Three Months of Books: January, February & March

Uf. Been awhile since I’ve done one of these (again) and it’s also been awhile since I, er, read some of these (way back in January!). So, because there are so many, and because I’m growing fuzzy on some of the details, this is more a roundup with a few short thoughts than it is a review post.

The Empire of Gold by S. A. Chakraborty: Ah! The end of the trilogy! I’d been looking forward to this one for quite a while. While I felt the beginning was a tad uneven, it’s a solid, satisfying conclusion to the trilogy that nicely comes full-circle. Do recommend.

Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold: As always, an absolute delight. And, amusingly, set in between previous novellas, which will make the omnibus binding interesting…

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Technically a reread. A coworker of mine started reading the series and wanted to talk about it, but it’d been awhile since I’d read Harrow so I reread (it’s a…complex book). Once again, struck by the artistry and craft of what Muir is doing. And how absolutely, delightfully bonkers it all is.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Creepy, evocative, and very much gothic, with quite a few interesting twists I wasn’t expecting (and a few I was—but probably because I saw parallels between it and another book in a different genre that played with similar concepts). It lends itself to Hollywood, methinks, and I won’t be a bit surprised if there’s a movie deal for it in the making.

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell: Space opera romance with political shenanigans! A combo I very much enjoy. Interesting backstory for this one, but it was originally offered on AO3 as a serialized original fic, and it incorporates hallmark fanfiction tropes alongside that “I must read the next chapter.” Looking forward to the next installment.

Take a Look at the Five and Ten by Connie Willis: Recommended by a coworker and thoroughly charming. Devoured it in a sitting.

Paladin’s Strength by T. Kingfisher: Ah! Another installment in her delightful paladin romance series! And, even better, it’s one of the few examples of a romantic couple who are over the age of 35 with a heroine who’s plus-sized and tall and a hero who is of a similar build. They both complain so rightfully about how things are just not sized for them. Like chairs. And door lintels. Heartily recommend.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine: This was excellent, and a brilliant follow up to A Memory Called Empire. And very much unexpected, and I’m so very pleased that the end was the end I didn’t dare hope for, completely convinced it would go the other way. Also, I see a mushroom trend going on in my reading as of late… But no matter. I absolutely can’t wait to see how this concludes in the next book. Both A Memory Called Empire and A Desolation Called Peace are hefty books, concept- and character-wise, and are the kinds of books that sit with you for days after as you mull over the implications and the meaning.

A Summoning of Demons by Cate Glass: Another conclusion to a trilogy, though the way it concluded, I do hope there’s, if not another in the series, then at least a follow-up standalone or duology to explore some of the concepts introduced here. ‘Cause they’ve piqued my interests and, as a reader, I am not yet satisfied with the answers. But! The heist is, as always, entertaining and wonderfully convoluted. If this is truly the last Chimera volume…well, I’ll be content, though foresee rereading in my future.

And that concludes my quick three month roundup!

Many, Many Months of Books: July-November

Well, it’s been a while. A long while. So long, in fact, that instead of the regular list of books, I’m instead doing a sort of book-collage, particularly since many of the books are technically rereads. Some I’ve featured on here before, some were books I read as a teenager and I decided to come back and read them again as an adult (which has been a rather interesting experience).

So without further ado, the collage:

That’s a lot of books. In short, most of these are rereads, and most of those are comfort-rereads. Covid has hit my TBR pile hard; though I have a teetering stack of books to read, all I’ve wanted to do instead is retread old, familiar ground. And that’s…perfectly fine.

I did want to highlight A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher and The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison as being utter delights that I desperately needed at the time of reading them. Personally, I feel Goodreads is being quite unfair to The Angel of the Crows by saying that it wasn’t “new” enough–I argue that I didn’t WANT new, I didn’t want things turned on their heads. I wanted a sweet retelling of classic Sherlock Holmes with a twist, and that is EXACTLY what I got. It promised what I wanted and followed through entirely and I appreciated the gift of it. I highly recommend it especially if you find yourself entirely overwhelmed by the constant threat of Covid and just want something sweet and familiar and comfortable, and love a good Sherlock Holmes retelling.

Lastly, it was interesting to reread Carol Berg’s Rai-Kirah trilogy, which I remember having read somewhere around 14-15 and being disappointed by the third book. 14-15-year-old me didn’t get it. 27-almost-28-year-old me did. In many ways, it hasn’t aged well (20 years is…20 years). In other ways, it was fascinating to read certain details (like not breathing on food and the one culture’s preoccupation with cleanliness and avoiding corruption) in this time of Covid and infection. Just…huh. But teenage me really didn’t understand the concept of merging identities and personalities, of multiple people contained within one, multiple worlds, and the central theme of “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Teenage me took it entirely at face-value and was thoroughly confuzzled by the third book (and bored to tears by the second). Adult me appreciates it, and adult writer me found myself endlessly occupied with analyzing the craft side. In many ways, it’s a rough precursor to Berg’s later work, and in that roughness, it’s easier to see the building blocks, the individual components, because the edges aren’t so seamless. And, hoo, the emotional rollercoaster of the third book. Just…damn.

Anyway. Next time around, this won’t be an overwhelming collage-block. Next time, A Month of Books shall return to its usual format.

Comfort Reads

pile-of-books-on-the-table-4058026

Frankly, things are on fire, the world as I know it is in a seemingly-constant state of upheaval,* and things are just…difficult. Even though I have three new books on my TBR pile that I’ve been looking forward to for months and months (one even for a year) I just can’t seem to motivate myself to crack ’em open. My creative-well is, also, running dry and I haven’t written much since… *low whistle* May. Egads. May. Wow. That’s, um, unusual to say the least.

I have, however, played 236 hours of ESO. I’ve been informed by a friend that’s nearly ten 24 hour periods, no breaks, and, when put like that, it oddly feels small? 236 sounds massive. 10 days is less than a fortnight. *shrug*

I have also been rereading a lot, primarily T. Kingfisher and Lois McMaster Bujold and Carol Berg. There’s comfort in rereading. Partly, it’s the knowledge that it can’t, really, surprise me. Nothing unexpected will occur, and there’s safety in that. A sort of grounding. Partly, it’s to be around the familiar, to enjoy the things I’ve enjoyed before. Often, I have snapshots of memory as I reread; I remember where I was when I first read this part, what the texture of that moment felt like, what I was experiencing. The Curse of Chalion always feels like mid- to late-summer, sitting on the back porch with a languid breeze, watching the morning glories devour the neighbor’s fence and sawed-off trees, listening to the screeching cry of cicadas. I have tasks to do, but those can wait till tomorrow. Swordheart is a quiet day at work, where my snickering goes unremarked since there’s no one around to comment on it. Song of the Beast is sitting in the front hall of a high school, the smell of waxed linoleum and the sound of perpetual conversation blending together into a constant humming buzz. And so on.

For me, books and memories are often intrinsically tied, and reading a familiar passage of prose can spark smells and tastes and sounds and textures completely unrelated to the story that’s unfolding and, sometimes, concurrently. I experience what the words evoke but simultaneously experience what I subconsciously observed the first time I experienced what those words evoked.

It brings a sort of pause, a moment where not everything is awful and maybe, maybe, there’s hope.

Which is a long way of saying there will be no Month of Books for July since it feels a bit weird to talk about things I already talked about, some quite recently. Instead, I’ll keep rereading, and those new books will be waiting for me when I’m ready to experience the unfamiliar and the uncertain again.


* I’m sure it’s peaceful(ish) somewhere in the world.

Many Months of Books: April, May & June

I’ve lumped April, May, and June together in one post, partly because each month’s offerings were a little slim due to beta-reading, partly because I haven’t been able to dredge the motivation to write anything more complex than a daily To Do list in weeks.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone: Another recommendation from a friend who’s reading tastes often fall in line with my own after I’d asked for the names of some speculative fiction with F/F romantic pairings that didn’t end in tragedy or break-ups (I wanted a HEA people!). Anyway, this novella’s prose is, frankly, gorgeous. The words, the sound of them, the sounds of them strung together, the richness of the metaphors, the similes, the poetry of the prose, all of it had me reading and re-reading lines to enjoy their impact more than once. The romance’s build-up is slow and the approach of two individuals falling in love through letters alone was both brilliant and ambitious and it worked so, so well. The characters themselves are fascinating, and both are products of their individual futures, most times relatably human but other times, almost alien in their perception of the world(s). I did lose track of potential timelines and upthread/downthread a bit, and by nature of the execution, the mental “image” as it were tends to be vague, but that had little impact whatsoever on my enjoyment and appreciation. The texture of it is more short story than novel (a bit like my experience with The Tea Master and the Detective), so the world-building tends to be more snippets and snatches to create atmosphere and immersion as opposed to explaining things (an approach which I enjoy, but I know that not everyone does). The story, the structure, the prose-style, the world-building, all ask for this to be a book read slowly and savored, and I managed that—until the last 40 pages, which I consumed like a vacuum hose.

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie: I’ll admit, I wasn’t planning on reading this. It had been on my shelf for years, but I hadn’t gelled well with The Blade Itself when I read it years ago, and expected Half a King to be much the same. I was wrong. Half a King has echoes of the brutality of The Blade Itself but with characters I actively rooted for, and I enjoyed the central theme of the danger of oaths sworn. I enjoyed it so much, I read the book in a day, something I haven’t done since…er, undergrad (part of this might be due to me being furloughed). I caught two out of the three major twists: one from the start seeing that it was strikingly similar to a plot twist from a Disney movie, one on page 188 because of a seemingly small throw-away line, but the third took me by surprise, yet, I appreciated the subtle layering of hints. I also enjoyed that twist’s structure, the echo-/full-circle nature it lent to the narrative. It was intriguing to me to draw parallels between the myth and legend the characters have for the world, the little snippets that made me fairly convinced that it was a far flung post-apocalyptic earth (some of the elf architecture sounded a heck of a lot like concrete with steel rebar supports, there’s a reference that sounds a lot like radiation sickness, and there’s a bit about a green chip with gold lines made into a necklace that seemed…hmm), and the cyclical nature of Ragnarok, since much of this has a Vikings-esque texture to it.

The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold: More Pen and Des! Yee! I’ve been looking forward to this one since I read a teaser sample of the first third-ish, and then somehow managed to completely miss the release date until I happened to listen to an interview with Bujold conducted by Baen Books, where the release was mentioned. The novella is rather prescient, given that this was released during a real-world pandemic, and is dealing with a fictional one. In that aforementioned interview, Bujold explained that it wasn’t based on Covid 19, but on other historical pandemics (there’s a reference that looks a lot like the Bubonic Plague, plus a few others). Which makes sense, since in order for this to be released in May, the actual drafting would’ve had to occur before the beginning of Covid. Which just means the release of this story coincides with real-world events, which adds another layer to an already excellent tale. As always, highly recommended. Please read these because, truly, they are fantastic and, even when dealing with material as dark as a spreading pandemic, nevertheless uplifting, and I tend to devour them within a day. Also, the idea of a demon gaining its first personality impression from a dog, and how easily that demon is then to 1. train, 2. entertain with the same activity repeated over and over, and 3. communicate with made a great deal of sense. Also appreciated seeing what a more usual method of transferring a demon from one rider to the next, since Pen and Des’ was a bit unorthodox, and most of the demon-ridden sorcerers in The Paladin of Souls are not all that willing to have a demon in the first place.

A Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite: This was an utterly delightful read. I’m a secret fan of regency romance, though incredibly picky since the time period and adherence to prescribed gender roles can be a bit “er, no thanks” for me, but this is the first regency F/F romance I’ve come across (though not by chance; it was recommended during a panel at the online Nebula Conference). Lucy and Catherine’s relationship, as Catherine learns she can embrace her attraction to women and Lucy heals from the heartbreak of her longtime lover marrying someone else, was sweet, passionate, and well-paced (though I quibble a little on what drives them apart for the traditional “lovers are driven apart” stage of a romance—the reunion and climax of the external plot was more engaging for me, though I recognize that without that step, the end wouldn’t have had the cohesion it did). I also loved the budding science field aspect, the combination of hopefulness and sense of discovery with the infuriating dark flip-side of the suppression of women scientists. It does end rather neatly and positively on that point, but this is a romance novel, and the expectation of an HEA precludes defeat. So while real-world history was often far grimmer, this parallel version fits the story it’s telling. And I see the author has another in this series coming out toward the end of July, so guess what one of my August reads will be?


May all of you stay safe and healthy and please, for the love of the all, wear a mask if you go out.

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.