Friday, December 22, 2017

Favorite Series of 2017

I set my reading goal lower this year. 80 books instead of 100+, after not making my goal last year (and maybe the year before) I wanted to set something I thought I would manage. I am still behind but have hopes of catching up. I thought I would do a post with some of my favorite reads this year, but I think I’m going to break it up into series and non-series.

My favorite series that I read this year was The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. I read all three books that are currently available in the series in short order and was very sad to have to wait for book 4. The Invisible library is a repository for all the world’s books, but all the world’s books in the multiverse. I felt like Cogman’s world building was fantastic, it sucked me in. It’s a little bit reminiscent of Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series, with fewer literary references. It is also reminiscent of the TV show The Librarian’s, which I hadn’t watched until a few weeks ago after I read these books. Irene is our main character, and she was raised in the Library, which is relatively unusual in this world. I really can’t say enough good things about this series. The books in order are 
The Invisible Library, The Masked City, and The Burning Page.

The second series I enjoyed was the Lady Julia Gray series by Deanna Raybourn. And the Veronica Speedwell series also by Raybourn. I had read the first couple of books in the Lady Julia Gray series before, but I re-read them and decided to finish the series, which was up to 5 books and a couple of novellas. Lady Julia Gray is just a fun historical mystery series with some romance thrown in. Well, maybe it’s historical romance with a mystery thrown in, either way, an enjoyable series. And sometimes it’s exactly what I need. The first book is Silent in the Grave followed by Silent in the Sanctuary, Silent on the Moor, The Dark Road to Darjeeling, and The Dark Enquiry. The novellas are Midsummer Night, Silent Night, and Bonfire Night.

The Veronica Speedwell series is more mystery perhaps, with a couple that isn’t a couple yet, but the sexual tension is thick. Veronica Speedwell is a lepidopterist, and she also likes to solve crimes, especially if she can’t be in far-flung places chasing butterflies. I had previously read the first book in this series, so this year I read the second book, A Perilous Undertaking. I enjoy Deanna Raybourn’s writing, and I appreciate her on Twitter also. If you like Victorian mystery, give this series a try.

I also read V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, which is the first book in the series. This is another book with some excellent worldbuilding, and it also plays on the idea of multiple universes. In this book, there are at least four distinct worlds, in all of them London exists, and there are a very few people that can move between them. The magic in this world was fascinating, and the book was excellent. I have not yet read the next book in the series, but it is high on my TBR list. I’m not even sure what this book reminds me of the most, maybe a more fantasy version of Harry Dresden. I would say it’s closer to fantasy than urban fantasy, but it is somewhere in between.

I started the PC Peter Grant series by Ben Aaronovitch; the first book is Midnight Riot (The Rivers of London in the UK). Hmmm….this book had magic too; I like books with magic. Peter Grant is a newly minted PC in London and while guarding the perimeter of a murder scene, talks to a witness of the murder, who happens to be a ghost. This ghostly sighting ends up getting him assigned to a special police unit that deals with crimes involving the supernatural, and Peter Grant learns there are more things in heaven and earth, and all that. The first book, Midnight Riot, has some reasonably gruesome crimes and comes off as fairly hard-boiled. There is some lightness in the books, and the world is very interesting. I enjoy the side plot involving the Thames very much. The second book, Moon over Soho is less grisly in the crimes being investigated and more character building for Peter and many of the supporting cast. I enjoyed both books and will be continuing the series.

The final series I’m going to talk about here is the Pine Cove series by Christopher Moore. Somehow I hadn’t gotten around to these yet. I was going to read The Stupidest Angel and noticed it was book three in a series, so I started with Practical Demonkeeping. Practical Demonkeeping was very good, it was Moore’s first book and established his unique sense of humor. The second book, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove takes place about ten years after the first book. It has some overlapping characters, but you don’t need to have read the first to follow the second. If you’ve never heard of Christopher Moore, this is your language warning. And a content warning. He doesn’t sugar coat things, and he uses the F-word a lot. So if that’s not your cup of tea, his books might not be. But they are funny. The Pine Cove series aren't my favorite of his books, but they are worth reading while I’m waiting for his newest one. I’m currently reading The Stupidest Angel, so I can’t say much about it yet. It does pick up a little bit after Lust Lizard, maybe five years or so.

I also read the latest in the Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen this year: On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service. It is book eleven in the series, and I adore this series and am impatiently waiting for the next one. Gone Gull by Donna Andrews was released this year, and I read and loved it as well. These two series are my favorite Amateur Sleuth series. I finally read Cress by Marissa Meyer, which is the third book in the Lunar Chronicles. I love these books as well and highly recommend them. The first book in this series is Cinder.

Ok, I think that concludes my series round-up for this year. I’ll do another post about standalone books. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

My initial impression as I started reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, was that it was a cross between Firefly and Farscape. That was mostly correct. Wayfarers #1 is the story of a girl who needs to get away and leave her past behind, what better place than open space? She is assigned to the Wayfarer ship and is mingling for the first time with other species, and quickly learns that reality is different than what she learned in college when it comes to dealing with alien species. 

Chambers has created a full world, with the backstory of humans leaving Earth and setting out for space and other planets dishearteningly believable. The alien species we meet are much more Farscape than Star Trek, more varied than human-like. 

The book was hard to put down and I had a couple of late nights trying to find out what would happen next. I do not read a lot of space sci-fi, but this book was very appealing to me. 

Word of warning: if you are not a fan of same-sex pairings and discussion of fluid genders, this may not be the book for you. To me, they felt natural. The book deals with species other than our own and life outside of our planet. We know the diversity of humans, and it is not surprising that alien life would be just as diverse if not more so. I would just hate to see negative reviews because someone went into this book without knowing that it dealt (very well, I might add) with those topics. Personally, that is part of what I love about reading. It puts you inside of other people's lives that you would otherwise never experience. 

I would highly recommend this book to fans of the aforementioned Firefly or Farscape, or fans of the space genre in general, and fans of just fun adventures with good characters.

I'm giving The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers 5 Stars

Monday, April 17, 2017

Mrs Queen Takes The Train: A Novel by William Kuhn

This was a strange but entertaining novel that fit in nicely with recent things like The Crown and Victoria that I had watched on Netflix and PBS, respectively. Somehow I had a different idea of what the book was about from reading the description, but I wasn't disappointed with what it turned out to be.

The unassuming title is a perfect fit for this unassuming, charming book. Basically, The Queen decides to pop down to The Mews unannounced to check on a favorite horse. She is waylaid on her way back to her office and decides to run a couple of errands.

I would say the book is more about the people who go looking for The Queen than about The Queen herself. There are interesting bits that are entertaining insights into who Queen Elizabeth II actually is, but we can't really know how accurate they are. It's more about these people, who are all kind of broken, who are trying to track down The Queen before the story gets out that she's missing.

If I hadn't recently watched The Crown and Victoria, I may have found this book less interesting. But, with those under my belt, I found Kuhn's representation of Elizabeth II believable enough to enjoy and was able to focus on the other characters.

There is a female groom at The Mews, who unknowingly provided Her Majesty a disguise and is better with horses than people.  A young man who wants to be a poet but currently works at a cheese shop accompanies The Queen for a time. An equerry who is suffering from his time in Iraq and usually arranges The Queen's transportation is the first to realize she is missing. A senior butler, who had embellished his name agrees to help the equerry keep it under wraps and assist in locating The Queen. The most senior of The Queen's dressers is alerted and has some idea of where The Queen may have gone because they tend to chat in the course of her duties. And finally, a lady in waiting who is in service to The Queen because she has no family to support her and must earn her own living, but her nephew may help with transportation and a place to stay during the search.

I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to fans of the British Royal Family and anyone looking for a charming book about a group of people thrown together by circumstance.

I am giving Mrs. Queen Takes The Train by William Kuhn 4 Stars

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Stardew Valley Part 4

I am a total hoarder when it comes to a game like Stardew Valley. Luckily, Stardew makes it easy to hoard and tends to reward you for it. For example, you check the help-wanted board in town and someone wants a melon, but if you’ve just sold your last one and there isn’t time to grow another before the end of the season, you are out of luck. But, if you have a chest built (or 6), you can save one or two of everything and then you’ll be able to quickly answer those calls for help from your fellow townspeople.

The great thing about chests is they are fairly cheap to craft (50 wood) and you can put one anywhere. Eventually, I put one right outside the mine so that I could store weapons and food items there in case I decided to mine at the spur of the moment. I can also empty my backpack into it before entering the mine so I don’t run out of space for all that ore and monster loot.

Speaking of backpacks, I know every site you see about Stardew Valley says it, but upgrade your backpack as soon as possible, it makes the game much more enjoyable. The second game I started reminded me of how much of a pain it was at first with the small backpack.

Speaking about things that are frustrating in Stardew Valley, let’s talk about fishing. Fishing was the thing that sent me to the internet to find videos and that’s when I found the wiki.

When you first try fishing, it seems tricky but you catch something pretty quickly. Subsequent times you try to fish, it feels impossible. You’re supposed to keep that fish in that tiny box? Impossible!

I kept thinking there was a trick I was missing. There wasn’t. So I definitely didn’t prioritize fishing. But here’s the thing, the more you fish the more you level up and then as you level up fishing becomes easier. So all you can do is keep plugging away at it. Eventually, you can get a better fishing pole and use bait and add bobbers. The box you have to keep the fish inside also gets bigger as you level up. So just keep fishing, just keep fishing…

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Stardew Valley Part 3

You can look on the bulletin board outside of Pierre’s market, there is a community calendar with birthdays and other events and there is a help-wanted board. People will post for help finding an item, or sometimes several of an item and if you bring it to them they will give you a cash reward and it usually helps your friendship level with them too.

One of the other things that happen early in the game is that Lewis, the mayor of your little town, shows you the run-down community center. There are some weird little things living in there and eventually, you find out that they want you to bring certain items to them and place them in bundles.

TIP: You can look at what items you need for community center bundles in the pause menu. I missed filling some of the spring and summer ones because I wasn’t paying attention to them at first and had to wait for those seasons to come around again.

If you need to find someone and forget where they live, the pause menu has a map which lists who lives at which house.

You can find items like berries, nuts, flowers and vegetables just lying around. One of the most lucrative places to forage is on the beach, especially after you repair the bridge to the tidepools. And keep your eye out for worms wriggling out of the ground (the game calls them stems). If you dig them up with your hoe, you’ll find items like artifacts, seeds or clay. Early in the game the worms can also mark where lost books are buried, when you dig them up they are magically whisked to the library and you can read them for gameplay tips, and sometimes Stardew Valley history. 


If you donate items to the museum you get rewards and don’t worry, you’ll find that item again. The only time to hesitate is if it also belongs in a community center bundle. Most of the random items are not worth much to sell, and no one really likes them as gifts. The only exception is the gems, but there are plenty of opportunities to find those, so don't hesitate to donate them.

There are many more parts of this game to talk about. Mining, fishing, and hoarding. This is a very deep game. Which is how I am over 100 hours in. I just started a second farm to get some screenshots for these blog posts, and now I want to try all the different farms. I also want to see how different the game is if you give in to the evil Joja corp and buy a membership. 

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Stardew Valley Part 2

The first thing you get to do in Stardew Valley is creating your farmer, dress them, change their hair and eye color, add an accessory. You can give them a name and you can also name your farm. You can also choose from several different types of farms. I picked the standard farm for the first game, but you can pick one with more rivers so you can fish more. There is also one that's on a mountain, which gives you less room for farming, but more chance to mine ores. There's also one with woods that allows you to forage right on your farm, but again less room to grow things. And finally, there's a farm where monsters come out at night if you really like killing monsters. 

Stardew Valley starts out with you inheriting your Grandfather’s farm in, where else? Stardew Valley. You are given a little cabin to live in and farmland to clear and plant. I like collecting things. I like going around and chopping down trees and I like the whole foraging thing.

There are I think something like 28 people to meet at the beginning of the game, as one of your first quests. I love how over the course of the year you start to learn about each of these characters. Like Animal Crossing, you can give gifts to characters. They can send you quests or items in the mail, but luckily, you don’t have to spend a lot of time writing letters. That was always my least favorite part of Animal Crossing. But there is a lot to figure out in the whole social/hearts system. Each person has certain gifts that they love to receive and some things that they hate. Apparently, there is a whole scoring system and you can lose friendship points by giving people a gift they don’t like. I eventually got myself to the official Stardew wiki to help me navigate the whole gift giving thing.

I feel like the wiki is almost a necessity at a certain point. Otherwise, you’re going to spend a lot of time taking notes. But who wants to reinvent the wheel? The wiki is full of useful information. Some of which you could figure out just from playing and maybe keeping notes, but some things I don’t know how I ever would have figured it out. 

Next time I will talk about Community Service, Foraging, and donating to the museum. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Stardew Valley Part 1

Stardew Valley (Part 1)

I had heard of Stardew Valley, but when I initially looked at it I had a mac and there was not a mac version, so I didn’t try it. A few months ago, I switched from mac to PC and then someone mentioned Stardew Valley again, and I realized I could play it now. So, I went to Steam and downloaded the game.

I am a fan of the Animal Crossing Games, and I think I had played Harvest Moon a bit on Nintendo 64 or maybe the GameCube. But, I have generally preferred Animal Crossing. I like simulation games in general, games like SimCity, Civilization and the like. I have not been as big a fan of the Social Farming/Simulation games like Farmville. I don’t like having to badger my friends or spend a lot of real money to progress in games.

Stardew Valley is nice because ultimately you can play it however you like to play. There is a story progression, but I feel like you really could just ignore that if you wanted. If you want to just farm and sell crops and craft things, you can do that. In fact, it’s very easy to spend whole days on your farm and never see the other townspeople. If you want to grow little or nothing and spend your day foraging, you can do that pretty easily too. If you want to explore the mines or fish and not do the other things, it’s easy to do that.

Eventually, you would feel like progressing the story if for no other reason than to unlock new parts of the map. There are some mysterious things that go on in Stardew Valley, and it’s very intriguing to unravel them.

Now that I have been playing for over 100 hours (!) I thought I would write a bit of a review and some of my tips in case you would also like to take up residence in Stardew Valley. For more in depth information you can refer to the official wiki  or purchase the Stardew Valley Guidebook . The Guidebook has some super cute art and is easy to reference while you play. 

Come back to learn about the beginning of the game and some of the people you will meet. 

But, basically, I have spent over 100 hours on this game. I would highly recommend it if you are a fan of farming games or simulation games. There are a lot of different aspects to keep you busy and to allow you to play the way you want to play. 

I would give Stardew Valley 5 Stars