What I’ve Been Reading… February 2017

How the heck is it that February has already come and gone? I know that it’s the shortest month of the year, but it still went by faster than I could blink. I’m okay with it, though, because I’m ready for spring.

I also managed to read more books than I expected this month. Here’s a look at what I’ve been reading:

22318363Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
~Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes thought they finished their investigation they for the future Emperor of Japan in 1924, but the appearance of a decorative stone and a dark-haired woman a year later speaks to the contrary.
I haven’t come across a Mary Russell book that I didn’t like, and Dreaming Spies was no different. It was refreshing to see Holmes and Russell on equal footing when it came to learning about Japan and its culture.

11330806Somebody Tell Aunt Tillie She’s Dead by Christiana Miller
~Mara is a witch whose luck just keeps getting worse, even after she inherits a mysterious cottage after her Aunt Tillie dies.
I had a blast reading this urban fantasy romp, even though the GoodReads summary gives away a bit too much. Mara is such a likable character who obviously is doing the best she can with what she has to work with.

23460958Zeroes by Chuck Wendig
~Five hackers are recruited by Uncle Sam to work as cyber spies for the next year, but they soon find themselves hacking the U.S. government.
Zeroes had the right blend of tension, enough to keep me turning the page but not enough to make the pacing frantic. Plus all the characters  had enough personality that I didn’t get confused with who’s who in the huge cast.

18627360Squirrel Terror  by Lilith Saintcrow
~A series of blog posts from Lilith Saintcrow’s website that chronicle the goings-on in her backyard.
I’ve kept up with Saintcrow’s blog during the past six months and absolutely love the stories about the squirrels that frequent her backyard and her dogs. Squirrel Terror is just as much fun, with different squirrels and birds getting into loads of trouble.

What I’ve Been Reading… January 2017

6617104Persuader by Lee Child
~Jack Reacher is tasked by the DEA to rescue their agent from an undercover mission gone wrong.
This was the first Reacher book written in first person that I’ve read. It humanized Reacher, which was a different experience than his “mysterious stranger” aura and raised the stakes. I actually doubted his ultimate success more than once.

15790895The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty
~Zoe Norris thought finding a job in New York City was tough, but surviving her coworkers and the new world of the undead.
I loved how Zoe interacted with the fantastic creatures from the very beginning. Plus the mix of absurdity, humor, and tension made it tough to put this book down. It’s guaranteed that I’ll be reading the second Shambling Guide book.

31423215Taking the Titanic by James Patterson & Scott Slaven
~A pair of thieves pose as newlyweds aboard the Titanic to pull off the biggest heist of their lives.
Despite a slow start, the story eventually picked up to become interesting. There were a number of subplots, and the historical elements felt genuine to the story. My one complaint was that the end was pretty unrealistic.

23308084The Rose and the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh
~After being separated from Khalid, Shahrzad must figure out two things: how to break the curse and get back to her husband.
I knew that I wanted to read this book as soon as I finished The Wrath and the Dawn. It was just as good as the first book, with fantastic romance and plenty of action. Plus the ending was absolutely perfect.

29214703Let’s Play Make Believe by James Patterson and James O. Born
~Divorcees Christy and Martin embark on a wild, romantic game of make-believe that won’t end well.
The best part of this novella was that it didn’t feel like a novella. It was intense from the very beginning, and I didn’t see the twist coming.

23341259Violent Ends by Shaun David Hutchinson (Editor), Kendare Blake, Steve Brezenhoff, Delilah S. Dawson, Trish Doller, Margie Gelbwasser, E.M. Kokie, Cynthia Leitich Smith, Tom Leveen, Hannah Moskowitz, Elsa Nader, Beth Revis, Mindi Scott, Neal Shusterman, Brandon Shusterman, Courtney Summers, Blythe Woolston, and Christine Johnson
~It only took twenty-two minutes for Kirby Matheson to change his high school forever, but it took a whole lot longer than that for him to become a monster.
This book was nearly impossible to put down, and it painted a multi-dimensional picture of Kirby and the others impacted by a school shooting.

What I’ve Been Reading… December 2016

I embarked on the Goodreads Challenge this year (like I have the past few years) and decided to read 30 books. I read 52 books the past couple years, but I knew that there’d be far too much happening–between moving and everything else–to realistically read a book a week. Thanks to cramming three books into my head the last week of December, I officially completed the challenge!

32370233The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh
~Shahrzad must enchant Khalid–her husband and the Caliph of Khorasan–with stories night after night if she hopes to stay alive.
This book is one part “Beauty & the Beast” and one part “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights”. The characters–along with their different agendas–jumped off the page, making me want to pick up book 2.

28186322A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn
~Veronica Speedwell finds herself inexplicably bound to a boorish natural-historian named Stoker to solve a murder and the mystery of her past.
I’m a sucker for historical mysteries, especially if they’re set in Victorian England. This one also had a badass female lead and a compelling male sidekick.

23719489Arsenic in Assinippi by John F. Gallagher
~A non-fiction book about the trial of Jennie May Eaton for her husband’s murder.
Though obviously well-researched, this book was a bit dry for my tastes. But it was still a fantastic study of a high-profile trial that took place near my hometown in Massachusetts.

24885744Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig
~Miriam Black must track down a serial killer before he starts killing teen girls.
Miriam Black is one of my favorite anti-heroes, and the only anti-heroine that I can recall coming across. There’s such a frantic energy that follows her–and the story–throughout the 300 or so pages, making it easy enough to read in a day.

21848263The One You Want by Gena Showalter
~Kenna Starr wants nothing more than to overcome her reputation in her small town, but heartthrob Dane Michaelson’s arrival in town throws a wrench in her plans.
This had everything that I could ever want from a contemporary romance: a sweet heroine, a smoldering hero, and a sappy ending. It’s a novella (only 109-ish pages), so it’s a quick read.

 

 

What I’ve Been Reading Lately…

I’ve gotten into the habit of always keeping a book in my purse, which means I’m getting a whole lot more reading done. Before work. During lunch. Even for an hour before bedtime. Here’s what I’ve read over the past few weeks.

30269117Inferno by Dan Brown
~Robert Langdon wakes up in an Italian hospital with no memory and a military force chasing him for a secret only he can unravel.
Short chapters, multiple points of view, and the premise made for an entertaining read. However I was pretty disappointed with the ending. For a book with so much promise, it felt like a cop out.

 

6979934

The Man from Hell by Barrie Roberts
~Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson must untangle a web of lies and tragedy to catch Lord Blackwater’s murderer.
This felt like a classic Sherlock Holmes story, written in the same style as the canon. And as a history nerd, I was hooked on the chapters depicting life penal colony Australia.

 

27983358In Too Deep by Sherry D. Ficklin
~Farris is willing to write off a classmate’s death as suicide until she gets a cryptic note that begs her to find the killer.
This book was an impulse buy on my Nook, even though I wasn’t necessarily interested in continuing with the #Hacker series after reading the first book earlier this year. I’m glad that I did since this book became very, very hard to put down.

 

15396970Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen
~Ruby has only been able to rely on herself through most of her life, but can she change now that her sister and brother-in-law are giving her a future?
I love every Dessen book that I’ve ever picked up, and this book wasn’t any different. In addition to making characters deal with pretty big issues, Ruby’s journey was engaging from the first page.

 

10869746Rise of the Governor (The Walking Dead #1) by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
~Brian Blake knows that his brother, Phillip, is the only reason he’s survived so far, but he soon sees how the zombie apocalypse is changing his brother.
The Governor is my favorite Walking Dead character, despite being off-his-freaking-rocker. I loved seeing into both Brian’s and Phillip’s psyches, and the ending was fantastic.

What I’ve been reading…

I haven’t read nearly as much as I would’ve liked over the past few months. Sure, I’ve added plenty of books to my bookshelf through trips to Books-a-Million and orders from Barnes & Noble’s website. But the book-buying has far outpaced the reading side of the equation.

Even though I haven’t read as much as I would’ve liked, I’ve still been reading. Plugging along through books. This is what I’ve been reading:

26792189The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley
~A collection of feminist essays dealing with writing, the science fiction and fantasy genres, and life itself.
I loved, loved, loved this book. It spoke to me not only as a writer but as someone who writes female characters. I’ll be rereading select essays–if not the whole book–in the near future.

1702013 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
~Ginny’s eccentric aunt has given her strict instructions that the 13 blue envelopes are her only road-map during a European adventure.
Despite the premise, this wasn’t as lighthearted of a book as I’d hoped. But it delivered on the reality of being sent through Europe by a family member you haven’t seen in years.

27272506The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead
~A countess escapes her suffocating life in the old aristocracy for a new world in the frontier.
This book covered a lot of time in a short amount of pages. I would’ve liked to have seen more of the Glittering Court itself, but I did like the characters. And I’ll be picking up the sequel when it comes out in April.

32145Stiff by Mary Roach
~A non-fiction book about human cadavers.
There were chapters that fascinated me, like the ones about car crash tests and grave robbing. Others didn’t hold my attention as well. But overall it struck me as an informative book that provided a few plot ideas.

24819482Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen
~Nettie Lonesome wants nothing more than to be a horse wrangler, but her whole life is turned upside down by a man who can only be killed by a stick to the heart.
This western made me itch to get on horseback and start hunting monsters myself. It has just the right mix of fantastic elements in a realistic setting. I’ll be buying book 2 soon enough.

What have you been reading?

Enough with the Love Triangles

Love triangles are the SwissArmy Knife of plot devices. Need a bit of comedy? That character just spilled chocolate sauce all over themselves while trying to flirt with their crush. Need some drama? The main character has to choose between bad boys from opposing packs of werewolves. And they’re just built for romance. I mean, “love” is in the title.

But there comes a point where enough’s enough. Not every story needs a love triangle. There’s been plenty of Edward-Jacob-Bella, Ron-Hermione-Victor Krum, and Katinss-Peeta-Gale to last readers a lifetime. (It happens outside the Young Adult genre, but those triangles tend to be amplified the most.)

I’m not saying they should be struck from every book past, present, and future. I’m just asking that authors think about writing a book or two without them. Like, does that girl who just moved to a new school really need to have two equally attractive boys fall head over heels for her? Or is fighting over a guy really the best way for those two former best friends to reconnect?

Why not add drama to the story by having the new girl be the only one who can see that her new high school is haunted? Or what if the two former best friends are forced to team up because they learn the suave, handsome stranger is actually a con-artist targeting war widows. Honestly, I’d like to read those stories more than about another love triangle.

I have nothing against romances or love triangles. I just prefer them in moderation.

What’s your opinion on love triangles? Love them? Hate them? Don’t care either way?

The Book Rules

Rule 1
Never regret staying up late to read a book. Call it a bad decision in the morning when you’re struggling against a sleep-fogged brain, but never regret it. Because if reading makes you happy, then you should never regret a moment of it.

Rule 2
Avoid starting a new book after 8 PM. Stories are supposed to get their claws in and not let you go, and it’s 2 AM before you know it. Feel free to ignore this rule on weekends or holidays. Or whenever.

Rule 3
When the price of an eBook and a paperback are close–and you can afford it–spring for the paperback. There are few things better in this world than being the first person to crack open a brand new book and stick your nose between the freshly printed pages.

Rule 4
Carry a book at all times: in a purse, on a phone, etc. You never know when you could be stuck waiting, and the articles in magazines left on waiting room tables are never as interesting as they seem.

Rule 5
Anything flat–or mostly flat–can be used as a bookmark. Those old Pokemon cards lying around, that receipt tucked into the bottom of a plastic bag, and the decal that never made it onto your car.

Rule 6
Bookmarks bought at bookstores or in souvenir shops never actually get used in books. Your inclination with something so pretty and shiny is to keep it in its plastic so that the edges don’t fray and the cardstock doesn’t bend. Metal bookmarks are the exception.

Rule 7
Splurge on autographed editions. With signed books becoming a new norm in bookstores and other retailers, they’ve never been easier to find. Far easier than hoping the author will be doing a signing within a reasonable distance from home.

On Canon & Fanfiction: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Canon [noun]: the authentic works of a writer;  a sanctioned or accepted group or body of related works

Miriam Webster Dictionary

 

Every reader knows the frustration that comes from being ready for the next book in a series NOW only to have to wait years for it to be published. I hit that point between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix. The books had been coming out at a rate of one a year up until that point, so it was a massive shift. Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter movies only fueled my impatience, making me turn to the internet for my HP-fix.

I don’t remember how I found FanFiction.net. One of my friends might have turned me on to it, or I might have stumbled upon it while looking at anime-related websites. Either way, I began devouring the fan-written stories. And it became increasingly clear that fanfiction was a way for me to get more of my favorite characters. Was I disappointed that there wasn’t much Lupin outside Prisoner of Azkaban? Or did I want to see a human side of Snape? There’s a story for that.

My brain drew a line between the fanfiction and J.K. Rowling’s books. It was fun reading stories that explored what might happen next in the series, to see the relationships between the Marauders, and even the distinctly non-canon romances. However those stories were just that: fun stories. They were not a part of the official Harry Potter universe.

That brings me to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. As far as I’m concerned, the Harry Potter series ended with the epilogue in Deathly Hallows. It’s a clean ending, broadly addressing what happened to Harry, Ron, and Hermione after Hogwarts without getting too specific.

The HP-universe had already been set in my mind for the nine years between the last book and this new script, and it’s tough to change a belief that’s been held for so long. So even if Rowling wrote Cursed Child herself, I probably wouldn’t have thought of it as part of the canon.

What hit me as I zipped through Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was how much the story reminded me of the fanfiction that I read as a teenager. It was just another fun story with an off-the-wall plot that sometimes made sense and other times came out of left field.

I finished Cursed Child about a month ago, and the feeling that it’s just a professionally written fanfiction hasn’t left me. Though I’ve realized over the past weeks that Harry Potter is becoming like Sherlock Holmes.

Let me unpack that a bit. I first read the original Sherlock Holmes stories when I was ten years old, and I picked up any book that I found in the bookstore with Sherlock Holmes in the title. Sherlock Holmes and the Red DemonSherlock Holmes versus Dracula, and eventually the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. These books fit the most basic definition of fanfiction: work written by fans of the original series. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is long dead, so there aren’t going to be anymore Holmes stories sprouting from his pen. But the world’s most famous consulting detective continues to live on through the imaginations of other writers and new readers.

That’s what’s happening with Harry Potter. The explosion of fanfiction online during the early 2000’s allowed fans to keep the characters casting spells and battling with each other during the years between book releases. And now–nearly a decade after Rowling published her last Harry Potter book–writers and readers get to experience new adventures of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s more Potter books released in the next decade or two. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the movies are remade in my lifetime. To be honest, I’m actually looking forward to all of it. Because while these characters will live forever in my imagination, I love seeing the stories other fans write for them.

A Letter to Barnes & Noble

Dear Barnes & Noble,

I’ve been shopping in your stores for over a decade and have bought hundreds of books through the years. Wandering through row after row of shelves, poking my nose into unread books, and shuffling through the clearance section made me lose hours in your store. I even bought my eReader from you, and it has served me well for the past three years (though I’ve lost the charger and you no longer sell them).

While I’ve popped onto your website to peruse the selection there, it’s never been nearly as fun as going into a brick and mortar store. And I would honestly rather visit a store than shop online since online shopping is slowly eroding the bookstore experience. (It played a massive role in the demise of Borders, after all.)

But it’s getting tougher and tougher to justify making the trip to the store.

I typically have a book (or two) in mind whenever I visit, and I’ll scour the shelves for them in vain. The only time that I have any luck finding a certain book is when the author is well-known or have a decent-sized following. It makes sense to me looking at it from your perspective, stocking what has the greatest likelihood of being sold. It just means I don’t necessarily find what I’m looking for. Once or twice, it isn’t a big deal. But every time I visit…

Whenever I visit B&N online–a virtual bookstore with an infinite amount of shelf space–I always find what I’m looking.  Plus there always seems to be a sale going on, so paperback books are typically under $10. And my B&N members card means that shipping is free no matter how much I buy. .

I’ve only had good experiences at your stores. But it’s becoming increasingly harder to justify shopping in brick and mortar stores.

Last week I visited a B&N store in South Park in Charlotte, North Carolina. I’d found A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn on your website for just over $9, and I was more than ecstatic when I found that book on the shelf at your store. At least until I got to the register. The paperback book in my hands was $14 and change.

A $5 difference between picking up a book in-store versus ordering it online is huge. I’m on a limited budget, and nearly all of my books are purchased with gift cards. So I try to stretch those funds as long as I can. And $5 could buy me a couple of eBooks or take a huge chunk out of a paperback that’s on sale.

There’s no other way to say this: I’m breaking up with your stores. Whatever shopping I do from now on will be at BarnesandNoble.com. Now I may slip up now and then around the holidays when you get signed copies of books in-stock, however don’t expect it to be a regular thing. We’re just not meant to be.

Signed,

A Book Lover

Book Review: Death at the Paris Exposition by Frances McNamara

EDPE final front covermily Cabot isn’t given much of a choice when Bertha Palmer needs a social secretary at the Paris Exposition of 1900. But shadows begin falling on the fair when Mrs. Palmer’s necklace goes missing. Then a young woman winds up dead and even more jewelry turns up missing. With suspicion falling on Mrs. Palmer’s son, Emily races to clear the family name before the police decide to make an arrest.

When Frances McNamara initially reached out to see if I would review Death at the Paris Exposition, I was a bit hesitant to agree. Neither the title nor the cover really did anything for me, but I decided to read a preview of the book. And I’m very glad that I did because this book was fantastic.

Death at the Paris Exposition is a leisurely historical mystery. It intertwines the complicated social circles of the upper class, the fashions of 1900, and the mystery itself. There’s not a huge rush to get to the solution , but there’s plenty of tension to keep a reader reading. The mystery was plenty interesting and had me unsure about the culprit’s identity until the final pages.

I really liked Emily Cabot as a narrator. She’s not a professional detective, but she has the deductive skills to find solutions to mysteries. Another aspect of her that I haven’t seen much of before is that she’s a married woman with three children. Additionally, she seems to have a great relationship with her family. It was refreshing to have a female protagonist who was normal.

The last thing I’d like to say is that Death at the Paris Exposition struck me as very well researched. While I’m not terribly familiar with Paris in the 1900’s, the terms that McNamara used in reference to the clothing and the layout of the city rang true.

Death at the Paris Exposition would be perfect for a reader interested in historical mysteries. It’s the sixth in the Emily Cabot mystery series, but can absolutely be read as a standalone.

Rating: 

Death at the Paris Exposition by Frances McNamara is available from Allium Press.

**I received an ARC of this book free of charge from the author. In spite of that, this is an honest review of Death at the Paris Exposition.