Mea Culpa…

So… it’s been a minute. Or six months. But who’s counting?

Here’s the thing.

WordPress spazzed out on me. I couldn’t do anything. The stats page just circled and showed nothing. It showed no posts here on this humble little blog… it was a hot mess.

I contacted WordPress (through a tweet so not too much effort) and they suggested something about clearing caches and cookies and… that gave me nightmares about getting signed out of the many sites I’ve clicked “remember my password” or “keep me signed in” and almost immediately forgotten said passwords.

I signed up for a free account at Wix (because I am nothing if not reliably cheap) but… have you ever tried to make a blog at Wix? Absolutely nothing working here at WordPress made more sense than their supposedly easy tutorials. And I feel like there are more personalization options here so… I missed my old pal WordPress.

Then yesterday, as I was falling asleep, I realized… what if I tried signing out of my WordPress account? It’d either sign me in to things working again or I’d have to create a whole new account. Deciding I could handle either, I gave it a go with nothing to lose.

And here I am.

All seems to be in working order so I guess the theory of “when in doubt, sign out” is kind of an account of version of “turn it off, then turn it back on” that tech support and customer service like to start with. (So if there are any WordPress VIPs lurking, give that as your first tip next time!)

I’ve got quite a few books to catch up on reviewing here so… I hope I remember them. And probably if I don’t, they’re not so much worth reviewing.

If anyone is still reading this… hello! I hope all is well and you haven’t been stymied by… things as I have!

Reviewed: “Killer Content” by Olivia Blacke

This book was such good fun!!! Yes, it included a murder but… watching Louisiana girl Odessa Dean try to fit in with the hipster crowd in Williamsburg, Brooklyn while trying to solve the murder of a co-worker/sorta friend was pure fun! Odessa is funny, witty, charming, and utterly self-effacing. She goofs and she’s not afraid to goof or admit that she goofed. She’s just herself, and that’s so much fun to see.

I suppose KILLER CONTENT could be classed as a cozy mystery, except Olivia Blacke has put a twist on the idea of ‘cozy’ and while it’s set in a bookshop, the bookshop doesn’t double as a coffee shop or a bakery as most cozy mysteries do. It doubles as a hipster cafe and hub for microbreweries. That makes everything a bit more edgy and modern, compared to the usual formula for cozy mysteries. The best subtle part of the comparison is that Odessa’s tiny hometown in Louisiana is probably exactly where a normal cozy mystery would be set.

A third thing that’s special and different about KILLER CONTENT is that Odessa is not looking for love and she does not find it. No falling for vegan, gluten-free hipster or sexy cops. Just Odessa being Odessa, and figuring out that it’s just fine to be Odessa. It’s so sweet when she gets excited that people like her for her, when she makes true friends when she felt so cut off.

This is book one in a series and I cannot wait for book two!

Thanks to NetGalley, Berkley, and the author for a chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Reviewed: “The Nine” by Gwen Strauss

the cover of The Nine

I have a hard time review non-fiction books sometimes, because it always seems like a disservice to the people the book is about. This is especially true with the story of Helene, Nicole, Jacky, Zaza, Lon, Guigui, Zinka, Mena, and Josee.

These nine women formed a friendship in a Nazi concentration camp of all places. They’d all worked if different arms of the French Resistance, and they’d all been caught and sent to Ravensbruck. And then they found each other.

It’s almost like a female version of Stephen Ambrose’s story of the 101st Airborne’s famed “Band of Brothers” only this ‘band of sisters’ were not soldiers and they could not rely on weapons to get out of danger.

They relied on their minds, their guile, their cunning, their femininity, and perhaps most importantly – the bonds of female friendship.

Though some were sick with typhoid, diphtheria, pneumonia, badly blistered feet, injured hips, starvation… they decided early on that where one went, all would go. If all could not go, none would go.

It’s a stunning story to read, especially in light of how the modern world would have us believe that women, while devoted and strong and brave, are plagued by toxic friendships that always threaten to drag us done.

I don’t want to say that we all need to face the things these French, Dutch, and Spanish women faced but… we can do better than we do. If they could do what they did, we can do anything.

They did. They did the most important thing of all.

(Thanks to BookishFirst, St. Martin’s Press, and Gwen Strauss for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest & original review.)

Reviewed: “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt

I have done it. I have read THE SECRET HISTORY. Been meaning to do that for awhile, glad it’s one box ticked on my list of reading things to do.

Will I read it again? Maybe?

Here’s the thing… it’s fine. It’s got mystery and suspense and drama and angst. All good things.

But the characters are so… they’re such awful people in general that it takes some of the shine off those four things that I like in my novels. You need someone to root for, you know? And I wasn’t rooting any of this crowd of pretentious adult children.

And I know that’s the point of the book, that awful people do awful things and awful people are drawn to each other like moths to a flame.

At least I think that’s the point of the book. I’m really confused by chunks of the plot. Although… I feel like Donna Tartt might’ve meant it that way? I really don’t know, obviously.

Here’s what I do know – it was fine. Not a bad way to start off my year in reading and I read a book I was very much intimidated to read, because of the hype after THE GOLDFINCH came out and renewed interest in THE SECRET HISTORY.

I’m not currently planning to read THE GOLDFINCH, because this Tartt novel has left me… exhausted of awful people, but I’m open to changing my mind if you’ve read it and loved it, or want to tell me it’s a whole lot different.

In the end, the clutch of self-absorbed twenty-somethings who studied Greek with a slightly stereotype liberal arts professor in rural Vermont all got what was coming to them. So the ending wasn’t bad at all.

I’d actually rate the book 3 1/2 stars but since Goodreads doesn’t operate in halves, it’s a 3 from me because, randomly, Tartt made up an entire ‘terrorist’ country for the loopy professor to have worked in, and been an honored guest in and that was just… it threw the whole thing off for awhile there.

tw: drug use (so much drug use), alcoholism (so so much alcohol), suicide, murder, mentions of rape, mental and physical abuse

Reviewed: “The Mouse and the Motorcycle” by Beverly Cleary

My second grade teacher Mrs. Bucci gave everybody a book at the end of the year. Many kids did not want books but I did. I vaguely remember not wanting a book about a mouse riding a motorcycle but I’m not, and never have been, overly picky when it comes to books so I’ve kept it all these long years.

I did think I’d lost it, or sold it at a yard sale, for about a decade there but, alas, Pandemic Stress Cleaning induced the realization that I needed to see what was in the box underneath all the other boxes in my closet and… treasure trove of books I loved as a kid!

Ralph S. Mouse included!

Ralph is flippin’ adorable. His human buddy Keith is also pretty adorable. Ralph’s antics and adventures are so much fun to read, even as an adult.

One a scale of One to Don’t Tell Me, how odd is it that I’d absolutely 100% read more books about Ralph S. Mouse? Like, today?

Now to decide if I’m putting Ralph in the pile meant for my nephew & niece or keeping him for nostalgia’s sake…

A Year in Review … A Year in View

Well, it’s no longer 2020. Yay? To be fair, I’ve always thought it was a bit silly to celebrate December 31 flipping to January 1 as though the ability to get a new calendar means anything will be markedly different than it was a day ago. That being said…

Content must be made and it being the first week of a new year means it’s an entirely appropriate time to look back on last year and look forward to this year. Why not?

As I have for the last few years, I set my goal to read 60 books in 2020. I did not succeed at that but it’s fine. I’m still here and that’s saying something. That’s success enough for me.

I did read 56 books, which I find high impressive all things considered.

Some of the books… well, they were kids’ books. Chapter books, to be sure, but they had elementary school reading levels included. You see, two things happened in 2020 that led to this.

  • One, I stress cleaned my closet (more than once) and found a box of books from when I was a kid which I thought I’d sold at a yard sale (I’m not a hoarder, my clutter is generally confined to precarious piles in a single closet).
  • Two, reading slumps were real in 2020 and it turned out revisiting my youth (under the guise of seeing what was worth keeping for my nephew and niece) and re-reading those old books snapped me out of more than one slump.

But books are books, no matter their form and they count.

In addition to kids’ books, I read lots of different things – cozy mysteries, non-fiction things, YA, a couple mysteries, some contemporary stuff, and lots of historical fiction. There were new books, re-reads, and lots of DNFs. I fell massively behind on my ARCs… more behind, really.

So generally the usual, except for America during a pandemic/election year did not make for the most productive reading habits.

But it’s fine.

My three favorite books I read in 2020 were:

  • Doc by Mary Doria Russell
  • The Indomitable Florence Finch by Robert J. Mrazek
  • Valhalla by Alan Robert Clark

Will reading go better in 2021? Who can say? I certainly hope so.

I’ve set my Goodreads goal at 60 books again.

I might try and see how much of a couple year-long reading challenges I can do. Just for some guidance, in case I get indecisive but want to read. But I think it’ll be mood reading for whatever counts as a win.

Books are good for the soul, so let’s read!

What’s your first book of 2021?

Mine is The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

Reviewed: “Furbidden Fatality” by Deborah Blake

This book is essentially perfect.

The cutest little cozy mystery, featuring a strong group of good girlfriends, hints of romance to come later in the series, super cute animals, heartwarming animal rescue stories, small town gossip & drama, and a murder!

Really, as a mystery, I don’t want to say too much because if you like cozy mysteries, you really should read this book rather than read my spoilers. So I’ll say this… practically perfect in every way and I cannot wait to read the next book in the series!

(Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for the chance to read this book before it’s publication date.)

Reviewed: “The Last Garden in England” by Julia Kelly

(Thanks to NetGalley and Gallery Books for the chance to read an early copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Everything I love in a novel came together seamlessly in Julia Kelly’s THE LAST GARDEN IN ENGLAND.

That could be the sum of the review but I have more to say about how I loved this book.

Historical fiction is my go-to, comfort, guilty-pleasure sort of fiction. If it faintly seems historically based, I’ll probably give it a try. To have a book that is basically double-dipping in history – in that Venetia Smith exists in 1907 and Beth Pendley-Hastings exists in 1944 and their stories intertwine – is genius. Like the holy grail of historical fiction.

Add in that Emma Lovett exists in 2021 and her story connects to theirs, and everything becomes somehow more perfect.

THE LAST GARDEN IN ENGLAND is not just a novel about gardens. It’s not a story about romance, though the woman all find that to varying degrees.

It’s a story about women, at it’s heart.

Venetia Smith is a trailblazer, forging a path in garden design that no woman has done before. By the social norms of 1907, she should have been married with children by the time she arrives at Highbury House to create a spectacular garden for the Melcourts.

Beth Hastings is a Land Girl during World War II, doing her part for the war effort by working on the country farms to feed Britain. Over the course of just a few years, she grows from a shy and timid orphaned girl into an artist in her own right willing to forge her own path, even in a quick marriage where she insists she is an equal to her husband.

Emma Lovett has the benefit of a modern, more equal society and still she feels pulled and stretched beyond the things she wants to do – restore Venetia Smith’s gardens at Highbury House to their former glory. She pulls hardest the way she wants to go.

These three women, and the key women who support them, are real. Their hopes and their dreams and their tragedies and their triumphs are not always what everyone, even they, might expect out of life but they are stunning nonetheless.

I am so happy to have read this book!

Reviewed: “Fairy Godmothers, Inc.” by Saranna DeWylde

“Fairy Godmothers, Inc.” isn’t the sort of book I usually reach for but sometimes, especially in 2020, you just need some fluffy romance and all the funny shenanigans associated with sweet, meddling magical godmothers. And this hit the spot very well.

All of your favorite fairy tale characters live in Ever After, Missouri… even the mice who sewed for Cinderella. The classics are supporting characters to the fairy godmothers – Bluebonnet, Jonquil, and Petunia – who want to revitalize Ever After and concoct a scheme for their godchildren Lucky Fujiki (who is not lucky) and Ransom Payne (never did quite figure out the meaning behind his name) to get fake-married in a prince and princess-themed wedding.

Lucky (who begins the story knowing nothing about her magical world) and Ransom’s would-be love story is fine, though it does slow down to a crawl in places, but the shining stars of the story are the supporting cast. From Bronx, the cardinal (bird, not Catholic prelate) who talks like he might’ve learned to speak on Don Corleone’s shoulder, to Philip the frog (i.e. grumpy Prince Charming still waiting for his kiss… maybe from one of the godmothers), to Brittany and Steven (totally human children of Lucky’s best friend and maybe technically her godchildren)… Lucky and Ransom would be fine without them but they are far, far better with them.

And I think that sets up the next book in the series very well, Ever After can focus on a new pet project and the old gang can get back together to see it through.

I don’t laugh often at books, I don’t know why, but I absolutely laughed out loud at this book. The page and a half of the godmothers mortifying Ransom with euphemisms for sex was worth re-reading an extra time or two! I really liked it a lot and a lot of people, who are more into fairy tale re-tellings and magical things than me, will absolutely adore it!

(Thanks to BookishFirst, Saranna DeWylde, and the publisher for a chance to read this book early in exchange for an honest review.)

End of the Year TBR – 2020

Here’s the deal – there are 39 days left in absolute dumpster fire that has been 2020. Back last December, eons ago when life was simpler and and things hadn’t yet devolved into the sort of surreal, too extreme to be true reality of today, I set a Goodreads goal to read 60 books in 2020.

60 books is something I’ve done before many times in many years.

But 2020 has been a year different from all the others, and I am currently 11 books away from 60. Goodreads tells me this means I’m four books behind schedule. My eyes tell me this means I’d have to read about one book every three days, and have a bit of wiggle room for myself. I’m going to be honest and admit my current total of 49 books is padded by a selection from a box of books I was fond of at 12 and found while stress-cleaning after having spent a good decade or so thinking I’d sold them at a yard sale. But books are books, and I’d count Goodnight, Moon if I’d read that.

I digress, and what I read in 2020 is a topic for next month.

For now, let’s figure out an “End of the Year TBR” for myself.

Am I going to read 11 books in 39 days? Highly doubtful.

Am I going to try to read 11 books in 39 days? Absolutely.

And so, that being said, time for a list of 11 books I’d like to read before 2020 wraps up, no doubt in some new crisis or catastrophe. (Keep in mind, if I find my old stash of Archie comics in another fit of stress-cleaning, I will read those and count them among the 11 books too. We’re not picky.)

BOOK ONEFairy Godmothers, Inc. by Saranna DeWylde

I’m reading this super cute little magical romance right now, because it’s an ARC and holy heck did 2020 wreak havoc on my “I’m going to read my ARCs on time” kinda-sorta-New Year’s Resolution so I do want to at list finish that goal with at least a whimper of success.

BOOK TWOThe Cemetery Vandals (The Sugar Creek Gang #31) by Paul Hutchens

Coming in at a whopping 95 pages this one could be knocked out in a day. It was, as you might suspect, excavated from that box of books I mentioned. And no, I haven’t read the first thirty(!!!) books in the series so… wish me luck!

BOOK THREEFurbidden Fatality by Deborah Blake

Might as well try and get ahead on the ARCs I’ve got for books coming out next year, and if there is one thing that’s been nice this year it was the discovery that I do like cozy mysteries way more than I thought I would.

BOOK FOURPeter Pan by J.M. Barrie

What is a TBR without a classic? And I’ve never read this one before, though I also have The Little Minister by Barrie so, depending on whether I want to read a very fragile physical book or spend more time staring at a screen, I’ll read one of the two.

BOOK FIVESlingshot by Mercedes Helnwein

Another ARC in preparation for next year, I seem to have forgotten what this one is about but my spreadsheet says it’s a young adult (honestly, I spent more time making spreadsheets about reading than I did reading this year… so sad).

BOOK SIXO Pioneers! by Willa Cather

Yes, another classic but the most recent version of my spreadsheet is sorted by page number and I am, remember, trying to get to 60 books so non-ARC books will be short ones. Apparently classics, when not Russian, tend toward manageable page numbers.

BOOK SEVENThe Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

A mystery/thriller… pretty sure that’s what this is… should be a good way to spice up the holiday season if it goes sideways or the forced cheer turns me Grinch-like. And I feel like I’ve heard good things about Sally Hepworth.

BOOK EIGHTSelections From Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

Not entirely sure I only have Volume One of this, which Goodreads tells me is only 67 pages, but a little fantasy might hit the spot in the holiday season which be unlike any other. And American Gods was good, so maybe I’ll like this too.

BOOK NINEStrongheart by Jim Fergus

The twist with this one, in my most beloved genre of historical fiction, is that it is book three in a series of which I have not read the first two. I have wanted to, but I haven’t. And didn’t realize this was part of a series when I got it.

BOOK TENThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

Adding this one to the list because it’s short stories that I’ve read before, and brain power for too many new things is definitely iffy right now. It’s also my only autographed book, so that’s always fun.

BOOK ELEVENTotal Olympics by Jeremy Fuchs

A non-fiction read seems like a good way to round out the list and the Olympics is something I’ve liked for a very long time. Should be, hopefully, an easy go and I’m looking forward to it.

And that’s the list, very fluid though it is. Is there a chance I’ll just gather up eleven short kids’ book from that box? You better believe it. So we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, what do you hope to read before the end of the year? Did the pandemic and the election (American) wreck your reading style like they did mine?

Stay safe, everybody, and stay home!