November 2014
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On Not Blogging

It’s been a full month since I last published a blog post, which is my longest unannounced break from blogging ever. To be perfectly honest, my heart hasn’t been in it for a very long time, and the longer I leave blogging, the harder it is to return. It isn’t as though I don’t have things to say about the amazing books I’ve been reading; it’s just that I seem to have lost the will to sit down at my computer at the evenings or on the weekends and write them.

I’m sure I’ll be back. But not just yet.

Review: Red Winter, Dan Smith

red winterKolya is a deserter. He and his brother have left their Red Army unit, disgusted and uncomfortable with the atrocities they have been committing in Russia in 1920. On the way back to his family, Kolya’s brother Alec dies, and Kolya lives for nothing but the chance to spend the rest of his life with his wife and children. But the village is empty. There is no sign of anyone, no hint of what’s happened to them except a legend told by an old woman. Kolya sets off on a desperate trek to find them, through frozen wilderness and into the heart of the army he left behind.

This landed on my doorstep as an unsolicited review copy with a cover that, to be perfectly honest, didn’t appeal to me all that much (okay, not at all). Nor did the cover slogan, “The only thing that matters is blood”, and I think both are doing the novel a huge disservice. I decided to read it because the description sounded interesting and because I’ve been fascinated with Russian history for more than half of my life. The decision I made was the correct one, because behind the bland cover and needlessly violent words was a book that I genuinely enjoyed.

First of all, the setting. Russian wilderness in the grip of coming winter leaps out from the page. The season is perfectly chosen – winter is choking the countryside just as suspicion gone mad is choking the people with fear. Everything feels cold, closed-off, and terrifying. Smith’s writing helps this come alive; it’s easy to be really scared for these characters because there is no hint of what might happen next. Anyone could be an enemy, even your friend, because that’s exactly the attitude that the leaders are using to scare the many, many peasants into submission.

Kolya himself is an excellent character. He’s committed many wrongs and justified them in his head, just like all of the other soldiers, but he wants to make things right. He has finally seen what matters in his life and when he goes to find it, he can’t. It could drive him mad but instead it makes him more determined, although tinged with an edge of despair. I liked both the idea that Kolya was redeeming himself and his admirable drive to find his family. He doesn’t try to do everything; he’s not a superman. He just wants to save the people he cares about, and to me this seems a very human reaction. We perhaps would all like to end every atrocity in the world, but at this point he has to understand what is and isn’t possible and accept it. And this is why the sentence on the cover annoys me – what really makes Kolya move is his family, not “blood”. I worried about what happened to them for him.

The story itself is well-paced. Endless trudging through a frozen forest could have easily become boring, but the actual journey keeps throwing obstacles in Kolya’s way, both good and bad ones, that help inform his plan. It probably does qualify as a thriller, with plenty of exciting scenes and a few fights, but the overall impression the book gave me was quieter than that. Its strengths were in the cold, quiet nights, the air of suspicion and uncertainty, the crunch of hooves moving through a freezing, silent forest.

In conclusion, I really liked Red Winter. I would suggest it to those who enjoy historical fiction, especially if you’re interested like me in the dangerous times when societies are changing or in Russia.

I received this book for free for review consideration.

Mini Review: Banished, Liz de Jager

banishedKit loves being a Blackhart. She’s finally living with her cousins and learning about her heritage and her amazing magical skills. She’s completed her first solo mission and she’s ready to take on whatever the world has to throw at her. She starts finding out in no short order when her cousins are away fighting monsters and Kit is left alone in a suddenly not-so-safe Blackhart Manor. Complete with a prince, Thorn, in tow, who shows up in the forest needing serious help, it’s up to Kit to find her cousins, figure out what’s going on, and make sure neither of them gets killed.

Like probably lots of other people, I have had Liz de Jager on my radar since she ran a book blog. I’ve been looking forward to this from the day the book deal was signed and it didn’t disappoint. Banished is a fantastic YA adventure peopled with some interesting, kickass characters. It seemed to me like a mesh between some of the darker urban fantasy that I like with a more classic fantasy story (goblins, elves, etc.) and it was a blend that I really enjoyed.

The heroine, Kit, is also a great character. She already knows about her heritage, so we can skip all of the various ways in which characters learn that they are different and special. She’s already aware that she’s different and special and, instead of being freaked out by it, she loves it and embraces it. Her full magical potential hasn’t been explored yet, but she’s on her way. She has a supportive family and even though she’s left on her own in this instance, she isn’t permanently and she knows that she has support. I liked Thorn, too, and I’m looking forward to finding out more about the other characters.

Great book, easy to read, bring on Vowed!

September 2014 Reading Wrap-Up

Hello there, October. As usual, you are sneaky, and I didn’t realize you were coming until you’d arrived.

So, September! This one qualifies as a good month, and I can safely say that now that it is over. We are now debt free (aside from student loans, but another six years of those are ahead, so we’ll ignore them for now), Keith finished his degree (no results until November, but it’s OVER), and nothing particularly atrocious happened to anyone I care about. More months like this one, please! A smooth last few months of the year would make me so very happy.

The reading was pretty slow, but mostly because I spent a lot of the month watching TV and making things, as well as spending two weekends a bit too busy to do much reading (no complaints, though). I have rediscovered my crocheting hobby and seem bent on making lots of things. I have watched Mr. Selfridge, some of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Parade’s End while crocheting. I forgot how very satisfying it is to make something that is then finished and cute and can either be a present, decorate my house, or perhaps even be worn if my current project pans out the way I want. It is lovely and consuming lots of great shows goes pretty well too. Suggestions for more excellent TV or films available on UK Netflix are welcome.

Recent creations:

parrotselephantsowl cushion

What did I actually read?:

  • Shattered Pillars, Elizabeth Bear
  • Tiger Eye, Marjorie M. Liu
  • The Girl with All the Gifts, M.R. Carey
  • Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor
  • The Tropic of Serpents, Marie Brennan
  • The Spider, Jennifer Estep
  • Beatrice and Benedick, Marina Fiorato
  • Written in Red, Anne Bishop

No reviews this month, although I think Written in Red is probably my favorite of that little list. Okay, definitely my favorite. Pure enjoyment, even if it turned out to be more of a winter than an autumn read and I’m now going to suffer through waiting for more books in yet another series to be released – only the second one is available right now with the third to follow in March.

I anticipate October will be more of the same, with a few more social plans. As briefly mentioned above, I am currently making my first garment, a sweater, and I am looking forward to seeing whether it turns into something I can actually wear or will just count as experience. And I’ll continue working through my autumn reading list, slowly but surely.

How was your September?

Review: Panic, Lauren Oliver

panicCarp is a small town with small town traditions and Panic is one of them. Every year, high school seniors take on dangerous dares in order to win a large monetary prize that will help them escape their town for good. Heather thinks she’s too sensible to get involved, but she finds herself caught up in the rush anyway with her best friend Natalie. Dodge, another student, has always known that he would participate in Panic, although for different reasons than Heather. The book alternates between the points of view of these two students while the game gets ever more dangerous.

I felt decidedly “meh” about this book. I had anticipated something more along the lines of Before I Fall and Delirium. Both of those struck me hard, especially the first; I love the concept of living over and over again and learning as you go (see also Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, another big hit with me). They were interesting and innovative and they made me excited to read Panic, too.

But as soon as I started I knew it was different – this is just an ordinary town. The concept of high schoolers taking on a life-or-death game isn’t really the same as a world without love or a girl who lives the same day over and over again. It’s something that could actually happen in the real world. I suppose for some that might be an advantage, but for me it was a drawback. Some of the games are ridiculously dangerous and outrageous, yes, but none beyond the realms of our actual real world. This wasn’t what I’d expected and I wasn’t as impressed with this as I was with the other two books I’d read by the same author. It didn’t suit my own personal taste and it wasn’t a book that I felt went above and beyond.

Is it worth your time? That’s a separate question, I think. This is more in the style of a thriller than the other two and I have seen positive reviews floating around. It has its positive points – I think the characters grow over the course of the book, the romance is okay, and it does keep a reader’s attention – but it just didn’t work for me. I would start with Oliver’s other books in any case.

I received this book for free for review.

#diversiverse: Amazing Diverse Reads

diversiverse 2014Like a lot of others, I reviewed last year’s reading and realized I was reading way too many white authors, and to be honest, have been for all of my life so far. This bothers me. I want to ensure I’m experiencing viewpoints of lots of different people, not just one specific type of person, and that means diversifying my reading by deliberately choosing to read more authors of color. It’s one of the ways in which reading helps us grow and learn – it’s impossible for me to experience how the world works for other people directly because of my own gender, ethnicity and viewpoint, but I can certainly read to experience as much of the rest as possible and come closer to understanding the worlds of others (and sometimes in fantasy worlds too). But, as Aarti puts in the #diversiverse intro post, sometimes finding those books is hard. Here are a few of the diverse books that I’ve enjoyed across genres to help you get started or just push my favorite books a little more into your hands:

  • The Book of Unknown Americans and The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez – these are beautiful books and I have reviewed both of them. The first one in particular is getting lots of coverage at the moment, but Henriquez’s first book was just stunning too and blew me away.the book of unknown americans
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – A fantastic book about finding roots and retaining identity in a completely different country populated with completely different people. I loved this so much, which struck me even more after I’d failed to connect with Adichie’s work in the past.
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki – I so loved this book. I had so much trouble leaving the train to go to work while I was reading it because I didn’t want to put it down and couldn’t wait to get back to it. It has a slight science fiction edge and is written extremely well, playing with the concept of time and space. I regret not reviewing this so I could actually share better what I thought but I’ll just recommend it extremely strongly.
  • Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed – Excellent swords and sorcery fantasy novel.
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms plus everything else by N. K. Jemisin – Seriously, everything. Jemisin writes deeply thought out fantasy worlds with complex, fascinating characters. I can’t wait for her next book to come out.
  • The Iron King and rest of series by Julie Kagawa – I haven’t managed to write about these books, but they’re solid YA fantasy with a heavy dose of romance. I’ve really enjoyed them, enough to have the next two waiting for me to find time.
  • Fledgling by Octavia Butler – I read this for this event two years ago and it has actually stuck with me – I have been meaning to read more Octavia Butler ever since, although she’s still on the copious TBR pile.
  • Anything by Nalini Singh – In all honesty these books can be a little too steamy for me, but if you enjoy paranormal romance, you’re really making a mistake not venturing into her Psy/Changeling universe. I just returned to it and was surprised by how much I enjoyed sinking back into this world.
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro – Ishiguro is a pre-blogging discovery but I love this book so much that I have pushed it on literally every person I know who I think has even a chance of enjoying it. Never Let Me Go is probably more popular now, as it fits a bit better into a culture comfortable with science fiction, but I adored this book to absolute pieces. I have one book left that I haven’t read by Ishiguro (The Unconsoled) and I am not going to read it until a new one comes out. I can’t bear the fact that there isn’t any more.

There you go – 7 standalone books and 3 potential series for you to start with. If you read any of them, let me know and we’ll talk! I am still just starting out myself and diverse authors don’t make up nearly a large enough fraction of my reading, so if you have any suggestions for me to try next, fire them at me. I am always looking.

TSS: Autumn Reading List

tssbadge1I had so much fun actually getting through the books on my summer reading list that I thought I’d make it a bit of a seasonal ambition and put one together for autumn, too. I read all but one of those books and I’m reading the final one now, The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan. The focus it added to my reading was really nice – I didn’t have to pick through the shelves to decide what I wanted to read next because I’d already done the job for myself. I would like to call that a bookish success, and so I thought I’d try and get some of the same success going for autumn, too.

Plus, this one was easy. This season we have #diversiverse, which starts today, and RIP IX, which started on the first of September. I have been gleefully thinking of books I’d like to read for both of these for weeks. Add a few books that I know I also would like to read soon, and we end up with this:

autumn reading list

I got ambitious as I was putting this together, as you can see – the summer pile was a little bit smaller. I have however already read Lagoon so we’re on our way.

  • Iron Kin by M.J. Scott – this is the third in an urban fantasy alternate world series I haven’t written anything about yet, but which I do like. It has vampires and similar types of monsters so I’m going to count it for RIP.
  • Written in Red by Anne Bishop – this was actually an impulse purchase but again sounds like a new urban fantasy series (no, I clearly don’t read enough of these) and I thought it would be a good fit for autumn. Even the title reminds me of leaves and the cover has the heroine wearing a hoodie in a wintery environment.
  • Timebomb by Scott K. Andrews – this is actually a review copy that turned up unsolicited but looks really intriguing. More dystopia, but I think I’ve avoided that for long enough to return to the genre a little bit refreshed.
  • The Silvered by Tanya Huff – Werewolves! And I love Tanya Huff. I have read the latest book in her Gale series so it’s time to move on to the next book I have by her, which is this one.
  • Midnight Alley by Rachel Caine – to be perfectly honest, I haven’t particularly enjoyed the first two in this series, The Morganville Vampires, but I bought all 4 of them years ago at a discount shop. I should probably just send them all to a charity shop but they’re short, fast reads and for some reason I keep thinking I should like Rachel Caine’s books. So I stuck it in the pile.
  • Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang – Jung Chang is the woman who wrote Wild Swans, which I read out of the library a few years ago, so picking this up recently felt natural. I haven’t read any Chinese history for a while now so I’m keen to get back into it. Also, #diversiverse.
  • The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai – I forgot I had this in the UK with me until I was pulling various options out of my bookshelves. Right on the stack – this has been waiting far too long.
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri – I read The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri earlier this year and, sadly, didn’t write about it, so remember very little other than how much I liked it. I thought it was time to read her first collection of short stories. I’m never sure how I’ll get on with short stories, but they are worth a try.
  • Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo – I feel like everyone is talking about these books but me! I finally bought the first one last month and I do want to get to this one soon.
  • A Kiss from Maddalena by Christopher Castellani – this is another book I’ve had for a long, long time but sounds very appealing. I’m going to Italy next month, so I thought it would be a great idea to actually get some themed reading in before that happens.
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters – this is purely in the pile because I can’t wait to read it.
  • Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor – believe it or not, after I took this picture I immediately took this book out and read it yesterday, as I’ve mentioned above. I just needed an excuse and it was very easy to give myself one!

I would like to get to all of these books before the end of December. I think I can – and then I can make a winter reading list!

What are you going to be reading over the next few months?

New Books in My Favorite Series - And Why I Won't Let Myself Read Them Yet

It’s that exciting moment in the life of a series reader – the book that you’ve been waiting for has finally come out, and whether it’s arrived in the mail or you’ve gone to pick it up from the bookstore or the library, it is in your hands and you can’t wait to open it. In fact, you start reading it immediately. Right?

Not so much.

I’m not going to deny that getting a new book in one of my favorite series on release day is genuinely exciting. I am a huge series reader. I love so much about books in a series; interconnected stories, characters I can continue to revisit again and again, the opportunity for expansive world-building that can rarely happen in a single book. Years before I blogged, I fell headlong into love with epic fantasy and invested hours of my life reading The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, Kushiel’s Legacy, and the Farseer books among others. I have always felt that a talented author can often do more with a series than they can with a single volume, although there are plenty of stand alone books that I love too.

But that very interconnectedness and world-building means that I am hesitant to start that new book. I always have a compulsion to reread the rest of the books in the series before I start the new one. You see, I am also a reader who likes to read books in one sitting. I like to experience everything as close together as possible, mainly because I am forgetful. If it’s been a year since I read the last book, multiple years since the ones before, I know I will miss something. I’ll be disappointed because I’ve forgotten how the author has managed to tie volume 7 into volume 3. There are recaps, but they are never as good as just reading the books again.

I also know that I’m going to love rereading that series. For instance, Robin Hobb has just released Fool’s Assassin, a book featuring FitzChivalry Farseer, a follow-up to what has to be one of my favorite series of all time – in memory. But I’ve forgotten so much about these books because I read most of them over a decade ago and I don’t actually think I’ve reread any of them, ever, despite mostly keeping up with the newer releases. I’m half excited to reread them and half daunted by the prospect of rereading at least 9 books before I can get to the beautiful hardcover I bought a month ago. I hope I’m going to love them again, but 9 books, and large ones at that.

fool's assassin

Seriously, it’s ridiculously gorgeous.

The other two I have waiting? Magic Breaks by Ilona Andrews and The Winter Long by Seanan McGuire. I love these series. I want to reread them actively and they’re short, too, so I think I can just sneak them in between newer books.

I know I should just give in and read these books I so anticipate already, and in fact that’s probably what you readers are thinking. But there’s always that temptation, and this time I do want to give in to it.

I think I need a rereading month. What do you think? And am I the only one with this particular bookish dilemma?

Mini Book Thoughts

americanahBooks I have read recently that I would like to write some thoughts about:

Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – I loved this. I loved how Ifemelu found her way back to herself, to her roots; that she needed her childhood and her identity to remember who she was, rather than giving it all away to be someone else. And even though my own immigration is really different, and came about for far different reasons, and resulted in different things, I could still identify with that clash of cultures in a way that spoke to me but also made me think about how this must be for others who don’t share my advantage of the same skin color as the native population (and a wider culture gap). I should have written a review for this book, but instead I’ll say you should go read it and leave it at that.

The Suffragette Scandal, Courtney Milan – I will continue to auto buy each and every book Milan writes. Such different topics, incredible characters, beautiful love stories. No exceptions here.

Skin Game, Jim Butcher – This book FINALLY went in a direction I’ve been waiting for since very early on and I was so pleased. It’s also got capers, and fantastic bad guys, and lots of Harry’s signature humor along with those answers. It was great fun to read. If you enjoy urban fantasy and haven’t read the Dresden Files, you should (along with my lengthy list of other favorite urban fantasy reads like October Daye and Kate Daniels).

a darkling seaA Darkling Sea, James Cambias – This sat on my wishlist for a good few months before I fortuitously grabbed it at Forbidden Planet. Sci-fi is still a genre I’m not as familiar with, much as I’m coming to love it, and for the first few chapters I struggled to get into this book. You’d think I could assimilate other worlds easily enough due to my years of reading fantasy, but not so much. Eventually, though, I started to understand the characters and the culture clash and I found the book really interesting. It’s a first contact novel and the world that Cambias creates is truly bizarre but fascinating. It’s not first contact for humans, it’s first contact for the Ilmatarans, complete with their dissection of a human; it’s so cool to see this flipped and a human as a “victim” of a completely innocent group of Ilmatarans. Very well done.

Have you read any of these books? What are your thoughts?

TSS: August 2014 Reading Wrap-Up

tssbadge1It’s the last day of August and, to me, this means that summer is over. For the most part we had a really nice summer this year, lots of sunshine and warm days, although most of August has been pretty dreary in true English style. The fall has its charms, though, so I’m not too disappointed to see the summer go. We have several exciting plans for the rest of the year, including a trip to Florence and Pisa, completely paying off all debt except for student loans, and my husband finally finishing his university course after six years. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, in a couple of months I hope to feel a lot freer and happier and ready to embrace more of the possibilities my life contains. I hesitate even saying that, because I know I should be embracing the moment rather than always waiting, and my life has been excellent at throwing bad things at me as soon as I think everything is okay, but never mind. It’s true.

As seems to be my regular refrain these days, I’ve spent a lot of this month not blogging. I’ve done plenty of other stuff, in particular a lot of crocheting while watching various things on Netflix. I finished watching Call the Midwife and we watched the first season of Orphan Black and now I’ve started watching Mr. Selfridge. Mostly I have made piles of granny squares, not sure exactly what to do with them, but when I figure that out I will share.

I read a surprising 15 books this month, with a lot towards the end of the month. I realized that I wasn’t going to hit my goal of 150 books if I kept reading at my current pace around the middle of the month, so essentially, I started devoting more time to reading. I don’t necessarily like reading just to hit a random number I picked out of the air, but I can prioritise my free time and I have plenty of books I can’t wait to read, so it wasn’t a difficult choice. I also had a work trip to London, which meant both a visit to Forbidden Planet and an evening spent mostly on my own reading. This always helps.

Books read:

Fiction

  • The Suffragette Scandal, Courtney Milan
  • The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez
  • Skin Game, Jim Butcher
  • The Ophelia Prophecy, Sharon Lynn Fisher
  • A Darkling Sea, James Cambias
  • Cold Magic, Kate Elliott
  • The Wild Ways, Tanya Huff
  • The Martian, Andy Weir
  • The Anti-Pope, Robert Rankin
  • Branded by Fire, Nalini Singh
  • Attachments, Rainbow Rowell

Non-Fiction

  • Song of the Vikings, Nancy Marie Brown
  • Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, Mary Roach
  • Paris at the End of the World, John Baxter

Graphic Novels

  • The Sandman, vol. 1: Preludes & Nocturnes

And I can’t really choose a favorite. It’s easier to choose books I didn’t like because I did like the majority of them, honestly. Maybe The Martian was my favorite.

Coming Up in September

Mostly this month on the blog I’m excited for A More Diverse Universe. I will definitely be reading several books by authors of color and possibly putting together some recommendations as well. This is something I feel strongly about so I hope I will be able to pull myself out of my blogging slump in enough time to actually write as much as I’d like to.

I’d also like to participate in RIP IX but I’m not sure what I’m going to read yet. If I can get my head together, I will do a post about it.

If you can’t tell, though, I’m really struggling to blog these days; I’m actually even still reading books I’ve been sent for review but then completely failing to write about them. I’m not sure where my desire to write has gone, or rather, I still have a desire to write, but I seem to stare at a blank screen for a long time before any words come out. I just don’t have the energy any more to come home and blog after work, and even weekends seem mainly devoted to doing things I enjoy more than blogging. Maybe the time has come for me to give it up, but I honestly don’t actually want to. I like blogging and writing and I love books and I still don’t have anyone regularly in my real life to share any of those things with. So for now, I intend to continue with a half-hearted presence until I decide what I actually want to do.

What’s ahead for your September?