Despite being a truly horrible year, reading-wise it has been marvellous. Once again, I kept my reading challenge to read and review at least 100 books, which I achieved by reading 184 books with 155 full reviews written, though 23 have yet to be published.
I have read 111 books by female authors and 75 by men – the sharp-eyed among you will have notice that adds up to 186, but there were two books in this year’s list with joint authorship – Sacred Bride by David Hair and Cath Mayo and Sweep with Me by Ilona Andrews, which is a husband and wife writing team. I am happy with that ratio, given that male authors still get higher priority in bookshops and more prestigious reviews, especially in SFF.
In a related challenge I set myself the task of reading at least two books a month by female authors. I managed to read 35 books in this category, which is 19% of my 2019 reading list, while 9% of books were by male authors I hadn’t previously read, which means that 28% of the books I read last year were by authors new to me. This is in contrast with last year’s 37% – but I’m not going to get unduly worried about that. I was in survival mode for quite a lot of the year, and reading was one of my main ways of keeping stress levels at bay. I wasn’t in the mood to experiment – indeed I was expecting this number to be lower.
I had originally intended to cut right back of review copies during 2020, and focus on tucking into my disgracefully large TBR. But once Lockdown hit, that went out of the window. Apart from anything else, a lot of wonderful books from authors I already knew and loved suddenly appeared on Netgalley. And as you can see – I went a bit overboard with requesting new arcs, as I reviewed 81 newly released books. I also bought 59 new books and only read a measly 41 books from my TBR pile. As for library books – that was also a complete bust, but in my defence, our library has been closed most of the year. I am going to try and read more books I already own – but to be honest, until the pandemic subsides, I’m giving myself a pass.
As you can see, I read 157 ebooks, 3 print books and listened to 24 audiobooks. Again, I had intended to read more of our print books that we own during 2020 – another target that went out of the window during Lockdown. And yes… while I appreciate that I do need to knuckle down and read more of them, right now, I find it far easier to read ebooks. So until things ease up, that’s what I’ll do. The one surprise is the fact I read far fewer audiobooks than last year, but that is because I tend to select large, hefty tomes to listen to while I’m houseworking. Whereas last year, I was working my way through my young grandson’s audiobook list of children’s and YA listens which were a great deal shorter.
In 2020 I read 59 science fiction books, 68 fantasy books, 27 crime adventures, 1 contemporary fiction, 21 historical books, 1 non-fiction book and 27 children’s books. Science fiction includes sub-genres such as space opera, colony adventures, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic, time travel, alternate history, military, futuristic crime, literary and steampunk. Fantasy includes sub-genres such as epic, urban, swords and sorcery, musket and magic, sand and sorcery, underworld, historical, grimdark and coming of age. I am still working my way through Frank’s audiobook library, which was mostly fantasy, but decided to take those out of the equation by putting them in a separate category. Even so, fantasy still is my most popular genre, followed by sci fi.
I have read 37 books by small presses and self-published authors, which is only 20% of my 2020 reading list. I think this low number has been skewed by my increased numbers of review copies from Netgalley which are most usually offered by traditional publishers. And yes – this is a number I would like to improve upon, but I’m refusing to consider any such target until Life gets a whole lot easier.
Did you find the situation last year impacted your reading patterns, too?
Now that I’ve completed reading my 2020 Reading List, I’ve been delighted with the overall quality of the books I enjoyed throughout this car-crash of a year. Basically they kept my head straight. So who were the standout heroes of the year, who crept into my heart and won’t leave, even now it’s 2021? I’ll tell you…
Daniel Mackmain from the Green Man series by Juliet E. McKenna BLURB: Daniel Mackmain has always been a loner. As a dryad’s son, he can see the supernatural alongside everyday reality, and that’s not something he can easily share. Perhaps visiting East Anglia to stay with Finele Wicken and her family will be different. They have their own ties to the uncanny.
But something is amiss in the depths of the Fens. Creatures Dan has never encountered outside folk tales are growing uneasy, even hostile. He soon learns they have good reason. Can he help them before they retaliate and disaster strikes the unsuspecting locals? Can the Green Man help Dan in a landscape dominated by water for centuries, where the oaks were cut down aeons ago?
A modern fantasy rooted in the ancient myths and folklore of the British Isles. I loved Daniel from the first book – such a clever blend of old folklore and modern life – and I really like how McKenna has developed his character. All three books – The Green Man’s Heir, The Green Man’s Foe and The Green Man’s Silence – are worth reading, but whatever you do, read them in order.
Penric from The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold BLURB: When a mysterious plague breaks out in the army fort guarding Vilnoc, the port capital of the duchy of Orbas, Temple sorcerer Penric and his demon Desdemona are called upon by General Arisaydia to resurrect Penric’s medical skills and solve its lethal riddle. In the grueling days that follow, Pen will find that even his magic is not enough to meet the challenges without help from dedicated new colleagues—and the god of mischance. Again, this is a character I’ve been following since the first novella set in Bujold’s Five Gods World, though you don’t have to have ever picked up any of the Chalion books to fall in love with this one. Penric is now a very different character from the inexperienced young man who accidentally ended up hosting an old, powerful demon, in the first book, Penric’s Demon. As a bonus, there was also Masquerade in Lodi, published in October 2020, as well. Read my review of The Physicians of Vilnoc.
Thomas Cromwell from The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by Hilary Mantel BLURB: England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.
Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him? This fabulous series came to an end in 2020 with The Mirror and the Light and I felt I’d lost a friend. Yes, Cromwell is a bully… yes, he can be brutal, unyielding and confrontational. But he is also kind to animals and compassionate with women in an age where they are generally treated as lesser beings. I was also aware that this book didn’t just feature one complicated difficult man – but was in many ways a character study of Henry VIII, another complicated and difficult man… Mantel managed to do something extraordinary with this series and if I ever had a personality change and decided to start rereading books (I don’t) this would probably be the series I’d start with. To try to see how she did it… Read my review of The Mirror and the Light.
Vish Puri from The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall BLURB: Vish Puri is as fond of butter chicken as the next Punjabi. So when it’s served at the Delhi Durbar hotel at an India Premier League cricket match dinner, he’s the first to tuck in. Faheem Khan, father of Pakistani star cricketer Kamran Khan, can’t resist either. But the creamy dish proves his undoing. After a few mouthfuls, he collapses on the floor, dead… I first encountered Vish when I read the Netgalley arc for the fifth book and I was absolutely delighted by this shrewd, eccentric man, his passion for justice and his method of solving cases. Along the way, we are also treated to a slice of the vividness that is India into the bargain. I’ve read the first three books and am hoping that if I leave it long enough before diving into the fourth book, Tarquin Hall will have a sixth ready for me. Read my mini-review of The Case of the Missing Servant.
Ryo inGara from TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier BLURB: Raised a warrior in the harsh winter country, Ryo inGara has always been willing to die for his family and his tribe. When war erupts against the summer country, the prospect of death in battle seems imminent. But when his warleader leaves Ryo as a sacrifice — a tuyo — to die at the hands of their enemies, he faces a fate he never imagined.
Ryo’s captor, a lord of the summer country, may be an enemy . . . but far worse enemies are moving, with the current war nothing but the opening moves in a hidden game Ryo barely glimpses, a game in which all his people may be merely pawns. Suddenly Ryo finds his convictions overturned and his loyalties uncertain. Should he support the man who holds him prisoner, the only man who may be able to defeat their greater enemy? And even if he does, can he persuade his people to do the same? Ryo captured my heart from the opening sequence when he is tied to a post and waiting to be killed – and wretched with guilt because he’d been angry with his brother for leaving him as a sacrifice. This book deserves to be far better known – it’s an amazing, immersive read and the bonus – I discovered the second book is now available when I looked up the blurb for this post😊. Read my review.
Al MacBharrais from Ink & Sigil – Book 1 of the Ink & Sigil series by Kevin Hearneine BLURB: Al MacBharrais is both blessed and cursed. He is blessed with an extraordinary white moustache, an appreciation for craft cocktails – and a most unique magical talent. He can cast spells with magically enchanted ink and he uses his gifts to protect our world from rogue minions of various pantheons, especially the Fae.
But he is also cursed. Anyone who hears his voice will begin to feel an inexplicable hatred for Al, so he can only communicate through the written word or speech apps. And his apprentices keep dying in peculiar freak accidents. As his personal life crumbles around him, he devotes his life to his work, all the while trying to crack the secret of his curse.
But when his latest apprentice, Gordie, turns up dead in his Glasgow flat, Al discovers evidence that Gordie was living a secret life of crime. Now Al is forced to play detective – while avoiding actual detectives who are wondering why death seems to always follow Al. Investigating his apprentice’s death will take him through Scotland’s magical underworld, and he’ll need the help of a mischievous hobgoblin if he’s to survive. I’ve now reached a time in my life where I generally don’t expect to encounter protagonists in my age group. So it was a solid joy to find a protagonist who grumbled at times about his joints and isn’t necessarily the last thing in athletic fitness. I also found him amusing, clever and genuinely original. I’m very much looking forward to reading more about Al later this year. Read my review.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
I haven’t been around this last couple of weeks, as I’ve been away on a writing retreat with my sister-in-law in Bexhill in a lovely flat overlooking the sea. That’s where the photos are from. My sister-in-law is on the last lap of her thesis on looking at how the issue of despair was discussed within monastic circles during the Middle Ages. As for me, I took along Picky Eaters Part 2 and managed to write 27,000 words, charting the further adventures of Castellan the Black, in between watching storms and sunshine sweep across the bay. We have been working hard – only watching The Great British Bakeoff and writing into the night, hence the significant lack of books I managed to get through. Though what I lacked in in quantity, I made up for in quality…
Apologies for my lack of interaction, particularly visiting other blogs, but my laptop has major memory issues at present, so I had to disconnect from the internet, which I was only accessing with my phone. Hopefully I’ll be able to start catching up during the coming week!
Last fortnight I have read:
The Invisible Lives of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.
Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world. But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name. I absolutely loved this one. Accomplished and unputdownable – this is a tour de force from a writer at the height of her powers. Review to follow.
A Deadly Education – Book 1 of The Scholomance series by Naomi Novik A Deadly Education is set at Scholomance, a school for the magically gifted where failure means certain death (for real) — until one girl, El, begins to unlock its many secrets.
There are no teachers, no holidays, and no friendships, save strategic ones. Survival is more important than any letter grade, for the school won’t allow its students to leave until they graduate… or die! The rules are deceptively simple: Don’t walk the halls alone. And beware of the monsters who lurk everywhere.
El is uniquely prepared for the school’s dangers. She may be without allies, but she possesses a dark power strong enough to level mountains and wipe out millions. It would be easy enough for El to defeat the monsters that prowl the school. The problem? Her powerful dark magic might also kill all the other students. Another stormingly good read – though in case you’re wondering… Hogwarts it ain’t. No teachers – the students are instructed via the magical school and manage to keep safe from the constant threat of deadly monsters drawn by their magical abilities by forming allies and learning a raft of defensive spells. Gripping and highly readable. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths A dark story has been brought to terrifying life. Can the ending be rewritten in time?
Clare Cassidy is no stranger to murder. As a literature teacher specialising in the Gothic writer RM Holland, she teaches a short course on it every year. Then Clare’s life and work collide tragically when one of her colleagues is found dead, a line from an RM Holland story by her body. The investigating police detective is convinced the writer’s works somehow hold the key to the case.
Not knowing who to trust, and afraid that the killer is someone she knows, Clare confides her darkest suspicions and fears about the case to her journal. Then one day she notices some other writing in the diary. Writing that isn’t hers… This is a solid delight. I was attracted by the promise of a murder mystery after the style of Agatha Christie, within a contemporary setting with modern characters. And that is what I got. The audiobook works especially well and this one is highly recommended for those who enjoy gripping characters and nicely twisty plots with plenty of suspects. Review to follow.
Fallen Princeborn: Chosen – Book 2 of Fallen Princeborn series by Jean Lee Charlotte just wanted to start a new life with her sister Anna out of the reaches of their abusive uncle. When their journey led to Anna’s disappearance from human memory, Charlotte hunted for her sister and the mysterious creatures that took her behind an ancient Wall that hid a land of magic the world had long forgotten. Charlotte woke the Princeborn Liam Artair, and with his return the conflict between factions of the magical Velidevour turned cursed and deadly.
Now Charlotte must end this conflict before the land of River Vine and the inhabitants she’s befriended are consumed by Orna, Lady of the Pits, who is still very, very eager to see her beloved return. And Orna is not the only one who wants hold of the Princeborn Liam’s heart. These Velidevour come armed with firey wings, crimson claws, and pale fire, and like dead magic, they know no kindness.
The Bloody Days are soon returning, and they will not end until a choice is made, a choice that could tear the heart of River Vine apart. This book continues the story directly from the ending of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen – and immediately scoops the reader up into the high-stakes action, that just goes on growing, as Charlotte battles for Liam and his followers. Highly recommended for fantasy fans looking for sharp contemporary writing and a vivid fantasy setting. Review to follow.
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written. It’s been hot and sunny – particularly the last few days. I love it, but Himself is suffering, as he far prefers the cold. We had the grandchildren stay over on Wednesday and Thursday this week – a treat as Himself was also off. So we took them to the big wheel in the middle of Worthing on Wednesday morning. It was a perfect day to be right up high, with sea views on one side and a clear view of the town on the other. We then went shopping at our local Waterstones, before heading back home. On Thursday, we visited the Wetland and Wildlife Trust in Arundel, one of our favourite places – though this was the first time we’d been since before the lockdown.
It was blisteringly hot on Thursday, but we found it magical with far less people than normal during the summer holidays. The reedbeds in particular were beautiful and peacefu – and we also watched a swarm of bees starting to congregate in the Butterfly garden. We also enjoyed an ice cream sitting in the shade – yay for vegan Magnums! Other than the wheel – this is where the pics were taken.
In the meantime, I’ve been getting Mantivore Warrior fit to face the world, as I’m releasing the book on 31st August. While it is the third book in The Arcadian Chronicles, it is also a good place to jump in, as it features a protagonist whose experiences are utterly different from those of the beleaguered young woman who was at the heart of the story in Mantivore Dreams and Mantivore Prey. If anyone is interested in getting hold of an arc, do drop me a line…
Last week I read: The Mother Code by Carol Stivers The year is 2049. When a deadly non-viral agent intended for biowarfare spreads out of control, scientists must scramble to ensure the survival of the human race. They turn to their last resort, a plan to place genetically engineered children inside the cocoons of large-scale robots–to be incubated, birthed, and raised by machines. But there is yet one hope of preserving the human order–an intelligence programmed into these machines that renders each unique in its own right–the Mother Code.
Kai is born in America’s desert southwest, his only companion his robot Mother, Rho-Z. Equipped with the knowledge and motivations of a human mother, Rho-Z raises Kai and teaches him how to survive. But as children like Kai come of age, their Mothers transform too–in ways that were never predicted. When government survivors decide that the Mothers must be destroyed, Kai must make a choice. Will he break the bond he shares with Rho-Z? Or will he fight to save the only parent he has ever known? I enjoyed this one – but it could have been so much better, if Stivers had been a bit more focused on exactly whose story she wanted to tell, rather than trying to do it all… Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Finding the Fox – Book 1 of The Shapeshifter series by Ali Sparkes Dax Jones is an ordinary schoolboy – until something extraordinary happens one day. Whilst frightened for his life, he inexplicably changes into a fox. Before long, both a government agent and an ambitious young journalist are on his tail. I love this author’s writing – and this shapeshifting adventure didn’t disappoint. Very highly recommended for youngsters between the ages of 9-12. Review to follow.
The Last Astronaut by David Wellington Sally Jansen was NASA’s leading astronaut, until a mission to Mars ended in disaster. Haunted by her failure, she lives in quiet anonymity, convinced her days in space are over. She’s wrong. A large alien object has entered the solar system on a straight course toward Earth. It has made no attempt to communicate and is ignoring all incoming transmissions. Out of time and out of options, NASA turns to Jansen. For all the dangers of the mission, it’s the shot at redemption she always longed for. If I’d known that Wellington wrote horror, then I probably would have given this one a miss – which would have been a shame, because it was a real treat. He manages to deliver after the long, tense build-up, producing aliens that are genuinely different and terrifying. And the ending is brilliantly handled. Review to follow.
Deadly Waters by Dot Hutchison Florida journalism undergrad Rebecca Sorley is like any other college student. She tries to keep up with her studies, her friends, and her hot-tempered roommate, Ellie, who regularly courts trouble with the law. When a male student’s remains are found in alligator-infested waters, the university warns students to stay away from the reptiles. But then a second body shows up, and the link is undeniable. Both men belonged to the same fraternity and had a reputation for preying on and hurting women. Ellie has previously threatened to kill men who don’t take no for an answer. Rebecca and her friends thought Ellie was kidding. But now a vigilante killer is roaming campus—someone who knows how to dispose of rapists. Someone determined to save female students from horrible crimes. I thoroughly enjoyed this one, where the rising body count wasn’t a stack of attractive young women – but young men who were sexual predators. The plotting is well done and this one was a memorable page-turner. Review to follow.
The Ghost Fields – Book 7 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths Norfolk is experiencing a July heatwave when a construction crew unearths a macabre discovery – a buried WWII plane with the pilot still inside. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway quickly realizes that the skeleton couldn’t possibly be the pilot, and DNA tests identify the man as Fred Blackstock, a local aristocrat who had been reported dead at sea. When the remaining members of the Blackstock family learn about the discovery, they seem strangely frightened by the news… I’m really enjoying this series – as much for the unfolding stories of the supporting cast, as for the actual crime dramas that are featured. Ruth’s growing confidence and watching her struggles as a single mother holding down a demanding job gives these books extra readability. Mini-review to follow.
Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:
The Green Man’s Silence – where did these particular ideas come from? http://www.julietemckenna.com/?p=3208I’ve loved the unique blend of urban fantasy and old English folk tales in this particular series – so I’m fascinated by how McKenna mixes up the influences…
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Another week has slipped by. Himself is on annual leave and we had a list of chores planned, mostly around painting jobs in the garden, but the weather hasn’t been good enough. The highlight of the week was little Eliza’s birthday party on Tuesday. She was so excited and rushed around shouting, “Two! Twoooo!” We were glad to be able to be there.
Other than that, I’ve been editing and reading, while Himself has been watching motor racing and cricket and wishing they weren’t repeats. We haven’t any plans to go to restaurants, pubs or cafes just yet. For starters, they’ll be far too busy – and not enough folks are being careful.
The pics this week are from a walk we managed along the sea front at Littlehampton on Friday and though it was blowing a hoolie, it wasn’t raining. Here’s hoping you have a peaceful week and stay safe.
Last week I read:
The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi Can you uncover the truth when you’re forbidden from speaking it? A Sin Eater’s duty is a necessary evil: she hears the final private confessions of the dying, eats their sins as a funeral rite, and so guarantees their souls access to heaven. It is always women who eat sins – since it was Eve who first ate the Forbidden Fruit – and every town has at least one, not that they are publicly acknowledged. Stained by the sins they are obliged to consume, the Sin Eater is shunned and silenced, doomed to live in exile at the edge of town. Recently orphaned May Owens is just fourteen, and has never considered what it might be like to be so ostracized; she’s more concerned with where her next meal is coming from. When she’s arrested for stealing a loaf of bread, however, and subsequently sentenced to become a Sin Eater, finding food is suddenly the last of her worries. Once I relaxed into the world, I thoroughly enjoyed this one. May is very well depicted – a sympathetic and plausible heroine, who develops throughout the story, which became a gripping mystery. Review to follow.
The Fated Sky – Book 2 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal The Fated Sky continued the grand sweep of alternate history begun in The Calculating Stars. It is 1961, and the International Aerospace Coalition has established a colony on the moon. Elma York, the noted Lady Astronaut, is working on rotation, flying shuttles on the moon and returning regularly to Earth. But humanity must get a foothold on Mars. The first exploratory mission is being planned, and none of the women astronauts is on the crew list. The international Aerospace Coalition has grave reservations about sending their “Lady Astronauts” on such a dangerous mission… I loved this one. I have grown very fond of Elma and found this second book in The Lady Astronaut adventure even more gripping than the first one. I loved the progression of the characters and this was one of my outstanding reads of the month. Review to follow.
Ghost Ups Her Game – Book 9 of the Bailey Ruth mysteries by Carolyn Hart After a busy morning dispatching emissaries from Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions to those in need, Bailey Ruth Raeburn is feeling flush with success. So when an urgent call for help comes through from her old hometown, she can’t resist taking on the mission herself. After all, what could go wrong? With the shouted warning of her boss, Wiggins – “Irregular! Problematic!” – ringing in her ears, she arrives to face a shocking scene: Professor Iris Gallagher leaning over the corpse of her colleague Matt Lambert, the murder weapon clutched in her hand. Bailey Ruth is only sent to help the innocent, but things are looking very black for Iris. With Wiggins breathing down her neck, and her old friend Police Chief Sam Cobb casting doubt on her every theory, Bailey Ruth must uncover the truth – or this could be the last trip to earth she’s ever allowed to make. A cosy mystery with a difference – the investigator is a ghost on a mission to clear someone wrongly charged. This was an entertaining read that never lost sight of the fact that a murder had been committed, which I appreciated. The murder mystery was well handled and denouement was suitably satisfying. Review to follow.
Embers of War – Book 1 of the Embers of War series by Gareth L. Powell The warship Trouble Dog was built and bred for calculating violence, yet following a brutal war, she finds herself disgusted by conflict and her role in a possible war crime. Seeking to atone, she joins the House of Reclamation, an organisation dedicated to rescuing ships in distress.
But, stripped of her weaponry and emptied of her officers, she struggles in the new role she’s chosen for herself. When a ship goes missing in a disputed system, Trouble Dog and her new crew of misfits and loners, captained by Sal Konstanz, an ex-captain of a medical frigate who once fought against Trouble Dog, are assigned to investigate and save whoever they can. This excellent space opera adventure had all the ingredients that I love – but the star has to be Trouble Dog. I just loved that grumpy, clever ship who won’t back down even when faced with overwhelming odds.
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson Reasons Cara has died: – The emperor of the wasteland wanted to make an example of her mother and started with her – One of her mother’s boyfriends wanted to cover up what he did to her – She was born addicted and her lungs didn’t develop – She was left alone, and a stranger came along – The runners came for a neighbour and she was in the way – The runners came for her mother and she was in the way – The runners came for her boyfriend and she was in the way – The runners came for no one, serving nothing but chaos and fear, and she was what they found – Her mother left her alone in a shed while she worked or got high and she fell asleep alone and hungry and forever
Reasons Cara has lived: – She doesn’t know but there are 8.
The multiverse business is booming, but there’s just one catch: no one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara. Of the 382 realities that have been unlocked, Cara is dead in all but eight. But on this earth, she survived. Born in the wastelands where if a basic lack of resources didn’t kill you, violence would, Cara is happy to reap the benefits of a job and a safe place in the city to call home. But when one of her eight remaining doppelgangers dies under mysterious circumstances, Cara is plunged into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and future in ways she never could have imagined – and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse. I know! Isn’t that a doozy of a blurb?? This proved to be a gem of a read. I enjoyed the tension humming through this gritty, dystopian science fiction multiverse adventure and found it hard to put down until I’d finished. Review to follow.
Lockdown has continued throughout June, though we have been able to see more of our family, which has been wonderful. We were particularly thrilled to be able to meet up on my birthday and have a picnic. Most of the time, though, we have been continuing with the new normal. Himself going off to work, while I have stayed at home reading and writing… While we have had some wonderful warm weather, the cooler windy episodes means spending time with visitors outside hasn’t been practical.
I read seventeen books in June, which is still more than usual – though I am increasingly unsure what usual means anymore. I had a single DNF and once again, I’m struck by the overall quality of the books I’ve read. My Outstanding Books of the Month were TUYO by Rachel Neumeier and The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal. Neither were audiobooks, as most of the month I’ve been in the thickets of The Priory of the Orange Tree, which I am listening to at 1.5x slower as the narrator’s voice is quiet. I might have completed it by Christmas…
My reads during June were:
AUDIOBOOK The Naturalist – Book 1 of The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne
Hostile Takeover – Book 1 of the Vale Investigation series by Cristelle Comby – see my review
The House on Widows Hill – Book 9 of the Ishmael Jones mysteries by Simon R. Green – see my review
Flower Power Trip – Book 3 of the Braxton Campus mysteries by James J. Cudney
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
NOVELLA To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers
The Ruthless – Book 2 of The Deathless series by Peter Newman
Entangled Secrets – Book 3 of the Northern Circle Coven series by Pat Esden
Perilous Hunt – Book 7 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier – see my review – Outstanding book of the month
The Calculating Stars – Book 1 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal
The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi
The Fated Sky – Book 2 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal – Outstanding book of the month
Ghost Ups Her Game – Book 9 of the Bailey Ruth mysteries by Carolyn Hart
Writing and Editing
I worked on editing a friend’s book for the first quarter of the month, then turned to a space opera adventure I’d written several years ago to see if it was any good. I worked on rewriting and tidying it up and hopefully will have it ready to publish before the end of the year.
I then published my short story Picky Eaters about a grumpy elderly dragon, who suddenly finds himself in the middle of family life when he gets unexpectedly evicted from his lair and has to move in with his daughter. I have been really pleased with the reception, as I’d hoped it would provide an enjoyable escapist read. All proceeds will go to mental health charities.
Because I was editing and rewriting, my wordcount is far smaller this month, but that’s how it goes. Overall, I wrote just under 31,000 words in June, with just over 21,000 on the blog, and just under 10,000 on my writing projects.
I am finding being able to chat about books a great comfort on my blog, but as Himself is now on holiday from the last week in June, I haven’t been around to comment and visit as much as I’d like – sorry about that. Hopefully once we get back to normal, I will be around more. I hope you are all keeping well, both physically and mentally. It’s an ongoing strain and I’ve been rather frayed at times, even though I’m also aware we have been very lucky… so far. Take care and stay safe.x
I recall I said something to the effect that there had never been a month like April in the whole of my life – except that May was exactly the same. Eerily so. Staying at home and seeing no one else, other than Himself. Though we did drive across to my daughter’s house and deliver her bike, so she could also cycle with the children. It was bittersweet seeing them after such a long time and I’m hoping this month, with the easing of the lockdown, I might once more be able to be a regular visitor, again. The weather continues to behave as if we are in July or August, further skewing the sense of abnormality. But thank goodness for books and writing projects!
Reading I read fifteen books in May, but as I also broke off to read a couple of my own books on editing runs, that did impact on my general reading time. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my selection, so there were no DNFs. They were:
Oranges and Lemons – Book 17 of the Bryant and May: Peculiar Crimes Unit series by Christopher Fowler The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North – see my review Hammered – Book 1 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear The Physicians of Vilnoc – Book 8 of the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold – see my review Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik – this is my outstanding read of the month AUDIOBOOK Starsight – Book 2 of the Skyward series by Brandon Sanderson The Valhalla Call – Book 4 of the Hayden War Cycle by Evan Currie Even Stranger – Book 2 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik Stranger Still – Book 3 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik The City of Brass – Book 1 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty The Kingdom of Copper – Book 2 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakrobarty AUDIOBOOK The Fire Court – Book 2 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor – this is my outstanding audiobook read of the month Night’s Tooth – Tales of the River Vine novella by Jean Lee Gravity is Heartless – Book 1 of the Heartless series by Sarah Lahey The Obsidian Tower – Book 1 of the Rooks and Ruin series by Melissa Caruso
Writing I finished the first draft of my Wordmanship Handbook – How to Write Convincing Characters, which went really well. While I had intended this to be part of a series, I decided that if I found it too much of a trudge, then it would be a standalone, but it ended up being quite a lot of fun to write. So during the year I am hoping to write at least another book in the Wordmanship series. The handbook aspect of it – with a quick checklist so an author can tick off possible issues as they go, either during the writing phase, or during an editing run – ended up being about the right length, too.
I then turned back to Mantivore Warrior to do the first editing pass. This is always slightly nerve-wracking. Once I’ve gained a bit of distance, I can work out whether it’s a hot mess, or if it hangs together. And as it is the first book that I thoroughly plotted before I started, I was keen to see how it held up. And I’m delighted – those fixes I put in last month strengthened the overall narrative, so there was only one major addition and then it was a question of smoothing the prose and looking for mistakes.
So once again, it’s been a wonderful writing month. Overall, I wrote just under 43,000 words in May, with just over 15,500 on the blog, and just under 26,000 on my writing projects.
I hope everyone is managing to keep well and healthy, both physically and mentally – the situation has been a strain on everyone, not helped by some dodgy decisions by those in charge. Take care and stay safe.x
I’m conscious that I’ve never experienced a month like it in the whole of my life – and I’m not sure I ever will again… Or perhaps I will. Perhaps May and June will continue being in social isolation with lots of handwashing and staying at home. But what has kept my head straight is my love of reading and writing – thank goodness for both! I’ve also loved the wonderful sunny weather – it’s been a joy being able to sit in the garden and watch Spring springing… I’m conscious that I am very blessed. And given that none of us can guarantee if we will survive this, I’ve determined to be as thankful for every coming day as I can be. So despite everything, this has been a very precious April.
Reading I read eighteen books in April, which isn’t quite as marvellous as it sounds, as one of those was a short story and another was a novella. This is the list:
Writing I continued working on my Creative Writing How-To Book on Characterisation and I’m pleased with the progress, but I woke up on 11th April with an epiphany about some issues that had been niggling me with Mantivore Warrior – so I dropped my How-To book and immediately dived back into the manuscript to fix it. I’ve learnt from hard experience not to ever put those kinds of moments off – otherwise they pass and I forget!
I have also been working on another project that I’m hoping to be able to discuss in another couple of weeks. I don’t normally flit between so many different writing projects – but right now everything is extraordinary. So it makes sense that my writing patterns would suddenly go AWOL, too… Overall, I wrote just over 43,000 words in April, with just under 17,000 words on my blog and just under 25,500 words going towards my writing projects, which brings my yearly total to just under 180,000 words so far.
Blogging I have found keeping up with my blog such a source of comfort and encouragement – I know social media can be responsible for some dark acts, but I happen to be fortunate enough to inhabit a really lovely corner, where I meet some of the nicest people on the planet. But that’s not a surprise, because they are readers, or writers, or both. I hope May is a good month for you and that you stay safe. Take care.xxx
I’ve just read my roundup for February with a sense of unreality, because I didn’t once mention COVID 19. And whatever else I was chatting about, it didn’t include social isolation, daily death tolls and endless hand-washing. And now I’m going to take a deep breath and make that the last time I talk about that stuff. Because this is about carrying on as best we can, despite all that misery and fear. And maybe it’s rank cowardice, but I’m turning to the biggest consolation in my life, when the going gets tough. The one thing that never lets me down – books.
Reading I read nineteen books in March, which I think is a record number. It was a really good month, with some cracking reads. This is the list:
Death of a Bean Counter – Book 12 of the Maggy Thorsen mystery series by Sandra Balzo – Review to follow
Song of Achilles AUDIOBOOK by Madeline Miller – this is my oustanding audiobook read of the month. Review to follow.
The Clutter Corpse – Book 1 of the Decluttering Mysteries by Simon Brett. Review to follow
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey – this is my outstanding book of the month. Review to follow.
A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron
Writing I finally completed the first draft of Mantivore Warrior in the second week of March. The book ended up being just over 103,000 words long – so much for thinking I was nearing the end at the 75,000 words mark! It took another 12,500 words to finish it and then I was quite ill for nearly a fortnight. I do need to learn to pace myself…
I’ve put it on one side and have been working on my first Creative Writing How-To book on Characterisation. It’s going reasonably well, I’ve just finished Chapter Five on Viewpoint, but it’s very different to writing fiction. I’m hoping to have it completed by the end of April – but with all that’s going on, inevitably that has to be more of a hope than a solid target. Overall, I wrote just over 48,000 words in March, with just over 15,000 words on my blog and just under 30,000 words going towards my writing projects, which brings my yearly total to just over 136,000 words so far.
Blogging Like many others, I’m finding my online friends a real source of consolation. I can’t tell you how grateful I feel having so many lovely people around me from the book blogging community to talk books with. It’s at times like these that you discover what really matters and who has your back… Wishing everyone a peaceful, healthy April and stay safe.xx
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
Like most people, I’m staying at home, though Himself is still out driving trains. We’ve worked out a system whereby he puts his uniform into the washing machine before coming into the house and so far… so good.
Last Monday, on her second day in the new house, my daughter woke up with a temperature, joint and stomach pains and a cough. So she ended up being quarantined in the house without the children. She is now feeling a lot better, but it’s been a long week for her. Thank goodness she is recovering and the children don’t seem to have had any symptoms. Other than that, we keep in touch with family via Skype and Zoom. It was a huge relief to hear my brother-in-law caught one of the last flights from Melbourne and is now back home safely. And we go on praying none of the vulnerable members of the family go down with the illness…
Still enjoying Outlander – but mightily disappointed with that DREADFUL last episode of Picard, when it had been going so well. Thank goodness for marvellous books – I’m listening to Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light – so very, very good! And I’m working on my book on Characterisation, which is growing slowly but surely. It’s interesting how different my writing patterns are for non-fiction, as opposed to fiction.
Last week I read: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes. But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods. It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. This fascinating story, told from an unusual viewpoint – using the second person (you) pov – caught me from the start. I loved the tension and Leckie’s handling of the perspective from a god who has lived a very long time.
The Clutter Corpse – Book 1 of the Decluttering Mysteries series by Simon Brett Introducing an engaging new amateur sleuth, declutterer Ellen Curtis, in the first of a brilliant new mystery series. That’s all the blurb there is – and this intriguing cosy mystery does just that – sets up Ellen as an engaging, competent protagonist with a doozy of a backstory. While I enjoyed the whodunit aspect, I was even more engrossed in Ellen as a fascinating protagonist and very much look forward to reading more about her. Review to follow.
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller 1976: Peggy Hillcoat is eight. She spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother’s grand piano, but her pretty life is about to change. Her survivalist father, who has been stockpiling provisions for the end which is surely coming soon, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has disappeared. I burned through this one, finding it impossible to put down. It’s an amazing read in many ways. For starters, the prose is absolutely beautiful and I enjoyed so much about this one… But for me, the pacing and narrative stuttered in the final stages, leaving me unhappy with the ending, both with its execution and the outcome.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey A book of hope for uncertain times. Enter the world of Charlie’s four unlikely friends, discover their story and their most important life lessons. The conversations of the boy, the mole, the fox and the horse have been shared thousands of times online, recreated in school art classes, hung on hospital walls and turned into tattoos. In Charlie’s first book, you will find his most-loved illustrations and some new ones too. My lovely sister-in-law sent this to me and I absolutely love it – the beautiful drawings and the messages of truth and hope that shone off the pages. It had me weeping and laughing at the same time. It isn’t long, but I shall be returning to it regularly. Especially in the coming days and weeks…