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Weekend reads, or social distancing...

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One million library holds arrived this week. Which is nice because my community, like so many, has requested people exercise "social distancing" to help prevent a wider spread of COVID19.

I plan to participate in next weekend's #StayHome24in48, a little readathon for all of us who need some bookish time alone/together. Are you going to?

I have one million reviews to write for Historical Novel Review but I still plan to read something. I'm leaning toward Sarah Gailey's Upright Women Wanted. What are you reading this weekend?


On cleaning up the blog roll...

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I'm so terrible at checking through my blog roll, even on days when I post here. I'm slightly better at responding on Instagram or Twitter. But I added some blogs to my blog roll, in another fit of hopefulness that I'll be better at nurturing community; and wondered if I ought to clean up my blog roll.

There are blogs that haven't been updated in years -- many years -- that I still don't have the heart to remove because I feel like they're the last connection I have with said blogger. In one case, the blogger has died, and I just can't let go of her. Seeing her blog name always makes me smile. The others are bloggers who have moved on, but I would wait forever for an update from them. Is that weird?

How do you handle your blog roll? Are there bloggers you keep on your blog roll for some reason -- sentimental or otherwise?

Weekend reads, or life in the sugar shack

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I really hate February as a rule: it's so gray, and cold, and snowy, but not in a pretty way; there aren't enough warm days to make it feel springy, and the rain is still wintry cold and makes me feel achy.

Farm life has made February more bearable in the last few years: we get baby animals, including some hilarious kids most recently; and sugar season starts.

Our second home the last few weeks has been the sugar shack, where my wife and other staff boil the maple sap for 12 hours a day. The small wood shack gets steamy and smells of maple, and is warm and cozy with children and dogs.

My weekend read this weekend is the audiobook of The Deep by Rivers Solomon, read by Daveed Diggs. It's an incredible listen but I'm not surprised, given how amazing Solomon's previous novel, An Unkindness of Ghosts, was.

What are you doing this weekend? Will you be reading anything?

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe

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As a teen, Anna had indeed broken in to drink the communion wine, because she needed the extra holiness.

I've not been so madly in love with a heroine in a long time as I am with Anna Blanc. I gushed about her in my review of Kincheloe's first book, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc, and this second historical mystery featuring our plucky, daring, poised, naive, sweet, reckless girl was so satisfying and exciting.

The Woman in the Camphor Trunk by Jennifer Kincheloe
Seventh Street Books, 2017
Copy from my public library & audiobook review copy from the author
Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

I tend to drop serial historical mysteries because at a certain point it feels like the interpersonal stuff with the main characters gets frozen at a certain point to ensure that readers can drop into new releases without wondering what they missed. Possibly this could happen with Kincheloe's series if it goes on for ten more books but so far, I'm really impressed with how much …

Book Review: Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey

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Was this a sign that she was ready to shed him like a layer of old skin and move on?

At this point, I think this is my seventh Tessa Bailey romance and I'm sad to say I really think I'm just not the right reader for her books. This book is the second in her newest series, Hot & Hammered, set in Port Jefferson, Long Island, centered around the Castle family and their home renovation business.

Love Her or Lose Her by Tessa Bailey
Avon, 2020
Copy from the public library

Dominic works on the construction crew and is married to his high school sweetheart. But after a decade together -- including the time he served in the Marines in Afghanistan -- things with his beloved Rosie are stilted and tense. They never talk, his wife's emotional life is a complete mystery to him, and he firmly believes that acts of care, done in secret, is the only way for a husband to behave. For Rosie, she feels like a shadow in her own life, her dream of own a restaurant drifting further and furthe…

Audiobook Review: The Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe

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Anna didn't like children. Her greatest fear was that her prayers would get crossed with some other Catholics. Anna would get pregnant without even asking and some other woman would get a motorcycle or permission to play flag football.

I've got a new heroine addiction in the form of one Anna Blanc -- socialite, heiress, adventurer, crime fighter.

Set in 1907 Los Angeles, our heroine Anna is the daughter of a French banker and is known for being a charming, beautiful socialite. But she wants more than all that. She wants to be a police detective. Her reputation is already borderline ruined from an impetuous decision she makes in the first chapter, but she manages to juggle a handsome, wealthy suitor and a position as a police matron -- the closest thing to being a police detective she can manage. But wrangling orphans into orphanages isn't the work she wants to do, and with guts, moxie, and obliviousness, she gets to work solving murders and other crimes.

The Secret L…

Audiobook Review: Pemberley: Mr. Darcy's Dragon by Maria Grace

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Elizabeth's stomach churned. To be so ambushed, first thing in the day.

Austen's classic novel of manners, marriage, obligation, misunderstandings, poor judgments and well-founded ones is well-served by Maria Grace's imaginings of how society would respond to a world with dragons. It is not merely a retelling with lizards thrown in but a story with new threads of tension and complications that make Lizzie and Darcy's dislike of each other novel and real -- and something that must be urgently overcome.

Pemberley: Mr. Darcy's Dragon: A Pride and Prejudice Variation (Jane Austen's Dragons, Book 1) by Maria Grace; Narrated by Benjamin Fife
Self-published, 2019
Review copy for Audiobookworm Promotions
Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Pride and Prejudice isn't my favorite Austen novel which means I seriously love P&P re-tellings and variations.  (Ayesha at Last is one of the best bestest, btw, so if you haven't read it, read it now!) I found myself inst…

Reading Challenge: 2020 Historical Fiction

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I can't believe I'd forgotten to sign up for my favorite reading challenge! (Although, to be honest, it's hardly a "challenge" because it's my favorite genre, so basically, it's like that easy thing one can cross off their to do list!)

Hosted by Passages to the Past, the 2020 Historical Fiction challenge encourages readers to dig into more historical novels. Like last year, I'm going for Ancient History - 25 books.


Books Read

Maria Grace, Pemberley: Mr. Darcy's Dragon
Jennifer Kincheloe, The Body in Griffith Park
Jennifer Kincheloe, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc
Jennifer Kincheloe, The Woman in the Camphor Trunk
Diana Lloyd, About an Earl
Olivia Waite, The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics


Books Read in 2019

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January

Oyinkan Braithwaite, My Sister, the Serial Killer
Alyssa Cole, An Extraordinary Union
Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
Aja Monet, My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter
Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Signal to Noise
Kaoru Mori, Emma, Vol 1
Kaoru Mori, Emma, Vol 2
Sarah Perry, Melmoth

February

Alyssa Cole, A Prince on Paper
Claire G. Coleman, Terra Nullius
Sangu Mandanna, A Spark of White Fire
Mandeliene Smith, Rutting Season
Susan Tan, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire

March

Alyssa Cole, A Hope Divided
Neil Gaiman, Norse Mythology
David Grann, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI
Lauren Layne, Blurred Lines
Lauren Layne, Irresistibly Yours
Lauren Layne, I Wish You Were Mine
Lauren Layne, Made for You
Lauren Layne, Only with You
Lauren Layne, Someone like You
Lauren Layne, Walk of Shame
Jessica Lemmon, Arm Candy
Jessica Lemmon, The Bastard Billionaire
Jessica Lemmon, The Billionaire Bachelor
Jessica Lemmon, The Bill…

10 Years of Blogging !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Unbelievably, ten years ago today (or so), I started this blog.

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

Before then, I was tracking my books on Livejournal, but wanted more conversation about the books I was reading.

I posted a review of The Monsters of Templeton (a book I still think about some ten years later) and ... yeah. I remember thinking it'd be amazing if I could last six months. Then a year.

And somehow, I managed to do this for a decade. !!!!!!!!!!!!1

There are few things I can say I've done consistently for 10 years and I'm feeling pretty proud of myself. Blogging has really changed my life: it's changed how I read, the way I think about my reading and writing, and it's one of my biggest hobbies. (It numbers as one of the first four things people say about me when introducing me to others.)

I can't express how much I appreciate the people I've met through blogging. You all have made this more fun, interesting, meaningful, and fun! It's really the only re…

Reading Challenge: Read Harder 2020

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For 2019, I did two reading challenges: Historical Fiction and Read Harder.

Read Harder changed my reading life.

I had initially rolled my eyes at about a fourth of the requirements, but in the end, every book I was "forced" to read was ultimately really wonderful. I ended up learning something, enjoying more than I anticipated, and was introduced to new authors and ideas. Many of my favorite reads for 2019 were due to Read Harder -- now I feel like I 'get' reading challenges and I'm hooked!

So I'm pretty excited for Read Harder 2020. If you can recommend anything that fits one of these 24 options, let me know! I'm still developing my list.

Read Harder 2020

1) Read a YA nonfiction book
An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States for Young People 2) Read a retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, or myth by an author of color
Beloved by Toni MorrisonOne Thousand and One Nights by Hanan al-ShaykhTender by Sofia Samatar 3) Read a mystery wh…

Weekend reads, or hunkering down for winter

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We had our first snow earlier this week; for us, it was two days, so heavy that school was cancelled. Unabridged Kid enjoyed himself and had a wildlife cafe for a bit.

Winter is my least favorite season so I'm trying to lean into the hygge by getting cozy when possible: fancy chocolates on chilly nights; cuddling the new kittens, Dash and Lilly; pretty decorations; and of course, books!

This weekend I'll be finishing up three reads for the Historical Novel Society (reviews to come in the spring issue of the magazine): Brett Cogburn's Gunpowder Express; Leanna Renee Hieber's A Sanctuary of Spirits; and Sarah-Jane Stratford's Red Letter Days.

I'm two books short of completing Read Harder 2019 and I am determined to crush it, although I suspect I'll be wrapping up at 11:57 on the 31st. I'm pulling together my top 10 reads for 2019 and it is a very hard list to assemble -- there were SO. MANY standout reads this year.

What are you reading this weekend?

The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott

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Was it so wrong to feel that she had been treated unfairly? That she'd been judged and damned and had not had the right to defend herself?

I stayed up until 1am to finish this novel, set in 1921, following a veteran and a widow of World War I. It had shades of Graham Greene and Alfred Hitchcock, too: a vague menace stalking our main characters, who were trying to find peace in a Europe looking to neatly memorialize what had happened.

The Poppy Wife by Caroline Scott
William Morrow Paperbacks, 2019
Review copy from publisher for blog tour
Historical Fiction reading challenge

I've mostly given up novels set in eitherWorld War I or World War II; I'd read so many that I was feeling like I was getting the same thing over and over. This is Caroline Scott's debut novel, and she manages to not only create a story with the hold-your-breath tension of a domestic thriller, but she also brilliantly (tearfully) evokes the terror and horror of trench combat.

Edie's husband Fran…

The Art of Escapism Cooking by Mandy Lee

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Look, the only thing I'd like to cook at seven in the morning -- as I lie in bed with residual resentments from the day before and looming despair about the day ahead --is the people who say they love cooking breakfast. Who are these people? I imagine their breakfasts taste like denial buttered up with overcompensating enthusiasm.

Cookbooks are so much more than lists of recipes anymore. Some are really just about the pretty pictures or the personality of their author. Many are attempts to catch a popular trend, usually of the 'diet' variety.

Mandy Lee's cookbook might have mouthwatering pictures and a strong sense of her acerbic personality, but it's also a travel memoir, a biography, a Dear John; or, as the subtitle succinctly summarizes: a survival story.

I'm not sure I've ever really found myself thinking about how well a cookbook meets a political moment, however, until this one. (Which is a shame, because food is so much a part of culture, identit…

National Geographic's Visual Galaxy

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Our burning desire to take those first wobbly steps is rooted in our need to go see for ourselves, to taste and touch the world around us. We learn by exploring., from the Foreword by Col. Chris Hadfield

Of the million reasons I love being a parent to Unabridged Kid, one of the biggies is his hunger to know and learn. Seeing his joy, his awe, and his delight as he discovers something about the world around him is a pleasure I can barely express. Which is why I am so loving these gorgeous coffee table books from National Geographic.

Visual Galaxy
National Geographic, 2019
Source from the publisher for blog tour

Earlier this year I gushed about my sentimental attachment to National Geographic; I'm grateful that they are still sharing the beauty and mystery of our world and beyond.

The Foreword from Col. Chris Hadfield is a short love letter to everyone inspired by the sky and what is just past what we can see; I'm a Hadfield fan already but his brief introduction was genuine, a…

The Highlander's Christmas Bride by Vanessa Kelly

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"Don't think too long, because you're not that charming," Nick said. "She just might choose a nunnery, after all."

Despite my love of romances, I've somehow never gotten onto the Christmas romance train, which is odd because I do love Christmas movies (although I am firmly against Love Actually as either a sentimental holiday tradition or a movie to be liked; but I also believe both Die Hard and Bridget Jones's Diary are Christmas movies so take what you will from this.)

All that to say: Vanessa Kelly's newest has me thinking I need to do some Christmas-themed romance deep diving immediately.

The Highlander's Christmas Bride by Vanessa Kelly
Zebra Books, 2019
Copy from the author for blog tour
Historical Fiction reading challenge

While the plot is familiar -- seemingly-doomed-to-spinsterhood heroine meets brawny bachelor; both smother their interest in the other; random occurrence forces them to consider marriage to save reputations -- Kelly t…

Weekend Reads, or readathon-ing it...

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Busy weekends upon us, including this one. School open houses, playdates, and birthday parties. Spending time outside, enjoying New England fall when it's not an icy, rainy deluge.

But Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon is tomorrow, and as always, I've signed up in hopes of getting some good reading in. I've a string of books more than half read, and I'd love to finish them during the readathon.

I'm hoping I'll finish up Tarot for Troubled Times, which has given me so much to chew over and freshened up my tarot practice; as well as the absolutely emotionally gripping This Is How You Lose the Time War, which I'm both listening to and reading. It's deeply romantic and wonderfully fantastic, and the language is so good that after I hear the amazing audiobook readers do a chapter or two, I go back and read them to savor. And to my surprise, I'm going to be reading Emily Dickinson's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Iconic Poet. I&#…

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes

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Before she could shoot, a familiar voice boomed from the loudspeakers. "Attend me, worthless muck-eaters. I have come to your inferior outpost to apprehend the human captain Eva the Innocent!"

I erroneously described this as Firefly with a lesbian Mal; but I was only wrong about our main character's sexual identity (pansexual, maybe?). Otherwise, this marvelously fun comedic sci fi takes the best part of shows like Firefly, with a charming crew and a "curmudgeonly" "anti-hero" captain (who is both adorable and heroic), and injects welcome imagination into the ragtag-posse-take-on-enormous-challenges plot line.

Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes
Harper Voyager, 2019
Copy from publisher for blog tour

Captain Eva Innocente loves her ship, La Sirena Negra, and her work: running cargo and passengers around the universe. The book opens with Eva struggling to recapture her most recent order -- a passel of psychic cats -- and so, by page 3, I was literally enam…

The First Lady and the Rebel by Susan Higginbotham

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"But you were right, in one respect. Those bullets made us what we are."

Susan Higginbotham's newest novel takes the familiar Civil War story of brother-versus-brother and offers a fresh, sad version: sisters Mary and Emily Todd. Mary Todd would marry Abraham Lincoln while Emily would marry Hardin Helm, a devoted Confederate who would eventually become a General in the Confederate Army.

The First Lady and the Rebel by Susan Higginbotham
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2019
Source from publisher on behalf of blog tour
Reading Challenge: Historical Fiction

From a Kentucky slaveholding family, the Todd siblings were bound to be torn apart by the Civil War, but moreso when headstrong Mary sets her sights on the humble Abraham Lincoln and Emily on dashing Hardin Helm. Higginbotham shares both stories with a tender sympathy, even with both women behave in petty or cruel ways. Initially both families were friendly, with admiration between Abraham Lincoln and Hardin Helm, until war fo…

Interview with Susan Higginbotham

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I am so excited to share my interview with novelist Susan Higginbotham. Although she might be most well known for her novels set in the UK, she's started exploring 19th-century America in her more recent books, including her newest, The First Lady and the Rebel. It's the gripping story of Abraham Lincoln's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and her beloved sister Emily, as they find themselves at the opposite ends of the Civil War. My review comes on Thursday but prepare for major squees. I loved this book!

What was the plot of your very first piece of fiction?

Because I've been writing since I was a child, I can't remember, but I can tell you that it likely had something to do with cats. My first attempt at a historical novel, however, was when I was in junior high and started to write a novel about a family of orphans living through the Blitz. (Clearly, given the current vogue for World War II novels, I was way ahead of my time.) It didn't have much plot, as I recall,…