I treated myself to this one with some of my birthday money, after it was recommended to me by one of my book blogging buddies – and I’m so sorry that I cannot recall who! If you do remember my gushing over it, feel free to come and nudge me in the ribs and I’ll namecheck you…
BLURB: Fourteen-year-old Mona isn’t like the wizards charged with defending the city. She can’t control lightning or speak to water. Her familiar is a sourdough starter and her magic only works on bread. She has a comfortable life in her aunt’s bakery making gingerbread men dance. But Mona’s life is turned upside down when she finds a dead body on the bakery floor. An assassin is stalking the streets of Mona’s city, preying on magic folk, and it appears that Mona is his next target. And in an embattled city suddenly bereft of wizards, the assassin may be the least of Mona’s worries…
REVIEW: This one is a solid delight. I absolutely loved it. Mona is such a superb protagonist – having been orphaned and then looked after by her aunt and uncle, her life is jogging along quite nicely. But then the appearance of a dead body in the bakery upsets everything. And from then on, Mona’s life becomes a lot more complicated.
The setting is a medieval city state where most of the subjects are just about coping, though there is widespread poverty. I believed in the world, the politics and the way prejudice against folks with magical ability had been subtly stirred up – it was nicely done. But what makes this book really stand out is the magic. Or rather – Mona’s magic… It’s a joy. Both funny and completely believable, the way Mona’s desperate efforts to save the day made this a gripping read so that I stayed up far too late to discover what happened. And I’ve been mourning the loss of this world ever since I stopped reading it. I even dreamt about it…
I also liked the depth of the supporting characters – as well as Mona’s anger at the adults’ inability to sort things out, so that it’s down to her. Such a natural reaction, but one I don’t see all that often in these sorts of adventures. I very much hope that Kingfisher finds that her lovely heroine won’t leave her alone – and that she, too, misses Mona. Because I’d love to read more about this gutsy, quirky teen. 10/10
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…
December was something of a blur – the first half of the month I was re-starting my Pilates and Fitstep classes and getting used to being out and about, again. I was also still in close touch with my daughter and her family, as we are part of her support bubble.
As usual, I was slightly behind and disorganised with my Christmas preparations – but that wasn’t a particular problem, I reasoned, as we were going to have a very quiet day with just Himself, me and my sister… Until the new measures that came in a handful of days before Christmas wiped out my daughter and the children’s Christmas plans – they were no longer able to go and stay with their other grandparents for a short mini-break. So I suggested that they come to us for the day. And was then rushing around to ensure we made it as enjoyable a day as possible, given particularly awful year they’ve had, with COVID just making a horrible situation a whole lot worse.
Christmas Day went off well – and then we were lucky enough to have all three children stay over for a couple of nights, which was full-on, given it was the first time two-year-old Eliza had ever stayed with us. But that was a success, with her remaining happy throughout.
Reading I read sixteen books in December, with more wonderful reads qualitywise. My Outstanding Book of the Month was Lamentation – Book 6 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom and my Outstanding Audiobook of the Month was A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey.
My reads during December were: AUDIOBOOK Machine – Book 2 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear. Review to follow.
Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. See my review.
Swordheart by T. Kingfisher. Review to follow.
Lamentation – Book 6 of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom – Outstanding book of the month. Review to follow.
Mistaken Identity Crisis – Book 4 of the Braxton Campus Mysteries by James. J. Cudney. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK Mark of Athena – Book 3 of the Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan. Review to follow.
Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders: A Dominion of the Fallen Novella by Aliette de Bodard. Review to follow.
Scardown – Book 2 of the Jenny Casey series by Elizabeth Bear. Mini-review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK A Quiet Life in the Country – Book 1 of the Lady Hardcastle series by T.E. Kinsey – Outstanding audiobook of the month. Review to follow.
Inherit the Shoes – Book 1 of A Jersey Girl Legal Mystery series by E.J. Copperman. See my review.
The Woman in Blue – Book 8 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Min-review to follow.
Bear Head – Book 2 of the Dogs of War series by Adrian Tchaikovsky. See my review.
Guilt at the Garage – Book 20 of The Fethering Mysteries by Simon Brett. Review to follow.
AUDIOBOOK In the Market for Murder – Book 2 of the Lady Hardcastle mysteries by T.E. Kinsey. Mini-review to follow.
Doors of Sleep by Tim Pratt. Review to follow.
Shadow in the Empire of Light by Jane Routley. Review to follow.
Writing and Editing Given everything else that was going on – you won’t be surprised to learn that my work on Trouble with Dwarves, which is the second book in my Picky Eaters trilogy, featuring grumpy old dragon, Castellan, slowed down somewhat, though I’m happy with what I managed to achieve. I also completed a couple of editing projects for other folks, as well as continuing to work on my father-in-law’s project of writing his memoirs.
Overall, I wrote just under 30,000 words in December, with just under 14,500 on the blog, and just under 13,5,000 on my writing projects. This brings my final yearly wordcount to date to just over 506,000 words. I’m very happy with that – it’s been quite a long time since I was able to break the half-a-million word barrier for the year, and just goes to show how much my teaching duties had impacted my creativity.
Blogging It was a frustrating month. I’d begun to really get back into the swing of my blogging rhythm – and then the last-minute flurry around Christmas, as well as some really miserable family stuff, and I went AWOL again. Apologies for the delay in replying and not visiting as much as I should! With everything going on right now, my blogging is going to be a bit hit and miss for a while. In the meantime, I very much hope you are all able to continue to stay safe, while waiting for your vaccination. Take care.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.
It’s been another really busy week. I was able to attend my first session of Fitstep in over a month and I’m hoping to start back at Pilates, now that our second lockdown has eased and we are designated as a Tier 2 risk. It’s not the same as we have to dance within separate squares and be socially distanced, but flinging myself around to music again was a real treat. This week was dominated by Tim’s annual review and getting the paperwork up together for that, as well as conducting a conference call instead of the usual meeting. And yesterday was my mother’s birthday. We sent her a bouquet of flowers and a card and spoke to her on Skype. She looks marvellous, which is a comfort, but it’s not the same as seeing her…
The photos this week come from a walk along the beach with Himself on the last day of his holiday, before he returned to work on Wednesday. Just look at the millpond smoothness of the water…
Last week I read:
AUDIOBOOK Machine – Book 2 of the White Space series by Elizabeth Bear Meet Doctor Jens. She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee.
But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away. Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths. I thoroughly enjoyed accompanying Dr Jens as she tried to uncover exactly what was going on. Mystery thrillers set in space are always enjoyable – and though Jens does spend quite a lot of time musing about Life, the Universe and Everything – it was only in the later stages of the mystery that I wanted the pace to pick up. Review to follow.
Forged – Book 11 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka To protect his friends, Mage Alex Verus has had to change–and embrace his dark side. But the life mage Anne has changed too, and made a bond with a dangerous power. She’s going after everyone she’s got a grudge against–and it’s a long list. The penultimate book in this series, it certainly has a sense of cranking up the stakes as high as they could possibly go. I like the fact that despite there being a lot of battle scenes – Verus still very much minds about the fact that he is causing the deaths of a lot of people. Review to follow.
Swordheart by T. Kingfisher Halla is a housekeeper who has suddenly inherited her great-uncle’s estate… and, unfortunately, his relatives. Sarkis is an immortal swordsman trapped in a prison of enchanted steel. When Halla draws the sword that imprisons him, Sarkis finds himself attempting to defend his new wielder against everything from bandits and roving inquisitors to her own in-laws… and the sword itself may prove to be the greatest threat of all. This was such fun! I have previously read A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, which I’d loved and when I saw Himself had added this one to our TBR, I was delighted. I shall be reading more of this author in the coming year…