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Month: June 2019

READING THE TBR, DAY 180: Ain’t She a Peach (2018) by Molly Harper

Another delightful installment in the Southern Eclectic series, this one giving us the adorable and forthright Frankie McCready, undertaker and coroner extraordinaire, having to deal with the outright rude and ever-suspicious big city cop-turned local sheriff, Eric Linden.

If there is one thing I hate in romance — or in life — it is an alphahole, and Linden’s abrasiveness made me pretty furious for a good long while. Eventually, he softened (and yes, I get the point of the archetype, the whole redeemed-by-a-good-woman thing that has infested all genres of literary pursuit since time immemorial), and eventually, he seemed somewhat worthy of the most excellent Frankie, but it took me longer to warm up to him than it took her, and that kind of affected my enjoyment of their story.

Nevertheless, this was certainly another good time, full of Harper’s signature snark along with some completely lovable secondary characters, and I have already bought books 2.5 (another e-novella!) and 3, released this year — plus, I will definitely be adding all Southern Eclectic novels to my TBR as and when they appear in print. I also have a few of Molly Harper’s books already in my possession — a couple even deal with werewolves — and I have a feeling they will be appearing on my reading list sooner rather than later. 

Even if they do appear to feature some of her (seemingly favourite) alphaholes. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 180: Ain’t She a Peach (Southern Eclectic #2) by Molly Harper
GENRE: Romance, Romantic Comedy
PUBLISHED: 2018
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year. 
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 179: Sweet Tea and Sympathy (2017) by Molly Harper

My previous experience with Molly Harper is in the realm of funny, charming paranormal romance. Her Jane Jameson series, beginning with Nice Girls Don’t Have Fangs, is set in the US South, and has a very Southern sensibility about it, all ladylike behaviour and “bless her heart” (which is a curse, not a blessing) and ostentatious courtesy and hospitality, but also, vampires. It’s very fun.

Sweet Tea and Sympathy begins a new series, also set in the South, but without the supernatural aspect, and it is just as funny and just as charming. And possibly even more fun.

 This one deals with high-powered event planner (it’s a thing) Margot who, after a professional disaster, moves to small town Georgia to help out with her estranged family’s Funeral Home and Bait Shop (it’s a thing). There, she meets a taciturn single father with whom she shares an immediate animosity, and you know where this is going. I knew it, too — in these books, you almost always know it too — but sometimes, knowing where things are going is exactly what you need.

And I need more of this! I have the next in the series on the shelves, and I already know what I’ll be reading tomorrow. And in the meantime, there are some Southern Eclectic e-novellas — one a prequel, one that comes between Books 1 and 2 — that I now need to go buy and read. It is an increasingly familiar phenomenon, the between-book-e-novella, and I am not sure how I feel about it, but as I have a very difficult time reading stories out of order, and am greatly afflicted with FOMO besides, they sure know their audience when they target me with this multi-platform nonsense. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 179: Sweet Tea and Sympathy (Southern Eclectic #1) by Molly Harper
GENRE: Romance, Romantic Comedy
PUBLISHED: 2017
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 178: Hawkeye vs. Deadpool (2015) by Gerry Duggan

Hmm.

I really thought I was going to love this.

I loved Deadpool. I love Hawkeye — which I am aware puts me in the minority. What can I say? I love a marksman. Have them team up/against one another on a S.H.I.E.L.D.-related quest and it should have been a surefire kick at goal.

But the kick missed. By a lot.

It’s Halloween in Brooklyn, and a deafened Clint Barton is kind of a sad loser-type without his Hawkeye persona to hide behind. To his door, trick-or-treating with his daughter and robot wife (I have clearly missed a bunch of stuff in comic book Deadpool chronology and need to catch up immediately), comes our Merc with a Mouth, and into their laps falls a mystery, as stolen S.H.I.E.L.D. records threaten to expose every agent who is currently on their roster. They can’t agree on how to handle it (hence the “vs.” in the title) but both are essentially on the side of angels here, just with different agendas and priorities.

The thing is, the story is fine — if one that has been seen in every spy TV show ever made, plus in more than a few movies and books, as well — but the execution… no. Who is this Deadpool? Why is he not funny? Is that also a development in comic book Deadpool chronology that I have missed? Maybe I don’t need to catch up, after all.

And as for Hawkeye… well, he’s better off in the MCU, as far as I can see, and there he was a stone cold assassin for five years because his family got turned to dust.

It’s really a shame, because this could have been a hoot. But, you know who is a hoot here? Kate Bishop, aka Lady Hawkeye, aka Hawkette, aka Hawkeye, Jr. I liked her a lot in this mini-series, and want to see more of her elsewhere.

But as for the rest of it? Just… no. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 178: Hawkeye vs. Deadpool by Gerry Duggan, illustrated by Matteo Lolli and James Harren
GENRE: Comics, Superheroes, Marvel
PUBLISHED: 2015
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years. 
PURCHASED FROM: ComicsRUs.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 177: A Plague of Giants (2017) by Kevin Hearne

Right up until it’s fiercely unsatisfying conclusion — the ninth novel in the series, 2018’s Scourged — I really loved Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, so when he released this, the first novel in a whole new series, and in the midst of awaiting the final adventures of Atticus, Granuaile and co., of course I snapped it up right away. 

I started in on it then, at first excited—then questioning, but still hopeful—then thoroughly confused—then frustrated—then I was done.

This is a weird book. And I needed a break.

Two years later, at last I returned to its bizarre pages, and I tried. I really, really did. I tried so long and so hard that I actually got a headache. This book is over 600 pages, and today I got 150 pages in. But then I just had to call it. 

Turns out I really dislike this book. I dislike its way too many shifting perspectives, its convoluted time shifts, and more than anything, I dislike how utterly boring it is. How does one make giants boring? Make magic boring? I don’t know, but it seems like Hearne is capable of exactly that magic trick.

So I am giving up. Giving in. And I don’t even feel the least bit bad about it.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 177: A Plague of Giants (Seven Kennings #1) by Kevin Hearne
GENRE: Fantasy
PUBLISHED: 2017
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur Melbourne
KEEP: Nope.

READING THE TBR, DAY 176: Normal People (2018) by Sally Rooney

I bought this one on a whim, having almost enjoyed Sally Rooney’s debut novel Conversations with Friends. But I didn’t start on it until my friend Kaitlyn mentioned this evening that it had been assigned for her book club, and we decided to compare notes.

I came home and began on it right away, and we have now made plans to catch up as soon as possible. Because I had Thoughts. (Edit: So, it turned out, did she.)

These Thoughts were not good thoughts. I actively detest this book. It is just hideous, all about two wounded teens who end up wounding each other, and one of whom then goes on to enjoy wounding, in a hurts-so-good kind of way — except then she hates herself.

My understanding of the S&M world is limited, I have to admit, but I can’t imagine that community would be flattered by the assertion that one is led to embrace that lifestyle due solely to an abusive childhood and some crippling self-doubt.

The relationship between our two lead characters — I will not say protagonists — is toxic and disturbing, as right from the outset, as teenagers, he takes sexual advantage of her neediness and then treats her like dirt. She feels worthless anyway, and he just reinforces it, makes it worse. At University in Dublin, they reconnect, she now the popular one, he now struggling to find his place, but still, she is downtrodden, by her awful friends and him, and good gods, girl, just stop being so whiny.

Normal people they may be, in that we all have our regrets and flaws and we’ve all been terrible to others in the past and have made assumptions and have cared about being cool. But they are also people I hate.

This book is everywhere at the moment, I see people reading in cafes, on trains, in parks. Occasionally, I stop and ask: “Are you enjoying that book?”

Not a single person has yet said yes. Which gives me a renewed faith in humanity, at any rate.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 176: Normal People by Sally Rooney
GENRE: General Fiction
PUBLISHED: 2018
TIME ON THE TBR: 8 months. 
PURCHASED FROM: Dymock’s
KEEP: NO!!!

READING THE TBR, DAY 175: Spring Magic (1942) by D. E. Stevenson

Rather more along the lines of The Four Graces than Miss Buncle’s Book, this charming tale of an insecure and somewhat oppressed-by-duty young woman who at last strikes out on her own and takes a holiday in the Scottish Highlands is pure confectionery fluff, but delightful for all that.

It’s all very pleasant, as Frances settles into the rural life and makes friends with locals, friends with some lovely young officers’ wives who take up residence in the small town, and even when its not pleasant, when affairs are uncovered and character is tested and found wanting, it is still a holiday for the brain as refreshing as is Frances’s holiday to her.

And then! Her new lease on life! Her determination to help with the war effort! (Oh yeah, the war is still going on in this one.) And her gentle romance with a man she quite thought almost despised her. Delicious!

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 175: Spring Magic by D. E. Stevenson
GENRE: Women’s Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1942
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: eBay.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 174: Charlotte Fairlie (1954) by D. E. Stevenson

Educator Charlotte Fairlie isn’t yet thirty, and yet has been engaged at headmistress of the elite St. Elizabeth’s–much to the displeasure of the hateful, hopeful aspirant to the title. In between the petty staff room politics, her pursuit by the local boys’ school headmaster, troublesome new girl Tessa, the school board, the local gossips, and the trauma of the upcoming school play to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, it isn’t quite the dream job Charlotte had imagined.

Then there is the actual trauma experienced by one of Charlotte’s students — and her brother — at the hands of an emotionally abusive father. That part of the book is strangely upsetting fare for a Stevenson book (at least, on my new acquaintanceship with her), and it is very well handled, and also a somewhat surprising inclusion to the story, given the seen-and-not-heard times in which it was written.   

Charlotte’s incipient happy ending is very predictable from very early on in this piece (which is fine; I even like that in a book, sometimes) but the inclusion of the tortured-kids subplot overcomes the book’s twee cuteness and makes it very much a School Book for Grownups. Which I also very much like in a book. 

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 143: Charlotte Fairlie by D. E. Stevenson
GENRE: Women’s Fiction
PUBLISHED: 1954
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: Amazon
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 173: Lock In (2014) by John Scalzi

John Scalzi is a science fiction author of skill and renown, and I loved his Star Trek-inspired satire Redshirts and his Old Man’s War series, set in space and featuring cloning technology and brain transplants.

Lock In also deals with the brain, but in this case it is more that, rather than be transplanted, the human brains of victims suffering from Lock In — kind of like, catatonic paralysis, brought on by a worldwide infection — are synced with synthetic units, allowing them to move around freely, or even with other people, called integrators, who can allow the locked in to borrow their bodies for a time.

When Chris Shane, rookie FBI agent and Lock In’s poster child, is called in on a murder investigation, he and his partner begin to unravel a conspiracy that threatens the autonomy of all the Locked In, especially those who have chosen to live their lives in the virtual hub of (think Snowcrash, or Ready Player One, or even San Junipero from that single heartwarming episode of Black Mirror). The novel deals with classism and prejudice as much as it does the police proceduralness of it all, and it is fascinating and compelling and thought-provoking from beginning to end.

Another triumph for Scalzi, who continues to dazzle with every new release.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 173: Lock In (Lock In #1) by John Scalzi
GENRE: Science Fiction, Cyberpunk
PUBLISHED: 2014
TIME ON THE TBR: 3 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur Melbourne
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 172: The Countess Below Stairs (1981) by Eva Ibbotson

When waiting for a friend to deal with a tradesperson, while I was visiting for afternoon tea — that’s how civilised I am; I go to “tea” at people’s houses now — I picked up this book from her coffee table and dove straight in. I was most distressed when she returned a mere few minutes later, because I was already so immersed into the story that I did not at all want to leave it.

Happily, I have had this book on my TBR shelves for several years, along with a few other Eva Ibbotson novels — she’s an author I have long known of, and heard good things about, but have never read — and so I immediately abandoned the book I had been reading, even enjoying, and devoured this one in the next couple of hours.

The story of Anna, a displaced Russian emigre following the Revolution who finds herself penniless, and with a family to help support, in the England of the early 20th-century, this utterly charming book is an exploration of social mores, of class dynamics, of the consequences of war, and is also a denunciation of eugenics, all wrapped up in a light and wish-fulfillment-esque romance about a chambermaid (but, no ordinary chambermaid!) who catches the eye of the lord of the manor.

The romance aspect is sweet and lovely, even when the inevitable misunderstanding makes the hero into an irritating asshole, and for that alone, this book would be worthy of high praise. But the undercurrent of social commentary turns it into a — and there is no other world for it — masterpiece of the art, reminiscent of Jane Austen, in many ways, and author who also always had a lot more going on that was immediately evident on the surface of her romantic tales.

It’s just… excellent.

I have several other Eva Ibbotson books on my TBR shelves, but most of them are kids’ books. Still, given how great this book was, I am going to have to invest in even more of her adult offerings, I think.

Dammit.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 172: The Countess Below Stairs, aka The Secret Countess by Eva Ibbotson
GENRE: Historical Romance
PUBLISHED: 1981
TIME ON THE TBR: 6 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Op shop.
KEEP: Yes!

READING THE TBR, DAY 171: Cards on the Table (1936) by Agatha Christie

I continue to be awestruck by the cleverness of Agatha Christie, which I know is a rather trite observation to make, given that she has been astounding readers for decades with said cleverness, but it bears repeating.

Agatha Christie is very, very clever.

This latest Poirot outing — and another I haven’t read! Honestly, my life has been a lie all these years — takes place after a fraught game of Bridge, during the course of which the sinister Mr. Shaitana is killed. In the room are four celebrated detectives, along with four suspected murderers who may well have struck again. But why? And what happened in their dark pasts?

Poirot is on the case!

The conclusion to this one took me entirely by surprise, I barely even had an inkling until the last few chapters before the reveal, and that is always a delight. The masterful manner in which Christie seeds her clues made it obvious at the conclusion, of course, but a complete shock at the time — another sign of a well-honed mystery, since all too often you discover that the ending relies on all-new information that the reader could never have known. That always feels like cheating.

But Christie doesn’t cheat, and that is another reason to so admire her. She really is — was — just very, very clever.

SCORECARD

TBR DAY 171: Cards on the Table (Hercule Poirot #15) by Agatha Christie
GENRE: Mystery, Cosy Mystery
PUBLISHED: 1936
TIME ON THE TBR: 5 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Vintage shop.
KEEP: Yes.