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: The Last Books I Read Based on Recommendations

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

October 20: Books I Read Because Someone Recommended Them to Me (tell us who recommended them, if you want!)

For this one, I decided to make it the last ten I read based on a recommendation.

1. Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey– People have recommended this book to me for years. I put it off for a long time due to the size, but I finally read it this fall. I gave it 3/5 stars on goodreads. There was a lot to like about it, but I had a lot of issues with it too. Will I finish the series? At some point, perhaps.

2. Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire– This series has been recommended by many people over the years, and I’m glad I finally got to start it! I look forward to spending more time with October Daye in the future.

3. You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann– This was recommended by someone in my book club. Actually, if you’re looking for a good haunted house story for Halloween, you might check out this novella. It’s very quick and easy to get through. It was recently given a film adaptation, but I haven’t seen that yet. It doesn’t seem like something that would lend itself well to film though.

4. The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware- Another book club recommendation. But I would have read this one anyway, because I like the author.

5. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett– I saw this recommended all over the place last winter. I probably would have gotten to it eventually anyway, because I like Ann Patchett, but it got bumped up my TBR because I heard there were some fairy tale themes here (there are, and it was a good read).

6. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo– I consider this a cautionary tale. Around February, everyone was talking about this. I saw it on numerous blogs, and people whose taste I tend to trust gave it five stars on good reads. I didn’t like it. I don’t think it did what it set out to do, and I have some issues with what it did instead.

7. Final Girls by Riley Sager- This was another book club recommendation. I’m noticing that a lot of them tend to be murder mysteries, thriller and horror. Hmmm…

8. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman– The person who recommended this said that it was about someone like me. I think they just meant someone who reads a lot, though, since in non bookish ways my life is quite different from Nina Hill’s.

Top Ten Tuesday: Book Covers With Fall Colors

For That Artsy Read Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

October 6: Book Covers with Fall Colors/Vibes (or spring if you live in the southern hemisphere)

I decided to only go with covers of books I’ve read this year.

  1. The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

2. Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon

3. The Whole Art Of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Homes by Lyndsay Faye

4. The Invited by Jennifer McMahon

5. My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

6. A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan

7. Meet Me in Monaco: A Novel of Grace Kelly’s Royal Wedding by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

8. Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

9. The Hob’s Bargain by Patricia Briggs

10. Final Girls by Riley Sager

A lot of these are also good Halloween reads. I don’t know if that was a conscious choice on the part of the cover designers, but it’s possible. Happy fall!

I’ve Been…

  • adventure arid barren coast

    Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

    In a dry spell writing wise. I’m editing Frozen Heart (and thinking about changing the title to Frost. Thoughts?) and really struggling to get things done. I keep thinking I’ll break through but I think a lot of the stressors of the past few months have made it hard for me to work. I feel like the space in my head that I usually devote to writing is being taken up by other things.  It’s hard because writing is usually a way to escape from whatever’s stressing me out, but lately it hasn’t been working so well. Any  advice from fellow writers? I feel like there’s a sense of shame we feel when this happens: like we should be more disciplined or just better somehow. Is that true or is it just counterproductive thinking?

  • Exploring The StoryGraph and still not sure how I feel about it. Is it supposed to be different from Goodreads? Because it feels very similar? For the record my StoryGraph profile is here and you can find me on Goodreads here. Feel free to follow, friend, connect, whatever.
  • glad young woman working on laptop in living room

    Photo by Artem Podrez on Pexels.com

    Growing kind of frustrated with the fact that there are now about 8,460 streaming services out there. I’m interested in  one or two shows on each. Is there any way to watch the show without subscribing to the whole service? I don’t want to end up spending $500 a month on streaming services! At the moment I just subscribe to Netflix. Is there another service that I should be subscribing to?

  • Making themed book lists when I get stressed. Weird things like “books about witches” or “books set at sea” for the most part. It’s oddly soothing. I’m thinking about posting them on there. Should I just same them for Top Ten Tuesday when I don’t like the topic, or post them independently?
  • Reading:
    • American Royals by Katharine McGee -Trashy fun
    • Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid- I can’t decide if the characters in this one annoyed me because they were poorly written or because they were well written. But it did present some interesting questions and situations.
    • Lock Every Door by Riley Sager– A bit of a let down after some other, better work by Sager.
    • Three Girls and their Brother by Theresa Rebeck- Someone on Goodreads said that this was like The Catcher in the Rye  meets Project Runway, and in an odd way that’s perfect to describe this satire of the the fashion and entertainment world as seen through the eyes of four teens thrust into the middle of it.
    • Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdich- Really intriguing premise that never lived up to its potential.
    • The Group by Mary McCarthy- I had been wanting to read this for a while and sadly it didn’t live up to expectations. I started watching the film, but about an hour in, I didn’t feel like it added anything to the book. I didn’t feel like I was getting anything more out of it, so I called it quits.
    • The Runaway Royal by Lindsay Emory- I was hoping for something light and fully but this just fell flat.
    • Bird Box by Josh Malerman- Enjoyable and tense. I was disappointed in some of the changes made to the film adaptation. The writing in the book felt very cinematic and I don’t think those changes were necessary.
    • Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews Edwards- I didn’t like this quite as much as I liked the first volume of her memoir, Home. But I did like it, and I was pleased that she discussed her writing career and the inspiration behind some of her novels.
    • Final Girls by Riley Sager- This  was really fun. Nothing more, nothing less.
  • Binging:
    • The Good Witch– I’m not usually a Hallmark Channel Girl (the occasional Christmas movie aside) but I did enjoy this series, mostly for the magical realism vibe, which I wish we saw in more shows. The show did get saccharine in larger doses though.
    • Impostors– This one was witty and fun but suffered the same problem about being slightly too much in larger doses.
    • NOS4A2– I only watched the first three episodes (because that was all my preview would let me watch without subscribing the the streaming service!) but I thought it was intriguing. Maybe I’ll read the book and then if I like that take the streaming plunge…
    • The Order– I recently started this one on Netflix. I’m only a few episodes in and I’m not too impressed so far. Has anyone seen it? Is it worth sticking with?
  • Movie Watching:
    • Bird Box– A tense viewing experience but I do wish some elements had stayed closer to the book.
    • Knives Out– A fun whodunnit and “who was behind it”
    • Yesterday– I wanted this to be better than it was.  I found myself rather bored.

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer 2020 TBR

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday

ttt-new

June 16: Books on My Summer 2020 TBR (or winter if you’re in the southern hemisphere)

91kikzx6cdl._ac_uy218_1.Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia- I love the idea of setting a Victorian-eque Gothic in 1950’s Mexico. (June 30)

 

 

 

 

81lfpkdhvql._ac_uy218_2. Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan– I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians but I didn’t feel the need to read more of Kwan’s work, until I head that his newest was an homage to A Room with A View. (June 30)

 

 

 

a1qw7wbt5l._ac_uy218_3.Crossings by Alex Landragin-This book consists of three separate stories that can be read straight though, or out of order, using a secret key. They can also apparently be read as a story, within a story, within a story. I want to see how the author pulls off the concept! (July 28)

 

 

71wscsoaygl._ac_uy218_4. Summer by Ali Smith– The conclusion of Smith’s seasonal quartet. I don’t know much about this one but if the previous books are any indication, I expect an innovative sociopolitical tale set in, and illuminating the season in an unexpected way. (August 18)

 

 

 

91hgjcuezql._ac_uy218_5.The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner– I’ve heard really good things about this novel about a group of strangers who put aside their differences to preserve Austen’s legacy in post- WWII England. It sounds like it has the potential to be both intelligent and uplifting (rather like Austen herself!) (May 26)

 

 

91dl5yyl84l._ac_uy218_6.Home Before Dark by Riley Sager– I’ve read a few of Sager’s novels this past year and really enjoyed them. I’m looking forward to this tale of family secrets and old (and perhaps real?) ghosts. (June 30)

 

 

 

81jbrqqbgl._ac_uy218_7.Beach Read by Emily Henry– This tale of writers who swap genres looks like a light beach read  itself. (May 19)

 

 

 

 

91lq27bv9zl._ac_uy218_8. Last Train to Key West by Chanel Cleeton– I’ve enjoyed this author’s other books, Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba, so I’m looking forward to her new one. (June 16)

 

 

 

81hegtntrcl._ac_uy218_9.The Summer Set by Aimee Agresti– This tale of backstage drama a theater in the Berkshires seems like a fun, escapist summer read for a theater-geek like me! (May 12)

 

 

 

81yn5yv9-l._ac_uy218_10.Or What You Will by Jo Walton– I love the premise of this one: a character realizes that once his writer dies, he does too. The writer is in her 70’s, so the character figures it’s time to take matters into his own hands… (July 7)

 

 

 

Looking over these picks it seems like (with one or two possible exceptions) I’m looking for escapism this summer. But as long as I live in the real world, a bit of fictional escape is allowed, no? Of course these are just the newbies on my TBR. They’re joining a looooong list!