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.

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