Top Ten Tuesday: Most Recent Reads

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

May 4: My Ten Most Recent Reads (maybe share a one-sentence review to go with?)

Didn’t do anything too fancy this week. These are the last ten books I read:

  1. Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson- This one was kind of silly but it was basically just a lot of fun. It opens at the funeral of Mila Flores’ best friend, Riley. Understandably, Mila is having a tough time, especially because she thinks there’s something suspicious about Riley’s “suicide.” For one thing Riley didn’t seem even remotely suicidal. For another, her death came straight on the heels of the double suicide of Fairmont Academy mean girls June Phelan-Park and Dayton Nesseth. Mila and Riley practiced Wicca, and when Mila comes across a spell for reanimating the dead for seven days, she’s all in. So what if she’s never done magic even remotely in this category before? She figures she’ll resurrect Riley, ask whodunnit, and get a chance to say a proper goodbye. But when her spell resurrects June Phelan-Park and Dayton Nesseth along with Riley, she’s in for a shock. None of the three remember anything about their deaths. They have to lie low in an abandoned house for seven days while Mila does some detective work to figure out who could have wanted all three of them dead, and why. I guess Riley, June and Dayton are technically “zombies” in this, but they’re pretty tame zombies. They look alive-ish as long as Mila is within 100 steps, and they spend their days hiding out eating pizza, not brains. They’re not killers, they’re just trying to find one.

2. The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka- This slim novel (only about 150 pages) tells the story of a group of women who come from Japan to San Francisco as “picture brides” in the early 20th century. We follow that women over the next 30 years or so, from their first meeting with their new husbands, to their jobs, through birth and child rearing, up to WWII Japanese internment. It’s told with first person plural narration. The experiences of the different women vary, but they speak as one. It’s a choice that I’m honestly not sure how I feel about. On one hand it gives a strong feeling of community, but on the other hand, it feels like it erases individual voices.

3. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro- I was a bit nervous reading this one because Ishiguro is one of my favorite authors, and this book seemed similar-ish to Never Let Me Go (one of my favorite of his books) in that they both take place in dystopian near futures, with technology that we may someday have. Klara is a solar powered Artificial Friend (AF) with outstanding observational qualities. She watches from her store, waiting be chosen by a customer. She has been programmed to give kindness, and recognize it in others. She’s eventually bought by Josie, and goes to live with Josie and her mother. The family has been through dark times, and Josie has an illness. So Klara tries to help however she can, based on the understanding she has. At times this is both more and less than a normal “human” understanding. Yes, it gets into some questions about artificial life. Klara is said to be unusually observant for an AF. Does that mean she’s surpassed her programing in some way? And if that’s the case what is she? AF, AI, human, or some combination of the above? I would say that I didn’t like it quite as much as Never Let Me Go (which I gave 5 stars). This I gave 4.5 (rounded up to 5)

4. Royal Blood by Rhys Bowen– Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness mysteries as a series of cozy mysteries that follow Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 34th in line for the British throne, but penniless due to the great depression. Unfortunately, the queen has a tendency to ask favors a lot. The most recent is to represent the royal family at a wedding in Transylvania. They think she’s be a good choice since she went to school with the bride. But no sooner does Georgie arrive that a wedding, then a guest is poisoned. Being no stranger to murder, and hoping to avoid an international incident, Georgie helps out with the investigation. I think if you’re interested in the series, start with the first one. The same cast of characters pop up throughout the series, and it’s good to get to know who they are. But if you’ve read other books in the series already, this one is fun too. Jump in!

5. The Mother in Law by Sally Hepworth- Lucy had always had a complicated relationship with her mother-in-law, Diana. But she loves her husband Ollie, and their children. When Diana is found dead, an apparent suicide, the whole family is surprised. But Diana had recently lost her husband and was facing a battle with cancer… But as the days pass, unanswered questions pile up. Why did the autopsy find no cancer? Why were there traces of poison and evidence of suffocation in Diana’s body? Why did Diana recently disinherit her children and their spouses? The answers to these questions lie somewhere in Lucy’s long history with her in-laws. We follow that history, and the present investigation into Diana’s death. Hepworth alternates narration between Diana and Lucy, and shows us that there truly are at least two sides to every story.

6. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital by Lorrie Moore– I thought this was beautiful, but I can see someone else not liking it at all. It’s about the close friendship between Bernie and Sils, two teenage girls working at Storyland, an amusement park in upstate NY. They spend their breaks smoking and gossiping, and live with the impulsivity of the young. But when Sils gets into a difficult position and actually needs help, Bernie does something that changes everything for both of them. The story is narrated by a middle aged Bernie, looking back on friendship with several decades distance. She realizes that even though she and Sils weren’t BFFs for life, the friendship gave them both something they needed. You might even say it made them who they are. I thought that was a beautiful concept. There are a lot of friends I’ve fallen out of touch with as our lives took us in different directions. But it’s nice to think that those relationships weren’t a waste of time at all. They gave me something valuable (and hopefully I did the same to them) and then we both moved on with life.

7. Bunny by Mona Awad- I remember this one was described as Heathers meets The Craft, which was a “yes please” from me. Another review said there was a bit of The Secret History (which I also liked) in the mix. But after I read it. my response to this one was a resounding “WTF?!?!” I think the latter describes it better. It’s the kind of book you can’t really say a lot about without spoilers, but the basic premise involves Samantha Heather Mackey, student in a prestigious creative writing MFA program at Warren University. She’s utterly repelled by her cohort: a group of rich girls who are super-cutsie and all call each other “Bunny” for some reason. But when the Bunnies invite her to their famous “Smut Salon,” she’s accepted into the group. Things get a lot crazier from there…

8. Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson- Amy Whey is a typical suburban mom, who loves her life. When a new neighbor arrives and joins Amy’s friend’s book club, she’s welcomed. The mysterious and sultry Angelica Roux keeps the wine flowing, and starts a game of spilling secrets. Everyone thinks it’s just silly fun, but Amy has something to hide. Something that could destroy her family and the happy life she’s built. As soon as they’re alone, Roux tells Amy that she’s going to pay, one way or another. In order to protect herself and her family, Amy joins Roux in a dark twisted game of hidden pasts and long buried secrets. Amy is sure that she isn’t the only one who is hiding something terrible. And Roux’s secrets might be her only chance to win. I enjoyed this book right until the end, but then I really didn’t like the twist.

9. Home Before Dark by Riley Sager– Twenty five years ago Maggie Holt and her parents moved into Baneberry Hall, a Victorian estate in Vermont. They lived there for three weeks, before leaving in the middle of the night, fleeing for their lives. Later, Maggie’s father, Ewan, wrote about the family’s experience in a nonfiction book called House of Horrors (which sounds a lot like The Amityville Horror) Though she was too young to remember her time in Baneberry Hall, Maggie is sure that her father’s book is really fiction disguised as fact. When Maggie inherits Baneberry Hall after her father’s death, she decides to do what she does: restore old homes and sell them for a higher price. But staying in Baneberry Hall is an experience that Maggie isn’t prepared for. We read chapters from House of Horrors alongside chapters that Maggie narrates. The real tension is that as she learns that parts of her father’s books were truer than others, Maggie’s own perception of reality and fiction, past and present, also begin to blur.

10. Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia– In Mexico in the 1920’s Casiopea cleans her grandfather’s floors and dreams of a better life for herself. One day, she finds a mysterious wooden box in her Grandfather’s room. When she opens it, she accidentally frees that Mayan god of death, who asks for her help in regaining the throne his brother stole from him. Well, “asks” might not be the best word. Casiopia may die if she refuses…Of course she might also die if she accepts and they fail! But if they’re successful, all of her dreams may come true. I enjoyed this as a fantasy, but I wondered as I was reading if I was being ethno/theocentric. After all, this is based on a religion that people believe in for a long time. It felt uncomfortable to call it “fantasy” for that reason. But the author said in her acknowledgments that it’s intended to be read as a fantasy. She included some other sources for readers who want to know more about the Mayan religious mythology.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Made Me LOL

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 23: Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud (Claire @ Book Lovers Pizza)

I did a list like this a while back, but I know we all need a laugh sometimes, so I figured I’d take on the challenge and make another! All different books of course!

  1. One For the Money by Janet Evonovich- There are now 28 Stephanie Plum books. I’ve only read the first ten or so, and I’d say that the first 5-6 really made me laugh. When we meet Stephanie in this book, she’s unemployed and broke. She gets her cousin to give her a job as an apprehension agent (aka bounty hunter). Of course Stephanie knows nothing about apprehending criminals, but she can learn! When she learns that her first case involves finding Joe Morelli, a vice cop accused of murder, who also happens to be her ex, things get even more interesting. Truthfully, much of the time, Stephanie is a little inept as a bounty hunter. That’s what makes it funny. For the first few books in the series. I felt like it all went on a little too long after a while.

2. Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen- I’ve read the first three books in Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness series, and while they’re not deep and meaningful, they’re good for a chuckle and a lot of fun. It’s set in 1932. Georgina is 34th in line for the throne. In other words, she’s distant enough so that she has no money, but close enough so that the queen will ask the occasional favor. When she gets home from her latest attempt to make some money, she discovers a dead body in the bathtub and her brother accused of the murder. Apparently getting away with murder is not one of the advantages of a royal bloodline… Georgie knows that her brother is innocent: he’s not smart enough to plan and pull off a murder. Unfortunately the police don’t consider this argument a valid defense. So Georgie is on the case!
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3. I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella- Most of the time, Sophie Kinsella is good for a quick read with a few laughs. I think most of her books could go on this list, but I chose this one because I remember the mental image of one of the scenes made me laugh as I was drinking, and spit everywhere. Poppy Wyatt had a bad day. She lost her engagement ring in a hotel fire drill, and as she’s panicking about getting it back, her phone is stolen. When she notices a phone in a trash can, she figures “finders keepers”: at least this way she can leave the hotel with a number to contact when they find the ring. But the owner of that phone, Sam Roxton, wants it back! He also doesn’t appreciate Poppy reading his messages and becoming involved in his personal life. Sam and Poppy spend the next few days communicating via email and text, and trying to get things sorted out as Poppy also tries to prepare for her wedding, and hide her now ringless finger from her fiancé and his family.

4. Nuclear Family: A Tragicomic Novel in Letters by Susanna Fogel– Despite the subtitle, I’d actually call this a straight out “comic” novel in letters. The letters in question are sent to out heroine, Julie, over the course of three decades. They come from her father, a former child prodigy turned haiku poet; her stepmother, who attempts to help Julie find a husband; her mother, who overshares EVERYTHING; her free spirited sister; and assorted other family members. Julie also gets the odd missive from other things present in her life, such as her Nordic Track, a container of hummus at her grandmother’s deathbed, her boyfriend’s dog, and the gerbil she accidentally drowned when she was 10. Despite the fact that we come to know these characters over the course of three decades, this novel is pretty short, and the epistolary format means you can dip into it for a few minutes or read it straight through. However you choose to read it, chances are, you’ll laugh.

5. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite– This is a pretty dark comedy, but my sense of humor can sometimes be weird, so it made me laugh.  The book opens with Korede, a nurse, getting a call from her sister, Ayoola. Ayoola is frantic, saying her boyfriend attacked her, and she killed him in self defense. Now she needs Korede to help her dispose of the body. Korede wants to believe her sister’s story, but it’s hard: this is the third boyfriend that Ayoola has killed in “self-defense.” Somehow Korede is always the one to drag out the bleach and rubber gloves, clean up her sister’s messes, and get rid of the bodies. Pretty soon, Ayoola has her eyes on another guy, and this time it’s someone Korede knows and cares about. How can she warn him of the danger her sister presents without exposing them both? This book has a wonderful contemporary Nigerian setting. It’s a quick read that packs a satirical punch.

6. At Freddie’s by Penelope Fitzgerald– Set at a children’s theatrical school in London in the early 1960s, “Freddie’s” is run by a woman who keeps her school running in spite of a complete lack of income. Over the course of a few months, the star pupil lands (and may lose) an important role, the most talented student gets some new opportunities, the school’s only two teachers flirt with romance and one another, and Freddie fends off the financial wolves. Nothing earth shattering happens in this slim novel, but we’re given an appreciation for the love these characters have for the school and the theater, so we’re invested in what happens to them. I’d describe the tone of the novel as “tragicomic”. It’s definitely witty and makes you chuckle. But some of the characters have an earnestness that pulls at the heartstrings too.

7. Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman– This novel is told via letters, notes passed in class, interoffice memos, and scraps of paper taken from lockers, notebooks and trashcans. It was written in 1964 about a 1st year teacher in a NYC high school and what’s remarkable is how much (and how little!) has changed since then. Anyone who thinks that having summers off makes teaching an easy job needs to read this. Read it to appreciate the teachers in your life a bit more. Or just read it because it’s a fun (and funny) book.

8. Going Bovine by Libba Bray: Full disclosure: I bought this book almost solely on the basis of this interview. with the author. The book is more or less exactly what you’d expect from that. Our protagonist, Cameron, is a teen slacker, who just wants to get through high school with as little effort as humanly possible. When he learns that he’s dying of mad cow disease, he’s understandably depressed. When he learns from a possible hallucination/possibly real punk angel named Dulcie that there’s a cure, he goes off on a quest for it. His companion is a death obsessed video gaming dwarf and yard gnome (who may also be a Norse god) It’s sort of Don Quixote meets Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It’s totally weird and bizarre, but so am I, so it works!

9. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell– I read this book because I’m a fan of the TV series The Durrells in Corfu, which is based on Gerald Durrell’s Corfu trilogy, of which this is the first book. Gerald Durrell was a British naturalist and conservationist. At the age of 10, in the 1930s, his widowed mother moved him and his siblings (who include famous writer Lawrence Durrell) to the Greek island of Corfu to live. According to the author, this book was initially intended as a natural history of the island. But his family dominated every page. From their mishaps and experiences, to eccentric family friends to young Gerald’s endless procession of animals (including, but not limited to puppies, toads, scorpions, geckos, octopuses, bats and butterflies) this is a family you’re unlikely to forget.

10. Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations With Your Favorite Literary Characters by Mallory Ortberg– This book imagines text conversations with literary characters. So it’s pretty much what you’d expect: Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind) uses her unlimited data plan to constantly try to tempt Ashley away from Melanie. Mr. Rochester sends Jane Eyre ardent, all caps texts. Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby) texts while driving, and asks you to pick her up after she wrecks the car. You’ll also see some texts from Emily Dickinson, Peeta and Katniss (The Hunger Games), Edgar Allen Poe, and many more.

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.