Top Ten Tuesday: Romance (genre) books

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 9: Valentine’s Day/Love Freebie

I think for a long time I didn’t give romance as a genre the attention it deserves because I bought into a lot of the misogynistic accusations that have been hurled at it over the years. I’m only recently started to question that more and more (see here and here for more). But in the past few years I’ve been trying to rectify that by seeking out books that I’ve heard are good, in the romance genre. And even before I made the conscious effort, a few slipped in here and there! These are some I’ve enjoyed.

  1. Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale– The Duke of Jervaulx is well known in the newspaper’s scandal sheets as a womanizing rake, but is also a brilliant mathematician, who occasionally collaborates with Mr. Timms a blind Quaker. One day, the Duke (Christian to his friends) collapses after presenting a paper to the Analytical Society, and Mr. Timms, and his daughter Maddy, believe he’s dead. Christian isn’t dead. He’s suffered a stroke, that’s left him without the ability to speak. Maddy encounters him sometime later at asylum, where she’s considering a job. She comes to realize that the math genius her father worked with is still in there, but he can’t communicate. The characters in the book face several problems on the road to a happy ending. The primary one is Christian’s disability, but Maddy’s crisis of faith is given almost equal weight. She worries that she’s compromising her Quaker principles by falling for Christian, whos exploits are the stuff of scandal. She also worries about getting her heart broken.

2. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole– This is the first in Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League trilogy. I really enjoyed it, and intend to read the rest, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. It’s about Elle Burns, a former slave, with an eidetic memory. She uses her gifts to act as a spy for the Union Army, posing as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator. Malcolm is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service, who is pretending to be a Confederate soldier, so that he can get information for the Union Army. When Malcolm and Elle come upon information that might turn the war the Confederacy’s way, they must get the information in the right hands no matter the cost. I was impressed with how Alyssa Cole managed to keep the stakes and suspense high. Presumably all her readers know how the Civil War ended, but I was still worried for Ellen and Malcolm’s mission as I read!

3. A Knight in Shining Armor Jude Devereaux- When Dougless Montgomery’s boyfriend ditches her on their English vacation, she goes to a church and cries on the grave of Nicholas Stafford, earl of Thornwyck, who died in 1564. She’s very surprised when a man in 16th century clothing shows up claiming to be Nicholas Stafford! Dougless helps Nicholas discover what brings him to the 20th century and how he was wrongly accused of treason. They fall in love and he decides to stay with her, only to be pulled back in time again, to the 16th century. Dougless goes after her beloved, only to discover that the 16th century Nicholas has no memory of the 20th century or falling in love with her. I liked that this broke the time travel romance “mold” a bit. For one thing it involves someone from the past, coming to the present and vice versa.

4. Remembrance by Jude Devereaux- Hayden Lane is a best selling author of romance novels, who becomes so obsessed by one of her heroes that she barely notices when her fiance breaks their engagement! She goes to a psychic to learn more about this man she supposedly made up. The psychic tells her that in a past life she was Catherine Tavistock, Lady De Grey, an Edwardian woman whose ghost haunts her husband’s English home. Hayden undergoes hypnosis, desperate to learn more. But the hypnosis goes wrong and instead of just remembering the past, Hayden is living it. She discovers that in earlier lives she loved a man, and they betrayed one another, and cursed their future incarnations. Now Hayden has to figure out how to set things right in the past, so that she can find happiness in the present.

5. Too Deep for Tears by Katheryn Lynn Davis– I wasn’t sure about including this on my list or not, since I’m reluctant to recommend it after this but I read this book a long time ago and enjoyed it, and since that’s the criteria for this list, I decided to include it. Charles Kitterage travelled the world and left behind three daughters with different mothers. Ailsa lives in the Scottish Highlands, Li-an (this portrayal may be very problematic, as is explained at the link above, but I didn’t realize it when I read it) lives in Peking, China, and Genevra lives in Dehli, India. They never met one another, and each has grown up haunted by a legacy of betrayal. But when a dying Charles wants to meet his daughters, they meet for the first time.

6. Lord of the Fading Lands by CL Wilson- I think this is technically classified as “paranormal romance” but I’m including it because it’s my list. Plus the book has a cheesy cover and is tropy enough to be considered romance! It’s the first in Wilson’s Tarien Soul series which follows Rain, the Tarien Soul, King of the Fey. When he claims Ellysetta, the daughter of a woodcutter, as his soul mate, no one is more surprised than Ellysetta herself. But their lands are facing an unseen enemy that threatens everyone and everything they care about and the happiness that they’ve found. It’s only by working together and facing their dark pasts, that they can find the hope of a future together. The first book sort of sets the stage for the rest of the series, and it’s one that you have to read in order if you want it to make sense!

7. The India Fan by Victoria Holt– I went through a phase at one point where I read a lot of Holt’s books, which are often classified as historical romance. To be honest, a lot of them blend together in my mind, but for some reason this one stands out, so I’m including it on my list. It’s about a parson’s daughter, Drusilla, who enthralled by her wealthy neighbors and friends, the Framling family- especially their handsome son, Fabian. But when they give her a beautiful peacock feather fan as a gift, Drusilla has no idea that it’s cursed. It brings with it a long history of death and destruction. But ultimately it may be less dangerous to Drusilla than Fabian Framling.

8. Public Secrets by Nora Roberts– Just a note, I read this one a long time ago, and have no idea how well it holds up. But I remember it fondly. Emma McAvoy is the daughter of a British rock star. At the age of six, her baby half-brother, Darren is killed in a kidnapping attempt gone wrong. Emma was the only witness, and remembers little of that night. Investigators believe that someone close to the family was involved, but can’t solve anything. So Emma grows up under the shadow of guilt. Over the next twenty years, Emma carves out a career, falls in love, and builds a life for herself. But this long ago crime, could threaten everything she’s worked for. I would call this an “ensemble romantic thriller.” The mystery storyline is just as important as the romance and there are actually several secondary romances as well.

The Serial Reader Tag

I saw this on @Bookwyrmknits blog and thought it looked like fun. It was most likely created by Dutch blogger, @Zwartraafje in this post

I’m not going to tag anyone, but if you’d like to do this, go ahead! Please let me know so I can see your answers (I’m very nosy!)

From which series are you reading or did you read the spin-off series?

I actually can’t think of many books series that have spin off series. The one that pops into my mind is the Lord John series which is a spin off of the Outlander series. Unlike Outlander, which has elements of SFF weirdness, these are for the most part historical mysteries. They feature a character, Lord John Grey, who is introduced in the third Outlander book and plays a significant role in several of the following books. But in the Lord John books, we learn that he had his own stuff going on too.

The only other spin off series I can think of is Juliet Marillier’s Sevenwaters series. It has an original trilogy (Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows, Child of the Prophecy) which follows three generations of a family in ancient Ireland that lives on the border between the real world and a shadowy Otherworld. The story then moves ahead a few generations and a second trilogy focuses on a new generation of the same family. The books in the second trilogy (Heir to Sevenwaters, Seer of Sevenwaters, and Flame of Sevenwaters) each follow one sibling of the family. There’s also a short story called “Twixt Firelight and Water” that is part of the second trilogy.

I actually just thought of a third. Karin Slaughter’s Grant County series eventually transitioned into her Will Trent series, but I won’t go into how that happened since it involves major spoilers!

With which series did the first book not sell you over from the start?

Does a trilogy count as a series? For my purposes I’m saying it does! I really enjoyed Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy, but the first book was probably my least favorite. Not that it was bad- it wasn’t! But I gave it 4/5 stars, whereas the second and third, I gave 5/5. I think it took some time for me to get really attached to the heroine, to the point where I was really invested in what happened to her and the people she cared about.

Which series hooked you from the start?

I think that I was captured by Libba Bray’s Gemma Doyle trilogy after the first chapter of the first book. It opens in a market in 19th century India, and (without spoilers) the heroine witnesses something traumatic and life changing. The next chapter moves the story to a very different setting, and I was totally on board for the trip! I want to reread the series, because it’s been a long time since I originally read it, but I’m afraid it won’t live up won’t live up to my memory of it.

Which series do you have completed on your shelves?

A few, but one of the only ones I have as a set is the Anne of Green Gables series. I was given a volume that included Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Avonlea, and Anne’s House of Dreams for a childhood birthday and I fell in love with Anne and company. It was a few years later that I learned that the series actually has 8 books, not 3! While Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea are the first two, Anne’s House of Dreams isn’t #3 it’s #5, so it always seemed kind of random that it was included in that volume. I actually still have the volume, because it’s a beautiful, hardcover, illustrated volume, but the choice of books is rather strange to me. So when I learned that there were other Anne books out there, I got the complete set so I’d have them all!

Which series have you read completely?

Many of the ones I’ve mentioned so far I’ve read completely. Others that jump to mind include:

Which series do you not own completely but would like to?

I’ve read the first two of Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and I own the third book as well though I haven’t read it yet. I want to eventually read the whole series but they’re slow going and I don’t want to buy the rest before I’ve read the first few. They’re good, but they’re not easy reads because they have a lot of references to things with which I’m not familiar. We’re also not in the main character’s head much, so his thoughts and motivations are a mystery a lot of the time. That’s the way it’s supposed to be until all is revealed, but it can make it a challenge to get into the books if you’re not it in the right mood for it.

I also got The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss from the library some time ago. It’s the first in a trilogy called The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club, and I definitely want to read more. I think I’d also like to own a copy of the first one in case I want to revisit it at some point.

Which series do you not want to own completely but still read?

I recently discovered the October Daye series (I’ve only read the first book so far) and I definitely want to read more, but there are 14 books in all and I don’t have enough shelf space as it is! I’ll stick to the library and ebooks.

Another series is The Dresden Files. I think I’ve read the first six or so books, and really enjoyed them. But there are 17 in the series, so I run into the same shelf space issue. Plus some things on the author’s twitter make me question whether I want to support him financially, so I’m going to stick to library copies

I’ve also been enjoying Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series. But there are 15, and they’re probably not books I’ll want to revisit after I finish them.

Which series are you not continuing?

Most likely the Cormoran Strike series. It’s unfortunate, because I really enjoyed the first few, but ever since it came out that the most recent book in the series, Troubled Blood is a platform for a Rowling’s transphobia, I haven’t been looking forward to reading it. It’s not the first time some of transphobia seeped into the series (there was a questionable episode in The Silkworm) but it seems like the first time it’s really taken over a book.

Which series you haven’t started yet are you curious about?

MANY! The first one that came to mind is Leigh Bardugo’s Alex Stern series, which starts with Ninth House. I haven’t read Bardugo’s other work, but this appeals to me because of it’s collegiate setting. I’m really liking the whole “dark academia” genre lately.

Which series would you like to re-read?

There are a lot of series I’ve loved that I don’t want to reread either because I worry that they won’t live up to my memory or I suspect that they won’t. I try to only reread if I feel like I’ll get more out of it, because it always feels like a bit of a risk. I recently saw the film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time and realized that while I remember that book well enough, I only have the vaguest memories of the sequels.

Which series did others love and you did not?

There are a few of those! One would probably be A Song of Ice and Fire. I read the first book (and watched the first few seasons of Game of Thrones) and while I enjoyed parts of it, it kept on killing off the characters I got attached to! It felt like every time I got invested in a character, it was a death sentence for him/her! I may give it another try at some point, but I got tired of having to find new characters/storylines to care about only to lose them in a few chapters.

Charlaine Harris‘ Southern Vampire/Sookie Stackhouse novels are a series I really tried to like. It sounds like the kind of thing that would be right up my alley, and I read a few of them, but I just couldn’t warm up to the characters or invest in the world that she’d created. I’ve liked a few of her other series (see above) but this just didn’t work for me for some reason.

Top Ten Tuesday: Before I Was Born

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 2: Books Written Before I Was Born (These can be books you’ve read or want to read!) (submitted by Davida Chazan @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog)

Well, they didn’t have books before I was born, they carved them onto stone tablets… Just kidding, I’m not quite that old! These are the books on my TBR that were written and published before I was born:

1. Armadale by Wilkie Collins (1864-66)- Collins wrote mystery/thrillers way back in the 19th century. I loved his Woman in White, and I really enjoyed No Name and The Moonstone, so I look forward to giving this one a try. Together these are considered Collins’ four great works

2. The King’s General by Daphne DuMaurier (1946) Over the years I’ve been slowly reading all of DuMaurier’s life’s work. This one is next on my list (unless I unexpectedly come across something else!). It’s set during the English Civil War, which I don’t really know much about.

3. Maggie-Now by Betty Smith (1950) Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an all time favorite of mine. I also loved Joy in the Morning. I haven’t heard much about this one, but I’m hoping it’ll be one of those unknown classics.

4. The Common Reader by Virginia Woolf (1925-1932) This series of essays was originally published in two volumes (one in 1925, the other in 1932) but I’m counting it as one because it’s my list and I can do what I want! I think I like Woolf best as an essayist.

5. The Lark by E Nesbit (1922) I love E Nesbit’s children’s novels like The Railway Children and Five Children and It, and I’m really looking forward to diving into some of her work for adult readers.

6. The Weather in the Streets by Rosamond Lehmann (1936)- I loved Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz, and this sequel revisits two primary characters from that book, ten years later. From reviews, it seems they’re both older but not all that much wiser. But would it be any fun to read if they were?

7. Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (1940)- A friend of mine recommended this recently and it sounded delightful.

8. The Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967) I’ve been fascinated by the 1975 film adaptation of this novel for years, but I’ve never read the source material! Haven’t seen the Amazon prime remake either. I must get to both of them soon!

9. Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson (1934) The first of four Miss Buncle novels this one has been on my TBR for a long time. I never seem to get to it, in spite of hearing good things about it.

10. The Ivy Tree by Mary Stewart– For a long time, I’d thought that I’d read all of Stewart’s work. Then I discovered a whole list of novels that I hadn’t read! I’m rationing myself and working my way through slowly to savor them! This is next on the list.

Movies That Were Better Than The Book

Yes, 9.8 out of 10 times the book is better. But there is that 0.2 time…

The Princess Bride by William Goldman- [book] [movie] I actually like the book more than most fans of the movie do in this case, but the movie always puts a smile on my face.

Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding [book] [movie] I liked the book a lot, but I think the casting pushes this over the top for me. Colin Firth was pretty much perfectly cast as Mark Darcy (I mean, the man is Mr. Darcy!) and I’m not usually a huge Hugh Grant fan, but I really liked him in this.

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton- [book] [movie] Again, very good book. But some things work better on the big screen, and I think this is one of them. If nothing else, the music is so memorable. I hear it and right away think “Jurassic Park!” I remember seeing it for the first time and sitting there, stiff with tension as I watched, waiting to see if the characters I’d come to care about (I hadn’t read the book yet) were going to be eaten by dinosaurs.

Stardust by Neil Gaiman- [book] [movie] I think that this book has a very different feel to it. so it’s almost not fair to compare them. But the movie added some charm and humor and expanded things in a way that really worked.

To All The Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han- [book] [movie] I actually saw the Netflix film before I read the book. It was sweet and enjoyable and I looked forward to a similar experience in book form. Instead, I found a very irritating narrator who didn’t seem to learn/grow/develop/mature all that much before the end of the book.

The Prestige by Christopher Priest- [book] [movie] This is another case where I almost think it’s unfair to compare them because the movie does something totally different. It takes similar characters/premise and develops them in its own way.

Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg [book] [movie] Again, in this case the movie took the premise of the book and made it’s own thing.

Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown- [book] [movie] The book felt very “blah.” Not bad, just “blah.” The movie, and specifically Reese Witherspoon’s performance, elevated it.

So what movie (or TV series) do you think is better than it’s source material?

Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2020

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

January 26: New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2020 (If you didn’t read 10 new authors, that’s fine! Just do what you can.)

For this one, I decided to do my favorite new-to-me authors of 2020: these are the ones I want to read more from.

  1. Hester Fox

What I read in 2020: The Widow of Pale Harbor

Why I want to read more: It was a flawed but fun historical murder mystery.

What I want to read next: The Witch of Willow Hall looks good

2. Kristin McGee

What I read in 2020: American Royals

Why I want to read more: I’m actually devouring the sequel to this one (Majesty) at the moment. Both are really good guilty pleasures, which is exactly what I need right now.

What I want to read next: The Thousandth Floor is the first in a trilogy, which looks a lot like the American Royals books (glamourous ensemble cast, soap opera drama) only set in futuristic Manhattan.

3. Nnedi Okrafor

What I read in 2020: Akata Witch and Akata Warrior

Why I want to read more: While the media seems to be dubbing this the “Nigerian Harry Potter” the only real similarity is that they’re both about a young person discovering a magical identity and receiving a magical education. The Akata novels really explore the Nigerian setting and get into a magic system that we don’t often see in mainstream books.

What I want to read next: Binti was highly recommended by someone in my book club. It’s the first in a trilogy.

4. Elizabeth Von Arnim

What I read in 2020: The Enchanted April

Why I want to read more: I read this in April of 2020 just as lockdown was starting, and it was the kind of sweet, gentle, literary escape that I needed.

What I want to read next: My friend recommended Father next

5. Monica Dickens

What I read in 2020: Mariana

Why I want to read more: It was a fun and humorous coming of age story

What I want to read next: There’s a lot to choose from, but I may go with The Messenger, which is a fantasy adventure, and sounds like a total 180 in terms of genre!

6. Erika Swyler

What I read in 2020: The Book of Speculation

Why I want to read more: It involved a lot of my favorite tropes, genres, and settings: dual timeline, carnival, hints of fantasy

What I want to read next: It looks like Light From Other Stars is my only option at the moment!

7. Seanan McGuire

What I read in 2020: Rosemary and Rue

Why I want to read more: I enjoyed it, and it’s the first in a series, so naturally I want to read the rest!

What I want to read next: A Local Habitation is #2 so that looks like my best bet!

8. Gerald Durrell

What I read in 2020: My Family and Other Animals

Why I want to read more: I read this because I like the TV series that was based on this trilogy, and the book features all of the humor and warmth that I enjoy in the series.

What I want to read next: Birds, Beasts and Relatives is next up

9. Jess Walter

What I Read in 2020: Beautiful Ruins

Why I want to read more: It’s a compelling tale of Hollywood, old and new and the connections that people make over time and distance.

What I want to read next: I may go with The Financial Lives of Poets, just because the title intrigues me

10. Mary Wesley

What I read in 2020: The Camomile Lawn

Why I want to read more: I’m not easily shocked, especially by coming of age historical fiction, which I tend to think of as a “comforting” genre, but this really surprised me at several points.

What I want to read next: I don’t know, it looks like there’s a lot to choose from!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Meant to Read in 2020

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

January 19: Books I Meant to Read In 2020 but Didn’t Get To (You could take this opportunity to tell us what’s left on your seasonal TBRs from last year. Or books you were super excited about and then you didn’t get to them.)

I love this topic. I decided to stick to books that I’d intended to read in 2020 and didn’t – because 2020 happened. It also ties in with my book club topic for this week: most anticipated reads on 2021. Because those anticipated books that I didn’t get to in 2020 are my most anticipated reads of 2021 now.

  1. Blackthorn: A Gothic Thriller by Judy Nedry– Because it’s a gothic thriller! They’re my bread and butter! This one is sitting on my kindle waiting for me. I have a strong preference for physical books, but in this case, the ebook was free.

2. They Never Learn by Layne Fargo- I don’t know why, but “dark academia” has been appealing to me as a genre so much lately, but it has. I suppose I’ve liked several (The Secret History, Never Let Me Go, Lake of Dead Languages, The Broken Girls) and it seems like there are several new ones out that have caught my eye.

3. I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are by Rachel Bloom– I really liked Rachel Bloom’s show Crazy Ex Girlfriend, and I’ve been looking forward to her debut essay collection. The fact that I didn’t read it in 2020, says more about 2020 than anything else.

4. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert– Someone in my book club recommended this highly, and it sounded really interesting to me, so put it on my list. But it’s a loooong list!

5. The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins– I have a weakness for Jane Eyre fan fiction. It can be brilliant and innovative (Wide Sargasso Sea) take on it’s own identity (Rebecca) or just not really go anywhere (The Flight of Gemma Hardy) but I’m always interested.

6. Madam by Phoebe Wynne– This also falls in the “Dark academia” genre, and with comparisons to The Stepford Wives, The Secret History and Circe, it definitely got my attention!

7. Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati- This is the second in Donati’s Waverly Place series and since I enjoyed the first book in the series The Gilded Hour. While some plotlines were wrapped up in that, others were left open, so I’m hoping for some resolution in this one!

8. Beautiful Wild by Anne Godbersen- Anne Godbersen’s Luxe series is one of my favorite guilty pleasures. I also enjoyed her Bright Young Things series, but not quite as much. I was a bit disappointed in her follow up, When We Caught Fire. I’m really hoping her new novel is a return to form.

9. When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole– I’d heard about this book this summer amidst the discussion and protest around BLM. Cole is better known as a romance author (I read An Extraordinary Union, and I hope to read the rest of the Loyal League trilogy too) but this book marked a change in genre to psychological thriller, so that Cole could tackle issues of racism and gentrification, class inequality, predatory housing practices, and more. Yes there’s fun stuff too (romance, mystery) to balance it all out. I hope I get to it in 2021.

10. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell– I’ve seen this recommended highly by several writers who I really respect. Plus I loved O’Farrell’s I Am, I Am, I Am (which was essays not fiction but still demonstrated beautiful writing, so I think that would apply regardless of genre) and I’m always interested in fictional speculation about the life and work of Shakespeare.

Well, that’s just the beginning of a long list of books I meant to read in 2020 and didn’t get to? Do you have any from my list on yours?

Top Ten Tuesday: Literary Resolutions and Hopes for 2021

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

January 12: Resolutions/Hopes for 2021 (bookish or not!)

I decided to keep this mostly bookish (or at least related to books/writing/blogging), but not be totally rigid about it. So if something non-bookish strikes me as appropriate, I’ll include it.

1. Finish writing and publish Frost. I’m about 3 drafts into it. It’s been through several beta reads and one edit so far, so I’m getting there. I’d wanted it done by now, but 2020 came with some delays and distractions, so I didn’t make as much progress as I would have liked. I hope to finish it this year, but I’m trying to be understanding of the fact that unanticipated things sometimes get in the way of writing projects.

2. Read some of the books on my 2020 TBR that I didn’t get to yet.

3. Read more nonfiction. Fiction will always be my first love, but I’m trying to expand my interests, open my mind and learn new things. I’m also becoming more interested in creative nonfiction like memoirs, essays, etc. A few on my TBR

  • Rereadings: Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love by Anne Fadiman et al–  I’m a big fan of Anne Fadiman, who edited this, and I love the idea. I’m curious about how and why these writers decided what to reread. I’m totally conflicted about rereadings: there’s a lot I want to reread, because I suspect I’ll read it differently now. But I also don’t want to ruin any memories of books that might not live up to them. Plus can I justify rereading when there are so many books out there I haven’t read? I have no answers to these questions, but I’m curious how these writers answer them. Plus, I always love a good book about books!

4. Write more original blog posts. I wrote about this a little bit earlier. I love lists, and tags, and readalongs, but I do want to use my original voice more often. I want this blog to be a sort of combination of original posts/musings on life and literature, a way to share my writing, and a way to get to know other readers and writers.

5. Read more poetry. I think reading poetry makes me a better writer. I’ve never been someone who dives into volumes of poetry for hours. It’s not something I write naturally, but I appreciate the way it helps me see language a bit differently. I want to get to know contemporary poets better. Some favorites are Richard Siken, Jeannine Hall Gailey, the recently departed Mary Oliver, and Ada Limon.

6. Make more of an effort to write and publish short fiction. I think most of my literary efforts are spent on novels and nonfiction. I feel like that’s where I get the most feedback. But I also think that short fiction is worth the effort, even if I don’t get the most feedback from it.

7. Remember that reading goals, bookish resolutions, etc are are for fun. If I don’t hit a target or follow through on a goal, it’s not a failure, because it’s not something that matters. It’s something that’s supposed to be fun, pure and simple.

8. Be willing to DNF books. I have a lot of trouble with this. I feel like there’s a virtue in “sticking with something” even when I’m not enjoying it. Of course I know on a rational level that that’s not the case, but it’s hard to remember and believe. I sometimes act as if there’s some sort of prize to be won for sticking through something I’m not enjoying. I won’t say that there’s nothing to be gained by pushing through initial difficulty at times. I think that’s why I have so much trouble with this. There is something to by said for making an effort! But how much of an effort is necessary?

What are your bookish and non-bookish goals for 2021?

The Backlist Reader Challenge 2021

I just read about this challenge from @The Bookwyrm’s Hoard. I read about the challenge on Nicole@ BookWrymsKnits‘ blog and it seems pretty made for me.

Basically this challenge encourages us to read all those books that are toppling over our TBR list that were published pre-2020. In my case that’s a good portion of my TBR. I will certainly try to review at least some of books over the year, so please stay tuned!

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books of 2020

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 29: Favorite Books of 2020

I know this was from last week, but I missed it then, so I’m doing it now. I also know that it’s not Tuesday anymore, but I’ve had an eventful few weeks, so this is when I’m getting to it!

I reread a few old favorites this year, so I set a rule that rereads aren’t allowed on my list. These are the top ten books I read for the first time in 2020.

1. Mariana by Monica Dickens- I read this as part of the Persephone readathon back in January. I think this was a case of the right book finding me at the right time. But it continues my literary love affair with Persephone.

2. Gravity is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty- This was a weird book. It’s about a woman, Abi, whose brother disappeared on her birthday 20 years earlier. That same year she started getting chapters from some sort of self help manual, The Guidebook, in the mail. So when Abi is invited to an all expense paid weekend retreat to learn “the truth” about the Guidebook, she links it with learning the truth about her brother’s disappearance. And all of this happens in roughly the first 50 pages of the book. I don’t want to give away too much, but this book goes in a direction I never expected- in a good way.

3. The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins- I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone looking for a fast read, but if you’re looking for a thriller that takes its time with the set up and execution, this is one. It’s about Olivia, a British historian with a high flying career and a beautiful family. She also has a research assistant, Vivian. But we quickly come to realize that Vivian has ulterior motives for helping Olivia; motives that reach back into the women’s’ past, and may lead one of them to murder.

4. The Book of Speculation by Erica Swyler– This was a dual timeline story, where one of the tales bordered on fantasy, without ever fully taking the jump into it. It’s about Simon, a librarian, who lives alone in his family house on Long Island. When a rare book dealer sends him a volume that may have some connection to his family, Simon gets caught up in the tale of a misfit, living and working with the circus. But it may also reveal a curse on Simon’s family. If that’s true, only the book can save them. This book had sketches by the author alongside the text. I’m always amazed my people who can do two things (in this case writing and drawing) well.

5. Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor- This book is nicknamed the Nigerian Harry Potter. It’s about a girl who was born in New York City but lives in Nigeria. Her features are west African but she’s albino. She doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere. But when she discovers that she’s a “free agent” she realizes that she’s got latent magical power and a lot of catching up to do. As she’s learning her footing, she and her friends are asked to track down a career criminal who also knows magic. The Nigerian setting and folklore gives this book a unique flavor.

6. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware– Rowan is a nanny for a family living in the Scottish highlands. The house has an advanced communication system built into it. “Happy” is an app that controls everything from ordering food when the fridge runs low, to turning on the lights and drawing the curtains. She’s not put off by the fact that four previous nannies left the job in the past year. But soon Rowan comes to wonder if the ghostly tales that were told about the house are true.

7. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell- When the Durrell family could no longer endure rain soaked England, they fled to the sun soaked Greek island of Corfu. I read this because I love the tv series The Durrells in Corfu, and this was the basis for the series. The animals of Corfu soon became a common sight in the Durrell home.

8. Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner– Hotel Du Lac isn’t a big adventure with a complicated plot. I’d call it “quiet” book. It seems to be moving along at a slow pace, but then it sneaks up at you with it’s wit. It’s about Edith Hope, an author of romance novels which she writes under a different name. But when she realizes that her life is resembling one of her novels (and not in a good way!) she escapes to the quiet luxury of the titular Swiss hotel. But when she gets to know the other guests, she realizes that they all have their own drama. I loved the characters in this book. They started to feel like old friends after a while. Apparently it was adapted for TV in 1986, as a joint production between the BBC and A&E Television Networks. I’ll have to give that miniseries a look to see how it translated to TV. If done properly, I can see it working well.

9. The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates. When I was in college I interviewed Joyce Carol Oates for our campus newspaper The Bard Free Press. Well, “interviewed” might be overstating my role in the process. A fellow reporter asked her legit questions, and I nodded emphatically while slightly starstruck. But in the process of becoming totally dumbstruck by awe of Oates, I gained an appreciation for this author who doesn’t subscribe to genre pigeonholing at all, who moves from novel to short fiction to drama and back again. Who is incredibly prolific. When I saw this book consisting of a novella, and six short stories, I was intrigued. Oates often shines when she tackles the dark complexities of the human psyche, and that’s certainly the case of these seven intense tales.

10. The Witches of Crannock Dale by Thomas M. Kane– Full disclosure requires me to reveal that the author of this book is a friend of mine, so I may not be an unbiased judge. But it carves a unique place for itself in the fantasy fiction landscape. Set in a fictional place at an indeterminate time, the book follows the coming of age of 11 year old Mara Bennett. When her aunt is arrested for witchcraft, Mara vows to do what she can to help. But her efforts to learn more lead her deep into local politics, power struggles and threats of war. Mara makes a likable young protagonist, in a complicated world, trying to keep her family safe and close amidst a dangerous situation. I look forward to following her through the series.

Anyone have any must reads this year?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d Love to Get As Gifts

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

December 22: Books I Hope Santa Brings

I decided to tweak this one a bit. I will accept these books as gifts from anyone. I’m not limiting it to Santa (*hint* *hint*)

  1. Elijah’s Mermaid by Essie Fox – This is a recent addition to my TBR, after reading about it in another top ten list: Top 10 Books About Mermaids in the Guardian. It sounds just right for me though. A gothic mystery about mermaids? A Victorian set historical novel? Yes please! The writer of the list, Monique Roffey, says that Fox writes like “the  like the lovechild of Sarah Waters and Angela Carter.” Two authors I greatly admire. If I wasn’t sold before, I am now!

2. The Lost Queen by Signe Pike- This is another recent addition but I’ve heard really wonderful things about it. I also seen a lot of comparisons to a lot of popular novels from Outlander to Wolf Hall to Clan of the Cave Bear, to The Mists of Avalon, and back again. I think that sometimes comp titles can be helpful in letting readers know they’re in for a certain kind of experience (sort of a “If you didn’t like x, you probably won’t like y” kind of thing) but often they just set readers expectations in one direction, only to discover that the book goes in a different direction altogether. So I’m trying to take from those comparisons that it will be historical fiction, it’s probably on the longish side, and there will be some connections to fantasy/magic/paranormal. Actually the inclusion of Camelot and The Mists of Avalon in the (many) comp titles, and the fact that the synopsis says they the character is Merlin’s twin sister, so I think it’ll include some Arthurian elements as well.

3. Where the Light Enters by Sara Donati- I enjoyed Donati’s Wilderness series, and I liked the first in her Waverly Place series. called The Gilded Hour, even more (there’s a small link between both series). So naturally when books 2 comes out, I want it! Donati tied up some storylines at the end of The Gilded Hour, but she also left some wide open and a big question in readers minds! I want to see things resolved! Of course, that would probably open up a million new questions!

4. Readings: Seventeen Writers Revisit the Books They Love by Anne Fadiman- I love the idea of this and I’m curious about how and why these writers decided what to reread. I’m totally conflicted about rereadings: there’s a lot I want to reread, because I suspect I’ll read it differently now. But I also don’t want to ruin any memories of books that might not live up to them. Plus can I justify rereading when there are so many books out there I haven’t read? I have no answers to these questions, but I’m curious how these writers answer them. Plus, I always love a good book about books!

5. Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman– I’m sure I’ve mentioned this book on this blog before, but that’s because I really want to read it! I love Practical Magic and Rules of Magic, and I generally like Alice Hoffman as a writer, so why wouldn’t I want the prequel? Hopefully I’ll get it soon so I can stop blogging about it and start reading it!

6. A Wild Winter Swan by Gregory Maguire– I’m actually iffy on Maguire’s work. I didn’t care for Wicked, so I never bothered with the sequels. I did enjoy Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Mirror, Mirror and Hiddensee. So I really don’t know what to expect from this! But I want to read it because a) fairy tale retelling b) The Wild Swans is a favorite of mine and c) it’s set in NYC. So it has quite a bit in it’s favor already, as far as I’m concerned.

7. Fallen Angel by Kim Wilkins– This was recommended a while back in a tweet from Australian author Kate Forsyth (can’t find the tweet now). It’s also released under the title Angel of Ruin. However it has not been released in the US. Not to worry though, I’ve got my Aussie friend on the lookout for it! Hopefully when I finally get to read it, it’ll be worth all the effort!

8. The Tiger Catcher by Paullina Simons– About a year ago I won a goodreads giveaway (that I have no memory of entering!) for the sequel to this book. But based on what I’ve read about it, it’s the kind of thing that should be read in order. This is the first book in the trilogy. The second has been sitting on my shelf for a while, waiting for me. I do hope that I actually want to read the second after reading this one!