First Reads of 2019

How’s 2019 treating you so far?  It was a bit of a shock to the system to have to get through my first full five-day working week for quite a while – ah, January, I have not missed you at all!  Also my “bury head in sand” approach to Brexit is not quite going to work over the next few weeks, I suspect.  Aarrgghhhh.

3328803So it’s probably no surprise that I’ve been inclined to escapism reading-wise.  I started the year with a bit of a Rachel Neumeier glom, finally getting around to reading THE CITY IN THE LAKE.  Don’t let the cover put you off – I find it vaguely Scream-like (probably why it was languishing in my TBR pile), which is the complete opposite of the actual story.  CITY is a lovely and beautifully-written fantasy, with characters you totally root for.  It’s technically shelved as YA, though I didn’t really see why.

11965823I then flew through her Griffin Mage trilogy (UK readers – you can get the e-omnibus for the bargain price of £3.99, btw).  All three books are very much standalone stories, but both the world-building and characters grow more multi-layered and complex as the series progresses, with the final book capping off the trilogy on a very satisfying note.  I thought the third book was probably the strongest, with Miethe’s story pulling me in right from the start, though the ease of connection I had with her may be somewhat due to me being familiar with the setting and (at least some of) the characters.

I ended the week by reading her short story collection BEYOND THE DREAMS WE KNOW, which had stories set in the worlds of some of her previous novels (and as bonus, is available in Kindle Unlimited).  It was a delightful collection of stories – after my recent Neumeier backlist exploration, there was only one story where I wasn’t already familiar with the setting (and the story made me want to read THE FLOATING ISLANDS ASAP).

I’m having a tough time pinning down exactly what it is about Neumeier’s writing that so appeals to me.  Her stories have a different feel to a lot of other fantasies being published nowadays – they’re not OTT in terms of emotions nor are they action-packed, and they definitely don’t have unrequited love or love triangles as an integral part of the plot.  But they’re not boring either – her writing’s beautiful and evocative, her stories character-driven, and they’re all set against the backdrop of some really well-developed settings and cultures.

If I had to come up with authors who I think write in a similar manner, perhaps Sharon Shinn, Sherwood Smith or Andrea K Höst, with the caveats that I don’t think Neumeier’s romance subplots are as front-and-centre as Shinn’s, Smith’s books lean much more towards YA (IIRC), and Höst’s stories have a fresher feel to them IMO. If you’ve read Rachel Neumeier, which other authors do you think are similar?

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2018: Lists and Numbers

It’s time for my annual navel-gazing post – indulge me as I look back at my year in reading…

2018 new-to-me authors

I read 45 new-to-me authors over 2018, a huge jump from 2017’s 36 (which in turn was way up on 2016’s 21).  A large part of that was due to my Kindle Unlimited subscription, which was a cheap way (cost-wise, if not time) of trying new authors.

Of this group, the authors I’m really glad I discovered over 2018:

Robyn Bennis: Loving her steampunk-ish mil-fantasy series, and cannot wait for the next ones

Anna Butler: I’m potentially starting to sound a bit like a broken record, but I suspect I’ll read anything she writes in any genre.

Aster Glenn Gray: Her Beauty and the Beast retelling appears to be her only release at the moment, fingers crossed for more from her.

Rachel Neumeier: I know.  I could have sworn I’ve read her books before, but no.  Love her style of fantasy (and they’re standalone books as well!).

Megan Reddaway: I finished her take on Pride & Prejudice on Dec 31, and it was the best way to end the year.

Author most glommed over 2018

MCA Hogarth – I read ten books of hers (and yes, that boxset thing applies, so technically twelve?).

Next was Glynn Stewart (who topped my 2017 list) with nine books – I thought I had swept through his backlist in 2017, but he somehow managed to release nine(!) new books in 2018.  I’m not complaining.

Also worth mentioning is Mercedes Lackey – I (re-)read eight of her books (or technically ten – those boxsets are really messing up my counts!).  I did go on a bit of a Valdemar re-read spree over 2018 with mixed results – some were as good as I remembered, others less so

Kindle Unlimited usage

I’m sneaking this in as a new section, as last year was the first full year of KU for me.

As I said earlier, it was a low-risk way to try new-to-me authors, but I also had quite a few duds (and DNFs).  I read books by 23 KU authors, of which eleven were new-to-me – that’s a pretty high proportion.

I finished 43 KU books over 2018 – at £7.99/month, that equates to around £2.30 a book (not counting DNFs, which I don’t track).  Rating-wise, around a quarter was 4* or higher reads for me, so I think that’s a win!

I do suspect I finished a lot more 2* books than I normally would have though.  I’m going to make sure that I’m better in 2019 at calling it quits as opposed to forcing myself to finish a book (or series even).

And as for the numbers…

I read 179 books (give or take a few boxsets and short stories/novellas), slightly down on last year, but still a relatively high number for me.  Just over half of these were published before 2018 – yay for the backlist.

Breakdown by genre and numbers over 2018:

2018

And finally 2018 v. previous years – I’ve basically rediscovered my love for SF over the past couple of years:

overall

And that’s it – another annual tradition completed!  If you want to have a look at my 2018 reads in more detail, my Goodreads summary is here, with a few more random stats.

2018: My Favourite Books

Happy New Year – may 2019 be a happy, healthy, and safe one for all of you.

This is the time of the year when my TBR pile pretty much explodes as I read through everyone’s best-of lists.  Which, for the record, is perfectly fine – I’m of the firm belief that one cannot have too many books.

So to add to the lists, here are my very favourite books of 2018, in no particular order:

Jodi Taylor’s AN ARGUMENTATION OF HISTORIANS (fantasy): I swear that I’ve learnt more about history from her books than I did at school.  There’s maximum entertainment in this one, with some suspenseful moments and lovely touches on the relationships front – start with the first book if you’ve not read this series yet, and you won’t regret it.

Kate Stradling’s BRINE AND BONE (fantasy): The loveliest retelling of THE LITTLE MERMAID – this one stayed on my mind for days after.

MCA Hogarth’s Her Instruments trilogy (SF): Technically three books and a novella, but I read it as a boxset and it made a very long flight pass very quickly.  This was pretty much everything I love – a fast-paced space opera centered around found family, plus a slow-burn romance with a stoic and mysterious hero.

MCA Hogarth’s FROM RUINS (SF): Also by MCA Hogarth, also set in the same universe, but wildly different in tone.  FROM RUINS caps off her Princes’ Game series – it’s darker than I would normally care for, but she pulled it off and in a entirely satisfying manner.

Anna Butler’s THE JACKAL’S HOUSE (romance): Anna Butler’s a new-to-me author and I’ve pretty much flown through her backlist this year.  This steampunk-ish historical fantasy was the perfect follow-up to The Gilded Scarab, but with more adventure, romance, and politicking.

KJ Charles’s BAND SINISTER (romance): Of course I would love KJ Charles’s take on a Heyer-esque romance.  She nailed it with this one – somehow combining big dramatic gestures with a quiet and wholly satisfying romance.

KJ Charles’s THE HENCHMEN OF ZENDA (romance): And of course, I would love KJ Charles’s take on a classic.  This was an utter joy to read from start to finish – sniping and swordfights, friendships and loyalty, and oh yes, the romance.

Naomi Novik’s SPINNING SILVER (fantasy): A magical fairytale retelling, with some swooningly romantic moments.

So in total, eight books (or twelve, depending on how you count boxsets!) and six authors.  I’ve listed the main genre, but all of them have a strong thread of romance running through them – I’m entirely consistent that way!

To follow – more general thoughts about 2018 reading-wise, plus my usual number-crunching.

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

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