SylviaC's 2017 Reading Extravaganza! (Part 3)
This is a continuation of the topic SylviaC's 2017 Reading Extravaganza! (Part 2).
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I read for pleasure, roughly equal amounts of fiction and nonfiction, and am quite willing to abandon any book that I'm not enjoying. I read paper books, ebooks, and audio. I only write a proper review if I really have something to say about a book, but I'll always give at least a brief reaction. My star ratings are based on how much I enjoyed the book.
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Defying Doomsday edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench. A collection of YA apocalyptic short stories featuring protagonists with disabilities. I was impressed with the consistent quality of these 15 stories. There wasn't one that I didn't like. I had my doubts about a few of them at first, but by the time I got a few pages in, I was hooked. There was the usual assortment of causes for the End of Life as We Know It: lots of plagues, environmental disasters, and aliens, a couple of less common ones, and one that was completely new to me. And not a zombie amongst the lot of them, I'm happy to say.
Ha! You thought you'd sneak away quietly and I still found you. Starred.
A is for Ox: a short history of the alphabet by Lyn Davies. This would have been a lovely little illustrated book, but pages 65-80 were missing, and replaced by duplicates of pages 81-96. This meant no letters from lowercase b to uppercase J. And this is a Folio Society book!
So now my problem is: what do I do with this book? I bought it several months ago from an online bookstore, so I'm pretty sure I'm past the timeframe for returns. It's a beautiful Folio Society book complete with slightly grubby slipcase. I didn't actually pay a lot for it, because it was in a sale. But it's missing a significant part of its guts, so I don't want to keep it, or to donate it. The only thing I can think of is to throw it away. But it will be hard to do.
>10 SylviaC: If the illustrations are lovely, can you finish the gutting job and use them for pictures? Or some other creative thing?
>11 MrsLee: The illustrations are nice, and there is some beautiful lettering, which contributes to my reluctance to just throw it out. Maybe I will consult with my daughter, who is much more artistic than I am.
>12 SylviaC: If you can find a whole copy, and a machine that can make top quality copies, you could copy off the missing pages and use stubs of the duff ones to anchor the copies to.
I'm thinking little boxes, reading journal covers or other kinds of journal covers. We make our own by using writing exercise books (the really inexpensive ones) and gluing papers we love on them, then putting colorful binding tape for the "spine." You could gift them to people whose names begin with the letter, or use them to donate to a fund raiser.
One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes. This novel is like a snapshot of a single day in the life of a British family in the aftermath of World War II. It follows Laura, Stephen, and their daughter Victoria through a hot, sunny July day in July 1946. Laura does the household chores that she had to learn to do by herself but never really mastered during the war. Stephen commutes to his office in London, and frets over the overgrown garden that he is not able to take care of adequately. Victoria is growing up as children do, heading for a future in this new post-war world. That's about it. They move through a typical day with no particular action or great drama.
The theme of change and adaptation is rooted in the history and permanence of the English countryside. The characters are faced with the social upheaval brought about by the war. The middle and upper classes were left to cope with their crumbling homes and lifestyles after the servants left during the war. The people who would have done the work have discovered new opportunities and freedoms beyond the confines of their former roles. We get a glimpse of the difficulties encountered by soldiers returning to families and homes that have evolved without them, and the families who likewise had to adjust to fit the men and their expectations back into their lives.
The writing is beautiful, with wonderful descriptions of the countryside and people of the village. Laura is a lighthearted and sympathetic character. While there is a sense of melancholy for what has been lost for some, there is also optimism for the future. Despite the lack of action, the book is enthralling, with a strong sense of time and space. For the modern reader, it casts a spotlight on a moment in the past. I wonder what it was like for the original readers back when the book was serialized and published in 1946-47.
The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz. SF romance novella. A neat little exploration of the concept of personhood in artificial intelligence. The story was a little unbalanced, as the first third of this very short book was taken up with introducing the two characters separately, before they even meet. A nice story, though.
>18 pgmcc: I was looking for those at the book sales last month, but they're probably too recent for anyone to be reselling. A search just now tells me that they are in my county library system, so I may request the first one sometime soon. I'm trying to get through a bunch of the shorter stuff on my TBR pile first, though.
>19 Sakerfalcon: That thought did pass through my mind, too!
Just working my way through some of the low-hanging fruit on my TBR tree. The first few are short stories or novellas (ebooks), the rest are short nonfiction books.
Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman - cute
Fearless by Shira Glassman - characters flat
The Wallflowers by Megan Mulry - irritating characters, lame plot
Apples Should be Red by Penny Watson - I was turned off by swearing and rudeness at the start, but ended up enjoying the book.
Daffodils in Spring by Pamela Morsi - nice
Pat's Pantry by Rhoda Baxter - yuck
The Bookshop on the Corner by Rebecca Raisin - The female characters were all interesting, but I don't know when I've ever seen such a cardboard cutout of a stereotypical romance hero.
50 Underwear Questions: a bare-all history by Tanya Lloyd Kyi - quite informative for a children's book
The Mailbox Book: a pictorial journey through Ontario's mailbox art - I saw one that belongs to someone I know.
The Way Things Really Work - parody of The Way Things Work - some of the explanations were pretty entertaining
More on Oxymoron by Patrick Hughes - disappointing. There was too much commentary that really didn't say much. So I guess it was successful in that aspect.
A London Season by Joan Wolf. A Regency romance. Heroine and hero were unusual, but the resolution was typical. I enjoyed it.
The End of Summer by Rosamunde Pilcher. Yes, I'm on a romance kick. I think it's the onset of wintery weather that's doing it. This was very low key, and not bad for one of her shorter books. It was quite clear by the end of the second chapter how the rest of the story would unfold. It was published in 1971, and feels like it.
Years by LaVyrle Spencer. Historical romance about a young teacher taking her first job in a rural North Dakota school in 1917. I really liked most of this. Linnea was a wonderful character. Even though she was young and small, she knew her own mind, and didn't let anyone push her around. She made mistakes, but acknowledged them, and figured out how to correct them. As someone who has been both a teacher and a farmer, I appreciated the historical perspectives on both professions. This is only the second book that I've read by LaVyrle Spencer, but I suspect that her writing style must be to lull you into thinking that you're reading a gentle romance, and then ambushing you with a wave of darkness.
Christmas on Mimosa Lane by Anna DiStefano. Talk about not judging a book by it's cover... The title and cover image suggest a warm, gentle Christmas romance, all cozy and glowing. In reality, its main themes are parental death, mourning, homelessness, mental illness, and abandonment. And there's a garnish of addiction, PTSD and self-loathing. Not exactly what I had in mind to start off my Christmas reading. Surprisingly, I did finish it, mainly because I liked the characters, and wanted to see how things would work out for them.
Love Stories. A collection of short stories. I loved the first story, which was by Catherine Cookson, whose writing I have detested for most of my reading life. Unfortunately, that was the only story I liked.
A Regency romance series by Sheila Simonson:
The Bar Sinister
Lady Elizabeth's Comet
Love and Folly
The Young Pretender
This was a strange series. There was continuity of characters and events throughout the series, but the books were so different that they could have been written by three different authors. Two of the books were straightforward romances, and one of those was just a novella published about 25 years later than the first three books. The plots of those two books simply revolved around the relationships of the primary characters. The other two had plots shooting off all over the place. Action, suspense, drama, political intrigue. There was so much happening to so many characters that there wasn't really a focal point. I preferred the two simple romances, though there were good points to all the books. I really liked most of the main characters, who were intelligent and had strong senses of humour. Lady Elizabeth's Comet is my favourite, and is the only one that I had read before. I wish that the rest of the series lived up it.
The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'Neill. Children's graphic novel. I followed this weekly webcomic as it came out at http://teadragonsociety.com. It gave me so much pleasure that I had to buy a copy when it came out as a hardcover book. It's a charming story about a young blacksmith girl who rescues a tiny dragon and makes new friends. Beautiful and magical.
>30 cmbohn: I highly recommend it! My daughter loved it too, when I lent it to her.
I'm working my way through some of the Christmas stuff on my Kindle, starting with what's been on there the longest.
An ebook bundle of 14 Christmas romances: Sweet Christmas Kisses. As usual with these things, the quality was all over the place. The ones that I liked well enough that I would read other things by the same authors are:
An Almost Perfect Christmas by Donna Fasano
Stormy Times by Beate Boeker
Christmas in White Oak by Aileen Fish
Lucky Break Christmas: Homecoming by Patricia Forsythe
A Scottish Christmas by Roxanne Rustand
Small Town Christmas by Magdalena Scott
>29 SylviaC: This will be the perfect Christmas gift for a friend of mine! Thanks for the review!
A Family for Christmas by Mona Ingram. The good: Takes place in Calgary—there aren't many Canadian romances. Good friendship between the two main female characters, who are also independent and capable. A nice kid. The bad: love at first sight for both couples, with absolutely no relationship development. Both relationships are sabotaged by cruel, scheming female rivals. Nobody knows how to COMMUNICATE.
A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong by Cecilia Grant. Another Regency romance, short novel or novella, depending on where you draw the line. I loved it. The plot is the fairly typical one of a couple getting stranded together while travelling together at Christmas. The couple are adorable. He is priggish, uptight, and sexually inexperienced. He blushes! She is unconventional, free spirited, and equally inexperienced. In general, I'm not a big fan of sex in historical romances, but in this case, it fit perfectly into the plot and character development. This story is the prequel to a series, and from the descriptions and reviews, it looks like this one is much lighter than the rest of the series.
One thing led to another, and I ended up reading ALL of Sarah Addison Allen's books. The first five were rereads, and the last one was a first time read. Every time I read her books, I'm amazed at how beautifully she writes, and at the delicacy of the fantasy elements. I no longer find strong fantasy as appealing as I used to, but I love the light touches of magic in these books.
Lost Lake. The first time I read this, I liked it but wasn't blown away by it. This time I loved everything about it.
The Peach Keeper. I think this is the one that I've revisited the most. I wasn't that crazy about it the first time I read it, but it keeps drawing me back. At this point, it might be my favourite—or very close to it.
The Sugar Queen. This is the one that got me hooked on Sarah Addison Allen's books in the first place, and made her one of the few authors whose books I automatically buy in hardcover as soon as they're released.
The Girl Who Chased the Moon. I find it charming, but the two storylines don't tie together very strongly. I still enjoyed it.
Garden Spells. Her first book. I've come to the conclusion that this is my least favourite. There are some pretty dark parts, and I find the main character irritating at times. Good enough to reread every now and then, though.
First Frost. Her most recent book, and a sequel to Garden Spells. My first impression is that this is the lightest of her books. Enjoyable, but not much to it. That opinion may change with future readings. I like Bay, and was happy to see Evanelle again.
The Science of Energy: Resources and Power Explained by Michael Wysession. Audio from The Great Courses. Very interesting lectures about the science, challenges, and future of energy and resources. I thought it seemed very well balanced.
Ooty Preserved: A Victorian Hill Station in India by Mollie Panter-Downes. A combination of history and travelogue published in 1967. I always like Mollie Panter-Downes' writing, but because the font was so small and dense, I wasn't able to get immersed in this one. I did enjoy the chapter on the aging remnants of the Colonial era community, who lingered on after Indian Independence because for one reason or another they preferred to remain in or return to Ooty rather than establish new lives in England. Another part I liked was the poignant description of the old British cemetery with which the author ended the book.
Today is the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion, the largest man made explosion in the world, prior to Hiroshima. Two ships, one heavily loaded with explosives headed for the war in Europe, collided in Halifax Harbour. Approximately 2000 people were killed by the explosion and many more were injured. My grandmother was five years old, and was walking to school with her sister. Grandma survived, but her sister was killed right next to her. Several other siblings survived, but their mother, who was at home, died of her injuries a week or so later. The entire section of the city was destroyed by the blast and the tsunami, and then there were widespread fires. The next day there was a blizzard. My cousins and I all grew up listening to Grandma's stories of the explosion. So today I read on of the books from my Halifax Explosion collection that I hadn't read before.
Blizzard of Glass: the Halifax Explosion of 1917 by Sally M. Walker. A very well done nonfiction children's book, geared towards middle grades and older. Lots of photographs. The title is apt, as the shattering glass was horrific. My grandmother hated modern glass office buildings because she should remember all the injury and damage caused by flying glass in the explosion. This book was written for children, but it is perfectly readable and informative for an adult, too.
>49 SylviaC: Yours is the second or third item I've seen today referencing that particular event. Yet I would swear that I've not heard of it before. Interesting stuff!
Didn't Robert MacNeil of MacNeil-Lehrer fame write a novel with the Halifax Explosion as a backdrop?
ETA: Yup, he did: Burden of Desire
>49 SylviaC: I've not heard of this either, which seems shameful given its impact on the city. And how awful that your family was affected so directly - not surprising that your grandmother felt so strongly about glass buildings after that.
I haven't been online much lately, because I'm mostly just reading. I happen to be in a spell of having plenty of spare time and few obligations, so I'm making the most of it. I can't remember the last time I was able to get so immersed in my books. I'll enjoy it while it lasts!
>55 SylviaC: That sounds wonderful. Keep in the zone while you have it.
I've been on a reading tear for the month of December, and it has all been light stuff, mostly romances. Here's an overview of the ones I wrote down or can remember. There were probably a few more that I lost track of.
Lighting the Flames by Sarah Wendell. Reread. Hanukkah romance about two friends who are helping to run a winter program for families at a camp. The story is full of fun, but grief is also a significant theme. It's a lovely story.
A Pirate for Christmas by Anna Campbell. I wasn't sure that I'd like it at first, but it ended up being quite good.
Christmas Miracles by Mary Balogh. Another anthology of Regency novellas. Only the last one was new to me. The stories were:
"The Wassail Bowl" - I've never liked this one
"The Bond Street Carolers" - a nice one, with the requisite adorable little girl
"Guarded By Angels" - I liked it
Christmas Collection by Allison Lane. Regency novellas:
"Second Chance" - no spark
"Heart's Desire" - I've read this one many times, and have always loved it. The characters are very well developed despite the shorter format.
"The Marriage Stakes" - almost like a reality show parody. I enjoyed it.
More Than Friends by Jody Holford - friends pretend to be a couple while his family visits for Christmas. Cute story, but has some odd criminal activity in background that seems to be setup for other books in series.
My True Love Gave to Me - a collection of short YA Christmas romance stories by some well known authors. None were bad, and I loved a few.
A Family for Christmas by Jay Northcote - nice enough, though not spectacular.
And I'm obsessively working my way through the lengthy backlist of romances by Andrew Grey.
A set of picture books by Jeffrey Brown.
Darth Vader and Son
Vader's Little Princess
Goodnight Darth Vader
Darth Vader and Friends
These were not what I expected them to be. I thought they would be children's picture books with cartoon illustrations telling a simple story. Instead, they were more like fan art collections aimed at people who are quite knowledgeable about all the Star Wars movies. I've only seen the first one, so many of the cartoons didn't mean anything to me.
The Ultimate Gift by Jim Stovall. For book club. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this short, inspirational (but not overtly religious) novel. I'm not usually a fan of anything that tells me how to live my life. This was really just a list of values, like family, work, education, and giving and sharing, framed as the story of a self-centred young man performing tasks over the course of a year to earn his inheritance from a rich great-uncle. The really wasn't much to it, but it was nice.
Well, every once in a while, one needs a good regency romance novel. I am intrigued by A Pirate for Christmas.
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