Tag: books

Game of Books 2020

Posted December 29, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

A "Game of Books" image, based on the Iron ThroneIt’s almost that time again! This is the fourth year of Game of Books, intended to incentivise reading and focus not on the total number of books read, but balancing a variety of goals like reading longer books, finishing up books in a series, reading books I’ve had on my TBR for longer…

In any case, everyone’s welcome to join in! I suggest you read through my ramble about how it works if you haven’t encountered the idea before, but skip to the end if you just want the spreadsheet!

So this year I’m personally trying to lean really hard on reading things I enjoy. Accordingly, the “joy factor” I’ve previously used has been scrapped — I’d get more points for reading books I hated, which was silly! I don’t think I did read anything I hated for that, but I did keep on with books I would probably have stopped. Also, I was supposed to guess the joy factor of a book before reading it, and that just never really worked.

So, instead I have the “enjoyment” column, which rewards me for DNFing, for being so excited about books I babble at my wife about them, for picking up a book to read the first page and accidentally getting halfway through, etc.

I’ve also nixed the one that rewards me for taking longer over reading a book, because if I can’t read a book in a couple of days, I’m probably not having fun, and that is not good.

I do also want to read books I’ve owned for longer, keep up with reading books in a series, and reward reading longer books.

Here’s my full setup:

PointsAcquisitionLength (pages)SeriesEnjoymentBonus
12020, reread, ARC, library book0-100Not in a series/not going to read more of the seriesFinished itFor each 100 pages over 500
22018-2019101-200First book in a seriesDNFed itARC 2019-2020
32016-2017201-300Middle book of a trilogyWas so excited I infodumped at LisaARC 2018 and older
42014-2015301-400Last book of a trilogy, middle book of a seriesRead the first page and accidentally ended up halfway throughBook club book read on time
52011-2013401-500+Last book of a series (to date)Read in 1-3 sittingsRead within a week of purchase or borrowing

I’ve made my monthly goal 220 points. To work that out, I tallied up how some random books I enjoyed from 2019 would score in the new system, and figured out the average score (11), and then multiplied that by how many books I would want to read each month if I was setting a simple reading goal. In theory, then, I can read fewer than 20 books as long as I enjoy them a lot or finish series I’m reading or whatever scores the high points. This usually gets revised a bit when I have a feel for how it’s going.

And that’s it! Feel free to share, join in, modify it however you wish (the idea is to ignore simplistic targets of books read to incentivise your ideal reading experience — which won’t be the same as mine!) and have fun with it!

You can find the spreadsheet here, and then:

  • Claim a sheet that isn’t already named (or duplicate the template sheet)
  • Rename it to your name/blog name/a unique identifier
  • Click on the arrow next to it and select “Protect the sheet”
  • Set it so only you can edit your own sheet
  • Copy over anything you want from the template
  • Personalise
  • Fill in throughout the year!
  • Profit???

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Review – Once Ghosted, Twice Shy

Posted December 29, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa ColeOnce Ghosted, Twice Shy, Alyssa Cole

It’s probably bit weird to come to this book without reading the main series, but the cover is so lovely! Likotsi is essentially the personal assistant (“Advisor Most High”) to the prince of a fictional African country. She was in New York working for the prince a while before the story opens, where she met Fabiola through a dating app. They clicked quickly, and were well on the way to falling in love when suddenly Fabiola decided, out of nowhere, to tell Likotsi that it was over between them. Back in New York, Likotsi’s planning to forget her… and of course a chance meeting makes that impossible.

(No, there is no actual ghosting in this story. Fabiola makes the end of the relationship explicitly clear, and then enforces her boundaries in not wanting to talk to Likotsi.)

There’s something too much about the narration at times — here’s an excerpt from early in the book: “New York City didn’t have majestic mountains or roaring waterfalls or rolling plains, but it was a beautiful city in its own way. It deserved better than to be the receptacle of memories that impeded her forward motion like a badly tailored suit that was too tight at the knees and elbows.” It would be perfectly fine — and smoother to read — if it was more like this instead: “New York City didn’t have mountains or waterfalls or rolling plains, but it was a beautiful city in its own way. It deserved better than just to provoke the memories that kept constraining her at odd moments, like a badly tailored suit.” That’s not the best, but it makes the point: you know mountains are tall and waterfalls roar, you know that a badly tailored suit fits badly.

I don’t normally nitpick too much at the prose level, and thankfully it did smooth out once it stopped being self-conscious and the leads started going around the city together. It ended up pretty cute, and Fabiola’s reasons for the abrupt breakup are obviously such that she is not in fact an asshole.

There is one sex scene which is very explicit; it’s totally fine to skip, it’s just a culmination of their relationship, without significant character development or plot relevance. It’s pretty clearly signalled and at the end of the book.

Rating: 3/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted December 28, 2019 by Nikki in General / 4 Comments

Greetings, folks! It’s been Christmas, so I’ve got quite a few new books… for instance, I got my wish for more physical copies of K.J. Charles’ work! 😍 (Some of these I bought myself, mind you.)

Stack of KJ Charles books with a stuffie hedgehog on top

(Sssh, don’t disturb the Librarian Hog, he’s been deliberating for days about how to shelve these!)

So here’s a selection of my new books…

Newly Acquired:

Cover of Romancing the Duke Cover of The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare Cover of Proper English by KJ Charles

Cover of Death in Fancy Dress Cover of Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger Cover of Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch

Cover of The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly Cover of The Pursuit of by Courtney Milan Cover of This Wicked Gift by Courtney Milan

In no particular order, because why not enjoy the eclectic way things come into my brain?

Thank you again to the anonymous friend who bought me Steel Crow Saga via Portal Bookshop. Also the anonymous friend who bought me The Private Life of Jane Maxwell, because you only identified yourself as “a Habitican book blogger”, and I know a few. Much much love to you and to everyone who’s bought me books lately. <3

Reviews posted:

Magic Rises, by Ilona Andrews. This book drives me a little bit mad because there’s a lot of awesome, but then also a stupid miscommunication plot between Kate and Curran, just when they were acting like sensible people. 4/5 stars
This Wicked Gift, by Courtney Milan. I have (serious) issues with the male love interest, but there is a lot to enjoy here as well. 3/5 stars
The Pursuit of…, by Courtney Milan. Okay, this one’s really cute. 4/5 stars
The Christmas Egg, by Mary Kelly. Rather meandering and unfocused, but not a bad seasonal read. 2/5 stars

And that’s it for this week! How’s everyone doing?

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Review – The Christmas Egg

Posted December 28, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Christmas Egg by Mary KellyThe Christmas Egg, Mary Kelly

It felt only right to pick this up around Christmas, given the title. Obviously crime books aren’t usually too full of the warmth and joys of Christmas, and so it proved again. Chief Inspector Brett Nightingale gets called out to the home of a Russian emigré, an old woman who seems to have been killed in her sleep and any valuables taken. The valuables turn out to have been very valuable indeed, so a meandering case starts to unfold involving a collector, a perky and pretty girl who works as an assistant in the shop, the old woman’s son, and various red herrings strewn about liberally. The main character is Nightingale, with some glimpses of his subordinate, Beddoes.

(There is a moment which made me laugh where Beddoes realises that Nightingale’s first name is actually David, and his name is Jonathan. I think that’s the allusion which is being made, anyway. Slightly raised eyebrows, given the often homoerotic interpretations of David and Jonathan these days. Not sure that’s what Kelly was going for.)

Overall, “meandering” is really the word that comes to mind. There’s a rather confused action-y bit at the climax, but that part also features a pages-long explanation from Nightingale, for the benefit of the collector, on what might be driving the Russian emigré’s son. It all seems really disorganised and hard to follow, although whodunnit is painfully obvious all along.

It’s engaging enough for a quiet afternoon, but I was hardly in love with it, and I wouldn’t say it’s one of the best of this series.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – The Pursuit of…

Posted December 26, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Pursuit of by Courtney MilanThe Pursuit of…, Courtney Milan

The Pursuit of… is the story of two men from opposite sides of the American Civil War. John Hunter spares Henry Latham at a key engagement, and Henry goes to find him to repay the debt afterwards. John expects him to duck out at every turn, but he doesn’t, and they head across country to John’s home — with Henry talking nineteen-to-the-dozen the whole way. It took me a while to warm up to John — though I liked Henry right away — but as he warmed up to Henry, so I warmed up to him. The cheese thing is silly and cute.

In fact, the whole thing is oftentimes silly and cute, though there are also serious parts: the discussion of what truly constitutes equality, Henry’s learning process, Henry figuring out that he has to go home and figure things out with his family… There’s also a scene with non-sexual intimacy that is just lovely.

There is a sex scene, of course; it’s pretty explicit, but skippable if that’s not your thing. It isn’t all about sex, by far, and it has a lovely happy ending — though it doesn’t go with the easiest happy ending. I enjoyed it a lot.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – This Wicked Gift

Posted December 26, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of This Wicked Gift by Courtney MilanThis Wicked Gift, Courtney Milan

I picked up a bunch of Courtney Milan’s books because of the furore over the RWA judgement on whether her criticism of a particular book and publishing house constituted violations of the RWA codes of conduct. Since it was Christmas Eve, I grabbed this one in particular because it’s set at Christmas, though to be honest it isn’t really about Christmas and there’s not much about it that makes it particularly seasonal.

It opens with the main character, Lavinia, finding that there is a significant discrepancy in the books at her lending library business, and what’s worse, her personal savings are also missing. Just as she fully realises the loss, her brother arrives and unfolds a tale of woe — and in the room to overhear it is Mr William White, a patron of the library and admirer of Lavinia. He decides to help her out with her little problem… for a price.

The cover is misleading, I should add; Lavinia couldn’t afford such a dress, at least until the very end of the story.

I find the character of William White rather unpleasant, and despite the fact that he later somewhat redeems himself, the storyline sits quite badly with me. He basically coerces Lavinia: he will deal with her brother’s issues if she’ll have sex with him. (And yes, this is a period novel where that would also render her a fallen woman, to some extent, and where contraception is not available.) She’s smarter than him and easily figures out what he’s doing, and decides to go along with it anyway; she sees that he is deeply hurt and wants to reach out to him and offer him love and affection. I enjoyed Lavinia’s attitude to sex — the fact that she is practical, but also eager about the sensual experience — and her way of thinking about William… to some degree. It still makes me squirmingly uncomfortable that William’s behaviour is essentially rewarded.

Nonetheless, the book doesn’t end there, and slowly he gains in understanding and figures things out. There is a happy ever after for them, and it isn’t on horribly compromised terms: both freely come to the relationship, out of genuine love and care for one another. William’s character may not be to my taste, but things still come together satisfyingly — helped by the fact that the romance isn’t the only plot, but also Lavinia’s relationship with her brother.

There are sex scenes in the book, and one of them is a rather uncomfortable one; though Lavinia is eager and William in theory wants it, it’s rather awkward because of the intended coercion and self-disgust. I would say reading it is necessary to the story, though, because dialogue and introspection carry on through the scene.

Overall, I’d still say it ends up being quite sweet and not a bad reading experience; your mileage will vary on how much William White’s character in the early part of the book colours your experience of the rest. He does redeem himself, and as I said, the happy ending is not on compromised terms.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Magic Rises

Posted December 22, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Magic Rises by Ilona AndrewsMagic Rises, Ilona Andrews

In this instalment of the series, Curran and Kate head to Georgia to arbitrate an argument between the European shapeshifter packs. It’s a trap and they know it, but they badly need the payment they will receive if they pull it off: ten drums of panacea, the medicine that helps shapeshifters who are at risk of becoming monsters, a risk that most shapeshifters face during adolescence. It’s not clear where the trap is, and Kate’s going to be a lone human among hundreds of shapeshifters who don’t respect her and think they can easily crush her… but it’s got to be done.

As ever, the book barrels along at an enormous clip. I don’t enjoy the relationship aspect of this book very much at all; after what they’ve been through so far, both Kate and Curran should know better than to behave like idiots and ignore the trust they’ve built between them. I know it’s part of the drama of the series, but ugh, Kate, you know he’d face down an army for you, why are you letting yourself be played?

(Not that Kate’s emotional intelligence has ever been a highly vaunted point in this series, admittedly.)

The escalation of the plot as far as Kate’s origins goes, though, is pretty great. Now she finds herself in a confrontation with one of her father’s closest lieutenants, and though the Pack are at her side, there are a limited number of them with her. She has to walk the line, protect the person she’s there to protect and win the panacea, and try to prevent her father’s lackey learning too much about her capabilities. Every secret she can keep now is one more weapon later. And fittingly for stakes this high, there are serious casualties…

As always, the drama and action are balanced with exquisitely timed snarky humour, and quite honestly I reread this in about three sittings and just plain gulped it down. I might not love the relationship drama in this particular instalment, but I’m Team Kate and Curran all the way.

Rating: 4/5

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Weekly Roundup

Posted December 21, 2019 by Nikki in General / 9 Comments

Hi folks! It’s been a while since I did one because stuff got overwhelming, so I’m calling bankruptcy on an actual roundup. Here are a few books I’ve been granted e-ARCs of or been gifted recently, and I’ll start next week’s roundup from here!

E-ARCs

Cover of Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey Cover of Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire Cover of Hearts of Oak by Eddie Robson Cover of The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo

SantaThing

Cover of The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi Cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid Cover of Lady Killers by Tori Telfer

Now back to crocheting Christmas presents! But what have you guys been up to lately?

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Review – Miss Jacobson’s Journey

Posted December 18, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Miss Jacobson's Journey by Carola DunnMiss Jacobson’s Journey, Carola Dunn

Miss Jacobson’s Journey is the first book in the trilogy with a book I already read, Lord Roworth’s Reward. It features Felix during his earlier adventures, alluded to frequently in the second book, though the main character of the first book is undoubtedly Miriam. It opens when she rejects a suitor chosen by her parents to travel around Europe with her uncle, a doctor, and swiftly moves onto her attempts to get home after her uncle’s death. She ends up on a mission to deliver gold to Lord Wellington, accompanied by her longterm companion, Hannah, and two men: a somewhat familiar Jewish man (the very same man she turned down years before), and a young English lord (Felix) — two men who don’t get along at all.

I enjoyed reading about Miriam trying to unite the two, and the struggles and missteps as both of them become attracted to her. I’m not Jewish, or well-versed in Jewish traditions, so it’s hard to evaluate whether the portrayal of Miriam and Isaac, and the other Jewish people they meet, is a good one — but it felt like it to me, as an outsider. Miriam is great, capable and kind, though not always endowed with the best of judgement when it comes to a pretty face. It was good to get to know Isaac a bit as well, after his brief appearances in the second book. Felix is hardly shown to best effect here: we do see him grow over the course of the book, but he starts out as a snobbish antisemite, and that’s a rough thing to shake off. (And perhaps it was easier for me to shake off because I know him from the second book, as a man who has got over a lot of his prejudice, if not all of his stupider ideas.)

The happy ever after is lovely, and I do appreciate the way this trilogy is completely embedded in the history of the time. It doesn’t go too far — Felix isn’t an invented war hero, Isaac’s no international superspy; they’re just cogs in the great machine of war — but it gives you a solid feel for the time they’re living in. All in all, I think I want to acquire copies of this trilogy for my shelves to reread some other time. Onto the third book, Captain Ingram’s Inheritance!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Wychwood

Posted December 17, 2019 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Wychwood by George MannWychwood, George Mann

Things have fallen apart between Elspeth and her long-term partner, so she heads home to her mother, only to find a murder investigation ongoing practically in the back garden. Haunted by what she saw when she checked it out, she looks through her books to discover why it’s so familiar, and finds that it’s a recreation of scenes associated with the local mythology of the Carrion King. She teams up with a childhood friend (now a police officer with a rather slack notion of what should be kept from the public) to dig into it, writing articles for the local paper along the way, and stumbling across more than her fair share of the bodies.

Overall, I found the plot kind of predictable; the mystery side was obvious pretty early on, and it didn’t make much of the tension between ordinary everyday policing and the actually supernatural events. That’s kind of left hanging at the end: the characters agree that there seem to be more things in heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in their philosophy, and then… end of book! I’ve got the second book, and I’m curious enough to dig in, but I’m not overly enthused. I wonder if this might work better for someone who isn’t as steeped in crime fiction as I am? (Because okay, I like my Golden Age crime fiction, and you won’t have anything of this sort in Dorothy L. Sayers, but I did do a module on Crime Fiction during my BA, and I read a lot of Ian Rankin growing up.) For me, the marriage between genres was a rather distant one, tilted toward the crime fiction end, where it wasn’t exactly the freshest doughnut in the box.

Oddly enough, I also found the emphasis on Elspeth’s music choices rather disruptive as well. I don’t know most of the singers/bands mentioned (except Bowie), so if it’s meant to set the mood, it’s totally lost on me. I’m not going to put the book down to spin up Youtube to glean whatever clues to the character’s mental state or the tone of the chapter might be in the music choices.

Peter’s a bit of a non-entity so far, to be honest; Elspeth likes him, but I’m weirded out by the lack of professionalism in giving evidence — interview tapes from people being accused of serious crimes! — to a reporter, childhood friend or not. Elspeth herself… I have no objections to her, but nor am I wildly enthused.

The thing is, although this is all very lukewarm, I read this book in about four sittings tops over the course of 24 hours. It went down easily and I never considered putting it down. That’s worth something, with my current mood (around me lie at least 14 unfinished books, and I haven’t been reading regularly for several weeks now). It’s not that it’s a bad book, but I wanted more from it to be really enthusiastic. I’ll be interested to see what the second book does for me!

Rating: 3/5

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