Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Year in Review: April through June







I made a really big list

It's that time of year again! I started making these lists because I'm a list kind of person, but they've become so much more. I've found myself returning to them time and again almost like a scrapbook. It's been a nice way to reflect, remember, and reminisce.

Sif and the Dwarfs' Treasure by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
April continued my more positive trend and started off with a new installment in a fairly new series from a favorite author duo. While I've almost entirely shifted my reading/reviewing to what I'm interested in reading and reviewing rather than letting publishers or new releases drive my reading and reviewing, Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams' Goddess Girls and Thunder Girls series are books I feel compelled to read and review. They're just so good and I believe in these series so much that I need to share them. They're also straight up delightful to read. 


Flashman by George MacDonald Frasr
The Flashman books have been on my TBR for a really long time but for a variety of reasons I just never seemed to get around to giving them a try. So, I felt pretty good about finally trying out the series. I'm also glad I did because I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's...not a typical book. Flashman is a horrible person. No excuses, no shades of gray, no anti-heroism. He's just straight up mean, immoral, and despicable. Not only does he invariably choose to do the wrong thing, but he doubles down on the badness of it and comes out smelling roses in the end in ways that should infuriate me. I should hate reading about him, but I didn't.There was also a surprising amount of history packed into what is on the surface a swashbuckling adventure tale.

The Decoy Princess by Dawn Cook
I first read this back in 2013 and even though I adored it, and even though I bought a copy of the sequel that same year, and even though it ended on a cliffhanger...I didn't read the sequel. So I've let this story go unfinished for six years, and by this point I had to reread the first book because there were too many details I just didn't remember anymore. So, since rereading was going so well this year, I decided to pick up this old favorite. It's still a favorite. I still preferred one romantic interest over the other. I liked the main character even more than I remembered. It was great...



Princess at Sea by Dawn Cook
...And then. Then I read the sequel, and I don't know what to think. Things took a turn, and I don't think I liked it much. I say that in this hesitating way because in a lot of ways what I wanted to happen did happen. So I should be happy. But the way it all happened was weird, a little unsettling, and not exactly in line with the first book. It was like the first book was written as a straight up fantasy, and in the second book the author's urban fantasy roots starting showing through (Dawn Cook is Kim Harrison). The author also introduced a magic element that then took over the whole plot and it just...wasn't very interesting. The same thing happened in her Truth series, and I couldn't finish that series because of it, even though there was a lot I did love about that series. I guess I just really dislike the way this author deals with magic. It's super descriptive and, well, boring.

A Tangled Web by L. M. Montgomery
I made a list of all the authors that make me happy and decided I wanted to make an effort to read more of their books. L. M. Montgomery has a solid place on that list due to her Anne books (I've only read the first three so far), but The Blue Castle eclipses everything and I absolutely adore it. It's described as one of two of L. M. Montgomery's books written for adults, so I decided to try her other adult book: A Tangled Web. Well, it was okay. I liked it, but it's no Blue Castle, or even Anne, that's for sure. I'm glad I read it, especially since I've been wanting to read it ever since I got a copy in 2017, but I don't know that this is one I'll reread often.  

A Pearl Among Princes by Coleen Murtagh Paratore
I first read this book in 2010 and while I didn't love it, there were elements that I did like a lot and wanted to revisit. This was another case where the initial read was less enjoyable because of expectations, but the second read, with expectations appropriately calibrated, actually made for a much more enjoyable experience. I'm glad I reread this one.


Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser
I wasn't ready to let Flashman go, and this second book was almost even better than the first. Flashman is still an awful person, but something about him felt a little less reprehensible and the story was a rip-roaring adventure. Flashman is set up, blackmailed, and then forced to stand in as a replacement for a prince with whom he shares an uncanny resemblance ala Prince and the Pauper. Of course this is filled with humor, intrigue, danger, castles, and adventure. I was surprised to find that much of the historical events were also true, and so I got a nice history lesson again.


Amphitrite the Bubbly by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
I ended up liking this one a lot more than I thought I would. I had read the first few pages a while ago, didn't click with the main character and put it aside. I'm glad I picked it up again, because this was another delightful addition to the Goddess Girls series.



The Far Side of the World by Patrick O'Brian
I really do like this series, though I read it so slowly. Some books really click with me, whereas others feel slower and are harder to get through. This one was the latter and I don't really remember much beyond that at this point.

Let's Mooove! by Courtney Sheinmel and Bianca Turetsky
This came unexpectedly as a review book. It's cute, short, has a sweet but forgettable story, and fun bits about the featured US state. Overall nice, but not particularly standout. 

The Last Collection by Jeanne Mackin
I was curious enough about this one to download it from NetGalley, but I wasn't actually convinced I wanted to read it. I loaded it up on my e-reader and grudgingly read the first few pages...and then couldn't stop. I'm so glad I read this book. The fashion, perfume, history, and art have stuck with me all year.


One Hundred and Four Horses by Mandy Retzlaff
I picked this up as an impulse. I think someone might have been reading it on Goodreads. The idea of the horses and the African setting sounded exotic and I was hoping for something uplifting like a Gerry Durrell book. I know it was about exile and the turmoil in Africa, but the historical aspects of this were also intriguing. What I got was both what and not what I had hoped for. Following the family and getting to know the horses was at turns nice, exciting, and terrifying. The history and the bad things that happened were enraging and horrifying. The ending was happy, but in a brittle way that doesn't feel like it will last. I'm glad I read it, but it wasn't an easy read.


Where I End and You BeginWhere I End and You Begin by Preston Norton
When I get a book for review, outside my genre, and over 400 pages, that shouldn't bode well. But this is Preston Norton, and for some reason none of the usual rules apply. I felt excited every morning to wake up and read this book...and I am decidedly not a morning person. I felt joyful. Things really felt brighter in June.






The King's Secret Matter (Tudor Saga, #4)The King's Secret Matter by Jean Plaidy
Plaidy, Tudors, check, check. I read her Anne Boleyn book and her Mary I book, both of which covered this time period, and so it was nice to round things out with Katherine's perspective. It's not a happy book, that's for sure, but I was happy while reading it. 



The Ghost TreeThe Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine
This book = goals achieved. It was a doorstop and a review book and an author I've been meaning to check out. I didn't love the book, but I did really enjoy the experience. June felt so filled with light and possibilities. Thinking back on what was actually happening then, that doesn't entirely fit with my feelings now, but perhaps it's important to remember that the little stresses of life (even if they feel big at the time) blow over and things have a way of working out, so focus less on those stresses of the moment and more on the joys of the moment because they're the things that remain with you.



The Poison ThreadThe Poison Thread by Laura Purcell
June was a good month for review books, and really, reading in general. My memories again are of waking up and diving into this book and totally losing myself in happy reading. I really threw myself into these stories, and I'm reminded now that this is something I should do more often: throw myself fully into the story I'm reading.

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes, #1)A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Ah, I had forgotten about the story-within-a-story aspect of this one. It's almost like getting two stories in one. Now that I've spent more time in the Utah-Nevada region, the flashback story took on a whole new feel and relevance for me. It's interesting how our life experiences color our reading so much. This reminds me again how important it is to not worry about forcing books at any particular time. Maybe it's not the right time, but maybe in a few years with a few more life experiences the book will suddenly fit. Which isn't the case here since I loved this the first time, but I gained more upon the reread. Which, perhaps is another lesson learned (reinforced?) on the value of rereading.


Hestia the Invisible (Goddess Girls #18)Hestia the Invisible by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
Another wonderful entry in this series. Hestia's introverted homebody personality was a real winner for me and I loved getting to see Pheme again (who is the complete opposite, but just a joyful character to read). June ended on a high note.








Thoughts...

April through June really turned things around for me, and keeping close track of my reading helped me keep focus and momentum on turning around my mindset. I don't know that life was any less stressful, but my approach to it was much healthier and happier.

The fact that it was getting sunnier and warmer outside certainly didn't hurt, either. Now that I'm back living in an area with seasons and more dramatic daylight changes makes me realize how much I thrive in an area with more consistent warmth and sunlight and how much I struggle with the seasons changing. Since I can't control the weather or sunlight, it's good to recognize how much I am affected by it at least and try to take some proactive measures and keep in mind how I'll react to these things (and that my reaction isn't actually rooted in any real stress or sadness).



Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Book Review: The Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher

The Girl in White GlovesThe Girl in White Gloves by Kerri Maher
Goodreads

I was curious to learn about old Hollywood, but beyond that I wasn't sure what to expect. What I got was both more and less than what I was hoping for.

As far as characters go, this was not a big win for me. I'm not sure if it was the way things were written (third person, lots of telling) or Grace herself. She came across as too perfectly good, naive, meek, insecure, and depressed. I felt distant from her, and I'm not sure if it was the writing style or because Grace Kelly was a distant, naive, depressed, meek, goody two shoes (which rings true from what little I know of her). I think the answer is "both." The end result was that Grace wasn't a particularly fun or interesting person to follow, but over time I did develop a fondness for her even if I never shook a constant mild irritation.

What I did gain was insight into all sorts of interesting things. Grace's life allowed us to flit around learning tid bits here and there about acting styles, approaches, and training and how these differed on TV versus movies versus the stage. We got little bits of information about a ton of starlets of the era from Grace's fascinating insider/outsider perspective. We got to learn about Monaco and little bits of history (the book spans several decades). There's a lot here, and for me this was the highlight of the book and why I kept reading.

Overall, I'm glad I read this book and I'd check out what Kerri Maher puts out next. It's easy to read, steadily paced, and mild but interesting throughout. Kinda like Grace Kelly, I suppose.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Year in Review: January through March




I made a really big list

It's that time of year again! I started making these lists because I'm a list kind of person, but they've become so much more. I've found myself returning to them time and again almost like a scrapbook. It's been a nice way to reflect, remember, and reminisce.

The Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton
I started out the year by continuing with Agatha Raisin. This year continued on with the depression and stress that crept into the end of 2018 as a result of all the tumult at work. I ended up in physical therapy because I was carrying so much stress in my body that I was actually physically injuring myself by clenching my muscles so tightly. Agatha Raisin was a cathartic escape with her indulgent behaviors and ornery nature. 


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
I ended 2018 by starting a reread of the Harry Potter series. I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue with it, but when 2019 rolled around and the stress continued to pile up, I clung to Harry Potter like a lifeline. 



Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon by M. C. Beaton
Much as I wanted the escape into an easy, mindless read, these were starting to wear on me. I don't love the introduction of the agency and the characters Agatha has employed to help her solve mysteries. It's fine, there's nothing bad about it, but making everything an official job takes some of the joy out of it.



Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
This has long been one of my favorite books in the series and I enjoyed it very much again. Though, the first time I read the series I had definite stronger and weaker books, but this time rereading through them all they all sort of smoothed out into one larger story.

Yvonne Goes to York by M. C. Beaton
I was a little worn on Agatha but still craving the comfort of Marion Chesney (M.C. Beaton) and so I decided to pick up this final book in her traveling matchmaker series. The romance that was slowly building across the series finally came to its lovely conclusion. I don't know if it was because I let a gap go by between the rest of the series and this final book or because I was just so darn depressed, but this book only managed to get a glimmer of response from me emotionally, even though I did enjoy it. Sorry book, it's not you, it's me.  




Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
I struggled with this book when I read it the first time. Umbridge was so awful and I spent pretty much all of the 870 pages raging in frustration with Harry (while also being frustrated with Harry for acting like a jerk). It didn't help that my memories of this book are strongly connected with waiting in an interminable line at the DMV, which is where I read a good chunk of the book. Fast forward to my re-read this year, and things were a lot better. Despite being pretty down myself, that surprisingly didn't make this book worse. By this time I knew Harry's story would work out well in the end. I knew there were a lot of great things to come in the book (the Room of Requirement!). Basically, I had perspective, and that gave me a light at the end of the tunnel which made the entire journey much more enjoyable. Hm, perhaps I could have used some of that perspective for what was happening in my life during this time.


Dream More by Dolly Parton
Short, informative, motivational, inspirational. And funny. I like Dolly Parton and her no-nonsense approach. This was a quick read but packed a punch and helped move me in a better direction. 


Rotten Rulers by Terry Deary
I feel like I somehow missed a key childhood memory by having missed these books and the TV show. I've caught up on much of the TV show thanks to youtube (the wife swap episode is the best) and this book was a quick and fun toe-dip into the series. Sometimes the humor felt too forced, most of the time it was just mildly amusing, and every once in a while it was spot on hilarious. I wasn't super impressed and I didn't run out and read anymore books in the series, but I'll probably make my way through a few more of them.



Love, Lies, and Liquor by M.C. Beaton
I liked the location in this one. It's set in a dreary sea-side resort that isn't very vacationy. The mystery kept my interest and overall this one felt a little more like earlier Agatha Raisin books.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
This has always been one of my favorite books in the series. I love the diving into past memories, slowing unraveling the mystery of Voldemort's past, understanding how past experiences shaped the people of the present, and going on a quest to find the locket. A little part of me wondered how I would feel about the book on reread. My experiences rereading the other books in the series was that I definitely did have a different impression, and it was actually an even better one. But what about for this book, my favorite? It's funny how rereading can be fraught with so much worry. Well, I loved it just as much as I did the first time, though it felt like it flew by. 

The Medieval Anarchy by Kaye Jones
I love the idea of this series: bite-sized books you can read in an hour and gain a surface-level understanding of a major event or person in history. I know a good bit about the Anarchy by this point, so nothing in the book was new. But it was still nice, accurate, and definitely did give a good overview. I'm not sure if these should "count" as part of my reading challenge, but I also don't know that I need to care that much either since the point of the challenge, for me, isn't to read a certain number of books, but rather to keep me on track in doing something I love and that makes me happy.


Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M. C. Beaton
Ugh, I don't remember much about this book in particular, but I do remember wishing Agatha would stop caring about stupid James Lacey. I loathe James Lacey. If I ever need a reminder to stop being an annoying broken record harping on something that isn't important and isn't good for me, then Agatha and James Lacey are the perfect example.


Remembrance by Jude Devraux
This book is crazy! I picked it up because I adored her book A Knight in Shining Armor and I wanted something like that. I didn't quite get that. I'm not even sure what I got. It had time travel, reincarnation, a story-within-a-story, a blip in another time period, treachery, evil step-mothers, and so much more. It was crazy, ridiculous, annoying, and awesome. I kept wondering if I wanted to DNF it and then getting sucked in again. It felt like a guilty pleasure, but not in a guilty way. It was like taking a break from life, drawing a hot bubble bath, eating chocolate, and having a "me moment." I should do this more often.



A Spoonful of Poison by M. C. Beaton
The thing with these books is that they're not bad. I was getting annoyed with the same old, same old, but also still comforted by it.


The Kings and Queens of England by Jane Murray
March started out with a trip to my local used bookstore and this was one of my finds. I was so proud of myself that I started reading this book the same day I bought it rather than let it sit on my shelves for a few years before I read it, as if used books need to age like wine (my traditional approach, and why I have so many unread books sitting on my shelves for years). I started breaking out of bad patterns around this time, and my reading reflects this. March saw a turning point in my reading away from comfort reads and toward new horizons and achieving things I'd been wanting to do, but hadn't done (like reading newly purchased books right away). As far as the book goes, it was a great old find. I love those history books from the early through mid 20th century. They have a narrative approach that is charming, exciting, and the authors clearly love history.


There Goes the Bride by M. C. Beaton
Ah, James does not look good in this book, and I loved it. He comes across as stupid and tone deaf and I love it when James Lacey is called out for what he is, and when Agatha sees it. It's funny how satisfying it can be to have a person you dislike be seen for what they are by other people.

The Life and Times of Henry VIII by Robert Lacey
This was another book I got at the used bookstore, bringing me up to two books that I read immediately after purchasing. Success! I was definitely proud. I've enjoyed Robert Lacey's style when reading his History of England books and while this wasn't quite as fantastic, it was still very enjoyable. This was more like a coffee table book with big color pictures that I could spend time looking at and enjoying along with his substantial text.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
I might have been moving in a more positive direction, but that didn't mean I wasn't dreading finishing this series. I can't believe it had been thirteen years since I had last read these books and I thoroughly enjoyed rereading them. Rereading this final installment wasn't as tense and horrifying because I knew what was going to happen, but it was more bittersweet...because I knew what was going to happen. I knew everything would be okay in the end, but that innocence would be lost and there would be battle scars.


Productivity Hacks by Emily Price
I went into this book hoping for some tips and tricks that I could implement. Instead I got a lot of confirmation that apparently I'm already pretty productive and I do a lot of the things the book suggests. So, not exactly life-changing, but maybe a little affirming? 



Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
I feel like I woke up one day and thought, "I want to revisit this book," and so I did. It's nice to feel free to reread books. I used to feel guilty rereading, but I set myself a challenge each year to reread around ten or so books, and I've been enjoying it a lot. It's nice to go back and revisit. Yes, there are plenty of new books out there, but if I want to spend my time with a story I've already experienced, then why should that be a problem?


Busy Body by M. C. Beaton
This one was nice. I like the Christmas stories where I get to experience snow, decorations, holiday cooking, crackling fires, and fuzzy holiday cheer. Plus, you know, murder and mystery. This was my last Agatha Raisin for a while, and while I will read the rest and while I did enjoy this book, it was a good time to part ways for a little while.







Thoughts...

January through March was filled with a lot of numbing to try to combat a lot of stress. I read a lot of comfort reads, and it was totally the result of that numbing, hiding response. March started to see some peeking out from under the covers. 


Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2020 Read My Own Books Challenge


/12 books


Challenge Basics: 
Name: Read My Own Damn Books Challenge
Starts: January 1, 2020
Ends: December 31, 2020
Eligible Books: Books you own prior to 2020.
Levels: I'm going to try to read and/or DNF and get rid of 12 books I own.

Why I'm Interested:  

I seriously have too many books and they keep sitting on my shelves unread. I did this challenge in 2015 and ended up getting rid of almost all the books I read for the challenge, which means I've carted around and found room for all those books that I didn't even end up liking. Before I move again, I need to reevaluate the books I'm bringing with me and make sure they're books I actually want.

Some books I'm considering: 

Anything on my Own-Unread shelf that I acquired prior to 2020.

At the start of 2020, here's where I stand as far as what books I own and what percentage of them I've read:

33% read of books acquired in 2019 (165)
29% read and 5 added of books acquired in 2018 (265)
26% read and 12 removed of books acquired in 2017 (348)
39% read and 6 removed of books acquired in 2016 (362)
21% read and 6 removed of books acquired in 2015 (107)
39% read and 1 removed of books acquired in 2014 (79)
56% read and 3 removed of books acquired in 2013 (55)
47% read and 9 removed of books acquired in 2012 (68)
79% read and 4 removed of books acquired in 2010-2011 (146)
81% read and 0 removed of books acquired in 2008-2009 (36)
89% read and 1 added of books acquired in 2003-2007 (101)
99% read and 1 removed of books acquired in 2002 and earlier (75)
Books Completed:

4. Minette by Melanie Clegg (2019)
3. Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote (2019)
2. The Other Tudor Princess by Mary McGrigor (2018)
1. Sword of Destiny (Witcher 2) by Andrzej Sapkowski (2019)


Books DNF'ed:

4.
3.
2.
1.

2020 Re-read Challenge




Challenge Basics: 

Name: The Re-Read Challenge
Starts: January 1, 2020
Ends: December 31, 2020
Eligible Books: Books you've already read.

Why I'm Interested:  

Whether it's re-reading for comfort or to revisit old favorites, I want to make sure I enthusiastically dive into re-reading whenever I feel the urge.


Some books I'm considering:

My Special Shelf favorites, of course. Also, books I liked enough or am curious enough to re-listen to on audio.

Books Completed:

1.


2020 Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge




Challenge Basics: 

Name: Keep the Books Off the Shelf Challenge
Hosts: Me!
Starts: January 1, 2020
Ends: December 31, 2020
Goal: 15 books
Eligible Books: Books you acquire in 2020

Why I'm Interested:  

I'm not sure if anyone is actually hosting a challenge like this, but it's a challenge I'm giving myself, again. Last year I read a ton off books I acquired in 2019, and rather than feel bad about neglecting my previously owned books, instead I felt like I was accomplishing something with every new book I acquired and read. And I was!

Every year I participate in the Read My Own Books Challenge where I try to read as many books I own as possible. Downside? Those challenges don't count books you acquire during the challenge year, and I think they should! Sure, I know the goal is to read all those books that have been languishing year after year, but what about preventative measures? I think those should be rewarded, too!

(I feel like a health insurance plan)

So, enter my challenge. I'm going to try to make a dent in the books I get in 2020 and therefore whittle down my mountain of books remaining unread on my shelves in 2021.

Some books I'm considering: 

As many books from my Acquired 2020 shelf as possible. At the end of the year I'll compare how many books I acquired to how many books I've read from that list to see how well I've done. I'd like to shoot for reading/DNF-ing at least 15 books.


Books Completed:

1. Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne

Books DNF'ed: 

1.


2020 Historical Reading Challenge


 
0/15 books

Challenge Basics:  

Name: 2020 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge
Hosts: Passages to the Past
Starts: January 1, 2020
Ends: December 31, 2020
Eligible Books: YA and adult historical fiction books. I'm including non-fiction.
Levels: I am going to try for 15 books

Why I'm Interested:  

Historical Bio and Historical Non-Fiction: These are the weightier, meatier books that I want to make top priority. They go into detail about actual people and events and I'll learn the most from them. I've thrown in the non-fiction books onto this shelf, too. I've been toe-dipping into non-fiction, and I'd like to continue that toe-dip.

Historical Fantasy: These vary as far as actual historical learning goes. Some have a ton of historical detail, but most just use a historical setting. Some of my favorite books come from this shelf and I don't want to neglect them just because they're not heavy historical fiction.

Historical Lite: These are a lot like the books on my Historical Fantasy shelf, just without the fantasy elements. Usually they're mysteries or romances set with a historical backdrop of varying degrees of detail. They're often easy breezy, fun books and I want to make sure I read them as well.


Books Completed:

Historical Non-Fiction

5.
4.
3.
2. Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne
1. The Other Tudor Princess: Margaret Douglas by Mary McGrigor

Historical Bio (fiction):

10.

9.
8.
7.
6.
5.
4.
3.
2.
1. Minette by Melanie Clegg

Historical Lite:

5.
4.
3.
2.
1.


DNF:

1.

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