Christina reads the 2019 Category Challenge, Part 3
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(Charles Edward Perugini, "Girl Reading")
Hello, and welcome to part 3 of my 2019 Category Challenge thread! I have reached my target of 75 books for the year, so now I'm going to see if I can make it to 100! I also still need to complete two of my categories. The original plan was to read 25 books in each of three categories:
1. Books acquired before January 1, 2019. This category can include both physical books and e-books; rereads also count. I need to read four more books to complete this category, which should be doable with three months to go!
2. Books acquired on or after January 1, 2019. This category is now complete, although I'm still adding more books to it! It includes 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 have just two more Bingo squares to fill!
I said at the beginning of the year that my goal for 2019 is to enjoy what I'm reading, and thus far I've achieved that goal. Hoping for a few more great reads before the end of the year!
(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)
22. Amanda Grange, Henry Tilney's Diary (3/12/13)
23. Kristin Cashore, Graceling (11/13/09)
24. Patricia Wynn, The Spider's Touch (5/24/13)
25. Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting (10/6/07) - reread
26. Alice Tilton, The Cut Direct (1/28/14)
27. Rainbow Rowell, Attachments (12/25/12) - reread
28. Jane Austen, Persuasion (8/8/06) - reread
29. Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop (11/4/17)
30. Stephanie Burgis, Snowspelled (12/22/17)
31. Eva Ibbotson, The Reluctant Heiress (5/1/09) - reread
32. Shannon Hale, Austenland (5/31/07) - reread
33. J. Jefferson Farjeon, Mystery in White (12/19/17)
34. Alyssa Maxwell, Murder Most Malicious (2/18/18)
35. Georgette Heyer, Venetia (11/14/06) - reread
36. Georgette Heyer, Envious Casca (4/25/11) - reread
(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
35. Francis Duncan, Murder Has a Motive
36. Sarah M. Eden, The Lady and the Highwayman
37. Jessie Mihalik, Aurora Blazing
38. Mhairi McFarlane, Don't You Forget about Me
39. Mimi Matthews, A Holiday by Gaslight
40. Maggie Stiefvater, Call Down the Hawk
41. Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Shore
42. Mary Balogh, A Summer to Remember
43. Carla Kelly, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand
44. Sr. Clare Matthiass, CFR, Discerning Religious Life
45. Carla Kelly, Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career
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)
24. Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads (graphic novel)
25. Jenn Bennett, The Lady Rogue (Eastern European author or setting: set mostly in Romania)
(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): Amanda Grange, Henry Tilney's Diary
CalendarCAT (Halloween): Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads
SeriesCAT (historical): Patricia Wynn, The Spider's Touch
AlphaKIT (G, T): Alix E. Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January; Amanda Grange, Henry Tilney's Diary; Kristin Cashore, Graceling; Patricia Wynn, The Spider's Touch
SeriesCAT (female protagonist):
AlphaKIT (S, Y): Mhairi McFarlane, Don't You Forget about Me; Maggie Stiefvater, Call Down the Hawk; Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Shore
RandomCAT (season's readings): Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop; Carla Kelly, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand; Sr. Clare Matthiass, CFR, Discerning Religious Life; J. Jefferson Farjeon, Mystery in White; Alyssa Maxwell, Murder Most Malicious; Carla Kelly, Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career
TBRCAT (too cheap to resist): Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop; Alyssa Maxwell, Murder Most Malicious
CalendarCAT (Christmas): Carla Kelly, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand; J. Jefferson Farjeon, Mystery in White; Alyssa Maxwell, Murder Most Malicious
SeriesCAT (new to you): Mary Balogh, A Summer to Remember; Stephanie Burgis, Snowspelled; Alyssa Maxwell, Murder Most Malicious
AlphaKIT (E, R): Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop; Mary Balogh, A Summer to Remember; Sr. Clare Matthiass, CFR, Discerning Religious Life
AlphaKIT (X, Z): Mariana Zapata, The Wall of Winnipeg and Me; Abby Jimenez, The Friend Zone
Book #78: Alix E. Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January
CATs: Alpha (T = Ten, Thousand)
In the first years of the 20th century, January Scaller lives a small, safe life in the home of her guardian, Cornelius Locke. Locke House is large and richly appointed, full of rare treasures from faraway lands. January’s father works for Mr. Locke by finding these treasures, so he is often gone for months or years at a time. As a result, January grows up feeling lonely and out of place. Then one day she finds a book called The Ten Thousand Doors, and it introduces her to the concept of Doors, or portals to other worlds, which introduce change and new ideas and revolutions. January is captivated by the book and by the idea of Doors, especially when the book turns out to have a connection to certain surprising abilities of her own. Eventually January sets off on a quest for her past, a quest that involves finding and passing through the right Door. But a malevolent society of rich and powerful men is bent on closing the Doors, and she must ultimately use everything she’s learned to preserve the freedom of multiple worlds.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced YA adventure novel, this is not the book for you. It takes its time in setting up January’s character, her world, and a seemingly unrelated plot that (predictably) ties in with the main story. In fact, nothing really happens plot-wise until about halfway through the book! Normally this would bother me, but in this case, I was immersed in the lovely writing and the magical, faintly gothic atmosphere. I’m not usually someone who reads for setting or style, but there are some books that you just sink into — that feel like magic — and for me, this is one of those books. In terms of characters, this is very much January’s story, and much of the book focuses on her thoughts and reactions to things. I would have liked some more insight into Jane and Samuel, two of January’s allies who help her in her quest. We do get their backstory, especially Jane’s, in some depth, but I never felt like I really got to know them as people or understand what made them tick. The book contains some (slightly heavy-handed, I thought) social commentary and a lovely, quiet romance. Overall, I really liked it and think it will end up on my top 10 list for 2019!
Book #79: Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads
CATs: Calendar (Halloween)
Bingo: graphic novel
Deja and Josiah are high school seniors who have worked at the local pumpkin patch every fall for the past three years. They don’t interact much in winter, spring, or summer, but when they’re working together at the Succotash Hut, they’re firm friends. This year, introspective Josiah is contemplating the bittersweet fact that tonight is his last night at the patch; in response, outgoing Deja declares that they need to make the most of it by having an adventure. She encourages Josiah to finally approach his longtime crush, the girl who works at the Fudge Shoppe, but Josiah will only do it if Deja comes along for moral support. Their mission takes them all over the pumpkin patch, from the various food vendors to the bumper cars to the corn maze. Along the way, they reminisce about how they first met and about how much they’ve enjoyed their time at the patch. When Josiah finally catches up with the Fudge Shoppe girl, he realizes that he needs to accomplish one more mission before leaving the pumpkin patch behind.
I’m a big Rainbow Rowell fan, so I was predisposed to like this book even though I don’t normally read graphic novels. And I will say that, while Faith Erin Hicks’s art is very cute and charming, it didn’t add very much to the story for me. But I think I’m just not a very visual person, so your mileage may vary! Anyway, I very much enjoyed the story, which perfectly encapsulates that bittersweet feeling of nostalgia that comes with the end of an era. I also loved the contrast between Josiah and Deja in their attitude toward change: Josiah is a melancholy, head-in-the-clouds type, whereas Deja is more pragmatic and confident. She gives him the kick in the pants he needs to get out of his own head, while his gentleness and sincerity disarm her. I completely bought their friendship and enjoyed watching it develop as the story unfolded. The plot is not particularly suspenseful, but there were times when I genuinely didn’t know how everything would turn out. (I had certain hopes, but I wasn’t sure until a fair way into the book.) Overall, this is a lightweight but very enjoyable story, and I’d love to see it as a movie!
Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace, The Documents in the Case -- I'm intrigued to read a Sayers story that doesn't feature Lord Peter Wimsey.
Mary Balogh, Only Enchanting -- I really enjoy Balogh's Regency romances, so I'm always happy to pick them up for cheap!
Clare Darcy, Lydia -- I've read a few of Darcy's books, and she's clearly a Georgette Heyer knockoff...but I do love Heyer, so I enjoy anything in the same style.
Francis Duncan, So Pretty a Problem -- I've now read two of Duncan's mystery novels and liked them both, so why not try a third?
Anne Bogel, I'd Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life -- I'm a big fan of the author's podcasts, What Should I Read Next? and One Great Book.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade -- Definitely the best Indiana Jones film!
Good News -- I have a soft spot for this movie musical starring June Allyson and Peter Lawford.
John Bude, The Cheltenham Square Murder -- I love a good British Library Crime Classic!
J. Jefferson Farjeon, Seven Dead -- I've been wanting to read more Farjeon ever since really enjoying the bizarre The Z Murders.
China Miéville, Embassytown -- I've already read and enjoyed this one, but I definitely need to read it again now that I know what's going on! It's a hard book to get into, but I think it rewards the reader's patience.
Neil Gaiman, American Gods -- Time to finally read this one!
And that's a nice book haul. I love a good library book sale, can't seem to resist...
Book #80: Amanda Grange, Henry Tilney’s Diary
CATs: Random (tribute = Northanger Abbey); Alpha (G = Grange, T = Tilney)
This novel in diary format tells the story of Northanger Abbey from Henry Tilney’s point of view. It starts several years before the beginning of Austen’s novel, when Henry is 16. He and his sister Eleanor are extremely close, and they bond over their shared love of gothic novels. He is less close with his father, a rigid disciplinarian who is obsessed with finding rich and/or titled mates for his children. And while he loves his older brother, Frederick, the latter’s wild behavior and cynical view of women keep Henry at a distance. Henry is determined to become a true hero, and he dreams of one day meeting the perfect heroine. During a family trip to Bath, he meets the naïve and engaging Catherine Moreland, and the more time he spends with her, the more he believes that she could be the girl he’s searching for. Eleanor truly likes her also, and even his father treats her with a surprising warmth and distinction. But when his father’s opinion of Catherine suddenly changes, Henry is faced with a decision as dramatic as any he’s encountered within the pages of a novel.
Austen pastiches are so hard to get right. If you stray too far from the original source material, you risk offending the Janeites who probably comprise your target audience. But if you follow the original too slavishly, you come across as a weak imitation and compare unfavorably to the real thing. So Amanda Grange walks a thin tightrope here, I think with mixed success. The early chapters of the book were unexpectedly entertaining, and I loved learning more about the Tilney family’s backstory, especially how the three siblings related to each other growing up. I wanted more of Henry’s banter with Eleanor, more insight into Frederick, and more of Eleanor’s romance (which is briefly mentioned in Northanger Abbey and slightly expanded upon here). The second half of the book, when Henry meets Catherine Moreland, is a little less fun, mostly because Grange copies and pastes most of the dialogue directly from Austen’s novel. Again, I can understand why she did it that way, but I wanted a little more originality. Still, this is a fun read, and I’m always happy to see Northanger Abbey and Henry Tilney getting some love!
Book #81: Francis Duncan, Murder Has a Motive
When retired tobacconist Mordecai Tremaine accepts an invitation to visit his friends Paul and Jean Russell in the quaint village of Dalmering, he has no idea that he’ll shortly be called upon to use his skills as an amateur detective. But the day before he arrives in town, a local woman named Lydia Dare is found stabbed to death on the path that leads to her cottage. Mordecai’s friends ask him to help solve the murder, and he is more than willing to do so, especially when he learns that his friend Inspector Boyce is the Scotland Yard man in charge of the case. As Mordecai gets to know Lydia’s friends and neighbors, it seems that all the clues are pointing toward Martin Vaughan, an old friend of Lydia’s who was in love with her, even though she’d just gotten engaged to another man. But Mordecai is unconvinced, and as he continues to search for more suspects, the killer has ample opportunity to strike again.
I’ve read one other book featuring Mordecai Tremaine, Murder for Christmas, and I find my feelings about this book are the same: it’s an interesting, competently written Golden Age mystery, but not particularly groundbreaking or unique. I like Mordecai; he doesn’t have the theatrical idiosyncrasies of Poirot, but rather is kind and unassuming, preferring to fade into the background most of the time. I also really liked Inspector Boyce, and the conversations between him and Mordecai were my favorite scenes in the book. I felt that most of the other characters were pretty flat; they all seemed to be more stock characters than nuanced individuals. The mystery is clever and (I think) plays fair; I even spotted a pivotal clue, though I didn’t follow it to its logical conclusion. I’m not entirely sure I buy the murderer’s psychology, but I’m willing to suspend my disbelief. Overall, I like Francis Duncan and am glad I have a couple more of his books on my shelves, but I can see why he never became as popular as, say, Agatha Christie.
Book #82: Kristin Cashore, Graceling
CATs: Alpha (G = Graceling)
Throughout the Seven Kingdoms, some individuals have superhuman powers known as Graces. A person’s Grace might be harmless or even useful, such as the ability to swim incredibly fast or to easily perform complex mathematics. But even those Graced with these benign abilities are viewed with suspicion and fear. Katsa, the niece of King Randa, is Graced with superhuman strength, which means that Randa uses her as a threat and a punishment to anyone who crosses him. Katsa hates being used to harm innocent people, and she has begun to fight back by forming a secret Council to rescue those whom Randa seeks to hurt. In the course of one of the Council’s missions, Katsa meets Po, a prince of a nearby kingdom who is Graced with fighting. As they become closer, Po encourages Katsa to stand up for herself at Randa’s court. The two of them also encounter a mysterious plot that sends them on a journey to the farthest reaches of the Seven Kingdoms, where they discover a king hiding a terrible Grace.
I bought this book when it first came out (10+ years ago!) because there was so much good buzz surrounding it; now I finally understand what the fuss was about! I found this book an enjoyable and compelling read. Katsa is a somewhat typical “strong female heroine,” but she’s saved from being too perfect because her Grace is powerless against the Grace of the book’s villain. I liked her stubbornness and independence, and I liked that she was nowhere near as emotionally fluent as the hero. Po is a dream of a love interest; not only is he handsome and able to fight Katsa as an equal, but he also truly respects her and doesn’t try to change her, even when she’s at her most frustrating. My biggest complaint with the book is that the pacing is odd. It almost seems like three different books — one at Randa’s court, another during Katsa and Po’s journey, and a third about the final showdown with the evil king. Personally, I was most interested in the first section, and I would have liked to read an entire novel about the Council and how Katsa finally gets the courage to stand up to Randa. Nevertheless, I would definitely recommend this book to YA fantasy fans!
Book #83: Sarah M. Eden, The Lady and the Highwayman
In 1860s London, Elizabeth Black is the headmistress of a respectable girls’ school who also writes “silver fork” novels that cater to the tastes of the gentry and aristocracy. However, she also secretly writes “penny dreadfuls” — lurid, sensational stories full of adventure and danger — under the pseudonym Charles King. Meanwhile, Fletcher Walker is another writer of penny dreadfuls, but the success of Mr. King’s stories is beginning to eat away at his profits. Fletcher is disturbed by this because he needs money to fund the mission of the Dread Penny Society, a group of penny dreadful writers who have pledged to help London’s street children escape from the gutter and lead safer, happier lives. This goal is extremely important to Fletcher, who was once himself a forgotten child of the streets. When he meets Elizabeth at a party, he decides to enlist her help in discovering Mr. King’s identity. She agrees, hoping to throw him off the scent; but the more time they spend together, the more they are drawn to each other despite their very different backgrounds.
I found this book fairly enjoyable, but it requires a lot of suspension of disbelief! The idea that all of London’s penny dreadful writers would be members of a secret society designed to rescue impoverished children is a fun one, but I also found it rather silly. Also, it’s very odd that Fletcher would ask Elizabeth for help in tracking down Mr. King, since (as far as he knows) she only writes “respectable” novels — plus, they barely know each other in the beginning! I also found the plot a bit of a mess; there’s the “who is Mr. King?” story, the escapades of the Dread Penny Society (which hint at a nefarious enemy who is never revealed, but perhaps that will come in a sequel), and the romance between Fletcher and Elizabeth, but it’s hard to say which is the main point of the novel. It’s all a bit of a jumble. That said, I enjoyed reading a historical romance set in a later period than the Regency, and I appreciated the main characters’ desire to make their world a better place. I’m not sure if the author is planning a sequel to this book, but I’ll read it if it ever materializes.
Book #84: Patricia Wynn, The Spider’s Touch
CATs: Series (historical = set in 1715); Alpha (T = Touch)
***Warning: SPOILERS for The Birth of Blue Satan.***
This second book in the Blue Satan and Mrs. Kean series picks up shortly after the first one left off. Gideon, Viscount St. Mars, is accused of his father’s murder and, though innocent, has fled to France. There he is approached by supporters of James Stuart and asked to aid the Jacobite cause by returning to England and assessing whether the people would rise up to overthrow George I and restore the Stuart dynasty to the English throne. Gideon is reluctant to embrace the Jacobite cause wholeheartedly, but he agrees to the mission. Meanwhile, Hester Kean is living with her cousin Isabella and the rest of her family, who are trying to ingratiate themselves at George I’s court. However, the family unwittingly becomes close with a number of Jacobite spies and sympathizers. When Gideon returns to England and sees Hester’s plight, he is determined to protect her. And when one of Hester’s Jacobite acquaintances is murdered during an opera performance, she and Gideon team up to solve the mystery.
I don’t know why more novels aren’t set during the early 18th century, when the conflict between Hanover supporters and Jacobites provides such a compelling conflict and backdrop for dramatic action! So I’m very glad that this series exists, and I enjoyed this second installment very much. It had been a few years since I’d read the first book, but Wynn does a good job of catching up readers and reminding them of the most important plot points. I also appreciated the historical note at the very beginning of the book, which provides some much-needed context for the events of the novel. As for the book itself, I really like both Gideon and Hester as characters, and I especially like how Hester’s role (though necessarily a bit more passive, because she’s both a woman and a dependent) is just as vital as Gideon’s. The book starts out slowly because it follows each of them in turn, but it picks up once they start sharing scenes together. I’m definitely here for the inevitable romance! The mystery plot is probably the weakest element, as the culprit is fairly obvious, and I felt it was an uncreative way to resolve that character’s arc. Still, I really liked this book and will definitely continue with the series!
Book #85: Jessie Mihalik, Aurora Blazing
Bianca von Hasenberg, a daughter of one of the three High Houses in the Consortium (an interplanetary governing body), adopts the public persona of an empty-headed space princess. But she’s actually an extremely gifted intelligence-gatherer with a wide network of informants, usually women she has quietly rescued from bad domestic situations. Thanks to the illicit experiments of her late husband, Gregory, Bianca also has the ability to detect and decode nearly any message sent via technology, no matter how complex its encryption. So when Bianca’s brother Ferdinand — the heir to House von Hasenberg — is kidnapped, she feels compelled to use her expertise to save him. But Ian Bishop, House von Hasenberg’s head of security, is determined to protect Bianca by refusing to let her participate in the investigation. Bianca doesn’t take his orders lying down, however, and soon she’s on the run with an angry, and infuriatingly attractive, Ian in hot pursuit. Eventually, they realize that they will accomplish more by working together, but their fragile trust may not survive all the dangerous ordeals that await them.
I enjoyed the first book in this series, Polaris Rising, and was excited for this sequel, which seemed like it would contain more of my favorite romance tropes—forced proximity, enemies to lovers, grumpy hero, and so on. But while those tropes do exist in the book, they fell flat for me, mostly because the romance definitely takes a backseat to the external plot in this book. It’s almost the halfway point before Bianca and Ian end up on the same spaceship, and even then, there isn’t very much development of their relationship. The turn from enemies to lovers seems very abrupt, and Ian’s shift in demeanor was particularly jarring to me. The character development is clumsy; Bianca and Ian each get a scene where one explains a tragic incident in his/her past to the other, but that’s it. It all feels very rote. I wanted more about Ian’s past, especially how he was able to become the head of House von Hasenberg security before age 30, and I think Bianca’s disastrous marriage should have been explored in more depth too. Plot-wise, there’s plenty of action, as well as fun tech discussions if you’re into that sort of thing. But overall, I’m pretty “meh” on this book. I will probably still read the third one when it comes out next year, though!
Book #86: Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting
I remember liking this book when I first read it, possibly 10 or more years ago now. And upon rereading, I’m happy to say that it definitely holds up! The plot is classic romantic suspense: orphan Linda Martin gets a job as a governess at the French estate of Valmy, where she encounters various mysterious people, a creepy atmosphere, and some sinister accidents that keep befalling her and her young pupil. It’s gothic and romantic, and I think fans of Jane Eyre and Rebecca would really enjoy it! I had a great time revisiting the story just in time for Halloween. As an added bonus, the book is set in the French countryside near the town of Thonon-les-Bains, a town I actually visited a couple years ago! It’s always fun to be able to picture a book’s setting as you’re reading it.
Happy Halloween, everyone! And congrats to the Nationals on their first-ever World Series win...I don't really follow baseball, but I can't help being excited for my home team! This month I also had a lovely visit from my bookish friend Sophie, and we basically spent an entire weekend hanging out in bookstores (hence the large number of books acquired this month). All in all, an excellent October! Here's what I read this month.
1. Alix E. Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January
2. Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads
3. Amanda Grange, Henry Tilney’s Diary
4. Francis Duncan, Murder Has a Motive
5. Kristin Cashore, Graceling
6. Sarah M. Eden, The Lady and the Highwayman
7. Patricia Wynn, The Spider’s Touch
8. Jessie Mihalik, Aurora Blazing
9. Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting
Book of the month:
The Ten Thousand Doors of January, while slow-paced, was utterly magical.
No real duds this month, but I was a bit disappointed in Aurora Blazing. Too much technobabble, not enough character development.
RandomCAT (knockoffs, follow-ups, tributes, parodies): Henry Tilney’s Diary is a retelling of Northanger Abbey from the hero’s point of view.
CalendarCAT (Halloween): Pumpkinheads is set in a pumpkin patch on Halloween.
SeriesCAT (historical): The Spider’s Touch is the second book in a mystery series set in 18th-century England.
AlphaKIT (G, T): Alix E. Harrow, The *Ten *Thousand Doors of January; Amanda *Grange, Henry *Tilney’s Diary; Kristin Cashore, *Graceling; Patricia Wynn, The Spider’s *Touch
Bingo squares completed:
- Graphic novel: Pumpkinheads is a graphic novel.
Books acquired in October:
China Miéville, Embassytown
J. Jefferson Farjeon, Seven Dead
John Bude, The Cheltenham Square Murder
Anne Bogel, I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life
Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace, The Documents in the Case
Mary Balogh, Only Enchanting
Clare Darcy, Lydia
Francis Duncan, So Pretty a Problem
Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Kristin Cashore, Fire
Kristin Cashore, Bitterblue
Mary Balogh, A Summer to Remember
Sherry Thomas, A Conspiracy in Belgravia
Charlotte Armstrong, The Unsuspected
Book #87: Jenn Bennett, The Lady Rogue
Bingo: Eastern European author or setting
An unconventional young woman growing up in the 1930s, Theodora Fox has a thirst for adventure. Her father, Richard, is a well-known treasure hunter who travels the world collecting rare and precious artifacts. Yet despite Theo’s eagerness to accompany her father on these trips, he usually ends up leaving her behind, allegedly for her own protection. When Richard fails to return from one such trip, Theo is worried that he’s gotten into trouble and decides to take matters into her own hands. With the help of Huck Gallagher, Richard’s protégé and her own former love interest, she looks for clues in her father’s journal and soon realizes that he was on the trail of a supposedly magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Vlad Dracula. Now Theo and Huck must retrace her father’s footsteps into Romania, where they soon discover that they aren’t the only ones on Richard’s trail. They also encounter murder, magic, and a dangerous secret society with its own plans for Dracula’s ring.
This book sounded like it was going to be a fun, adventurous romp, but unfortunately I didn’t enjoy it. I find myself getting a bit grumpy about YA lately, and this book is a good example of why: I just found Theo to be incredibly immature. She’s one of those headstrong, anachronistic heroines with implausibly amazing skills (in Theo’s case, codebreaking) and a fairly self-centered worldview. She doesn’t really grow or change throughout the novel, although I’ll grant that she does make one very good decision at a climactic moment. But I just didn’t care about her or her quest. The treasure-hunting aspect of the novel is also disappointing, since Theo and Huck are terrible detectives; they wander around Romania cluelessly and finally stumble upon the exact individuals who can tell them what’s going on and what to do next. Finally, the romance irritated me; it was all angst and physical attraction, no true compatibility. Also, I hated the characterization of Huck — he’s from Northern Ireland, and he’s an incredibly broad stereotype (says “Jaysus” all the time, calls Theo “banshee” as a pet name). In short, this one definitely wasn’t for me.
Book #88: Mhairi McFarlane, Don’t You Forget about Me
CATs: Alpha (Y = You)
Thirtysomething Georgina Horspool is somewhat lost in life. She’s just been fired from a terrible waitressing job, only to walk in on her boyfriend cheating on her with his assistant. She’s also dealing with her judgmental mother and sister, who never miss an opportunity to criticize her life choices and who are having a field day with these latest crises. So when Georgina’s brother-in-law gives her a tip about a newly renovated pub that’s hiring bartenders, she jumps at the chance of gainful employment. Unfortunately, one of the owners of the pub is Lucas McCarthy, Georgina’s first love — and her first heartbreak. Back in high school, when they were paired together for a class assignment, Georgina fell hard for Lucas, and she could have sworn that the feeling was mutual. But a brutal incident at the end-of-year dance drove them apart, and they haven’t talked since. Now Lucas is smart, successful, and handsomer than ever . . . but he doesn’t even remember Georgina. As she wrestles with her complicated feelings about Lucas, Georgina also finds the strength to stand up for herself and mend the various relationships in her life.
Mhairi McFarlane has become one of my go-to authors for British “chick lit” with emotional depth. While Georgina’s situation is by no means unique in the genre — single, underemployed, dealing with family problems and low self-esteem — I found her both likable and relatable, and I was immediately rooting for her to overcome the various challenges in her life. I was drawn to her funny, self-deprecating voice and her vibrant personality that emerges when she’s hanging out with her friends. I also really enjoyed the development of her relationship with Lucas, which plays a prominent role in the story. I’m not usually a fan of second-chance romances, but the plot really worked for me here, in part because the reasons for their initial breakup are so understandable. (I don’t want to spoil the plot, but the incident at the end-of-year dance does involve sexual trauma (not perpetrated by Lucas), so be warned if you’re sensitive to that issue.) Lucas in particular didn’t handle things well, but I ultimately forgave him because (1) he was young and stupid and (2) he gives very good grovel in the end. Overall, if you like this genre, I’d definitely recommend this book, as well as McFarlane’s other novels.
Book #89: Alice Tilton, The Cut Direct
Leonidas Witherall, a retired professor at a boys’ school, can’t imagine why anyone would want to murder him; but within the first few chapters of this book, he is twice run over by a car. The perpetrator looks like one of Witherall’s former pupils, an unpleasant young man named Bennington Brett. But when Witherall regains consciousness after the second vehicular assault, he wakes up in a chair across from Brett’s corpse. Concerned that he’ll be the number-one suspect if he calls the police, Witherall decides that the only available course of action is to solve the murder himself. Along the way, he accumulates a motley crew of assistants, including a drinking pal of Bennington’s, the Brett household’s beautiful secretary, a mobster and his girlfriend, and the kindly widow next door — whose brother just happens to be the local chief of police. Of course, Witherall’s attempts to investigate are hampered by the fact that his description is all over the police reports and the newspapers. As his efforts to evade capture become ever more farcical, he slowly begins to piece the mystery together.
This second book in the Witherall series is just as much madcap fun as the first book, Beginning with a Bash. The book is light, breezy, and full of delicious banter; it reminds me of the great screwball comedies of the 1930s, and I really wish someone would adapt the series for television. The opening chapters of the book are a little bewildering because Witherall himself doesn’t know what has happened to him, but it’s actually pretty easy to follow all the strands of the somewhat convoluted plot. As a mystery, I’m not sure it’s entirely successful; some aspects of the solution aren’t fair play, although I think astute readers will spot the culprit fairly quickly. But the characters, the dialogue, and the humor more than make up for any plot deficiencies. I especially loved Mrs. Price, the thoroughly respectable widow who wholeheartedly embraces Witherall’s schemes, even going so far as to use police resources to help him out of various difficulties. In short, this book (and, so far, the series) is a delight, especially for fans of movies like His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby.
Book #90: Rainbow Rowell, Attachments
I absolutely adore this book, which is a sweet, funny romcom that also features a wonderful female friendship. Jennifer and Beth are best friends who work at the same newspaper, and they’re constantly sending each other personal emails from their work accounts. Lincoln is the IT security specialist whose job is to flag inappropriate uses of the email system. But when he begins to flag Beth and Jennifer’s emails, he soon faces an ethical dilemma: he doesn’t want to send them a warning. He wants to be their friend . . . and maybe, in Beth’s case, more than a friend. In the wrong hands, this premise would be extremely problematic, but Rowell somehow manages to pull it off without making Lincoln seem like a creep. Plus, it’s funny and charming and just all-around delightful!
The Witherall books are often just right for a fun read.
Book #91: Mimi Matthews, A Holiday by Gaslight
Sophie Appersett is the elder daughter of an impoverished noble family. Her father has squandered the family fortune, including Sophie’s dowry, on modernizations to the estate, such as the implementation of gaslight. As a result, Sophie knows it’s her duty to marry money, even if means looking outside her own class for a husband. Edward Sharpe is a prosperous tradesman whose fortune is large enough to overcome his lack of gentility. But although he’s asked Sophie’s father for permission to court her, he shows no sign of being in love with her. In fact, Ned is interested in Sophie, but he doesn’t want to commit any breaches of etiquette in his courtship, so he takes refuge in silence. Frustrated, Sophie decides to break things off — but a further conversation with Ned convinces her to try once more. He’ll attend her family’s extravagant Christmas party, and they will both make an effort to know one another better. But will their fledgling relationship survive the obstacles presented by their respective families?
Christmas is my favorite holiday, and I’m already starting to get into the spirit of things, although I’m desperately trying to wait until after Thanksgiving to break out my Christmas music! So this holiday-set romance novella was bound to catch my eye, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the premise, which has a sort of marriage-of-convenience flavor (one of my favorite tropes!) but even better because the hero and heroine are actually honest with each other, almost from the very beginning! They communicate well, and almost all the conflict is driven by Sophie’s truly appalling father and his determination to bleed Ned dry in order to improve Appersett House. I like that the book engages with the technological and scientific innovations of the Victorian period; in addition to gaslight, indoor plumbing and the theories of Charles Darwin are also mentioned. My one complaint is that the characterization is a little flat, especially for the secondary characters, but that’s understandable given the length of the story (only about 160 pages in the print version). Overall, I really liked this one and will definitely seek out the author’s full-length novels!
>72 christina_reads: I had been wanting to set mine up for a while but waited until someone else did first! Now I have to stop myself going over there and planning, instead of finishing up my 2019 reading.
I can totally relate to that statement!
Happy Thanksgiving! This month has just flown by, as it seems to do every year, and my reading did stall a bit . . . I've been busy watching Christmas movies and otherwise getting into the holiday spirit! Nevertheless, here's what I read in November.
1. Jenn Bennett, The Lady Rogue
2. Mhairi McFarlane, Don't You Forget about Me
3. Alice Tilton, The Cut Direct
4. Rainbow Rowell, Attachments
5. Mimi Matthews, A Holiday by Gaslight
6. Maggie Stiefvater, Call Down the Hawk
7. Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Shore
Book of the month:
A Holiday by Gaslight got me really excited about discovering a new author, and I'm eager to read more of Mimi Matthews's books!
I wasn't a fan of The Lady Rogue. I don't mind some YA novels, but this one was just too YA.
AlphaKIT (S, Y): Mhairi McFarlane, Don't *You Forget about Me; Maggie *Stiefvater, Call Down the Hawk; Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the *Shore
Bingo squares completed:
- Eastern European author or setting: The Lady Rogue is set almost entirely in Romania.
Books acquired in November:
Sherry Thomas, His at Night
Caryl Brahms and S.J. Simon, Don't, Mr. Disraeli!
Christopher Morley, Parnassus on Wheels
I've now covered my Bingo card, so looking forward, my final 2019 goal is to get to 100 books read! I'm currently at 93, which means I have 7 left to read in December. It's the final countdown!
I'm never going to read all the books I had listed as I was WAY too ambitious (and will be again in 2020; seems I cannot help myself!)
Book #92: Maggie Stiefvater, Call Down the Hawk
CATs: Alpha (S = Stiefvater) - I read this in November
Ronan Lynch is a dreamer, someone who’s able to take objects from his dreams into the waking world. But lately he’s been having trouble with his dreams: he can’t always control what he brings back, and he’s unable to stay away from his home (near a ley line in Virginia) for any length of time. So when he encounters someone else in his dreams, another dreamer who calls himself Bryde, he’s eager to learn more — even though everyone else in his life warns him it’s incredibly dangerous. Meanwhile, Jordan Hennessy is an art forger on a mission to steal a particular painting that just so happens to have been dreamt by Ronan’s father. But complications ensue when her mission brings her into contact with Declan Lynch, Ronan’s uptight and seemingly boring older brother. And then there’s Carmen Farooq-Lane, who is part of a government agency tasked with finding and killing dreamers, because the agency believes a dreamer will cause the end of the world. But the more she learns about the agency’s agenda and tactics, the more she questions her role.
This book is set in the same world as the Raven Cycle, and while it is technically a stand-alone, I really think having the background from TRC is helpful for understanding the world of the novel and the characters of the Lynch brothers in particular. At the same time, I think fans of TRC might be disappointed by how little the other characters from that series appear. Adam is in a few scenes, but Gansey and Blue only appear briefly via text message. So I’m not quite sure who this book is for, if that makes sense; it seems like it would fall short for both newbies and TRC fans. Also, there’s a lot going on in this book, and I’m not sure it all works; the disparate stories take a long time to converge, and before they do, it can be tedious and confusing to figure out what’s going on. I did really like Declan’s story in this book; he was an intriguing character in the Raven Cycle, and I was glad to see more development for him here. But the Carmen sections particularly dragged and didn’t seem necessary for the plot. Of course, this is the first book in a projected trilogy, so maybe she’ll become more integral later on. But I should say that, while there’s no cliffhanger per se, the main plot lines are not resolved in this book. I’ll most likely continue with the trilogy to find out what happens, but so far I’m not enjoying it as much as the Raven Cycle.
Book #93: Jenny Colgan, The Bookshop on the Shore
CATs: Alpha (S = Shore) - I read this in November
Single mom Zoe is at the end of her rope. She adores her four-year-old son, Hari, but is concerned that he still hasn’t started talking; he’s silent even when he cries. Zoe is also struggling financially, and Hari’s father Jaz is too busy chasing his dream of being a DJ to help out with child support. Fortunately, Jaz’s sister Surinder has a solution: her friend Nina needs help with her mobile bookshop in the Scottish highlands, and there’s also a live-in nanny position that Zoe could take to supplement her income and have a place to stay. Desperate, Zoe agrees, but she soon finds that both jobs are more difficult than she’d anticipated. Nina has very specific ideas about the right way to run the bookmobile, and some of Zoe’s innovations don’t go over very well. And at the “big house” where Zoe is to be the new nanny, she finds three out-of-control children who don’t want to listen to her, while their single father Ramsey seems to be totally disconnected from his children’s lives. The longer Zoe perseveres, however, the more successful she becomes, and the more she grows to love her new life. But when Jaz suddenly reenters the picture, she must decide where she truly belongs.
I’ve come to rely on Jenny Colgan for sweet, uplifting books with a hint of romance, and this book delivers on all fronts. It’s sort of a sequel to The Bookshop on the Corner, which focuses on Nina and the opening of her mobile bookshop, but it can be read as a stand-alone. I was in Zoe’s corner from the opening scene, where she’s sitting in a doctor’s office and describing all the times she cries in a given week. I was immediately hoping for good things to happen to her and excited to watch her overcome the various obstacles in her path. She’s a very likable heroine, hardworking and determined to do her best in any given situation. Sure, the actual plot isn’t terribly believable, nor is it unique; of course Zoe will eventually win over the difficult children and find her way to professional and romantic success. I also thought the precocious youngest child was completely implausible, but he was so entertaining that I didn’t mind. I should note that there is some depiction of mental illness in the book (including self-harm), which seems a bit dark for the overall tone of the novel. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this one a lot and look forward to my next Colgan book.
Book #94: Jane Austen, Persuasion
As always, it’s a pleasure to immerse myself in a Jane Austen novel. This time around, I found myself very sympathetic to Lady Russell’s position in opposing the original marriage between Anne and Wentworth! Must be an effect of aging, I suppose. :) But of course, I’m glad she came around in the end! Also, does anyone else find it hilarious that the scheming Mrs. Clay’s first name is Penelope, like Odysseus’s faithful wife? I’m sure that’s not accidental, and it makes me love Austen’s sense of humor even more!
Book #95: Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop
CATs: Random (season’s readings = starts with M); TBR (so cheap I couldn’t resist = bought at used bookstore for less than $1); Alpha (E = Edmund)
On holiday in Oxford, poet Richard Cadogan stumbles upon a perplexing mystery. Arriving in town late at night, he blunders into a toyshop (the front door being mysteriously unlocked) and discovers a corpse in the flat upstairs. Before he can do much more than ascertain that the old woman is really dead, someone hits him from behind and knocks him out. When he comes to, Cadogan escapes and rushes to tell the police about the murder. But when he leads the policemen back to the scene of the crime, the toyshop is gone. In its place is a grocer that has obviously been there for years. Of course, the police think that Cadogan is crazy, and they won’t investigate a murder without a body. Luckily, Cadogan is acquainted with Gervase Fen, an Oxford don who moonlights as an amateur detective. Together, Fen and Cadogan investigate the mystery and uncover a murderous conspiracy, as well as discovering what happened to the moving toyshop.
This is a fun romp of an English Golden Age mystery, with just enough Oxford detail to please fans of academic mysteries. But despite the fact that it’s probably Crispin’s most famous novel, several aspects of it didn’t work for me. First, I can’t figure out Gervase Fen as a character: he’s supposed to be about 40 and lean, but his dialogue (especially the constant exclamations of “Oh, my dear paws!” and “Oh, my fur and whiskers!”) makes me picture a much older and larger man. Also, he’s rude about Jane Austen, which is an automatic strike against him in my book! Then there’s the issue of pacing. The story starts off strong, but it seems like most of the mystery is solved with about one-third of the book still to go. Finally, it seemed like the novel was setting up a romance for Cadogan, but nothing ever came of it, which I found confusing and disappointing. Still, I did enjoy the novel’s light tone overall, as well as the Oxford setting. I’d consider reading more by Crispin, but I think I’ll have to go in with moderate expectations.
Book #96: Mary Balogh, A Summer to Remember
CATs: Series (new to me = Bedwyn series); Alpha (R = Remember)
Kit Butler, Viscount Ravensberg, was once a respectable army officer, but now he’s one of London’s most notorious rakes. His father wants him to come home, accept his responsibilities as heir, and marry the woman his family has chosen for him. Kit rebels from this fate and decides to choose his own wife; but she must be so thoroughly respectable that his family couldn’t possibly object to her. Lauren Edgeworth fits the bill nicely: she’s not only beautiful but a perfectly proper lady. She finds Kit’s behavior shocking, yet she’s also intrigued by his mischievous attempts to provoke her. She won’t consent to a real marriage — ever since she was left at the altar a year ago, she’s been determined to remain a spinster — but eventually she agrees to a fake engagement. She’ll accompany Kit to his home and help to heal the estrangement between him and his family. But in return, she wants a summer to remember. Of course, the longer Kit and Lauren spend together, the fonder they grow of each other. But their love may not be enough to overcome past wounds and present insecurities.
Mary Balogh has quickly become one of my go-to historical romance authors, but I must confess that I didn’t love this book quite as much as some of her others. I think it’s largely because I didn’t find Kit remotely charming or fun in the beginning; rather, I thought he was pushing Lauren out of her comfort zone far too aggressively, almost to the point of harassing her. Balogh does course-correct fairly early in the novel, making Kit realize that he’s been treating Lauren as an object rather than as a fellow human being, but I felt that the transition was abrupt and the motivation for the change was unclear. The premise of the book is a bit thin as well — I didn’t understand what Lauren was actually hoping to get out of her summer with Kit, given that she was planning to live in Bath as a spinster afterwards. However, I liked that both characters are dealing with a lot of emotional pain, but they react in completely opposite ways, Lauren by adhering strictly to society’s rules and Kit by breaking them altogether. So I did warm up to both main characters eventually, and I ended up enjoying this opposites-attract romance quite a bit. I’ll definitely continue to read more by Balogh!
Book #97: Stephanie Burgis, Snowspelled
CATs: Series (new to me = Harcourt Spellbook series)
In a fantasy world analogous to 19th-century England, upper-class men are expected to be magicians, while upper-class women are destined to be politicians. But Cassandra Harwood has always had a thirst for magic, and her passionate determination got her all the way to the Great Library, the premier training ground for young magicians. She even found love there with the equally passionate and hardworking Wrexham. But a spell gone horribly wrong has deprived Cassandra of her ability to cast magic, not to mention her social standing and her fiancé. Now, four months after this tragic incident, Cassandra is snowed in at a house party with the high-society people she’s been trying to avoid, including her ex-fiancé. To make matters worse, the snowstorm seems to be magical in origin, and Cassandra is tricked into making a bargain with an arrogant elf-lord to discover who is causing it. If she fails, the consequences will be dire for both herself and her nation, as the age-old treaty between humans and elves will be broken. Can Cassandra discover the culprit and sort out her personal life before it’s too late?
I’ve read and enjoyed books by Stephanie Burgis before, and I’m a sucker for anything that can be described as “Jane Austen plus magic,” so this novella seemed right up my alley. And I did enjoy it overall, but now I find myself remembering more of its flaws. I think the main problem, for me, was the heroine. Cassandra is one of those protagonists who is incredibly stubborn, convinced of her own rightness, and unwilling to compromise. All of her problems in the story are of her own making, particularly the mess of her relationship with Wrexham. I did like Wrexham, and I enjoyed the banter between them, but it frustrated me that they’re both such poor communicators, especially since they were once engaged to each other. Cassandra does grow and change in the course of the story, but it was too little, too late for me. Also, as with many novellas, the short length doesn’t leave much room for nuance in the plot or characters. The world of the story is interesting, and I actually wouldn’t mind reading a full-length novel in this setting, but I feel like I didn’t get to see enough of the world. All in all, I’m not giving up on this author, but I think I’ll stick to her full-length novels instead.
Book #98: Eva Ibbotson, The Reluctant Heiress
As always, I enjoyed rereading this lovely book about a poor Austrian princess and a rich English foundling who fall in love through the power of music. Naturally there are obstacles, including the Englishman’s self-absorbed fiancée, but eventually love conquers all. A bit sappy and totally unrealistic, yet I still love this novel and all of Ibbotson’s romances. They’re the perfect comfort reads for me! (Also, I'll note that the cover is really not a great representation of the content of the book, so don't be put off!)
Book #99: Shannon Hale, Austenland
I have a soft spot for this movie, which is completely ridiculous but also delightful, mostly on the strength of its excellent cast. So recently I decided to reread the book, which I remember liking when I first read it (more than a decade ago!). The premise is fun: a Darcy-obsessed New Yorker goes on an Austen-themed immersive experience, where she dresses in Regency clothes and flirts with gentlemen in breeches. But despite my own love of all things Austen, I didn’t find the heroine very relatable, and the hero gets hardly any character development. So while the book is a pleasant read, it’s not something I feel the need to keep on my shelves.
I'm a bit late, but I hope everyone had a very happy holiday, and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate! My Christmas was nice and low-key; I read a lot and enjoyed spending time with my parents and grandmother. We were all thrilled to welcome the birth of my new nephew on December 23! Mom and baby are both doing well, and I'll get to meet the baby in a couple months.
So, what books did everyone get for Christmas? From my family I got only one, but it's a beauty -- this lovely edition of Pride and Prejudice with a laser-cut cover:
I also got several from a Secret Santa bookish gift exchange on Twitter:
Jill Paton Walsh, A Presumption of Death
Marisa de los Santos, Love Walked In
Aliya Whiteley, The Arrival of Missives
Patrice Sarath, The Sisters Mederos
Margaret Rogerson, Sorcery of Thorns
Right now, with only two days left in 2019, I'm determined to write up my last batch of reviews for the year and to finish my current read, Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career by Carla Kelly. I have about 120 pages to go, so I'm hopeful that I can finish it and start fresh in 2020! I'm still deciding what my first book of the new year will be...has anyone else picked theirs yet?
Wishing you a very Happy 2020. Onto a new year of reading experiences.
It's the last day of 2019 . . . when did that happen?! I've got a few more reviews to write and my year-end recap to compose, but first I wanted to note my December reading. Here's what I read this month:
1. Jane Austen, Persuasion
2. Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop
3. Mary Balogh, A Summer to Remember
4. Stephanie Burgis, Snowspelled
5. Eva Ibbotson, The Reluctant Heiress
6. Shannon Hale, Austenland
7. Carla Kelly, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand
8. Sr. Clare Matthiass, CFR, Discerning Religious Life
9. J. Jefferson Farjeon, Mystery in White
10. Alyssa Maxwell, Murder Most Malicious
11. Georgette Heyer, Venetia
12. Georgette Heyer, Envious Casca
13. Carla Kelly, Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career
Book of the month:
Apart from the rereads, I didn't absolutely love anything I read this month. But Murder Most Malicious was an enjoyable historical mystery, and I'm definitely interested in continuing with the series!
Mystery in White was just a mess!
RandomCAT (season's readings): Discerning Religious Life starts with D, and The Moving Toyshop, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, Mystery in White, Murder Most Malicious, and Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career all start with M.
TBRCAT (too cheap to resist): I bought The Moving Toyshop and Murder Most Malicious at a very inexpensive used bookstore.
CalendarCAT (Christmas): Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand begins at Christmas time, and both Mystery in White and Murder Most Malicious are set predominantly at Christmas.
SeriesCAT (new to you): A Summer to Remember is a prequel to the Bedwyn saga, Snowspelled is the first novella in the Harwood Spellbook series, and Murder Most Malicious begins the Lady and Lady's Maid series.
AlphaKIT (E, R): *Edmund Crispin, The Moving Toyshop; Mary Balogh, A Summer to *Remember; Sr. Clare Matthiass, CFR, Discerning *Religious Life
Bingo squares completed:
None -- I completed my Bingo card in November!
Books acquired in December:
Connie Willis, The Winds of Marble Arch
Carla Kelly, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand / Miss Grimsley's Oxford Career
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice ("Seasons" edition)
Jill Paton Walsh, A Presumption of Death
Marisa de los Santos, Love Walked In
Aliya Whiteley, The Arrival of Missives
Patrice Sarath, The Sisters Mederos
Margaret Rogerson, Sorcery of Thorns
Jackie Lau, One Bed for Christmas (e-book)
Looking forward to seeing what fun reading you have in store for 2020!
Book #100: Carla Kelly, Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand
CATs: Random (season’s readings = starts with M); Calendar (Christmas)
Roxanna Drew is at the end of her rope. After the death of her husband the vicar, she must find a new home for herself and her two young daughters. Her late husband’s brother is willing to provide this home, but only if she agrees to become his mistress. Revolted by the suggestion, Roxanna decides to rent the dower house of a nearby estate instead, but her brother-in-law’s nefarious schemes are far from over. Meanwhile, the estate’s owner, Fletcher Rand, Lord Winn, has problems of his own. He is shunned by most of society because he publicly divorced his wife after discovering her many infidelities. His family urges him to marry again and produce an heir, but Winn is reluctant to trust another woman — that is, until he meets Roxanna while on a tour of his estates. Winn is immediately attracted to her and quickly befriends both herself and her children. But when circumstances force them into a marriage of convenience, they must learn whether they can truly rely on each other.
As I’ve become more familiar with the romance genre, I’ve encountered Carla Kelly’s name multiple times as a respected author of traditional Regencies, and this particular novel is often praised as one of her best. I wasn’t quite as impressed as I wanted to be, but I did enjoy this book very much and have already begun another of Kelly’s novels. Both Roxanna and Winn struck me as mature adults who are doing their best in their respective difficult situations. I especially liked Winn because, while he’s slightly curmudgeonly at first, he’s not brooding or selfish like many other romance heroes. He shows his love for Roxanna by always putting her and her family’s needs before his own, but his sense of humor keeps him from being annoyingly perfect. There’s not much plot beyond the initial setup, and I found the writing style a bit clunky and some of the dialogue anachronistic. I also wasn’t convinced by the evil brother-in-law’s repentance in the end. But overall, I did like this one and will definitely read more by the author.
Book #101: Sr. Clare Matthiass, CFR, Discerning Religious Life
CATs: Random (season’s readings = starts with D); Alpha (R = Religious)
This short book, written by a religious sister, is a guide for Catholic women that describes the process of discerning a religious vocation (that is, a call to become a religious sister or nun). It describes various “steps” of this process in detail, from a woman’s first inkling that she might be called to religious life, to the attitudes and habits she should possess before beginning to discern seriously, to what will happen when she starts researching specific convents and communities. The book is peppered with anecdotes from the author and many other religious sisters who share their experiences of being called and of living out their vocations. The book doesn’t spend a lot of time digging into the theological and historical background of religious life, assuming that the reader will already be familiar with the basics. But it does provide very practical advice and reassurance to women who are questioning whether the religious life might be for them.
Obviously this book is going to be useful only for a very small audience: unmarried Catholic women who are still trying to discover God’s plan for their lives. I fall into this category, and while I’ve never particularly felt called to religious life, I found a lot to think about in this book. My favorite aspect of the book is that it spends a lot of time discussing the sacrifices of religious life — particularly the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience — and the various obstacles and doubts that many women confront as they consider this vocation. It frankly acknowledges that the religious life is difficult and that the sacrifices it requires are significant. At the same time, the personal stories from the author and the other religious sisters clearly demonstrate the joy they find in their calling. I also really appreciated the book’s discussion of prayer and will definitely be applying some of those lessons to my own prayer life. Overall, I got a lot out of this book and would definitely recommend it to any woman in a similar stage of life.
Book #102: J. Jefferson Farjeon, Mystery in White
CATs: Random (season’s readings = starts with M); Calendar (Christmas)
Six passengers in a third-class train compartment become entangled in a sinister mystery when the train is trapped in a snowdrift on Christmas Eve. The group includes a lively young brother and sister, a chorus girl, an elderly bore, a shy clerk, and a professor with an interest in the supernatural. They all decide to leave the train and seek shelter at a nearby station, but they become lost in the snow and end up at an isolated country house. Desperate for shelter, they enter the house, but no one seems to be home. Yet the teakettle is on, and the table is set for a meal. As the characters try to make sense of these events, one of them reveals that a man was murdered in the train — and when the group is later joined by another “lost” individual, they suspect that he may be the murderer. This chain of events later converges with another mystery concerning the house itself and a murder that happened 20 years ago.
I enjoy Farjeon’s light and humorous writing style, and his characters are well rounded and sympathetic. But plot-wise, I was quite disappointed in this novel. The six characters introduced in the opening chapters of the book are the ones we follow for about two-thirds of the novel, so naturally I assumed that they would be the most important people in the story. But in fact, aside from the professor, who acts as the detective and orchestrates the denouement, none of these six people have any relevance to either of the mysteries in the novel! They provide some humor and some human interest, but they have no actual function in the plot. Instead, two new characters come in late in the game, and they turn out to be central to the story. I can’t understand why Farjeon would structure his story in such a way that it’s totally disconnected from the characters we’ve been following all along. I also felt sorry for several of the characters, who deserved a happier ending than what they got. All in all, this might be entertaining for people who enjoy a witty period piece, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it for people who want a good mystery!
Book #103: Alyssa Maxwell, Murder Most Malicious
CATs: Random (season’s readings = starts with M); TBR (too cheap to resist = bought at used bookstore for less than $3); Calendar (Christmas); Series (new to me = Lady and Lady’s Maid #1)
It’s Christmas 1918, and England is ready for a little peace on earth after the end of the Great War. But the house party at Foxwood Hall is anything but peaceful: on Christmas night, Lady Phoebe Renshaw hears her older sister Julia arguing with her would-be fiancé, Lord Allerton. The argument ends with Julia breaking off their relationship — and the next day, Lord Allerton is nowhere to be found. Then some of the Foxwood servants receive a gruesome surprise in their Boxing Day gifts, indicating that Allerton is dead. The police believe one of the footmen is responsible, but Lady Phoebe and her maid, Eva Huntford, are convinced of his innocence. In an effort to prove it, Phoebe and Eva do some investigating of their own, and they soon discover that many of Foxwood’s current inhabitants — both above and below stairs — had a reason to want Allerton dead. And if they don’t stop sleuthing, they may be the next to die.
This book has strong Downton Abbey vibes, and I think anyone who enjoyed that show will like this book too. It gives that same upstairs-downstairs picture of English country house life at a time when social mores were beginning to shift dramatically. Phoebe and Eva are both likable protagonists, and despite their class differences, it’s obvious that they truly care for one another. At times they feel a little too much like stock characters, though . . . like every other heroine in historical fiction, they’re intelligent women who seek to transcend their social roles, but they don’t have many other personality traits. The same is true for most of the other characters: there’s the eccentric older relative, the faithful butler, the autocratic matriarch, the handsome lord who’s more than he seems, and so on. Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable formula, so I didn’t mind too much. The mystery plot was interesting, and while I did guess the culprit, it was fun to follow along. Overall, I’m definitely interested in continuing with the series, and I hope that Phoebe and Eva’s characters will be more fleshed out in subsequent books.
Book #104: Georgette Heyer, Venetia
A Heyer romance is a delight, as always, and it was nice to reread this one for the first time in a few years. The trope of the reformed rake isn’t my favorite, but it’s extremely well done here. I think the trick is that Heyer focuses on the friendship between Damerel and Venetia, and she emphasizes the importance of this friendship for both of them. Venetia is more obviously isolated, growing up on a secluded country estate with only her brother and a few neighbors for company. Damerel, as a wealthy nobleman, has much more exposure to society; but his associates are mere drinking buddies, not friends. So it’s easy to believe that these two characters will make it in the long term. Also, is it weird that I wish Heyer had written a book with Aubrey, Venetia’s brother, as the hero?
Book #105: Georgette Heyer, Envious Casca
That’s right, I leapt from one Heyer directly into another! This is my favorite of her mysteries, with a truly clever locked-room murder plot and well-drawn characters. It was fun to reread it knowing who the killer was and picking up on all the subtle clues sprinkled throughout the book. Definitely recommended for people who love a Golden Age mystery, especially if they’re looking for one set at Christmas!
Book #106: Carla Kelly, Miss Grimsley’s Oxford Career
CATs: Random (season’s readings = starts with M)
Miss Ellen Grimsley is the second daughter of a respectable country gentleman, and her destiny is to marry an equally respectable country gentleman and fulfill her womanly duties as wife and mother. But Ellen would much rather be a scholar and an explorer, traveling the world and making maps of far-off places. When her forward-thinking aunt gets her a place at Miss Dignam’s Select Female Academy, in the very town of Oxford, Ellen is thrilled — but she soon discovers that the classes are only in “feminine” subjects like French and embroidery. So when her brother Gordon, who’s flunking his Shakespeare course at Oxford, asks for her help, Ellen can’t resist writing his papers and even dressing as a man to attend lectures at the university. Obviously she can’t continue this charade for long without being caught; but luckily, the person who catches her is the kind and scholarly Jim Gatewood, who encourages her intellectual curiosity and converses with her as an equal. But when Jim professes his love for her and proposes marriage, Ellen is hesitant to give up her dreams, even for love.
Since this book came in the omnibus with Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, which I liked, I decided to give this one a try too. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much. The plot is rather muddled, and too many of the events strain credibility. For example, how does Ellen manage to fool everyone (or indeed anyone) in her male disguise? The book mentions that Gordon’s tutor is old and practically blind, but were there no other students nearby? Then there’s Ellen’s roommate, Fanny Bland, who is sometimes cruel and sometimes kind, without any real explanation for these fluctuating moods. Finally, the central conflict between Ellen and Jim seems to come down to Ellen’s own obtuseness. Despite her affection for, friendship with, and attraction to Jim, she refuses to see that she’s in love with him and turns down his repeated proposals of marriage. Near the very end of the book, there’s a hint that Ellen turns him down because she fears giving up her dreams of an independent life. That would have been a more interesting conflict to explore, but the book doesn’t dig into it at all, merely giving Ellen an abrupt change of heart just before the novel ends. Overall, a disappointing read — but at least I was able to finish it before the end of the year!
Books read: 106 (up from 69 last year!)
Average books read per month: 8.83
Books acquired: 88 (net)
Favorite books of the year, in the order in which I read them:
- McKelle George, Speak Easy, Speak Love — I loved this 1920s-era retelling of Much Ado about Nothing. It was the first book I read in 2019, and it just might be my number-one book of the year!
- Meagan Spooner, Hunted — I never thought I’d love a Beauty and the Beast retelling as much as Robin McKinley’s Beauty, but this one comes pretty darn close!
- AJ Pearce, Dear Mrs. Bird — This poignant World War II novel hit the same sweet spot as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, for me. I believe Pearce has a sequel planned, and I’m dying to read it!
- Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine — I liked this book more than I was expecting to; its portrayal of loneliness is moving and sad, but the ending still manages to be uplifting.
- Lucy Parker, The Austen Playbook — I adore Parker’s contemporary romances set in London’s theater world. This one involves a grumpy hero and an Austen-themed murder mystery TV show, so what’s not to love?
- Mary Balogh, The Notorious Rake — I’m not really a fan of the “reformed rake” trope, but the hero of this book totally sold me on it. He’s awful at the beginning, but he truly does grow and change throughout the book — and he’s able to repair many relationships in his life, not just the one between him and the heroine.
- Beth O’Leary, The Flatshare — It seems that romantic comedies are making a comeback (yay!), and this one is so well written and charming! I look forward to O’Leary’s next book, which is coming out sometime in 2020.
- Ann Patchett, Bel Canto — This was my first Patchett novel, but it probably won’t be my last. A hostage situation turns into something quite different as guards and prisoners come together through the power of music.
- Margaret Rogerson, Sorcery of Thorns — Just when I was getting sick of YA fantasy novels, this one came along and reminded me of how creative, intriguing, and fun they can be! I loved the witty banter, the slow-burn romance, and the world of the novel, in which books of magic can literally come alive.
- Alix E. Harrow, The Ten Thousand Doors of January — Some books are written so well that you sink into them immediately and fall under their spell. This was one of those books, for me — it just felt like magic. If you don’t mind a slower-paced, more character-driven novel, you should definitely give this one a try.
I’m very excited that I managed to read more than 100 books this year, which I haven’t done in quite some time! I’m aiming for 100 books in 2020 too, so hopefully I will be able to keep up this pace. :) Please check out my 2020 challenge thread, and I wish you all a wonderful reading life in the new year!
What a great reading year - see you in 2020!
>117 rabbitprincess: The elderly bore was so annoying! I also really disliked the professor and his "I know more than everyone" attitude. The plot itself was clever, but it didn't match up with the characters at all, which was so frustrating to me!
>118 japaul22: Thanks! Reading 100 books is a pretty big achievement for me, although I know many people on LT read a lot more than that!
>119 NinieB: I really enjoy Envious Casca, and it's the perfect holiday read (if you're the type of person who likes a little murder at Christmas, haha).
>120 LittleTaiko: Hope you enjoy Murder Most Malicious when you get to it! It's not terribly groundbreaking, but it's a solid historical mystery, and I do love that genre. :)