What I Read: September Edition

I bought a first-generation Kobo the day it was released in 2010—at the time, Kindles were an impractical option for Canadians—and since then, like the list-loving dork I am, I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of all the books I read. Four columns: Title, author, letter grade, and an optional short comment.

I’ve kept book lists on and off on the back pages of my paper journals for years, but when I decided to make the switch from writing literary fiction to genre fiction, ebooks looked like the most convenient way to figure out which direction I wanted to go in and they were cheaper, too. An e-reader was also perfect for my work commute; I live around the eastern terminus of the Toronto subway and my trip to Le Day Job downtown is 40 minutes, longer if a train driver has to get a coffee at Coxwell station. No more would I have to deal with finishing a book with seven stops to go until I got home, leaving me with only a discarded newspaper to read that someone may or may not have used as a napkin. No more lugging around 800-page high fantasy door stoppers in my purse, either.

I thought I read a lot before I bought the Kobo, but I was wrong. In my paper book days, I averaged a novel a week; since acquiring the Kobo it’s closer to two or three. In 2011, I completed 120 books with a few DNFs, and as of today I’m up to 103. There are a few novellas in there, but I’m still counting them as books.

It’s a few days into October, but here are my favourites from September.

The Emperor’s Edge, Lindsay Buroker.

In August, A guest reviewer submitted a glowing review for this high fantasy/steampunk series on Smart Bitches Trashy Books and I gave the first (free!) novel a shot. I was kind of skeptical at first, because steampunk seems like a sub-genre I’d really love, I’ve given it chance after chance with works from different publishers, and so many of the stories are disappointments.

I devoured the first book in a couple of days. Then I read the next four books in the series over the following two weeks. The books follow a group of outlaws led by Amaranthe Lokdon, a former enforcer trying to clear her name and gain a pardon from the emperor to whom she is fiercely loyal. She recruits a few outcasts to her cause, among them Sicarius, notorious assassin with A Mysterious Past, and has to get them to work together to foil plots against the empire and the emperor himself.

The characters are multi-dimensional, the writing and dialogue are sharp, and the world-building believable. Amaranthe is resourceful, funny, and can convince just about anyone to join her cause.

The sixth book is coming out in 2013. I will be ever so pissed if the world ends on December 21st and I can’t read it.

Her Demonic Angel, Felicity Heaton

I discovered Felicity Heaton through her sci-fi romance novellas last year. Her backlist is massive and I have to admit that I’ve pretty much stuck to her Lyra and Her Angel series so far.

The worlds she creates are far-reaching, unhurried, and surreal, where a portal joining Hell and the Amazon or a random street in London don’t serve as convenient plot devices, they exist because they’re supposed to. Of course there’s a road to another plane of existence in India, why wouldn’t there be? The fantastic elements in her books are written so they’re natural; she can suspend a reader’s belief very easily.

Her Demonic Angel picks up where Guardian left off, starring Veiron, a fallen angel who switched allegiances and joined the Hell’s ranks before setting off on his own to wreak revenge. He gets sidetracked when a fellow angel and his partner, Marcus and Amelia—the couple from Guardian—ask him to return to Hell for a favour: Amelia’s sister, Erin has been kidnapped by the Devil, reasons unknown, and they need to get her back. He’s the only one they know who’s familiar with Hell and the Devil’s methods, and he knows if Amelia dies, he does, too. And Amelia will certainly get herself killed if she makes the journey.

I do prefer the author’s full-length novels over her novellas because of the way she world-builds, and the 100,000-word books in the Her Angel series can be read as stand-alones. The novellas are still worth picking up, but they serve mostly to introduce readers to the supporting characters in Her Guardian Angel and Her Demonic Angel. The shorter books’ plots are fluffier and more linear; the last two novels bring everyone together in an ongoing story about Ultimate Good and Ultimate Evil coming to a head for a final showdown.

A problem I run into with a lot of series is the infodump, that irritating one-paragraph, four-page rundown of the events of the previous installments. I haven’t yet run into an infodump in any of Felicity Heaton’s books—everything is explained in due time, and not in the first four pages of the book.

Innocent Traitor, Alison Weir

I took a long-awaited trip to the UK earlier this year, and I bought this book at the Tower of London gift shop for my mother, an historical fiction fan and former minister. I seriously considered keeping it and reading it on the plane ride home, then felt like a douche for thinking about keeping a present meant for my mom, and ended up doing the right thing.

And she finished it and lent it to me. Awesome!

Innocent Traitor is a fictionalized novel about the life of Lady Jane Grey, the shortest-reigning monarch in English history. Convicted of high treason and executed in 1554, she is regarded as a martyr by many in the Protestant faith (I was raised in one of its denominations). Highly educated for a girl in that era, she was deeply devoted to “reformed” Christianity and rejected Catholicism at the cost of her life.

Written in the first person from multiple perspectives, the story is told by Jane, her mother, and her nurse; Jane Seymour, Catherine Parr, Mary I, and John Dudley, beginning from the day she was born to the moment of her death. From the very beginning, she was treated as a commodity: First by her parents, who unsuccessfully tried to marry her off to King Edward VI, then arranged for her to marry Guilford Dudley. Shortly after the marriage, her parents and in-laws are among those in a plot to keep a Protestant monarch on the throne and force Jane into accepting the crown, thwarting Henry’s oldest daughter, a Catholic who was declared illegitimate when his marriage her mother, Catherine of Aragon, was annulled.

The thing I love about fictionalized retellings of real events is that it makes everyone involved real, in a way that textbooks or movies can’t. When separated by an ocean and nearly 500 years, stories about kings and queens are solely the stuff of fairy tales. Our perception of that era is shaped by dry statements-of-facts in academic texts; the people involved are reduced to stiff, formal portraits and uncertain biographies.

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