What are we reading

Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian!  Cat Sebastian is another author who does regency m/m romances and she’s lighter than KJ Charles, but still good.  I liked her so much I bought all 4 of her books that are out and wishlisted her two forthcoming books.  I wouldn’t recommend buying the first in the Sedgewick series if you can get it at your local library (it had one really well-developed main character but the other main character was more 2-d and not that likable and the plot never really gelled) but the three books in the Turner series were all super wonderful.  A++ Would recommend, will read again.  I started with my favorite rake/bluestocking trope (though in this case the bluestocking is a guy and also the scientist trope), because I tend not to love the books with “soldier” in the title, but in this case the first is probably the best of a really great three book series (which was obvious after meeting the protagonists of the Soldier’s book in the rake’s book).

Jordan L. Hawke was ok.  I liked the first in her Whyborne and Griffin series, Widdershins. It’s about a philologist(?) (Some kind of linguist) who is dealing with growing up being gay in a society where that’s illegal and it’s caused him to be very anti-social and possibly estranged from his family. He tells the early books in first person (the later books alternate between the two protagonists). The second hero is this super handsome private investigator who has stumbled onto something paranormal.  Hawk is not anywhere near as good as KJ Charles; she’s highly derivative–you’ll feel like you’ve read this one before many times BUT her heroes are new, and so sweet.  The first short story was also definitely worth the 99 cents because it was in the first person of the second guy and you get an insight into what he sees in the main character of the novel.  They’re both super insecure and think the other person is amazeballs, and, of course, they’re both right about the other person so… A+++ on romance and character development but B- on plot (I grade generously).  I mean, it’s not like bad or anything, it’s just, you know, derivative but not cleverly enough for my taste.  (Though it is cute that the universities are Arkham and Miskatonic.) Book 7 in the series sticks out as all around good, but the rest of the series after the first book I found myself skipping large chunks, mostly in the middle.  There’s also a LOT of death, much of it gratuitous.   Her Hex series is more interesting in terms of the world-building, but even darker.  So much death.  Those poor redshirts, there to provide Angst and Pathos and to further the plot.

Fool me twice by Meredith Duran had a really strong start– it was gripping and I couldn’t put it down for like the first 40%.  But then it stopped being excellent and was just good.  I’m not sure if I’m going to buy a copy.  Sadly, my library does not have any of the rest in the series, so I’m being forced to buy the rest without pre-reading them, and they’re somewhat more expensive than the $3.99 I’m used to paying.  I did really enjoy the 99 cent first novella in that series, your wicked heart, even though it was pretty silly and only gets 3.5 stars on amazon.  I do wonder about that typing school that makes all its graduates smell like roses even when they haven’t washed or been near any kind of scent in days.  Her heroes also all seem to share an odd fascination with the backs of knees.  That scandalous summer was probably not worth the $7.99 I paid for it, but it was definitely worth a library read if my library had had it.  I enjoyed the heroine in Lady Be Good and am really looking forward to the heroine in Luck Be a Lady (which was already on my amazon list as it’s one of her highest rated books).  See… one of the things with this series is that she gets you super curious about the heroines of future (or previous) books– it’s how she hooks you, and the wealthy auction house owner whose brother is up to no good is extremely compelling in the book that introduces her as that heroine’s boss.  So the series as a whole may be better than the books individually.  So I may end up having to purchase Fool me twice even though it’s $9.  Update:  Luck Be a Lady was fine, but not as good as one would have expected it to be given the build up in Lady Be Good- possibly better if read out of order or with more time in between.  I went ahead and bought the next book in the series too– it’s one of my least favorite tropes, husband and wife are separated early in their marriage by countries because of a misunderstanding and then reunite years later, but in this case the misunderstanding is that she thinks he ran off with a mistress whereas in reality he was kidnapped by a political opponent and put on a prison island for several years.  So… that’s an interesting, and more understandable twist than the usual misheard something while eavesdropping sort.

I liked the second Madeline Hunter Fairbourne quartet book, The conquest of lady cassandra, enough to request the first from the library, but not enough to buy it for my kindle.  The second is probably better after having read the first– the beginning was pretty confusing if you didn’t know the characters already, which I didn’t.

The third Sasha Cottman, The Duke’s Daughter, was so terrible I gave up trying to read it and just skimmed the second half.  Heroine is TSTL, which she was in the first two books too (but she was just the ditzy friend in those), and the hero doesn’t make any sense.  It built him up very well in the beginning and then when the forced marriage drama thing happened he reacted completely differently than he’d been built up to react.  Also she takes his agency away in several cases and he doesn’t seem to mind(?)– we’re talking she tries to give him a sleeping draught without telling him and does things to him in his sleep levels of taking his agency away.  And he’s just like, oh, how horrible a person I must be to make her treat me like this.  Which totally doesn’t make any sense given how he reacted to the forced marriage.  And if they’d just talked things out in the first place… There wouldn’t have been a book I guess.  At least it was only $2.99.  Do not recommend!  I wonder if she lost her editor between books 2 and 3.  Update:  Sasha Cottman is now dead to me—I had another of her books (Not in that series?  About a missionary daughter and a spy?) on a kindle and it was pretty boring and pretty patriarchal with another TSTL heroine but I was on a plane and groggy so I was pushing through…until I hit rape as a backstory.  Pretty unbelievable backstory too.  Flipped to the epilogue in which the missionary mom who encouraged the rape mentions in a letter that the rapist has married her ladies maid and he does whatever his wife tells him to do (despite his use of sexual violence on the heroine and promises to break her of her stubbornness after a forced marriage) and what a happy couple they are.  Just ugh on so many levels.  Unfortunately the book was a gift and it is a pain to get reimbursed from Amazon for gifts but maybe I’ll try anyway.  Should not have put them on my wishlist in the first place.

I’m not naming them here, but in the past 3 months, I have read no fewer than 3 books whose plot twist turns out to be that the heroine(/main character) is the legitimate heir of a bigamist nobleman.  I guess that’s better than carriage accidents, but man, do these people belong to the same plot of the month club?  Or did two of them steal from the first, or did they all steal from some other book I haven’t read yet?

What are you reading?

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RBOC

  • DC1’s algebra teacher quit to join administration a couple of weeks after the second semester started (after a week long absence).  I guess we’ll have to keep a closer eye on the rest of the semester since algebra is so fundamental and I’m pretty sure zie doesn’t now how to factor polynomials even if zie does know how to multiply them.
  • Super bummed that Teen Vogue is no longer doing a print edition.  The last few issues were AMAZING, including one guest edited by HRC.  Irritatingly, they switched DC1’s subscription over to Allure magazine “the magazine for people who care about beauty” or something like that.  Full of “beauty tips.”  This month’s issue was on nudity and had a nearly naked airbrushed stereotypical model on the cover.  Completely not appropriate for an 11 year old or really anybody.  And very different from a magazine that features people like Malala Yousafzi on the cover.  I will be getting a check for $2 in the mail for my cancellation– Teen Vogue should have been charging more.  It’s a different market and was worth much more than the ridiculous $10 for 2 years or whatever it was I paid.
  • Forgive me, for I have referred to a paper about fertility as “seminal” in published work.  Next up:  referring to a paper about religion as “canonical”.  And a paper about building cities as, “ground-breaking” (or should I save that one for agriculture?).
  • it is weird to me that my kids have had macarons before having had macaroons.
  • DC2 has moved onto chapter books at school.  Zie is in love with the Geronimo Stilton that DC1 read maybe once or twice.  They have such different taste in books.  Really the only commonality is that they both love Jim Benton, author of Franny K Stein and Dear Dumb Diary.  I so wish we had Scholastic so I could indulge in buying sets of series we don’t have (like Thea Stilton!)
  • Preserved walnuts are really good.  If you ever get the opportunity to try/buy them, take it!
  • My cholesterol is fine this year (whew!), so maybe all that additional lunchtime walking did some good!  Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have helped with my vitamin D levels (which may explain the fatigue I’ve been having), so my doctor wants me to go from 2000 iu to 5000 iu.  I’m going to compromise and do 4000 iu because that means I can have a 2000 iu when I brush my teeth and keep another bottle of 2000 iu in my office when I get my mid-day slump.
  • It isn’t a bargain if you can’t afford it.
  • We owed an additional $2846 in taxes this year, not counting the estimated taxes for this next year.  [Update:  We forgot a whole ton of donations– didn’t go through the school email folder or the check register, so it’s actually $100 less than that.  With the additional donations, we’re just a little over the standard deduction.  Also turns out there’s no point for us to declare a home office since we don’t get anywhere near the minimum for it to count for us– We make too much and our house is too big and too cheap.]
  • DC2’s school was having a performance for parents/relatives and one of their dances had them shooting with finger guns.  This disturbed DC2 enormously given that they started practicing right after the FL school shooting.  Thankfully someone decided to change that number to something in less bad taste.

What are we reading: Romance edition.

#1 skipped large middle chunks of Patricia Bray then deleted on kindle.  Waste of a dollar.

I enjoyed Poetic Justice by Alicia Rasley enough to purchase it.  There’s no onscreen sex, if that’s important.  It’s a fun caper where the protagonists fall in love over books.  The end is a bit rushed, but there’s also no unnecessary angst.  (The best part though is a glimpse the love affair of the long-dead parents!)  The first in the series is free on Amazon but I haven’t read it yet (update: it was ok, but not worth paying for).  I also haven’t read the second in the series, but plan to…

I tried a couple of Patricia Rice regencies, but I don’t like how the heroes take away the heroine’s agency, even when having agency is a big deal for the heroine and it seems like the resolution should include the hero giving in on that.  We’re talking about things like, I dunno, secretly marrying the women against their will in Scotland where the marriage rules are different and not telling them they’ve been married until months later when circumstances have made it far too late for an annulment.  Or, you know, not stopping sex when the woman is in pain because of his “need”.  UGH.  Or forcing the heroine to have sex as a transaction in a situation where she doesn’t want to, but feels that she has to in order to save someone else.  Not cool.  Her Genius series is a modern set of romances… the amazon reviews complain about it having a liberal agenda, but there are too many uncomfortable racial and homosexual “jokes” for it to truly be liberal… or maybe it just shows how far we’ve come in the past 20-30 years in terms of what’s not cool to say about minorities.  I won’t purchase it, but I think I’ll try the second in the genius series, and later books seem to get higher reviews.  So I dunno… it felt like the books could be really good if they were just updated and the bad parts that used to be more common in this literature were removed.  It’s possible that, like Mary Balogh, her more recent books are less icky because the entire genre has moved away from icky.

Genuinely enjoyed The Heiress Companion, which is an old fashioned (and clean) regency novella by Madeline Robins.  It is no The Grand Sophy, but a pleasant read nonetheless.  Lady John and My Dear Jenny were also pretty good.  Spanish Marriage and Althea were both pretty awful, though in different ways.

Danse de la Folie by Sherwood Smith was also worth buying.  An old-fashioned style regency, if that makes sense.  (Not a bodice-ripper, older than that– more Austen-style.)  Not perfect, but soothing.

We both love love LOVED KJ Charles’ latest, Spectred Isle. The adopted son of Simon Feximal is in it!  SOOOOO GOOOOOOD.  Neither of us can wait for the next one.

In the modern world, #2 read and liked Attachments, which was Rainbow Rowell’s first book. Can you fall in love with someone via email? (Of course.) I think I’ve already mentioned Carry On somewhere on this blog.

Finally, we love books. I loved the little book, Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life. Writing letters to books is a neat idea and maybe I’ll try it sometime.

Get to reading, Grumpeteers! Tell us what’s good in romance.

Books… in… spaaaaace!

Ok, I was listening to this podcast episode about (what else?) books and reading.  One of the hosts, Brea Grant, is a nervous airplane passenger, as am I.  She says that her secret is to read books that are set in space.  She reads books that let her think she’s not trapped in a small metal tube but rather out in the vasty darkness.  I think this is a great idea.

My recommendations are:

(The standard here might be Ancillary Justice, if you haven’t read it already)

I recommend The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.  The sequel is great, but not as space-ish. Not fantastic: The Ship Who Sang (by Anne McCaffrey) isn’t great art, but it’ll while away an afternoon.

Most things in the Liaden series by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller.  There are several places you can start, including The Crystal Variation, and/or Fledgling.

Only a little bit in space, but great: Behind the Throne by K. B. Wagers

Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi.  Pretty awesome.

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty.  Oooh! Murder mystery in space. Page-turner-y.

What have you got, Grumpy Readers?

A homemade language arts plan for school

One of the irritating things about being in a backwards part of the country is that the Language Arts classes in the public schools are pretty much garbage.*  We thought last year that it was just that DC1 wasn’t in advanced language arts, but no, it’s a thing.  K-4 was at a private school and they used standard texts and read novels and it seemed pretty much like what we had growing up in the midwest.  5th grade we did in Paradise and while it wasn’t as hard-core as 5th grade would have been in the Midwest it wasn’t so bad.  We have no idea what DC1 did in language arts last year, but they didn’t read any books as a class.

This year, in 7th grade, most of their assignments, which are done in class, are just drawing pictures and doing crafts, but it’s not like an art class where they’re getting instruction on arts and crafts, they’re just asked to do them.  At the first open house, the teacher spent her entire time talking about the rules of the course (no talking for the first 10 min when doing the bellwork, then talking with a neighbor for the next 15, etc. etc. etc.) but did not talk about the curriculum at all.  DH asked what books they’d be reading as a class.  She said they wouldn’t be reading anything as a class but they would be picking out books that they could bring from home or check out from the school library to read individually.

Later we found out that the 2#$23ing reading log is back.  We had a lot of trouble with the @#$@3ing reading log back in 5th grade.  It is @#$23ing hard for a reader who loves reading to track every minute read.

This time there are additional wrinkles.  They have to finish one book that they have chosen for this purpose each month.  That book has to be the one that they read in class during their reading time.  But they also have to read this book for at least 20 min per day, and they don’t get a full 20 min in class to read it.  So that means that they need to take the book home and definitely not leave it at home next to the bed where they’ve fallen asleep reading it.  It has to be a book they’ve never read and it has to be one that wasn’t meant for kids in 4th grade or below.  The first month, DC1 picked The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett.

It boggles my mind that they don’t read a Shakespeare play each year starting now.  That their junior year is the first year they start reading books together as a class AND it’s the same @$#@43ing terrible list of whiny male protagonists that we had back 25+ years ago when we were FRESHMEN (I guess at least they’re reading Fahrenheit 451?).  Their senior year is a subset of what our school’s sophomore list changed to being after I complained about the lack of women.  There has been no change in their reading lists in 2+ decades, and they’re two years behind what we had back at our small middle-income midwestern farming towns.

Anyhow, it came to me that although we can’t add to the experience of reading a book as a class and learning way too much about symbolism and foreshadowing and plot and character development and all those other things we spent so long on, maybe we could get DC1 to read some important books that we would probably never have read if they hadn’t been part of the curriculum.

We’re going to start with October and DC1 will be reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, which was part of our language arts curriculum in 5th grade, but an important book.  November we’re going to do As You Like It (I’m getting hir the Folger version that comes with explanations on every page) which we read as our first Shakespeare play in 7th grade.  At the very least, DC will have to figure out what’s going on in order to draw illustrations for their class assignments.  I’ll have to decide if we add books that I didn’t personally like but might(?) be important like The Pearl (8th grade) or The Red Badge of Courage (8th grade).

What other recommendations do you have for must-read middle school reading lists that are important but aren’t as fun as what a kid would generally choose on hir own?  Note that it has to be something finishable in a month, so Tree Grows in Brooklyn isn’t going to make the list even though I spent most of my 6th grade “super sustained silent reading” time on it.  What are kids in blue states reading in school these days?

*#notallbackwards But they certainly do want to minimize parent complaints from crazy racist religious zealots as well as parents who aren’t crazy racist religious zealots.  That’s my best guess of why there’s so little humanities learning.  There’s no problem with the math curriculum!

Cranking through cookbooks again

Long-time readers will know that #1 gets the bulk of her excitement in life from food.  While some people enjoy eating the same (excellent) ~14 meals on rotation, I am too much of a food dilettante.  On top of that, we live in a relatively small town, so even going out can’t bring excitement to my life because we’ve already had everything our town has to offer until places go out of business and get replaced with the new crop of restaurants.  (And our latest and best beloved CSA went out of business a few months ago, so no being forced to try new veggie things.)

Which means that cook-books are a lifeline.  Yes, the internet is great, but the internet takes effort if you want to find something *new* and *different*.  It’s easy to use the internet to say, find the “best chocolate cake recipe” but not so easy to find something that you don’t yet know exists.

Some cookbooks are really amazing.  Here’s a list from 4 years ago of cookbooks we have loved.  I love taking a cookbook that is ~100% winning recipes and just trying them all, even if some of them sound a little weird (example:  egg and onion soup from Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen! turned out to be quick, simple, and delicious, much to our surprise).

Recently I’ve been on kind of a new American/comfort food kick.  (Part of this is because DC1 has started being a pickier eater for no good reason and DC2 has responded by being unable to handle even the smallest bit of spiciness.  American tends to suit both palates so long as we skip cheese and tomatoes.)   I just retired the Better Homes and Gardens 10 years of best recipes book I’d been digging through after realizing we had marked every recipe we’d tried from that book in the number of years we’ve owned it with “ok, nothing special” except for their cake recipes and a single chocolate chip cookie recipe (the other cookie recipes we tried all say, “meh” or “too cakey” or “nothing special”).  Better Homes and Gardens has good cake, but we don’t make cake that often.  Now I’ve dug out the Cooking Light book with the same theme– 10 years of five star recipes.  So far it’s been giving us better luck, especially when I cut down on sugar and switch out the non-fat ingredients with full-fat alternatives.

It’s possible that we need to get more kids’ cookbooks.  The Disney Princess Cookbook has surprisingly good meals, but not very many of them.  Kid Chef has more difficult recipes, but they’ve almost all been winners (we weren’t that crazy about the sesame bar cookies, but there are a number of recipes that were so amazing that they made our “make for other people” list).  We’ve had the kids’ fun and healthy cookbook for years and it’s been a reliable go-to.

Because DC1 is the pickiest eater, zie is now in charge of menu planning and we have been pushing hir to do more cooking (today the kids made monkey bread from the Disney cookbook… it uses an excellent buttery biscuit dough for the balls which are then dipped into butter and cinnamon sugars)… so I hope I’m passing some of this cooking excitement on to the next generation.  Maybe no-knead bread will be more enticing than drugz for them too.  ;)

What cookbooks do you think are worth cranking through?  Where do you find new recipes?  How do you deal with getting out of a cooking rut?  (Or do you prefer repetition?)

In which #1 and #2 discuss Billy the Bookcase

#1: I bought a bookcase and a floor lamp.

#2: Exciting. Well, the bookcase is exciting. Bookcases are full of adventure, similar to boxes.

#1: Billy the bookcase says hello.

#2: Hello, Billy!

#1: Billy is currently downstairs in DH’s car, but we will bring him up in a bit. He’s too much for me to handle on my own. :-)

#2: Ha!

#1: I mean, he’s even taller than DH.

#2: ooh

#1: 79″ bay-bee

[Time passes]

#1: Billy is having a lie-down in the living room until I rearrange my bedroom a bit to fit him in (hah)

#2: Oh my.

#1: bow chicka bow-bow

[More time passes]

#1: last night I made Billy :-)

#2: I’m not sure if that sound vaguely sinister or vaguely dirty. I’m going to go with sinister given your Hogwarts house. Billy is now part of the Slytherin Mafia. Billy is like your accountant now– he does the books.

#1: I screwed him up against the wall.

#2: Oh jeez.

#1: Later I’ll fill him up.

Show us pics of your books, Grumpeteers.  We’ll drool in appreciation!