Saturday, July 29, 2017

Saturday in the Garden | The Prettiest Day in Pretty Land

I like to garden and generally putter around in my yard and my Saturday in the Garden posts serve as my pseudo- garden journal, plus round-up of my week in reading, watching and blogging.  Occasionally, I'll whine, rant or gush about something in a GAK section. 


Today is the prettiest day in pretty land. Robin's egg cloudless sky, low humidity, 80ish degrees.  Oh summer, you minx, just when I thought you were becoming unbearable.

The garden has definitely entered that part of the season when things are starting to go to pot.  I've already mentioned that most of my tomatoes in pots are a bust and now two of my Beam's Pear in the raised bed are dying...loaded with fruit of course that will now never ripen. *sob* On the up side the few prairie plants I've somehow coaxed to live in my shady yard are looking better than they ever have.



In an attempt to break my TV Show slump, I am being SUPER creative and watching...MOVIES.  I have been out of the habit of watching movies for years now but I thought the shorter form storytelling may be the break I needed.  This week I watched Trolls (cute!), Iron Man and Iron Man 2.  I'd seen the two Iron Man movies before but it had been a long while.  The first one really is insanely delightful and Robert Downey, Jr. was made for the role of Tony Stark.


Finished Since the Last Time I Posted:

  • The Line (Witching Savannah #1) by J.D. Horn: This is an urban fantasy series that's been on my TBR for a while.  This was good. not great but good.  Mercy, the main character is a bit of a Mary Sue but I didn't want to shove her off of a tall building so that's something and the story frequently zigged when I expected it to zag.
  • Spirit Animals: Wild Born by Brandon Mull:  This is a middle grade fantasy series where each of the books is written by a different author and what a list of authors it is!  It got on my radar because Garth Nix is one of the authors but also on the list are Maggie Stiefvater, Shannon Hale and Marie Lu. So despite the fact that the idea for the series sounds so gimmicky (it's a book series paired with a video game apparently) I wanted to give it a try. This wasn't anything that's going to break molds or change lives but I really enjoyed it!
    • The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima:  Epic YA fantasy that sounds super duper amazing!  I'm finally starting to really get into this one!  Have been reading it in the lounge chair most of the afternoon.
    • The Devil's Novice (Brother Cadfael #8) by Ellis Peters: This is one of my favorite historical mystery series about a monk in medieval England.
    • Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson:  This is the second memoir by "The Bloggess" that focuses specifically on Lawson's struggles with mental illness with a humorous touch.  
    • 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!
    • You Die When You Die by Angus Watson: Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum really liked this one and I am drawn to that title, weird morbid person that I am.  
    • Lost Boy by Christina Henry:  I like stories about the villains of popular tales that reveal that the villain isn't really all that bad. This looks like a satisfying, though dark, Captain Hook origin story. Also recommended by Mogsy
      On the BLOG since I last Posted:

      WEDNESDAY: REVIEW | Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith.  My favorite of this series thus far and a 5 star read. 


      Wednesday, July 26, 2017

      REVIEW | Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

      Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
      Publication Year: 2015
      Genre: Mystery,Contemporary
      Series: Cormoran Strike #3
      Awards: Audie Award for Mystery (2016)
      Format: Audio (from Library)
      Narrator: Robert Glenister

      WHY?:  I am absolutely loving this gritty, contemporary mystery series set in London and have now devoured all three books currently in the series. *twiddles thumbs* This is why it is smarter to start reading a series when it is completed.

      SYNOPSIS:  Robin receives a mysterious, threatening and very alarming package in the mail which sets she and Cormoran on the trail of a killer.  It also brings the fragile recovery of their business to a screeching halt and brings Robin and Strike closer together while also simultaneously introducing a boatload of complications into their working relationship. 


      It's a little weird to be writing this review without having reviewed the previous two books  especially because this book grows so organically and satisfyingly from them.  I've always touted that one of Rowling's (Galbraith is a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling in case you are one of the 20 people in the world who don't know this) strengths as a writer is that she's obviously a planner.  When she sits down to start a new series, she's not just thinking about the manuscript she is writing right then but is planning out where she wants the full arc of series to go and who her characters will be 5 books down the line.  It's brilliant and in this case surprising to me that she's gone to that trouble with the Cormoran Strike series because mysteries, traditionally, are all about plot, with each book self-contained.  The best series, however, have some good ongoing character development for their recurring cast and the Cormoran Strike series is up there with the best of them in this regard.  

      All that to say that the series is heavy on character development and it is incredibly satisfying in this regard.  When the reader meets Strike in book one, his personal life is a shambles, he's just out of a 16 year destructive relationship and really has a hard time focusing on anything else.  To be honest, I didn't like him much.  His obsession with his strikingly beautiful but obviously manipulative and poisonous ex-girlfriend makes him seem shallow and emotionally immature.  Over the course of the first book and definitely in the second, Strike gets over the ex-girlfriend and more of the core person shows up - compassionate, confident but not arrogant, whip-smart and appreciative of this in others.  While at first he treats Robin quite dismissively, he pulls his head out of his posterior long enough by the end of book one to recognize her abilities and value and he makes sure she also realizes her worth. He empowers and encourages her without be patronizing.  In Career of Evil, we learn much more about Strike's chaotic childhood and also his time in the military and why he might be targeted by a psychopath. One of the best additions to the story and Strike's life is his childhood "friend" Shanker - a streetwise, London criminal who, through circumstances, is like a brother to Strike. A brother who you wouldn't want to meet in a dark alley and who demands payment for every favor.

       The real star of the books for me though is Robin.  Robin starts off as a temp for Strike on the day after she has become engaged to her high school sweetheart, Matthew.  Through book one it is revealed that Robin left University before completing her course work, that she's always had a secret interest in police and investigative work and that even though staying on with Strike doesn't pay nearly as well as being a secretary in some anonymous business firm she's going to stay.  We also find out that her fiance Matthew is a wanker - selfish, materialistic, chauvinist, who mostly wants a pretty little wife who will cook and clean and bring in a tidy little salary to supplement his as an accountant.

      The most satisfying part of the series for me has been watching Robin come into her own and realize how capable and strong she is.  This book has so much Robin! Many of the blanks in her past are elucidated and it is her turn to be in full on relationship angst mode.  I loved every minute of her story, even while I was mentally screaming at her not to do this or that.  She's a wonderful, real, flawed woman and her journey through the books to this point is awesome.

      While I've just spent four paragraphs and a bunch of words going on about the characters,
       the mystery plotlines throughout the series have also been brilliant - unique, convoluted, and enthralling  - and they have each served to examine a different theme. For someone who wrote a beloved and heroic series of books for young people, Rowling has a surprising amount of insightful criticism for the world.  Book one focuses on celebrity/fame, book two skewers the publishing industry and Career of Evil tackles misogyny and violence against women. SO, ALL THE TRIGGER WARNINGS.  It feels like the series has been building up to this and Rowling examines her theme at all levels from horrible violence to subtle discrimination. She even skewers Strike, "our hero", for his subtle sexism, not truly believing Robin can take care of herself.

      The mystery in Career of Evil is also more personal than the other two  - someone from Strike's past is trying to ruin him in the most psychopathic way possible and the investigation has them hopping between three individuals.  It kept me guessing, though there were definitely enough clues scattered throughout that I maybe should have figured it out.  In other words, the perfect mystery plot!

      One last note about the audio.  The narrator for these books, Robert Glenister, is fantastic and I have really enjoyed consuming all the books in this medium.  He has to do numerous British accents and he handles them all (as far as my American ears can tell) really well!

      FINAL VERDICT: This is my favorite book in the series thus far and combines a great mystery with some stellar character drama. 5 out of 5 stars. 


      *Both of these reviews are a little more spoilery than mine so beware!

      Sunday, July 23, 2017

      Saturday in the Garden | On Sunday

      I like to garden and generally putter around in my yard and my Saturday in the Garden posts serve as my pseudo- garden journal, plus a round-up of my week in reading, watching and blogging.  Occasionally, I'll whine, rant or gush about something in a GAK section. 


      The Jasmine has started blooming this week:).  The blooms last 4.3 seconds but it's so pretty.

      And I have a negative review to put out there. I decided to try a hybrid variety of tomatoes in containers this year.  I chose the Patio Paste variety from Burpees with the hope I would get lots of paste tomatoes for canning.  Instead, every last tomato grown on these plants has blossom end rot.  You may argue, because blossom end rot is caused by a mineral deficiency, that I must just be using a poor soil mix in the pots. However, I also have one plant of my favorite tomato variety, Beam's Pear growing in a pot and it is not having these problems. AND. AND.  It's an heirloom and not even a variety designed for growing IN POTS like the Patio Paste is. Grrrrr.... Maybe it will eventually improve but so far I am NOT impressed.  I will be happy to recant, if necesssary.



      I think I have to finally accept that I am in a massive TV watching slump at the moment and it's probably been like this for months.  I keep finding myself checking out on any new shows I start and drifting back into old favorites.  Even if I like the new show, they are not holding my interest.  This even goes for new seasons of shows I already like. Most recently, I kind of petered out on Shetland (which I do really like) because I suddenly had an overwhelming urge to re-watch, for the 75th time, The IT Crowd.  I wish I could find a new complex and involved show that really sucked me in.  I'm starting to think this show doesn't exist.  I like shows that are funny, but also have some depth, drama and involved storylines, good characters and some romance.  So a little bit of everything.  SFF and crime/mystery are also a draw.  Any suggestions?  I think the last two shows I really got into were Galavant and Arrow.

      Part of the reason this post is going up a day late, is that Saturday was busy; helping some friends move and then heading to the big city to see An American in Paris.  I've seen the movie with my beloved Gene Kelly and was interested to read that this musical is actually based on the movie, not the other way around.  Also interesting is that it was more inspired by than really trying to recreate the movie.  It still features the music of George and Ira Gershwin, though the song list is almost completely different and is still heavy on the dance.  In fact, most of the leads are professional ballet dancers.
      I enjoyed it very much and the traveling cast was good.  The dancing and choreography was top notch.  The scenery was inventive and interesting.  The main reason it will never be a favorite musical of mine is the story, which is rather juvenile and has the problem of being focused on the wrong characters, lol.  It's basically about these three guys, two American ex-patriates and one French man, that are friends and who are all in love with the same girl, a milk toast, prim and pretty ballerina.  SNNNNOOOORRREEE.  The main male love interest, Jerry Mulligan, is a pushy ass, and as I already mentioned the lead female could not be more boring.   My favorite guy was the wisecracking cynical piano playing composer, Adam and my favorite woman was Milo, a spunky, independent American heiress, who is very interested in the arts and who has the misfortune of falling in love with Jerry.  I really wanted her and Adam to run off together and for Jerry and Lise to drown in the Seine:).


      I am currently totally obsessed with this song. No idea why - it's not my normal fave type of music?  But I can't stop listening to it and wanting to blast it at full volume in my car so the windows shake:0).  *shrugs*


      Finished Since the Last Time I Posted:

      • Career of Evil  (Cormoran Strike #3)by Robert Galbraith:  This ended up being my favorite of the series thus far.  I love all the character stuff happening in these books. Robin has become one of my very favorite characters. 
      • A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell #2) by Deanna Raybourn: A mystery set in the Victorian Era in Britain, featuring a pair of Natural Historians as the amateur sleuths.  Book one was one of my favorite reads during the first half of the year.  AND I really loved this one as well.
      • They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer: Another enjoyable mystery by Heyer.  
        • 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!
        • The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima:  Epic YA fantasy that sounds super duper amazing!  Starting to make some headway on this one though I am having a little bit of trouble engaging.  Problem isn't the book, I don't think, but the fact that my mood right now is for mysteries.
        • Spirit Animals: Wild Born by Brandon Mull:  This is a middle grade fantasy series where each of the books is written by a different author and what a list of authors it is!  It got on my radar because Garth Nix is one of the authors but also on the list are Maggie Stiefvater, Shannon Hale and Marie Lu. So despite the fact that the idea for series sounds so gimmicky (it's a book series paired with a video game apparently) I wanted to give it a try and so far I am really liking it.  
        • The Line (Witching Savannah #1) by J.D. Horn: This is an urban fantasy series that's been on my TBR for a while.  I haven't gotten very far into yet but I'm really liking it thus far and it has even surprised me a time or two.

        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!
        • Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantaro:  An adult "where are they now" story about the Scooby Gang. Yep. You read that right.
        •  The Dream Hunter by Laura Kinsale:  This was on sale this week and I'm not sure I've ever tried a historic romance by Kinsale. 
        • The Fairy-Tale Detectives (Sisters Grimm #1) by Michael Buckley: I can't believe I was ignorant of this middle-grade series up until now!  It looks delightful and this first book was on sale this week. 
          On the BLOG since I last Posted:

          TUESDAY: REVIEW: The Star-touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi This book, which many others love, just wasn't my cup of tea. 
          WEDNESDAY: REVIEW | The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett The first book in The Lymond Chronicles. I try to marshall my fan girl thoughts into something coherent with mixed success.

          Nothing to see here. Just a rabbit perched on a pillow, up to no good.

          HAVE A GREAT WEEK!

          Thursday, July 20, 2017

          REVIEW | The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

          The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett
          Publication Year: 1961
          Genre: Historical Fiction
          Series: The Lymond Chronicles, Book 1
          Awards: None listed but I'm shocked it hasn't gotten some kind of award.
          Format: Audio (from Audible)
          Narrator: Samuel Gillies

          Hi! If you would like to read a (mostly) spoiler-free review of The Lymond Chronicles as a whole, you can do so in this post.  The review below of The Game of Kings will not be spoiler-free so proceed at your own risk!

          WHY?:  I'm re-reading Lymond!!

          SYNOPSIS:  The year is 1547 and tensions between Scotland and England are high.  In the middle of the chaos and skirmishes across the borders, Francis Crawford of Lymond, Master of Culter appears back in Scotland after a 5 year absence.  Because his loyalty is in question, Lymond skulks around the countryside as an outlaw with a band of rough characters and no one is sure what they are up to. One thing is clear however - they have an agenda l?ut is it for good or il? 


          The first time I read this book, I was young (college) and I remember being completely mystified and lost throughout most of the book.  Despite this, I still somehow realized that I had just read something special and I continued on with the series. Boy, was I rewarded for doing so.  Ever since, this series has been my gold standard for Historical Fiction.

          I have recommended the series countless times since then and I always caveat my recommendation with, "The Game of Kings is a rough go but just have patience and bully through it.  The series really starts to take off in book two."  After a re-read, 20 years later, I think I might not insert that caveat anymore or I would at least soften it because while this book isn't my favorite in the series, I really enjoyed it this time around!

          While this first book is of a slightly different quality and format to later books in the series, it is absolutely astounding - ASTOUNDING - that this was Dunnett's debut novel.  The story goes that she was bemoaning to her husband (or somebody) that she just couldn't find any historical fiction that satisfied her and her husband (or whoever) responded that she should write it herself, then.  And she did. 😵

          One of the brilliant, and sometimes frustrating, things she does, which must have been SO HARD to write, is keep her hero, Lymond, an unknown entity for most of the book.  The reader is unsure whether Lymond is a hero or a villain. I mean, sure the series is named after him but practically the first thing he does in the book is set fire to his childhood home (castle) while his mother is in it.  WTH Lymond?  That's cold.  

          And he continues to do roguish and questionable things and everybody, except his merry band of men, hates or at least is wary of him.  Lymond became a prisoner of war to England when he was 16 but there seems to be some question about whether he betrayed his home country, Scotland, a rumor that was circulated by the English so that he was exiled from home.  The English toss him over to the continent, to France, where he ends up being kidnapped and becoming a galley slave for two of his 5 year hiatus from Scotland.  Part of the distrust towards him is just because he is an unknown entity and is hanging around with a bunch of rough folk. 
          “Five years ago your brother Lymond was found to have been selling his own country for years: he’s been kicked from land to land committing every crime on the calendar and now he’s back here, God forgive him, with filthier habits and a nastier mind than he set out with.”
          Lymond is also at odds with his family, or at least his brother who thinks Lymond was responsible for their sister Eloise's death.  What slowly, slowly becomes clear is that Lymond is trying to track down evidence to clear his name of treason against Scotland but he is going about it, in the most Lymond of ways - deviously, secretively, and with all sorts of verse, wit and oblique references thrown in.   The result is a twisty narrative which slowly and delightfully reveals its secrets.
          “I wish to God,” said Gideon with mild exasperation, “that you’d talk—just once—in prose like other people.” 
          “I despised men who accepted their fate. I shaped mine twenty times and had it broken twenty times in my hands.” 
          ONe concrete thing we do find out about Lymond, is that he was a bookish and musical child who lived in the shadow of his older brother, the heir to the Culter title. Their father much preferred his heir to his spare and was kind of a bully.  His mother was much more sympathetic and adored her golden-haired, blue-eyed second son.  These details do actually become very important later in the series as well as elucidating, ever so slightly, Lymond as a character.

          The current most popular fan-casting for Lymond is a blond Tom Hiddleston and I'm pretty on board with this:

          One thing I found confusing during my first read, along with the enigma of Lymond, was the prodigious cast of characters which I could not for the life of me keep straight.  Thankfully this time around I had (mostly) no problem. The important players are:

          • Richard Crawford: Lymond's mostly stolid older brother and lord of Culter.  He is holding a massive grudge against his younger brother, is newly married and making a really bad job of it.
          • Mariotta Crawford: Richard's new wife who has a head on her shoulders and wants to be a partner for her husband - too bad he treats her like a mostly useless appendage. She becomes somewhat enamored of Lymond which increases Richard's hatred toward him.
          • Sybilla:  Placid and brilliant mother of Richard and Francis, she is the only member of the Crawford household who is unperturbed by her younger son's exploits and throughout the series she is one of the few people that truly gets Lymond.  She is a force to be reckoned with but is in no way strident or unladylike.
          • Wat Scott of Buccleuch:  A bluff, old-fashioned Scottish Laird who's been fighting the English or other lairds his whole life.  He is particularly put out with Lymond because...
          • Will Scott: Is Wat's heir and he's run off and joined Lymond's band of merry men.  Will is a good bit more "modern" than his father and he admires Lymond's freedom and pluck.  He becomes Lymond's unofficial second-in-command but eventually becomes disillusioned with Lymond, betrays him then becomes re-illusioned with him:).  This pattern between Lymond and a younger(they are not always younger in years but definitely in experience/wisdom) protege, will mostly repeat in the next two books with different men.  
          • Christian Stewart:  A red-headed, blind lady-in-waiting to the Queen Regent of Scotland (Mary of Guise), who does quite a bit of nurse-maiding for the young Mary, Queen of Scots.  She is one of Lymond's early, secret supporters because she sees through his roguish actions and suspects that he has a noble cause.  Christian is one of the first important women in Lymond's life and he is quite bereft when she dies but I think his feelings towards her were primarily friendly.  She is an example though of how women seem to get Lymond better than men and Lymond seems to relish their company and not just as romantic partners.
          • Tom Erskine:  A Scottish nobleman, on the rise in the Scottish Court, who is smitten with Christian Stewart.  Tom is a character I had mostly not noticed my first go round but this time I really liked him. 
          • Mary Queen of Scots:  5 year old future Queen of Scotland.  Lymond entertains her with riddles.
          • Mary of Guise:  The French mother of the future Queen of Scotland who is serving as regent until her daughter comes of age.
          • Turkey Mat:  This is the only one I remember from Lymonds Merry Band, but I am sorry he doesn't make any more significant appearances in later books.  He's the solid, loyal lieutenant who trusts that his commander, Lymond, knows what he's doing though he doesn't really understand totally what's going on.
          THE ENGLISH
          • Gideon Somerville: Owner of an estate, Flaw Valleys, on the English side of the Scottish border.  He has fought for the English against the Scots many times but he mostly loves music and his family and when Lymond invades their home, he surprisingly ends up becoming the young Scot's ally. Gideon is very sensible, honest and honorable.
          • Kate Somerville:  Gideon's much younger wife, who shares her husband's love for music and who also becomes a staunch friend and ally to Lymond after a rocky start.  She is incredibly witty and  a practical, unflappable and formidable woman.  This is the another woman who Lymond really connects with and who gets him more than most.
          • Philippa Somerville:  Gideon and Kate's 10 year old daughter who is badly frightened by Lymond on their first meeting and thus resolves to hate him for all time which lasts until the last 1/4 of book 3.  Philippa plays a very important role in future books.
          • Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox: Niece to Henry the VIII and sister to the former King of Scotland, Margaret Douglas is an extremely important English Court Lady.  She seduced a 16 year old Lymond while he was trapped in England and when Lymond eventually spurned her, her infatuation turned to hate and she is a thorn in Lymond's side throughout the series. 
          Basically, Lymond is pretty much distrusted by Scotland, most of his Family and England and he has one of the most powerful families in both countries (the Douglases) actively trying to prevent him from clearing his name.  And Lymond?  Is pretty much making jokes the whole time and seeming like he could care less about any of it. This book more than the others is almost structured as a series of vignettes, hopping from event to event as Lymond investigates and the political wrangling between Scotland and England wages.  I think it worked really well but I do think the other books are stronger because they are increasingly more focused on a continuous narrative and less episodic.

          Dunnett moves the perspective around from character to character, frequently zooming out to a more omniscient view but we never get an entirely clear picture of Lymond and yet still...still by the end of the book I was 100% in his court.  Dunnett builds the sympathy ever so slowly, through exposing the reader to Lymond's humor and wit and providing increasingly more frequent glimpses into his character - his real regret at Philippa hating him, his tete-a-tetes with Christian Stewart and his real sorrow at her death, the good opinions of the sensible and likeable Gideon and Kate Somerville.  I love how this knowledge and sympathy with him builds throughout the book and how deftly and subtly it is done. 

          I think one of the things I adore most about the series is how funny it is and I think I appreciated it more this time around because my reading comprehension was higher.  The first time around I was flummoxed by all the 16th century Scottish Slang and Lymond's very literate speech and I can't say I understood every phrase but the prose really opened up for me this time and made the reading experience so much richer and more fun. Dunnett's writing is a marvel.
          “Repressively, Lymond himself answered. “I dislike being discussed as if I were a disease. Nobody ‘got’ me,” he said.” 
          “Kate slid to her knees, pulling the child’s head to her breast, her mouth in its hair. “Pippa. Pippa, we’re awful fools. What Father means is that truly nothing we have ever done can harm us, and Mr. Crawford has mixed us up with someone else. But you know what unstable-looking parents you have. He doesn’t believe us, but he says he’ll believe you. It’s not very flattering,” said Kate, looking at her daughter with bright eyes, “but you seem to be the one in the family with an honest sort of face, and your father and I must just be thankful for it. Go over to him, darling. I’ll be behind you. And just speak,” she said with an edge like a razor. “Just speak as you would to the dog.” 
          “Versatility is one of the few human traits which are universally intolerable. You may be good at Greek and good at painting and be popular. You may be good at Greek and good at sport, and be wildly popular. But try all three and you're a mountebank. Nothing arouses suspicion quicker than genuine, all-round proficiency.” 
          The other difference this time around was that I listened to the book, read by Samuel Gillies.  His voice sounds quite old, which wasn't quite right for a story about a young man, and his elocution was very Shakespearean and proper.  It wasn't quite the right fit for the story but it wasn't awful.  His style definitely brought home to me how Shakespearean Dunnett's writing is at times - it's part of what makes it somewhat challenging but also so delightful.

          FINAL VERDICTGAH!  This series is so amazing and this is a truly enjoyable and prodigious start.  It establishes Lymond's roots from which all the following 5 books flourish.  I give this one 4 out of 5 stars while SPOILER ALERT, the rest are getting 5 stars but it's more symbolic so I can claim to not be a total pushover.  It is the weakest book in the series but it is still amazing. 💓💓💓💓💓💓💓

          OTHER OPINIONS ARE AVAILABLE:   Geri Gibbons |  She Reads Novels | A Striped Armchair

          Tuesday, July 18, 2017

          REVIEW | The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

          The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
          Publication Year: 2016
          Genre: Fantasy, YA
          Series: The Star-Touched Queen # 1
          Awards: A bunch of local YA awards
          Format: Audio (from Library)
          Narrator: Priya Ayyar

          WHY?:  The book internets went berserk over this one and I was intrigued by it's Indian mythology inspiration. 

          SYNOPSIS:  Maya is a princess with a horrible horoscope hanging over her head.  To escape her fate, or perhaps at its whim, she marries the mysterious Amar and becomes the queen of Akaran.  Unfortunately the strangely deserted court of Akaran is steeped in secrets and mystery which leads Maya to make an ill-informed decision that might have dire consequences.  


          Well, it's unpopular opinion time because this book just wasn't for me and I knew it pretty early on.  Since it's not a book that angered me, beyond the disappointment, so this shouldn't be too much of a rant and I'll make it short.

          The book is inspired by a number of Hindu myths and it has a very fable-like feel to it which I think may be at the heart of why it did not work for me.  Straight up fables and fairy tales work for me if they are short, but most don't have enough character depth or detail to work as a long-form narrative. They are the sketch of a story with a simple theme and characters that are mostly important for what they symbolise.  That's why it is awesome when authors take a fairy tale and really flesh it out  - breathe life and recognizable motivations into the characters and surround the framework with a fully realized society and world.

          One thing I thought The Star-touched Queen did pretty well was the setting and world development.  It's a unique setting and I liked that it was a little unsettling and on the edge of creepy.

          AND...I struggled with pretty much everything else.  The protagonists, Maya and Amar, felt very flat to me.  I had little interest in either of them and their romance felt forced and insta-lovey even though it's not really?  The character's motivations were too opaque or seemed inconsistent or just didn't make sense to me.  When Maya shows up at Akaran, nothing makes sense and Amar keeps saying that he is prevented from telling her anything, because reasons.  This is frustrating for her and she is extremely wary and untrusting. Okay fine.  But then another character comes along, unknown to her, who blatantly manipulates her and she trusts this person immediately, no problem.  She is also extremely protective of her homeland and family even though, because of her horoscope, she had been treated mostly abusively and shunned.  It would make sense for her to have some loyalty but I'm not sure the solidarity and betrayal she feels when her people are in danger, really makes sense with what we know? Basically, neither character felt real or understandable nor were they compelling and with that the case the rest of the book was going to have an uphill climb.

          And it just didn't get up the hill.  I thought the storytelling was choppy and erratic and much of the conflict in the story felt forced.   I also really didn't love the prose which was a little flowery for my taste.  In short, it felt like a fable that was awkwardly stretched to novel length and not enough was done to give it more depth.  The setting and circumstances were often interesting and strange but the characters lacked understandable motivation and the whole book had a rather dream-like quality which tends to not appeal to me. Also the demon flesh-eating horse that everyone loves?  I just thought she was weird.  

          I listened to the book on audio and the narrator Priya Ayyar was good.  Nothing special but nice voice and good fit with the character of Maya who has the perspective.  

          FINAL VERDICT: This fable-like book just did not work for me on many levels (character, storytelling, prose) but it should be noted I am in the minority, big time!   2 out of 5 stars

          OTHER OPINIONS ARE AVAILABLE: The Bibliosanctum | Fantasy Cafe

          Saturday, July 15, 2017

          SATURDAY in the GARDEN | Look At Them Roots!

          I like to garden and generally putter around in my yard and my Saturday in the Garden posts serves as my pseudo- garden journal, plus a round-up of my week in reading, watching and blogging.  Occasionally, I'll whine, rant or gush about something in a GAK section. 


          You may have heard before that prairie/prairie plants are fantastic at holding soil, preventing erosion, loss of topsoil and improving water quality by keeping the soil out of streams, rivers, lakes and ponds.  This is why:

          Holy roots, batman!  Prairie plants have prodigious root systems!  That little squiggle on the far left is Kentucky Bluegrass, the most popular lawn grass.  Buffalo grass is a prairie grass often suggested for lawns because it stays quite short, like Kentucky blue, but it's root system does not - it's the plant on the far right.  One of my favorite prairie plants has one of the longest root systems and it is having a spectacular year in Iowa this summer.  It's Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) and is 5th from the left in the diagram above.

          It's tall, has a bright sunflower like bloom and staghorn shaped foliage.  They make me happy everytime I see them looming over the prairie at work or in the prairie roadsides.  Definitely a plant I will try to establish if I ever have a sunny yard, though I will need to be patient - Compass Plants take a few years to mature to the point of looking like the above but once they do each plant can persist up to a hundred years!  Now that's a perennial.  By the way they are called compass plants because their leaves tend to orient in a north-south direction so also useful for navigation in case my yard is so large or I get so dotty that I get lost easily:). 

          In my vegetable garden, I am excited, as I often am, about root vegetables. I am actually, for real, getting some edible beets for the first time, ever!  They aren't huge but I have 5 at the moment that are of a size I can cook and eat. Wow.  I gotta get excited by the little things.




          I finished the K Drama I was watching, Faith - it was okay but not one of my favorites.

          I started watching some episodes of Shetland on Netflix which Greg at A Book Haven brought to my attention. This is a British crime drama set in the Shetland islands.  Doug Henshall is the lead actor who I last saw chasing dinosaurs, and looking, quite frankly, awkward about it, in Primeval. He is a much better fit here.


          Finished Since the Last Time I Posted:

          • Checkmate (Lymond Chronicles #6) by Dorothy Dunnett:  The last one *sobs*!  
          • The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson:  YA epic fantasy that has been on my TBR for ages. It's pretty good though I do agree that the body image/eating disorder stuff is a little on the sketchy side which was the main complaint I heard about it going in. Overall, though I found it to be mostly kind of generic so not sure what the buzz about it was?  It's fine, just nothing special in my book. 
          • The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co. #1) by Jonathan Stroud:  A middle-grade novel about ghost fighters in Britain.  This book is great  - gave me some Jackaby feels.  Will be continuing with this series.
            • 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!
            • The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima:  Epic YA fantasy that sounds super duper amazing!  Starting to make some headway on this one though I am having a little bit of trouble engaging.  Problem isn't the book, I don't think, but the fact that my mood right now is for mysteries.
            • Career of Evil  (Cormoran Strike #3)by Robert Galbraith: Listening to in the car.  I think Robin may be a target in this one (to get at Strike) and I am not sure I feel good about this?  But so far liking it.   
            • A Perilous Undertaking (Veronica Speedwell #2) by Deanna Raybourn: A mystery set in the Victorian Era in Britain, featuring a pair of Natural Historians as the amateur sleuths.  Book one was one of my favorite reads during the first half of the year.

            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!
            • Merivel: A Man of his Time by Rose Tremain:  This was on sale on Kindle and it looked like an intriguing Historical Fiction novel about Robert Merivel, who was a courtier to Charles the II during the Restoration period in England.  He apparently made an appearance in one of Tremain's earlier novels as a side character.  
            • They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer: Got this through Audible's sale this week.  I love Heyer's mysteries almost as much as her Regency Romaances. Almost.
            • Berkley Street by Ron Ripley:  This was free on Kindle though I found it through the Audible sale.  It sounds like a mystery but more on the horror/suspense side?
            • A Useful Woman by Darcie Wilde:  Another through the Audible sale.  This is a mystery with a female sleuth, set in Regency Era England.  Yay!
            • Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier: A retelling of Beauty and the Beast by one of the masters of fairy tale re-telling.  Recommended by Fine Print.
            • Time and Time Again by Ben Elton:  An interesting looking time travel novel recommended by Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum.
            • The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter by Theodora Goss: Also recommended by Mogsy at The Bibliosanctum.  This is a YA novel that features a gang of some of the daughters of historic "monsters" (such as Dr. Jekyll, and Dr. Frankenstein). 
            • All System's Red by Martha Wells: A science fiction novel about a "murder bot" who achieves sentience and independence.  Recommended by Greg at A Book Haven
            • Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner: I've never read anything by Ellen Kushner and since I recently read an article about how she is one of the authors that is a huge fan of Dorothy Dunnett, I decided I need to.  This one was recommended by my favorite podcast, Get Booked. 
              On the BLOG since I last Posted:

              Wednesday, July 12, 2017

              The Lymond Chronicles By Dorothy Dunnett - The Beginning

              I recently embarked upon a re-read of the uncontested favorite-of-my heart historical fiction series, The Lymond Chronicles by Dorothy Dunnett.  I hadn't read them since I first picked them up back in College. I know it was college when I read them first because I have a clear memory of being on a plane on a class trip to Belize and asking around to see whether any of my classmates spoke French because Dunnett had dropped one of her infamous untranslated, non-English passages at a particularly crucial moment in the story.  No one spoke French.  Thankfully this was one passage she did in fact translate, several pages later just when my franticness to know what it meant was at its highest pitch.  Dunnett's manipulative and brilliant like that.

              I'm not sure why I waited so long to do a re-read but I think it had something to do with remembering that reading the series was intense and I was afraid that maybe my youthful impressionable self was more easily wowed by the series and it wouldn't be as good.  Would the books still appeal to my middle-aged curmudgeonly heart?  So as not to keep you in suspense. Yes, they most certainly, definitely and heartily did.  Maybe even more so.

               Now I'm left with the Dilemma with a capital D of how and what to write about the series.  I do feel compelled to write about the books but it's a huge and daunting task   Do a brief google search for the series and you stumble upon articles gushing about this series and its near perfection.  It does not inspire tame emotions.  Also, is there a way for me to talk about these books without spoilers so as to convince folks to read them while still being able to express all my tumultuous thoughts and feelings?  In the end that is why I decided to begin with this introductory post.  This will be a  mostly spoiler free retrospective of the entire series and then I will do individual posts for each of the books that will be a free for all.

              The six books in The Lymond Chronicles cover 11 years in the life of one Francis Crawford of Lymond, Scottish nobleman, as he navigates the political intrigues of Europe, Malta, Turkey, and Russia in the middle of the 16th century.  If you know your Tudor history, at the start of the series young King Edward is on the throne of England, is succeeded around book three or four by Queen Mary and ends as Elizabeth I takes the throne in 1558.  All the books have titles alluding to the game of chess in a not-so-subtle nod to the complexity and trickiness of navigating European politics of this era.  By the time you finish the series you will feel as if you've lived through it all and understand all the intricacies of the complex web of alliances and successions and war-making.

              It is a HUGE canvas and Dunnett delves in and exposes it all.   At the same time there are so many details, casually referred to by the characters which I think lends the series an air of authenticity not easily found in Historical Fiction. I think Dunnett's greatest achievement (out of many, many achievements), is that despite the epic-ness of the saga, it all feels very grounded, steeped in the everyday lives of both ordinary and extraordinary people.  Characters interact and talk with one another, using renaissance allusions, multiple languages, and on an intellectual level far beyond my ken, but the interactions feel genuine and familiar.  It feels like you are having the rare opportunity to travel in time and be a fly on the wall during the renaissance.  One review I was reading made the point that the characters for the most part all genuinely think and act like 16th century people, with 16th century reactions that aren't always easy for modern readers to understand. It's like Dunnett was able to immerse herself in what a person during that time would be.  I think this is totally spot on and is why the book feels so authentically 16th century and also so natural.

              So what are each of the books about?  They are about Francis Crawford of Lymond and he is the tie that binds the books together in a long and epic tale.  But each book also has its own adventure, each succeeding in developing Lymond as a character and also slowly revealing more and more about him because he manages to remain pretty elusive.  His motivations are usually only revealed through the speculation of his friends....but I am getting sidetracked. The plots in short are thus:

              The Game of Kings:  Francis Crawford of Lymond, Master of Culter returns to Scotland after a 4-5 year absence and proceeds to start wreaking havoc.  He was exiled to France as a teen for allegedly passing secrets to the English and he has spent at least 2 of the interim years as a galley slave.  Hence, he comes back a 21 year old, brilliant, worldly, cynical and deadly and no one knows what his motivations are.

              Queen's Play:  Two years have passed since The Game of Kings, during which Lymond has been kicking it in Scotland and driving everyone crazy. The Dowager Regent Queen of Scotland (Mary of Guise) recruits Lymond to travel to France to protect her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots, who is living at the French Court and whose life is being threatened.  Lymond does this in his own special and spectacular way while navigating the complicated interplay between England, Scotland, France and Ireland.

              The Disorderly Knights: Lymond's exploits have attracted the attention of the Knights of Malta, God's Soldiers against the Turk, and everyone is particularly anxious for Lymond and Graham Reid Mallet aka Gabriel to meet. Everybody is sure that these two highly charismatic dudes will become BFFs.  After some fighting with knights in Tripoli and elsewhere, Lymond returns to Scotland, with Gabriel in tow, to start his own mercenary force.

              Pawn in Frankincense: Lymond has a son!  Who is lost and probably in danger in the world.  His search for the bairn leads him eventually to the court of Suleiman the Great of the Ottoman Empire with a strange band of companions in his wake.

              The Ringed Castle:  Devastated by the events of the previous book, Lymond runs as far away as he can - to Russia and Ivan the Terrible where he sets out to build the wackadoodle Tsar his own army.  Political machinations force him back to England however and the court of Queen Mary.

              Checkmate: Lymond is intent on going back to Russia, but his friends think this is a really bad idea so they kidnap him to France where the French King blackmails him into helping lead the French army into battles against Spain and England. At the same time an investigation is being done into who Lymond really is and what his origins were. He is now close to 30 and has had one hell of a decade.  :)

              There are so many things that are brilliant about this series - the intricate and complex plots, the clever humor, the set-piece scenes that will blow your mind, the erudition, the feeling, already mentioned, of being immersed in and getting an in depth understanding of the 16th Century. Some of the plots, if described all plain like, would make you roll your eyes at the utter melodrama and unbelievability and yet, Dunnett reels you in and ties up your emotions so thoroughly into the action that you hardly notice the preposterousness.   I mean, we're talking about Francis Crawford of Lymond, late Master of Culter, Comte de Sevigny, Voivoda Bolshoi.  Anything is possible.

              And that is of course Dunnett's secret weapon and crowning jewel - Lymond.  He is the very epitome of a renaissance romantic hero but he is dark and complex and quite frankly a little hard to take at times.  But you can't look away.  He is not a character I have a crush on or would even want to meet.  He'd be incredibly intimidating, with his quick wit that leaves 99% of the room in a whirl, and he is not easy on his friends.  He's a masterpiece character that I could analyze until the end of time.  He's a 16th century James Bond/Rock Star/Dumas Hero.  One article compares him to Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey, which I at first rebelled against but it fits  - his sharp wits that outsmart everyone which he keeps hidden behind a playful, insouciant, sometimes goofy facade.

              Lymond started life as a slight, rather delicate-looking boy, blond and blue-eyed, who loved music and books.  So a great big old nerd.  That deceptive exterior hid a will of iron and a strength that is put to the test and honed when he becomes a prisoner of war at 16.  Being passed around Europe and spending two years as a galley slave. When Lymond appears again 5 years later he has become tall and handsome, he can fight, speak several languages, and he has become an effortless leader of men.  He's learned how to hide his feelings and presents a face to the world that is unconcerned and sardonically amused.
              “To the men exposed to his rule Lymond never appeared ill: he was never tired; he was never worried, or pained, or disappointed, or passionately angry. If he rested, he did so alone; if he slept, he took good care to sleep apart. “—I sometimes doubt if he’s human,” said Will, speaking his thought aloud. “It’s probably all done with wheels.”

              I ran across this video of violinist David Garrett a couple of weeks ago and it may have just been the fact that I was in the middle of a re-read but it totally gave me Lymond vibes.  First because Lymond loves music above most everything else and is a talented musician. Then the music and persona of Garrett  - the furious, riotous music coupled with the rock-star look and feel, the adoring crowd.  And the blond hair:).
              Lymond has the fortitude to make the hard choice and do the despicable thing if it is the right thing to do  for the greater good but it does tear him up inside.  And it is that core of moral fortitude and self-loathing that really makes the men and women fall in love with him in droves.  He is in control, he is always right, he has boundless energy, he will do what it takes but he is in fact human.  He is more at home with women than men.  He's a pain in the ass and he is brilliant.  You could never hope for a better ally but he won't be quiet about it.  Go big or go home could be his motto and yet his mind is endlessly perceptive and subtle.  Are you getting the picture?  Some of my favorite quotes by or about him:
              “It was one of the occasions when Lymond asleep wrecked the peace of mind of more people than Lymond awake.” 
              “Lymond's behaviour, as always, went to the limits of polite usage and then hurtled off into space.”  
               “Today,’ said Lymond, ‘if you must know, I don’t like living at all. But that’s just immaturity boggling at the sad face of failure. Tomorrow I’ll be bright as a bedbug again.”
               “What’s wrong? Has Francis been rude? Then you must try to overlook it. I know you wouldn’t think so, but he is thoroughly upset by XXXX's death; and when Francis is troubled he doesn’t show it, he just goes and makes life wretched for somebody.” 
              “He regards boredom, I observe, as the One and Mighty Enemy of his soul. And will succeed in conquering it, I am sure—if he survives the experience.” 
               “Jerott, for God’s sake! Are you doing this for a wager?’ said Lymond, his patience gone at last. ‘What does anyone want out of life? What kind of freak do you suppose I am? I miss books and good verse and decent talk. I miss women, to speak to, not to rape; and children, and men creating things instead of destroying them. And from the time I wake until the time I find I can’t go to sleep there is the void—the bloody void where there was no music today and none yesterday and no prospect of any tomorrow, or tomorrow, or next God-damned year.”
               “And if there’s no trouble, you’ll make it,’ offered Will Scott, his eyes bright, his cheeks red. ‘No. At the moment,’ affirmed Lymond grimly, ‘I am having truck with nothing less than total calamity.” 
              And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

              Lymond is the star but there are many, many other characters to love or to love to hate. In fact one of the other characters is my very favorite, but this person is a bit of a spoiler, so I'll save it for the individual book reviews.

              Finally, this series is one of my very favorite romances.  If you are anti-romance, don't worry, these are not romances except in the classical sense but they do have a central building romance that is slowly developed, fraught and so, so perfect.  Almost everything about it. Perfect.

              As I mentioned above, I first read this series in College.  At the time I found it baffling and wonderful.  My impressions were that I only understood about 70% of what was happening in any given book and that most of the text was untranslated French or some other language and yet I was still so completely captivated and obsessed.  Every time I have recommended the series in the intervening years, I have warned the recommendee that book one is almost incomprehensible but just soldier through and it will pay off.

              And now?  If anything this re-read has illustrated to me how much I have matured as a reader.  I think it was one of the first really complex and authentic historical fiction books I had read.  I was baffled by the Scots dialect in book one and I couldn't keep any of the lairds straight nor follow half of the European political machinations.  This time around, this was not even close to the problem it was the first time around.  I've been exposed to so much more literature and culture in the intervening 20 years that many of those struggles I had with comprehension in my initial reading were gone.  The result was a completely different but equally delightful reading experience.  I was able to appreciate the plotting even more and grew attached to side characters who I was kind of muddled about first go round.  Without a doubt, some of the esoteric allusions still fly over my head and there is a LOT of untranslated French in here, lol but it was not nearly so frustrating - those things give the books ambience and fun detail to dig into if you wish.  It's erudite and scholarly but to an experienced reader, incredibly addictive reading!

              Also different this go round was that I listened to all the books but the last one.  This was a fun way to consume the books though I don't think they quite got the right narrators.  The first book was narrated by Samuel Gillies, who was obviously an older gentleman with Shakepearean training who was ALL wrong for telling the story of the very youthful Lymond.  The narrator for books 2 through 5 was Andrew Napier, he was better but still read Lymond without a lot of inflection or character.  His accents were great and his reading was fine but not what it could be.

              Finally, so that I'm being fair, was there anything about these books I didn't love this second go round?  Sadly but honestly, yes.  My feminist reading glasses which have been honed over the years didn't love some things that went down.  They are spoilers so I won't mention them here but will mention them in the individual book reviews.  The main one involves Lymond and a young woman in book 3 for those of you who have read the books.  Dunnett actually does a great job, in the historical context, of revealing the strength and power of women overall, there are just a couple of incidents that I wish had been handled differently.  Also, and I am really sorry to say this, Lymond and his lady love kind of drove me up a wall in Checkmate.  This time around, I didn't entirely love how Dunnett handled the relationship even though I do love the final result.

              Well, I think that's enough words even though it feels like I could go on and on. I haven't even really mentioned how funny the books are.  Laugh out loud hilarious at times.  In short, they have everything: political intrigue, swashbuckling adventure, laugh out loud wit, historical insights, romance and finally characters that will break your heart and make it overflow.  If you like historical fiction at all, you owe it to yourself to give this series a shot. It may not be for everyone, but if you are one of the lucky ones that connects, you are in for the ride of your life!

              And please note that now that I've done a re-read and know just how many riches these books hold, this series holds the number one slot on my list of books I'd want on a desert island.  

              Some other articles I love about Dunnett and Lymond

              The Pinterest Page for The Lymond Chronicles (The fantasy castings on this page are fantastic)

              Monday, July 10, 2017

              Troperiffic Books | 20 of My Favorite Found Family Books

              Ahhhhh...Tropes.  Do you love 'em or hate 'em?  I think most readers have ones they love and ones they hate. For me, while I do admire a really original novel and kind of love when tropes are turned on their head, there is nothing more satisfying than a good trope written well.  And it's impressive!  Because tropes are by definition, scenarios or ideas that are used over and over, readers have read them a million times and therefore have fodder to be super critical.  So bravo, you authors that tackle these common themes and make them your own!

              One my all time favorite tropes is the idea of "found families".  Basically, this is about the families you choose - friends that go beyond just simple friend status.  While I love the family I was born into, I am also lucky to have a found family, friends for 30 years who have grown and changed and yet still we remain friends.  Who I would drop everything and go if they needed me, no questions asked and vice versa.  So I think that is why this trope resonates so much for me and why I love it.  I've read a number of books this year that do this trope well and I wanted to see how frequently this phenomenon shows up in my reading.  Below are some of my favorite books/series that feature this trope prominently (4 stars out of 5 or greater rating, mostly read in the past 10 years or so).


              1) Six of Crows series by Leigh Bardugo

              This trope is frequently present in heist or quest narratives because you have a gang of folk, with complementary skills who must spend lots of time together and place their lives in each others hands.  This series has a terrific gang. 💗

              2) Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

              Since Harry is an orphan and comes from an abusive home, finding and bonding with Ron and Hermione and eventually the Weasley clan is really important for him making it through.  In a wider sense the entire wizarding community, Hogwarts and particularly Hagrid and Dumbledore also become his family.  It could be said this is the mother of all found family stories and it is what gives the books their warmth.  It is a certainly a big reason why I love the books!

              3) Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry

              Man oh Man, this book.  Gus and Call were Texas Rangers together and after surviving that, they set up a ranching operation as partners.  When Call gets the idea to do a cattle drive to Montana, Gus grumbles about it but there's no doubt he'll go along.  They put together a crew for the long arduous journey and there is lots of bonding and relying upon one another.

              4) The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

              This series is full of found families.  Certainly Blue, Gansy, Ronan and Adam but the adults also.  I love Blue's house full of women, supporting one another.

              5) The Rogues of the Republic Series by Patrick Weekes

              As I mentioned with the Six of Crows series, heist stories lend themselves to this trope.  In the case of the Rogues of the Republic it is an eclectic and diverse family indeed.  A unicorn, a wizard, a death priestess, a grouchy safe cracker, a nobleman's daughter, her sidekick, and a monk contortionist who has sworn off violence.

              6) Starflight by Melissa Landers

              Another story that lends itself to the trope of found families is when a small scrappy crew works on a small spaceship together.  Starflight is YA science fiction book that is a really good example of this.

              7) The Lovegrove Legacy series by Alyxandra Harvey

              This series just breaks my heart.  At its core is a trio of best girl friends trying to meet society's demands in Regency Era England while also grappling with the newly acquired knowledge that they are all witches.  I loved Emma, Gretchen and Penelope's friendship.  Sadly this was supposed to be a trilogy but the publisher declined to publish the third volume.  Grrrr....

              Art by Aaliya.mj - couldn't find source!
              8) The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer

              I love how this science fiction series not only adapts several fairy tales into a future setting but also intertwines the different heroines Cinder, Scarlet, Cress and Winter with a few additional folks including a spunky AI into a fellowship.  They are united by rebellion and become family to each other.

              9) The Gentleman Bastards series by Scott Lynch

              More heisty goodness with this series.  The central found family is really just two - Locke and Jean. I love these two and their relationship.

              10) Still Life (Chief Inspector Gamache series) by Louise Penny

              I'm not sure if this trope is more prevalent in SFF or if that's just where most of my reading happens but it does show up in a few other types of books, in this case a mystery.  This mystery takes place in the fictional town of Three Pines in Canada which seems to be populated by middle aged artsy folks who get together twice a week for chats and dinner.  It's totally charming!  You know, except that one might be a murderer. 😉

              11) Avatar: The Last Airbender series by Gene Luen Yang

              So I know Avatar started its life as a TV show but it now has a regular series of graphic novels so it counts! Aang certainly becomes part of Katara and Sokka's family and they become even more of a gang when Toph and then Zukko join.  Momo and Appa are also part of the family! I love these characters and their bonds so much that I haven't been able to watch the follow up series (The Legend of Korra), even though I've heard it's great, because it means Aang is dead:( while some of his found family remain living. It's just too sad!

              12) Akata Witch series by Nnedi Okorafor

              Many found families revolve around young people who are different in some way and who become close with those that share the difference and come to rely on each other, through a shared secret or shared ostracism.  In SFF, finding out you have magic is a big one and Akata Witch is another in the vein of HP and The Lovegrove Legacy.

              13) The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

              Another "we're all stuck on this space ship so let's bond" situation!  A very diverse cast of characters and they don't all get along but if one's in trouble, they are all going to come running.  They're crew.

              14) Fairyland Series by Cathrynne M. Valente

              September is swept away from her home in Omaha to Fairy Land where she must complete a quest.  She meets some friends along the way who become her family in Fairy Land  - A-through-L (a wyverary, half wyvern, half library) and a mysterious boy names Saturday.  One needs strong allies when (circum)navigating the treacherous and wondrous Land of Fairy and September has them!

              15) Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan

              This book combines camp, kids that are out of the ordinary and quests - it's the perfect alchemical ingredients for the found family trope.  Percy, his best friend Grover, his half brother Tyson and of course Annabeth become Percy's perfect allies as he figures out the whole demigod thing!

              16) Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian

              This long series of books about a Royal British Navy Captain during the Napoleonic wars and his best friend and ship's surgeon is really wonderful.  The central relationship between Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin is what really makes the series special and since both men spend most of their time on a boat in the middle of the ocean, they have to find family where they are and rely on one another.

              17) Alanna (Song of the Lioness, Book 1) by Tamora Pierce

              The found family feel doesn't really carry on into the later books but it is definitely strong in this first book of the Song of the Lioness. With her parents gone and her brother off pursuing his own dreams, Alanna finds a family when she sneaks her way into the king's training program for knights.

              18) The Mortal Instruments Series by Cassandra Clare

              I only read the first three in The Mortal Instruments series and I'm happy to keep it that way as it was great.  Clary and her best friend Simon find their way into a secret society of demon hunters who live in a big posh house and are inseparable.  All of them must band together to fight the big bad and come to rely on each other completely.

              19) The Passage Trilogy by Justin Cronin

              This trilogy goes in so many different directions but its beating heart and what made it a series I loved was the group of courageous friends from the First Colony in California that decide to brave the scary world beyond the walls to try and save their community.  Peter, Alicia, Michael, Sarah, Hollis, Theo, Moussami and Amy.  They keep being split up but when crisis hits, they are there for each other and for the fight.

              20) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

              I think the inclusion of this trope is why this book has the impact that it does.  A group of teens, isolated, that share something out of the ordinary.

              Yes, this is definitely one of my very favorite tropes.  How about you?  Do you have any books that you'd add to this list?