Meeting old friends again

I’ve been knee-deep in a very sticky first draft for most of this week (second-book syndrome; it has been kicking my backside), so reading time has been limited. Imagine my joy on Thursday evening when I finally got to write the magical words “The End”!

Cover of Olivia Wildenstein's The MasterkeyAfter that stress and strain, I was delighted to relax with Olivia Wildenstein’s The Masterkey. I love Olivia’s writing and was thrilled to find another book in the series. I read The Masterpiecers and The Masterminds a while ago now, and I think The Masterkey, although set chronologically earlier than the others, is a new addition to the world. It’s also utterly fabulous. The Masterkey focuses on Aster, Masterpiecer Ivy’s twin sister. Aster is heartbreakingly lovely and damaged, and Josh is simply a poppet (probably don’t tell him; he might not be flattered).

I’ve mentioned before my perception that everything’s part of a series now, and yes, sometimes that’s annoying, but The Masterkey reminded me that it can be a really good thing. As a reader, when you find a world you enjoy, you want to spend more time there. I know it felt like a real treat to get back with Ivy and Aster again. So now I’ve got the opposite problem of being sad that there isn’t more to read about them – never happy us readers, are we?

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I admit it, I’m a hypocrite

This week I finished The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, my paperback, bedtime read.

Cover of Renee Ahdieh's The Wrath and the DawnIt is absolutely sumptuous; the writing is some of the most beautiful I’ve ever come across. It’s a retelling of Scheherazade and the Thousand and One Nights, but with the blood-thirsty king replaced with a more sympathetic (and gorgeous) hero.

I did enjoy it, but I’ll admit to being disappointed by the ending. As well as our heroine Shazi’s willingness to sacrifice herself, which was entirely understandable but set my feminist hackles rising, it’s very incomplete. Having just gone onto Goodreads to grab a copy of the cover, I can see that it’s very much part of a series, but I’m starting to feel exhausted by the fact that nothing these days ever finishes.

Now, I appreciate that’s hypocritical for me to say, since I’ve started writing series because they sell. But just now and then it would be nice for something to just be itself and not part of a bigger story that you must see to the end.

But having said that, I’ll get the next because I really do want to see how the story progresses…

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Do you start if you can’t finish?

Thank goodness for novellas this week, because if it weren’t for short books I’d have almost nothing to report!

Cover of Lili Zander and Rory Reynolds' Dragons ThiefI stumbled upon the entirely excellent Dragon’s Thief by Lili Zander and Rory Reynolds (I agree, I do seem to have a thing for dragons right now – is there a problem with that?). It’s a reverse harem novella (one heroine; lots of heroes) so I’m pleased to have also found an RH novel I loved. Key for me is that the heroine has a really powerful goal which kicks in right at the start of the novel and powers her all the way through.

But my talking point for this week is because Dragon’s Thief is first in a series. I would have gone straight on to the next, but it’s not out yet (although available for pre-order). That’s fine, I’ll wait. Series are so common these days that I would have thought no more about it, except that a friend on Facebook then posed the question as to whether you’d read the first in a series before more were available, or you’d wait until the whole series was out.

A surprising (to me) number said they wouldn’t start until they knew they would be able to finish the series if they liked it. Partly this seemed to be due to the habit of bingeing which we’ve all fallen into. But equally, readers wanted to be sure that the series actually came to an end – with horror stories of books that ended on cliffhangers by authors who then decided they didn’t want to write any more or publishers who gave up on their authors mid-way through a series.

Interesting to note is that the authors of Dragon’s Thief were clearly aware of this – at the bottom of the description was a note stating that it’s the first in a series, outlining the release schedule and warning readers to wait if they didn’t want to have to stop part-way through.

I don’t mind at all. Of course, if you like a book it’s good to find more in the series or by that author to move on to, but I also find anticipation is part of the enjoyment. I’ve now got two dragon-related novellas to look forward to in February, which is perfect for a woman whose main dread in life is running out of books I want to read.

Over to you, reader. Will you start a series when it catches your eye, or do you want to have all the books lined up before you begin?

Oh, and if you’ll excuse a brief plug, this is probably the ideal moment to point out that my 4-book historical fantasy series, a clockwork war, is now complete and available to read (Kindle and KU). The series starts with The Clockwork War, which you can grab now.

A clockwork war series covers

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Being short’s a good thing, right?

Cover of Kelly St Clare's The ReprisalWell, this week was another gorgeous reading week. I went straight from Sea and Sand to another new release, The Reprisal, by Kelly St Clare. This is the finale in her The After trilogy, and I’ve been waiting impatiently since I inhaled The Return the day it came out. It’s an utter delight. The relationships between Romy and her knot moved forward in fabulous ways, there was lots of humour, and the uncertain fate of those on earth and the space soldiers was resolved highly satisfactorily. Loved it.

And then I found a new series. I’d seen mention of Sarah K Wilson’s Dragon School on social media and thought it looked good. The premise is that a disabled teenager is determined to take on the highly physical role of a dragon rider – will she manage? It’s also fantasy with (you may have guessed) dragons, so there’s lots to love for fantasy readers.

Cover of Sarah K Wilson's Dragon School: First FlightThe books themselves are being presented slightly differently. Instead of novels, they’re novellas, but as a result of their shortness they’re being released more closely together. I’m finding myself growing more and more fond of novellas as I grow older. I daresay it’s just a perception, but it makes me feel as though I’m getting more new worlds in my life. Another positive is that most of them are available in KU, so I feel like I’m working my subscription hard by reading three books where I might only have managed one before!

The first three stories in the Dragon School series are available now (First Flight, Initiate and The Dark Prince), and I loved them. They’re very episodic, so you could think of TV just as easily as books. Amel is a great character (as is Raolcan the dragon), there’s stacks going on in the background so they rattle along at a terrific pace, and the writing is actually very visual so I found it easy to “see” what was going on. I want to read the rest, and I’m delighted to report I don’t have months to wait for the next episode, since it’ll be out at the start of February.

And then just last night (when I’d run out of Dragon School stories) I discovered that there is a book 4 in CN Crawford’s Fae FBI series. I kind of thought there must be another one coming, because book 3 left so many threads unresolved, but last time I looked on Amazon there was no sign. But it’s out now, so that’s what I’ll be jumping into once I’ve written this blog post. Can’t wait!

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Loving the end of the world

This week I have got firmly back into my groove of reading (I always think I’ll have loads of time to write at holiday time, but somehow, it’s much easier when I’m back in a routine of work/school).

I was helped by already being mid-way through Megan Crewe’s brilliant Fallen World series. As mentioned last week, I moved straight on to book two, The Lives We Lost, and because that was so entirely excellent I had to put all my other waiting-for-review books on hold so I could gobble up the finale, The Worlds We Make. Fallen World book 3 by Megan CreweOh my giddy aunt, I feel like I barely breathed while I was reading that. It was so tense I was constantly on edge in case Kaelyn and her friends didn’t make it. The resolution was utterly stupendous. I recommend you read this series even more now I’ve reached the end.

Because I’m eschewing my Kindle for late-night reading-in-bed, alongside Fallen Worlds, I also read Nicholas Bowling’s Witchborn. That was fabulous (catch my review).

Sea and Sand by Alex LidellAnd then yesterday I got back into my review reading and caught up with Nile, Dominic and Prince Tamiath in Alex Lidell’s Tides series. Sea and Sand is the third in the series and it’s out – wowzers, today or tomorrow, I think. It’s another glorious fantasy and while I didn’t warm completely to new-girl Kyra, I am now YET AGAIN waiting impatiently for the next instalment. If you haven’t read these books, you should check them out IMMEDIATELY.

Phew, back to normal has never felt so good!

Check back next week to see what I’ve been reading – and please do let me know if you try out any of these books. I’d love to know what you think.

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Books and chocolate, and other utopias

My Christmas was, basically, books and chocolate. Sounds like a perfect festive season, to me!

Except that now I’ve got an even larger TBR pile than usual. I guess I’ll just have to read as quickly as I can, sustained by Green & Blacks and dark chocolate brazils. It’s a tough life, but I’ll do my best…

This week I zipped through Megan Crewe’s The Way We Fall. I’ve read Megan’s writing before (A Mortal Song is ACE) and it really shouldn’t have taken me so long to pick up something else by her (except – mammoth TBR pile, did I mention?). The Way We Fall is completely different, and equally fantastic.

It’s told from Kaelyn’s point of view, a girl who thinks herself a misfit and is missing her best friend fiercely … and then she needs to deal with a strange virus that means the island she lives on is abruptly cut off from the rest of the world.

The thing with Megan is that she writes emotion so well. It was all very small and understated, and yet my heart was cut into teeny tiny pieces in the way that good books can do to a person.

I loved it so much I’ve moved straight on to the next, The Lives We Lost (sorry to everything else waiting on my TBR pile).

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Almost nothing happened.

I am a dreadful insomniac. I would love to find something that could make me drop off to sleep and stay that way until a decent hour of the morning, but until I do, I just consider the hours of 3 and 4 in the morning to be plotting time, when I run through what’s going to happen with my characters and resolve the holes in my stories.

Just recently, though, I’ve cracked down on my night-time screen time in a bid to sleep better. At 10:00 I turn off the TV, put away my PC and phone and the final half-hour before settling to sleep is for reading in ink and paper while my brainwaves settle to slumber (I think that’s what’s supposed to happen).

Cover of Elizabeth Buchan's The New Mrs CliftonThis week, I’ve been reading a book recommended by my mum. It’s another one that’s completely outside my usual genre (I think it would be classed either as “women’s fiction” or “general fiction”, tags which say next to nothing about what you’re getting. The New Mrs Clifton is set in post-war London and revolves around a German woman who marries an English soldier at the end of the war and comes to settle in Britain.

It’s a very good read, but it’s so entertaining to look at it beside my usual YA fare because almost nothing happens. I mean, that’s not true, there’s a pregnancy and a baby and someone winds up dead, but compared to the usual frantic pace of aliens or armies or assassins it was very subdued. I don’t mean that as a criticism, just a difference in how books approach that thorny matter of exploring something about what it means to be human.

Did I sleep better? Meh, not so I noticed – but planning for my next book is coming on a treat!!!

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Breaking my Audiobook duck!

Another first for me this week, as I finished “reading” my very first audiobook. It has been a fascinating experiment and insight into my psyche!

I wouldn’t ordinarily pick to consume a book via audio, but this was offered to me and I thought I’d give it a try. People who listen to audiobooks rave about them, and it’s the growing way to get your books, apparently, so maybe I was missing something.

Alex Lidell's Air and Ash

Grab it on audio now!

Maybe I still am, but audiobooks really aren’t for me. Air and Ash is a fabulous book, Kaitlyn Bellamy narrates beautifully and it’s very easy to listen to. But it took so long! I can’t remember when I started Chapter 1, but it’s probably not an exaggeration to say it’s taken 3 months to listen to it start to finish.

For comparison, when I read it on Kindle, I zipped through it in under 24 hours (it’s excellent – did I mention?).

I was fascinated by my response to it, because I can always find time to read and I get through a book usually in around 48 hours. Finding time to listen seemed to be a whole other matter. It seems that if I have a book/kindle in my hand, then I’m reading, but if “all” I’m doing is listening to something I should be doing something else as well (washing up, knitting, etc). Since I’ve usually got either the TV or radio on for those activities, it felt like a big logistic effort to get the audiobook running instead (it’s not; Audible is a doddle to use).

Several friends listen to audiobooks on their commute and rave about that to pass the time in traffic. I wondered if that might make a difference – but since my commute is 6 minutes in a car share with a colleague I couldn’t test that idea. However, if I ever return to my corporate life I’ll bear it in mind.

In summary, I’ve now “read” an audiobook, but I still don’t quite know what the fuss is about. Audiobook fans, please weigh in – how do audiobooks fit into your life?

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But sometimes, it’s better…

This week I finally got around to reading a sequel that’s been on my reading radar for yonks. Way back in the summer I read Ember Burning and loved it. I would love to psychoanalyse myself for this, because I’m not sure what drives me to go straight on and read more by the author IMMEDIATELY, or just to nod and say to myself, “Yep, I’ll look out for more from her/him.” I read Ember Burning, enjoyed it, put it down and that was the end of that, I’m sorry to say.

I wish I knew what triggered me to think, “I love this author and I know I’m in safe hands, where’s more?” versus, “I really enjoyed that, but, hmm, can their next one be as good? I don’t want to be disappointed…” because there’s got to be something.

Anyway, spool on several months and Oshun Rising jumped into my awareness and I actually loaded it onto my kindle and started reading.

Oh my giddy aunt, it’s AMAZING. Jennifer Alsever has outdone herself. Ember Burning was good, but Oshun Rising entirely blew my socks off. I think I hardly breathed through the second half of the story.

That’s a nudge to my cautious self. Sometimes a second book might disappoint. But other times it will catapult the author into, “Give me more. NOW,” territory.

And now I have to wait for the third in the series, which is a whole other kind of torture I’ll probably address in another post.

Share, readers, what book did you delay reading (for any reason) that you later wished you’d got on with?

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Reading in my own genre for once

While I’m writing, I generally try to avoid reading in the same genre. I don’t want to accidentally pick up influences and steal anyone else’s ideas. Because I’ve been so busy with the clockwork war series, that means I’ve hardly read any steampunk this year.

Now, I’m onto edits for the last book in the series (yippee!) and I decided it was time for some steampunk again. I picked Melanie Karsak’s Chasing the Star Garden and I picked well, readers, by plumping for a stonking good read.

Chasing the Star Garden had some adult themes with a protagonist, Lily, engaged in behaviours generally considered not good for a person.

But they were handled so well. There was neither condemnation nor glamourising; this was just how Lily was. And as the story progressed we saw how she’d become the determined, daredevil airship pilot we’d met (and, my word, she’d faced a lot). Her progress as a character during Chasing the Star Garden was right and lovely and extremely touching. My benchmark for a book is always, “Do I care?” And oh yes, I care in spades about Lily!

And aside from the fabulous characterisation there was the kind of good stuff you always get with steampunk: airships and artefacts and secret societies and dastardly villains and daring rescues. I loved everyone moment and I can’t wait for more!

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