January reading

Okay, no promises, but I’m going to TRY to keep up better with what I’m reading this year. Since last year I didn’t make notes at all, I thought this year I’d take a stab at doing a brief monthly review. I kind of think I probably read some of these during December? But I don’t remember exactly, so whatever, I’m tossing them into this post.

Honey and Pepper — a cute story that’s not altogether cute. It’s a romance with pretty typical romance beats, but I didn’t see the reveal about Kallion coming. I really, really enjoyed that reveal. I was like, “Well, good for him, now *I* am in love with Kallion!” And of course I enjoyed the stuff about cooking. This is the story that starts with the octopus fritters. I posted the opening lines sometime or other. Oh, here’s that post. Anyway, I liked this novel a lot and I’m on board for whatever Demas writes next.

At the Feet of the Sun — comments here.

Four Kings — comments here.

The Path to Rome — comments here.

The Girl Who Fell Into Myth — Now, this was something rather different. This book isn’t quite out yet; it’s going to hit the shelves March 1. I haven’t posted a full review or extensive comments. Let me tell you a little about it. Here’s my personal stab at description:

In our world, Liesa thinks she’s almost a normal young woman, living almost a normal life. Snatched abruptly into her father’s realm of magic, surrounded on all sides by indifference and scorn, with enemies everywhere and very few allies, Liesa must become Yevliesza, discovering herself and the magic that is her birthright. But even her unusual magic may not offer enough protection for her, or for the world she has gradually come to regard as her home.

Anything leap out at you from the above? Yes? Here’s what would push me away from this story if I saw this line in the description: “surrounded on all sides by indifference and scorn.”

The writing was solid here, but this was a difficult story for me at times because I kept saying, “My God, please, is anybody EVER going to be nice to Liesa?” For the first third of the story, the answer was No, and for the second third, the answer was Hell, no, and fine, I’m exaggerating, but not all that much. Yevliesza does have (generally powerless) allies and (sometimes treacherous) friends and (perhaps overly secretive) allies, but she’s in one fairly horrible situation or another for a good long time.

She’s a good deal more forgiving of it all than I would be, too.

The Unselected Journals of Emma M Lion — thoroughly charming. I enjoyed the first book a lot. I’m hesitating to go on with the series for two reasons: (A) I have a lot of other books at the top of my TBR pile, and (B) my goodness, these are pretty darned pricey for novellas. But, fine, yes, definitely tons of charm. In Emma’s place, I would poison my cousin, what’s his name, Archibald. I’m barely joking.

Spinning Silver — not at all charming. That is not remotely the right word. I will post an actual review of this one shortly.

Sovereign Night by JM Ney-Grimm

This is second Gael and Keir book, and so far this seems to be a duology, though there’s plenty of room for a third book. It took me a long time to read this one, for no actual reason. Except I started it when I was hip-deep in Tasmakat and was trying not to be distracted by other people’s fiction and therefore kept setting it aside. Then I’d get to some stopping point or take my car in for an oil change or whatever and pick up Sovereign Night again, so I finally finished it just under the wire to include it in this post.

Anyway! I liked The first Gael and Keir book, particularly after Keir’s first pov chapter because (as you probably know) I like the girl-disguised-as-a-boy trope and I definitely liked it in that one. My comments about the first book are here. Sovereign Night is a good addition to the story, but I wouldn’t say it pushes Gael OR Keir to a new level; actually the reverse, as they don’t have personal dilemmas in this one the way they did in the first book. I mean, problems, yes. But not dilemmas. In the first book, Gael is terribly torn between, basically, two different loyalties, and Keir too, though not as much so. In this second book, their priorities are clear: find the lodestone, steal the lodestone, move on. They don’t have any loyalty toward anyone in power nor any personal investment in this society. So for me, Sovereign Night lacked some of the emotional depth of The Tally-Master.

The mystery element was just so-so for me. Important parts of it were really obvious and one crucial element lacked plausibility. However, the mystery is seldom important to me even in murder mysteries, far less fantasies that are also mysteries. I’m more interested in the people and how they solve the mystery. That part was fine. But none of that was the story’s real strength. THAT was the setting. Because, wow, this was a great setting. Ney-Grimm is particularly good with setting, and she had a LOT more scope to show that in this book than in The Tally-Master. In that one, man, the stairs, I’m telling you. In Sovereign Night, it’s everything.

This is a Chinese-flavored setting in terms of architecture and construction materials, plants and foods – rice paper screens, waterlily pools, bamboo, teak trees – and also in terms of flowery terminology. Let me see. All right: The Rotunda of Serene Preparation. The Hall of Supreme Composure. The Gate of Purest Might. I love the names! I feel I’ve missed out by never creating a society that uses names like this. Someday I’ll have to do that. It made me think of The Benignity of the Compassionate Hand. Where was that? Was that one of Elizabeth Moon’s space opera series? Anyway, I should definitely keep this in mind.

My very favorite touch is that all the young male servants – they’re gofers, basically – that serve in the Glorious Citadel are called umfana, and all the girls are called inkehli. Gael points out to Keir that this effectively anonymizes the youngsters, since if one of them causes offense, the offended noble may well not be able to name the particular umfana to complain about him. This is a great worldbuilding detail.

So, for me, five stars for setting, four for everything else, and overall I prefer the first book. But this one was also fine, and I’d be happy to go on with the series.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking — I got to 43% and had a serious facepalm moment and quit.

I realize this is a T Kingfisher title, and doesn’t that mean meant for YA? But I have to say, this story doesn’t read YA. It reads MG, and young MG at that. The protagonist, Mona, is a complete little idiot. She’s fourteen, which in theory suggests that the story may be aimed at readers age ten to twelve, and honestly that sounds about right. A rather sheltered ten-year-old reader might not think She’s doing WHAT? several times in the first half of the story. For me, her idiocy proved a bit hard to take, and by “a bit” I mean I stopped reading the book.

Maybe I’ll go back to it – I like the little gingerbread man and of course I like Bob – but Mona herself, good lord above.

The Peach Keeper — a re-read. So pretty. I just love Sarah Addison Allen.

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13 thoughts on “January reading”

  1. The one I disagreed on was Four Kings. “Competence porn” is a genre I usually associate with male authors–and I rarely enjoy it. This book make break the mold, but not my overall impression.
    Wizard’s Guide does indeed have a hopelessly naive protagonist.
    Emma Lion books do get significantly longer (~250p) after the first two.

  2. I’ve read Spinning Silver and Honey and Pepper and loved them. Also Defensive Baking, I did finish it but it’s not among my favorites

    In January I read the 7C series by Alice Degan and liked it, not as much as her other books, but it was fun and I really love magic houses. It’s a bit annoying though that it’s unfinished.

    Plus I’ve been reading the Greenwing&Dart series by Goddard all in one go and I love it so much. I’ll probably finish book 6 today and now I only have the two novellas and have to wait for book 7 :( Have you read it?

  3. Well, Pete, that’s good to know about the Emma Lion series, so we’ll see. My TBR pile is so enormous that I may not go on with that series for quite a while.

    “Hopelessly naive” is certainly accurate. I honestly doubt I’ll finish the book.

    I often like competence porn. I’m wondering if you liked The Martian?

    I haven’t read the Greenwing & Dark series, so I’ll be curious to see what other people think. The comedy of manners style is not really something I usually like, however.

  4. That’s funny because I wouldn’t have described the Greenwing series as written in a comedy of manners style. It’s been long enough that I’d need to go back and re-read to see. My takeaway was that it was a very enjoyable series about a young man coming of age and being swept up into magical adventures with his friends and fending off various bad guys. And, spoiler alert, there are some cameos by members of the Red Company, so this series ends up tying right back into Hands of the Emperor. I’ve read quite a lot of Goddard by now and it looks like most of her work is set in one giant multiverse that allows her to explore different worlds and times and, yes, writing styles. Some I liked better than others. The Greenwing series is not at Hands of the Emperor level but it was definitely well worth reading. And re-reading since I actually spent my hard earned dollars and bought my own copies. FWIW. Give the first book a try; I think you might like it.

  5. Thanks for your comments, Jeanine — I’ll add a sample of the first Greenwing book to my TBR pile.

  6. The Benignity of the Compassionate Hand: enemy state featured in a few books of the Serrano series by Elizabeth Moon.

    I also enjoyed the Emma Lion series – thank you to the other commenters here who recommended it! I read it for “free” on Kindle Unlimited, very much felt like my subscription paid for itself last month. Rachel, if you think you having time to read them all in one month, you might try a subscription as a more cost effective way of accessing this series. (btw KU is also how I get the Tuyo books, why I never pre-order)

  7. The series do interconnect. For example when Cliopher visits his cousin in At the Feet of the Sun, someone mentions they were under a curse. That story is in Greenwing&Dart.

  8. I DNFd the first Greenwing & Dart book for reasons I no longer remember. Something about an unpleasant social environment in the small town. Anyway, I just recently read “The Saint of the Book Store” which is a short story that takes place later in the series. The author said that the story would stand alone but would have spoilers for earlier books in the sequence, which was okay with me. In any case, I liked it quite a bit so will probably go back and try the others again.

    I read The Wizard’s Guide, although I did skip to the end at some point and see if I wanted to go back and figure out how we got there. (And, in fact, I did.) I liked the end, but it’s not my favorite MG/YA Kingfisher. That would be Minor Mage, which I love.

    I got the first Emma Lion book from recommendations here but haven’t read it yet.

  9. Otterb, Rachel, “The Saint of the Bookstore” might actually be a good introduction to the series despite the spoilers because it gives a glimpse of the magic and the genuine kindness of the main character that is perhaps not apparent in the first few chapters of book 1. which starts a bit slow.

  10. Rachel–yes I read the Martian. It doesn’t stack up against Apollo 13, either the book or the movie.

  11. Thanks for the suggestion, Maria!

    Pete, and I loved The Martian both book and movie, much more than Apollo 13. So … yep, different responses to competence porn!

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