Binge watching

While I enjoy listening to the piano live, I confess it’s one of my least favorite instruments to listen to in a recording. Despite this, for the last week I have been binge watching a Japanese anime called Forest of Piano on Netflix.

It’s a lovely little story about a piano prodigy, his friend–who is pressured by his father to compete with the prodigy–and the international Chopin piano competition held in Warsaw, Poland, every five years. There’s everything from single-parent families, parents putting their own desires on their children, good and bad reporters, and good and bad judges in the competition.

And, of course, there was a lot of piano playing. Especially Chopin.


Discovering authors via Kindle Unlimited

Not free, no. The Kindle Unlimited subscription cost USD$9.99 per month, and there are some months when you can’t find anything to read.

I have to say my break was fantastic. Although I’m already a week in to the new work year and it’s starting to feel same-old, same-old.

I did, literally, spend the first week of the break sleeping. I’d get up at 10 or 11 am, have an afternoon nap, and then go to be early. I didn’t realise quite how exhausted I was until the break.

I spent the second week reading.

Early in the pandemic I subscribed to Kindle Unlimited. It was supposed to be for three months, but here we are, two years in, and I still have the subscription.

The quality is hit and miss, and I’ve had dry periods, where I couldn’t find anything to read, or where the ideas were great but the writing was so bad that I couldn’t keep reading. The two things I have found with the unlimited subscription. I am more tolerant of the standard of writing when I’m not paying for the book (Even though I am, via the subscription, but it doesn’t feel like I am), and it’s hard to find good books.

I find it difficult to find books on Amazon anyway. To me, Amazon is the final step when you go to borrow/buy a book, it’s not an easy browsing platform. Most times I go in already looking for a book I want to buy.

There are places you can find books on Amazon—readers who read this book also looked at, best sellers, new releases, and so on—but I still find that unless I know what I’m looking for, it’s a lucky-dip. One thing that helps is recommendations of authors who read and like similar stories to those I read. In this post, I would like to talk about some authors that I have discovered through my reading, mostly on Kindle Unlimited (KU).

The stories/authors skew to the romance side, and to urban fantasy. I don’t know if that’s just what I’ve found so far. I have to say, as a result, I’m getting really picky about new urban fantasies. The two I mention below (Nash and Harper) were discovered early in my KU adventure. I don’t know how I’d feel if I was reading them for the first time now.

Where possible I’ll do book comps, rather than describe the story.

Also, whilst I discovered these stories trawling through Kindle Unlimited, not all the books are on the subscription, because another thing authors do is put in a $0.00 first novel, so you select it, and then buy the following novels. Also, these are $0.00 or Kindle Unlimited for me, they may not be in your country, so check before you download.

Kat Ross, Lingua Magika series

Has a similar feel to Charlaine Harris’ Gunny Rose books. Wild west, railroads, phantoms.

This is not Kindle Unlimited. The first book is $0.00, the next two cost. I liked it enough to pay for the second, and I have pre-ordered the third.

T. A. White, Dragon Ridden Chronicles

I mentioned this one is a quiz a few months back. Starts out as a classic fantasy—girl with a dragon tattoo which moves around and turns into a real dragon. Midway through the series you realise the bones of the story are science fiction.

Lindsay Buroker, Star Kingdom series

When I’m recommending this to friends I tell them it reminds me a lot of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan books. Some Vorkosigan fans may hate it, others may not even see the parallels.

Eight books in this series. I enjoy most of Buroker’s books. This series is science fiction, others are fantasy.

Vanesss Nelson, Ageless mysteries

I’m a sucker for SFF whodunnits. Protagonist is a policeman (policewoman) in a classic fantasy city that sits below a citadel populated with winged, powerful people who treat the city-siders like dirt. Police procedural with an interesting story about the protagonist’s past sitting behind it.

Three books so far, three more planned. I’m looking forward to reading the next one.

Helen Harper, Highland Magic series

Think of any of the classic urban fantasy series with a touch of whimsy. A bunch of thieves doing their (supposedly) last job. Includes a genie in a sword (a letter opener, really, but he’s only a small genie). Integrity tells terrible jokes, though.

Helen Harper has a number of series I like, although this is probably my favourite.

Ariana Nash, Shadows of London series

Another urban fantasy series (m/m). Tracking down illegal artefacts.

Quenby Olson, Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide (to the care and feeding of British dragons)

Pure regency romance. With a dragon. Pride and Prejudice crossed with the narrative style of Princess Bride.

This is one of only two stand-alone book on my list. I’ve found the Kindle Unlimited books tend to be series, rather than single stories. More so, I think, than traditionally published books, and the series are often longer. Eight books and more.

Light Raid, Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice

Young adult science fiction. Royalty, romance, spies and of the stories they coauthored, the one that feels most like Connie Willis. The light-hearted Willis, if her protagonists were younger.

The second stand-alone book. My favourite of the Felice/Willis cowritten stories.

Your mileage may vary

Obviously, one person’s taste may be another’s ‘blegh’, and I have to say that when I am paying for books I can be a lot more demanding of the book, especially when as the price increases.


Happy holidays

All the best for the festive season. I hope it’s a good one for you.

Me, I am looking forward to ten days leave. It’s been a long year, and it’s nice to have the break. I keep telling everyone all I’m going to do is sleep.

It’s quiet here at chez Dunstall. All the feline friends I wrote about last week deserted us as soon as school holidays started. 🙂

All the best.


Welcome to cat paradise

I have no idea how it happened, but we have suddenly become the trendy day-hangout for cats.

We don’t have cats ourselves. We’d love one, but Sherylyn has chronic allergic reactions to cat fur. If she visits friends who have cats the eyes run within about ten minutes and she gets a rash, all of which persist for days after the visit. So sadly, the last cat we’ve had in the house was Mum’s cat, Mercedes.

We all adored Mercedes, but when she was here, she used to love sleeping on Sherlyn’s bed. You can imagine how that went. Lots of antihistamines.

Anyway, like I say, no cats. Now we also have an established garden—let’s be honest, a beautiful crop of weeds—with mature trees. (Beautifully mown lawns, though. Thank you, James, 😊 you do good work.) It’s the suburban equivalent of old-growth forest, and like any old-growth forest supports a rich community of creatures. Birds, insects, little creatures.

Over the last ten years our neighbourhood has changed a lot. Houses have been knocked down and new ones built. Often the builder puts two separate dwellings on the one block. The owners have less land for gardens, and it’s all new growth. Most of our neighbours have cats, but there’s less garden for the cats to be in.

Oh, and did I say we’re on a weirdly-shaped block with about six houses abutting ours.

Not only that our back porch faces north-east and this time of the year it’s a beautiful, sunny spot until mid-afternoon. Plus, we have a lovely, cushioned chairs for sitting in.

It’s cat heaven.

At first it was only one cat. A tortoiseshell. She’s a hunter. She comes into the garden to stalk the wildlife. She’ll sit seemingly for hours watching the same patch of weeds.

Then a ginger-and-white cat started coming. He’s not a hunter. He sits on the lawn, king of all he surveys.

A couple of months ago a fluffy Burmese arrived. She’s a princess. She doesn’t hunt. She makes straight for the porch and the comfortable chair. She spends most of the day there.

Lastly, two weeks ago another Burmese arrived (from a different back yard). This is a young cat. He’s noisy, and he likes company. If there’s no other four-legged company when he arrives, he’s quite vocal about it.

All these cats keep school hours. We don’t see a whisker of them before 9am, nor after about 3pm.


Use it or lose it

When I first left home I could cook almost anything and I did. Want roast lamb, I’d turn it out beautifully, with perfectly cooked potatoes, pumpkin and beans alongside. With fresh, home-made gravy that was just right. Even mint sauce if it was a lamb roast. Cakes, too. I could whip up a lovely sponge or a cinnamon-sugar dusted teacake in seemingly no time. Moist Anzac biscuits (think oatmeal cookie) that melted in your mouth. As for pastry, I made my own pies and pasties, and everything from scratch.

Everything except steak, which for some reason I have never been able to cook well.

Use it or lose it, they say.

I ran out of frozen pastry sheets the other day (so useful), so I decided to make my own pastry. Not only did it take forever to do, it was so bad we scraped the pastry off our little egg and bacon pies and ate only the filling.

I can’t even cook eggs any more. I like my yolks runny but my whites cooked (over easy for a fried egg). Oh man. I can get hard whites and hard yolks, or runny whites and runny yolks. Ugh.

As for my roasts. The only way I get the potatoes to be ready at the same time as the meat is to microwave them first.

Too many years spent cooking quick meals or eating take away when you’re too tired to be bothered. Then along comes COVID, and curfews, and it’s harder to duck out and buy something so you start to cook again. And you realise how much skill you have lost.

The worst thing is, I’ve been ‘cooking’ again for two years now, and it’s not all coming back. I’m too slapdash now, not prepared to take care in preparations.

Not that I’m a bad, cook. I’m okay, but I’ve come to realise I am nowhere near as good as I used to be, and that’s because I stopped doing it for so long. It certainly makes me appreciate good cooks more.



My chatty AI is part of a grandiose, futuristic house

I am seized with a horrible desire to add a chatty AI house to the story we are currently writing. 60,000 words in and I want the house to talk to my protagonist.

It’s going to change the whole story. Worse, it will change the tone of the story and probably mean a massive rewrite.

I still want to do it.

First drafts are always exploratory, and they do change. We didn’t add Josune to Stars Uncharted until a later draft. Even so, adding Josune didn’t change the basic story.

My chatty AI will.

Decisions, decisions.

Outside of writing, I’ve been re-reading some of the Diana Wynne Jones books. Not so much the ones I read and reread in my earlier years like the Chrestomanci books, Howl’s Moving Castle and Dogsbody, but the ones I never read as often. Deep Secret, The Merlin Conspiracy and The House of Many Ways so far. I’m enjoying them.

These are her books for older children. There’s even a little romance in some of them. I don’t know if it’s true, but I always imagine that the age she was writing for increased as her children grew up, and then when her grandchildren started to get old enough to read, she started writing for them, because her later books were for younger readers again.

I used to think no-one, but no-one, could tell a story like Diana Wynne Jones.

Naturally, I’m wrong. DWJ is a grand master, of course, but there are plenty of good writers out there who tell stories in similar ways. A quick glance at my Kindle shows me Sage Blackwood’s Jinx, T. Kingfisher’s A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking, Sarah Prineas’ The Lost Books and Kari Maaren’s Weave a Circle Round, to name a few.


Black roads

Concrete trucks and other building deliveries do take up a lot of road, unfortunately.

I’ve discovered our house is on what builders call a black road.

Our house is around 50-60 years old now, and needs some major repairs done soon.  A new roof, new plumbing. We have a garage that will fall down when the next major wind blows though.  Plus a huge tree in the front yard that has one branch alive and the rest is totally dead that needs to be removed.  (We have to thank covid work restrictions for this. Otherwise we’d have been leaving the house in the dark and coming home in the dark and not really noticing that most of the tree didn’t have any leaves.)

That’s not even mentioning the interior, which hasn’t been painted for a long, long time, and our cream carpet isn’t exactly cream any more.

Here in Australia it’s as common to knock down your house and rebuild as it is to renovate.

“Let’s find out how the rebuild and renovate prices compare,” I suggest.  “At least we’ll know rough figures, then.”

So we go looking at houses to build. 

Ouch.  Prices have effectively doubled since we last thought about doing this.  I think I’m living in the past.

Then there’s the extras.  “You’re on a triangular block.  Our standard houses won’t fit, so we’ll have customise.”  Extra.  “You want a lift?”  Extra. (We were expecting that one, but we have old knees, and stairs are a problem for both of us.)

The biggest extra?  “You’re on a busy road.  We might not build in your street.  I’ll have to check.  Let me get back to you.”

One person outright said they wouldn’t do it.  Another said they would, but it would add costs.  At least $50,000 for traffic management.

The problem, apparently, is that on a busy road like ours there are restrictions on the hours that builders can block off the road for deliveries of materials. Most times you can block it off from 7:00am and go all day, but for a site like ours, it’s only 9:00am – 2:00pm.  This cuts into the hours you can organise things like concrete trucks, and delivery of building materials.

Compounding that problem, we’re on a T-junction, and if the builders block off the road, they need people manning stop signs on the main and side road while deliveries are happening.  All of it adds to the price. Who knew that traffic management would be a deciding factor in whether or not a builder would choose to build your house or not?


When the bad guy is not really bad

We are currently watching The Sleuth of Ming Dynasty. We’re up to episode twenty-eight, and all I have running through my mind is, please let Wang Zhi be a good guy. Please, please. He’s got to be.

Wang Zhi isn’t one of the two ‘true’ good guys in the story. When you first meet him he’s torturing someone. Not much later you see him threatening a fellow government official telling him that he knows the official accepted bribes and one wouldn’t want the emperor to hear about it.

Bad guy alert.

But Wang Zhi grows on you.

So much so that by episode twenty-eight, which is a bit over half-way through, I’ll be devastated if he turns out to be bad.

I’m not saying he’s a true good guy. He’s not. He’s scheming, manipulative and a whole lot more. He’s just … loyal, and I want him to stay loyal. I don’t want him to turn out to be working to overturn his boss. And I also want his boss—the emperor—to stay loyal to him and continue to trust him.

So far, Wang Zhi seem to be on the side of the other two protagonists. He’s giving them work, trusts one of them to do the job. But … I’m still worried the whole story will have this awful twist. Someone at Wang Zhi’s level or higher has to be involved the overall plot. Well, we already know for sure that some of them are, but I think we’re still missing one of the key players.

Putting on my reader’s hat now. As a reader, I love characters who seem bad but aren’t really. Not that Wang Zhi is bad so much as he is manipulative. But I also expect that the characters I like to be ultimately be ‘good’. And I like Wang Zhi. There’s a point of no return in a story where if a character turns bad after you have truly become invested in him, it doesn’t work.

A perfect example of this is Anakin Skywalker. (Or maybe not so perfect, but an example, anyway.) Enough said.

I love stories where you don’t see the end coming. Stories that are so logical that after the twist, you say, “Of course, this is so obvious.” Having said that, however, if it’s a character I love who turns out to be evil then that twist has to be spectacularly good to overcome that betrayal I feel.

A reader wants to finish a story feeling satisfied, not betrayed.


Tax time already

31 October is tax-crunch time here in Australia. It’s the final date to lodge your tax return if you’re doing it yourself. (Unless you take it to an accountant, who can get an extension to May.)

I’m not one of those people who lodge early. I leave it to the last minute, which usually means I’m frantically gathering receipts and bank statements around now.

The whole of the 2021-22 tax year was impacted by COVID-19. Looking at my bank statements there were only about three places I spent any money. One of them was the 7-Eleven next door to my place. It was somewhat shocking to realise that the bulk of the money I spent over that 12 months was at the 7-Eleven.

I have to do better this year.


Serial quiz answers

So, finally, the answers to the quiz on our last post. Congratulations, between you, you got all five.

Series 1

Protagonist ‘finds’ lost things. He started off looking for a spaceship, but he’s really worried about the bike stole from his cousin and used to run away to space when he (protag, not the cousin) was sixteen. In book three, he’s looking for lost sheep.

Our protagonist here is Fergus Ferguson, of Suzanne Palmer’s Finder Chronicles. The third book, The Scavenger Door, came out on 17 August and guess what I was doing the night of the 17th. Our type of book, a rollicking space opera with lots of action, alien mods and great characters.

Highly recommended.

Series 2

Progatonist can’t remember much about her past before the pirates picked her up. All she knows is that she has a dragon tattoo that moves around her body.

The protagonist here is Tate, from T. A. White’s Dragon Ridden Chronicles. It reads as a fantasy, but its bones are science fiction, set in a world that has forgotten its origins.

The first book was published in 2012. Book 5, Where Dragons Collide, came out in July of this year.

I enjoyed the Dragon Ridden books, but I love more another of T. A. White’s series, and that’s her Firebird Chronicles. It’s A space opera, three books so far, and there’s a fourth to come, I hope. If you like Suzanne Palmer’s Finder Chronicles and, dare I compare, Ilona Andrews Sweep of the Blade, you’ll might enjoy the Firebird Chronicles as well.

Series 3 (sort of)

Our protagonist can pick out things about what happens when a person dies. He’s used in cases where someone is murdered but they don’t know who committed the crime. This time he’s looking to find what happened to a young elven woman who was thrown into the river. Politics and murder at a leisurely pace.

A couple of people picked this one out. The protagonist here is Thara Celehar, and the book is Katherine Addison’s Witness for the Dead, which is the second book set in the world of the Goblin Emperor. I enjoyed the book—love all of Sarah Monette’s (aka Katherine Addison’s books). Not as much as I loved The Goblin Emperor, but that book is a hard act to follow, because I loved, loved, loved that book.

Series 4

Harry Potter meets the Hunger Games in this coming-of-age boarding school story, where students are dumped in a boarding school and they survive, or don’t.

Easy book this one. Naomi Novik’s The Last Graduate, from her Scholomance series. This one came out last Tuesday, and I held off reading it during the work week (especially after my August 17 readathon). I cracked it open first thing after work on Friday and kept reading till I finished it.

I thought it was a two-book series—after all this is their graduate year—but after that ending there had better be a third. That’s all I can say.

Series 5

Our protagonist returns to the village of his birth, having failed out of university, already infamous because of his father’s betrayal in the army, and gets dragged into capers with his best friend. A light-hearted historical series where two young men solve magical mysteries, all based around a theme of food.

The protagonist here is Jemis Greenwing, of Victoria Goddard’s Greenwing and Dart series.

I confess it took time to get into this series. I bought Stargazy Pie, the first book, a couple of years ago but I didn’t finish it at the time. Another book of hers, The Hands of the Emperor, caught my eye recently. I read that, then the follow-on book which had just come out and looked around for other books of hers to read. Turned out I already had Stargazye Pie, so I gave that a go, enjoyed it enough to read the next, and then went though the rest. I don’t know if I just got to know the characters better, or if the storyline appealed more as it went on but I really enjoyed book five, and hope she’ll do a book six.

Thanks for participating. Hope you enjoyed the quiz.