A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron
BLURB: To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives.
Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect.
As this is a continuation of the story, whatever you do, don’t crash into this series but go back to the beginning – see my reviews of Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. Once again, we are plunged into the middle of the ongoing crisis, as Julian, now leader of the Heartstriker clan, has to deal with the fallout of the mighty power struggle that toppled his despotic mother.
However, crises just go on piling up as the neighbours are now starting to cause massive problems and the most powerful clan on the planet pitches up on the doorstep, demanding Heartstriker surrender. The best adventures are when you keep turning the pages without having a clue how the gutsy heroes and heroines are going get out of this jam – and this particular denouement is awesome and original. The worldbuilding is exceptional and while the action had to slow a tad in order for the complexity to be fully explained – I was happy to read and wonder. Another cracking read in my favourite urban fantasy series of 2020, as Aaron goes on delivering dragon-shaped delight… 9/10
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen novella by Aliette de Bodard
BLURB: Lunar New Year should be a time for familial reunions, ancestor worship, and consumption of an unhealthy amount of candied fruit.
But when dragon prince Thuan brings home his brooding and ruthless husband Asmodeus for the New Year, they find not interminable family gatherings, but a corpse outside their quarters. Asmodeus is thrilled by the murder investigation; Thuan, who gets dragged into the political plotting he’d sworn off when he left, is less enthusiastic.
It’ll take all of Asmodeus’s skill with knives, and all of Thuan’s diplomacy, to navigate this one—as well as the troubled waters of their own relationship….
Back in 2016, I read the first book in this series – A House of Shattered Wings – see my review – and thoroughly enjoyed it, so was glad to get hold of this shorter story in the same series. Writing a successful novella takes a different skillset than that needed to write a novel, and I was pleased to see that de Bodard had nailed that. The characterisation and pacing were spot on for the length, as was the narrative arc. And as this was essentially a murder mystery within an alien setting, that took a fair amount of technical skill.
I didn’t particularly bond with Thuan, but as the plotting was also a vital component to this one, that wasn’t the problem it could have been. As for Admodeus and Thuan’s relationship… hm – okay. It takes all sorts – I’m just very glad that I’m not trapped within such a borderline-abusive relationship, but I did find their more intimate moments very uncomfortable and I won’t be reading any more of this series. 7/10
The wonderful books I’ve encountered during this horrible year have, at times, kept my head straight when other pressures have added an extra twist of awfulness due to the pandemic. I have encountered a number of talented authors I’d previously not had the pleasure of reading (I’m looking at you Mary Robinette Kowal, Elisabeth Bear, Marilyn Messik and T. Kingfisher) and managed to complete 11 series, while working my way through 66 other series. I’ll get more nerdy in my post about the stats relating to my 2020 reads, later in the week.
During 2020 I read 184 books and wrote 155 full reviews, with 23 still to be published. In no particular order, these are the books that have stood out for me. It might be that I didn’t originally give them a 10 – but these books have stayed with me, which is why they made the cut. And let’s forget any top ten nonsense – whittling down my list to this paltry number was painful enough!
Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky Despite reading this one back in January, I often found myself thinking about brave, clever Emily and what she underwent. That is the mark of a special book – when it won’t leave you alone. I think it’s one of Tchaikovsky’s best, and given the man’s towering talent, that’s saying something. See my review.
AUDIOBOOK Ancestral Night – Book 1 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Elizabeth Bear is another wonderful author I discovered this year – and the good news is that she has a pleasingly long backlist. This one was an utter joy to listen to – Haimey’s first-person narrative held me throughout, even though the pacing was somewhat leisurely at times. This book at 500+ pages has it all – vivid action scenes, nail-biting tension, and plenty of plot twists and shocking reveals. And of course a space cat – who could resist that? See my review.
You Let me In by Camilla Bruce By rights, this shouldn’t have worked for me – I really don’t like books featuring an abused child. But the way Bruce posits this situation is masterfully done, as Cassie narrates her adventures with Pepperman, a grumpy and dangerous fae entity, who draws the small child into the world of the fae. This book has also stayed with me throughout the year. Read my review.
The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Macksey This is such a simple book with lots of pictures. The story of four different creatures, who come together to help each other. It could so easily have turned into a treacly, sentimental mess. But it doesn’t. My lovely sister-in-law gave me my copy and it has been beside me ever since. Read my review.
TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier The opening sequence of this book immediately hooked me and wouldn’t let me go. I enjoy Neumeier’s writing, anyway. But this amazing world and the vividness of her characters still have me regularly thinking about them. In particular, the depiction of being ensorcelled was brilliantly portrayed – I’ve never seen it done better. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys This riveting world has left me yearning for more after reading the first book Winter Tide, which made my Outstanding Reads of 2017. So I was thrilled to discover this offering. Aphra is still coming to terms with the loss of her parents, friends and relations when confronted with a new danger. Once more I was pulled into a tense adventure where Lovecraftian monsters were only part of the threat. Read my review.
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron This is as much about the celebration of this quirky, enjoyable series, as much as it is about the climactic battle that wraps up the story. Peopled with shape-shifting dragons, a powerful ghost who assumes the shape of a cat and an enraged nature goddess, this urban fantasy reaches epic proportions, with all sorts of surprises and twists along the way. Review to follow.
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey I very much enjoyed The Girl With All the Gifts, but I liked this even better. Koli is an endearing character with his youth and restless energy that gets him into far too much trouble within his village. This book is set in post-apocalyptic England, where even trees have become feral – but there are welcome shafts of light, too. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK The Mirror and the Light – Book 3 of the Thomas Cromwell series by Hilary Mantel This whole series is a tour de force and I loved listening to this extraordinary conclusion to Cromwell’s life, as an embittered Henry VIII becomes ever more difficult to deal with – and Cromwell’s many enemies begin to circle. I wept at the end, which was wonderfully handled – and I’m still trying to work out how Mantel managed to keep me spellbound for so long, when I already knew the outcome before listening to the first chapter. Read my review.
Relatively Strange – Book 1 of the Strange series by Marilyn Messik This was one of those books I picked up and couldn’t put down again. Messik’s writing is utterly addictive, as far as I’m concerned and Stella is now my new best friend. I finished this one far too fast and was miserable until I picked up the next one in the series. I think this was the worst book hangover I endured during the year. Review my review.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal This is another of those wonderful authors I discovered this year – and this series just blew me away. I loved Elma York and her battles to gain recognition during the first two books in the series – but when this story introduced me to Nicole, who finds herself trying to track down a saboteur on the Moon, I not only loved every single minute of the book, I couldn’t stop thinking about it, afterwards. Read my review.
A Memory Called Empire – Book 1 of the Teixcalaan series by Martine Arkady I tracked down this one, after hearing it compared to the great C.J. Cherryh’s immersive writing style. And I wasn’t disappointed. I loved watching poor Mahit, replacement ambassador to the enigmatic Teixcalaani empire, flounder as she tries to work out just how her predecessor died. This tense murder mystery played out in the far future kept me up far too late as I couldn’t put it down. Read my review.
AUDIOBOOK Charlotte Sometimes – Book 3 of the Aviary Hall series by Penelope Farmer I have always enjoyed reading Children’s fiction, because the very best is far too good just to leave to the kids. And this gem certainly falls into that category. A children’s classic that was published in 1969, it is written with depth and sophistication about two schoolgirls who cris-cross into each other’s times. Until something happens to Charlotte… I loved this one. Set in 1918, the period is beautifully portrayed and the bittersweet ending has stayed with me. Read my review.
A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher This is another of those books for children, which engrossed and delighted me. Mona is a baker’s apprentice with a small magical talent, who suddenly finds herself caught up in a murder. Events snowball entertainingly – and I found myself thoroughly enjoying Mona’s ingenious creations to try and stay ahead of the baddies. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Stranger Diaries – Book 1 of the Harbinder Kaur series by Elly Griffiths I enjoy Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series, so decided to try this latest series and absolutely loved it. There is a tongue-in-cheek Gothic vibe that I found very appealing. Though I have a shocking memory, the twists and turns of this enjoyable murder mystery have stayed with me. Read my review.
The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall I was utterly beguiled by Vish when I first encountered him during the fifth book of the series, The Case of the Reincarnated Client earlier in the year and have been eking out the rest of the series ever since. Vish Puri is fond of calling himself the Indian Sherlock Holmes and his energetic attitude and passion for justice are very endearing – even if he does dismiss his clever, streetwise Mummy-Ji, who often takes a close interest in his cases. This book has an extra dimension and Hall is adept at dealing with hefty issues of the painful events around India’s partition in a respectful manner, without making it dreary. Read my review.
While I’d like to think that each one of these books offers some brain fodder, none of them are gloomy, downbeat reads as this year I needed to escape. And my favourite book of 2020? Probably Ancestor Nights, though I’m likely to claim it’s The Relentless Moon if you ask me the same question again tomorrow. And then there’s Relatively Strange, of course…
I first noted this one after having read the Cap’s excellent review at The Captain’s Quarters – but what stuck with me is that I happen to be a fan of Aaron’s writing – see my reviews of Garrison Girl, Fortune’s Pawn as Rachel Bach, and Nice Dragon’s Finish Last. The final review is of the first book in the Heartstriker series, a stormingly good urban fantasy romp about a huge draconic power struggle. And the reason I particularly mention it, is because Minimum Wage Magic is a spinoff series set in the same awesome world – however don’t worry if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of the Heartstriker series, because this series is written as a standalone.
BLURB: The DFZ, the metropolis formerly known as Detroit, is the world’s most magical city with a population of nine million and zero public safety laws. That’s a lot of mages, cybernetically enhanced chrome heads, and mythical beasties who die, get into debt, and otherwise fail to pay their rent. When they can’t pay their bills, their stuff gets sold to the highest bidder to cover the tab. That’s when they call me. My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there.
REVIEW: I have always enjoyed Aaron’s writing style. Smart, pacey and with nice touches of humour and plenty of inventive plot twists, she is one of my favourite authors for a solid reason. Opal is a wonderful protagonist, gutsy and impulsive with a driving need to get away from her very controlling father. She is very much down on her luck at the start of the story, but has a hunch that this particular lot contains something special… Which is when the plot really kicks off. In the tradition of the best urban fantasy adventures, once this story gets going, it doesn’t stop. We have terrifying magic, death gods, grumpy dragons, cybernetic hit men and cockatrice chicks… It’s fabulous and fun and I didn’t want it to stop.
The other aspect of this book I really enjoyed is the world. No wonder Aaron wanted to use this awesome and inventive backdrop for more than one adventure. Detroit was destroyed and the magical city that arose in its place has its own magical entity, who tends to move buildings around when the whim takes her. This makes for some interesting situations. Running away from the villains can become a lot more challenging when the landscape around you is constantly shifting. There are some lovely surprises within the story I didn’t see coming and I’m definitely getting hold of the next story in this excellent series. Highly recommended for fans of well written urban fantasy adventures. 9/10
I’m a fan of Rachel Aaron’s writing – see my review of Fortune’s Pawnunder her penname Rachel Bach, as well my review of the first two book in this Heartstriker series – Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Anotherand Garrison Girl, as part of the Attack on Titans! series. I always enjoy strong urban fantasy in an intriguing world – and this one has it all. A fascinating blend of near-future apocalypse leading to an infusion of magic into the world, along with a very dysfunctional dragon clan…
BLURB: When Julius overthrew his mother and took control of his clan, he thought he was doing right by everyone. But sharing power isn’t part of any proper dragon’s vocabulary, and with one seat still open on the new ruling Council, all of Heartstriker is ready to do whatever it takes to get their claws on it, including killing the Nice Dragon who got them into this mess in the first place…
REVIEW: One of my hobbies is crashing midway into established series, so take my word for it when I say that if you pick this one up before you’ve read the first two books – put it right back on the shelf again and go hunting for Nice Dragons Finish Last and One Good Dragon Deserves Another instead. This is more of a continual story sliced into book-sized episodes, rather than stand-alone narratives linked by the world and characters. That said, each story arc is brought to a satisfactory conclusion at the end of each action-filled adventure, though once again, I found there were more intriguing questions raised at the end of this one, to which I wanted answers. Thank goodness I have the next book on my Kindle, so that I won’t have to wait too long.
While I love the world, it’s the characters that keep me reading – dear Julius, a Nice Dragon, who has always been the runt of his clutch and as such, continually bullied by Bethseda, who should have some sort of award for being the worst mother in fiction. We’ve watched him develop over the last three books from being the under-dragon of all time, to gradually winning round far more powerful and influential dragons to start taking him seriously. Apart from anything else, in a genre that generally features powerful protagonists who use might, albeit sparingly and when there is no other choice – it is a refreshing change to come across a hero who refuses to resort to violence. And if he does, regards it as a defeat.
I have also grown fond of Chelsie, Justin, Ian and Bob – a few of his siblings who have also made the journey so far with him, more or less. At least a couple of the above have also made determined efforts to kill Julius, too. And then, there’s the mortal girl he’s teamed up with, Marci and her ghost cat called… Ghost. We’ve had the impression that Ghost is a bit more than he first seemed, particularly in the last book – and this is where we get a further glimpse of who he is and what the consequences are for Marci, as she continues as his friend and ally. Though there was a shock at the end of this book that had me reeling – I won’t be waiting all that long before I dive into the next one, A Dragon of a Different Color, as I am desperate to discover what happens next. As ever, Aaron’s characters have drawn me into this world and won’t let go. This is one of my favourite urban fantasy series for a very long time. Highly recommended. 9/10
Lockdown is slowly easing and right at the end of the month, we actually went to a café together and had a cup of tea and cake. It’s been lovely to meet up with my daughter and the grandchildren and have them over to stay, again. But most of the time, I’m still at home reading and writing, while Himself has continued to go out to work.
Reading I read fifteen books in July, which used to be an outstanding number for me, but isn’t anymore. No DNF’s and once again, it’s been a great reading month – particularly for space opera and space adventures in general. My Outstanding Book of the Month was The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of The Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was Deep Roots – Book 2 of the Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys. My reads during June were:
Embers of War by Gareth L. Powell – Book 1 of the Embers of War series. Review to follow
The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson. Review to follow
Scarlet Odyssey – Book 1 of the Scarlet Odyssey series by C.T. Rwizi. See my review
Skin Game – Book 15 of the Harry Dresden files by Jim Butcher – reread
AUDIOBOOK The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. Review to follow
Velocity Weapon – Book 1 of The Protectorate by Megan E. O’Keefe. See my review
End Game – Book 8 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker. Review to follow
Peace Talks – Book 16 of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. See my review
Chaos Vector – Book 2 of The Protectorate by Megan E. O’Keefe. See my review
AUDIOBOOK Deep Roots – Book 2 of The Innsmouth Legacy by Ruthanna Emrys. Review to follow – OUTSTANDING AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH
Seven Devils – Book 1 of the Seven Devils series by Laura Lam and Elizabeth May. See my review
Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron. Review to follow
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal. Review to follow – OUTSTANDING BOOK OF THE MONTH
The Outcast Dead – Book 6 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Mini-review to follow
AUDIOBOOK The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents – Book 28 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. Review to follow
Writing and Editing I had intended for Picky Eaters 2 to be a novella, but though I’ve written a reasonably comprehensive outline, the writing has fallen into the rhythm and pacing of a longer piece of work. Oh well. So rather than polishing off the first draft during the first fortnight of July, I found it has been something I’ve been picking up and putting down between the final two editing passes of Mantivore Warrior. Mhairi has now produced the cover, which I’m very happy with – and I’m on track to publish it at the end of August, as planned. Again, due to all the editing I’ve been doing, my writing wordcount is way down in comparison to the beginning of the year.
Overall, I wrote just over 35,500 words in July, with just over 20,500 on the blog, and just over 15,000 on my writing projects. This brings my yearly wordcount to date to just over 288,500 words – which completely justifies my decision to step away from my regular Creative Writing stints at Northbrook, because that is over 92,000 more words than this time last year.
Blogging I am more or less back on track with commenting, though I still struggle to get around and visit as much as I’d like – sorry to those of you who I’ve neglected! But again, I’m finding it such a lifeline to be able to chat about books to other folks – it certainly cuts down the sense of isolation. Take care and stay safe.x
This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.
The week started off wet, but since midweek we’ve had a series of hot, sunny days again. So on Wednesday, my daughter invited me to join her and the children at Swanbourne Lake in Arundel for a picnic. While it was very busy, everyone was mindful and socially distancing, which was good to see. We had lunch right by a wild flower meadow, watching butterflies and grasshoppers, which was a treat. We then walked around the lake at little Eliza’s pace until she got tired enough to return to her pushchair and rounded off the outing with an ice cream treat. Lovely! The pics this week are from Swanbourne Lake.
On Thursday, Himself and I needed to shop in town – and afterwards visited our first café for a cup of tea and piece of cake since lockdown. There was plenty of space inside as many people were sitting outside and we really appreciated this slight return to normality. I was due to go shopping with my sister, but she woke up yesterday morning in agony with sciatica, so I took my TENS machine over, along with some shopping and by the time I left she was feeling a lot better. I returned home to find Himself rather flustered. A fledgling gull being herded out of the garden, instead hopped into the kitchen and wandered through the ground floor. Luckily Himself managed to manoeuvre it out of the front door! We’ll be glad when the young gulls have got the hang of flying…
Last week I read: Last Dragon Standing – Book 5 of the Heartstrikers series by Rachel Aaron There is no way to write a blurb for this final book without spoiling all of the others. Suffice it to say, mysteries resolve, dragons war, pigeons abound, and Julius must risk himself in ways he never dreamed possible as Bob’s grand plan finally comes to fruition.
But the Great Seer of the Heartstrikers isn’t the only one whose schemes are nearing completion. The Nameless End is coming, and even the machinations of the world’s most brilliant dragon seer might not be enough to stop it. As the world comes crashing down, it’s up Julius to prove what he’s always known: that seers can be wrong, and Nice Dragons don’t always finish last. I’ve loved this series. Dragons… mages… ghost cat… and a cracking climactic battle that lasts most of the book. Aaron manages to round everything up in a suitably dramatic fashion. Review to follow.
The Relentless Moon – Book 3 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal The Earth is coming to the boiling point as the climate disaster of the Meteor strike becomes more and more clear, but the political situation is already overheated. Riots and sabotage plague the space program. The IAC’s goal of getting as many people as possible off Earth before it becomes uninhabitable is being threatened.
Elma York is on her way to Mars, but the Moon colony is still being established. Her friend and fellow Lady Astronaut Nicole Wargin is thrilled to be one of those pioneer settlers, using her considerable flight and political skills to keep the program on track. But she is less happy that her husband, the Governor of Kansas, is considering a run for President. Wow! I’ve loved the previous two books in Elma’s pov, but this last book in the trilogy is just fantastic. Nicole is a fabulous protagonist and the tense cat and mouse thriller this book develops into had me reading into the night. One of my outstandings reads of the year so far. Review to follow.
The Outcast Dead – Book 6 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway uncovers the bones of a Victorian murderess while a baby snatcher threatens modern-day Norfolk in this exciting new entry in a beloved series. Every year a ceremony is held in Norwich for the bodies in the paupers’ graves: the Service for the Outcast Dead. Ruth has a particular interest in this year’s proceedings. Her recent dig at Norwich Castle turned up the body of the notorious Mother Hook, who was hanged in 1867 for the murder of five children. Now Ruth is the reluctant star of the TV series Women Who Kill, working alongside the program’s alluring history expert, Professor Frank Barker.
DCI Harry Nelson is immersed in the case of three children found dead in their home. He is sure that the mother is responsible. Then another child is abducted and a kidnapper dubbed the Childminder claims responsibility. Are there two murderers afoot, or is the Childminder behind all the deaths? The team must race to find out-and the stakes couldn’t be any higher when another child goes missing. If I’d known in advance this one was all about child abductions, I probably would have given it a miss, but I didn’t realise until I was properly caught up in the story – and by then I was hooked. Still enjoying watching Ruth grow in confidence professionally and as a mother. Mini-review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents – Book 28 of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett Maurice and the rats have teamed up with a young lad named Keith to implement a clever moneymaking scheme. Upon entering a town, the rats make a general nuisance of themselves — stealing food and widdling on things — until the townsfolk become desperate to get rid of them. Then Maurice and Keith appear on the scene and offer to save the day by ridding the town of its infestation for a small fee. It seems like a surefire plan until the group arrives in the town of Bad Blintz and gets hooked up with Malicia, a young girl with a vivid imagination and a knack for finding trouble. When it’s discovered that Bad Blintz already has a rat problem — one that a couple of shifty-eyed rat catchers claim to have under control — things turn deadly. Pratchett’s magic goes on working its charm. There are some hefty themes tackled in this apparently innocuous children’s adventure featuring a talking cat, some talking rats and a not-quite-so-chatty orphan hoping to make his way in the world. Review to follow.
I read the first book in this delightful series, Nice Dragons Finish Last – see my review longer ago than I care to think, fully intending to pick up the rest of them. But somehow Life and other books got in the way. But I’m back here now – and delighted to see the whole series is available on KU. I am linking this review with Wyrd and Wonder 2020.
BLURB: After barely escaping the machinations of his terrifying mother, two all knowing seers, and countless bloodthirsty siblings, the last thing Julius wants to see is another dragon. Unfortunately for him, the only thing more dangerous than being a useless Heartstriker is being a useful one, and now that he’s got an in with the Three Sisters, Julius has become a key pawn in Bethesda the Heartstriker’s gamble to put her clan on top.
This is a real delight. I love the partnership and unfolding romance developing between Julius and Marci – not that they have too much time to dwell on their feelings for one another. Julius belongs to one of the most ambitious Dragon clans on the planet. When one of his higher ranked siblings decides that he is somehow crucial to the crisis Estella is creating, he finds a steady stream of his brothers and sisters dropping in to complicate matters further.
One of the complicating matters is his mortal partner and mage, Marci, has not just got a nifty set of spells at her disposal, her otherworldly familiar, a ghost cat creatively named Ghost is more than he seems. In fact, this is one of the delights of this enjoyable series, Aaron is very good at delivering a cracking plot where you think one thing is happening, when it actually transpires that there was something else going on all the time. I do love it when authors successfully pull off this technique – and Aaron is a whizz at it.
Julius is an interesting protagonist. In a genre where power and talent are always highly prized and opens doors for our plucky heroes and heroines – all Julius has to offer is… niceness. Dragons are not nice. They are greedy, ambitious, ruthless, cunning and devoted to gaining more power at the expense of their competitors, who quickly transform into their enemies. It takes strong writing to make such a weak protagonist prevail against the might of far more powerful peers – and allow us to continue finding him interesting. Fortunately, Marci isn’t quite so nice, although her edges appear to be almost cosy in comparison to your average dragon.
The pages turned by themselves and I found myself facing the final page far too quickly. This is a classy, well executed urban fantasy full of my favourite creatures magnificently portrayed. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. Highly recommended for fans of quality urban fantasy. 9/10
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 another quiet week, although I did manage to teach Tim via Skype on Monday and have our fortnightly Writing Group meeting on Zoom. Himself is still driving trains, although he finds it an eerie experience as formerly busy stations are deserted.
On Wednesday, I took a pair of scissors to my hair – and I’m really pleased with the result, but to be honest I was so sick of the tousle-haired old bat staring back at me in the mirror I’d got past caring. I hadn’t been out of the house since driving down to see our parents for Mothering Sunday a fortnight ago, so we went for a walk along the seafront yesterday morning. As you can see, it was deserted despite the lovely weather so it was easy to be mindful of the social distancing.
We have now discovered The Amazing Mrs Maisel – and loved the first two episodes, so will be watching more. I’m finding it difficult to face The Expanse or The Crossing at present, with what is going on day after day… As for my How-To book, I think I’m about half-way through and really enjoying writing it.
Last week I read:
A Dragon of a Different Colour – Book 4 of the Heartstriker series by Rachel Aaron To save his family from his tyrannical mother, Julius had to step on a lot of tails. That doesn’t win a Nice Dragon many friends, but just when he thinks he’s starting to make progress, a new threat arrives. Turns out, things can get worse. Heartstriker hasn’t begun to pay for its secrets, and the dragons of China are here to collect. When the Golden Emperor demands his surrender, Julius will have to choose between loyalty to the sister who’s always watched over him and preserving the clan he gave everything to protect. I love this series – it just goes on delivering. The worldbuilding is exceptional and the magic system complicated and engrossing, while the characters are nuanced and charismatic. I’m dreading reading the final book, as I don’t want the fun to end…
The Book of Koli – Book 1 of the Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey Beyond the walls of the small village of Mythen Rood lies an unrecognizable world. A world where overgrown forests are filled with choker trees and deadly vines and seeds that will kill you where you stand. And if they don’t get you, one of the dangerous shunned men will. Koli has lived in Mythen Rood his entire life. He knows the first rule of survival is that you don’t venture beyond the walls. What he doesn’t know is – what happens when you aren’t given a choice? This one is a solid joy. Carey absolutely nails the first-person POV and I fell in love with Koli – though he is in danger of being upstaged by the delightful, funny Monono, one of the most enegaging sidekicks I’ve encountered in a while. Review to follow.
The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series by John Scalzi The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction… and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people from impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough. Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization… or the last emperox to wear the crown? I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this series – Scalzi manages to provide a classic epic space opera scenario with an urban fantasy vibe. His characters are sharp, often funny and in amongst the grim risk of an apocalyptic end of civilisation looming over everyone, there is also a swashbuckling energy. Review to follow.
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.
It’s been an up and down week. I’m still not fully recovered, so didn’t feel up to any fitness regime. We treated ourselves to a smart TV, so have been tucking into Picard, The Crossing, The Expanse and Outlander – all of which I’m loving. It seems a very good time to binge-watch escapist adventures, given how terrifyingly interesting Real Life is becoming. My thoughts go out to everyone, hoping you are all remaining safe and well…
On Wednesday, Himself and I went out for lunch at Haskins, enjoying the swathes of daffodils growing on the roadside and on Friday I drove to Brighton to spend the day with my daughter. It was a lovely sunny day and I thoroughly enjoyed watching my granddaughter having her swimming lesson – what a great age to become water confident. Only just walking, she is learning to enjoy putting her head under the water, splash about in the pool and hold onto the side. This morning, I met up with my sister and we had breakfast together at our favourite riverside café, putting the world to rights – which took some doing. I am making the most of getting out and about while I can and spending time with the people I love.
Last week I read: AUDIOBOOK Longbourn by Jo Baker In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. I’m a bit torn by this one. While the worldbuilding was brilliantly done and I very much appreciated seeing the Bennet family through the lens of the servants, the pacing was too slow in places – and that ending…! Review to follow.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 — and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it — fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told. This was a reread, given I’ve started writing my own How-To book on Characterisation. It was just as enjoyably chatty and informative as I recalled, though some of the advice on how to get your work noticed is outdated.
Minimum Wage Magic – Book 1 of the DFZ series by Rachel Aaron My name is Opal Yong-ae, and I’m a Cleaner: a freelance mage with an art history degree who’s employed by the DFZ to sort through the mountains of magical junk people leave behind. It’s not a pretty job, or a safe one—there’s a reason I wear bite-proof gloves—but when you’re deep in debt in a lawless city where gods are real, dragons are traffic hazards, and buildings move around on their own, you don’t get to be picky about where your money comes from. You just have to make it work, even when the only thing of value in your latest repossessed apartment is the dead body of the mage who used to live there. This is a spinoff from the amazing Heartstriker series – though you don’t need to read one to appreciate the other. Seeing as I’m loving the quirky world Aaron has forged, I was happy to dive into this offering. Review to follow.
By the Pricking of Her Thumb – Book 2 of the Real-Town Murders series by Adam Roberts Private Investigator Alma is caught up in another impossible murder. One of the world’s four richest people may be dead – but nobody is sure which one. Hired to discover the truth behind the increasingly bizarre behaviour of the ultra-rich, Alma must juggle treating her terminally ill lover with a case which may not have a victim. Another gnarly case for the amazing Alma, set in a dystopian world. I loved the character and the mystery – but Roberts does drift away from the main plot to eulogise about Stanley Kubrick’s films and discuss theories on the role of money in society…
The Case of the Missing Servant – Book 1 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall The Case of the Missing Servant shows Puri (“Chubby” to his friends) and his wonderfully nicknamed employees (among them, Handbrake, Flush, and Handcream) hired for two investigations. The first is into the background of a man surprisingly willing to wed a woman her father considers unmarriageable, and the second is into the disappearance six months earlier of a servant to a prominent Punjabi lawyer, a young woman known only as Mary. This book was part of my Valentine’s pressie from Himself – and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hall’s depiction of contemporary India is vivid, unflinching, yet without being overly bleak or judgemental. I fell in love with Chubby when I read The Case of the Reincarnated Client and this book has cemented my affection for him.