Down the TBR Hole #10

Down the TBR Hole was originally created over at Lost in a Story.

Most of you probably know this feeling, your Goodreads TBR pile keeps growing and growing and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. You keep adding, but you add more than you actually read. And then when you’re scrolling through your list, you realize that you have no idea what half the books are about and why you added them. Well that’s going to change!

It works like this:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10, if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?
  • Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week!

My to-read shelf: 1052 titles

The Shakespeare Riots: Revenge, Drama, and Death in Nineteenth-Century America by Nigel Cliff

Published: April 17, 2007
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’m just not feeling the need to read about the Astor Place Riot anymore.

Stay or Go? Go

The Book of William: How Shakespeare’s First Folio Conquered the World by Paul Collins

Published: July 1, 2009
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

On the other hand, I am still interested in the story of the First Folio. (Thanks again, Book Riot.)

Stay or Go? Stay

The Return to Judaism: Descendants from the Inquisition Discovering Their Jewish Roots by Sandra Malamed

Published: November 15, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’m still interested in the topic, but not this particular book.

Stay or Go? Go

The Big Bang Symphony: A Novel of Antarctica by Lucy Jane Bledsoe

Published: May 6, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

A little contemporary Antarctic fiction to go with all the non-fiction history.

Stay or Go? Stay

Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages by Guy Deutscher

Published: August 31, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’m a little on the fence with this one, but I think it’ll stay. For now.

Stay or Go? Stay

Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms & a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester

Published: October 27, 2009
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

Simon Winchester is one of my automatic TBR non-fiction writers.

Stay or Go? Stay

Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity, and the DNA of the Chosen People by Jon Entine

Published: October 24, 2007
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

Another one where the topic sounds interesting, but not this particular book.

Stay or Go? Go

You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers

Published: October 1, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I actually started reading this at one point, and couldn’t get into it.

Stay or Go? Go

Descartes’ Baby: How the Science of Child Development Explains What Makes Us Human by Paul Bloom

Published: April 27, 2005
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’m pretty sure I started reading this at one point, too. And I think I may have had it confused with a different book.

Stay or Go? Go

Final Jeopardy: Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything by Stephen Baker

Published: January 1, 2011
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I watched the Jennings/Rutter/Watson match on tv, and I’m interested in the history of the machine

Stay or Go? Stay

Five to go, five to stay. Chipping away at the TBR. New to-read shelf: 1047 titles.

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Getting Old is Murder by Rita Lakin

Getting Old Is Murder (Gladdy Gold, #1)Getting Old Is Murder by Rita Lakin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hello. Let me introduce myself. I’m Gladdy Gold. Actually, Gladys. I’m a self-proclaimed P.I. That’s right, a private eye. Operating out of Fort Lauderdale.

When did I get into the P.I. biz? As we speak. My credentials? More than thirty years of reading mysteries. Miss Marple and Miss Silver are my heroines.

At age 75, retired librarian Gladys “Gladdy” Gold lives in Lanai Gardens, a Florida “retirement community” condo development. With her circle of friendly neighbors (including her younger sister), she enjoys a regular routine of walking, sitting by the pool, Publix shopping trips, canasta games, and other everyday activities. Lanai Gardens is a community unto itself, with everyone into one another’s business, so Gladdy fills the reader in on the goings-on in everyone’s life. Life that seems pretty predictable until ladies start dying right before their birthdays, and Gladdy quickly begins to suspect foul play.

This is a quick-moving book, with short chapters and snappy observations. It’s easy to hear Gladdy’s New York twang in her short sentences and wry humor. She is the gossipy great-aunt you didn’t know you had, but she is ready to sweep you up into her world and make you at home. Interspersed with the first-person chapters narrated by Gladdy, there are a few chapters that take a third-person perspective to reveal events that she doesn’t yet know the details of. With the murders presented on the page this way, the reader actually has more clues to the mystery than the book’s amateur sleuth does.

I picked this book up as part of my current obsession with cozy mysteries, and because it would qualify for Read Harder 2018 task 23: A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60. It almost qualified for the one-sitting book task, since I read nearly all of it on a flight from Los Angeles to Atlanta. (And I already fulfilled that task with The Grownup.) It’s a fun read, and I like the quirky characters, and I really enjoyed the way it manages to echo the small-town settings so frequently found in cozies without taking place in a real (fictional) small town. It stands out, too, for the fact that Gladdy isn’t a newcomer to the community, like many cozy mystery protagonists; she’s been living in Lanai Gardens for years. The book is the first in a series, so if you enjoy it, there’s more to come!

Source: Ebook checked out from my public library
Challenges: Counts for Read Harder 2018 (Task #23: A book with a female protagonist over the age of 60)

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Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to in June

Ten of the books on my TBR coming out in June (I seem to have skipped May. This month has been weird, y’all.) that I’m especially looking forward to:

President Bill Clinton and bestselling novelist James Patterson have written a spellbinding thriller, The President is Missing.

The President Is Missing
Bill Clinton and James Patterson
(June 4)

Do I really need to know more than that? No, not really.

 

Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home begins at the grave of Katagiri Roshi, Natalie’s Zen teacher, in Japan. Twenty years after Katagiri’s death and Natalie’s return to New Mexico, she is permanently settled in Santa Fe with her partner, Yukwan. Except that, as Buddhism teaches us, nothing is permanent.

Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home: A Memoir
Natalie Goldberg
(June 5)

Natalie Goldberg is one of my favorite writers-on-writing.

 

In 1587, 115 men, women, and children arrived on Roanoke, an island off the coast of North Carolina. Chartered by Queen Elizabeth I, their colony was to establish a foothold for England in the New World. But by the time the colony’s leader, John White, returned to Roanoke from a resupply mission in England, his settlers were nowhere to be found. They had vanished into the wilderness, leaving behind only a single clue–the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree.

The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke
Andrew Lawler
(June 5)

At first glance, I thought this was going to be a novel about Roanoke. But it is not. It is a non-fiction look at what might have happened, how archaeologists are trying to figure it out, and the way the Lost Colony has entered the popular consciousness.

 

Nora Tucker is looking forward to summer vacation in Wolf Creek–two months of swimming, popsicles, and brushing up on her journalism skills for the school paper. But when two inmates break out of the town’s maximum security prison, everything changes.

Breakout
by Kate Messner
(June 5)

I’m always up for a new Kate Messner book.

 

Tea and books: the perfect pairing. There’s nothing quite like sitting down to a good book on a lovely afternoon with a steaming cup of tea beside you, as you fall down the rabbit hole into the imaginative worlds of Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, and Sherlock Holmes . . .

A Literary Afternoon Tea: 55 Recipes for Savory Nibbles, Bite-Sized Sweets, and Custom Teas for Book Lovers
Alison Walsh
(June 5)

I prefer the title on the cover image, so I hope that’s the one they’re going with. I’m not sure “want to read” is quite right, since it’s a cookbook. But I’m definitely looking forward to paging through this one. Books! Tea!

 

When Katie Met Cassidy is a romantic comedy that explores how, as a culture, while we may have come a long way in terms of gender equality, a woman’s capacity for an entitlement to sexual pleasure still remain entirely taboo. This novel tackles the question: Why, when it comes to female sexuality, are so few women figuring out what they want and then going out and doing it?

When Katie Met Cassidy
Camille Perri
(June 19)

That actually sounds rather serious, but I’ve seen this book characterized as “a rom-com with two women”, which I am totally here for.

 

[…]But a few days later Kate receives a call from the police–Cordelia has been found dead on the mansion property, and Kate is all-but certain that her name is high on the suspect list. She finds herself juggling the murder investigation and her growing fascination with the magnificent old house that turns out to be full of long-hidden mysteries itself. Kate knows she must clear her name and save her town–before she ends up behind bars.

Murder at the Mansion (Victorian Village Mysteries #1)
Sheila Connolly
(June 26)

New cozy mystery series! (The name Kat(i)e certainly seems to be popular in fiction these days.)

 

For all the scores of biographies of Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the most famous detective in the world, there is no recent book that tells this remarkable story–in which Conan Doyle becomes a real-life detective on an actual murder case. In Conan Doyle for the Defense, Margalit Fox takes us step by step inside Conan Doyle’s investigative process and illuminates a murder mystery that is also a morality play for our time–a story of ethnic, religious, and anti-immigrant bias.

Conan Doyle for the Defense: The True Story of a Sensational British Murder, a Quest for Justice, and the World’s Most Famous Detective Writer
Margalit Fox
(June 26)

I read and liked Julian Barnes’ Arthur & George, and I’m really looking forward to a non-fiction account of a different case in which Sir Arthur took on the detective role. If I hadn’t already zipped through The Feather Thief, this probably would’ve been by Read Harder Challenge book for the True Crime Task.

 

In this exciting historical mystery debut set in Victorian England, a wealthy young widow encounters the pleasures—and scandalous pitfalls—of a London social season . . .

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder (A Countess of Harleigh Mystery #1)
Dianne Freeman
(June 26)

Victorian-set historical mystery. Debut in a new series. Yes, please.

 

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1)
Rebecca Roanhorse
(June 26)

Post-climate-apocalypse fiction set in the southwest, featuring a Native woman who clearly is ready to kick butt and take names. Look at that cover. I’ve already placed my library hold.

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Down the TBR Hole #9

Down the TBR Hole was originally created over at Lost in a Story.

Most of you probably know this feeling, you’re Goodreads TBR pile keeps growing and growing and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. You keep adding, but you add more than you actually read. And then when you’re scrolling through your list, you realize that you have no idea what half the books are about and why you added them. Well that’s going to change!

It works like this:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10, if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?
  • Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week!

My to-read shelf: 1050 titles

Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life by Stephanie Staal

Published: January 31, 2011
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

The reviews on this one are pretty rough. Probably best to skip the memoir and just read those books instead.

Stay or Go? Go

Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz

Published: May 18, 2005
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

My wife and I were married in a church ceremony in 2005; the state of California joined the party three years later. (And then left the party, and then came back, thanks to a US Supreme Court ruling – that was an interesting little roller coaster.) This still looks like good reading.

Stay or Go? Stay

All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age by Hubert L. Dreyfus

Published: January 4, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

The gaps in my reading are large and strange. Name a classic, and it’s entirely possible I haven’t read it. (Unless it’s Shakespeare, which I took more than one college course on.) Not out of any conscious aversion; I seem to have had an unusual high school required reading list. And while I took a comparative literature survey course on “Masterpieces of Western Culture”, we read selections from anthologies, not whole works. So, I have a back-burner project of actually reading The Classics, and this book looked like it might be helpful. The reviews on it are definitely love-it-or-hate-it, though, and it looks like it’s not quite what I want.

Every time I look at that cover, I think of Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Poor whale.

Stay or Go? Go

On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits by Wray Herbert

Published: January 1, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

A little pop-neuroscience.

Stay or Go? Stay

Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession by Craig Childs

Published: January 1, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

The subject is interesting, but I don’t think this is one for me.

Stay or Go? Go

Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality by Patricia S. Churchland

Published: January 1, 2011
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012
More neuroscience. Yep.

Stay or Go? Stay

 

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed by Sally M. Walker

Published: October, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

Antarctica. For kids.

Stay or Go? Stay

 

Peace Is Every Breath: A Practice for Our Busy Lives by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Published: January 1, 2011
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

Stay or Go? Stay

 

Scott, Shackleton, and Amundsen: Ambition and Tragedy in the Antarctic by David Thomson

Published: 1977
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

An older book on the Heroic Age of Exploration. I actually don’t think I need to read this particular one.

Stay or Go? Go

 

Nomansland by Lesley Hauge

Published: June 15, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I keep thinking this book is older than it is. Possibly, I have it confused with another book.

Stay or Go? Go

 

5 out, 5 stay in. New to-read shelf: 1045 titles.

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You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

You Go FirstYou Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard balanced an unopened Dr Pepper upright on her hand and thought: This is what it feels like to hold my dad’s heart.

She’d read online that the heart weighed about twelve ounces.

Same as the Dr Pepper.

(Somebody should probably mention to Charlotte that there’s a difference between ounces (mass) and fluid ounces (volume). Although Google tells me that a 12-ounce can of soda weighs about 13-14 ounces, so it’s pretty close!)

I’d been especially looking forward to this book since reading Kelly’s Newbery-winning Hello, Universe in February. This book has much of the charm of that book, with its painfully realistic middle-schoolers, but without the magical realism that was a part of Virgil’s story.

Twelve-year-old Charlotte Lockard is dealing with her dad’s sudden health problem and the way her best friend seems to be drifting away from her now that they’ve started the seventh grade. Eleven-year-old Ben Boxer has just found out his parents are divorcing, and he doesn’t know how to talk to them about the troubles he’s been having fit in at middle school. Charlotte and Ben play online Scrabble against each other regularly. It’s their only interaction: Charlotte lives in Pennsylvania, and Ben lives in Louisiana. They’ve never met in person. But they have more in common than they think, and they might just be able to help one another.

Kelly captures the agonies of middle school perfectly – as a mom myself, I just wanted to hug both Charlotte and Ben. Their struggles are so familiar. At an age when they’re just starting to figure out who they are, the world seems to be suddenly rearranging itself all around them. The chapters alternate perspective between Charlotte and Ben, revealing the parallels in their lives to the reader before they really connect with other as more than word game adversaries. They’re both smart and awkward, and there are a lot of kids who will recognize themselves. Like in Hello, Universe, there isn’t a lot of action on the page; the development is emotional and psychological rather than physical. For those who enjoy character-driven stories, though, it’s a gem.

Source: Checked out from the public library

Challenges: None.

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Round-Up Review: The ScotShop Mysteries

A Wee Murder in My Shop (Scotshop Mystery, #1) A Wee Dose of Death (ScotShop Mystery #2) A Wee Homicide in the Hotel (ScotShop Mystery #3)

A Wee Murder in My Shop by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Wee Dose of Death by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Wee Homicide in the Hotel by Fran Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with the Gethsemane Brown books, I’m putting up one review for all three of these. I read all three of the span of five days, so they’re sort of a single entity in my head at this point.

Those Gethsemane Brown books seem to have sent me down a major rabbit hole of cozy mysteries, by the way. Specifically, it seems, cozies with ghosts in them. I did not see that coming, frankly.

Peggy Winn lives in Hamelin, Vermont, where she runs the ScotShop, selling all things Scottish to tourists. She makes regular visits to the Perthshire town of Pitlochry to purchase authentic Scottish wares for her stock. At the opening of the first book, she’s particularly glad to get on that transatlantic flight, because she’s just discovered her (now ex-)boyfriend in bed with her (now ex-)best friend. While in Scotland, she happens upon a strange shop and purchases a lovely tartan shawl, which she soon discovers comes with a genuine Scottish ghost. Macbeath Donlevy Freusach Macearacher Macpheidiran of clan Farquharson, deceased circa 1359, to be precise. She nicknames him Dirk.

Peggy returns to Hamelin, ghost in tow, to discover her ex-boyfriend is now her late ex-boyfriend – he’s been murdered overnight inside her shop. In the grand tradition of cozy mysteries, Peggy takes on the task of unmasking the murderer, since the local police chief is not exactly pursuing all leads.

In the second book, the local police chief is still thoroughly unhelpful, and Peggy (and Dirk) take on the task of figuring out who killed a local college professor in a deserted mountain cabin. Once that mystery is solved, the third book brings the Highland Games to Hamelin, along with (yet another) murder for Peggy and Dirk to investigate.

This appears to be a three-book series, without a fourth installment on the horizon. Which is a bit of a shame, since it seems poor Dirk will never actually get to reunite with his own Peigi or otherwise get to rest in peace.

I found the series charming, with its slightly eccentric small-town characters. The interactions between Dirk and Peggy, fraught with communication difficulties due to the seven centuries of linguistic development between their respective versions of English, in addition to cultural differences, are entertaining. Peggy’s relationships with the secondary characters round out the story and provide some interesting glimpses into parts of her life not revealed on the page. It is some of the loose ends of those threads that have me rather hoping for another sequel.

Also, I kind of want a Scottie dog now.

Source: Checked out the first book as an e-book from my public library via Libby; borrowed the second and third in paperback form from the library.

Reading Challenges: None. I’m ignoring the glares coming from Mt. TBR over there.

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The Feather Thief by Kirk Wallace Johnson

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the CenturyThe Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century
by Kirk W. Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 2009, Edwin Rist, age 20, American student flautist at the Royal Academy of Music, broke into an outpost of the British Museum and stole hundreds of preserved birds. Among the haul were scientific samples gathered in the 1800s by Alfred Russel Wallace, painstakingly labeled with data about where and when they were obtained. Priceless to researchers, the birds – or, more precisely, their brightly-colored feathers – were worth thousands of dollars to a select group: Victorian salmon fly-tying enthusiasts. When Kirk Wallace Johnson heard about the heist two years later, during a difficult time in his own life, the case gave him something to focus his energy on. Why did Rist do it? What happened afterward? And where, exactly, were those hundreds of birds?

Johnson opens the book with Rist in the middle of the burglary, then jumps back to the history of the birds and their collector, Alfred Russel Wallace, the Tring Museum and its beginnings as the private collection of Walter Rothschild, and the nineteenth-century “Feather Fever” and birth of the hobby of tying salmon flies to exacting standards. He chronicles Rist’s life as the homeschooled tween learns about and becomes obsessed with fly-tying, becomes famous among his fellow hobbyists, and heads to London with his flute. He covers the official investigation as well as his own inquiries into what exactly happened and how. It reads like a novel, introducing characters and backstories while briskly developing the plot. End notes detail his sources, including official records and personal interviews with key figures.

This book sounded interesting from the first time I heard about it – a feather-stealing flautist? Victorian fly-tying masters buying and selling black-market bird parts? It did not disappoint. In my paperback ARC, the photo section was black-and-white and not great quality, so I was very happy to discover the photo gallery on Johnson’s site. This is definitely my kind of true crime book!

Source: ARC borrowed from a friend (thanks, CG!)

Reading Challenges: Counts for Read Harder 2018 (Task #2: A book of true crime)

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Down the TBR Hole #8

Down the TBR Hole was originally created over at Lost in a Story.

Most of you probably know this feeling, you’re Goodreads TBR pile keeps growing and growing and it seems like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. You keep adding, but you add more than you actually read. And then when you’re scrolling through your list, you realize that you have no idea what half the books are about and why you added them. Well that’s going to change!

It works like this:

  • Go to your goodreads to-read shelf.
  • Order on ascending date added.
  • Take the first 5 (or 10, if you’re feeling adventurous) books
  • Read the synopses of the books
  • Decide: keep it or should it go?
  • Keep track of where you left off so you can pick up there next week!

My to-read shelf: 1055 titles (Why, yes, that is more than I started with last week. At some point, this will start to shrink, right?)

Antarctica: Life on the Ice by Susan Fox Rogers (Ed.)

Published: September 28, 2007
On TBR Since: March 9, 2012

Like I’m going to get rid of an Antarctic essay collection.

Stay or Go? Stay

No Horizon Is So Far: Two Women And Their Extraordinary Journey Across Antarctica by Liv Arnesen and Ann Bancroft
No Horizon Is So Far: Two Women And Their Extraordinary Journey Across Antarctica

Published: September 1, 2003
On TBR Since: March 9, 2012

Arnesen and Bancroft were the first women to cross Antarctica on foot. Antarctic adventure memoir. I need to read this book.

Stay or Go? Stay

Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places by Madeleine L’Engle

Published: 1996
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’m just gonna take this from the GoodReads summary: “Despite protests and warnings from friends and family, author Madeleine L’Engle, at the age of seventy-four, embarked on a rafting trip to Antarctica.”

Stay or Go? Stay

Yarn: Remembering the Way Home by Kyoko Mori
Published: 2009
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

Knitting memoir. I was definitely on-brand putting things on my TBR that particular day.

Stay or Go? Stay

Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature by Brian Switek

Published: 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’ll probably come back to this one someday, but for now, it goes.

Stay or Go? Go

The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, edited by by Jeff Martin and C. Max Magee

Published: March 1, 2011
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

A collection of essays on “the future of books” that is now seven years old.

Stay or Go? Go

The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time by David L. Ulin

Published: June 1, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

I’m just not feeling this one anymore. Too many other things I’m more interested in reading.

Stay or Go? Go

Becoming Shakespeare: The Unlikely Afterlife That Turned a Provincial Playwright into the Bard by Jack Lynch

Published: June 12, 2007
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

The “Annotated” podcast episode on “Saving Shakespeare” has reignited my interest in this one.

Stay or Go? Stay

On the Ice: An Intimate Portrait of Life at McMurdo Station, Antarctica by Gretchen Legler

Published: October 25, 2005
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

Antarctic memoir. That’s all.

Stay or Go? Stay

Runners on Running: The Best Nonfiction of Distance Running by Rich Elliott (Ed.)

Published: November 5, 2010
On TBR Since: March 10, 2012

Another one that I might come back to one day, but today is not that day.

Stay or Go? Go

Four out, six stay in.  New to-read shelf: 1051 titles. Until I add more books in, like, 10 minutes.

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Round-Up Review: Teapot Collector Mysteries by Amanda Cooper

 

Tempest in a Teapot by Amanda Cooper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Shadow of a Spout by Amanda Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Grim Steeper by Amanda Cooper
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thelma Mae Earnshaw peeped through the lacy curtains that adorned the side window of La Belle Epoque, her quaint(ish) inn and tearoom. She was trying to figure out what had her archenemy and business competitor, Rose Freemont, in such a fuss.

Another cozy mystery round-up review!

The Teapot Collector Mystery series is centered on Sophie Taylor, who at age 29 has just been through the rise and failure of her own New York City restaurant. Her father is eternally traveling on business, and her mother would like her to marry a nice (wealthy) young man already and turn into the sort of Society Lady Sophie has never wanted to be. Instead, Sophie heads upstate to Gracious Grove, a tiny town with more interest in tea than seems reasonable (maybe because the town also happens to be dry). There, her octogenarian grandmother, Rose Freemont, runs Auntie Rose’s Victorian Tea House and could perhaps use a hand. Next door, Thelma Mae Earnshaw runs a rival tearoom, because her entire life seems to revolve around trying to get even with Rose for a supposed slight decades ago. Her business never quite gets the upper hand, and it isn’t helped any when Thelma’s granddaughter’s mother-in-law-to-be dies suddenly right there in the tearoom. Soon, Sophie is trying to untangle the web of connections between families and businesses in Gracious Grove to figure out who could have murdered the woman and why.

In the second book, Rose and her business partner (and best friend) Laverne go to the annual International Teapot Collectors Society convention together for the first time, since Sophie is still in Gracious Grove to mind the shop. Their jaunt takes a nasty turn when the state ITCS president is murdered in the night… after a public argument with Rose over identification of a peculiar teapot. Since said teapot is found next to the body, Rose quickly becomes the suspect everyone is watching. Sophie drives up to assist in finding the real killer.

At the opening of the third book, Rose has had a health scare, and Sophie wants to help out in any way she can. The town’s annual Tea Stroll is coming up, there’s some sort of scandal going on at the local college, and – eventually – a man turns up dead on the Auntie Rose’s Victorian Tea House property.

This is a fun series, with a cast of quirky recurring characters who get into each other’s business the way people will in a small town. While Sophie grew up in a moneyed family, with luxuries like a vacation house in the Hamptons and an education at private boarding schools, all she wanted as a teenager was to stay at her grandmother’s house in Gracious Grove with the kids she was able to hang out with during her visits. A number of those kids are now the adults of Gracious Grove, and Sophie runs into a few bumps trying to fit back in. The narrative shifts between characters: while it returns frequently to Sophie, the scenes are sometimes viewed through the eyes of Rose or Thelma Mae. The sections told from Thelma Mae’s point of view are particularly interesting, making a character who could have been a flat stereotype of a cranky old lady into someone more real. I could understand why she does some of the things she does, even as I would like to tell her, “No! Don’t do that! Just go talk to Rose!” It’s a good thing the characters are interesting in their own right, since it takes a while to get the mystery in each book, especially the third one. There’s also a very slow burn romance developing for Sophie, which is very sweet. And each book includes tips on tea and a recipe for a little treat. I hope there will be more installments in the series.

Source: Checked out from my public library

Reading Challenges: Um, none. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

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

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (Guide, #1)
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the morning we are to leave for our Grand Tour of the Continent, I wake in bed beside Percy. For a disorienting moment, it’s unclear whether we’ve slept together or simply slept together.

This novel reminded me of reading Voltaire’s Candide in an English translation in college. What I remember most about that is that it was one adventure after another, a sort of Energizer Bunny of a story that just… kept… going. I recently did a little digging to figure out if what I remembered was accurate, and I ran across the term “picaresque novel”, for which the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms provides this explanation:

In the strict sense, a novel with a picaroon (Spanish, picaró: a rogue or scoundrel) as its hero or heroine, usually recounting his or her escapades in a first-person narrative marked by its episodic structure and realistic low-life descriptions. The picaroon is often a quick-witted servant who takes up with a succession of employers. […] In the looser sense now more frequently used, the term is applied to narratives that do not have a picaroon as their central character, but are loosely structured as a sequence of episodes united only by the presence of the central character, who is often involved in a long journey[…].

Okay, so The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue doesn’t strictly meet the definition, but it’s pretty close. It’s set in an unspecified year sometime in the eighteenth century. The first-person narrator, Henry “Monty” Montague, is the eighteen-year-old Viscount Disley, a lad pretty committed to a daily routine of drinking, gambling, and romping with assorted girls and boys. His father, the earl, has been vocal (and physical) in his disapproval of Monty’s habits, especially the “mucking about with boys” that was a major factor in Monty’s expulsion from Eton.

Monty is looking forward to one last hurrah of a Grand European Tour with his best friend (and the boy he’s been in love with for years), Percy, before returning to England, where his father expects him to settle down and learn how to handle estate he is expected to inherit. Monty is disappointed to discover that, in addition to bringing his fifteen-year-old sister, Felicity, along for a portion of the tour, he and Percy have been assigned a “bear-leader” who pledges to keep them on the straight and narrow.

That doesn’t last past Paris; events at a party at Versailles quickly lead to Monty, Percy, and Felicity – separated from their supposed guardian – finding themselves in a flight from city to city, trying to keep one step ahead of some dangerous pursuers. Secrets of all sorts are revealed as one challenge follows another, and Monty learns quite a lot more than he bargained for.

Monty, Percy, and Felicity are all realistically complicated characters. Monty is a rogue who has trouble seeing past his own privilege, but his biracial best friend and science-minded younger sister can (eventually) get through to him. The difficulties Percy and Felicity face are realistic edges in a story that verges on the fantastical.

This book is, most of all, fun. Monty’s attraction to boys as well as girls isn’t an issue for him (other than the fact that it drives his father’s vicious treatment of him); his problem is that he isn’t sure how to tell the boy he likes that he, well, likes him. Having a crush on your best friend that you’re afraid to confess because you can’t bear the thought of losing that friend? That’s a problem teenagers across time, space, gender, and orientation can all understand. This is a picaresque (hey, there’s that word!) adventure novel and a romance, so you know that despite the obstacles (and more obstacles… and more obstacles) they face, our heroes will get to their happy ending.

And Felicity is getting a book of her own, slated for October 2018. I am so looking forward to The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. I can hardly wait.

Source: Checked out from my public library.

Reading Challenges: Um, none. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

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