Monday, February 29, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Books to Read When You Want to Laugh

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 topic is.....
Ten Books To Read If You Are In The Mood For X
My X this week will be "laughing".  If there is one thing I really love and most appreciate in a book, it is humor.  I love a book that makes me laugh/chortle/grin foolishly while reading and for some genres (romance) I find it an essential ingredient.  Even better is a book that can make me laugh AND cry (it was better than Cats!)  - I think a good word for that is bittersweet? *shrugs* That doesn't completely fit but I like it better than tragicomic which is the other word the internet is suggesting. Anyway, the point is, who among us doesn't admire (or want to be) people that can face the hard things in life with a sense of humor.

Below I will list ten somewhat recently (last 3 years or so) read books that really made me laugh.  I've split it down the middle, listing half books that were just flat out delightful and half  books that delivered both the funny and the sad.  I tried to have a good distribution among genres in each list as well.  Ummm... I also went way over the allotted 10.  Please forgive me.

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Delightful!

MIDDLE GRADE HISTORICAL
This is an utterly charming and hilarious middle-grade series about a young governess name Penelope and her three charges who were raised by wolves in Victorian England.  It is peppered with the pithy, hilarious and often wise sayings of the founder of Penelope's alma mater, The Swanburne Academy for Poor, Bright females.
“As Agatha Swanburne once said, 'To be kept waiting is unfortunate, but to be kept waiting with nothing interesting to read is a tragedy of Greek proportions.”
SCIENCE FICTION
This is classic title so I don't need to explain further about how hilarious this book is.  My favorite character may be Marvin the depressed robot.
“For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much—the wheel, New York, wars and so on—whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man—for precisely the same reasons.” 
HISTORICAL ROMANCE
As I mentioned, I just can't deal with a romance which is too earnest and dire so naturally my new best friend is Sarah MacLean.  Her books are swoonily romantic and are also bursting with witty banter.  I love them.
“What do you think of this" he asked, indicating the painting nearby.
She gave him an odd look. "I think it's an enormous painting of a dog."
He made a show of considering the picture and nodded seriously. "An astute observation.” 

NON-FICTION 
4. Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach/Anything by Mary Roach
 Runner up:  Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson
Mary Roach is a brilliant non-fiction writer about all kinds of science-y type subjects and she handles her topics in a way that is both informational and hilarious.  She's my all time favorite non-fiction writer and Gulp is her most recent book.
“Where do you find a stomach on a Thursday afternoon in Reno? "Chinatown?" suggests someone. "Costco?" "Butcher Boys." Tracy pulls his phone from a pocket. "Hello, I'm from the university" - the catchall preamble for unorthodox inquiries.” 
I actually read Dr. Tatiana's many years ago but I thought I'd mention it if your looking for entertaining science writing.  It addresses the evolution of sex in the format of a sex advice column for all sorts of critters.

CONTEMPORARY MYSTERY
5. The Thousand Dollar Tan Line and Mr. Kiss and Tell by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham
If you watched Veronica Mars on TV you'll remember its trademark clever wit. The books based on the show carry on the tradition.  If your familiar with the show you'll also know that it skirted the bittersweet line as well but because my dominant feeling coming out of these books was delight, I'm putting them here. The books are really great mysteries to boot.  I hope they continue to do more....
“I’m beginning to view democracy as the Siri of political systems. So much better in theory.”  -Mr. Kiss and Tell

SCIENCE FICTION
6. The Martian by Andy Weir
Mark Watney is my fictional boyfriend. A scientist, and astronaut and totally and dreamily funny. He's an adorable smart ass, even while trapped on Mars.
“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.” 

URBAN FANTASY
7. The Peter Grant Series by Ben Aaronovitch
This was the series that won me over to Urban Fantasy which hadn't been a favorite genre.  The stories are a lot of fun and Peter is an incredibly engaging main character particularly because he's got a fantastic sense of humor.
“Carved above the lintel were the words SCIENTIA POTESTAS EST. Science points east, I wondered? Science is portentous, yes? Science protests too much. Scientific potatoes rule. Had I stumbled on the lair of dangerous plant geneticists?” 

URBAN FANTASY
8. The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
This is a unique book focusing on an administrator in a government spy agency that protects Great Britain from supernatural threats.  Problem is this administrator has total amnesia and the only way she knows anything is from the notes she left herself before she lost her memory.  It's totally fun and has a lovely dry sense of humor.
“Yes, Minister, it turns out that there was a mysterious force that caused that plane to crash. We call it gravity.” 
PLAY
9. An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde is legendary for his wit and An Ideal Husband is one of his best plays with all the droll lines by Lord Goring.
“I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.” 
BITTERSWEET.

WESTERN
10. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
This book.  It is one of the funniest and saddest and best I've ever read.
“It's like I told you last night son. The earth is mostly just a boneyard. But pretty in the sunlight, he added” 

NON-FICTION
11. Let's Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Jenny Lawson examines her somewhat unconventional childhood with some appreciation and a lot of hilarity.
“A friend is someone who knows where all your bodies are buried. Because they're the ones who helped you put them there."And sometimes, if you're really lucky, they help you dig them back up.” 

CONTEMPORARY MYSTERY
12. Longmire Mystery Series by Craig Johnson
A dry humor juxtaposed with an austere landscape and the tragedy of murder.  Focused on the sheriff of a rural Wyoming County.
“There are only three major vote getting days in Absoroka County, and I can't remember the other two. "Oh God, no. It's Pancake Day." I thought about shooting myself. I could see the headlines: Sheriff shoots self, unable to face pancakes.” 
FICTION
Lydia Netzer's style is a little quirky and weird and it's not for everyone but I love it.  These books manage to be funny and achingly poignant at the same time often times highlighting the absurdities of life.
“This is the way it was in Yates County. Bald Girls. Wild boys formed from math. Geniuses all around, just waiting to be discovered, or waiting to rot in trailers behind their parents' barns, die penniless, mourned only by the Amish from whom they bought all those eggs.” 

SCIENCE FICTION
14. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
This book is brutal but also so so funny.  A highly recommended read!
“Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognize God? A vanishingly small number of people would recognize God, Anne had decided years before, and most of them had simply missed a dose of Thorazine.” 
GRAPHIC NOVEL
15. Fables Series by Bill Willingham
This is probably my favorite graphic novel series and it can be equally delightful and truly devastating.  
“Freedom is sloppy. But since tyranny's the only guaranteed byproduct of those who insist on a perfect world, freedom will have to do.” 
HISTORICAL FICTION
16. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This is a truly lovely and entertaining historical fiction book.  It's set in Spain and has a little bit of everything, mystery,history, romance, drama and a good bit of humor as well.  It also has a lot of lovely passages about books and reading.
“Destiny is usually just around the corner. Like a thief, a hooker, or a lottery vendor: its three most common personifications. But what destiny does not do is home visits. You have to go for it.” 
HISTORICAL MYSTERY
17. Flavia De Luce Series by Alan Bradley
This series and its 12 year old protagonist are totally delightful but the humor overlays what in reality is a very sad and dysfunctional family.
“It is not unknown for fathers with a brace of daughters to reel off their names in order of birth when summoning the youngest, and I had long ago become accustomed to being called 'Ophelia Daphne Flavia, damn it.” 

FANTASY
18. The Gentleman Bastards series by Scott Lynch  
Runner Up: The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
Both of these series are brutal and violent but also have very fun (and somewhat filthy so beware) senses of humor which is what makes them so brilliant.
“I can't wait to have words with the Gray King when this shit is all finished," Locke whispered. "There's a few things I want to ask him. Philosophical questions. Like, 'How does it feel to be dangled out a window by a rope tied around your balls, motherfucker?” - The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch
“We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.”   - The Last Argument of Kings, Joe Abercrombie

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That does it for me?  What are your go to books when you just want to laugh?  Or maybe laugh and then cry a little?  I'd love some recommendations!


Sunday, February 28, 2016

REVIEW | Romance | Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
Publication Year: 2014
Genre: Historical Romance
Series: Castles Ever After, #1
Awards: NA
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: Carmen Rose

WHY?:  I love me the heck out of some Regency romances and Tessa Dare had been recommended to me many times.  This was my first foray into her books!


SYNOPSIS: Izzy (Isadora) Goodnight is the spinster daughter of a very famous and well-loved fiction author whose books have his daughter as one of the characters. Even though she and her father are both famous when he dies he leaves her nothing and even the proceeds of his book sales go to a male relative who despises her.

The "meet cute" is quite unique in this novel.  Izzy is at her wits end after losing her father, so her relief is immense when she finds out a distant acquaintance has left her a bequest in his Will.  She travels to the specified location, which turns out to be a big moldy castle to meet the executor and finds out that the castle is in fact her bequest.  The problem is there is already somebody living there and he, Ransom Vane the Duke of Rothbury, is under the impression that he owns the castle and that it wasn't Izzy's acquaintance's to bequest.  Izzy can not relinquish this only chance for her to have some security so she will not leave but Ransom has equally compelling reasons why he needs to stay.

Ransom and Izzy proceed to banter/flirt/argue up a storm all the while struggling with their overpowering attraction to one another.  Their love story is fine and there is plenty of chemistry between the characters but it was not my favorite part of the story.  They have the hots for each other pretty much immediately and despite the fact that they are in conflict, Izzy does not resist his bullying advances.  She is not concerned with protecting her virtue and it doesn't take too long for them to end up in bed together. The real conflict is breaking down the barriers they both have towards emotional intimacy and commitment.

In my humble opinion, where this book shines is the character of Izzy and her whole backstory.  She could be infuriating at times like when she keeps coming down and reading in the room where the Duke is sleeping which to me seemed pretty rude and invasive and just weird.  However, I loved the overall contradiction of her personae. She is extremely compassionate, non-judgmental and in her heart of hearts still very romantic which clashes with the constant examples of human folly that have been thrust upon her, her whole life.  Dare manages to carry off making Izzy both sweet and sentimental while also being quite practical and very grounded in reality.  She's the perfect foil/match for Ransom who is cold-hearted and was raised to be super self-sufficient and to not rely on anyone.  He needs Izzy's more compassionate sentimental side to break through the barriers he's erected but he also needs that practical, self-sufficient side of her to feel the kinship.  It's a nice thoughtful combo!

Another really nice element of the plot is the running comparison throughout the books of Ransom and Izzy's "real world" romance and the ideal romantic courtly love portrayed in Izzy's father's books. It adds some really nice texture to the books as well as a whole cast of wacky side characters including a band of roving Cosplayers.

Another need I have of my romance is that it must be funny and this definitely has a lot of great humor. The banter is pretty good and Ransom in particular is very funny.  It keeps the story light.
“He let his eyes flitter over her. “I don’t see anything ‘precisely.’ I can tell you’re slender. I can see you’re wearing white, or some light color. Your face is pale, your lips are reddish. And there appears to be a dark brown octopus attacking your head.”
“That’s my hair.”
Ransom shrugged. “You asked what I see. I see tentacles.”
To be honest I don't remember the narration very well but that generally means that it was perfectly acceptable and well done.

Final Verdict:  This was a relatively unique Regency Era romance with a really great heroine and an especially fun story.  Fun but not entirely fluffy. I liked it a lot!  4 out of 5 Stars.




Saturday, February 27, 2016

Saturday in the Garden | Who are you and what have you done with the real Winter?

OUTSIDE

It's in the mid-60s today, deceptively hinting at Spring. A friend even mentioned seeing her first red-winged blackbird which is one of my favorite harbingers that winter is coming to a close.  It is nice to get February out of the way, and March is usually kinder, but I am still cautious.   I did a little bit of yard clean up today, mostly cleaning up the accumulated Winter dog poo - Fun! Not my favorite chore but it was nice to do something productive outside.  Now I'm ready for a nap.  Obviously still in my Winter malaise!

LIFE

I'm counting down the days until things at work calm down.  I've got one more week of crazy and then it will still be pretty busy but not quite at the frenetic chaos levels which it is currently.


WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

Nothing much.  I've been comfort watching selected episodes of Stargate SG1.

Reading

Finished Last Week: 

  • A World Without Princes (The School for Good and Evil #2) by Soman Chainani: This is a super fun middle-grade series and is one of the series I identified as one I'd like to put in the finished column.
  • Still Life With Murder by P.B. Ryan (Nell Sweeney Mystery #1):  This is historical mystery series set in mid nineteenth century Boston with a female protagonist.  I picked it up because it was mentioned in a Book Riot list about favorite love declarations.

Currently Reading:

  • One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein: A gardening book about maximize food production in a small space.  An ARC from Netgalley (though I think it's an older title).   
  • Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones: A stand alone novel I ran across at the local used book store knowing nothing about it except that it was by Diana Wynne Jones:0).  It is taking its time to get going so I hope it picks up the pace soon, simply because that's what I'm in the mood for now. It has an awesome atmosphere, though, that is really sticking with me.
  • American Rose by Karen Abbott:  A biography of Gypsy Rose Lee. 
  • The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (Song of the Lioness #3) by Tamora Pierce:  Finally getting back to this series - not sure why it took me so long!

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!
  • Grimspace (Sirantha Jax #1) by Ann Aguirre: A science fiction adventure which was recommended as having a great female protagonist.  Obviously I have been digging the Book Riot podcasts lately as this and the one below both got on my TBR from their Get Booked podcast
  • Gemsigns (Evolution #1) by Stephanie Saulter:  Gems is a name for a genetically modified human in a post dystopian Earth.  This was also recommended on the Get Booked Podcast.

Blogging 

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:

On the BLOG NEXT WEEK:

I will be travelling for work so not much chance to post this week.  I'll see what I can get scheduled ahead of time.  The Top Ten Tuesday topic this week is interesting - "ten books to read when you are in the mood for X". 




Wednesday, February 24, 2016

REVIEW | Fantasy | Steal the Sky by Megan O'Keefe

Steal the Sky by Megan O'Keefe
Publication Year: 2016
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: The Scorched Continent #1
Awards: NA
Format: Advanced Reader Copy from Angry Robot.  Receiving the book for free does not impact my review.
Narrator: NA

WHY?:  Flying Sailing Ships!  The blurb gave me Firefly feels.

SYNOPSIS: Aransa is a mining city in an environmentally hostile area known as the Scorched. At one point it was apparently a tropical paradise but war or some similar event in the past has wiped out all vegetation. What the area is rich in is Selium. Sel is a gaseous substance that creates energy and supports flight and it can be manipulated by people known as Sel-sensitives. Because of their abilities, Sel sensitives have become almost a slave caste - they are forced to work in the mines or in other dangerous and subservient positions. And at least one of them isn't gonna take it anymore. Unfortunately for petty conman Detan, he gets sucked right into the middle of a couple of clashing plots along with his sidekick Tibs and the City Watch Captain Ripka.

It is almost certainly a mistake to go into a book with expectations that it will be like this-thing-that-I-love-so-hard.  It is a thrill when it actually is like the thing but more often than not, it is its own beast and that's okay.  Okay but disappointing.  Steal the Sky was not Firefly in book form.  There isn't even a single character that really evoked the Firefly cast though if you squinted real hard Detan and his not-really-sidekick Tibs bare a passing resemblance to Mal and Zoe.  But then they call people chums and women lasses and I was wondering if I'd strayed into the middle of Bertie Wooster's holiday in Scotland.  The point is, I had unfair expectations.  Don't make my mistake or you might find yourself disappointed.

Because I was slightly disappointed in Steal The Sky.  Partly because of my confession above - totally my fault - but partially because the book had a LOT of promise which wasn't fulfilled. The story and characters just never quite gelled for me.  

But let me back up and talk about what did work.  The world building and the magic system was very, very cool.  The city of Aransa worked as a colorful and rough-and-tumble backdrop for the story. An island of survival in the middle of a deadly desert. It was conquered or established (or something) by Valathea but it is no longer under that country's or far off city's rule.  Maybe.  I found the political plot line very confusing and at least for me it could have used a lot more fleshing out.

It was fine though because the heart of the story is really the sel sensitives and their plight. They have this special and very cool ability but instead of it giving them power in society, they are basically enslaved. They do perhaps have more financial stability than the other poor people but they risk their lives every day and are not at all compensated the way they should be.  No one really wants to admit they are sel sensitive, especially if their abilities are strong and they can manipulate Sel in more complicated ways than just moving it.  Those talents mean they are dangerous and it does make them powerful. So this is kind of a rebellion story.  It starts with a lone woman, Pelkaia, a very strong sel manipulator who has a gripe with the powers that be.  By the end of the book, her personal vendetta has gotten mixed up with a larger political play and she may have, in fact, started a revolution.

Pelkaia is an enigmatic figure throughout the book, partially because we so rarely see her being herself - she is usually masquerading as others behind a sel mask.  I liked that she was a character whose motives may be understandable and sympathetic but who takes things a little too far into the dark side.  The other main characters are as mentioned, Detan who is a con man, petty crook and all around okay guy.  Ripka is the Watch Captain of Aransa with a reputation for being tough but fair and very well respected.  She and Detan have crossed paths before.  Beyond these three perspective characters, the cast is rounded out by Tibs, Detan's laconic sidekick and the big bad antagonist Thratia who seems to have some shady political goals and is throwing her weight around in Aransa using her fearsome reputation.

I liked the characters okay but really wanted more from them.  I was very intrigued by Ripka but the narrative ended up spending very little time with her and she is never really fleshed out.  Detan was inoffensive but I never really got a sense of who he was despite the fact that most of the narrative sticks with him.  Basically, all the characters have aspects that feel real but they never felt real as a whole.  This unfortunately bleeds into their relationships.  Detan gets all worked up when Ripka gets in trouble and risks his life to save her but they don't really interact all that much in the book and the book in no other way makes it clear that they are any more then acquaintances so it feels odd.  I could've gotten behind a few hints of romance around the two - I love a good bad-ass female rule follower-free wheeling con artist pair up but the author doesn't really go there. I think?  Detan seems to have strangely sentimental feelings about many of the female characters so it's hard to know.  

Beyond the characters not totally working, I also thought the pacing was a tad slow and the tone a little too serious.  I wanted wisecracking wit and mad-cap escapades and it feels like the book was set up to have those things but it just didn't.  It's not grim-dark or anything but it doesn't get close to the light and airy concoction that could have made this akin to a heist book.

The bottom line is that this really felt like a debut novel. One with promise but needing a good bit more polish and practice.  It is not bad by any means and was a solid three star read for me.  It may have snuck up to 3.5 if I hadn't had those Firefly expectations.  I'll be interested in what Megan O'Keefe writes in the future.

FINAL VERDICT:  This book was an enjoyable fantasy novel with a lot of promise that just didn't quite deliver on that potential.  I will keep a look out for Megan O'Keefe's future books but not obsessively so.  3 out of 5 stars.


Other Opinions Do Exist:  Beauty in Ruins |  Lynn's Book Blog |

Monday, February 22, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | Books I Shouldn't have Liked Except that I Did

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 is all about feeling uncomfortable and loving it.


Sorry.  I've been a little obsessed with IT Crowd gifs lately.  Anyhoo, this is the exact topic wording:
Ten Books I Enjoyed Recently (last yearish) That Weren't My Typical Genre/Type of Book (or that was out of your comfort zone)
One of my biggest disappointments in myself last year is that I did not push my comfort zone at all. As a result this won't be a long list but I do have a few.

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1) Contemporary YA

I have no interest in reading contemporary YA but apparently adding even the tiniest bit of magic or unreality makes it totally my jam.  In the last year, I have not only enjoyed but really loved The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black, Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor.

2) Contemporary Mystery

I usually prefer my mysteries historical or British but I've read a couple of contemporary non-British mysteries this year that I adored.  The first two books in the Longmire mystery series by Craig Johnson, The Cold Dish and Death Without Company and Still Life by Louise Penny.  And there were of course the Veronica Mars mysteries (more below).

3) Media Tie-ins

These are not exactly out of my comfort zone but I guess I'd always been a bit snobbish about them, assuming they would be poorly written and lame.  The Veronica Mars tie-in mysteries (The Thousand Dollar Tan Line and Mr. Kiss and Tell) convinced me to give them a shot and they were so awesome, they created a monster.  I went on to read 10 Doctor Who novels and made one of my reading resolutions for 2016 to read more tie-ins with a specific goal of wanting to dive into Star Wars.  Yup. A total monster.

4) Horror

So I enjoy a good horror flick and am not in the least wimpy about them but books or even short stories in the horror genre do nothing for me.  I don't know if it's the prolonged nature of the scare or what.  I had a couple books in the recent past that sort of skirted along the edges of horror and I really liked them!  The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James was a creepy little ghost story/mystery/romance and Mister Slaughter by Robert McCammon was a great favorite historical thriller/mystery that had some pretty strong horror elements.  I think the key for me was that they mashed up genres like nobody's business.

5) Romantic Suspense

So this isn't really outside of my comfort zone but it also wasn't really a sub-genre I had any interest in previously.  However, This Rough Magic by Mary Stewart totally delighted me and really The Haunting of Maddy Clare mentioned above could slide into this category.  Id like to read more romantic suspense.

6) Meandering Narrative

I don't generally like books that seem to be written without too much of a plan but my favorite book of last year was exactly that.  Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry is a totally brilliant book with characters you won't soon forget.

**********

I think that about does it.  I warned you it would be a boring list.  I'm gonna try to push myself a little bit more in 2016 though so far not so good.  Thank goodness it's only February, eh?

So what kind of books would you say is most out of your comfort zone?  Read any books lately that surprised you?

I'm sorry. I couldn't resist. It's an addiction.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Saturday in the Garden - Seeds Glorious Seeds!

OUTSIDE

It's been in the 50s Fahrenheit the last two days. In February. In IOWA.  It feels warm enough to head out and plant the early plants.  I'm tempted to sow some sugar snap peas and other really cold tolerant stuff and see how early a harvest I could get.  Sure the ground might freeze up again but maybe they could take it?
Last Week

This Week: what a difference a couple of 50 degree days make
Speaking of seeds all my orders arrived in a fanfare of angelic trumpets.  Okay, so the trumpets were in my head but the point is, it was exciting.  I was a little nervous when putting my order in because I had a really hard time finding my favorite variety of heirloom green beans - Empress.  Not sure what the deal was and why they were so scarce but was glad to get my hands on some seed.


LIFE

Being introverted can sometimes be a real drag. The last three days of this week were almost constant social interaction which resulted in me feeling completely drained and exhausted.  I should have slept well but instead I had nights plagued by stress dreams.  Last night, I dreamed that I was being forced to work in one of two bars in a small town with no training or orientation.  It took me 45 minutes to make a vegetarian burrito this woman ordered out of bar garnishes.  Then when crowds and crowds of people started ordering drinks none of the ingredients for said drinks were in one bar or the other.  I kept having to run back and forth between the bars - gin from one, ginger ale at the other, lime back at the first one  - and everybody kept ordering these fantastically complicated drinks.  Sheesh.

As a former waitress many of my stress dreams revolve around waiting on people - what about you?  Do you have stress dreams and do they take a familiar form?


WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

Nothing much.  I've been comfort watching selected episodes of Stargate SG1.

Reading

Finished Last Week: 

  • Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson #2):  This is the second book in this very popular middle-grade series about a modern day boy who happens to be the son of a Greek god.

Currently Reading:

  • A World Without Princes (The School for Good and Evil #2) by Soman Chainani: This is a super fun middle-grade series and is one of the series I identified as one I'd like to put in the finished column.  
  • One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein: A gardening book about maximize food production in a small space.  An ARC from Netgalley (though I think it's an older title).   
  • Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones: A stand alone novel I ran across at the local used book store knowing nothing about it except that it was by Diana Wynne Jones:0).  It is taking its time to get going so I hope it picks up the pace soon, simply because that's what I'm in the mood for now. It has an awesome atmosphere, though, that is really sticking with me.
  • American Rose by Karen Abbott:  A biography of Gypsy Rose Lee. 
  • Still Life With Murder by P.B. Ryan (Nell Sweeney Mystery #1):  This is historical mystery series set in mid nineteenth century Boston with a female protagonist.  I picked it up because it was mentioned in a Book Riot list about favorite love declarations.

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!
  • Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2) by Libba Bray: I had a slightly complicated relationship with The Diviners but I liked it enough to give the sequel a try. I hadn't even realized the sequel was released last year.  It made almost zero splash in my world.  
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi:  I'm pretty sure I heard about this on Book Riot's All the Books podcast as with a number of others on this list. It is a non-fiction book about the death of the author from cancer and it sounds really tough but it also sounds like something I should read.
  • American Housewife by Helen Ellis and The Unfinished World and Other Stories by Amber Sparks:  These are both interesting sounding short story collections - new releases recommended by Book Riot's All The Books podcast.  Several of the stories described struck my fancy and I don't read enough short stories!
  • These Vicious Masks (These Vicious Masks #1) by Tarun Shanker:  Described as Jane Austen meets X-men so yeah, I will be reading this one.  Again a recommendation of Book Riot's All The Books podcast.
  • Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins:  Last one recommended on Book Riot's All The Books podcast. This sounds like a delicious slow burn type romance.  
  • Red: The True Story of Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff:  This middle grade title was recommended on Of Starships and Dragonwings.  It sounds like a lot of fun and if I like it, Shurtliff has written a bunch of other similar type books.
  • Show Dog by Josh Dean:  A non-fiction book that follows one dog as he makes his way through the show dog circuit. I think I saw this one advertised in a daily publisher e-mail and I love me some dogs so....

Blogging 

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:

On the BLOG NEXT WEEK:

It will once again be total chaos around here even though I did manage to post some things this week. My hope is to at least post a review of Steal the Sky by Megan O'Keefe.





Wednesday, February 17, 2016

REVIEW | Middle-Grade Mystery | The Unmapped Sea by Maryrose Wood

The Unmapped Sea by Maryrose Wood
Publication Year: 2015
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical Mystery
Series: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #5
Awards: NA
Format: Audio (from Library)
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren

WHY?:  I discovered this series in 2015 and absolutely adore it, especially the audio.  Probably my favorite middle-grade find of recent times.

SYNOPSIS: In this installment, Penelope Lumley and her three charges, Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia Incorrigible, travel to Brighton along with all the other denizens of Ashton Place. While in Brighton, Penelope hopes to convince Simon's Uncle Pudge, former cabin boy to Admiral Ashton, to reveal the exact wording of the curse placed on the Ashton family.  Along the way, the Incorrigible's learn about hermit crabs and dinosaurs and become fast friends with the children of a Russian family who are the only other folks vacationing in Brighton in January.

This series just keeps getting better and better.  Book 4, The Interrupted Tale was my favorite and The Unmapped Sea surpassed it.  This is the second to last book in the series so many of the mysteries about the origin of the Incorrigible children and the enigmatic Judge Quinsy, come to a head and many secrets are revealed.  However, all that has been accomplished by uncovering the mystery is being able to define exactly what the problem is and it is not resolved. The books ends with all of our beloved characters in some form of peril. Another of my favorite developments of the book is that Penelope finally embraces her romantic feelings for Simon Harley-Dickinson, her loyal friend of the last 4 books. It set things up for book 6 to be a very exciting conclusion!

All the books in the series are very cleverly written from a third person omniscient narrator with a modern sensibility who not only reveals the character's motivations but also comments rather humorously and educationally on the customs of the Victorian era.  It highly entertains me and seems like it would make a great entry point for the intended audience of 8-12 year olds.
“Hard-hearted people may be no fun to sit next to at parties, but they are just as entitled to earn a living as the rest of us. Fortunately-for them, at least-the need for insurance adjusters, tax collectors, theater critics, and the like continues to this very day.” 
One of my only complaints about listening to the book rather than reading it, is that there are so many great and funny passages and plays on words that I don't get a chance to capture on the audio.  I especially love all of Agatha Swanburne's sayings (the founder of Penelope's school) which range from the silly to the profoundly wise and are often a bit of both.

The whole tone of the series is silly and delightful and Katherine Kellgren, the narrator of the audiobooks captures this perfectly!  She once again is amazing in her reading of this book where she has to voice 10 year old Russian twin boys, an ancient mariner and also howl with enthusiasm.  Her range is amazing and she completely commits to all the goofiness.  If you want to read this series, I highly recommend the audio!

FINAL VERDICT:  This series just keeps getting better! This installment is extremely satisfying because it provides so many answers to the nagging questions of the series but ends in such a way that promises book 6 will be exciting. My favorite words to describe this series?  Charming and Delightful. 4 out of 5 stars.



Other Opinions Are Available: Leaf's Reviews | Good Books and Good Wine


Monday, February 15, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY | All The Best Valentines are Fictional

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.

Yes, I realize I am a week late.  Story of my life.  I wasn't inspired by the Valentine's day topic last week, but then received inspiration about it this weekend and decided I wasn't inspired by this week's topic. Clear?  Not really but I am pushing forward anyway.

So my topic is about characters.  My favorites, in fact.  Not just my favorites but those I'd love to send a shy little valentine to, asking them to hang with me for the next, oh, 50 years or so.  We all have favorites that on the page are great but we wouldn't want to meet them in real life.  The characters on my list are those that I wish were real and hanging with me on my couch watching The X Files.  I originally included both boys and girls but the list was HUGE so I decided to go with all male except for one female non-humanoid.

My Disreputable Valentines
1) The Disreputable Dog from the Abhorsen series by Garth Nix

Who says a valentine has to have two legs?  Sure Lirael and Sabriel are pretty darn cool but it's The Disreputable Dog that I loved the most from this series.  I adore her mix of goofy dogginess, wisdom, loyalty, protectiveness and humor. She's a dog but smarter AND magical.   

2) Adam Parrish from The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

This one makes me feel a little icky because I am a middle-aged lady and Adam isn't even 18 but I feel like someone needs to show poor Adam some love even if it's of a more maternal variety.  He's a good kid who's been dealt a crappy hand.  He's a teenager I could appreciate - hard working, driven, smart, funny and sweet.

I can't figure out who did the art for this but whoever you are - well done!
3) Captain Carswell Thorne from The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

Smart alecky rogues with a heart of gold are so much fun.  I'd very much appreciate Carswell's commentary on Mulder and Scully's antics and I think he'd encourage me to be a little more adventurous.  I've kind of always wanted to be a crew member on a ship. Speaking of which...

4) Stephen Maturin from the Aubrey and Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian

These are the books that planted that weird seed of longing to be a sailor.  No small reason for that is being able to nerd out about Natural History with Stephen Maturin, not to mention that he's pretty much the best Doctor you could hope to have on a sailing ship in the Napoleonic Era. He's a great mix of nerd and adventurer.  It doesn't hurt that he was played by the very adorable Paul Bettany in the movie, Master and Commander.

Source
5) Colin Bridgerton from The Bridgerton Series by Julia Quinn

And speaking of wise asses...  Colin Bridgerton is probably my favorite ever romance hero....that is until he gets his own book in the Bridgerton series (Romancing Mister Bridgerton).  Up until that point however I thought he was a blast.  Charming, friendly and a witty jokester, he doesn't take life too seriously.  It's good to have someone like that in your life.

6) Gus McCrae from Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

While I do think Gus could become a little tiresome in too large of doses but hanging with him, drinking some homemade hooch would be totally amazing.  He would regale me with great stories that would be both funny and wise.  I'd also feel a good deal safer having him around because he's a total bad ass.

7) Walt Longmire from the Longmire Mystery Series by Craig Johnson

Speaking of salty old Western dudes.... I'm not gonna lie, part of my love for Walt comes from the television show based on the books but the character in both is great.  As with the above, I would certainly feel safer with him around and he's got a laconic sense of humor that never fails to induce chortling.

8) Mark Watney from The Martian by Andy Weir

So it's pretty clear, I really enjoy characters with a good sense of humor. I am also a natural history science nerd.  So combine these things into a single character and make him an astronaut too?  It was inevitable that I would have a huge crush on Mark Watney.
 
9) Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Arthur is a little clueless and prone to panicking but it's understandable.  I like his air of ordinary man in extraordinary circumstances.  He's resourceful and... you guessed it... funny and I wouldn't mind having a beer with him down at the pub.

Source
10) Jean Tannen from The Gentleman Bastard's Series by Scott Lynch

Locke Lamora may be the star of this show but I would much rather hang with Jean who is unflappable, steady, loyal, smart, surprisingly soft-hearted, a badass and has the most deliciously understated dry wit. He is welcome to hang at my place any time.  He can even bring his axes.  And Locke.

I think that's all for me this week!  What about you?  Who would you like to set up camp in your living room?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Unpopular Opinions | I Got 'Em

Kaja from Of Dragons and Hearts recently tapped me for the Unpopular Opinions Tag. I've got all KINDS of unpopular opinions so let's do this!
A popular book or series you didn’t like: 
Most recently, Uprooted by Naomi Novik was kind of a miss for me.  Every other review I read of this book was almost universally a love fest and while I didn't hate it, I thought it was only so-so. It felt slow and I wasn't a big fan of the central romantic relationship.  Probably the most recent series that I didn't fall for as hard as others, was Courtney Milan's Brothers Sinister series.  Again, it's not really a case of dislike but I didn't click with it as I think most other folks have.  
P.S. I also second Kaja's choice of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson which I also did not love.

A popular book/series everybody hates but you love: 
The Harry Potter series, maybe?  Ha, ha! Just Kidding!  I know everybody loves HP.  Ahem.  So I am apparently terribly agreeable or perhaps a a zombie who just follows the hoard because according to goodreads I haven't really LOVED anything that other folks did not like.  The few I came up with are a little obscure which I don't think honors the spirit of the question but here goes.  First is Lydia Netzer's two books which have relatively low ratings on Goodreads - Shine Shine Shine has a 3.47 average rating and How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky is at 3.34 - but I adored these books.  I get the lower average rating  - they are quirky books that woudn't be for everyone - but they totally worked for me. A second choice would be The Native Star by M.K. Hobson.  I loved this book and with it's sequel, it was one of my favorite books of the year a couple years ago.  On Goodreads, it's got an average rating of 3.57.
A love triangle where you didn’t like who the main character ended up with:
So SPOILER if you haven't read the very awesome Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater.  I love the character of Adam Parrish and was really sad when Blue decided that her true feelings were for Gansy.  I guess we are kind of warned by one of the main premises of the book that their pairing is inevitable but it still smarted.  It is to Stiefvater's credit that this development did not make me turn against Blue or Gansy probably because it is not your typical YA love triangle.  Also do Harry, Hermione and Ron from Harry Potter count as a love triangle?  Not really, but my recent re-read convinced me that Hermione and Ron are a terrible couple and she and Harry have much more spark.
A popular genre you hardly read: 
Contemporary YA and middle-grade.  No interest whatsoever.  I pretty much stick to Fantasy in YA and middle-grade.
A popular/beloved character you dislike: 
Celaena Sardothien from the Throne of Glass series.  I think this one is self-explanatory -  she's vain and rather shallow in this first book and I didn't buy for one millisecond that she is the bad-ass assassin that she is supposed to be.  I have heard her character improves as the series progresses. Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series.  I don't hate Ron but as I mentioned above, I recently did a re-read and really did not like Ron this go round.  He's kind of an ass.
A popular author you can’t seem to get into: 
I would say Stephen King though I did finally find one book of his I enjoyed (11/22/63).  Laini Taylor - I seem to be the only person on the planet who kind of hated Daughter of Smoke and Bone.  I have no desire to read anything else by her.  Rainbow Rowell is another, I think because, see above, I don't like contemporary YA.  I tried the first couple chapters of Eleanor and Park and was NOT feeling it.  I haven't written her off completely though because I am intrigued by Fangirl.  
A popular trope you’re tired of reading: 
I really hate the whole one-girl-with-multiple-male-suitors thing.  I guess it could be seen as all Grrrrl Power but I think it just makes most women and girls who have not had the attentions of multiple men at once, feel inadequate.  Also in the Romance genre, particularly the historicals I prefer, the idea that marriage and having children is the ultimate happy life.  I know that, at least the marriage part, is kind of the point of romance but not every women wants kids.  
A popular series you have no interest in reading: 
I am kind of a series addict so this is a hard one.  I have a number of series that I started and have no interested in continuing like Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.  I've gotten through the first half of book one twice and it just does not work for me.  I did the same with The Gunslinger by Stephen King.  As for series I have no interest in even trying - Fifty Shades of Gray by E.L. James maybe?  I don't think that is a terribly controversial choice though....
A movie you liked better than the book: 
I like Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory  - the original with Gene Wilder - better than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  Also, The Neverending Story in film was better than the book by Michael Ende.  In both cases, I saw the movie first which may have influenced my feelings but I have specific reasons in each case why I find the movie more compelling than the book.


As for tagging others, I'm never very good at this.  I'd like to read everybody's answers to this question! Any blogger who reads this and thinks it would be fun to answer these questions, please please do so!  Put a link to your post in the comments, once you get around to doing it or if you've already done it in the past. I'd love to see your most unpopular bookish opinions! Go team! Let's be disagreeable!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Saturday in the Garden - Slumpity Reading and the Planned Garden

OUTSIDE

I finally got myself organized and planned the garden.


Besides a bunch of large pots, I have three raised beds that I can plant in.  A 2'X12' (at the top), a 3'X3' (on the left below) and a 3'X3' space in a 6'X3' bed (middle below).  I lost my heirloom tomatoes to blight last year when they were planted in the 2'X12' bed so I am shifting them and the peppers into the other beds.  Most of what I'll be planting are my standard favorites/successes though I am trying a couple new varieties of carrot and tomato.  My experimental veggie will be lima beans. I love them and want to see if I can grow some.  Here's my complete list:
  • Fukagawa Green Onions
  • Swiss Chard (Five Color Silverbeet)
  • Lacinato Kale
  • A selection of cut and come again salad greens 
  • Radishes
  • Sugar Snap Peas
  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Carrots: trying a new variety Red-cored Chanteney
  • Empress Green Beans
  • Tomatoes:  Beam's Pear and Gold Medal (though I may change this variety)
  • Henderson Bush Limas
  • Peppers: Pimento and Healthy (a smallish sweet pepper)
  • Garlic, Music variety
I may throw in some beets or other seeds that come my way but the above are my primary plants. Most of them are Heirlooms which is a bit of a gamble as they don't always have the yield that hybrids do.  They make up for it in flavor, though.  Looking forward to planting season but right now my garden looks like this:


Spring still feels far away....  I'm going to start some seeds tomorrow and live in hope.  

  

LIFE


That about sums it up, Richard Ayoade.

WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

I finished up my 4th or 5th re-watch of The IT Crowd and it still made me laugh like a loon. I noticed that there is an online movement to cast Richard Ayoade as The Doctor. Yes. Yes. and Yes. Yes. He'd be brilliant.    

Reading

I am still in a really nasty reading slump and you can tell where my brain is because all I seem to be picking up is middle-grade novels and humorous memoirs.  Work being demanding doesn't always cause this kind of slump, sometimes I actually read more, but it is definitely affecting how I want to spend my down time this go round.  Basically, I wouldn't mind just staring at a wall for the next two months....

Finished Last Week: 

  • Let's Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson: A humorous memoir from the very popular blogger, The Bloggess.  
  • The Unmapped Sea (The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #5) by Maryrose Wood:  My favorite Middle-Grade series currently going.  It's delightful and charming and silly.  

Currently Reading:

  • A World Without Princes (The School for Good and Evil #2) by Soman Chainani: This is a super fun middle-grade series and is one of the series I identified as one I'd like to put in the finished column.  ON HOLD  - HAD TO RETURN TO LIBRARY. DANG IT.
  • One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein: A gardening book about maximize food production in a small space.  An ARC from Netgalley (though I think it's an older title).   
  • Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson #2):  This is the second book in this very popular middle-grade series about a modern day boy who happens to be the son of a Greek god.
  • Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones: A stand alone novel I ran across at the local used book store knowing nothing about it except that it was by Diana Wynne Jones:0).  It is taking its time to get going so I hope it picks up the pace soon, simply because that's what I'm in the mood for now. It has an awesome atmosphere, though, that is really sticking with me.
  • American Rose by Karen Abbott:  A biography of Gypsy Rose Lee. 

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!

  • Still Life With Murder by P.B. Ryan (Nell Sweeney Mystery #1):  This is historical mystery series set in mid nineteenth century Boston with a female protagonist.  I picked it up because it was mentioned in a Book Riot list about favorite love declarations.
  • The Case of The Deadly Desperados by Caroline Lawrence (The P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries #1): A middle-grade mystery series set in the Wild West that was recommended by Goodreads because I like The Incorrigible Children series.  


Blogging 

Even slower than last week on the blog because I'm in a bit of a blogging slump as well as a reading slump.  Combination of a busy week and brain overloaded with work crap.

On the BLOG LAST WEEK:

On the BLOG NEXT WEEK:

Since I haven't come even close to following my schedule the last two weeks I don't think I am even going to predict.  Total. Chaos. :0)