Book Reviews

Fantasy, LeGuin, and Miscellany

I just heard the news that Ursula K. LeGuin died, and I am saddened beyond belief.  I think, like with Elie Wiesel, that I will need a while to gather my thoughts.  Right now, all I can think of is the books she wrote that I would recommend someone read, and it turns out that it’s all of them.  But she meant so much more to me than her literature, and to express that I will need time.

If you can get a copy, though, the one that sticks with me hardest today is her fake Ethnography of the Kesh people in post-nuclear California: Always Coming Home.  It’s a beautiful, odd, and terrifying thing that doesn’t read dystopic at all.  And of course you already know of the Earthsea series and The Left Hand of Darkness.

I have been trying to figure out a way to keep myself from going insane with boredom with nothing to do all day but hold a small boy, and I’ve been reading odd fantasy books: Maggie Stiefvater’s All The Crooked Saints (I cannot tell if I like this book or not because it was a hard one to love and yet it was so BEAUTIFULLY written…); Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor (where she does everything they tell you not to do in a novel and it still ended up claiming me completely); and Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin (the best thing I’ve read since Uprooted last year, and the first thing I’ve been head over heels for since Robin McKinley’s latest). It feels good to contemplate other worlds, and I think I’ll continue.

I have been reading the books out loud to the baby when he’s awake, and I’m sure he’s thoroughly confused now since he gets only snippets of whatever passage I’m on when he happens to have his eyes open.  I’ll warrant that he’s getting a pretty good vocabulary, though.  And a knowledge of his people, since his big eyes and pointed chin have me half-convinced he’s a Fairy himself.  Or maybe just a changeling.

It might just be a coincidence in timing (or his elfin heritage), but Fantasy books seem to have him sleeping better at night.  He’s been letting us sleep a solid 4 hours at a time most evenings, and even a 6 hour stretch every once in a while.  I never thought 4 hours of sleep would sound luxurious, but it does.

I have also stopped doing strange things in my sleep now that he’s sleeping longer.  So far I have woken Brian up twice to ask him to take the baby when the baby had already been sleeping in his bassinet for at least an hour.  And then there was the evening where I tried to convince Brian that I was feeding the baby right now, when the kid was actually in Brian’s arms and yelling at me about not being quick enough with the midnight snack.  Parenthood is mostly a comedy of errors, I’m finding.  But at least it’s a comedy…

Next on the reading list is probably Ellen Kushner’s Thomas the Rhymer.  But maybe I’ll get out some of my old LeGuin instead.  It’s been ages since I’ve read The Tombs of Atuan, or Voices – two I have read countless times in the past because they’re my favorites.

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Anne of Green Gables Read Along

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When the L. M. Montgomery institute called for blog entries for their Anne Read-Along this year, I knew I had to be involved.  Anne has been a major part of life from adolescence onward, and I surely would not have found Emily, Rilla, or Valancy without her.   All four girls have shaped my life in innumerable ways.  Anne is the gateway drug to all of it; the crux; where most of us start.

They gave me a hard chapter.  It’s short and not a lot happens.  It took me a while to think about it, but when it was all done I was really proud of what I had come up with: https://www.lmmontgomery.ca/anne-green-gables-read-long-chapter-iii-marilla-cuthbert-surprised  

I can’t wait to see what everyone else does for their chapter.  Reading the other blog entries has already made me see things in the books that I hadn’t before.  Happy reading along.

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2017 Reading List – So Far

Oh man…

I’ve been trying to blog.  Really I have.  There are a million half-finished things on my computer just waiting for the internet.  For some reason, though, I just couldn’t seem to finish anything.

I started a new job about a month ago, my responsibilities much more low-key than the old one.  I didn’t realize how much stress I was under at the old until I wasn’t under it anymore.  I feel like I’ve been handed my life back.  And not just my life, but my pregnancy.  I get to enjoy this time now, instead of being worried that I didn’t quite catch everything I should have, cycling through to-do lists as I try to sleep through baby kicks.

All this is basically to say that I’m terribly behind on this thing.  And I’m so behind that I don’t even really know how behind I am.  The students are talking about returning. I haven’t posted the things I’ve read last semester, let alone over the summer.  All my posts on the baby are super-outdated now.  Everything is a mess.

I’m going to start with the easy thing, which is the reading list this year.  I don’t remember where I left off, so I’m just going to give you the books I’ve read since January 1st, and a quick blurb on what I thought of them.  We’ll worry about the rest of stuff next week.

For those keeping count, I’ve passed the half-way mark until I meet this kid in person, and we’ve reached the first viability marker too.  If he was born today, he has a 1/3 chance of surviving.  Admittedly not great, but at least he has a chance (and so far there’s no evidence he’s not staying baked for a while). He’s still moving around like crazy, but he’s lumping up on my left for some reason, tucking himself in there hard.  Not a big deal until I try and get up to pee in the middle of the night and fall over sideways in my delirious state…  He’s doing well – measuring in the middle of everything like he should.

Alright, here’s the 1st half of 2017 Reading List.  Beware: it’s mostly baby, self-help, and romance.  What can I say?  I’ve needed that comfort reading.

  1. Grin and Beard It, Penny Reid – I love this series by Penny Reid, and this is my second read of it since I found it last year.  A+ for all of it.  The newest book is coming out soon, and I’m so excited.
  2. Beauty and the Mustache, Penny Reid – Part of the same series, and great.
  3. Truth or Beard, Penny Reid – Which could really be said for ALL of these books
  4. The Cold Eye, Laura Anne Gilman – You know, I felt like this book didn’t quite live up to the promise that was the first book.  But I still loved it, and will buy the 3rd as soon as it comes out.  The concept is just too perfect, and Gilman handles it so well.
  5. Beard Science, Penny Reid – More beard books are coming out soon, but not fast enough for me, ever.
  6. Friends with Benefits, Penny Reid – The entire Knitting In the City series is completely unlikely, and hard to buy, this one is no exception.  Despite that, though, it’s kinda fun.  Wouldn’t call it my favorite, but solid if you’re in a dry spell.
  7. Daring Greatly, Brene Brown – Another re-read.  I LOVE Brene Brown.  Her books make me feel okay about being flawed, and that I’m on the right path to connection at least.
  8. Seven Minutes in Heaven, Eloisa James – I was a bit worried about this one, since it supposedly contains a kidnapping.  But it doesn’t really – I should have trusted James completely.  And it was GOOD.  Some of the best of James’ work, which is saying a lot since I love everything she’s ever written.  Bonus points for governess tropes.
  9. Rising Strong, Brene Brown – Another re-read, and probably my favorite Brene Brown book, which is saying something.
  10. The Care and Feeding of Pirates, Jennifer Astley – No, no, and just no.  Not only was it badly written, but I got angry at the absurdity of it all and the stupidness of the heroine.  I don’t think I read past the first chapter, and I was incensed.
  11. What to Expect When You’re Expecting, Heidi Murkoff – The quintessential pregnancy book, and for good reason.  I wish the organization was a little more straight forward since she tries to kinda guess which month you’ll be going through xyz, and puts everything there.  I wish the months were months and the advice was advice, and the two weren’t buried together.  Otherwise a great read, though, and VERY helpful.
  12. Pregnancy Week to Week, Month to Month, Joanna Kendis – I didn’t like this book.  It seemed overly simple to me, and I gave up after the first chapter. Didn’t contain anything that What To Expect didn’t, and it was written much worse.  There were even a few grammar mistakes that made me cringe.
  13. Love Hacked, Penny Reid – I picked up this series in a drought of Beard books, and feel like it was fine, but not amazing.  This one was a little strange, with the guy being inexplicably weird for a while.  Also, no sex until the very end – but worth the wait.
  14. Happily Ever Ninja, Penny Reid – Another book I didn’t quite buy the premise of.  It was good, though, and features an already married couple with a fairly good relationship, though, which is rare in romance novels.
  15. Big Girl, Kelsey Miller – I LOVED this book.  It was a sad memoir in a lot of ways, but this is now the 3rd book I’ve read that tells about the dangers of dieting, and it was told in such a human way.
  16. When a Scot Ties the Knot, Tessa Dare – Good and very solid, with an interesting premise.  Fake guy the heroine has been writing to (and who she killed off) turns out to be real, alive, and on her doorstep.  I ended up thoroughly enjoying it, though he seems a little forceful at times.  Would recommend.
  17. How the Duke was Won, Lenora Bell – I had a hard time jogging my memory on this one, which doesn’t bode well.  However, I do remember enjoying the spunky heroine.  Not amazing, but certainly solid.
  18. The Truth About Lord Stoneville, Sabrina Jeffries – You know, I don’t know why I REALLY enjoyed this series, but I did.  It’s a silly premise, but the characters were so great that I ended up not caring.  This one is a too-unsuitable-to-marry trope, done VERY right.  The Grandmother is epic.
  19. A Hellion In Her Bed, Sabrina Jeffries – I liked this one A LOT, too.  It takes place in a brewery, which is unusual for a romance novel.  The Heroine, who keeps going despite her tough family situation, is my favorite kind.  And smart, too.
  20. How to Woo a Reluctant Lady, Sabrina Jeffries – I enjoyed this book, but not as much as the two before it.  The heroine is hilarious, though.  She takes out an ad for a totally unsuitable husband to piss off her grandmother.  Also, she’s a writer.
  21. Say Yes to the Marquess, Tessa Dare – It was definitely cute, but not one of my favorites.  It was kinda fun to see the hero lavish all these crazy presents on the heroine.
  22. Dating-Ish, Penny Reid – This was one of my favorites of the Knitting In The City books.  Awkward online dates included.  A solid choice, though it still suffers from a bit of the unbelievability of the rest of the series.
  23. To Wed a Wild Lord, Sabrina Jeffries – After a few “meh” books, I returned to the Hellions series.  This one was pretty good, actually.  Up to the old standard again, for sure. The hero was the cause of an accident that killed the heroine’s brother.
  24. A Lady Never Surrenders, Sabrina Jeffries – I never seem to love the books where hero is supposed to pick heroines intended or vice-versa, and this is one of those.  Well done for something I probably wasn’t going to love to begin with.
  25. The Girl With The Make-Believe Husband, Julia Quinn – Oh man, I LOVE ME some Julia Quinn, and this one hit all the right spots for me.  Colonial America, redcoats, unspoken love, Quinn’s great writing.  Yes please, to all of it.  Another favorite romance novel of all time.  I’ll be re-reading this one tons.
  26. Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett – Oh, what a magical book.  If you’re a fan of the On Being podcast, this book is 100% for you.  If you aren’t a fan, you not only need to read this book immediately, but you need to also become a fan.  Tippett is amazing, and gives so many life-changing ideas.  Like knowing the will of God through your own wants, or listening as an act of love, or grief as something humans innately know how to do.
  27. The Whole Brain Child by Daniel Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson – A great, quick book on how you can help your child integrate all parts of their brain as they’re growing, leading to adults with healthy brains.  My favorite parenting book that I’ve read so far.
  28. Parenting from the Inside Out, Daniel Siegel & Mary Hartzell – This seemed to be the adult version of Whole Brain Child, but it got a bit overly technical for me and ultimately didn’t contain much new info.  Stick with Whole Brain Child.
  29. Romancing the Duke, Tessa Dare – I actually found this novel to be hilarious, and awesome.  The heroine’s father’s fans (he’s a writer) are my favorite thing ever.  It’s like if Ren Faire was set in the early 1900s.
  30. Birthing From Within, Pam England – Meh.  It was a little hippy-dippy for me.  I stuck with it over half way to give it a good try, but ultimately I just couldn’t buy its premise that art is necessary for a fearless birth.
  31. Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton – For me? No.  Even though it was award-winning. I thought the premise was interesting in that it was kinda like Jane Austin, if only everyone was a dragon.  But I kept getting turned off when everyone ate their young, and I couldn’t get over it.  Didn’t like, wouldn’t recommend; unless you enjoy the sordid-type Victorian novels like Wuthering Heights.
  32. The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater – The next four books are all a series, and I re-read them.  I’m DYING to read them in Virginia when I go to visit my sister in law, since that’s where they’re set.  But I love them.  So much better and creepier the 2nd time around, and they were GREAT the first time.
  33. The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater
  34. Blue Lily, Lily Blue, Maggie Stiefvater
  35. The Raven King, Maggie Stiefvater
  36. Strengths Finder, Tom Rath – Interesting, and part of the reason I knew I needed to switch jobs.  All of the stuff I was good at wasn’t at all in my job description.  Basically, if you need me to research something and then explain it to you clearly, I’m your girl.
  37. The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater – I keep finding these books about topics I’ve been thinking about in my own writing, and seeing that they’re CRAZY well done.  That is basically to say that I’m in love with this book and need to own it so I can re-read it every November.  Kelpies, poverty, Ireland, and a desperate race for life itself.
  38. Goddess of the Hunt, Tessa Dare – You know, I have a very love/hate relationship with Tessa Dare.  In that I often love her work, but just as often I hate it.  This was her first book, and it’s great.  Girl next door marries family friend.  Would recommend.
  39. Surrender of a Siren, Tessa Dare – I feel like I enjoyed this one more than it deserved.  The premise is a little silly and the hero a TOTAL ASS when you first meet him.  It probably should have killed my enjoyment of it, but it totally didn’t.  I don’t know why.
  40. A Lady of Persuasion, Tessa Dare – This one returns to being almost as good as the first one.  I’d recommend as well.  Foreigner turns fancy and gets a rake to commit.  Yay!
  41. Rules for a Proper Gentleman, Jennifer Ashley – I read this before I read the rest of the McKenzie series, and I LOVED it.  A lot.  It’s another one of those that isn’t quite a member of the series, though.  Only very loosely connected.
  42. The Madness of Lord Ian McKenzie by Jennifer Ashley – Okay, caveat that these are dirtier than your normal brand of romance novel.  I still liked it a lot, and found it hawt despite the Asperger’s of the hero.  Good mystery, too, where everyone is trying to protect everyone else and it’s a mess.
  43. Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, Ina May Gaskin – This is my favorite book so far on giving birth, and I’m SO glad I found it.  It was incredibly empowering to read, and I would recommend to anyone considering natural birth.  And even if you’re not, it’s still helpful I think.
  44. The Many Sins of Lord Cameron, Jennifer Ashley – The hero has a SUPER tragic past, and it’s a little hard to take at times.  But otherwise I’m in love with this book 100%.  Especially the heroine’s love of cake.
  45. The Duke’s Perfect Wife, Jennifer Ashley – This one is also pretty dirty, but SO well done.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  In fact, I think I may need to buy this series in hard-copy.  At least the ones with the brothers in them.
  46. The Day of the Duchess, Sarah McLean – McLean is one of the few romance authors I auto-LOVE.  This one was not as good as her previous, though I still enjoyed it.  I think it was more the concept than the writing, and also the context – the Duke of Haven is someone I’m used to loathing, and the plot seemed contrived. Still would recommend.  McLean’s meh is better than others’ best.
  47. Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage, Jennifer Ashley – Oh man, I really loved this book too.  It again hit on some of my favorite things;  debauched painter for a hero needs heroine as his muse.  All those painting sessions spent alone.  So great.
  48. Howl’s Moving Castle, Dianna Wynne Jones – This might be the 5th time I’ve read this novel or so… I love it every time.  Especially Howl and his black slime.  ❤
  49. The Seduction of Eliot McBride, Jennifer Ashley – I have to say that I did like this book, but it was billed as being a McKenzie novel and it really wasn’t.  The folks in the book are maybe mentioned in passing in another one.  Not what I expect from a “sequel” but still pretty enjoyable.  I don’t quite trust Jennifer Ashley with everything yet, but I’m getting closer.
  50. The Wicked Deeds of Daniel McKenzie, Jennifer Ashley – This book hit a bunch of the right notes for me – supernatural mediums, balloon rides, one of my favorite characters as the hero, a very smart heroine.  Would 100% recommend.
  51. Never Seduce a Scot, Maya Banks – Recommended to me by Tumblr, and actually I did enjoy it a lot, though it’s set in a more medieval period than I prefer usually.  The heroine is deaf, (or really, Hard of Hearing), which I’m a sucker for since studying ASL.
  52. A Night to Surrender, Tessa Dare – There’s so much hype around Dare’s Spindle Cove series that I felt I should give it a fair chance.  I wasn’t wild about this book.  Nothing wrong with it per-se, just that I didn’t feel connected to the characters really.
  53. A Week to Be Wicked, Tessa Dare – This is more what I was expecting from the Spindle Cove hype.  Minerva is perfect, crazy-smart, and her beau keeps calling her by the wrong name on purpose for added fun.
  54. A Lady by Midnight, Tessa Dare – I’m not 100% sure I liked this book.  The dog was perfect, but I think I just knew too much about Thorne and his weird ways to make him a convincing hero.  I think I would probably have liked it had I not had context in the prior two books.
  55. Any Duchess Will Do, Tessa Dare – This is a re-read, and I kinda HATED it the first time.  I think reading the rest of the Spindle Cove books made me like it more.  Also, it’s a rarity in romance, with the heroine being totally dirt poor which probably also gave it novelty.  Would read again.
  56. Once More My Darling Rogue, Lorraine Heath – I mean, it’s basically Overboard, if set in the Victorian Era.  I liked it, but didn’t think it was anything special.
  57. When the Duke Was Wicked, Lorraine Heath – I just couldn’t get over the hero’s name to enjoy the book.  Lovingdon?  Really? I probably liked it less than it deserved, but still.
  58. The Happiest Baby on the Block, Harvey Karp – Not a fan of his writing style.  It’s very simple and repeats often.  But the info in here is GREAT.  Must borrow baby and learn to swaddle NOW.
  59. Brain Rules for Baby, John Medina – Love this book.  Medina has a humorous yet smart writing style that pulls you in, and the info in here is AMAZING, although he is fond of weird analogies.  A 100% Must if you’re going to read parenting books.
  60. Seducing Harriet, Mary Ballough – I never like Ballough’s writing, but every once in a while I convince myself I haven’t given it enough of a try, since she’s award-winning and all.  I didn’t like this one either.  I think they’re a little too old fashioned for me, and too full of angsty drama.  I go to romance novels for fun, and Ballough’s are rarely fun unless you find heartbreak fun.
  61. Minx, Julia Quinn: A re-read, because I love this book. The heroine is such a great tomboy, and I love her.  Not to mention the hero, who is kind but definitely alpha.
  62. Three Weeks with Lady X, Eloisa James: Another reread of my favorites. This is my 3rd re-read since I found it a few years ago and it doesn’t get old.  In fact, I laugh more and more about the letters they send each other every time.
  63. Fool For Love, Eloisa James: I forgot how much I just LOVE James’ work, so of course I had to continue… Another re-read.
  64. Beard In Mind, Penny Reid: I really loved this book – bonus points for a heroine with OCD. But I sometimes felt like I needed to reread all of them, since this one happens concurrently with some of the previous and I couldn’t remember the exact stuff she was alluding to.
  65. Meet Me at Willoughby Close: A pretty clean romance, all said and done, but also a great one. Sexy professor hero, a nutty rich neighbor in a manor house, a dog named Marmite, and a great single mom and daughter make this kinda magical.
  66. Positive Discipline, The First 3 Years: LOVED this book, and I’m gonna make Brian read it. It covers everything from discipline, childcare, self-care, and biting, to how to recognize disabilities and problems.

That’s it for right now. As always, happy reading!

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Winter Reading List 2017

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Finally a blog entry, right?  Work has gotten insane on me.  One of our own went out on disability to get her knee replaced (surgery went well, and recovery is too – yay!), but we’re all doing a little backfilling to pitch in. Couple that with all the beginning of the year crazy and the cold Brian shared that just won’t go away, and it’s a miracle I’ve been able to write at all.

Which is to say that blog entries might be sparser (once a week and irregular?) until March.  We’ll see how it goes.

It’s more than time for the winter reading list. The students came back last Monday and I’m officially late.  So, here’s all the things I’ve read since the fall, and what I thought of them.  I know… I did say there would be less book reviews in the new year.  I’m still mostly holding to that.  But I also said the Reading List was something that would stay.  This one wins the award for most books ever (if that’s an actual award) with 53.

I hope you find something to like in this batch.

 

Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart by Sarah MacLean – I’m basically in love with this woman and consider her books to be the best thing ever.  I have never seen Informed Consent in a romance novel, and not only does MacLean do it, she does it so it’s SUPER hot.  Basic rule for all the MacLean books that follow?  READ THEM NOW.

Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – Beautifully written, but I just couldn’t get into it.  For some reason, I just felt like I had read this book before.  It didn’t offer me anything new.

Linger by Maggie Stiefvater – Again, a very pretty book with not a lot of exciting things to offer.  I decided not to continue with the series after this one.

The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean – A runaway in the wrong (or right, if you like super hot guys) carriage trope, only this one is done remarkably well.

A Scot In The Dark by Sarah MacLean – It’s like if the naked celebrity selfie problem went 17th century on us.  Crazy well done.  And who doesn’t love a lady who ultimately saves herself?

A Rogue By Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean – A marriage of convenience novel in an illicit gaming hell.  He’s trying to keep her “pure.” Sign me up, please!

One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean – Another in the gaming hell series, and just as good as the first.

No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah MacLean – This one might actually be my favorite of all the Lord of Scoundrels series.  The lady the duke supposedly killed turns up alive, and of course sparks fly.

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery – A comfort read that I’ve memorized parts of, and don’t read often.  It’s such a gem of a book, and I think I got more from it this time than I did as a teen.  She’s saying important things about women and relationships in this one.

Never Judge A Lady By Her Cover by Sarah MacLean – OH so good.  I love the secret that is the premise of this book, though I won’t spoil it for those who are planning to read the others.  And who doesn’t like a newspaperman hero?  I ALWAYS do.  My FAVORITE of the Lord of Scoundrels.

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I’m probably a horrible person, but I just couldn’t get into it.  I think it’s because Kvothe annoyed the CRAP out of me, and I didn’t want to spend any time with him.

Thirteenth Child by Patricia C. Wrede – I don’t know why I keep returning to this book, because it really isn’t my favorite – it’s too long a timeline and too rambling to be About anything.  But Wrede’s world and alt-history is SO fascinating.  That’s what I go back for, I guess.

Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer – This hilarious book is all letters back and forth as the two girls confront separate problems in the country and in town that ultimately end up being related.  Combines Wrede’s awesome alt-history world with regency romance and is perfection.  Bonus points?  It reads like it was fun to write.

What Matters in Jane Austen by John Mullan – I think this book is for people who aren’t history-buffs and totally crazy about the Regency.  I learned a little bit, but not as much as someone else might have.  Also, I felt kinda “meh” about it.  I struggled to get through it, though ultimately was glad I did.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare – A couple of mystery lovers tryst in a room that both the Hero and Heroine happen to also be in, and they’re blamed.  Now they have to get married, which seems like a hardship but really isn’t after all.  It was definitely a solid novel, but not a favorite or anything.

That Scandalous Summer by Meredith Duran – It’s a marriage of convenience novel, where the hero needs the heroine’s money to keep a hospital he runs open.  I read it all the way through, but ultimately didn’t feel it was great.

Someone to Watch Over Me by Lisa Kleypas – I actually hated this book.  It was basically the plot of “Splash” in 18th century form, but it got a little rapey and awful in there.  I wouldn’t recommend.

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase – Oh, so great.  The heroine is trying to pry her brother away from the hero’s terrible influence.  She’s super-smart, he’s fairly oblivious, and things are basically perfect.  I would 100% recommend this novel.

Silk is for Seduction by Loretta Chase – Love this novel, too. It’s an already betrothed but fell for someone else totally unsuitable trope, where the hero falls for his fiancé’s dressmaker.  Unique, though, because there’s genuine affection between the hero and his fiancé, just not romantic love.  So great, I kept picking up her books.

Scandal Wears Satin by Loretta Chase – Dressmakers #2, and it features a delightful heroine who sneaks into all the Ton parties to report on the latest fashions.  So great.  Would recommend.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners by Therese O’Neil – Totally hilarious and disgusting (in a good way) in every way.  Ever wanted to be a romance heroine?  This will cure you.  And leave you laughing.

The Young Blood by Erin Satie – I loved this book a bunch.  It was well written, and the murder scene was horrifying while still serving the story.  It lost a few points for me for deus ex machina balloon rides, but all in all I would recommend.

Lady Sophia’s Lover by Lisa Kleypas – I was out of stuff to read, and so I DID go back to the Bow Street series, despite my reservations.  This one was better than the last, but still not that great.

Secrets from the Eating Lab by Tracy Mann – Such a cathartic and helpful read.  I’ve read a ton of books and evidence about how diets don’t help, but Mann takes it farther and tells you how to live healthfully at any size.  Finally a course of action that won’t kill me!

Romancing the Beat, Story Structure for Romance by Gwen Hayes – Very helpful as I was planning my Nano novel this year, which was a romance.  And a quick read, which was also nice.

The View From the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman – Oh, I love this man so much.  I got a little bogged down in the section that’s all commentary on comics and things because I don’t read that genre, but otherwise it was magical to read his thoughts on things.

Red Rose by Mary Balogh –   I hated this book completely, was 100% turned off by the way she treated her disabled heroine, and didn’t finish it.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin – I loved this book so much that I started my own project this year.  I’ve almost totally dropped it 3 months in, but I did change several significant things that seem to be really helping me feel better about myself.

Geoducks are for Lovers by Daisy Prescott – I mean, it was the usual contemporary beach house romance, complete with wishy-washy reason for the couple to stay apart.  But it was well written, at least.

The Rogue by Katharine Ashe – While I really loved the tension between the hero and heroine, I also felt like the book was missing something.  Maybe because it’s #4 and they’re not as stand-alone as everyone hoped?

Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt – The plot was pretty great, really, as was the hero and heroine traveling through the slums after a secret.  I think I can’t give it full marks, though, because of a needless almost-rape.

His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander – Uh, no.  This book annoyed the CRAP out of me because there seemed to be no reason at all for the two not to at least schtup each other, and they didn’t.  And it was repetitive.  I read about 75% of the way through before I gave up in disgust.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig  – Maybe the best Christmas book I read this year.  An intrigue with puddings, silly and not too smart but still drool-worthy men, and much Christmas goodness.  Hot, but no sex.

Oh Horrid Night edited by Amber Newburry – This is the book I’m in!  I had a fun time reading everyone else’s stuff, which was oh so creative and very creepy.

All I Want for Christmas is You by Nora Roberts – it was fine, but nothing to write home about.  The kids were cute, the romance just fine.  I have nothing to criticize.  But, I also have nothing to praise, really.

Married for Christmas by Noelle Adams – I actually liked this book quite a lot.  The fellow in the relationship was a pastor, and so I thought it might be sickly religious.  Not so, though.  And very solid, with plenty of hotness and a story line that seemed natural.

A Christmas Kiss by Elizabeth Mansfield – A sweet holiday romance in which the spunky and awesome heroine falls for the father of the house, who’s mad at himself because he thinks she’s engaged to his son.  Sweet.

A Family for Christmas by Noelle Adams – It was written well, but I felt like this missed the mark for me.  They were both missionaries, and for some reason I didn’t feel like I really identified with them, though the writing and story were both solid.

Twas The Night After Christmas by Sabrina Jeffries – A cute and steamy novel about a man and his estranged mother.  The guy falls for his mother’s companion after she tricks them into reconciling.  He was a little too creepy at first, but I ended up liking it.

What A Lady Needs for Christmas by Grace Burrowes – This was one of my FAVORITE Christmas novels this year. It features a Scot, a train escape, an awesome wardrobe, and a precocious daughter.  I didn’t want it to end.

Three Nights Before Christmas by Kat Latham – The heroine is an ex-con and a train engineer, and watching her story unfold was great.  Especially because her brother and the hero are such funny guys.  Plenty of Christmas goodness, too.  Also, the ugliest sweater EVER.

Maybe This Christmas by Sarah Morgan – A VERY cute tale that made me want to at least explore reading the rest of the series.  Plenty of skiing and coziness, along with a mean mother and a teen to adore.

The Duke and Miss Christmas by Amelia Grey – I got REALLY angry with the hero in the first chapter and refused to read the rest of it.  The verdict is a resounding No.

Wallbanger by Alice Clayton – Oh, I love this book so much.  I was skeptical because of the title, but the hero and heroine are both so quippy, and they both have a hilarious posse of friends, and it’s hot all the way through.  Yes please.

Once Upon a Highland Christmas by Lecia Cornwall – Another one of my favorites this year.  The villagers are such well-written characters, and I loved the Lady and Lord, and the way gossip traveled.  They both stubbornly held to marrying others beyond the point of reason, but I still think it worked.  Would recommend.

The Undervalued Self by Elaine Aron – This was an interesting read, and I think it was good for me.  The difference between ranking and linking situations, and how we rank when we should link sometimes, has been very helpful.

A Bad Boy for Christmas by Jessica Lemon – I was not really a fan of this one.  Eventually things get kinda sweet, but the hero in the beginning is a little creepy about his need to “protect” the heroine and it never quite recovered enough for me.

How A Lady Weds a Rogue by Katharine Ashe – This book had all the good parts of an amazing novel, but it somehow didn’t grip me.  I found my attention wandering even as I enjoyed it.  I recommend?  I gave it 4 stars on Amazon.

Seducing Mr. Knightley by Maya Rodale – downtrodden and shy advice columnist known as Dear Abigail reverses things and asks her readers for advice on how to seduce her crush.  Which happens to be her boss.  Nothing to do with Jane Austen (closer to Never Been Kissed, the movie), but features a newspaperman.  Yum.

Grin and Beard it by Penny Reid – It’s the 2nd book in the series, but it’s OH so good and can stand alone.  National Park ranger and movie star fall in love.  She has an amazing career, is Latina, and also a size 14 and totally sexy.  So is he, bear-trapping and all.  It sounds cheesy, but it’s really not.  It’s perfection.

Beauty and the Mustache by Penny Reid – I read the book above and HAD to read the entire series.  This one is technically part of the “Knitting In The City” series, but it features their sister and is also considered Winston Brothers 0.5.  A sad book since it features the death of the MC’s mother, but also a beautiful love story.  And you HAVE to love that gaggle of friends.

Truth or Beard by Penny Reid – The 2nd book in the series.  Two hometown haters fall in love when the girl mistakes the guy for his twin and things get hot.  Full of sassiness, too.  I almost said this one was my favorite so far, but I don’t think I can, really.  It’s impossible to pick.

Beard Science by Penny Reid – I was worried about this one because I don’t really think of Cletus as being romantic.  But he definitely is.  And this book may be the funniest yet because the heroine is so great.  She’s smart but sheltered, so it’s an interesting combination with Cletus’ slyness.

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A Reading Challenge Wrap

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The year is feeling old, old, and I am looking at all the posts I need to post to wrap up the end of this year.  The season of introspection is upon us.  Let’s dive head in.

I would like to all remind you of a reading challenge I accepted last January.  Here is the original post so you can refresh your memory: https://caseykins.com/2016/01/15/a-reading-challenge/.  I read all books but one and then gave up completely.  Why, you ask?  The one I didn’t read is a classic I never made time for.  It’s because I pondered a million classics and none of them seemed to be something I wanted to delve into.  I have made time for all the classics I care about, and slogging through something I was sure would be depressing just seemed like too tall an order. I don’t know.  I stopped enjoying the challenge when I thought too much about it, so I decided that reading should not ever be anything except enjoying and I gave up.

All other books, though, I have blogged and completed.  You can find the reviews for them using the search box on the left, if you want.

Here is what I ended up with:

  • A book you bought long ago, but still haven’t read – The Darkest Part of the Forest, by Holly Black
  • A book with a character who is similar to you – Emily Climbs, by L. M. Montgomery
  • A non-fiction book on something you’ve always wanted to know more about – Steering The Craft, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • A book by a female author – Lizzy and Jane, by Katherine Reay
  • A book you never got to read in 2015 – The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck
  • A book that will be a complete mindfuck – Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman
  • A book filled to the rim with magic – Daughter of Witches, Patricia C. Wrede
  • A book you’re scared to read when it’s dark out – The Dream Thieves, by Maggie Stiefvater
  • A book of which you liked the movie, but haven’t read the novel – Pitch Perfect, by Mickey Rapkin
  • A book that makes you want to visit the place it’s set – Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Stiefvater
  • A book that’s on fire – Mine Till Midnight, by Lisa Kleypas
  • A book that makes you want to be a villain – Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman
  • A classic you never made time for – Never Read (I’m a delinquent)
  • A book that shows a different point of view – Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, by Peggy Orenstein
  • A book with short stories – A Knot In The Grain, by Robin McKinley
  • A book that involves a lot of mystery – The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater
  • A book about a person who inspires you – My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business, by Dick Van Dyke
  • A book that makes you want to be a hero – The Sword of Damar, by Robin McKinley
  • A graphic novel – The Graveyard Book part 1, by Neil Gaiman
  • A book of poetry – Good Poems, American Places, by Garrison Keillor
  • A book by an unfamiliar author – Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowel
  • A book published in 2016 – The Raven King, by Maggie Stiefvater
  • A book with a dark and mysterious cover – Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman
  • A book from a random recommendationalist – Witches of Lychford, by Paul Cornell
  • A book with a surprising love element – Shakespeare’s Wife, by Germaine Grier
  • A book with lots of mystical creatures – English Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs
  • A book that reminds you of another season – Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
  • A book no one wants you to read – My American Duchess, by Eloisa James
  • A book you own that is the most beautiful thing you’ve seen – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Illustrated Edition, by J. K. Rowling
  • A book that makes you a complete mess – Emily’s Quest, by L. M. Montgomery
  • A book you started but never finished – Aspects of the Novel, by E. M. Forster

In other Christmas news, I was feeling grateful yesterday that the kitten has never tried to climb the tree.  And then I came home last night to find that she had pulled several of my favorites off the branches and had strewn them around the living room.  Luckily they weren’t the ones with extreme sentimental value, and only one was worse for the wear, but I’m seriously going to have to think about anti-cat measures.  Chasing her away only works when I’m at home to supervise.  Jennyanydots: the reason we can’t have nice things.

Christmas jam is probably in the works this weekend, too.  I’m giving it out as presents this year, so that’s all I’ll say.  Flavors a tasty, tasty mystery.

We are racing toward the finish line.  I hope your season is looking as festive as mine is.

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Christmas Romance, Nano Wrap-Up

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Hello! As promised, it is December 1st and I am back with a vengeance. Well, maybe not a vengeance. But with bells on. I have problems sustaining vengeance, and I never have problems sustaining glee.  I miss blogging when I don’t do it.

Today I’m going to write about Christmas romance novels, after I tell you that I won Nanowrimo. Yay me!! That’s number 6. This year was easier than last, mostly because I planned better and didn’t freak out when I got stymied after writing the beginning. I just went on to write the middle and end in no discernible order whatsoever like I usually do. No existential crisis about it first this time. Now if I can just get some of those rough drafts finished, I’ll be feeling even better about myself. That’s a task for next year.

The verdict on subject matter?  I think I’m capable of writing a romance novel.  Now we just have to figure out if I can edit one.  Brian has refused to be a beta-reader on the grounds that he’ll never be able to keep a straight face.  Fair enough.

Speaking of Romance Novels… I have been binge-reading Christmas romance novels in the hopes that somewhere there are good ones out there. Here’s a quick list of what I’ve completed so far, and how I felt about it. In order of read-worthiness, in case you’re interested in joining me.  I was pleasantly surprised, I have to say.  After last year, this one could be considered a rousing success.  Several things were very readable, and a few were outright good.

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The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig: There’s no sex in the book, but it still manages to be exactly perfect in all ways. It starts with a Christmas pudding on which a secret message has been written, and evolves into this perfect novel of romance and intrigue that is not only Christmassy, but also sweet. Bonus points for a hero who isn’t very smart but still manages to be hot, quippy, and funny all at the same time. And for Christmas pageants and yule log rituals. This was my favorite read this season.

Married for Christmas by Noelle Adams: A contemporary that’s a little bit religious in nature. I didn’t mind it, though, because it wasn’t rampantly so and it is a Christmas novel. With a pastor as the main character. The two of them didn’t feel goody-goody, they felt like real people in a marriage of convenience, and the issues they were both dealing with were real and serious. It was also the hot and bothered kind, the first one I’ve read this season.

A Christmas Kiss by Elizabeth Mansfield: This one and the above are probably tied for enjoyment.  There’s also no sex in this book, but it ended up being one of my favorite historicals this time around. The premise is that, though a confluence of misunderstandings, the duke’s family thinks that their oldest son is engaged to this girl even though he’s not. And the duke totally starts to fall in love with her, but won’t do anything about it because he thinks he’s usurping his son’s girl. The heroine is AWESOME, and the antics that go on in the house are great. There’s lots of Christmas goodness to recommend it, too. But just know that it’s a lot more sweet and funny than it is hot and bothered.

A Family for Christmas by Noelle Adams: I can’t say exactly why I didn’t enjoy this book at all as much as the first Willow Park book (above), but I didn’t. I think that it just was too far outside my own experience to be relateable. The main character is a missionary who basically just wants to be in India, where she feels her new life is waiting. And eventually she falls in love with her husband and all, like we all knew would happen, but her inner journey isn’t one I identified with. Still, a solid book with lots of Christmas goodness. And I do think it might be the thing for some people. It was well written with a solid story arc.

All I Want for Christmas by Nora Roberts: It’s a novella, so it’s short. And contemporary. There wasn’t really anything I can put my finger on that was wrong with it, but there wasn’t anything extra to be excited about either. The kids are cute, the love interest sweet with the usual “brokenhearted previously” trope to keep the two (very) temporarily apart. It was totally fine. A solid novel with many nice Christmas touches. But honestly, I’ve already forgotten that I read it.

His Mistress by Christmas by Victoria Alexander: I just… I hate to be so disparaging. But this novel rubbed me in ALL the wrong ways. He’s so passive about her that it starts to feel like he doesn’t know what to do with a woman, even though he’s supposed to be this fancy experienced explorer with a girl in every port. She tells him he’s extraordinary every time he opens his mouth in those exact words. They fall in love in two seconds without ever spending any real time together. He’s supposed to come into some big inheritance, which turns out to be his father’s beat up watch and not actually a thing. The sexual tension wasn’t present. While it did have plenty of Christmas trappings, that’s it’s only saving grace. I’d skip.

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Politics of the Supernatural Kind

I can’t even today.  Every time I think that a certain political candidate could not possibly make me angrier, I somehow get more incensed.  It’s at the point now where I know I have to disengage or give myself an aneurism from all the angstyness that people are STILL supporting this – I don’t even feel like there’s a word bad enough to call him – candidate.  My only consolation is that it will all be over in about 4 weeks (for better or worse).

I was thinking about doing a post about all the feminist reasons to abhor this man, but I realized that all that info is out there in spades on the internet.  And this isn’t a political blog, it’s a book/writing blog.

So, escapism it is!

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my politics with a heavy dose of magic and/or the supernatural.  So instead of a rant, I present to you 4 Fantasy books in which the government plays an active character. But don’t worry, it’s not anything like your government today.  Have at them and try and forget that America is such a mess right now.

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Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell: There’s a new big box store going into the sleepy hamlet of Lychford.  Local crank Judith doesn’t care a bit about jobs or modernization, but she does care about the site plan.  Lychford lies on the boundary of two worlds. If the supermarket is built it will destroy all wards forever, unleashing demonic destruction on the world.  Judith has to convince the town to stop construction, but she’ll need some unlikely allies to make it happen…

The book is spunky and hilarious, with a few serious moments to make it really a good book.  It’s a novella, which means it’s a quick read, and it’s everything you ever wanted in a Walmart fight, with actual demons, witches dancing under the moonlight, fae in the forests, and magic markings on the doors.

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Chalice by Robin McKinley: The last Master and Chalice died in a horrible fire after doing unspeakable things to the land. Now it is up to beekeeper Marisol (the new Chalice) and the old Master’s brother (a priest of fire who may not be quite human anymore) to heal the land and stabilize the country, before the Overlord can launch a coup for power that will certainly damage the land irreparably.

This book is one in which nothing happens and everything happens all at once, like McKinley does best.  It’s so internal, so based on looks and gestures, or subtle power plays.  But you still feel the seriousness of it as you fall in love with the land.  I never put this book down without wanting to move to the middle of nowhere and keep bees with the man I’m in love with.

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The Lives of Christopher Chant by Dianna Wynne Jones: Christopher’s parents are both powerful enchanters who hate each other.  But Christopher himself doesn’t appear to be magical at all, unless you count the marvelous lands he visits in his dreams.  His only friend is his Uncle Ralph, who sends him on missions to bring back things from those strange lands as a game.  But when Christopher is told that he’s supposed to train to become the next Chrestomanci, the president of all magic in the land, his loyalties are thrown out of whack and he isn’t sure who to trust anymore.  Or that he’ll even want to become the next Chrestomanci at all.

I just can’t say enough about this book.  It turns all fantasy tropes on its heels and features one of those perfect Dianna Wynne Jones plots where everything is absolutely nuts, random, and up in the air, but somehow it resolves into a plot that was always perfectly right and organized by the end.  You just didn’t know it. My favorite person in the book is the priestess Asheth.  She always wants Christopher to bring her “exotic” books featuring Millie and her boarding school adventures.  It’s technically a children’s book, but it’s definitely complex and fun for adults, too.

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Voices: Memer is a daughter of the Oracle House, a place the conquerors and occupiers of the town Ansul are sure is filled with demons.  Reading and writing are punishable by death, and Oracle House is the only place that books now exist in the town, locked up in a secret room.  When the famous traveling minstrel, Orrec, arrives with his wife Gry to tell stories to the soldiers, Memer begins to see how important story really is.  Important enough that it could give Ansul back it’s peace and freedom, could give the people enough bravery to rebel against their oppressors.

I don’t know why I’m in love with this book so much, because it’s a serious read that deals with grave topics that surround war.  Memer herself is the daughter of a rape. But Memer is so beloved, and the world so vibrant, that you root for the townsfolk and their freedom wholeheartedly.  It’s got a magic to it that’s hard to define, partly (I think) because it feels so real.  This could be a history of somewhere you’ve never heard of, and it ends with so much hope.

So that’s my recommendation.  As always, happy reading!  And together maybe we can avoid imploding from election drama… Maybe.

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Book Reviews: Back To School

I was hoping for some fall-like rain, but this wasn’t what I had in mind.  It’s overcast and still in the 90s out, oppressive and muggy.  We might get ¼ of an inch of rain at some point tonight, says the weather guy on NPR, or we may just get dry thunderstorms.

Every little bit counts?

I had thought to do a review of something I’m reading lately, but all I’m reading is a host of romance novels by Sarah Maclean.  Her romance stuff is positively feminist, and I’m in love with all of it.  I can’t put them down.  It’s only been a few weeks and I’m almost out of her backlist already.  Sigh.

And so I’ll turn to old things to recommend to you instead.  It’s still early enough in the year that I can do back to school books, right?  These are three of my favorites, no matter where you happen to be going:

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Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell: Cath Avery, freshman, girl obsessed with all things Simon Snow and Watford the wizard school, is dismayed when her sister doesn’t want to room with her their first year in college.  They’ve always shared a room, and Cath isn’t at all equipped for new people, least of all her scary, taciturn roommate and her cute farm boy boyfriend who is always hanging around.  Couple that with a professor who thinks Cath’s fanfic is plagiarism, and a mentally ill father who goes a little nutty without his girls in the house, and Cath’s Anxieties abound.  But as her life as she knew it unravels, Cath realizes that she might have strength for something more.

This book is one of my favorite things ever.  Cath is so sweetly neurotic that you at once feel like she embodies everything you’ve ever worried about.  But she also never fails to make me feel normal, that my own anxieties are manageable. I don’t need to be forced to the dining hall and am able to kiss a boy while thinking about it, for example.  It makes it feel okay to be broken and to come from a crazy but loving home.  It makes it feel okay to take kissing seriously, to not follow the rhythms of the world around you like so many of us don’t.

I’ve read this book probably 3 times already since I found it a few years ago, and I’m not planning to stop any time soon.

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Princess Academy by Shannon Hale: Miri and the other girls in her small, poor mountain village are dismayed when an emissary from the king brings a missive to their far-away town: the priests have divined that the prince’s next bride will be from here.  Instead of working in the quarry to feed their families, all girls of a certain age must go away and attend a princess academy to ready themselves. The teacher is mean, the lessons useless for Miri’s old life, and even the other girls seem to be her enemy.  But eventually circumstances force them to get along, and Miri learns a secret that could ensure her village has enough to eat for all the future winters, if she can only execute the plan correctly.

This book is supposedly middle grade, I think, but it’s a really lovely tale about poverty and the importance of education, love, and diplomacy.  Miri is such a sweet girl that you find yourself rooting for her the whole way.  This book is the first of a series, and the themes grow up as Miri does.  Each chapter is headed by a sweet song.  Definitely worth checking out all of them.

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Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman: Told through letters, bulletins, waste paper trash, and other scraps of paper, this book is the chronicle of one English teacher’s first year at an urban high school.  It has bureaucracy, ill-behaved students, crazy administrators, and a cadre of other things that make it both sweet and exasperating.

There’s a reason it’s a classic, and even though it was written in the 1960s a lot of it still feels immediate.  Teachers are still fighting the good fight to put knowledge in kid’s heads, and kids are still irreverent jerks sometimes.  It’s a quick read, too.  Short and sweet.  I heartily recommend it.

 

As always, happy reading!

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Summer Reading List, 2016

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It’s that time again.  Or nearly that time.  We’re terribly late getting back to school in the state system, so there won’t be classes on this campus for another few weeks.  But the university near my house has started up, and so have all the kids I know.  And, of course, Hogwarts starts September 1st, so I’ll post the list a little early and call it appropriate.

The list is rather huge this time.  I’m blaming it on the fact that I go through bad books much faster than good ones.  And I also want to say you’re welcome for reading so much crap romance that you don’t have to wade through it yourself.  Here it is:

  1. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – CRAZY good. I’m officially obsessed with the Raven Cycle now, and this book is a big reason why.  The ladies of Fox Way take over a bit, and things start to go even crazier than before.
  2. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater – Another book that’s crazy good beyond all reason. This is everything I was hoping the end of the series would be, and more.  And that’s saying something.
  3. The Usual Path to Publication by Shannon Page – Spoiler: there is no usual path. But this book is full of cathartic stories of joy, and also made me realize that there are more things I can be trying while pursuing my own path.
  4. Witches of Lichford by Paul Cornell – Also amazingly good, though too short to fully realize all the story lines. But I’m basically obsessed with the concept of big box store mixed with fae and devils, and it was well done. Can’t wait for the sequel.
  5. A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James – I’ve read her back list, so now every time something new comes out it’s cause for celebration. This one was especially good, with plenty of house party fun, croquet, and general quippiness.
  6. The Earl Next Door by Charis Michaels – This was actually fairly good fun, if a little unbelievable. It felt like one of those books people make fun of where there’s a mean brother, and a family secret, and a chase up the moors, and a graveyard, and a haunted house, and… but all in all a solid effort at that type of thing.
  7. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – I think this is one of my favorite books right now. Cath’s crazy makes me feel less crazy myself.  Or that there’s hope for me, at least.  And you have to love Levi.
  8. My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke – An interesting read for anyone who’s a fan of Dick Van Dyke’s work. He’s brutally honest and reveals all sorts of fun in addition to the hard.  Written simply, but good.
  9. Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas – Okay, so I guess we should have a talk about Lisa Kleypas. I’m reading Kleypas because I’m out of Eloisa James and Julia Quinn and haven’t found anything else of their same caliber yet.  I’m not 100% on board with Kleypas because there’s a lot of: woman – “No!” man – does it anyway; woman – “ooh, nice.”  Which isn’t my favorite, even in historical romance.  No means no. That being said, the rest of the book is usually so awesome that I’m able to go on.  And romance novels are my escape now, so there’s no not reading them.  This one has nice reformed scoundrel propensities and much making out in corners.
  10. Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas – Probably one of my favorites of the Kleypas variety. Misunderstandings and class differences keep 2 people apart.  Bonus points for lady doctor who literally kicks ass, and much department store fun.
  11. Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas – Interesting premise of hired escort that doesn’t really pan out like it should. It was fine, but nothing to write home about.
  12. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – I feel like this is everything I wished Twilight was; a more feminist version of teens in a small town dealing with the supernatural. But at the end of the day, it’s a book I’ve already read.  The writing is BEAUTIFUL, though.
  13. Linger by Maggie Stiefvater – Things in Linger get a little bit more original, but not much. Still gorgeous writing with a good emotional pay off at the end, but it’s also still something I feel like I’ve seen.
  14. Mine ‘Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas – I do kinda LOVE the Hathaway sisters. This one has a Romani hero and is super steamy.  The best of historical Kleypas, for sure.
  15. Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare – I mean, it was a cute idea that tried to be a bit My Fair Lady but ultimately didn’t succeed that well.
  16. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – HOLY CRAP THIS BOOK WAS GOOD. I always forget that I’ve never read anything by Black that I didn’t like, and she blows me away every time.  This one is sort of a dark but modern take on the Tam Lin fairy tale.
  17. Seduce Me At Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas – The Hathaway sisters book 2. Nice stoic hero and recovering heroine who have to re-connect after long absence.
  18. Tempt Me At Twilight by Lisa Kleypas – Hathaway sisters book 3. This one featured a hero who was a little too forceful for my tastes.  But, you know.  Still okay.
  19. Married By Morning by Lisa Kleypas – The governess in this series is my favorite, and her quippyness with the hero insures that there’s plenty of fun to go around.
  20. The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn – A re-read. The Brigertons are my favorite.
  21. An Offer From A Gentleman by Julia Quinn – I really could say the same about all of the Quinn that’s below…
  22. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
  23. When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn
  24. Lean Thinking by James P. Womack and Daniel Jones – A read for work. It was fairly dry, but I do hope that it will lead to more streamlining within the university.  The ideas were good, if you can stick with it.
  25. Love In The Afteroon by Lisa Kleypas – Hathaways still. Kleypas left my favorite heroine for last.  Beatrix finally gets her own book, and it’s a good one.  She is a seriously strange lady and I love her for it.
  26. The Coldest Girl In Cold Town by Holly Black – A re-read. I forgot how violent and heartbreaking this book was.  But it’s still as good as ever, if more disturbing than I remembered it.
  27. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling – Oh man. I don’t know.  I didn’t really enjoy it, but I almost did.  It was nice to be back at Hogwarts and in the Wizarding world, but it moved too fast and was ultimately a bad story line, though the fact that it dealt with some real issues redeemed it a bit.
  28. Devil In Winter by Lisa Kleypas – Another book in which the hero is rather too forceful, though I did enjoy a lot of the novel anyway. It deals with gamblers and prostitutes, which isn’t something most romance novels do, so that was a change.
  29. Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas – Yeah, I don’t know. This one is basically a bunch of vultures lying in wait for a girl to go bankrupt so they can schtup her without having to marry her.  Eventually the hero redeems himself, but it’s not my favorite.  The relationship between the 4 girls, though, is a gem.
  30. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – A re-read, and another one of my favorites. I’ve been recommending this one to everyone I can.  You should go read it.
  31. It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas – Fairly good. The usual unsuitable manners vs. impeccable reputation thing, which Kleypas does well.
  32. Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Made me fall in love with fantasy novels all over again. It was exactly what I wanted and reminded me of McKinley and LeGuin while still being something totally new.  Go read NOW.
  33. Scandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas – Again, the wallflowers are good gals, but I didn’t ultimately love the book.
  34. Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm – Basically a memoir of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop that made me yearn to go even more than I already did. A great read.
  35. The Lady Most Likely by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway – Oh so much fun. It’s basically about 3 couples who fall in love at the same house party with the premise of all of them being on one guy’s “marriageable” list and slowly being whittled away. It reads like they had a blast writing it, and it’s very well done.
  36. No Place for a Dame by Connie Brockway – On the strength of the last book and the fact that this was free via Kindle Unlimited, I decided to Try Connie Brockway. Her books are solid, but nothing at all to write home about.  I would pick up Kleypas before I would pick up Brockway again.
  37. Highlander Undone by Connie Brockway – Again, another free one. Fine, but nothing exciting.
  38. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle – A re-read. I’m in love with this book and have been for a long time. The Austin’s live just as I’d like to, and it says different things to me as I get older, which is the mark of a good book.  I’ve been reading this one regularly since I found it in junior high.
  39. All Through The Night by Connie Brockway – Well, the hero actively locks up the heroine in his bedroom in this book, so there’s that. But there’s some thievery and other fun beforehand.
  40. Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas – Holy Crap this is the book I’ve been waiting for from Kleypas for all the time I’ve been reading her work. It has all her perks –amazing use of language, fantastical richness that still somehow seems likely, strong men, steamy sex – with none of the no/yes stuff that plagues the historical romances.  Read immediately.
  41. Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas – Another of the Travis series, and my favorite of them. Because of the past of the heroine, it reminded me a little bit of Kingsolver’s Bean Trees (as unlikely as that is). Another read now, if you like the romance novel thing.
  42. Blue Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas – Again, a Travis series novel. This one has some pretty egregious domestic violence, so trigger warning.  But it’s a crazy good book, and the heroine gets an amazing redemption.
  43. Brown Eyed Girl by Lisa Kleypas – Who doesn’t love the wedding planner trope? This book is the conclusion of the Travis series.  Good and still a read immediately, though I liked some of the other Travis books just a tad better.
  44. Pitch Perfect by Mickey Rapkin – I’m torn on this one, because it was really interesting and lots of fun. But Rapkin uses some metaphors and phrasing that kinda offended me.  And for the boys groups it’s all about getting some, and for the girl groups it’s all about managing the drama.  Ultimately I’m glad I read it, though I did leave feeling annoyed.  You can definitely see why they made a movie of it.
  45. The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine – This book is probably great if you’re new to writing and critiquing, and does have great advice on starting or joining a group. That being said, most of the book is dedicated to teaching you how to crit, which I’m already good with. I didn’t get a lot out of it, but I would expect that others would.
  46. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean – Holy crap this book is GOOD.  Basically, a spinster decides that her respectability isn’t doing her any good so she decides to do what she’s always wanted to.  And keeps running into the hero while she’s up to the inappropriate tasks.  Steamy and SO fun.  Just ignore the cheesy name, okay?
  47. Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord by Sarah MacLean – Awesomeness confirmed.  This one features a house full of spunky girls who are all struggling to keep their manor house from ruin while offering sanctuary to girls in trouble.  Bonus points for hot statuary.

As always, happy reading!

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Book Review: Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver, Linger)

ShiverLinger

I fell so hard in love with The Raven Cycle books that I started following Maggie Stiefvater on Instagram and Tumblr.  Just so you know, her life is way cooler than yours (and mine).  I offer as evidence her explanation of a race between her and John Green, and their subsequent car fires.  I want to have car fires.  Or, rather, I’d like to have car fire stories I can tell after I’m home and safe.  Bonus points if I don’t actually have to have the car fire to begin with.

Yes, I know.  This is why I’m never going to be that cool.

But her awesomeness and my religion-like devotion to Blue and the boys meant that I needed to see if I had an awesome backlist to read.

The verdict?  While I’ll read the stuff she writes going forward (and maybe the Scorpio book?), I’m not terribly impressed with her older work.  I read the first two books of the Wolves of Mercy Falls series (Shiver and Linger), and I’m not sure if I’m going to read the last one.

The series has all the things it should to be amazing: beautiful writing, interesting characters.  It’s all danger, ice, snow, and wolves with some books and music and high school antics thrown in for good measure.  It’s like if all your fantasies of what Twilight should have been come true.

Except that for some reason the yummy ingredients make a flat cake.

You can see glimmers of the sassiness and truth that made Raven Boys such a gem, but the books never quite get there.  The best character in the whole series is Rachel, who gets very little screen time.  Grace, the main character, is too bland to inspire devotion and not bland enough that you can insert yourself on her without thinking about it too much.  The books are beautiful, but they lack profluence* in places as Stiefvater lingers on the relationship between Grace and Sam or on description. Plot twists are predictable.

I can forgive all those things, though. I have before for other authors.  I think the reason I can’t here is that there’s nothing new to grasp at, to make the other sins worth it.   It mostly feels like a series I’ve read before.  I like that series, I like that this is an ideal version of it, but in the end it has nothing to offer that I don’t already know.

That being said, I was interested enough to read the novels through pretty quickly.  The emotion she evokes in the books is genuine, and I found myself caring, if not about the characters, then about the outcome to their stories.  I will also say that the books won several awards, so I might be full of crap.

And, of course, as I’m looking at the book art to download the covers on the top of this blog I’m also seeing all the fan art and getting warm fuzzies about the series and the characters.

It’s a solid choice as a read, there are just other things out there with more to them.  I would recommend the Wolves of Mercy Falls books to people who haven’t read Twilight, and would heartily recommend the series instead of Twilight.  But if you’ve been down that road already, just go pick up Holly Black’s The Darkest Part of the Forest instead.  You’ll get more bang for your buck.  And if you haven’t read The Raven Cycle yet go do that IMMEDIATELY.

 

*Profluence: A term coined by John Gardener in his book “The Art of Fiction.” The sense that a plot is flowing, moving the reader continually and evenly toward a goal that is well planned; that we are getting somewhere.  It’s the way the cause-and-effect connective tissue that makes up a novel interacts with the overall plot and story arc.

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