figured out that the symbols at the start of each section indicated the narrator, which helped – but I shouldn’t really need visual cues to tell POV.

However, good ending and I ended up liking this story well enough. I would probably get the next book to see how the writing and story develops.

I’ve not picked up the sequel actually.  I saw BLOOD KIN in the bookstore and was considering it, then I remembered the lack of distinct voices in the POV shifts in this book, and decided I didn’t really need to know what happens next.  Unless of course, one of you has read it and think it’s worth picking up?  

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Canyons of Night (The Arcane Society,#12, Looking Glass Trilogy,#3,  Harmony, #8)Canyons of Night by Jayne Castle (paranormal romance)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Jayne Ann Krentz (and her various pseudonyms) used to be an autobuy for me – however, the only books of hers I regularly read nowadays are the Jayne Castle ones. I suspect it’s because the paranormal aspects that so annoy me when they appear in her historicals and contemporaries fit in nicely with her futuristic romances.

If you’ve read other Harmony books, you know exactly what to expect from CANYONS OF NIGHT. Hero meets heroine, they argue, then realise their talents dovetail perfectly together, and have a HEA (after getting rid of the bad guys). Having said that, I liked how Slade and Charlotte had a bit of a history, the chemistry between the two, and the small-town atmosphere. The suspense angle? Didn’t work for me.

And Rex the dust-bunny (for a change, belonging to the hero, not the heroine) and his fondness for sparkly objects? Love. Yep, I may be just reading this series for the dust-bunnies.

I know, I know.  This is futuristic romance-LITE, but I can’t help myself.  

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What Happened To GoodbyeWhat Happened To Goodbye by Sarah Dessen (YA romance)

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was engrossed in this book from start to finish. Sarah Dessen can be a bit hit-or-miss for me, and if you read too many in one go, her plots can start to feel slightly recycled. But WHAT HAPPENED TO GOODBYE was complicated in the way the best YAs are. The beginning chapters hinted at hidden mysteries in Mclean’s life – the different names, the must-orders from the restaurant’s menu… they all promised a good story and I wasn’t disappointed. Mclean’s relationship with her parents came across as realistic – love mixed in with resentment and confusion – and at the end, I admit to a few sniffles. This book left me with warm fuzzy feelings.

I slightly overdosed on Sarah Dessen when I first stumbled over her books and did a Dessen glom, but this reminded me of how good her books can be.

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Mastiff (Beka Cooper, #3)Mastiff by Tamora Pierce (YA fantasy)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A really long book that could have possibly done with some additional editing as it dragged in places. I’m glad to have Beka’s story completed (and the linkage between her family and Alanna’s explained!), though I would have liked to have spent more time with Beka’s friends and family who we met in the first book. [Slight spoiler – highlight to read: The twist at the end left me slightly bemused and sad – I suppose it was part of Beka’s growing up but, well.] All in all, I’ve liked this glimpse into Tortall’s history, but I’ll probably wouldn’t re-read the trilogy.

I tend to be a diehard Tortall fangirl, but this was not my favourite of the books, unfortunately.  On the other hand, the Mark Reads chapter-by-chapter reviews for her Alanna books are reminding me what a fantastic series that was.

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Quarter Share (Golden Age of the Solar Clipper, #1)Quarter Share by Nathan Lowell (SF)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this following a suggestion when I asked for space opera recs, with the caveat this wasn’t exactly space opera with big battles etc, but focusing on the trading side of things.

And it’s a easy read – a coming-of-age academy-type story, but this time, the academy being a merchant spaceship. Interesting world, and I can see myself getting the next to follow Ishmael on his adventures.

I did buy the next book, but have stalled a couple of chapters in.

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Slow Ride (Fast Track, #5)Slow Ride by Erin McCarthy (contemporary romance)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I liked SLOW RIDE more than the previous book The Chase, which perhaps isn’t saying too much.

What I liked about this one? Tuesday and Kendall’s interactions – having female friendships amidst the testosterone-fueled atmosphere is always a nice contrast. And you felt that they were real friends. I also liked how Tuesday’s journalistic background was incorporated through the articles and gossip columns inserts – they were fun. And (not that I’m saying I have first-hand experience or anything – ahem), the drunken scenes came across as being spot on… [Slight spoiler – highlight to read: Although was alcoholism an actual problem for Tuesday? I’m not quite sure – and while I did think that Erin McCarthy was trying to tackle a serious issue, I’m not quite sure if it worked. Which probably means it didn’t.]

What I didn’t really care for: I did wonder why Kendall and Elec’s storyline had pivotal scenes in this book – this isn’t their story and really, it should have been wrapped up in the previous book. And while this series has a reputation for having some really steamy sex scenes (and I have loved the first few books), I felt this book had too many sex scenes scattered throughout that didn’t really advance the plot. However, it was interesting to see (very light) BDSM in a mainstream contemporary romance – a sign of the times?

Tuesday came across as a bit of a caricature at times, and too much on the laddish side – does anyone really ever describe themselves as “looking like ass”? Eh. And finally, the final argument was a bit OTT and I admit I lost respect for Tuesday at that point – drunk or not, she should have known better. I think it just came off as Diesel/Daniel being too nice for her.

So the jury’s still out on this series – I’ll still be reading the next, but not rushing out to buy.

I bought the next book FAST TRACK, but again stalled in the first couple of chapters – the hero came across as being incredibly condescending and the heroine had zero self-esteem.  Though I have seen relatively good reviews around, so I may return to the book at some point…