Wednesday, July 15, 2020

March's Reads Reviewed

March's Reads Mini-Review Roundup

Echo the Copycat (Goddess Girls #19)

Echo the Copycat by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams
Calliope the Muse by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

These books are consistently good. I don't have much more to say about them than what I've already said. They're short enough to fit in quickly, but long enough to have substance. There's always a sweet element of humor and the characters are just straight up nice. These are feel-good books and I'm glad the new stories are still being published.

The House At RivertonThe House at Riverton by Kat Morton

First, let me get this out of my system: FINALLY!!! Ahem, okay, so I've had Kate Morton's books on my shelves for, oh, over eight years and I've never read them. Why you might ask, when these books seem so right up my alley? Well, because they're long and I had this impression in my head that they would fall into that "rewarding in the end but a slog to get through" category. Where I got that idea I don't know, but firmly set in my mind it was and so I longingly and shamefully looked at their beautiful spines for years.

Until January 2019, when I picked up The House at Riverton and got about 50 pages in before putting it down again. It seemed nice enough, but it just hadn't grabbed me. I vowed to pick it up again...someday.

That someday came just over a full year later when in March 2020 after tentatively toe-dipping back into reading I somehow decided NOW was the time. And it was.

This may be a hefty book (almost 500 pages) and the chapters aren't super short, but I sped through it. I didn't really like any of the characters and the plot wasn't what I'd call fast, but this is the kind of book that has a deceptive slow burn where it feels like not a whole lot is happening but I feel utterly gripped anyway. Then in the final quarter all of the threads started coming together, building and building toward the absolutely face-smacking conclusion. And then that final piece of the puzzle...ah, what a punch in the gut. It's weird to say that a gut-punch is a good thing, but in this book it made me do the mental equivalent of sitting down suddenly in shock with my jaw dropped to the floor. I loved it!

How to Love (Mindfulness Essentials, #3)
I started reading this book years ago, picking away at it a little at a time. It's a short book with tiny chapters-- each only about a minute or so to read. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of love and mindfulness and I read it slowly because I wanted to let each lesson sink in. Not every chapter was profound or mattered to me right now, but every few chapters were. Those were the chapters that made me pause, think, and sometimes change my approach. I love the simple, approachable way this book is written.

SanctuarySanctuary by Edith Wharton

My dabbling in Edith Wharton's short novels/novellas continued and for the next foray I chose Sanctuary. This one felt a lot shorter than Bunner Sisters with the characters reading more like sketches. The first half of the story follows Kate, a young woman soon to be married to a man who has recently come into a fortune. Shortly before their wedding, Kate discovers something about her husband that irrevocably changes their relationship. The situation unravels with Wharton presenting a thought-provoking moral dilemma that left me mulling over the possibilities and wondering "What would I do?" Had the story ended here, it would have been an interesting short story.

But, of course, it didn't end there. The choice Kate ultimately made (which I thought was absurd) guaranteed that Wharton had to write the second party of the story. This is that part that left me lukewarm. The bones of the story are good. The writing and characterization is strong in the way I've come to expect from Wharton. The dilemma mirroring the dilemma in the first half was interesting and kept up a "What will he do?" tension, thickened by what the reader, but not the character, knows happened in part I. A dozen conversations could be sparked by this story and I would happily chat for hours over the different angles of the story (nature versus nurture, morality, so on). While I appreciated the short length, it might have been nice to have the second part fleshed out a little more, and maybe even told from Dick's point of view.

And yet...I couldn't shake an icky feeling throughout the whole second half. Kate's relationship with her son felt...wrong. I can't say more without spoiling things, but it's this relationship that leaves me slightly unsettled with the story, even though I loved everything else.

Okay, almost everything else. Kate is so righteously annoying. But, I don't read Edith Wharton books for her lovable characters.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

The Women of Chateau Lafayette by Stephanie Dray

Cover Reveal & Author Interview


An epic saga from New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Dray based on the true story of an extraordinary castle in the heart of France and the remarkable women bound by its legacy in three of humanity's darkest hours.

Most castles are protected by powerful men. This one by women...

A founding mother...

1774. Gently-bred noblewoman Adrienne Lafayette becomes her husband's political partner in the fight for American independence. But when their idealism sparks revolution in France and the guillotine threatens everything she holds dear, Adrienne must choose to renounce the complicated man she loves, or risk her life for a legacy that will inspire generations to come.

A daring visionary...

1914. Glittering New York socialite Beatrice Astor Chanler is a force of nature, daunted by nothing--not her humble beginnings, her crumbling marriage, or the outbreak of war. But after witnessing the devastation in France and delivering war-relief over dangerous seas, Beatrice takes on the challenge of a lifetime: convincing America to fight for what's right.

A reluctant resistor...

1940. French school-teacher and aspiring artist Marthe Simone has an orphan's self-reliance and wants nothing to do with war. But as the realities of Nazi occupation transform her life in the isolated castle where she came of age, she makes a discovery that calls into question who she is, and more importantly, who she is willing to become.

Intricately woven and beautifully told, The Women of Chateau Lafayette is a sweeping novel about duty and hope, love and courage, and the strength we find from standing together in honor of those who came before us.

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What made you fall in love with Adrienne Lafayette and why do you think readers will fall for her as you did?

Thanks to a popular musical, the Marquis de Lafayette is known to a new generation as "America's Favorite Fighting Frenchman"--and there's good reason for that. He's easily the most lovable of our Founding Fathers, and his wife, whom he called his dear heart, is just as lovable if not more so. Adrienne was our French Founding Mother, so right up my alley as a heroine, but at first I worried she was too sweet, devoted, and forgiving. In short, too gentle for a novel. Little did I realize that more than any other historical heroine I've ever written, Adrienne fought and sacrificed for her principles, courageously threw herself into danger, confronted tyrants, and endured trials that would have broken lesser mortals. She truly humbles me, and when I talk about the Lafayette legacy, I think of it as every bit as much hers as it is his.

How long did it take you to write this book? Did the story evolve as you researched, or did you always know you wanted to take on the lives of these particular women?

I was always interested in Lafayette--an interest that grew as Laura Kamoie and I co-authored America's First Daughter and My Dear Hamilton. I think I had the germ of the idea for a Lafayette novel at least seven years ago, but I had other projects in the way. And I was always in search of an angle that would be fresh and unique. That came to me when I discovered that Lafayette's castle in Auvergne, which had been purchased and renovated by Americans, served to shelter Jewish children from the Nazis. Knowing how deeply the Lafayettes both felt about religious freedom, I knew this would have pleased them, and it touched me. I was then determined to know which Americans had purchased the chateau, and when I found out, yet another glorious chapter in the Lafayette legacy was born. That's when the story took shape for me about one special place on this earth where, generation after generation, faith has been kept with principles of liberty and humanity. I find that very inspirational, now more than ever.

The book is centered around Lafayette’s castle, the Château de Chavaniac, and the pivotal role it played during three of history’s darkest hours—the French Revolution and both World Wars. If you could have dinner with any three people (dead or alive) at Chavaniac, who would you choose and why?

Believe it or not, this is actually a difficult choice because so many incredible men and women passed through those doors. I'd have to start with the Lafayettes--though I hope they would not serve me pigeons, which were a favorite at their wedding banquet. To join us for dinner, I'd choose the colorful stage-star of the Belle Epoque, Beatrice Chanler, because she was a force of nature without whom Chavaniac might not still be standing. Actress, artist, philanthropist, decorated war-relief worker and so-called Queen of the Social Register, she was as mysterious as she was wonderful, and even after all the startling discoveries I made researching her larger-than-life existence, I have a million questions about the early life she tried so hard to hide. I can't wait for readers to meet her!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

February's Reads Reviewed

February's Reads Mini-Review Roundup

The Time-Traveling Fashionista and Cleopatra, Queen of the NileThe Time-Traveling Fashionista and Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile by Bianca Turetsky

For purely aesthetic reasons, these books are a joy to read. Illustrations are peppered throughout, the pages are thick, and there are additional flourishes for the chapter headings and page decorations. I usually prefer e-books, but when I read this series, I make sure to read the print versions. I also love that the chapters are super short. I fly through these books.

But, what about the actual story? Well, it's okay. The main character is nice enough and even though she exudes a miasma of blah with a tinge of dreary, I do actually like her. I love all of the historical settings of these books, and the Cleopatra book had the unexpected but wonderful pit stop to the film setting of Elizabeth Taylor's movie Cleopatra, which was like a mini-bonus destination. All good things.

Also good, is that the books are sprinkled with good historical tidbits, including fashion bits from the times, which is what I really love. I do feel like you can actual learn from these books. But....they're also much less meaty than I would have liked. The Titanic book spent more time really digging into the history and spending time there, but the Marie Antoinette book was more like an overnight visit instead of a week-long vacation, and the Cleopatra book was more like a day trip. I wanted more.

The series kind of petered out, which is a shame because I love the concept, love the presentation, loved the zany old-lady sidekicks, and loved the unexpected heft of the first book. I really wish the author had put in the depth of the first book into the next two and I wish she had continued on writing the series. Had she done that, this would have been one of my favorite auto-buy series, but instead it just kind of trickled away into nothing. Very sad.

Bunner SistersBunner Sisters by Edith Wharton

I've been on a real Edith Wharton kick lately and she's rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors. Her books are beautifully but accessibly written, describe an era I love (turn of the 20th century), feature memorable characters that are likable despite their flaw, and stories that pull me in and stay vividly in my mind long after they're over.

But, ah, they are often gut-punchy and sad and The Bunner Sisters is no exception. This is not a happy book. Things just go from bad to worse and at the end when you think the final nail has been hammered into the coffin and you're done and lying on the ground beaten and you've cried mercy and you've been left alone to catalogue your cuts and bruises...Edith turns around and gives you one final kick in the stomach for good measure.

I know that doesn't sound appealing at all, and I am not the kind of reader that likes depressing books. I'm actually the kind of reader that runs screaming from depressing books. But there's something about Edith Wharton that just makes me like her books in spite of this.

It does also help that The Bunner Sisters is a quick read. It's one of Wharton's over 100 pages but under 200 pages books (though in some printings they're under 100 pages), and I'm really enjoying working my way through them (she has a lot). I'm not sure if you'd call them novellas or novels and I think depending on the definition you use and who you talk to they're both. I think of a novella as around 60-80 or so pages, but Wikipedia has a bunch of examples of novellas that I'd personally consider short novels so what do I know? Whatever you classify it, Edith Wharton is really good at writing evocative, immersive stories in a short amount of pages.


I was sick for a lot of February and stressing a lot watching the spread of the virus and wondering what was going to happen. This, unsurprisingly, took a toll on my reading and I only managed to get through two books in February. But, the books I did read were both enjoyable in their own way, and both check "goal" boxes as being series/authors that I enjoy, a book I own, historical fiction, and a "classic" author.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

January's Reads Reviewed

Mini-Review Roundup

So, I'm trying something a little different this year. Instead of focusing on single-review posts, which, let's face it, I haven't been doing much of lately, I'm going to try mini round ups. Maybe that will work? We'll see.

Sword of Destiny (The Witcher, #0.75)Sword of Destiny by Andrzej Sapkowski
After enjoying the first book, I decided to keep going with this series until I didn't want to read it anymore. See, I'm still having commitment issues, and that makes no sense considering I actually really like these books. This collection of stories focused far more on Yennifer and Geralt's relationship and had a mix of stories that were included in the show and a few that weren't. All were good and added depth to the characters and stories that the show just glossed over. I liked the show a lot more before I read the books and saw how much better things could be.

I warmed up to Yennifer much more than I did in the TV series. See, in the series she's kind of awful, but I didn't get the impression that we were supposed to think that. I got the impression that we were supposed to think she was an awesome badass and her yearning for children and anger at the sorcerers who "stole" her ability to have children (after, you know, demanding they do it) was supposed to be righteous.  In the books she's even more awful, but it's very clear that you're supposed to think that. She's flawed and nuanced. As a result, she has depth and I actually care about her and her relationship with Geralt becomes both tragic and epic. That I can get on board with.  

The Other Tudor Princess: Margaret DouglasThe Other Tudor Princess by Mary McGrigor
I started reading this in September 2018, put it down at 55% in October and didn't pick it back up again until January 2020. In the year in between readings my knowledge of the main players (Margaret Douglas, Elizabeth I, Mary Stuart, etc.) has grown significantly (Leanda de Lisle's excellent Tudor was the perfect prereq).

I remember putting the book down in part because I was having trouble keeping track of everything and everyone. Picking it up now, I was able to follow everything much better. It's a short book, and maybe it's a little too short for the reader with very little knowledge of the time period. A lot is glossed over in order to keep that page count down, and that combined with so many people with the same name makes this perhaps not the best introduction to the era. Another reason not to read this without pre-knowledge? There are a surprising number of silly errors like referring to Anne Boleyn as Catherine Howard's aunt (she was her cousin) or calling Henry VII Margaret Tudor's grandfather (he was her father).

However, go into this with some background knowledge and it's a great, quick review that hits all the high points while adding a lot of extra tidbits to keep things interesting. Chapters are super short, the writing is pleasant to read, and I cared about Margaret. I like these quick overview types of books as they help me make connections between the individual components I've gone more in depth with (or have heard about in passing through some of those in-depth excursions, like Arbella Stuart). We also got to go more in depth with Margaret Tudor, which provided nice background.

Breakfast at Tiffany'sBreakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote
So, this was nothing like I was expecting. I had images of a posh Audrey Hepburn and high society ritzy glitz. Clearly, I haven't seen the movie. Or maybe the movie does give that impression. I don't know, I haven't seen the  movie. Anyway, that's probably a good thing because I don't think I would have liked this book at all if I had seen the movie first.

The book isn't uplifting. Holly is a mess, and while this contributes to her charm and attracts men left and right, it's also pretty tragic. She's a fascinating person in that rubberneck at an accident kind of way and if this story had been longer I don't think I would have liked it as much. As it is, it's the perfect length to draw me in, keep my interest, leave before overstaying its welcome, but leave a lingering impression. I'm glad I finally read this one.

I wasn't planning on reading the three short stories also included in my copy, but I'm very glad I did. Each had that same fascinating draw-you-in vibe of the first, but in three very different ways. The first was intriguing in a way I can't quite put my finger on, the second was sad and had an old west vibe even though it took place in a prison, and the third is easily my favorite: a Christmas memory of a young boy with his grandmother.      

Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American HistoryEmpire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwyne
Loved this. Immersive writing, quick pace, chapters were a little long for me, but that just goes to show how interesting it was that the large chapters didn't deter me. I tend to shy away from this subject because it's hard to find books that focus on the facts of history and don't color things with the perspectives of the present. Thankfully, this was a brutally honest take with no villains and no heroes- just straight up history. Though, I have to say, I loved the Texas spirit.  

MinetteMinette by Melanie Clegg
Ah, it's so hard to read historical fiction that ends on a high note when you know it doesn't ultimately end that way.

Anyway, that aside, I loved this book. Well-drawn characters, good pacing, immersive history. I felt for Minette and I loved the characterization of her mother. The focus on how these two women felt in the aftermath of the revolution and how these events shaped them was well done...and heartbreaking. Not much insight into Charles II or Louis XIV, but that's okay. Melanie Clegg is a historical author to watch.

The Tudors: The Complete Story of England's Most Notorious DynastyThe Tudors by G. J. Meyer
Well, G. J. Meyer clearly is not a fan of Elizabeth I. He didn't sing Henry, Edward, or Mary's praises either, but their sections were a lot more balanced. Elizabeth, not so much. Apparently, she didn't do anything right and anything good from her era was either propaganda or someone else's achievement.

That aside, this was a nice overview of the Tudor era and worth reading. I liked Leanda de Lisle's Tudor more, but this one is still worth reading. While his Elizabeth section was clearly biased, it was still interesting to entertain that point of view and reexamine the popular narratives.

Chapters alternated between the chronological history (larger chapters) and historical asides (shorter chapters) that often took a deeper look at a particular aspect of the narrative covered in the prior chapter. Sometimes these asides gave insight into a minor player, more often they gave more general historical depth to one of the major issues of the time like corruption in the church, the history of Lutheranism, the Tower of London, Parliament, and so on.

I looked forward to these chapters. They added something to the book that let it stand apart from all the other Tudor books. I also appreciated how they were paired with the greater narrative. Some books just focus on these broader topics (Life in Tudor England type books) or take a whole book to focus on one of those topics, but this combination of royal narrative and supplementary asides helped root them in the larger context, making both sections better as a result.


Two books I put down earlier and picked up again only to quickly polish them off. Four historicals, three of which are non-fiction. One print copy owned since 2019. One classic. One fantasy. All adult. Engaged with all of them. All winners.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Year in Review: October through December

I made a really big list

I'm slower this time around in getting my year end review in order, so I'm totally thrown off. It's May 2020, but I'm looking back now on October through December 2019. Oh well, guess I'm just going to go with the flow?

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 Time-Traveling Fashionista at the Palace of Marie Antoinette The Time Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky
I was still in the grip of my September-induced Motivation to Meet All My Yearly Goals and so I decided to pick up this book: on my shelves since 2017. I was surprised by how much I loved the first book and I was looking forward to this second installment even more because of the Marie Antoinette focus. I adore Marie Antoinette. Unfortunately, I don't think Bianca Turetsky does. Add in a meh love interest, considerably less time spent in the past, and another time-traveling fashionista with a bit of an attitude and consider me disappointed. So disappointed, in fact, that I decided to break up the series and give away my beautiful print copy. I guess I just can't abide someone dissing MA. 

Stormy PetrelStormy Petrel by Mary Stewart
I've heard Mary Stewart's last three books were different from all her others. They're supposed to be softer, quieter, sweeter. That's exactly what I was looking for and now I've read all three. Sadly, Stormy Petrel is perhaps my least favorite of the three. Or, maybe it's tied with Rose Cottage for number two. Or maybe slightly above Rose Cottage. I don't know. Either way, it's not my number one (that would be Thornyhold), but it's also pretty darn good. I can definitely see myself rereading this, and forgetting enough of it that rereading will be a delight.

The Orange Trees of Versailles (Les Orangers de Versailles, #1)The Orange Trees of Versailles by Annie Pietri
I can almost say the same thing about this as I said about The Mozart Girl: This is such a little book but still managed to pack in so much. I loved the mix of perfumery and French royal history, though I could have wished for a little more detail on both fronts. Still, for such a short book, I can't complain. Athenais has been a villain for me ever since watching Versailles and seeing her played to perfection by Anna Brewster, so I liked the Super Evil version presented here. While the climax is not at all historically accurate, it does draw from a similar enough accusation that ultimately led to her downfall and I'm surprisingly not bothered by it. 

The Christmas Spirits on Tradd StreetThe Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street by Karen White
It felt weird reading this in October rather than December, but I didn't set the blog tour schedule. Still, the days were getting darker and colder and it was certainly starting to feel like winter, if not Christmas. I'm learning that I don't do well with this time of the year, so it was nice to spend time with some early Christmas festivities and old favorites and this helped me feel more cheerful than I otherwise might have felt. Is this mind over matter? Perhaps. 
Heart of Darkness 

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
I really love this cover. I actually owned a dingy mass market paperback of this book years ago that I had long since given away because it just seemed like such a drag. And boring, oh god, so boring. I also somehow mentally mixed Heart of Darkness with Paradise Lost and so I had this mental image of European colonialism, African jungles, Satan, and moralizing gloom.

But then someone I know started referencing Heart of Darkness as a (not very nice) description of some people we know and after feeling both lost and curious through the course of several conversations I looked up Heart of Darkness, saw it was only 166 pages and figured, "Why not?" I'm glad I did. (Also, those references? Spot on.)

The Ghost-Feeler: Stories of Terror and the SupernaturalThe Ghost-Feeler by Edith Wharton
I love October because I love Halloween and Halloween means ghost stories. I spent the last two weeks of October savoring these stories, turning the final page at the start of November. Edith Wharton played around with different styles and approaches and she excelled at all of them. I was pretty convinced that I liked Edith Wharton a whole lot after reading Ethan Frome and Age of Innocence, but after The Ghost-Feeler she entered into Favorite Author status.

The Glimpses of the MoonThe Glimpses of the Moon by Edith Wharton
Well, after that Favorite Author realization I wasn't about to abandon her. The thing about Edith Wharton, though, is that she doesn't exactly write uplifting books. I wanted something light and romantic, but also, you know, Edith Wharton. After combing through Goodreads and trying not to read spoilers, I finally found The Glimpses of the Moon, which was supposed to be exactly what I wanted--and it was! I feel like Glimpses is to Wharton what Northanger Abbey is to Jane Austen, and NA is my favorite JA. Perhaps because of its lighter tone and happier ending, Glimpses isn't quite as memorable for me in the details as some of her other stories (she's so good at vivid scenes), but that will only make it all the more enjoyable when I reread it.

The Enchanted AprilThe Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim
I wanted to continue in a similar vein-- uplifting, calm, historical but not *too* historical and so I sought out a whole slew of classics that fit the bill. I decided on The Enchanted April, and not only because it's a pretty short one (though, yeah, that was a big draw). I loved it. I was really starting to settle into this pleasant bubble of gauzy white dresses, lovely gardens, gigantic houses, and lives of leisure and luxury. It helped stave off some of the doldrums of dark November.

The Making of a Marchioness, Part I and II (Emily Fox-Seton #1-2)The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
And another. This one was off the rails. It started out like a super saccharine version of a Jane Austen novel. Imagine Persuasion minus the earlier rejection but with an extra heaping of Old Maid and starring an even more angelic Jane Bennett-esque lead. Then transition into the slapstick Gothic thrills of Northanger Abbey with a cameo from an exotic witch-doctor Mrs. Danvers ala du Maurier's Rebecca and the Ridiculous dial cranked up to 11. It was a blast!   

Marie Antoinette: Princess of Versailles, Austria - France, 1769 

Marie Antoinette (Royal Diaries) by Kathryn Lasky
I think I needed a break from the low-grade classics after that last whirlwind. I had also been reading a lot of e-books and with the end of November looming I was starting to feel the pressure of Unmet Goals. This book got me a double dose of box checking: owned since 2014 and historical fiction. I was woefully behind on my goal for reading historical fiction, particularly historical bio, and I wasn't too happy about that. I make my reading goals because I know reading those books makes me happy, so I wanted to make sure I was actually doing the things that make me happy. And this book? It made me happy.

The BorgiasThe Borgias by Christopher Hibbert
Historical and owned since 2013. Check and check! Christopher Hibbert clearly adores Cesare, and while he definitely sung his praises, that didn't stop Hibbert from detailing out Cesare's flaws as well. And, oh god, I learned far more about Cesare's experiences with syphilis than I was ever expecting to know. I was in the middle of a rewatch of the Showtime series of the same name and so this was a nice parallel.

A True Home (Heartwood Hotel, #1)Heartwood Hotel: A True Home by Kallie George
Owned since 2017--check! December started and I had some ground to cover. This was short, short chapters, adorable illustrations, and MG. I tore through it and loved every second. It was so heartwarming. I just wanted to hug it.

The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIIIThe King is Dead by Suzannah Lipscomb
Well, the heartwarming reprieve was over and I dove back into historical murder, mayhem, death, and disease. While short, this was a powerhouse of a book. I felt a little like I was reading Lipscomb's dissertation, but I mean that in the best possible way. There was a youthful eagerness, an excitement, curiosity, and investment in the topic that came through every page and that made this a joy to read. I enjoyed the way Lipscomb approached the topic, focusing on the final decade, year, and month of Henry's life, piecing together how the events during these times all shaped how he wrote his will and his hopes for his son's reign. I've seen a number of Suzannah Lipscomb's historical TV shows (so good!) and reading this book felt just like listening to her talk, which is a very good thing.

Heart's BloodHeart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
The year was winding down, my goals were almost met, and I felt Heart's Blood pulling me to it again. Though I first read this book in the summer of 2015 and though the book takes place across a summer, for some reason this feels like such a winter book to me. I guess it's the Beauty and the Beast storyline where everything feels bleak, dark, and cold like an abandoned garden in the dead of winter...and then slowly but comes back. That's a good message for me to read in the doldrums of winter! 

1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII by Suzannah Lipscomb
After the smashing success of The King is Dead I couldn't stop myself from diving into this book (they're both so short!). I liked it. I did. But I think Suzannah Lipscomb did a better job convincing me that it wasn't just the events of 1536 that changed Henry, but rather the events leading up to and then culminating in 1536 that profoundly impacted him. 1536 didn't just happen in a bubble; there was over a decade of events that all stacked together and took Henry to this final climax of horror...and then set him on the path he would follow until his death. So, I don't ultimately agree with her conclusion, but I loved the journey she took me on to get there.

The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy, #3)The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden
Now this is a winter book. I love so much about this series. I cried at the start, I cried at the end. Vasya's relationships with the Winter King, the Bear, her brother, and sister, the magical creatures, and, of course, the horses...I don't even know what to say. I love them all. I love how these books feel like Russian fairy tales mixed with Russian history, both timeless and old. They feel palpable and the imagery...ah I feel like I'm in the pages of Laurel Long illustrations or those Russian lacquer boxes. Breathtaking, heartbreaking, beautiful.

The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5)The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski
I picked this up after watching the Witcher series on Netflix. Yeah, I know, me and everyone else. I was surprised by how much I liked these stories. It feels weird going back to my fantasy roots...and the ingrained flood of knee-jerk excuses for actually liking fantasy books. Interesting. I guess it really has been a while since I've felt guilt or shame for reading what I like.

Elizabeth the GreatElizabeth the Great by Elizabeth Jenkins
This book took me flipping forever to finish. I started reading at the end of September (the day I bought it, go me) and I didn't finish until the penultimate day of the year. This wasn't because I didn't like the book. I loved it. It's because it's a print book and I couldn't find an e-book version to read. The font was tiny, the book was awkward to hold, I didn't have that nifty "X number of minutes for this chapter" thingy that I have on my e-reader. Yeah, ok, I'm a total e-book convert.

But, whatever, I read it and I loved it. Between this book and Susan Kay's Legacy you can consider me an Elizabeth I convert, too. It took me a while to warm up to her, and I still think she's crazy as all get out, but I feel for her now.

Mary, Bloody Mary (Young Royals, #1)Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer
Was I going to be able to squeeze in one final book to make a cool, round 80 books read in 2019? Ha, yes, it's all about choosing the right book, and I knew Carolyn Meyer would have my back. Also, book I owned since 2014 and historical bio. Nailed my goals.

I liked reading this book right next to the book about Elizabeth I. Seeing the two sisters side by side, and so soon after immersing myself in Suzannah Lipscomb's Tour of Henry's Horrors, really brought home how terrible their situations were and how much blame can be laid at the feet of their father. It was also interesting to see how these first two queens of England blazed the trail. Their experiences were so similar and so different, and their personalities were shaped in ways that make perfect sense given their history. I find both of their stories so tragic, and it's made even sadder by the fact that they were not able to form a positive relationship with each other.

So often historical figures are shrouded in History's Mysteries and we can only guess at what they must have thought or felt or even what their personalities might have been like. Sure, we're doing the same thing with Elizabeth and Mary, but they feel much more real, nuanced, and understandable.


Well, that's it for 2019. October through December continued very happily and I was able to redirect my reading to happy escapes rather than letting the darkness of winter plunge me into the depths of despair (I use that Anne of Green Gables reference whenever I can and no one ever gets it so they just look at me funny and think I'm terribly dramatic).

I need to remember this moving forward. I noticed this quarter that I didn't quite focus on and immerse myself in the books I was reading as much as I did over the summer, and that's a shame since I read some wonderful books. Squandered opportunity, and I want to take that lesson learned to heart and focus on my book fully and completely in the moment. Whatever's on my mind can wait.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Year in Review: July through September

I made a really big list

I'm slower this time around in getting my year end review in order, so I'm totally thrown off. It's April 2020, but I'm looking back now on July through September 2019. Oh well, guess I'm just going to go with the flow?

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 Vanished Bride (Brontë Sisters Mystery #1)The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
July sped along with the same momentum as June. Happy, warm, sunny mornings filled with wonderful time spent reading in bed. I'm writing this now on the first day of February 2020 when the mornings are still too dark and the days are still too cold, and so it's nice to remember that "this too shall pass" and the rhythm of my mornings will get easier. This book was an unexpected surprise and continued my streak of delightful review books.

Always EmilyAlways Emily by Michaela MacColl
My interest in the Brontes was piqued, but I didn't want to actually read their books (I love Wuthering Heights, but at least for now I don't have much interest in reading the other Bronte offerings, and, yes, that includes Jane Eyre...I know, I know. Someday it will be the right time and I'm sure I'll love it then). Michaela MacColl isn't an author I think of much, but I've enjoyed the two books I've now read of hers. It's funny how some authors, despite enjoying their books, just seem to slip of of my mind. I keep blending these two Bronte books together in my memory, but that's fine. This experience felt like an unexpected, fun, and light way to delve into historical biography of the Brontes. Kind of like a sideways approach. I liked it.

The Mozart Girl
The Mozart Girl by Barbara Nickel
This is such a little book but still managed to pack in so much. It reminded me of the Royal Diaries books, which is a very good thing. I hope Barbara Nickel writes more like this. I felt so much for Nannerl and I liked how the author balanced her love for and jealousy of her younger brother. I'm really glad I decided to read this one.

The Sacred RiverThe Sacred River by Wendy Wallace
I don't remember how I came across this book, but it was definitely an impulse read. For so many books I feel like I need to let them "breathe" and "age" with me as if they were a bottle of wine. I have to keep them on my TBR for years, open their Goodreads pages a million times, see them on my list, consider reading them for months before finally committing. This one I discovered and started reading all in the same day, which is what I consider an "impulse" read. I'm always kind of proud of reading them, which is such a funny thing to say. Anyway, I was hoping for something in the vein of Sally Beauman's The Visitors or Jeanne Mackin's The Last Collection. Something...historical but more modernish, fictional characters but real historical context. Something that felt....I don't know, I want to say "profound" but that's really not the right word at all. Something with impact. I didn't quite get that as fully as in the other books, and I think it might be because this book follows three main characters and that split focus watered each story down a little. Still though, even with that, I did love this book and I'm so glad I "gave in" to my impulse. I also love that cover.   

The Case of the Missing Marquess (Enola Holmes, #1)The Enola Holmes mystery series by Nancy Springer
I "read" the fifth book in the series way back in 2014 as an audiobook, mostly because it was short. I was lukewarm about it. I've since learned the lesson that I cannot read books for the first time as audiobooks. It ruins it for me. Rereads through audio? Fantastic. But not first runs. So, I started this series now not expecting much, and wow was I surprised when I was utterly sucked into the series. I adored Enola and her heartbreak over her mother's abandonment, her tentative heart-melting with her brothers (even if her love for Sherlock sometimes felt a little *too* romantic), her curiosity, and her intrepid spirit. The history was fun, the mysteries engaging, and I really got a kick out of all the costumes. I'm really glad I decided to pick up this series, which had been on my radar for what seems like forever.

A Little Bit of Buddha: An Introduction to Buddhist ThoughtA Little Bit of Buddha by Chad Mercree
I started August with another impulse read. I've been going to a weekly meditation group and my teacher has been dropping in little bits of "wisdom of the Buddha" so when I saw this shortie pop up in my library, I figured why not? The first part was a lot better than the later chapters, but overall this gave me a nice overview of the teachings of the Buddha. I'm learning that there are a lot of interpretations when it comes to Buddhaism, and so I'm taking it all with a grain of salt, picking up the bits that I find inspiring or thought-provoking, and not losing sleep over the rest.

The Sisters MortlandThe Sisters Mortland by Sally Beauman
So, I read this book in August 2019 and I'm writing this post in February 2020...nearly seven months later and I've been thinking of this book off and on that whole time. I can't say it was enchanting or delightful or happy or had characters I loved. No, I didn't really like any of the characters and it was dark and sad and upsetting. But so, so evocative and immersive. I've now read this book and The Visitors by Sally Beauman, and you can count me a fan. I think she may be one of those authors where I can't judge the storyline, I just need to trust that she's going to write it in such a way that I will love the book regardless. There's this scene that features one of my all time favorite perfumes (Guerlain's L'Heure Bleue) in a very *ahem* visceral way (it's a sex scene) and I must admit that whenever I wear that perfume now I can't not think of that scene.
The Kiss of the Concubine: A story of Anne BoleynThe Kiss of the Concubine by Judith Arnopp
I can't decide with this book. On one hand I liked how the author portrayed Anne. She was a mix of "good" and "bad" and I like that approach (it feels more realistic)...and on the other hand I can't stop cringing at Anne describing Henry playing with her "duckies" (her breasts). That isn't the best lasting impression. Still, despite this, as far as Anne Boleyn books go, this is one of the better ones.

The Age of Innocence 

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

I feel silly admitting it, but I'm always so impressed and proud of myself when I read a classic. I don't know why. They're books. I can clearly read. Why this is an accomplishment I don't know, but polishing off a classic never fails to leave me with a warm glow. I'd like to say it's because they're good books and it's that enriching experience that makes me feel this way, but this is not true at all. I'm pretty sure it's my inner A-student basking in the glory of smartypantsness.  

Anyway, I read Ethan Frome back in 2009 and ten years later I was still thinking about it. At first I thought I disliked it. The story is so depressing! But it packed a wallop of an impression that wouldn't let go and I've grown to really appreciate what Wharton did with that cautionary tale. I decided to pick up Age of Innocence and I loved every second of it. It's funny how even though I lived in NY at the end of the 20th century and Wharton lived there at the start of that century, everything she wrote felt so New York. The characters, the culture, the lifestyle, it all felt so, so familiar.  

Refining Felicity (The School for Manners, #1)Refining Felicity and Perfecting Fiona by M. C. Beaton
I got the Marion Chesney itch again and decided to go back to her historical romances rather than Agatha Raisin. It's the same formula: sweet but slightly off-beat main character, dashing and manly romantic interest, very off-beat elderly sidekicks, and a surprisingly good amount of historical setting. The familiar pattern does wear as it feels like I'm rereading the same book over and over again...but oh I do love that pattern.

The Trouble with TwinsThe Trouble with Twins by Kathryn Siebel
Okay, September started and I began to feel that surge of motivation that can only be felt by a goal-oriented person closing in on the final quarter of the year. Four more months left meant plenty of time to accomplish things as long as I retained Focus. So, in looking at the goals I had set, I realized I wanted to go through more of the books I've owned physical copies of for a number of years. At four years of ownership, The Trouble with Twins definitely checked that box. It was also illustrated, middle grade, super short chapters, and only 208 pages, which meant that I could feel that thrill of crossing off the list in no time at all. Cherry on top? I actually really enjoyed the book.

Hammer of the Scots (Plantagenet Saga, #7)Hammer of the Scots by Jean Plaidy
There are better covers of this book, but I am just tickled by this cover. The costumes, the posture, combined with the now-made-dirty title and the epic masculinity of Edward I and his swooning brides makes me giggle every time I think of it. After reading Cashelmara the year before I'd been itching for another Edward I book. Surprisingly, there aren't a whole lot of them out there, and even fewer if you're looking for fiction. Edward II? Tons. But his father? Slim pickings. This was a typical Plaidy entry of her "delightful" sort: kind of over the top, but still rooted in good historical writing and it feels like she liked writing this one (as opposed to some of her others that feel a little more phoned in). I had a lot of fun with it. Though I still wish I had more Edward I books to read...

Catch Me a ColobusCatch Me a Colobus by Gerry Durrell
I love that Gerry Durrell was such a prolific author. Some are better than others, but they're all light, quick, and amusing. This one was one of the less wonderful ones, but still enjoyable. I enjoyed reading about him describing this novel culinary experience when he visited Mexico in search of a rabbit and tried this unknown treat called a taco. It's funny how things about Mexico that are so familiar to me now as an American in the 21st century were so unfamiliar to the British Gerry Durrell in the early 20th century.

The SwapThe Swap by Megan Shull
I confess, I have a weakness for YA/MG body-swap stories. The Preston Norton book I read in April re-opened this Pandora's box for me and by September I was still hankering for more. I searched for body-swap books and this one came up. A quick download from my library and I was in business. I loved it. This nailed everything I love about body-swap stories and had a super contrived and sweet ending that left me with warm fuzzies. Darn, now I want to read another body-swap story.

Come, Tell Me How You Live: An Archaeological MemoirCome Tell Me How You Live by Agatha Christie Mallowan
I've been trying to take a much more "go with the flow" approach to my reading and one interesting effect has been that I'm much more likely to stop reading a book midway through if I start to lose interest and then pick it up many months (or years) later and happily finish it off. That's a new level of casual for me that I'm kind of horrified by and kind of impressed with myself. Anyway, I started reading this book in August 2018, put it down in September after reading 23%, picked it up an entire year later and finished it off in September 2019. How's that for go with the flow?


July through September was a wonderful time.

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.


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).

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