Christina reads the 2019 Category Challenge, Part 2
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(Charles Edward Perugini, "Girl Reading")
Hello, and welcome to part 2 of my 2019 Category Challenge thread! I'm keeping it simple this year; my target is 75 books total, 25 in each of the following categories:
1. Books acquired before January 1, 2019. This category can include both physical books and e-books; rereads also count.
2. Books acquired on or after January 1, 2019. This category will include books I buy, books given or loaned to me, and library books.
3. Books for Bingo. As in previous years, I plan to cover the entire BingoDOG card. Each book I read will only count in one category, so if I use it for Bingo, I can't place it in category 1 or 2.
I said at the beginning of the year that my goal for 2019 is to enjoy what I'm reading, and so far, that has definitely been the case! I'm excited to see what the rest of the year will bring.
(Jean-Honoré Fragonard, "La Liseuse")
1. Bria Quinlan, Worth the Fall (10/4/18)
2. Alan Melville, Death of Anton (8/26/17)
3. Agatha Christie, Sad Cypress (8/8/06) - reread
4. Loretta Chase, The Devil's Delilah (7/19/18)
5. L.M. Montgomery, The Blue Castle (6/29/09) - reread
6. Grace Burrowes, A Rogue of Her Own (12/15/18)
7. Lucy Parker, Pretty Face (2/20/17) - reread
8. Jane Austen, Emma (8/8/06) - reread
9. Georgette Heyer, Duplicate Death (6/19/12)
10. Connie Willis, Bellwether (12/10/07) - reread
11. J. Kathleen Cheney, The Golden City (3/7/15)
12. Cindy Anstey, Duels & Deception (12/15/18)
13. Patricia C. Wrede, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (4/16/16)
14. Georgette Heyer, Devil's Cub (7/28/08) - reread
15. Jonna Gjevre, Arcanos Unraveled (8/30/18)
16. John Bude, The Cornish Coast Murder (1/14/16)
17. Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs (9/29/12)
18. Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor (8/30/16)
19. Anthony Trollope, Doctor Thorne (8/5/13)
20. Leo Bruce, Dead Man's Shoes (4/9/18)
21. Jasper Fforde, The Woman Who Died a Lot (10/16/12)
(Darren Thompson, "No Place to Sit")
1. Leigh Bardugo, King of Scars
2. Alan Bradley, The Golden Tresses of the Dead
3. Jessie Mihalik, Polaris Rising
4. C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms
5. Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense
6. Frank Sheed, To Know Christ Jesus
7. Sophie Kinsella, I Owe You One
8. Josie Silver, One Day in December
9. Ngaio Marsh, Enter a Murderer
10. Jasmine Guillory, The Proposal
11. Soniah Kamal, Unmarriageable
12. Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
13. Jessica Khoury, Last of Her Name
14. Lucy Parker, The Austen Playbook
15. Raymond Postgate, Verdict of Twelve
16. Elinor Lipman, Good Riddance
17. Jennifer E. Smith, Field Notes on Love
18. Mary Balogh, A Counterfeit Betrothal / The Notorious Rake
19. Esi Edugyan, Washington Black
20. Beth O'Leary, The Flatshare
21. Mariana Zapata, The Wall of Winnipeg and Me
22. Ellis Peters, The Heretic's Apprentice
23. Veronica Henry, How to Find Love in a Bookshop
24. Margaret Rogerson, Sorcery of Thorns
25. Julia Quinn, Ten Things I Love about You
26. Abby Jimenez, The Friend Zone
27. Mary Balogh, The Famous Heroine / The Plumed Bonnet
28. Linda Holmes, Evvie Drake Starts Over
29. J. Kathleen Cheney, The Seat of Magic
30. Abbi Waxman, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
31. Kristan Higgins, Life and Other Inconveniences
32. Evie Dunmore, Bringing Down the Duke
33. Jen DeLuca, Well Met
34. Alix E. Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January
1. McKelle George, Speak Easy, Speak Love (artistic character: one main character is a novelist, and another is a jazz singer)
2. Stuart Palmer, The Penguin Pool Murder (animal in title/on cover/significant role: penguins are in the title and on the cover)
3. Julia Quinn, What Happens in London (part of a series: book 2 in the Bevelstoke series)
4. Lyra Selene, Amber & Dusk (debut novel)
5. R.S. Grey, Hotshot Doc (related to medicine or health: hero is a doctor, heroine is a surgical assistant)
6. Lissa Evans, Crooked Heart (LT rating of 4.0 or more: 4.14 as of January 20, 2019)
7. Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen (children's or young adult: YA fantasy novel)
8. Loretta Chase, Viscount Vagabond (alliterative title)
9. Jennifer Crusie, Crazy for You (title contains homophone word: for/four/fore, you/ewe)
10. Kelly Jones, Murder, Magic, and What We Wore (main title has 6+ words)
11. Sally Thorne, 99 Percent Mine (about or featuring siblings: central conflict is that the main character is in love with her twin brother's best friend)
12. Meagan Spooner, Hunted (fairy tale: Beauty and the Beast retelling)
13. Lindsey Kelk, One in a Million (read a CAT: Feb CalendarCAT = Valentine's Day, Feb AlphaKIT = K, O)
14. AJ Pearce, Dear Mrs. Bird (author uses middle name or initial)
15. Annie Darling, True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop (cover has at least 2 human figures: silhouettes of the hero and heroine)
16. Robert Cardinal Sarah with Nicolas Diat, God or Nothing: A Conversation on Faith (book in translation: translated from the French by Michael J. Miller)
17. Stephanie Burgis, Kat, Incorrigible (mentioned in another book: Murder, Magic, and What We Wore)
18. Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, the Serial Killer (prize-winning book: won the 2019 Morning News Tournament of Books)
19. Mary Stewart, The Stormy Petrel (title contains weather word/book centers around weather event: "stormy")
20. Ann Patchett, Bel Canto (made into a movie)
21. Edward Grierson, The Second Man (book bullet: from NinieB)
22. Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader (short stories or essays: essay collection)
23. Jenny Colgan, Meet Me at the Cupcake Café (food-related title or topic: heroine opens a bakery)
(Charles Wysocki, "Frederick the Literate")
I may participate in some or all of the CATs, depending on what they turn out to be. But I plan to treat them as take-it-or-leave-it challenges; I won't do all of them every month.
TBRCAT (first in, last out):
SeriesCAT (in translation):
AlphaKIT (Q, A): Julia Quinn, What Happens in London; Lyra Selene, Amber & Dusk; Bria Quinlan, Worth the Fall; Victoria Aveyard, Red Queen; Alan Melville, Death of Anton
CalendarCAT (Valentine's Day): Sally Thorne, 99 Percent Mine; Lindsey Kelk, One in a Million; Loretta Chase, The Devil's Delilah; Annie Darling, True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop
SeriesCAT (YA/children's): Leigh Bardugo, King of Scars
AlphaKIT (K, O): Lindsey Kelk, One in a Million; Leigh Bardugo, King of Scars
TBRCAT (trip or special occasion):
SeriesCAT (favorite author):
AlphaKIT (U, L): C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms; Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense
TBRCAT (LT group read or challenge):
CalendarCAT (Lent/Easter): Frank Sheed, To Know Christ Jesus
AlphaKIT (B, M): Stephanie Burgis, Kat, Incorrigible; Ngaio Marsh, Enter a Murderer
TBRCAT (look at but don't open):
SeriesCAT (newest in a favorite series): Lucy Parker, The Austen Playbook
AlphaKIT (H, V): Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine; Jessica Khoury, Last of Her Name; Raymond Postgate, Verdict of Twelve
RandomCAT (pick a card...any card!): Esi Edugyan, Washington Black
SeriesCAT (definitely complete):
AlphaKIT (J, D): Jennifer E. Smith, Field Notes on Love; Georgette Heyer, Duplicate Death; J. Kathleen Cheney, The Golden City; Cindy Anstey, Duels & Deception
RandomCAT (all about birds): Mary Stewart, The Stormy Petrel
TBRCAT (author with 2+ books on TBR): John Bude, The Cornish Coast Murder
SeriesCAT (fantasy): Patricia C. Wrede, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
AlphaKIT (C, P): Patricia C. Wrede, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles; Mary Stewart, The Stormy Petrel; Ann Patchett, Bel Canto; Ellis Peters, The Heretic's Apprentice; John Bude, The Cornish Coast Murder; Mary Balogh, The Famous Heroine / The Plumed Bonnet
RandomCAT (back to school): Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs
TBRCAT (excited when purchased but still unread): Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs
SeriesCAT (set in country/region where you don't live): Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs; J. Kathleen Cheney, The Seat of Magic
AlphaKIT (N, I): Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs; Abbi Waxman, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
SFFKIT (alternate history): J. Kathleen Cheney, The Seat of Magic
TBRCAT (classic): Anthony Trollope, Doctor Thorne
SeriesCAT (mystery): Leo Bruce, Dead Man's Shoes
AlphaKIT (F, W): Jasper Fforde, The Woman Who Died a Lot; Jen DeLuca, Well Met
SFFKIT (series): Jasper Fforde, The Woman Who Died a Lot
RandomCAT (knockoffs, follow-ups, tributes, parodies):
TBRCAT (purchased for visual appeal):
AlphaKIT (G, T): Alix E. Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January
SeriesCAT (female protagonist):
AlphaKIT (S, Y):
SFFKIT (award winner):
TBRCAT (too cheap to resist):
SeriesCAT (new to you):
AlphaKIT (E, R):
SFFKIT (end-of-year wrap-up):
AlphaKIT (X, Z): Mariana Zapata, The Wall of Winnipeg and Me; Abby Jimenez, The Friend Zone
April was a pretty good month for me, with six books read -- especially since I spent all the time before Easter on just one book (To Know Christ Jesus)! Once Lent ended, I went on a light and fluffy novel-reading binge, and I regret nothing. :) Anyway, here's what I read in April:
1. Frank Sheed, To Know Christ Jesus
2. Lucy Parker, Pretty Face
3. Sophie Kinsella, I Owe You One
4. Stephanie Burgis, Kat, Incorrigible
5. Josie Silver, One Day in December
6. Ngaio Marsh, Enter a Murderer
I also finished Jasmine Guillory’s The Proposal in the wee small hours of the morning, but I'm counting that as my first book for May.
Book of the month:
I was quite charmed by Kat, Incorrigible and am really looking forward to reading the rest of the series!
I Owe You One was fun in the moment, but I definitely found myself focusing on its (many) flaws.
CalendarCAT (Lent/Easter): Frank Sheed, To Know Christ Jesus
AlphaKIT (B, M): Stephanie *Burgis, Kat, Incorrigible; Ngaio *Marsh, Enter a *Murderer
Bingo squares completed:
- Book mentioned in another book you have read: Kat, Incorrigible was mentioned in the author’s note of Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, which I read earlier this year.
Books acquired in April:
Gil North, Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm
Richard Hull, Excellent Intentions
Raymond Postgate, Verdict of Twelve
Maud Hart Lovelace, The Betsy-Tacy Treasury: The First Four Betsy-Tacy Books
Jane Thynne, Black Roses
Helen MacInnes, Assignment in Brittany
Elinor Lipman, On Turpentine Lane
Patrick Quentin, A Puzzle for Fools
Lucy Parker, The Austen Playbook
Book #34: Jasmine Guillory, The Proposal
Nikole Paterson is at a LA Dodgers game with her boyfriend Fisher. She's been seeing him casually for about five months, but she doesn't consider their relationship particularly serious. So she's shocked when Fisher urges her to look at the JumboTron just as it's flashing a proposal to her, from him -- and her name isn't even spelled correctly! Nik is completely mortified; luckily, Carlos Ibarra is sitting just a couple rows behind her, sees the whole thing, and decides to help extricate her from the situation. Grateful for the save, Nik invites Carlos for a drink with her and her friends. Then they start texting each other, and soon they're getting to know each other (and, ahem, "know" each other) and spending a ton of time together. Neither one of them is looking for a serious relationship, but as they grow closer despite themselves, they realize they've accidentally fallen in love.
I liked but didn't love Guillory's previous novel, The Wedding Date, and I find myself having a similar reaction to this book. It's definitely a fun read, and both Nik and Carlos are likable characters whom I wanted to succeed and be happy. But as in The Wedding Date, there's very little conflict: this is a book about nice people who are almost uniformly nice to each other. Now, I enjoy books with minimal angst and characters who communicate well; but Nik and Carlos's relationship is so drama-free that it's a little boring to read about, honestly. A lot of interesting conflicts lurk beneath the surface -- Carlos's belief that he has to be the rock his family depends on, for example, or Nik's past relationship with an emotionally abusive man -- but they're barely touched on in the novel. Instead, the only obstacle between them is that they both want a casual fling, then realize they have Feelings. So while I found this a pleasant enough read, I definitely wanted more in terms of dramatic tension.
Book #35: Soniah Kamal, Unmarriageable
This retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in contemporary Pakistan tells the story of the five Binat sisters, whose mother is desperate for them to marry well and thus raise their family’s social status. But the second sister, Alysba Binat, is a staunch feminist who would rather keep her career and independence than submit to a husband. When the entire family is invited to a lavish society wedding, Alys’s older sister Jena catches the eye of “Bungles” Bingla, a rich and handsome bachelor. But Bungles’s friend, the even richer and more handsome Valentine Darsee, is not so impressed with Alys. His dismissive behavior infuriates her, and she promptly writes him off as unmarriageable. But as Alys gets to know Darsee better, all while trying to balance familial and cultural expectations with her own desires, she slowly revises her first impression of him.
This novel is a very faithful and competent retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and I enjoyed experiencing the familiar story in a completely new-to-me setting. But I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to be taking away from this book. It occasionally touches on British colonialism and how it affected—and continues to affect—Pakistani culture; one character even talks explicitly about how English literature is still seen as superior to native literature; and yet this very novel puts Pakistani characters into an English narrative. And rather than subverting or critiquing that narrative, the novel follows the plot of P&P almost exactly. Maybe the point is that Austen’s novels address universal human concerns, which I’m certainly not going to argue with, but it makes the premise of this book a little less interesting, in my opinion. Also, I was annoyed that Alys is an English teacher, intimately familiar with the works of Jane Austen, yet she somehow doesn’t realize that she’s living out the plot of P&P. That said, I actually did enjoy this book, and I think it’s one of the better retellings out there. . . . I just wanted a little bit more from it.
Book #36: Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
CATs: AlphaKIT (H = Honeyman)
Thirty-year-old Eleanor Oliphant lives a quiet, routine life. She works in an office — the accounts receivable department of a graphic design company — and usually spends her weekends alone with a book and a couple liters of vodka. She doesn’t much care for her coworkers, and she has no friends, which is just how she likes it. Other people are often too rude or stupid to be congenial companions. But Eleanor’s life begins to change when she meets unprepossessing IT guy Raymond, and the two of them help an old man, Sammy, who has fallen in the street. As Eleanor interacts more with Raymond, Sammy, and their friends and family, she slowly begins to imagine a different life for herself. But when a tragedy from her past resurfaces, it becomes evident how very far from “fine” Eleanor really is.
I keep wanting to describe this book as “light” because it’s a fast read with an engaging style, but the subject matter is absolutely brutal. Honeyman does a painfully vivid job of portraying loneliness — I think it’s no accident that the heroine’s name is Eleanor, because she is definitely one of “all the lonely people.” She’s far from likable at times; she’s aloof and judgmental and can be downright mean to well-intentioned people. But as the story slowly reveals Eleanor’s past and the way she has isolated herself just to survive, I couldn’t help but pity her and root for her to change and grow. I also loved her friendship with Raymond; it’s obvious to the reader when he is hurt or confused by her (although she herself doesn’t perceive it), but he is always patient and kind. Overall, I thought this was an excellent novel with unexpected depth and an uplifting, but still realistic, ending. Highly recommended.
Book #37: Jessica Khoury, Last of Her Name
CATs: AlphaKIT (H = Her)
Stacia Androvna has grown up happy on a fringe planet near the edge of the galaxy. She’s never paid much attention to politics, although she knows that things have been fairly bleak since the revolution that overthrew the Leonovan empire. Still, she never expected that the unrest in the galaxy would affect her — until the direktor Eminent himself, the leader of the revolutionary government, shows up on her planet claiming that she is a Leonovan princess. Stacia doesn’t believe it, but she knows she must escape or die. Now on the run with her childhood friend Pol, she is determined to save the rest of her loved ones, especially her best friend Clio. But the direktor Eminent will do whatever it takes to capture Stacia, and there are also Loyalist forces hoping to find and use her for their own ends. Is Stacia really the princess, and if so, will she be able to use what little power she has to save her friends?
I adore the Anastasia animated movie and was excited to read a book that sounded like a sci-fi take on that story. Unfortunately, the plot of the novel is quite different; while the setup is clearly based on the execution of the Romanovs during the Russian Revolution, the rest of the plot is essentially an action movie set in space. Which I have no problem with, but it’s not what I was expecting or hoping for. The book is a fast read that’s jam-packed with plot, which definitely kept me turning the pages. Some of the twists were very clever, although some went a bit too far for my taste — it kept feeling like the book should end, and then there would be yet another attack/betrayal/reversal of fortune. I didn’t really connect to the characters, but maybe that’s my issue and not the book’s; all these spunky YA SFF heroines are starting to feel the same to me, so I found Stacia rather two-dimensional. Overall, I liked this book fine, but I was a bit underwhelmed.
Of course, those long transatlantic flights are the perfect time to get some reading in! Here's what I'm planning to take with me:
Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor
Jane Austen, Emma
Tana French, Broken Harbor
Kristin Hannah, The Nightingale
Lucy Parker, The Austen Playbook
Raymond Postgate, Verdict of Twelve
Sherry Thomas, A Study in Scarlet Women
And I'll take my Nook, just in case. :) Hopefully I will also come back with a new book or two!
The highlight of this month was my trip to Ireland -- no surprise there! My mom and I went with a tour group and visited the southwest coast of Ireland: Killarney, Dingle, and Galway. We had a wonderful time visiting historical sites, driving along gorgeous (albeit sometimes terrifying) roads, and of course eating and drinking. :) Here are a few of my photos from the trip:
From a boat on Dingle Bay.
Cliffs of Moher. The weather wasn't ideal, but eventually the fog did lift enough to get some decent pictures!
Quay (pronounced "Key") Street, Galway.
Obligatory selfie on the scenic Dingle Peninsula.
Of course, I also did some reading, so here's my list of books read in May:
1. Jasmine Guillory, The Proposal
2. Soniah Kamal, Unmarriageable
3. Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
4. Jessica Khoury, Last of Her Name
5. Lucy Parker, The Austen Playbook
6. Raymond Postgate, Verdict of Twelve
7. Jane Austen, Emma
Book of the month:
Unsurprisingly, I adored The Austen Playbook, and I also really liked Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.
Last of Her Name was just okay.
SeriesCAT (newest in a favorite series): Lucy Parker, The Austen Playbook (London Celebrities #4)
AlphaKIT (H, V): Gail *Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine; Jessica Khoury, Last of *Her Name; Raymond Postgate, *Verdict of Twelve
Bingo squares completed:
None this month.
Books acquired in May:
Michael Dirda, Book by Book
Michael Dirda, Browsings: A Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living with Books
Maurice O'Sullivan, Twenty Years A-Growing (purchased at the Blasket Islands Visitor Centre in Ireland!)
Book #38: Lucy Parker, The Austen Playbook
CATs: Series (newest in a favorite series: London Celebrities #4) - I read this in May
West End actress Freddy Carlton is at a crossroads in her career. Her family has been extremely influential in the theater world for generations: her grandmother wrote one of the most important plays of the 20th century, and her father was an extremely talented actor. But Freddy would much rather do light-hearted musical comedies than the serious dramatic roles her father is pushing her toward. So she’s thrilled to be cast in The Austen Playbook, an interactive TV special that combines various Austen characters and plots with a murder mystery. Too bad it will be filmed at the estate of James Ford-Griffin, London’s harshest theater critic, who has given Freddy a few negative — yet oddly perceptive — reviews in the past. But as Freddy and Griff get to know each other, they are surprised to discover a mutual attraction. They also discover a shocking secret that may have devastating consequences for Freddy’s career.
I was expecting to adore this book, and I did! I’m a huge Lucy Parker fan and have loved all her books so far, but this one had so many features that appealed to me: a grumpy hero, an English country house party (well, rehearsal), a juicy mystery, and a little Jane Austen flavor. I adored Griff — he may be my favorite Parker hero yet! — and Freddy’s bubbly personality is the perfect foil for his uptight, reserved one. I also enjoyed uncovering the literary/theatrical mystery along with Griff and Freddy, which was interesting in its own right and also provided most of the obstacles to the romance. I do think there was possibly too much going on; because of Freddy’s career/family angst, the mystery, and the romance, the production of The Austen Playbook wasn’t as much of a focus as I wanted it to be. I also found the romantic scenes to be a little more explicit than in Parker’s previous books, which I personally didn’t need. But those minor quibbles aside, I really enjoyed this installment of the London Celebrities series and can’t wait for the next one!
Book #39: Raymond Postgate, Verdict of Twelve
CATs: Alpha (V = Verdict) - I read this in May
This Golden Age mystery (originally published in 1940) uses a unique method to tell its story. The book opens with the information that someone is on trial for murder, and it focuses on the swearing-in of the jury. It gives a short sketch of each juror’s life, the various obstacles they’ve faced, their political opinions, how the world perceives them, and how they view the task they’re about to undertake. One juror, for example, is distracted by problems at his job and only wants to finish the business as quickly as possible. Another is a grieving widow whose husband was killed in an anti-Semitic attack, and his murderer was never brought to justice. Only after giving these psychological portraits of the jurors does the novel describe the actual case, which centers around a woman who is accused of murdering her nephew and ward. By focusing on the jurors’ backgrounds and biases, the book provides a nuanced, cynical view of law and justice.
I was very interested in the premise of this novel and found it a fascinating read. Many Golden Age mysteries tend to focus on plot, and the characters are often flat and two-dimensional. But this book is just the opposite; the characters are extremely well defined, while the mystery plot is quite simple and is given comparatively little attention. I thought the psychological studies of the jurors were very well done and convincing, though for me, the descriptions of the accused woman and her nephew were even more interesting. The final scene in the jury room is almost anticlimactic after all the intense buildup. It’s interesting to see who originally votes “guilty” and “not guilty,” but there is no real drama in reaching the verdict. The novel’s ending is fantastic: it reveals what really happened but also ends on an ambiguous, somewhat chilling note. Overall, I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the premise!
Book #40: Jane Austen, Emma
I've reread this book multiple times (maybe ten!), and I always seem to find something new to enjoy. This time, I was awed by the sharp efficiency of Austen's prose; she can describe a person's entire character in a few well-chosen words. I also thoroughly enjoyed the odious Mrs. Elton and was amused to compare her interference with Jane Fairfax to Emma's meddling in Harriet Smith's life. Without Mr. Knightley and Mrs. Weston to guide her, and with a little less self-awareness, Emma could very well have become just like Mrs. Elton. Thankfully, she eventually learns her lesson and avoids such a terrible fate!
>51 Jackie_K: Oh, I'm so excited for you to read Emma! I actually watched the Gwyneth Paltrow film last weekend. :) I really like the Kate Beckinsale and Romola Garai versions as well -- not to mention "Clueless"! All great adaptations in different ways.
I love Emma as well! I hadn't thought about it before but you are right that without Mr. Knightley or Mrs. Weston, Emma could have ended up on quite a different path.
Book #41: Elinor Lipman, Good Riddance
“Daphne Maritch doesn't quite know what to make of the heavily annotated high school yearbook she inherits from her mother, who held this relic dear. Too dear. The late June Winter Maritch was the teacher to whom the class of '68 had dedicated its yearbook, and in turn she went on to attend every reunion, scribbling notes and observations after each one—not always charitably—and noting who overstepped boundaries of many kinds. In a fit of decluttering (the yearbook did not, Daphne concluded, "spark joy"), she discards it when she moves to a small New York City apartment. But when it's found in the recycling bin by a busybody neighbor/documentary filmmaker, the yearbook's mysteries—not to mention her own family's—take on a whole new urgency, and Daphne finds herself entangled in a series of events both poignant and absurd.” (Summary from Amazon.com.)
I’d never read anything by Elinor Lipman before, but a combination of the plot summary and cute cover interested me enough to pick it up. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it very enjoyable, mainly because I didn’t connect with any of the characters or understand the decisions they made. For example, why does Daphne go along with Geneva’s filmmaking plan sometimes and resist at other times? Also, the characters all seem very two-dimensional. Geneva is presented as a talentless nightmare (which is how Daphne sees her), and that characterization is never given more nuance. Daphne’s father is “the nicest guy in the world,” and that statement is never questioned. I kept wanting some depth, some irony, some surprise, but none ever came. As for the “mystery” of the yearbook, in one sense the solution is incredibly predictable, but in another sense June’s obsession with the class of ’68 is never actually explained. I did breeze through the book in about three hours, but that’s really the only positive thing I have to say about it.
Book #42: Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, the Serial Killer
Bingo: prize-winning book (2019 Morning News Tournament of Books winner)
“Have you heard this one before? Two girls walk into a room. The room is in a flat. The flat is on the third floor. In the room is the dead body of an adult male. How do they get the body to the ground floor without being seen?” This quote from early in the novel basically sums up its premise: Korede’s little sister, Ayoola, has been killing her boyfriends, and Korede protects her by scrubbing the crime scenes and disposing of the evidence. Ayoola claims she’s justified in her killings — that the men attacked her, and she was just defending herself. But Korede is beginning to have doubts; and when Ayoola starts flirting with the object of Korede’s desire, Korede must decide whether to reveal Ayoola’s secrets or remain loyal to her sister at all costs.
This book certainly has an eye-catching title and hook, but it’s not really a serial killer book at all. We get very little insight into Ayoola’s motives or feelings about what is happening. Rather, this is a book about sisters, and it’s a fascinating study of Korede’s complex relationship with Ayoola. I completely understood Korede’s feelings: her frustration at not understanding her sister; her jealousy that Ayoola is beautiful and desired by men, even the man Korede herself loves; her protectiveness and loyalty despite the monstrosity of Ayoola’s actions. I also enjoyed the writing style; Korede’s deadpan narration gives a lightness to the grim subject matter. I don’t think plot is this novel’s strong point. Despite the high body count, nothing really happens. But overall, this was a fun and thought-provoking read for me, and I would definitely try another book by this author.
Book #43: Jennifer E. Smith, Field Notes on Love
CATs: Alpha (J = Jennifer)
Hugo Wilkinson is feeling trapped. He loves his parents and his five siblings, but he’s never particularly enjoyed the notoriety that comes with being a sextuplet. Now all six of them are heading off to their hometown university in the fall, but Hugo is beginning to wonder if it’s truly the right path for him. On top of everything else, he was supposed to be going on a romantic train trip across America with his girlfriend this summer, but she’s just dumped him, and all the tickets and hotels are in her name. Now Hugo is stuck — unless he can find another girl named Margaret Campbell who’d be willing to go with him. Meanwhile, Mae (full name Margaret) Campbell is an aspiring filmmaker in need of a little adventure. She decides to take Hugo up on his offer, and as they travel across the country together, their immediate connection deepens into something that surprises them both.
As someone who finds the idea of traveling across America by train both appealing and romantic, of course I couldn’t resist this book! And as I expected, it was a fun and charming read, although not particularly substantial. I think the book spends a little too much time setting up the plot, trying to make the whole scenario plausible, when in reality we all know it’s implausible and are perfectly willing to suspend our disbelief — otherwise we wouldn’t have picked up the book in the first place! I also didn’t quite buy into Mae’s internal conflict, which is about learning to let her guard down and be vulnerable — but the book never explains why she’s so guarded to begin with. Hugo’s conflict, about balancing his family’s expectations with his own wants and needs, was much more believable for me. I did like the sweet romance and the uniqueness of the road trip, but ultimately this isn’t a book I will ever revisit.
Book #44: Mary Balogh, A Counterfeit Betrothal / The Notorious Rake
This volume contains two Regency romance novels, each on the shorter side. In A Counterfeit Betrothal, debutante Lady Sophia is upset that her parents, Marcus and Olivia, have been estranged for 14 years, though they were once desperately in love. She concocts a ridiculous scheme to reunite them: by betrothing herself to an unsuitable man, she hopes her parents will unite to find a society-approved way of breaking the engagement. But Sophia gets more than she bargained for with her incorrigible fiancé; meanwhile, Marcus and Olivia must move past an old argument to repair their relationship. In The Notorious Rake, a chance encounter brings the respectable Mary, Lady Mornington, together with the dissipated Lord Edmond Waite. He soon begins to pursue her, hoping to make her his mistress. Mary resists but is confused by her attraction to him. The more she gets to know him, the more she begins to hope that he will reform his rakish ways.
So, I started this volume last night, intending to read just a few chapters — and stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish both novels! Mary Balogh isn’t Georgette Heyer; her style isn’t as light and witty, and she certainly writes more sexual content (though it’s not on the super explicit end of the spectrum). But she may be the next best thing! I very much enjoy reading about her complex characters, most of whom have experienced significant troubles in their lives and need healing as well as love. I will say, I was a bit disappointed in A Counterfeit Betrothal, which sounded like a fake relationship story (my favorite!) but turned out to be a second-chance romance (not my favorite), focusing much more on Marcus and Olivia’s story than on Sophia’s. It was still well-written and entertaining, though! And I was very pleasantly surprised by The Notorious Rake, because I usually don’t find reformed-rake stories very appealing or convincing. But in this case, while Edmond starts out as a truly despicable character, he genuinely does grow and change throughout the book. All in all, I really enjoyed both books and look forward to my next Balogh!
Book #45: Esi Edugyan, Washington Black
CATs: Random (8 of spades = "Black" card)
George Washington Black is an 11-year-old slave, born on a sugar plantation in Barbados and doomed to a grueling life working in the cane fields. But when the master’s brother arrives at the plantation, he changes the course of Wash’s destiny. Christopher “Titch” Wilde is a scientist, and he enlists Wash’s help in building and testing a flying machine of his own invention. Titch also teaches Wash to read and encourages his talent for drawing. Eventually, a tragedy at the plantation forces Wash and Titch to flee, and their subsequent adventures take them as far as the Arctic and beyond. As Wash faces an uncertain future, he also ponders his identity as a black man in a hostile world and questions the significance of various relationships in his life.
I enjoyed this book and found it much more of a page-turner than I expected. Wash is a compelling narrator, and I was invested in his fate from the very beginning. His relationship with Titch is the central relationship in the book, and Edugyan does an excellent job of showing its complexity and ambiguity: Titch is kind to Wash and staunchly anti-slavery, yet their interactions are always complicated by their very different social status. However, I found the first half of the book more interesting than the second half; the plot seems to run out of steam, and the ending doesn’t really resolve anything. Which I think is intentional — after all, Wash grows from a boy of 11 to a young man of 18, but at the end of the novel he is just entering into his adult life. But I personally enjoy novels with a bit more resolution and emotional payoff. That said, I still liked the book and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in the premise.
Book #46: Georgette Heyer, Duplicate Death
CATs: Alpha (D = Duplicate, Death)
Young barrister and future baronet Timothy Harte is in love with Beulah Birtley, but his family fears she’s an unsuitable match. She works as a secretary for Mrs. Haddington, a widow with shady origins who has somehow found a way into London society. When a man is murdered at Mrs. Haddington’s bridge party, suspicion falls on Beulah, and Timothy is determined to prove her innocence. But Beulah is clearly hiding something, and she had both motive and opportunity to commit the murder. Luckily, the policeman in charge of the case is Chief Inspector Hemingway, who remembers Timothy from an earlier encounter (detailed in They Found Him Dead). As Hemingway and his assistant investigate the case, they discover not only Beulah’s secret but a host of others. They develop what seems to be a convincing theory of the crime — until a second murder throws all their conclusions into doubt.
Once again, Heyer delivers a mystery in which the plot is a lot less interesting than the characters. But her sparkling dialogue and incisive social commentary make up for any weaknesses in the mystery itself. I enjoyed Timothy’s interactions with Beulah, which strongly reminded me of Heyer’s romances. I also liked the fact that, for the first time in a Heyer mystery, the policemen are actual characters! Hemingway gets a lot more time on page than he has done in previous mysteries, and his exchanges with the Scottish Inspector Grant are some of the funniest in the book. But as I mentioned earlier, the mystery plot isn’t particularly strong, particularly when it comes to the second murder. The book also describes a homosexual character in very derogatory terms by today’s standards. Overall, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it to people who like Heyer and/or vintage mysteries, but it’s not a keeper for me.
Book #47: Beth O’Leary, The Flatshare
When Tiffy Moore is dumped by her boyfriend, she needs a new place to live right away. So when she spots an ad for an inexpensive flatshare, she jumps at it, despite the unconventional terms of the agreement. Leon Twomey, the current renter of the flat, works nights and weekends as a palliative care nurse. So he only needs the flat from 9am to 6pm, while Tiffy is at work; meanwhile, she can use the flat while he’s gone. They’ll never even have to meet each other. But then Tiffy leaves a note and some leftover baked goods for Leon, and he leaves a thank-you note in response, and soon they’re corresponding via Post-It notes left all over the flat. And while they seem to have little in common—Tiffy is gregarious and messy, while Leon is quiet and self-contained—their correspondence deepens into a close friendship, and maybe even more. But their complicated lives threaten to derail their fledgling romance: Leon’s brother is in jail fighting a wrongful conviction, and Tiffy’s ex doesn’t want to let her move on.
Despite the somewhat contrived premise, this book is an adorable rom-com that I would wholeheartedly recommend! The story is told in alternating chapters from Tiffy’s and Leon’s points of view. While some reviewers had trouble getting into Leon’s clipped, stilted narrative style, I thought it made for a great contrast to Tiffy’s bubbly voice. The notes between Tiffy and Leon are a joy to read, making the relationship between the characters believable despite their not meeting in person until halfway through the book. I also liked that they both seem like real people: they have jobs (and we actually see them doing those jobs!) and friends and family members whom they care about. The secondary characters are a bit less dynamic—Tiffy’s scary lawyer best friend, Leon’s bitchy girlfriend—but I didn’t mind because I enjoyed the main story so much! The book does deal with some serious issues, but it remains light and optimistic overall. In other words, it’s a perfect summer read!
Book #48: Connie Willis, Bellwether
I love Connie Willis’s comic novels, so I thoroughly enjoyed my third time reading Bellwether. It’s a delightful satire of scientific bureaucracy; main character Sandra Foster is a researcher at a large corporation, but management is much more concerned with “improving” internal processes (mostly by adding paperwork) and chasing grant funding than promoting scientific research. But the book is also a loving tribute to the process of scientific discovery—and it contains a sweet, subtle love story as well. Highly recommended for Willis fans and newbies alike.
Book #49: J. Kathleen Cheney, The Golden City
CATs: Alpha (J = J.)
In an alternate-history version of 1902 Portugal, the country has been divided in half because of differing attitudes to the nonhuman creatures living within its borders. In Northern Portugal, the nonhumans are banned from the Golden City and must remain in their own island territories. Oriana Paredes is a sereia (siren), and she is in the Golden City illegally to spy for her people. As a cover, she works as a companion to Lady Isabel Amaral. When she and Isabel are both kidnapped and trapped underwater to die, Oriana's heritage allows her to survive. She vows to avenge Isabel's death and teams up with Duilio Ferreira, an aristocrat with selkie blood and ties to the police. As they investigate the kidnapping, they uncover a much larger conspiracy involving government corruption and dark magic. They also begin to fall in love, but many obstacles stand in the way of their relationship.
I enjoy the historical fantasy genre, and the somewhat unusual setting of early-20th-century Portugal inspired me to pick up this book. I liked the book overall, but the world-building is not particularly strong. There are a few passages of exposition near the beginning, in which the author tries to explain the alternate history, the nonhuman races, and the social structure of the Golden City, but it's all a little confusing and muddled. People who pick up this book because they want to read about selkies and sirens will likely be disappointed, because the novel doesn't explore the nonhuman cultures in any real depth. On the other hand, people who like "fantasies of manners" will probably enjoy the book overall, as I did. I found the plot a bit overwhelming, but I liked the interactions between Oriana and Duilio, and I look forward to reading more about them in the sequels.
Book #50: Cindy Anstey, Duels & Deception
CATs: Alpha (D = Duels, Deception)
After the death of her beloved father, Lydia Whitfield is determined to keep her family's estate up and running, but her hot-tempered, alcoholic uncle thwarts her at every turn. Lydia's only solution is to marry a suitable man who will allow her to run things as she chooses. She already has an unofficial understanding with her neighbor, Lord Aldershot, so all she has to do is draw up the marriage contract. Her plan hits a snag, however, when she meets her lawyer -- or rather, her lawyer's clerk, a handsome young man named Robert Newton. He seems to understand Lydia in a way that no one else does, and she finds herself getting distracted by his broad shoulders and kind brown eyes. Complications ensue when Lydia and Robert are abducted by persons unknown, and they must work together to discover who engineered the kidnapping and why.
I'd previously read another book by this author, Love, Lies and Spies, and while I wasn't crazy about it, the adorable cover of this novel convinced me to try again. Unfortunately, I enjoyed the cover much more than the book! Even as someone who enjoys a light and fluffy Regency romance, I found this novel utterly insubstantial. The attempts at humor are grating, and the setting is nothing more than window-dressing. The mystery of who kidnapped Lydia and Robert isn't compelling enough to carry the plot, and a separate storyline involving Robert's best friend and a duel seems to be completely shoehorned in, with no relevance to the A-story. However, that side story does contain the only marginally interesting character in the book, Robert's best friend Vincent Cassidy. Perhaps it's just as well that the author hasn't written a full novel featuring him, because I'm sure I'd be doomed to disappointment if I read it!
I know I say this every month, but June really did fly by for me! Yet somehow it was one of my most productive reading months so far this year. I'm honestly not sure how that happened, but I'll take it! Anyway, here's what I read this month:
1. Elinor Lipman, Good Riddance
2. Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, the Serial Killer
3. Jennifer E. Smith, Field Notes on Love
4. Mary Balogh, A Counterfeit Betrothal / The Notorious Rake
5. Esi Edugyan, Washington Black
6. Georgette Heyer, Duplicate Death
7. Beth O'Leary, The Flatshare
8. Connie Willis, Bellwether
9. J. Kathleen Cheney, The Golden City
10. Cindy Anstey, Duels & Deception
Book of the month:
I've really liked every Mary Balogh novel I've read, and I especially enjoyed The Notorious Rake this month. I was also charmed by The Flatshare.
I was actively annoyed by both Good Riddance (the characters' actions and motivations made no sense!) and Duels & Deception (completely disposable).
RandomCAT (pick a card, any card...): I drew a black card, the eight of spades, and thus read Washington Black.
AlphaKIT (J, D): *Jennifer E. Smith, Field Notes on Love; Georgette Heyer, *Duplicate *Death; *J. Kathleen Cheney, The Golden City; Cindy Anstey, *Duels and *Deception
Bingo squares completed:
- Prize-winning book: My Sister, the Serial Killer won the 2019 Morning News Tournament of Books.
Books acquired in June:
C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength
Grace Burrowes, My One and Only Duke
Mary Balogh, A Counterfeit Betrothal / The Notorious Rake
Mary Balogh, Dark Angel / Lord Carew's Bride
Bridget Zinn, Poison
Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Becca Wilhite, Check Me Out
Damon Runyon, Guys and Dolls and Other Writings
Veronica Henry, How to Find Love in a Bookshop
Julia Quinn, Ten Things I Love about You
J. Kathleen Cheney, The Seat of Magic
And with that, the first half of 2019 is over! This time last year, I collected a few statistics, so I thought I'd do the same this year and see how my reading life compares.
Books read: 50, a nice round number! (Compare with 32 last year.)
Average books read per month: 8.33 (5.33 in 2018).
Bingo squares completed: 18, but somehow I still don't have a bingo yet! (Last year I had one bingo with 17 squares.)
Books acquired: 43 that are still on my shelves (compared with 39 last year).
Favorite books of the year so far:
- McKelle George, Speak Easy, Speak Love -- a luminous retelling of Much Ado about Nothing set in the 1920s.
- Meagan Spooner, Hunted -- a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, up there with Robin McKinley's Beauty as one of my favorites.
- AJ Pearce, Dear Mrs. Bird -- a "light" novel of WW2 and the Blitz that focuses on female friendship and solidarity.
- Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine -- Eleanor is NOT fine, but new friendships help her to grow in surprising ways.
- Lucy Parker, The Austen Playbook -- romance, banter, the theater world, and an English country house!
- Mary Balogh, The Notorious Rake -- a Regency romance in which I actually believed that the rake really did reform.
- Beth O'Leary, The Flatshare -- adorable, quasi-epistolary romantic comedy.
Onward to the second half of the year! I'd originally planned to read 75 books this year (last year I read a total of 69), but at the rate I'm going, I may actually make it to 100 for the first time since 2015! Either way, my "read what I feel like reading" plan is going well, and I'm happy with where it's taken me so far. :)
Book #51: Patricia C. Wrede, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
CATs: Series (fantasy); Alpha (C = C., Chronicles; P = Patricia)
These four stories take place in a fractured-fairytale setting and center around Cimorene, a princess who refuses to be proper. In Dealing with Dragons, Cimorene wants to escape marriage to a handsome but dull prince, so she runs away and offers to become the princess of the dragon Kazul. She has many adventures in her new life, most importantly thwarting some meddlesome wizards who hope to steal the dragons' magic. In Searching for Dragons, Mendanbar, the king of the Enchanted Forest, needs to find out who is stealing magic from the forest, so he teams up with Cimorene to discover that those pesky wizards are at it again. Calling on Dragons follows the witch Morwen, who discovers yet another wizard plot and must alert Cimorene and Mendanbar, with the help of her nine cats and a magician named Telemain. Finally, in Talking to Dragons, Cimorene's son Daystar has his own adventure and learns about his past as a result.
What a delight these books are! They're marketed for children, but they contain so much sly humor that they can definitely be enjoyed by adults as well. It's fun to catch all the references to, and subversions of, fairytale tropes: for example, in the first book, Cimorene is perpetually annoyed by knights and princes who keep trying to "rescue" her. I also really loved all the main characters in these books, especially the women. Cimorene is a delightful heroine, strong-minded and pragmatic, who can solve any problem that comes her way, including melting a troublesome wizard. And the witch Morwen reminds me a great deal of Professor McGonagall -- stern, but with a heart of gold underneath. I unapologetically shipped her and Telemain! Some things didn't quite work for me, such as the rabbit-turned-donkey in the third book; he's meant to be comic relief, but I found him a little much. And Shiara, a main character in the fourth book, seems a little bit too much like Cimorene. But all in all, I really enjoyed these books and am frankly annoyed that I don't know any eight- or nine-year-old children to share them with!
Book #52: Mariana Zapata, The Wall of Winnipeg and Me
CATs: Alpha (Z = Zapata)
For the past two years, Vanessa Mazur has been the personal assistant to professional football player Aiden Graves. She’s cooked his meals and cleaned his home, answered his emails and scheduled meet-and-greets with his fans. And in all that time, Aiden has never thanked her for her hard work; in fact, he barely acknowledges her at all. So Vanessa is determined to quit, but when she finally musters the courage to resign, Aiden surprisingly wants her back. And when she resists becoming his assistant again, he makes an even more shocking proposal: she should marry him to help him gain permanent residency (he’s Canadian), and in return he’ll pay off her massive student loans and buy her a house. Vanessa finds the deal appealing but is reluctant to enter into an in-name-only marriage — especially when she finds Aiden so frustratingly attractive.
I find myself with mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I found it a fast and compelling read, despite it being quite long for a contemporary romance (more than 600 pages!). I like a marriage-of-convenience story and a slow burn, so the plot is right up my alley. On the other hand, I do think the book is a little too long and repetitive; better editing could have tightened it up substantially. I also didn’t totally love Aiden as a hero. I have no problem with the strong, silent type, but I want my heroes to grow throughout the novel; love should make them change for the better. In this case, while Aiden opens up to Vanessa very slightly, I never felt like I truly got to know him. And his treatment of her in the beginning is pretty inexcusable; I definitely wanted more groveling from him about that! He also does some things that Vanessa reads as “protective” but that I would consider to be controlling. So overall, the romance just didn’t work for me.
Book #53: Mary Stewart, The Stormy Petrel
CATs: Random (all about birds); Alpha (P = Petrel)
Bingo: weather word in title (“stormy”)
Dr. Rose Fenemore is a Cambridge professor and poet who desperately needs a little peace and quiet. She decides to rent a cottage on the remote Scottish island of Moila during her summer holiday, where her brother Crispin, a bird-watching enthusiast, will later join her. When Rose reaches Moila, she’s delighted by the beautiful scenery and the isolation of her “ivory tower.” But on her very first night, her solitude is interrupted: a bad storm brings two very different men to her door. The first, Ewan Mackay, is a handsome charmer who claims to be related to the cottage’s former occupants, but something in his story doesn’t quite add up. The second man, John Parsons, is clearly hiding something — including his real name — and he seems to recognize Ewan. As Rose furthers her acquaintance with both men, she discovers some wrongdoing and has to decide whom she can trust.
I like Mary Stewart’s novels, and this one is a pleasant, non-taxing read. The suspense element is much lighter in this book than in most of her others. Rose is never particularly in danger, and the wrongdoing at issue involves thievery rather than violence. There’s also not very much to the romance plot in this book. Normally, Stewart’s heroines are torn between two men, and it’s not immediately obvious who is the hero and who the villain. But in this book, it’s pretty clear from the outset, and Rose never really has to change her opinion of either man in the course of the novel. The book’s main attraction isn’t romance or suspense, but rather the lovely descriptions of the island and its wildlife. I don’t normally read for setting, and in fact I tend to skim long descriptive passages, but in this case the book just made me want to vacation on a Scottish island! So while nothing in the novel really grabbed me, it’s a perfectly fine summer read.
Book #54: Ann Patchett, Bel Canto
CATs: Alpha (C = Canto, P = Patchett)
Bingo: made into a movie (in 2018)
In an unnamed Latin American country, the government is hosting a birthday party for Mr. Hosokawa, a Japanese businessman who is deciding whether to build a factory there. Since Mr. Hosokawa loves opera, the world-famous soprano Roxane Coss has been invited to sing. The party begins beautifully but is shockingly disrupted when members of a terrorist organization burst into the vice president’s home and take everyone hostage. The terrorists are looking for the president, but he’s not at the party; he stayed home to watch his favorite soap opera. As a result, the attackers don’t know quite what to do next, and the hostage situation stretches on for days and even weeks. As time passes, the gap between prisoners and captors begins to narrow, and everyone trapped in the vice president’s house is eventually united by their appreciation for beauty and their common humanity.
This isn’t my usual type of book at all, so I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. While the inciting incident is a hostage crisis, the novel is neither thrilling nor fast-paced. Rather, it’s very contemplative in tone and spend a lot of time exploring the thoughts and feelings of the various people trapped in the house, both prisoners and guards. It’s hard to single out one protagonist, as the narrative pays equal attention to at least six or seven people. Normally this would frustrate me, but here I think it helps to reinforce the novel’s theme of people from very different backgrounds finding common ground. I liked that even the minor characters are given depth and dimension; no one is a prop or a plot device. Also, as a musician (though not an opera buff by any means!), I very much enjoyed the emphasis on the power of music to bring people together, even if that message does get a bit too heavy-handed at times. Overall, I feel like I’m still processing this book, and I’m sure I will be thinking about it for some time to come.
Book #55: Georgette Heyer, Devil's Cub
One simply can't go wrong with a Georgette Heyer romance, and it was a treat for me to reread this one for the third or fourth time. It's a fun romp involving an accidental elopement, multiple duels, miscommunications and misunderstandings galore. On this reading, I did wish that there were a few more scenes of Dominic and Mary together -- instead we get a lot of side adventures with Dominic's family (his parents are the protagonists of These Old Shades, one of Heyer's most popular novels). Those diversions were fun, too, but I felt they detracted from the central romance. Also, Dominic really does behave horribly, both to Mary and to people in general; luckily, Mary herself is a delight. I suppose I can forgive him if she can...with reservations!
Last time, I had a local inn room booked and, tickets to go see Richard II at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (thinking that when I was not explicitly reading, I would do bookish things like going to go see a Shakespearean play) and; well, it all blew up when I got comped VIP tickets to see the Hollywood Vampires. :-)
Maybe once I'm an empty nester or at least semi-retired?
>102 Tanya-dogearedcopy: It's definitely hard to find the time! I was aiming to read for a full 24 hours this weekend, but now my aunt and cousin are in town unexpectedly, so I'll spend some time hanging out with them instead. Oh well, life happens!
But I do need to start building weekends away. I'm working crazy-long hours these days and, if I don't book some "me" time soon, I'm going to burn out!
Book #56: Jonna Gjevre, Arcanos Unraveled
Anya Winter is an adjunct professor at Arcanos Hall, a magical university hiding in plain sight in Madison, Wisconsin. As a mere hedge witch, she’s neither powerful nor prestigious, but she does have a talent for knitting magical artifacts. She also seems to have a talent for getting into trouble: first the magical shield protecting Arcanos from the mundane world is sabotaged, then Anya’s student needs help hiding a dead body, and finally Anya is blamed for the shield’s malfunction and banished from Arcanos altogether. In order to reclaim her place at the university, she’ll need to figure out what’s really going on, even if it means teaming up with a mysterious, frustrating, and handsome engineer named Kyril. Together, they uncover a nefarious plot that will have consequences for the entire magical world.
I found this book an enjoyable read, but there was a little bit too much going on for my taste. Or rather, the book keeps offering glimpses of interesting things — how the knitting magic works, for instance, or what is the broader political situation in Anya’s world — but never really develops them. I don’t normally read for setting, but I would have appreciated some more world-building here. Also, a few plot threads are never satisfactorily resolved: for example, what became of the woman in the red leather dress? There’s a bit of a romance between Anya and Kyril, but it feels very superficial (he’s so annoying! Yet so handsome!). There’s also Anya’s ex-boyfriend, who is such an obvious slimeball that it made me doubt Anya’s intelligence. Overall, I liked the premise and the basic outline of this book, but I wanted more from it.
Book #57: Ellis Peters, The Heretic’s Apprentice
CATs: Alpha (P = Peters)
In the summer of 1143, the Benedictine abbey of Saints Peter and Paul in Shrewsbury is preparing for its annual festival in honor of St. Winifred. But the celebrations are somewhat dampened when a young man called Elave arrives with the body of his master, Sir William Lythwood, who died returning from a seven-year pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Elave requests that Sir William be buried at the abbey, but questions from a visiting cleric reveal that the dead man had discussed and possibly even espoused heretical views. Elave hotly defends his master and is accused of being a heretic himself. When his accuser is later found stabbed to death, Elave falls under suspicion for murder as well. Luckily, Brother Cadfael is once again on the case, both to solve the mystery and to help clear Elave’s name of the heresy charge.
It’s always a pleasure to spend some time with Brother Cadfael, and this installment of the series is no different. All the quintessential elements of the formula are there: Cadfael gets involved through his knowledge of herbs and healing, he solves the mystery with the help of Hugh Beringar, and he helps two young lovers get together. I particularly enjoyed the heresy plot of this book; not only was it interesting (at least for me) to think about the theological topics at issue, but I liked the fact that no one was a complete villain. The book clearly intends us to side with Elave, and the cleric who interrogates him is portrayed as being too rigid, yet we later catch a glimpse of his humanity as well. The mystery is well plotted, although I was able to guess the culprit in advance. Overall, this is a series I continue to love, and I’m sorry I only have four books left!
Book #58: Veronica Henry, How to Find Love in a Bookshop
This story begins with the death of Julius Nightingale, proprietor of Nightingale Books in the village of Peasebrook, near Oxford. When he passes away following a sudden illness, his daughter Emilia inherits the bookshop. Though she receives a lucrative offer from a real estate developer to sell the shop, she decides to take over the management of the store and continue her father’s legacy. But she is surprised to learn just how powerful that legacy was to the community of Peasebrook. As she meets Julius’s friends and customers — like Sarah, the owner of the local stately home, whose relationship with Julius was more complex than anyone suspected; or Thomasina, the painfully shy teacher who can’t muster up the courage to ask out the handsome man she met in the cookbook section — Emilia realizes that Nightingale Books can be her legacy, and her home, as well.
This book is hard to describe because it’s very light on plot; it’s essentially a collection of vignettes about the various residents of Peasebrook and their relationships to one another and to Nightingale Books. All these stories are ultimately sweet and uplifting, despite the fact that the book begins with a death and that many of the characters are grieving. Almost everyone finds love in the end, although surprisingly few of the romances have anything to do with books. That might be my biggest complaint about the novel — there’s not very much about books or bookselling in it. Rather, the store is the backdrop for these various character-driven stories to unfold. I also felt that there were a few too many characters; I would have preferred fewer storylines and more depth. But despite these shortcomings, I actually really enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who likes a pleasant, feel-good read!
Book #59: Margaret Rogerson, Sorcery of Thorns
Elisabeth is an orphan who was raised in a Great Library among the grimoires, books that have been enchanted by the demonic power of sorcery. She hopes one day to become a warden so that she can protect the pubic from the evils they contain. When one of the library’s most dangerous grimoires escapes, Elisabeth successfully stops it from harming anyone, but her presence on the scene is viewed as suspicious. She is taken to the capital city to be tried for sabotage, but there she soon realizes that this one incident is part of a much larger and more dangerous plot. Her only ally is Nathaniel Thorn, a powerful sorcerer whom she has every reason to distrust. But as they work together to discover the real saboteur’s identity and purpose, Elisabeth learns that there is more to sorcery — and to Nathaniel — than meets the eye.
I’ve become somewhat disenchanted with YA fantasy recently, but the premise of this novel intrigued me, so I decided to give it a try. And I’m so glad I did, because I really loved it! Elisabeth is in some ways a typical YA fantasy heroine; she’s great with a sword (despite never having been trained) and has hitherto-unsuspected special powers. But she also strikes me as a real person, someone who has to confront her fears and prejudices as she learns that the world is more complicated than she thought. And I adored both Nathaniel and his demonic servant, Silas; their relationship is almost more compelling than that between Nathaniel and Elisabeth. The plot is exciting and action-packed, and I love that the villain’s identity is revealed early on; the book doesn’t underestimate its readers’ intelligence. Most of all, I enjoyed the flashes of humor throughout the book, as the characters joke and tease even in the most serious, life-threatening situations. In short, I loved this book and will definitely seek out Rogerson’s previous novel, An Enchantment of Ravens!
For the past few years, I’ve slowly been making my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey series in publication order. Having read Have His Carcase last year, next up for me were the Wimsey stories in the collection Hangman’s Holiday. In The Image in the Mirror, Lord Peter meets a man who fears he’s responsible for a murder that he can’t remember committing. In The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey, Peter stages a theatrical rescue of a woman whose husband is abusing her. In The Queen’s Square, Peter solves a murder at a society party by noticing a trick of the light. And in The Necklace of Pearls, a Christmas decoration gives him the clue to who stole a valuable pearl necklace.
I’m a big fan of this series, but I must say that these stories fell flat. They’re too short to spend any time on character development, so that all the suspects seem interchangeable and it’s impossible to discern a particular motive. Even Lord Peter isn’t very well drawn and sometimes has only one or two lines of dialogue. His mother and Bunter make brief appearances, but again, they’re so brief that they don’t really add anything to the story. I also found the plots to be extremely farfetched, especially in the first two stories. Indeed, the solution to The Image in the Mirror is clearly a violation of the Detection Club’s rules of murder. The good news is that, while these stories are disappointing, you can absolutely skip them without missing anything that’s important to the main series!
Book #60: Julia Quinn, Ten Things I Love about You
Sebastian Grey occupies an unusual social position: he is the heir apparent to his uncle, the Earl of Newbury, but if the earl marries and has a son, Sebastian gets nothing. The earl hates Sebastian and is therefore desperate to marry a young, fertile bride. His eye falls on Annabel Winslow, who is young enough to be his granddaughter, but whose numerous siblings and wide hips seem to guarantee her ability to produce heirs. Though Annabel is repulsed by the earl, she feels obligated to marry him to gain financial security for her impoverished family. But of course, complications ensue when Sebastian and Annabel meet and are immediately attracted to one another — each without knowing the other’s identity. When they discover their situation, Sebastian initially sees an opportunity to thwart his uncle’s plans; but he soon realizes that his feelings for Annabel are all too genuine.
It’s telling that I read this book a week ago and could barely remember the plot; I had to read some Amazon reviews to refresh my memory. It’s not a bad book, and I can’t point to anything specific that annoyed me about it, but it just didn’t leave much of an impression on me. Earlier this year I read and enjoyed the prequel to this book, What Happens in London, and found Sebastian to be a delightfully fun character. The scene in which he performs a dramatic reading from a lurid gothic novel (of which he is secretly the author) was a highlight of that book. So I was excited to read his story, but I found it underwhelming. We don’t really get to know more about Sebastian as a character. We learn that he’s had insomnia ever since returning from the Napoleonic Wars, and we know that he enjoys writing novels, but neither one of these character traits is really explored. And while Annabel seems perfectly nice, it’s never entirely clear why he falls in love with her. Overall, a very “meh” read.
Book #61: John Bude, The Cornish Coast Murder
CATs: Alpha (C = Cornish, Coast)
Old friends Reverend Dodd and Dr. Pendrill enjoy their weekly custom of eating dinner together and discussing mystery novels. Both are avid fans of the genre but recognize that in their small Cornish town, it’s extremely unlikely that a real mystery will come their way. So when the local major landowner, Julius Tregarthan, is shot dead in his living room, Dodd and Pendrill are naturally eager to assist the police with their investigation. The case quickly becomes more complicated for Dodd, however, when he learns that Tregarthan’s niece, Ruth, was seen behaving suspiciously on the night of the murder. Suspicion also falls on Ruth’s suitor, Ronald Hardy, who had argued with Tregarthan shortly before his death. Reverend Dodd can’t believe that either Ruth or Ronald is guilty, so he exercises his detective skills to find the real murderer.
This is my first John Bude mystery novel, but it won’t be my last! It’s not exactly groundbreaking — I’d consider it a fairly traditional vintage mystery — but it’s a great example of the genre. There’s the unpleasant victim who leaves an inheritance behind him, a pair of young lovers who may or may not be conspiring, an enthusiastic amateur sleuth who assists the police, and a tightly plotted mystery whose solution unfolds logically and systematically. I’m not quite sure it’s “fair,” though — I don’t recall learning enough to guess the motive until the culprit confesses at the end of the book. Also, I wish there had been a few more suspects, and that Ruth and Ronald had been more fleshed out. But I really liked that the book spends a lot of time on both the amateur and professional investigations. Many books of this era don’t care about the routine details of police work, but this one acknowledges them without getting too tediously descriptive. Overall, I enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more by the author.
Book #62: Abby Jimenez, The Friend Zone
CATs: Alpha (Z = Zone)
This contemporary romance novel focuses on Kristen Peterson, an outspoken entrepreneur who creates and sells accessories for small dogs, and Josh Copeland, a firefighter and ex-Marine. Kristen and Josh meet cute when she slams on her brakes and he rear-ends her; they then learn that their respective best friends, Sloan and Brandon, are getting married to each other. As Kristen and Josh spend more time together, they can’t deny their mutual attraction. But Kristen has a boyfriend who’s currently deployed overseas. And even if she weren’t dating someone else, she has a secret that makes her fundamentally incompatible with Josh: she has a medical condition that will make her unable to have children. Since Josh has stated that he wants a big family, Kristen knows she has to keep Josh in the “friend zone,” but the closer they become, the harder it is for her to deny her true feelings for him.
So, despite the good buzz surrounding this book, I must confess that it annoyed me on a number of different levels! First of all, the title is completely misleading. It gives the impression that this is a friends-to-lovers romance, but the attraction between Kristen and Josh is there from the start, and it doesn’t even take them that long to act on it. Second, Kristen keeps her medical issue a secret for far too long, so that the main obstacle to the romance is her failure to communicate, not the fact that Josh wants kids and she can’t have any. Third, a huge tragedy occurs near the end of the book, and that’s what brings Kristen and Josh together at last. But the event seemed totally unnecessary and emotionally manipulative to me. And finally, I was truly enraged by the resolution of the infertility conflict, which is that
Book #63: Mary Balogh, The Famous Heroine / The Plumed Bonnet
CATs: Alpha (P = Plumed)
This volume collects two of Balogh’s earlier novels, which each focus on couples who marry first and fall in love later. In The Famous Heroine, Cora Downes, the daughter of a rich merchant, is launched into high society in hopes that she’ll find an aristocratic husband. But Cora is clumsy, outspoken, and ignorant of the rules of this new world. Lord Francis Kneller takes her under his wing, and they become good friends — until he inadvertently “compromises” her and feels honor-bound to marry her. In The Plumed Bonnet, Alistair Munro, the duke of Bridgwater, gives a ride to a hitchhiking young woman out of boredom. Because of her gaudy clothes, he assumes she’s a prostitute and listens with amusement to her unlikely story of misfortune. But when he learns that Stephanie Gray’s story is true, he realizes that he’s ruined her reputation and must marry her to make amends.
I’ve been slowly discovering Mary Balogh’s books and haven’t hit a bad one yet! I didn’t find either of the romances entirely compelling — something prevented me from becoming fully emotionally invested — but these two novels are on the short side, so perhaps there was just less space for character development. And there’s still plenty to enjoy with both of these books. I liked Cora’s frank nature and was amused by Francis’s attitude toward her: bewilderment slowly transforming into delight. They’re a more fun, lighthearted couple than Alistair and Stephanie, but I found Stephanie’s conflict (she’s trying so hard to become duchess material that she begins to lose herself) more interesting. I should note that these two books are actually the third and fourth installments of a series that starts with Dark Angel / Lord Carew’s Bride; the heroes and heroines of those books appear in both of these as well. You don’t HAVE to read the first two books to understand what’s going on, but it would give you some extra context. Overall, I liked these books a lot and will continue my wanderings through Balogh’s backlist.
Book #64: Edward Grierson, The Second Man
Bingo: book bullet (taken from NinieB)
Set in 1950s England, this novel focuses on a small-town law practice that has just hired a female barrister. Marion Kerrison is a young woman in an almost overwhelmingly male profession, and she must fight to be taken seriously both in the practice and in court. But she has some allies, including junior lawyer Michael Irvine, who narrates the book. Marion soon proves her worth by winning several cases, and because of her gender she receives some attention from the press. As a result, the practice assigns Marion a much more important case: the defense of John Maudsley, who is accused of murdering his aunt to obtain an inheritance. Everyone except Marion thinks he’s guilty, but she insists that the key witness is lying and that someone else committed the crime. With Michael’s help, she reviews the evidence, questions key witnesses, and tries to come up with an alternate theory of the murder.
Most mystery novels end with the discovery of the guilty party and the implication that he or she will be brought to justice. But this novel explores what happens next: the investigators may have discovered the truth, but can they prove it in a court of law? What happens if witnesses are unreliable, evidence is inadmissible, or one side simply has a better lawyer than the other? This book explores these fascinating questions by focusing almost entirely on the murder trial, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also thought the portrayal of Marion was very interesting. I expected it to be more sexist, frankly, given the author’s gender and the era in which the book was written. But while the novel does make some irritating assumptions about Marion’s “intuition,” it is also surprisingly sensitive to the difficulties she faces as a woman in her profession. My one complaint is that the book ends rather abruptly, and the solution to the mystery isn’t explained in much depth. I missed that final chapter where the detective explains how s/he solved the crime. But overall, I would definitely recommend this book if the premise interests you.
Thanks to the 24 in 48 readathon, I managed to read 14 books this month, which is a lot for me! I also officially completed my "books acquired after January 1, 2019" category, which isn't particularly surprising...now I just need to catch up with my "books acquired before January 1, 2019" category! Anyway, here's what I read in July:
1. Patricia C. Wrede, The Enchanted Forest Chronicles
2. Mariana Zapata, The Wall of Winnipeg and Me
3. Mary Stewart, The Stormy Petrel
4. Ann Patchett, Bel Canto
5. Georgette Heyer, Devil’s Cub
6. Jonna Gjevre, Arcanos Unraveled
7. Ellis Peters, The Heretic’s Apprentice
8. Veronica Henry, How to Find Love in a Bookshop
9. Margaret Rogerson, Sorcery of Thorns
10. Julia Quinn, Ten Things I Love about You
11. John Bude, The Cornish Coast Murder
12. Abby Jimenez, The Friend Zone
13. Mary Balogh, The Famous Heroine / The Plumed Bonnet
14. Edward Grierson, The Second Man
I also read four Lord Peter Wimsey short stories: The Image in the Mirror, The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey, The Queen’s Square, and The Necklace of Pearls. And I'm almost finished with Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes, but I think that will be my first book completed in August.
Book of the month:
Sorcery of Thorns was such a pleasant surprise! It’s got great world-building, an exciting plot, a slow-burn romance, and some lovely flashes of humor.
The Friend Zone, while readable, annoyed me on multiple levels, and one particular plot point downright enraged me!
RandomCAT (all about birds): The Stormy Petrel has a bird (“petrel”) in the title, and one of the characters is an avid bird-watcher.
TBRCAT (author with 2+ books on TBR): I read The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude, and I also own — but have not yet read — Bude’s The Lake District Murder.
SeriesCAT (fantasy): The Enchanted Forest Chronicles is a children’s fantasy series comprising four books.
AlphaKIT (C, P): *Patricia *C. Wrede, The Enchanted Forest *Chronicles; Mary Stewart, The Stormy *Petrel; Ann *Patchett, Bel *Canto; Ellis *Peters, The Heretic’s Apprentice; John Bude, The *Cornish *Coast Murder; Mary Balogh, The Famous Heroine / The *Plumed Bonnet
Bingo squares completed:
- Title contains a weather word, or book centers around a weather event: The Stormy Petrel has a weather word (“stormy”) in the title.
- Made into a movie: There is a 2018 film of Bel Canto starring Julianne Moore and Ken Watanabe.
- Book bullet: NinieB’s review of The Second Man earlier this year inspired me to pick it up.
Books acquired in July:
Bria Quinlan, The Last Single Girl (free e-book)
Darcie Wilde, A Useful Woman
Emily Croy Barker, The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic
Lyndsay Faye, Jane Steele
Mary Balogh, The Famous Heroine / The Plumed Bonnet
Diana Wynne Jones, Fire and Hemlock
Book #65: Linda Holmes, Evvie Drake Starts Over
Eveleth “Evvie” Drake has been essentially hiding in her home ever since her husband, Tim, died in a car crash. Everyone in the small town of Calcasset, Maine, loved Tim and assumes that Evvie is isolating herself because of grief. Only Evvie knows that Tim had a dark side and that on the day of his death, she was actually in the process of leaving him. Now she’s having trouble making decisions about her life, so when her best friend Andy suggests that she take in a tenant, she goes along with it. Meanwhile, Dean Tenney is a major league baseball pitcher who suddenly can’t pitch anymore. He’s tried everything he can think of to get his mojo back, to no avail. Now that his career as a baseball player is apparently over, he needs to get out of town and figure out what to do next. When he rents the apartment attached to Evvie’s house, the two gradually become friends and maybe more. But will their respective baggage keep them apart?
I really enjoyed this book, although it’s not quite what I was expecting. I think I was anticipating a light and fizzy rom-com, but this book has a quieter, more contemplative feel. While the relationship between Evvie and Dean drives the plot, most of the conflicts they face are internal. Both of them are in a place where their lives have changed unexpectedly, and they’re floundering as they try to figure out what’s next. And while their growing affection makes them happier, it doesn’t magically fix everything in their lives — something I really appreciated about this book. The characters and conflicts are utterly grounded in reality, and I found both Evvie and Dean very relatable. I believed that these characters genuinely like each other and that their love will last because it’s based on a true friendship. All in all, I liked this book and would definitely recommend it to people who enjoy their romance on the realistic side.
Book #66: Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs
CATs: Random (back to school); TBR (excited when purchased but still unread); Series (set where I don’t live = Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Italy, India); Alpha (I = Irregular)
This short novel is more like a series of vignettes centering around Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, a German academic whose crowning achievement is a massive book entitled Portuguese Irregular Verbs. Von Igelfeld is pompous and self-absorbed and desperately craves approval from others, while at the same time he utterly lacks any self-awareness about his shortcomings. His adventures take him from his school days — when he accidentally forces his best friend into a duel — to various academic conferences around the globe. He consults with a holy man in India, learns a great deal of profanity in Ireland, and tries unsuccessfully to play tennis in Switzerland. He suffers unrequited love for his dentist. And through it all, he is continually surprised that other people don’t recognize Portuguese Irregular Verbs for the work of genius that, at least in his mind, it is.
The subtitle of this book is “A Professor Dr. von Igelfeld Entertainment,” and I think that pretty much sums it up: it’s entertaining enough, but it doesn’t require or inspire any investment from readers. Von Igelfeld is a well-drawn stereotype of a pompous academic, and he never quite feels like a real person. I don’t think he’s supposed to; his character is just a vehicle for the book’s gentle satire. But I did want to see some character development, some growth in self-awareness, some progress toward being a less petty and self-involved person. For me, the various little incidents von Igelfeld encounters, though humorous, weren’t enough to distract me from the lack of a character arc. All that said, I feel like I could make the same criticisms about Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat, but I found that book delightful! So I’m not sure why this one didn’t work for me. Nevertheless, I won’t be continuing with the series.
Well, I certainly slowed down this month after a very productive July! I think it's because I had less free time in August -- I was in the orchestra for a community theater production of "Annie" -- and when I did have a spare moment, I collapsed in front of the television instead of picking up a book. Nevertheless, here's what I did manage to read in August:
1. Linda Holmes, Evvie Drake Starts Over
2. Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs
3. J. Kathleen Cheney, The Seat of Magic
4. Abbi Waxman, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
5. Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Book of the month:
I really enjoyed the realistic romance of Evvie Drake Starts Over.
Portuguese Irregular Verbs was fine but just didn't click with me.
RandomCAT (back to school): Portuguese Irregular Verbs is a subject you'd study in school, and the protagonist is an academic.
TBRCAT (excited when purchased but still unread): I bought Portuguese Irregular Verbs at a library sale in 2012...finally got around to it seven years later!
SeriesCAT (set in country/region where you don't live): Portuguese Irregular Verbs is set in many different countries, including Switzerland, Ireland, India, and Italy. The Seat of Magic is set in Portugal.
AlphaKIT (N, I): Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese *Irregular Verbs; Abbi Waxman, The Bookish Life of *Nina Hill
SFFKIT (alternate history): The Seat of Magic is set in an alternate-history version of Portugal, where the country has been divided over the issue of how to treat its nonhuman residents.
Bingo squares completed:
- Short stories or essays: Ex Libris is a collection of essays about books and reading.
Books acquired in August:
Francis Duncan, Murder Has a Motive
Jessica Brockmole, At the Edge of Summer
Connie Willis and Cynthia Felice, Water Witch, Light Raid, and Promised Land
Margaret Owen, The Merciful Crow
Darcie Wilde, A Purely Private Matter
Connie Willis, Lincoln's Dreams
Emily June Street, The Velocipede Races
Jenny Colgan, Meet Me at the Cupcake Café
Louise Penny, Still Life
Rainbow Rowell, Pumpkinheads
Book #67: J. Kathleen Cheney, The Seat of Magic
CATs: Series (set where I don’t live = Portugal); SFF (alternate history) - I read this in August
Two weeks after the events of The Golden City, Duilio is missing Oriana and getting slightly worried: he’s had no word from her since she left his house for her sereia homeland. But he has plenty of distractions to occupy his mind: it seems that someone is killing prostitutes in the Golden City without leaving a visible mark on their corpses. And someone — the same person, or someone else? — is murdering nonhuman individuals and removing their magical body parts. As Duilio and his cousin Joaquim investigate these crimes, they once again uncover dark magic and a plot that threatens the very existence of Northern Portugal. Meanwhile, Oriana learns some shocking information about her family and realizes that her own past may be directly connected to the conspiracy Duilio is uncovering. Together, Oriana and Duilio must act to prevent a political catastrophe — and also finally to address their feelings for one another.
I liked but didn’t love the first book in this series, and I find myself feeling the same way about this installment. I probably prefer it slightly to The Golden City because there’s less exposition about the world and the major characters. I also think the mystery plots are a little tighter and better integrated with each other. My favorite part of this book was Duilio’s relationship with the infante, who — as brother of the reigning prince and next in line for the throne — is kept under house arrest to prevent a coup. The infante is a fun character, and I enjoy a good political intrigue plot, so I was definitely on board for that storyline. I also liked learning more about Joaquim and getting inside his head a little bit. As in the first book, I think the murder-and-magic stuff is actually the weakest part; but at least it ties in well with the other plot lines in this installment of the series. Finally, I was glad to see how Duilio and Oriana resolved their relationship conflicts. Overall, I’m not racing to pick up the next book, but I do plan to continue with the series at some point.
Book #68: Abbi Waxman, The Bookish Life of Nina Hill
CATs: Alpha (N = Nina) - I read this in August
Nina Hill has a quiet, predictable life, and she likes it that way. She works in an independent bookstore in LA’s Larchmont Village and runs a book club for young female readers. She has some friends in her coworkers and her weekly pub trivia team, but her favorite activity is staying home and reading. Everything changes, however, when Nina learns that her father, whom she never knew, has died and left her something in his will. He’s also left her an assortment of relatives: stepmothers, siblings, aunts and uncles, nephews and nieces. Most of them are eager to welcome Nina with open arms, but Nina is uncomfortable with suddenly having a family, and she isn’t sure if she can — or even wants to — incorporate them into her life. Then there’s the issue of her trivia nemesis, Tom, whom Nina initially dismisses as a dumb jock; they have nothing in common but their love of trivia, yet they also find each other infuriatingly attractive. But can they make a relationship work despite their differences?
I enjoyed this book while I was reading it, but I find I don’t have much to say about it a few weeks later. I do remember the writing style; while I normally like plain, unobtrusive prose, this book definitely has a cheeky, quirky style that I mostly enjoyed. On the other hand, the actual plot fell flat for me. The big conflict is supposed to be that Nina is extremely introverted and is thus uncomfortable with her brand-new family. But the thing is, she’s not all that uncomfortable, and everyone accepts everyone else pretty much right away. One of her aunts is hostile at first and kicks up a fuss about the will, but Nina isn’t bothered by it, and eventually the aunt comes around. The romance with Tom is also pretty dull, although to be fair, the book isn’t primarily a romance. I think my biggest issue is that I expected Nina to be more bookish and more introverted than she was. She seemed to perceive herself as incredibly unusual, but her levels of bookishness and introversion are pretty common among readers, at least in my experience! So maybe I was just a little let down by the premise. Overall, this was a good-not-great book for me, but I’d consider reading more by Waxman.
Book #69: Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
CATs: none - I read this in August
Bingo: short stories or essays
This collection of essays by Anne Fadiman deals with a topic that is dear to every reader’s heart: books and reading. In “Marrying Libraries,” she describes how she didn’t truly feel married to her husband until they merged their book collections. In “My Odd Shelf,” she shares her idiosyncratic passion for polar exploration narratives. In “The His’er Problem,” she discusses the English language’s deficiency in not having a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun. In “The Catalogical Imperative,” she cheekily admits her love of mail-order catalogues. And in “Never Do That to a Book,” she divides readers into “courtly” book lovers and “carnal” book lovers, proudly declaring herself to be one of the latter. Throughout these essays, Fadiman keeps a fairly light, playful tone, but she also deals with weightier topics such as her father’s deteriorating health. Still, the focus remains on books and how the love of reading can shape a person’s life.
I don’t seem to be very good at reading essays; I tend to read them all in one gulp, like a novel, even though I think I ought to dip in and out, reading only a couple at a time. As with any short story or essay collection, some installments are better and more memorable than others. The one I enjoyed most is probably “Marrying Libraries,” which not only touched on serious issues like whose copy of a book should be kept and whose discarded, but also showed a sweet little glimpse into Fadiman’s relationship with her husband. I found “Never Do That to a Book” to be the most controversial, as Fadiman seems to poke fun at people who take care of their books as physical objects. She and her family, it seems, don’t mind dog-earing, tearing out pages, breaking spines, and so forth. I’m not saying those things are wrong, but I also don’t think it’s wrong to keep one’s books looking nice! Overall, I sometimes enjoyed Fadiman’s breezy tone and sometimes found her a bit pretentious. But the essays are certainly fun reads for book lovers!
Book #70: Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor
Maia’s father is the emperor of all the Elflands, but Maia has spent his entire life in exile because of the emperor’s disdain for Maia’s mother, whom he married solely for political reasons. Maia’s mother died when he was young, so he has grown up in isolation with his abusive cousin Setheris as a guardian. But everything changes for Maia when a messenger from the imperial court brings shocking news: Maia’s father and all his half-brothers have been killed in an airship accident, and Maia is the new emperor. Though Maia has no choice but to do his duty and accept the title of emperor, he is horrified. He is young, ill educated, and completely unprepared for the intrigues of court life; moreover, it’s clear that many of the courtiers aren’t thrilled to have an 18-year-old half-goblin as their ruler. Now Maia must quickly learn how to be the emperor his country needs, distinguish friend from foe, and investigate his father’s death, which may not have been so accidental after all.
This is a book with a high degree of difficulty, but I’m happy I stuck with it because I ended up really liking it. The challenging elements are as follows: first, the world of the book is very detailed and elaborate, but the reader is flung into it without explanation. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — I find exposition-heavy infodumps much worse — but it does make the book hard to follow at first. The second challenge is the language: not only are the names of people and places impossible to pronounce or spell, but characters use a formal “we” when speaking of themselves and an informal “thou” when speaking to their close friends. I actually liked this archaic use of pronouns, but it requires a mental adjustment to get into the flow of the dialogue. And finally, not much happens in the book, plot-wise; Maia mostly drifts from one situation to another and tries desperately not to make a fool of himself. Nevertheless, he’s such a sympathetic character, and the world he’s navigating is so fascinating and well built, that I truly enjoyed the book anyway. I think it would appeal to fans of setting-heavy fantasy novels like The Night Circus.
Book #71: Jenny Colgan, Meet Me at the Cupcake Café
Bingo: food-related title or topic
Isabel “Issy” Randall has always loved baking. Her Grampa Joe owned a successful chain of bakeries and taught Issy everything he knew, including a deep love of giving pleasure to others through food. So when Issy is laid off from her boring office job, she decides to open her own bakery—after all, how hard can it be? Of course, she quickly realizes that starting a business is more difficult than she’d anticipated, and she faces a variety of problems, from the hostility of the local business community to the lack of foot traffic on her street to the astronomically high rent for the café’s space. Luckily, she has the support of her best friend Helena, her new friend and employee Pearl, and her bank loan officer Austin. Eventually Issy’s business starts to take off, as does a potential romance with Austin. But interference by a big-shot property developer — who also happens to be Issy’s ex-boyfriend — may derail both her professional and her personal life.
I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of Jenny Colgan’s books in the past, so I was excited to pick this one up. It pretty much follows the Colgan formula: the female protagonist starts out with an unfulfilling job and an unsatisfactory boyfriend, loses both, pursues a new career she’s passionate about, and finds love in the process. But while the other Colgan books I’ve read (The Café by the Sea and The Bookshop on the Corner) have a certain emotional depth that makes them more substantial than a generic chick-lit novel, this one was missing that depth, for me. I found Issy’s friend Pearl, who deals with poverty and class insecurities, much more interesting than Issy herself. But I did like that this book focuses a lot on the difficulties of opening a small business; Issy doesn’t just magically succeed because she’s a great baker. So the book feels a little more grounded in reality than, say, a Hallmark movie. Overall, this was a pleasant read, and I’ll definitely read more by Colgan, but it’s not my favorite of her books.
Book #72: Anthony Trollope, Doctor Thorne
CATs: TBR (classic)
The Greshams of Greshamsbury have long been one of the most important and well-respected families in their county, but the present squire’s mismanagement of the estate has forced him to sell part of the land and borrow heavily against the rest. As a result, the Greshams are in serious financial difficulties, and the only way to overcome them (in their eyes) is for the young Greshams to marry money. This duty is especially important for Frank Gresham, the oldest son and heir to the estate. Unfortunately, Frank has already fallen in love with Mary Thorne, the niece of the village doctor. Mary has no fortune, and the circumstances of her birth are unknown to all but Doctor Thorne; she may not even be his legitimate niece. So the Gresham family — especially Frank’s mother, Lady Arabella — is determined to discourage the match and find Frank a rich wife. But when a surprising turn of events makes Mary the possible heir to a large fortune, Doctor Thorne must decide how much he can legitimately reveal, knowing that Mary’s happiness may depend on whether or not she gets the inheritance.
I’ve only read a couple of books by Anthony Trollope, but I really enjoy his writing style. He’s like Dickens but funnier, and the prose style is one of the most enjoyable elements of this novel. There’s some wonderful satire of the upper classes, as represented by the de Courcys (Lady Arabella’s relatives) and the Duke of Omnium, who can’t be bothered to talk to the guests at his own dinner party. I also learned a fair amount about parliamentary elections in the 19th century, and it seems that in some ways, not much has changed! Further, I found the book interesting in its treatment of money versus breeding. The Greshams are proud of their status as landed gentry and look down on those who are “in trade,” but they’re also willing to compromise their principles if the tradesmen are wealthy enough. I suspect that their attitude reflects a broader cultural shift. As for the characters, Frank and Mary are fairly two-dimensional, but Doctor Thorne is more complex and interesting. The plot is well constructed, but everything that happens is telegraphed ahead of time and therefore predictable. I liked the book, but I’d recommend it more for the style and the social insights than for the story. I would also recommend the Julian Fellowes adaptation, which is currently free to stream on Amazon Prime!
Book #73: Kristan Higgins, Life and Other Inconveniences
Emma London is a single mom raising her teenage daughter, Riley, in Chicago. She adores Riley, but the rest of her family is more complicated: her mother took her own life when Emma was a child, and her father has never really been in the picture. Then there’s her grandmother, Genevieve, a wealthy fashion designer who cared for Emma after her mom died but kicked her out when she got pregnant before graduating from high school. Emma and Genevieve have been estranged ever since, so when Genevieve calls Emma to reveal that she’s terminally ill, Emma doesn’t have a lot of sympathy. Nevertheless, when Genevieve hints that Riley might inherit a fortune in her will, Emma decides to go back to her Maine hometown with Riley in tow, to care for Genevieve in her last days. In the course of the visit, Emma and Genevieve come to understand each other a little better, and they both deal with some unresolved issues in their pasts.
I’ve read several of Kristan Higgins’s lighthearted romance novels and really enjoyed them. Recently she’s moved into women’s fiction, and I’ve been more lukewarm on those books, although I still quite liked If You Only Knew and On Second Thought. This book, however, just irritated me. There’s nothing lighthearted or joyful about it; everyone is miserable, and they basically stay miserable until the very end. I’ve already described Emma’s sad backstory, but every other character is dealing with multiple tragic problems, too: Genevieve is not only dying, but she’s devastated by the loss of her husband and her older son. Miller, Emma’s love interest, is mourning his dead wife and trying to raise a hostile three-year-old alone. Emma has a sister who can’t live on her own due to a rare genetic disorder. It’s all just too depressing, especially when I’ve historically looked to this author for light and fluffy reading! I also didn’t love that the majority of the book is told in flashbacks; there’s very little forward motion to the plot, just a slow unfolding of past tragedies. In short, I’m not a fan of this one, and Higgins is no longer a must-read author for me.
Book #74: Leo Bruce, Dead Man’s Shoes
CATs: Series (mystery)
This mystery novel begins on a sea journey from Tangier to London. Everyone on the boat is annoyed by one of the passengers, Wilbury Larkin, who speaks too loudly and seems to enjoy being as obnoxious as possible. Moreover, they’re all convinced that he murdered Gregory Willick, a rich Englishman who was recently shot dead on his daily afternoon walk. Larkin claims that he didn’t murder Willick and that he’s going back to England to prove his innocence. But the night before the boat docks, Larkin falls, or jumps, or is pushed overboard. The crew members find a typed suicide note in Larkin’s cabin, but they realize that it could have easily been faked. Still, the police are happy to think that Larkin committed suicide; now they can close two cases, Larkin’s and Willick’s. But history teacher/amateur detective Carolus Deene isn’t satisfied, so with the help of his precocious student Rupert Priggley, he sets out to investigate both deaths.
A couple years ago I read Leo Bruce’s Case for Three Detectives and found it absolutely delightful! So when I saw a couple of his Carolus Deene books at a local library sale, I snatched them up immediately. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this book as much as Case for Three Detectives: it’s not nearly as funny, the mystery is predictable, and there’s not much character development. To be fair, Carolus Deene is a series character — this book is fourth in the series — so maybe he’s more fleshed out in other installments. But it seems that, as with many vintage detective novels, the focus is all on the mystery itself, not on who’s solving it. This particular mystery has a very interesting central concept, but the execution falls flat because it’s increasingly obvious as the book goes on that only one person could have done it. Figuring out the “how” is somewhat interesting, but the inevitability of the solution killed a lot of the suspense for me. Overall, this book was OK, and I’ll read the other Carolus Deene book I own at some point, but I’m not in a hurry to do so.
Book #75: Evie Dunmore, Bringing Down the Duke
It’s 1879, and Oxford University has just opened its door to female students. Annabelle Archer is eager to take her place among them, especially when the alternative is acting as an unpaid servant for her male cousin and his family. She has received a scholarship from the National Society for Women’s Suffrage, so in return for her tuition, she must become involved with the women’s suffrage movement, targeting men of influence in Parliament who might be convinced to vote in their favor. But when Annabelle takes the fight to Sebastian Devereux, the duke of Montgomery, she takes on more than she bargained for. Sebastian is certainly a man of influence, but he is also cold, calculating, and intimidating. Annabelle manages to insinuate herself into Sebastian’s household, but her mission is complicated by the powerful attraction she feels for the duke. The attraction is mutual, but Annabelle’s station in life is so far below Sebastian’s that a happy outcome seems impossible.
The cover of this book is somewhat misleading (although I personally like it!); the story is much less of a romp than the cover indicates, and despite the cartoon-y art, it is a romance novel with some fairly explicit sex scenes. I also think the book’s description is a little misleading, in that it makes it sound like the women’s suffrage movement is going to be a big focus of the plot. But aside from Annabelle’s attendance at a few meetings, and one rally that serves as a plot point, that aspect of the book is not very prominent. So if you’re imagining a book filled with kickass suffragettes earnestly debating political issues, you’ll be disappointed. Nevertheless, I think the book works very well as a romance. Annabelle and Sebastian have an intense and believable chemistry, and their class differences pose a very real obstacle to their relationship. I liked that they both, especially Sebastian, kept trying to find a way to make things work, instead of passively bemoaning their fate. The secondary characters aren’t as well rendered, but they’ll probably be more fleshed out in the inevitable sequels. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would definitely read more by Dunmore.
Book #76: Jasper Fforde, The Woman Who Died a Lot
CATs: Alpha (F = Fforde, W = woman, who); SFF (series = Thursday Next #7)
This seventh book in the Thursday Next series continues the madcap adventures of Thursday Next, her family, and the alternate-reality Swindon that is obsessed with all things literary. Thursday is now middle-aged and struggling with the fact that she’s not as physically resilient as she used to be. She hopes to become the head of a newly reinstated SpecOps 27 (the division of the government dealing with literary crimes), but instead, she’s offered the job of Chief Librarian of Swindon All-You-Can-Eat-at-Fatso’s Drink Not Included Library, a plum assignment that gives her absolute power within the library’s domain. But there’s still plenty of trouble to go around. Her son Friday’s career at the ChronoGuard is halted when time travel is ruled impossible, and he’s now coming to terms with a very different destiny. Meanwhile, the Global Standard Deity is preparing to smite Swindon within a week, unless Thursday’s genius daughter Tuesday can find a way to stop it. Not to mention, the sinister Goliath Corp is up to its usual skulduggery, and more than one person seems to want Thursday dead.
I’m a longtime Fforde ffan, but I haven’t been as impressed by his last few books. Maybe the novelty of his humor has worn off for me, but I was only intermittently amused by this installment. There are still a lot of fun jokes and gags and wordplay, but the whole seems like less than the sum of its parts. The Thursday vs. Goliath stuff was fine, but it felt like a retread of previous books with nothing particularly new to add. The Chronoguard stuff was more interesting — I especially enjoyed the idea that time travel works (or used to work) because someone would invent the technology in the future, and therefore it could be used in the present. I wanted a little more about Thursday’s Librarian gig, but her library-related adventures are fairly peripheral to the main plot. In fact, I’m realizing that there aren’t a lot of literature-related hijinks in this novel. Unlike the first few books, which were constantly jumping into and out of specific literary worlds, this one doesn’t contain many literary allusions at all. Maybe that’s why earlier books in the series worked for me better than the last few. Regardless, I’m glad to be caught up with the Thursday Next series, but I’m also glad that it’s now (as far as I can tell) complete.
Book #77: Jen DeLuca, Well Met
CATs: Alpha (W = Well)
Emily Parker has just moved to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, to care for her sister, who was seriously injured in a car accident, and her teenage niece. But she’s also hoping for a fresh start, having left nothing behind her but a jerk of an ex-boyfriend and an unfinished English degree. Following her niece Caitlin’s lead, Emily soon becomes involved with the local Renaissance Faire, where she has a lot of fun learning about history, working on her British accent, and creating her new identity as a tavern wench. The only bad aspect of her new life is Simon Graham, the organizer of the Faire, who always seems to be criticizing and judging her. But in his Faire persona as a roguish pirate, he’s a completely different person — one who flirts shamelessly with Emily’s character. To Emily’s chagrin, she discovers that she likes their role-playing, and Simon himself, a lot more than she thought. But is their connection real or only an act? And when the Faire ends, what will happen to their relationship?
This is a fun, light romance set in the unusual world of a Renaissance Faire, and I really enjoyed it for the unique setting. I’ve been to the Maryland Renaissance Festival and would love to go back; who could resist the combination of history, theater, and roast turkey legs? So I was predisposed to be charmed by this book. I found Emily a likable character overall, although she does seem to make snap judgments about Simon that she doesn’t make about anyone else. At one point she describes herself as having “emotional whiplash” about him, and I definitely experienced that also, as she kept changing her mind about him. I liked Simon too — I love a straitlaced hero with a sense of humor, and a knowledge of English literature is certainly a bonus! — but he remains a little mysterious because everything is told from Emily’s first-person point of view. The obstacles to their romance aren’t particularly huge, and sometimes I just wanted them to communicate already; on the other hand, sometimes it’s nice to read a book with minimal angst, where the characters are all basically good people doing their best. Overall, I did enjoy the book and am glad to see that DeLuca is planning a sequel set in the same world!
I'm so excited it's finally fall -- by the calendar, anyway! The weather in my area is still relentlessly summery, but hopefully that will change soon. Anyway, this month I reached my target reading goal of 75 books for the year! In fact, I've read 77, but I still haven't completed my "books owned before 2019" category, and I have two books left for Bingo. So those will be my priorities for the rest of the year, if I can keep from being distracted by shiny new books! Here's what I read in September:
1. Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor
2. Jenny Colgan, Meet Me at the Cupcake Café
3. Anthony Trollope, Doctor Thorne
4. Kristan Higgins, Life and Other Inconveniences
5. Leo Bruce, Dead Man’s Shoes
6. Evie Dunmore, Bringing Down the Duke
7. Jasper Fforde, The Woman Who Died a Lot
8. Jen DeLuca, Well Met
I've also begun The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, which is very good so far. I'm loving the writing style and the faintly gothic vibes!
Book of the month: Although The Goblin Emperor was a challenging book in some ways, I’m really glad I stuck with it!
Life and Other Inconveniences was over-the-top tragic, which is really not what I want from my light fiction.
TBRCAT (classic): Doctor Thorne is a Victorian classic that was recently adapted by the BBC.
SeriesCAT (mystery): Dead Man’s Shoes is fourth in the Carolus Deene mystery series.
AlphaKIT (F, W): Jasper *Fforde, The *Woman *Who Died a Lot; Jen DeLuca, *Well Met
SFFKIT (series): The Woman Who Died a Lot is seventh in the Thursday Next series.
Bingo squares completed:
- Food-related title or topic: The heroine of Meet Me at the Cupcake Café opens a bakery.
Books acquired in September:
Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Shore (LTER book)
Diana Wynne Jones, A Tale of Time City
Laura Wood, Under a Dancing Star
Just thinking about the Barsetshires makes me want to drop everything and binge-read them.
And of course, congratulations on reaching 75! You should probably space out the Trollope chunksters into next year!