Review: The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian

lawrence_brownRating: 4 stars

Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, is mad. At least, that’s what he and most of the village believes. A brilliant scientist, he hides himself away in his family’s crumbling estate, unwilling to venture into the outside world. When an annoyingly handsome man arrives at Penkellis, claiming to be Lawrence’s new secretary, his carefully planned world is turned upside down.

A swindler haunted by his past . . .

Georgie Turner has made his life pretending to be anyone but himself. A swindler and con man, he can slip into an identity faster than he can change clothes. But when his long-dead conscience resurrects and a dangerous associate is out for blood, Georgie escapes to the wilds of Cornwall. Pretending to be a secretary should be easy, but he doesn’t expect that the only madness he finds is the one he has for the gorgeous earl.

Can they find forever in the wreckage of their lives?

Challenging each other at every turn, the two men soon give into the desire that threatens to overwhelm them. But with one man convinced he is at the very brink of madness and the other hiding his real identity, only true love can make this an affair to remember.

Review: I wasn’t sure that I was going to like this one…for about two pages, and then I loved it. Cat Sebastian’s debut novel was good, but this is much better. The heat between the characters is scorching, the relationship that develops is complex and interesting, and the plot around the romance is well-balanced. I love a bit of intrigue with my romance and this fulfilled that need beautifully.

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Review: An Unnatural Vice by KJ Charles

unnatural_viceRating: 5 stars

In the sordid streets of Victorian London, unwanted desire flares between two bitter enemies brought together by a deadly secret.

Crusading journalist Nathaniel Roy is determined to expose spiritualists who exploit the grief of bereaved and vulnerable people. First on his list is the so-called Seer of London, Justin Lazarus. Nathaniel expects him to be a cheap, heartless fraud. He doesn’t expect to meet a man with a sinful smile and the eyes of a fallen angel—or that a shameless swindler will spark his desires for the first time in years.

Justin feels no remorse for the lies he spins during his séances. His gullible clients simply bore him. Hostile, disbelieving, utterly irresistible Nathaniel is a fascinating challenge. And as their battle of wills and wits heats up, Justin finds he can’t stop thinking about the man who’s determined to ruin him.

But Justin and Nathaniel are linked by more than their fast-growing obsession with one another. They are both caught up in an aristocratic family’s secrets, and Justin holds information that could be lethal. As killers, fanatics, and fog close in, Nathaniel is the only man Justin can trust—and, perhaps, the only man he could love.

Review: KJ Charles has become one of my go-to authors for historical m/m romance and this one is fantastic. The blend of intrigue and romance are executed beautifully, the atmosphere of fog-bound London is conveyed beautifully, and I couldn’t put this down. I was only a couple of chapters in when I started rooting for Nathaniel and Justine, which is important in a romance! Charles loves to give us relationships where you can’t see, at first, how anything can ever work between them and then she spends the whole book demonstrating why they’re a perfect match. It’s one of the things I love about her book, and this one did it so well. Recommended, although you might want to read the first book in the series. Charles does a good job of providing a quick recap of the relevant events from that book, but you might miss out on some nice details without it.

Review: The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin

stone_skyRating: 5 stars

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

Review: I’m sure everyone has already raved about this, but I can’t resist: I loved this. Absolutely loved it. A completely satisfying conclusion to the series in a way I didn’t expect. She stuck the landing, guys! When a series is this good, and this heartbreaking, I always worry the writer won’t be able to finish well, but thankfully Jemisin is far too skilled for that. And what I really loved was the way so many themes and ideas came together as the narratives converged.

The interweaving narratives and POV-styles are a big part of what has made this series so good for me, and Jemisin once against got that spot-on. What could be viewed as stylistic trickery is actually one of the elements that makes these books so strong. She could have written them all in flat third-person and that would have been fine, I guess, but the story would have lost something if she’d done that. The third-person/second-person/first-person combination was necessary to tell the story with the strength and depth it needed.

The characters are the other element that really made this book and the whole series. Over the course of three books, I came to care about these beautiful, flawed, fascinating people. They didn’t always do the right thing, they got things wrong, they were incredibly broken, but that’s what made them into people I cared about. Even Nassun, who did terrible things, was someone I couldn’t help feeling sympathy for and loving by the end because all her actions had causes. That’s something Jemisin got very right–nothing her characters did was senseless, there was always a logical or emotional reason behind their actions. They felt real and vibrant to me.

I think this is one of the best series I’ve read in the last few years (and Hugo voters agree–Jemisin joined the tiny group of people two win the best novel Hugo two years running a few weeks ago) and this concluding part was as strong as the preceding parts, leaving me feeling exhausted but satisfied. Highly recommended.

Review: Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

three_parts_deadRating: 4/5 dead gods

A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart.

Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.

Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith.

When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Review: I tried to read one of the books in this series–Two Serpents Rising, I think–a couple of years ago and bounced off it pretty hard. I don’t think this is a series that’s particularly readable out of order. Or at least, I don’t think it’s readable without having read this, the first one. Because instead of bouncing off it, I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were characters I really liked (Tara, Abelard), characters I thoroughly disliked, and a host of characters who are too complicated to put into simple like/dislike buckets.

The world-building is top-notch, but it’s also the reason I think this one needs to be read first no matter what order you pick after. Gladstone does a great job of explaining enough of a very strange world fast enough to keep the reader invested without providing obvious info-dumps, but he leaves enough unknown for the reader to want more at the end. There is a sense of a world that’s too vast for one story, with too much history behind it, but its history is also an important part of this story. Gladstone doesn’t try to explain all of it, though. He fills in the details of what we need, sketches in the rest, makes sure we understand the rules, and then trusts us to keep up.

The story in Three Parts Dead is given a satisfactory ending, but he doesn’t tie up everything in such a neat bow that it leaves the reader uncertain how an entire series can be maintained. If anything, he pulls off the neat trick of writing a satisfying story and leaving it open, which is a difficult thing to do.

The ending took me by surprise, but when I thought back, the clues were there all the way through. This is a mystery at heart, woven into a fantastical story that’s grounded in reality in a way I didn’t expect. I was torn between giving this a four or a five, because it’s really very, very good. But there were also one or two places where I thought Gladstone was a little too clever for his own good and he almost lost me, so I couldn’t call it perfect. He also claims it should be possible to pick this series up at any point, but I’d dispute that based on past experience.  I’ll definitely be going back to read the rest of the series, though, and I’ve been promised that it only gets better. Now that I’ve found my jumping on point (I learned my lesson about starting things mid-series, even if an author says it should be doable), I need to read more, which is the best sign I know of a good first book in a series.

Review: Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold

Rating: 4.5/5 grumpy demons

In this NOVELLA set in The World of the Five Gods and four years after the events in “Penric’s Demon”, Penric is a divine of the Bastard’s Order as well as a sorcerer and scholar, living in the palace where the Princess-Archdivine holds court. His scholarly work is interrupted when the Archdivine agrees to send Penric, in his role as sorcerer, to accompany a “Locator” of the Father’s Order, assigned to capture Inglis, a runaway shaman charged with the murder of his best friend. However, the situation they discover in the mountains is far more complex than expected. Penric’s roles as sorcerer, strategist, and counselor are all called upon before the end.

Review: It’s Lois McMaster Bujold, so the writing is excellent: clear, bright, vivid, beautiful. Bujold doesn’t do flowery and over the top, she does compelling and highly readable, but she doesn’t talk down to the reader. She expects us to keep up, and thankfully, we always can. I loved Desdemona (Penric’s demon) and I loved the maturity Des and Penric both show compared to the first novella in this series. I think this can probably be read as a standalone, but it’ll have more depth if you’ve read Penric’s Demon first and that novella is so great, I don’t think it’s a hardship.

In this one, Bujold does a little more world-building and gives us a glimpse of another culture in the world she’s created. The plot is strong and doesn’t go where I expected it to go, but it’s the characters that always keep me coming back to Bujold’s work. Her characters are never one dimensional, never simple, but they’re always people you want to know more about.

The only reason this didn’t quite get a five star is because I think her full-length novels in this world have scope for depth, but that’s such a tiny thing and possibly a symptom of my preference for novels than an actual flaw in the work.

Review: Down Among the Sticks and Stones by Seanan McGuire

sticks_and_bones

Rating: 5/5 portals to strange moors

Twin sisters Jack and Jill were seventeen when they found their way home and were packed off to Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children.

This is the story of what happened first…

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you’ve got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Review

I loved Every Heart a Doorway last year. It was one of my top reads for the year and I felt it was really important because of all the people it represented. An asexual main character is so rare, and it was so beautifully written.

That makes me feel slightly guilty about saying I liked this one even more. I shouldn’t have favourites!

Except I do, and this has become one. Every Heart a Doorway was brilliant, beautiful, and spoke to a lot of people. Down Among the Sticks and Bones spoke to me. 

I didn’t feel like I knew Jack or Jill well at the end of Every Heart and that’s fine. They weren’t the MCs. I didn’t need to know their deepest thoughts and fears, because it wasn’t their story. It was Nancy’s story.

This book is their story and I discovered that I adore Jack, Jill terrifies me, and they’re both amazing characters. In fact, I immediately picked up Every Heart to see how that changes now that I understand these people better!

The big theme in the book is the ways that parents and parental figures can fuck us up but they can also put us back together again. Sometimes they don’t put us back together right, and sometimes we’re too broken to be put together no matter how hard our parental figures try. Sometimes they helps us to put ourselves together exactly as we need to be.

The theme that really spoke to me, though, was about gender. The idea that trying to fit inside rigid definitions of gender can be damaging and that it’s okay to be a mixture of girl things and boy things and it doesn’t make you any less (or any more) a girl or a boy. It’s not about being trans (I think that should be Kade’s story, if McGuire ever writes it), but it is about finding balance and finding what works for us in a world that can put hard lined around gender expression. It’s about the damage that parental expectations and definitions can do and the ways that rebellion against those expectations can be as damaging as the expectations.

I can’t explain why this book felt so much like my book, because my parents were nothing like Jack and Jill’s parents and I didn’t get transported to the Moors, but it did. I think it’s because Jack spoke to me. I know Jack because a part of me has been Jack, is still Jack in places, and that’s what this book connected to.

Review: Do You Want to Start a Scandle? – Tessa Dare

start_a_scandal

Rating: 4/5 demon horses

On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library.

  • Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan?
  • Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall?
  • Perhaps the butler did it.

All Charlotte Highwood knows is this: it wasn’t her. But rumors to the contrary are buzzing. Unless she can discover the lovers’ true identity, she’ll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville—the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she’s ever had the misfortune to embrace. When it comes to emotion, the man hasn’t got a clue.

But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own. The oh-so-proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit … and melt a woman’s knees with a single kiss. The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte’s safety is the truth about his dark past.

Their passion is intense. The danger is real. Soon Charlotte’s feeling torn. Will she risk all to prove her innocence? Or surrender it to a man who’s sworn to never love?

Review

This is part of both the Castles Ever After and the Spindle Cove series from this author, but you really don’t need to be familiar with either to read this. I haven’t read any Spindle Cove books and it wasn’t a problem, and I didn’t realise it was linked to Castles until a character was mentioned that reminded me. So don’t be put off by that!

Tessa Dare writes really fun romances. I always end up laughing at some point while I’m reading, because she has a flair for the ridiculous and she’s not afraid to use it. That adds a delightful element to her books and keeps them rolling along merrily. Charlotte and Piers were both characters I immediately rooted for, which helps a lot with buying into a romance, and their situation was both ridiculous and quite plausible, which is a feat. More importantly, the chemistry between them is hot and Dare writes the growing relationship between them beautifully.

The side-plot about discovering who the secret lovers are was so good–and so unexpected in its reveal–that I might have punched the air and giggled wildly. Possibly.

It’s not perfect. I felt a couple of aspects of the resolution got a bit rushed, but not enough to spoil my enjoyment of the book. My only complaint is…where is the book about Delia? I really hope Dare writes it, because she was the secondary character I most wanted to know more about.

Dusting off the blog, setting a new purpose

*blows dust off blog*

*chokes and wheezes*

Wow, yes, I’m a very bad blogger. But that doesn’t mean I have to keep being a bad blogger, right? I just need a new plan, an actual blogging goal and purpose, and that will help me stay on track better.

What do I love talking about? That’s easy–books! I know there are plenty of book blogs out there, but one more won’t hurt, and we all love talking about books in different ways, don’t we? What I hated about a book might be what gets someone else reading a book, because that’s their jam and I just sold it to them. Or what I loved could be what someone else hates (I hope it isn’t).

I’m also all for setting a low bar that I can easily hurdle, because then I don’t have so much pressure when my time gets short and my deadlines get close. In honour of that, this is the schedule I will aim to follow:

  1. One book review per week.
  2. No minimum or maximum word counts.
  3. Review books I have things to say about, not just things I loved.
  4. Write more reviews each week if I want

See? Low, easily hurdleable bar, with room to do more if I want to. That’s achievable.

I read mainly SFF and romance. Some of the romance I read is queer, some isn’t, most of it is historical. Some of the SFF I read is queer, some isn’t, most of it is fantasy.

If you don’t read either genre, this isn’t the book blog for you. If you only read one of those genres, maybe I can entice you into the other. I hope I can entice you to pick up a few new things or a few old things that you hadn’t thought to try before.

Because books are the best and adding to people’s teetering piles of books to read is my mission in life.

August writing round-up

Previously in monthly round-ups…

Total new words for July: 12,890

My goal for August was a fairly complete vomit draft of the fanfic project, which I knew would be around 25k. So, er, you can probably guess my goal did not get met. I also admitted that I’d be surprised if I did meet that goal, so I guess this isn’t a shocker. And I probably did better than it feels, baring in mind how busy I was in August. Between prep for my trip and my trip, I only had a few normal days this month. So getting nearly 13k words with all of that going on was pretty incredible, really.

Goals for September

Only one, again: finish the fanfic project and get a start on edits.

I’m not throwing any word goals at that, although I estimate that it will be at least 10k to get a vomit draft done. This time, I’m feeling semi-confident that I’ll make my goals happen. I’m starting to hit all the big action and coming-together-of-plots stage in the fic, and my writing always speeds up when I reach that point. I’m out of the sticky middle of doom.

My dad is coming to visit for three weeks this month, but there will be a week in that time when he and my mum are away exploring the north of the province, and I should have plenty of time to get some writing done. More than usual, if it’s just me and the cats in the house!

So this is me: I will finish this fanfic project and get a healthy start on the edits by the end of September. Watch me put my determined face on and do this thing!

Convention survival tips

In a couple of days, I leave for my annual trip to England, where I will visit family and do sightseeing touristy things and, most importantly, attend a convention. It’s Nine Worlds Geekfest again. I went last year and had a fantastic time, so I’m excited about being there again this year.

As convention season is now in full swing, and my brain is mostly consumed by packing lists and schedule checking, a quick primer on good convention survival tips seems appropriate. After all, you can never have too many tips, right?

Eat, drink, sleep, and be merry!

Add shower to that list. Very important.

Many people will give ratios for the sleep-meals-shower plan, usually in the vicinity of 6-2-1. It’s all about self-care, so the ratios don’t work for everyone. Aim for whatever is your personal minimum for enough sleep to be functional and cheerful for several days of high-intensity braining and socialising. If that’s six, go for it. If that’s eight, don’t accept anything less. It may seem fine to have two hours sleep on the first night of the convention, but you’ll be sagging (and possibly bad-tempered) by the end if you do. To enjoy the con fully, SLEEP.

And remember to eat and hydrate. Breakfast is key: take full advantage of whatever breakfast your hotel provides (or buy something substantial if you have to go out) and think of that as your base for the day. If the con gets really busy, you may not have time for three big meals, so make sure you start the day well. Carry granola/cereal bars with you. Stock your room with some snacks you like. Try to stop for another decent meal through the day, but if you don’t, make sure you breakfast well and snack plenty.

And drink tons of water. That’ll help even more than the food. Carry a water bottle and refill it whenever you pass a fountain. Trust me, you’ll be grateful you did that.

At least one shower a day is key, for everyone at the convention. Including you. It keeps the air smelling fresh(ish) for everyone, and a shower when you get up can help a lot if the sleeping thing goes awry. A second shower later in the day is also a great pick-me-up if you’re flagging. I ❤ showers at conventions.

Take a couple of extra t-shirts with you. If you’re tired and sweaty and want to have a freshening up shower, a clean t-shirt to pull on after will feel *amazing*.

Check the schedule before the con

If you’re on any panels, make sure you know the time and location. I always put them in my phone calendar, so if everything fails and I lose my programme and my badge doesn’t list them and there’s no WiFi to check the schedule online, I still get to my programme items on time. Helpfully, putting them into your calendar should also remind you about your programme item if you’ve got alerts set up. (Please do that.) Go to the room your panel(s) will be in early in the con, so you know how to get there and don’t get lost on the way.  Your fellow panellists will be rolling eyes and silently judging if you show up fifteen minutes late, trust me.

Also check the schedule for anything you really, really, really have to see. I wing it a bit when I’m at a con, because people talk me into unexpectedly interesting things, but I make sure I’ve highlighted/calendared/whatevered the stuff I most want to see before I even get to the con. It’s disappointing to realise that talk on dragon biology you really wanted to do was two hours ago and you’d forgotten about it or your mental note had the wrong time.

Socialise! (Which is not networking, nope)

I understand that, for some people, the social aspect of a convention is awful due to anxiety and horrible shyness. If that’s you, ignore this part. Do what you need to do to make the convention enjoyable for you. Conventions with a good accessibility policy have quiet rooms, which are designed for people who need time out to decompress from all the noise and crowds. They’re for you, so don’t be afraid to use them. And don’t be scared to stick to your room when you’re not in programme items. That’s also an A-okay valid choice. You’re supposed to enjoy a convention, and that means doing what you’re comfortable with.

For everyone who does like a bit of social time, don’t get yourself so over-scheduled with programme items you *must* see that you miss out on the social side of a convention. You can make friendships that last for years at a con, because everyone is there to geek out about the same stuff together. My regular con roommate is someone I met at my very first convention and we always have a blast together. If you’re an aspiring pro, don’t look at every bar and con social as a networking event. Everyone sees what you’re doing, believe me. Socialise. It’s not the same. The people you’ll meet may or may not be useful to your career, but that’s not what matters. Conventions are about joining a community of fans. Networking comes after.

Most conventions have some kind of social event on the last night. Dead Dog Party, or farewell picnic, or something. It’s worth sticking around for the last night, instead of going home after the closing ceremony, because sometimes this is when the best conversations of the weekend happen.

If you’re new to conventions and don’t know anyone, don’t panic! Most cons have sessions early in the schedule for new people to meet and socialise. I highly recommend checking them out.

My other tip for meeting people: volunteer. Check out what positions are needed, match your skills to them, and volunteer. Gopher, tech, and registration are all great positions for newbies to conventions. You’ll meet people, you’ll bond with your fellow volunteers and be introduced to other people, and you’ll get the satisfaction of knowing you helped the con to happen.

Follow the convention Twitter feed and hashtag

Don’t be glued to your phone, but do check the con’s Twitter feed every now and again and take a peek at the hashtag. Theoretically, any changes or announcements should be posted on pieces of paper somewhere around the convention. It’s a good theory. It doesn’t always work, and announcements like “I lost my blue water bottle! Has anyone seen it?” rarely make it to the boards. So, take a quick gander at the Twitters when you have a couple of minutes, just to see what’s going on around the con.

Be respectful

Read the convention’s code of conduct or similar policy. Respect it. If you think you’ll have trouble following it…I don’t know what to say to you. Because it’s not actually *that difficult*.

Don’t be the person who ruins someone else’s day with a thoughtlessly cruel remark or a cosplay that takes cultural appropriate to the max and then some. If you wouldn’t say it or do it around your friends, family, and work colleagues, think about whether it’s appropriate to say or do at a con.

Lastly…have fun!

I’m not sure I need to explain how to this, do I?