Books

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?

 

Books

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?

Ask the grumpies: Children’s chapter books for sensitive young readers

Alice asks:

To the best of my knowledge, my kid read her first independently-read word when she was about 2.5. Now, at 5, she’s technically proficient. If we do every-other-word in a new book, she reads them all with some mispronunciations for more complex words. I’ve really struggled and failed to find books for her that she might want to read independently, though. She’s reluctant. The problem is that from an emotional level, she Does Not Want to encounter (a) rule-breaking/bad choices, (b) mean behavior between characters, or (c) things that scare her. She will ask me to stop reading a book to her if the drama level is too high for her. And it seems like all of the books I can find at her technical reading level are too high-drama for her, even things an adult would look at as no big deal. For more than a year, I’ve been reading nonfiction to her at bedtime, along with a couple of beloved Boynton board books. Nonfiction doesn’t bother her, and the Boyntons are meant for a pretty young audience.

I was a voracious reader, but didn’t learn to read until 6 and didn’t fall in love with it until 7. I’ve been worrying that I’m not setting her up to be a big reader because I haven’t found the books she loves yet. I would very much like for her to be someone who enjoys reading, though. A love of reading has brought me so much good, I want the same for her.

High sensitivity is not uncommon among gifted kids.  DC1 and I were/are very similar (DC2 OTOH, delights in books about protagonists behaving badly– during our last poetry unit, one of hir poems is dedicated to Bad Kitty).  I’m still a little traumatized from Matthew dying (spoiler, but not from Bad Kitty).

Non-fiction is great.  DC1 read a ton of it in preschool and early elementary school.  Scholastic was wonderful for increasing our non-fiction library.

For fiction, one thing to look into is older books.  There are a couple of types of older books.  There’s books like Penrod or The Great Brain that are horrific to our 21st century sensibilities in terms of kids casually abusing each other or their pets– you’ll definitely want to avoid those.  But there’s also early-mid 20th century slice-of-life books where nothing bad ever happens and you just don’t get that emotionally engaged with the characters.  So *early* Henry books from Beverly Cleary, but not later Ramona books (where the reader actually identifies with Ramona and her feelings, or, in my case, with Beezus).

The Five Little Peppers are another series of books in this genre.  The first two in particular.  From our adult eyes, bad things seem to happen (and are overcome), but the way it’s written kids don’t really pick up on the problems because of all the “good cheer”.  Similar is All of a Kind Family.  Eleanor Estes has a number of these (here’s Ginger Pye — the Moffats might not work out as I’m vaguely remembering that DC2 loved them and DC1 and I cringed a bit).  IIRC I didn’t have any problem with Betsy-Tacy, but once Tib got added to the mix things got a bit more dramatic (as an adult reading these to DC2, who loved them, there’s a lot of very interesting and pretty modern social commentary on class, religion, and immigration that completely went over my head as a kid).

Similarly, Pippi Longstocking has all sorts of adventures that should make one cringe, but they don’t because she’s so irrepressible.  (Though be careful– Pippi in the South Seas is kind of racist and definitely colonialist.)

L. Frank Baum has a number of short stories set in Oz or related places where nothing at all bad happens– they’re dreams of magical lands made from candy.  DC1 and I could also handle the first two Oz books without problem– there are adventures and from an adult standpoint it seems like bad things happen, but as a kid they weren’t emotionally bad.  In the third book, there are some genuinely terrifying creatures, like the nome king, the wheelers, and a princess who cuts off people’s heads so she can change her head depending on what she wants to look like for the day (this last one, oddly, I did not find as horrifying as the former two when I was a kid).

A more modern book with “just the right size” adventures is The Adventures of Miss Petitfour.  The worst thing that happens in this book is running out of marmalade and that is easily solved by a trip to town (with a bit of magic thrown in).

Books recommended by commenters:

Nate the Great — these are very short mysteries.  They do hit a perfect sweet spot, but they just don’t last very long… they get outgrown pretty quickly.  Cam Jansen is somewhat similar, but has longer staying power, and you may need to screen some of them first.

Frog and Toad — DC1 loved these with what would have been to pieces except they have extremely good binding.  There are a few bits here and there that are uncomfortable but they get resolved very quickly and everything is going to be ok.

minca recommends:

– Sophie Mouse
The Owl Diaries
– My Furry Foster Family
– Mrs. Piggle Wiggle
– Zoey & Sassafras
– Calvin & Hobbes
– Magic Treehouse (she’ll skip any “scary” parts)

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle does have situations that *should* set off people behaving badly triggers, but for some reason, especially in the first two books, they didn’t.  Again, I think it’s that it seems more abstract than personal in a lot of these early-mid 20th century books by American authors so the logic centers are engaged rather than emotions?

As your kid gets older, 20th century American magic books like those by Edward Eager will be readable — they do have bad situations but you KNOW that everything is going to turn out ok… in the end everything always seems to happen for the best.  The same is not true for British books of the same vintage (exception:  Bed-knob and Broomstick … though also compare The Borrowers to The Littles and it’s clear that the American version is more optimistic and fun)– with those there often seems like if anything is going to go wrong it will, and at best they will get back to where they started but with more knowledge, after a lot of fighting.  For a more modern take on adventure where it’s obvious everything is safe underneath, try Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

Grumpy Nation, what books would you recommend for sensitive children?

 

We like books (but not all books)

DNF Polaris rising by Jessie Mihalik.  I think I should have liked it, and some parts were good, but it just dragggged.  I think it could have been a great book with some judicious editing.

I mostly liked Blood Heir by Illona Andrews, and I think this version is much improved over the chapters they’d initially posted on their blog (but later took down because of complete rewriting).  The one jarring note was an entire completely unnecessary Fox News rant by the *heroine* on how the US is a Federalist Republic and not a Democracy, which if you will recall, one student’s ranting got me sent to the Dean’s office for last year.  The wife in the writing team should know better since presumably she had to learn about REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY to become a citizen, even if the husband has forgotten.  And yes, you can be a federalist republic AND a representative democracy.  They’re not mutually exclusive.  Do better, Illona Andrews.  And stop taking me out of the fantasy with bizarre incorrect rightwing lunacy, at least with the characters we’re supposed to like.  WTF, guys.

Robots vs. Fairies was ok, with some short stories better than others.

DC2 and I enjoyed the Cleopatra in Space series by Mike Maihack.

I read three Melanie Cellier Four Kingdoms books/novellas.  I liked The Princess CompanionThe Princess Fugitive was interesting, though maybe a little bit with too much underlying religious symbolism with complete forgiveness or something, I dunno (the evil villain in the first book is the hero(ine) in this one).  The Coronation Ball novella was fun.  These all went down pretty easy but also were not difficult to put down.

I couldn’t get into A Discovery of Witches.

Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain was a delightful romp.  I’m glad I didn’t look at the goodreads ratings before getting it (I really wanted to read the newer book by the same author which has higher ratings, but my library had this one and I figured I should try the author before dropping $10 on the newer book).  Looking through the goodreads ratings, I think the problem is that this book is a Farce, and as one reviewer said, as a farce she would give it 4 stars, but as a romance she only gives it 2.  For me, as a farce I would give it 4.5 starts.  It has a lot of those little throw-away humor lines that I like, and although everything works out as it should (in a farce… where the stakes are lower than in a romance) it doesn’t feel too derivative of other farces to me.  I think the romance readers wanted more brooding introspection from the hero, but meh.

I reread the Arcane Society series books from the Amanda Quick non-de-plume.  See, there’s this author, Jayne Castle, who publishes under three different names– her historical stuff goes under Amanda Quick, her contemporary stuff is Jayne Ann Krentz, and her futuristic stuff (and other experimental stuff) is under her real name, Jayne Castle.  She has a very long-running series of romantic suspense with paranormal in it called the Arcane Society series under all three authors.  The first time through I just read the books in whatever order they were available.  The second time through I read them in the order of publication, which means mixing up the authors in order but grouping kind of by ability across the three time periods.  This time around I decided to start with the earliest Amanda Quick and just read the historicals in order.  It’s fun because each different reading gives different connections and a different experience.  In this round, characters from each book show up or are referenced in the other books.  Last time around it was an item or a power or a family line that got followed across time and characters from the earlier books might be mentioned in the later books as ancestors or legends.

How to get your kids to read more

Disclaimer:  I don’t really have any practical experience with this because nobody in my household is what would be termed a “reluctant reader.”  But my mom was worried that my sister was a reluctant reader (she wasn’t, she just wasn’t a bookworm– she’s one of those who prefers book-club style books at about the rate that a bookclub reads them) and I’ve also done a research project that brought me into the intrinsic/extrinsic motivation literature which is largely tested with children’s reading.  That said, I will not be providing citations because this is a hobby blog-post and I am lazy.

There are two big reasons that someone might not be a reader.  The first is that they just don’t have anything to read that is as compelling as whatever else they’re spending their time doing.  The second is that they don’t have what is termed “facility” in the literature– that is, they’re not that good at reading.

The first is potentially more fun to solve– you go through the joyous experience with your kid of finding what they find compelling.  They can ask their friends what they are reading.  You can try out all sorts of random stuff at the library.  Alternatively it might involve being unfun if your kid has unlimited screen time and you’d like to cut back on that but there’s resistance.

The second can be complicated.  Sometimes there’s an underlying learning disability keeping a kid from gaining reading facility.  If that’s the case, you’ll need to see a reading specialist.  Sometimes though, it’s just that they haven’t gotten enough practice reading or never learned the basics of phonics.  If they’re young, you can do more reading with them.  You can work on phonics.  Then there’s the question of how to encourage practice without making a kid hate it.

This is where the literature on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation gets interesting.

There is a large literature showing that if you pay good readers to read, they read less after you stop paying them than does the control group that never got paid to read.  That is, paying good readers to read kills intrinsic motivation.

A smaller literature suggests that this negative finding is *not true* for kids who don’t read because they don’t have reading facility.  Paying them to get over the hurdle– to practice reading– means that poor readers who were paid to read up to the point where they can read fluently, they read much more on their own than the control group that wasn’t paid.  That is, extrinsic motivation until enough practice has been done to make reading easier and actually fun leads to intrinsic motivation.

There’s all sorts of concerns about fairness and so on when you have multiple kids, but this is just to be clear that it is ok to reward your kid for practicing when they’re really bad at something and it’s no fun.  It’s probably fine to reward yourself in those situations too…

Numbered suggestions:

  1.  Read a lot yourself.  Have lots of books around.  Kids do what they see their parents doing.  If you read because it’s fun, they will be more likely to as well.
  2.  Read to your kids– you can do this without resistance probably through early middle-school.
  3.  Go to the library regularly.
  4.  Keep lots of all sorts of reading material around, especially if a kid indicates that they like something.
  5.  Comic books– books with pictures and words.  These are great for all ages.  I prefer the funny Calvin and Hobbes style stories, but some people also enjoy super-hero style comics (Squirrel girl is wonderful for all ages!), or Sandman, or Cerberus or Hyperbole and a Half or … the list goes on.
  6.  Series.  A lot of book series are designed to grow in reading level as your child grows in reading level.  The Magic Treehouse is an excellent example of this (and seems to be particularly good for oldest children, but in our experience doesn’t excite second children as much, possibly because the younger sibling is TSTL).  It starts out short and easy to read and then gets longer and more complex.
  7. Magazines.  Even trashy ones.
  8. Video games that have lots of story and text.
  9. Subtitled anime (or other non-English shows with subtitles).
  10. I don’t have a 10th suggestion, but maybe one of the members of Grumpy Nation does?

Grumpy Nation:  What encourages people to read?  Are you a reader?  Why?  Have you had experience with reluctant readers?

Ask the grumpies: What JV fantasy is DC2 really liking?

Turia asks:

I would love to know what juvenile fantasy DC2 is really liking as my E. (10) is exactly the same. He prefers full world-building rather than ‘our world with a twist’ and he’s burned through so much that I’m finding myself wondering at what stage it would be ok to move on to what I see as entry-level ‘adult’ fantasy (Dragonlance, Shannara, David Eddings). Or if there are good YA fantasy recommendations I’d take those too (although I find sometimes the YA stuff is darker than some adult books).

I can’t really predict what DC2 will like, so what I’ve been doing in the absence of letting hir loose at the library is going to the library webpage and searching “juvenile fiction” and then just getting the first in series and standalones. Then if DC2 likes it, zie tells me and we get more books in that series/by that author.

The stuff from Rick Riordin presents (this is him highlighting books written by POC about their mythologies) is a great place to start.

Here’s a snapshot of what DC2 had checked out from the library when Turia asked her question:

Brandon Mull Five Kingdoms, Erin Hunter Warriors (there are approximately one million of these), Mark Siegel’s 5 worlds series, various Cornelia Funke series (but not all of them), various Jen Calonita series, everything Jim Benton has ever written, various Kathryn Lasky series, the Okay witch, various Katherine Langrish series.

Let’s go through what DC2 liked enough to request to buy that hasn’t already been taken off hir wishlist:

Witches of Orkney by Alane Adams

Storm Runner by J. C. Cervantes

Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke (DC1 really liked this one too, so I’m not sure why we didn’t have our own copy already)

BlackBringer by Laini Taylor (but zie didn’t like the second book very much)

Assorted books about Dragons by Laurence Yep, especially A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans

A number of books by Laura Amy Schlitz including Splendors and Glooms

Foxcraft by Inbali Iserles

The Star trilogy by Donald Samson

Kiranmala and the kingdom beyond by Sayantani DasGupta

Addison Cooke by Jonathan W. Stokes

I cannot recommend David Eddings or Terry Brooks books as the misogynist suck fairy visited most of them (I know, I know, when I was much younger I wanted to name a daughter Damsen Rhee, and I still have a very dusty shelf of Shannara in my bookcase) though in my defense Eddings was *always* creepy about women… There’s SO much better stuff out there! I never read Dragonlance, it may or may not be fine (probably depends on the author and I am so afraid to reread my other Weis and Hickman series in case they also got visited by the suck fairy… nobody ever TALKs about them anymore except the occasional reference to Simkin).

Terry Pratchett and Robert Aspirin (which plays with the misogynist tropes rather than giving into them in his Another Fine Myth series– not thieves world) are much better entry-level adult fantasy options, I think (at least both my kids love them– DC2 keeps sneaking into my room to take more Myth books).  Diana Wynne Jones too though there’s a little bit of sex in her adult books, not explicit, but a bit more obvious than when it happens in Pratchett or Aspirin.  My kids like DWJ, but don’t seem to love her to the extent that I did (we own all her fantasy novels, even the ones that suck.)

DC1 loved Lord of the Rings as a kid.  DC2, like me, not so much.  They were both ok with the Hobbit.  DC1 liked The Rook, though it may be a bit much for a 10 year old.

Grumpy Nation!  What juvenile fantasy do you recommend?

Note:  all amazon links are affiliate– we might get money if you buy stuff through them.

Even more books

I really enjoyed Mischief and Mistletoe by Lauren Willig.  It was probably a 4/5 star book.  The first couple and the last chapter or two are PHENOMENAL.  Boyfriend material levels of funny and clever, just packed with humor.  The rest of the book was fine.  Irritating they should have just talked third act which was out of character for the heroine.

The first three novellas in The One that Got Away were delightful surprises.  Two of them were unexpected!  And they made me want to read the books for the side male characters.  Sadly, the Eloisa James book, Much Ado about You, was a DNF– the heroine is great but the hero shows none of his promise from the novella he was in– it was like he was a different person with none of the cleverness or humor.  The library didn’t have the linked Victoria Alexander book, so I tried out a few of her others.  Same Time, Next Christmas was cute, though the hero was a bit 2-D and the heroine was … a character.  Like, not totally sensible, and not entirely likable, but she seemed consistent.  Then I tried and DNF The Importance of Being Wicked.  The heroine was awesome.  The hero was a sexist jerk.  At the point in which she changes her entire wardrobe because he says she looks like a governess (as he is trying to seduce her even though/because she’s working for him), I skipped to the last three chapters and… he never stops being a sexist jerk.  He just is like, “You’re different from other women” and she’s all happy and promises of course she would never advocate for women’s right to vote.  And when a bunch of her workers get hurt and she’s upset he immediately starts berating her for loving her dead husband (who died in the same kind of accident) more than she loves him.  It made me realize how important it is to read feminist authors when you’re trying to get a HEA.  I also don’t like how the author continually talks about being content and not arguing as if it’s a bad thing.  Like, you can have passion AND discuss things as adults without screaming.  The Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl was pleasant, but I think I’m done with Victoria Alexander, at least for now.

Tommy Cabot Was Here was an interesting post-war style novella by Cat Sebastian.

The latest Cat Sebastian, The Queer Principles of Kit Webb, was pretty good.  I think she was inspired by reading KJ Charles’ Any Old Diamonds but only by the McGuffin, not the mindflip stuff– this one is more straight-forward than the KJ Charles book.  This one also has a plot, if you didn’t like the meandering of the past couple/few Cat Sebastians.

The latest KJ Charles, Subtle Blood, the third in the Will Darling series, had a very satisfying ending!  Her books are a bargain and I love how she’s so prolific!

Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron was ok.  It had a strong start and finish but the middle dragged and I skipped chunks.

I tried to read two books by Soyna Lalli, The Matchmaker’s List and Serena Singh flips the script… and they just kind of dragged.  Maybe if you’re more patient than I am.  They weren’t bad, they were just… they had long middles?  I skipped large chunks.  The Matchmaker’s List may actually be kind of bad because it uses “Heroine pretends she’s gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that) to get out of being set up on dates” trope.  The actual romance in Serena Singh seems kind of rushed if you’re looking for a romance– it’s likely better if you’re interested in a coming of age.  Like at the beginning of the book it is overabundantly clear that she’s just not that into her boyfriend or dating but is just being pressured, and also I dislike the “married people don’t pay attention to their single friends” stereotype and just generally the selfishness of people who get pissy if their friends lose touch for a while.  It probably would have been better without the slapped on romance at all!

Very much enjoyed A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder by Dianne Freeman, the third in that series because the price dropped to $1.99.  Quite fun! (and maybe it is still on sale?)

Secrets of a perfect night, a set of 3 novellas by different authors was pretty meh all around.

Her big city neighbor by Jackie Lau was fun.  The heroine is very pollyanna and the hero is broody and IIRC there’s a stupid third act (but I may not be recalling correctly).  The most memorable part of this book are the detailed descriptions of big city food.  It’s a nice snapshot of what you could get fast upscale casual in a major city a few years back.

I’m not sure what to feel about Ridiculous! by D. L. Carter.  The heroine is an identity thief and there’s not really enough justification about why these impoverished women need servants and money more than any other impoverished people at someone else’s expense.  There’s hints, but not enough really to make it completely stick.  If you allow that conceit it is DELIGHTFUL until about 3/4 of the way through when it suddenly becomes super homophobic.  Like, why you gotta do that?  I do appreciate it not having the trope where the otherwise straight hero is attracted to the heroine when he thinks she’s male, but it goes much worse and shows both hero and heroine thinking that homosexual males are degenerate and worse than identity thiefs!  That wasn’t necessary, they could be worried about the illegality without being disgusted by the idea (even 19th century people could be not disgusted by the idea… they could be just as puzzled or mildly amused or not thinking about it as most 20th century straight people were before gay marriage became legal).  Add to that the hero changing his personality (it changes back) for the third act drama followed up by lots of unexpected (because of how the book was written up to this point) and sudden explicit sex… it’s hard to say what to feel.

Not a fan of Act Your Age Evie Brown by Talia Hibbert.  Neither main character is particularly likable, the meet cute is ridiculous (culminates in the heroine hitting the hero with her car) and I really really hate boss/employee relationship tropes.  It is very rarely done in a way that isn’t squicky (see:  Rafe a buff male nanny and A Gentleman’s Position for the only two that come to mind).

A Master of Djinn was … well, at first you could tell it was very high quality but I had such a hard time getting through the first chapter (more like a prologue) until DH reminded me I could skip it.  Once the heroine showed up it was better.  I learned a lot of new words!  It took me a while to get through the first part of the book with all the fight scenes and so on.  And then around chapter 21, something happened and everything came together and got interesting and I couldn’t put it down.  I definitely recommend it and am looking forward to getting more.  There is a short story and a novella that comes before this one I think, but this is the first novel and you don’t need to have read anything prior (although they are referenced).

Saving the best for last:  A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik was so good that I read it again the next day.  Like, read it, then read it a second time.  It is one of the three best books I’ve read in the past 12 months (the other two being Boyfriend Material and Any Old Diamonds, both of which are different genres entirely, rom com and heist, respectively).  You may remember Naomi Novik from the His Majesty’s Dragon series 15 or so years ago, which were good, but almost entirely populated with (mostly white) doods.  Not so this book– it is beautifully diverse and she does diversity right.  And it is a delight to read and the main character is so … likeable?  understandable?  easy to identify with?  … I don’t know, I can’t explain it.  And the “Harry Potter meets Hunger Games but 1000 or more times better” also isn’t a good description.  You’ll have to read it yourself!  I am greatly looking forward to the second coming out in September.

I’m running low on library books.  Hit me with your recommendations!