Three Months of Books: October, November, and December

It’s been spooky, turkey, and pine tree season! I seem to instead be channeling an overall desire for flannel, knit sweaters, and warm drinks, since most of my reads this month fall, once more, into that “cozy” category and heavy on the romance. Frankly, not too many books read these past few months or, at least, not many books that are published. I did read quite a few books as a beta-reader and then was up to my neck in revisions, so I was mostly reading my books, which don’t count. Either way, without further ado, three months of books!

A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland: This was a delight. Very, very slow burn romance between a prince and his bodyguard, who are very opposite yet work so well in contrast with each other. The mystery element was a little transparent, much like it was with A Strange and Stubborn Endurance and yet, I found myself not minding it, since it honestly doesn’t matter, as the book isn’t really about the mystery, it’s about the romance and the politics. I adored the world-building, especially that it was so, so casually queer-normative and not once was a character’s sexuality or gender identity used for “drama” or weaponized against. People were just queer and the way it was done was so deft, never once did I feel it would stray into the whole “oh, this person is being hurt because they’re [insert queer identity here].” As for the characters, Kadou is a wonderful depiction of living with anxiety and I found his experience rather…eye-opening, seeing that I never realized I struggle with anxiety till I saw a character with anxiety and I was like…oh, his brain beats him up just like mine does me! …oh. Wait a minute… Evemer (and his mother!) is wonderful and I just love how he has to learn to use, y’know, words. Complex sentences. Express himself. Not just rely on grunts ’cause that’s going to trigger Kadou’s anxiety terribly. Aaaaand, slightly spoilery, but there was a certain character I had enjoyed greatly and braced myself for his death, probably in a dramatic moment of self-sacrifice because of course that’s what you do with the ex in romance novels…and he didn’t die. In fact, he not only lives but recognizes that his feelings are his to work through? Which was unexpected, refreshing, and very much welcome. Also, there’s a positive hat-tilt to the importance of therapy. My only moment of marginal disappointment was when I realized the romance was definitely monogamous but there were a few hints that it could have gone down a poly amorous path. There just isn’t enough poly am representation in mainstream publishing…

Immortal Rising by Lynsay Sands: Ah, the installment for the long-running Argeneau series that I missed. This one was different, and had a refreshingly different pace/approach/formula. The last few (er, like dozen) have had older immortals who are well past their first couple of centuries and uninformed mortals as their life mate, so you get a lot of the same sort of structure of the immortal dancing around the reveal, and eventually the reveal which if, like me, you’ve been reading all thirty-something of these for years, you can recite near verbatim in your sleep. This one had a young immortal (who, even more intriguingly, is one of the “fangless” variety) and a…well, I hesitate to call him just a mortal, only because he, er, is genetically modified to have wings and his mortality is a little questionable? Either way, he’s already in on the secret, so the obligatory explanation is extremely brief. There was a twist I wasn’t expecting, and another which…eeeeeeh, okay, fine, I’ll give it though it borders on silly (however, this series knows it’s campy and embraces the camp, so again, didn’t bother me even as I rolled my eyes…but smilingly so), and a certain enemy arc is brought to a conclusion. I wonder who the next antagonist will be for the next batch of life mate couples…*

After the Bite by Lynsay Sands: The new installment of that same long-running series. To be absolutely honest, I can finish reading these in a day, and often do, which is why they tend to be on here in batches. They’re fast reads, usually funny, and just pleasantly entertaining with a rather creative approach to the world-building (I mean, vampires who aren’t vampires, but nano-infested immortals from the lost city of Atlantis…that is just so campy and embraces the camp wholeheartedly). This one was back to older immortal and ignorant mortal structure, which was okay, and there might be a new antagonist being introduced, though we’ll see. Admittedly, the one issue I’m starting to have with these is when they inevitably call for reinforcements and we get ALL the cameos from a bunch of previous books…only, it’s been a few years since I read them and I don’t know who half these people are anymore anyway… Still, I do still enjoy the idea that, oh, sure, finding your life mate is incredible, once-in-a-lifetime chance that every immortal dreams of…but it’s also WILDLY inconvenient, seeing that you keep passing out from incredible, and incredibly brief, sex. And, er, everywhere. Woe to the life mates who have sex in a confined bathroom with an awful lot of sharp edged counters and hard tile everywhere, for they are doomed to head injuries (which, er, has happened in previous books).*

At the Feet of the Sun by Victoria Goddard: This book. This book. This book was incredible. I’d been waiting for it for a few months now, and it was worth that wait in every way. But most importantly, this book gave me that queer experience of seeing oneself finally, FINALLY reflected in a character and feeling validated. This book made me cry. A lot. I devoured it in three days, and even then, I had to take breaks because of the sheer amount of feels it inspired in me. Because I understood. But more than that, this book understood me. Up until reading this one, I have never had the experience of reading an ace character who is not only explicitly described as ace, but has the way they love not only validated but shown as being just as important as allo-experiences of love. I have never read that before, never experienced a book that said to me, “Hey, the way you experience love? Yeah, that’s valid, and here’s a whole book with a character who experiences love the way you do and it’s beautiful.” I finally, finally have a book that, when someone asks, “So what’s it feel like to be ace?” I can point at and be like, “Read that. It’s very close to my experience.” And that is just the romance. The rest of the book is just gorgeous, and I adored every bit of it. Will I reread this 1000-page behemoth? Oh, yes. Reread and re-experience and love every moment. Again, I just adore the way this world depicts both the concrete reality and the fantastical—not just fantasy, per say, but whimsy and myth and folklore and story. And the way Goddard writes characters is truly just extraordinary. And you have no idea how utterly delighted I am to discover that not only are there two more Red Company books planned, but there’s also a third for Lays of the Hearth-Fire. I thought this one was going to be the end, I really did, but then…I learned there will be more. Adore, I simply adore. And I foist! Read, read, and join me in my adoration!**

Also, it’s very, ah, fitting that I featured both Alex Rowland’s new book and Victoria Goddard’s new book in the same blog post. For reasons.


* Just as a note, though I mostly read queer-leaning romances, this series is almost painfully het and follows the mainstream category romance market formula very closely. This is not a knock to category romances or het relationships, but if you’ve come across my blog because of the queer SFF romances I feature, just know that these are not those.

** This review has very little, ah, content, mostly because if I get started, I won’t shut up, and I would prefer to keep in as unspoilery as possible. Because I will babble. And I will give things away.

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 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: March

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: This is my second attempt on Ancillary Justice. The first one, I hadn’t been in the right mood to enjoy it, and the shifting between timelines frustrated me more than it enticed me. Second attempt, and I devoured it in a few days. The world-building in this is spectacular, though there is a bit of a learning curve. You’re dropped in the middle of things and the story just goes, filling in the world-building as it becomes necessary and, even then, not all of it. Some things remain vague, some things go unexplained, and I personally delighted in having a world (well, worlds) that I could puzzle over. However, that “drop you in the middle” is honestly why my first attempt at this book didn’t go much beyond the first flashback. Which brings up the other potential hurdle: it’s told in a split-timeline structure with the past and the present trading off chapters between them. In some ways, it helped make the past (and betrayals of the past) more immediate; in others, I’m fairly certain that structure is the reason it took me almost a week to read to the point that the past timeline falls off and the narrative remains entirely in the present. Once it narrowed down to one timeline, the rest of the book zipped by (true, there’s also the investment element in there; by that point, I needed to know what happened next). Now, I’m not sure if I truly called the betrayal, or if I’d somehow absorbed knowledge of it when it’d been nominated, but I didn’t find the past storyline as compelling since I knew where it was going, though I didn’t see the why behind the betrayal. The eventual payoff is worth the wait, though.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: The scope narrows here, going from a massive quest for revenge across an empire to a single space station in orbit around a single planet, though with a much larger cast of characters than the first book. I will be entirely honest, this review isn’t much of a review because I read this one weeks ago and failed to write a review immediately upon finishing, and then COVID-19 happened and my perception of time has turned into dripping molasses, while simultaneously making everything that happened prior to two weeks ago feel like it happened last year. The thing I remember most clearly in this was how so many of the secondary characters on the ship go by title/rank rather than by name and yet, I could tell them apart so easily, the characterization of them was so strong. More and more, however, I do wonder if, perhaps, the guessing of the characters’ gender/sex might be the wrong approach; the more I read, the more I started to feel that the singular pronoun freed characters to act in stereotypical gendered ways without it being a reflection (or subversion) of gender, and the more I read, the more my mental image of the characters flowed. It was an intriguing experience, and though it took me two books to get used to it, I appreciate the approach.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: Ah, and the conclusion. One highlight was definitely Seivarden’s outrage over the suppurating cuticles oath. That, and how brilliant Station is and its way of leveraging Anaander in order to keep its citizens safe. Spoilers perhaps, but the end is a bit more open-ended than I’d prefer for a trilogy. The main conflict set up in Ancillary Justice doesn’t, precisely, get resolved. The civil war is still waging. Hypothetically, it might become more difficult for said civil war to continue quite the same way as it did before a certain event at the end of Ancillary Mercy, but it isn’t resolved. I was also a bit surprised that the concept of cloning ancillaries didn’t come up before the very end and it was…not so much dealt with as tabled for later discussion…except, this is the final book, so I suppose it’s up to us, the readers, to decide how that turns out?

A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass: Oooooh, I’ve been waiting for this one for months! And then, when it arrived, I was in the middle of reading a trilogy, so set it aside to finish the Ancillary series first, ’cause I’m not blessed with one of those minds that does well with multiple immersive speculative novels being read at once. Much like the first book, A Conjuring of Assassins takes a little bit to get going, and there is some recap sections that if you’re reading the two back-to-back, might tempt one to skim, but once the mystery of Cinque is answered, the pace picks up and it’s spies and magic and grand con games in order to get closer to the Chimera’s target (the Assassins List). There is also more of a hint of the epic in this one. In the first book, there’s an unanswered mystery that could lend itself to epic fantasy, but here, it’s more overt, and the introduction of Teo (and Teo’s mystery) feels very much reminiscent (and pleasantly so) of the writer’s other epic fantasy series under the name Carol Berg (that hint of the epic, of the almost divine, of magic being otherworldly and beyond human understanding, of parallel worlds, of mind-speech). I look forward to seeing where things go in the next book, and what exactly is magic, and how does it tie in with the long-vanished gods? As a side note, it was both weird and unnerving to read a book so heavily based on Renaissance Italy while simultaneously watching news of the epidemic in Italy as it unfolded.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig: Confession: one trope that I absolutely adore is the one of the old and possibly world-weary immortal/near immortal with centuries of memory interacting with the modern (or near modern) world*–bonus points if there’s a love story (not necessarily romantic love; found family love or platonic love are under-explored with this trope, in my opinion). How to Stop Time somehow managed to slip by under my radar until now, and it’s an exemplar of the trope. I did find the major twist somewhat predictable, but didn’t mind it so much. The romance angle is a great deal more downplayed than what the back cover blurb promised (which was fine). It’s more a story of Tim engaging with the world, realizing that his pattern of isolation and being a recluse isn’t working for him anymore, and that his will to live is slowly, but surely, becoming walled in by fear (of discovery, of death, of change), stoked by Henrich, another alba (or very long lived individual). Much like Ancillary Justice, How to Stop Time uses a dual-timeline structure, though this one is aided by the time period being firmly set in Earth historical past. There is, as a note, far more “past” flashback chapters than “present,” and much of the present is quieter, more introspective. The final resolution of the book’s external conflict is a little ho-hum, but then, it wasn’t really about the external conflict, but the internal one. A small warning, but much of the book has a low-key hum of depression throughout, even though it ends on a rather hopeful note. I, personally, found this resonated with me, but others might find it triggering.


* As much as I claim to be a vampire-junky, it’s not the vampire that engages me, necessarily, but rather this trope of immortal/near immortal, and it just so happens that the most common subgenre containing it is the vampire one, which is why I don’t like all vampire stories, but a very particular subset.

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.