Random (but not really)

Monday, May 6, 2024

April Flowers Mean Fewer April Books (2024)

Well, ok, it wasn’t all flowers that kept me from my books, but we’ll focus on the positives here.

However, every book here is a reread, so I think I’ll just leave this as is. I’ve already read some new (to me at least) books for May, so take from April that these are some comfort reads for me.

Fantasy

Mystery

Audio

Written by Michelle at 10:54 am    

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Categories: Monthly Round-Up  

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Some Spring Flowers

I wanted to start posting more regular content here, I really did. But that apparently remains a goal rather than an accomplishment.

And that’s ok.

So please enjoy some flower pr0n, taken this year at the Arboreturm, Canaan Valley SP, and Blackwater Falls SP

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Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera)

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Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

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Twinleaf Jeffersonia diphylla

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Toadshade (Trillium sessile)

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Canadian Wild Ginger Asarum canadense

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Large White Trillium Trillium grandiflorum

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Yellow Trout Lily Erythronium americanum

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Carolina Springbeauty Claytonia caroliniana

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Wood Anemone Anemonoides quinquefolia

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Flowering Bluets Genus Houstonia

2024-04-26 Violet

Violets Genus Viola

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Lowbush Blueberry Vaccinium angustifolium

FUTURE SNACKS!

Written by Michelle at 9:04 am    

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Categories: Flowers,Photos  

Friday, April 12, 2024

The Ides… er… Books of March

Lady Ambition's DilemmaI read two just-published books this month; both of them were part of historical mystery series I had pre-ordered and was eagerly awaiting.

Both were well-worth the wait.

Lady Ambition’s Dilemma by Jane Steen is the third book in the Scott-de Quincy / Lady Helena Investigates series.

I was a bit nervous about this, once I realized a queer character was involved. I was really pleased not to see (much) homophobia and that the subject was addressed in a way that was appropriate to the time AND appropriate to the characters.

This series has done a very good job with rep, having a neurodivergent secondary character who is as complex as Lady Helena.

Jennifer Ashley‘s Speculations in Sin was also good.

Speculations in Sin

The author did something quite clever–two related novellas came out in the past several months, which put me back into Kat Holloway’s world and eager to read a new full-length book. I have series I love that I’ve fallen seriously behind on, as I’d forgotten details of previous books and hesitated to jump back in.

I read two more Shady Hollow books, which remain delightful, and then forced myself to stop. Sometimes when I read a series straight through, I get burned out, and these books are too delightful for me to let that happen.

Otherwise is was comfort rereads and audio books that would keep moving with tasks I wanted to complete.

Mystery

Cold Clay

Fantasy 

Romance

Audio Book

Written by Michelle at 9:11 am    

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Categories: Books & Reading,Monthly Round-Up  

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Canaan Valley — Finally Back in the Forest

It’s been a rough couple of years, and I’ve been crap at posting anything besides book roundups, but I’m going to try for a little more variety–no promises, because I’m still struggling, but I’m going to try.

We spent a long weekend at Canaan Valley (the first time we’d been hiking since November, which is a really long time for me) and although the weather was meh for part of the weekend, it was wonderful to be back in the woods.

By meh, I mean Saturday was either rain or this:

Fog in Davis

(Guess what Michael did.)

But we did hike, and of course we our first walk was along the Blackwater River Trail. It’s my favorite.

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The beaver dam is starting to fall apart; not sure if the beavers have moved or it was just the ice melting. We’ll see in the coming months.

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Since the ground was frozen Sunday morning, we decided to try to Abe Run and Mill Run trails.

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Why that caveat?

Those trails are wet.

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There are several boardwalks throughout that system.

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Luckily the water was mostly frozen (or avoidable) so we get to enjoy this view.

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And of course I sat by a creek for a bit.

Written by Michelle at 10:36 am    

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Categories: Hiking,Photos,State Park / Forest,West Virginia  

Saturday, March 2, 2024

The Books of February (2024)

Mortal Follies

February was apparently a month for mysteries, something about puzzles perhaps distracting me from the doldrums.

Lots of rereads (unexpectedly) but there were some new stories in there, including the delightful Mortal Follies, which I’d held off reading. It is an Alexis Hall romp with banter and mystery and (in this case) magic, with an unreliable narrator.

I am that knavish sprite that frights the maidens of the villagery. I am Oberon’s jester—was Oberon’s jester, that’s rather the issue. I am called hobgoblin by some and, contrary to what certain people might have told you, it is not a name I like and you shall not have good luck if you repeat it in my hearing.

I am also your narrator.

Another book I’d had on my TBR for ages and finally got around to reading was Shady Hollow by Juneau Black. Although it is a fantasy, it is really a cozy mystery whose characters just happen to be animals. Suspend your disbelief and dive into this delightful story.

Shady Hollow

Traditionally, woodland creatures are not big readers, but things changed when Lenore opened the bookshop. “Nevermore,” she said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, “will the town have to do without quality entertainment.”

This month’s audio books were the Shadow Police series, which 1) blows me away every time I read it, 2) has all the trigger warnings for all kinds of terrible things, and 3) really deserved more books.

There are two new romances, one by Cathy Yardley and one by Chloe Liese. I’m discovering that I tend to love everything Chloe Liese writes, and although I want to love everything I read by Cathy Yardley, the stories are not quite as awesome as I want them to be. Likely because Cathy Yardley’s books have a fair amount of sex, which means I do a bit of skimming, which does throw me out of the flow of the story. (As always, this is a me thing, so take that into consideration.) Essentially, I think it’s that  I can skim the boinking bits in Chloe Liese’s stories without losing the flow of what I’m reading, but the same doesn’t hold true for other authors.

Fantasy

Mystery

The Last Drop of Hemlock

“He probably thinks the police actually help people.”

“They do,” Vivian said, an edge of bitter humor to her words. “Just not people like us.”

Romance

Ex Appeal

Audio

Written by Michelle at 5:57 pm    

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Thursday, February 1, 2024

The Books of January (2024?! How?)

Ridiculous. How is Jan 2024 OVER already?

The weather has been frequently crappy, and I’ve been unmotivated, so a fair amount of reading was done in January.

The Mistletoe Motive

Just over 50% rereads, which, not really a surprise. And only three and a half books had new-to-me authors, so in that sense I had an idea of what I was getting.

There were two books I actively disliked. Once because it focused on characters I disliked the other because it was all about the boinking and didn’t have enough story to keep my interest.

But I did discover a couple new series, by authors I already liked!

I’d only read Lish McBride’s YA fantasies. Uncanny Romance is a boinking series, but I was easily able to skim those bits and enjoy the story.

I discovered Katharine Schellman’s Lily Adler series last fall and very much enjoyed it, so I decided to try this series, even though it was set in the US–historicals set in the US tend to make me skittish. I don’t like historicals that pretend slavery and segregation didn’t exist, but I have a hard time with stories that go into too much detail about sexism and racism. (I know. It’s ridiculous.)

A Little Too Familiar

Last Call at the Nightingale didn’t gloss over the racism and sexism and poverty of the Roaring 20s, but it didn’t dwell on it, hitting a good balance for me. (I know the world has been and continues to be awful for many people. Reading about it in detail puts me into a tailspin I have trouble escaping.) So I’ve got the next book lined up.

I ended up reading three ace romances, two of which had characters with ASD. And I ended up reading them one after another. My favorite of the lot was The Mistletoe Motive, despite the fact I generally dislike “enemies to lovers” as a trope.

Fantasy

Last Call at the Nightingale

Mystery

Romance

Bingo Love

Graphic Novels

Audio Books

 

Apropos only of books, I’ve been putting together two spreadsheets: one for books with queer rep, and the other for those with mental and physical health rep. I’ve moved the to google docs, so I may make them publicly available to view.

We’ll see.

Written by Michelle at 7:52 pm    

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Categories: Monthly Round-Up  

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

The Books of December

Paladin's FaithSomewhat anti-climatic after my end-of-the-year roundup, but here it is anyway: the books I read in December.

Multiple new reads here–including two audio-first books. (I almost never listen to audio books I haven’t already read.) It most likely worked because I had a lot of organization and cleaning and sorting I needed to do.

So yay for T. Kingfisher! But it was weird hearing Khristine Hvam narrate something that wasn’t by Faith Hunter. Clocktaur War series by T. Kingfisher

Great entries into Richard Osman‘s Thursday Murder Club series and Stephen Spotswood‘s Pentecost & Parker series.

I was expecting to love The Last Devil to Die , but I’d put off reading Secrets Typed in Blood because I wasn’t certain I was in the mood for it.

Murder on the Lamplight Express

There were also great continuations of fantasy series I’ve been reading. Morgan Stang’s books aren’t going to be for everyone, but I quite enjoyed them. And of course I read the latest Saint of Steel book as soon as it came out.

Mystery

Romance

Clockwork Boys

Fantasy

Audio Books

 

Written by Michelle at 7:55 pm    

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Categories: Yearly Round-Up  

Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Books of 2023: Final Roundup

Now for all the bits and pieces and data!

2023 Covers

A Sinister Revenge

I do so love a pretty book cover.

As has happened every year since I started reading the series, the cover from the latest Veronica Speedwell book was a favorite (The first book in the series initially had a different style cover–the designs they’re using now started with the second book). This one, like the rest, are utterly gorgeous.

A Sinister Revenge (2023) Deanna Raybourn

Cover design & illustration by Leo Nickolls. Published by Berkley (Penguin)

Veronica Speedwell: A Curious Beginning (2015), A Perilous Undertaking (2017), A Treacherous Curse (2018), A Dangerous Collaboration (2019), A Murderous Relation (2020), An Unexpected Peril (2021), An Impossible Impostor (2022)


Once a Rogue

Also making another appearance is Allie Therin‘s Magic in Manhattan series.

I really deeply love the monochrome covers and the art deco elements. They are clean and eye catching, and I find them very pretty.

Once a Rogue (2023) Allie Therin Published by Carina Press. Unfortunately, Carina Press doesn’t credit their cover artists which, as I have repeatedly noted, is a shame.

Magic in Manhattan: Spellbound (2019), Starcrossed (2020), Wonderstruck (2021)
Roaring Twenties Magic: Proper Scoundrels (2021), Once a Rogue (2023)

To the best of my memory, this is the first year Berkley hasn’t had the highest number of great covers. But pretty sure that’s because I only read four books published by Berkley this year.

Publishers with multiple covers I loved:

  • Self-Published: 6
  • Crooked Lane Books: 6
  • Blue Octopus Press: 4
  • Berkley: 3
  • Viking: 4
  • Tor: 3

We’ve come a long way in self-published covers; I adore that authors of self-published books are giving us so many gorgeous covers.

My favorite covers of 2023:

Fantasy       Mystery       Romance       Science Fiction

 

2023 Books

The Bookshop and the Barbarian

Aside from the audio book of Blitz (I read Blitz last December, so it didn’t seem quite fair to point it out as a ten for this year),  I didn’t have any 9.5 or 10 reads that were new-to-me this year, but I did have several new (to me at least) books that had a 9/10 rating.

  • Silence in the Library by Katharine Schellman
  • The Bookshop and the Barbarian by Morgan Stang
  • The Thursday Murder Club series by Richard Osman: The Thursday Murder Club, The Man Who Died Twice, The Bullet That Missed, The Last Devil to Die

However.

I’m pretty sure that upon a reread, there are multiple books that will get a higher rating. They just weren’t what I needed to help get out of my brain when I read them, or I didn’t have enough spare processing power to really get everything. So take that into consideration if you peruse my reviews.

Silence in the Library

Publishers with multiple books I loved.

  • Berkley (Penguin): 2
  • Subterranean Press (Independent): 2
  • Tor (Macmillan): 3
  • Crooked Lane Books (Independent):4
  • Viking (Penguin): 4
  • Self-Published: 10

Obviously not enough numbers to be more than anecdata, but here are the publishers whose books I read most frequently this year (the number of books by that publisher) and the average rating for that publisher..

  • Self-Published (31) Average Rating: 7.58
  • Tor (13) Average Rating: 9.15
  • Carina (10) Average Rating: 8.50
  • Crooked Lane Books (8) Average Rating: 7.44
  • William Morrow (8) Average Rating: 7.19
  • Riptide Publishing (8) Average Rating: 7.88
  • Audible Studios (5) Average Rating: 7.90
  • Blue Octopus Press (4) Average Rating: 6.63

My favorite books of 2023:

Fantasy       Mystery       Romance       Science Fiction       Audio Books      

 

Genres

I use two different tracking spreadsheets–one I created in 2003 and yearly spreadsheet from Book Riot. The Book Riot tracker only allows a single genre for a book. Mine allows books to have multiple genres, which is a bit more accurate, especially for my reading preferences (I do love a supernatural detective).

Books read 2023 genre chart

Books read 2023 genre chart

In both logs, mysteries were the genre I read most this year, however, the second chart makes it clear that romance was my second most-read genre–because many of the fantasies and mysteries were also romances, or had romance as a secondary element.

genre chart over time

You can see how my reading mood shifts over time.

I don’t have fiction, or straight non-fiction on here, because I don’t read enough of either to do anything but make the chart even more confusing than it already is.

There should have been more comics on there, but I’ve been reading some web comics, and haven’t read the physical books I got myself. (I read Cursed Princess Club and The Doctors are Out weekly as they come out. Lore Olympus is constant cliffhangers, so I’m waiting for it to finish. I also have a pile of graphic novels to read, and am hoping to get to them over the holiday break.)

Here are this years favorite books by genre:

Fantasy       Mystery       Romance       Science Fiction       Audio Books      

 

Authors

Ages and ages ago (back when I was reading mostly fantasy and mystery) I started to make an effort to read more female authors. Back then, an author publishing under their initials and last name was usually a woman who wrote in a male dominated market (sword & sorcery or police procedurals FREX). There were a few men who wrote under initials because their market or segment of the market was female dominated, but mostly not in genres I read.

authors chart

You can see that shift, as well as the bigger jump when I read more romance.

I’ve continued to try and broaden my reading, looking for POC and Queer characters. It is harder to categorize authors here, because until someone’s bio states they are queer (ie, ” the author and her wife”) it’s not up to me or anyone else to say if someone is queer or not. Nor do I want to judge if someone is a POC just from looking at their picture (see: Tobias Buckell). So I mostly focus on the characters.

Character chart: POC

Secondary characters need to pass a version of the Bechdel Test to qualify as such.

While on the subject, I’d like to highlight something I’ve started seeing more frequently and really love.

a hefty-looking white woman with sharp blue eyes

He was a white man, looked to be in his fifties, with thinning brown hair cut short, regular features, pale gray eyes

Phillip was a young-looking forty-year-old white man with black hair and light brown eyes.

She was a tall, hippy white woman

It turned out to be a white woman in late middle age

typical London office jockeys, mostly white, mostly from affluent suburbs

The nervous young white man with floppy hair who served as receptionist

a small white woman in a gray zip-up hoody.

a teenaged white girl dressed incongruously in a blue knit twinset and pearls and a blond pageboy wig.

“Hallo, darling,” said a white person with an androgynous face, blue-black hair, and a raven perched on their shoulder.

Above are all descriptions from Ben Aarnonvitch‘s Amongst Our Weapons, but he does that throughout the Rivers of London series.

If a book is set in a metropolis or urban area–especially in the US or UK–white shouldn’t be the “default setting”. As I live in a rural, predominantly white, American state, I love regular reminders that the rest of the world doesn’t look like where I live, and love reading about people whose life experiences are not my own.

Character Chart: Queeer

 

Format

Once I got an eReader, paper books quickly became a thing of the past. Although I prefer paper for cookbooks and graphic novels, in almost every other category I prefer digital format.

And although I’ve listened to audio books since the late 1990s, having books on my phone instead of having to carry a walkman (cassette or CD type) makes audio books so much easier.

book type and reread chart

I’ll go back and forth between listening to podcasts and audio books, but it’s been audio books over podcasts for the past couple years.

Additionally, audio books and rereads are tied together, since I almost never listen to a fiction audio book I have not previously read.

You can also tell from a glance at that chart what years have been difficult, by the percent of rereads.

Why, yes, 2023 has been a particularly horrible year, how’d you guess?

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that one of the reasons I only listen to audio books I’ve previously read is because I only allow myself to listen to audio books while I am on my feet; exercising, cleaning, cooking: I have to be moving around.

Listening time vs pages read 2023

That huge spike in November is when I was going through the boxes we brought from my parent’s house.

It was a very large and very difficult task, and the audio books allowed me to get through it, since they distracted my brain from why I was doing what I was doing so I could figure out what to do with the stuff and clear out the stacks of boxes crowding my basement.

 

Re-Reads

As I already noted, I did a lot of re-reading this year.

Most of my mental processing power went to dealing with my mother’s death, being her executor, and selling my parent’s house. There were a lot of books I considered but didn’t even try to read, regardless of how much I wanted to.

So I thought it would be interesting to look at what I’ve read the most.

Because of the way my book log is set up, I don’t have the titles of the books I read prior to 2020 in a spreadsheet. I can get the read times for an individual title easily, but there is no way to dump that information into a spreadsheet. But starting 2020 when I began using the Book Riot Reading Log, I do have that information, so I compiled it and pulled out the following information.

2023 rereads

Most read authors, 2020-2023

Every author on that list has at least one book I’ve re-read.

I also figured out the books I’ve re-read the most since 2020–the books I reached for when I couldn’t focus and was miserable & desperate for a distraction.

Romance, romance, romance, Murderbot.

I think that pretty much sums up my 2023 in reading.

 

Some Final Numbers

2023 reading challenge

  • Total: 221
  • Average: 18.4
  • Min: 9
  • Max: 27
  • MidYear: 117

The 221 is the correct number; I believe the Goodreads total has at least one DNF. But my spreadsheets work out (there are two DNFs in the Book Riot Spreadsheet, that I don’t count in my other spreadsheet) so it’s all fine.

Midyear was the same as last year, but I had a LOT going on this summer and fall, so it’s hardly a surprise I read fewer books in the second half of 2023.

total books read over time

Type of book and rereads. I’ve mentioned before that I almost never listen to a fiction book I haven’t previous read, so you can see how when I listen to a lot of audio books I have more rereads.

2023 book type by month

And finally, the spaghetti chart.

Spaghetti chart

Previous Roundups

If you’d like to browse previous yearly roundups, here is the full list.

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am    

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Saturday, December 30, 2023

The Books of 2023: Fantasy

I backed off reading straight-up fantasy more than a decade ago; I got tired of series that never ended and chose more series with self-contained plots. Sure, there is continuity from book to book, and you should read them in order, but you don’t have  to do a complete reread to remember what happened in the previous book, which came out two to five years earlier.

So mostly I’ve read urban and supernatural fantasy–and I do love a good paranormal mystery. But I do come across the occasional stand-alone fantasy, or one that is part of a series where each book has a complete story arc.

But these are stories that stand on their own–even when part of a series.

 

Once a Rogue

Once a Rogue (2023) by Allie Therin

Queer, Historical, Supernatural, Romance, Boinking

Technically, by my own rules, this shouldn’t have made the list. But I think the slightly lower rating had far more to do with my state of mind than with the book itself.

The Proper Scoundrels series follows the Magic in Manhattan series an continues to build upon that world, but switching the main characters.

Wesley & Sebastian are far more broken than Rory & Arthur, so their stories are in some ways harder to read.

Men like Wesley and Langford wore their scars on the outside, where everyone could see and know to keep their distance. Sebastian kept his inside, where they couldn’t hurt anyone else.

But the fact I really want more stories with these characters and in this world is something in and of itself.

Published by Carina Press

Rating: 7/10

Magic in Manhattan: Spellbound (2019), Starcrossed (2020), Wonderstruck (2021)
Roaring Twenties Magic: Proper Scoundrels (2021), Once a Rogue (2023)


Winter's Gifts

Winter’s Gifts (2023) by Ben Aaronovitch

Supernatural, Mystery

This is a Rivers of London story, but instead of Peter Grant we’re in America with Kimberly of the FBI.

“There’s no mesocyclone!” shouted Bill. “That had better be down to magic, or otherwise we can kiss goodbye to the laws of thermodynamics.”

“They’ll have to rewrite all the textbooks,” I said, marveling at how calm I was given the circumstances.

“Nah,” said Bill. “The science has to be obsolete for at least twenty years before they do that. Forty years, if we’re talking about Texas.”

I read this story too quickly when I was distracted, so I really need to reread it, which might bump the rating up a hair.

Published by Subterranean Press

Rating: 8/10

Rivers of London: Midnight Riot (2011), Moon Over Soho (2011), Whispers Under Ground (2012), Broken Homes (2014), Foxglove Summer (2014), The Hanging Tree (2017), The Furthest Station (2017), Lies Sleeping (2018), The October Man (2019), False Value (2020), Tales from the Folly: A Rivers of London Short Story Collection (2020), What Abigail Did That Summer (2021), Amongst Our Weapons (2022), Winter’s Gifts (2023)


The Gorgon Agenda

The Gorgon Agenda (2023) by Lisa Shearin

Mystery, Supernatural

I do love a good supernatural mystery, and this series has been delightful.

Thick glass walls along both sides of the hall provided an unobstructed view into the labs. That way, if an experiment or subject got out of control, those windows let the folks across the hall know that all hell had broken loose and to please, when they had a minute, call for help.

A couple books back she switched to self-published, so I’m wondering if this is the last book in the series. A police procedural or private detective series is always easier to keep going than a cozy–at least if you want to keep the mysteries at least somewhat realistic, but I’ll be ok if this is the end.

Self-Published

Rating: 8/10

SPI Files: The Grendel Affair (2013), The Dragon Conspiracy (2015), The Brimstone Deception (2016), The Ghoul Vendetta (2017), The Myth Manifestation (2018), The Phoenix Illusion (2018), The Solstice Countdown (2021), The Gorgon Agenda (2023)


Paladin's Faith

Paladin’s Faith (2023) T. Kingfisher

“Shane,” she said, turning to look at the paladin, “when a woman is lamenting that she doesn’t feel attractive, you’re supposed to tell her she’s beautiful. Not that you’re honored to kill people with her.”

He looked at her blankly, then said, “Oh.”

Published by Red Wombat Studio

Rating: 8/10

The Saint of Steel: Paladin’s Grace (2020), Paladin’s Strength (2021), Paladin’s Hope (2021), Paladin’s Faith (2023)


Legends & Lattes

Legends & Lattes (2022) by Travis Baldree

Queer, Romance

This story was completely unexpected and completely delightful.

After twenty-two years of adventuring, Viv had reached her limit of blood and mud and bullshit. An orc’s life was strength and violence and a sudden, sharp end— but she’d be damned if she’d let hers finish that way.

It’s a cozy low-stakes fantasy, and I could reread it right now and remain delighted.

Published by Tor

Rating: 8/10


Lamplight Murder Mysteries by Morgan Stang

Murder at Spindle Manor Murder on the Lamplight Express

Queer, Mystery, Steampunk/Gaslamp

This was another unexpected series. It’s steampunk/gaslamp mystery.

“You must notice what’s not present in addition to what is, Evie. What have we not found in this bedroom so far?”

Evie looked about and shrugged. “Happiness of any kind?”

Parts of the first mystery might have been a bit weak, but it was fun and a lovely escape, and the second book actually addressed my problem with the first book.

Self-Published

Lamplight Murder Mysteries: Murder at Spindle Manor (2022) 8/10, Murder on the Lamplight Express (2023) 8.5/10


The Eidolon

The Eidolon (2023) by K.D. Edwards

Queer, Supernatural

This occurs during the events of The Hourglass Throne but gives us what happened to the teens during that time. Quinn is the main focus of the story, but we get to see all the teens coming into their own.

Self-Published

Rating: 8.5/10

The Tarot Sequence: The Last Sun (2018), The Hanged Man (2019), The Hourglass Throne (2022)
Magnus Academy: The Eidolon (2023)


A Power Unbound

A Power Unbound (2023) by Freya Marske

Queer, Historical, Romance, Boinking

The conclusion to The Last Binding series.

Published by Tordotcom

Rating: 8.5/10

The Last Binding: A Marvellous Light (2021), A Restless Truth (2022), A Power Unbound (2023)


The Bookshop and the Barbarian

The Bookshop and the Barbarian (2023) by Morgan Stang

Queer, Mystery

This is another cozy low-stakes fantasy, and like Legends & Lattes was the perfect escape from reality.

Self-Published

Rating: 9/10


The Books of 2023: Yearly Reading Roundup

Written by Michelle at 8:00 am    

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Friday, December 29, 2023

The Books of 2023: Mystery

I love mysteries–this is one of the years where I read more mysteries than anything else (the last time was 2016). I’d say more than half of those were historical mysteries, however, you’ll want to note that my rereads of both Agatha Christie and Robert B Parker are categorized as historicals.

Why do I consider the Spenser books historicals? Because the world was a very different place in the 70s and 80s, as unrecognizable to today’s kids as the post WWII stories of Agatha Christie were to me as a kid.

 

The Price of Lemon Cake

The Price of Lemon Cake (2023) by Jennifer Ashley

Queer, Historical novella

This is a short story in which Kat Holloway makes an appearance; it features Bobby, a secondary character in the series.

“You’d be astounded how much people see only what they wish to see. And anyway, I look so much like a bloke, no one has ever tumbled to me no matter where I go.”

You should be able to read this if you have not read the rest of the series.

Self-Published

Rating: 7.5/10

Kat Holloway: A Soupçon of Poison (2015), Death Below Stairs (2018), Scandal Above Stairs (2018), Death in Kew Gardens (2019), Murder in the East End (2020), Death at the Crystal Palace (2021), The Secret of Bow Lane (2022), The Price of Lemon Cake (2023)


A Newlywed's Guide to Fortune and Murder

A Newlywed’s Guide to Fortune and Murder (2023) by Dianne Freeman

Historical

This is a fun series set at the end of the 1800s that is fun and generally cozy, with marvelous characters, and a heroine who does not purposefully do stupid / dangerous things.

This is one of the weaker entries in the series, but it was still enjoyable.

Published by Kensington Books

Rating: 7.5/10

Countess of Harleigh: A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder (2018), A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder (2019), A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder (2020), A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder (2021), A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder (2022), A Newlywed’s Guide to Fortune and Murder (2023)


The Rise: A Short Story

The Rise: A Short Story (2023) by Ian Rankin

I keep meaning to reread the Rebus series, but I don’t necessarily want to start with the first book, so while decided where I’d like to jump in, I keep reading something else.

This is NOT a Rebus story, in fact it doesn’t have a single character I recognize, so it is truly a stand-alone story.

It was extremely well done and I highly recommend it, although I expected as much from Ian Rankin.

Published by Amazon Original Stories

Rating: 8/10


A Fatal Illusion

A Fatal Illusion (2023) by Anna Lee Huber

Historical, Queer

This is another long-running historical mystery series.

This book immediately follows the events of the previous book, although you don’t need to have read that to follow and enjoy the mystery. I very much appreciate that although Kira and Sebastian are both happy in their marriage, it is clear that things aren’t always simple or easy, even in a happy marriage. It’s always growth and change.

“Just because you’re willing to forgive someone doesn’t mean you also have to give them leave to continue hurting you,”

The difficult parent-adult child relationship was somewhat difficult for me to read, but I appreciate that things haven’t been magically fixed between Sebastian and his father.

Published by Berkley

Rating: 8/10

Lady Darby: The Anatomist’s Wife (2012), Mortal Arts (2013), A Grave Matter (2014), A Study in Death (2015), A Pressing Engagement (2016), As Death Draws Near (2016), A Brush with Shadows (2018), An Artless Demise (2019), A Stroke of Malice (2020), A Wicked Conceit (2021), A Perilous Perspective (2022), A Fatal Illusion (2023)


Hide and Seek

Hide and Seek (2022) by Josh Lanyon

Queer, Romance, Boinking

This is a returning home to a small town and finding the love you left behind story, only with multiple twists and murder.

Self-Published

Rating: 8/10


Secrets Typed in Blood

Secrets Typed in Blood (2022) Stephen Spotswood

Historical, Queer

This is another book that I think will have a higher rating on a reread–I love the historical elements of this story set in post WWII NYC, and the characters.

Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard

Pentecost & Parker: Fortune Favors the Dead (2020), Murder Under Her Skin (2021), Secrets Typed in Blood (2022)


Mystery on the Menu: A Three-Course Collection of Cozy Mysteries

Mystery on the Menu: A Three-Course Collection of Cozy Mysteries (2023) by Nicole Kimberling

Queer, Romance, Boinking

Nicole Kimberling’s books have all been several related shorter stories, and this follows that trend.

There are three intertwined novellas with a murder at the center of each story, plus a romance between the main character and the local law.

And some amazing secondary characters.

“What a perfect place to hold a wedding,” Julie remarked. Then, to Evelyn, “Darling! We should renew our vows.”

“As far as I know they haven’t expired,” was all Evelyn had to say on that subject.

There is something about Nicole Kimberling’s mysteries that really works for me, but I’m not sure precisely what it is.

Published by One Block Empire

Rating: 8.5/10


Lily Adler Mysteries by Katharine Schellman

The Body in the Garden Silence in the Library Death at the Manor Murder at Midnight

The Body in the Garden (2020) 8/10
Silence in the Library (2021) 9/10
Death at the Manor (2022) 8/10
Murder at Midnight (2023) 8.5/10

Historical, Queer

This is one of the most inclusive historical mystery series I’ve ever read. There are children of men who served in India and married while there, injured war veterans, neurodiversity, and queer characters, all presented in as historically accurate a manner as the author could make it.

“Plenty of Lascars in the navy, but precious few of them made post captain, eh!” The admiral chuckled. “And what was it the Indian fellows began calling you in response?”

“Captain English.” Jack grinned, though Lily noticed the lines of strain around his mouth. “Forever betwixt and between, I am.”

The mysteries are interesting, the characters are all strong and interesting, and I love that each story tries to fit a different mystery trope (locked room, trapped with a murderer, etc)

The only bad thing is I’ve already read all the books available.

Published by Crooked Lane Books


Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club The Man Who Died Twice The Bullet That Missed The Last Devil to Die

The Thursday Murder Club (2020) 9/10
The Man Who Died Twice (2021) 9/10
The Bullet That Missed (2022) 9/10
The Last Devil to Die (2023) 9/10

These stories are delightful. Truly. They are fun romps that don’t hesitate to go right over the top but aren’t ridiculous.

“Would you like the detailed answer, or the simple answer?” asks Ibrahim.

“The simple answer, please, Ibrahim,” says Elizabeth, without hesitation.

Ibrahim pauses. Perhaps he had phrased his question poorly? “But I have prepared a detailed answer, Elizabeth.”

Delightful.

Published by Viking


The Books of 2023: Yearly Reading Roundup

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Thursday, December 28, 2023

The Books of 2023: Romance

Especially since 2020 I’ve been turning to romance because I know it’s going to end with an HEA–that’s built into every story.

My preferences are for historical and queer romance, although my favorites for 2023 are all contemporaries, that’s mostly because I only read twelve new-to me romances; the other 70-some romances were rereads.

 

Donut Fall in Love

Donut Fall in Love (2021) Jackie Lau

Boinking | TW: Grief, Post-partum depression

This story made my list for a couple of reasons. First, the character who obsessed about calories and body image was the male characters.

Second, grief is an important part of the story and is presented as complicated and something that is unique to each individual who experiences it.

Third, a secondary character has post-partum depression which I thought was thoughtful and kindly dealt with.

And finally: baking!

Published by Jove Books

Rating: 7.5/10


Bergman Brothers by Chloe Liese

Only When It's Us Ever After Always

Only When It’s Us (2020) 8/10
Ever After Always (2021) 8.5/10

Boinking | TW: Death, Grief, Anxiety

Last year I picked up Always Only You because the female lead had ASD. I very much enjoyed it (despite a lot of boinking) and so picked up more of the books to read.

The first book does go to some dark places, including familial death and a struggle with grief, as well as hearing loss from illness and the struggle with adapting to that major change.

The third book has a marriage in trouble, and one character dealing with a serious mental health crisis.

All those difficult subjects with addressed with compassion and–more importantly–realistically. None of the things the characters go through have easy solutions, nor are those things seen as “fixes” but rather as part of the journey of life.

Self-Published

Bergman Brothers: Only When It’s Us (2020), Always Only You (2020), Ever After Always (2021)


The Holiday Trap

The Holiday Trap (2022) by Roan Parrish

Queer, Boinking

This story is a house swap double romance, where the characters need to just get away from their situations to start to deal with them.

Published by Sourcebooks Casablanca

Rating: 8/10


Role Playing

Role Playing (2023) by Cathy Yardley

Queer, Boinking

Not only does this story have a demi/ace character, both characters are middle aged and dealing with age appropriate issues, from an empty nest to parents with failing health.

When I saw the kind of relationship Aiden had with his mother I thought I was going to struggle with the story. Instead, I found it reaffirming, especially when there was no magic solution that made the relationship better.

Published by Montlake

Rating: 8/10


The Books of 2023: Yearly Reading Roundup

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Wednesday, December 27, 2023

The Books of 2023: Science Fiction

As previously noted, I don’t read much science fiction. I’ve got a decade without reading a single SF book. But I tore through Murderbot–more than once–and so I tried a couple other books.

Two, to be exact.

But I do have some others buried somewhere in my TBR pile.

 

The Hound of Justice (2019) by Claire O’Dell

The Hound of Justice

Dystopia, Mystery, Queer

I generally only put books I rated 8/10 or higher in my yearly review, but the fact that I picked up and read a book that was an SF dystopia pretty much means it deserved a place here.

Janet Watson lost her arm in the war, and has been hoping for a high-end replacement so she can once again become a surgeon. Her roommate Sara is some sort of intelligence agent and never gives a straight answer as to what she’s involved in.

This is set in a dystopian future with another Civil War in the US.

I really don’t like dystopias, but I do like Janet, and I did want to know what happened to her.

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Rating: 7/10

The Janet Watson Chronicles: A Study in Honor (2018), The Hound of Justice (2019)


The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

System Collapse

Compulsory (2023) 8.5/10 (novella)
System Collapse (2023) 8.5/10

Queer

This is set immediately following the events of Network Effect, so we get Murderbot AND ART and everyone else tying to sort out the giant mess.

But the best part is of course Murderbot and ART.

(According to Martyn, ART is of course capable of doing its own accounting, but it always ends up with extra numbers that no one can trace. So now Turi does it and has to keep a hardcopy ledger because otherwise ART would alter their data. No one knew if ART was making up numbers for the hell of it or if these numbers represented actual credit balances that ART was hiding somewhere.)

Although this is SF, and the Corporate Rim is its own kind of dystopia, the center of the stories is always Mruderbot dealing with its feelings and trying to figure out what it wants to do with itself.

Publisher: Subterranean Press, Tordotcom

The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red (2017), Artificial Condition (2018), Rogue Protocol (2018), Exit Strategy (2018), Network Effect (2020), Fugitive Telemetry (2021), Compulsory (2023), System Collapse (2023)


The Books of 2023: Yearly Reading Roundup

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The Books of 2023: Audio Books

I’ve mentioned before that I listen to audio books while I clean and exercise–wanting one more chapter keeps me walking just a little longer or cleaning one more thing. And Michael and I listen to audio books on drives (at least when the windows are up).

Also, I almost never listen to books I’ve never read. I get too involved and can’t focus on what I’m trying to do–or want to do nothing except finish the book. But when I’m trying to push through and get a task done, audio books are perfect.

It perhaps says something about this year that I’ve listened to more than 19 days worth of audio books (last year it was about 15 days). I’ve needed a lot of distraction to get through things, and audio books have been the perfect solution. Most of those books however were one’s I’d listened to before, so I could focus on what I was doing if need be, and then jump back into a familiar story when I needed a mental reprieve.

But this year wasn’t all re-listens.

 

Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn narrated by Angèle Masters

A Curious Beginning Perilous Undertaking A Treacherous Curse A Dangerous Collaboration A Murderous Relation

Mystery, Historical

This is the series Michael and I have been listening to in the car. Historical mysteries aren’t always Michael’s thing, but he’s been enjoying this series.

Even if he too sometimes finds Veronica annoying.

A Curious Beginning, Audio Book (2015) 8/10
A Perilous Undertaking, Audio Book (2017) 8/10
A Treacherous Curse, Audio Book (2018) 8/10
A Dangerous Collaboration, Audio Book (2019) 8/10
A Murderous Relation, Audio Book (2020) 7.5/10

Published by Recorded Books


Blitz

Blitz, Audio Book (2022) by Daniel O’Malley narrated by Moira Quirk

Supernatural, Mystery, Historical

Moira Quirk narrated Stilletto, and I was curious to see how’d she do with this book.

Marvelous, of course.

As I noted when I read the book last year, the first half is a fair amount of history and world building. Fascinating, but slower paced.

The second half is a rocket, barreling through and carrying you with it.

Publisher: Little, Brown & Company

Rating: 10/10

The Rook Files: The Rook (2012), Stiletto (2016), Blitz (2022)


The Thursday Murder Club

The Thursday Murder Club, Audio Book (2020) Richard Osman narrated by Lesley Manville

Mystery

I listened to the first book, but then realized Michael would probably really enjoy this series, so once we finish the Veronica Speedwell series we’ll move onto the Thursday Murder Club series.

I’ve enjoyed listening to Lesley Manville, her voice fits the story nicely.

Publisher: Penguin Audio

Rating: 9/10

Thursday Murder Club:The Thursday Murder Club (2020) 9/10, The Man Who Died Twice (2021) 9/10, The Bullet That Missed (2022)


Swordheart

Swordheart, Audio Book (2018/2021) T. Kingfisher narrated by Jesse Vilinsky

Fantasy, Romance

I started listening to Swordheart as background talking. But once I reached the David Dukes narrated Spenser books I was scrambling for something to listen to and decided this would be the next listen.

I quite enjoyed it, however, Sarkis is hard to understand with any background noise.

Publisher: Tantor Audio

Rating: 8/10


Clocktaur War series by T. Kingfisher narrated by Khristine Hvam

Clockwork Boys The Wonder Engine

Clockwork Boys, Audio Book (2017/2019) 8.5/10
The Wonder Engine, Audio Book (2018/2019) 8.5/10

Fantasy, Romance

Narrated by Khristine Hvam.

Who reads Faith Hunters Jane Yellowrock and Soulwood series.

It’s a bit weird, hearing this story in her voice. Mostly I don’t notice, but several secondary sound exactly like Alex Younger and that throws me every time.

Publisher: Brilliance Audio

Clocktaur War: Clockwork Boys (2017), The Wonder Engine (2019)


The Books of 2023: Yearly Reading Roundup

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Sunday, December 24, 2023

The Covers of 2023: Fantasy

Back when I was in college, there were two types of fantasy covers: the amazingly gorgeous covers, such as those done by Thomas Canty, or there were the really awful covers you absolutely wouldn’t read in public.

There are still some horrible covers out there, but there are also very few with Thomas Canty-level gorgeous art.

Te current trend seems to feature silhouettes, and I honestly love it. But there were a variety of styles I liked this year as far as fantasy covers went.

 

Legends & Lattes (2022) by Travis Baldree

Legends & Lattes

Cover art by Carson Lowmiller & Cover design by Peter Lutjen

Published by Tor Books (Macmillan)

An orc hires a hob, a succubus, and a ratkin to help her build and run her dream: a coffee shop.

This cover is a throwback to those 80s and 90s covers, from the color palette to the fonts.

but once you look at characters and what they’re doing it’s obvious this is nothing like those fantasies from the 80s and 90s. There are baked goods–and not a single chain-mail bikini in to be seen.

Legends & Lattes has been described as a low-stakes cozy fantasy, and that’s a spot on.


Paladin’s Faith (2023) T. Kingfisher

Paladin's Faith

Published by Red Wombat Studio

As she publishes her own books, and as she also creates comics, I believe she makes her own covers.

This cover matches to previous books in the series, and I like the design.

The Saint of Steel: Paladin’s Grace (2020), Paladin’s Strength (2021), Paladin’s Hope (2021), Paladin’s Faith (2023)


That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Human (2023) by Kimberly Lemming

That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Human

Cover design by Alexia Mazis, Cover illustration by Kimberly Lemming

Published by Orbit (Hachette)

This series is ridiculous.

It is also a lot of fun, despite all the boinking.

This series was initially self-published, and then picked up by Orbit. This cover (and the earlier covers) were drawn by the author, which is freaking AMAZING and I adore everything about that.

Orbit is reissuing the books with different covers, and I feel like those covers weren’t drawn by the author–they have a very different feel–and I don’t like them anywhere near as much. I like the goofy comic/illustrated feel.

Mead Mishaps: That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Demon (2021), Mistlefoe: A Mead Realm Tale (2021), That Time I Got Drunk and Yeeted a Love Potion at a Werewolf (2022), A Bump In Boohail (2022), That Time I Got Drunk and Saved a Human (2023)


The Bookshop and the Barbarian (2023) by Morgan Stang

The Bookshop and the Barbarian

Cover design by Etheric Designs

Self-Published

This is another self-published book, and the author did the work of giving their book a lovely cover. The design seems simple with fewer colors, but the art is pretty and represents various elements of the story.

This cover makes me think of The Lord of the Rings or The Princess Bride, although the story is like neither of those.


A Power Unbound (2023) by Freya Marske

A Power Unbound

Cover art by Will Staehle

Published by Tordotcom

The design matches the previous two books in the series, and although I don’t love the color choices (the pink is a bit much for me personally) I do love the elements and silhouettes and overall botany theme to the design, though this cover is trees, rather than flowers.

You can see it’s a Queer book, but it’s a bit subtle–and quite safe for public transportation.

The Last Binding: A Marvellous Light  (2021),  A Restless Truth (2022), A Power Unbound (2023)


Once a Rogue (2023) by Allie Therin

Once a Rogue

Published by Carina Press (Harlequin)

No cover artist listed.

As usual, Carina/Harlequin don’t give you the artist who created the cover, which is a damned shame, because like the previous book in this series–and the series before this, it’s a gorgeous cover.

I love the art deco elements and the silhouettes (I really love a nice silhouette), and I particularly love the single color theme each of these books has. I’m not sure if it was purposeful, but so far the palettes are matching the first series: red, followed by blue, and that is another lovely touch.

I just wish Carina Press told us the artist so we could appreciate them.

Magic in Manhattan: Spellbound (2019), Starcrossed (2020), Wonderstruck (2021)
Roaring Twenties Magic: Proper Scoundrels (2021), Once a Rogue (2023)


Lamplight Murder Mysteries by Morgan Stang

Murder at Spindle Manor Murder on the Lamplight Express

Cover by Inkwolf Designs; Etheric Designs

Self-Published

More self-published books with gorgeous covers. After discovering Morgan Stang I’ve been searching out and reading their books.

Again, the design seems simple, but the more you look at it, the more details you notice. I’d like to remind you that I hate spiders, but still think that is a pretty cover. I like trains, so nothing disturbing about the second cover.

Lamplight Murder Mysteries: Murder at Spindle Manor (2022), Murder on the Lamplight Express (2023)


Winter’s Gifts (2023) by Ben Aaronovitch

Winter's Gifts

Cover map image by Stephen Walter. Title lettering by Patrick Knowles

Published by Subterranean Press

I didn’t even know this was being published until Tania gifted it to me.

Although published by Subterranean Press (the main series was published first by Del Rey and the by DAW), all of the covers are clearly Rivers of London books with the gorgeous map background and the meandering title font.

Rivers of London: Midnight Riot (2011), Moon Over Soho (2011), Whispers Under Ground (2012), Broken Homes (2014), Foxglove Summer (2014), The Hanging Tree (2017), The Furthest Station (2017), Lies Sleeping (2018), The October Man (2019),  False Value (2020), Tales from the Folly: A Rivers of London Short Story Collection (2020), What Abigail Did That Summer (2021), Amongst Our Weapons (2022), Winter’s Gifts (2023)


The Eidolon (2023) by K.D. Edwards

The Eidolon

Primary Cover art by Dezaray Shuler, Secondary Cover art by Bethany Cath, Dust Jacket design and Magnus Academy seal by Justyna Chlopecka

Self-Published

Although his main series has a publisher, this novella is self-published, and he used fan art for (I believe) everything.

I particularly like the detail where Quinn seems to be tangled up in the things he is trying to manipulate (at least how that’s how it feels to me) which very much describes Quinn and what he has gone through in this book and the previous series.

The Tarot Sequence: The Last Sun (2018), The Hanged Man (2019), The Hourglass Throne (2022)
Magnus Academy: The Eidolon (2023)


Baking Up a Magical Midlife by Jessica Rosenberg

Butter, Sugar, Magic
Butter, Sugar, Magic (2022)
Bread, Coffee, Magic (2022)
Bitter, Sweet, Magic (2022)
Sweet & Sour Spells (2023)

Cover design by Karen Dimmick/ Arcane Covers

Published by Blue Octopus Press

I’m pretty certain it’s the color that I like so much about this cover, especially since the 4th book has a similar theme but a very different color palette, and I don’t like it nearly as well.

It’s a relatively simple design, but the blue elements make it pop and give it the feel of magic.


Liar City (2023) by Allie Therin

Liar City

Published by Carina Press (Harlequin)

This is the second Allie Therin cover to make the list, and like the first, Carina Press doesn’t credit the artist.

I don’t like this cover as much as the two historical series, but as this book is extremely different from the other to series–being an alternate timeline contemporary fantasy rather than an historical with hidden fantastic elements, it should look different.

The smoke / light winding around the needle give it a more subtle magical feel.

Sugar & Vice series


Little, Brown & Company: 1
Orbit: 1
Subterranean Press: 1
Carina Press: 2
Tor Books: 2
Blue Octopus Press: 4
Self-Published : 5

The Books of 2023: Yearly Reading Roundup

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