A Few Links for a Monday

JMTTJuliet Marillier‘s TOWER OF THORNS just got a bit more real.

Here’s the cover posted on her Facebook page – it’s a lovely evocative one!  The artist is Arantza Sestayo, who also did the cover for the first book, DREAMER’S POOL, I think.  It’s going to be a long wait until November…

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It feels like everyone’s talking about Courtney Milan‘s NA contemporary romance TRADE ME this week, so why not join in, right?

I liked her answer here about why she’s writing a story with an Asian heroine.

Yet the questions I’ve been asked over and over are about Tina: Why are you writing a Chinese heroine? At Berkeley?

Nobody has asked me, “Why a billionaire? You’re not a billionaire.” Nobody has said, “This is your tenth full-length book and up until this point, I had no idea you were Asian. What took you so long?”

I finished TRADE ME earlier this week, and have thoughts.  Not least because of the diversity of characters in the book and how it wasn’t in your face, it just was (it reminded me of Andrea K Höst‘s AND ALL THE STARS in that aspect).  As I suspected, Milan’s voice* really suited contemporary – the narration was clean and smart, and some scenes were so on the money.  I loved the interactions between Tina and Blake and how their conversations felt real, as did their chemistry.  And the story caught me up (especially the last third or so, when it felt like the plot was on the verge of spiraling out of control… but didn’t).  However, the world-building around the billionaire aspect felt a bit hand-wavey and non-authentic to me (obviously I’m speaking from a position of knowledge here), and it was almost like the main characters existed in a vacuum.  We had Blake’s dad (loved their complicated relationship) and Tina’s mum (ditto), but everyone else felt a bit placeholder-y.  I’m glad there are two more books in this series planned, because I really want to get to know the secondary characters a bit more.

*Though I have to wonder at the first-person POV present-tense narration – is this an NA thing?  For the record, it’s not something that bugs me (I used to detest first-person, but once I got past that, present v. past tense didn’t even make me blink), but first-person/present tense is so prevalent in the YA/NA genre nowadays, it’s like someone dictated that it was the only way to go.

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I’ve a post drafted around Kickstarters which will hopefully see the light of day soon (I’ve a lot of posts stuck in draft mode, come to think of it).  But ICYMI and if you like SF short stories, the Queers Destroy Science Fiction Kickstarter is good value for money (IMO) with a wide selection of rewards at various levels.

Kate Sherwood and a Bit on Best-of Lists

So – a book I really liked, with bonus digression into best-of lists habits…

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20522718Rosario started me on Kate Sherwood‘s books late last year – I was familiar with her name as she’s one of the more popular M/M romance authors around, but I had never read any of her books before. But after reading Rosario’s review of THE FALL, I bought it when AllRomanceEbooks* had one of their 50% rebate events, and finished it post-Christmas festivities.  I really liked THE FALL – it was one of those quieter, non-OTT romances (which makes the book sound totally boring, but it’s not, I swear).  It’s refreshing to have sensible protagonists who actually think and talk to each other (am I starting to sound old yet?), but the romance had enough of the grand gestures to hit the right buttons for me.  And an excellent supporting cast with some complicated family dynamics to add more interest.

Anyway, Rosario ended up listing Kate Sherwood’s MARK OF CAIN on her best of 2014 list, which, you know, meant she liked it better than THE FALL.  I had seen MARK OF CAIN around when it was first released, but the premise didn’t appeal – a gay priest falling in love with an ex-con who had killed his brother?  It just sounded overly-angsty and way too much conflict to resolve in a single novel.  But between my enjoyment of THE FALL and its place on Rosario’s 2014 favourites list, I decided to give MARK OF CAIN a go – and it was one of those books that I picked up to read whenever I had a spare moment.

MARK OF CAIN actually ended up feeling less angsty to me than the setup indicated – the conflict is definitely there and ramps up as the book progresses, but it never felt too much at any one time.  The alternating POVs book worked well in showing how both Mark and Luke dealt with a complicated mix of anger, guilt, betrayal, and well, a lot of other emotions, and I ended up really believing in their connection and relationship over the course of the book.  Unusually for an M/M romance, Mark’s faith was very present in the book and not just wallpaper, which added more depth to the story.  Kate Sherwood also tackled how the church is handling the issue of gay priests – she did it in a way that felt realistic (and non-preachy!).  I’m not sure I was convinced by the resolution in this book, but I did believe in Mark and Luke’s HEA.  If I had any niggles, it was that Luke felt a bit too young at times, but then again, he probably is.

If I’d read this book a month ago, it would have also ended up on my 2014 favourites list – as it is, it’ll be on my 2015 favourites list.

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And a slight digression here: A few years ago, I used to wonder how people could make the declaration that this book would be on their best of/favourites of the year – I’d be like “It’s January! How do you know what else you’re going to read during the year…?!”.  But after six or so years of compiling my annual lists, it’s kind of obvious now.  A book lands on my keeper shelf regardless of when I read it – I don’t really compare Favourite A to Favourite B, and wonder which one to drop at the end of the year.  If I love a book, I love it, and if I have a fantastic reading year, I’d have a really long list of favourites (if only!).  Also, I have to say it is possibly easier for me because I don’t limit my list to a top ten or anything – I’d have to look back to see what I’ve done over the years, but I think I’ve usually landed between ten and twelve books, and they tend to be clear-cut decisions.

Does that make sense?

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*Non-affiliate link!  I wanted to flag ARE, because apart from their occasional rebate events, they do a Buy 10 Get 1 Free thing for publishers that allow discounted books.  Their sister site, Omnilit, has a wide range of non-romance books – fantasy, mystery, etc – so they’re not purely for romance books despite the name.

A Random Collection of Links

257028_originalPure eye candy, but I couldn’t resist – Martha Wells posted the cover for her upcoming STORIES OF THE RAKSURA: VOLUME 2 (click through for larger version).  Love it!  I only got around to reading the main fantasy trilogy last year, but am kind of addicted to any and all Raksura stories now.

Rachel Aaron did two posts about the money in trad publishing and self-publishing.  Fascinating stuff if you’re interested in numbers.  Also fascinating is that she made around $42k in four months from her self-pubbed UF NICE DRAGONS FINISH LAST (which I liked very much).  She says in her post that self-publishing isn’t purely a money decision though – you’ve got to be the sort of person who thrives on the self-publishing minutiae (paraphrasing horribly, but that was one of the messages I took away).

Juliet Marillier answers a few questions on her latest fantasy release, DREAMER’S POOL, including a bit on the next book, TOWER OF THORNS.  I’m looking forward to its cover reveal, because I’m shallow.

And major spoilers – AND I MEAN MAJOR – but Sarah Rees Brennan has a thought-provoking post about fridging and feminism in her latest release UNMADE, the conclusion to her Lynburn Legacy trilogy.  (I’m REALLY not kidding about the spoilers – they’re in the first paragraph.)

 

Books for January

New year, new releases?  Kind of.  January tends to be a bit quiet in terms of new releases that catch my eye, and 2015 isn’t really an exception.  Here are the ones that I’m interested in:

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22522026Julie Hyzy‘s ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MENUS (mystery): I’ve started to associate January with a new White House Chef cosy mystery from Julie Hyzy, and she’s not let me down. It’ll be eight books into the series this year, and I’m still finding Ollie’s adventures fun.

It’s an old adage that too many cooks spoil the broth. But when a tour of the White House kitchen by a group of foreign chefs ends in murder, it’s Olivia Paras who finds herself in the soup…

Due to a government sequester, entertaining at the White House has been severely curtailed. So executive chef Olivia Paras is delighted to hear that plans are still on to welcome a presidential candidate from the country of Saardisca—the first woman to run for office—and four of that nation’s top chefs.

But while leading the chefs on a kitchen tour, pastry chef Marcel passes out suddenly—and later claims he was drugged. When one of the visiting chefs collapses and dies, it’s clear someone has infiltrated the White House with ill intent. Could it be an anti-Saardiscan zealot? Is the candidate a target? Are the foreign chefs keeping more than their recipes a secret? Once again, Olivia must make sleuthing the special of the day…

Out Jan 6

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23566506Courtney Milan‘s TRADE ME (contemporary romance): Courtney Milan does contemporary!  I’m very excited.  I’ve liked her historicals well enough, but I’ve never really clicked with them – there is something very clean and precise about her prose that makes me feel like a contemporary would suit her voice well?  We’ll see.

Tina Chen just wants a degree and a job, so her parents never have to worry about making rent again. She has no time for Blake Reynolds, the sexy billionaire who stands to inherit Cyclone Technology. But when he makes an off-hand comment about what it means to be poor, she loses her cool and tells him he couldn’t last a month living her life.

To her shock, Blake offers her a trade: She’ll get his income, his house, his car. In exchange, he’ll work her hours and send money home to her family. No expectations; no future obligations.

But before long, they’re trading not just lives, but secrets, kisses, and heated nights together. No expectations might break Tina’s heart…but Blake’s secrets could ruin her life.

Out Jan 20

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And to finish off, a couple of novella/short stories which are being released for free this month:

  • KJ Charles“A Case of Spirits” is a short story set in her Charm of Magpies series (a blend of historical M/M romance/fantasy that really works), coming out Jan 6.
  • And Viv Daniels (a.k.a. Diana Peterfreund) has a series prequel coming out Jan 20 (“Island Escape”) – note I’m guessing it’s a short and a prequel purely based on the fact it’s in Goodreads as #0.5 in the Island series.  I don’t actually know very much about this series – it may be a serial release?  It will most probably be a NA romance.

Oh, I probably should mention Sharon Lee‘s CAROUSEL SEAS hits physical bookstores this month (Baen releases the ebook version a few weeks earlier, so I’ve finished this already).  A solid urban rural contemporary fantasy – I could have done without the incursions into the wider political machinations of the fae, but it was good conclusion to the trilogy.

So slim pickings for January new releases, but it just means I can work on my TBR pile, which somehow managed to grow exponentially over December.

Are you eyeing any more?

2014: The Summary

So I’ve talked about my favourite books of 2014, but heaven forbid that’s the only 2014 wrap-up post I do.  Here are more on authors I read, plus reading stats.

New-to-me authors

I read books by 98 authors over 2014, of which 31 were new-to-me authors.  That’s around 30%, which is down from 2013 (41%), but still pretty good going.

Of these 30, the authors I’m glad to have discovered over 2014

SF/F

  • Cinda Williams Chima: Goes without saying, really, as her Seven Realms quartet landed on my 2014 favourites list.  She’s written quite a few other books, so I need to check them out this year
  • Erika Johansen: Another debut author – THE QUEEN OF THE TEARLING suffered from over-hype, IMO, but it was a decent start to a trilogy.
  • ML Brennan: I’ve talked about her Generation V books before, right?  An excellent UF series which is getting better by the book – she’s on my autobuy list now.
  • Jody Lynn Nye: I didn’t read a whole lot of SF in 2014, but her Imperium books were a lot of space opera fun.

Mystery

  • Rosie Claverton: I read her debut mystery novel BINARY WITNESS earlier this year, and the follow-up is in my TBR pile.  An agoraphobic hacker, an ex-con, and a wonderfully-delineated Cardiff setting – what’s not to like?

Romance

  • Susanna Kearsley: Another new-to-me author who wrote one of my 2014 favourites.  Also, I think I own her entire backlist now.
  • Jenny Han: I loved her quirky TO ALL THE BOYS I’VE LOVED BEFORE, and am impatiently waiting its sequel.
  • Kylie Scott: I devoured her Stage Dive series, and need the fourth book now.
  • Rainbow Rowell: I’ve come to the conclusion that not all her books work for me, but when they do, they REALLY do.
  • Sarina Bowen: I’ve really liked both her contemporary and NA romance books this year, and cannot wait for her 2015 releases.
  • Kate Sherwood: I read THE FALL after Rosario’s review, and promptly bought the sequel.

Authors most glommed in 2014

No major backlist explorations this year, but I did read six Martha Wells books (I’ve never yet read a Martha Wells I didn’t like, which means I need to finish reading her backlist this year).

I also read five books from Sarina Bowen (when I say I really liked her books, I mean I really did) and then four books each by KJ Charles, Susanna Kearsley, and Cinda Williams Chima (ditto, ditto, and ditto).

And the numbers…

Right, this is the seriously geeky section.

My reading numbers have been pretty consistent over the past few years – for 2014, it ended up being 155 books in total, with around 60% being 2014 new releases.

Here’s the breakdown over the past five years (note 2010 and 2011 numbers are skewed, as I had YA as a separate category under Other – from 2012 onwards, I just flagged books as YA within the respective genres):

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Romance and fantasy continue to be my reading mainstays – I think with romance especially, I tend to use it as my go-to genre when I’m looking for something uncomplicated to read.  Not to say romance = undemanding, but I made an effort to clear out the category romances lurking in my e-TBR pile when travelling this year, and you always know what you’re getting with a backlist category from Carla Kelly, Joan Wolf, Jessica Hart etc.

I only read around 24 YA/NA books in 2014, which I suspect is lower than previous years – however, YAs made up half of my favourite reads of the year.  Quality v. quantity!

And finally, my 2014 by month:

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As always, I’m (slowly) logging all my books read in Goodreads – I’m barely halfway through the year at the moment, but the full 2014 list will be here when I’m finished.

2014: My Favourite Books

Happy New Year!

I’m loving all the annual wrap-ups/best-of posts appearing around the book blogosphere, and my TBR list is growing by leaps and bounds (I’m also trying to be smarter by using the eReaderIQ price drop watch lists, but there is only so much restraint I can show).

My 2014?

It’s a weird one.  It’s not felt like an amazing reading year for me (again – I had similar feelings about 2013) but if I look at my book log, I actually read a lot of books I’ve enjoyed.  Good thing I track my reads, huh?

Maybe it’s because while I’ve stumbled across some new-to-me authors and read some really good books, there’s been no single author whose books I’ve just wholeheartedly glommed.  Am I being unrealistic?  Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by discovering authors like Eloisa James, Elizabeth Peters, Lois McMaster Bujold, Kelly Hunter etc relatively recently (where recently = since I’ve been blogging) and it doesn’t feel like a good reading year unless I discover a fantastic author with a massive backlist to dive into. Possibly.

Anyway, here are my favourite books read during 2014 (roughly in the order I read them):

Susanna Kearsley‘s THE WINTER SEA (romance): Yes, I finally got around to reading Susanna Kearsley in 2014, and fell headlong for her quiet swoon-worthy romances and the way she weaves together the then and now.  This one was my very favourite of the Kearsleys, and trust me, I made a dent in her backlist over the year.

KJ Charles‘s THINK OF ENGLAND (historical M/M romance): KJ Charles became an auto-buy author for me over 2014. This book wasn’t without its controversies (heck, 2014 may go down as the year the book blogging world did Controversy), but she nailed both the period feel and romance in this one, IMO.

Miranda Kenneally‘s BREATHE, ANNIE, BREATHE (YA romance): I’ve had both hits and misses with her Hundred Oaks series, but this one was very definitely a hit.  Chemistry and feelings a-plenty in these pages.

Cinda Williams Chima‘s THE GRAY WOLF THRONE and THE CRIMSON CROWN (YA fantasy): I kind of cheat here, because it’s the whole quartet I loved, but Cinda Williams Chima didn’t let me down with the two concluding books to her Seven Realms series. It was just a really good story that hit all my buttons – court intrigue, magic, romance… I couldn’t ask for more.

Rainbow Rowell‘s FANGIRL (YA romance): I finally got the why behind Rainbow Rowell’s popularity this year.  I’d tried (and failed) with her popular ATTACHMENTS and was about to place her in the authors-everyone-else-loves pile.  And then I gave FANGIRL a go – I fell hard for Cath, and we had fanfic love as bonus (obviously, I’m dying over the CARRY ON 2015 announcement).

Stephanie PerkinsISLA AND THE HAPPILY EVER AFTER (YA romance): The wait for this book was worth it – no one can quite capture those dizzying extremes of teenage emotions the way Stephanie Perkins can.

Juliet Marillier‘s THE CALLER (YA fantasy): I admit I had doubts about this fantasy trilogy at the start, and the first book is unlikely to ever be a favourite of mine.  But Juliet Marillier ended the Shadowfell trilogy on a high.

Martha WellsTHE SIREN DEPTHS (fantasy): Like the Cinda Williams Chima books, this really should be the Raksura trilogy as a whole.  Another of those series that I should have read a long time ago – memorable characters and really excellent world-building.

Kylie Scott‘s LEAD (contemporary romance): I enjoyed Kylie Scott’s previous Stage Dive rock star romances, but LEAD was miles better.  Jimmy and Lena won my heart with their banter, chemistry, and yes, drama.  There were some very perfect moments in this book.

In summary:

  • Six romance books and four fantasy books, with half of the list being YA
  • An even mix of new-to-me and previously-read authors (last year, it was all new-to-me authors)
  • And half of these books were published in 2014, with publication dates for the other five ranging from 2008 to 2013

Before I wrap up, I don’t normally call out short stories in my annual favourites, but there were two anthologies I had to mention this year – both of them M/M romance anthologies, coincidentally.  KJ Charles‘s (again) “The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh” was a standout for me (in the anthology ANOTHER PLACE IN TIME).  Seriously.  I’m really excited she revisits her Regency world in a new Loveswept release this year.  And COMFORT AND JOY was just a consistently good Christmas romance anthology (stories by Joanna Chambers, LB Gregg, Harper Fox, and Josh Lanyon) – it’s definitely one for my holiday stories keeper pile.

Next up: 2014 in numbers. Because I like stats.