Thursday, December 27, 2018

2018 in Review: July through September

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 Little Book of Pooh-isms
A review book. Hardly a "book" in the reading challenge sense, this was a quick read filled with quotes from the Pooh books and movies. Sweet, charming, and somewhat silly, this book was nice because it reminded me of the other books and movies. My husband and I read through the quotes together while making dinner one night. Which, really does make this book a good way to spend some time.

Emily Goes to Exeter by M. C. Beaton
Belinda Goes to Bath by M. C. Beaton
I wasn't ready to let go of this author yet, so I picked her her Traveling Matchmaker series. These books have the best covers yet, but not the best stories. Oh they're great, and I love them, but this series didn't quite grab me the way the other two series did. Which is to say, they're maybe more of a 4.5 special shelf read than a 5 star special shelf read. It also might be timing. I had consumed over 12 of these books by this point and I ended up reading only two of the six in this series before breaking for other books

A Poisoned Season by Tasha Alexander
It took me four years to finally pick up the second book in this series (the first is And Only to Deceive). One of our local used bookstores closed and, of course, I took part in their going out of business sale. The third book in this series was one of my "finds" and that prompted me to read the unread second book. I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, which, yes, I was surprised even though I was of course hoping for that. The main character and I don't entirely click and there's something about the books that is close but not quite there for me. Still, I really liked the time I spent with this book and I started reading the next book directly after finishing this one. 

Annie's Life in Lists by Kristin Mahoney
I was in the mood for something modern, light, sweet, and middle grade after reading so many historicals. I think this popped up as a new book at my library and so I grabbed in on impulse and started reading. It was a fast read (everything is written in list format) and hit the spot.

A Week of Mondays by Jessica Brody
Still in the mood for something contemporary and light, but with a dash of romance. Enter YA contemporary. I almost shied away because of the large page count (464 pages!) but I decided to give it a try. I'm glad I did. It went by super fast and fit my mood perfectly.

A Fatal Waltz by Tasha Alexander
The main character in this series makes me roll my eyes so hard. She's insufferable (which is why I decided not to pick up book 4...I just couldn't spend more time with her right now). But, there's something about these books that I do enjoy and despite the main character I ended up spending a pleasant time with this book. I also liked the atmospheric blustering cold winter described here (it may have been July here, but my hyperbolic thin Texas blood felt like summer never managed to get here...I don't think the weather ever cracked 100 and I'm sorry but high 80s or even mid-90s as a peak summer high is cold). Plus, I picked this book up at the store closing sale on June 29th and by July 18th I had finished it! Fantastic!

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley
Ok, so I wasn't quite done with Susanna Kearsley this year. I snagged this copy at the same going out of business sale and started reading it right after finishing A Fatal Waltz. It was kind of silly and not my favorite of her books, but it still had a cozy fun vibe to it that made the whole experience like putting on a fluffy sweater and watching kitschy movies. I really like this author and I'm glad she has so many more books for me to read.  

Mother Knows Best by Serena Valentino
July closed with the latest from Serena Valentino's zany Disney villains series. I got this one for review, but I would have read it anyway. I love these books. I'd say they're a guilty pleasure, but I don't feel guilty about liking them.

Penelope Goes to Portsmouth by M. C. Beaton
These books are addictive. I took a small break in the middle of this series, but by August I was back for more. This book introduces Miss Pym's footman Benjamin and he is a lovely addition to this series. The budding romance between Miss Pym and Sir George continues, and even though we really only glimpse this relationship in the beginning and end of each book, I live for those chapters!  

The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom by Christopher Healy
Ah, I still love this book! Isn't it great when you reread an old favorite and you adore it just as much as you did the first time? It seems I'm developing a three year cycle, having first read the book in 2012, then again on audio in 2015, and reading again now in 2018. Perhaps an audio re-read is in order in 2021? Ha, well, we'll see. For now, it was wonderful reading a book that made me laugh as much as this one did.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian
I wasn't expecting this book to be what it was. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but since I didn't know about the Armenian Genocide until I read this book, I wasn't expecting that. It's always weird to me when I'm confronted with an entire slice of history I've been entirely ignorant of, and I do consider myself a person more historically inclined than not. There's just so much to know and it's in moments like these that I am humbled and delighted by how much I still have, and will always have, to learn.
Bright Burns the Night by Sara B. Larson
I didn't so much as "read" this book in August as I "finished" it in August. What do I mean by that? Well, I first started reading this book toward the end of March when it arrived unexpectedly at my door. I read through the first few weeks of April and then put it down around the 50% mark with every intention of finishing it at some point. It nagged at the back of my mind and finally I decided to just finish it in August. The book itself was...weird. Good in some ways, but it never really launched and then when it finally started picking up toward the end it crashed and burned spectacularly.

But, silver lining, I'm really enjoying how much looser I've become with allowing myself to read a book when it fits my mood and not push it when it doesn't fit. It feels less about the book or reading lists or numbers of books read and more about me and my enjoyment, regardless of how conventional my approach. Which, really, isn't that what reading should be about?

The Hero's Guide to Storming the Castle by Christopher Healy
I didn't want to laughter to stop, so I started reading this book as soon as I finished the first. The whole experience felt like I was retreating into some happy bubble world. I also could not keep the jeopardous jade djinn gem out of my head as if it were a song lyric on loop. I remember thinking of this story while hiking back and forth up and down a hill carrying firewood back to our campsite. Funny how certain memories become attached to certain reading experiences.  

Beatrice Goes to Brighton by M. C. Beaton
August ended as it began, with another Traveling Matchmaker book. As with her other historical books, these are surprisingly filled with little historical details and a lovely sense of time and place. Miss Pym's adventures in romance and mystery continued and I continued to love them.

Her Highness the Traitor by Susan Higginbotham
Much as I was absolutely loving my light and sweet reading experiences, I was bit hard by the historical bug in September and the entire month was spent immersing myself in the past. Even better? I own ALL of these books! Best of all? I enjoyed all of them.

Her Highness the Traitor is the fourth Susan Hibbinbotham book I've read, and I enjoyed it immensely. I really appreciated how we followed "side" historical figures, so, still real historical people, but people who are usually mentioned as side characters in historical fiction. I liked how they got center stage in this book and that slight shift in perspective added so much depth to my understanding of events during this time. 

Queen Defiant by Anne O'Brien
I started out my book relationship with Eleanor of Aquitaine in a somewhat rocky way through Christy English's book To Be Queen (though the Royal Diaries version was a better experience, if limited on the timeline of events). Anne O'Brien was a two for two hit for me, but in a kind of weaker 3.5 star way. So, my hopes were moderate and I was delighted when Queen Defiant exceeded my expectations. I actually really liked Eleanor and enjoyed the book a lot. This was admittedly helped by Susan Howatch's excellent portrayal-ish of Eleanor still seared in my mind and adding depth to my reading of Eleanor in this book. But, bottom line? I had a blast, regardless of the reason, and I will remember this as the book I finally became BFFs with Eleanor. Sometimes it takes a few tries and a few authors.

The Thrifty Guide to Ancient Greece by Jonathan Stokes
I hope this series continues! Though not perfect, what with the silly time traveling gimmick and the...erm, sanitized approach to some events and people (but, seriously, how else can you do Caligula for kids?), they aren't Heavy History reads. But they're fun. They're fast. And they inspire deeper dives to learn even more about history. So, I'm happy with them. 

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Kay Penman
If I read no other book than this one this year I would have considered that a smashing success. I have a long history with this book, so even just finishing it is a triumph. See, I first started reading this book in 2013. I got about a quarter of the way through and then stalled. Not because I wasn't liking it, either. I just...stopped. Then I tried rereading it in 2017 and got through about 15% before stalling out again.

I can't even explain why because I adored what I read. I even gave a lower rating to Elizabeth Chadwick's Lady of the English because I so adored Sharon Kay Penman's take in this book that I had not even finished. Yet Maude and Geoffrey's story was so seared in my mind. And it only got better from there. Reading this book was an absolute delight. The fictional parts, the historical parts, it was all fantastic and I hope I don't let such a long time go by before reading more Sharon Kay Penman.

The Stolen Crown by Susan Higginbotham may have been a little unfair to read another historical fiction book right on the tails of When Christ and His Saints Slept, but I didn't love The Stolen Crown as much as I was hoping I would. It was ok. Katherine and her husband were likeable enough, but they both felt more shallow and surface-level. Events seemed to happen around them and Katherine sort of floated through them. Part of that is probably her character, but it felt like the book wasn't as...full? Polished? I'm not sure. It felt weaker than Susan Higginbotham's other books, and that may be the case considering this was her first book. Still, I did enjoy it overall, even if it isn't a favorite.


Interestingly, with the exception of that one camping memory, I can't really recall what was going on in my life while I was reading these books. In part I think that's because there wasn't much actually going on. Well, that's not true. There was a lot going on! The new president at my job started and I oversaw the remodel work on a building that opened in late August. But, even with all that excitement, there weren't any problems or drama, just relaxing and enjoying life. We got our rooftop tent during these months and spent most weekends out camping.

Notably, I do strongly recall reading Agatha Christie's Come, Tell Me How You Live during our trip to Winnemucca Lake where we saw wild donkeys and watched the meteor shower (complete with bats flying over hour heads). I didn't end up finishing that book, but not because I didn't enjoy it. I actually loved what I read, but I think that will be a book I savor over time. 

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