Dahlia in Bloom

Of late, I’ve found myself in that odd spot of reading a series where I think, maybe I should switch series or nah, give it a few weeks and I’ll be caught up πŸ˜„. Last night as I started volume 8 of Dahlia in Bloom, and I’m reminded that it’s going to be a while. Based on Wikipedia, I believe that volume 9 was released in Japan back in December, so it will probably be summer time by the time an English translation lands.

I’ve really enjoyed the series so far, perhaps because in many ways: it’s protagonist and I have similar natures. Dahlia’s antics as a craftswoman and a certain joy in cooking, are things I’m rather able to relate to and the series makes for a good slice of life. The side thoughts of both Dahlia and Volf also remind me of the experience of first love, which sprinkles a nice touch on the romance side-plot that just makes you want to root for the lead characters, and sigh with the supporting cast.

In volume 1, the story begins with Dahlia Rossetti about to move into a new house the day before her wedding. Only, as it turns out her fiancΓ©, Tobias, has suddenly found “True love” with another woman and leaves Dahlia holding the bag as it were. The out pouring of friendship and support from those around Dahlia is wonderful, and quickly snowballs into the craftswoman forming her own trading company to support both herself and the development of new magical tools. It’s a big leap, but she resolves to hold her head up high and follow her dreams as a magical toolmaker even if that means becoming chairwoman of the Rossetti Trading Company.

When she encounters Sir Volfied, crawling out of the forest battered and bloody from being carried off by a wyvern it isn’t long before the chance encounter with Volf and Dahlia’s own nature, brings her into doing business with knights of the Order of Beast Hunters at the castle. At first, Dahlia is merely trying to use her talents to make Volf’s expeditions with the beast hunters easier. But of course between Dahlia’s ingenious crafting and Volf’s unexpected salesmenship, business is soon booming. Dahlia’s desire to bring people happiness through her magical toolmaking, soon finds her products in demand with both the knights at the castle, and with commoners and nobles alike.

Along the way, there are many bits of amusement and slice of life joy. Volf becomes a frequent dinner guest at the tower that Dahlia calls home and workshop, soon coining the name, “Green Tower Diner” and wishing she would open a restaurant — good food and drink abound. Not to mention the experiments in trying to produce a magical sword, which range from the mildly terrifying Sword of the Dark Lord’s Minion and the unnerving “Creeping Sword” all the way to the Galeforce Blades when you combine the insanity of a knight and a magical toolmaker πŸ˜….

The story takes itself mostly seriously, but like any good series: isn’t afraid to take itself humorously either. I especially enjoyed that when Dahlia is called to the castle to advise the knights on stamping out athlete’s foot amongst the order of beast hunters, she finally looses her cool when the senior knights are about ready to chop off their legs and have the temple regrow them and she’s just trying to convince them to properly clean their bath mats. And of course there’s what happens when Volf implies that if her father had the condition and she knows so much about controlling the infection, surely she must have shared the knight’s plight as a young woman. The reaction of the senior knights is awesome, and quite frankly the artist’s rendition of the look on Dahlia’s face is kind of priceless! The issue of course tends to pop up from time to time, with one of the nick names chairwoman Rossetti has received being “The goddess of athletes foot” once youngsters shorten out the part about eliminating it, lolololololol.

For bonus points, each volume ends with an epilogue about Dahlia and her late father, Carlo. Often relating to some magical tool they worked on in her youth and revealing aspects behind the curtain that are flashed back from the old man’s point of view. Ranging from great amusements like Dahlia trying to create a hair dryer as a child and accidentally creating a flamethrower, or having to dismantle a prototype kotatsu because her father was treating it like a turtle carrying its shell around. Likewise, plot points beyond that abound. See, Carlo Rossetti had a plan to support his daughter Dahlia even after he was gone to his early grave. In part of this, we have the running gag of sorts first brought up by the vice-guild master of the merchant’s guild in volume 1, and well, you’ll just have to read the book if you want to know more 😝

What I’ve been reading in 2023

Following up from 2023 in books, where I focused on what the changes to my reading habits did to the statistics, this journal entry is more about what I’ve been reading. In particular, those I consider most worth mentioning 😁.

Best books I’ve read in 2023

The number one best book I’ve read this year, is definitely part one of the Dark Lord of the Farmstead. It’s a relatively wholesome and romantic story that tugs at the ol’ heartstrings while making you laugh. I literally binge read it in like two nights or something. I laughed a lot, smiled a lot, and it almost made me cry. It was great.

The next best book that I’ve read is arguably Holdouts, or part two of The Vixen War Bride Series. In part two, we see the paths of our hero and heroine cross and intersect wonderfully as “Maybe it’ll be peaceful” turns into the opportunity for a tragedy. What made this the best in the series for me, is Ramirez and Alzoria. These are both supporting characters whose capture kicks the story into gear for the main characters, and quite frankly I love that Ramirez is very much true to himself no matter the situation they find themselves in. Part two is his moment to shine.

Honorable mention also goes to Dead Tired, which made me laugh so much that if I would include it under “Best books …” if I had the inclination to pick a third best book and somehow didn’t pick another from The Vixen War Bride series. Dead Tired isn’t likely to be the most memorable book ever, but I laughed a lot and I appreciate the main character’s sense of humor. Therefore, it was one of the best books I’ve read this year because I rolled on the floor laughing my ass off (^_^).

Best series I’ve read in 2023

Definitely The Vixen War Bride series. When I came across the series in search of fresh books to read, I figured it could be an interesting read. Well, I ended up binge reading most of the books in the series. The author seems to be more well versed in American military history than most, with nods both to occupied Japan and Afghanistan. I found the characters most often the best part of the entire story. I absolutely loved the comedy caused by cultural misunderstandings and that the Va’Shen world isn’t quite like ours. As a story, there are plenty of opportunities for the plot to go in different ways and above all, I think how it plays out is based on the notion that we can indeed get along if we try to understand each other rather than fear the differences or feed our hate.

Plus, if my spirit animal was an alien fox woman: it would definitely be Sho’Nan — my favorite character. The sassy chef is one of the heroines closest friends and a rather unique personality, one that we don’t tend to see often enough in literature IMHO. Now, go read the series, shoo, shoo πŸ˜›

Most binged series I’ve started in 2023

I’ve ended up reading quite a few light novels, between my existing taste in isekai anime and fantasy I suppose that was natural. But the series that I binged the hardest on this year was The Strange Adventure of a Broke Mercenary.

After his mercenary outfit is wiped out, Lorin finds himself becoming an adventurer and, as a side effect of being a decent guy placed in a horrible situation when his temporary party is wiped out by goblins, ends up indebted to the demonic priest Lapis. The misadventures of Lorin and Lapis are so entertaining that I basically binge read every volume I could get my hands on, and I quite enjoyed the colorful characters as well as the antics they get involved in.

The print version of volume 9 is expected in June, which means I’ll likely be groaning until at least then, wanting the Kindle version to receive a release target date.

Series I’m most looking forward to continue in 2024

There are plenty of series that I’ve been reading over the past couple years as new volumes are released or as I cycle back and return to reading the next volume. But aside from the most binged series above 😁, there’s a few that I’ve started this year and look forward to continuing in the new year. But one of these stands out a bit higher than the rest.

The Calamitous Bob was a book that I had bought, started the first few chapters, and drifted off for some months. When I came back to it again and actually started to read it, I found its whacky sense of humor grew on me. Viviane ends up in an undead holocaust zone after her soul is transmuted into another world, thanks to a deity who cheated on his goddess and needed to find another world to hide in until the rage passes.

So we end up with poor Viv, stuck in the relic of a long dead empire with barely the hair on her head and undead horrors lumbering all about the destroyed imperial city. If she doesn’t find water, she’ll die. If she doesn’t find a way out of the dead zone, she’ll die. There’s a lot of problems to overcome. Combine this with an experimental strike Golem who christens her the last heir to the empire to subvert his programming to save them both, and the pronunciation problems of a language that doesn’t have sounds for “Vivienne”, she becomes the Princess Bob and sets out across the dead lands in search of survival and a means to heal her injured soul.

Did I mention that she tames a young dragon and becomes a mage specializing in black mana? Yep. From a French combat medic to the unexpected leader of a city state bordering the dead lands, it’s a wild, whacky, and amusing adventure well suited to the long form serial. I’m also pretty sure the author is a little crazy, but the story makes me go squeee.

Most likely, I’ll be starting both part 3 of Dark Lord of the Farmstead and book 4 of The Calamitous Bob before the year is out, but may not finish them until January. Perhaps also Dead Tired II, which was just released. Hmm.

2023 in books

Since November, I’ve been loosely tracking my Kindle reading based on three metrics: books purchased, read, and started. Partly, because I’ve wanted to see how my habits changing has influenced my reading.

This year’s goal, has been read a little something every day; for which reading insights currently gives me a street of 351 days in a row of reading since January, which isn’t too shabby on the 364th day of the year; I’ve missed one day since 2023-01-01 according the insights, thus the streak count.

Amazon’s reading insights view, shows me has having read 67 titles this year and my spreadsheet has 64. I’ll probably finish another book or two before January 1st. Last year when I started reading a little something every day, Amazon shows me as having read 44 titles in 2022, which is way up from a few years prior.

Here’s the summary from Reading Insights:

  • 2023 -> 67 titles read
  • 2022 -> 44 titles read
  • 2021 -> 7 titles read
  • 2020 -> 5 titles read
  • 2019 -> 10 titles read

As you can see, the change from reading whenever it crosses my mind to always read something, has made a significant impact upon my reading habits in terms of how many books I finish reading.

Part of what has fueled this has been another change in my habits. Classically, I was a sequential reader. I would read one book from start to finish before moving onto the next, and I still often do when it’s particularly enjoyable. But this year and last, I have tried having a small handful of books to switch between as I care. I might read a few chapters of one then another, or I might read one for a few nights and then switch to another book. I find that this has removed the bottleneck that sometimes, there will be a lull in reading because I don’t feel like reading that right now.

Amazon’s insights do not track books that I’ve started reading but never finished. My spreadsheet tries to, which gives me 15 books, one of which is likely to be finished by the end of the year. That goes to show that there are books, that sometimes fall off my multi-book reading habit and some that I just lose interest in. Looking at the list of started but not finished, a large portion are whatever volume I left off at in some long running serial.

Which brings me to the topic of what I’ve been reading, but I think that will be a subject for a separate journal entry, as this one is getting rather lengthly.

One more number for the statistics before I go: the number of books purchased. There’s two points of value there, one is how much I’ve spent on books, which frankly I refuse to do the math. Between Kindle Rewards Beta and my credit card’s rewards points, it would be a chore to compute and honestly I’ll leave it at my wild estimate, and say it’s likely the most I’ve spent on books since I ran out of bookshelves as a teenager :P.

The other point of value, i.e., my reason for recording this stat: is how many books did I buy, but never read? And how many books did I buy but never finish? That third metric is necessary to use the former two to answer those questions.

My spreadsheet shows me 106 books purchased, which is at least one out of date because I didn’t notice a pre-order landing two weeks ago. And I’ve kinda stopped noting pre-orders on the spread sheet, because the remaining ones are all due next year.

  • Books purchased: 106
  • Books read: 64 (spreadsheet), 67 (reading insights)
  • Books started: 15

From this I can tell that when I’ve bought a book this year, there was about a 60% to 65% chance that I went on to finish reading it. Not great, not terrible, unless you’ve ever seen my Netflix watchlist :P. Now combine the books started: there was a 75% to 78% chance that I started reading a book that I purchased instead of it getting lost in my library view.

Scanning at the list, something that makes it less concerning is the contents of that list. Yes, there are some books that I started reading and just lost interest in. But most of the started and didn’t finish? These are mostly volume ‘n’ of some long running serial, some epic that takes longer than a trilogy or two to read, and the occasional non-fiction that’s less a read it cover to cover and more a read chapters you care about.

But let’s save that for the next entry ^_^.

New record or maybe just another notch

The real problem with reading at night, is sometimes you read for a few minutes and fall asleep and sometimes you read a 235 page book in one sitting and realize you forgot to sleep πŸ˜…

Books are like a queue

Remind me, to never go looking at the suggested reading. Especially when I’ve worked through most of my immediate reading set :-/.

Perhaps it’s actually worse with the Kindle Rewards Beta program. In the sense, that I had enough rewards that one of the books I’ve added to my queue was almost free, and the others, well, just half refilled my rewards points ^_^.

One of my little side projects, has been building a spreadsheet of books that I’ve bought, read, or started this year. Reading Insights shows I’m about 25 pages away from having read 60 books this year, which is one off from my spreadsheet. Somewhat scarier may be how fast my queue drains, especially when stumbling onto a series that I enjoy, since books are rarely one off.

I’m not sure how much detail I’ll add to my journal when I get to the year end version of my spreadsheet. But so far, I find it interesting. For every 3 books that I’ve bought this year (including pre-orders from last year that released this year), on average I’ve read 2 of them. Of those I haven’t finished, half I started to read. Most of those unfinished books are entries in long-running series that I will likely cycle back to between now and this coming summer, and a few are more specialized; epics you don’t read quickly and informational books you read most of but don’t always care to finish.

In the long run though, I want to take a year end review of my reading for 2023. Both to see how my goals of reading something every day has affected my habits, and because I’m curious to see how the higher influx of serialized fiction has had an effect. The thing that I refuse to put in the spreadsheet however, is how much I’ve spent on books this year…lol

A most satisfying conclusion

Last night, I almost finished reading The Dark Ones and was very tempted to just skip sleeping in order to finish it in one sitting. This afternoon/evening, I managed to finish it.

The conclusion to The Vixen War Bride series is a very satisfying one, and I almost busted a gut laughing my ass off in the middle of the finale’s finale. Coincidentally, book two in the series is one of the best books I’ve read all year, but that’s the subject of a later journal entry.

During the series, it’s suggestively hinted more and more that the humans are not the “Dark Ones” that the Va’Shen believed them to be, and in the final entry, of course the dark ones actually show up! The prologue with the Neil Armstrong was superb, but much of novel deals with the resulting fall out as the Dark Ones make landfall. As human forces gather to counter an unknown enemy that’s been making like a hot knife through butter, our hero Ben is effectively left with his finger in the dam when his Rangers are tasked with channeling the ancient Spartans at Thermopylae to buy the combined joint task force the hours needed to gather their forces.

But far, far better than this is the aftermath of it all. See, our poor hero, Ben was supposed to be separating from the army as part of Reduction In Force, i.e., too many bodies, war is over, you’re done pal. When the Dark Ones show up and refugees start streaming into the village, that goes out the window, since no one is going anywhere until the Over the Rainbow arrives. After waking up in the hospital, Ben finds himself in the unique position of having somehow survived but still getting crapped on by red tape. The situation was so dire that Rangers and Va’Shen commando ended up fighting side by side, and our hero may have managed to experience what it’s like to be fed through an alien nutcracker and bombed off the map but there is always red tape.

Fortuitously, Alacea his native wife and our heroine, has her own role in the finale. Seriously, part of the woman’s job is to argue her community’s case before the Va’shen’s gods — the Va’Sh imperial court and the CJTF’s general ain’t gonna win that argument (^_^).

The imperial official’s internal thoughts, are especially hilarious during the meeting between the emperor’s representative and the human general, and it is a beautiful twisting of Va’Shen honor and their saving face that has caused the emperor to declare Ben a Va’Sh citizen and other virtues for having Just Saved All Their Asses. Which leads to Ben also having to export a certain general officer who May Have Fucked Up Big Time ™ into letting him be out processed there on Va’Sh, saving the U.S. government the few billion dollars it would take too ship him home for the rubber stamping only for Ben to have to fight his way back to Va’Sh and Alacea.

Sho’Nan, the sassy chef, “The one who feeds,” continues to be her awesome self when Ben Gibson returns the village and needs to speak to the chieftain Kasshas and the Na’Sha Alacea about joining the community, and Sho’Nan introduces him to the whole council as some vagrant who can’t even speak properly 🀣. Without a doubt, Sho’Nan is my favorite character throughout the series along with John Ramirez, perhaps the two single most entertaining goons, I mean, supporting characters, in the entire series!

Needless to say, things get crazy when Ben comes before the council and Alacea looses her shit in excitement at her husband’s return, but we are treated to a superb finish as the two are finally reunited. It’s one of the more satisfying endings I’ve read to a sci-fi series.

The Vixen War Bride

When you say screw it and decide to buy the remaining books in a series as you near the end of middle novel, I think this could be defined as a successful novel on the author’s part, or at least evidence of being well entertained by it.

A while back, one of my Kindle’s suggestions for what to read next was book one of The Vixen War Bride by Thomas Doscher. Having a bit of rewards piled up and it sounding like it could be worth a read, I decided to check it out. There went a night’s sleep, lol. The Vixen War Bride is full of amusing cross cultural misunderstandings and people who are trying to do the right thing even if it’s hard to communicate that to the other.

Ben’s forces come from a period where armed security drones making like flying monkeys and optics that can turn night into day, are simply old hat and have been for centuries. Then they get shipped off to an occupied alien planet where the background level of electromagnetic interference is so strong that they may as well be dressed in uniforms from 1942 πŸ˜…. Life is surely sad when someone has to switch from computer all the things to a Mark I Pencil, but that pales in comparison to the problem of understanding the locals and vice versa. The exchange of weapons of mass destruction between the aliens destroying the American’s colony with an asteroid and several nuclear strikes on the alien home world, surely did not endear either side to the other before the war’s end. Ben and most of his troops come from our destroyed colony, and given the enemies skill for slitting throats in the night and the Va’Shen’s horrific sci-fi weapons, it’s little surprise that most sectors have at best an uneasy relationship with the local population.

Alacea’s village is deserted and the chieftain is giving the Ben’s folk the run around. Fearing that the vicious, cruel, baby eating monsters from outer space will destroy the village in punishment for the war, the community has fled into the hills leaving only a few behind that are too old to make the long journey to shelter. When the Alacea barrels into town to face the dark ones according to their custom, she literally sets off a storm. In their culture, the head priestess is responsible to the community and arguing their position before their gods. If your Na’Sha guides her community and argues well when entering the afterlife, she may make it to the glade and her people be blessed with good fortune, or if her community is not righteous, sacrifice themself to an eternity in the frosts beyond and pray the gods be merciful in the hardships set upon their community to set them back on the right path. It’s into such a culture that paths cross.

It doesn’t take very long before cross cultural communication to rear its head and begin the snowball effect. Alacea’s confession to war crimes against humanity is quickly understood to be full of shit, but she’s the only one who will both talk to the Dark Ones and knows where the villagers are hiding. Deciding maybe-pissed-off villagers down the road are better than angry ambushes out of know where, Ben wants them to come home and live normally. Sadly, the Va’Shen language is virtually unknown and they are just lucky to have an interpreter along that can “Kind of” speak the language. Convincing Alacea that Ben’s people won’t destroy the village or kill them all in a rage is virtually impossible, and convincing her to help them is hard to do when your terp can barely speak the same language herself.

Thanks to a mix up in translation and very different social histories this results in Ben and Alacea’s sudden marriage! Not quite the help the terp was trying to ask for, lol.

For one whose culture sees marriage and divorce as but a post card in the mailbox, and one whose culture sees marriage integral to every part of their society, it’s quite the mix up. But it’s one full of story potential.

For Alacea, it’s a chance to secure her community’s safety from the dark ones and direct the dark one’s anger away from her people. For Ben, it’s a chance to avoid hundreds of angry villagers wiping his company off the map before the army knows they’ve even been hit. Somewhere in the middle, the truth is it’s a great opportunity for peace and understanding, if they don’t kill each other first.

By the Va’Shen customs, marriage is forever and taking the head priestess as a bride is an old way for a conquering overlord to dominate a village, but by extension her community becomes his and due some measure of protection. But how can some alien from Earth know their ways? Everyone in Pelle expects such cruelty and horror from the humans that few Va’Shen believe their Na’Sha’s sacrifice will protect them. By human customs a few hundred years into the future, divorce rates are over 80% and far less eternal than anything known on the alien world. A world so foreign yet familiar, that flashlights are a water jar full of rocks that grow when wet and sound-reactive crops can rot if you fly loud helicopters overhead.

The journey to where the villagers of Pelle are hiding and their return home sets the tone well. I especially loved how the discussion of how Alacea can be sure Ben won’t harm her village and that she will kill him if he does betray her plays out. Seeing that she’s unlikely to succeed in it but will make it her dedicated mission in life if that comes to pass, Ben hands her his Ka-Bar and tells her if he breaks his promise not to harm her people, she can use that knife to kill him for it. Likewise, the brawl between Ramirez and an angry young farm hand that turns into a friendly exhibition while folks were discussing peaceful terms, that then snowballs into Alacea and Yasuno yelling at tod for his stupidity until the Ranger feels bad for the guy, was just freaking hilarious and well executed.

By the second book, Holdouts, the antics of SSgt Ramirez and huntress Alzoria seriously had me laughing my ass off and made it quite the binge read. Both Ben and Alacea’s own antics end up intersecting and making it quite a story. It was great, best book in the series so far. By the end of the third book, Uncivil Affairs, both main characters now know the embarrassing truth of how their marriage occurred and have stirred up a storm. I’ve been entertained well enough that towards the end, I had to exercise Amazon’s button for buying the remaining books in the series thus far.

I love stories that turn the expected on its head and that build upon the characters and situations. Good science fiction rarely has anything to do with science directly, so much as the technology is a backdrop that enables the story.

Reading nooks and kindles

Well, it looks like at 10% off on the most expensive of my short term projects, means I’ll be experimenting with a planned lifestyle shift: having a dedicated reading spot. That, or a chair that proves suitably uncomfortable enough to be repurposed elsewhere, lol.

I’ve done well with my goal to read a little bit every day. Typically, this works out as being before bed. Working off the same concept as why you shouldn’t use a laptop in bed because of its effects on your sleep, I’ve for a while now, thought about having a dedicated place to read. My vision for the next phase of bedroom development is a pair of bookshelves, a chair, and maybe a comfortable rug to help zone it off from the rest of the room. The dogs bequeathed me enough blankets not to have to worry about details, and a place to rest a book and a drink is easily solved.

My theory is that it would be better to sit and read, put up my kindle for the night, and then cross the room and crash into bed than it is to toss and turn alight with a kindle in hand. How well this works in practice, I think will depend on a suitably cozy place. It’s also a better incentive to read earlier and not stay up so late.

And of course there’s the issue of shelving. Most of my books are still in the garage, as I opted to convert my old shelves (about 15 and 25 years old, respectively, or older) into storage shelving in the garage, leaving me with know place to store them other than how I packed them. Bookshelves are cheap though, so that’s less a concern. The downside of sorts is that Really Cheap shelves are now better than my old shelves for weight capacity without falling apart, and are almost cheap enough to turn the spare room into a library by papering the walls with bookshelves. I must resist this temptation.

In cleaning out my patio’s storage unit, there was this one box that I just wondered what the heck was due to the unexpected heft of it. Much to my surprise it was full of some of my mother’s books.

After wondering just how many copies of the holy bible did we have, I was both surprised and amused to find her copy of Lady Chattery’s Lover (1928, D.H. Lawrence) mixed in along with a couple less controversial novels like Hotel (1965, Arthur Hailey) and Cleopatra (1937, Emil Ludwig). Not sure how to feel about the combination, but let’s be fair, while far less explicit the Bible probably has as much sex in it as Lady Chattery, if not more πŸ˜‚.

Being the odd family, my grandfather had recommended it to her in high school and in turn she had recommended it to me in high school as a book she had enjoyed. Reminds me that I never did get around to scratching it off my reading list, lol.