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!

A Month of Books: April

 

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison: This was an absolute delight. Yet another book from about four, five years ago that I managed to somehow miss (and I have no excuse, I was at the Nebulas the year this book was nominated). The story is a fantastic inversion of the classic “scion to the throne becomes king/emperor and everyone lives happily ever after” trope, depicting the sudden ascension to the throne in a far more realistic (and challenging, and baffling) way. Poor Maia. I’d never really considered how much a loss of privacy being emperor would be. I adore the world-building, and I love that the elves/goblins’ ears flick and move with their emotions, and how Katherine Addison approached the whole informal/formal speech modes. There are, however, a massive cast of characters, many of which with similar sounding names, and due to me having read the e-book, it wasn’t easy to flip back and consult the cast list, though for the most part, my confusion was momentary and sorted itself out by the end of the paragraph. And I read somewhere there’s a sequel in the works, and it’s a mystery, and I love the combination of fantasy and mystery…

Knife Children by Lois McMaster Bujold: A reread, but mostly because the first time I read it, I’d woken up at four in the morning, discovered that she’d released a new novella, and proceeded to devour it in one sitting (so to speak). This time, I went slower and savored it. For me, it’s the epilogue, with the conversation between Barr and his father, that resonates the most. The rest of the story is classic Bujold, delivering everything I’ve come to want and anticipate in her work, and is delightful. The epilogue, though, has this one, brief section that touches on the concept that in bringing/creating a life, one also inevitably creates a death, and the phrasing of that idea… it left me mulling over it for days after.

The Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty: If you have not read The City of Brass, reeeeead it. And then come back here. Though I try not to have too much in the way of spoilers in these mini-reviews, this being book two of a series I adore, I can’t guarantee there won’t be a spoiler or two. This trilogy is one of those hard-to-define, cross-genre creations that’s superb in its combination and the execution of its elements and story (it’s a fantasy, historical fantasy, portal fantasy, with a hint of urban fantasy, combining it with Middle Eastern culture and history and tradition and it’s, gah! It’s amazing. Read The City of Brass, read The Kingdom of Copper, and join me in fan-girling over this author ’cause this is just  incredible stuff). More than that, Chakraborty routinely takes me by surprise. Whenever I think I see where the story is going, recognize the tropes and patterns in the storytelling, it jinks sideways and that fills me with such delight. I love the feeling of getting to the end of a book, and things are slotting together, but in a way that’s both inevitable yet, at the same time, completely unexpected, and I start cackling under my breath, and when I finally turn the last page, close the book, I drum my fists on the table demanding “More! More!” The Kingdom of Copper is precisely that sort of book, and I absolutely can’t wait to see how everything comes together in The Empire of Gold. Sadly, I must wait until January 2020, but part of me is grateful I didn’t read The Kingdom of Copper the moment it was delivered to my doorstep. Now, the wait is only… *does math* eight and half-ish months instead of a full year.

The Trouble With Vampires by Lynsay Sands: Ah, book 29. Isn’t that a lovely thing to be able to say? Book 29 of a series? Anyway, I do like that many of these have that mystery element. They usually catch me totally by surprise ’cause I’m too busy watching the romance to kick my analytical brain in gear and start looking at suspects. And, oh, I so love the humor in these. They make me snicker so much. I make a happy squee noise whenever I hear there’s a new one coming out soon, and the new installment fulfills all expectations with a nice mix of romance, humor, and mystery, though this one delivers a twist. The usual explanation-spiel about the history of immortals (often mistakenly called vampires), the lost city of Atlantis, and nanos gets truncated in this one, but a new possible threat from a group called the Brass Circle is introduced, so I’m curious to see where the next one goes. We’re running out of singles! By my count, there’s only Zanipolo from the Notte branch of the family and maybe the new girl introduced at the end, and after that…? Will the series jink like it did with that Enforcers trilogy? Or will the next book introduce more characters? Or *gasp* could it possibly be drawing to a close? (Noooooo! I need my vampires from Atlantis fix!)

Not as many books this month as I may have hoped; I got distracted by binge-watching the first four seasons of Grimm. It devoured a lot of my reading time.

A Month of Books: March

Stalking Darkness by Lynn Flewelling: Technically a reread, but it’s been almost ten years since I read the series originally, so things have kinda blurred. In some ways, it still holds up well. In others, it shows its age (published 1997!). Still, it’s fun, and very classic sword & sorcery. And I hadn’t realized it took two books for Alec and Seregil to kiss! In my memory, they were together much sooner, and I hadn’t realized how much of a slow-burn romance it was between the two. I also had a sort of perverse fun trying to spot the seams, since I know the first book (Luck in the Shadows) and the second (Stalking Darkness) were originally one long book that was split and reworked as two books, and sections were expanded in both.

Written in Red by Anne Bishop: How have I not read this series yet? How has it flown beneath my radar for so long? It’s on the shelves at the library I work at! Aaaah! I have been looking for an urban fantasy/high fantasy fusion, which has the feel/elements of an urban fantasy but with high fantasy pacing and world-building approach. This is… this fills a whole in my reading-life I didn’t know I had. That said, it’s not paced like your typical urban fantasy novel, which can be off-putting if you’re expecting the more thriller-esque approach that’s common. This is a slower story, with longer pauses and moments that linger on the everyday. I love, love, love how the shifters are portrayed, where behaviors that are associated with their animal forms bleed over into when they’re human (and occasionally vise-versa). They’re not, say, just humans that turn into wolves. Being a Wolf informs how they view the world in almost every aspect. It’s refreshing and different and lends itself to some moments of humor. BUT the monsters of this world are still monsters; their choice meat is human. Also, an alternate history where the supernatural isn’t just known to the world, it’s shaped the world.

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop: Squeezing this one in ’cause it’s still technically March and I finished it this morning. More of all the stuff I enjoyed in Written in Red, with more world-building and development, and after that conclusion, I’m curious to see where it goes next. Spoilers, but certain influential people have been robbed of their future-seeing victims, the Humans First and Last movement is gaining momentum and there’s an awful lot of discontent between the terre indigene and the humans, Simon is becoming more human, Meg is becoming more Wolf, and I’m very concerned for Monty’s daughter. Oh, and every time I think this series has revealed the ultimate antagonist, I’m surprised to find it isn’t, and I’m starting to suspect that each book’s end will set up the central antagonist of the next.

Prisoner of Midnight by Barbara Hambly: I’ve been waiting for this one for a few months. It does exactly what I want from a James Asher Vampire novel: mystery, spies, sleuthing in bank records, vampires, and WWI. The vampires in this one are definitely monstrous. They are no longer *quite* human, don’t pretend to be human, and are horrifyingly self-absorbed, selfish, and narcissistic, with little care for anyone but themselves (’cause that’s what makes a good vampire, seeing that  they have to murder someone every few nights to maintain their existence). There’s a mystery element in this one that I’d been expecting to come full circle and… didn’t, but I’m not sure if it was meant to be a red herring or a dropped plot point. The end… the end looks suspiciously like a series end. Totally did not see that coming, but I’m left wondering, where could this possibly go next? In some ways there’s closure but in others… we still have a little over a year till the end of WWI, and at least one character is still marooned on the Front.

The Devil You Know by P.N. Elrod: Also technically a reread, but after the unpleasant, scary vampires of Prisoner of Midnight, I wanted some fun, butt-kicking vamps instead (though there’s not much butt-kicking till the end). The contrast between Jack and Barrett is just so darn fun to read. This is one of those series with characters I could watch sitting in a room doing nothing except talk about the weather, and I’d still be entertained.