Top Ten Tuesday: A Selection of Favorite Fantasy Books and Series

tulips-65036_1280

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Books From My Favorite Genre. I bounce between genres quite a bit, but thought I’d focus here on fantasy. My list includes stand-alones as well as series, and because I’m sticking to just 10, I ended up not including three that pretty much go without saying: of course I love the Narnia, A Song of Ice and Fire, and Lord of the Rings books! (See? I managed to mention them after all!)

My top ten, in no particular order:

  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • Codex Alera (series) by Jim Butcher
  • The Immortals (series) (standing in for ALL Tortall books) by Tamora Pierce (review)
  • Uprooted by Naomi Novik (review)
  • The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (series) by Patricia C. Wrede (review)
  • Wayward Children (series) by Seanan McGuire (review)
  • The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King (review)
  • The Sisters of the Winter Wood by Rena Rossner (review)
  • His Dark Materials (series) by Philip Pullman
  • Stardust by Neil Gaiman

What genre did you pick this week? If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books Released In the Last Ten Years

tulips-65036_1280

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Favorite Books Released In the Last Ten Years, highlighting one favorite books per year. What a great excuse for a trip back through my shelves!

It’s really hard to come up with just one favorite per year, so some of these are chosen somewhat arbitrarily from among all my five-star reads. If I’ve reviewed the book here on my blog, the link is provided — check it out if interested!

  • 2018: The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah (review)
  • 2017: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan (review)
  • 2016: Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (review)
  • 2015: Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart (review)
  • 2014: Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
  • 2013: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald (review)
  • 2012: The Martian by Andy Weir (review)
  • 2011: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (review)
  • 2010: Feed by Mira Grant
  • 2009: Under the Dome by Stephen King

What were your favorite books of the past 10 years? Do we have any in common? If you wrote a TTT post this week, please share your link!

The Monday Check-In ~ 5/13/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

It’s been another slow reading week — and not because I haven’t been enjoying my books! Just life getting in the way, I suppose. In any case, I read…

There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon: Really enjoyable and diverse YA. My review is here.

Tortall: A Spy’s Guide by Tamora Pierce (and others): A “guide” to Pierce’s amazing fantasy world, as shown through notes and other documents written by the characters of Tortall. This is a nice-to-have for fans — not essential reading, but I can see it being handy as a reference and a side bit of entertainment. Excellent timeline too!

Heads Will Roll by Kate McKinnon and Emily Lynne: An absolutely perfect listening choice for me this week. Sublimely silly. My thoughts are here.

Bookish heaven:

I finally got to meet one of my all-time favorite authors, Seanan McGuire! She did a reading and signing at Borderlands Books in San Francisco, and it was amazing, of course. I felt like a total fangirl.

Fresh Catch:

So, funny story… I got to Borderlands about an hour before the event started. And what else would I do with time to kill in a bookstore? I bought books. Oodles. Piles. But hey — I’m a believer in supporting independent bookstores, so I get to feel good about myself AND come home with a bag full of books!

Stocked up on Seanan McGuire’s books (all of which I’ve read… and now I own!)

… plus, some new-to-me books

And meanwhile, a couple that I bought online arrived this week too:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs: The newest Mercy Thompson book! I’m surprised I haven’t finished it already, but it’s been a really distracting and distracted week.

Now playing via audiobook:

A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua: My book group’s pick for May!

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads at the moment:

  • Besieged by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection — we’re finishing our group read this week.
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — my book group’s current classic selection. I’ve fallen a bit behind (sorry, it’s just not grabbing me yet!), but I’ll aim to catch up this week.

A pop culture footnote:

As I get ready to save and schedule this post late Sunday night, I’ve just finished watching the 2nd to last episode of Game of Thrones. Holy hell.

So many books, so little time…

 

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 5/6/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Goodness, I’ve barely read or posted anything this past week! Well, okay, the main book I read was on the longer side, so maybe it just feels like I didn’t do much reading — I read A LOT, but all in one book!

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire: Weird and wonderful, and I loved it. My review is here.

I also finished the audiobook of The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King. Great story, with terrific narration by Bronson Pinchot. My review is here.

Pop culture goodness:

It had to happen sooner or later — I saw the new Avengers movie! And enjoyed it, although I do have some doubts and quibbles about various plot points. Ah well, despite that, it was a very entertaining way to spend three hours.

Fresh Catch:

Quite a splurge this week, I can’t figure out what got into me!

Some books I’ve already read, some that are new to me… I’m excited to have them all!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon: It’s been a while since I’ve read YA. I’m happy to be starting this one, since it’s a follow-up to When Dimple Met Rishi, which I really liked.

And meanwhile, I’m just waiting and counting the hours until Tuesday — release day for the newest Mercy Thompson book! I can’t wait for this book to arrive so I can dive in:

Now playing via audiobook:

Heads Will Roll by Kate McKinnon and Emily Lynne: I was going to start a serious novel as my next audiobook… but why do that when I have Kate McKinnon to listen to? I’m just starting today, but I have a feeling this will be exactly what I need this week!

Ongoing reads:

Three ongoing reads at the moment:

  • Besieged by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection — a group read for my Outlander book group, two sections of the story per week.
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — my book group’s current classic selection. We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week.
  • Tortall: A Spy’s Guide –– I’ve had this on my nightstand for weeks now, reading it in teeny-tiny chunks. Maybe I’ll finish this week…

So many books, so little time…

 

boy1

Book Review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

 

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story.

Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math.

Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet.

Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

Y’all know how much I love Seanan McGuire, right? I mean, I have gobbled up pretty much everything of hers that’s come my way, and I haven’t been disappointed yet. And I’m not now.

Which is to say… I thought Middlegame was weird and challenging, and I loved it.

Let me start by adding that the synopsis above doesn’t feel very accurate to me. Yes, Roger and Dodger are twins… kind of. But I don’t think the books itself refers to attaining godhood. So I’m glad I didn’t read the synopsis very carefully before starting, because it might have created some bizarre expectations that definitely would have gone unfulfilled.

In Middlegame, Dodger and Roger are creations, but they spend most of their lives not knowing this. They were created by a powerful alchemist, himself a creation of a powerful, game-changing alchemist, and they have a specific purpose in life — to manifest the alchemical concept of the Doctrine of Ethos.

Huh?

Yup, that was my reaction… but the confusion is part of the experience of this book, and I was happy to just go with it. Roger and Dodger each have a gift — language for Roger, math for Dodger. Raised on opposite sides of the country by adoptive parents, they discover a psychic connection as young children, and as they grow up, their bond develops, strengthens, and becomes powerful, dangerous, and more and more inexplicable. Meanwhile, Reed and his allies monitor the pair carefully, charting their progress toward manifestation, making sure to keep them apart when their progress threatens the greater goals of the project.

It’s all just so twisty and timey-wimey and mind-bending and GOOD. And as always, I love Seanan McGuire’s writing. Does she have a bit of Roger’s ability to create reality through her words? All signs point to yes.

I won’t go into a lot of detail, mainly because I just finished this long, complicated book and I’m still sifting through it all in my mind. There’s a lot to puzzle through and unravel. So rather than digging further into plot threads, I’ll share some lines and quotes that jumped out at me as I was reading:

…and she can no more conceive of failure than a butterfly can conceive of calculus.

Roger thinks that’s the trouble with grownups. The more effort they put into deciding what kids are going to do or think or be, the more things so wrong for them.

People who say “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” don’t understand how words can be stones, hard and sharp-edge and dangerous and capable of doing so much more harm than anything physical. […] Words can be whispered bullet-quick when no one’s looking, and words don’t leave blood or bruises behind. Words disappear without a trace. That’s what makes them so powerful. That’s what makes them so important.

That’s what makes them hurt so much.

You can’t skip to the end of the story just because you’re tired of being in the middle.

Everything is perfect. Everything is doomed.

On and on they go, the shorthand becoming more extreme, the air going hot and heavy around them, like an electric storm rolling in, like another fire getting ready to ignite, a fire that needs no flame but only the constant friction between the two halves of something which has never, in all the long years of their lives, been fully realized.

Roger has never understood the math that calls to her, but he feels it now, thrumming in his veins like a promise of miracles to come. Dodger has never grasped the need to put a name to the things she knows to be true, but she understands it now, and accepts the names he throws her way gladly, transforming them through the alchemy of her observations before she throws them back to him.

Here’s one that makes my brain ache:

She knows that, as surely as she knows that every second takes away more of her slim opportunity to escape becoming the future self of a girl she, as yet, never was.

And on a slightly lighter note:

“Wake up,” he says. “We need to let my terrifying ex-girlfriend tell us how we’re supposed to manifest a primal force of reality before asshole alchemists set us the fuck on fire.”

I really don’t think there’s much I can say or add that will do justice to the headlong rush of tragedy, violence, excitement, and true deep emotion that mixes together in Middlegame. So I’ll just wrap by saying that this is an awesome adventure of a read, and I’m sure I’m going to want to read it again after my mind relaxes.

Oh, and I love the fact that one of the super-powerful alchemists wrote a best-selling children’s fantasy book series, full of magical quests along the lines of a Narnia/Fillory tale — but that these stories really are code for alchemical inquiries into controlling the powers of the universe. Which made me wonder just a bit if there’s more to, I don’t know, Harry Potter? than meets the eye…

Extra gold points for great use of San Francisco landmarks (Sutro Baths!)… and how can you not love a book that includes the phrase killer death alchemists as if it’s a normal thing to say?

Seanan McGuire fans, rest assured — our beloved author strikes again, and it’s fabulous.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Middlegame
Author: Seanan McGuire
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: May 7, 2019
Length: 528 pages
Genre: Science fiction/fantasy
Source: Purchased (and also, review copy via NetGalley)

**Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Monday Check-In ~ 4/29/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

The Raven’s Tale by Cat Winters: Gothic historical fiction about the younger days of Edgar Allan Poe and his muse. My review is here.

Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs: I finished my audiobook re-read, and loved it so much!

Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse: The excellent sequel to Trail of Lightning. My review is here.

Fresh Catch:

Two shiny new books this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire: Yeah, I guess you might say that I’m a little obsessed when it comes to this author. As in, give me all her books. NOW. I’m excited to be starting her newest (although I’ll admit that I felt a little daunted when I picked it up to start reading and realized it was over 500 pages.)

Now playing via audiobook:

The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King: It must be over 20 years since I first read this book. The audiobook is narrated by Bronson Pinchot, and is just so, so good! I’ve listened to about 60%, should finished up this coming week.

Ongoing reads:

Three ongoing reads at the moment:

  • Besieged by Diana Gabaldon, from the Seven Stones To Stand or Fall collection — a group read for my Outlander book group, two sections of the story per week.
  • The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens — my book group’s newest classic selection. We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week… and since this book is over 800 pages, we’ll be doing so for quite some time. Great fun so far!
  • Tortall: A Spy’s Guide –– a collection of writings and notes related to Tamora Pierce’s kingdom of Tortall. It’s pretty entertaining, but I prefer reading it in small pieces, since it’s not actually a novel to be read straight through.

So many books, so little time…

 

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 4/22/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: A book group book. My review is here.

Kingdom of Needle & Bone by Mira Grant: Another awesomely chilling novella from one of my favorite authors. My review is here.

I read a total of ELEVEN short stories by Seanan McGuire about the amazing character Tybalt from the October Daye series — find out more here.

Aaaaaaand… I finally finished reading this gorgeous book about Hamilton! If you have Hamil-fans in your life, this would be a perfect gift, trust me.

Fresh Catch:

Two new books this week! I had to have a copy of the new release from Cat Winters (which I’m just starting). And even though I’ve already read the stories in American Hippo, once I saw this paperback edition, I just NEEDED it.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Raven’s Tale by Cat Winters: I’ve loved every book I’ve read by Cat Winters so far! High hopes for this one.

Now playing via audiobook:

Burn Bright by Patricia Briggs: A re-read via audio, because I love the worlds created by Patricia Briggs and want to immerse myself again before her new book comes out in May!

Ongoing reads:

My Outlander book group is continuing our Lord John read-along with two Lord John (or Lord John-adjacent) stories from the Seven Stones to Stand or Fall collection. We’re reading the story Besieged right now.

And — time to start a new classic! My book group’s new classic read is The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, starting this week. We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week… and since this book is over 800 pages, we’ll be doing so for quite some time. Wish me luck!

I’m also indulging my love for Tamora Pierce’s fantasy world of Tortall by dipping in and out of Tortall: A Spy’s Guide, which isn’t a novel exactly — it’s a collection of writings and notes by Pierce’s characters explaining what it takes to become an expert spy, as well as personal correspondence between the characters. It’s all good fun, but I’m finding I appreciate it better in small chunks rather than trying to read straight through.

So many books, so little time…

 

boy1

Character obsession: Three cheers for Patreon, Seanan McGuire, and Tybalt, King of Cats

As I’ve probably mentioned once or twice or a thousand times, I’m head over heels in love with the fantasy world of the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. And among the rich assortment of amazing characters, one who truly stands out is Tybalt, King of the Cait Sidhe, ruler of the Court of Dreaming Cats (of San Francisco), formerly King of the Court of Fogbound Cats (of London).

This week, I indulged in a glorious Tybalt-fest, and it was SO MUCH FUN. First I re-read two stories about Tybalt’s origins:

In Rat-Catcher, we learn about Tybalt’s youth as a Prince of the Cait Sidhe, when his name was Rand. In order to evade notice by his sadistic adopted father, he hid out in the Elizabethan-era theaters of London and played the foolish fop when forced to be at court. Eventually, Tybalt is forced to challenge his father and assume the throne, but it’s never an easy fit for him. We see his early days as king in Forbid the Sea, when a brief break from London enmeshes him in a romantic affair with someone in hiding from a very different fae family.

The stories are available to read online: Rat-Catcher can be found here, and Forbid the Sea is available for download from the author’s website, here.

As good as these stories are, I’d read them already. The true joy for me was reading nine (NINE!!!) Tybalt stories via Patreon… And for those not familiar, Patreon is a platform where artists can offer their works to subscribers for a sponsorship fee. In my case, I’ve joined at the $1 level, which means that once a month I’m charged a dollar on my credit card, in exchange for which I get access to Seanan McGuire’s newest Patreon-exclusive content. It’s awesome. Check it out, here.

The Patreon page banner

I’m relatively new to Patreon, and had only read the stand-alone pieces by Seanan McGuire so far (including a super scary piece about viruses and a creepy horror story involving marshmallows — yes really, marshmallows!). This month’s new story was a Tybalt story, and I decided to dive in, find all the earlier Tybalt pieces on Patreon, and read them in order. And so I did. And they rocked.

The titles are (in publication/story order):

  • Stage of Fools
  • The Voice of Lions
  • The Act of Hares
  • Instrument of Darkness
  • With Honest Trifles
  • In Deepest Consequence
  • Jealous in Honor
  • Quick in Quarrel
  • Of Strange Oaths

The stories follows Tybalt through the years of his reign over the Court of Dreaming Cats. As I started these, I wondered how Tybalt ended up leaving London, because when we meet him in the modern-day world of October Daye, he’s king of the Cait Sidhe in San Francisco. This question is answered by the 9th of these stories, although there are plenty more questions to be answered in what I hope will be many more stories to come!

I’m so glad to have read these. Tybalt is a beautiful, loving, moral being with an iron will and the ability to rule a kingdom — and with the arrogance and ease of a cat. These stories show us the family he loved, back in the early years after his ascent to the throne, and the sacrifices and sorrows he endures to keep his loved ones safe. There’s tragedy, but also joy in seeing Tybalt’s devotion and unconditional love. Sigh.

I’m feeling all happy and content at the moment, having just finished the 9th story… and also strangely unsettled, because I want more, dammit — and right now, there isn’t any more!

Here’s hoping that the author-lady graces us with more Tybalt before too long, because I absolutely need to know what happens next! And meanwhile, there are all sorts of Toby-related works for me still to explore… so here I go!

The Monday Check-In ~ 4/8/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Newest reviews:

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See: My review is up! Check it out, here.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher: This very well may be my favorite of 2019 so far. My review is here.

Roar by Cecelia Ahern: A collection of 30 terrific stories. My review is here.

Read but not reviewed:

The Editor by Steven Rowley: An okay read, but not one I’m inspired to review. I sped through this book, not because I loved it, but because I was afraid that if I slowed down, I’d end up just walking away.

The Walking Dead, volume 31: The Rotten Core – the newest release in the comics series, which is now hopelessly confusing to me as I try to separate the living from the dead while comparing the books and the TV show. I’m still enjoying the series… but this panel from volume 31 kind of sums up a lot about both versions of the story:

And in audiobooks…

I finished my re-read of Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs, book #10 in the ongoing Mercy Thompson series. Fabulous.

Fresh Catch:

When my favorite local bookstore got in a stash of Seanan McGuire’s Velveteen books (now out of print in hardcover)… well, how was I supposed to resist? I just picked up these lovelies over the weekend — signed and everything!

Plus, I treated myself to a few more books as well — a pair of graphic novels that seem perfect for me…

… and a paperback copy of my book group’s upcoming classic read:

 

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman: Honestly, they had me at “bookshop”. I’m just starting this novel, but the description makes it sounds like a book for me!

And just to lighten (?) things up a bit, I’m switching off my more serious reading with some graphic novels, starting with volume one of The Beauty, a horror series that I’d never heard of. But hey, this is what happens when you go to the library with time to spare — you never know what you’ll find on the shelf!

Now playing via audiobook:

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones: This is my book group’s pick for April. I seem to end up doing audiobooks for my book group books a lot, maybe because I never figure out how to squeeze in all my “for me” reads alongside all my obligation reads. I’ve only listened to the first chapter so far, but I’m really liking this one!

Ongoing reads:

My Outlander book group is continuing our Lord John read-along with two Lord John (or Lord John-adjacent) stories from the Seven Stones to Stand or Fall collection. We’re reading the story Besieged right now.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

What not to read before flying! Three shorts about airplane travel

It’s really not that bad…

I’m getting on a plane today, flying home from East Coast to West — so what did I read yesterday? Why, just three different short stories about air travel. And why did I choose to do that on the day before a flight? No idea, really… because they were there?

In any case, they didn’t all freak me out. They’re not all scary, but still — an odd choice, given the timing.

Here’s what I read:

 

Wingspan by Chris Bohjalian: This is a one-act play by an author who’s always terrific. The action centers on two flight attendants, one young and inexperienced, one closer to middle age and with enough years of flying and life to be both practical and somewhat jaded. As they prepare for takeoff, the younger woman’s fear of flying is obvious, and as they talk, she begins to reveal her long-held secrets that led her to this point. The dialogue is sharp and clever, showing the slow development of trust and support between the two characters. Wingspan is not frightening from a flying perspective, but it is disturbing in terms of what is revealed and what the younger woman has experienced. This is a great short read (32 pages), available as an e-book standlone. Definitely recommended.

 

Next, two shorts by the amazing Seanan McGuire, both originally Patreon stories:

Carry On: Published on Patreon in 2016, available to read online at Nightmare Magazine (https://www.nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/carry-on/):

A creepy tale that’s not too implausible. Airlines charge for legroom, carry-on bags, food, earlier boarding, the privilege of choosing seats… what’s next? Carry On takes that question to an answer that’s not all that far-fetched. Instead of making larger people buy two seats while having skinnier folks get to sit in comfort by virtue of their smaller size, why not charge by total weight? You buy a ticket based on the combined weight of you and your carry-ons — and you’d better hope you pass the pre-flight weigh-in!

Emergency Landing: Seanan McGuire’s newest Patreon story (not available elsewhere at this point):

Wow, this is one creepy story! It’s not terrifying from the flying perspective — nothing bad happens to the engines or the rest of the plane. But what happens when you’re in the air on a routine flight and learn that the rest of the world has maybe just been wiped out? This story is horrifying and disturbing in all the best ways.

So, really, nothing to put me off flying too badly, and all great reads!

And hey, at least I didn’t dive into this collection, which keeps showing up in my recommendations list:

A collection of 17 horror stories about… yes… flying, edited by Stephen King, with this tasty hint in the description:

All the ways your trip into the friendly skies can turn into a nightmare, including some we’ll bet you’ve never thought of before… but now you will the next time you walk down the jetway and place your fate in the hands of a total stranger.

I actually wouldn’t mind reading this — but not today, thanks!

Save

Save

Save

Save