A Month of Books: February

Phoenix Unbound by Grace Draven: I will be honest, I was a bit conflicted about reading this book. I love Grace Draven’s other fantasy-romance series, but the Goodreads reviews on this one were sharply split between high stars and low stars, with few in between. After having read it, I’d say I’m still a bit conflicted, but I think I know why. It’s mostly a pacing thing. For the first 100 pages, events happen in a tight chronological order, which lends it a fast-paced, almost claustrophobic opener. The next 200-something pages, the pacing shifts; there’s long stretches that are covered with a short time-passing transition, and months go by rather quickly. Firstly, once you’re past the first 100 pages, it becomes clearly a Grace Draven novel, so if you’re reading and, like me, felt unsure about the beginning, stick with it. For me at least, this choice of pacing and presentation had a fascinating emotional impact. Because of that fast-paced, intense first 100 pages, for a long while after, I found myself braced for it to slip back into that style, and it took me time before I realized that…it wasn’t going to. Which seemed to echo Gilene’s emotional state as she slowly comes to trust Azarion. You brace, ready for the situation to get worse, so much worse…but over time, you come to trust that it won’t. Even when things escalate at the end, it’s a different kind of escalation than in the beginning, and it almost feels safely epic. I will, however, warn that there is a lot of allusions to rape, physical and mental abuse, and slavery, especially at the beginning. It’s a hell of a dark start for what will, eventually, become a rather sweet romance built on trust and friendship, so if this is a concern, then I recommend steering clear of Phoenix Unbound and pick up Radiance instead. That said, for all my initial uncertainty, I enjoyed it.

Paladin’s Grace by T. Kingfisher: As always, T. Kingfisher’s fantasy-romance adventure tales are an absolute delight. This one came as a wonderful and unexpected surprise (I totally was going to read something else but…this was releasing in a week so…). While similar to Swordheart, the tone is more solemn, more somber, a bit more like Clockwork Boys (Paladin’s Grace, for more reason than one, felt a bit like a merging of Swordheart and Clockwork Boys, which, I might note, is certainly not a strike against it), though it has it’s moments of outrageous hilarity. Like Clockwork Boys, we have angsty guilt-ridden paladins yet, like Swordheart, they’re more militant types and, like Swordheart, the romance is pretty front-and-center (well, there’s also the poisoning thing. And the court-room drama. And the, er, heads—it’s a brilliant blend of a lot of different subgenres that work together, though on the surface, they shouldn’t). Like much of Kingfisher’s work, there’s this underlying note of darkness (in this case, someone is murdering people and, er, leaving only the decapitated head around—the answer to that little mystery is a bit disturbing). But Stephen is delightfully outraged that people are not taking this threat seriously! Honestly, this combination of weird and wondrous and tinged with a slight shadow of horror reminds me a lot of Doctor Who (both classic and reboot). Grace, with her sense of smell superpower (it isn’t really, she’s a perfumer so her sense of smell is a bit…keener than the rest of the world, but she also has training to identify smells), and Stephen, with his hobby of knitting,  fit so wonderfully together. And I still love the idea of solicitors sacrosanct and the White Rat, and I was thrilled to see Zale again.

Clockwork Boys and The Wonder Engine by T. Kingfisher: I’m reading these all out of order. I started with Swordheart, moved on to Paladin’s Grace, and am now doubling back for what was originally the start (not quite of a series, but perhaps more of the world) but I just never quite managed to read it. So! Finally reading Clockwork Boys and I must ask myself why it has taken me so long. I am also going to review these two as one, since they’re very much structured as one novel broken in two, rather than two stand-alones (though, hypothetically, I suppose you could read The Wonder Engine without having read Clockwork Boys). I’m a bit torn on the end. While it’s ostensibly what I wanted, at the same time, I feel a little conflicted about how things resolved (and while I recognize that one character’s death was, emotionally, resonant, I feel I would’ve appreciated the twist being a little less sudden, particularly since I’d grown quite attached to that character). I also felt there were two rather large plot threads that didn’t get addressed all that much, and I’d have appreciated another touch or two, since everything else was bundled quite neatly (Boss Horsehead and the removal of the tattoos, namely; I would’ve really liked things to have come full-circle with a short epilogue addressing the tattoos, seeing that it isn’t explicitly stated that they’re, er, moot). The romance in these two, by the way, is not quite the same sort of fluffy of Swordpoint or Paladin’s Grace, and I appreciated that. The tone here is darker, and the two love interests are so clearly broken people, and certain events lead to a period of grieving which the narrative doesn’t shy from. There’s also so many bits that so brilliantly characterizes the characters in a line or two, making them both complicated and utterly fascinating. While the duology is probably not my favorite, it’s still a damn good read.

A Month of Books: December

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard: I would argue that this is less a novella and more of a long novelette. It is very short, and because of that shortness, it had more of the texture of a short story—of language, sparseness of description, precise but possibly a little linear plotting—than it did a novella, and I admit, I went into it expecting more of a novella approach. That said, the world is absolutely fascinating and I loved the concept of sentient ships (and their names!), especially the idea that since the central core of the ships are born of humans (it’s questionable if they are humanoid, since the description of a ship’s core is vague) they have human blood-relations. The Tea Master and the Detective utilizes the Sherlock Holmes and Watson archetype, with Sherlock as Long Chau, an incredibly drugged but brilliant deductionist (honestly, this interpretation of Sherlock Holmes is the most true to the original source material’s personality and presence I think I’ve seen yet) and Watson as The Shadow’s Child, a sentient ship who brews specially crafted teas to help humans acclimate to “deep spaces.” The cultural world-building is absolutely fascinating, but because of the novella’s short length, it’s much more a story of character and culture than it is about solving the mystery. My only quibble was the sparseness of description when it came to the ships. I had little idea what The Shadow’s Child‘s avatar looked like most of the time, and I’m still unsure if a ship’s core is a humanoid being grafted into the ship or a biological mass of brain and heart.

Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks: Oh! Look! Graphic novel! And an adorable little romance story about figuring out the person who’s your person is sometimes your best friend. It’s refreshing to read a story with a bi/pan character where their sexuality and dating history is not considered weird or something to make noise about! Meredith has dated most of her coworkers and it isn’t treated as either, 1. a joke or 2. something reprehensible. Plus! Josiah has never dated anyone, and again, that’s treated as totally valid and not the butt-end of a joke. It is also refreshing to read a graphic novel/comic where the female/fem characters have a wide array of body types! Admittedly, it’s still limited when it comes to heavier body shapes, but it’s better than it usually is. And the art is wonderfully expressive and cute and fits the feel of the story quite well.


And so, we get to half of the reason why I haven’t read all that much this month: TV. Oh, there’s just so much good TV being released. The other half is that I’m currently reading/editing a novel to get it ready for betas, thus, much of my reading brain-space is claimed already. Also, holidays.

First one up: Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2, which I have been waiting for the DVD release for months because I don’t have CBS All Access (this will become a point later).

Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2: Definitely more ‘Trek than the first season. It’s doing it’s own thing, but has callbacks to the Original Series, and with that cliffhanger end, I’m starting to wonder if every season is an almost homage to each of the individual series within the great blanket of Star Trek. First season almost felt like a gritty Enterprise. Season 2 is more Original Series, and not just because of Captain Pike and Spock. Next season seems to be setting up an almost Voyager-esque season. We’ll see if my theory pans out.

My one, major quibble with this season was the events of episode 6: “The Sound of Thunder”, where the Discovery is summoned/led to Saru’s home planet. The setup was intriguing, and I was sure this was going to lead into a two-parter, but then the end happened and I was left feeling very blah. I mean, really? Discovery? You’re just going to leave? You basically set fire to this planet’s (very oppressive, highly morally questionable) society, culture, and political sphere, and then you just…leave and say, “Oh, they’ll sort it out.” Ah, no. I don’t care how much the Kelpiens believe in balance, the Ba’ul were fully prepared to launch a species-wide genocide after thousands of years of oppression and “culling” the Kelpien population for control. You don’t just leave. They are not going to sort this out. I’d be better with this if there was a mention of passing this particular thorny mess to the Star Fleet Diplomatic Corps. That would make sense, where Discovery backs out because they’re not trained for this. But…to leave in silence, then have the Kelpiens swoop in at the end using Ba’ul ships…seriously makes me question if Kaminar has two species any longer, or if the Kelpiens wiped out the Ba’ul and got their tech.

Now, my other quibble is with the series as a whole or, at least, how CBS is making it almost impossible not to pay for their All Access option. See, there’s a moment right at the end of the season that relies entirely on a previously established relationship between two characters…that wasn’t introduced in Discovery. Nope, this was actually in the Short Treks spin-off series, something I hadn’t even realized was a thing. Because I hadn’t known that this was going to be a semi-requirement in order to understand, I then spent an inordinate amount of time switching discs, looking for the episode I missed, then, when I couldn’t find it, assumed it was something I’d forgotten from season 1, so went back to my bingeing. It wasn’t until after watching the two-parter season finale that I found out that one character was introduced in a Short Treks episode, and that’s why I couldn’t find it. *grumble grumble grumble* I may, may, break down and get the All Access subscription when the third season releases, just so I can binge-watch Season 3 and all the Short Treks episodes I missed.

I sobbed at a character’s death. This is not unusual, I sob fairly easily at character deaths, particularly if that character then has a moving funeral (this one did). Favorite scene, by far, was Michael asking Spock if he really thinks the beard is working. *sigh* Highlight of the season.

The WitcherOh, I’ve been waiting for this for months. Months and months and months.

I liked the split focus between the three central characters. That said, I have the benefit of having read some of the books quite a few years ago, which might’ve been for the best. While I was familiar with who was important and why they were in the story, my memory has gone fuzzy on the details, so I wasn’t actively comparing the adaptation with the source material (which I think a few reviewers were, whether consciously or unconsciously). That said, the, er, multiple timeline structure is confusing as all hell, and I can only assume it’s even more confusing for those who have neither read the books or played the games (I’m more recent on the games; I binge-played The Witcher III about two years ago and did a story/craft analysis on it). For the first two episodes and much of the third, I was holding two possibilities in mind: either it’s a multi-timeline story where they didn’t mark the timelines as being separate OR they decided to make everything happen concurrently…which would’ve been odd, but it is an adaptation, so…

It wasn’t until the third episode where there’s some overlap with royals’ ages that I figured out it was the former not the latter, and things started making sense. So my one bit of advice for those who haven’t seen it and haven’t read the books, know that Geralt’s and Yennifer’s timelines are occurring decades before Ciri is even born. Geralt’s timeline is mostly the short stories (most of which can be found in The Last Wish), Yennifer’s is backstory that’s referenced (as far as I remember), and Ciri’s is a lead-up to the events of the first book. In a way, it embodied my frustrations when I read the novels (I clearly remember throwing the first book down with an exasperated cry of, “It’s just a PROLOGUE?”).

Which probably explains the tonal conflict and the occasional sudden shifts in emotional tone between episodes. Geralt’s timeline isn’t running as chronologically as Ciri’s, so there’s gaps and spaces of unspoken years between events (and it’s easy to miss when there’s been a time-skip). While I enjoyed this, I can see how this would definitely rub people wrong.

There were some choices with Yen’s backstory that I was a bit iffy on, but I realize that much of it is drawn from the books (it just hasn’t aged well, in my opinion), and there was a point where I was certain there was a blatant contradiction; they might end up addressing that in the next season, so *shrug*. I also question, if a viewer doesn’t know who Ciri is and who she becomes, whether or not her story would feel as vital/compelling as it does to someone who does know.

Much like with Carnival Row, I await season 2 to see where they take this. I also feel the strong urge to replay The Witcher III: Wild Hunt*.

Other shows binge-watched this month:

  • Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators, Season 2
  • Death in Paradise, Season 8

Shows that I anticipate binge-watching:

  • Murdoch Mysteries, Season 13**
  • Brokenwood Mysteries, Season 6**

* However! I did just fix Skyrim and I’m happily binge-playing that while working on edits, so…it might be awhile.
** Acorn TV is doing a slow-release schedule for both of these of one episode a week. Which curtails my binge-plans.

A Month of Books: November

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine: Okay, I love this book. It is such a delicious, rich, flavorful book, and it touches on so many things that I, personally, find fascinating. Culture and cultural exchange across cultures. Language and how language changes. The idea of being in love with a culture not your own, and equally being afraid of that culture subsuming yours. The question of what it means to be human. The whole concept of memory and personality, and the effect each has on the other, plus the fascinating question of, if you have two sets of memories, one present and one past, are they the same person? Are they different? And where, when memories of two different people are combined into one brain, we become I and I become we? And what it would be like to experience memories that aren’t yours? (True, I’m biased, since that’s one of the major elements I’ve been exploring in my own novel, so it’s wonderful to see someone else tackling the same questions that I am, but with a different lens and perspective*). I am also excited to learn that this is only book 1, and that all those dangling plot threads at the end might be answered in the next installment (and it’s saying something that I didn’t even notice there were unanswered questions till I started writing this, the end was so satisfying). True, I will now have to wait until 2020 to read A Desolation Called Peace, but will mean that future-me will have the satisfaction of a good read.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Irreverently giggle-inducing, often gruesome, and occasionally downright weird. The combination of magic and space ships is both different and pleasantly jarring—those shouldn’t work together, and every so often, don’t seem to work together, BUT the mixture is unique and unexpected, and I felt that outweighed the odd hiccup. In a way, the plot’s structure reminded me of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, with a cast of characters with dubious morals trapped on/in an inescapable location, being murdered one by one, the only suspects each other. And that end. All I will say about that end is “Hm. Now that is interesting.” However, just as a note, the beginning can be a bit tricky; there’s a lot of jargon and quite a few sentences that I needed to read a second time to get their meaning. But once they’re at Canaan House, I found things either smoothed out or I gelled with the writing style, and it became easier, and once a certain conversation happened late in the book, the relationship between the main characters sat better with me. It also has a tendency to leave things visually vague, which calls for the reader to do some imagination legwork. Unrelated to the actual content of the book, the hardcover with the black side-trim is absolutely gorgeous, a total work of art. It’s such a pretty book. Harrow the Ninth looks like it’ll be just as pretty (and maybe answer some of my blasted questions!).

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold: So. This year at Windycon, I was on a panel devoted entirely to discussing the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, in particular The Vorkosigan Saga (the theme this year was Space Opera), and I realized it’d been awhile since I’d reread the earlier books in the series, seeing that with this latest reread, I was for some unfathomable reason reading the books backwards. So I jumped back and realized…I’d conflated a lot of the events in The Warrior’s Apprentice with events in The Vor Game. Anyway, it’s interesting to go back to young Miles, and to see what’s being setup for later books.

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold: Continuing my reread in preparation for the panel. Not much to say other than, still vastly enjoyable, four rereads later. Seriously, The Vorkosigan Saga is one of those where I can read and reread and not be bored, even though I know how everything turns out. Instead, I get to look forward to the parts I know are coming, and it’s with giddy anticipation that I read. The Vor Game is still a delightful romp, pre-Miles-as-professional-deep-cover-agent, so it’s just so much fun to see him mess up and save it, and somehow make it look like he was planning for that eventuality the entire time.

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold: Cetaganda can be a bit…odd, compared to the others. Tonally, in some ways, it’s almost more in line with the later books after Miles is medically forced to retire from his double life as Admiral Naismith. This one is, in a way, an early precursor to Miles Vorkosigan, the Imperial Auditor, since he gets to investigate and do his hero-ing under his own name. Only thing is, all his heroics end up swept under the rug of “so classified, the classification is classified” due to him…saving? what is, ostensibly, the enemy. However, the thing I so love, absolutely love, about this one is the humanizing of the Cetagandans. Up until this point, they were more of bogeymen wearing terrifying face paint; there’s a brief moment of screen-time for them in The Warrior’s Apprentice, but for the most part in the first few books, they’re either a threat in the past or faceless ships. It’s in Cetaganda that we get to see them as individuals…and they are simultaneously characterized as both incredibly alien and incredibly human.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 edited by Carmen Maria Machado (series editor: John Joseph Adams): This one was intriguing to analyze from the perspective of a writer writing and submitting short stories. While the majority of my reading tends to be novels, I do enjoy a good short story, particularly during my lunch break. Anyway, the majority of stories included in this year’s The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy leaned heavily into unusual/nontraditional story structures, often riffing on other forms not usually used for fiction (such as “Poor Unfortunate Fools” by Sylvia Park, which is told as an academic paper, “STET” by Sarah Gailey, which is told through editing notes and notations, and “Dead Air” by Nino Capri, which is an audio transcription), but had its fair share of traditional narratives as well (and an interesting use of second person right off the bat in “Pitcher Plant” by Adam-Troy Castro).

Godblind by Anna Stephens: Hrm. I’m conflicted on this one. On the one hand, I devoured this book in two days, and it’s not a small book. It was compelling and kept me turning pages. On the other, it didn’t feel quite…deep enough for what I was wanting. I like to be entirely immersed in my fantasy, and Godblind seemed more keen on fast pacing than immersion. Yes, it moves at a very quick clip; things start spiraling out of control for the main characters practically from the get-go and don’t let up. But that fast pace is at the expense of the world- and character-building (more so world than character). It also has a lot of viewpoint characters (ten, count them, ten!), which can give you a bit of whiplash when you go from one end of the country to the other in the space of three pages (though if I remember right, Mark Lawrence did something very similar with Red Sister, so it might just be a mark of the subgenre). These two things combined in such a way that the book didn’t—hm—have the chewiness I like in my fantasy. Still, if you’re a fan of fast-paced grimdark, Godblind is a good addition to the genre. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.


* I also have found a new comp title for when I start querying the new novel. Am pleased. Am very pleased.

A Month of Books: October

Immortal Born by Lynsay Sands: Ah, the newest edition to the ongoing romance saga. I’m conflicted on this one. The premise intrigued me and I’ve been looking forward to it for a few months now, but in execution it’s…not the strongest. For one thing, I didn’t find it all that funny, and usually, I’m cracking up reading these. Not one snicker. Secondly, there’s a lot of character cameos from previous books in here. To the point that it’s a bit of a name-soup (doesn’t help that it’s been well over a year, year and half since I read most of these, so I struggled to remember who was who and married to who (most of the time, I failed)). The romance was also weirdly weak (there’s almost no flirting, no banter, and little courtship–no one worked for this romance), and the plot…to a certain degree, felt a lot like the plot from book #21. I dunno. This one wasn’t one of my favorites.

The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold: Speaking of favorites! Erm, I seem to be reading a lot of Lois McMaster Bujold these past few months. In my defense, I am scheduled on a panel in November discussing her work (primarily the Vorkosigan Saga, but the panel description seems flexible, so we’ll probably end up talking about her fantasy, too), so my excuse is that I’m brushing up on the ones I haven’t read as recently?* I’ve always felt The Hallowed Hunt was underappreciated by Goodreads readers, and I enjoyed it for all the differences others seemed to have disliked. Ingrey is prickly, and takes some time to get used to, and may, at first, seem to have a stunted emotionality (not true though! It’s just subtle). He’s less, on the whole, as sympathetic a character as the other two, but I really, really do like his insistence that for a wolf-ridden shaman warrior, he’s supposed to be normal. He wants nothing to do with all this uncanny nonsense!

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold: Oh, I’m reading these all out of order. Ah, well. Fourth reread of this one? I think? It’s interesting to view it as part of the series as a whole and to see where and how the world of the five gods evolved from here. We haven’t had much mention of death magic/miracles in the later books (it’s been awhile since I read the earlier Penric & Desdemona novellas, so maybe it’s in there and I’ve forgotten), but in The Curse of Chalion, it is CENTRAL. I’ve also found that the more times I reread this book, the clearer the scenes become, while simultaneously, I’m better able to see the structure of the novel as a whole. Now comes the question, do I continue on to The Paladin of Souls or continue my reread of the Vorkosigan Saga…

The Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold: Well, that answers that. So far, with every reread, there’s this one scene a little past the midway mark of the book that never fails to leave me misty-eyed. It isn’t a death scene, it isn’t a heart-breaking moment of grief but, rather, a moment of kindness and hope, and I still find it deeply moving, even when I know the scene is coming. This read-through, I noticed that, in a weird way, the romance is sort of a subversion of the guy-gets-the-girl trope, where Ista’s love interest is definitely divinely inclined to her, and he might be a little bit of a reward to entice her back to the material world, but it’s pretty clear they’re a reward for each other, in the end. Still. It was interesting to notice that this time around.

Penric’s Demon, Penric and the Shaman, Penric’s Fox, Penric’s Mission, Mira’s Last Dance, The Prisoner of Limnos, and The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold: Because of my earlier statement that death magic/miracles doesn’t come up as a central plot element in later books, I felt it necessary to reread all of the Penric and Desdemona novellas in order to back up that claim. For science. And the answer is…nope, doesn’t come up again as a major plot point, at least, not yet. The series is still, as far as I’m aware, still going. This seems to be the month for rereading. Probably because I’m so, so close to finishing the initial draft of this book I’ve been working on. I’ve been returning to old favorite reads rather than striking out with something new. They’re just…so wonderfully comfortable, you know? As a side thing, I dream of owning a print copy hardcover of Penric’s Demon. I wasn’t able to afford these till after it’d gone out of print, and now that it’s a collector’s item, I definitely can’t afford it. Which is unfortunate, seeing that I have the others.


* This is a lie. I would’ve re-read it regardless.

A Month of Books: August

Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold: Reread! Because, for some reason, this time around, I’m reading the whole of the Vorkosigan Saga backward? The series is one of my comfort reads and, when I have no idea what to read next, I pick one up and start reading ’cause I know I’ll enjoy it. Every time through, I come away with new things to analyze. This time, it was plot structure.

The Writer’s Book of Doubt by Aidan Doyle: A bit of a cheat, I suppose, seeing that I haven’t finished it yet, so this semi-review will be truncated, but it’s so far been worth taking the extra time with. Most of the essays are based on blog posts, so tend to be short, but at the same time, since they’re based on concise blog posts, also have a lot of thoughts and information to unpack. And it’s a broad swathe of different topics relating to writing, self-doubt, and the parts (pleasant, unpleasant, and everything in between) of being a creative in a field that depends so much on audience interaction and how to make your way, ranging from hobbyist to professional. Though mostly geared toward writers, quite a bit of it, I think, is applicable to other art forms, so it might be worth a look for non-writers too. Highly recommended (and I haven’t even finished it yet!).

The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold: *squeeeee* More Penric and Des! I had no idea this released last month (I was a bit distracted) but it makes a wonderful surprise gift in the middle of August. As usual, the new installment of Penric and Desdemona is a joyful delight. Interestingly Pen swears a great deal in this one (true, he is having a very bad day) and he and Des get to go full-chaos-demon/sorcerer on a bunch of pirates–which is definitely the most chaos they’ve indulged in on-screen (I think), and it is glorious. On a writing-craft note, this is an excellent example of ramping-up complications. Every single time Pen has a plan, everything goes completely wrong and he ends up having to come up with another plan…which also goes wrong.

Heart of Fire by Bec McMaster: I’m on a romance-roll, it appears. Also, people with the name “McMaster”? Anyway, romance! And dragons! A combination I haven’t had much experience reading, but now I wonder…why have I not? This was a recommendation from a friend (whose reading tastes and my own often align) and I was not steered wrong! Honestly, a delight to read, Freyja and Rurik’s dialogue/banter is a blast, but most of all, they seem to be having so much fun. There’s an element here of play. Their banter is, often, funny to read, but they’re clearly enjoying themselves, and when the joke is at the other’s expense, it’s consensually at the other’s expense. I like my romances sweet or funny, and this one is both sweet and funny. Also, dragons. It’s interesting though that while the characters get their HEA, the end leaves much unresolved; the pair seem set up for another adventure together, and it’s heavily hinted that even though they have their HEA, they’re going to meet with conflict for their choice later…but the series is constructed as a romance series, meaning the next book will focus on a different couple. But I have downloaded the next so…

Firefly: The Unification War, Part One by Greg Pak, Dan McDaid, Marcelo Costa: Oh, hey, comic! I usually read comics/graphic novels in mass binges when the series is complete (or near completion), but in this case, it was sitting on the New Books shelf at my library and caught my eye. Amusing and entertaining, though I think, if I read any of these in future, I’ll watch the show just before so I can have the character/actor voices in my head. I think it’ll add another dimension.

Two Months of Books: June & July

An Illusion of Thieves by Cate Glass: *Inarticulate squealing noise* READ IT. Read it now. Okay, so this is by one of my all-time favorite writers, though under her pen name, and I have been waiting for a new book from her for years. And it was definitely worth the wait and then some! As a caveat, I do note that it starts off slowly, building the characters and showing them gaining the skills they’ll need later for the heist, but it means I got to enjoy Romy’s voice and narration that much longer. The world is richly detailed and a joy to submerge myself into, the characters are a fascinating delight to get to know and magnificently flawed, and there’s a lining of hope trimming this magic-heist adventure fantasy. Also, it’s just a hell of a lot of fun to read. Counting down the months to the release of book two, A Conjuring of Assassins! (As a side-note, the cover art for book two was just released and it’s as gorgeous as the art on book one.)

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon: The more I read this, the more I came to the realization that this book wasn’t for current-me. Teenager-me would’ve not only have devoured this book in days, but it would’ve gone down as one of my ultimate favorites that I’d carry with me well into adulthood. Adult-me is, unfortunately, too genre-savvy: I called too many of the twists, the conventions, the setups, and I was very rarely surprised, but because of the natural distance of an epic narration, I wasn’t emotionally invested enough that I didn’t care. It’s a very long book to feel ‘meh’ over. Perhaps this is a side-effect of being a writer and a student of story structure, perhaps epic fantasy of a traditional, Tolkien-esque style no longer interests me the way it once did. I would, however, recommend this to readers who love the epic fantasy structure, who adore the genre and its tropes, and want something different (because this book with it’s many female characters subverts that worn, tired “men on a quest to save the world, the only women are servants and walk-ons and maybe that princess” story that is so, so common) OR readers who are just coming to epic fantasy, and aren’t well-versed in the expectations and characterizations of the genre.

A Study in Honor by Claire O’Dell: This is a fascinating re-imagining of Holmes and Watson that takes the original source material and (brilliantly) turns it on its head. In A Study in Honor, civil war has broken out in a near-future USA, and Captain Janet Watson, after losing her left arm (a problem if you’re a surgeon), has been discharged and sent, unmoored, into civilian life in Washington D.C. with a fritzy robotic arm that doesn’t fit and few prospects. One thing leads to another, and she encounters Sara Holmes, who is brilliant, baffling, and has an air of secrets and danger. I usually don’t read near-future sci-fi, preferring mine space-faring and operatic in scope, but as disturbingly possible a future as O’Dell paints, it’s also not entirely dystopic (though, erm, leans more heavily in that direction). It’s fantastic, and I look forward to reading book two (The Hound of Justice). Highly recommended.

Swift for the Sun by Karen Bovenmyer: Pirates! Swashbuckling! Romance! Adventure! Also, I find it fascinating to look at how romances differ for their marketing demographic. In a straight HEA romance, it’s usually marriage that’s the end goal. In this M/M HEA romance, it’s not just marriage. It’s also acceptance, discovering others who are like yourself, and finding a safe space to be. That’s what makes this a HEA end. Similarly to the contemporary romance a few months ago, historical romance is usually not my jam, BUT I appreciated how much diversity there is in this. It’s a pleasant change to most romances, especially historical romances that are usually viewed through a straight, white (almost always female) lens. My one minor quibble (and seriously, it’s minor) is how much the two characters who look like brothers remark on this similarity, and I quibble this only because (I want to say) most people do not have an accurate mental picture of what they themselves look like, particularly facial features and maybe hair. I can see comparing skin color just ’cause you can hold your arm up next to the other person, but not faces. It’s an observation I would’ve personally preferred be something only other characters remarked on, but this is a quibble.

A Month of Books: May

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik: I absolutely loved Uprooted and I’ve been a Temeraire fan for years, and though I should’ve read this ages ago, I’d been on hold for the e-book of Spinning Silver through my library for months before I finally got my hands on it. It’s a very different read from Uprooted; they’re more like two standalones loosely connected thematically, not book one and book two. The world-building and incorporation of Russian fairy tales and folklore was exquisite, and the approach to the storytelling voice-style fits that almost oral-tradition feel. It also had so many moments where clever characters did clever things and I went, “YES! They’re doing the thing!” The one… well, quibble, I had was the use of six first person viewpoint characters. At first, when it was alternating between Miryem and Wanda, there was such a difference in their voices, it wasn’t difficult to know who was who, but as the novel continued, new PoV characters were introduced, and by the end, there were a total of six. None of these shifts are marked in any way other than a scene or chapter break (so no little helpful character names at the top, like in The Kingdom of Copper). It’s a novel that you need to take your time readingWhile it isn’t long (especially not when held up beside The Priory of the Orange Tree) skimming or reading quickly is a fast track to confusion. Pace yourself. That said, definitely worth the wait.

From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris: I attempted this one after I first got it last summer, and it didn’t click with me. Back at it again, and I finally realized why I’d struggled with it the first time: I was reading the book wrong. See, I’d walked in assuming it’d be more like a fantasy political thriller with assassinations and world-changing magic and the constant threat of brewing war. And while there are elements of that here, that isn’t what this book is. It’s a fantasy of manners. This is Pride & Prejudice with a dash of Downtown Abbey in a fantastical alternate history Rome. And, thus, the stakes are very, very different. The first time around, I couldn’t understand why there was so much focus placed on Latona and her relationships with her family, or Sempronius and his scheming and hiding, but this time, understanding what kind of book this was completely shifted my expectations and how I approached it. Like Spinning Silver, it is a more ponderous read.

Weekends Required by Sydney Landon: My coworker has been trying to convert me to this series for ages. She and I sometimes… well, it’s not buddy-reading, more like competitive see-who-can-finish-first buddy-reading for certain romance series, and this is one of her absolute go-to favorites. So I’ve given it a whirl and have found that it’s not my cup of tea. I don’t read much contemporary romance, preferring more speculative in my raunchy fiction, and with this one, I might’ve been too aware of it as a story to sit back and let it take me on an adventure. Storyteller-brain was too preoccupied with analyzing the structure and dialogue and anticipating plot twists, that I didn’t sink in very well into the experience overall and wasn’t emotionally invested (at least, not in the right way). There were also some choices that I, on a personal level (not as a writer, but as a person), disagreed with, and I often disagreed with the handling of said issues. It’s a very quick read, though. In future, I think I’ll stick to my paranormal romances with vampires and werewolves or my fantasy romances with a side-order of swashbuckling adventure.


Not so many books this month. I’m beta-reading a friend’s awesome novel, and I may have binge-watched all four seasons of Lucifer, which kinda ate my reading-time. Which just means…more books next month!