Catching Up

Alternate title: You know you’ve not been blogging for a while when you can’t figure out how to get to the New Post page…

*****

I splurged and bought the Kindle Oasis when the previous generation was on sale at Amazon a while back.  It was eye-wateringly expensive (£250) but on sale (usually £290) AND the current version was selling at £320 so I convinced myself it was a bargain.  Especially since I had been eyeing it forever.  And this was the 3G enabled version so I could take it on holiday and download books anywhere as opposed to having to find a wifi hotspot… see, I can talk myself into anything.

The Oasis arrived and well, it was fine.  I’ve had Kindle Paperwhites for a while and I didn’t see a massive improvement in the reading experience.  Don’t get me wrong, the backlit screen is lovely – but so is the Paperwhite screen.  Yes, there are click-y buttons for page turns – but I don’t mind swiping (in fact, I prefer it).  There’s the piece at the side you can use to hold the reader, you can flip it upside down and the screen automatically rotates – but well, really, bearing in mind I paid £90 for my Paperwhite, was all of these worth the extra £160?

So I quietly regretted my impulse buy and filed the purchase under “mistake, do not repeat” folder.

But.

Because of reasons, I ended up only having my Paperwhite with me – and gosh, I noticed the difference immediately.  What I hadn’t appreciated is the larger screen size of the Oasis – it’s a subtle upgrade, but it definitely makes a difference to the reading experience.

Conclusion: I’m still not 100% convinced all the Oasis-only features are worth the extra money, but I can tell the difference and have moved all my ebooks over to the Oasis (which wasn’t easy, though I did take the opportunity to do some TBR-culling…).  I’m still of the opinion that the Paperwhite remains the best ereader around in terms of value for money, but well, I’m not sorry I bought the Oasis now.

*****

47482302._SY475_Did you know Sharon Shinn has released THREE new books?  The Uncommon Echoes trilogy were audiobook originals released earlier in the year, but the ebooks (Kindle Unlimited!) came out very quietly last week (or at least, I wasn’t aware of the release dates).

Very happily, I stumbled upon them on Friday, and spent the weekend flying through all three.  As I said in the comments section of the Dear Author review of the first book, this is Shinn back to her best IMO.

I’ve not really connected with her more recent books, but these stories grabbed my attention from the first chapter.  Like all her backlist, these straddle the border of romance and fantasy.  The concept of echoes (basically silent copies of people) fascinated me, and I really liked the backdrop of intrigues and machinations, and how the complexity and stakes increased throughout the trilogy.  There is so much more I could say about these stories – the contrasts in agency between protagonists, the diversity in the world she’s created, the repeated theme of found family, and her treatment of abuse are all angles I’d love to discuss, but well, this “quick” blog post is already much longer than I planned.

All three books are very different stories, and I’m finding it hard to decide on my favourite.  I’m leaning slightly towards the first book, ECHOES IN ONYX, but they are all very lovely and satisfying reads.

*****

And finally, Dublin 2019 Hugo winners (and the breakdown of votes) are out!  I haven’t had much time to digest the results, so opinions to follow (hopefully).

 

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Ah Summer…

Summer isn’t my favourite season (I dread the boiling Tubes, stifling buses, and actually, thinking about it, everything to do with making my way around a city that isn’t designed for temperatures above 20 degrees).  But summer does mean holidays, drinks in the sunshine, and of course, tennis and Wimbledon especially!  Which is a long-winded way of saying, yeah, I’ve been neglecting this blog.

37712577Let’s see – what have I been up to reading-wise?  I’ve just finished Ilona Andrews’ new release, SWEEP OF THE BLADE.  I skip their online serialised version (because I’m all about instant gratification, and can’t deal with waiting for new chapters), so any Innkeeper story is always brand new to me.

I found SotB lots of fun, it’s the kind of story that doesn’t take itself too seriously and I whizzed through the book over a couple of nights. The Innkeeper series is probably my favourite of the Ilona Andrew books – it feels less… overcrafted somehow?  I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but most of their recent releases feel just a bit too carefully put together to me.  There’s so much description, which throws me out of the story, and I end up skimming.  I stalled halfway through the final Kate book – will have to go back and pick it up again.

I’ve also somehow found my way back to buying physical books.  Perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration – I think I’ve bought six over the past month, but that’s probably not far off how many I bought in total over 2018.  There is something to be said about about browsing in bookstores and impulse buys (or random discoveries).  I haven’t actually finished any of them yet (see summer distractions above), so I’ll have to report back.

On a tangentially-related note, I was really sorry to hear that Less Than Three is closing their doors.  I appreciated how they published books across the queer spectrum which probably would have struggled to get out there otherwise, but totally see how it’s tough for an indie publisher to keep afloat in these times.  Their approach to winding down their business and reverting rights appears to be exemplary though.

So that’s me – how has summer (or winter depending on where you are!) been treating you so far?

 

Recent and Upcoming Reads

Andrea K Höst, whose books are an autobuy for me, posted a couple of weeks ago about hitting 15000 stars on Goodreads.

I’d been meaning to re-read her backlist this year (fitted in between all the new books that I really need to stop buying*) and that was just the prompt I needed.  I was going to start with the Touchstone series, which are probably the most popular of her books, but ended up picking HUNTING because I was in the mood for a standalone fantasy.

13456081This was one of those re-reads where I’d only had a vague memory of the plot outline, and it was a joy to refamiliarise myself with the world and its characters.   HUNTING is packed full of my favourite things really – it’s filled with secret identities and half-truths, murder mysteries and red herrings, all alongside the rekindling of old friendships and making of new allies (and potentially more), so of course I ended up staying up way too late to finish the book.  Now if only there was a sequel…

*Pre-orders that have appeared on my Kindle over the past week (nicely-timed for the Easter weekend, I have to say)

Alex Acks‘s WIRELESS AND MORE STEAM-POWERED ADVENTURES (steampunk fantasy) – the first collection of stories was so much fun, so I’m really looking forward to diving into this one

Jordan Castillo Price‘s MURDER HOUSE (paranormal romance) – I wasn’t blown away by the more recent installments, but I have loved previous PsyCop books so we’ll see!

 

Gloms Galore

It’s barely March and I’ve flown through the backlists of three authors so far this year.  That has to be some kind of a record.  I will caveat this by saying most of the books have been in Kindle Unlimited, which helps!

31311850The first author is probably no surprise if you’ve read my previous post.  I started Rachel Neumeier’s BLACK DOG on an outward-bound flight, and by the time I flew back from holiday, I’d read all three novels in the series, plus the two short story collections.  I’ve had the first book on my Kindle for ages (I suspect I picked it up when it was free at some point), and for some reason, it’s never really appealed – it’s a rather unevocative title, perhaps?  But once I opened the book, Natividad’s story grabbed me and I was hooked.  This is Neumeier doing urban fantasy, so it’s not your standard UF – I loved it.  Yes, there are werewolves and action, but it’s full of feels and relationships, and of course, great worldbuilding.

And having read all Neumeier’s KU books, I’ve tracked down the rest of her backlist in print, mostly because the (traditionally published) e-versions are being listed at silly prices, and umm… the covers are beautiful.  I’m easily swayed like that.  I’m now the proud owner of four Neumeier hardcover/trade paperbacks, which is probably the most print books I’ve bought for a while.  Totally worth it, I have to say.

73764Having finished with Rachel Neumeier’s backlist, I then picked up Mary Burchell’s MASQUERADE WITH MUSIC, partly because Jayne @ Dear Author had been singing Burchell’s praises for a while and also because it was free.  It turned out to be the twelfth book in what is rather grandly titled “The Warrender Saga”, but is really a loosely-connected series with the main characters from the first book making appearances (sometimes cameos, sometimes more) in the following books.

Needless to say, I inhaled the whole series (and yes, all in KU) – there was something about the old-fashioned charm and romance in these books, combined with the author’s very evident love and knowledge of music, which was just what I needed.  Reading all thirteen books in one go makes Burchell’s favoured plots quite obvious – there is liberal use of the Big Misunderstanding (which I quite like), as well as ones where the heroine deliberately conceals the truth and it all comes unravelled at some point (this, I like much less).  The books were written over the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and so are period-contemporary in nature; I love discovering books like these as I feel they give more of an unfiltered perspective on the era as opposed to being written through a modern perspective – does that make sense?

And finally, my latest explorations have been within Jonathan P Brazee’s military SF backlist.  He caught my eye when one of his stories was nominated for the Nebula awards, and I noticed most of his MilSF books were in KU.  It’s going to sound like damning with faint praise (and maybe it is!), but they’re fast-paced and undemanding reading, and the kind of books I need right now.

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?

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.

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…