Posts Tagged With: Book Reviews

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 Change, and a Vignette

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I’m all off this week because of the holiday.  Mondays off always throw me for a loop – not that I’m complaining.  But the Thursday blog entry is now a Friday blog entry since everything is a day removed.

Speaking of which… I’ve had some time to review this year in blogging and have decided to make a change and post book reviews here MUCH less in the new year.  Caseykins.com was always meant to be an author site, and I feel like it’s getting away from its purpose if all I do is post about books that often aren’t even in the genre I’m writing in.  So… I started another blog for the reviews.  I’ll likely still post the quarterly reading list here, and blog anything I totally fall head over heels for.  But in general I’m trying to keep all things novel to Book Dragon.  And that way if you like the book reviews, you can get that almost exclusively.  And if you like these little writing process and slice of life things, you can get that almost exclusively too.  This year was the first year I didn’t see a dramatic growth in people visiting the site, and I feel like the confused image might be some of the problem…

One of my tasks for the New Year was to incorporate more practice into my writing.  I’ll most likely be trying to substitute the book posts with these little vignettes.  I wrote this after visiting the Santa Monica Pier with Brian on the 1st.  It was crazy-busy down there, but still a good trip:

 

Brian and I sat on a concrete bench on the busy, bright pier for quite a while, just watching the waves crash on the thick barnacled supports beneath us.

A family came soon after we sat and took the other end of the bench.  They weren’t speaking English. I don’t know if it was French or what (I don’t think it was French really), but they were all older people, the men with close-cropped hair and the women wearing bright floral scarves tied under their throats. One of the men was pushing an empty stroller, and in the arms of the other man was a small girl with the curliest and reddest of hair. She was wearing a pink fuzzy coat with yellow butterflies clipped all over it. Their crepe wings fluttered in the ocean breeze. The family sat down next to us, and she threw herself backward in the arms of her father? Grandfather? And squealed every time the orange roller coaster swooped past with a rattle.

Eventually she started to fuss a bit, and the man started to sing to her. I didn’t recognize all of it, but one of the verses seemed to be a question about kilometers. And then he sang her Frere Jaques. That was her favorite, because she sang it back, her little voice not making all the syllables. She squirmed to get down, and continued singing while yanking herself backward on the steel pier railings, her little feet, in white tights, still on the wood deck.

It was sweet, and it made me smile.

The family took a selfie with the waves in the background, the shoreline stretching like a crescent behind them into oblivion.  And then they bundled their things and strolled away again towards the food booths.  The little girl was probably too young to remember her trip to California. Not through anything other than pictures of herself.  But I’ll remember her now.

 

Photo credit to Brian.  Thanks, dear!

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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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Spring 2016 Reading List

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Guess what?  It’s a regularly prescribed blog day and I am actually posting a blog.  It’s a small miracle.

The vacations are over, and so is the school year.  All our students graduated last weekend in a blaze of glory.  Which means I should officially share this list so I can start on the summer one, don’t you think?  I do.

And just so you know, I’m usually pretty good about putting things on Goodreads before they get to here.  If you want recs early and not in one giant dump like this, that’s the place to go.

So without further ado, here it is.  All the books I’ve read since the spring semester started:

  1. Winning the Wallflower by Eloisa James: I should just say that I ALWAYS enjoy a James novel. This one was quite solid, with an interesting premise.  Would recommend if you like that sort of thing.
  2. No-Where But Here by Kate McGarry: I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t my favorite either, mostly because it sent some of my feminist “no!” alarms off, although gently.  I cared to finish it, but I’m not sure I’ll pick up the next.  Or maybe I will.  I’m wishy-washy about it, and I did like the main character.
  3. Steering The Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin: Oh, so wonderful.  It made me value the art of writing practice all over again, though it reads more like a work book than it does like advice.
  4. A Knot In The Grain by Robin McKinley: McKinley is another I always love. At first I wasn’t so hooked but the stories kept getting progressively better, and the title story is something I’m obsessed with, except that I want it to be a novel and not a short.
  5. Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn: Thought it would have more to do with the Bridgertons that just having a heroine with the same last name, so I was a bit disappointed. But it was a solid story for all that and I’d recommend it.
  6. Pride and Prejudice and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway: Um… no. I don’t know why I even finished this book.  I didn’t enjoy it and I found the conclusion (and most of the novel, to be honest) to be unlikely and unsatisfying.
  7. Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein: I don’t really know what to say about this book except that it’s fascinating and poignant, and important for anyone who has been a girl (I had so many “me too!” moments) or anyone raising a girl.
  8. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: A re-read.  I still loved it, though it didn’t seem quite the captivating masterpiece it did on my first read.  I guess I just wished I cared a little more for Richard and Door at the end.
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling: I forgot how good this book is. And it’s honestly the prettiest thing I’ve ever read.  It was so fun to come across all the amazing illustrations while going through.  I basically didn’t come out of my room for a day and a half.  I can’t wait to collect them all.
  10. Chalice by Robin McKinley: I’ve read this book at least 4 times now, and it always leaves me wanting to keep bees in a thatched hut with the man I love. One of my favorites, and officially a comfort book by now.
  11. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I’m glad to find I can read it again, and that I love it as much as I ever did, which is to say obsessively.
  12. Fool For Love by Eloisa James: As James novels go, this one was on the silly side. I still enjoyed it, though.
  13. Poems by Rudyard Kipling: You know, I don’t always love his poetry. But when I do, I REALLY love it, and it was a joy to go through and pull out gems of couplets.
  14. If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Happy by Raj Raghunathan: I learned a lot from this, partially about the importance of practice in writing, and partly about making room for happiness without pursuing it head on. I’m glad I read it, and will be putting some of the suggestions into practice.
  15. Shakespere’s Wife by Germaine Greer: Such a dichotomy of a book. The writing is super dry and academic, but it’s about FASCINATING things.  I’m impatient when reading it and feel like I’m not enjoying myself, but I’m always telling Brian about the neat things I learned with enthusiasm.  I think it’s ultimately worth it.
  16. Duchess By Night by Eloisa James: Nice and satisfying, with a hilarious daughter to top it all off. No outright silly like in some of James’ novels.  Would recommend.
  17. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: A strange collection of things, some of which I had read before. I went from “So good, I’ll never be this good, I love this story” to “No.  No, no.  No” about them.  My favorite was the Study in Emerald.  I’m not gonna pick a least favorite.  All in all, I would recommend it to Gaiman fans, though I enjoy his novels more.
  18. Once Upon A Tower by Eloisa James: I liked this one QUITE a bit. May be my favorite since the Essex Sisters.
  19. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo: The book was really repetitive, and I didn’t care at all about the pages and pages of testimonials that she included, which may be a translation problem? But I did ultimately feel that her ideas were helpful and will put some of them into practice.
  20. Midnight Pleasures by Eloisa James: I generally liked it, but felt like the plot wasn’t tight. I mean, they end up with this mysterious French kid for no real reason and the scepter thing resolves WAY too easily.  It was also sad.  I enjoyed it, but think James has better work out there.
  21. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Strangely, this book speaks differently to me now that I’m a little farther along the path to become a writer. I find that I’m more willing to listen to her advice without saying “yes, but an agent…” and to embrace the actual writing as the thing to fall in love with.  Still balm for my crazy soul.
  22. This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James: Devolved a bit into farce, but I always enjoy a James novel. I’m slowly working through her backlist until I’ve read them ALL.
  23. A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James: I mean, Villers is my FAVORITE James heroine. I Loved this one, especially his son Tobias.  It was nice to see him get his own novel finally.
  24. Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James: This was one of the first James books I read, and I realized after a while that it’s partially from the perspective of Villers’ son. Which meant that I had to re-read it, of course. It was good the first time, but even better in context.
  25. A Wild Pursuit by Eloisa James: Another farciful one, with too many people at a house party.  I would say it’s good romance, I just think other things by James are better.
  26. Your Wicked Ways by Eloisa James: While I felt like I wish the heroine had a little more backbone, I LOVED all the music that’s in it. Ultimately, this is one of my favorites of hers.
  27. Enchanting Pleasures by Eloisa James: I think James is at her best when her heroines are smart, and Gabby is very smart. Quill is also super-easy to fall in love with as a character, though I feel as if I wish they had a tighter plot to play in.
  28. Why Diets Make us Fat by Sandra Aamodt: Interesting, if sometimes full of dry scientific studies. It makes me fear dieting, and also gives me hope that I can be healthy and a bit chubby.  Wonderful book full of important info.
  29. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray: I don’t know what to say about this one because it seems in a lot of ways like the original Diviners book – zippy, jazzy, a bit heartbreaking, scary. But for some reason I just didn’t care much about the characters like I did in book 1.
  30. Excuses Begone by Wayne Dyer: I tend to take advice from millionaires to ignore money when making decisions with a grain of salt, but I do think a lot of his points were valid. Worth a read, and very motivational.
  31. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: Holy crap this book is good – Tumblr you were totally right, even if you did ruin one of the big secrets for me ahead of time. My new obsession. Bonus points? All books are out – no waiting.
  32. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: I usually find sequels to be not as good as the originals, but I’m finding that this one is even better. If that’s possible.  Can’t wait to read the rest of them and will be burning through them the next few days.
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Heroes and Villains

Camp Nanowrimo is going well-ish.  My word count has exploded, but the point was to write 4 whole short stories (and not 50,000 words), so I’m feeling a little behind.  The Golden Apple story went like gang-busters for a while but seems to have stalled out.  Brian and I discussed it this weekend, and I think it’s because the About is more in line with WWII than the Great War, and so it doesn’t quite fit.  Also, needs more Greek Gods (which could be said of everything, really).

I swore to myself that I would actually post a book review this week, since it’s been a while.  I am still working on the 2016 reading challenge, and plugging away at it.  This week?  A book that makes me want to be a hero, and a book that makes me want to be a villain.

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The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley:

I have long been a huge fan of McKinley’s The Hero and The Crown, about an outcast of a royal woman, Aerin, who experiments with a non-burning salve used to fight dragons, and ends up being the savior of her people (along with a busted-up war horse).  I hadn’t read The Blue Sword, though I knew it was considered the sequel.  It wasn’t available on kindle until fairly recently, and isn’t available in most stores.

I found it, though, at a little used bookstore by the train station where I pick Brian up some days.  I bought it immediately and read it so fast.  Best find ever.

It’s about an orphan, Harry Crewe, who moves to be near her brother at a military outpost in the desert.  When a mountain king comes to the village to ask for military aid, his second-sight tells him to kidnap Harry and take her with him back to his kingdom.  She comes into her own, becoming one of the kings sacred riders and besting the country at the sword trials.  She communes with Lady Aerin, falls for the king, and saves a country herself.

It’s full of hard tasks and bad choices, but of trust and valor.  It makes me want to learn to ride a horse with nothing but a small leather cushion on the back.  It makes me want to live in a tent with a king and drink waters that make me have visions.  It makes me want to wear a mended scarf around my waist, and to find a home among other people with strange ways.  Even if they do start calling me Harimad Sol.

So, Harry Crewe makes me want to be a hero.

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Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman:

Kindle has been recommending me this book for a very long time, in the way it recommends things I end up disliking.  I finally read the synopsis of it, and was sort of expecting it to be a worse version of Patricia C. Wrede’s Frontier Magic.  I figured that even if it was bad it would have interesting ideas.  I was VERY wrong.  It wasn’t anything like that at all, really, except in the traveling through the west theme.

And it was great.  My only beef with the book is that I will have to wait another 2 years (!!!) for the series to be finished.  Damn you, Simon and Schuster.  You always do this to me!

In this west, there are three parts.  There is the United States, there is the territory controlled by the devil, and then there is Spain, in that order from East to West.  The devil is undefined.  Is he evil?  Who knows.  But he does protect the territory, and he does make bargains for people’s souls.  He also runs a saloon, where main character Izzy grows up.

Izzy isn’t sure where she wants to go when she reaches her majority.  So she sells herself to the devil and agrees to become his left hand, touring his portion of the territory and doing… well, she doesn’t really know.  She has a guide to teach her the road, and they know there are monsters let loose to murder the populace.  That’s all she has to go on.

It’s a great book, super-exciting, and basically reminds me of a Deadlands game that has gone to print. Being out on the road seems great, if inconvenient sometimes.  Also bonus points for a book that discusses how women deal with periods (as in monthly bleeding) because I’ve never seen that before in fantasy.

I would like to travel the road with Gabriel and see the strange things in the west, although I’m not sure I’d agree to sell my soul to the devil to do it.

Isobel makes me want to be a villain.

So that’s it for the book reviews this week.  As always, happy reading!

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Like This? Try That: International Women’s Day Edition

It was International Women’s Day last Tuesday.  Yay women!  And yay for awesome posts about all the cool things created by women.  I found a great post circulating on Tumblr where it told you some common men’s authors and suggested a book by a woman you might like instead.  The only problem?  I didn’t actually like any of those original books by men.  In fact, I sort of abhor them.  Good plan, not great execution (if your reading tastes are like mine).

So, in that spirit, I decided to put my own compilation together.  It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  There are a billion women books I love that don’t have an easy male equivalent, and same for men books, so I feel as if this is, at best, incomplete. Left off on the man side are Damon Runyon, John Steinbeck, and Gregory McGuire, to name a few.  I’d have really loved to work in some Shannon Hale, Robin McKinley, and Mary Stewart on the woman side, but no dice. Still, below are some of my favorite men authors, and a book by a woman that’s similar.  And just for the record, you can’t go wrong reading ANY of the books on this list, gender notwithstanding.

SedarisLawson

Like David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day?

Try: Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, by Jenny Lawson

Although Sedaris’ book mostly takes place in New York or rural France, and Lawson’s book takes place in Texas, they share much.  A fondness for bad taxidermy, a willingness to create farce from their family situations, a predilection for terrorizing their significant other.  Both have a wry wit that it’s impossible not to guffaw at.  Both are banned reading for me before bed, because I can’t put them down; nor can I stop shaking the bed while Brian sleeps because I’m laughing too hard.

TolkienLeGuin

Like JRR Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring?

Try: A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. LeGuin

LeGuin’s book is more languid and unurgent than Fellowship, but it is still a world in which wizards have immense power and are struggling to defeat unknown evil.  They both have epic quests, sorceresses, and ideal villages which they must leave.  Ged is haunted by his own mistakes, and Frodo is haunted by others’.  Frodo has an elven canoe, Ged has the Lookfar. There are differences, but the worlds feel familiar, ancient, and big.  They’re excellent.

KeillorLowry

Like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, Summer 1956?

Try: A Summer to Die, by Lois Lowry

Lowry’s book is not as funny as Keillor’s, but they both share a nostalgia and an innocence that feel right together.  Gary is dealing with adulthood, the passing away of many of his childhood ideals, becoming a writer, with the unfair things that happen to his cousin Kate.  Meg is dealing with growing up awkwardly, attempting to measure up to her perfect sister, adapting to a new rural school, and with her sister’s fatal leukemia.  In both there is a loss of innocence, and a sense of claiming a more adult self as both characters move forward in life.  They’re both full of hope.

KiplingSpeare

Like Rudyard Kipling’s Captain’s Courageous?

Try: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare

I mean, I LOVE Kipling something fierce, despite his flaws.  And the book I like most of his is Puck of Pooks Hill, which is like nothing else I have ever read.  So instead I have sought to pair his Captain’s Courageous with another book about New England.  Both characters struggle to survive in a culture they don’t understand without the skills to thrive.  Both learn of loss and hard work.  Both feature ships prominently.  This might be a stretch…

DoyleChristie

Like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles?

Try: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

Both Christie and Doyle are known as the quintessential mystery writers of their day, and for good reason.  Both of these mysteries take place on rural estates in England, and both will keep you guessing for days as to what’s really going on.  Bonus?  Styles is the very first Poirot novel, so you can use your little gray cells to solve the mystery.

PratchetJones

Like Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men?

Try: Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones

I mean, nothing’s as funny as the Nac Mac Feegles and their drunk, Scotsman-like ways.  But Jones does a pretty good job of lending that farciful attitude to Wizard Howl, and poor Sophie who has to take care of him.  Both books are chalk full of all the stuff you always hear about in fairy tales, but they’re used in new and delightful ways.  The chaos wraps up nicely at the end for all of them, too.

GaimanBlack

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

Girl Book: Tithe by Holly Black

Dark worlds where the modern scene is definitely more sinister than you imagined it?  Check, for both novels.  Instead of Richard and his London Below, Kaye has the fairy courts that placed her in her mother’s home in exchange for the changeling baby they stole.  She’s not saving a bleeding Door, she’s saving Roiben, knight of the Unseelie Court.  Both are fighting dark things they don’t understand.  Both become part of worlds they don’t understand and can’t quite navigate.

So, happy belated International Women’s Day.  And enjoy your reading.

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