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.

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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

Quick Recaps: The SF/F One

A belated look at the new releases for the first umm… third of the year?  Starting off the ones I’ve actually read in the SF/F space…

Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s NEOGENESIS: Latest Liaden installment, and unlike the more recent releases, I felt there was FINALLY some progress in the overall series arc.  I am still on the fence around some kind-of-icky cultural appropriation when it comes to their Bedel community, but hurrah for actually moving on with the story.  Could have done with fewer plot threads to track, but you can’t have everything…

Elizabeth Moon’s INTO THE FIRE: I probably would have benefited from a series re-read before diving into this book, and there were a few too many random POVs tossed in for my liking.  Also, the main protagonists (Ky, Stella, and yes, Grace) came across as being way too whiny, especially for people who are meant to be actual grown-ups.

Karen Healey and Robyn Fleming’s THE EMPRESS OF TIMBRA: A new-to-me author pairing and an interesting take on traditional epic-fantasy-type happenings, as it’s told from the POV of teenagers on the periphery of events.  I thought it a bit reminiscent of Sherwood Smith’s YA fantasy books.  I’d definitely pick up the next book.

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s OBSIDIO: I’ve loved their innovative take on epistolary-style storytelling.  This concluding volume brought all the previous strands together, and yes, I shed a tear or two.

Jodi Taylor’s AN ARGUMENTATION OF HISTORIANS: She’s 100% an autobuy author and I wasn’t disappointed with this book.  As always, her writing is rich in historical detail without compromising entertainment (honestly, I’ve learnt more history from her books than I did at school).  There’s some properly suspenseful moments in this book, balanced out with lovely touches on the relationships front.    Really satisfying, and one of my favourite books this year so far.

Eileen Wilks’s DRAGON BLOOD: Way too much info-dumping and introspection.  The story just about came together at the end, but this was really the second half to the previous book.  Both books could have been edited down into a single volume IMO.

Patricia Briggs’s BURN BRIGHT: Ah, I loved seeing Anna & Charles again.  And Leah was the proper revelation in this book.  A solid Briggs, so if you like her writing, you’d like this book; if you don’t, this isn’t going to change your mind.

Oh Hey

*dusts off blog*

Safe to say that I’ve had a rather hectic start to 2018, and the easiest thing for me to shelve (temporarily!) was blogging.  But the urge to blog hits me every now and again, and a couple of weeks ago, I was itching to write a post about all the good books I had read over the first couple of months of the year.  Then the Santino Hassell and Riptide Publishing mess came to light, and that kind of sapped all my blogging energies for a bit…

But it’s Easter and the start of a new quarter and technically spring (despite the freezing temperatures and pouring rain), so here’s some book-ish updates to ease back into  the blogging swing of things.

38201274I won an ARC of THE UNDERWATER BALLROOM SOCIETY anthology, edited by Stephanie Burgis and Tiffany Trent (out end April).  I loved the idea of a fantasy anthology centred around a real-life underwater ballroom (okay, a smoking room under a roof aquarium, but still) and it didn’t disappoint.

Standouts for me was Burgis’s own “Spellswept” (a prequel to her fantasy novella SNOWSPELLED – and just as charming), Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “The Queen of Life” (a haunting take on the world of the fae with a rock’n’roll flavour), Iona Datt Sharma’s “Penhallow Amid Passing Things” (what’s not to like about a genderbent tale about  age-old rivalry between smugglers and Revenue inspectors, with magic thrown in for good measure), and Patrick Samphire’s “A Spy in the Deep” (a whodunnit in a alt-hist Regency setting on Mars – I know and yes, it works).  There were others that I didn’t connect with as much, but overall, a strong anthology, and it introduced me to quite a few new-to-me authors that I’ll be looking up.

In other news, the 2018 Hugo nominations are also out!  I’m thrilled that Sarah Rees Brennan got a nod in the (not a Hugo) YA category for IN OTHER LANDS, which I utterly loved.

Other thoughts on the nominees:

Best Novel: I’ve enjoyed John Scalzi’s THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE, but in the way I’ve enjoyed all his books – they’re entertaining and fast-paced, and then I struggle to remember the actual plots a few weeks after.  I’ve the Yoon Ha Lee on my Kindle, waiting to be read, and I’ve been meaning to pick up both the Ann Leckie and NK Jemisin at some point.  I’ve heard of the other two nominees, but neither appealed – I may take a closer look.

Best Novella: Martha Wells appears to be getting a lot of love for ALL SYSTEMS RED – deservedly so!  I’ve always thought she flies under the radar somewhat.  On my to-read list is Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti trilogy (I think?) and the Sarah Gailey one.  Also tor.com is pretty much sweeping the nominations in this category, and it shows what can be done when a publisher really focuses on a particular length IMO.

Best Semiprozine: Hurrah for the Book Smugglers!

Best Series: Interesting.  I’m still not sure if this category is going to have the depth to stand the test of time, but again, good on Martha Wells for the Raksura series nomination.  I’ve given up on Seanan McGuire’s InCryptid series, but seeing that it’s seven books in and going strong, I’m probably in the minority.  Needless to say, I’m a Lois McMaster Bujold fan, so yay for the Chalion series getting some love. The first book of the Marie Brennan series is on my Kindle, so that may give me the nudge I need to start.   I’ve also not really been interested in the Brandon Sanderson books (this is very definitely a minority view) and the Robert Jackson Bennett series is only faintly on my radar, so perhaps I need to check them out.

Finally and more generally, I’m thrilled with the breadth and diversity shown in the nominations list.  Not all may be to my taste, but I’m starting to feel the Hugos are truly representing the SFF reading (and writing) population.

2017: My Favorite Books

Happy New Year everyone!

I’ve done my by-now traditional collation of reading stats – numbers to follow in a separate post, but I will say that despite everything (or perhaps because of) 2017 threw at me, I’ve read more books during the past year than I have in previous years.  By far.  Obviously, there’s nothing like comfort reading.

Having said that, the list of my favourite 2017 reads is shorter than previous years.  In no particular order, these were my very favourite books I read during the year:

Lucy Parker’s PRETTY FACE (contemporary romance): You know when you keep re-reading passages in a book because you really want to savour the words properly?  That was PRETTY FACE for me.  Her leads had an amazing connection with chemistry a-plenty, the dialogue sparkled, and the London setting rang so true.  Basically the perfect romance for me.

Sarah Rees Brennan’s IN OTHER LANDS (fantasy):  I loved this portal fantasy when she serialised it on her blog, and this polished and expanded version is even better.  There’s hidden depths underneath the trademark SRB snark, and social commentary and humour are combined with ease.  Elliot shines as the pacifist hero who grows up but never loses his sense of wonder.

CS Pacat’s THE ADVENTURES OF CHARLS, THE VERETIAN CLOTH MERCHANT (fantasy): Yes, it’s very much a short story (26 pages according to Goodreads), and no, it wouldn’t work for anyone who hasn’t read the Captive Prince trilogy.  But for those who have, this was the perfect capstone to the trilogy, packed full of humour and emotional pay-offs – Charls is the most excellent of narrators, and Laurent and Lamen are on form throughout.

Glynn Stewart’s OPERATION MEDUSA (SF): For an author I only discovered in October, I’ve done a really good job of flying through Glynn Stewart’s backlist (helped very much by Kindle Unlimited, I admit).  OPERATION MEDUSA was packed full of action and suspense, and ended his Castle Federation series in the most satisfying way.

*****************

Ah, because that was such a short list, here are some other books/authors I had a lot of fun reading over 2017:

All of WR Gingell’s books, which is very much the kind of fantasy that appeals to me (intrepid yet sensible heroines, strong friendships, slow-burn romances… you know what I mean).  A few of her books that I liked especially: Shards of a Broken Swords trilogy, WOLFSKIN, and MASQUE.

Ditto for Kate Stradling – again, I read her entire backlist over 2017.  Specific recs: GOLDMAYNE, A FAIRY TALE (a take on a rather obscure fairytale), the duology A BOY CALLED HAWK and A RUMOR OF REAL IRISH TEA (inventive and twisty YA, give it a go even if you’ve been dystopian-ed out), and her Ruses duology (in theory standalone fantasy, but reading the first gives the second much more depth).

Another YA fantasy series I’ve enjoyed is Intisar Khanani’s Sunbolt Chronicles – there’s two books so far.  The first is offered as a freebie now and again so keep an eye out for it, but be warned, it has a rather abrupt ending.  The second, MEMORIES OF ASH, is more of a complete story in itself, and I’m looking forward to the next book.

SK Dunstall’s Linesman books made up a really fun space opera trilogy, with intriguing world-building that hooked me from the start.  I read all three back-to-back, and wasn’t disappointed.

Sports romances are my catnip, and I’m loving the author pairing of Sarina Bowen and Elle Kennedy.  Despite my initial misgivings about the title of the series, I’ve really liked GOOD BOY and STAY.

Last but not least, KJ Charles nailed it with SPECTRED ISLE, her M/M historical romance set in the aftermath of WWI.  She interweaves the paranormal with the ordinary so seamlessly, and always gets the period feel just right.

Kindle Unlimited: My Impressions and a Couple of Recs

If you’re in the UK, I’ve just noticed that Amazon’s offering a free three-month subscription to Kindle Unlimited as part of their Black Friday deals.  It’s normally a one-month trial, so definitely worth considering if you’ve been curious about KU.

I’ve always wondered if an £8/month subscription was worth it, bearing in mind most KU books are self-pubbed and go for between £2-3 anyway.  I had a free two-month trial offer via email the other day, and that finally persuaded me to sign up.

I can now say it was an unequivocal yes for me (and no, this post is not sponsored by Amazon nor are there any affiliate links).  I did do some research (because I’m a geek like that) to confirm that there were KU books that I was interested in before hitting the Subscribe button – to save you some time, here are a couple of authors I would recommend.

9325172Kate Stradling: I discovered her books when I stumbled across her Ruses duology earlier this year.  I loved her voice, and what’s not to like about charming YA fantasies with a satisfying romance?

So I took advantage of the fact that all her books are in KU, and found myself racing through A BOY CALLED HAWK and its sequel, A RUMOUR OF REAL IRISH TEA – these are futuristic YA, so completely different to the previous books, but I thoroughly enjoyed them.  And I would also rec her newest portal fantasy, NAMESAKE, and her take on a lesser-known fairytale in GOLDMAYNE.  So basically all her books.  (Even if you don’t have a KU subscription, her books are really reasonably priced between £0.99 and £2.)

30966931Glynn Stewart: I’ll be honest – at the moment, he is probably the entire reason why my KU subscription has been worth it.  His books sit in on the border between military SF and space opera (with some fantasy mixed in, depending on the series), which is exactly the kind of SF that appeals to me.

I’ve read around 15 of his books to date – seeing that they retail for around £3 each, it’s probably covered my subscription costs for the next few months.  Ironically, the first book of his that I read (STARSHIP MAGE) was by far the weakest – I’m glad that didn’t put me off, because the series gets stronger and stronger, and both the Duchy of Terra and Castle Federation series have been excellent from the start.

As you can probably tell from my not-so-mini glom, his books are addictive page-turners, so much so that I always ensured the next book in the series was downloaded to my Kindle (you can borrow up to ten KU books at any one time, btw).  His books are faintly reminiscent of Marko Kloos with some excellent space battle scenes and characters that really grow on you (though again like Kloos, I am on the fence about the romance threads in his books – I’m picky!).

Any of your favourite authors in KU?  I admit I’ve not really paid any attention to which authors do KU before, so I’d love to get more recs!  Also, shout if you’ve any KU questions, I’m happy to try and answer them.

New (to-me) Find

33867423It’s been a while since I’ve stayed up way past my bedtime to read just one more chapter, but that was pretty much what I was doing all of last week.

Estara recommended W.R. Gingell’s fantasy books some time back, and I finally got around to reading SHARDS OF A BROKEN SWORD, which is a compilation of three of her interlinked shorter novels (novellas?).  Needless to say, I loved it.

Her writing hit all the right buttons for me – she had clever and strong-minded heroines with a keen sense of the absurd, male counterparts who were worthy foils for them, and plots centred around twisty, mysterious puzzles.  I adored the first two stories, though the third felt a bit rushed towards the end.  All in all though, a most refreshingly enjoyable fantasy.

29481285I immediately dived into the second of her books that I own – MASQUE, a Beauty and the Beast retelling, and which, for some reason, has been sitting on my Kindle for a while (I suspect I picked it up when it was for free or discounted).  If you’re like me and don’t care for fairy-tale retellings, don’t worry as I was halfway through the book when I realised the parallels to Beauty (yes, I can be slow).  Again, this was pretty much my catnip – a whodunnit in a fantasy regency-like setting.  While the villain was a bit too obvious, it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story one bit.  I thoroughly loved spending time with Isabella, Lord Pecus, and the rest of Bella’s merry band.

I’m currently reading SPINDLE, which you get for free when you sign up to her newsletter.  If you’ve guessed it’s a Sleeping Beauty (with some added Rapunzel) retelling, you’re right.  I have to say that I’m not loving this as much as the previous two, possibly because Poly has just awoken up from an enchanted sleep and is still trying to find her feet.  She’s different to the very self-assured heroines of the previous books, and I’m missing that self-confidence in her interactions – but things are picking up!  I noticed WR Gingell references Diana Wynne Jones in the dedication of this book, and this story definitely has a DWJ flavour to it.

And once I’m finished with this, well, Gingell’s written a couple more books, and there’s a new release in April.


randombookrec

I feel like this entire post has been a book rec, but here’s another one: Sherwood Smith’s LHIND THE THIEF.  I’ve a soft spot for YA fantasy – my Goodreads review here.

A Rec a Post?

Who can’t wait for 2016 to be over? *raises hand*

World events aside, I’ve been struggling with a cold for the past few weeks now, and a sniffly nose isn’t the best accessory when Christmas party season is in full swing. (I may also have been struggling with a self-inflicted achy head at various points in the past month.)

Anyway, my “a rec a post” idea. I saw this somewhere (can’t quite remember where now – I don’t think it was a book blog, but it was a similar concept), where regardless of the post topic, a recommendation was included at the end.

I freely admit to not blogging that often in 2016, but I liked this idea – I am always able to recommend a book, and it’ll give me a chance to mention both old favourites and new discoveries without feeling obliged to launch into full-blown review mode.

32591947So to end the year, here’s my first rec – Beth Brower’s THE Q. Angie brought it to my attention when she reviewed it a while back, but it’s taken me this long to get around to reading it.  If you were like me and hesitant to jump in based on the very limited blurb, THE Q’s a charming fantasy with a slow-burn romance (basically, it’s my catnip), and I found it reminiscent of Eva Ibbotson’s historical romances.  Quincy St Claire’s life revolves around her great-uncle’s printing business, The Q, and she has one year to save her inheritance.  As the story unfolds, she finds out that saving The Q is much more than retaining control over the business.  While the story starts off slow, stick with it, because the pay-off’s great.

And that’s it for now (I may have to get a bit better at writing snappier recs).

If you celebrate Christmas, happy Christmas, and if you don’t, I hope you get a chance to relax and recharge your batteries for the new year over the next week or so.