Saturday, June 24, 2017

SATURDAY in the GARDEN | Summer, Summer, Summer Time!

OUTSIDE

I continue to be really pleased with the garden this year, knock on every piece of wood and wood-like substance available.  None of the tomatoes look sickly.  Despite being planted late, my sugar snaps are being pretty productive. The peppers are growing.  The Broccolini's been a success.  I don't know if it's something I'm doing (probably not) or if the weather has been just right (probably so).




And along with the summer solstice we've also been gifted with an absolutely gorgeous weekend.  It is 70 degrees, sunny and breezy.  Last night we all hung out on the porch for a couple hours and everybody was super happy.

I know this looks like a dead rabbit but when rabbits are really content they "flop", i.e. fall suddenly over on their sides and just revel like that for a bit:). It's super cute and this was the first time Ella's done it in the hutch and she did it several times.

GAK

WOOT WOOT!  I'm on vacation for the next week+ and am planning on using it mostly to putter around and get things done around the house, read a bunch, write a bunch of blog posts, maybe take a couple of day trips if I feel like it.  I've even completed one of my projects on day 1 - painted the rabbit hutch!

So what kinds of things would you do if you had a whole week at home with no other responsibilities?


WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

Watching 

I've continued to watch the BBC mystery show Father Brown featuring Mark Williams (aka Arthur Weasley) as the titular character.  It's fun and suits my zone out, brain dead requirements at the moment:)!

Reading 

Finished Since the Last Time I Posted:

  • Pawn in Frankincense (Lymond Chronicles #4) by Dorothy Dunnett:  THESE BOOKS! OMG, THESE BOOKS!
  • The Ringed Castle (Lymond Chronicles #5) by Dorothy Dunnett: See Above. This is absolutely the best historical fiction ever written.  Lymond is an annoying little pissant in this book and still one of the most incredible characters ever created.  
“He was not a figment of daydream or of fantasy. He was the quick-witted man who had raced with her; the man whose strong wrists had pulled her from trouble; whose laughter recognized, more than his own, her buffoonery; whose voice had whispered, sung, exclaimed or cursed, with equal felicity, carefree as birdsong on top of their striving.
Whose essence, stripped by necessity was, it now seemed, warm and joyous and of great generosity.”  - Checkmate, Dorothy Dunnett 
    CURRENTLY READING
    • Checkmate (Lymond Chronicles #6) by Dorothy Dunnett:  The last one *sobs*!
    • Strong Poison  (Lord Peter Wimsey #6) by Dorothy L. Sayers: Only a few more of these left :( but I hear Lord Peter gets a girlfriend in this one - Ooooohhhhh!
    • The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud:  This one is on hold as I had to turn it back to the library, gosh darn it! A mid-grade novel about ghost fighters in Britain.  
    • Intuitive Eating by Tribole and Resch:  Non-fiction about eating psychology and biology.  I've been dipping in and out of it for the last few months!

    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!

    • The Only Child by Andrew Pyper: A horror novel that sounds really creepy and like it at least attempts something very creative.  Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum recommends it with a few reservations. 
    • Artifact (Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery) by Gigi Pandian: The name of this series (Treasure Hunt Mystery) is probably enough to pique my interest but the fact that Selah at The Bibliophile's Style really liked it seals the deal.  
      On the BLOG since I last Posted:

      TUESDAY: TOP TEN TUESDAY | There Are Actually Some Book Series I Have not Started. Who knew!?
      THURSDAY: REVIEW |  A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab  This second book in the series and it was pretty great.



      Happy Summer Solstice!

      P.S.  Not only does the above music totally encapsulate summer and fill my heart with joy but there is also something about the music, the performance, the performer that evokes Lymond for me. Am I just high on the Dunnett koolaid or does this makes sense to any of you other Dunnett fans? 


      Thursday, June 22, 2017

      REVIEW | A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

      A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
      Publication Year: 2016
      Genre: Fantasy
      Series: Shades of Magic #2
      Awards: None
      Format: Audio (Library)
      Narrator: Michael Kramer and Kate Reading


      SPOILERS AHOY!  This is book two in a series so some spoilery type things about book one may be revealed. 

      WHY?:  Loved the world and story in book one!

      SYNOPSIS:  Four months have passed since the events in book one.  Kell's position in Red London has changed in a negative way and he and Rhy struggle to come to grips with their new linked existence while also trying to prepare for a big international tournament of magic called the Essentasch.  Meanwhile, Lila has found a "home" on a privateer ship in her new adopted world and is learning some magic of her own from the enigmatic and charming Captain, Alucard Emery.  Everybody is reunited for the games where it turns out Kell's life is in danger from an unexpected enemy.
        
      THOUGHTS:

      The tone of this book is a good bit quieter and more mundane than book one, at least for a majority of it.  For me that was mostly all right and I in fact, liked this one more than book one and ended it SUPER excited about the implications for book 3.  

      Most of the book focuses on the fall out resulting from Kell bringing Rhy back from the dead in book one.  As a result, their lives are inextricably linked which only increases Kell's already strong feelings of being trapped and stifled.  He can't go off and have an adventure, and in fact is almost never allowed to roam too far from the castle, because if he dies, Rhy dies.  Also his suspicions that the King and Queen only treasure him as a commodity and not as a son as they pretend, are completely verified when they blame him for Rhy's "death" even though Rhy was more to blame in the situation and is angry for his parents treating Kell so poorly.  

      Rhy's feelings are also complicated and not positive. He is not dealing well with the price that was paid to make sure he lived and he feels responsible and deeply guilty for further tying Kell down.  They are best friends, brothers if not by blood, and their friendship is being sorely tested.  

      It's a really interesting dynamic and I could read about these two all week long and twice on Tuesday.  I appreciate that Schwab doesn't jump right into non-stop action and takes the time to really explore her characters and make sure all of that development weaves into the story she is telling.

      I just wish she had stuck with Kell and Rhy.  And Alucard - I really loved the addition of Alucard and he and his love interest? Hubba Hubba!  That's a romantic entanglement I can get behind!  I also was enthralled by the developments in White London  - they are VERY interesting and the first scene in White London had me grinning like the cheshire cat.  

      No, pretty much all the characters are great. All except, Lila, Lila, ugh, Lila.  I struggled with Lila in book one but by the end had started to warm up to her.  Unfortunately things took a major turn for the worse in book two.  Part of my issue with the character is a personal one - reckless, impulsive characters who act without assessing risk to themselves AND OTHERS, really stress me out.  This is Lila to a T.  She is also unfriendly, lacking in empathy, selfish, arrogant, mean and thin-skinned (she can dish it but can't take it).  All of these traits are realistic, considering she grew up on the streets but the fact is she's not an enjoyable person and yet everyone seems to love her.  She's Kell's love interest, Alucard is immediately taken with her, even the shopkeeper in the bazaar who she met in book one, "lights up" when she sees Lila again.  I really wish she didn't exist, lol, and obviously I didn't enjoy the sections of the book focused on her.  Except her first scene - which is awesome.

      After this slow, leisurely start, focusing on the characters, the book really picks up speed with the start of the Essentasch which is essentially a magical Olympics.  Kell as the only one of his kind and the most powerful magician in the red world is not allowed to compete for his country but Rhy finds a way to sneak him in, knowing that he needs the challenge.  The tournament is also a vehicle for revealing more about the wider world outside of London and also about how magic works which is essentially elemental.  Magicians can usually only control one element while the more powerful may be able to control two or rarely even three.  Only Kell can control all four as well as cross between the different Londons.  The tournament is fun and it leads up to a seriously exciting climax!

      To close I have a note about the audio format.  I pretty much hated the narrator for book one in the series so was interested to see that he was replaced and that there are now two reader, one for Lila's chapters and one for Kell's.  I liked these narrators so much better and they did a good job bringing the story to life. 

      FINAL VERDICT:  An original fantasy story that takes its time to develop its characters but then wallops the readers with a seriously exciting finish and cliffhanger.  It only gets 3.5 stars because Lila.  3.5 out of 5 stars.

      Other Opinions are Available: Speculative Herald | The Bibliosanctum | 

      Monday, June 19, 2017

      TOP TEN TUESDAY | The Post Where I am Shocked to Find Some Book Series of Which I am NOT in the Middle

      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.  


      I've mentioned several times on the blog that I have a book series problem.  As primarily a genre reader, it's almost impossible to avoid.  There are SO MANY series which is awesome because they're awesome but when you are in the middle of 50+ at any given time that's just craziness.

      This week for TTT The Broke and The Bookish women ask their legions to highlight the series they haven't gotten to. Yet.  I was surprised to find I had a few (i.e. several hundred).
      Top Ten Series I've Been Meaning To Start But Haven't (topic originally done March 2013) -- anyone else have a mile long list of series to start like I do??

      A lot of  the books I've highlighted on the blog recently are starter volumes for series that are newly released, so I decided to mix things up and look at some of the series starters that have been sitting on my TBR the longest.

      ******* 


      A set of historical mysteries that take place during the reign of Elizabeth I of England.  This is a favorite time period in history for me and I love historical mysteries.  Looks like there are 15 total books thus far in the series.  The first volume is To Shield the Queen.

      2) The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan

      My understanding is that this is Epic fantasy done right and it's been on my TBR way too long.  It has 3 volumes with the first being Theft of Swords

      3) Linnet Ellery Series by Phillipa Bornikova

      An Urban Fantasy series I'd completely forgotten about!  It's a reality where paranormal creatures are in charge of the major institutions of culture and the female protagonist is a lawyer trying to make a name in a "white fang" law firm.  I love the name of the first book; This Case is Gonna Kill Me.  AND the authors name is Philippa which is just cool. 

      4)  His Fair Assassin Series by Robin LaFevers

      A YA series about assassin nuns - need I say more? The first book in the series is Grave Mercy.  It looks like there are three extant volumes with two more planned?  Fun!


      I have to admit I had completely forgotten this existed but I'm glad to have discovered it again by digging through my TBR!  The Goodreads blurb describes it thus: An unusual murder brings together three strangers, John, Jack, and Charles, on a rainy night in London during the First World War. An eccentric little man called Bert tells them that they are now the caretakers of The Imaginarium Geographica - an atlas of all the lands that have ever existed in myth and legend, fable and fairy tale. These lands, Bert claims, can be traveled to in his ship The Indigo Dragon, one of only seven vessels that is able to cross the Frontier between worlds into the Archipelago of Dreams.

      6) The Heir Chronicles by Cinda Williams Chima

      A YA series set in the modern day but with a hidden magical society of which the protagonist finds he is a part.  I LOVE these type of stories.  The first book is The Warrior Heir

      7) The Icemark Chronicles by Stuart Hill

      The Cry of The Icemark starts this YA epic fantasy series about a warrior princess and which sounds like it is inspired by Nordic culture.  It looks very cool!  And is another I'd completely forgotten about!  Like I'm pretty sure I've never seen this book before ever in my life.  Who is the meddlesome person who keeps adding these books secretly to my TBR??  Whoever you are, thank you, because they all look great;)!

      8) Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

      This is a classic of British children's literature that I'd like to check out! Takes place in the Lakes District. 

      9) The Tide Lords by Jennifer Fallon

      This has an epic fantasy look to it and involves a society with mysterious, god-like immortals.  The first book is The Immortal Prince

      10) The Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennen

      A well-known alt-history series with a strong female protagonist! The first book is A Natural History of Dragons.  The series is complete with 5 volumes. 

      *******
      That was a fun dig through the older, dustier parts of my TBR list!  Have you read any of these series?  Which would you recommend I get to first?

      Saturday, June 17, 2017

      SATURDAY in the GARDEN | Pretty House Things

      Rainy Day in the Garden
      OUTSIDE

      Knock on wood the garden is moving into its middle stages quite well!  Sure I only got a handful of radishes but I've also gotten a handful of Broccolini - I'm liking this new designer vegetable.

      The Sugar Snap Peas which are one of my favorites and which I planted way late are finally producing pods and the tomatoes are getting robust and some even have flowers.  The peppers are also finally starting to grow.  The peppers and tomatoes like the warm, wet weather we've been having the last week or so.


      I'm also anxiously anticipating my garlic being ready to harvest. The scapes have come and been cut off and now I'm just waiting for the plants to start looking really crapola which is the sign it's ready to harvest. Mine are getting there - the rule of thumb is that 5-6 of the bottom leaves should be yellow/brown before you yank them.  It's going to be a very small harvest this year:( and I think I may need to buy seed garlic rather than use my own cloves.



      GAK

      I went on another tour of homes with one of my friends and  these were some of the elements that appealed to and inspired me:









      As you can tell I was really enamored with some interesting tile work (mostly in one home) and the "outdoor" spaces.  Anything strike your fancy?


      WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

      Watching 

      I've continued to watch the BBC mystery show Father Brown featuring Mark Williams (aka Arthur Weasley) as the titular character.  It's fun and suits my zone out, brain dead requirements at the moment:)!

      Reading 

      Finished Since the Last Time I Posted:

      • The Disorderly Knights (Lymond Chronicles #3) by Dorothy Dunnett: Last week I indicated that at the halfway mark I was not liking this one as well as books two and three.  Then the second half happened and I am now full-on obsessed with all things Lymond.
        CURRENTLY READING
        • Pawn in Frankincense (Lymond Chronicles #4) by Dorothy Dunnett:  SO it's happened as was inevitable.  The Lymond Chronicles have taken over my life.  I want to do nothing but listen to these books.  So glad to be re-reading - it's if anything, better the second time through.  It is no fault of Strong Poison or The Screaming Staircase that I have pretty well abandoned them in order to main line Lymond. 
        • Strong Poison  (Lord Peter Wimsey #6) by Dorothy L. Sayers: Only a few more of these left :( but I hear Lord Peter gets a girlfriend in this one - Ooooohhhhh!
        • The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud:  A mid-grade novel about ghost fighters in Britain.  
        • Intuitive Eating by Tribole and Resch:  Non-fiction about eating psychology and biology.  I've been dipping in and out of it for the last few months!

        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!

        • The Girl with the Make Believe Husband by Julia Quinn:  This one's set in the U.S. which is odd for Quinn.  It sounds delightful and was recommended by Danya at Fine Print.
        • Why I Loathe Sterling Lane by Ingrid  Paulson:  Another rec from Danya.  I don't usually read contemporary romance but this looked intriguing.
        • The Tree of Hands by Ruth Rendell:  Making my TTT list this week about some of my Dad's favorite mystery writers reminded me that there are several I'd like to try.  Coincidentally this book popped up on sale this week, too!
        • From Doon with Death by Ruth Rendell:  See the above note about the TTT.  I haven't bought this one but wanted to put a reminder to check this book out which is the first in her biggest series.  
        • City of Lies (Counterfeit Lady #1) by Victoria Thompson:  I saw this on somebody else's TBR and immediately became intrigued.  I've read a bunch of books in Thompson's gaslight mystery series (which is historical) and really enjoy her female protagonist in that book!
        • Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton:  Historical fiction revolving around Paleontology - Sign me up! Recommended by Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum.


        On the BLOG since I last Posted:

        TUESDAY: TOP TEN TUESDAY | Mysteries that My Father Loved
        THURSDAY: REVIEW |  Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart  This second book in the series solidified my love for this series!

        Can you tell from this picture Ella and I's respective feelings for one another, lol? #grumpyrabbit
        HAVE A GREAT WEEK!

        Thursday, June 15, 2017

        REVIEW | Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart

        Lady Cop Makes Trouble by Amy Stewart
        Publication Year: 2016
        Genre: Historical Mystery, Crime
        Series: Kopp Sisters #2
        Awards: None
        Format: eBook (from Library)
        Narrator: NA


        SPOILERS AHOY!  This is book two in a series so some spoilery type things about book one may be revealed. 

        WHY?:  This is currently my favorite ongoing historical mystery series.  So glad that the first book, Girl Waits With Gun, wasn't the last!

        SYNOPSIS: At the end of the first book, after Constance had thoroughly impressed Sheriff Heath with her fortitude, cleverness and practicality, he offered her a job as a deputy on his staff.  Constance enthusiastically accepts but as this book opens, it quickly becomes obvious that things have gone awry.  Sheriff Heath is catching heat for this controversial appointment and things get worse when an important prisoner escapes, and it is seemingly Constance's fault.  What's a woman to do?  Well, track down the prisoner and bring him back into detention single-handedly of course. 
          
        THOUGHTS:

        At the end of Girl Waits With Gun, things were looking up for Constance Kopp.  She'd been offered a job by the Sheriff which gave her a way to support herself and her two sisters and keep them independent.  As a bonus she discovers that she very much enjoys police work and or the first time in her life she feels like she has a purpose. Unfortunately, things pretty quickly lose their shine when Sheriff Heath's promises to get her sworn is as a Deputy don't seem to be coming to fruition.  She has mostly been relegated to being a matron for the female residents of the county jail and she longs to get out more doing real Sheriff Deputy's work.

        Unfortunately the first time in a while she does get out, an important prisoner disappears, seemingly under her watch.  Though the prisoner likely would have disappeared under anyone's watch, the folks against Sheriff Heath's appointment of a lady to his staff are quick to blame it on the fact that she is a woman.  Constance must not only redeem herself in Sheriff Heath's eyes so she can get a chance to do what she loves but she must also do it to prove to his critics that he was not daft to hire a woman.  That she can do everything a male Deputy can do.  So she launches her own independent investigation, running afoul of Sheriff Heath and his wife while she does so.

        As with book one, this is not really a strict mystery.  There are mysterious elements, questions that need answering but it is probably more accurate to call it a historical crime novel.  The main action in the book is a manhunt with much of the investigation centering on figuring out where the prisoner might be hiding.  Constance is creative with her independent investigating and meets some other professional women and solidifies how much her job means to her

        Meanwhile, she's somewhat neglecting her family.  She is struggling particularly with young Fleurette who is so different than she and Norma and has dreams that scare Constance.  It is also stressful to be so at odds with Sheriff Heath and especially for feeling like she's let him down and is causing him hardship.  He stuck his neck out for her and there is no way she is going to let him be punished for doing that.  And it's not just his bosses that are giving him a hard time but also his unhappy wife.  I am seemingly unable not to 'ship everyone, so I really like Constance and Sheriff Heath as a team.  They are very simpatico and work really well together...much better than he and his wife do.  However, I can't really tell if Stewart is heading that way or not?  If so it is a very slow burn which is fine by me.  I like Constance and Norma's independence so don't want to diminish that by implying that Constance needs a man.  She doesn't but it would be nice for her to be loved by someone who gets and respects her.

        Regardless of all of that, there are a lot of complications and conflict in the characters' relationships in this volume but not in a melodramatic way.  As with Girl Waits With Gun, it feels very down to earth and authentic.  Also like the first book, I loved it!  The best thing of all about it, is that it is based on a true story!

        FINAL VERDICT:  This historical mystery series is brimming full of period authenticity and wonderful characters. I recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction and/or crime novels. 4 out of 5 stars.

        Other Opinions are Available: The Washington Post | The Book Stop

        Monday, June 12, 2017

        TOP TEN TUESDAY | Mysteries That My Father Loved

        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.  

        I was sitting here, merrily making a list of really terrible fathers in literature for this week's TTT when I started feeling a little guilty about it.  This topic was, of course, chosen to coincide with Father's Day here in the U.S., the purpose of which is to honor fathers. That got me started, thinking about my own dad who was pretty awesome and had a huge impact on me as a person.  Then it struck me...why not do a list honoring my dad?

        My dad had a lot of passions - baseball, particularly the Baltimore Orioles; Music, mostly classical, jazz and country; good beer; National Public Radio and Television; the law and social justice, he was a law professor and specialized in juvenile justice issues and he was a lifelong Democrat.  He was also a big reader and while he enjoyed a good bit of non-fiction and more scholarly reading, during our two weeks at the beach every year you never saw him without a fun Mystery novel in his hand.  I thought I would feature on this list some of his favorite mystery writers/series/books. If you are a fan of the BBC Mystery series, you will notice that a number of these made an appearance there and he was also a great devotee of those programs.  I myself have read a few of these, not all, but I will try to give a general synopsis of each.  


        ****************

        1. Ruth Rendell (also Barbara Vine)

        I have not read any of these, much to my chagrin. Ruth Rendell wrote a series of more standard British mysteries set in Sussex that featured an Inspector Wexford as well as some psychological thrillers under the pseudonym Barbara Vine.  My dad especially liked the Barbara Vine books. 

        2. Dick Francis

        I have not read any of these either but Dick Francis was a British Jockey and wrote a series of mysteries that centered around horses and horse racing.

        3. Martha Grimes - Richard Jury Mysteries

        Martha Grimes is an American who wrote British mysteries featuring Inspector Richard Jury and his aristocratic and scholarly friend Melrose Plant.  Each of the books has a colorful name that is also the name of pub.  For example the first is The Man With a Load of Mischief.  I've read the first two in this series and while they are a little dated (first one published in 1981) they are fun, relatively cozy British mysteries.

        4. The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

        This is a cool little book that features a Scotland Yard Inspector who is laid up in the hospital and decides to tackle the mother of all cold cases - Who actually killed the Princes in the tower during Richard III's reign?  This was one of my dad's favorite books and he practically made me read it as a teenager.  I'd like to re-read sometime.

        5. P.D. James - Inspector Dalgliesh Series

        I am sorry to say I've never read anything by P.D. James but my dad absolutely loved her.  She's another British writer, writing British mysteries featuring police detective Adam Dalgliesh.  She also wrote a couple of books about a female PI, Cordelia Gray.  I definitely need to read Ms. James someday!

        6. Ellis Peters - Brother Cadfael Mysteries

        Ellis Peters is another British writer (are you seeing a trend?:) who sets her books in Medieval England.  She includes a lot of history in her books and her protagonist is a monk called Brother Cadfael.  I've read a number of the books in this series and they are wonderful. 

        7. Ian Rankin - Inspector Rebus Series

        Ian Rankin's books are a little less cozy and he sets his mysteries on the mean streets of Edinburgh Scotland.  His books are more hard-boiled.  I think I've read the first book in this series?

        8. Walter Mosley - Easy Rawlins Series

        Finally, a book set in the U.S.!  Ezekiel 'Easy' Rawlins is an African American PI in the 1940s and 1950s in Los Angeles.  I've not read any of these.

        9. John Mortimer  - Rumpole of the Bailey

        This series was a special favorite of my dad's since it features a protagonist who is a lawyer.  My dad even got a shirt for my mom that says "She Who Must be Obeyed" which is how Rumpole refers to his wife.  I have not read any of these but would like to someday.

        10. John LeCarre

        This is a little bit of a departure as LeCarre's books would probably be shelved as spy thrillers.  However, for a period, my dad was obsessed with these books and I'm pretty sure read them all.  The most famous book, which has been adapted for the screen at least twice is Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and they are focused on the British Secret Service.


        ***************
        Sadly, my dad passed away from cancer in 2008 and I still miss him all the time. One of the last presents I gave him was a book, an audio version of The Known World by Edward P. Jones. Despite feeling terrible and the chemo and such he was making a two + hour drive each week to teach a class at his Alma Mater.  As the semester went on, the drive became harder and I thought the audio book would help him stay focused and keep his mind occupied. He told me that the book was great.  I wish I could have discussed it more with him.  

        Anyway, Happy Father's Day, Dad. Love and miss you so much.

        Saturday, June 10, 2017

        Saturday in the Garden | And the TBR Groans


        OUTSIDE

        The rains have finally stopped and it's been a beautiful week to be outside.  I've taken advantage of this by chilling on my patio at dusk most nights, soaking in the ambience. It's my favorite time of of the day in the summer despite the onslaught of mosquitos.  Anyway, the soundtrack of my backyard in the evening consists mainly of Common Nighthawks and Chimney Swifts.

        Common Nighthawks are cool medium sized birds with a very distinctive and camouflaged look to them.  And if you've ever walked around a city or town at dusk, you've likely heard their call and not realized what it is.  They are a bird of open areas that nest on the ground and don't even build nests and they've adapted to nesting on the flat gravel rooftops of cities and towns.  I'm pretty sure there is at least one pair that nests nearby but haven't tracked down where.  Usually I just sit and stare into the sky at their silhouette and enjoy their flyovers.


        Swooping around lower in the sky than the Nighthawk are dozens of small, chittering swifts.  My favorite description of these birds in silhouette is "cigar with wings".  Chimney swifts nest gregariously in colonies in vertical hollows, often chimneys, which earns them a bad rap (and their name).  I don't know where the ones that fly over my yard are roosting (I don't have a chimney) but I'm glad they have found a home nearby.

        Chimney Swift Chittering

        Both of these species and their vocalizations have come to represent Summer nights to me.  What sounds and sights do you associate with this time of year when dusk comes later and nights are short?


        WATCHING, READING and BLOGGING

        Watching 

        I've been watching the BBC mystery show Father Brown featuring Mark Williams (aka Arthur Weasley) as the titular character.  It's one of those delightful, small town, amateur sleuth British mysteries that I can't get enough of and which the BBC does so well.  They are based on a series of books by G,K, Chesterton.  The show is somewhat newly available on Netflix Streaming.


        Reading 

        Finished Since the Last Time I Posted:

        Both of these books were good listens and really hilarious.  Highlight of the week goes to Shrill. I was not really familiar with Lindy West but I'm glad I am now better acquainted!  Her collection of essays/memoir is hilarious but also tackles some serious issues with which she has grappled, mostly under public scrutiny. 
        • First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones: I can't remember where I first heard of this book/series but it's been on my TBR for ages.  It's a hoot and pretty entertaining but it is not threatening to be one of my faves of all time.
        • Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West: A memoir of a journalist, feminist and comedian.  
        CURRENTLY READING
        • Strong Poison  (Lord Peter Wimsey #6) by Dorothy L. Sayers: Only a few more of these left :( but I hear Lord Peter gets a girlfriend in this one - Ooooohhhhh!
        • The Disorderly Knights (Lymond Chronicles #3) by Dorothy Dunnett:  I'm about halfway through this one and am finding on this go round that I don't like it as much as the first two, which is odd.  Lots can happen in half a book though!
        • The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud:  A mid-grade novel about ghost fighters in Britain.  
        • Intuitive Eating by Tribole and Resch:  Non-fiction about eating psychology and biology.  I've been dipping in and out of it for the last few months!

        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!

        Last week I mentioned that because I hadn't been in the blog world for a couple months, I hadn't added any books to my TBR.  Well, get ready because here comes the flood!


        • The Lawrence Brown Affair by Cat Sebastian: I don't remember where I picked this one up but is a Regency Era queer romance featuring a "mad" scientist. All righty - I'm in!
        • Ghosts of Tomorrow by Michael R. Fletcher: I'm pretty sure I heard about this one from Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum and I've been meaning to read a Michael Fletcher book for ages.  This is a dystopian, cyberpunk books which sounds really interesting.  There's a wild west dressed 4 armed cyborg-looking fellow on the cover. 👍 I actually just noted that it is on sale for $1.99 - excuse me while I go snap that up.... Done!
        • Renegades by Marissa Meyer: Despite my disappointment with her last book (Heartless - full disclosure - I have not finished it)  I still have hopes and loves for Marissa Meyer.
        • The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo:  Short stories set in the Grisha Universe. DEFINITELY reading this bad girl.
        • Wilders (Project Earth #1) by Brenda Cooper:  I first saw this at Greg's Book Haven but have then seen it a couple of other places as well.  It's an interesting sounding dystopia about a girl and her robot companion.
        • No Saints in Kansas by Amy Brashear:  This is a fictional re-telling of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood told from the perspective of the murdered family's friends in the aftermath of that brutal killing.  Discovered it on He Said Books or Me.
        • That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston:  Heard about this gem from Danya at Fine Print! From Goodreads: "Set in a near-future world where the British Empire never fell and the United States never rose, That Inevitable Victorian Thing is a novel of love, duty, and the small moments that can change people and the world."
        • Borrowed Souls (Soul Charmer #1) by Chelsea Mueller:  Another rec from Danya that I featured on my TTT list this week. 
        • The Refrigerator Monologues by Cathrynne M. Valente:  Telling the story of the women who are "fridged" (killed with the sole purpose of exploring how it affects the male lead) in superhero stories. From Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum.
        • River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey:  Killer Hippos. Greg's Book Haven. Also Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn.
        The next several books are from an awesome list of diverse books A Dance With Books put together for her TTT. 
        • The Tiger's Watch by Julia Ember: This original sounding narrative includes soldiers which have bonded animal companions and a protagonist who is gender fluid.
        • The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee: From Goodreads - "The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo's every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged."
        • The Belles (Belles #1) by Dhonielle Clayton: From Goodreads - "In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful."
        • The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan:  Looks like a high fantasy epic with a unique setting AND...
        • The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan: This author also writes a mystery series that sounds very cool. 
        Did you know Leigh Bardugo wrote a Wonder Woman novel? Now I do too!
        The next two are from the Fangirl Happy Hour Podcast:
        • White Tears by Hari Kunzru: This sounds like a terrifying literary horror novel. Not my usual fair but Renay and Gin Jenny sold it hard.
        • 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric Cline: Non-fiction book about a mysterious group of people who conquered the world in far antiquity.
        The next four are from the The Washington Post's Summer Book List (great list by the way -lots of non-fiction):
        The next two from Lark at A Bookwyrm's Hoard
        And the final one from Silver Petticoat Review
        • The Vinegar Girl  by Anne Tyler:  A modern re-telling of Taming of the Shrew (by ole Bill Shakespeare). 


        On the BLOG since I last Posted:

        TUESDAY: TOP TEN TUESDAY | Recent Fantasy Novel Additions to my TBR
        WEDNESDAY: REVIEW |Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman. Mixed feelings. Really liked Eon, struggled with Eona.
        FRIDAY: REVIEW | Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins Charming and Delightful.


        Your life is not complete until you share it with an imperious, disdainful rabbit
        HAVE A GREAT WEEK!

        Friday, June 9, 2017

        REVIEW | Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

        Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
        Publication Year: 2010
        Genre: YA, Contemporary Romance
        Series: NA
        Awards: A Bunch of Local YA awards
        Format: Audio (from Library)
        Narrator: Kim Mai Guest


        WHY?:  I'm not entirely sure?  I usually don't like contemporary romance or contemporary YA and this is all of those things.  I think I was in the mood for something light and charming and stumbled upon it while lost (skulking) in the YA audiobook aisle at the library. Bingo!

        SYNOPSIS:  Anna Oliphant lives with her recently divorced mother in Georgia until her father decides to give her an experience and enrolls her in a fancy private school for rich Americans (mostly) in Paris for her senior year of high school.  She's pretty bummed about it but her homesickness is lessened a little when she pretty quickly gets sucked into a circle of friends that includes the dreamy Etienne St. Clair.  

        THOUGHTS:

        As I mentioned above, I am not usually a fan of this type of book.  My YA reading is almost exclusively SFF and my romance reading is always historical.  So Anna and the French Kiss was a departure but so many people had raved about what a charming book it was and I thought I'd at least give it a try.  I don't have a ton to say about it but I did actually really enjoy it and would recommend it to any one looking for a light romance.

        If I've learned anything from romance novels it is that clear and open communication is an absolute must.  Why is it so hard?  Well it makes one vulnerable  - for example if one said "I like you and would like to date you and I think maybe you like me, but you've mentioned this guy back home and I'm not sure how you feel about him and I'm also totally confused about where this puts me with my own girlfriend.  She's important to me, and I'm afraid of being alone but things aren't great with her and if they were I wouldn't like you, right?  What are your thoughts on the matter?"  and the other person ran screaming or reacted with disgust that would be incredibly humiliating.  Not to mention that the above monologue reveals, perhaps, some not so pretty things about ourselves.  So it is no surprise that we in the real world, as well as those in romance novels continue to keep our traps shut and therefore create SO MUCH DRAMA.  This is essentially Anna and the French Kiss.  An ode to our fragile egos and inability to make words about feelings.

        Besides illustrating the universal truth of De-doo-doo-doo, De-Da-Da-Da by The Police, the main thing the book had going for it was that it felt very authentic and genuine  - Perkins nails the emotional roller coaster of being a teenager in crush mode.  For the most part I totally felt kinship with Anna....well except for the part where the most popular, cutest boy in the school returns her crush.  I've sadly never had that particular experience, lol.  In some ways I did feel more sympathy with the compassionate, stalwart, nurturing, ever suffering Meredith, even though we don't really get to know her but Anna is definitely likable while still flawed enough not to be annoying.  St. Clair as well.  Perkins does a great job creating a boy who is in fact most girls dream guy (British, great sense of humor, kind, easy to talk to, confident without being cocky and handsome) while making sure he had some flaws that helped make him feel real.  Dreamy but real.  

        It's also very funny which is what really made this book work for me.  If it had been too earnest...  Thankfully, I laughed out loud often.  In short, it was charming and delightful and only gets a tad too angsty during the denouement. It has SUCH a smoochy, sentimental ending, as all good romances should of course, but I think part of my problem with contemporaries is that I have a harder time buying these perfect endings.

        FINAL VERDICT:  If you are looking for a light romantic book that will make you laugh and is (mostly) not annoying, Anna and the French Kiss is for you! 3.5 out of 5 stars.

        Other Opinions are Available: Dear Author | Nose Graze

        Wednesday, June 7, 2017

        REVIEW | EON and EONA by Alison Goodman


        Eon and Eona by Alison Goodman
        Publication Year: 2008 and 2011
        Genre: YA Fantasy
        Series: Eon #s 1 and 2
        Awards:  Book one was nominated for a number of prestigious mostly Australian YA Fantasy awards (Aurealis, Victorian Premier's Literary Award, The Inky Awards, James Tiptree, Jr. Award Honor List)
        Format: Audio (from Library)
        Narrator: Nancy Wu


        WHY?: I recently read the first two books in Goodman's adult fantasy series, The Dark Days Club, and really enjoyed them so I was keen to check out other things she had written. Plus - Dragons!

        SYNOPSIS:  Eon is chosen to become one of the nation's 12 powerful Dragon Eyes, who through  magical links with 12 mystical dragons, help keep the nation safe from natural disasters and other disturbances.  Even more miraculously, Eon is chosen by the Mirror Dragon who had been missing for 500 years and he is placed immediately into a position of power and in the middle of a political struggle for power.  The only problem is that Eon is actually a girl, living as a boy which in the feudal Asian world he/she lives in, means sure death if she is found out.  Will she be able to keep her identity hidden and master her dragon-given powers in time to help the ailing Emperor and his brave son?  Will she be able to hold on to the goodness at her heart in the face of the immense power that is given to her?

        SPOILERS AHOY!  Because I am reviewing both books there will definitely be some spoilers down below for book one Eon.  Proceed with caution.

        THOUGHTS:

        Hopefully my ramblings on this thought-provoking series will be coherent.  I wrote pages of notes on the books which depending on your perspective is a good thing or a bad thing.  Any book that provokes lots of feelings and thoughts is usually worth taking a look at.  However, if many of those feelings and thoughts lean towards the negative end of the spectrum, can you really recommend the book?  In my case, I think these books have a ton of good stuff to offer the reader who likes to analyze characters so I think I do recommend them with the caveat that I spent much of book two in a cyclone of frustration.  Let me try to explain.

        In book one we meet Eon, a young man on the eve of undergoing an important test which will have a profound affect not only on his life but also on those of his Master and all others in his household.  So, no pressure.  We learn quickly that it gets even more complicated because Eon is actually a 16 year old female, who has been trained by her master to live as a 12 year old boy.  On top of that Eon is also lame which in the society in which he exists is thought to bring bad luck and is tantamount to being a leper.  We also learn very quickly that she comes from an impoverished background but because she has the talent of being able to see into the spirit realm and see all twelve dragons there, a rare gift, her teacher/master adopted her, taught her to be a boy and has set her on the path to compete to be one of the powerful Dragon Eyes like he once was.

        In this world, there is a spirit dragon that pairs up with each of the twelve zodiac signs in the Chinese calendar.  On a twelve year cycle each dragon and its paired human Dragon Eye is ascendant, i.e. the most powerful, and on the eve of the new year the old Dragon Eye retires, the apprentice dragon eye takes over and a new apprentice is chosen.  This is what Eon is competing for, to be the new apprentice Rat Dragon Eye.  There is a mysterious 13th dragon as well that disappeared from the spirit world 500 years in the past called the Mirror Dragon.  During the ceremony, the Rat dragon passes over Eon but the Mirror Dragon appears and chooses him, much to everyone's shock.

        This is when the real adventure begins.  Eon is in the guise of a 12 year old boy but because there is no Mirror Dragon Eye he does not get the luxury of apprenticing for 12 years and must immediately take a seat on the Dragon Eye council as co-ascendant with the treacherous and sadistic Rat Dragon Eye, Lord Edo.  The beleaguered Emperor who is being sorely pushed by Lord Edo and his treacherous brother sees the re-appearance of the Mirror Dragon as a good portent and quickly recruits Eon to "fight" on his side.  Most of the first volume of this duology, focuses on Eon's struggles to figure out what is going on, who to trust and why he cannot call his dragon to him like the other Dragon Eye's can.  Without his dragon he is little more than a 16 year old girl, posing as a 12 year old boy, a hairsbreadth from a horrible death.

        In Eona, Eon's secret is out and she is able to call her dragon but she still struggles with control and with knowing what to do amidst numerous forces buffeting her this way and that.  She is also somewhat addicted to the power of her dragon which brings her closer to Lord Edo and creates much distrust with her companions, Ryko, Lady Deela and Prince Kaigo among others.

        Goodman does so many amazing and interesting things with this framework which, boiled down, is essentially a chosen one narrative.  Some of it works, some of it really did not for me.   First, here's what I really loved about the series.  The first book has a strong theme of identity, particularly of gender, in a very rigid society.  Eona's male personae of Eon is not just a costume she wears in a fun cross-dressing YA fantasy romp.  She truly lives as a male and thinks of herself as a male most of the time.  She is so convinced that her true gender is synonymous with weakness that she is unable to even conceive of the idea that their might be an advantage to living as a woman. And she is not the only character that illustrates the fluidity of gender.  Lady Deela is a trans-woman, revered by her people as a person with twin souls, both male and female and who is sent to the court of the emperor as a gift.  There her otherness is not so accepted, though the wise and open-minded Emperor gives her status and treats her well.  Deela's main guard Ryko is a eunuch, who takes the ancient Chinese equivalent of steroids to replace the testosterone and keep him muscular and he and Deela are secretly in love with one another.  Throw in the fact that Eon is lame which also places him outside of society's norms and that he is hiding his true gender and isn't entirely sure who he is and there is lots of fertile ground for the exploration of identity and false faces.  Goodman takes full advantage and produces a narrative that is thought-provoking and inclusive.

        In Eona, the theme shifts to an exploration of free will and it unfortunately throws Eona just a teensy bit under the bus to do so.  Overall though both books have a strong feminist message and explore the  strongly emphasized themes well.

        The other strength of this series is the world-building which is intricately presented and immersive.  The culture of the Dragon Eyes is fascinating and well developed.  The story as a whole, is interesting and provides plenty of opportunities for adventure and tension.

        The place where I ran into some issues with this series is with the characters, who I found mostly pretty unlikable but not in an interesting way.  These issues mostly cropped up in the second volume but  were not completely absent in book 1. I spent much of both books, but particularly in Eona, wavering between wanting to defend Eon/Eona from her horrible "friends" and slap her silly.  She is, perhaps understandably, a pretty passive character.  She spends much of the two books being pretty passive, buffeted this way and that by all the events around her - always behind the eight ball and mostly clueless.  Understandable or not, I found it frustrating to read.  In the first book, I the reader figured out what the issue was between Eon and his dragon, hundreds of pages before Eon.  Reading about Eon being so COMPLETELY dense, despite the fact that he is pretty perceptive and intuitive about everything else, becomes tortuously frustrating. If this was to work, Goodman needed to be WAY more circumspect about the solution so that the reader is not watching Eon for hundreds of pages flail and dig his own disaster by being clueless.  It's frustrating and it discredits the character.
        At the same time I would get frustrated with her allies for getting super angry with her for not knowing what she's supposed to be doing and for things that aren't in her control.  Cut her some slack, jeez - she's 16 years old and up to this point in her life, any independence on her part was awarded with a beating.  The fact that the books had me so frustrated with everybody was not, I think, a great thing though it's certainly better than all the characters being cookie cutter.

        Part of the issue I think is that this takes the The Hunger Games approach to the chosen one trope and your mileage will vary as to how much you dig that.  I for one am boring and like my chosen one narratives to be heroic and the chosen one to be someone who is imperfect and somewhat back-footed but mostly proactive ala Harry Potter.  Books 2 and 3 of The Hunger Games Trilogy did not work for me because they imagined things too close to reality - so much so that when the heroine actually does something heroic it feels disingenuous.  So, I think what I am saying is that if you are one of the millions of people who understandably love the whole Hunger Games trilogy, I suspect you will not have the same issues that I did with Eon/Eona and the other characters.

        The other more minor thing I struggled with is Goodman's penchant for detailed description. Goodman painfully draws out dramatic, action packed moments into pages and pages of overblown description.  I'm not sure how much of my annoyance at all the detail was the result of the reader who had a slightly overblown way of reading these tenser scenes.  My problem with this is especially  interesting because one of the major negative remarks about Goodman's Dark Days Club series was the slow pace with too much detail and I defended it there because I thought it fit with the Regency Era English setting.  Now I am feeling those critics' pain.  Every time she slowed things to a crawl describing every little detail of every thing that happens during scenes that are meant to be fast paced and action packed, I found myself screaming both internally, and sometimes at the cd player "get on with it!!"  I guess that's one way to create tension in the reader:).     

        FINAL VERDICT: Overall, a pretty mixed opinion of this series but I would recommend it, especially to people who love The Hunger Games Trilogy. Even if you weren't, it's worth checking out but be prepared for some possible frustration with the characters. I liked the first book a good bit more than book one but the two are integral to one another so not sure that matter.  3.5 out of  5 Stars.

        OTHER OPINIONS ARE AVAILABLE: Eon - Fantasy Book Cafe | Eona - Fantasy Book Cafe