Free, that is, to read Other Peoples’ Novels! Something I have been avoiding fairly strenuously, if not completely, for the past several months.

The day I finished Tasmakat, which is to say, roughly a week ago, I went right for Ilona Andrews, Sapphire Flames. This was a re-read, but I didn’t remember it well, and I wanted to go on with the other two books that have been released in this series, AND, very important, Ilona Andrews’ works well for me to break a reading slump.

It turns out that not reading fiction because I’m working on a book of my own is a lot like not reading fiction because I can’t quite muster the enthusiasm to actually open something and read past the first page. In other words, a deliberate reading slump is a lot like an involuntary reading slump, at least for me. Therefore, Ilona Andrews. Very engaging books, especially this series.

After that, I’m going back to the second book in the Tally Master series by JM Ney-Grimm, because I stopped near the beginning for absolutely no fault in the story and feel bad about that.

But, after this, the TBR pile is so high and tottery, even just looking at the top ten or so books on it, I’m really having trouble. Therefore:

What Should I Read Next? A Poll

1) Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

The real story isn’t half as pretty as the one you’ve heard. The real story is, the miller’s daughter with her long golden hair wants to catch a lord, a prince, a rich man’s son, so she goes to the money-lender and borrows for a ring and a necklace and decks herself out for the festival. And she’s beautiful enough, so the lord, the prince, the rich man’s son notices her, and dances with her, and tumbles her in a quiet hayloft when the dancing is over, and afterwards he goes home and marries the rich woman his family has picked out for him. The the miller’s despoiled daughter tells everyone that the money-lender’s in league with the devil and the village runs him out or maybe even stones him, so at least she gets to keep the jewels for a dowry, and the blacksmith marries her before that firstborn child comes along a little early.

Because that’s really what the story’s about: getting out of paying your debts.

This cynical, bitter tone is pushing me away. However, so many of you raved about this so much that if you vote for it now, I won’t be surprised.

2) Unselected Journals of Emma M Lion by Beth Brower

I’ve arrived in London without incident.

There are few triumphs in my recent life, but I count this as one. My existence of the last three years has been nothing but incident.

My train billowed its way into St. Pancras Station five minutes early. Auspicious, as I am fairly certain such a thing has never before happened in the history of the British railway system. A less than enthusiastic porter helped me with my two trunks, my case, and my hat box. He took note of thefrayed edges on my morning coat, made a sound of disapproval, and began to silently convey his displeasure at helping me. I did give him a half-penny. Rather generous, considering my financial state. Strangely, it was the hat box that caused the greatest sneer, despite it actually carrying a hat. For over a year it carried something a modicum less pleasant: the monkey’s head Maxwell sent me.

Some of you were talking about this series in comments here recently, and this light-hearted tone is drawing me in.

3) The Maker’s Mask by Ankaret Wells

The first frosts of the year had just broken when Tzenni Boccamera arrived at the Spire of Shainault. There was a shabby trade town outside the gates; it looked as if it had only survived the winter without falling down because the frost stiffened the buildings enough to keep them vertical.

Tzennni’s grel made splattering noises of distaste with both sets of nostrils and tried to scrape its saddle-bags off against the wall of a particularly tumbledown shack. The shack had a porch made of wine-colored curtains, giving the impression that it had rammed into the back of a bedstead and stuck. The burgundy cloth still held its stiff folds and repelled the mud, as only Maker-tech could.

A somewhat confusing beginning. Is this SF or fantasy? I suspect it’s both, one of the books right at the edge between the two. There’s a short prologue, which is quite good. That starts this way: “Some say we fell out of the sky, and some that we were made of mud, and some that we are all part of God. And this is how they’re all true.” Then two more paragraphs, which as I say are quite good, and I think this is a good, effective prologue — better than the first paragraphs of the actual story. Then there’s another very short prologue which doesn’t work as well for me because of the extremely high number of unfamiliar names. Nine or so in two paragraphs. Then the opening above.

Nevertheless, the comments about the characters some of you made for an earlier post — an engineer, yay! And a sarcastic bodyguard, also yay! — plus the good first prologue all make me want to go on with this. But right away? Not sure I’d put this at the top.

4) Other Birds by Sarah Addison Allen

The empty wicker birdcage beside her began to rattle impatiently. Zoey gave it a sharp look as if to say they were almost there. It stopped.

She glanced at the cabdriver to see if he had noticed. The old fig-shaped man was watching her in the rearview mirror, his silver eyebrows raised. Several seconds passed, and he continued to stair, which she found disconcerting because she felt his eyes should really be on the long bridge over the water. But he seemed to be waiting for her to respond.

Not as immediately engaging as many of Sarah Addison Allan’s works.

5) Magic and the Shinigami Detective by Honor Raconteur

Emulating a breathing statue, I kept my eyes at half-mast, my body still. I’d learned over the time in this dank, bat-infested cave that stillness was best. She didn’t question stillness. She sometimes forgot her victims were even there.

Well, victim, now. That other poor man had died this morning, leaving me as the lone survivor. She’d captured six of us in the beginning, all from different worlds, as we’d barely been able to communicate with each other, even with the potions and language spells she heaped upon us. We’d lost the first man within a week, his body too different, his spirit too easily crushed.

Back when Amazon had “also bought” as a thing, a lot of books by Honor Raconteur — one assumes that’s a pseudonym — used to turn up in that slot under all my books. Obviously once I noticed that, I picked up a couple. This was one. I’ve actually read the full prologue, of which this is a part. While I’m not crazy about either the situation or the writing style, the situation improves immensely in a few pages as the protagonist escapes. This is a prologue, and in chapter one some time has passed and the protagonist has made a place for herself in this world.

6) A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T Kingfisher

There was a dead girl in my aunt’s bakery.

I let out an undignified yelp and backed up a step, then another, until I ran into the bakery door. We keep the door open most of the time because the big ovens get swelteringly hot otherwise, but it was four in the morning and nothing was warmed up yet.

Baking, Ursula Vernon, I mean, I’ve kind of wanted to read this for a while. Despite the dead girl in the first sentence, this story is apparently going to feature a light, breezy style. It would probably be fast to read and, of course, it’s probably pretty good because it’s Ursula Vernon.

7) Honey and Pepper by AJ Demas

Nikias had a fresh batch of octopus fritters ready when the three bells rang out from the harbour. He turned them out of the pan onto a dish, drizzled them with sauce, and slid the dish onto the front counter of the snack stand, pleased with his timing.

It wasn’t good business sense, making a fresh batch of their most expensive item at three bells, which was long before quitting time for the dock hands who would come pouring up the Shipyard Road on their way home from the harbour and make up most of the snack stand’s customers. Widow Pyke, the owner of the snack stand and Nikias’s boss, wouldn’t have approved of it if she had known, but he was minding the stand by himself that afternoon, during the slow period. And three bells was the hour when, often, the law clerk emerged from the door of the house beside Pyke’s Snacks and, if he wasn’t in a hurry, stopped at the counter and ordered something. Usually octopus fritters.

Demas writes these charming, rather light, alternate-Classical-Greek-ish stories. This looks inviting. I like it.

8) Ravenwood by Nathan Lowell

Somewhere up in the canopy, a jaybird greeted the dawn loudly and with the vigor usually reserved for mating or feeding. Tanyth sighed and turned over in her bedroll. The cushion of last year’s pine needles provided a comfortable enough mattress and she didn’t really want to crawl out, but her brain betrayed her body by insisting that time dripped through her fingers while nothing useful happened.

A slow, calm opening. Actually, thinking of Nathan Lowell makes me want to go back and re-read The Wizard’s Butler. I might do that instead of, or before, reading something else new to me.

9) Ocean’s Echo by Everina Maxwell

Tennalhin Halkana arrived at the party fashionably late, which might have meant something if he’d been invited in the first place. Tennal often set out to make trouble, it was true, but this evening he was genuinely here for a drink and a good time.

That was a lie. He also wanted an architect, and this party would be full of architects.

Working against this book: I don’t already own it and it’s $15 or so for the Kindle ebook. That’s a major strike against this title since I have a zillion other things to read sitting right here. On the other hand, I really liked Maxwell’s first book in this duology, and that third sentence is just delightful. Have any of you already read this? What did you think?

10) Your suggestion here.

You know how it is when you’ve just read something great and you’re dying to force it into other people’s hands and make them read it too? This is a great time to try that. If you’ve got something like that in mind, drop it in the comments! I may wind up just flipping coins for all the above, including any other title any of you happen to rave about.

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25 thoughts on “I’m FREE!”

  1. Lots of good options, but I vote for Emma Lion or Defensive Baking. Both very engaging and really easy to get into.

  2. I vote for Emma Lion, too, I love the narrative voice. Or either Nathan Lowell. #9 sounds promising, but not at that price. I’ll get a sample to remind myself of its existence, though, in case the price comes down.

    I know Vernon/Kingfisher is popular, but after enjoying a few, I didn’t enjoy the next several I tried, so I’m avoiding her work for the time being.

    Were you in the mood for a fairy tale retelling, Ney-Grimm has an East o’ the West retelling. I believe it’s also the book she says someone described as having no villain. Troll-Magic. I enjoyed it, although … it seemed not all the plot threads balanced properly.

  3. I really liked Ankaret Wells’ Respite books but they do some heavy lifting in terms of worldbuilding—and what I remember of plot was confusing as well—they’re delightfully charming but maybe better when you’re looking to just immerse yourself and enjoy the ride, rather than for climbing out of a reading slump. (I would say they’re SFF but on a world where the science has been so lost and distorted that it largely works like magic. Also there are riding dinosaurs!)

    Honey & Pepper is set in Pheme and you’ll recognize some minor characters from Strong Poison, which you may enjoy. It’s fairly light but not entirely angst-free. The food descriptions made me really hungry!

    I did not love Spinning Silver—there are a Lot of Abusive Men, and that overshadowed a lot of the rest for me.

  4. Defensive Baking is quite good but not angst-free.

    Something that I enjoyed recently is the Reflected City series by Rabia Gale (book 3 ends on a cliffhanger though). It takes place in a secondary world inspired by Regency Britain with Gaslamp elements. Characters are nice, mean to do the right thing. Not angst-free because the MC works for an agency investigating magical crime and they are dealing with a serial killer, but there are plenty of lighthearted moments as well.

    Alternately Rain Through Her Fingers is a really nice standalone short-story by the same author.

    Also Bonds of Magic series by Jeffe Kennedy, high fantasy/romance/adventure stuff quite entertaining. The only series I think where I was drawn in by a novella in an anthology. I didn’t really like the first few chapters of book 1 and only continued because I loved the novella (sweet holiday romance about two young people in a magical academy who aren’t allowed to be together because of the rules of their oppressive society), but I ended up really enjoying the series.

  5. The newest Mistborn book came out and I just completed my re-read + new book read and I’m definitely in the “everyone should read this” phase. I don’t think I’ve seen you mention Brandon Sanderson in the time I’ve been reading your blog, but he’s one of the best worldbuilders I know of, he writes books that are easy to read and have good character arcs, and it’s all very positive / the opposite of grimdark. He does tend to do quippy characters and cinematic action, which I don’t care as much about, but he’s one of my favorite authors anyway.

    I’ve only read Spinning Silver and A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking from your list and I’d vote for Spinning Silver. A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking was fine, but I don’t get all the fuss.

  6. Defensive Baking is not as light as it looks; that dead girl was loved and she didn’t stop being loved just because she died.

    Spinning Silver, on the other hand, is… well, maybe it is as dark as it looks. But in a really good, entertaining way. I didn’t love it as much as The Scholomance series, but if you liked El and I am pretty sure I remember that you did, you’ll like Miryem, too. They’re very similar characters in very different settings.

    I loved the beginning of the Shinigami Detective, but the character I liked turned into a side character with the main character being very different and much less entertaining. I think I tried the second book, but then I gave up on that series.

    And I regretted the $15 spent on Ocean’s Echo so much that I honestly considered trying to return the book and only didn’t because I think it morally wrong to return a book that you’ve actually read. But I wish I’d waited out the 4 month waitlist at my library, because… I had issues. I’m not sure I can explain them fully without being spoiler-y, but the basic premise of a mental power that allows its wielder to force complete obedience from others was so fundamentally horrifying and objectionable to me that I just couldn’t wrap my head around that society. They took it for granted, simply used the power, and I just… yeah, I just couldn’t. It was a horror novel premise in what was trying to be a light sci-fi romance and it did not work for me. In a big way. YMMV.

    My next read will probably be Emma Lion, though, which sounds fun. Just while I wait out the three (3!!!) days until I can get At The Feet of the Sun, though! (sequel to Hands of the Emperor, available on Victoria Goddard’s website on the 21st.)

  7. I bounced from Spinning Silver. The only ones I’ve read are:
    * Defensive Baking, which is fine, though the heroine is a little dense for much of the book. (I would call it MG-mature, if I had to pick a genre.)
    * Selected Journals, which is an impressive piece of writing. (It’ll keep you busy for a while.) I’d call the genre magical realism if forced to it. (Other than the Roman legionaire’s ghost, the magic is mostly a plot device.)

  8. I loved Spinning Silver, and I agree with Sarah’s observation that Miryem and El have a lot in common. But if you’re in the mood for something more lighthearted, you may want to start with another book.

    I’m pretty sure I liked Defensive Baking, though I don’t remember a lot of detail about it at this point. I haven’t read any of the others.

  9. I liked Ocean’s Echo even better than Maxwell’s first book! My one complaint is that I think she did a little bit too much showing instead of telling when it came to the politics/world building at the beginning, so I got a little teeny tiny bit frustrated by how long it took me to really understand what was going on & what the stakes were. But overall I really, really liked it. The sorta-psychic powers stuff was really interestingly described, I liked the characters, there were several plot things that surprised me in a good way, and I liked the ending (everything was wrapped just the right amount to satisfy me without feeling too perfect).

  10. Ocean’s Echo’s premise and characters as written up on Amazon look like complete rip offs of the main characters and abilities in the anime Code Geass (an anime original, not from a book). Which contains the guy who acquires the ability to command anyone to do anything, contains a mind-reader and a conflicted decent guy in the military, and the Geass Order which was developing more neurological abilities to weaponize. Oh, and a narratively important mother as well as rebellion against tyranny.

    I highly recommend Code Geass, which we just finished watching – most of the people are believably smart and doing what is right as they understand it – and if anyone out there has watched it and read the Maxwell, how do they compare?

  11. Came back to double check the name of one of the other books & saw Sarah’s comment about Ocean’s Echo – I absolutely see where Sarah’s coming from, but I think it’s definitely a ymmv sort of thing. I probably said “This is all wildly unethical!” out loud to myself about a dozen times while reading, but it seemed clear to me that the author and the main characters agreed it was unethical, so it didn’t bother me any more than say, reading a historical fiction book set in Ancient Rome and there being slavery. But I can totally see how it could be like, the mental version of body horror for someone else.

  12. Mmmm, octopus fritters! I would pick Demas to get out of a reading funk, any time. (Haven’t read that one yet but want to now!)

    You already know I highly recommend Spinning Silver (yes, there are a Lot of Abusive Men, but there are also Fierce Women Supporting Each Other, which I love). If you like Ursula Vernon you’ll like Wizard’s Guide, thought tbh it isn’t my favourite of hers (I would read the Paladin series or Sword Heart first) (and you know that as T. Kingfisher she is darker than Ursula Vernon)(I would recommend Nettle & Bone as well, but read the first paragraph and that will tell you the tone—it’s very good but quite dark).

    The opening of The Maker’s Mask intrigues me: that’s a lot of effective world-building in a short span of words, so i feel confident this is an author that can take me into this interesting sci-fi/fantasy world.

    I, too, will be dropping everything in 3 days to read At The Feet of the Sun: quite excited by the three teaser chapters she has on her website!

    As for recent read that I would push into anyone’s hands: Children of Time, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Very interesting sci-fi: a rare book where the idea was compelling enough for me to turn pages, rather than the characters (characters grew on me slowly and I ended up loving them, but they weren’t really the focus at first).

  13. The heroine from Spinning Silver really didn’t work for me. As angry as El, but nowhere as appealing.

    Defensive Baking was good.

    Finally got around to reading Meg Pechenick’s Ascending. Loved the world building, and I liked the idea of a first contact novel from the point of view of a linguist. And I liked the author’s voice in Sarah K. L. Wilson’s Fly with the Arrow. I’ve read thousands (it seems) of Cinderella re-tellings, but this was the first re-telling of Bluebeard.

  14. I vote Shinigami Detective by Honor Raconteur it’s a great series by a great author. Alternatively, try her Artifactor series. It edges out Case Files as my favorite by her. Also, she’s not a grimdark author but does really interesting fantasy plots, so I think you’d like her books.

    NPCs by Drew Hayes is also great, if you’ve never read it.

  15. Kathryn McConaughy

    I think Spinning Silver is the only one I’ve read of these, although several others are in my TBR. The opening is from one of the MC’s POVs – you basically meet her at her lowest point from a cynicism perspective. She does change over the course of the story.

    If you are still in a UF mood after Ilona Andrews, W R Gingell has a really wonderful series of small-cast, character driven UF short novels called City Between! Between Jobs is the first one. The way the exposition is handled at the very beginning of the first book is a tad awkward, but after the first five pages the book is amazing. The series feels almost cozy in tone, even though trying to catch a murderer is the MCs’ main goal.

  16. Alas, I eventually got bored with City Between. Just too many books without much advancing of the plot. I liked it fine for the first handful, though. Gingell has some good lines, though. One I reread recently was, “The rule with explosives is Safety First, because Nice Young Ladies need all of their limbs to pour tea.”

  17. I’ve been reading through these openings more carefully. Thumbs down on “her brain told her”, though the rest of the opening is OK. Thumbs up on octopus fritters.
    Hinor Raconteur…I guess I’ll try downloading a sample, but I’ve never been impressed with her(?) blurbs.

  18. @Pete Mack Yeah I think her blurbs are a weakness of hers. Her actual books are much better. Hop you like the sample!

  19. I loved Spinning Silver, so that would be my vote, of this list. But if you want something utterly captivating with well thought magic and a capacity to weave language that almost matches yours, I just finished A Marvellous Light and A Restless Truth by Freya Marske – and both were utterly captivating. The language is a delight, the characters are well drawn and the magic is beautiful. Can’t recommend them highly enough. Also The Kingdoms, by Natasha Pulley, which was on my list of must-reads on the podcast this week – along with Tuyo, obviously…

  20. I just reread Spinning Silver and still enjoyed it. It’s dark in the way Russian literature is dark, but not more than Scholomance. There are brutal men in it, but also good men, and boys.
    I’m surprised about Winter’s Orbit, I found the narration slightly annoying, or anyway not compelling. Am curious about Emma Lion!

  21. Right now I’m rereading Stained Glass Monsters – always a pleasure reading Andrea Host while waiting for new books to emerge

  22. It is, Yen! I’m hoping The Four Kings comes out this year. If not, who knows, I may re-read The Touchstone Trilogy AGAIN.

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