Thursday, April 27, 2017

Book Review: Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King

First line: Marcus Gavius Apicius purchased me on a day hot enough to fry sausage on the market stones.

I read this 400+ page book in about 72 hours and I loved every page. It's old school fun: great characters, fabulous sense of place, evocative detail, drama in spades, and satisfying emotional peaks and dips.

The novel's narrator is Thrasius, a young slave gifted in cooking. He's purchased by Apicius, an immensely wealthy Roman determined to use his fortune, fabulous parties, and appreciation of exquisite cuisine to gain power with Caeser and his heirs.

Thankfully, Thrasius' reputation isn't exaggerated, and his skill and imagination in the kitchen -- combined with the rare, unusual, and expensive ingredients Apicius buys -- launches them both -- but also pulls them into a terrible rivalry that ends in unimaginable tragedy.

If you're not familiar with Apicius, don't wiki him; just enjoy King's revealing of his life. As I said on social media more than once, I was dubious there would be anything really sorrowful or dramatic about the life of a chef and his gourmand, but whooboy, was I wrong! Who knew that being Caeser's culinary advisor would be so fraught? (Actually, I should of known. Those Romans, everything is so.serious.)

Everything about this book captivated me. Thrasius is a wonderful narrator, and every character, down to the tertiary ones, are vibrantly rendered. The villains are breathlessly appalling (again, the Romans know how to double down on evil!) and King renders the many tragedies so well, I went through about three tissues as the book wound down.

This was just a fabulous read -- a top ten for 2017.

Title: Feast of Sorrow
Author: Crystal King

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Ancient Rome / 20s C.E. / Historical Figures Fictionalized / Cooking / Political Intrigue / Friendship)
Publisher/Publication Date: Touchstone (4/25/2017)
Source: The publisher
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Teaser Tuesday, April 25

I am seriously obsessed with Crystal King's Feast of Sorrow, a marvelously fascinating historical novel set in ancient Rome, following the gifted slave chef Thrasius, and his ambitious epicure master, Apicius. (Today's its release, too!)

I'll be honest, I was skeptical how much sorrow or drama there could be in a book about a cook but I was so very wrong. (Give it to the Romans to drama up everything!) This book has me gripped, and I'm pretty sure I'll finish all 416 pages in less than 72 hours.

Here's my teaser from it:
I heard and felt the whoosh of wings near my head as a giant owl swooped by me and came to land on Mars's outstretched sword. (p233)
What are you reading today? Any teasers to share?

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Better late than never, right?!

The winner of The Illusionist's Apprentice is ... Beth C.!

Congrats to Beth!

Be sure to check out my current giveaways -- more coming!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Weekend reads and spring soon?

It's gray and rainy today, which I normally don't mind, but I'm also headache-y (allergies?) and super stressed about work, so everything is just annoying to me. (I'm pretty sure a gorgeous day would send me into a snit, so really, I'm not safe for human consumption.)

I'm chugging along merrily on my novel (my nine-month class wraps up in June!) and while I'm only just at Part 2, it feels like a better draft than I've ever had before. I feel like I've finally "gotten" how to do drafts without self editing so much, and it's such a relief. The story doesn't come easily, but at least I'm nitpicking at it less! 

My weekend read is Feast of Sorrow by Crystal King and it is faaaaaaaaahbulous. I'm really loving it, and I hope I get to log some serious reading time. (Dubious -- Unabridged Toddler got a new batch of library books and has been pleading for a day at the Children's Museum.)

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Release Spotlight: The Book of Air by Joe Treasure

As I mentioned in my Top Ten Tuesday post, I love books inspired by classic lit, and I'm really really excited for this new release, The Book of Air, which imagines a future in which society is governed by Jane Eyre (!!!). I'll be reviewing it in May.

The Book of Air
Clink Street Publishing (4/4/17)

Retreating from an airborne virus with a uniquely unsettling symptom, property developer Jason escapes London for his country estate, where he is forced to negotiate a new way of living with an assortment of fellow survivors.

Far in the future, an isolated community of descendants continue to farm this same estate. Among their most treasured possessions are a few books, including a copy of Jane Eyre, from which they have constructed their hierarchies, rituals and beliefs. When 15-year-old Agnes begins to record the events of her life, she has no idea what consequences will follow. Locked away for her transgressions, she escapes to the urban ruins and a kind of freedom, but must decide where her future lies.

These two stories interweave, illuminating each other in unexpected ways and offering long vistas of loss, regeneration and wonder.

The Book of Air is a story of survival, the shaping of memory and the enduring impulse to find meaning in a turbulent world.

About Joe Treasure

Joe Treasure currently lives in South West London with his wife Leni Wildflower. As an English teacher in Wales, he ran an innovative drama programme, before following Leni across the pond to Los Angeles, an experience that inspired his critically acclaimed debut novel The Male Gaze (published by Picador). His second novel Besotted (also published by Picador) also met with rave reviews. Learn more about him at his website and connect with him on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review: The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

First line: When I picture the house I see it in the late afternoon, the golden river light filling the windows and gilding the two-hundred-year-old brick.

I love ghost stories; I love haunted house stories. Add in the magical combo of "The Yellow Wallpaper" meets Rebecca, and I am sold.

Our heroine, Clare, is the devoted wife to Jess, a writer whose runaway debut landed him fame and some fortune, but now faces writer's block as he wrestles with his second book. They move to Clare's hometown in the Hudson Valley, an area dominated by apple farms. Most everything is out of their price range, but they find they can live rent free at the decrepit River House if they act as groundskeepers -- a house owned by their former literature professor, Alden Montague -- Monty.

The find is serendipitous: Jess and Monte get along swimmingly, and despite some weird moments -- ghostly figures and crying babies at 3am -- Clare finds satisfaction in cleaning up Monty's home and nurturing Jess. Then she does her own writing, consumed by the tale of a town Apple Blossom Queen from the 1920s, who was whisked away by Monty's grandfather and brought back a ruined woman.

In some ways, it's easy to see where the story is going; the pleasure is anticipating how the characters will react to the revelations about Monty's ne'er-do-well ancestor as well as the increasingly ghostly presence at the home. But as the story progresses, small fragments start to fleck off, leading the reader to wonder just what is really happening -- what is imagined and what is fact.

Over a three-day period of dreary cold and rain, I inhaled this stuffed-full-of-ghostly-sightings, creepy-goings-on-in-a-massive-old-house read, enraptured by Goodman's evocation of place and the shivery atmosphere she conjured. Even more so was the dreadful sense of oh-my-gosh-is-this-real-or-not, which made me wonder if I was going mad myself.

The ending wrapped up neatly, and some readers might find it too neat. But I was really hooked by Clare and her story (I'm being vague to avoid any accidental spoiling) and this made a wonderfully diverting weekend read. Fun, moody, with a what-what?! sort of kicker that had me doubting the entire story (in the best way!), this book reminded me of good, classic gothic fic and insidious haunted houses. (So good, I reread the last four chapters while working on this review!)

Title: The Widow’s House
Author: Carol Goodman

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Supernatural / Marriage / Writers / Motherhood / Hudson Valley / Haunted House)
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow Paperbacks (3/7/2017)
Source: TLC Book Tours

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Widow's House to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US readers only, ends 4/30. Complete rules here.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday, April 18

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme created and hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. The themes change, but it's always about the top ten for you!

This week's top ten Tuesday theme is: Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book.

Let's see if I can limit myself to 10!

Top Ten Things That Will Make Me Instantly Want To Read A Book:
  1. Noir/Noirish/Noir-Inspired: I love me a good femme fatale, and a man who doesn't want to be a chump; I love double crosses and triple crosses, and anti-heroes and depressing one night stands. Anything reeking of Hammett, Chandler, Cain, or Hughes wins with me.

  2. Archaeologists: Between Indiana Jones and the Vesper Holly books, adventurous archaeologists were imprinted on me as a kid and I'm just a sucker for archaeologists in fiction.

  3. Sea Monsters: I'm completely and totally freaked by sea monsters (although I kind of like the ocean, I vastly prefer the clear Caribbean to the murky New England Atlantic, where obviously some giant long-necked dinosaur-ish sea monster is waiting to chomp me) and so I love to scare myself with novels about sea monsters. There aren't many, which is why I'm enjoying this recent spate of Lovecraft-inspired fiction, because his watery monster gods really work for me! (Literally, just googling images of sea monsters gave me creepy-crawly-goosebumps-of-delicious-horror!)

    Gothic: That's a broad one, and it's how I end up reading so much crap. But I love a good gothicky novel: aging and decaying buildings, desolate landscapes, ghosts and malevolent spirits, and always a plucky young heroine I can pretend to be (without having to be in the freezing cold castle populated with ghosts!). That there's a romance doesn't hurt, but I'm pickier about my hero so that's not always a gimme there.

  5. Inspired by Classic Literature: God, I love a retelling, and I'm particularly keen on novels that plumb classic favorites with an eye toward the 'invisible', i.e. people of color, women, queer folks, etc.

  6. Inspired by a Real Life Lady: I'm also addicted to biographical novels, especially about real historical figures. I'm so over the X's Wife or X's Daughter titling practices, but otherwise, if it was a woman who did a thing back in the day, I'm there 1000%. I lean toward ordinary women over royalty, unless it's non-Western, then I'm all for the trappings of luxury and courtly intrigue.

  7.  Unique Settings: Another broad category, but there you go. I love books set in locations I've not often read about, real or imaginary. I'm a sucker for armchair travel.

  8. Birth Control and/or Not Becoming a Mother: Weird, but there ya go. I spent a very long time in discernment, so to speak, about becoming a parent, and I crave fiction that features women wrestling with this decision and deciding to not become a parent. So often it feels like women in novels have children for the flimsiest reasons, and I really love books that address the complicated, fraught world of not becoming a parent. I also love a heroine who uses birth control because, hooray and that's real life and etc.

  9. Ghosts!: I was back-and-forthing about whether this just replicates my 'Gothic' category, but I'm going to say it doesn't. But I love me a good ghost story. Lots of atmosphere, low gore.

  10. Experimental Writing Style/Techniques: I am not always the most sophisticated reader, but I do enjoy books that play around with storytelling/narrative techniques. I've not read as many of these kinds of books the last handful of years, because they require some mental energy, but I'm always so impressed with authors who can tell a story in a style that is unusual, weird, or more than first-or-third person (or, these days, second!).

I could go on, but I'll stop. Any of these things what you look for in a book? What 10 things guarantee you'll want to read a book?

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Review: Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

First line: I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus, reading some clothbound book from the library about plants or geography, perhaps wearing a net over my light brown hair.

I pretty much wanted to read this one the moment it came out; between the cover, the Boston setting, and the sense of noir-ish-ness I got from the plot, it seemed like a sure hit for me. I made it the January pick for my book club and ... I'm glad I read this book, but I'm really ambivalent about it. (Most of my book club hated it, although more than one person admired the raw narrative style.)

Set around Christmas in 1963, the novel is narrated by Eileen. A much older Eileen tells us this story, and she offers up her younger self on a platter, unvarnished and exposed.

Eileen works as a secretary in a boy's juvenile detention facility/prison. She lives with her father, an retired police office and alcoholic who is plagued by terrors (and perhaps mental illness). Eileen's life shuttles between work and home, where she spends most of her time in resentful meditation of her small world and the people in it. She loathes everyone around her, and she has no escape from the misery, real or self-induced. It's only when Rebecca, the pretty and cheerful and unorthodox new counselor arrives does Eileen's life change.

This book felt straight-up Catcher in the Rye, but with a lady; only Eileen is a hell of a lot more honest than Holden ever was, and definitely more badass. (In her vicious, restrained way.) Older Eileen, our narrator, seems well adjusted despite, frankly, being such a cold, odd young woman; yet she recounts this time period with a squeamish attention to detail, savoring the ways she was horrible and monstrous and naive. I couldn't decide if I wanted to revile or hug Eileen.

Most of the book reads kind of like a coming-of-age; but in the last quarter of the book, the story makes a jackknife dive into seriously effed up territory, and that's when I started to really enjoy things. There was a real noir-ish feel to the story that I just ate up.

So...I think I liked this book? I can't tell. But I'm a bit obsessed with it; Moshfegh's open admission she wrote it to gain fame and success has me breathlessly in awe of her.

If you enjoy unlikable characters and messed up young women, seedy settings and depressed dissolution, get this one. (And then tell me because I want to obsess about the end!)

Title: Eileen
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / 1960s / Boston / Coming of Age / Female Friendship / Revenge / Obsession / Prisons)
Publisher/Publication Date: Penguin Press (8/18/2015)
Source: NetGalley

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, April 11

I'm doing First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea, in which you post the first paragraph of the first chapter of the book you're reading (or going to read).

My excerpt today is from Naomi J. Williams' stunning and fabulous Landfalls. This is a reread for me; I first read this when it came out in 2015 and uh-dored it, and to my great delight, my book club picked it for our read this month, thus giving me an excuse to dive back in.


No one knew what to make of the new galley stoves when they arrived. There were two -- one for each ship -- and they came by boat, first for the Boussole and then for the Astrolabe, disassembled into their cumbersome components and accompanied by a foul-mouthed shipyard locksmith charged with installing them.

What are you reading right now? Share your intro with me!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Book Review: 1,001 Ways to Slow Down by Barbara Ann Kipfer

This beautifully illustrated volume does just what the title promises, offering 1,001 ways to slow down.

In her introduction, Kipfer writes about "living at the speed that brings you the most joy and satisfaction", which resonated deeply with me. I'm not a slow person by nature, but I could use with more reminders to be attentive to the moment.

Designed to be cracked open when needed, rather than read through in a sitting, this book is like a zen friend who offers those reminders without judgment. The tips range from the easy -- Slow down and enjoy eating. -- to the more complicated -- Consider a move to a smaller house. -- so every suggestion may not be right for each reader. But even those that really weren't or won't be applicable to me -- Chop your own wood. -- still offered me a moment of pause -- and really, isn't that what it's about?

I found immediate use for this book from the day it arrived -- a random page offered the perfect centering sentiment for opening a work meeting, and I've taken to paging through it when keyed up about something. It's not a book one might immediately think "I need!" and yet, it's probably a book many of us need in our days! (I've taken to leaving it out at my desk, and many of my colleagues browse through it -- use this a bit like a coffee table book!)

I am particularly taken with the illustrations of this book: each page is detailed with a gorgeous border, soft and appealing, with quotes illuminated in pretty repeating patterns.

A very welcome volume in tense times, I was surprised by appreciative of this hefty book. A perfect gifting volume, this would be great for high school and college graduates, as well as those whose lives are packed full of, well, life! (I'm thinking end of year holidays and birthdays -- forget New Year's resolutions -- why not moments of calm?)

Title: 1,001 Ways to Slow Down: A Little Book of Everyday Calm
Author: Barbara Ann Kipfer

Genre: Non-Fiction (How To / Inspirational / Self Improvement / Meditation / Slow Movement)
Publisher/Publication Date: National Geographic (3/28/2017)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Teaser Tuesday, April 4

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme where readers share a teaser from their current read. It was started by MizB of Books and a Beat.

My teaser for today comes from the start of Carol Goodman's The Widow's House.

"It's the color of old money," Jess said, his voice full of longing. (p1)

I'm a sucker for openings like this.

What are you reading today? Any good teasers to share?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Book Review: The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

First line: Agent Elliot Matthews stared down a firing squad.

Kristy Cambron is a new-to-me author, but from the reviews I've seen, she's got a devoted fan base. This wasn't a read for me, but I can appreciate why so many love her books.

Set in the high-flying 1920s in Boston, this novel follows illusionist Wren Lockhart (born Jennifer Charles). At the book's open, a spiritualist debunked by Harry Houdini seems to bring a man back from the dead -- who then promptly dies again -- and the FBI think it's murder.

As Houdini's former assistant, Wren comes to the attention of the two agents -- especially when a piece of paper with her real name is found on the dead man.

From there, the novel moves through multiple mysteries, like solving the murder, as well as Wren's mysterious background, including the sister she staunchly tries to protect.

Cambron does a great job evoking the details of the era, from Wren's distinctive style of dress (men's tuxedos) to the trappings of Jazz Age Boston such as the sumptuous brownstones and dingy failing theaters.

I enjoyed the detailed look at the illusionists and their trade, although as this is a Thomas Nelson offering, there's a whiff of religiosity to that thread, which manifested as a strong delineation between illusion and magic/spiritualism (with the latter being 'dark' and wrong, etc.). It wasn't so overt as to ruin my enjoyment of the story, however, and I actually found myself wishing Wren would have spoken more about how her faith impacted her decision to debunk spiritualism -- I think it would have made the story -- and her character -- more rich and nuanced.

Sadly, it was the characterizations that kept me from loving this book. Both Wren and her hero, Agent Elliot Matthews, felt thin, as the narrative would pronounce things about the characters without it being demonstrated. I especially felt this for Wren, whom Elliot immediately gloms onto, and it took me almost 125 pages before I warmed to her as he instantly did. (Elliot himself is a bit of a mystery, too, but as he was really a foil for Wren, I didn't mind as much.)

The narrative style was a bit clunky at times, too (As muscles go, Wren's took on a life of their own, tensing in reaction., p141) which kept this from being a favorite.

There's a great Author's Note at the end about Houdini and the inspiration behind Wren's character.

A quick read -- Jazz Age, murder mystery, and a sweet romance, with a very wintry atmosphere -- this book was great for this equally slushy and cold weekend here in Boston.

Title: The Illusionist’s Apprentice
Author: Kristy Cambron

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 20th Century / Prohibition / Boston / Illusionists / Murder Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: Thomas Nelson (3/7/2017)
Source: TLC Book Tours
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of The Illusionist's Apprentice to one lucky reader. To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers; ends 4/14. Complete rules here.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Weekend reads and more snow?

It seems unlikely that March will go out like a lamb as we're facing some windy, wet days ahead of us!

I wish I'd be snuggled in for long stretches of reading, but the toddler has stopped napping (nooooooooooooooooooooo!) so I'll be playing (and undoubtedly reading!) with him.

Among my many reads at the moment (I'm doing the start-a-bunch-and-see-what-sticks browse/read thing right now) is Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys. It's inspired by/set in Lovecraft's world of watery sea gods and I'm deeply excited.

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Book Review: The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig

First line: On a warm December day in 1884, the Temptation was leaving Hawaii, as well as the nineteenth century, and her destination was entirely in my hands.

I had been on pins and needles for this book after inhaling (and loving) the previous novel, The Girl From Everywhere (which also made my top ten of 2016). I'm really wrestling over whether this book was as good as the first one -- or better -- and it's given me a serious book hangover.

I'm not sure I can really recap the story without getting into the weeds, and I really don't want to give away anything crucial. Our heroine, Nix, and her father, Slate, have the ability to travel through time, and to any place, if given a map of said time/place. 

Picking up immediately where The Girl From Everywhere ended, this book dives into the now what? of the Nix's life and abilities. They've got a new crew member who has just learned about Nix and her father Slate and their incredible ability to sail through time; Nix's father has just decided to try, once more, to kick his addiction and he's obviously ill and struggling. Without Slate's obsessive search for Nix's mother to drive them, it's up to Nix to figure out what the Temptation's next voyage will be.

A strange run-in propels them to the mythical island of Ker-Ys, an Atlantis-like "utopia" off the coast of France. But from their first moments there, it's obvious something is amiss, and most of the novel focuses on untangling just what is wrong.

As with the previous book, Heilig merges real life history with her story; in this case, the tragic story of Donald Crowhurst and the pagan-Christian morality tale of Ker-Ys. (It's fine to be unfamiliar with both stories, as I was, and I don't think I missed anything. I had a marvelous time googling upon finishing!) Heilig dives deeply into the "science" of Nix's abilities as well as the questions of free will, identity, fate, obligation, and parallel universes, and it makes this wonderful adventure tale all the more rich and emotional.

Despite all the flash-bang of the intriguing world-building, the heart of the novel -- and what makes both books so compelling -- is its people. Nix is a fantastic heroine -- smart, competent, mature for her age without being an adult dressed as a teen -- and the other characters are frustratingly, wonderfully complicated as well.

I was captivated with this book and could not put it down; but I'm pretty sure I'm going to reread it this month because I want to be re-immersed in her world. I can't recommend both books enough, and I'm so eager to see what Heilig comes out with next.

Title: The Ship Beyond Time
Author: Heidi Heilig

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Fantasy / Young Adult / Mythical Land / First Romance / Nautical / Time Travel / Historical Figures Fictionalized)
Publisher/Publication Date: Greenwillow Books (2/28/2017)
Source: Edelweiss
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, Read Diverse

Friday, March 17, 2017

Weekend reads and, I don't know, shortbread?

I'm starting a bunch of books this weekend because why not?

Among them are Amberlough, a gay spy thriller that's allegedly "Le Carre meets Cabaret" (uhm, yum!); and two Lovecraftian-inspired novels, The Night Ocean, about a man obsessed with Lovecraft; and Winter Tide, a novel that takes place in the world of monsters Lovecraft imagined. I'm super excited about all three and have been for a while.

(I'm also showing off the utterly deeeevine raisin-and-carraway seed shortbread my wife made in honor of St. Patrick's Day.)

Otherwise, stuff has been happening, and also, not much. Current political climate sucks, and I'm divided over liking the snow storm(s) and kind of wanting spring here.

What are you reading this weekend?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Book Review: Bleaker House by Nell Stevens

First line: This is a landscape an art-therapy patient might paint to represent depression: grey sky and a sweep of featureless peat rising out of the sea.

Pretty much the moment I laid eyes on the cover of this book, I knew I wanted to read it. And then when I learned the premise -- a memoir of a novelist who spent three months on an isolated island in the Falklands wrestling with her novel -- I knew I seriously had to read it.

Upon finishing her MFA, Nell Stevens learns that there's funding to support her traveling anywhere in the world so she may work on her writing for three months. Craving time alone, Stevens settles on Bleaker Island, part of the Falklands. Her memoir shifts between her time on Bleaker, her time before Bleaker, snippets of her novel in progress as well as other fiction, and other ephemera (like her travel proposal, with snarky annotations).

Her narrative style is just lovely, quotable sentence after quotable sentence (you can read a long excerpt of the hilarious first chapter at Vogue), and I don't think this will only appeal to aspiring writers. It's travel writing at it's best: vivid, funny, extreme, centered in place and peppered with piquant people.

I loved Stevens' honesty about herself and her experience on Bleaker, and her open insecurity about her writing, her skill as a writer, and her future as a writer really struck me in the tender places where I'm anxious about my writing.

Much like My Year With Eleanor, Stevens and her story will undoubtedly hit some readers the wrong way. Something about young women doing daring things, occasionally unsuccessfully, will do that, and even I fall into the trap of being irritated by a blithe narrator. But in this case, I was one million percent with Stevens every step of her journey, and as a result, this book really touched and moved me.

This will be one of my top ten reads of 2017, I'm confident, as I literally couldn't shut up about it -- my wife said I mentioned it four times to her in one evening!

Title: Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World
Author: Nell Stevens

Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir / Contemporary / Creative Writing / Falkland Islands / Writers on Writing)
Publisher/Publication Date: Doubleday Books (3/14/17)
Source: NetGalley

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Book Review: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

First line: Ove is fifty-nine.

This was a read for my book club, which is the only reason I started and finished this book as it unfortunately got under my skin from the first page. (Not totally true, I guess; I did actually tear up a little at the end, and it was a truly sentimental read, but that annoyed me, too.)

The story felt predictable from the start: Ove, an older man (more on that later), is a curmudgeon. He's from a generation that believes in a kind of standard in work and life, and the humor of the story comes from his disconnect with what life is like now. Backman alternates between Ove now and Ove growing up (my favorite bits), so we can see why this cranky old man is the way he is. Along the way, his charming neighbors jolly him into a kind of happiness. The end.

My biggest complaint -- after the predictability of the story -- is Ove's curmudgeon-ly-ness. I work with many who are 59 years old, and even the grouchiest of them are nothing like Ove. It was hard for me to remember that Ove was 59, for I kept imagining him as 70+.

I genuinely can't say more for this book -- it's a very fast read -- I actually read it on my phone! -- and it's a very feel good book if you're in search of something like that. (Practically saccharine sweet, which even I need now and then!) But I just wasn't keen on following cranky-old-white-guy-learns-to-love-again. The rest of my book club uh-dored it, so don't trust me!

Title: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman, trans. by Henning Koch

Genre: Fiction (Contemporary / Sweden / Neighbors / Grief)
Publisher/Publication Date: Atria (7/2014)
Source: Scribd / Hoopla

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Book Review: Ruler of the Night by David Morrell

First line: On Thursday evening, 22 March 1855, a frowning gentleman studied a two-page document that lay on his substantial desk.

This is the last book in Morrell's historical fiction trilogy about British writer Thomas De Quincy, and his daughter Emily. I loved both earlier novels (Murder as a Fine Art and Inspector of the Dead) and this final book was a perfect conclusion.

Morrell explores the first murder on a steam train, an event that I hadn't really considered but obviously, there's a first for everything. And this is a pretty juicy first to explore. Morrell takes many of the real life details of the murder and weaves it into a larger, complicated plot full of peers and the made-their-fortunes-from-trade comer-uppers. The country is gripped in a panic that railway travel isn't safe, and there's pressure on De Quincy and the police to figure things out -- without revealing too many secrets of the rich and powerful.

As with the previous two novels, I was really there for Emily -- and the resolution of her so-far-not-romantic-but-clearly-romantic-interest triangle with police detectives Joseph Becker and Sean Ryan. (That might sound tortured but it's actually lovely -- she has chemistry and connection with both men, and both men respect her and each other, and there's really no triangle, just a kind of uneasiness as everyone realizes they like each other but they're not the kind of folks to do a triad so someone's going to be heartbroken. Honestly, it sounds messy but it's really just emotional and tender and subtle and mature, and frankly, a relief to watch unfold.)

While I'm bummed to say goodbye to Emily and company, I'm also delighted to have some neat resolution for these characters rather than have the series rattle on into predictability. If you like atmospheric reads, intriguing murder mysteries, and a hero struggling with addiction, pick up these three books -- they're among my favorite reads since I've started blogging!

Title: Ruler of the Night
Author: David Morrell

Genre: Fiction (Historical / 19th Century / Victorian / Murder Mystery / Historical Figure Fictionalized / Thomas De Quincy)
Publisher/Publication Date: Mulholland Books (11/15/2016)
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Book Review: A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran

Man, I needed this book. I love a good historical romance at the best of times, and this time of year, when Boston's weather vacillates between 70 and 17, when glancing at the news can lead to crushing depression, and my natural inclination is to just curl up and hibernate, Duran's newest historical romance was just the diversion I needed.

This is my first time reading Duran, but not the last, as I loved this book. Our romantic leads were wonderfully appealing and the could-have-been-schlocky-but-wasn't plot line exciting and escapist.

Jane can't access her inheritance until she's married, and her vile uncle plans to compromise her reputation so she must marry her cousin. Crispin is an ambitious, ruthless politician who works with Jane's uncle, and he helps extricate Jane from her uncle's trap -- but forces Jane to spy for him.

When Crispin is violently attacked and left for dead, Jane does what she needs to escape her uncle: she has a marriage certificate forged, saying she and Crispin married. It is, she tells herself, a lie that will impact no one but her, as Crispin is expected to die any day. She won't impose on his family, but will simply take her money and escape to America.

Except Crispin miraculously recovers.

The plot seems laughable when badly distilled by me, but I'm telling you, it works and I loved it. Jane is caught because of her lie, made all the worse because Crispin has amnesia, rendering him unable to recall the last five years. All he knows is that he has a guarded wife, a rather unsavory reputation, and a family that expects the worst of him. He tries to make sense of the life he wakes up to, and as the bureaucratic wheels slowly move to release Jane's money, she has to make the best of the marriage she invented.

This over-the-top plot works because Jane and Crispin are both flawed but appealing characters, and they behave normally under these extraordinary circumstances. They both wrestle with the morality/ethics of their behavior and choices, the possibility of redemption, and most delightfully, both get called out on their BS. They have the kind of conversations you wish people doing something dysfunctional would do, and it makes this improbably dramatic plot feel touching and tender. The romance between them unfolds realistically, with a minimal of protests, and I one hundred percent rooted for them as a couple. (The sex was believable, without cringe-worthy phrases or euphemisms, and no shame, hooray!) The secondary characters are charming and fill out the story, and the more outrageous plot elements are deliciously fun.

I inhaled this book in less than two days; it hit every right note for me. If winter (or current events) has you down, pick this book up.

First line: The first sensation was light.

Title: A Lady’s Code of Misconduct
Author: Meredith Duran

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Romance / Victorian / Mid-19th Century / Amnesia / Politics / Conspiracy)
Publisher/Publication Date: Pocket Books (2/28/2017)
Source: The publisher
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

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I'm thrilled to offer one set (Reckless Reward!) of three autographed copies in the Rules for the Reckless series: Fool Me Twice, Lady Be Good, and Luck Be A Lady. You can enter on all participating sites (listed below, with a *), but you can only win once. To celebrate the fifth in the series, there will be five Reckless Reward giveaways per day beginning publication day, Tuesday, February 28th – Friday, March 3rd. U.S. only.

To enter, fill out this brief form. Ends March 1.

Blog Tour


Sunday, February 26th

Nikbooklovers Blog

Monday, February 27th

Books for Her

Tuesday, February 28th

*The Romance Dish

*Canadian Book Addict

*Just Another New Blog

*Top 10 Romance Books

*Unabridged Chick

Buried Under Romance

Dear Author

Toot’s Book Reviews – Feature

Il Profumo delle Pergamene

Marvelous Things

My Book Addiction and More

Wednesday, March 1st

*Book Nerd

*Reviews by Crystal

*All About Romance

*Booktalk with Eileen

*We So Nerdy

Roses Are Blue

In the Hammock

Feeding My Addiction Book Reviews – Spotlight

Romance Book Reviews for You

Thursday, March 2nd

*I am, Indeed

*A Midlife Wife

*Literary Gossip

*Undeniably Book Nerdy

*Dew On The Kudzu

Books and Beauty Are My Bag

Ebook Obsessed

Abigail Books Addiction

Dirty Girl Romance - Spotlight

Bookhounds – Q&A

Friday, March 3rd

*Black ‘N Gold Girl’s Book Spot

*JoJo the Bookaholic

*Sportochick’s Musings

*The Reading Wench

*Got Fiction Book Blog

Cup of Tea and Book

The Reading Addict

Nicely Phrased

Ladeetda Reads

Silvatrend8553 Book Blog

Night Owl Reviews – Author Guest Post


Saturday, March 4th

Passionate Encounters

Sunday, March 5th

My Little Book Corner

Monday, March 6th

Reading Frenzy – Spotlight

Bookish - Giveaway

Foreign Circus Library

Poof Books

Tuesday, March 7th

I Love Romance

Bookworm2bookworm – Spotlight, Excerpt, and Review

Dirty and Thirty

Wild Wordy Women

Polished Bookworm

Sammi's Bookish Reality

Passionate Reads

Books, Movies, Reviews! Oh my!

Celtic Lady’s Reviews – Spotlight

Wednesday, March 8th

Moonlight Rendezvous

One More Chapter

Fresh Fiction - Spotlight

Thursday, March 9th

Happy Ever After Romance Book Reviews

The Book Junkie Reads

Three Boys and an Old Lady blog

Friday, March 10th

Smitten by Books

Celtic Guardian

Friday, February 10, 2017

Weekend reads, or digging out

I've got many books in the queue (Stolen Beauty, A Man Called Ove, Leopard At The Door) and they're all great, but I'm having such a hard time concentrating.

I have, in the words of someone I know, Trumpsomnia.

But I've been moved to tears over the response to Warren's unreasonable gagging, and have taken immense comfort in #NeverthelessShePersisted. (This gorgeous graphic is from Kimberly Faye Reads.)

We survived Winter Storm Niko, although I'm dreading digging out my car. Unabridged Toddler was scandalized that a construction vehicle was removing snow -- snow plows remove snow!

Hope all of you are doing well. What are you reading this weekend?

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Teaser Tuesday, February 7

Today's teaser comes from Laurie Lico Albanese's Stolen Beauty.

This delicious and fascinating novel tells the stories of Adele Bloch-Bauer, Klimt's muse and lover, and Adele's niece Maria, who is a young woman in Austria during Hitler's invasion.

It's the kind of novel that makes you want to stay in all day to read, and I'm looking forward to this weekend when I hope to finish it!

My teaser is actually the novel's opening line, because it is good.

I was a love-struck newlywed when Hitler came to Austria.

I know, right?? What are you reading right now? Got a teaser to share?

Friday, January 27, 2017

Weekend reads, or the first week of dystopian living...

I just have to say: the state of US politics right now has me in a pit of despair. I'm trying to so hard to turn down the outrage, anger, and hopelessness swirling through me (and my job requires me to pay attention to politics, so can't really ignore -- nor do I want to!) but I don't want to be complicit in what's happening by being unresponsive.

I'm grateful for Unabridged Toddler, who is my sunshine and joy each day. As a result, he's got me wrapped around his finger, and as you can see, on tap for this weekend is reading every book in that pile, more than once!

I'm also hoping to start Laurie Lico Albanese's Stolen Beauty, a historical novel about Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer and World War II. It's been a book I'd been soooo excited to read so can't wait to dive in.

What are you reading this weekend?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Book Review: Good Night, Baby Animals, You’ve Had a Busy Day by Karen B. Winnick and illustrated by Laura Watkins

Title: Good Night, Baby Animals, You’ve Had a Busy Day
Author: Karen B. Winnick
Illustrator: Laura Watkins

First line: When baby elephants are born, they don't know how to use their trunk. from 'Baby Elephant's Little Trunk'

Review: Unabridged Toddler and I were both completely charmed by this book, which is a collection of six stories about busy baby animals easing their way to sleep.

Featuring animals that all kids seem to be familiar with (even if they've never seen them in real life!), these sweet stories are beautifully illustrated with soft, warm depictions of animal parents and children.

I loved that the stories are gentle and positive without being cloying; there's a rhythm to the text but it doesn't have an irritating rhyme that will echo in your head hours later.

Each story has a different plot -- tigers exploring, an elephant learning to use its trunk, a newborn giraffe trying to eat, an imaginative rhino, a wandering panda, and a playful gorilla -- which makes this a great book for the bedtime read rotation. There are elements in every story that appealed to my two-year-old, like the giraffe nursing, and I appreciated Winnick's and Watkins' understanding of what children find interesting!

Five of the six stories feature only mother and child, while the last story, 'Time to Play, Baby Gorilla', features a mother and father as well as extended "relatives". The concluding pages of the book feature animal facts, which should appeal to older readers (or anyone with trivia-obsessed toddlers, like me!).

You can view sample pages at the publisher's website (and do -- the art is so gorgeous!). At 64-pages, this is a great volume to buy for yourself or gift to parents, and I'm so appreciative we've got this one in our rotation.

Genre: Fiction (Children's / Picture / Animals / Mothers and Babies)
Publisher/Publication Date: Henry Holt and Co. (1/24/17)
Source: The publisher

Monday, January 23, 2017

Top 10 Reads of 2016

2016 was been a year.

But the last two months of 2016 have really overshadowed the earlier chunk of the year, so I feel a kind of melancholy at the moment. But this has been a more exciting reading year for me than the last few years as I've done more "free range reading".

My greatest blogging disappointment has been my lack of reviews. I can't believe that I ended up leaving my favorites un-reviewed, when they're the books that I want to squee about.

I never did a top ten for 2015 (I'm in awe of the bloggers with kids who keep up with the work!), so I can't compare my reading to that, but this year I read about 37 books (and, it appears, I've "read" nothing in December, yikes!). (Not included in this list are the massive number of children's books I've read to Unabridged Toddler; I'll do a top ten of them later on, as some of them are marvelous.)

These ten still stick with me, and have been among my most recommended this past year. All are written by women. Seven were historicals, two contemporary, and one futuristic-ish (maybe?). Three (I believe) were written by women of color.

Lyndsay Faye, Jane Steele 

Badass Victorian who loves Jane Eyre but is, herself, far less pious. (I'm not a Jane Eyre fan, what can I say!)

This JE retelling is dramatic, sensational, and wonderfully imaginative, with our heroine Jane Steele being among my top 10 fav heroines ever. In addition to being a fun send up of JE, Faye adds a dash of Sikh history to the mix, which provided hours of rabbit hole researching.

Eva Flynn, The Renegade Queen 

Historical novel detailing Victoria Woodhull: badass mid-19th century American woman, born of hucksters, who decides to run for president. Married off as a teen, lovers with a Civil War hero, she goes nose-to-nose with Susan B. Anthony. Loved learning about her (especially during Hillary Clinton's campaign) and found Anthony's racism eye-opening (especially considering how white women decided to vote this year). I believe this is the first in a duology or trilogy, and I'm so there.
Heidi Heilig, The Girl from Everywhere

Nix has the ability to travel through time, if she's given a map of the place. Twist: the map has to be from the year she's to travel to as well. Her mother is from the 19th century, her father from the 20th; he's consumed with returning to Hawaii before her mother dies, and Nix helps him, unsure if this might wipe her out of existence in the end. There's this tantalizing fun world-building, and incredibly rich, complicated emotional landscapes, too. Whirl in some fascinating Hawaiian history, and I was glued to the pages.

N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season

My love for this book (and series) really can only be described by enthusiastic arm waving. But I'll try to explain. This world is geologically unstable with "fifth seasons" -- cataclysmic geological disasters -- dotting their history. The novel follows three women who can impact geology, all at different parts in their schooling/mastery of this skill, and their talent is hated, feared, and regulated. Part of this novel is written in 2nd person present tense, which I should have hated but loved, and every character was fascinating, intriguing, and vibrant. My tip: read the glossary at the end to internalize some of the world-building, then dive in and be mesmerized. Dy-ing for the final book in the trilogy, due out in late 2017.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Ghost Talkers

Mediums who debrief the dead during World War I. I mean, what is not to love? The story was fascinating and heartbreaking, and I really wish it was double the length because I was not ready to leave. World-building was rich but not complicated, and the characters immediately appealing. J'adored.

Catherine Lowell, The Madwoman Upstairs

My affection for this book grows as time goes on; I'm even contemplating a reread because I'm actually in the mood for more of our heroine's quirky charm. The last living descendant of the Brontes, Samantha, ends up at Oxford, studying literature. She's the focus of intense attention from many but her aloof-yet-dreamy tutor refuses to take on the Brontes. At moments, I wanted to shake Samantha, but ultimately, I was hooked by the occasionally over-the-top plot, hint of romance, and awkward, bookish Samantha.

Patricia Park, Re Jane 

Gorgeous, gutting sort-of Jane Eyre retelling, only so much more. I actually hated the Jane Eyre-ish bits and got hung up on trying to ascertain who was Bertha and whatnot. But when I stopped focusing on that, and immersing myself in Jane's story, I was captivated. Jane is a biracial orphan in Flushing, Queens, hungering for love and belonging. She becomes a nanny and finds something like love, and much like Jane Eyre, Jane Re flees. The book's setting provides a fascinating "twist" to the tale that I loved; Jane ends up visiting her relatives in South Korea and is a far more admired woman there. In the end, it's a novel about a young woman coming to love herself and trust her place in the world. It's just been optioned for tv, I think, and it will make for fabulous watching.

Cherie Priest, Maplecroft
Imagine a world where Lizzie Borden wasn't just a mad murderer, but a young woman who killed her parents in an attempt to stave off a far greater evil. And now, that evil -- a wet Lovecraftian evil -- has returned, and she and her infirm sister are the only ones capable of stopping it. If you're not already intrigued, I don't know what to say! I was immediately captivated by this novel, and it was just the escapist read I needed in the weeks leading up to the election. It's more than just an homage to classic horror, as Priest depicts a rather complicated relationship between Lizzie and her sister.
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

I'd long wanted to read this "prequel" to Jane Eyre and was not disappointed. In fact, this kicked of my unofficial 'Year of Eyre' in 2016, and set a rather high bar for everything that followed. This edition included an introduction by Edwidge Danticat, which read as a kind of love letter for both books. I'm planning to reread Jane Eyre this year, and I hope to rearead this one immediately after. Undoubtedly, it will get more rich with each read.

Imogen Robertson, The Paris Winter 

Audiobook "read" so good that I couldn't stop listening, which is saying a lot, as I'm not an audiobook fan. I grabbed this one on a whim -- basically, it was available on OverDrive when I had a day of chores ahead of me -- and I was digging the setting -- late 19th century Paris --with expat women learning to paint. Our heroine, impoverished, is set up to be a companion to a rich Parisian woman with an opium problem, and then BAM! the story takes this crazy, unexpected turn that made it a serious page turner. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Weekend reads, or, starting the #24in48 Readathon...

I'm a terrible failure at readathons, but I still love 'em, and today, I seriously need something to distract me.

So I'm attempting the 24in48 Readathon, in which one tries to read for 24 hours within a 48 hour period.

Unsure which read I'm going to focus on: short stories (Lovecraft, Gay) or novels (Smith, McVeigh). I'm wicked sleepy, so I'm thinking it'll be short fiction, with a longer dip tomorrow when/if I get some sleep. (Have been really anxious this last week and sleep hasn't come easily!)

If you're readathon-ing this weekend, good luck -- what are you reading?