A June Update: 2022

I am having a quiet giggle to myself on this Bank Holiday morning, as obviously – because it’s Britain – it’s tipping down with rain. There are lots of planned BBQs, parties, drinks, fireworks… and it’s raining. He he he. (I am staying inside and working today, so I am missing out already – but the ability of the British weather to royally mess up any planned celebration does amuse me.)

A black cat sitting on a windowsill, glaring at something out the window

Speaking of working, I recently took on some copy-editing for my Ex-Work (which I do occasionally, when I feel like it) and had the very usual situation of a “can we get this turned around pretty fast?” turning into “ok uh you can do it in 24 hours, yes?”

Y’know what? Not my circus, not my monkeys. It felt incredibly freeing to be able to think “well, that’d be nice; but I am one person with this amount of time, so… it’ll be done when it’s done.” And actually the Bank Holiday came to my rescue anyway, so it’s less of a rush, but still. It felt nice.

The Redoubtable Pali AvramapulWhat else? I’ve been reading again – THERE’S A NEW BOOK FROM VICTORIA GODDARD AND IT IS FANTASTIC. The Redoubtable Pali Avramapul is the next in the Red Company series, following on from The Hands of the Emperor and The Return of Fitzroy Angursell, and it’s so good. As I discussed with someone on Reddit, I want Pea and Kissy, and would cheerfully let Pali stab me and then thank her afterwards. You can absolutely read it as a stand-alone, but it’s definitely better read after The Return of Fitzroy Angursell at least.

I’m part-way through more books; Adrian Tchaikovsky’s The Tiger & The Wolf, City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett, Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to Dragons by Quenby Olson. I’ve also picked up a few others – The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, The Paper Magician by Charlie Holmberg, The Black Pages by Nnedi Okorafor, Tom Holland’s Dominion, The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by HG Parry. I’m still struggling to read, even books I want to pick up – the Otter gave me A Conspiracy of Truths by Alexandra Rowland for my birthday, which I’ve wanted for ages, and I just can’t pick it up… but I’m working on it.

A black cat snoozing on a green rugIn other news; the cat is still Grumpy (as always) but has been practising his solar panel positions for maximum heat-absorption, and filling up on biscuits when not heating his fluff. He’s been enjoying yelling, eating all the biscuits, more yelling, and napping. In short, he is still thoroughly enjoying his retirement!

Aaaaand… we are (hopefully, fingers crossed, pls send us all the luck) moving house! We’re staying in the Oxford area, but have found a larger place that the Otter and I both adore. We have started packing things into storage, as we don’t have anywhere in the one-bedroomed-flat to keep boxes, but we don’t have a date yet. Bobble is both concerned and very happy to have multiple boxes to test out for sitting-spots, and we think he’ll love the new space. More updates as they happen…

Wytchwood logoIn games news, I have just finished Wytchwood on Switch, which is adorable and grumpy and contains lots of snark and collecting things, which I enjoyed. Also if you’re on Steam, Dorfromantik is now out in the full version! It’s a bit like Carcassonne but single-player, and I really enjoy it. I also recently tried Calico, which is adorable and promises a lot, but I have found the controls and visuals a bit funky on Switch – might be better on console or PC, dunno. It’s put me off playing, anyhow.

Beyond that… grey, still. Still on meds, which are helping – I at least have spoons – but it’s all just a bit meh, even with various Things (aka. new house – which all still feels like it could go wrong, so that’s a bit of a mixed blessing.)

One foot in front of the other, anyhow! Have a sunny view of Oxford (from the top of Westgate) to brighten your days.

A view over the rooftops of Oxford with college spires in the sunshine


Book Review: Greenwing & Dart series by Victoria Goddard

So I have already squee’d about my love of Victoria Goddard with The Hands of the Emperor, and over about a week I voraciously read my way through the Greenwing & Dart series. There’s currently six:

So, they are: Stargazy PieBee Sting CakeWhiskey JackBlackcurrant FoolLove-in-a-Mist, and Plum Duff. A seventh is due…sometime! (I am very excited about this.)

Jemis Greenwing came home from university nursing a broken heart and a bad cold, both of which quickly turn out to have far more significance than he’d ever expected.

His hometown of Ragnor Bella is reputed to be the dullest town in the continent. That just means it’s very good at hiding its secrets. Or it was, until Jemis and his best friend Mr. Dart start blundering around unravelling what they think are very small mysteries.

Fortunately both of them learned a thing or two at university … even if it’s the more arcane parts of their degrees that prove the most useful. It’s one thing to illicitly attend extravagant dinner parties, and another to start answering riddles set by dragons…

The thing I love about this series (all right, one of the many things) is that it starts off small, and just gets more and more chaotic – in a wonderful way! Jemis needs to get a job, and then stumbles into a mystery when a random pie is left on the town fountain. Then an old friend (possibly? Maybe not a friend? Who knows, with the events at the end of his university career) turns up. And there’s a cult that might be up to no good – or could be covering for something else. And then the dragon turns up, alongside an ancient, grouchy relative…

And they have to win the local cake-baking competition too, of course.

Over the course of the series, the events build and intertwine, and everything links; it’s wonderful how the contacts and friends (and enemies) that Jemis makes all make his life wonderfully, brilliantly complicated. It’s a brilliantly ridiculous, fantastic, crazy series that highlights the friendships and relationships, and it’s absolutely fantastic fun. I love that some of the characters from the rest of the world turn up, too – and if you’ve read The Hands of the Emperor and then The Return of Fitzroy Angursell, you’ll recognise some of the people who turn up. It’s a wonderful glimpse into the wider world there, and I love the way the stories combine.

This series feels very derring-do, and it’s a fun romp – with some more intricate and serious undertones, but it’s definitely more on the “adventure” end of the scale. A lot of fun, and definitely worth a read.

Review: Good Neighbors by Stephanie Burgis

Good Neighbors by Stephanie Burgis

When a grumpy inventor meets her outrageous new neighbor in the big black castle down the road, more than one type of spark will fly!

Mia Brandt knows better than to ever again allow her true powers to be discovered. Ever since her last neighbors burned down her workshop in a night of terror and flame, she’s been determined to stay solitary, safe, and – to all outside appearances – perfectly respectable…

But Leander Fabian, whose sinister castle looms over her cozy new cottage, has far more dangerous ideas in mind. When he persuades Mia into a reluctant alliance, she finds herself swept into an exhilarating world of midnight balls, interfering countesses, illicit opera house expeditions, necromantic duels, and a whole unnatural community of fellow magic-workers and outcasts, all of whom are facing a threat more ominous than any she’s confronted before.

Luckily, Mia has unnatural powers of her own – but even her unique skills may not be enough to protect her new found family and help her resist the wickedly provoking neighbor who’s seen through all of her shields from the beginning.

Ok, let’s be honest here: this is ADORABLE. It’s fluffy, cute, filled with the sweetest characters, and also filled with sparks, snark and romance – and a love interest (ok, Really Annoying Neighbour) that you’ll want to throw things at. It’s a perfect wet-day-sofa-read, preferably with chocolate and a cat to hand, and you’ll get through the entire thing and be left with that warm feeling when you’ve read something that’s just *so good*.

I specifically loved Mia’s various inventions (I want her ball gown!) and the sheer variety of characters – and the reveal of who her father is dating is SO CUTE. The stories all flow nicely into one another, although each of the four is self-contained, and they’re all very easy reads. Definitely pick this up if you want cute, adorable and fun romances that are the perfect escapism reads.

(Disclaimer: I was given a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review; but I will also very happily point you towards Stephanie’s other series, starting with Thornbound and Scales & Sensibility – both excellent reads!)

This novel-length collection includes all four stories and novellas originally published on Stephanie Burgis’s Patreon in 2020-2021: Good Neighbors, Deadly Courtesies, Fine Deceptions, and Fierce Company.


A Basket of Magical Reviews

A bundle of reviews for fairytales, magic and romance!

Half a Soul (Regency Faerie Tales Book 1) by Olivia Atwater

It’s difficult to find a husband in Regency England when you’re a young lady with only half a soul.

Ever since a faerie cursed her, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear, embarrassment, or even happiness-a condition which makes her sadly prone to accidental scandal. Dora’s only goal for the London Season this year is to stay quiet and avoid upsetting her cousin’s chances at a husband… but when the Lord Sorcier of England learns of her condition, she finds herself drawn ever more deeply into the tumultuous concerns of magicians and faeries.

Lord Elias Wilder is handsome, strange, and utterly uncouth-but gossip says that he regularly performs three impossible things before breakfast, and he is willing to help Dora restore her missing half. If Dora’s reputation can survive both her ongoing curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world… but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul.

This is a really sweet Regency romance, with a lovely dash of magic and danger, plus a protagonist who is not so much plucky as mostly oblivious (but with a firm sense of morality, which at least usually lands her in the right sort of trouble) and a romantic entanglement that is firmly in the Mr Darcy camp of stubborn and unexpected. It’s an easy and fun read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

It reminded me a lot of Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series (highly recommended if you like Regency politics plus magic and a fierce dose of feminism) and the next one in this series is Ten Thousand Stitches, which follows some of the same characters.

The Seventh Bride by T Kingfisher

Young Rhea is a miller’s daughter of low birth, so she is understandably surprised when a mysterious nobleman, Lord Crevan, shows up on her doorstep and proposes marriage. Since commoners don’t turn down lords—no matter how sinister they may seem—Rhea is forced to agree to the engagement.

Lord Crevan demands that Rhea visit his remote manor before their wedding. Upon arrival, she discovers that not only was her betrothed married six times before, but his previous wives are all imprisoned in his enchanted castle. Determined not to share their same fate, Rhea asserts her desire for freedom. In answer, Lord Crevan gives Rhea a series of magical tasks to complete, with the threat “Come back before dawn, or else I’ll marry you.”

With time running out and each task more dangerous and bizarre than the last, Rhea must use her resourcefulness, compassion, and bravery to rally the other wives and defeat the sorcerer before he binds her to him forever.

An easy read, but The Seventh Bride is a fierce and different take on a mix of fairytales, with a lovely blend of many tropes; the unexpected bride finding out that her husband-to-be isn’t what she thinks he is, and that she is trapped in a strange house.. and then turning all of her ingenuity to how to free the others, trapped with her. Some of the wives are horrifying (more for what has been done to them, than the wives themselves) but the allies and friends that Rhea finds along the way are sweet, and the relationships between the wives, Crevan and allies are all very different. A fun and unexpected read.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

When Nora Fischer stumbles, quite literally, into a magical world where everyone is glamorous and life is one long party, she’s immediately captivated. What she doesn’t realise, because everything is such fun, is that there’s a darker side to her new friends. In fact, it’s only after she agrees to marry the charismatic, masterful Raclin that she discovers she’s a prisoner in this new world.

If Nora is to escape, then she has just one hope: the magician Aruendiel. And if she can also persuade him to teach her the art of real magic, then she might just be able to return home. Is that what she wants, though? Aruendiel has a biting tongue, a shrouded past and no patience, so there’s no way Nora could be falling for him… Is there?

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from this book, but it wasn’t what I got. I’m not entirely sure what I got, though, so there’s that. It reminded me a little of Thomas Covenant (although thankfully without the horribly rapey bits, which was nice…) and I think I was expecting more dramatic fantasy? More cute, more romance, more flair?

This is quite plodding in places, and quite pedestrian – which honestly does fit with the world, because once Nora is out of the control of her new friends, she realises that their lives are mostly illusion, and she’s actually in a medieval-style world – and that doesn’t lend itself to anything dramatic. Especially as magic isn’t the big fantasy gestures, but is hard work (and again, that makes perfect sense for the world.)

Nora herself is a modern, educated woman pushed into a place where woman aren’t expected to be educated (or intelligent, really) unless they can do magic – so she promptly pushes to learn magic, partly for status and partly for attempting to get home. Her story and character development is interesting, and the other characters are interesting, but…

I dunno. The book just fell a bit flat for me, I think. I didn’t love the story, although I ploughed through it. I don’t have any particular desire to pick up the next one. I suppose I feel that this one could have been cut in half quite happily, and then we might actually see more of whether Nora’s desire for Aruendiel goes anywhere.

Shades of Milk & Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

In Regency England, Jane Ellsworth of Dorchester is a woman ahead of her time.

Not only is she highly skilled in the manipulation of glamour – plucking strands from the Ether to create genteel magical illusions – she’s also ambitious for her art, and dreams of being recognised as a glamourist of note in her own right, as men are permitted to.

First and foremost, however, a lady of quality must marry well, and alas Jane’s ambitions do not extend to her romantic prospects. Compared to her beautiful sister Melody, Jane feels invisible to suitors, and is resigned to a life of spinsterhood.

But when her beloved family comes under threat, Jane uses her magical skills to put things right, which attracts the attention of professional glamourist Mr Vincent . . . and unwittingly wanders in to a love story of her own.

Another Regency romance with magic, and I loved this one! Full of wonderful characters, well-realised situations, romantic drama… the perfect cosy sofa read. I really loved the way glamour was described and explained as well; it lent some nice depth to Jane learning more about her ‘hobby’, and made the relationship between her and Mr Vincent more complex than just that of a suitor realising the spinster sister was actually interesting. A really well-written and fun read.

I think the sequel is Glamour in Glass, and it’s on my list to pick up!

A Few Days with Romans

Well, it’s me and Romans, which meant I was very happy… but after visiting Mr Gladstone, the Otter and I trundled over to Chester for a couple of days!

We walked the walls (several times), found the Rows, three charity shops, two jumpers and no books (I was a little worried about the book-loving Otter after that, but I think he got an overdose at Gladstone’s), ate fresh donuts and wandered round a Christmas market, dodged the drummers (loud enough to be heard two streets away, though) and sat by the river, and I got to squeak about the amphitheatre, walls, towers, gateways, street layout, armour, language, religion, invasion, Druids, Crazy Romans and general chaos that was classical Roman Britain. We also saw two centurions and a gaggle of small new recruits with foam swords in a very straggly line… and learned that the ‘orrible Celts used wee in their hair, urgh! (And that children are terrible at figuring out who’s in the front and back rows of said straggly lines.)

We did also ponder what Wild Beasts could have fought at the amphitheatre. Screw the lions, I’d bet on a really pissed-off badger winning against anyone…


We stayed at The Boathouse, which was lovely – the pub itself is right on the river with some lovely views, and the rooms are across the car park, so not noisy! We had a really nice evening on our first night; we found two cosy chairs (actually, the whole pub has a wonderfully cosy vibe) and the staff were quite happy for us to stay there for a few hours, reading and occasionally ordering new drinks or nibbles. Breakfast was also lovely, with sunny views over the river both days, and the chance to watch dogs and their owners on the other side of the stream.

We had a fantastic dinner at Hamayuu, which is tucked under the Rows on Watergate Street, and is absolutely recommended. (Also worth booking! – we got in as a walk-in by the skin of our teeth.) I can also highly recommend Melt Town on Music Hall Passage (just off Northgate St) – really good toasties, although you have to be a fan of cheese. The skunk plate above was some of the decoration…!

We got some glorious sunshine, some light drizzle, and a lot of really lovely walks. Chester itself wasn’t too busy and was lovely with the Christmas lights, and it was really good to be able to just wander – particularly after having four very sedentary days while reading/writing.

We headed home via a couple of days with the family (and I got to see some of a different side of Gloucestershire! – for despite the Otter actually growing up about 5 miles from The Pub, I’d never actually been to his area of the world. There’s some nice scenery and cute sheep, which is always a plus.) And then we got home to see a small grumpy lump, who promptly yelled. There was a List of Complaints, which seemed to feature “not enough biscuits” quite prominently… (he had actually had enough. Three people had been verifying that he had enough.) But he has forgiven us now, and everything is back to normal – with lots of purrs!

So a lovely week away, and – even better – when I logged back into my work this morning to 100+ emails… it was fine. No anxiety. No stress. I just trundled through everything, picked up all the threads, and everything carried on. Bliss!

Next up: Christmas! (Argh. How did we get to halfway through December?!)