Ask the grumpies: Good pop non-fiction books?

Steph asks:

What are some good pop non-fiction books?  Good pop economics books?

Mary Roach is always fun.

Everyone should read Search for An Abortionist.

Nudge by Thaler and Sunstein is a good one.

The Paradox of Choice is a bit old now, but it is one of my life-changing books.

Your Money or Your Life is a classic.

What Works for Women at Work is extremely good.

I’ve just gotten the No Club, but haven’t read it yet.

I also haven’t read The Voltage Effect, about why interventions don’t scale up and how to make scalable interventions, but the book talk I went to on it was informative.

I greatly enjoyed The Anthropocene Reviewed.  Not a fan of John Green fiction.  Huge fan of John Green non-fiction.

Speaking of memoirish stuff…

You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacy by Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar.

She Memes Well by Quinta Brunson.

Grumpy Nation, what pop non-fiction books have you been enjoying?  What should we be reading?

Books, always books

I checked out a book of old British mystery stories from the library and some of them were pretty good.  I enjoyed one by Anthony Berkeley particularly and then checked out The Layton Court Mystery which was pretty entertaining… until I got to a throwaway anti-Semitic line.  (The narrator compared the protagonist’s hatred of various desserts to his hatred of Jewish people.)  Just… why?  Completely unnecessary, except to hurt Jewish people.  Did not at all add to anything, and made it so this book is not going to live as long as it could, despite being otherwise entertaining even to a modern audience.

The Frangipani Tree mystery by Ovidia Yu was pretty interesting.

The City library added some more Barbara Metzger mysteries to their kindle offerings.  I had read the Hourglass before but reread it and when I got near the end remembered why I hadn’t sought it out again.  Don’t recommend it (cw:  pregnancy loss).  Truly Yours was pretty fun– an Inspector Dimm mystery I hadn’t seen before.  Wedded Bliss was nice but forgettable.  Lady in Green had some funny bits.  Rake’s Ransom also had funny bits, but is one of those irritating December-May romances– he’s a hardened ancient rake, she’s an idiot 17 year old (actually I think she’s 22 or so, but she acts like she’s 17), he reforms because he has compromised her and is charmed by her manic pixie ways. I enjoyed The Scandalous Life of a True Lady probably more than I should have (this is the second in the Truly Yours trilogy) — it definitely veers into farce territory, but also I like the way it treats all the different courtesans as if they are people… some of the side characters end up more well-developed than a lot of heroines in other books.  I think I thought the wicked ways of a true hero was ok, but not as good as the previous two in the series.  The hero is much less likable, but also maybe a bit more amusing.  Some of the short stories in Greetings of the Season and other stories were good, but some where meh.  Autumn Glory and Other Stories was interesting because she reused a lot of the elements from these stories in full-length novels.  An Enchanted Christmas was lovely and soothing– several novellas were just feel-good people’s luck changing for the better without unnecessary angst…I think I will get myself a copy.  Minor Indiscretions was fun.  Father Christmas surprisingly fun, though not so much for the love story (the hero and heroine spent very little time together).

The Further Observations of Lady Whistledown was a group of short stories by different authors.  Some were entertaining and some were awful.

The Duke Who Loved Me by Jane Ashford was ok.  I didn’t rush out to get more Jane Ashford books though.  It could have been better.

The Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews was pretty good.  I was a little worried at first, but I don’t think it ended up at all being accidentally racist.  It could have used more relationship development though.  There’s a trend with some newer books that seem to get all their “what is falling in love” tropes from The Bachelor.  That is, people are physically attracted to each other and then they exchange sad stories about their past and have exciting/scary experiences together.  But there’s no, like, additional development for compatibility.  Most Bachelor relationships don’t last long after the cameras stop, because that’s not really how strong relationships develop.

Earl on the Run by Jane Ashford had a really promising start and the two main characters were interesting on their own.  But then somewhere around the 40% mark it became clear that the author couldn’t come up with any plot other than the heroine being upset that he hadn’t told her he was an earl before she found out on her own, which then made it very clear that the two main characters didn’t actually know each other very well, which made it clear that they weren’t ready to get married yet.  And… like, they didn’t really get to know each other through chapters of interminable repetitious introspection alone and they got married without even an epilogue.  There was also a lot of repetition of telling-not-showing about the relationship of the main characters from the previous book.  We get it, they have a connection because they love each other.  I skimmed a lot from like 40%-80% of the book.

Her Favorite Rebound by Jackie Lau was kind of disappointing.  I mean, I’m not deleting it and I don’t regret that I bought it– it was very readable.  But the hero is very one-dimensional and comes across as a crazy 1980s hero/stalker, which the heroine notes, but she’s attracted to him anyway.  Lots of outdated icky tropes, which the heroine acknowledges are creepy, but reacts like a 1980s movie heroine instead of a 2020s more real person.  Also for no reason he’s into mild domination and she’s into being mildly dominated by him, which worked in the Professor Next Door but seems out of place in this one (plus… repetitious!  it was just like 2 books ago in the same series, if that).

DNF Shadows of Swanford Abbey.  I thought I’d already talked about it, but now I think maybe it was in a comment on another blog.  Basically I no longer read Gigi-trope books.  Like, it’s gross when the much older hero comes back and realizes the little girl who used to follow him around when he was a young adult is sexy now.  Yuck.  (Completely different if they were both kids at the time.)

The Matzah Ball: A Novel was bad in the way that bad Christmas Hallmark movies are bad.  And that’s, like, intentional– the heroine has authored several bad Christmas Hallmark movies (this is not a spoiler– it’s in the book blurb).  But… also… so much dumb.  And no real relationship building between the hero and heroine.  On the other hand, it did a great job illustrating what it’s like to have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Meet Me in the Margins was a nice contrast to The Matzah Ball because anytime the writer tried to veer towards bad Christmas Hallmark Movie, the hero called her out on it.  However, I’m not crazy about the dating your boss trope.  And technically they didn’t start dating until he was no longer her boss, but also he was definitely courting her and giving her privileges while he was.  And that was never addressed, which is sketchy.

You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria was good and fun except that the unnecessary 3rd act breakup DRAGGED.  Plus, as per usual with these unnecessary 3rd act breakups, it seemed pretty out of character for the heroine.  (The heroine is generally a doormat, but suddenly decides to take offense without listening to the hero or even thinking about things from his viewpoint?  And is willing to destroy her career, the driving force behind her actions from the start of the book? Totally out of character.)  In her defense, her obnoxiousness is pointed out by her friends and she’s like, yeah, I getcha, whoopsie.  But that should have happened WAY SOONER, and probably before she took it out on the hero or tried to sabotage her career.  Some reviews complain about the lack of the two characters getting to know each other, but they’re both such nice people, that it’s going to work out (with the exception of the bizarre third act bit).

Any good summer reads to recommend?


Read and enjoyed the first two books in the Magical Bakery Mystery series.  The first book, Brownies and Broomsticks, was extremely formulaic, but also set up an interesting setting.  The second book, Bewitched, Bothered, and Biscotti was also fun and a little less predictable.  I would read the remaining 8 books if our library had them, but they’re not quite worth spending $7.99/book on (or keeping– they are definitely library books).

Read a bunch more books by Laura Matthews.  Some were great, and I put The Nomad Harp, A Very Proper Widow, and Miss Ryder’s Memoirs on my amazon wishlist to read again later.  Some of the other books where truly awful (various misogynies), so be careful.

Read a bunch of books by Cynthia Bailey Pratt.  Most were not memorable, but also none of them were terrible.  Definitely great quick library reads.  In the end, I decided Gentleman’s Folly was worth putting on my amazon wishlist.  If you like farces sprinkled with screwball scenes, you’ll love this book.

Couldn’t get into The Duke Goes Down by Sophie Jordan.

Couldn’t get into Mimi Lee Gets a Clue.  The heroine isn’t that bright and is too much of a pushover, the talking cat is too twee, and if the heroine isn’t that bright it’s even crazier how stupid everyone else is.  (None of these chihuahua owners take their beloved dogs to the vet when they’re hurt or acting weird, really?  Not a spoiler since it’s like the first chapter.)

Antidote:  Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman made some good points and provoked a thought here and there but really dragged in a lot of places.  It’s not a very thick book, but I think it could have been improved by some serious cutting.

Stranger at the Hall by Mary Kingswood was GREAT.  Less overtly religious than Stranger at the Manor (so maybe it’s just that the heroine in Stranger at the Manor is very religious), and really satisfying with a few moments of nervousness for the heroine that most books attempt but completely fail to inspire.  And the heroine isn’t TSTL even though you’re screaming for her to get away from the Obvious Villain.  It’s reminiscent of Gaslight.  It’s the last book in the series and what I love most about it is that after the epilogue there’s an end credits thing where the author tells you where everybody who didn’t get matched in this series ends up both romantically and in terms of employment.  Which is extra satisfying even though I’ve only read two books in the series so far!  (#4 and #6) Update: Stranger at the Dower house (#1) not as good and I’m not sure if I’m going to read the rest or not.  If they were library books I definitely would.  For now I have #2 on my wishlist and we’ll see what happens.

A Little Village Blend by ‘Nathan Burgoine was short and sweet.  Not worth the $3.99 I paid for it given its brevity though– more of a short story than a novella.

Knit One, Girl Two by Shira Glassman was also a short and sweet more of a short story than novella, but I think worth the lower $1.99 price tag.  (Something I’ve noticed among the books Amazon recommends to me:  gay guys charge about 2x as much for their self-pubbed M/M novellas as lesbians do for their self-pubbed F/F novellas.  Who is right?  It depends!  A lot of these female authors could be charging more and I would still buy, and some of the M/M novellas I still do buy, but some, like ‘Nathan Burgoine, I would be more likely to buy if they cost less or were actually novella-length.)

An Inconvenient Duke by Anna Harrington was ok.  I skimmed through large portions and I haven’t queued up any more of her books from the library, but I don’t regret the time spent reading it.

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi was lots of fun overall.  I was a little disappointed, but only because all of Scalzi’s other first books in their series have a nice twist at the end on top of the world building and this one… didn’t.  Once the world was built, everything else was pretty straight-forward.  But that twist was always something extra special in his other first books of series, and not needed for enjoyment. Here he’s also stealing some from his previous series– there’s a lot of the setup of Redshirts and Old Man’s War in there (group of newbies in military-esque style situation become protagonists), and, like in Locked In, you never hear pronouns associated with the protagonist… and some other stuff that’s too spoilery to get into here.  I am certain we will get the audiobook and listen to it on some future car-trip, especially now that the children are old enough to know not to repeat the F-word.

Candenza by Stella Riley was delightful and very low angst.  It follows two heroines who are cousins and one of the stories is much better and more fleshed out than the other, but if that alone had been a novella it would have been enough. Also you can listen to the harpsicord music referenced on youtube and Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer is new and amazing (try Vertigo and La March des Scythes, but also you have to get someone who is virtuoso levels of good at it or the latter sounds terrible– I’ve been enjoying Yago Mahugo), despite being from the time of Mozart and for harpsicord. I think I’m going to need to buy more Stella Riley series since this set was so good.

Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher was cute.

Outrageous by Minerva Spencer was truly terrible– both the hero and heroine were TSTL and unlikable.  And yet the book was readable in a guilty pleasure watching the Bachelor sort of way.  I do not want to read the other books by the author because I’m pretty sure they’re full of Islamophobia and fetishizing people from the middle east– there seems to be a white slaver harem storyline going.

DNF Twice Tempted by a Rogue by Tessa Dare.  Hero was just one red flag after another.  Run away, lady!  Don’t marry someone way older than you who you knew as a child who proposes the day after he meets you as an adult.  Then doesn’t take no for an answer.  UGH.  I just don’t get Tessa Dare.  Sometimes she’s great and sometimes she’s just so very wrong.

Skipped most of Heiress in Red Silk by Madeline Hunter.  The hero is kind of a jerk and there’s just other random problematic stuff.

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske was great.  Reminiscent of KJ Charles, except one of the heroes is the standard tortured hero trope.  I am really irritated that I started it when only one book in the series is out.  I wish I’d discovered it after #3 was out!  I hope it is going to actually be a trilogy (because I want to know how it ends), but given the setup I’m not sure how she’s going to keep it to just 3 books.  Maybe there will be an initial trilogy and then the story will follow other people after.

Read Something Fabulous by Alexis Hall.  There just isn’t a lot of there there.  Characters are very one-dimensional– like paper cutouts.  It’s not really funny enough to be a romp or a farce.  Lots of the main character getting abused and taking it.  It’s also boring and repetitive.  I think it could have stopped halfway right after the hero realizes he likes the male twin and it would have been a fine novella, but it kept nonsensically going.

Delilah Green Doesn’t Care by Ashley Herring Blake was pretty good, though to be honest, the wacky hijinks kind of dragged so I skipped through a lot of the middle section.

Being Mary Bennet by J. C. Peterson was kind of fun.  The hero was a little bit of a jerk who jumped to assumptions a lot, but he’s a minor part (this is YA), and there were some unnecessary hijinks that weren’t actually all that funny in the third act, and there was a pregnancy loss from one of the side-characters which is never fun to read about, especially when it’s just put there to develop the protagonist.  So, imperfect, but… who really is perfect?  Being Mary Bennet means learning to live with imperfections.

What do you recommend?

Ask the grumpies: Audio Books for car trips?

Natka asks:

We have a tradition to listen to audio books during car trips. A car trip is coming up in April, but I am having a hard time finding audio books that would be a good match for our family (and exciting to listen to).

We have 3 kids ages 8, 11, and 13. We have already listened to The Hobbit and LotR. Older kids already read all the Harry Potter books. Flora and Ulysses, Matilda, and The Mysterious Benedict Society series were all great hits as audio books. We are not fans of Narnia or The Wrinkle in Time.

Any recommendations for audio books that are not too adult, not too childish, and are entertaining for both kids and grownups during a 5+ hour drive? We have never tried non-fiction titles, but that may be interesting.

My first thought is the Alcatraz and the Evil Librarians series by Brandon Sanderson. DC2 cannot get enough of the audiobooks (DH and DC2 listen to them while doing calisthenics and on car trips).

Audible has some free Sherlock Holmes that makes for good car listening.

We’ve listened to a LOT of John Scalzi on trips (he’s my go-to on long drives), but you have to be careful about what you listen to because there is swearing in some of them.

We also listened to To Say Nothing of the Dog which is a time travel book that does not have swearing in it. It’s a bit complicated so some parts might need to be explained to the 8 year old, but also they might not.

Andrea Vernon was very popular on the last trip but we had to fast forward through some sex-ish stuff (not actual sex, but there’s a very horny water buffalo minor character who isn’t getting any, and there’s hints of it with Andrea Vernon and the Big Axe, but nothing explicit there).

For non-fiction, we mostly listen to podcasts (for a long time we reserved the Splendid Table for car trips, but now we just listen to Dear Hank and John).

Grumpy Nation– what are your recommendations?


The accidental abduction by Darcie Wilde dragged at the beginning and then told not showed with a stupid out of character trite thing at the end.  It felt like she had a deadline that she wasn’t going to make because she spent too much time having the main characters thinking in great detail about sex and not enough time thinking about the full plot.  (Come to think of it, this is similar to the problems Olivia Wilde’s books have… though I don’t think Oscar Wilde was particularly afflicted with this problem.)

Beyond Compare by Candace Camp was no good.  Hero and heroine not particularly likable.  Plot not particularly tied together.  Also an attempted rape near the end.  Glad I didn’t read it first, and I’m glad I didn’t buy it, because I liked the older sister Thisbe’s story a lot.  Read a bunch of other Candace Camps, and some were good and some were not.  A lot of attempted rape as a backstory or meet cute etc. throughout, though I assume it’s more in her older books than her newer.

Jackie Lau continues to be solid.  And without stupid third quarter out of place unnecessary drama (or if it’s there it lasts less than a full chapter).  Her characters seem more true to themselves.  As her books go on, she has more developed characters, more different characters, and more organic plotting.

I skipped most of Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur.  I will not believe that someone who likes things to be on time and neat and orderly will be able to live with an astrologer who cannot get anywhere on time and is a complete and total mess and vice versa.  That’s a disaster waiting to happen.  They can’t live together and they can’t get together.  It has nothing to do with emotional reserve.  Reserved people need caring optimistic sweet people like Amy in the Cider Bar Sisters series, not people who would be their nightmare roommate.  Flaky disorganized free-spirits need indulgent partners who are amused rather than annoyed by the other heroine’s quirks.  Also third act girl loses girl over misunderstanding thing.  Blech.

DNF The Christmas Husband Hunt.  The hero is a jerk– he has asked the impoverished dependent heroine for a favor, is not paying her, and proceeds to find fault with everything she does as well as being insulting about it.  (As she says, multiple times, if you don’t like what I’m doing, do it yourself, but yet, he never does.)  The idea that he has to wear fancy waistcoats is nonsensical (I think they’re trying to make him like the Scarlet Pimpernel, but he only wears the fancy waistcoats when the suspected spy is around and otherwise does not seem to play a role).  The husband hunter is ridiculous– like it’s ok to have a minor character/mcguffin who is TSTL, but nobody questions her bizarre choices (like why DOES she have to find a husband by Christmas?  She says it often enough that you’d think *someone* would be like, ok, why Christmas?  But no.)  I gave up at a third.  Hopefully that’s the last of the Christmas romances on my wait list.

Never fall for your fiance by Virginia Heath was fine, but it had too much repetition and dragged a bit.  It would have made a better novella, OR instead of repeating the hero’s same worries and the heroine’s same worries in their thoughts over and over and over again, maybe it could have had more of them interacting with each other.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher was quite good.  I do think a middle schooler could read it even though it has death in it and even though it’s under Ursula Vernon’s YA name.  It dragged a bit in the third quarter but picked up.  It’s also got a lot of messages for today even though it was initially written pre-Trump (according to the author note in the back– she had trouble getting it traditionally published and yet it’s won and been nominated for a number of prestigious awards).

I cranked through the Rockliffe books by Stella Riley.  They’re not always perfect (occasional stupid third act misunderstanding, one of them has rape (and a villain that died before the series started was killed because he was a child rapist) as a backstory (though it’s never discussed in detail), and it is difficult to keep all the characters in order (especially since she isn’t careful about names!), but they’re pretty engrossing.  Some of the books you can read without having read the earlier books, but most of them you really can’t.  I think there was one I didn’t buy (of the three my library had, I bought two, and I bought all the ones the library didn’t have, one at a time, though if you’re smart you’ll get the box sets instead).

Enjoyed, as always, the latest Shinigami detective book, Death Over the Garden Wall, by Honor Raconteur.

If the Shoe Fits by Julie Murphy was a surprisingly angst free story (given it’s about a reality show).  It’s definitely light– there could have been a lot more character development and relationship development than there was, but it was a nice read.

Started reading a number of regencies (and Georgians) by Laura Matthews.  These are a bit old fashioned, but not bodice rippers and so far strong heroines and delightfully absurd other characters and everybody worthy of getting matched (and some who aren’t!) gets matched in the end.  The Nomad Harp was so delightful I bought myself a copy.  A Very Proper Widow was fun.  The Lady Next Door was more of an ensemble production without any deep insight into character, but charmingly funny just the same.

One of the problems with reading a bunch of excellent books in a row is that one has way less patience for the mediocre right after.

What excellent and mediocre books are you reading, Grumpeteers?


It has been a long time (was it really October?!) and we haven’t really been keeping track so there will be a lot of books missing from this roundup.  Let’s see what we can remember and what overdrive and the kindle remember…

I read a ton of Donna Andrews Meg Langslow mysteries (these are the ones with bird puns in the titles).  They all have the same plot.  The Christmas ones are better than the non-Christmas ones I’ve read.  I did find it suspicious that Meg *always* finds the corpse and is *always* confronted by the murderer near the end.  Until I read one of the earlier Christmas ones in which her dad (part-time coroner, though given the number of murders this small town has per year it’s less of a part-time job than one might think) gets really excited about a body being found and someone makes the comment about how getting a body to do his coroner stuff on is a great Christmas present for Meg’s dad.  Now I’m pretty sure that she’s the mastermind and this is all just an elaborate set of presents for her beloved father.  In one of the later Christmas ones, an out-of-town person who is visiting over Christmas brings a bodyguard and when asked about it he notes the extremely high per-capita murder rate in the town and that it would be crazy not to have one!  So the author has a sense of humor about it.  I think it would be much less noticeable if you read them one per year instead of reading 7 of them in a row.  They are so ridiculous, but also readable.

Dashing through the Snow by Debbie Macomber was a disappointing novel with an irritatingly twee heroine.  The plot could have been entertaining and interesting even ignoring the hero/heroine except the author never really pulled it through.  Basically the heroine has a common name and is mistaken for a terrorist.  If the actual terrorist had shown up and been apprehended this would have been a *much* more entertaining novel.  Instead it’s just treated as a mcguffin even though there was already another mcguffin, needing to get to Seattle from SF ASAP, that would have been enough to get the two together (although Jackie Lau does a much better job of such stories).

DNF Seduce me by Christmas by Alexandra Ivy.  I no longer have any tolerance for heroes who force kisses on heroines, particularly ones they just met, particularly when there’s a power differential.  Got to that scene early on and decided it wasn’t worth it.  Yes, whatever is going on with the hero and his father is probably interesting, but I no longer care about the hero, so…

A Very Levet Christmas by Alexandra Ivy was a pretty cute novella.  I haven’t read the 13 earlier books in the series but that was ok.

I think I’d read How to Manage a Marquess by Sally MacKenzie before but it was forgettable then.  It was ok.

I um, can’t remember what I thought about Season for Desire by Theresa Romain even though I’m pretty sure I spent most of my non-childcare time with DH’s extended family reading it.  Aha!  The comments have a better summary of it than does the plot synopsis.  Yes.  This one was pretty good!  There’s some suspension of disbelief needed and if you’re a stickler about historical accuracy this one isn’t for you, but it was a decent read.

Did not care for Four Thousand Weeks.  It seemed to be mostly a lengthy diatribe about why you should get depressed and do less with your life, ending with 10 pieces of kind of trite (but not necessarily bad) advice.  I skimmed quite a bit.  I don’t know why so many of the people on ana-begins blogroll liked it so much.  Did anybody else read it and like it better than I did?

I liked The Unofficial Suitor by Charlotte Louise Dolan.  It was different and a bit Gothic.  I don’t know that any of the individual characters were particularly likable, but as a whole the ensemble worked, though there were a lot of characters and sometimes I had to remind myself who was who.  There are some consent problems, but kind of minor compared to Seduce me by Christmas.  I actually went through a lot of Charlotte Louise Dolan books in a row… most of them were better than The Unofficial suitor, but more similar to the standard historical romance.  I particularly like Lady Leticia, who is a matchmaking figure across many of the books.  Books by Dolan that didn’t have Lady Leticia were not as good.  Fallen Angel was the Dolan book that I liked enough to put on my amazon wishlist.

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik was fantastic but… didn’t resolve the last cliff-hanger and ended on another cliff-hanger.

Read some more Jackie Lau.  They were good.  She’s solid.  I suspect one of these days I will own everything she’s written since she’s become a go-to buy for when I’m out of things that I feel like reading.

Guild Boss was one of the weaker Jayne Castle Harmony books, but still a decent read.

His Wicked Charm by Candace Camp was good enough to try another book by the same author.  I’m currently reading the prequel (book 7… Her Scandalous Pursuit) and it is excellent so far.

I DNF Devil in Disguise by Lisa Kleypas pretty early on because the meet cute was kind of sketchy and not believable– I genuinely do think that people should be able to prevent themselves from seducing potential business partners that they just met even if they get soaked in water and are stuck alone in an empty building together.  Like seriously.  If they had known each other very well already and knew they were attracted, that’s potentially believable.  If they were complete strangers at an inn and thought they’d never see each other again, also potentially believable.  But … ugh…

Reread a bunch of Whyborne and Griffin by Jordan L. Hawk.  Still good.

Read more Melanie Cellier books.  I think the Ugly Duckling one was the one that was a bit cringingly racist where she gave the villains stereotypically Black US names and not the non-villains, even within the same family.  Like, WTF?  (It’s not even realistic since these are “fantasy kingdoms” and people in Morocco or the Caribbean or wherever she’s emulating don’t have African-American names!  The only reason to do that is to make the White Christian people she’s targeting feel foreshadowed since they associate AA names with scariness which is The Worst.)  If not that specific book, then it was another of her books– I stopped reading and regret any money I have given her.

First Comes Like by Alisha Rai was ok.  I think I liked the other two books in the series better.  There’s not as much getting to know each other before marriage in this one. It had a strong start.   They’re both nice people though and the romance was believable, I just wish there were more of it before marriage and a bunch of extraneous sex scenes I mostly skipped (the sex scenes neither fit with the characters nor did they develop their relationship– they felt shoehorned in, and the abrupt marriage felt like it was put in so the author could get to the sex scenes), and then kind of an abrupt resolution.  The extended cast was great though.

A Fiancée’s Guide to First Wives and Murder by Dianne Freeman was again delightful.  One fun thing about this one was where they did this thing that usually leads to a Deus Ex Machina clue, but instead of that happening, the person was like, you really expect me to remember what happened X decades ago?  Not all clues pan out!  (I bought it on sale– if your library doesn’t own it, you may want to wait for the price to drop, as $13 is a lot for a relatively short kindle novel.)

We listened to the first Andrea Vernon book, Andrea Vernon and the Corporation for UltraHuman Protection on Audible on our drive to/from seeing DH’s relatives.  It was hilarious and fantastic and a real indictment of our capitalist society.  The indictment in the first book is subtle, but apparently it’s quite overt in the second book that we decided not to start because after we finished the first book we didn’t have the hours of driving left to listen to the second.  The narrator is brilliant, far better than Zachary Quinto who thankfully sounds less cringey in Murder by Other Means by John Scalzi, which we also listened to, since he got rid of the terrible accent he’d given the female Black Chicago cop in the first book in the series, and having a Chicago mafia person sound like a NYC mafia person isn’t as offensive.  (Btw, Murder by Other Means was fine but not as clever in terms of plot as The Dispatcher).  We laughed out loud a lot in the car.

So all of that probably would have been more helpful before winter break, but …

I have high hopes for the next one of these as several of my favorite series that should have come out before December will be coming out instead before my birthday.  I wouldn’t have had to try so many dumb holiday romances if they’d come out like usual.

What are you reading these days?  These past few months?

Ask the grumpies: How do you feel about ebooks?

Reader asks:

I was just reading the Atlantic article “Ebooks are an Abomination” and I was wondering how you guys feel about this topic.

#1  Ebooks are an abomination and should die in a fire.  Paper books are the best!  I only have ebooks for traveling (ha! so never) and I’ve been replacing a lot of my ebooks like my Courtney Milans with paper versions.  I hate pressing the next page and being taken out of the reading experience.  For some reason actually turning a paper page doesn’t do that to me, but on an ebook it does.

#2  I like both, but I’ve been leaning a lot towards ebooks because they are good for traveling and they never smell like cigarette smoke or heavy perfume from the library and I can get them instantly instead of having to wait.  I also like being able to change (increase) the font, being able to read when it’s dark and DH is trying to sleep, and being able to just click on words I don’t know to get the definition.  I have a lot of paper books and I check them out from the library, but I do think ebooks have improved my life.  I do prefer the Paperwhite Kindle over the ipad or the kids’ Kindle Fires because I don’t like the strong backlight.  I do worry that some day amazon will just take all my books that I paid for away or the technology will go obsolescent.. but not enough to actually do something to protect me from that.  But also I’ve been looking at my current bookcases and cringing at how many of the books the Suck Fairy has visited in the past 20 years and I’m wondering if maybe it wouldn’t be as large a loss as I initially think.  There are some gems in my bookcase that aren’t still in print, but most of the stuff that is still good is also still gettable.

Grumpy Nation:  How do you feel about ebooks?

Ask the grumpies: recommendations for steamy romance novels for a newby?

xykademiqz asks:

I have a confession to make. I read some romance when I was a teen, and then pretty much nothing for like 30+ years. having moved toward horror and sci-fi genres, as well as miscellaneous literary fiction. Until a few weeks ago, when I picked up a couple of romance novels and haven’t looked back. I am pleased to report that my mood and will to live have been greatly improved by the re-introduction of this genre into my life. Who knew? (Clearly, you knew, as did romance readers everywhere.)

I am a relative n00b to the genre, but I read r fast, so I’ve managed to read a fair amount so far and some trends have emerged. It turns out I like my romance super steamy and explicit, mostly (not necessarily) contemporary, and mostly (not necessarily) funny. I would be delighted to get some recommendations.

The books I’ve liked so far, in my thus-far short excursion into the land of HEA and aided by the Amazon algorithms and Romance Rehab recommendations, were books by Melanie Harlow (After We Fall series and Cloverleigh Farms series), Avery Flynn (The Hartigans series), and a few books here and there by Nicole Snow (some stuff), Carian Cole (Rush), and a few others. The funniest book I’ve read in a long time is Hard Code by Misha Bell. I laughed out loud throughout.

How do you feel about genre mixing? (We asked)

Oh yes. Genre mixing FTW! Btw I also read mystery/suspense, thrillers, horror, sci-fi, so I am a sucker for a good plot (interesting, with tension, brain tickles, etc), and would absolutely love to see them mixed with humor and romance. Thanks!

#2 is more into erotica than #1 is, but she gets most of it from fan fiction (she’s especially into Holmes and Watson fanfic? Also star wars. )

I have not read any of the authors listed above, but now I’m curious.  They all definitely have similar covers, so there’s something going on!

The funniest Rom Com I’ve read recently was Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall.  Hall is supposed to have some highly rated extremely explicit stuff (Spires series, maybe?), but I haven’t actually read any of it yet.  The non-explicit stuff other than Boyfriend Material I’ve read has been pretty disappointing.  His Billionaire books have the same kind of cover vibe that the other books you’ve been reading have, so maybe those will fit?

The Harmony series by Jayne Castle isn’t erotic, but there are sex scenes.  I really like the spec fic set-up and world building in these.

KJ Charles is historical, but if you like plotting she is hard to beat.  If you’re into heists, Any Old Diamonds is a great place to start.  She’s also got paranormal.

Jordan Hawke has a large number of spec fic (mostly paranormal) series, some of which are extreme bargains as ebooks.

Courtney Milan is mostly historical, but she’s great with plotting.  The Brothers Sinister boxset is a good deal.

Jackie Lau gets towards erotica, but she’s more slow-burn than plot.

Rebekah Weatherspoon is not particularly erotic or plotty (there are sex scenes), but she’s definitely funny and cozy.  Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny is a good place to start.

A lot of Alexis Hall, KJ Charles, and Jordan Hawke are m/m (or occasionally m/nb).  There’s so little m/m stuff out there (more than there used to be, but still not a ton) that it’s really interesting to see how standard tropes get turned on their heads when both heroes are male.

I am positive that the readers of Grumpy Nation will have lots of excellent suggestions for you.  Grumpy Nation!  What should xyk read next?  What do you recommend?



After finishing the Arcane society books in order by sub-author, I’ve been rereading the Harmony books by Jayne Castle in order.  They are still good!  And it’s fun reading them in order since previous characters appear in later books.  Technically they’re all Arcane society books, but the Jayne Ann Krentz page only lists two of them as counting as actual Arcane books.

DC2 and I absolutely LOVED The Tragical Tale of Birdie Bloom by Temre Beltz.

I could not put down A Dangerous Kind of Lady by Mia Vincy.  It’s different, even though it’s really just a romance without much else in terms of plot.  There is a stupid and unnecessary 5th act Boy Loses Girl– they really could have ended the book before then with some talking it out and it would have been completely believable.  But otherwise quite good.

I’ve been enjoying the Four Kingdoms books by Melanie Cellier.  They’re not perfect, but they are very readable.  Note that there are two box sets that save quite a bit off the price of reading all the novels and novellas.  (I did not note that until I’d bought most of the books individually.)

Cyn & the Peanut Butter Cup was ok, but I’m irritated that you have to subscribe to her newsletter to get the epilogue.  I’m not sure if I’m going to get the second book.  If they were library available definitely.

I very much enjoyed Suzanne Allain’s other books, Incognito, The Celebrated Pedestrian and Miss Lattimore’s Letter.  Incognito takes one of my least favorite tropes (rich man spying on his bride-to-be pretending to be poor) and treats it how it would probably play out if it were actually tried (well, that plus wacky hijinks), which was fun.  The Celebrated Pedestrian was incredibly funny and worth the $3.95 I paid for it.  Miss Lattimore’s letter was a delight.  I would say I do not begrudge the $9.99 I paid for it except after I bought The Celebrated Pedestrian amazon emailed me a $4 off credit to use on Miss Lattimore’s Letter and it was definitely worth the $5.99 I spent.

The Most Eligible Lord in London by Ella Quinn was not very good.  One of the reviews on amazon says it seems like bits and pieces from other novels kind of pushed together and that seems pretty apt.

The Sumage Solution by Gail Carriger reads like a poorly written first foray into erotica fan fiction, which is bizarre since she’s highly published.  There’s no relationship development at all.  So bizarre.

#2 said I’d probably like An Abundance of Katherines if I liked any John Green novels.  Turns out I do not like any John Green novels.  It’s all so pretentious and who can care about any of the immature characters?  I mean, I guess adolescent girls do?

How to Invent Everything by Ryan North was mildly entertaining.  DC2 LOVED IT and told DH and me to both read it.  It’s a little bit of interesting new stuff told with humor with a LOT of information most of us probably already know.  Would 100% recommend for the smart middle schooler on your Christmas list.

The Professor Next Door by Jackie Lau definitely veered into erotica.  It’s a more fleshed out version of one of her novellas (not literally, but same how-they-fell-in-love thing).  Story-wise it was fine.  Erotica isn’t really my thing though.  Bidding for the Bachelor was pretty good and Pregnant by the Playboy was fine, sweet even.  I think I’m going to just keep buying Jackie Lau novels so long as they stay under $4/each.

The code breakers series by Jacki Delecki was boring.

I decided that since I read SHE I don’t need to read Allan Quatermain by H. Rider Haggard.

Couldn’t get into Mystery at the Masqurerade by Josh Lanyon.

Skipped large portions of The Duke Effect by Sophie Jordan.

An Inconvenient Grand Tour by Lisa Catmull was fine.  I would probably read more in that series if they were library available, but I don’t think I will be buying any more.  Even at 99 cents.

Ask the grumpies: What’s your reading speed?

Leah asks:

With books, do you tend to read through quickly, or do you like to take breaks and let the story simmer?

#1 says:  Both!

#2 says:  It depends on the book.  Mostly I read stuff that goes down easy and that gets sped through but sometimes I’ll read something delicious like Boyfriend Material and I have to take breaks to savor.  Or I’ll read something that’s ok and I take breaks because it is put-down-able.  Or I’ll read something that’s harder than my usual fare and I have to take breaks because it’s hard.  Or sometimes I will speed through the first time and savor the second (I do this a lot with KJ Charles).

Grumpy Nation:  What is your predominant reading style?  When do you read what how?