Books books books

Pretty much done with the Agatha Christies– there’s a handful of singletons that weren’t available at the library that I haven’t read/reread, but I’m mostly done.  I quite like the Harley Quinn short stories for the most part (the last/second to last depending on your viewpoint, that is, the one directly before the Harlequinn Teaset is stupid).

I’ve been cranking through Lord Peter Whimseys as well.  My local library didn’t have Murder Must Advertise and I wonder if it’s because of the completely unnecessary use of the N word or if it’s just that their copy fell apart.  (But they have two copies of 9 little tailors, which is the next book in the series, so…)  I swear, the number of times I have read the N word in the past year from these 1930s British mysteries.  Ridiculous.  In any case, my university library had a first edition of Murder must advertise, so I as able to continue my reading mostly uninterrupted.  The Nine Tailors was … boring.  I ended up skipping large chunks even though I had no problem with the previous Scottish Five Red Herrings case which is supposed to be one of the duller Whimseys.  Then I read Gaudy Night which continues to be a masterpiece.  I’m not sure how good it is if you haven’t read the previous two Harriet Vanes, but it really is a classic.  I also read through the short stories again (except the last one which I’m saving for after Busman’s Honeymoon, though I should have also saved the second to last for then too!) and with the exception of the Harriet Vane novels, I think the short stories might be better than the novels.

The big city library recommended Nina Coombs Pykare to me.  They are for the most part forgettable retreads, but go down easily.  A Man of her choosing was TERRIBLE and I eventually gave up on it– TSTL heroine who is not like other girls (because she likes horses) and thinks she’s ugly “a wren” and says so about every other page.  Hero who has no personality other than occasionally jealously shaking the heroine and yelling at her.  The Lost Duchess of Greyden Castle was a nice Gothic that may be worth trying out if you can get it for free from  your library.  A Daring Dilemma and A Matchmaker’s Match were both soothing and forgettable (unless you care about historical accuracy, in which case you should completely avoid this author).

I tried a few more Alexis Hall books but none of them have quite jelled.  They have good bits, but haven’t really been cohesively good like Boyfriend Material was.  I have to wonder if what was lacking was an excellent editor, or if this is a matter of becoming a more experienced author.

The big city library also recommended Emily Hendrickson and I tried A Man of Her Choosing… and it was just super boring and forgettable so I didn’t even bother reading the last couple of chapters, I just DNF.

Joanna Shupe was pretty fun… reading her books in rapid succession left a bit to be desired because she reuses tropes and characteristics and turns of phrases and so on.  But The Prince of Broadway was pretty good.  A scandalous deal not as good, but readable.  The rogue of fifth avenue, similar. The Lady Hellion was a fun romp (cw: a serial rapist/murderer is the MacGuffin), though the heroine had some TSTL manic pixie tendencies, but I think the hero with his interesting anxiety disorders made it readable, AND it had the smartest “how to get someone killed without actually doing it yourself” thing I have ever seen.  Magnate had a great set-up but was ultimately a huge disappointment– it would have been 10x the book if she had spent more time on the heroine and heroes’ fascinating careers (steel magnate and wall street consultant) and less time on boring married-too-soon tropes (and interminable filler sex scenes… literally the first sex scene went from 62-72% on my kindle, and it wasn’t the only one.)  The Devil of Downtown was solid and maybe even a bit better than the previous two books in the series.

I tried out a Shana Galen bundle based on the library recommendation… Couldn’t get into The making of a duchess or The making of a gentleman, but the Rogue’s pirate bride was worth reading the first few and last few chapters and skipping the middle.

The Trouble with Harry by Katie MacAlister is silly and pretty funny (and also I kept going… did I accidentally check out an erotic novel?  but maybe this is too silly to be erotic?)

The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie was interesting.  The hero was nice.  There’s a mystery (more dead prostitutes, though only two this time around).  It’s got gothic bits.  I’d like to read the second from the library (but not buy it because I am not a fan of the estranged spouses trope and the hero doesn’t seem so great from his appearances in book 1), but alas, neither library has it available, so I guess I will skip and try the third next.

I’m not sure how to feel about In for a Penny by Rose Lerner.  I LOVED the way that the protagonists spent a day writing up a list of rules for marriage together (No Mistresses)– that was cute and fun and unique.  I had been hoping that the second half of the book would be watching them quietly building up the hero’s falling down estate while falling in love.  Instead, the second half was full of so many tropes… all together (no carriage accidents though… well no important ones anyway).  There was a two pager that had at least 3 things that would have been stunning drama game changers in another book, right after another from the beginning of the chapter.  Finally, I almost threw the book across the room (if it hadn’t been a library book, I might have) when I realized the entire story was just a huge long walk to get to a terrible terrible pun.  I think I may have to buy it.  And maybe read some more by this author.

Chasing Cassandra by Lisa Kleypas was solid.  It’s another in a series and I found myself wishing I’d read the other ones more recently because I think it would have been more rewarding.  I may have to reread these someday.  This one by itself isn’t really worth owning, but maybe it is if I reread it as part of the entire series?  I’m not sure.  Update:  Apparently I didn’t read all of the prequels because I got annoyed by too many attempted rapes on the heroine in one of her books and just gave up on the author entirely.

The latest Jayne Ann Krentz, “All the Colors of the Night” was a solid Jones book in the Fogg Lake sub-series.  I also wished I’d read others in that series more recently (amazon tells me there’s only one, but I feel like some of the other Jones books must have overlap).  (Also… I wondered if twitter was making fun of her recently by riffing off authors who use the book’s title in the book’s last sentence…)

Ask the Grumpies: What do you think about the Netflix series Bridgerton

Lady E asks:

I would love to read your review of Bridgerton on Netflix! I would be here for a full breakdown of your thoughts. I just binged the whole season, and am wondering how the show compares to the books (if you’ve read them)? Are the books worth my time if I need my next Bridgerton fix?

We were not aware of the series, so we can’t give any reviews.  #1 is still several seasons behind on Psych (which ended in 2014!) and has difficulty watching anything longer than 20 minutes, so you would probably have to wait until her kids are both in college to get a review of the series.  #2 generally prefers books to video adaptations.

In terms of the books… Some Julia Quinn books are decent, but overall she tends to have this problem where she has a strong start and then it just kind of peters out near the end.  She does not stick endings.  I think she writes under time pressure and doesn’t take the time to think or smooth out the endings and she doesn’t have an editor willing/able to fix them.  She also has a lot of problematic “attempted rape as a plot device” tropes which are meh.  She’s not one of my “must buy” or even “must check the library for” authors.  I think I last read one of her books ~5 years ago and just kind of gave up on her after several duds in a row from the library.  According to romancelandia, she’s one of the writers that (IMO better) writers grew up loving.

I asked a friend who has more time.  She said they have a lot of on-screen sex… talking about sex is the reason DH and I are so behind on Big Bang Theory because it has been a few years since the in-laws took our kids for a week while we were at home.  DC1 is old enough for BBT now, but not for watching on-screen intercourse with hir parents in the room.  DC2 is not old enough for either.  Bridgerton and this question will likely be long-forgotten by the time the youngest is out of the house.

Anyhow, here is her review, via text:

It was meh.  No rape.  Plenty of sex but not so much that I stopped watching.  Lots of dancing and courting– a little boring.  Like, my main complaint is that not enough happens.  IMO there is nothing deep there to comment on.  I like hearing Julie Andrews’ voice.  I guessed correctly who the gossip writer is.  The male lead is supposed to be damaged and complicated but he makes me roll my eyes.  The female lead is sweet and pretty uncomplicated.  There were no characters with enough depth for me to really fall in love with or feel any affinity for anyone.  That’s all I’ve got.

I know romance twitter was pretty excited when Bridgerton was announced, especially with Shonda Rhimes involved (and lots of articles about how regency romances are not real in any sense of the word and yes there were plenty of not-white people in regency England so don’t be a racist bigot).  They think the Duke is hawt.  But since the series has come out I haven’t seen any commentary other than a cut of the Duke being hot set to Cardi B’s WAP.  Oh, and apparently episode 6 is really questionable about consent, though my friend didn’t find it problematic.  It could be that they’re underwhelmed but don’t feel like saying anything since they love Julia Quinn and Shonda Rhimes, or, more likely, they’re busy with their own deadlines after saving the future of US by helping to fund Stacy Abrams.

Here’s a commentary on the costumes … and a lot of other stuff too (spoilers!):

Grumpy Nation, what do you all think about the Bridgerton series?  Which Julia Quinn books do you recommend, or what would you recommend for fans of the series?

RBOC

  • Courtney Milan and friends on twitter recently had a conversation about how at the core of a long-regency romance novel is that people want to be safe and that money is one way to be safe.  People want to marry a duke because that is the safest place to be in that time period.
  • I read a lot of long-regencies.  But I’ve also read a lot of mystery novels.  What has been interesting to me in my most recent juxtaposition, jumping from one to the other is how all these 1920s-1960s murder mysteries I’ve been binging on c/o Christie and Sayers make it very clear that it is *dangerous* to have money, especially if you are leaving it to other people and not charities.  If you have a lot of money you might as well put a target on your back.  People will marry you but then *kill* you.  They will come to your aid when you are sick, but only until you sign a new will in their favor.  Kind hearts and coronets.
  • I think it is not random that this transition between 19th century and 20th century measures of literary safety happens– the 1920s bring the strong rise of the middle class and forcing minor gentry to work for a living, though I guess the Mapp and Lucia series show that that element of society is still going strong into the 1930s.  And of course, Benson makes it clear (much like Jane Austen did before him) that idle hands truly are the devil’s playground and the idle wealthy are a ridiculous drain on society.
  • But I also want to have a lot of money because it helps me feel safe.  And I want to leave money to my children because I want them to be safe.  I like being able to escape.  But we won’t have enough money to make us worthwhile targets… and I would hope our children wouldn’t want us dead!  That’s a good reason for them to have their own income and careers.  We spend so much on investing in them so they can take care of themselves.  Which is another mistake that those 1920s victims make– they ask their children to live on their expectations rather than training them as solicitors or financiers or what have you.  No vocation, idle hands.
  • Though I guess finance is a bad choice, come to think of it, because a pretty common murder motive is needing funds to cover up embezzlement!  So maybe just stick to law.  Not medicine because they have too much access to poison.
  • Agatha Christie seems to be really pro-LGBT, particularly gay men.  It’s sometimes a plot point (won’t spoil it, one of her many plays).  Reading the mysterious Mr. Quinn it is quite lovely how in the first story she’s pretty clear, though using coded language, that the hero, Mr. Sattherwaite (who I think appears in the occasional Hercule Poirot when HP needs gossip, ah yes, wikipedia says he does) is gay, or possibly asexual (though in later short stories she gives him a failed marriage proposal).  In contrast, Sayers seems like a pretty awful homophobe, particularly when it comes to lesbians.  She straight up says pretty terrible things.  And yet, Sayers seems, on the whole, less anti-Semitic prior to WWII (as noted in an earlier post, Christie seems to realize she shouldn’t be anti-Semitic once the Nazis come into power).
  • When I was in elementary school, one of the children’s moms came in once a year to teach about Judiasm, usually around Hannukah.  I didn’t realize until I was much older that she did this to help combat antisemitism.  We also had a disabilities unit in 4th grade where we learned about different kinds of disabilities and how people worked around them and how to treat people we met who had disabilities. People would come in and talk to us about how to treat their seeing eye dogs and so on.  The learning specialist talked about how she taught people with dyscalculia to add (which… was how I did adding at the time).  It was a really wonderful program and definitely helped me not be a jerk or idiot when meeting new people.  I’m not sure we could do that these days because people would be too afraid of making mistakes.  And I’m sure there were stupid things we did, but on the whole all those old educational videos from the 1970s and the community volunteers themselves made us less likely to be harmful and more likely to support ADA legislation.
  • This blog really is a random mix of things.  I think that’s more unusual than it used to be?  But maybe not.
  • One of DH’s relative’s “friends” traveled to DC for the coup and stormed the capitol.  He was really excited about it and posted pictures and videos all over his social media.  Then he came home and found out that everyone he knew IRL was horrified and deleted all his social media and is pretending he didn’t go at all.  I hope the FBI finds him.
  • DH’s relative’s youngest (the only one in college) got an additional bill for $2K for last semester because financial aid was based on the number of people living in the household and so he included his oldest and her kid.  But, apparently the oldest got some kind of food assistance last semester (I don’t know if WIC or foodstamps or what) so the school decided she and her kid didn’t count as part of DH’s relative’s household, so they sent a retroactive bill for the difference(!)  That seems crazy to me.  (We paid it.  We don’t know how much this semester is going to cost even though classes start soon.)
  • Speaking of DH’s relative– he kicked a covid positive mask-denier “We’re all getting it anyway so who cares” off the work site where he was working twice.  The first time he threatened to kill the guy (“If you give me covid and my immunocompromised wife dies, I will hunt you down” “That’s not fair, you won’t know it was me”) , which in retrospect, he regrets.  The second time he called the guy’s boss and threatened to tell the city.  That actually worked.  It’s nice when doing the things we tell our kids to do (talk to a responsible adult when someone is being dangerous) actually works.
  • Speaking of anti-maskers, DH tried to get our car inspection sticker renewed and had to go to three places before he found one where the people were wearing masks (the dealership).  Except… after it was done the cashier had her mask around her neck instead of her face.  He also went to drop something off at a government office and didn’t realize until he’d left that none of the people working there even had masks.  7 people died yesterday and our ICU has been 130% full for almost a full week now.  The students aren’t back yet.  DH is shaken.  I wonder if I should start doing errands.  Maybe DH can do my work instead.  I’m not sure what I would have done in the moment, but I definitely would have reminded the cashier to put her mask up (I would have assumed it was an accident).  As for the government office, if I’d noticed, I think maybe I would have just left the item we were turning in on the inside of the door.
  • The library was still quite lovely for curbside, and Target curbside was great.  Hopefully he won’t have to do any more errands for a while.  I can pick up and drop off library books myself once my school starts since the library is on the way to work.  Also I’d completely forgotten that some people don’t wear masks because last week I went for my annual doctor’s visit and everyone at the hospital was masked without a single nose showing.  I switched hospital systems and it has made a HUGE difference.  Also everyone there was super nice and seemed genuinely happy to be working there, which is also really different.
  • The bad news though is that I am now obese(!) which I have NEVER been before (BMI exactly 30, but I’ve also gained a lot since my last checkup so it’s been a fast weight gain, which is the least healthy kind).  I had my glucose checked but it’s fine.  My bad cholesterol is up too– usually it’s nicely in the low to middle healthy range and only my good cholesterol is high.  The doctor’s notes say the cholesterol is fine, but the automatic thing says “borderline high”.  I’m having a bunch of other weird health problems too which I should probably just give their own post.  Pandemic is bad!  I’ve told DH he can still make bread but he needs to cut back on the sweets.  The children have noticed and have been complaining.

Ask the readers: What edition of the complete works of Shakespeare should I get?

Dear Grumpy Nation:

DC1 hasn’t been getting enough Shakespeare.  I would like to ameliorate that.  I, myself, had a lovely hardback version of the complete works of Shakespeare that was beautifully annotated so that I could easily figure out what was going on while still seeing the natural beauty of the words themselves.  I would read it on days I was home sick from school and had nothing else to do (also how I read Ivanhoe and several other classics my mother placed strategically in the small bookcase next to my bed).  Sadly, all I remember about it is that it had a navy blue hard cover– it appears to have disappeared from my parents’ house in the 20 years I have been away from it.

I have gone to Amazon to seek a new anthology and I am overwhelmed by the options.  I do not want a kindle version– I want something nicely edited and easy to read the annotations/explanations along-side the original words.  Hardback would be nice, but that’s not a deal-breaker.

There are so many choices and so many different price points I don’t even know where to start.  I’m willing to pay for the $75 Norton edition if it is, indeed, the best for our purposes.  But if the $30 Oxford Works is better, by all means I’ll go with that!

I know we have experts on this topic in our readership, so help a lay-person out!  What would you recommend?

Thanks in advance!

Books, always books

Three Charms for Murder, the 5th Henri Davenforth book by Honor Raconteur, was quite … charming.

I continue to read Agatha Christies and to be shocked by the casual anti-semitism and consistent use of the n-word, especially when completely unnecessary (for example, in the name of a dessert said by a character we’re supposed to *like*).  They censor the word “bastard” as “b—-” in the editions I’m reading.  Why don’t they do the same for n—-?  At least the anti-semitism improves once she hits the 1940s.  The complaints about estate taxes are also crazy… I can’t tell if Christie wants us to think these lazy aristocrats should have to work or not.  I leave feeling like, yeah, it’s probably best to just leave your money to charity instead of your relatives if you don’t want to end up as a corpse, and it’s best to get a job instead of relying on the largesse of said relatives, because they can change their wills at any time!  There’s a lot to be said for having control of one’s own monetary situation.

DC1 picked Children of Blood and Bone as hir “choose your own coming of age novel from this list” and zie LOVED IT.  (Zie narrowed it down from the list to only fantasy/science fiction novels, and I vetoed the Martian as that was hir “choose your own novel” last year, also I don’t really see how it is coming of age?)  Zie has to answer questions like, “Is this book realistic” and DC1 answers things like, “No, magic isn’t real,” which I think might not end up earning hir full credit, but we won’t know for weeks because the English teacher is a really slow grader.  Zie immediately asked for the second book and my MIL sent it as a Christmas present, so I took hir off the library waitlist for it.

DC2 is at 2017 for Newbery books and zie has really enjoyed almost all of them (with maybe 2 or 3 exceptions).  (Did I mention I’ve been requesting the Newbery Award and Honor books from the library starting with the most recent year?)  Several of them have made it onto hir Christmas wishlist so zie has hir own copy.

Turns out Alexis Hall of Boyfriend Material has written a number of books across different genres.  Looking for Group is a sweet YA romance with lots of MOOC gaming in-jokes.  Dialogue is very good.  (Not as good as Boyfriend Material, but definitely worth the library checkout.)  Except if I’m being completely honest, I skipped large chunks and the 2nd hero wasn’t very interesting– he’s one of the tropes I find more annoying– the shy quiet beautiful (usually girl) who takes time to smell the flowers and appreciate the beauty of just being and really has no other personality characteristics.  A pixie dreamboy without the manic part.  I would not want to spend much time with him myself.  The other friends were great though– the book maybe would have been better without so much time alone with the two heroes.

Emerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews was great!

I read a couple more Joan Smith regencies– note that these are not at all accurate, so if you’re bothered by historical inaccuracies, do not read them.  A Christmas Gambol was pretty bad.  Escapade was entertaining though neither hero nor heroine is all that likable, but it’s got the benefit of being somewhat funny.

The latest Shinigami Detective, aka Case Files of Henri Davenforth, Three Charms for Murder, by Honor Raconteur was a lot of fun.  If you liked the first four books you will also like this one.

Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas by Stephanie Barron was ok.  I probably would have liked it better if I’d read the earlier books and also if the Jane Austen character weren’t based on a real person who did not get married and was to die in very few years.  (There’s the start of a love interest in this one… which is just kind of depressing.  I want my romances to have predictably happy endings!)

What holiday reading do you have lined up?

 

Yet more books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is soothing you?

So many books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you reading these days?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for getting back to us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask the grumpies: How do you organize your books?

Steph asks:

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

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

#1:

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

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

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

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

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

#2:

Three of #2's bookcases, creatively organized

Three of #2’s bookcases, creatively organized

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

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

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

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

Related:

Billy the bookcase

Where the books are

Our fantasy library

Couchblogging and rearranging the library

Books…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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