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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