Monthly Archives: September 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Difficult Books


The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is top ten books that were hard for me to read.

I’m going for hard in terms of structure and style rather than hard in terms of subject matter, since I actually quite enjoy darker subject matter. In terms of writing and style, if a book is too convoluted or esoteric I usually will put it down. There are some that I’ve gotten all the way through, though, just to say bwah?

121871. Vladimir Nabokov- Ada, or Ardor I love Nabokov. Love him. And I still have barely any idea what this book was about (incest? That’s about all I’ve got.)

2. Virginia Woolf- Orlando I keep wanting to like Virginia Woolf, and I just haven’t gotten there yet.

3. Pasternak- Doctor Zhivago This book really shouldn’t have been so hard for me (love those Russians) but I just found it incredibly boring.

4. Herman Melville- Moby Dick Moby Dick is a book you read to say you’ve read it. Does anyone really enjoy it? (If you do, yay for you!)

5. Stendahl- The Red and the Black A number of breathless reviews hailed this book but when I finally decided to go for it, I found it impenetrable.

6. Bulgakov- The Master and Margarita I read this on the recommendation of someone I that thought was really classy and who I really wanted to be my friend. Don’t do that, people.

7. Haruki Murakami- The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle There’s this cat and a well and a dude at the bottom of the well and that’s about all I’ve got.

8. The Book of Margery Kempe The autobiography of an illiterate medieval woman, I read The Book of Margery Kempe translated into modern English, but her thinking was just so different from a modern person’s that the text was dense, unstructured, and really, really difficult to get through.

9. Tennyson- Idylls of the King Subject matter I love, but I just never got into the language of it. There is lots of Arthuriana that I just like better.

10. Milton- Paradise Lost I have never finished Paradise Lost. I’ve tried like 4 times. For some reason I just. Can’t. Do it. Chaucer in middle English? No prob. Milton, unmanageable.



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Top Ten Tuesday: Fall TBR


The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List.

Some of these have been out for awhile, rather than being forthcoming, but they’re the ones I’m most excited to cross off my TBR in the next few months.

164296191. David Mitchell- The Bone Clocks

2. Lauren Owen- The Quick

3. Nadia Hashimi- The Pearl That Broke Its Shell

4. Caitlin Doughty- Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From the Crematory

5. Anne Leonard- Moth and Spark

6. N.K. Jemisin- The Fifth Season

7. Mary E. Pearson- The Kiss of Deception

8. Jeff VanderMeer- Acceptance

9. Celeste Ng- Everything I Never Told You

10. Kara Cooney- The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt



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Review: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, edited by Paula Guran

21432372Title: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2014

Author: Various, edited by Paula Guran

Rating: 4 stars

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. 

The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2014 is an extremely long compilation. The digital galley weighed in at 536 pages, and there are a whopping 32 stories. That’s a lot, even for someone who reads as many short stories as me.

Fortunately, for the most part, it’s a very, very strong collection.

I worried, for the first few stories. They were alright, but not really my cup of tea. I don’t read a lot of horror, and I wasn’t loving it. But then I hit “The Good Husband,” by Nathan Ballingrud, the first in the collection to get a little star in my notes. And after that, the stars just kept coming.

One of the best things about this collection was how varied it is. There are contemporaries, alternate histories, and fantasies set in secondary worlds. There are werewolves and evil girl scouts and sea monsters and magicians. There is, really, something for everyone, and plenty of stories I never would have considered reading but ended up really enjoying.

In the end, I starred 11 of the 32 stories. That doesn’t mean I disliked all of the rest, just that those 11 particularly resonated with me. They were the stories that disturbed me, enchanted me, stuck out with engaging voices, kept me on the edge of my seat. The aforementioned “The Good Husband,” “The Soul in the Bell Jar,” “Postcards From Abroad,” “Phosphorous,” “The Prayer of Ninety Cats,” “Shadows For Silence in the Forests of Hell,” “Air, Water, and the Grove,” “A Collapse of Horses,” “Rag and Bone,” “The Slipaway Gray,” and “Cuckoo.”

There were a few stories that fell flat, and some elements I disliked in otherwise good stories. And the collection really is so long, I would have been satisfied if it was a hundred or so pages shorter. Of course, then there would have been plenty of stories I missed.

Overall, a great anthology that showcases a lot of great work in the genre.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I need to read more


The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten Authors I’ve Only Read One Book From but Need to Read More.

My usual modus operandi, when I find an author I like, is to immediately run out and get all their other books that I can from the library and binge. I had a year that was mostly Murakami, a year that was mostly Nabokov, (a number of years that were mostly pretentious…). Anyway, what I mean to say is that this list is hard, because I just don’t work that way. Usually, if I’ve only read one book by an author that means I’m not ever going to touch them again. But there are a few exceptions.

Robin LaFevers– I recently finished Grave Mercy and while I wasn’t completely blown away, it was good enough that I want to check out the rest of the series.

Nicola GriffithHild was one of my favorite books of 2013. I’m a little apprehensive looking at Griffith’s backlist, and nothing has really appealed to me yet, but I want to try more.

Scott Lynch– One of these days I am finally going to sit down and finish the Gentleman Bastards. Really truly.

Jim C. Hines– I enjoyed Libriomancer, but I just haven’t made it to the sequel yet.

Adam Johnson– I don’t even know if he’s written another book, but The Orphan Master’s Son is another one of my favorites from the last year or so.

Helene Wecker– Her debut novel was exquisite, I need more like yesterday.

Truman Capote– I’ve always meant to read Breakfast at Tiffanys, but I’ve never gotten to it.

Jeff VanderMeer– I’m getting there, but not quite yet.

Leigh Bardugo– I wasn’t really into the first Grisha book, but everyone seems to go so gaga that I’m wondering if I should give it a second try.

Sarah J. Maas- Same as above. I can’t quite decide if I was in the midst of an old lady, YA sucks phase or if Throne of Glass really was that bad.


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Mini Reviews- Romance

Through NetGalley and Goodreads I’ve ended up reading a lot of romances over the past few weeks, so it seemed like a good time for some mini reviews! Also, Pandora decided to just start playing “I Want to Know What Love Is”, so, um, thematically appropriate?

cover51532-mediumIn The Raw by Eileen Griffin and Nikka Michaels. I enjoy pretty much everything I’ve read from Carina Press, especially their m/m titles. This one was full of everything I love–bad boy and goodie-two-shoes, food (why do I love contemporary romances about cooking so much?)–but it felt a little overstuffed to me. There are too many conflicts going on. You don’t need a coming-out/evil homophobe parents conflict and a bullying classmate and rich boy/poor boy drama and a competition over the same scholarship. Plus, how do you have a pierced and tattooed bad boy and then almost never use that? I definitely needed some more tattoo action going on. 2.5 stars.


Hunting the Spy by Tyler Flynn. cover50483-mediumAnother Carina Press title, this one a m/m historical. Nathan Kennet is a spycatcher for the Crown who has to face the possibility that his former lover, Sir Peter Ross, might be a killer and a traitor. This one was really fast paced and fun. Nathan had an almost terminal case of the stupids some times, and at some of the plottier parts my eyes glazed over, but Peter was completely adorable and for the most part I liked how the relationship developed. 3.5 stars.


156565The Leopard Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt. I have no idea why Goodreads was giving away a seven year old title, but I was really excited about it. I like Elizabeth Hoyt and the tagline– “The one thing a lady must never do is fall in love with her servant”–really drew me in. With historicals, you tend to get an overabundance of dukes, earls, and marquesses, and when someone is of a different class, it’s usually the woman–a prostitute, a poor relation, etc. So I was really, really excited to see a romance between a lady and her land steward.

Only, it didn’t really turn out to be that. Harry is as much of an arrogant, entitled asshat as any good regency Duke. He doesn’t actually do any land stewarding because he’s either haring around the countryside in pursuit of a murderer, or stomping around with widdle hurt feewings because his lady said something that he took out of context. Georgina, the lady, starts out pretty cool, but by the end she is making just as many stupid decisions as he is (Need to fix all your problems? Run away from them and marry a gay man, natch.) And the class conflict I wanted was virtually nonexistent. George’s family pretty quickly come around, and while Harry pouts a bit about George having the money and people perceiving him as a “man-whore,” it all feels like hollow whining instead of valid concerns. Most of the conflict comes externally, from the most mustache-twirlingly, vile, gross villain I have read in a good long while.

This book sounded so cool but when I sat down to read it every single thing about it rubbed me the wrong way. 2 stars.

The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas. 22751852Lastly, we come to a romance that isn’t really a romance at all. A prequel to Thomas’s My Beautiful Enemy, (which I have not yet read), The Hidden Blade sets up the backstories of the protagonists, but they never meet. In Peking, Ying-ying, the daughter of a beautiful courtesan, finds out that her father is a “foreign devil,”(an Englishman) and, not sure what sort of future this gives her, begins to secretly train in martial arts. In England, Leighton faces virtual imprisonment by his awful uncle after his father’s suicide, and he works hard to both protect his family and escape and return to them. So much terrible stuff happens in this book, and it happens to children. It was actually kind of rough to read, at points. But Leighton and Ying-ying were both fascinating characters, and I kind of can’t wait to see how they react to/interact with each other. Being a prequel, it ends unsatifyingly and feels unfinished, but there’s a lot to like about this book. Non-white characters and non-Western cultures that don’t feel like caricatures or pandering. A homosexual relationship that admittedly ends in tragedy but isn’t based on stereotype. A badass ninja battle. All in all, it was a pretty cool read, and I don’t think you have to be a romance reader to enjoy it. 4 stars.

One interesting note is that all of these books have homosexual characters. Okay, two of them are explicitly m/m titles, but seeing gay characters in otherwise “regular” historical romances made me quite happy. Romance, like most genres, needs a lot more diversity in terms of color, creed, orientation, etc. History wasn’t all white, straight people, and I love to see authors acknowledging and exploring that.

I think I’ve gotten romance out of my system for a while. Time to get back to fantasies.



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Review: The Secret Place by Tana French

20821043Title: The Secret Place

Author: Tana French

Rating: 4 stars

I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

It is amazing to me that  a year ago I didn’t know who Tana French was. And yet. The first time I heard of Tana French was opening up my Secret Santa package from The Broke and the Bookish. A fellow book blogger (who’s name I have shamefully forgotten) gave me The Likeness, which I looked at, shrugged, and stuffed on my TBR shelf to get to whenever. BAD CHOICE. The Likeness, when I finally got around to it, was a book that completely astonished me, and I devoured it, and then every other book in the Dublin Murder Squad series. Now that I’ve read The Secret Place, French’s latest, I am almost bereft. I’m all caught up until she writes more. What am I supposed to do now?

The Secret Place focuses on Detective Stephen Moran, last seen in Faithful Place. He made a career mistake, then, but he’s ambitious and patient, and is biding his time in Cold Cases until he can get onto the Murder Squad. When Holly Mackey approaches him with evidence regarding the year-old murder of a teenage boy, he sees his in.

All of the Murder Squad novels are variations on a theme, but this one was a departure in a few ways. Up until this book, French has only written in the first person, but about half of The Secret Place is given to a close third-person, present tense POV that alternates around Holly’s group of friends. At the sentence level, French’s writing is as lush and gorgeous as ever, but I have to say that I kind of missed the first person. I didn’t feel as close to Stephen as I did to any of French’s other protagonists. On the one hand, I don’t need everyone to have some monumentally tortured back-story or skeletons in the closet, but on the other, Stephen’s main characteristics seemed to be: a) he’s ambitious and b) he has no close friends. That’s it. He was a sketch of a person that I kept waiting to get filled in, and he never really did.

Another interesting choice is that the main, present-day action took place over a single day. The card shows up in the morning, the case is cracked by midnight. It led to the plot feeling really tense and tight, which I loved, but it was also exhausting. 

Psychologically, the viciousness and cliquishness of teen girls was not something I was particularly clamoring to read about.”If I’ve learned one thing today, it’s that teenage girls make Moriarity look like a babe in the woods,” Stephen says on pg 317, and that could sum up the whole novel in one line. But I’ve been there, and I had no need to go there again. It was interesting, and I think French executed the teen girls and all their tangled motivations beautifully, but I don’t think it’s the kind of book I would have picked up if it was written by anyone else.

There was one element of the book that left me with a big old huhand almost threw me completely out of the story. It’s massively spoilery, so all I’ll say is I probably would have been ok with it in literally any other book, but in my crime fiction: get out. I’m glad I got past it in the end, though.

If you’ve never read Tana French, I wouldn’t recommend starting  with this one. Her books don’t absolutely have to be read in order, I didn’t read them that way, but I don’t think this is the best example of what she can do. Still, even not-her-best Tana French is better than almost any other writer I can think of. I can’t wait to find out what comes next.

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Review: How to Ruin a Queen by Jonathan Beckman

20448531Title: How to Ruin a Queen: Marie Antoinette and the Diamond Necklace Affair

Author: Jonathan Beckman

Rating: 4 stars

I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

During the last years of Ancien Regime France, a conwoman is obsessed with the rights supposedly due to her as a descendant of the house of Valois. She wants money and power and the ear of the Queen, and when she cannot have them through legitimate means, she lies. A lot.

Meanwhile, a cardinal from another old, aristocratic family has been spurned by Marie Antoinette and has been trying to get back into her good graces for years. Otherwise, he is sure, he will never gain the prominent political place he feels sure he deserves. He latches onto the conwoman, who is first his lover, and then his dependent. And one day, she tells him that she has secret messages to him from the Queen.

How to Ruin a Queen is a difficult story. There are a lot of pieces, and those pieces often don’t make a lot of sense. How an opportunistic ploy for the conwoman, Jeanne de La Motte, to get her hands on a diamond necklace (that she could then dismantle and sell in pieces) turned into a trial about slandering the Queen’s royal name and became one of the precipitating events of the French Revolution is complex and confusing. I’m still not sure I understand it all. But I’m also not sure that it matters.

Beckman is a very engaging writer. How to Ruin a Queen frequently reads like a novel, and it’s worth checking out for the characterization of these people alone. Beckman also provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of the late eighteenth century, from the culture of letter writing to the birth of freemasonry. It’s not a time period or setting I am overly familiar with, so I appreciated how vividly it was brought to life.

I felt that Beckman was a little too sympathetic to and forgiving of the cardinal, Rohan, characterizing him as bumbling and gullible throughout and excusing away most of his actions. Jeanne, meanwhile, came across as a vicious, greedy huckster. The perceptions of both often felt a little unbalanced, a little extreme, though I had no previous  knowledge of their history and of course can’t say for sure either way. But I think the truth of Jeanne and Rohan lies somewhat more in the middle ground, that Beckman probably exaggerated them. That makes for better drama but potentially detracts from the history. I really enjoyed the story, but I’m not sure how swayed I am by Beckman’s analysis of it.

Still, particularly if you are interested in the Revolution, you will find a lot to like in How to Ruin a Queen. It’s accessible even when it’s confusing, and offers a fascinating look at a footnote from history.

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