Author: Linda (page 1 of 5)

Best Books of 2019

What a wild year. I discovered so many great books this year! Some of them were rather old, but some of them were brand spanking new. All of them were first reads (I could gush about some rereads too!). I had a lot of five star reads. I’ve only recently begun using star ratings on GoodReads. I wanted to see how it would work and I think I like it. Half of the fun of doing this list was going back and reading my original reviews/notes on GoodReads. So much gushing!

These books inspired me (one even gave me a huge breakthrough on my own novel!), they broadened my horizons, they made me laugh and they made me cry. I started the year saying I wanted to read more classics, and boy, I sure did. Now I think I want to dial that back a bit, but there are still several classics on my list. I’m already planning for 2020. But for now, here is (in no particular order) what rocked my world in 2019.

Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes!)
by Lorna Landvik (Contemporary Fiction)
I didn’t want this to get lost in the shuffle, so it goes on top. A seemingly quiet regional book, this is really much more than that. It goes beyond to suggest to us several things: what makes a good life? What makes a good person? How do you reconcile something that you’ve done that felt right but you knew was wrong? What do you want to be remembered for? And so much more. Landvik is local to me, and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her several times. This book shines with her usual wit, but Haze, her main character, is enough of her own person to be separate. The story is told in a series of her small-town newspaper columns, as she lies in a coma. We also get to meet several of her friends, and get a bit of the stories of their lives, most notably 14 year old Sam, whose voice rose above everything. I loved the format of this story, I loved the genuine voices, and I wanted to be within the pages more than anything. Fans of A Man Called Ove, Landline by Rainbow Rowell or Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk will love this!

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe
(Supernatural Contemporary Fantasy)
The mark of a good book for me is how long the feeling of it stays with me, or how long I can hear the character’s voice in my head. Well, it’s only been about a month since I read this one, but I know that these characters and this story will stay with me for a while. This was a perfect October read, but it was much more than that. The story of Connie, a woman finding her way, endowed with gifts she may not understand, is interspersed with the stories of her ancestors, such as Deliverance Dane and Temperance Hobbs. You may remember The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. Luckily for us, this book follows the same family, a few years later. There is so much happening – it was mysterious at first, then it grew to be touching and intriguing and harrowing and sad and inspiring. I will have a friend in Connie for a long time.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (Fantasy)
My review of this on GoodReads is a rather incoherent swoon, and I really am too close to improve upon that much. I just know I cannot wait to read this again, and I want to have Gideon for a best friend. We could companionably sit for hours polishing our swords, she reading dirty magazines and me reading Darkdawn. I could do this. This was billed as the most fun you will ever have with a skeleton. But it is also listed as science fantasy. I call it space opera, but that may be incorrect. Whatever. It is markedly twisty, ingenious and complex. It is funny. It made me almost ugly cry. The language is to die for and the story will grab your heart out of your chest. I loved this. Unequivocally. If you bought me a copy I would love you forever. I owe the library overdue fees for this one.

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson (YA Fantasy)
I gobbled this one up in one day, hugging it several times. It was exactly what I wanted and needed in a fantasy. A love letter to libraries and a world ruled by books. A fun, feisty and daring heroine, with just enough fear and self-doubt to make her believable. The world was a simple one, but that let the libraries shine. I loved it. Great language and a fascinating magic system.

Sabriel by Garth Nix (Fantasy)
Here it is. The book that made me stand up and pace the room, realizing that a thousand years of history was not too much for my characters to ask for. This was the book that gave me a huge breakthrough on my own WIP. I will forever be grateful. I will also be sad that I cannot read it again for the first time. And what the heck took me so long? It has been languishing here for 20 years! Don’t make the same mistake I did. Go read it now. And then the rest – Abhorsen. Lireal. I am not done with the series yet but I am here for more necromancers and charter magic. It all starts here with Sabriel. She is amazing. With nothing more than words, bells, and a sword, she must keep the Dead from Life. Wow.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater (YA Fantasy/Magical Realism)
Going back through my nearly incoherent GoodReads review, all I can say is that this book was the linchpin for me on the series. While I loved Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and I was hooked by The Raven Boys, this book made me realize what we were doing here, and how far this could go. I have not yet read The Raven King (though I mean to this month) because I simply don’t want this to end. Maggie has built each book around a character, and drawn each of these ensemble cast members so complexly (is that a word?), they really feel like real people. This particular book brought in such imaginative and wild elements, I just couldn’t believe what I was reading. But I wanted to, so I read on. There is no comparison.

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (Classic fiction)
So many five star reads this year, and this was certainly not the least of them (I also read War and Peace). But given that this book drives people equally wild with passion and derision, I am glad I fell on the side of passion. I thought it was wonderful! So many amazing passages, and the glimpse into the culture of whale hunting (while I cringe) was fascinating. I felt it ended too swiftly, but I do think that I will read it again someday. It was that good. Beautiful writing and a gripping story make this a classic worth reading. Also, hats off to this lovely Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition, with its soft cover and deckled edges, that was just so comfortable to read and had great illustrations in the back (including a cutaway view of a whaler and a map!).

Upstream by Mary Oliver (Nonfiction/Essay)
I read this last January, when the snow was deep and it was cold and white outside. It was lovely to read about Oliver’s woods, and her experiences with the animals and the pond and her own animals. I loved her treatises on literary greats, and how she wove that into her further musings on nature. If you’ve enjoyed Oliver’s poetry, you will love this. If you like essays by E.B.White, Annie Dillard and Anne Fadiman, you will love this. If you have not read any of those, read this. It will take you behind the curtain, lead you into the woods, and give you an overview of the lives of literary forefathers. But mostly it is beautiful. A lovely Christmas gift from my Book Aunt, and proof that I do not have enough books (they keep making new ones!).

Wizard for Hire by Obert Skye (Middle Grade)
I read this as part of a review of the second book in this MG series, Apprentice Needed. I love these characters. They have stood out to me more than any other MG I read this year. I currently have the third book in the series sitting on my stack for next month, and I cannot wait. These copies were sent to me by the publisher in exchange for my honest review. I am happy to recommend this series to anyone who loves MG fantasy. If you know a kid who has finished Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, turn them on to this next.

Endless Night by Agatha Christie (mystery)
I do better with her Miss Marples, but if you are looking for a mystery that will creep you out, this is the one. She, the Queen of unreliable narrators and locked room mysteries, has here come up with something that feels like what you are used to, but oh, it is not. A perfect October read (in fact, I had it in my Halloween Reads list, which you should totally check out). But of course, I would be remiss if I did not mention that this has been A Year With Miss Marple, and I have read every Miss Marple book! (Okay, we have one left.)  It has been lovely, and if I had to choose, my favorite Miss Marple title would be They Do It with Mirrors. But it is a close thing. Start with Murder at the Vicarage, and read them in order. One a month was a lovely pace, not to confuse them too much.

Honorable mentions to Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – did not disappoint and kudos to her for putting together her first adult novel with as much care and attention as her YA novels, and to The Odyssey by Homer, which I finally read this year and was every bit as epic as people have been saying for two thousand years.

I’m not done reading yet this year – I still have 9 books to read to make my goal! But I am confident I will manage it. Right now I’m reading Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness and Bleak House by Dickens (my first Dickens novel!). And I’m aching to start The Raven King and Villette and the last Miss Marple of the year, Nemesis. This will all happen soon. It is hard to pick favorites from 90 books. But these I’ve listed above have stood out head and shoulders above the rest. I am so glad that I read them all. Come join me on GoodReads so I can see what you recommend. Find me here.

Tell me what your favorite book of 2019 was in the comments! And stay tuned soon for my first-ever Best of the Decade list! I will be reaching back into the vault for that one – 6 years of Examiner articles (as the Minneapolis Books Examiner), 4 years of blogging, and hundreds of books read.

Halloween Reads 2019

It’s time for another installment of spooky reads, folks! If you are looking to get some chills and thrills from your reading, look no further. However, note that I don’t do horror, so you probably won’t get any jump scares out of these selections.

If you’re counting, this is the ninth annual Halloween Reads list. I’ve been on the hunt since 2011. Since before this blog, when I posted on Examiner.com. Check the links at the bottom for the posts for previous years. This year, there seems to be a bumper crop of spooky reads! So without further ado, here is my list for your spoopy reading pleasure!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – Classic
This is the only book on the list that I have not read. I really meant to but what with my reread of Dracula and all, I just didn’t get to it. However, my understanding is that this is more in line with The Turn of the Screw – a psychological, gothic story that might leave you with shivers. This has been seeing a bit of a popularity boom on Instagram, and I can only conclude that it is deserved.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – Adult fantasy
A long-awaited new book from one of my favorite authors, and it did not disappoint. If you are up for a perfectly creepy story that delves behind the façade and is set at a contemporary college, then this is for you. It is a complex story with deep roots, and a hellacious ride. An expertly crafted paranormal mystery with more twists and turns than you can imagine, this is about secret societies, inexplicable happenings, those things you catch just out of the corner of your eye, the demons that reside in hell and sometimes inside of us, and the haunting that we get from behind the veil as well as our own past. Note that this is not YA, as are Bardugo’s previous titles. This is her first adult fantasy.

Last Things by Jacqueline West – YA Fantasy
I reviewed this here last May, but I want to be sure to give it its due and encourage you to pick it up this time of year. What could possibly be spooky about a dark forest, a little abandoned shack, a boy who suddenly writes hit songs, and a girl who is always being pursued? This is a great suspenseful read set in a small town in northern Minnesota, full of heavy metal music and characters who will shock you. Check out my full review to get more details.

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe – Contemporary/historical fiction
A follow-up to The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, this is a loose sequel. I think you can safely read this without having read Physick. However, the first book is so good, why not treat yourself to both? In this book, Connie is a professor whose life is about to change a whole lot. The book shifts back and forth between Deliverance in 1661 and Connie in 1995 Boston. Connie is faced with a choice that relates to a centuries-old curse – does she risk her fiance’s life trying to break it? Or play it safe and let him go? It’s a little bit of a love story, but a whole lot of family dynamics and some hocus pocus too.

Sabriel by Garth Nix – YA Fantasy
I have read most of this series now and I can see that it is going to be an all-time favorite. Necromancers, walking into Death, and lands that are separated by a wall, where one side is magic and the other isn’t? Yes, sign me up. Add to that incredible heroines – we get to know Sabriel through her action-packed story, but then later we meet Lireal and Clariel. The mysteries of this world deepen and the magic is phenomenal. Excellent world building, including magical familiars and bells with different functions, and all kinds of nasty creatures. If you haven’t already, go back and resurrect this older series. You won’t be sorry. Also known as the Old Kingdom or Abhorsen series (don’t ask me why we can’t settle on one).

Endless Night by Agatha Christie – Mystery
This is not one of her detective series, but one of her psychological thrillers. I don’t typically like these, as I have fallen so in love with Miss Marple and Poirot over the years (particularly this year, when I am co-hosting a monthly Miss Marple readalong on Instagram, and participating in another readalong of various Agatha titles. I read this for that other readalong) that I miss them when they are not present. But this one was so full of foreboding, so twisty turny, and had such a great ending, that I have to say, if you haven’t tried Agatha yet, and you like mysteries, you may want to start here. It starts slow but I was absolutely gobsmacked at the end. If you are reading her detective series, I believe you should start at the beginning for those. The Mysterious Affair at Styles for Poirot, and The Murder at the Vicarage for Miss Marple.

Toil and Trouble by Augusten Burroughs – Memoir
This reads like one of those romcoms where one half of a couple tries to convince the other half of the couple to move from midtown Manhattan to a fixer upper in the fields of Connecticut. Oh wait. That’s kind of what it is. But the twist is that Burroughs has a family history of witchcraft, sees things before they happen, hears things no one else can hear (like trees groaning) and has uncanny premonitions that he can see in a kind of movie in his head. Until it goes white static. This is funny, heart wrenching, intriguing, thought-provoking and encouraging. It may open your mind up to things that you thought were myth, or reassure you about things that you experience. Overall, I enjoyed it, and while it’s not scary, it does give you a good witchy vibe. Like this, “What I am certain of is that there’s something wonky going on beneath the surface of what we call reality. Things are most definitely not as they appear. Things are much, much more.” I mean, isn’t that kind of what we all want? More?

You can always find my Halloween Reads from previous years as well. Check here and here and here, and find links to more. I’ve got two more years to add to this site, so I hope to do that this week. I so enjoy this time of year, and for me, nothing is better than curling up on the couch with the first blanket of the season and a spooky read on my lap, while the wind whips the leaves off the trees outside. I hope you find something you like here, and if you have any suggestions, please do share! I want to hear what your favorite spooky read is!

Book Review: Last Things by Jacqueline West

Last Things is the newest YA from New York Times bestselling author Jacqueline West. Her award-winning The Books of Elsewhere is one of my favorite MG series. I was excited to hear that she was writing another YA, especially after reading her most recent book, The Collectors, last fall.

This story simply hummed! This story kept me turning pages well past midnight. *cough 2am cough* Not that reading this in the dead of night is the best idea. Because no. It is creepy, it is heebie jeebie, it is deliciously spooky. It might make you rethink the wisdom of reading alone at night next to an uncovered window. Just me? Oh, okay.

I don’t want to give away too much about what makes it creepy, because the reveal in the story is part of the creep factor. If you’ve ever been alone in the woods at night, or even if you haven’t, you will feel all those feels reading this book. The setting of the northwoods is actually another character, and in ways you might not think.

It’s not a mystery, per se. It is simply a story of a boy. He’s got some skills, shall we say. He may have made a mistake. Everything is not as it seems, and neither is everyone.

I did love the rest of the characters too. Thea and Anders and even Frankie. I did not like Sasha, but that is not surprising. But the story! This book reverbed with the bass of metal. I loved all the song lyrics and the way that West describes Anders’ love of music. West’s poetic sensibilities (she has twice been nominated for a Pushcart) shine here.

Here is a bit of the synopsis from GoodReads:

“High school senior Anders Thorson is unusually gifted. His band, Last Things, is legendary in their northern Minnesota hometown. With guitar skills that would amaze even if he weren’t only eighteen, Anders is the focus of head-turning admiration. And Thea Malcom, a newcomer to the insular town, is one of his admirers. Thea seems to turn up everywhere Anders goes: gigs at the local coffeehouse, guitar lessons, even in the woods near Anders’s home.”

When things start to happen, everyone blames Anders. When he can’t control that, will he lose everything that’s dear to him? And what is going on with this Thea girl? Can he trust a girl who doesn’t seem to know the difference between dreams and reality? Does she?

Can he trust her? Does he have any choice? And what happens when he has to choose between her and someone he has known most of his life? I wasn’t sure about Thea. I wasn’t sure about Flynn. I wasn’t even sure about Aunt Mae. But that’s nothing to how shell-shocked Anders is when he finds out the truth.

And when they go into the woods, what will they find? Will they be in time? Light and dark, choices, and a serious dose of “We don’t know a damn thing” make this a story that will reverberate with you long after you’ve finished reading. What would you give up to get everything you ever wanted? What do you want more than anything? What do you really want?

A headbanger’s delight, or just for anyone who loves a good goose-bumpy story. Get ready for a wild ride. Happy Book Birthday to Jacqueline West! I think we have a winner here! Look for this in my Halloween Reads wrap-up come October, where you will find more creepy reads!

I received an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Hardcover, 416 pages
Greenwillow Books, 2019
ISBN 9780062875068

The Boy Who Steals Houses Book Blitz!

And now for something completely different! I am participating in the Book Blitz for the newest novel from one of my favorite bloggers and authors, C.G. Drews, aka Paper Fury. This is being put on by a group called the Aussie YA Bloggers, and I am so chuffed to be a part of it! Read on! And there’s a giveaway too!

But why, do you ask? Linda, you don’t even know Paper Fury. Why do you want to support an author halfway around the world? Well, man, let me tell you. I don’t know when I first began to follow C.G., but it was a few years ago. It started on Book Twitter (RIP Book Twitter, for the most part – this was Twitter before the 2016 election and other things crept in to spoil it). I followed her there, and she was just so NICE. And FUNNY. She was also kind of creepy how all her posts put into words how I felt. Then I found out she was writing a book. She shared so much! And I loved her blog, which sounded just like her tweets. Amazing.

Then three years ago I joined Bookstagram (yay, Bookstagram!), and followed her there. And so many chats! She answered all my DMs! I was in for a ride. I got to celebrate her first book with her, and I even created a swap photo for it (one of those where you sort of emulate someone else’s style as an homage). I mean, it wasn’t even close, but. Her pics are gorgeous!

Her books are not available in the US (what? I mean, come on!) but I was able to order her first book, A Thousand Perfect Notes, from Book Depository. And let me tell you – I cried! In public! Gah. But it was totally worth it. It was everything I was hoping for. Soft romance, awkward girl, damaged boy, lovely just lovely. I mean, I don’t usually read romance, and I hardly read any contemporary. But this was amazing.

Fast forward to The Boy Who Steals Houses! This is a genderbent Goldilocks retelling, and let me tell you, I am here for this! I don’t have a copy yet, but that lovely blogger group set this up, so I can participate in all the flailing anyway. Read on for more info. And go, follow Paper Fury on all the platforms you can find. Her content is STELLAR and she is a 100% awesome human bean.

The Boys Who Steals Houses is about…

Can two broken boys find their perfect home?

Sam is only fifteen but he and his autistic older brother, Avery, have been abandoned by every relative he’s ever known. Now Sam’s trying to build a new life for them. He survives by breaking into empty houses when their owners are away, until one day he’s caught out when a family returns home. To his amazement this large, chaotic family takes him under their wing – each teenager assuming Sam is a friend of another sibling. Sam finds himself inextricably caught up in their life, and falling for the beautiful Moxie.

But Sam has a secret, and his past is about to catch up with him.

About The Author

C.G. Drews lives in Australia with her dog, a piano, and the goal of reading every book in existence. Consequently, her brain has overflowed with words and she spends her days writing novel after novel. She blogs at Paper Fury, never sleeps and believes in cake for breakfast.

She believes in lots of cake. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @PaperFury and add this book on GoodReads!

You can buy The Boy Who Steals Houses by C.G. Drews on the following sites:
Australia and New Zealand:
Angus and Robinson, Booktopia, Amazon Australia, Fishpond
International:
Amazon US, Waterstones, Book Depository, Wordery

And if you see a copy in the wild, on a library or bookstore shelf, post it and tag her on social media, because she lives in a tiny town and hardly gets to see her book on shelves at all.

And now, for the international giveaway! Win a SIGNED and ANNOTATED copy of The Boy Who Steals Houses plus an official art print inspired by the book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Boy Who Steals Houses by C.G. Drews
Paper, 347p, ISBN 9781408349922
Orchard Books, 2019

Book Review: Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed

Today I am participating in the blog tour for Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed by Obert Skye, which is  the second book in a series. Now, don’t be discouraged. The first book is so good, that you will be so happy that the second book is already out!

This is the Wizard for Hire series. In the first book, Ozzy grows up alone in the cloaked house in the woods. His parents were kidnapped from their house when he was seven. He is determined to find them some day, and then he sees an ad for a Wizard for Hire in a local newspaper. This is how he meets Rin.

There is also Sigi, who Ozzy meets out on the beach, who happens to be Rin’s daughter. And Clark, a sentient mechanical bird that Ozzy’s parents built, that keeps him company. And provides a lot of comic relief! The themes in this series, of loss, of grief, of realizing your potential, can be pretty heavy at times, so having Clark there is just as much a comfort for us as it is for Ozzy, it seems. We all come to like Clark so much, even though he has an affinity for mailboxes and spoons, that when he is threatened, it really makes you suck in your breath!

But on with the story. I don’t want to spoil you so I’m not going to recap the plot of the first book. I am, however, going to tell you to go get it right this minute, if you like anything to do with magic, and are game for a rollicking, irreverent Middle Grade. This is Harry Potter meets Discworld, in the best way. It is not perfect, but it has enough ah-ha moments, and laugh out loud funniness, and edge of your seat danger, that it will keep you turning pages long into the night.

In book two, we go on a wild ride from the cloaked house in Oregon to New York City. I loved the characters, and how they grew in this book, especially Ozzy. As I mentioned, the themes in this book touch on grief and loss, but here we get much more of Ozzy reaching for his own potential. He is suddenly declared to be Rin’s Apprentice, and finds out he has to undertake five tasks. But he doesn’t know what they are. And Rin ain’t talking. Or, well, he is, but sometimes it is hard to understand what he’s talking about.

Meanwhile, they are all being pursued by Ray, and his henchman, Jon. You won’t feel sorry for Jon for long. I really can’t say much more without spoiling it, so trust me, these are villains you will love to hate. I highly recommend this for anyone who has read Harry Potter, whether adult or child, and is looking for more of that idea of being an outsider who finds his crew, and there is every bit of a hint of magic here too. But is it really magic? I think we are about to find out.

Even though this book is a contemporary (like Harry Potter), it will feed your need for magic, and fantasy, and Rin lets us know more and more about Quarfelt, his wizard home. And there is plenty of homage to Harry Potter, so I think Skye is perfectly aware of similarities. Like the Cinco-Wizard Competition (or Cin-Wiz-Com) – the five tasks Ozzy needs to complete.

“Is that anything like the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter?”

“No, this one has five things. And it’s just for you.”

Don’t ever expect a straight answer from Rin. But sometimes, he can be very wise indeed.

I will definitely be looking for book three in this series. Book two released last week, so I have a bit of a wait. But that’s okay. I’m willing to binge all three. And Obert Skye also wrote the Leven Thumps series, and I have book one of that sitting here waiting for me.

 

Wizard for Hire: Apprentice Needed by Obert Skye
Hardcover, 416p, ISBN 9781629725291, $17.99

I received an advance copy of this book from Shadow Mountain Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: A Monster Like Me

In A Monster Like Me, Wendy S. Swore has written a heart-tugging contemporary story that includes magic and some things that are all too real. Readers may start out thinking this is just a lovely imaginative story about monsters, but as you read, you find that the monsters are all around us. Sometimes, they are at the grocery store. Sometimes, they sit in the desk next to us. Sometimes, there are people who may seem like monsters, but they are just having a hard day themselves.

Parts of this book were difficult for me to read, because, spoiler alert, I was bullied as a child. I mean, I kind of think we all were, in some form or another. What I like here is that Swore has shown that Sophie has both a coping mechanism, and a deniability mechanism at the same time. She thinks that she is really cursed. But this stops her from accepting herself, and that stops her from standing up to the bullies. Until they start bullying someone else. It is sometimes easier to help someone else than to help oneself. And Sophie shows that in spades. Continue reading

The Reading Life: Year-long Challenges: Readalongs

I enjoyed some wonderful readalongs in 2018. I found it helps to keep me on track, and it is more rewarding than reading a book by myself, especially if it is a complex or very long book. I haven’t been making it to book club much over the past two years, and the books they’ve chosen do not appeal to me very often. With readalongs, I can join or not join. And this way I get to read some books I might have always wanted to read. Don’t get me wrong – I have joined readalongs for books that are not typically in my stack, too. I’m not against reading outside my zone. That is one thing that I really enjoyed about my IRL book club. But the meetings weren’t working for me.

So this year, I have committed to three multi-month readalongs, one of which I am co-hosting! Imagine that. I am very excited about it. It is no mean feat to keep the momentum and enthusiasm up on something over the course of a year. So we shall see how it goes.

The Austen Readalong

The first one is called #ArdentlyAustenBookclub and is being hosted by @paperbackbones and @alchemyandink. We are reading one Jane Austen novel each month. This should be fun, because it will include a watchalong. I have only ever read Pride & Prejudice! I know. I am not sure how this happened. But this will give me a chance to read and discuss all of her novels at a reasonable pace. So I am very much looking forward to that. This only goes through July, of course, because then we run out of novels. I don’t own many of her novels, but I do have lots of books about her, that I have read. So this will give me a chance to look at those again too. I will also be watching some of the adaptations. I have never watched a Jane Austen adaptation. After this challenge, I will be able to hold up my head as an English major, I think.

A Year with Agatha Christie

I am also doing two Agatha Christie readalongs. I know. I just really love Agatha. And I haven’t read her in years. So when one popped up that looked good, I decided to try that. And then an online friend said she wanted to try reading some other Agatha, so she and I are reading the Miss Marple books. I read a lot of those when I was younger, but it has been years. So I’m really looking forward to diving back into Agatha again.

The first one is called #AYearwithChristie2019 and that one is a mix of the novels. I have already read The Mysterious Affair at Styles, his first appearance, and that was very good. Then I read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and now I get why it is mentioned in every breath with Agatha. I am looking forward to seeing how the characterization progresses throughout the books. The second is with my co-host, Alicia at @aliciaandherbooks and we are calling it #AYearwithMissMarple. We started with The Murder at the Vicarage, which was surprisingly funny! We are holding discussions on our accounts on the last day of every month. I’ll be hosting it later this week for The Body in the Library. Several people have already joined in! This is my first time co-hosting a readalong so I am excited to see how it goes. It was also very interesting with these first few to see the contrast between the two characters.

Classics

And finally, I’m going to be reading some classics. I read some good ones last year so I want to keep going. There is a challenge I found that looks good.  It is very loose, and has some good titles in it. But I’m going to swap out some of them for others I would rather read. I won’t reread Frankenstein again, but I do want to read The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin (which is one unread book sitting on my shelf! I remember starting it years ago but I never finished it). Another title that I particularly wanted to read this year is Moby Dick. Wish me luck! I am happy to say that I found someone to read it with me, because that is too much book to read not to talk about it.

The person who posted the starter list is Sarah @she.gets.lit.erary and she has agreed to read Moby Dick with me in March! So we’ll be doing a little readalong of that. I don’t know if we will be using a hashtag yet, other than the #getclassicallylit tag that she had already posted, but at this point I will just be happy if I can get through the book. We have set up a chat group, so if you want to join, you can send a DM to Sarah. I think the chats will be weekly checkins.

Of course, all of these are voluntary. I am not so mean to myself that I am going to worry if I fall short. But I think these are all different enough that I won’t get bored. And I am motivated enough to keep going. Would you like to see a progress report, maybe halfway through the year?

Some of you may not be familiar with some of the terms I’m using, so I’m going to drop these here.
Readalong – when a group of people decide to all read the same book at the same time. Usually capped by a discussion. Sort of like an online book club. Usually done with a series or a single author.

Reading challenges – usually defined as a set amount of time to read books that match certain prompts. Sometimes a readalong includes challenge prompts. People may use whatever books they like to match the prompts. Usually no discussion is scheduled.

Hashtags – this is a way for someone to find a group or challenge or topic on Instagram. If it for a discussion, like a readalong, sometimes the discussions are being held in private group chats, so you have to let the organizer know you want to take part so they can add you to the chat. Other times, you can simply follow the hashtag and chat with folks who use it. Or sometimes they have the discussion on the organizer’s posts, so you can just go there and take part. It varies and I’ve seen the discussions done a number of ways, but the hashtags are key. Use them to find or define anything!

Readathons – a set timeframe in which to read books. Sometimes the readathons involve prompts to help you decide what to read. Popular ones are Bout of Books (a week-long readathon), #24in28, #TBRKnockdown and many more.

 

Let me know what your plans are for this year! I know there are a lot of other challenges that are aimed at helping you read books you already owned. One I did before was Beat the Backlist. She is doing that again this year. That one is great if you want to engage across platforms and chat a lot. I will also be doing some readathons to help me along, because my GoodReads Reading Goal this year is 100 books. I am sure I can do it but I love the readathons. Did you set a Reading Goal on GoodReads? If so, what are you doing to keep yourself on track?

The Reading Life: Year-long Challenges: The Unread Shelf

I have been paying very close attention to my reading life lately. Perhaps more so than in past years. Most of the time I would just request books from the library, and then read them as they came in (or not, you know. Sometimes those piles come in all at once!). But this year, I am doing some challenges that will cover areas that I have been meaning to get to.

The first one is something on Instagram called The Unread Shelf Project. Imagine! Reading the books you already own! Waving your arm across an entire bookcase of books that you have actually read! What a concept. It has been a long time since I could do that. I’ve tried a couple “Read Your Own Books” challenges before, but I fell flat with them after only a month or two. I know that #BeattheBacklist is going on again this year, but I like Instagram so much that it made sense to find one there.

It is run by a lady named Whitney, and she is just so pleasant and non-judgy and kind. I know she did this last year but for some reason I didn’t join in. But this year, I was on top of it. Her first task was to Count. Your. Unread. Books. Because you have to know where you are starting from.

Friends. I counted 500 books. And those were just the books I could see. That doesn’t count the books in boxes or the books that were in the bookshelf behind the Christmas tree or books behind other books on the shelf. Yes, I have subscribed to the notion It’s Not Hoarding If It’s Books. But honestly, things are getting a little out of control. Last year, I ended up buying a lot of books from shops on Instagram. A good many of them were vintage books or subjects that were hard to find, and a lot of them were titles I thought would be helpful for my research for my book. Well. That only goes so far.

Now none of those new books have homes. They were in piles and stacks all over. And what I need to do is to look at the books on the shelves and decide what I want to keep and what I don’t. Because I’ve acquired two new short bookcases in the past two years, and they are both full too. Yikes. So I’ll be taking a long hard look at the old bookshelves, and digging into the boxes and bags in the basement, and choosing which books I want to read, and those that I don’t want to read will have to leave.

So already this project has helped me. But she also has little mini-challenges and each month there is a basic challenge. For January it was a No Buy No Borrow month. But this was hard because I had already requested books for readalongs and other challenges. I needed a little more of a heads up on this. So I did borrow, and I did buy an eagerly awaited title that released at the end of the month (King of Scars, natch). But I didn’t make any random trips to Half Price Books. So there’s that.

I’m looking forward to enjoying the books I have, and finding new homes for the books that I no longer want, or maybe never wanted in the first place. I am not going to beat myself up about it, because working in publishing for twenty years means you are bound to acquire some books. Now, like Whitney says, I just want to be more intentional about the library I am building. And to feel comfortable surrounded by the books I love, instead of feeling frustrated about having stacks all over the floor.

 

As part of the mini-challenges Whitney did little weekly challenges too. The first one was just read a book you already own. For my choice I read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, which is the first Flavia de Luce mystery. I got it at a bookswap last November (so maybe it wins a prize for being read closest to acquisition date!), when we had a MN Bookstagrammer meetup. I also got three other books but we won’t talk about those yet. The person who brought this had raved about the series, and I have since joined the fanclub (I mean, not literally, but yes, I will continue with the series). It has a very sweet and clever protagonist who gets into all kinds of scrapes.

The February monthly challenge is to read a book gifted to you. I am choosing the last book I was given, Upstream by Mary Oliver, which I got for Christmas of 2017 from my Book Aunt. I started it but didn’t get very far, and with the recent passing of Oliver I feel like it is a good time to read it. I remember that what I read was lovely. I don’t know if Whitney is doing the weekly challenges again this month, but I am ready to make some headway, so give me whatever you’ve got!

All in all, I can see where this is going to be a good exercise. I want to treat my books better, read more widely (I’ve really been deep in YA fantasy the past couple years), and try to sort out my book organization. Looking forward to what this challenge brings! If you are on Instagram, you can follow Whitney at @theundreadshelf and you can join the challenge at #theundreadbookshelf2019.

Book Review: Potions Masters #2: The Transparency Tonic

 

I am pleased as punch to be included in the blog tour for the release of The Transparency Tonic by Frank L. Cole. This second installment of a Middle Grade series roars right out of the gate, and keeps it up with almost non-stop action. In between, we get that familiar junior high angst of wanting to please your friends, our hero questioning his own talents, and an ending that will surprise you.

Gordy and his mom are Elixirists – well, his mom Wanda is. He is just a Dram, an elixirist in training. But he is one of the best Ciphers she’s ever seen, and he can do this thing called Blind Batching that blows everyone away – sometimes literally. What’s a Cipher? What’s a Dram? What is Blind Batching? Well, glad you asked, because I am pleased to introduce you to a new world – of magic, of secrets, of carefully concocted potions. If you have read the first book in the series, The Eternity Elixir, then you know what I mean. Rest assured you are in for a treat. If you haven’t read the first book yet, go and do that as soon as you can. I’ll wait.

Let me help you out a bit – in the first book, Gordy is just a fledgling elixirist, not even a Dram. He isn’t sure what he can do, and he makes the mistake of thinking he has things under control. There is a re-animated mummy, a wickedly nasty elixirist out to get something that Gordy’s Aunt Priss found in the desert and shipped to his house, and a whole lot of people getting Blotched (that’s bamboozled to you and me, where you are under the power of another person and don’t remember what you are doing), including Gordy’s dad. The world building is detailed and interesting. The potion brewing is well done and includes all kinds of ingredients and considerations. You know you are doing some serious brewing when you are working with catfish eyes, a mill worm cut in half, pickled cobra hoods and scorpion stingers.

It all comes down to Gordy’s Grandpa, who he thought was dead, the powerful elixirist Mezzarix. This man doesn’t take banishment lightly. We are introduced to the potion Community, the B.R.E.W. (Board of Ruling Elixirists Worldwide) headquarters, and a host of potions that do all kinds of things. There is also, thankfully, a seven-page glossary that helps sort out all this new information. The world-building in the first book is very complete, and there is plenty of action once things get under way.

In the second book, The Transparency Tonic, we already know all that. So it is open the door and you’re in it. Keep your wits about you, and don’t pretend that you know what anyone’s motivation is. There are dangers around every corner, and Gordy has to decide who he can trust. The stakes are higher and the action is faster.

Lucky for Gordy, he has two best friends, Max and Adilene, who will help him on his journey. When Gordy and his friends start eighth grade, things start to change. But who is this new girl, Sasha? Why does she want Gordy to come to a party at her house? Things get especially touchy when Gordy picks Max as his lab partner. Adilene had really had her heart set on it. Then she meets an odd girl named Cadence, and finds she may be able to do things on her own.

Meanwhile, Sasha’s mom, the new head of B.R.E.W., is cracking down. All is well until she cracks down on Wanda. And remember Gordy’s Grandpa? Well, he is not one to be put aside. What he can do with a single human hair… Well. It’s not going to be good. Let’s just say there are new villains galore.

There is a whole lot going on in this second installment. The predicament of the kids rings true, and so does the situation with Wanda. We meet again with Wanda’s co-workers Bolter and Zelda, and we are introduced to various other factions of the potions Community, which opens up a whole world that Gordy can now take part in. I am not going into any more detail as I don’t want to spoil the best bits. But if you love Middle Grade, you will love this. Five stars on GoodReads! Highly recommend for fans of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson and books that include magic and action.

Potion Masters: The Transparency Tonic (Potion Masters #2) by Frank L. Cole
Hardcover, 384 pages, ISBN 9781629724881

Potion Masters: The Eternity Elixir (Potion Masters #1) by Frank L. Cole
Hardcover, 304 pages, ISBN 9781629723587

Thanks to Callie at Shadow Mountain Publishing for including me in this launch blog tour! The Transparency Tonic released on Jan 16, so go look for it now! Frank Cole will be touring the western United States, so check the website for dates and places to see if he is coming near you!

Best of 2018

What a great reading year 2018 was! Even though I had an eye infection that prevented me from reading much for over a month, and I went on several trips where almost no reading was done, I am still determined to make my goal.

But man. It was strong in what I did read. And I think that was because I was more picky. I know what I like. And I am not much into romance, or just drama for drama’s sake. So the big YA series like Throne of Glass or A Court of Whatever are not really for me. (Before you gasp, I tried Throne of Glass, and I got three or four books in, and nah, I’ll just continue on with what I like, tyvm.)

My first book of the year continues to be one of my favorites – The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert! I loved this darkly macabre fairytale! Set in contemporary New York City, it quickly scuttles over to a dark and sinister fairytale place. I am chuffed to find that they will be publishing the actual Tales of the Hinterland (a book integral to the plot), as well as a second in the series! Very excited for those.

I can’t really pick my top three. I had so many five star reads! But here are a few more that I really loved:

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young

Give me Vikings and a really strong female protagonist! And the world building! Oh, this was a great ride.

Tales of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin

Read this with a group starting right after her untimely demise. We read the whole series, and I’m so glad I did! It was wonderful, each book individually, but also, wow, the series as a whole! Highly recommend.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Oh my gosh, why did I wait so long? This was a feast for the senses, as well as a really cool story. I loved it, and it made me very keen to do everything in black and white (with a touch of red, of course!)!

The Illuminae Series by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kauffman

I did a group reread of the series leading up to the release of Obsidio, and oh man, it just gets better.  This series was so fun and heartbreaking and intense! I don’t generally read scifi but I will die on this hill.

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Another one that I can’t believe I waited so long for! Here is to backlists, people. This was fantastic! And THEN, AND THEN… I got to meet him at a Con this summer! Oh my gosh. And hearing him read his work was just amazing. I’m going to have to devour the rest of this series soon because he is working on something new!

The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien

Look. I understand. You think that Lord of the Rings is boring, or too dense, or too long. But hey. IT IS ONLY BRILLIANT. And this book is kind of a prequel. So it deserves some love. Reading it during Middle Earth March gave me a lot of background for the many references made in Lord of the Rings, so on my current reread of the series, I am getting even more out of it than before. Which is saying something.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

This was a seriously fun romp through Europe, combining historical fiction with YA in a way that was clever and entertaining. I loved this as a summer read, and I am looking forward to reading the second one. I will say, though, that it had moments of gripping tension and dealt with serious issues. But the cast! This ensemble cast was amazing.

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Ahhhh! I LOVED LEAH!! This was a snarkfest masquerading as a contemporary. I didn’t get to meet Becky (even though she came here, because airport duty), but my friend Lupe shot a video of her saying hi to me and then she got me a signed book! Oh my gosh, my heart. This was a bookish highlight of the year for me. I also read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda this year and yes, of course I loved that too. Becky is my newest auto-buy author.

A few Middle Grade – so many good ones!

The Fearless Travelers’ Guide to Wicked Places by Pete Begler

This was astounding in its imaginative scope. Slightly scary. Amazing high stakes. I put this in my Halloween Reads but it deserves a spot here as well. Get thee to the backlist, folks!

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Another one that I hadn’t read for whatever reason. But then I also watched the movie. Oh my gosh. This is for kids? Give me a break. The book, dear reader, was better.

City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab

I got to meet Victoria!! She was amazing! I had not read this when I met her, and I am sad that I didn’t get a copy signed, but this series in one that I will be looking forward to each new book. I still haven’t read Vicious or Vengeful, either. More Victoria for me!

Laini Taylor

Oh, just go read all of it. I had several Laini books on my list this year. I got to MEET her! I finally finished the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, based on her advice to finish that before reading Muse of Nightmares. So I did. And I read The Night of Cake and Puppets (great break in the middle of the DoSaB trilogy if things are getting too intense for you), and I read Strange the Dreamer. Now I need to read Muse and her short story collection, Lips Touch. I am here for all things Laini.

 

So as you can tell, it was really an amazing Book Year. I met some very wonderful authors, and I just can’t thank them enough for their graciousness and really, they were so nice! I did a lot of readalongs, which helped with some things (like two Shakespeare plays and some classics such as Jane Eyre and The Picture of Dorian Grey!). I met a ton of great folks over on Bookstagram, and I mean, I’m having such a good time on there that I am probably slacking on this blog because of it. But if you have read this far, thanks so much and I really do hope to post more on here in the coming year.

Some plans for 2019:

I am going to be participating in #theunreadshelfproject2019 for the coming year. Monthly challenges, intentional library building, and a great host in Whitney! The first task she asked for was that we should count our unread books. Oh my. But I’m going to start that as soon as I make my goal. I know it is in the hundreds. But I also know that there are many books in the house that I do not want to keep. So I’m hoping to sort that out better this year.

I’m also going to be taking part in a couple of long-term readalongs. One is for Jane Austen, under the hashtag #ArdentlyAustenBookClub – we’ll be reading one of her books every month until July. This is great, because I’ve only read one! And I’ve always meant to read more. I will also be reading an Agatha Christie book every month. I’m doing two of these – who knew that she was so popular, right? One is #AYearwithChristie2019 with @thewrittenwordandtea and the other is with a friend, where we are going to read all the Miss Marple books. I don’t think there is much overlap, so by the end of the year, I’ll be very much caught up on my Agatha! And my Jane! And my undread books! Oh, this is going to be great.

If we are not already connected on Bookstragram, come find me at @lindabookmania. I’m posting there daily, and I love to chat!

 

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