Yet more books

I read a couple of books by Jasmine Guillory, The Wedding Date and The Proposal.  She does a fantastic job on the meet cute and has really adorable epilogues.  But the last 2/3-3/4 of these books are such painful if only they talked to each other … then they’d realize it was all a big misunderstanding.  Especially the they really like each other but are afraid to say anything after they’ve spent a good portion of the book having sex.  (Also:  with sex scenes she’s too detailed for PG-13, but also just cuts stuff out so it never actually gets steamy.  Pick a lane!  Cut out earlier or go through with the entire thing.)  So… I think she needs to figure out how to put conflict or substance in her books– maybe wacky hijinks (her intros would make fantastic movie material), or really cool projects that aren’t just about the relationship (see The Boyfriend Project) or just make them a ton shorter (see Jackie Lau).  Still, she’s selling well so who am I to tell her what to do.  It’s just… the intros are so GOOD I wish the entire novels could follow through on their promise instead of being boring and disappointing (with a little adorable bon-mot at the end that is as good as the beginning).

Read Red, Royal, and Blue also had a great start and dragged in parts, with a very wish fulfilling ending.  It’s set in a parallel universe with a slightly different royal family (Prince Charles is instead daughter Charlotte and next in line for the throne), and Trump did not get elected in 2016, and did not even run.

Then I’ve been rereading the entire Miss Marple series and the entire Hercule Poirot series (I get David Suchet talking in my head– such a perfect perfect Poirot).  Miss Marple has anti-semitism and racism I didn’t remember.  Many of the books have occasional use of the n-word (with respect to Indians, not African-Americans, who they call “Black slaves” . . . ), which I thought had been struck from the American editions of the book and replaced with the word Indians or n— or just replaced entirely (see:  And then there were none) back in the 1960s, but…apparently not all the current kindle versions.  Also the early books have so much with young women conniving to get doting older husbands instead of those age differences indicating power differentials and controlling husbands.  And Nemesis is really disgusting with the lengthy diatribes about how all rape accusations are false accusations (one wonders what rapist Christie was friends with…)–I’m pretty sure middle school me just put the book down at the first such diatribe, but middle-aged me is pushing through.  And the Miss Marples are a very interesting study of how Agatha Christie treats the subject of hired help and people of the lower classes over the decades she wrote the Marple stories.  She definitely becomes more egalitarian.  Of course, her mysteries also become much more sordid.  I haven’t gotten to my favorite Miss Marple yet, the last one, Sleeping Murder.  (“With hands… like monkey’s paws.”) [Update, still excellent, though some small anti-Semitism I didn’t remember and you might miss if you’re not reading closely]  And of course, she provides us modern folk with a reminder about how important the MMR vaccine is in an earlier Marple.  All those anti-vaxxers could use a read of… well, I can’t say which because it is a plot point, but the movie version is even more creepy and compelling.  There are a LOT of Agatha Christie books.

Read Cousin Cecilia by Joan Smith.  It was a pleasant old-fashioned regency romance about a matchmaking miss who ends up with the man she’s trying to thwart.  I will probably read more of her once I’ve finished the Christies.  I’ll probably do a run through of the Sayers again sometime as well– I think my last read through was in graduate school.  (#2 owns them and reads them much more frequently– I generally use the library, though I did at one point have a book of Sayers short stories, I think including the one with their kids.  Not sure what happened to that book.)

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall was tremendously funny.  Even if you don’t like romances, this was a hilariously funny novel.  I literally kept laughing out loud.  It was so hilarious I made my DH read it even though he almost never reads romances (unless I force him) and I caught him laughing out loud at least twice.  I mean, I have not laughed so hard so honestly since Summer of 2016.  I’d say it’s a B+ romance interwoven throughout an A+++++++++++++ British-style comedy.  The side characters are gut-bustingly funny.  The social commentary is droll.  The little repeated gags really do get funnier every time.  It is BRILLIANT.  I am scared to read any more Alexis Hall books because what if my expectations are too high, as regression to the mean would suggest?  But I’m going to try them anyway because even a fraction of funny would probably be great.  DH and I both want a second book in the universe set with one of the second hero’s friends (we’re not picky about which, we just want to see more of them in their natural environment, with the heroes of this book as minor characters who do cameos.

Tried Indexing by Seanen McGuire but just could not get into it.  Not light enough (not that brutal murders are fluffy, but Agatha Christie is rarely difficult even when you don’t figure out whodunit).  It would probably have been a decent read back in 2015, but not for me today.

DC2 has run through all the Rick Riordan presents and has loved them.  Now I’m going through the Newbery winners/honorees starting with the most recent year, basically checking another year’s out each time zie runs out.  Zie seems to like them as well, even though a lot of them are difficult books about difficult situations.  (“Why are all immigrants to the US girls?  Are there ever immigrants to the US written about in kids books about boys?”– I don’t know, DC2, I don’t know.  Similarly, DC1, I don’t know why white boys need a white boy or a dog to die to come of age, white girls need a horse to die or to fall in love to come of age, black girls need a black boy to die to come of age, and black boys need to be accused of killing a white woman or have some other jail sentence to come of age.  Tropes can really suck, DC1, they really can.)  I feel like a lot of the Newbery winners from my childhood didn’t really stand the test of time.  Like… I haven’t reopened The Indian in the Cupboard, but just looking at my old copy makes me cringe.  I mean maybe it’s not as bad as I’m imagining, but I suspect it is worse.

I reread Redshirts because some random comment somewhere made me think of it and feel like rereading it.  Still good!

The Rainbow Cat and other stories was so lovely.  I had dug this up on gutenberg (free) because of the short story of the princess who couldn’t cry, but the rest of the stories were lovely as well.  A soothing balm.

I know this is pretty soon after the last books post, but don’t we all need soothing books?  Don’t we all need something to keep our mind off things?  Well, maybe not everyone, but definitely this one does!

What is soothing you?

So many books

I continued reading the Kate Daniels series by Ilona Andrews backwards.  I liked doing this because so many people die in the series that it’s nice to know not to get too attached.  But one problem is that the books get better as the series goes on and there’s pretty large leaps in quality between the first five books.  The first book just is not very good (which is probably why I didn’t finish it the first time through… I skipped large chunks this time around).  It’s rapey and people do dumb things.  The second book is readable but not ownable.  The third book still has people doing nonsensical things.  The fourth book is reasonably good.  The fifth book is great and smart people stop doing dumb stuff (dumb people do dumb stuff, but that makes sense because they should do dumb stuff).  The side stories are all lots of fun and worth tracking down.  I’ve also been reading drips and drabs of the new first book starring Kate’s adopted daughter, Julie on their website.  After the fifth book, each consecutive book is better.  It’s a great series.  Except, maybe skip the first book and keep plowing through the next few.

Silent Blade by Ilona Andrews was terrible and I deleted it.

On the Edge by Ilona Andrews was a really odd mix– it reads kind of like Paper Moon with magic… that kind of genre, almost 1930s black and white rural depressed.  The premise is really interesting with people living in between a magic world that’s kind of stuck in regency/Victorian times but like with somewhat better government and the real world (maybe early 2000s) US, a town with a Walmart.  But then it combines that with kind of a delightful standard regency romance?  The second book, Bayou Moon was pretty awful.  It’s really long and there’s a psychotic child murderer and I dunno, there’s no joy in it.  I skipped most of the middle and didn’t feel that happy at the end, although I did like seeing the characters in the first book again in the epilogue that kind of comes out of nowhere (after the heroine inexplicably plays hard to get?  I mean, this book is just full of stupid in addition to the awful.).  I’m not sure I have it in me to try the next two books.  Maybe if the library has them.

As predicted, I just didn’t like Take a Hint Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert.  I guess I just didn’t care about the main female protagonist that much?  She’s a bit twee and manic pixie but with an almost mean selfish streak, which is maybe cynically tongue in cheek but is it really?  She also doesn’t want a long-term relationship (not because she’s been burned or anything so far as I can tell, just doesn’t want one) and like, I don’t see why the book needs to force one on her?  The hero is an odd mix of bright and not very bright, but he’s a genuinely nice guy.  The McGuffin wasn’t enough to be convincing about a fake relationship or particularly interesting on its own.  Overall I skipped huge chunks and returned it to the library.  (And I still would have preferred reading a more realistic book about her overcoming realistic relationship difficulties with someone who challenges her like her ex-girlfriend instead of a cinnamon bun of a man, as much as I love the cinnamon bun combination for many of her other heroines, but those are heroines who need unconditional love.)  I mean sure, the relationship works and they seem happy, but deep down I think almost anybody would be happy with someone with cinnamon bun like qualities like my DH (and he would be happy too) but that doesn’t mean I want to read about all such pairings.  I still plan to read about the third sister.

The Shinigami Detective series is DELIGHTFUL.  All of my worries about inappropriate appropriated “Orientalism” were completely unfounded– she’s only called that because (and this is in the prologue, so not a spoiler) she reads manga and made a side-comment that roughly translates to oh, I’m an angel of death, and then the word shinigami stuck.  She’s from California and the only mystic secrets she knows are the kind that someone with her background in California would believably know.   The books are not really mystery novels so much as police procedurals.  You’re not going to figure out who the guilty person is on your own because often the suspects aren’t introduced until you’re fairly sure they’re the guilty person.  So more Conan Doyle than Christie.  Still, quite enjoyable reads.  (My mom would not like them though!  She prefers figuring out whodunnit,)  After reading the first one I ended up buying the remaining 3 (each as I finished the last).  I am pondering trying her other books.

As per usual, The Sugared Game by KJ Charles was great.  This series is not one of my favorites of hers, but all her books are so good that even the ones that aren’t my favorites are still really fantastic books.  (And they’re generally only not my favorites when they’re darker– her Sins of the City series are incredibly high quality and yet I do not want to reread the first two because they’re so grim even with the happy endings and the other books in that series and related series being lighter and all around wonderful.)

Two Rogues Make a Right was decent.  It’s another Cat Sebastian where not much happens but the characters grow together.  I am not disappointed with these kinds of books– I like them much better than introducing stupid misunderstandings just to have conflict and a plot (though I guess this book does have some of that).  Still, I do like her rollicking romances where there’s an external plot happening while the characters fall in love a bit better– I recently reread The Soldier’s Scoundrel/Lawrence Browne Affair/Ruin of a Rake— so very good..

Stormwalker by Allyson James was pretty decent, though there were some uncomfortable tropes in it around consent and so on.  I really liked the novella set right after this book in Hexed, so I decided to try the main series.  If the rest were available from the library I’d read them, but I have no desire to own.

Reread the Carhart Series by Courtney Miilan (because she tweeted about how nobody got her math pun in Proof by Seduction, but I did!)  Still good.

The Last Adventure of Constance Verity was a fun fun romp.  I thought I’d outgrown the Craig Shaw Gardner variety of humor, but apparently I just needed a better version of it.  Constance Verity Saves the World was also fun, though not quite as funny.  They make fun of so many tropes.

Last, if you obtain just one book from this list, I suggest it be the latest Courtney Milan.  The Duke Who Didn’t is like a warm hug.  Just read it.

What are you reading these days?

Spoiled rich white boys: Sophomore English hasn’t changed in 60 years

I was shocked when we got DC1’s reading list for this quarter.  They are reading:  Into the Wild, Dead Poet’s Society, and the book that I had partly moved DC1 into Honors from Pre-AP to AVOID:  A Separate Peace.

In other words, they are reading books from the 1960s that were outdated then about spoiled rich white boys who create their own problems and a somewhat newer book that is just like them.  Just like we did in Freshmen and Sophomore English so many years ago.

So we emailed hir English teacher to ask for the list of the rest of the books for the semester.  She said that first quarter was about the theme of “Coming of Age” so they had chosen books to fit that theme.  Here are the remaining “books”:

Fiction Choice (students choose from books that meet very loose requirements)
Nonfiction Choice
Serial (the podcast)
Antigone
12 Angry Men
Dystopia Choice

… and this is almost exactly like our Sophomore English class back in the early 90s.  Lots of books that don’t even have any women *in* them, much less as protagonists.  One Greek play where the woman in question comes to a tragic end through Destiny (we read Antigone in middle school, but Oedopus Rex has some soon-to-die women in it… I assume in the South they can’t handle the subject matter like they can in the midwest), and a thing about a young minority in jail for allegedly killing a woman (for us it was Native Son and the woman was white, for DC1 I guess it will be a Muslim man allegedly killing an Asian woman).  We also had a unit on depressing (white) Russian (men) and I guess it isn’t Gregor Samsa’s fault he woke up as a giant cockroach, but it sure as heck was the Crime and Punishment dude’s fault he decided to kill that pawn broker and then to just go on and on and on about it.

Readers, I complained about my sophomore year’s sausage fest.  I complained hard.  And one of the English teachers listened and asked for suggestions of classics that weren’t all men.  And they changed things up a bit.  I know they added Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Thurston, though I don’t remember if they made other changes.  We didn’t get to benefit, but classes after us did.

DC1 is going to have to deal with a year in which 50% of the population doesn’t even show up in the books with a speaking role (TWO are set at boy’s prep boarding schoools!!!  TWO!)  But we also have a DC2.  So here’s what we responded:

Thank you for getting back to us.

Women and minorities also come of age.  Our high school back in the mid-1990s swapped out one of these standard rich white boys come of age books for Zora Neale Thurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God after complaints about lack of gender and race diversity.  We didn’t get to benefit from that change, but students after us did.  Today, of course, we have so many more excellent choices such as The Hate U Give or any number of books about the Hispanic-American coming of age experience (some of which we had thought were on the reading list for this class in the past, but we must have been mistaken).  Hopefully in time there will also be books about the Asian-American and Native American coming of age experience.  The #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement has so many suggestions complete with lesson plans that we didn’t have 25 years ago.

Please share this perspective with the other Honors English teachers.  We are hoping that by the time our [second child] gets to high school [they] will no longer have to believe that the only coming of age experience worthy of being taught in sophomore English is that of the already privileged.  Several of these books don’t have any female or minority characters at all.  It seems crazy that the only woman that sophomore honors students are studying is a woman from a Greek tragedy who meets a messy end.  And the only (religious) minority person being studied is someone in jail for murder.  Hopefully these are not people that female and minority teens are expected to identify with!  Women are over 50% of the population and the US and [our state] are rich in diversity.  Most kids aren’t wealthy.  Shouldn’t our English classes signal that everyone is worthy, not just white males?

(Also, as much as we love the Princess Bride… it doesn’t actually pass the Bechdel test.  A thought exercise:  How many of the movies shown in sophomore English do?)

That last line is because we had to give permission for a list of movies to be shown in class.  Most of them were movie versions of the above novels, but there were a couple in there that weren’t.

But seriously– in today’s world I want to see more of the teenage years of the Sotomayors and Ginsbergs and far less of the Kavanaughs and Trumps.  We’ve had enough of caring about their petty problems and not enough of showing the real problems that other teens and young adults face and what it takes to triumph in a society that’s set up against you (rather than what it takes to fail in a society that stacks the deck on your behalf).  Though perhaps contrasting those two types of coming of age novels makes the difference all too obvious.

Living in the South, I’m sure that part of the reason for these continued white sausage fests is that they’re afraid of tea-party complaints should they try to add any color.  They need to know that whitewashing also leads to parent concerns.  Even if it just means swapping out Into the Wild with The Joy Luck Club (which is taught in Sophomore Pre-AP this year), our teens deserve better.

I’m still really mad.  AND I have to actually buy copies of these @#$ing books.  My work friend offered to loan me A Separate Peace because pre-AP has to read it too, so I think I’m fine there (her son annotated the book for class, but DC1 can annotate with post-it notes instead of writing on the paper itself).

While I was writing this, DC1 walked in and complained that hir English teacher wants them to make presentations using worst practices– bright colors and animations that distract from the presentation itself.  *sigh*  I told hir to think of it as a chance to get all those bad practices out of hir system.

What was your high school English reading selection like in terms of diversity?  If you have kids, what are they being assigned?

Ask the grumpies: How do you organize your books?

Steph asks:

If you haven’t tackled this somewhere – How do you organize your books? How do you feel about the rainbow bookshelves trend that is still going on? (Or the “spines inward/pages outward” trend – maybe this is a deliberately controversial question ;) )

We have a somewhat strong disagreement on this topic in that #1 has taken all the pretty hard cover books out of the bedroom bookcases and put them into the living room and #2 thinks this is heresy.

#1:

two of the bedroom bookcases, mostly humorous SPEC fic in alphabetical order by author or editor's last name

two of the bedroom bookcases, mostly humorous SPEC fic in alphabetical order by author or editor’s last name

Otherwise:  #1 has all read paperback fiction books put together in alphabetical order in her bedroom bookcases.  To-be-read books are sideways in a pile double-stacked in no particular order across two shelves.  Our joint comic books have their own shelf in our bedroom.  DH doesn’t tend to keep fiction books (he doesn’t reread much), so the ones that we do have are scattered in with my books or DC1’s books, though they used to have their own shelf. Non-fiction books are loosely organized by subject in the living room shelves.  Cookbooks are shelved mostly by size (because of the different sizes of books and shelves… this bothers me a little, but there are only 3 shelves) just outside the kitchen.

I try really hard to keep the kids’ fiction chapter books in alphabetical order by author’s last name in their bookcases, but that doesn’t always happen.  Kids non-fiction chapter books have their own bookshelf in the hallway (they used to be on separate shelves in their room bookcases, but then we got DC2 a full size bookcase and moved hir smaller case to the hallway), which started out organized by subject but is now a total mess.  Spanish books are the bottom shelf of DC2’s bookcase.  They also keep all their comic books there which started out organized alphabetically by last author, but are not even shelved nicely anymore.  I just give up.   Books that DC2 has really outgrown are currently taking the bottom shelves of 3 bookcases in the living room not really organized at all.  I should note that I have mild undiagnosed OCD and having organized bookcases give me pleasure while disorganized bookcases give me a little buzz of unhappiness.  But I just cannot keep up with the kids being agents of destruction so I have found it healthier for me to just not try to keep up and mentally separate their messed up sections from all books.  I tell myself I’m never trying to find their specific non-fiction or comic or picture books so the lack of organization shouldn’t be a problem for me.

Most of my new books are kindle (because they’re cheaper and more portable… in normal times much of my reading gets done on airplanes) and they’re organized by read/unread and then date last read.  There’s also a separate thing for children’s books that have been read.

#2:

Three of #2's bookcases, creatively organized

Three of #2’s bookcases, creatively organized

I have fiction and non-fiction in my bedroom, with various piles of books stacked haphazardly in the living room, kitchen, etc. (And cookbooks in our kitchen.) I have a couple “emergency” books in a cabinet in the bathroom. They just ended up there.

I do not put my books in alphabetical order.  They are in an order.  For example, there is one case that is all my best-loved and most-personal books.  Authors who coauthor books have the coauthored book in between the other two authors.  I mix fiction and non-fiction together.

I hate electronic books and have been gradually replacing my cheap kindle books with paperbacks as they come available/get affordable/are gifted from my amazon list.

We’re mostly against sorting books by color (#1 moreso than #2).  We’re definitely against shelving them spine inward (though #1’s DC2 seems to favor this.  It drives #1 CRAZY.)  #2 wants to SEE people’s books out of curiosity.  #1 wants to be able to FIND books.  Why organize them at all if you’re not going to be able to use the index?

Related:

Billy the bookcase

Where the books are

Our fantasy library

Couchblogging and rearranging the library

Books…

Read Let it Snow which is a set of three short stories/novellettes put together in book form about teenagers at Christmas in a small town.  The Maureen Johnson one is written like she talks on twitter or in podcasts.  It’s like… her.  And there’s some funny bits, but her story wasn’t all that compelling, partly because I’m not a fan of the falling for someone you just met because you’re on the rebound trope (these are not really spoilers because the tropes are so highly telegraphed). The John Green one is so John Greeny.  I kept reading little bon mots aloud to DH telling him that John Green is the best at saying short things that at initial glance seem very profound, but after thinking about it for a while (with the patina of middle-age)… they’re really not.  But John Green KNOWS teenagers (or at least 20-something John Green did, since I believe this is one of his earlier books).  And indeed, teenagers do say profound things that in the end aren’t so profound.  His story was totally believable and made me remember being obnoxious and stupid with teenage friends late at night.  Also I’m a sucker for the friends to lovers trope, so…  Lauren Myracle’s was also realistic but I don’t want to read about the unpleasant embarrassing ridiculously angsty parts of being a heartbroken teenager (maybe teenagers do?).  I skimmed through it and really only read the last chapter which brought back the characters from the first two novellettes.

Mr. Hotshot CEO by Jackie Lau was free on amazon (now $3.99 again).  It was ok.  Like, I don’t begrudge the time I spent reading it, but also rich man sweeps regular woman off her feet is not my favorite genre.  And this one was a full novel instead of a novella, so there was time for an extended “boy loses girl”… which, meh.

Intercepted by Alexa Martin was pretty good (in a chick lit reality show kind of way) after she lost the ex-boyfriend, though the last (of several) “boy loses girl” didn’t make any sense… the boyfriend acted really out of character.  I think she could have had the boyfriend and girlfriend talk about the situation and it still could have resulted in “boy loses girl” for a little while and everything else, because it’s a hard situation.  The boyfriend is too much of a jerk in Fumbled for me to get into it, plus it’s one of those if the two people had just talked, then the story wouldn’t have happened.  The guy in Blitzed goes ballistic in a super scary way near the beginning of the book and no amount of “that’s so not like him” could make up for it in my mind.  If you like Real Housewives entertainment, you’ll probably like the other two books in the series more than I did.

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare wasn’t anything special, but it was enjoyable popcorn nonetheless.  Forgettable yet relaxing.

Read all of the Hidden Legacy books out so far by Illona Andrews.  They are EXTREMELY good.  Burn For Me is the first, though I started with the second book and liked it better.  (It was interesting to see how their depiction of race evolved throughout the books– in the early ones you can see that they’re trying, but in the later ones I think they get it right.)  Then I branched out into more Illona Andrews books.  I’d tried the first Kate Daniels years ago and couldn’t really get into it (DH’s SIL says this is normal and the series gets much better after the first book).  I tried one of their spinoff series called Iron and Magic and just didn’t like it.  It’s very much like an old Harry Turtledove though without the alternate history or time travel, but you know, in terms of the feel.  And the world is too bleak for me to enjoy that kind of book right now.  Then I went to their webpage and discovered they have free short stories and are blogging out chapters for another Kate Daniels spinoff series (I think they always blog out their chapters as they write and then take them off the webpage to clean them up, edit, and turn into a novel after) and I got hooked on it (this Kate Daniels spinoff seems a lot more like the Hidden Legacy books and less like Iron and Magic).  I also found a Kate Daniels spinoff in an anthology called Hexed.  I enjoyed most of the novelettes in Hexed and am going to check out the full length novels of two of the other authors.

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon was also fun popcorn.  I really like the way that there’s an actual good reason for the Boy Loses Girl part of the arc rather than just stupid miscommunications.  Thank you!

Speaking of cozy reads, the first Aunt Dimity was quite lovely.  The library didn’t have the second and I’m just not willing to spend $10 for a four star book from the 1990s.  The third book, Aunt Dimity’s good deed was really dated.  Not that enjoyable.  I finished it but kind of wondered why I bothered.  I vaguely remember this happening the first time I started the series back in the 1990s.  Go me and my instincts for realizing sexist tropes were sexist back then, I guess.  (Have I mentioned I hate the “male character kisses heroine he just met not on a date without asking” trope?  Pretty sure I have. It’s NOT ok even if he doesn’t know she’s married.)  Dimity Digs In was fine, but Aunt Dimity’s Christmas was SO cringey in so many ways.  I think I’m done with the series.  The first book is very good and a soothing balm in trying times, but the rest… enh.

Get a Life Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert was fun!  It’s a LOT like her first Ravenswood book (a steal at only $2.99) in terms of the personalities of the hero and heroine, but it’s different enough to still be great.  I’m a little disappointed that the next book about her sister isn’t F/F, but I will read it when it comes to my library (it’s $10.99 on Kindle right now … if it were more like $5.99 I’d buy it without trying it first and if it were $7.99 I’d put it on my amazon wishlist for Christmas and probably end up impulse buying it before the…but from the excerpt I’m not sure I will actually want to reread the book).  I may end up purchasing all three after the third comes out (I do own most of her books at this point).  In terms of evolution of the author– I think she’s gotten to be a better writer… her newer stuff is somehow fuller, better written.  But that Ravenswood series legit made me cry on multiple planes, whereas Chloe Brown did not.  Definitely an author I will continue reading everything from!

Read or reread a few Mrs. Polifax books… they were less soothing than I remembered.  Possibly I hadn’t read these later ones, because I didn’t remember her ever being remarried.  My library had pretty limited options, so there were only a few choices to read.

Slay by Brittney Morris is really good.  Although it’s not as hard as The Hate U Give (also an excellent book), it’s still not an easy read.  There’s death and misogyny and dealing with difficult things.  There’s also some really excellent messages about individuality and culture and so much more that are just done really really well and I envision excellent reading discussions about some of the unanswerable questions that the book brings up (this book screams small discussion group questions).  Though to be truly honest, I really wish she’d write a spin-off novella that’s just riffing on the fun parts of the book, because I do think those are important too.  Sort of a Full Metal Panic Fumoffu.  Like, yes, FMP is the better series, but Fumoffu is so comforting, and sometimes we need that.  (My anime nerds get me here.)  Give me a little more fantasy and a little less death/terrible boyfriend/etc.

I had to actually go inside the library to renew my card.  Not a fan of that.

What has been getting you through the summer?  Any recommendations?

More books!

I ran out of books, so while waiting to get off library lists (I’m trying to reread the Arcane Society books by Quick/Krentz/Castle in order  update:  also the Harmony series and Eclipse Bay and Copper Beach— these are all the same world and SO SOOTHING), I pulled up another (free!) E. F. Benson, this time Queen Lucia.  This review says it so much better than I could, as does the google books description, “There’s many things in this world that will depress you, and make you good for nothing, if you take them seriously, and that cheer you up if you don’t.”  As with Miss Mapp, I am astonished how enjoyable a book can be in which not a single character is sympathetic… and yet Benson’s sly humor had me reading aloud little bon mots to DH because they’re just so delicious and horrible.  This one may have concerning racism against Indians, and yet… it seems like the joke is on the upper crust British much more than the Indian Yogi… definitely in a grey area, but consider yourself warned.  Update:  Does use the n-word, but the person who uses it is the worst of all the unsympathetic characters in the book.

I pretty much finished rereading all the modern Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick/Jayne Castle books in order by series.  (I did not reread/read earlier works that aren’t library available, though I have read some of them… there’s also a lot of klunkers with rapey heroes which no thank you, and thank you one star reviews for warning me.)  Reading them in order, the copied bits aren’t as noticeable.

Read the second to latest ABCs of spellcraft novella.  It was ok.  They’re not *really* worth $2.99 given how short they are, but… at least this one is an actual novella instead of a quarter of a full book.  Don’t walk the boardwalk by Jordan Castillo Price (the latest) was a bit annoying in that it was only half a book and the second half isn’t out yet.  Ugh.  I much prefer actual novellas for my $2.99 compared to a novel that’s been split in 2 (or 4 as with the first four pieces in the series).

A match made for Thanksgiving by Jackie Lau was a decent little novella.  A bit more short-story-esque than novel-ish in terms of depth or character development, but not unenjoyable.  I will likely pick up the next one should it be novella-priced.  Update:  A second chance roadtrip was even closer to a short story, but also nice.  Perhaps not worth the $2.99, but if you’re rich, why not?  Although A fake girlfriend for Chinese New Year is the lowest rated of the four, I think it’s the one with the most believable romance.  A big surprise for valentines day was pretty much a repeat of the first book with the girlfriend already aware of her sexuality rather than discovering it, and even a bit more explicit (also I think the author must read the same internets that I do).

Son of the Mob by Gordon Korman was not very good.  Certainly no Losing Joe’s Place (though it’s from that part of his oeuvre– hormonal teen boys in farcical circumstances, though I prefer his farcical not-hormonal teens in farcical circumstances genre, but he sadly seems to have outgrown that since becoming a parent).  I guess there’s a reason I don’t own it.

LOVED the Innkeeper Chronicles by Ilona Andrews so hard I bought all of them that are out and really want more.  #2 and #3 are the best, IMO.  I also made DH start the series and he really liked #1 (he hasn’t gotten to 2 and 3 yet, but he will, oh he will), which is good, but 2 and 3 are even BETTER.  #4 is good too but with a different heroine and #5 is light and short.  OMG, you can get the first 3 on kindle for 99 cents as a covid deal.  DO THIS if you can.

I think  the Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas was ok but not great?  I don’t quite remember.  I’m pretty sure I couldn’t get into His at Night by Sherry Thomas and I also gave up on What the Groom Wants by Jade Lee.  And I gave up on My Lady Quicksilver by Bec McMaster.

I tried to read Underdog by Laurien Berenson because I was told it was a cozy mystery, but you get to know and like the murder victim, which is not cozy.  :(  It also needed a little editing.  I think I’m going to try one of the author’s more recent books since this one was from the mid-90s.

I think I didn’t finish Just a hint clint by Lori Foster.

I liked XENI: A Marriage of Inconvenience by Rebekah Weatherspoon and look forward to reading more in this series!  (This is a nice job of a silly “married because of a will” trope, but they do a good job… my one complaint is the amount of time the heroes spend apart from each other.)

I did not like The Counterfeit Lady by Kate Parker even though I like her later series.

There’s a new KJ Charles!   Slippery Creatures is not from my favorite genre (post WW1, pre WWII British spy … which is odd since I love the Bright Young Things British mysteries from the same Golden Age time period… the difference I think is brightness.  Early Ngaio Marsh vs. Early Christie (I mean technically the first Tommy and Tuppence is a spy thriller…but I digress) or even Wodehouse.  KJ Charles is such a master of nailing whatever genre she tries and her books are always fantastic on top of it, even if it’s not my favorite genre.  Anyway, this is a good book, though not as fun for me as some of her different genres, and I’m almost finished with it.)  If you’re like us, you’ll want to read (and maybe own!) all of her stuff.

What is getting you through the After Times?  Are you reading more or less?  Are you leaning fluffier or deep diving into Pandemic dystopias?

 

Short stories of astonishing power

Grumpeteers, I have a confession.  I started this post with notes to myself back in 2011 and now I don’t know what they mean.  Let’s see what we can resurrect from my cryptic ramblings…

This was going to be a post about what the title says.  Although actually I don’t read a lot of short stories anymore (my attention span got too short to have to keep starting over and over and over).

see list (?)

A Dream of A Thousand Cats, by Neil Gaiman
in Dream Country (exquisite)

Tastings, by Neil Gaiman

A Very Obedient Cat  [But… which very obedient cat? Librarything is silent]

Silver Water, by Amy Bloom
in the book Come to Me (Everyone should check out this book!)

Cleansed and Set In Gold, in the book Masked.  I remember this blowing my brain.

about the tea with the magician; the blind guy with the  [What did I mean?]

Sherlock Holmes, including The Adventure of the Red-Headed League

Do you have any short stories to recommend?

Books books books

Read Bramble and Blood and really enjoyed it– the first chapter is pretty clunky, but by chapter two the writing is smooth.  The world building was really neat.  I liked it so much that I immediately bought Birdsong and Bone which was also excellent.  Then I bought Shadows and Souls.  These were a nice break from the maybe too predictable stuff I’d been reading lately.  (Note:  The third book had a completely unnecessary Pathos death.  Disappointing, given the second one made a different choice about another potential Pathos death.)

I returned Destiny’s Embrace unfinished because ugh… the hero force kisses the heroine who his mother has employed as his housekeeper on the first day that she meets him after they get into a verbal argument.  I am just OVER “heroes” kissing women they barely know without consent, and doubly over “heroes” kissing the heroines they employ.  Kissing strangers is not normal and kissing employees is harassment.  The book didn’t get better after that, so I gave up.  Which is a shame because the set-up was interesting.  (I’m willing to give some leeway for the hero and heroine being in a working relationship while falling in love if the author can make it work in a way that’s not squicky– not the case here.)

Chance of a Lifetime by Jayne Ann Krentz was similarly terrible, by which I mean the hero force kissed the heroine he has employed as his housekeeper on the second day she meets him after they get into a verbal argument.  I wish the first goodreads review had been on amazon– I wouldn’t have bought it!  I’m considering recycling the used copy I have instead of passing it on.  I need to be better about checking all reviews, though in fairness I thought this was from 1994 (Krentz was mostly better by then, so long as it wasn’t a Stephanie James reissue), but it’s actually 1987.

Merry Inkmas was similarly irritating though not quite as bad.  I did finish it, but I deleted it off my kindle.

Lady Osbaldestone’s Plum Puddings was better than the second in the series (which I do not regret reading and have not deleted, but definitely dragged a bit) but not quite as good as the first.

Death Beside the Seaside was another fun Lady Hardcastle.

A Delicate Deception was a nice meandering book, though the ending seemed kind of abrupt.  It would have done well with a five years later epilogue, though I know that sort of goes against the message of the book.  Still… life does go on, and it’s nice to get a peek into the happily ever after.  I assume they’ll show up in a future book as minor characters but by then I’ll have completely forgotten who they were.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was pretty good except for the heroines losing each other for no good reason.  I hate it when the drama has to be achieved by sensible characters not talking things out.  The end was a bit wishful, but still nice.

I liked the novella One Bed for Christmas.  IIRC this also had some stupidity drama, but it was resolved much more quickly, and in a way that’s more realistic– sensible characters had sensible friends who told them to stop being dumb.

The Magician’s Angel was a good library read but I didn’t feel the need to buy– very much a novella.

I reread Lord Perfect and decided to buy it.  I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t the first time around.  (Maybe because it’s overpriced for an older kindle book and we were on half salary at 2x expenses at the time?)

I impulse bought My Fake Rake and wish I hadn’t.  It took all my favorite tropes… and then was just kind of dumb.  It would have been an ok library read if I didn’t have better stuff, but I think I may have deleted it off my kindle.

Devil Take me was a great selection of m/m short stories.  Some of them were astonishingly good.

I bought a series of four super silly m/m novellas by Jordan Castillo Price.  They probably weren’t worth what I paid for them, but they hit a silliness spot that I needed.

Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk was fun.  I find most of Hawk’s books just really easy to read, even though they’re not entirely predictable.  I’m hoping for more omnibuses to be available in the future.  You can already get some of their series in omnibus form, like SPECTR, the complete first series, which is a steal at $4.99.  Did I say that in the last books post?   Must not have– it’s been a long time since the last one of these posts!

Charmed and Dangerous was fine, but not as good as Devil Take Me, even though many of the authors were the same across the two anthologies.

I can’t remember what I thought about the Duke I tempted by Scarlett Peckham.  Obviously this feature needs to be done more frequently.  I think it had some unnecessary angst, but… I can’t actually remember.

I do remember that A Rogue by Night and Night of the Scoundrel, both in the Devils of Dover series were delightful, though I do think there was more that could have been done with the hero in Night of the Scoundrel– usually the mysterious King in these books is given a full novel finale rather than a short novella with a Mary Sue heroine, but that’s an interesting direction to take the trope.

Gilded Cage by K J Charles was wonderful!!!  Not anywhere near the mindflip as the first book in the series, but I think the simpler nature of this book nicely parallels the differences between the two different Lilywhite boys featured as heroes in the two books.  There’s also some nice followup to the characters in the rat catcher’s daughter short, which is an excellent read.

Flowers in the Storm by Laura Kinsale was Gawdawful.  Just don’t.

I think I liked Lady Isabella’s Ogre by Emily Larkin.  I read it way back in October though!  I bought it before I read a huge dud of hers, and haven’t bought anything else from her.  I wish the library had more of her stuff so I could try before buying.

What are you reading?  Anything you recommend?

Atomic Habits: A book review

After being less than impressed with The Power of Habit, I decided to give Atomic Habits (amazon link=> we get a cut) by James Clear a spin.

tl:dr Although this book is much better than The Power of Habit, it is ultimately still an imperfect book.  Definitely worth giving a read, maybe not worth purchasing unless you have a specific easy-to-define-and-implement habit you want to focus on.

Unlike The Power of Habit, most of the book (until the last section) is made up of examples that make sense and are not taken out of context. It also goes much more into depth with more nuance than the previous book (which it does cite extensively).

Each chapter ends with bullets and potentially actionable items.  There are habits cheat sheets with “laws” explaining how to create a good habit and how to break a bad habit.  These laws are broken into easy to remember subheaders:  Make it obvious, Make it attractive, Make it easy, Make it satisfying.  Make it invisible, Make it unattractive, Make it difficult, Make it unsatisfying.  This is helpful– I hope that the podcasters at By the Book pick this one up sometime.

The “Advanced Tactics” section that the book ends with is problematic, relying almost entirely on anecdote and contradicting most of the rest of the book, leaving the reader with a particularly confusing “it’s complicated” message, along with additional bizarre messages like you should only try to do what you do well (I should really be a grocery bagger, I thought to myself, though that is not where my comparative advantage lies) but you should also only chase your passion (because people do more when they enjoy the work) but you should also do the boring bits (because the most successful people do the parts they don’t enjoy).  Examples from this section are very correlation is causation.  After reading it, I felt a sense of hopelessness, like maybe I should just early retire and forget my career, which I hope was not intentional.

For me– most of the stuff discussed in the book I already do or have done.  But I also have been struggling with bad work habits for the past couple of years.  I used to have very good work habits, but somehow they’ve been broken.  I need to fix that, but I’m not sure how.  It seems to be more complicated than say, getting into the habit of taking a walk every day or calling about politics.  (And… when I start focusing on one area of life, something starts slipping in another, which is not what any of the online lifestyle bloggers ever mention… it’s always exercise more and everything else will get better too.)

I’m not sure if this book will help with that, but I’m going to think really hard about the systematic problems I’ve been having with my work and give these checklists a spin.  I also want to get a book on habits by an actual academic to see if that has any useful advice.

And, of course, I will blog about all of this in a future post.

What are we reading?

Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long was very good!  The title is a bit misleading… I mean, yes, eventually she does, but the book is really about character growth, perfidy, and catching smugglers.  cw:  There is an attempted rape and rescue that seemed like a lazy way of moving the romance forward.  I still recommend.  The Perils of Pleasure was ok.  The Legend of Lyon Redmond was fine, though it is one in which if they would just talk to each other the book would be even shorter than it actually was… I skipped large chunks of it.  The rest of the books in the Penny Royale Green series have been mixed, some more worth reading than others.

I finished all the Metzgers that the city library had available on kindle.  My Lady Innkeeper was ok, not great.  The Diamond Key was silly but fun.  Snowdrops and Scandalbroth was also silly and pretty good (if you can suspend disbelief and don’t need truly 3-d characters), and another Inspector Dimm, though less from his viewpoint this time around.

I also finished all the Jayne Anne Krentz books that our local library system has.  Sweet Starfire was an extremely good sci fi romance written in the 1980s, but Crystal Flame was TERRIBLE… or rather, it started out as a really great fantasy novel and I really wanted to know what happened… but then the hero raped the heroine and it just went downhill from there.  Deep Waters was ok– a little rough here and there.  A decent library read.

I think I would have loved Kill the Farm Boy some 20-odd years ago when I was devouring funny pun-packed Ace paperbacks edited by Ginjer Buchanan.  But I just could not get into it.

The Hidden Power of F*cking Up was a good read.  I think it’s mostly aimed at teens and twenty somethings, but it was still an enjoyable and easy read.  I’m glad I was able to get it from the library rather than buying it though.  I might be willing to listen to it on audible for the sound effects, but I don’t think I’d want to read it again.

Read a couple of fun newish Cat Sebastians– I enjoyed both A Duke in Disguise and A Little Light Mischief

Tried a couple of Victoria Thompsons, but they were both too depressing and hardcore and violence against womeny.  SIGH.  I need more escapism in my life, not less.

Lady Osbaldestone’s Christmas Goose was a LOVELY form of escapism.  Interfering matchmaking grandmother and her grandkids right all the silliness in her town AND find the missing Christmas geese.  I am hoping to get the next two in the series for Christmas!

The Viscount in Her Bedroom by Gayle Callen was ok (the hero was not sweet as some of the reviews promised, at least not until he found out the heroine was a “lady” — I like my heroes to treat all women with respect, not just the gentry and not just virgins), but I could have done without the other two books I tried.

A Minor Inconvenience by Sarah Granger has been ok, but it reads very much like an early work– it could use heavy editing AND it’s a bit cringy here and there in terms of consent and other things.  It did get better as it went along though.

I don’t know why I just haven’t been able to enjoy the last few Sarah MacLeans.  Skipped large chunks of Brazen and the Beast.  Which I think I also did with Wicked and the Wallflower.  I still like rereading a couple of her other series.  Thank you library for allowing me to try before I decide whether or not to buy.

DNF Too wicked to kiss by Erica Ridley.  Just so rapey.

Deleted the free Unmasking Miss Appleby by Emily Larkin which had a really great premise and would have been wonderful if say, KJ Charles had gone with that plot and added a little bit of fantasy, or even an earlier Sarah MacLean, but the hero was a godawful transphobe homophobe and not that great in terms of his beliefs about women (though those do get corrected).  I skipped big chunks, read the bit in which the hero figured out the heroine’s secret, and then just did not care enough to finish.  What a horrible jerk.  The author had to make him an abolitionist to make him have any redeeming quality.  Oh, and there’s rape and incest in there too (though I didn’t read those bits) and UGH.

Which is bizarre because I liked Primrose and the Dreadful Duke by Emily Larkin enough to buy myself a copy after checking it out from the library.  This book has some slow bits but no unnecessary drama and is light and happy and just a full pleasure to read.  The hero is great (not at all dreadful), and he and the heroine patch up any misunderstandings early on and focus on trying to protect the heroine’s brother from a murderer.  Same universe but doesn’t even seem like the same author.  I wish our library had more of her books so I could try before I buy, but alas, it has just the one.

Rereading the delightful Cold Comfort Farm (also, this paperback version is super cute, though your library likely has a hardback … do make sure you don’t get an abridged version– see the one star comments for which ones to avoid).  I had forgotten how horrid Flora is (this doesn’t quite come out in the movie but is quite clear in the book!)

The Rat Catcher’s Daughter (Lilywhite Boys novella/short story/novelette) by K J Charles was short but lovely!  Can’t wait to get Gilded Cage!  I love how she’s both such a wonderful author AND so prolific.  :D

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