If you are looking for a cute, warm, fluffy read this Valentine’s Day, check out Valentine’s Day at Glosser’s by Robert Jeschonek. It’s like a Hallmark Channel movie in book form (and believe me, I’ve seen almost every Hallmark Channel movie).
The story is part of a series that revolves around the Glosser Brothers department store chain from western Pennsylvania. In this installment, the store is holding a Valentine’s poetry contest, which brings together the two store “mascots,” nicknamed Miss Gee Bee and Glossy, to act as judges. Their journey together to find the best writer takes them through several ice cream sundaes, a lot of bad poetry, and one important secret.
I actually listened to the audiobook version of this because the narrator is a relative of mine. I thought she did a great job, especially with the distinct voices of several minor characters. It was a great way to pass my commute, starting off my day with a smile. It’s a quick little story, so you could also read it in a evening curled up on the couch with some chocolate.
I’m back with further recommendations from Tasmanian indie author W.R. Gingell. I’ve already raved about her urban fantasy series, but if you prefer good old classic fantasy with elves and magic, check out her Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy.
This entertaining series of short novels has a lot to recommend itself. It’s a very solid fantasy series, with a good system of magic and worldbuilding. You’ll see some fairy tale tropes mixed in, but the stories give them some twists so that it feels more like original fantasy than a retelling. In addition to fantasy, each has a bit of mystery/intrigue and romance. To break down each book a little further…
Twelve Days of Faery
To start the series, an enchantress agrees to help a king stop the deadly curse that is being laid on any lady who catches his son’s eye. Her reward will be the prince’s hand, but is that what she really wants? This book sets the stage for the trilogy by establishing some conflict between humans and fae, and uncovering the first shard of the titular broken sword. It’s also an engaging mystery with charming characters.
Fire in the Blood
Next, a prince and his dragon must solve level after level of puzzles to free a princess from her imprisonment in a tower…but not all is quite as it seems at first. This one is my personal favorite, mostly because I loved all the puzzles in getting through the tower. I also really liked how the dragons were done, as well as the subtle Asian/Middle Eastern influence. And I adored the princess’s crazy family and would love more stories about them.
First Chill of Autumn
An epic conclusion that brings together characters from the first two novels, as a young woman tries to save her kingdom from a Fae invasion. This one is the most complex, and the ending is bittersweet. For that reason I didn’t like it quite as much, though I think it is probably a stronger story for it.
Well, I don’t really know how to review this one. This is How You Lose the Time War is a unique experience, and I think most people will either love it or hate it. I was kind of in the middle: I was able to appreciate a lot of things about it, though it didn’t completely work for me.
The premise is fairly simple: two time-traveling operatives on opposite sides of a war fall in love through letters. Red works for the Agency and Blue for the Garden, and while the letters start as some slightly bored taunting between rivals on missions, they soon turn into something more and eventually they must decide what is more important: each other, or the time war.
The novella itself is a bit more complicated, however. About half of it is epistolary, consisting of the letters from Red and Blue; the rest is the set up for the letters, describing the tasks these agents are performing on behalf of their respective groups. A lot of details are left vague.
The style of the writing is what makes it unique. The best way I can describe it is that it reads like it’s a short story, just at novella length. This makes sense because the authors are noted for their short fiction, but for me it made it hard to get into (the beginning especially felt a bit choppy and repetitive). It was awhile into the story before I could really differentiate between Blue and Red; while that may make sense thematically, it is a bit confusing for the reader. There are also many cultural references, everything from that Eiffel65 song to Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” Many readers will enjoy the wry humor of these, but I wonder if the story becomes confusing if you don’t get the references.
Overall, the story is very philosophical, exploring what it means to be human, in spite of the fact that one main character is a kind of android and the other was grown in a pod.
The Garden and the Agency each seem to represent one side of several dichotomies of human nature: natural vs. artificial and artistic vs. analytical. Even in terms of time, the Garden seemed to be more of the past, and the Agency more of the future, although that is just my impression.
I do love the trope of characters falling in love through letters; some of the things Red and Blue write are really touching. Even though I am not a time-traveling spy, I was struck by how universal is the vulnerability that comes with falling in love. Falling in love is always a risk, though the stakes may be lower for us than for Red and Blue.
While I found the story thought-provoking, I did struggle a bit to get into it. So if you like fast plots and action, I would suggest you skip this one. If you enjoy a clever turn of phrase, atmospheric settings, and a lot of thinking in your sci-fi, this one might be for you.
It’s not my real name, but it’s the only one you’re getting. Things like names are important these days.
And it’s not so much that I’m Pet.
I’m a pet.
A human pet: I belong to the two Behindkind fae and the pouty vampire who just moved into my house. It’s not weird, I promise—well, it’s weird, yeah. But it’s not weird weird, you know?
The City Between series, consisting of five books with more to come, is W.R. Gingell’s most recent series and I think it is her best so far. It’s a great place to start if you are new to her work. I’ve read the first two and am looking forward to continuing.
Unlike her more traditional fantasy or fairy tale-inspired stories, this series is classic urban fantasy. There are vampires, werewolves, fae…and one human pet. Pet (we don’t know her real name) has been trying to get by, squatting in her old house after her parents are murdered there, when another murder takes place next door, and a strange set of investigators move in with her. The “Psychos” as she calls them consist of two Fae and one snarky vampire, and they end up adopting her as their pet.
There are some great fantasy elements, like umbrellas that are really swords, and some spine-tingling action and adventure parts with just enough intensity and mystery, but my favorite thing is just how full of character the stories are. From Pet’s regionalisms (like the author, she lives in Hobart, Tasmania) to Jinyeong’s sarcastic Korean, there are so many little details that draw you in and get you invested in the world and the characters. These are some of the most entertaining and page-turning stories I have read recently. They are also relatively short, easy reads.
Another year, more great books. In 2019, I read about 145 books, of which about 2/3 were Regency romances. The rest were from various genres, and I reviewed 17 of them here on this blog (you can check out the Book Reviews category to see them all). Here are some highlights.
I really enjoyed the Wayward Children series of novellas by Seanan McGuire, starting with Every Heart a Doorway. The characters and worlds of this portal fantasy series have stayed with me; read my full review here. I also enjoyed exploring the novel length version of Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik, which reads like an original fairy tale; read my full review here.
I read very little YA fantasy this year, and I what I did read was pretty average, nothing really outstanding. I’ve been a little disappointed with the quality of current popular series. Anyone have recommendations for recent must-read YA fantasy?
I highly recommend both the Darth Vader and Doctor Aphra comics by Kieron Gillen. If you only read one Star Wars comic, I’d recommend the Vader Down crossover issue, which features the OT characters as well as Aphra, one of my favorite new canon characters. It has everything you want: action, humor, great characterization.
I’ve been working through Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book of essays, We Were Eight Years in Power, since the beginning of the year. These are essays on various topics previously published in The Atlantic (including “The Case for Reparations”), compiled here with his reflections on each piece. It’s not light reading, but I feel like I’ve gained a lot of perspective, especially as we enter another election cycle. And I’m so glad I discovered Coates’ beautiful writing. I also enjoyed his run of Black Panther, and I can’t wait to read his novel debut, The Water Dancer.
As a relatively new mother I also enjoyed Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year by Anne Lamott. Everything she wrote rang so true to me! Plus she is just an entertaining writer.
Author of the Year: W.R. Gingell
Awhile back I raved about Gingell’s Masque, an inventive version of Beauty and the Beast, but this year I really started reading through her oeuvre, and the more I read the more I fall in love! Luckily, she now works full-time as an author and is continuing to release several new fantasy stories every year. So far, I’ve read her fairy-tale inspired Two Monarchies series (of which Masque is a part), her epic fantasy Shards of a Broken Sword trilogy, and her hilarious urban fantasy City Between series. I’m going to do some more detailed reviews of these in the coming months, but if you are looking for a quick, entertaining read, I highly recommend her work. Also, check out her blog and Facebook page.
Read from more genres. I tried really hard with this one and I succeeded. Some genres I read this year include: cozy mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, classics, historical fiction, memoir, non-fiction essays, short stories, poetry, comics, and YA. I also listened to some more audiobooks; though I still don’t love them, I started to use them in conjunction with ebooks to allow me to continue the story wherever I am.
Finish Heyer’s romances. I read Venetia, which is one of her best, as well as a mystery from her. I still have 2 more Georgian romances to read!
Read books I already own. Yeah…still working on that. Definitely a goal to continue next year.
Finish the books I started. I did get better about this! I finished most of the books I started last year, and while I still have a few I started this year that I’m in the middle of, I feel like it’s more under control instead of a revolving door of library loans. I did have a couple of DNFs this year; mostly they had some element of mental illness that I couldn’t handle reading about at the time.
For 2020, I want to focus on getting back to reading physical books instead of being on my phone and Kindle all the time, as well as reading all the books that are already on my shelves.
What were your favorite books of 2019? Do you have any reading goals for 2020?