City Between series by W.R. Gingell

Hi. My name is Pet.

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?

Between Jobs

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.  

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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.

You can check out the first book in the series, Between Jobs, on Amazon for $0.99 until the end of January.  Flamin’ heck, that is a steal and you will get hooked.

(And just for the record, Athelas is my favorite Psycho, but I ship Pet and Zero.)

2019 Reading Review

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.

Fantasy

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?

Comics

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.

Nonfiction

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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

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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.

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At the end of last year, I made some reading goals for myself for 2019 and I think I did pretty well with them.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. Read books I already own.  Yeah…still working on that.  Definitely a goal to continue next year.
  4. 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?

Merry Christmas and Happy Jolabokaflod!

This year I am joining in the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod, or the Christmas Book Flood.  In Iceland it is common to gift books on Christmas Eve and then spend the evening reading; you can read more about the concept here. Naturally, this idea appeals greatly to me!  I give and receive books as Christmas presents every year.

One of my friends arranged a Secret Santa-type system where we all entered our information, including some titles and genres we are interested in, and then we were all assigned someone to send a book, to be opened and read on Christmas Eve.  I allowed my gifter to surprise me; the person I was buying for requested a specific few books for me to pick from.

I selected Where the Crawdads Sing, because in addition to enjoying nearly-unprecedented popularity over the past year, I read it and enjoyed it a few months ago.  I always prefer to give books that I have read and liked.  While this one didn’t quite live up to the ridiculous hype, I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to others, which is basically what gifting a book is, a personal recommendation of it.

I also tucked in some chocolate to enjoy with the book, and a little card saying I hoped she would enjoy it as much as I did.

I can’t wait to see what book I received and enjoy my evening in peaceful reading…at least until I have to wrap and set up presents for my kid!  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season with lots of family and books!

12/26/19 ETA: I received A Brightness Long Ago by Guy Gavriel Kay!  It was one of the books I requested, a historical fantasy that was one of my most anticipated releases this year.

On Life and Death and Art

My dad passed away recently.  He was the biggest supporter of my blog here at Jedi by Knight, reading every post I wrote and often mentioning them to me when we spoke.  Even my husband rarely reads my blog!  To know that someone, somewhere was reading what I write was a huge gift, just one of many such gifts my dad gave me.

42410301. sy475 A librarian by profession, my dad is one of the reasons I was an early reader.  Our house was filled with books, and he nearly always had one or two Louis L’amour novels by his comfy chair in the living room.  He occasionally asked my opinion on YA or anime to include in his library’s collection.

The last book I gave him (on the occasion of his retirement) was Louise Penny’s Still Life, which he described as slow and character-driven.  In short, my dad was someone who understood the value of novels to enhance our lives.

My mom and I spent a lot of time in various hospitals while my dad was sick; I was a bit surprised to find something all hospitals have in common: beautiful artwork.

Artwork in a hospital?  Don’t sick people and doctors have better things to do than contemplate the meaning of some shapes on the wall?

Actually, no, I realized once I thought about it.  I see art as an essential part of life, a way to tell a truth through a different medium, shapes rather than words.  Where better to see an expression of the meaning of life than among the sick and dying?

This is artwork from the hospital where my dad died: “Ahuja Azure, Citron and Amber Persian Wall” by the famous glass artist Dale Chihuly.  It may seem like a little thing, but seeing this piece there truly helped me in a difficult time.  It reminded me that even as I was experiencing heartbreak and suffering, there is still beauty in the world.

So, one thing I will take from my dad’s death as well as his life is the positive impact of art and books in people’s lives.  He will be missed here, but my blog will carry on in this spirit–his spirit–for as long as I am writing.

 

Review: The Near Witch

Nothing like a spooky read to get into the Halloween mood!

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The Near Witch was actually VE Schwab’s first published novel, now republished in a new edition containing a companion short story, “The Ash-Born Boy.”  While it is not as strong as her later fantasy novels that I have read and enjoyed, The Near Witch had a wonderful atmosphere as well as some good characters and themes that were reminiscent of classic YA dark fantasy tales.

The story begins when a stranger comes to the village of Near, a place where there are no strangers, and soon children begin to be called away to the moors in the middle of the night.  The main character Lexi must hurry to find the children and keep her sister safe, but to do that she must first unravel the mystery of the stranger and the local legend of the Near Witch.

There were many things I liked about the story, including the setting and the fantasy elements.  The magic has a vague, fairy-tale-like quality. Lexi had some really good moments, and the villain is at once creepy and relatable.  I really liked the theme of how fear of the unknown can hurt rather than help. Overall, the story brought to mind elements of The Hunger Games, CLAMP’s manga Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle, the movies of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, and the stories of Diana Wynne Jones.

However, the book is not as epic or sophisticated as her later novels.  I thought the plot meandered a bit, moving in fits and starts, and sometimes was a bit frustrating and repetitive.  And while the romantic elements were sweet, it definitely is a case of insta-love.

I enjoyed the short story at the end as much if not more; it reveals the backstory of one of the novel’s characters.  It has a slightly different feel but was a good addition.

So, if you’re looky for a spooky read this October, The Near Witch definitely fits the bill, but I wouldn’t call it a must-read unless you are a really big fan of VE Schwab.