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Month: August 2019

READING THE TBR, DAY 232: A Lady of Quality (1896) by Frances Hodgson Burnett

The last thing I expected was for this book to be set in the 1600s, and to basically be a full-on melodrama. Having read Burnett’s kid-centric books multiple times and her contemporary 1901 romance Emily Fox-Seton earlier this year, I guess I figured that A Lady of Quality — especially given the cover of this 2014 edition that I picked up in the 50c basket a couple of years back — would at least take place in relatively modern times, and not be quite so histrionic.

But this story of two very different daughters born to an improvident, uncaring feudal lord, treated shabbily until the youngest of them turns out to be a tomboy beauty, and the assorted beaux who enter their lives — not to mention, MURDER! — surprised me completely, and not in a good way.

To best encapsulate my feelings about this book, let me tell you that I’m not a hundred percent sure it isn’t a parody—and a failed parody, at that.

I… did not care for it.


TBR DAY 232: A Lady of Quality by Frances Hodgson Burnett
GENRE: Historical Romance, Historical Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
KEEP: If I do it will only be because the cover is unintentionally hilarious.

READING THE TBR, DAY 231: Shades of Milk and Honey (2010) by Mary Robinette Kowal

A Regency-esque novel with magic — I am always going to be a sucker for that exact mashup. Add in the fact that this one was written by an author whose work I was actively seeking out at the time and obviously it was an autobuy for me.

The story centres on two sisters, sensible Jane and spoiled Melody. Melody is pretty and precocious, the belle of the neighbourhood while Jane is a good student of Glamour, the magic system that this mannered world mostly uses to make their houses look grander than they really are, decorate for parties and occasionally hide a blemish. 

Into the neighbourhood arrives skilled Glamourist Mr. Vincent, and of course he and Jane are at loggerheads almost immediately. Meanwhile, wealthy squire Mr. Dunkirk is spending a lot of time by Jane’s side, which she is convinced can only be for the sake of the pretty Melody because Jane has, basically, zero self-esteem. It’s a problem, and I suppose a relatable one, but also enough to make you want to slap her occasionally.

Still this was a fun little romantic Regency tale (as compared to a Regency Romance) with lashings of a fascinating magic system that I hope will be further explores and explained in later installments of the series. It could have done with more humour, for my preference, but then, Jane is a very serious young woman, and her suitors are even more serious gentlemen, and some people just are, you know? So I can’t consider it a flaw, just—not my favourite. 

I definitely want to read more, though.


TBR DAY 231: Shades of Milk and Honey (Glamourist Histories #1) by Mary Robinette Kowal
GENRE: Historical Fantasy
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur Melbourne.
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 230: The Calculating Stars (2018) by Mary Robinette Kowal

The first in the newly minted Lady Astronaut series, this multi award-winning novel (it just won the Hugo for Best Novel yesterday) is set in an an alternate America, in which a huge impact event has affected the Earth to such an extent that it is likely to be an extinction event as well. Warning of this is Dr. Elma York, an astrophysicist who is also a math genius and an expert pilot and who must battle against institutionalised sexism — and, on behalf of others, racism, once she realises it’s happening — in order to join the ranks of those astronaut saviours who may well be humanity’s only hop.

But Elma has her frailties, for all her many talents. Most particularly, she suffers from anxiety. Her supportive husband, who happens to be the lead engineer of the colony project, was unaware of the extent of the issue, and it takes many, many chapters before Elma is able to forgive herself for this perfectly normal condition and seek help. But the help she gets could be the death knell to her astronaut aspirations.

There is a definite Hidden Figures vibe to the book, so anyone who enjoyed that film will surely like this one. Kowal writes wonderfully, evoking an alternate 1950s South with ease, and tackling social issues in a frank manner, through the lens of Elma — who belatedly comes to understand her privilege, and work against it. The maths and science are a lot, but seem legit, and Elma’s relationship with her husband, which perhaps relies a little too much on “we are go for launch” sex talk, is nevertheless sweet and romantic and absolutely charming.


TBR DAY 230: The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
GENRE: Science Fiction
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 229: Mrs. Tim of the Regiment (1932) by D. E. Stevenson

I had forgotten how funny D. E. Stevenson is. There were times during this novel — which is told in diary format from the perspective of Hester Christie, a military wife and mother who follows her husband, Captain Tim Christie, across the UK at the whim of the war office — when I was actually hyperventilating I laughed so hard.

Sharply observant, wry and with a lively sense of the absurd, this is the kind of novel where not too much happens outside of various housekeeping disasters, but that is exactly all that needs to happen.

Especially of note is the second half of the novel (originally published separately, as Golden Days) in which Mrs Tim takes a holiday in the Scottish Highlands and meets a truly remarkable cast of characters (and also becomes the object of some pointed affection from a Mr. Darcy-esque officer, though of course both are far too honourable to do anything about it).

I cannot recommend this enough, and I am very much looking forward to the next one in the series.


TBR DAY 229: Mrs Tim of the Regiment (Mrs Tim #1) by D. E. Stevenson
GENRE: Women’s Fiction, Humour
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
KEEP: Yes.

READING THE TBR, DAY 228: Clueless: Senior Year (2016) by Amber Benson and Sarah Kuhn; illustrated by Siobhan Keenan

A Clueless sequel comic, written by Amber Benson (Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and author of the Calliope Reaper-Jones series) and Sarah Kuhn (world’s best Buffy reviewer and author of the Heroine Complex series) — this book exists for people exactly like me.

And I liked it a lot.

Here we have Cher Horowitz searching for her identity and trying to figure out her future, while Dionne finally loses it with long-time boyfriend Murray and his misogyny and becomes Class President, and Tai inherits an apple farm — because sure, why not? It’s all a bit random, a bit over-the-top, and very, very full of 90s jargon that may or not actually have ever been spoken aloud by real people during that decade, but it’s a lot of fun for the Clueless fan, and left me with a huge nostalgic smile on my face.

And a strange need to listen to En Vogue — which, unlike Cher, I can do without a mix tape. Strange, how far the world has come in the… wait, what?!? It’s been twenty-four years since Clueless was released?

As if!


TBR DAY 228: Clueless: Senior Year (2016) by John Sutherland
GENRE: Media Tie-in, Comics
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years.  
KEEP: Affirmative.

READING THE TBR, DAY 227: Chaos Choreography (2016) by Seanan McGuire

I have a list of about ten authors whose books I buy immediately upon each new release, because I love them so, but I don’t always manage to read those books in a timely fashion. (Surprise, surprise.) And then I find myself in the odd situation of possessing what feels like dozens of books by my favourite writers waiting to be read, such an embarrassment of riches that I hardly know where to start.

But that is what this year of Reading the TBR is about.

One such author is Seanan McGuire, and I have just counted — despite having read two books by her from the TBR already earlier this year, before today I still had six more to go.

Today, I took that number down to five with Chaos Choreography, the fifth in her InCryptid series of urban fantasy novels in which the mostly-human Price family is drawn into the travails of various non-human sapient species with whom we share our workaday world. In this outing, Verity Price is drawn into a series of grisly murders through her participation in Dance or Die, a So You Think You Can Dance-style competition TV show — even though Verity had chosen to leave the dance world behind and focus on the care and feeding of various cryptids, she cannot resist the lure of an All Star season of the show that had once broken her heart, and her husband Dominic (ex-Covenant warrior against the abnormal and profane) and a breakaway colony of talking mice who hail her as a priestess are along for the ride. Along with an unlikely number for non-human allies, who also happen to be associated with the show.

The bad guys are so obvious they might as well be introduced twirling moustaches, and the book’s ending passes almost all bounds of believability, but it is all still very fun, full of McGuire’s signature snark and advanced degree in folklore, which never met a mythological creature it couldn’t find some narrative use for. The next two books in the series are already in my possession and I will breaking into them very shortly, since I am now very much back in a Cryptid frame of mind — especially with the Covenant possibly back in the mix as our resident menacing bigoted murderers.

And I’m going to assume the next one won’t feel quite as much like McGuire justifying repeated viewings of dance reality shows by using them as a basis for plot as this one did.


TBR DAY 227: Chaos Choreography (InCryptid #5) by Seanan McGuire
GENRE: Urban Fantasy
TIME ON THE TBR: ~2 years.  
PURCHASED FROM: Minotaur Melbourne.
KEEP: Yep.

READING THE TBR, DAY 226: Magnus Chase: 9 from the Nine Worlds (2018) by Rick Riordan

I have a particular fondness for Rick Riordan’s YA retelling of various world mythologies, and while I probably wouldn’t have gotten into his ever-expanding alternate universe at all had he started with the Norse gods we visit with in the Magnus Chase series, the fact that he began with Percy Jackson and the Olympians — way back in 2005 — hooked me immediately. Greek myths have been an obsession with me since I was eight years old and my friend Megan swapped me (for several Babysitter’s Club books, as I recall) a chapter book retelling of them called The Dolphin Rider by Bernard Evslin, an author who remains, to this day, one of the biggest influences on my life to date.

This is a Magnus Chase short story collection, and its nine tales see us traverse the nine Norse worlds, taking various characters on individual adventures, on often the slimmest of pretexts. (One of them happens just because Mallory opened the wrong door.) Magnus and many of his friends are dead, warriors of Valhalla who can yet appear in the mortal realms, and it is quite fun to see some of the sidekicks — the aforementioned Mallory, plus Civil War-era TJ and berserker warrior Halfborn, among others — have some first person screen time. It all very silly, of course, but I like silly (well, except for the scatological humour Riordan all too often insists on including) and as a completist, naturally I couldn’t skip this entry into the ever-growing Riordanverse.

Plus, Magnus is sort of dating the gender fluid Alex these days, and I really like that development a lot.


TBR DAY 226: 9 From the Nine Worlds (Magnus Chase) by Rick Riordan
GENRE: Mythology, Norse Mythology, YA, Retelling
TIME ON THE TBR: 1 year.  
KEEP: Of course.

READING THE TBR, DAY 225: Another Chance to Dream (1998) by Lynn Kurland

Long before I heard of Lynn Kurland as a writer of Romantic Fantasy — of which I have read two volumes this year, and both of which I really enjoyed — she had been on my radar as a writer of Historical Romance, a particular favourite genre of mine. But I never tackled them because her chosen period is often Medieval, and, well… that is not a favourite of mine.

This book did not change my mind.

The frustrating starcrossed lovers story of Rhys and Gwen, who are kept apart by their stations and her arranged marriage, this book is just so long, so boring, and so ultimately unsatisfying. Had it been half the length, and with a quarter of the insurmountable impediments to True Love, I would doubtless be less bitter. But as it stands, I feel like I spent HOURS being tortured for no good reason, even the constant angst (which I usually live for) not being enough to make up for all the too, too many words.

I have another book in this generation-spanning series on my TBR, and I’m a bit interested in it, because its hero is a ghost. If it weren’t for that, it would get discarded alongside this one, and as quickly as I could manage it. Because I never want to see this book ever again.  


TBR DAY 225: Another Chance to Dream (de Piaget #1; de Piaget/MacLeod #5) by Lynn Kurland
GENRE: Historical Romance
TIME ON THE TBR: 2 years.  
KEEP: Nope.

READING THE TBR, DAY 224: Double Shots, Donuts, and Dead Dudes (2017) by Harper Lin

Fran is at the site of yet another death. But this one… well, the conclusion to this one surprised me completely. It’s not often that the eighth novel in a series — especially in a cosy mystery series like this one, which is as light as the confections that adorns its covers– is its best, but such is the case with this one.* 

And now I really want donuts.

* Well, except for the claim that Fran’s cafe could possibly be the only place in Cape Bay to get a donut. WHAT?!? Is Cape Bay not in America anymore?


TBR DAY 224: Double Shots, Donuts, and Dead Dudes (Cape Bay Cafe #8) by Harper Lin
GENRE: Mystery, Cosy Mystery
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
KEEP: I’ll pass it on.

READING THE TBR, DAY 223: Espressos, Eggnogs, and Evil Exes (2015) by Harper Lin

This time, Fran actually finds the murder victim. Well, that’s not suspicious at all. It’s New Year’s Even, and the morning after a fairly tame party at her house she is out for a walk with her rescued dog Latte — love Latte! — and she discovers the dead body of the hateful Cheryl, ex-girlfriend of Officer Ryan who has been terrorizing the lovely Sammy, local barista and Ryan’s new squeeze, with honeyed, creepy text messages.

Sammy is, of course, the prime suspect in the crime, especially after the police find her DNA on Cheryl’s body, but Fran is not having that, so she does some investigating, uncovers some other motives for Cheryl’s death, and then calls together all the main suspects in a Hercule Poirot-style “The murderer is IN THIS VERY ROOM!” confrontation.

And what do you know, she’s right. 

(Unless Fran actually killed Cheryl, that is. And I am really not ruling that out.)


TBR DAY 223: Espressos, Eggnogs, and Evil Exes (Cape Bay Cafe #7) by Harper Lin
GENRE: Mystery, Cosy Mystery
TIME ON THE TBR: ~1 year.  
KEEP: I’ll pass it on.