Cara/ Andrea here, It’s time for our monthly What We Are Reading post, and it seems as the new season gets ready to kick in (beach reads here in the northern hemisphere, while Down Under it’s curling up under a woolly blanket), we’ve all been exploring outside our usual genres—so be prepared for some different types of recommendations! (Both Jo and Nicola have been enjoying some traveling, so they promise to report on all the books that were tucked in their suitcases next month.)
Mary Jo: Something a little different this time! Among the Hugo nominees for the best science fiction or fantasy novel of 2014 is a book called The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, whom I've never heard of. (I later learned it's a pseudonym for Sarah Monette, whom I have heard of but haven't read.)
Intrigued by the title, I read the beginning on Amazon and liked it, so I bought the book. The hero, Maia, is 18 years old and the despised fourth son of the Emperor of the Elflands. Raised in exile, after the death of his beloved mother Maia was handed over to the guardianship of an abusive older cousin.
All that changes in an instant when the emperor and his three older sons die in an airship crash and Maia becomes the emperor. Young, mixed blood, and raised far from the court and the government, he is ignorant and alone. But he is not stupid, and he has a genuine desire to rule with more compassion than his father and the previous emperors.
Maia is a wonderful, compelling character and I loved following him as he gradually finds his feet and makes allies and even friends in the shark tank of the imperial court. I sneak-read pages when I could fit them in, didn't want it to end, and now I'm hoping that Katherine Addison will write another book in the same world. Not that there was a cliffhanger ending, but the world and the characters are so rich and full of possibilities. I hope The Goblin Emperor wins the Hugo and Addison has more tales to tell in this world!
Anne here, talking about some of the books I read in May:
First there was Eloisa James's Four Nights With the Duke which, as expected, I thoroughly enjoyed. I also read and loved Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier. I'm not the only one who loved this one; it recently won Australia's Aurealis Award for the Best Fantasy Novel. It's also the first in a new series — Blackthorn and Grim — and I'm very much looking forward to the next story in the series.
But the new-to-me author I most enjoyed this month was Sarina Bowen, a writer of "New Adult" fiction. The Year We Fell Down is the first book in "The Ivy Years" series, about young people in their first years away at university, growing up, separating from their parents and forming relationships. The Year We Fell Down blew me away and I loved it so much I glommed the rest of the series. The books are about strong heroines, interesting and strong-but-flawed heroes and that very intense, formative and re-formative time of life. Highly recommended.
In the meantime, I’ve been reading a lot of relatively new authors. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing a lot of editing, but I have finished only one book lately, and I would have quit on it sooner had I known the ending would be so unsatisfying. If an author makes me love a character and admire her determination and the way she’s saving a troubled kid—I get extremely irritated if she packs it all in at the end and says nah, neither of them can have what they want because they made one single mistake. Bah humbug!
And a note to budding romance writers—don’t spend your first twenty-five pages describing your perfect date through a heroine who has no goals, personality, or flaw—or even much of a setting or background. I’m reading for story, folks! An unknown couple dancing and drooling for twenty-five pages isn’t a story.
Then there was the mystery that wasn’t a mystery. I gave up at the end of Chapter Fifteen when it never evolved into anything but two stupid kids doing really stupid things and a cop who knows they’re up to no good but can’t keep up with two stupid kids.
Anyone else having difficulty with their reading material lately?
Joanna: I’ve just finished Barbara Hambly’s Graveyard Dust. I’ve liked all her books I’ve read and I particularly enjoyed this one. The protagonist is Benjamin January, a free man of color in 1830s New Orleans. Every paragraph makes us understand what that means for a thoughtful, strong, sensitive man. It’s not a grim book, but the heart of it is the bravery of people living in a hard, unfair world.
January must uncover the killer of a white man of the city before his sister is hanged for the murder. His investigation takes him into the world of Louisiana voodoo. Voodoo dieties and the threat of yellow fever and cholera make for a fascinating story and January's musings on religion are worth the price of admission.
Susan: This month I read here and there, but what impressed me most, unexpectedly and delightfully, is a wonderful, creative little series of board books for babies and toddlers by brothers Jack and Holman Wang. I picked up a few books in the series for my baby granddaughter, who enjoys patting and pulling at the pages rather adorably while she figures out what books are.
The first I got for her is Star Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope, by Jack & Holman Wang. Though I got the book more for her dad, who loves Star Wars, I was surprised at how much the baby loved the experience and wanted to repeat it. All the stories–the Star Wars trilogy and "Cozy Classics," including Pride & Prejudice, Emma and several others–are reduced to one word per scene, twelve words to twelve pages, all illustrated with photos of little hand-stitched felt dolls in miniature sets. Adorable and brilliant — each book tenderly and sweetly captures the essence of the story without overwhelming little readers. Star Wars begins with "princess," "boy," and "trouble." Pride & Prejudice includes "sisters," "dance," and so on. I've got several of these books lined up for my granddaughter as she gets older, and I highly recommend them for the smallest to the biggest readers. Even if you don't have kids or grandkids — you'll love these versions of Austen!
I’m not usually drawn to paranormal books featuring witches and vampires, but I had heard a lot of good things (including from some of our readers here at the Wenches) about A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, and after reading the blurb—it features an arcane ancient manuscript at the Bodleian Library, a scholarly witch-heroine and brilliant geneticist hero-vampire, along with lots of history as they try to untangle an intellectual puzzle—I decided to try it. It’s the sort of mystery plot that appeals to me.
Sooooo . . . I raced through it, and there’s lots to like—the writing is very good, the characters are very interesting, and the ideas behind the mystery are intriguing. That said, I struggled with some parts of it. There were places that felt overdone, and some of the scenes tended to ramble or be repetitious with the themes. I only throw that out as a caveat. But it’s a compelling enough read that despite the faults, I’d recommend it. If you like deep, meaty books with lots of intellectual ideas and history featured, give it a try. (I’ll be curious to know what you think.)
So, are you like us and occasionally like to experiment and try new genres? Or do you prefer to stay with tried and true favorites. And have you made any surprising discoveries lately? (As always, please share whatever has been tickling your fancy—I get so many great recommendations from reading this column!)