This and That

I’ve had one of those periods where it feels as though I haven’t read an actual book for ages. I think it’s because I’m a bit of a late-night reader and work has been totally killing me these past couple of weeks, so I’ve been falling asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow instead of opening my latest book.

24358527But there’s light at the end of the tunnel – I just picked up Marko Kloos‘ ANGLES OF ATTACK, and it’s the kind of story that quickly draws you in, which makes sense as it’s fast-paced MilSF that drops you into the action right from the start.  So my mini reading slump might be ending.  I also admit I feel a bit better about picking up his third book after he withdrew his acceptance for the Best Novel Hugo nomination – I’ve been reading some of the SP/RP arguments over the past few weeks (yes, as opposed to reading books!) and some posts just make me feel, well, icky.  I’m looking forward to the publication of the Hugos longlist when Worldcon rolls around – I think we’ll see which works got pushed off the Hugo shortlist because of the SP/RP slate, which would give me a better idea of what 2014-published books I’ve missed off my reading list.

To stop this from being purely a whiny woe-is-me post, here are two books I enjoyed over the past month (evidenced by over-usage of the word “fun” over the next few paragraphs – sorry).

21416690One was by a new-to-me author, Genevieve Cogman – I’d heard lots of buzz over her THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY (let’s face it, the title alone would make it an easy sell to the book-loving community) but only picked it up when the e-version was on sale earlier in the year.   Here’s what I said on Goodreads:

So – this book was just so fun.

I loved pretty much everything about this book – character-wise, we had Irene with her steadfast loyalty to the Library and its mission, her sidekick Kai (full of youthful exuberance, but also with secrets), and while I’m not usually one for Great Detectives, Vale started to grow on me as well. And then you have the Library itself, the secret librarian Language, and an action-packed romp through alternate-London in pursuit of a mysterious book.

The most tantalising part, though, is the hint that the next books in this series get a bit deeper than just superficial spooks-with-magic fun – I’m looking forward to them.

21331590The other book was Eloisa James‘ recent historical romance release, FOUR NIGHTS WITH THE DUKE.  This one… I think you’ve to be in a certain mood so it’s not for everyone, but if you’re in the right mood, it’d be just ridiculously OTT fun.  The last third of the book was unfortunately the weakest part for me – too many misunderstandings (rinse repeat), but it did leave me with a smile on my face.

25321367Oh, and Martha Wells also released a collection of her short stories and novelettes – one new story, with the rest previously-published.  Most, possibly all, were new-to-me, and I really enjoyed revisiting her Ile-Rien and Cineth worlds.  This one was part of a recent Kickstarter, by the way – I passed on it as I was really only interested in Martha Wells’ contribution, so I’m glad she’s released her collection as a standalone.  Definitely worth picking up if you’re a Wells fan, and I suspect they’ll also work well as an introduction for those who haven’t read her Ile-Rien/Cineth books before.

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A Linkage Post…

…because it’s been a while since I’ve done one of this.

Maureen E @ By Singing Light did a lovely post titled “On Libraries”:

Here’s the thing about public libraries: they are so much messier and weirder and funnier than you think.

They are kids throwing up on the brand-new carpet; kids missing the toilet entirely; mysterious substances smeared on the covers of books, on the pages, on the inside of DVD cases. They are a full bag of poop tied shut and shoved into the book drop. They are left behind trash and bedbugs crawling out of books and used condoms in the bathroom trash.

161696202X.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_SL400_Tachyon Publications seem to be doing quite a few single-author short story collections, and now it’s the turn of Kelley Armstrongtable of contents @ SF Signal.  Two original stories, with the rest being reprints.  I suspect I have most of her existing short stories already, so I’ll have to figure out how much I want to read the two new ones…  Also, the cover’s not as striking as the Kate Elliott collection, but I suppose it does say UF.

Speaking of genre branding (well, kind of – I’m trying for a smooth transition here!), Kameron Hurley wrote an interesting post on the importance of book titles – her books are on my to-read list, but I’ve not managed to get around to them yet.

And to wrap up, I enjoyed Renay’s review of Sarah Rees Brennan‘s Lynburn Legacy trilogy @ Lady Business – it’s a great non-spoilery review if you haven’t yet read the books.  This summary list was pretty much the highlights of the books for me as well:

But I— liked it a lot? I was really entertained!

  • sassy teenagers
  • broody love interests! with different flavors of brood!
  • interesting parental relationships
  • badass team of ladies!
  • girls being friends!
  • kissing!
  • telepathy!
  • the complications of mind-reading powers!

I found this so delightful.

I liked the trilogy (it was full of SRB’s trademark humour, yet more epic in scope than her previous books), but think I’d have liked it better if I had been able to read all three books together.  Partly due to those dratted cliffhangers, but also it was very much a single story IMO – maybe that’s just the trilogy structure…

Andrea K Höst’s THE PYRAMIDS OF LONDON

12390040I’m a diehard AKH fan, but I admit to feeling a bit nervous about her latest book THE PYRAMIDS OF LONDON when I first read the blurb – talk about everything and the kitchen sink…

In a world where lightning sustained the Roman Empire, and Egypt’s vampiric god-kings spread their influence through medicine and good weather, tiny Prytennia’s fortunes are rising with the ships that have made her undisputed ruler of the air.

But the peace of recent decades is under threat. Rome’s automaton-driven wealth is waning along with the New Republic’s supply of power crystals, while Sweden uses fear of Rome to add to her Protectorates. And Prytennia is under attack from the wind itself. Relentless daily blasts destroy crops, buildings, and lives, and neither the weather vampires nor Prytennia’s Trifold Goddess have been able to find a way to stop them.

With events so grand scouring the horizon, the deaths of Eiliff and Aedric Tenning raise little interest. The official verdict is accident: two careless automaton makers, killed by their own construct.

The Tenning children and Aedric’s sister, Arianne, know this cannot be true. Nothing will stop their search for what really happened.

Not even if, to follow the first clue, Aunt Arianne must sell herself to a vampire.

But I needn’t have worried.  Although it’s the kind of book that drops you in the middle of the action, and trusts you to work out the details for yourself (my favourite!), it was never overwhelming, and everything fell into place fairly quickly – yes, vampires, pyramids, airships, and well, everything else somehow worked together in this incredibly inventive alternate-history setting.  And characterisation or story isn’t sacrificed for world-building either.

PYRAMIDS features what I’m starting to think of as trademark Höst – strong female protagonists, a diverse cast of characters, and as bonus, a narrative that subtly challenges gender assumptions*.  Or at least, it challenged mine – specifically, I liked how it made me think about how often I unconsciously default to assuming male for certain occupations.

Story-wise, I was caught up from the start – we begin in the POV of Rian (or Arianne), who’s trying to investigate her brother and his wife’s deaths by infiltrating a vampire’s household (though not vampires as we know them…), but her plans rapidly goes awry.  Massively awry.  The other POV character is Eluned, Rian’s orphaned niece, who, together with her siblings, is determined to gain justice for her parents, while coping with the upheaval of being sent to live with an hitherto-unknown aunt.  The plot is a complicated one (one could even say painfully complicated at times), but it all comes together satisfyingly in the end.

I’m of two minds around the use of dual POVs – my main objection is along the lines of “I love Rian! I don’t want to switch to Eluned’s POV… oh heck, I love Eluned, I don’t want to go back to Rian”.  But I also enjoyed seeing the characters from different perspectives – Höst tends to write stiff upper-lip kind of characters (you can tell she hits all my buttons, right?), so this was an interesting way of seeing behind the facade, so to speak.

I don’t want to give too much away about what happens in this book, because a large part of my enjoyment came from not knowing how the story would unfurl as it takes several unexpected directions.  All I’ll say is that I’m glad this is the start of a series, because it feels as though there’s so many more stories for Höst to tell in this world – and I want to know what happens next.

Disclosure: I’ve exchanged the (very) occasional tweet with the author.  I bought this book pretty much as soon as it hit the virtual shelves.  I don’t generally state when I’ve bought a book (basically, if I don’t say it’s a review copy, assume I bought it with my own money or borrowed from the library), but I thought it was worth mentioning again.

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*I wrote this review when the whole Hugos controversy kicked off – to me, the (simplified) SP slate argument appears to be that “we want good stories, not books that push an agenda, and that’s why we’re doing this”.  My view is that the two aren’t mutually exclusive, but there’s no need for me to write an essay on this when there are a whole load of blog posts on this topic (with accompanying screeds of comments, finger-pointing, personal insults etc).  But one comment that really stood out to me was Marie Brennan’s contribution @ John Scalzi’s blog:

[…]

“Heavy-handed” is often shorthand “politics I don’t agree with, which therefore draw my attention.”

Politics you don’t notice in a story are the water you swim in, the air you breathe: they’re still there. You just don’t notice them because you take them as the natural state of the world.

Politics absolutely permeate stories, at every level of their creation *and* reception. Because “politics” are not just a matter of what you vote on at the ballot box, but what values you hold, what rights you take for granted, which fights you think are heroic and which are foolhardy, who makes a good protagonist and who a suitable villain. Saying you are just evaluating the “quality” of a story, or how much you “enjoyed” it, as if that were completely divorced from the extent to which it supports or challenges your assumptions about the world, is either massively disingenuous or massively lacking in self-awareness.

Which, apart from it being an incredibly sensible comment, struck me as very apt for my experience reading PYRAMIDS.  The emphasis on female characters stood out for me because it was different to other books.  PYRAMIDS isn’t what I’d class as a “message” book at all, but I liked that it made me think a bit more.

Links of the Spoilerific Kind

The book blogosphere is doing its best to keep life interesting, huh? I thought I’d seen it all with plagarism, piracy, and other scandal-of-the-week-type events, but obviously not.

However, not all unexpected events are unpleasant ones – there still are surprises of the pleasant book kind!  Specifically in this case, the new Vorkosigan book from Lois McMaster Bujold as well as the upcoming third book in CS Pacat‘s CAPTIVE PRINCE trilogy.

2jebdwjLinks for the latter first:

As for the LMB Vorkosigan book – well, the non-spoilery bit first:

I was practically bouncing in glee when I read LMB’s post about the new Vorkosigan book, GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN.  I’d pretty much thought the series had come to an end, especially as LMB has been refusing to comment on the possibility of a new book for quite a while.  It’s one of my all-time favourite series – up there with Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody books.  I love so much about her stories – the sheer pace of her plots, this knack of hers for capturing that quiet moment that reveals so much, how her characters live and breathe… well, I could go on and on.

And then I read the spoilers coming out from her first reading, and O_o doesn’t even begin to reflect my reactions.  I cannot wait for next February.

Spoiler links follow. I mean it.  Don’t click unless you want to be spoiled….

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Books for April

April – finally.  It’s about time Spring arrived.

It’s also awards nominees season in genre-land – both the RITA (romance) and Hugo (SFF) award nominees have been announced. I haven’t had time to look at either list in detail yet, but from the buzz around both, it seems that the RITA list is more diversified than ever, while the Hugos have taken a step backwards?  So yay and boo respectively.

But back to new releases, here are the April ones I want…

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22891368Jo Beverley‘s TOO DANGEROUS FOR A LADY (historical romance): I haven’t adored her more recent releases, but she still remains one of my very few historical romance auto-buy authors.  Her romances tend to be on the quieter side, but it’s the realistic period feel that draws me in.

The new novel in the Rogue Series from the New York Timesbestselling author—and five-time RITA Award winner…

Lady Hermione Merryhew, daughter of an impoverished marquess, already has her share of problems. The last thing she needs is an intruder in her bedroom, especially not a fugitive thief. She should scream, but the shabby rascal is a man from her past.

Six years ago, at her first ball, dashing Lieutenant Mark Thayne failed to steal a kiss, but succeeded in stealing a little of her heart. She’s older and wiser now. She can’t toss him to the wolves. Besides, she wants that kiss.

Now Viscount Faringay, Mark has never forgotten Lady Hermione, but he mustn’t involve her in his dangerous life. He’s infiltrated the Crimson Band, violent revolutionaries who plan a bloodbath in London, and if he survives the night he will be able to destroy them. Hermione is involved, however, and only he can protect her.

Out April 7

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22221136Susanna Kearsley‘s A DESPERATE FORTUNE (romance): Was it only last year when I fell for her amazingly romantic stories?  I’m not usually a fan of time-slip romances, but I make an exception for her books.

For nearly 300 years, the mysterious journal of Jacobite exile Mary Dundas has lain unread — its secrets safe from prying eyes. Now, amateur codebreaker Sara Thomas has been hired by a once-famous historian to crack the journal’s cipher. But when she arrives in Paris, Sara finds herself besieged by complications from all sides: the journal’s reclusive owner, her charming Parisian neighbor, and Mary, whose journal doesn’t hold the secrets Sara expects.

It turns out that Mary Dundas wasn’t keeping a record of everyday life, but a first-hand account of her part in a dangerous intrigue. In the first wintry months of 1732, with a scandal gaining steam in London, driving many into bankruptcy and ruin, the man accused of being at its center is concealed among the Jacobites in Paris, with Mary posing as his sister to aid his disguise.

When their location is betrayed, they’re forced to put a desperate plan in action, heading south along the road to Rome, protected by the enigmatic Highlander Hugh MacPherson.

As Mary’s tale grows more and more dire, Sara, too, must carefully choose which turning to take… to find the road that will lead her safely home.

Out April 7

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24358527Marko Kloos‘s ANGLES OF ATTACK (SF): IIRC, I read the first book in this series when it was self-pubbed, so before it was picked up by Amazon’s 47North imprint.  Last year’s sequel is part of the slightly-controversial Hugo finalist slate I referenced above – FWIW, I enjoyed it though I’m surprised it finalled.  Politics aside, I’m looking forward to the third book.

The alien forces known as the Lankies are gathering on the solar system’s edge, consolidating their conquest of Mars and setting their sights on Earth. The far-off colony of New Svalbard, cut off from the rest of the galaxy by the Lanky blockade, teeters on the verge of starvation and collapse. The forces of the two Earth alliances have won minor skirmishes but are in danger of losing the war. For battle-weary staff sergeant Andrew Grayson and the ragged forces of the North American Commonwealth, the fight for survival is entering a catastrophic new phase.

Forging an uneasy alliance with their Sino-Russian enemies, the NAC launches a hybrid task force on a long shot: a stealth mission to breach the Lanky blockade and reestablish supply lines with Earth. Plunging into combat against a merciless alien species that outguns, outmaneuvers, and outfights them at every turn, Andrew and his fellow troopers could end up cornered on their home turf, with no way out and no hope for reinforcement. And this time, the struggle for humanity’s future can only end in either victory or annihilation.

Out April 21

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24283222Tammara Webber‘s SWEET (NA): If I’m honest, I prefer Tammara Webber’s Between the Lines books to this series – I liked EASY well enough, but the spin-off BREAKABLE didn’t really do it for me.  But I really like her writing, so this is on the to-buy list for me.

He’s the love of her life, but he doesn’t know it.
She’s his one moment of sacrifice in a lifetime of survival.

He was damaged and wild, but resilient.
She’s always been obedient. Now she’s restless.

Home for the summer between college and med school, Pearl Torres Frank knows two things: Boyce Wynn is the embodiment of everything she should run from, and everything she wants to run to. Rebellious and loud. Unconcerned with society’s opinion of him. Passionate. Strong. Dangerous.

And one more trait he hides from everyone but her:
Sweet.

Out April 27

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So that’s it for my new releases this month – a short and sweet list! Any new releases you’re really looking forward to?