July 2021

June was a super busy month in which I accomplished waaay less than I would’ve liked, but as the summer marches on it doesn’t appear that I’ll be getting much more done in July. I guess it’s good that I don’t have a ton of ARCs for this month (of which I’ve already finished one, and am a quarter through another), so maybe I can catch up a little on last month while preparing for the slightly more eventful August beyond.

ARC

Death and Croissants – by Ian Moore (7/01)

Follet Valley Mysteries #1

GoodreadsReview

Richard is a middle-aged Englishman who runs a B&B in the fictional Val de Follet in the Loire Valley. Nothing ever happens to Richard, and really that’s the way he likes it.

One day, however, one of his older guests disappears, leaving behind a bloody handprint on the wallpaper. Another guest, the exotic Valérie, persuades a reluctant Richard to join her in investigating the disappearance.

Richard remains a dazed passenger in the case until things become really serious and someone murders Ava Gardner, one of his beloved hens … and you don’t mess with a fellow’s hens!

A Desert Torn Asunder – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (7/13 US • 7/22 UK)

Song of the Shattered Sands #6

Goodreads

The plans of the desert gods are coming to fruition. Meryam, the deposed queen of Qaimir, hopes to raise the buried elder god, Ashael, an event that would bring ruin to the desert.

Çeda and Emre sail for their ancestral home to bring the traitor, Hamid, to justice. To their horror, they discover that the desert tribes have united under Hamid’s banner. Their plan? A holy crusade to annihilate Sharakhai, a thing long sought by many in the tribes. In Sharakhai, meanwhile, the blood mage, Davud, examines the strange gateway between worlds, hoping to find a way to close it. And King Ihsan hunts for Meryam, but always finds himself two steps behind.

When Meryam raises Ashael, all know the end is near. Ashael means to journey to the land that was denied to him an age ago, no matter the cost to the desert. It now falls to Çeda and her unlikely assortment of allies to find a way to unite not only the desert tribes and the people of Sharakhai, but the city’s invaders as well. Even if they do, stopping Ashael will cost them dearly, perhaps more than all are willing to pay.

Below the Edge of Darkness – by Edith Widder (7/27)

Goodreads

Edith Widder grew up wanting to become a marine biologist. But after complications from surgery caused her to go temporarily blind while at university, she became fascinated by light, and her focus turned to bioluminescence. On her first visit to the deep ocean, in an experimental diving suit that took her to a depth of 250 metres, she turned off the suitʼs lights and witnessed breathtaking explosions of bioluminescent activity. Why was there so much light down there?

Below the Edge of Darkness takes readers deep into the mysteries of the oceans as Widder investigates one of nature’s most widely used forms of communication. She reveals hidden worlds and a dazzling menagerie of creatures, from microbes to leviathans—many never before seen or, like the giant squid, never before filmed. Alongside Widder, we experience life-and-death equipment malfunctions, and breakthroughs in technology and understanding, set against a growing awareness of the deterioration of the world’s largest and least understood ecosystem.

This engaging memoir, imbued with optimism and a sense of wonder, is an adventure story as well as a science story. Edith Widder shows us how exploration is the key to conserving the oceans—and our future on this planet.

Other Releases

Empire’s Ruin – by Brian Staveley (7/06)

Ashes of the Unhewn Throne #1

Goodreads

The Annurian Empire is disintegrating. The advantages it used for millennia have fallen to ruin. The ranks of the Kettral have been decimated from within, and the kenta gates, granting instantaneous travel across the vast lands of the empire, can no longer be used.

In order to save the empire, one of the surviving Kettral must voyage beyond the edge of the known world through a land that warps and poisons all living things to find the nesting ground of the giant war hawks. Meanwhile, a monk turned con-artist may hold the secret to the kenta gates.

But time is running out. Deep within the southern reaches of the empire and ancient god-like race has begun to stir.

What they discover will change them and the Annurian Empire forever. If they can survive.

Half Sick of Shadows – by Laura Sebastian (7/06)

Goodreads

Everyone knows the legend. Of Arthur, destined to be a king. Of the beautiful Guinevere, who will betray him with his most loyal knight, Lancelot. Of the bitter sorceress, Morgana, who will turn against them all. But Elaine alone carries the burden of knowing what is to come–for Elaine of Shalott is cursed to see the future.

On the mystical isle of Avalon, Elaine runs free and learns of the ancient prophecies surrounding her and her friends–countless possibilities, almost all of them tragic.

When their future comes to claim them, Elaine, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Morgana accompany Arthur to take his throne in stifling Camelot, where magic is outlawed, the rules of society chain them, and enemies are everywhere. Yet the most dangerous threats may come from within their own circle.

As visions are fulfilled and an inevitable fate closes in, Elaine must decide how far she will go to change fate–and what she is willing to sacrifice along the way.

A Psalm for the Well-Built – by Becky Chambers (7/13)

Monk & Robot #1

Goodreads

It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth gained self-awareness and laid down their tools.
Centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
Centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.
They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Purchases

Lord of Ashes – by Richard Ford

Steelhaven Book #3

Goodreads

FIGHT TO THE DEATH…

The queen of Steelhaven has grown in strength. Taking up her dead father’s sword, she must defend the city from the dread warlord Amon Tugha and his blood-thirsty army now at the gates. A vicious, unrelenting four-day battle ensues, the most perilous yet.

…OR BOW TO THE ENEMY

No side is immune from danger as all hell breaks loose, with the threat of coups and the unleashing of the deadliest and darkest magick. Loyalty, strength and cunning will be put to test in the quest for victory. What fate awaits the free states?

Hard Reboot – by Django Wexler

Goodreads

Kas is a junior researcher on a fact-finding mission to old Earth. But when a con-artist tricks her into wagering a large sum of money belonging to her university on the outcome of a manned robot arena battle she becomes drawn into the seedy underworld of old Earth politics and state-sponsored battle-droid prizefights.

Is it time to get back to the books, yet?

Music

Make It Through – Ends With a Bullet (7/01)

Ends With a Bullet is a Swedish metalcore band from Gothenburg (metalcore being a blend of metal and hardcore punk). Make It Through is their sixth album since being formed in 2013, and they’re most notable for releasing five good (to my ear anyway) albums in the last five years.

fever – Against the Current (7/23)

Against the Current is an American pop-rock band from New York. Around since 2011, fever is their third EP and fifth album altogether.

Gaming

Disco Elysium

Developed by ZA/UM

10-15 hours in / 8% Trophy Completion

I’ve been playing quite a lot of Disco Elysium lately. An RPG where you take control of a down on his luck detective currently at the end of an all week bender, the game would have you redeem him, double down on being an asshole, or just do what you can to survive til the end of the investigation. The investigation itself centers on an apparent lynching—a dead body hanging from the lone tree in a war-torn neighborhood. The fictional Revachol is a bit reminiscent of the setting from This War of Mine, albeit five or ten years after the events of the game. A city recovering from a war that decimated the local economy, scarred its citizens, wrecked its infrastructure. After the war ended and its final king died, Revachol is a district on the precipice of change, and in need of a new identity. Throughout it you will have the option to deal with various thoughts and ideas, either subscribing to certain political, socio-economic, or racist theories, or turnign your nose up on the lot altogether. Doing nothing might make it next to impossible to do your job however, so a clever officer might just pick one side—or many. The locals don’t care what you want or why, and mostly treat your presence with disbelief, sarcasm, or outright disgust. Whether or not you have any real power to make an arrest is beside the point—the investigation will lead somewhere, it’s up to you to find out where.

Disco Elysium is a game where the outcome relies on a potential dice roll, making almost anything possible. Or impossible. In my fist game I died a lot. I set my strength/endurance to base 1, which basically meant that whenever I failed a check I had the potential to die. Which I did—a lot. Before I got out of my hotel room (where you start the game), I’d died no less than three times. I reached for my tie on the ceiling fan and had a heart-attack. The next time I tried to turn the fan off first and suffered another. I saw my reflection in the mirror and had a third. Since then I’ve learnt a bit, started a new game (my system crashed and needed resetting—which cost me all my save data for all my games, which was super disappointing), but still died a lot. Disco Elysium is full of humor, whether it be outrageous or dark in nature, but it also makes you think. There’s a decent amount of political theory, racism, sexism, and just human nature, all competing for your attention. The voice acting is mostly strong—with some (like the narrator) featuring amazing performances—though others are just hilariously bad. Obviously I haven’t finished the game yet (hell, I haven’t gotten through four days yet), but I’ve quite enjoyed my time with it and feel like I can almost recommend it already based on the fact that I had to drop it and start all over and somehow not lose interest.

Currently Reading

A Desert Torn Asunder – by Bradley P. Beaulieu

The conclusion to the Shattered Sands is here! I actually lost track of time or else I’d’ve probably started this one sooner! The Song of Shattered Sands has been one of my favorite fantasy series of the past five years and I cannot wait to dig further into the final book. But so far, so good!

Outpost – by W. Michael Gear

Not sure how the Donovan series escaped my notice until now, but here we are. Only recently it made it onto my radar, and I took my sweet time locating a copy of Outpost (found one at the public library, which has only recently reopened—yay!). But now that I’ve started it I can’t wait to get into the story. Unfortunately it has to compete with my love of the Shattered Sands, and so is on the backburner for now, but hopefully I’ll get into it soon enough!

Thanks to Tammy (Books, Bones & Buffy) and Mogsy (Bibliosanctum) for the rec!

Life

So, it’s been hot these last few weeks, eh? We’ve had about 6 of the past 10 days over 100˚F and forecasting for a few more in the coming week. This, combined with the lack of any humidity or precipitation, makes for a good oven-like atmosphere. Fire weather is here already. And as usual people are ignoring all the firework warnings as we approach the 4th of July. I hate the 4th, personally. Fireworks have caused enough fires here that I’ve started to associate the sound of them, the smell of gunpowder with the sight of those flames rolling over the ridgeline burning towards me. The destruction of Lytton just this last week has done nothing to ease this feeling. I’ve only been evacuated 2-3 times because of fires here, but they’re something that continue to haunt my dreams. So fireworks make me cringe, make me panic, make me stress. I HATE THEM.

Um, anyway… the heat has made outside sports super fun to suffer through, as our events carry on despite the high temperatures. My job has gotten decidedly less enjoyable lately, but that’s a rant for another time. One per post, eh?

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. Want to talk about the books or games or music aspect of July? I would love to hear from you! I don’t really want to talk about fireworks, politics, or people. I do occasionally need to vent about them, but I really don’t need to follow-up on it. Unless someone really wants to. I’m not the only one who needs to vent, after all.

Book Loot – May Edition

After I stockpiled a bunch of books last month to see me through this new illness and my social distancing plans this summer (it’s not really a COVID thing, I’m introverted every summer) (most of the year, actually), this month I really didn’t get much. Didn’t buy a single book, even. While I didn’t get a lot of book loot, I DO go on a rant about one of the games I got this month. So, that’s mildly interesting.

ARCs for June

By Force Alone – by Lavie Tidhar (6/16)

Ye gods this book. A grimdark retelling of the Arthurian legend, it’s definitely nailed the darkness. TBH I hate every character in this book. That I’ve read so far, at least. And there haven’t been that many, as I can’t get into it. It’s just… bad. I’ve tried four separate times and haven’t yet surpassed 10%. It’s certainly looking like a DNF at this point. Although I don’t usually review DNFs on here, I’ll do a group DNF here sometime soon, but maybe check out Rebecca’s over at Powder & Page in the meantime? It’s only slightly more flattering than mine will be.

The Adventures of Rockford T. Honeypot – by Josh Gottsegen (6/23)

As a young chipmunk, shy, bookish Rockford T. Honeypot had dreams of thrilling adventures across the forest. However, timid of danger and germs, his only adventures were found in books and his imagination. When his family abandons him after a mistake that destroys their hazelnut business, Rockford sets off on a legendary journey beyond his wildest dreams.

Honestly, it sounds like some kind of reluctant adventurer meets Redwall scenario. A middle-grade book, I’ll probably start it after I finish (or bin) By Force Alone.

The Kingdom of Liars – by Nick Martell (6/23)

Originally scheduled for release on May 5th, it’s been pushed back, which gives me more time to read it! I actually only snagged a copy after hearing some friends‘ reviews, which was lucky enough considering it should’ve been published before I had a chance. Years earlier, Michael was accused of murdering the king’s only son. By his own father. Branded a traitor and cast out of society, now he robs the rich, but is desperate for a way to reclaim his old life. In a world where magic costs memories, Michael must survive a civil war between magic and technology, with a family dictatorship standing atop the throne.

Purchases

None!

Games

AC: Syndicate

After I sank nearly 130 hours into AC: Odyssey, I figured I’d go back in time a little. Turns out Syndicate was on sale this month so I got it for $9. Woot! I’ve always wanted to play it, so everything works out.

The Sinking City (aka: the rant)

A title from Sherlock Holmes publisher Frogwares, the Sinking City is a Lovecraftian horror game revolving around war vet and gumshoe Charles W. Reed. Now, I’d been after this one for a while. I almost got it when it came out, but the price was a bit steep. Finally found it on sale this month and… I’m still a little disappointed. I’d heard it wasn’t great, so my expectations weren’t high. So, good news first: The detective aspects are its best feature. There’s no handholding, no line that you can follow around that shows you exactly where to go and who to talk to and what to look for. There are hints—but they’re few and far between. This is mostly rewarding, but sometimes irritating as heck. For better or worse, it’s up to you to solve the crimes, and rely on your own thought-process to do so.

Now the bad news. First off, the game plays like a PS3 version ported to a PS4. It lags a fair amount, especially between areas. The graphics aren’t up to snuff. The people are pretty good, but they mostly reminded me of the NPCs in Skyrim; one expression, constant waving their arms, repeating the same lines over and over. The game is set in Oakmont, a city cut off from the States by an epic flood. Despite the game world being quite large, it isn’t very interactive. Most of the buildings are inaccessible, and several more can only be entered during specific missions. When they end, so does the access. There are several different areas, each supposed to represent a different people and culture. Instead it looks like the same block repeated over and over. There’s a little variation, but not much. And since you can only enter maybe one building per block, it matters little. The platforming is awful. You can’t jump, only mantle, and only in certain places. And you don’t fall gracefully. Even if you just walk off the curb, it’s either a predescribed falling motion—complete with a comical “oof”, which you definitely take damage from, no matter the height—or you just glitch to the bottom. The combat, if anything, is worse.

It’s a detective game—the combat seems to’ve been added as an afterthought. It’s point and shoot. Nothing more. There’s a auto-aim system that snaps to the target’s… groin. With the amount of damage done by each shot, and the scarcity of ammunition—it’s worse than useless. And since the auto-aim snaps to every enemy’s gut every time, you can’t really aim yourself. I mostly just ran away. And then stopped playing.

Wrap-up

So… next month should be busy. I have a backpacking trip scheduled with friends—all of which have backed out. And the place is reservation only (since it’s fairly popular), so I’ll have to go somewhere else. Dunno if I will. We’ll see. Lots of books to read, though. The amount and quality of books coming out in July is staggering. Unless they get delayed.

As usual, lemme know if you’ve read or played any of these, or are looking forward to anything else. I’d love to hear! Or maybe if you’re going on holiday anywhere fun. Or… is that a thing this year? Or are we just staying home and drinking? Let me know!

Book Loot – April Edition

Went a little rogue this month after the library’s online catalogue got a little bit hammered, and I got a wee bit of stir-crazy burnout going. With a staggering amount of delays and postponements, I may actually get to most of my ARCs in time for release. If I recover from the burnout, that is. And since I’m off til at least May—and likely longer since large gatherings of children probably won’t be well-received for a while—this seems unlikely, at best. But whatever.

ARCs for May

Firewalkers – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (5/12)

Many thanks to Rebellion for the ARC! I can only hope this is as good as Walking to Aldebaran last year. With Tchaikovsky, it’s easy to just assume so and go from there. […]

The Bayern Agenda – by Dan Moren

While technically not an ARC, the good people at Angry Robot had provided me with the second book of the series but upon hearing I hadn’t yet read the first, were kind enough to throw that in as well! As usual, many thanks to them! The Bayern Agenda features a futuristic cold war, a compromised team, and a benched agent that must come through in the clutch.

The Aleph Extraction – by Dan Moren (5/12)

Still reeling from the events of the first book, the team is sent out on another improbable mission: to steal an alien artifact from a crime lord before their cold war rivals get to it first. Sounds like a good thriller, hopefully the first one will inspire me to read them back-to-back! Once again many thanks to Angry Robot for the ARC!

Purchases

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – by Becky Chambers

One of my top TBR for 2020, TBT,IF combines terraforming with post-humanizing to create, well, something in between but new altogether! I’ve heard mixed things about this one, but’ve wanted to read it since its release, so here we are. Both this and Where Gods Fear to Go narrowly escaped the UK before to stopped shipping out and I’m thrilled to have them!

Where Gods Fear to Go – by Angus Watson

The exciting conclusion to the West of West trilogy finds the combined forces of mostly good and somewhat good nearly upon their destination of the Meadows. But, between them and their destinies lie the Shining Mountains—seeming endless and uncrossable mountains populated by telekinetic sasquatches. Yeah, you read that right.

Age of Empyre – by Michael J. Sullivan

The final entry in the Legends of the First Empire series is nigh! And as each of the previous two has ended in a cliffhanger, I can hardly wait to read this! Suri holds the key to the world. Or does she? And if humanity can’t rescue her, will there be anything left worth saving?

Audio

Skyward – by Brandon Sanderson

What promises to be my… 18th? Sanderson book, Skyward is a YA Scifi series about a defeated human race in a constant battle for their survival against an alien threat. While I won’t catch up to most of the planet in number of Sanderson books read with this series, it will still put me roughly… 18 ahead of Tammy.

Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows – by John August

The third Arlo Finch book wasn’t quite as good as the first two, but still worth a go. While brining his father home through the Long Woods may have seemed like a good idea, Arlo quickly discovers it’s much more complicated than just that. There are many changes in this entry, and much to discuss. Review soon.

Retribution Falls – by Chris Wooding

While I loved the Ember Blade when I read it last year, Wooding’s been on my TBR for years before that. This steampunk action-adventure follows the Ketty Jay and her captain, Frey, as he somehow goes from nuisance pirate to public enemy #1 in an afternoon.

The Society of the Sword Trilogy – by Duncan M. Hamilton

Long on my TBR, the Tattered Banner begins the Society of the Sword trilogy—which just happened to be on sale this week. And since I figured a trilogy such as this was probably worth $5 (hoping, at least), and since I have some time—thought it was time to give it a go. In a world where magic is outlawed, ability with a sword can accomplish all one’s dreams. Soren wears his on his sleeve, and when he is chosen to join the illustrious Society, it’s the answer to his prayers. But like most opportune fortune, this may prove to be more than meets the eye…

Free Stuff!

Forsworn – by Brian McClellan

I’ve actually read a decent portion of Forsworn already—in pieces—but Brian McClellan has helpfully offered up a free copy to anyone adversely affected by COVID, and for once that didn’t feel terrible about taking him up on that. Technically, both the collection of short stories (which I already have) and the collected novellas (which I’ve read 3 or 4) are free to download, I only needed the one to complete my collection. If you or anyone you know has been hurt by the virus or the lockdown, send them over HERE to collect some free books. Many, many thanks to Brian McClellan for the reading material!

In the Village Where Brightwine Flows, A Wasteland of My God’s Own Making & The Doors at Dusk and Dawn – by Bradley P. Beaulieu

I’ve mentioned it before, but Bradley Beaulieu is giving away Shattered Sands novellas on his site every Monday during lockdown, and it’s given me a chance to catch up on the ones I had missed. While I’ve only just started Brightwine, all promise to be unique glimpses into the Shangazi, with interesting tidbits of lore attached. If you haven’t read any, nor picked up A Wastle of God’s Own Making this week, I’d recommend them. Many thanks to Bradley Beaulieu, just one of many authors being amazingly generous with their work so that we all make it through this in one piece.

Tales of Beedle the Bard – by J.K. Rowling

An audio freebie, Tales of Beedle the Bard are a sort of wizarding faerie tales alluded to in Harry Potter. If you don’t know what I mean, read Harry Potter. If you’ve read it already, you should know what this is. If you don’t and don’t want to, you’ve already mentally checked out of this and I’m just rambling at this point so it doesn’t matter what I say and I’m hungry and tired and bored but whatever.

Gaming

Finished AC: Odyssey this week. Took me 135 hours but I platinumed the main game—even did a little DLC as well. Now I have all this free time, and all these audiobooks to get through! Whatever shall I do??

Get more games, of course!

I picked up the Metro Exodus Season Pass at discount to play Sam’s Story, something I’ve been excited about ever since I first heard they were working on it. You play as Sam as he battles his way across Russia with the hope of finally returning home. If you don’t know what I’m talking about maybe give the Metro 2033 a try? Either the book or the game, really. Or just humor me: nod and smile. While the first two games (and three books) were set in the confines of the Moscow Metro tunnels, Exodus gives you the ability to actually traverse the wartorn world. Exodus got generally positive reviews, but drew a mixed bag from existing fans. I quite enjoyed it, though the open world and non-linearity meant a less immerse game world, and detracted from the overall horror experience. But since I find horror boring and the game was beautiful AND fun… Well. You also get the Two Colonels, which I’ve heard mixed things about, but hey, can’t be too bad, right?

So… a lot to keep occupied this month. Hopefully it works! I’m skeptical that the world will get back to “normal” anytime soon, but maybe it’ll prove me wrong. In the news, people continue to be stubborn idiots—which is why I don’t watch the news. I still don’t (think I) have the virus and I hope y’all are safe too! There’s a lot going on in the world lately and I hope you lot know I appreciate you and what this outlet means to me. So, if you’ve read or played or listened to or heard of any of the preceding and would like to talk about them, let me know! If you want to talk books or add me on playstation drop me an email or a comment. Otherwise, thanks for stopping by and thanks for looking out!

Also: allergies. Anyone else got them? I was kinda hoping that they’d be less awful this year, but I appear to be SOL.

On Tap 01/09

Currently Reading

The Outlaw and the Upstart King – by Rod Duncan

The second Map of Unknown Things I’m liking far more than the first—but still have a ways to go yet. I think the story’s better, so far. It’s not that Elizabeth can’t carry an entire book, but I think she does better with a divided load. Book Three is out next week!

A Longer Fall – by Charlaine Harris

The language is still bugging me, but that’s apparently Harris’s thing, so I doubt it’ll get any better. Just getting into the story now and… I dunno how it’s going to work. I’ve heard it’s not as good as the first, but… Review to come!

The Fall of the Readers – by Django Wexler

Alice’s swan song. So far so good. Listening to it right now, actually. Probably my favorite book of the year so far.

Up Next

The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man – by Rod Duncan

Assuming #2 works out well. Here’s hoping 🤞

Age of Death – by Michael J. Sullivan

Age of Legend left off with a bit of a cliffhanger. Can’t wait to jump back in to the adventure! I literally kinda want to start it now. But… no, must wait.

Queenslayer – by Sebastien de Castell

#5 of the Spellslinger series finds Kellen and Reichis… I dunno what they’re doing actually. Probably getting in trouble. I guess we’ll find out!

Have you read any of these? How are they? Anything else I need to look out for or add to my TBR? Let me know!

Otherwise

As a side note, I’m still sick—which is just awesome. It’s really cutting into my sleep, and my reading. I’ll have a TBR for the year out later this week, or early next. Then maybe a Spring Releases thing. Otherwise it’s just reading and sleeping. And maybe some work.