July Reading Recap and Epic Fantasy Book Recommendations

July was an action packed month filled with travel, vacations, friends, writing workshops, the beginning of a new writing project, a return to healthy eating (haha), and lots and lots of reading! Yay!

Here’s what I read in July:

This month started with Tome Topple. I decided my first Tome would be The Tiger’s Daugher by K. Arsenault Rivera, and oh boy. As you may already know if you read my “Mid-Year Book Freakout” post, this is my favorite book I read so far this year. The world-building is excellent. I loved the characters. The framing of the story (mostly told through a massive letter written by one woman to her best friend / love) made me want to go back and re-read the beginning as soon as I finished the last page. There is so much detail in those opening pages that takes on even more meaning once you’ve read the end. If you like epic fantasy, but you want something other than the usual medieval-based stuff, definitely check this out. It’s not getting near enough buzz considering how good it is.

After that, I dove into The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton. This is not Tessa’s first book, but it’s the first book I’ve read by her. You may remember that I attended a Madcap Retreat a while back where she was one of the organizers / instructors and was blown away by her awesomeness. I’ve been eagerly waiting to read this book for over a year, and it did not disappoint. I haven’t read King Lear, so I can’t speak to the retelling aspects of this story, but again, if you like epic fantasy, especially Game of Thrones type stuff, but think it would be even better if it was almost exclusively about the badass ladies and if there was a lot more magic and witchy vibes, then you definitely, definitely, need to read this book.

On the last day of my vacation (basically, on the very long trip across the country to home), I managed to squeeze in what I thought was the last book in the Adirondack mystery series I’ve been reading for years now. Unfortunately, Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer Fleming ends on a cliffhanger and there is no sign of if/when the series might continue. Even more unfortunately, I wasn’t exactly thrilled with this book. So, I think I’m done with this series, whether or not it continues. If you have a recommendation for a similar series (contemporary small town romantic mystery / suspense), please let me know. This is not a genre I’m very familiar with, but I think I’d like to read more. Bonus points to you if you have a recommendation that is written by an author of color.

I returned from vacation only to repack and get back on the road, this time to the annual RWA Conference in Denver, CO. For that trip, I decided to listen to the final book in the Court of Fives series, Buried Heart by Kate Elliott. Maybe you are super sick of hearing me gush about this series, but too bad! This series finale was so good! It was everything I wanted it to be and more that I didn’t even know that I wanted. But yeah, please read this series if you like YA fantasy along the lines of Ember in the Ashes and The Winner’s Curse (but even better than those, IMO).

Then, as though I hadn’t had enough epic fantasy this month, I finally read Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake! This book has been on my Kindle forever. It is one of two YA fantasy books that released in 2016 that I have been trying to get around to reading because now both series are almost complete (the other is The Queen of Blood). Three Dark Crowns sounded like a five star read for me from the moment I read the blurb, and it definitely delivered. Sometimes, when you write books, you read a book and you think, “Damn, I wish I wrote that.” This was one of those books. It’s exactly the kind of YA fantasy that I love to read (and want to write). This is also true about the Court of Fives series. So, check this one out if you haven’t already, because I’m about to devour the rest of the series, and you’ll probably be hearing about it a lot in the coming months.

Finally, I found out that Sherry Thomas has a short story in her Lady Sherlock series called Charlotte Holmes and the Locked Box. You can find it here, if you’re interested in getting a free taste of this series. It’s very short (6 pages), and I don’t think reading it will really spoil anything if you haven’t read the first book in the series. But, it will give you an idea of the voice / tone of the novels if you’re curious and haven’t been able to get the first one from your library. Reading a six page, free short story shouldn’t really count toward my reading goal, but whatever. I’m including it because I love this series.

I’ve been trying not to do TBRs, but I currently have three books on my Kindle from my library that will disappear if I take my Kindle off airplane mode. This is a problem because I just purchased a bunch of new ebooks on sale, plus I have some upcoming new releases pre-ordered. So, I really have to read/finish these three books in August so that I can get my new books onto my Kindle. Luckily, I have one last family vacation coming up that should allow me some quality lakeside reading time. Expect to hear more about those books next month.

I hope you are enjoying the last bit of summer (or winter) and that you have some excellent books to read. Until next post, Happy Reading!

Mid-year Book Freakout Tag

This post is what happens when I’m supposed to be writing my newsletter, but instead start watching BookTube videos and see a new tag video. In this case, you can thank Thoughts on Tomes because her video inspired me to write up my responses to the “Mid-year Book Freakout Tag.”

Questions and responses:

  1. Best book I’ve read so far this year:
    • The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera — I loved the setting and the world building. I loved the framing of the story, starting in present day and flashing back to the past for long stretches written as a letter from one woman to another. I loved the ending. When I finished it, I immediately wanted to go back and start reading it over again. Luckily, there’s a prequel coming out later this year.
  2. Best sequel I’ve read so far this year:
    • The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin — No surprise here. Excellent ending to a fantastic series. My fingers are crossed that she wins the Hugo for best novel for this one as well.
  3. New release I haven’t read yet:
    • The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton — I pre-ordered this, but for a variety of reasons, haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I will definitely be reading this before the end of the year.
  4. Most anticipated release for the second half of the year:
    • Vengeful by V. E. Schwab — Vicious is, hands down, my favorite book by Victoria Schwab. So, when I heard there was going to be a sequel, I may have squealed and flailed a bit. I’ve had Vengeful on pre-order for months. Of all the new releases coming out in the second half of this year, this is the one I’m most likely to drop everything to read immediately.
  5. Biggest disappointment so far this year:
    • Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer-Fleming — If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that this book is part of a series of mysteries that take place in the Adirondacks. I’ve been reading one per year for the past few years on my annual vacation to “Camp” in the Adirondacks. I thought this one was the last in the series, but the ending appears to be a cliffhanger, leaving room for more. The weird thing is, this book was published in 2013, and it’s unclear if there will be any more books in this series, despite the ending. I’ve really enjoyed many of the books in this series, but this one, for a variety of reasons including what I felt were inconsistent characterizations and the previously mentioned cliffhanger ending, left me incredibly disappointed.
  6. Biggest surprise so far this year:
    • Definitely how much I enjoyed The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. I listened to this on audiobook, which is about 47 hours long. It’s a LONG book. And initially, I thought I wasn’t going to like it. But the more I listened, the more I enjoyed it. So, yeah. This is the book that most surprised me so far this year.
  7. Favorite new (or new-to-me) author:
    • Kate Elliott — I finally got around to reading her Court of Fives series, and woah. It’s so good. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for new books by her.
  8. Newest fictional crush:
    • I rarely swoon over fictional characters, so I’m not sure how to answer this one. The first character that came to mind was Murderbot. From the first sentence of All Systems Red by Martha Wells, I was instantly charmed by this genderless security android that doesn’t really want to be around humans. It’s not really a crush, but Murderbot has certainly carved out a warm little corner of my heart.
  9. Newest favorite fictional character:
    • Hands down favorite so far this year is Charlotte Holmes from the Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas. I may go so far as to say that I like this version of Sherlock even better than BBC Sherlock.
  10. Book that made you cry:
    • The Rose & The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh — Which I listened to on audiobook and which made me cry when I was listening to a certain part at the end while eating breakfast at work. Only slightly embarrassing.
  11. Book that made you happy:
    • A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole — I have a weak spot for “I didn’t know I was a princess” stories. I especially like “I’m a scientist, and I didn’t know I was a princess” stories. This book is so charming and lovely, I think I grinned my way through most of it. Now I have a paperback copy that I can shove into the hands of all my friends so they can also enjoy it. Plus book two is coming out later this year.
  12. Favorite book to movie adaptation:
    • A Wrinkle in Time — Okay, so this was also the only book to movie adaptation that I’ve watched this year, and I have mixed feelings about the storytelling in the movie version. However, the cinematography and the cast were outstanding. Regardless of what I (an adult) think of the movie, I’ve heard that the target audience (middle graders) are loving it, and that’s all that matters to me.
  13. Favorite blog post I’ve done so far this year:
  14. Most beautiful book I’ve bought or been given so far this year:
    • Oh man. I already talked about how much I love the new covers for the Amberlough series. They are so pretty!
  15. Books I need to read before the end of the year:
    • First off, I really want to do a full re-read of Megan Whalen Turner’s series, starting with The Thief, so that I can finally read Thick as Thieves in preparation for book 6 that’s coming out next year. Yay!!! I love this series. If you like secondary world fantasy and haven’t read it yet, get on it. You won’t regret it.
    • Then there are the “next in the series” books that I haven’t read yet and need to: Our Dark Duet, Raven Stratagem, Armistice, and Obsidio.
    • Finally there are the “first in a series” books that I’ve been meaning to read for a while now but haven’t started: Leviathan Wakes, The Queen of Blood, and The Falconer.
    • I expect all of these will be “five star reads” (or re-reads, as the case may be) for me, with the exception of Our Dark Duet which I’ve heard isn’t as good as This Savage Song.

I’ve spent WAY too long assembling this post with all the cover photos, etc. I suppose I should get back to writing my newsletter now. If you’re interested in hearing about the RWA conference I just returned from and/or want to know more about the adult contemporary fantasy book series I’m launching this fall, you should subscribe to my monthly newsletter updates. Subscribers will get cool stuff like freebies, giveaways, and swag. You can sign up here.

Stay tuned for my July reading recap. Until then, happy reading!

June recap and mid-year book stats

We’re at the mid-way point for this year, and I’m off to Camp (aka: vacation with friends) to dive deep into my Tome Topple reads. While I do that, here’s a short post to share what I read in June and my mid-year book stats.

I finally got around to seeing why everyone is talking about “Murderbot.” The first book I read this month was All Systems Red by Martha Wells. I really liked the voice in this novella. It had me hooked from the opening paragraph. I also enjoyed the story, but I’m not sure if I’ll keep going with the series. It was really fun, and I highly recommend it. The ending isn’t really a cliff-hanger, but leaves things open so there can be more. Since I’m just okay with the ending as-is, I’ll probably leave this series for a while and come back to read the rest later.

I decided to pick up another novella after that, this time Binti: The Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor, the third in this series. I liked it, but I definitely enjoyed the first two more than this one. I’ve never connected well with Binti as a character, instead what I like most about these novellas is the unique world building.

I’ve been slowly working my way through John Scalzi’s Don’t Live For Your Obituary for several months now. If you’ve been reading his blog from the beginning you can probably skip this because it’s just a compilation of his blog posts on writing. I’ve only been reading Whatever for a couple of years, so a lot of these short essays are new to me. It was a nice antidote to the Indie Author Survival Guide by Susan Kaye Quinn, another book I’ve been slowly working my way through but finally finished this month. My main frustration with Scalzi’s essay collection was the excess of typos. Usually typos don’t bug me, but there were too many to ignore. I really hope the publisher fixes them and updates the book at some point.

Meanwhile, Indie Author Survival Guide, while really useful as a starting place for research purposes, even though it’s a few years old at this point, is somehow no longer available. I checked the author’s website to see if there was any reason posted, but I can’t find anything. So that’s odd. Maybe she’s making a new edition because this one is three years old? Maybe she’s decided it no longer fits her brand? Who knows. I get the sense that a lot has changed since she wrote this, even the second edition that I read. But, I think it still provides a good overview of how indie (self) publishing works and the main things you need to consider along the way.

I’ve also been reading some short stories. I got a copy of Robots Vs. Fairies for my birthday. I’ve been reading a few stories here and there, over several weeks. That’s the benefit of short stories, I guess. They’re short enough that you can read one while you’re having your morning tea and then get on with your day. I’m definitely team fairy, but the arguments for team robot were very convincing.

But, speaking of robots, the last book I read this month was Head On by John Scalzi. This is the sequel to Lock In. Things I love about this series: it’s a sci-fi buddy cop mystery series set in the near future, and the world building is really well done. Plus, it’s Scalzi, so it’s a super fast and fun read with good banter. I really enjoyed it.

Mid-year book stats:

  • So far this year, I’ve read 31 books. That’s 62% of my annual goal of 50 books. I’m very ahead of schedule, but I will not be increasing my annual goal.
  • Not counting in-progress books, that’s a total of 6,518 pages read, equating to about 326 pages per book, on average.
  • Nearly all of the books I read were fiction (28 total) vs. non-fiction (3 total).
  • Only 8 of the books I read were published this year (new releases). The rest were “backlist” (published prior to 2018).
  • Nearly all of the books I read were written by female-identifying authors (28 total) vs. male-identifying authors (4 total). The collection of short stories (Robots Vs. Fairies) had a nearly even mix of both, so I counted it in both categories.
  • 35% of the books I read were written by authors of color.
  • So far, I’ve read mostly in digital (17 books) and audio (11 books) vs. print (3 books).
  • Genre split pretty evenly across sci-fi (8 book), fantasy (9 books), realistic (6 books), and romance (7 books) with 2 mystery books as outliers (the first two books in the Charlotte Holmes series). Note: I counted Robots Vs. Fairies in both sci-fi and fantasy.
  • And oddly enough, so far this year I’m skewing heavily toward adult books (23 total) vs. YA (8 total). This is usually more evenly split between adult and YA.

We’ll see how this changes or stays the same in the second half of this year. (If you want to see my stats from 2017, that post is here.)

Now it’s time for some vacation and Tome Topple. Still trying to decide what book will be first… If you want in progress updates or to jump in and buddy read with me, come say hi on Twitter (@emenozzi).

Until next post, happy reading!

Serendipitous #TomeTopple Timing — Summer Vacation Edition

I just found out that the 6th round of “Tome Topple” (hosted by one of my favorite BookTubers, “Thoughts on Tomes”) will be taking place at the perfect time for me to join in and tackle some of the big books on my Kindle that I’ve been meaning to get around to reading! Yay for good timing!

If you don’t know about Tome Topple, it’s a two week readathon challenge where you read books that have > 500 pages. Graphic novel omnibuses count, but short story anthologies do not. There are a five challenge tasks you can tick off in the process, but mostly it’s all about the pages read. Definitely check out the video linked above for more info.

In anticipation of this bookish event, I’ve been sorting my Goodreads “tbr-kindle” shelf by number of pages to see if any of the books I want to read next happen to qualify. I am sure you will not be shocked to learn that I have more than a few qualifying books just hanging out, waiting to be read. And by “more than a few,” I actually mean an embarrassingly large number. Okay, there are 30. I have 30 books over 500 pages long. And that’s only counting the ones I have on Kindle. I have more if you count paper books sitting on my physical TBR shelf.

Please note, these are books that I’ve purchased at one point or another. Maybe I happened to buy them on sale. Let’s hope so. But, it’s entirely possible that I paid full price for at least some of these. Actually, I know I did. One or two of them I even pre-ordered.

But I’m not going to feel guilty about any of that. The rule for this year was no guilt reading. Instead, I looked through the list of books on my Kindle with more than 500 pages and picked out the ones that I’m most excited about reading right now.

Here’s my short list (or Tome Topple TBR, if you prefer):

What I chose and why:

  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen — I’ve been trying to get to this for years. Based on everything I’ve heard, I think I will love this book. I really want to see what all the fuss is about and if it lives up to the hype. Also, isn’t there a movie coming out at some point?
  • Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey — Similarly, I’ve been delaying my enjoyment of what sounds like an excellent Syfy series (The Expanse) because I really want to read the book first. I’ve heard the books get better as you go on, but I have to read book 1 to get to book 2 (and so on). Also this is squarely in my sci-fi, space opera wheel house.
  • The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton — I pre-ordered this because I really like Tessa Gratton (the human / writer) and this book sounded great. The book release was right in the middle of a very busy and stressful time for me. So, I held off on reading it. Now, with two weeks of (mostly) uninterrupted reading time on the horizon, I think it’s time to dive into this world.
  • Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab — I really liked the first book in this duology. I pre-ordered this one because I was so excited about it. Then I let it sit and didn’t read it right away. I honestly can’t believe I’ve let this one sit for so long.
  • Jade City by Fonda Lee — This book sounds so good. Plus, it was nominated for a Nebula this year. I’ve been trying to get to it for the past few months, and it happens to be over 500 pages. Hooray!
  • The Tiger’s Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera — This has also been on my radar for a while. I recently watched Sam from “Thoughts on Tomes” gush (spoiler-free) about this book in several videos. So, it seems fitting that this be one of my Tome Topple choices.

There are at least six more that I could substitute for any of the ones on this list. In fact, I made a list of 18 candidates (including these 6) in my BuJo for reference. Can you tell that I’m excited for vacation time and (mostly) uninterrupted reading time? I’m also excited to start drafting my next novel. But after a month of serious editing on Eve of the Fae, I need a break to refill the creative well, first.

If you’re planning on participating in this round of Tome Topple, let me know in comments and link to your TBR (booktube, blog, or whatever). And, if you plan to read any of these books and want to do a “buddy read” with me, let me know!

Bring on the Tomes! And the summer vacations! 🙂

May recap and birthday book haul

May is over. I celebrated surviving another year around the sun. And, I got some awesome birthday books (and a somewhat bookish, totally lovely oversized mug) from my mama who spoils me. Check it out:

I’ve already read Night of Cake and Puppets on Kindle, and it’s adorable. But, I couldn’t resist asking for this illustrated hard cover edition. I’m definitely planning to re-read it, but I’m saving it for a dark and stormy night in front of the fire. That’s how I read it the first time, and it was the perfect book savoring atmosphere for this story.

Robots vs. Fairies landed on my wish list because I love both sci-fi AND fantasy, robots AND fairies. Plus some authors I love contributed stories to this anthology. I’m not usually a short story person, but I’m trying to read more to learn the craft. What I didn’t expect was the excellent cover art. It’s stunning. I love it. It made my new Pinterest board of favorite SFF covers. (Pinterest and I are not quite besties, yet, so feel free to follow my boards, but don’t expect much…)

Speaking of excellent cover art, did you notice Armistice in that stack? Book two in the Amberlough series released on my birthday, and it’s calling to me. I need to start this soon so I can find out what happens next. But…the thing that’s really calling to me is book two in Elizabeth Moon’s military space opera series, Marque and Reprisal. It’s been a while since I read Trading in Danger, but I really liked it. This sub-genre is my reader catnip. This series is a little old (like me) but, I found out that she’s written more books in this world. So, I need to get reading.

Enough drooling over new books, let’s talk about what I read in May…

First up, I listened to the audiobook of Poisoned Blade (book two in the Court of Fives series). I’m still very much enjoying this series, and planning to request the last book in the series on audiobook to keep me entertained on my upcoming summer trips. Also, I found out today (via Twitter) that the author of this series will be writing a new story for Magic the Gathering about Nicol Bolas and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. I know my MtG padwan (who has now surpassed me in MtG geekery and skill — this took about five days, btw — also, he’s nine) will be very interested in this news.

After some solid YA epic fantasy, a little YA space opera seemed like a nice change of pace. So, I picked up the Blood of a Thousand Stars ebook from the library. I liked the first book in this duology, and was curious to see what would happen in book two. There’s a lot going on in this series. I think I may have enjoyed book two more than book one. Still, I wonder why they tried to cram this whole story into two books. Why can’t YA have the same long-running epic space opera series books that you see for adults? It’s kind of a bummer. I’d have liked to see more in this world because I had almost started thinking of it as a less-funny (but not in a bad way), more romance-heavy, junior version of Scalzi’s new Collapsing Empire series. Teenage me (or even adult me) would have read the heck out of that.

Since that one didn’t quite quench my thirst for sci-fi, I decided to listen to the audiobook for Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty. Oh man, if you’re into clones and all the politics / ethics surrounding cloning, plus locked room mysteries, you’ll probably love this book. I’m always down for a mystery, and I love fiction that explores meaty ethical and philosophical ideas. So, yeah. I liked this book. If you need any more reasons to pick this up, it was nominated for both the Hugo and the Nebula. Which was why I’d originally picked it up. But then I remembered that I’d read one of her other books a while back (The Shambling Guide to New York City) and also enjoyed it. So, I checked out her blog and found out that she just finished writing the novelization for the Star Wars Solo movie! And it features more L3! The book comes out in September. I’ve never read a Star Wars book before, but now I’m seriously considering it.

Speaking of ideas-driven sci-fi, the book club I participated in back when I lived in Portland decided to read The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin in a month where I happened to be in town and available to join them. So, I re-read the book in preparation for the discussion. I’m so glad I did! I’d forgotten how meaty this book is — chock full of ideas. I loved it. It’s entirely possible that a lot of this went over my head the first time I read it. But, this time so much resonated with me and got me thinking. Le Guin is definitely one of my SFF heroes, and I’m so sad she’s gone, but thrilled that she left us with a mountain of excellent SFF, so much I haven’t read yet, enough to keep me entertained for the rest of my life.

After all this thinking, I decided to pick up something short, something fun, and something romantic. Enter, Game On by Nicola Marsh. I’d heard about this new contemporary romance series featuring heroines who play Aussie Rules Football (I have no idea what this is, but it sounds like rugby, maybe?) when one of my favorite podcasts (Smart Podcast, Trashy Books) interviewed the authors. I love a good sports romance when it’s the heroine who’s the sporty one. So, I thought I’d check this out. I didn’t realize it was going to be so short. It’s only about 70 pages. The other two in the series seem to be a little longer, but they’re all novellas. This is a bummer because I don’t like spending more that a buck or two on a novella. I’ll probably wait to see if the other books go on sale, because I can’t get them from my library, but I wasn’t so sucked into the series that I absolutely need to read the rest of the books. Still, if you love contemporary romance novellas, (and if you do, I’d probably wonder how you found my blog…but welcome!) you might love this series.

Well, that wraps up what I read in May. June may end up being a light reading month for me because I’m currently focused on getting my contemporary fantasy / romance novel ready to send to the copy editor. Stay tuned (or sign up for my newsletter) for more on that adventure. However, July is going to involve a lot of travel and a vacation. So, I’ve been pulling together a short list of books to choose from (it’s not a TBR, I swear, I just have so many books on my Kindle that I forget what’s there sometimes). You can check out that shelf on Goodreads if you’re interested. If you see anything there that you want to vote up to the top of my list, leave a comment here and let me know.

Last, but certainly not least, I set up a mailing list so you can get my blog posts sent directly to your email inbox, if you’re interested in that sort of thing. If that sounds good to you, sign up via this link. Also, I paid for the WordPress upgrade so you should no longer have to see ads on my blog. The URL changed slightly, but the old address will still work.

Okay, this post got long, fast. Time for me to get back to editing! Happy reading!

April reading summary and other news

Hello there, readers! My April recap is going up pretty late. Sorry about that. The first week of May I was traveling, and this week I’ve been catching up on all the things I missed while I was gone. Now I’m finally getting a chance to sit down and write this post to tell you about what I read in April. Here we go…

I didn’t have to go anywhere in April, and I’m fully recovered from my eye issue. So, I only listened to one ebook this month. That was A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas, the second book in her Charlotte Holmes series. This series is so good. Seriously. If you like Sherlock Holmes retellings (or re-imaginings) you really need to check this out. I probably said the same thing last month, but it’s still true. The third book comes out in October, so go and get caught up. I’m not kidding. I think I like this better even than BBC Sherlock, and that’s saying something.

Just as I was finishing that audiobook, two romance books that I’ve been excited to read and have been hearing excellent things about came off hold. So I dove into those two books next.

I read A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole first. It’s delightful. If you like movies like The Prince and Me, or you’re really into this upcoming royal wedding, you really need to read this book. It’s so good. The heroine is a science geek, and it’s not just a character gimmick. She actually gets to solve plot problems with science. The hero is charming and adorable. And he does a pretty good grovel after he messes things up (repeatedly).

After that, I devoured Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai. I have to say that I was highly skeptical going in because the entire plot revolves around these two characters being in a (contemporary) “Romeo and Juliet” sort of situation where they absolutely cannot be together. I didn’t think there was any (modern) scenario where that would be believable enough to hold up an entire novel-length plot, but I can safely say I was wrong. There’s a lot of heat in this one, in addition to the forbidden love thing. So, if that’s your jam, don’t miss this book.

Finally, I convinced my local (and new-to-me) sci-fi book club to read Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly. The easiest way for me to attempt to explain this would be that it’s like a queer John le Carré novel. I think you could make the argument for this being sci-fi or fantasy, depending on how you define genres. There’s real-world physics (read: no magic), but it’s set in a completely imagined secondary world. So if you like your SFF on the “light” side and you also like very political spy novels (like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy), definitely pick this up. Also, do it fast because it’s a finalist for the Nebula award (winners announced later this month) and the second book comes out on Tuesday, 15 May!

Overall, it was a great reading month for me. I consider all four of these to be five star reads. And May is off to a great start as well. I’ve already finished two highly enjoyable books this month, and I’m in the middle two more. One of the books I’m currently reading is another Nebula finalist (Six Wakes). I’d hoped to read at least four of the seven novel finalists before the awards were announced, but I don’t think I’m going to get the fourth book (Jade City) read in time. We’ll see…Stay tuned and find out in a few weeks when my May recap post goes up.

Until then, happy reading! And happy birthday month to me! 🙂

March reading summary and recap

Audiobooks saved my reading life this month. My eye is getting better, but I’ve kept up with the audiobooks because I had a lot of travel this month, and I can listen to them everywhere.

Here’s what I read in March:

If you like Sherlock Holmes, you have got to check out A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas. I’d been wanting to read this series for a while because I love the premise (Sherlock and Watson are both women in this version). But, I had no idea how much I would love the writing and the story. Listening to it on audiobook made it harder for me to guess the “who done it” part of the mystery. I find it’s harder to pick up on clues when I’m listening than when I’m reading. I have a very visual memory — I’m one of those readers who remembers where things are on the page and in the book — and names are especially hard for me to remember when I only hear them and don’t see them in print. In some ways, that made listening to the story even more fun. I was able to just enjoy it without trying to race ahead.

One thing I’m learning about audiobooks vs. reading in print is that pacing is so much more obvious in audiobook. When I’m reading and get to a particularly tense part of a book, I may skim ahead a bit, or read faster to get to the part where the tension is released. Similarly, when I get to lengthy descriptions, I also tend to skim. When I’m listening, I just have to go at the pace of the narrator. Admittedly, I’ve amped up that pace considerably. I listen at 1.25x to 1.5x normal speed. When I listen at normal speed it’s too easy to get distracted and tune out the narrator. The faster speed forces my brain to stay engaged in the story and not wander off. Luckily, the Libby app I use (because I’m listening to audiobooks from my library) doesn’t make everyone sound like chipmunks at that speed. Somehow, it still sounds “normal” to me.

Where I noticed pacing the most was when I started listening to Court of Fives by Kate Elliot. The pacing in that book is relentless (in a good way). Listening to this book made me think a lot about pacing for my own fantasy novels. Every time you think things will slow down, there’s another twist. I didn’t think listening to epic fantasy on audiobook would be a good fit for me because secondary world fantasy usually means lots of new names and terms that (for me) are a lot easier to follow in print. I did have to back up and replay in places, and several times I wished I could easily turn back to check something that happened earlier in the book. I probably only picked up on half the clues I normally would have, which makes me wonder if the political aspect of this story would seem too obvious if I’d been reading instead of listening. But the narrator was great and the story and world were engaging. So, I definitely will be continuing with the series, and I’ll probably stick with the audiobooks.

Names and places, and the fact that it had been a while since I read the first book, also threw me off while listening to The Rose & The Dagger by Renee Ahdieh. It took me a while to remember who was who and where things left off in book one. But, once I got through a few chapters, I was completely sucked into this world again. As the story grew closer to wrapping up, I didn’t want to hit pause. That’s how I ended up listening to a very emotional bit near the end while eating my breakfast at work and tearing up over my yogurt and granola during the morning rush in the mini-kitchen. I think I managed to be discreet enough that no one noticed.

Another thing to file under “listening to romance audiobooks in public places can get awkward,” while reading both No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean and Buns by Alice Clayton, I somehow always managed to get to the “sexy times” scenes at the worst moments. One example: I was listening to No Good Duke… in the car while waiting for my husband to get out of a presentation he was attending in the very small town we’ve moved to. Things between the hero and heroine started getting steamy right about the time the presentation let out. What felt like the entire small town started walking past my car parked outside the venue. It took me a minute to realize they could probably hear the audio from outside the car, and I scrambled to turn the volume down.

Since I seemed to be on a roll with finishing up books in series I’d started but hadn’t gotten around to finishing, I picked up Shiny Broken Pieces by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton on audiobook. I enjoyed this ballerina thriller just as much as I’d enjoyed the first book (Tiny Pretty Things). I love dance books, especially ballet, especially when there’s a lot of focus on how much work goes into being a professional dancer. I’m a sucker for the reading equivalent of the “training montage.” If you also like that stuff, plus girl-focused thrillers like Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, definitely check out these books.

The only non-audiobook I read this month was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. This was one of my favorites as a kid. Like many people, I wanted to re-read the book before I saw the movie. I ended up re-reading the first few chapters before I saw the movie and the rest after. It brought back everything I loved about Ms. L’Engle’s books. Now I kind of want to re-read this entire series — especially the ones that come later when Meg and Calvin’s kids are the ones having the adventures. I’m so excited that they made this book into such a visually stunning movie. The big-name cast and the fact that they had to cut a lot of the detail in the plot made it a little hard for me to suspend reality and enjoy the movie. But, I’m hearing that kids are loving it, and that’s the point. I’m no longer the target demographic for this story, but the idea that a new generation of kids might love it as much as I did makes me very happy.

That’s it for me for March. I hope your March reading made you happy, and your spring is sunny and bright!

February reading summary and bad luck

I didn’t get much reading done in February even though there was a road trip and a vacation involved. This month, I finished three books and got hit by at least two doses of bad luck. People say bad luck comes in threes. So, I’m really hoping we can leave it at two, but I’m hanging on in case there’s one more to come.

Here are the books I read in February:

The month started off great with a weekend writing retreat to Grass Valley with my San Francisco Area romance writer friends. I had a very productive weekend, and then hit the road with my husband for a fun camping road trip to the desert. Along the way, I managed to devour The Cruel Prince and soak up little bits from Scalzi’s Don’t Live For Your Obituary.

The Cruel Prince was my first Holly Black novel. I think it was an excellent introduction to her writing and her version of the fae, which I enjoyed a LOT more than the fae as depicted in SJM’s ACoTaR series. Holly Black’s fae are more traditional tricksters that don’t show up on the page like humans with pointy ears and magic. There’s a creepy otherness to her fae, similar to the ones in An Enchantment of Ravens, that I appreciate. Plus, I really enjoyed her world-building. I didn’t enjoy some of the plot points or how some of the relationships developed (especially the one between the human sisters). Also, I felt like there were some frustrating character inconsistencies. But, overall I enjoyed the story and will definitely be requesting book 2 from the library as soon as it’s available.

That was the only book I managed to finish while on vacation. On the way home, our car got broken into and a ton of stuff got stolen (bad luck #1). So, I’ve been having to deal with that mess, which didn’t leave a lot of time left over for reading (or writing, for that matter).

I did manage to squeeze in some much needed reading breaks to read and finish Beneath the Sugar Sky, book three in the Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway series. I didn’t love this one as much as the first two. Something about the story in this one just didn’t come together for me, and I didn’t connect with it as much as I did the other two. Down Among the Sticks and Bones is still my favorite of the three, with EHaD a close second. I think I may have liked it more if more of the book had taken place in Sumi’s world. As it ended up, we only got a brief glimpse of that world instead of the full immersion we got in Jack and Jill’s world during DAtSaB.

After that, I was psyched to dive into The Belles, which I’d pre-ordered and have been so excited to read for over a year now. But, I ended up with an eye injury that’s making it very hard to spend time staring at any screens, Kindle, computer, or otherwise (bad luck #2). So, I’ve had to put The Belles on hold (temporarily) and switch to anything that was available on audiobook through my library.

Luckily, Cream of the Crop (book 2 in Alice Clayton’s Hudson Valley series) and A Study in Scarlett Women (a Sherlock Holmes re-telling with a female Sherlock) were both available to download. These have both been on my list for a while, and a little romance is always good medicine for when you’re down in the dumps.

I started with Cream of the Crop, which was a fast and fun listen. I love the main character, and the hero. I love all the food descriptions in this series (this one made me crave all the cheese). There’s a lot of hot physical attraction in this book, mostly because the main character has been lusting after the hero (a dairy farmer she’s seen at her local farmer’s market) for a long time. But, even with the HEA, I was not convinced that the characters ever got past the hot sex. When I read this with my writer brain on, I can’t help noticing that I’m not entirely sure what these two characters like about each other besides all the physical attraction. That doesn’t necessarily keep one from enjoying the story, but it is frustrating if you’re looking for more than just a physical connection in your romance. I will say that conveying this aspect of the romance is already set at a high degree of difficulty given that the story is told entirely from her POV (except the epilogue), and he’s not a man of many words (strong, brooding, and silent type). So, if that’s going to bug you, then maybe this isn’t the book for you. But, if you like sassy, bold heroines with a ton of competence and confidence, and you like humor and heat in your romance, you should definitely check this one out (not entirely necessary to read Nuts first).

I have a feeling that there will be a lot more audiobooks in my future for March because my eye is not 100% yet. Outside of audiobooks, I’ve got Unearthed by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner on my kindle from the library. So, I’m trying to read that when I’m feeling up to it. I’m about 10% in and not quite engaged in the world / characters yet, but I’m going to keep going a bit further before I make a go/no go decision because I like these authors and have enjoyed their previous books.

These are all the books I have either downloaded on audiobook or are in-progress on my kindle right now:

I keep wanting to make a huge TBR list each month. It’s been a struggle to hold off and pick the next book after I’m done with my current book. But, so far, I’m enjoying just seeing where the reading takes me… and hoping that March is a little luckier for me than February.

January reading summary and other happenings

Well, January turned out to be an excellent month for reading. I finished six books! Here’s what I read in January (links go to Goodreads):

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas (audiobook) — You may remember that I started this audiobook in December but couldn’t find time to finish it before the end of the year. I had some airport travel, public transit, and good chunk of walking back and forth to work in January, so I managed to plow through the rest of it. I really enjoyed this book more than I thought I would when I started it.
  • The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin (Kindle) — I’m sad to see this series end, but this was an excellent ending to a fantastic series that has become one of my all-time favorites. I got to buddy read this with two friends, which was great because it meant I had people to talk with about it after I finished. I’m going to miss these characters and this world.
  • An Enchantment of Ravens (Kindle) — I really like the depiction of the Fae in this book. These are not your ACoTaR Fae. These are creepy, tricky, almost alien creatures – more like the traditional folklore, I think. But don’t get me wrong, there’s still a solid romance here between Fae and human, and a good adventure that keeps you moving through the world. There were a few weak spots in plot, but the characters were engaging and overall I really enjoyed it.
  • The Spymaster’s Lady by Joanne Borne (Kindle, library) — Here’s another book that I enjoyed more than I thought I would. From the cover, you’d think this is an older “bodice ripper” romance, but it was published only ten years ago. I’d heard it recommended on something like three consecutive Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcasts. What they said about how much they loved this author and this series convinced me I needed to read it. Luckily, my library had a copy on Kindle because there’s no way I was going to be toting around a book with that much bare man-chest. Sorry. The banter, the plot, and the characters (spies!) had me hooked. Definitely recommend.
  • Modern Tarot by Michelle Tea (Kindle, library) — I’ve been pretty curious about tarot and wanted to learn more about it. I heard about this book in a Rookie podcast and requested the digital copy from my library so I could check it out. I didn’t really read it cover to cover. It’s not really that sort of book. But I skimmed through it and may come back to it after I try a couple other books to learn more.
  • Take the Lead by Alexis Daria (Kindle) — The premise of this book had me hooked. The heroine is the equivalent of a “Dancing with the Stars” professional dancer, and the hero is a reality TV star from an Alaskan wilderness survival show. It’s a fast, engaging read, but I was a little disappointed in how it wrapped up because it felt like the main challenge that kept the couple apart was dealt with a little too easily. But, if you like the premise you should definitely check it out. I’ve heard book two is even better.

Right now I’m at a writing retreat with my local RWA chapter. They’re awesome and so much fun! I should probably get back to work on my writing. I’ve been working on final edits and series planning for “Eve of the Fae.” It’s going well so far, and I’m really excited about getting started on my outline for book two.

Stay tuned for more reading (and writing) updates…Until then, happy reading!

Book stack

I made a stack of physical books I have on my shelf that I haven’t read yet, but want to read.

I always find it hard to read physical books when I’m traveling a lot. So, it may take me a while to get through these. But I’m definitely excited to dive into this delicious stack of books.