Monday, August 22, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | The Biggest Delinquents on My TBR List


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's TTT topic is a psychologically helpful one.  It's making me face those books that I've let languish on my TBR for far too long - embrace the shame and forgive;0).  Here's the specific topic:

Ten Books That Have Been On Your Shelf (Or TBR) From Before You Started Blogging That You STILL Haven't Read Yet (this is going to be sad considering how many of those I have unread six years later...)
I started blogging in December 2012.  I have 55 books on my Goodreads To-Read list.  Below are the ten most interesting or shameful or something.

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1) Bellefleur by Joyce Carol Oates

This book is on my 100 Books to read list (though the project is mostly defunct) AND Joyce Carol Oates is one of a handful of major authors I've identified that I haven't read that I'd like to.  Many reasons to read this book about a dysfunctional family.

2) Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith

I love Lee Smith and have read a number of her books except this one...her most famous one.  This is also on my (defunct) 100 books I must read list.  

3) Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

This and the next book were both recommendations of Simon Savidge at Savidge Reads.  He was kind of the first blog and books Podcast I listened too and even though he and I's taste don't overlap a ton there are a few places where we do.  This is one place where I think we do. 

4) Gillespie and I by Jane Harris

And this is the other place (See #3 above).  

5) Any Human Heart by William Boyd

This is Michael Kindness' (from the sadly now defunct Books on the Nightstand Podcast [Lots of defunctness on this list!]) favorite book.  I think he and I's taste overlap quite a bit and I am very intrigued by this birth to death story that has a 4.25 average rating on Goodreads!


6) The Lost Books of The Odyssey by Zachary Mason

I love Greek mythology and was super excited when I heard about this book.  I even own a copy which actually might be the reason I haven't read it yet, lol.  I tend to ignore the books on my shelves in favor of getting new shiny books from the library or bookstore. Bad Stephanie!  Anyway, here's what it is about:
With brilliant prose, terrific imagination, and dazzling literary skill, Mason creates alternative episodes, fragments, and revisions of Homer’s original that taken together open up this classic Greek myth to endless reverberating interpretations.


**APPARENTLY, I went through a phase in 2011 of wanting to read all the non-fiction books that have the longest names.  Or perhaps non-fiction books in this modern era just have longer names as a general rule?  Anyhoo, here's a whole passel of them that I'd still really like to read.  Honestly, I would!**




This is another one I own and I even started it.  I (used to?) love history, am very interested and not very educated about this time period and this book gets rave reviews.  I put it down after a few chapters but do want to get back to it sometime.


I also own this one!  Why haven't I read it yet!  Little House on the Prairie was probably my favorite show as a kid and this book is supposed to be very funny and got great reviews.


I extra special want to read this after reading, and adoring, some fiction by Amy Stewart!


Another one I own, languishing on my Kindle.

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Someday, maybe?  How about you?  What are the titles you've been sitting and staring at the longest?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Saturday in the Garden | On a Sunday

OUTSIDE


I don't have too much to write about the garden.  The tomatoes have been insanely irritating - they're sparse, took forever to ripen, had a lot of blossom end rot (too little water) and then half of them have been split (too much water) as soon as they ripened.  For a vegetable that anyone can grow I sure do suck at it, lol!  I was visiting a friend this weekend who was growing ground cherries and man were they tasty!  I may have to consider experimenting with them next year.

Here are some scenes from this weekend: first, the Rapidan River and second, the falls at Mineopa State Park both near Mankato, MN.



GAK
My blogging and internetting dwindled to almost nothing the last couple weeks.  Not really sure entirely why but I've got some work stress and I've been pretty obsessed with the Olympics and then  actually traveled and was social this weekend (shocker!).  It's these lapses in attention that keep me from doing anything to fancy up or improve the blog - I really love blogging and interacting with other bloggers but that doesn't always come with a constant level of commitment.  So. Sorry my blog's lame.  I'm sure it's only me that really cares but still.  I'm not sure this week will be any better honestly.  I just got home a couple hours ago, I'm pretty beat and this week at work promises to be challenging.  That doesn't mean I won't be unexpectedly flooded with inspiration and energy - it's doubtful but weirder things have happened.  Like this...


WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

The Olympics.  Sad it is over:(. I love the drama and the feelings of inadequacy it brings;0).  My new favorite athlete crushes are Simone Biles, Usain Bolt (don't ask why it took me so long to get on this train), and Ashton Eaton.  Bad Asses All.

Reading

Finished Last Week:

  • Lost Stars by Claudia Gray: My first Star Wars book and it's sooooo gooooood!  
  • Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie: I'm not usually a reader of contemporary romance or so-called chick-lit but I really loved this book!
  • Beguilement (The Sharing Knife #1) by Lois McMaster Bujold: It was bound to happen some time  - LMB has let me down.  This book was not my cup of tea.
Currently Reading:
  • Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)  by Libba Bray:  I had an actual Love-Hate relationship with the first book in this series but there was enough love to make me curious about where the series is headed.  I am not not enjoying this book but I'm not making very fast progress.  I just can't express how little I care about Evie and her relationship entanglements with Sam and Jericho. 
  • Runemarks by Joanne Harris:  I am actually not going to finish this book though it's not bad.  It reminds me a bit of Cathrynne Valente's Fairyland series, told in a very fairy tale style.  The problem with this is that characters tend to be pretty generic and shallow which means I don't get engaged.  The Fairyland series eventually shifted for me about halfway through book one and this one might have too but I just don't have the patience and attention right now to stick with it and find out.
  • The Castle of Wizardry (The Belgariad #4) by David Eddings:  I am re-reading this series on audio - it was one of my favorites as a wee(ish) thing.

Added to the TBR:

This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!
  • Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie:  Because of above.  There's a feisty lady and a hitman.
  • Rhapsody: Child of Blood by Elizabeth Haydon:  I think I heard about this one on the Sword and Laser podcast?  It kind of looks like a generic fantasy but whoever was recommending it, loved it.
  • Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins:  Boarding school ...witches...I'm in.  Sounds like a fun YA.
  • The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware:  A Agatha Christie-esque mystery thriller.  Sounds great. Pretty sure I heard about this one on Book Riot's All the Books podcast.
Blogging 

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:

The last time I posted a Saturday's in the Garden post two weeks ago I was all proud of my blogging prowess.  NOT so much this fortnight - the below is all I've managed...

TUESDAY (Aug15): Top Ten Tuesday | The Best Books with the Worst Settings

HAVE A GREAT WEEK!

Monday, August 15, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Best Books With the Worst Settings


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.


This week's Top Ten Tuesday is about place and atmosphere:
Top Ten Books With X Setting (top ten books set near the beach, top ten book set in boarding school, top ten books set in England, etc)
I decided to talk about a few books I've read recently that had settings that are just generally awful.  I mean, they're great, vivid and amazing settings to read about but in reality?  They would su-uck. I know that this is perhaps stretching the intent of this topic but these are the books that spoke to me and who am I to ignore the imaginary voices of books in my head? ;)


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1) The Passage by Justin Cronin

A U.S.A. where most of humanity has either been killed or turned into vampiric monsters that attack anything that moves in the dark.  Terrifying and awesome!

2) The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

HA!  You thought I was just going to go for post-apocalyptic? A desolate island that can barely support life and where, occasionally, carnivorous horse come out of the sea and devour people.  Charming.  Actually, Stiefvater totally made me want to live there.

3) The Round House by Louise Erdrich

This fantastic book takes place on a a modern-day Indian Reservation in one of the Dakotas.  The reservation, in many ways, is a lovely place of community but it is also a physical reminder of the terrible injustices visited upon the indigenous peoples of North America.  

4) Saga by Brian K. Vaughn 

WOW is all I can say about this Graphic Novel series but the setting is a space where war has overrun all of the planets.  It's amazing how hopeful and fun Vaughn manages to keep this story considering just how dire the setting is.  

5) The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Alaska is amazing and beautiful but it's also super dangerous and harsh especially in winter and especially when trying to homestead in the 1920s like the couple in this awesome novel is doing.  

6) Winter by Marissa Meyer

The moon.  Under an evil dictator.  It's terrible.

7) End of Days (really the whole Penryn and the End of Days series) by Susan Ee

This takes place in California.  California's nice but... not after it has been taken over by murderous, super strong Angels that can fly.


This seems like it is set in an average, small American town until you realize that the town is surrounded by a woodland chock full of malicious fairy folk and the humans in the town are kind of bigoted jerks too. 

9) Three Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

So in this world, Tara is literally thrown out of the school where she is learning Craft which happens to be floating at a great height above the ground. Then, she can't really feel comfortable when she returns home because most people revile and distrust people who practice Craft.  It's a challenging world to live in.


Fairyland?  Kind of sucks.  Well it is at least kind of terrifying.  

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That's a list of my  favorite books I read in the last year which had settings that if I was transported into them, I would pretty much die immediately.  What was the best book you recently read that had the worst setting?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Saturday in the Garden | Eating My Own Weight in Corn, Cukes and Tomatoes

OUTSIDE

I got the yard cleaned up last Sunday, at least somewhat, and my neighbor foisted all kinds of vegetables on me for which I am NOT complaining.  She gets more sun, she's in her eighties so spends most days puttering in the garden and she grows enough for 20 people.
It's officially August in Iowa.
My garden continues to be weird.  I appear to be headed for a bumper crop of peppers but my tomatoes are really sparse and I've only gotten 4 to ripen so far.  My "experimental" crop this year were Lima Beans (which I love and didn't realize most people hate until I was like 35) and they are producing pods like mad but the pods aren't fattening up.... That will be a serious bummer if they stall at this stage without producing the beans.

The view out of my office window continues to provide a show.  The Monarch was enjoying some Ironweed and the Giant Swallowtail was enjoying the Bee Balm (sorry for the horrible pic - he was being very fluttery).

And some other random photos from being out in the field this week.  We've actually started finding some Monarch caterpillars which is a relief.
Fun Leafhopper

4th Instar Monarch Caterpillar

Ever wondered what being in the middle of an Iowa corn field looks like? Probably not but here you go anyway.

WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

I'm still making my way through Agents of Shield and haven't gotten to any new episodes yet.  I still love May an insane amount.  I am most drawn to female characters who are bad ass and really good at controlling their emotions.  I am NOT good at controlling my emotions so I think it is a trait I envy/admire the most in other women.  I'd forgotten just how much I hate the mostly ruined dynamic between Fitz and Simmons and how changed Fitz's personality is - I love the two of them and hate that everything about them in this season is mostly grim and that most of the blame for that is piled onto Simmons.

The near future will probably be all about the Olympics!

Reading

Finished Last Week:

  • Magician's Gambit (Belgariad #3) by David Eddings: See above!  Book 3 reread from a muc beloved series.  
  • Magic Rises (Kate Daniels #6) by Ilona Andrews: I swear this series keeps getting better and better!
Currently Reading:
  • One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein: A gardening book about maximizing food production in a small space.  An ARC from Netgalley (though I think it's an older title).    
  • Lost Stars by Claudia Gray: My first Star Wars book and it's sooooo gooooood!  
  • Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2)  by Libba Bray:  I had an actual Love-Hate relationship with the first book in this series but there was enough love to make me curious about where the series is headed.  The bad news?  The first sentence Evie utters contains the dreaded "Posi-tute-ly!" Ugh....

Added to the TBR:

This is a list of books that I have added to my Goodreads TBR list this week.  It helps to burn the books I want to read a little more firmly into my mind, maybe get them on some other folks TBRs and gives me a chance to recognize a lot of the awesome bloggers that add stuff to my TBR!

Blogging 

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:

Two Reviews!  Look at me being a real book blog;0).

Thursday, August 4, 2016

REVIEW | The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz

The Colonel's Lady by Laura Frantz
Publication Year: 2011
Genre: Romance, Christian (inspirational), Historic
Series: NA
Awards: NA
Format: Ebook from Library
Narrator: NA

WHY?:  It's complicated? Or perhaps a long story?  I am not a religious person though I am also not hostile to religion.  I am fine reading a book that espouses moderate Christian values but I don't want to be preached at.  However, the most important thing for me in a romance novel are the characters and the relationship development and while I don't mind a sex scene or two, I do think they can be a crutch and aren't really necessary to a satisfying romance. Also, I like a romance that take its time (slow burn) and it seems in traditional romance there is an expectation for the sexy times to make an appearance pretty early in the book which kind of rushes things along and makes me sad.  So, despite my reservations, I have been eyeing Christian (or inspirational) romances for a while to see if perhaps these might give me the slow burn romance I'm looking for.  A fellow blogger (who I can't remember dang it) recommended another book by this author but this book was available at the library and looked interesting.

SYNOPSIS:  It's 1779 and America is in the midst of the Revolutionary War.  Roxanna Rowan's mother has just died and she is left with nothing to do but travel from Virginia to a Colonial Army outpost in Kentucky where her Father is posted.  Unfortunately when she arrives, she discovers her father has also died but the handsome, Irish Colonel McLinn who commands the fort vows to take her under his wing  Guess what happens next?

THOUGHTS: 
I won't be coy; this book didn't really work for me.  It was okay and honestly did a lot of things very well!  The writing was good, the story was mostly good, the historical details were interesting, the romantic scenes were lovely.  Frantz does a good job slowly drawing the two lovebirds to their Happily Ever After.  It's not rushed and their feelings develop naturally.  Colonel Cass McLinn is a suitably dreamy hero though a smidge too Alpha for my preferences.  For all this goodness it definitely deserves at least the 3 out of 5 stars I've given it.  I think for most readers, particularly Christian readers this book will work well for you.

However, I had three main problems with the book that kept me from loving it:

1) Roxie, the heroine, is boring.  She also spends much of the book depressed or in despair.  Understandable, considering her parents are both gone, she has no safety net and she's stuck at a military fort in the wilderness.  Understandable or not, though, it is just not fun reading about someone so mopey and woe is me.  She's also just so....good...both morally and skills wise.  Because she bored me I was also rather bored by the romance.  It was believably developed but it was also rather ho hum.  There's a little bit of excitement towards the end but it's too little too late and it all felt just a little too inevitable.

2) My personal preference, and it's a strong one, is for frivolous and funny romances.  With a morose heroine and a stern and serious military hero, this book was neither of those things.  It was exceedingly earnest and fraught with angst.  There is good dialogue but no witty banter or saucy exchanges. 

3) It was a little too heavy on the preaching and bible quoting for my taste.  For much of the first part of the book McLinn has lost his faith but Roxie's pure heart and staunch belief help him to embrace his faith again.  It mostly fits in with the narrative being told and there were no beliefs pushed that I would struggle with but I just could have done with less.  So maybe Christian fiction ain't my cup of tea?  I've read at least one other book by an author labeled as writing "christian fiction" and the religious components were much more subtle so perhaps I'm not ready to give up yet and really this wasn't too over-the-top.

One smaller complaint, and this could be said about many if not most romances, is that I would've liked the secondary characters to be more developed and less caricatures.  There are a few other woman in the "cast" but they are mostly there so Roxie has someone to talk to.  

FINAL VERDICT:  This book wasn't my cup of tea but I was impressed enough by the author's writing that I'd definitely plan to give another of her books a shot. My lack of connection with the book was really for very personal reasons which I tried to make clear so that if you don't share them, you should not hesitate to read this overall well done romance.  3 out of 5 stars





Monday, August 1, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Let The Book Avarice Begin!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme for bloggers who like books and lists. It's awesome and is graciously hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.


This week's TTT topic is:

Ten Books You'd Buy Right This Second If Someone Handed You A Fully Loaded Gift Card
On the surface this seems like it should be an easy list to make but I rarely buy particular books deliberately.  I either go into the store and browse and pick up things that look good or that I randomly recognize from my TBR.  I do most of my book shopping these days at the library sale, the used book store and Kindle sales. Man, I need to improve my support of the book industry!  Anyhoo, The only physical new books I tend to buy are boring, like cookbooks or the occasional specific book I really want but isn't available at the library and those are pretty few and far between.  What I'm saying is, this list is going to be seriously random.


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I like history, like to garden and I grew up just about an hour from Colonial Williamsburg and I loved the gardens there.  I really want this book.

2) Making It:  Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World by Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen

I'm a wannabe homesteader and at the very least would like to be more self-sufficient and consume less.  This book has pretty high marks and contains a variety of projects.


3) The Republic of Thieves (Gentlemen Bastards #3) by Scott Lynch

I NEED to read this book and I know I will like it so there's no fear of buyer's regret.  Plus, there is always a waiting list at the library and I can't seem to get my hands on it!


4) The Warlock's Curse (Veneficas Americana #3)by M.K. Hobson

I loved the first two books in this series and am dying to continue but this installment was self-published and is not available at my library.


5)  The Lymond Series on Audio by Dorothy Dunnett

This would have to be quite the generous gift card to get all 6 books of the series on audio!  This is my favorite historical fiction series and I'd like to re-read and I think doing it by audio this go round would be fun.  And as long as we're dreaming I'd love to have it read by Richard Armitage or Matthew MacFadyen.  Audio book Gods?  Can we make this happen?  And while we're at it I would also like to purchase The Dorothy Dunnett Companion by Elspeth Morrison.  


6) The Fables Series - All Volumes by Bill Willingham

This is a much beloved series, it was my first foray into graphic novels, and it is (or has recently) coming to an end soon.  I'd love to have a complete set for all these reasons.  


7) Diplomatic Immunity (Vorkosigan #13) by Lois McMaster Bujold

I'm behind on this series!  Book 16 just came out!  Must catch up!  Love, Love, Love Bujold!



My library doesn't have this collection of short stories that supplement the Abhorsen series.  Shame on them!  Guess I'll just have to buy.



I can never seem to find all three volumes at the library and I really love Avatar and these Graphic Novel continuations of Aang and the gang's story. 


10) All the Graphic Novels of Joss Whedon's Shows - Buffy and the Serenity series mostly

I have trouble finding these all in one place and would like to read them all.  Basically if I had a gift card, I would buy truck loads of graphic novels.  


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So...ummm..yeah...pretty darn random.  What would be at the top of your list?  Do you covet any of the above as well?   

Sunday, July 31, 2016

REVIEW | A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Publication Year: 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Awards: NA
Format: Audio (Audible.com)
Narrator: Steven Crossley


WHY?:  I've been wanting to read something by Schwab forever and the premise for this book sounded like one with a lot of promise.

SYNOPSIS:  There are three Londons left, each existing in a parallel universe to the others.  Gray London is (mostly) the one we are familiar with circa 19th century.  Red London is the one with just the right amount of magic, a stable government and residents and objects that naturally smell like flowers.  Finally there is white London, drowning in magic, brutal, ugly and unstable.  Kell, from Red London, is one of only two magicians who has the ability to cross in between these Londons and as such he plays a very important role, diplomatic and otherwise, for Red London's monarchy.  It is not surprising, then, that he gets caught up in a play for power by White London which also throws him together with Lila, a street rat from Gray London who gets caught in the cross fire when she steals from Kell.  The two must return a dangerous object across the three Londons in order to keep White London from taking over all.  So basically a quest fantasy with some twists!

From the first moment I heard about the premise of this book I was dying to read it. I love the idea of being able to cross between parallel worlds/dimensions and examining how the absence of this or the addition of that changes a point in space, in this case London.  It's a great concept which is simple and easy to understand but poses all kinds of cool scenarios and complexities.  Schwab does a pretty job taking advantage of all the promise inherent in parallel worlds with the level of magic being the changing factor.  The idea of having just a few mysterious people who are born with the ability to  go between these worlds is also cool.  They become valuable and are loaded down with expectations and it serves to make the characters of Kell and Holland that much more complex and interesting but more on that later. 

Despite, or maybe because of, the cool premise, the book started rather slowly for me.  The first 20% or so involved a LOT of world building that felt kind of static but after that, the action picks up and keeps accelerating to the end.  The plot is relatively straight forward but the stakes and suspense continue to build as the book rolls on making the resolution satisfying if not mind blowing.

The focus on establishing "the scene" also delayed some of the character development that was needed to engage me right away.  I liked Kell from the beginning. Immediately it is clear that he is compassionate and has a good heart but he is not 100% heroic.  The royal family of Red London have adopted him as their own but Kell, while mostly appreciative and loyal, also resents this and cynically believes that they don't truly value him as much as his power. He chafes under the responsibility his power necessitates.  However, Ry, the crown prince is his best friend and is his brother in name if not in blood, so Ry knows about Kell's small rebellions, trading goods between the Londons which is strictly forbidden.  The only other magician who can cross between worlds is Holland from white London and he is a delicious and terrifying henchman reminiscent of the villainous henchmen of James Bond.   
Kell Fan Art by Kuro-skies.tumblr.com

Where I struggled to connect character-wise was with Delilah Bard aka Lila.  She is a type of character that I normally don't connect with - very fly by the seat of her pants/impulsive/reckless and I initially didn't love her but by the end of the book I really liked her and think I probably would have loved her if it wasn't for the narrator.

And that's my last big complaint about the book which isn't really about the book but about the narrator of the audio.  He had a fine voice and is in fact a much used and award-winning narrator but I did not like him for this book.  He is obviously an older man by his voice and this is a book that is 90% about people in their early 20s or younger.  Kell whose voice was closest to his own, therefore sounded growly and too mature, Ry, the crown prince sounded like a 14 year old who hadn't gone through puberty yet and Lila's voice and speech patterns were just weird. It made her sound immature and petulant.  I think the way he voiced Lila really impacted how I felt about her as a character.  I will definitely read the next book of this series in print!

FINAL VERDICT:  Despite a slow start, I ended up loving this atmospheric and unique quest fantasy! 4 out of 5 Stars.

Other opinions are Available: The Bibliosanctum |  Of Dragons and Hearts