calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Earl Grey Editing, 2017 Reading Challenges

If you’ve been following me for even a short time, you probably know I’m a sucker for a reading challenge. Many of the ones in which I participate are seasonal or only run for a short time. However, I usually sign up for a couple of year-long challenges, just to keep things interesting.

2016 Challenge Wrap-ups ) 2017 Challenges )

What about you? What reading goals and challenges are you participating in this year?

 

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Winning Lord West, Anna Campbell, Dashing Widows, tea and books, Regency romance

Published: Self-published in April 2016
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Dashing Widows #3
Genres: Romance, Regency romance
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016,  #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
Available: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for previous volumes/books.

Spirited Helena, Countess of Crewe, knows all about profligate rakes; she was married to one for nine years and still bears the scars. Now this Dashing Widow plans a life of glorious freedom where she does just what she wishes – and nobody will ever hurt her again. So what is she to do when that handsome scoundrel Lord West sets out to make her his wife? Say no, of course. Which is fine, until West focuses all his sensual skills on changing her mind. And West’s sensual skills are renowned far and wide as utterly irresistible…

Passionate persuasion!

Vernon Grange, Lord West, has long been estranged from his headstrong first love, Helena Nash, but he’s always regretted that he didn’t step in to prevent her disastrous marriage. Now Helena is free, and this time, come hell or high water, West won’t let her escape him again. His weapon of choice is seduction, and in this particular game, he’s an acknowledged master. Now that he and Helena are under one roof at the year’s most glamorous house party, he intends to counter her every argument with breathtaking pleasure. Could it be that Lady Crewe’s dashing days are numbered?

While I’m given to understand Winning Lord West isn’t the last book in the Dashing Widows series, Helena is the last of the dashing widows introduced in the first book, The Seduction of Lord Stone.

This book takes a bit of a different format to the last two. It opens up with a scene from The Seduction of Lord Stone but told from Helena’s perspective. Next comes a series of letters between Helena and Lord West after he is sent to Russia on a diplomatic mission. Finally, the meat of the story is told in the more conventional format. It would have been possible to tell the story without the letters but I’m glad they were included. They really set up the personality of both characters and the mismatch in communication style is very entertaining. Lord West remains determinedly charming, while Helena acerbically rebuffs him at every opportunity. However, despite Helena’s unfriendliness, her fondness for West leaks out whenever she drops her guard. Their friendship predates her violent marriage and it’s nice to see evidence of that creeping back in.

But there’s definitely more here than friendship and the tension between them is delicious. Yet, the mixture of innocence and sensuality didn’t quite work for me–it felt a bit like trying to have it both ways, despite there being a plausible reason. Also, there’s one or two grey areas in relation to consent, in a similar manner to Tempting Mr Townsend.

One of the things I’ve liked about the series is the very different personalities of the widows. Caroline is reckless and impulsive, Fenella is demure but strong, and Helena is prickly and intelligent. One thing I liked less is how Helena loses a bit of this intelligence on falling in love. While it is nice to see love undo her, it felt to me like she became quite a different person and lost some of what made her interesting.

Another disappointment was the passing references to her work in mathematics. She’s supposed to be engaged in some good work in that particular field, but we never get to see it in the story–not even obliquely. While I understand this may have been due to length constraints, I feel it would have been better to lose this entirely and leave the focus on her passion for horses.

Overall, I found Winning Lord West was predictable but made for nice, light reading. I believe there will be at least another three books in the series and I was sufficiently entertained to keep an eye out for them towards the end of the year.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Ancillary Mercy, Ann Leckie, Imperial Radch, Ancillary Justice, Hugo Awards, science fiction, sci-fi, SFF

Published: October 2015 by Orbit
Format reviewed: Paperback, 336 pages
Series: Imperial Radch #3
Genres: Science fiction
Source: Dymocks
Reading Challenges: #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
Available: Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for previous volumes/books.

For a moment, things seem to be under control for the soldier known as Breq. Then a search of Athoek Station’s slums turns up someone who shouldn’t exist – someone who might be an ancillary from a ship that’s been hiding beyond the empire’s reach for three thousand years. Meanwhile, a messenger from the alien and mysterious Presger empire arrives, as does Breq’s enemy, the divided and quite possibly insane Anaander Mianaai – ruler of an empire at war with itself.

Anaander is heavily armed and extremely unhappy with Breq. She could take her ship and crew and flee, but that would leave everyone at Athoek in terrible danger. Breq has a desperate plan. The odds aren’t good, but that’s never stopped her before.

Ancillary Mercy is the final book in Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy and brings the series to a satisfying conclusion.

Just as with the first two books, Ancillary Mercy has a slightly different tone to its predecessors. Each book has been about the personal to some degree–after all, Breq set out to assassinate the Emperor in revenge for the Emperor forcing her to kill one of her lieutenants. However, now Breq is firmly enmeshed in relationships with her crew and the residents of Athoek Station, leading to a more intimate atmosphere. This is particularly interesting because the book uses style to create distance. Being an AI, Breq is not always very good at identifying emotions, particularly positive ones. She often misses (or fails to interpret) clues about how the people around her feel towards her. Nor does she always recognise or acknowledge her own emotions. This forces the reader to pay attention and read between the lines.

Identity and injustice have been strong themes throughout the series so far and continue to be crucial. The intimate tone of the book gives it the scope to focus on the importance of the personal. One of the subplots focuses on privilege and microaggressions between two of the crew members, which echoes through the larger plot in relation to the AIs.

Speaking of which, I adored seeing the AIs come into their own. The animistic view of the series has been one of the things I’ve loved most and it was awesome to see that become such an important part of the plot. Each AI–be it Station or Ship–had its own distinct personality and agenda, which really brought these characters to life. There were some great parallels made between slavery and the treatment of AIs. Plus, seeing them navigate their relationship with each other was a delight–especially since they don’t always get along.

There was a reasonable amount of action in the story, particularly towards the end, which provided a nice counterbalance to the personal relationships and discussions of ethics.

I’m rather sorry the series is over. However, the depth of these books will reward rereading.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Wicked Embers, Keri Arthur, Souls of Fire, urban fantasy, book review, Melbourne, Earl Grey Editing, tea and books

Published: July 2015 by Piatkus
Format reviewed: Paperback, 375 pages
Series: Souls of Fire
Genres: Urban fantasy
Source: Gift
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
Available: Publisher (print) ~ Abbey’s ~ Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Dymocks ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for previous volumes/books.

Keri Arthur, New York Times bestselling author of Fireborn, presents the thrilling new Souls of Fire Novel featuring Emberly Pearson, a phoenix that can transform into a human—and is haunted by the ability to foresee death….

Crimson Death, the plague like virus spawned from a failed government experiment to isolate the enzymes that make vampires immortal, continues to spread. Emberly and her partner, Jackson Miller, are desperately seeking the stolen research for a cure before the virus becomes a pandemic.

But their mission is jeopardized by another threat uncovered in Emberly’s prophetic dreams. A creature of ash and shadow has been unleashed on a murdering spree. Now Emberly must summon all her gifts and investigative knowledge to put an end to this entity’s brutal rampage—even if it means placing herself in harm’s way….

Given how much I loved Fireborn, I was surprisingly disappointed with Wicked Embers. It wasn’t a bad book, but it didn’t make the most of the elements it had.

As with the last book, it begins with one of Emberly’s prophetic dreams and dives into the action from there. Danger looms on all sides–from the creature of which Emberly dreams, from the two vampire factions looking to shut down her investigation, and from the mysterious grey-cloaked figure seeking to capture her. Indeed, I found the romance took a backseat to the thriller elements in this book. If you’re looking for gun battles, chase scenes and explosions, Wicked Embers has you covered.

However, despite all the action, I actually found the pace a bit slow in places. The revelation of the Grey Cloak’s identity and the truth of what has been going on with Emberly’s ex, Sam, was late in coming and so obviously signalled throughout both books that it proved no surprise. I also felt the repetition regarding the evolution of the creature’s prey was unnecessary, though I understood the reasoning behind it.

I was pleased to see Emberly’s polyamorous relationships continue. Each of her relationships remains distinct, with different dynamics at work. Unfortunately, they remain pretty stagnant throughout the book and don’t develop beyond the parameters set in Fireborn. It also had me noticing a distinct lack of female characters beyond Emberly. A few potentially significant female characters were mentioned, so I’m hoping to see this change in future books.

As a phoenix, Emberly has some impressive magical abilities. Nevertheless, she kept within the boundaries established in the first book and I enjoyed seeing some new limitations established. In fact, I found the magical world-building to be a highlight of the book  and enjoyed the introduction of a couple of new forms of magic.

Overall, I found Wicked Embers to be an entertaining but flawed book.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

Tempting Mr Townsend, Anna Campbell, Dashing Widows, Earl Grey Editing, romance, Regency romance, tea and books

Published: Self-published in February 2016
Format reviewed: E-book (mobi)
Series: Dashing Widows #2
Genres: Romance, Regency romance
Source: Amazon
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks 
Available:  Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ Kobo ~ Smashwords

Beauty – and the Beast?

When Anthony Townsend bursts into Lady Deerham’s fashionable Mayfair mansion demanding the return of his orphaned nephew, the lovely widow’s beauty and spirit turn his world upside down. But surely such a refined and aristocratic creature will scorn a rough, self-made man’s courtship, even if that man is now one of the richest magnates in England. Especially after he’s made such a woeful first impression by barging into her house and accusing her of conniving with the runaways. But when Fenella insists on sharing the desperate search for the boys, fate offers Anthony a chance to play the hero and change her mind about him. Will reluctant proximity convince Fenella that perhaps Mr. Townsend isn’t so beastly after all? Or now that their charges are safe, will Anthony and Fenella remain forever opposites fighting their attraction?

Anna Campbell’s Dashing Widows series features three widows who have finally come to the end of their mourning period and vow to each other to seize life once more. In Fenella’s case, her required mourning period ended some time ago; her affection for her husband meant her grieving was protracted. In the previous book The Seduction of Lord Stone her friends Caroline and Helen convinced her enough was enough: it was time to move on.

I enjoyed the way Fenella genuinely loved her first husband. It makes a contrast to typical narratives–and, indeed, the situations of her two friends. It gives Fenella a bit of a different perspective on marriage, but also provides an obstacle to her relationship with Anthony. Her hang-ups about remaining faithful to her first husband are understandable but felt perhaps a little contrived, and I was glad she didn’t hang onto them too long.

Fenella was a great character. Society might view her as a fragile beauty, but she has a backbone and a good head on her shoulders. She might be high society, but that doesn’t make her judgemental and she’s good at giving others the benefit of a doubt.

Anthony is the more passionate of the two, being quicker to anger and quicker to lust. I found him a little bit possessive too early on, but this angle was handled lightly and he retains his self-control. In fact, his self-control was one of the things I liked most about this character. Even when angry, it was clear that his anger stemmed from his affection for his nephew and he allows himself to be talked around pretty easily. Really, he’s a toasted marshmellow–a bit crusty on the outside but total goo in the middle.

Without the need to set up for the series, we don’t see much of the other widows. This allows the focus to remain firmly on the romance. However, they do appear for a key scene. More of Caroline and Silas’ story comes out in this scene. While it was nice to have this sort of interweaving, I feel that it undid some of what was interesting about the ending of  the previous book.

However, overall, I found Tempting Mr Townsend a quick, light read and just what I wanted.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: (Calissa)

Ishtar, Amanda Pillar, K.V. Taylor, Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti, Cat Sparks, horror anthology, Morrigan Books, Gilgamesh Press

Published: November 2011 by Morrigan Books
Format reviewed: Paperback, 262 pages
Genres: Horror, sci-fi, speculative fiction
Source: Pulp Fiction Books
Reading Challenges: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016, Once Upon A Time X, #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
Available: Amazon ~ Book Depository ~ Booktopia ~ Kobo

Disclaimer: A few of the contributors are acquaintances. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.

This novella collection is powerful, sexy and very, very deadly.

‘The Five Loves of Ishtar’: Kaaron Warren Follow the path that the goddess Ishtar takes through the eyes of her most devoted worshippers, her washerwomen. Sharokin, Atur, Ninlil, Shamiran, Ninevah and Ashurina share in their goddess’ loves, losses and triumphs, as kingdoms rise and fall in the Land of Rivers.

‘And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living’: Deborah Biancotti In modern-day Sydney, male prostitutes are dying. Their bones have turned to paste and their bodies are jelly. As Detective Adrienne Garner investigates the deaths, she finds rumours of strange cults and old gods whose powers threaten her city and, ultimately, her world.

‘The Sleeping and the Dead’: Cat Sparks Dr. Anna remembers little of her life before the war, merely traces of the man she used to love. When three desperate travellers rekindle slumbering memories, she begins a search that takes her to Hell and beyond. A search for love and, ultimately, enlightenment.

Having an interest in mythology but next to no knowledge of Ishtar herself, I picked up this anthology on a whim at a speculative fiction convention in the distant past. It trends a bit more towards horror than I would usually read–unsurprising, given the authors–but it remained within my tolerance.

As the description makes clear, Ishtar is a collection of three novellas that tell the story of the goddess at different points in time. Kaaron Warren kicks off the anthology, showing Ishtar at the height of her power. Ostensibly told in first person, the point-of-view pulls towards omniscient third person. I didn’t find this a problem, but I know others may. In fact, I found the point-of-view an interesting aspect of this story. There are multiple washerwomen telling the story, but the sameness to the language encourages the reader to perceive them as the same person–much as Ishtar does. And yet, the washerwomen often have different attitudes towards the goddess they serve. I appreciated this nuance.

Being Kaaron Warren, of course there’s viscera in the seams of Ishtar’s clothing and armies of still-born babies. Despite this, I found the story a bit slow-paced and felt my attention wandering from time to time. It had a lot of work to do in laying the foundations for the other stories. Covering a lengthy period of history, it details Ishtar’s myths as well as her loves (which are usually related), bringing them to life with historical detail. I enjoyed the way it commented on the changing relationship between the genders (though I should note it was very heteronormative and subscribed to a gender binary). Likewise, it did an excellent job of showing the changes in power experienced by Ishtar.

Deborah Biancotti’s modern take was better paced and it hooked me in much more quickly. Like Cat Sparks’ story, it was told in third person, present tense. Ishtar was more of a distant character in this story, though remains at its heart. As such, her motives weren’t entirely transparent and the story lost cohesion a bit towards the end. However, I thought it connected well to the previous story and the justification for setting it in Australia was reasonable. One quibble I had was to do with the style. In places it was both show and tell, as if the author didn’t trust the reader to interpret the description correctly. However, this was a relatively minor annoyance.

Having dealt with the past and the present, Cat Sparks’ story focuses on the future. It is unclear how far in the future it is, particularly since Dr. Anna’s memory is a bit sketchy. It is also unclear where exactly it is set, other than a desert wasteland containing remnants of the present day. I liked this because it could equally have been former Mesopotamia as Australia (though I’m leaning towards the latter). I found the style a bit fussier than the previous stories, playing with language in a way that was sometimes enjoyable and sometimes tiresome. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this story most of the three. I appreciated the way certain elements of the previous stories had been reinterpreted for the future setting. As with Deborah Biancotti’s story, the ending devolved into chaos a little too much for my taste. However, it was also an appropriate finale to the anthology.

Overall, I found Ishtar a solid anthology but one not precisely to my taste.

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

calissa: A low angle photo of a book with a pair of glasses sitting on top. (Mt TBR)

20151231_113346_Richtone(HDR)

If you’ve been following me for even a short time, you probably know I’m a sucker for a reading challenge. Many of the ones in which I participate are seasonal or only run for a short time. However, I usually sign up for a couple of year-long challenges, just to keep things interesting.

2015 challenge wrap-ups

Regardless of any other challenges I sign up for, I always have a personal reading goal. For 2015 it was 80 books. I never mentioned that here because I was worried it was too far out of my reach, especially considering I only read 56 books in 2014. Well, I needn’t have worried. As indicated by my stats post earlier this week, I managed 92 books, easily surpassing my personal goal.

Goodreads challenge 2015

For the annual Goodreads challenge, I committed to 52 books and logged 89.

Last but not least, was the 2015 Australian Women Writers reading challenge. It was the first year I participated, so I signed up for the Miles level. This required me to read 6 books written by Australian women and to review 4 of them. I ended up reading 26 and reviewed 17. Here are my reviews.

2016 challenges

I was a bit conservative with my challenges for 2015. I was still getting used to reviewing ARCs and was looking to reestablish a baseline of what I could do, rather than to really challenge myself. However, now that I have some numbers to work with, I can afford to stretch.

With this in mind, my personal reading goal is 100 books. I’ve accomplished this twice since I started recording my reading stats in 2005, so I know it is possible.

For the annual Goodreads challenge, I’m aiming for 90 books. You’ll notice this is a little less than my personal reading goal; I like to leave a bit of wiggle room for books not registered on Goodreads. 

image

I have signed up for the Australian Women Writers reading challenge again in 2016. My aim this year is to see whether last year’s numbers are repeatable, so I’ll be aiming to read 25 books and review 15.

Lastly, I’m going to have a go at the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge hosted by Andi at Estella’s Revenge. The title makes the aim of the challenge pretty clear and Andi has left it up to participants to define for themselves the exact goal and rules. Last year, a little under 50% of the books I read came from purchases (some new, some an existing part of Mt TBR), with the other 50% being pretty evenly split between review books and books I had borrowed (both from the library and from friends). I’d like to make the split between purchased books and books from other sources 60/40 in 2016. My hope is this will go some way towards shrinking Mt TBR. Since I haven’t had much luck with strict Mt TBR rules in the past, I’ll be keeping my approach pretty flexible. The one drawback is that this approach doesn’t necessarily prevent me from acquiring new books, so I guess I shall see how effective it ends up being.

Between these and the seasonal challenges, I should be kept pretty busy!

What about you? What reading goals and challenges are you participating in this year?

Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.

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