Books I Have Loved 2016

2016 reading.png

Many of these are not newly published, so apologies if everything on here is old news to you! I don’t know what to say about this eclectic mess, or what it says about me. I can’t pick an absolute favorite as I liked each of these for different reasons. Here they are by month read, with a couple of “cheats” over the border of one month to the next for books that I liked better than anything else I read in the following month. Also discovered that I have a lot of “lost” books on my Kindle. For example Luther Siler’s Benevolence Archives, of which I loved the sample and even meant to recommend to a friend, got lost or it would most likely be on this list. I must make a TBR list, and learn to make Kindle collections. And read Benevolence Archives soon, before it gets lost once again in my massive TBR!

The Sorcerer’s Garden by D.Wallace Peach

How To Be A Tudor by Ruth Goodman

The Next Thing On My List by Jill Smolinski

Power of the Matchmaker by Karey White

Far West: The Diary of Eleanor Higgins by Linell Jepson

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life by Eleanor Roosevelt

The Mini Farming Handbook by Brett L Markham

The Vampire’s Mail Order Bride by Kristen Painter

Miss Landon and Aubranael by Charlotte E. English

Through Streets Broad and Narrow by Gemma Jackson

The Grief Recovery Handbook by John W. James and Russell Friedman

Tools of Titans by Timothy Ferriss


Sorting the Book Piles

A writer friend linked to an article: On the Heartbreaking Difficulty of Getting Rid of Books, sharing the outrage of the author about famous declutterer Marie Kondo’s notion of paring down books like any other household item. Most of us writer types are also avid reader types. Many of us are a little bit introverted. To a devoted introvert, books can almost seem more like friends than the actual flesh and blood ones. How do we sort friends, and give or even throw away these little pieces of our hearts?

books by Gaelle Marcel

photo by Gaelle Marcel, via Unsplash

To paraphrase another pair of de-cluttering masters, Warren and Betsy Talbot of An Uncluttered Life, the stories are in my heart now. I don’t need a thirty year old, yellowing paperback with brittle pages falling from the spine, to keep the joy of that story alive in my heart. Paperbacks are the great betrayers. The original “pulp” fiction, they’re mass-produced literary bonbons, meant to be read and discarded. We try to save them, but they self-destruct anyway. After a while, they’re not even re-readable.

I understand the pain of parting with old, dear, book friends. I had a book whose cover was gone, held together at the spine with packing tape. I don’t know how many times I had read it, or how many times I had told myself to recycle it. Parting with it felt like a funeral or a divorce, a moment to be mourned. And yet, ten pages of chapter seven had vanished. It was time.

Thank goodness for ebooks, which I can horde without fear of silverfish, dust mites, or brittle pages. So many books in the little library in my hands! No wondering which shelf the book I’m looking for is hiding on (if it is in fact on a shelf and not under the bed or sofa). If only I had an ereader that recharged with solar, my love affair with ereaders would be complete.

When I was young, I loved discovering old books in the library, especially the ones that hadn’t been opened in years. Those were hardbacks printed on heavy cream paper, sometimes with real leather covers imprinted with faded gold lettering. Most of my current to-be-sorted book pile is paperbacks and book club editions, flimsy things not meant to last until next year, never mind the decades or centuries. I’ll always love beautiful books. I can love them in the libraries, in the rare book collections, in lovely artistic photos. It’s not a betrayal of literature to toss that creaky old tiny print budget edition of Oliver Twist. At least it isn’t by my rules. Your book mileage may vary!


Your Slip is Showing

I just abandoned a Historical Romance novel set in the mid-1800s because of its underwear. In some cases of underwear missteps, I’ll limp on if the underwear is the only problematic part of the story. But one of the things that I’ve noticed is that if the underwear is a problem, there are almost inevitably other flaws that will render the book unreadable for me.

1830s gown

Woman’s 1830s sleeve plumper, muslin dress and straw bonnet, via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s the thing about Historical Romance. It has to walk a fine line between authenticity and fantasy to work as a story that ‘s going to entertain a modern reader. A lot of Historical Romance depends on characters behaving badly (for their time). That’s part of the fun, really. Will they get caught alone in the summerhouse? Will he be forced to offer marriage because her maid found those racy notes and gave them to her father? Will she fend off his advances, or find a way to encourage him?

So why the big deal about underwear? Clothing, even intimate clothing that most people don’t see, shapes not only our figures but our behavior. If you consider the photo, there is no way a woman is going to be that particular shape unless she’s wearing underwear that makes her that shape. The clothing will dictate a great deal of her body language by the movements it allows and disallows.

In the novel in question, the heroine decides to go underwear free at the suggestion of her suitor. It’s a character motivation breaking moment. No lady in straitened circumstances would risk sweating all over one of her few good gowns in an age where laundry was difficult even with a dedicated lady’s maid. Also, even if you ignore the impossibilities of fit, which the author tries to hand-wave away with a reference to the heroine’s preternaturally small waist, everybody at dinner would know. Her bodice would be lumpy and strange, her skirts and sleeves wouldn’t hang correctly. Sweat stains generated by the summer heat referred to in the story would spread on the “thin, sensuous, delicate silk” like the frustrated tears of costume junkies on our modern paper tissues.

You could argue that I’m just grumpy, and these sorts of missteps don’t bother that many readers. Do a little internet searching on the subject and you will find that grumpy historical readers are legion. It’s lazy not to do your research. You might think that you might deserve a free pass because you think the rest of your book is so sexy and so good, you don’t and it isn’t.

If you want to write a story with a heroine who daringly goes to dinner with no underwear, pick a time period (there are LOTS AND LOTS) when that would actually be physically possible. Otherwise, your heroine is nothing but a hot mess inside and out.

Review: No Time to Cry by Stasia Morineaux

No Time to Cry

by Stasia Morineaux

This book has a really grabby opener– it starts right bang on the action with no fooling around with scene setting or back story. Sometimes I find that disorienting. Here I found it engaging and suitable for the story, which follows the story of a *very* disoriented protagonist, Isabelle, as she navigates her new life-after-life career as an escort for recently deceased souls.

Suddenly Isabelle is catapulted into an unfamiliar world of hard to pronounce Celtic myth and legend, and her ability to fit in will determine whether she gets to keep her new life or not.  The reader, like Isabelle, has a lot to learn about the inhabitants and workings of this Celtic afterlife world. Fortunately the author has provided us with a glossary and a pronunciation guide!

Stylistically, it’s as if Chick Lit and High Celtic Fantasy had a love child. There have been other books that attempt a similar mash up and some that are quite successful, like Dead is the New Black. I think No Time to Cry is an even more ambitious mashup since it doesn’t just add supernatural elements to the modern world, but instead introduces us to a whole new mythology.

There’s a lot going on in this book. Mistaken and secret identities, behind the scenes plots and subterfuges, hidden enemies and secret allies, unknown powers, romantic subplots. It’s all a bit much to resolve in one novel so of course it doesn’t, ending instead with a cliff hanger guaranteed to have readers anxiously biting their nails in anticipation of the next book. Coping with cliffhanger endings and waiting for book releases are not strengths of mine, so I finished with a bit of pouting and foot stamping.

If you enjoyed the TV series Dead Like Me and/or Lost Girl, you’ll like this book. There seems to be quite a bit of angels and reapers type stuff around these days. No Time to Cry is a unique, well written, contender in this growing paranormal sub-genre. I lucked into a reveiwer’s copy, you can snatch up your own for only 99 cents right now on Amazon.

Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book
Neil Gaiman

A riff off of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, this is a middle grade reader sort of book that I really enjoyed. It doesn't have the torturous language or moralism of Kipling's 1897 book, but it does have the structure: stories within a story building up to the finale. Parts of the story seem to have been kept deliberately shallow. It may be that I don't judge the audience very well; since the Girl Unit isn't home I don't have her opinion to help guide me. As an adult reader I found myself thinking that he hadn't gone into more detail with one thing or another because its a middle grade reader. A middle grade reader might notice the lack of detail and feel talked down to, though.

Looking at the (very few in number) poor reviews on (I like to see what people didn't like about books that I like, I find it educational), the things that other people seemed to find most upsetting was a middle grade reader starting with a bloody murder and the supposed lack of happy ending. The ending is not unhappy and ends very much like Jungle Book. The story has ended well, but the boy's story is in many ways just beginning. We don't really need to know what happened to him after this. Chances are he finished growing up, became a tax accountant and now has 3 kids, a dog and an odd penchant for ouija boards.

The whole "how dare he start a book for children with murder?" crowd simply mystifies me. I've no clue what they've been reading or what reality they've been living in, but golly, everything from Snow White on up has that sort of stuff. Unless you're going to keep your kids reading Teddy Ruxpin flip out books for their entire lives, they *are* going to come across some unhappy scenes in literature.

If you don't mind reading middle grade readers, I highly recommend Graveyard Book to anyone.

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