#WhatToRead: BLACK RABBIT HALL + a picture of me with Paul Bunyan

Black Rabbit Hall was one of my October “modern Gothic” picks. I read most of it while traveling to, and staying in, a cottage on the sunrise side of Lake Huron. I’ve never been to Cornwall, but I have a feeling the two places are dissimilar. Still, it was neat reading an atmospheric story set by the sea featuring an old family mansion while curled up on my friend’s couch in her family’s cozy lake house. There were no ghosts in hers (it’s too new) but one whole room was decorated with black and white photographs of four generations of family, as well as more recent photographs of friends who have visited. (That’s us with Paul Bunyan.)

The story opens with a prologue from Amber’s point of view, which sets the tone immediately. It’s “the last day of the summer holidays” and Amber feels safer on a cliff ledge than she does in her house. She’s searching for someone. You get the impression she might be playing hide & seek. But if so, it’s a dangerous game. There’s a feeling that something’s not right. That something will go wrong. Or perhaps that something has already gone wrong and will only get worse. The prologue ends when Amber sees something floating in the water below.

And then three pages and three decades later, we’re following Lorna, a bride-to-be on a mission to find the quintessential wedding venue. Lorna loves old houses… Cornwall… and her fiance, Jon.

Black Rabbit Hall casts shadows and creates silhouettes. The story is as murky as the water Amber is staring into when the book begins. But author Eve Chase paces her reveals well and, since I don’t want to spoil the story, I’ll simply say it deserves the label “Gothic.” It’s not just a novel with a dark, foreboding tone. It’s not just a novel set in an old crumbling mansion. It’s got all the other elements too — family secrets, sinister deeds, psychological distress, love, madness, hatred, and (for one character at least), an acknowledgement that there will be no forgiveness.

Where did I get my copy of Black Rabbit Hall? Baltimore County Public Library 🙂


We left our cozy cottage twice… Once to take a hike in the Huron National Forest along the Au Sable River and the second to have margaritas at the Boathouse Beer Co. & Boozery (followed by a quick trip to the hardware store… where we bought firewood, pickled asparagus, and pink camo baby tights for one of my friend’s nieces. Ya know, just the essentials. 😉 )

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#amreading #amwriting – November’s Challenge

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) started yesterday! Are you in? Libraries, book stores, and coffee shops across the globe are offering “write in” spots so that you have WiFi, caffeine, and company during your month-long marathon.

Even if you’re not participating in NaNoWriMo, you can still get in on the spirit of it by reading one of the books below. For this month’s reading challenge, I chose three novels that were started during NaNo and two writing books that are on my TBR list. Happy reading! Best of luck, writers!!

November’s Choices

(all book descriptions are from Goodreads)

Fangirl

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…

But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving. Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

27 Days to Midnight

Everyone in Dahlia’s world knows when they’re going to die. Except her.

Her father has never shown her the pocket watch counting down the days she has left to live. When he sacrifices himself to save her from her scheduled death, Dahlia abandons her comfortable home and sets off after his murderer to uncover the secrets her father died to protect…and the time research that could bring him back to life.

Then she meets Farren Reed. She should hate him. He’s an enemy soldier, a cowardly deserter, and the most insufferable man Dahlia’s ever met. Still, she needs all the help she can get, and Farren is the only chance she has to find the man who murdered her father. But Farren has only twenty-seven days left on his watch.

In that time, Dahlia must recover her father’s time research, foil a psychotic general’s plot, and learn to survive in a world that will never be the same. But the research holds secrets more dangerous than she had ever imagined. She will have to choose what is most important: revenge, Farren’s life, or her own. And time is running out.

Born of Illusion

Anna Van Housen has a secret.

A gifted illusionist, Anna assists her mother, the renowned medium Marguerite Van Housen, in her stage show and séances, easily navigating the underground world of magicians, mediums, and mentalists in 1920’s New York. As the illegitimate daughter of Harry Houdini—or so Marguerite claims—sleight of hand illusions have never been a challenge for Anna. The real trick is keeping her own gifts secret from her opportunistic mother. Because while Marguerite’s own powers may be a sham, Anna possesses a true ability to sense people’s feelings and foretell the future.

But as Anna’s powers intensify, she begins to experience frightening visions of her mother in peril, which leads her to explore the powers she’s tried so long to hide. And when a mysterious young man named Cole moves into the flat downstairs, introducing Anna to a secret society that studies people with gifts like hers, she is forced to confront her past and rethink everything she’s ever known. Is her mother truly in danger, or are Anna’s visions merely illusion? And could the great Houdini really be her father, or is it just another of Marguerite’s tricks?

From Teri Brown comes a world bursting with magic, with romance, and the temptations of Jazz Age New York—and the story of a girl about to become the mistress of her own destiny.

Other novels that were written or started during NaNo: Hugh Howey’s Wool, Erin Morgenstern’s Night Circus, Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth, and Kalayna Price’s Once Bitten. Click here for the full list of published NaNoWriMo novels.

Writing Advice

I’m reading Story Trumps Structure right now. Good, sound, basic advice; well presented. Dialogue is on my list because it’s Robert McKee and I’m curious about what he has to say.

Story Trumps Structure

Don’t limit your fiction – LIBERATE IT

All too often, following the “rules” of writing can constrict rather than inspire you. With Story Trumps Structure, you can shed those rules – about three-act structure, rising action, outlining, and more – to craft your most powerful, emotional, and gripping stories.

Award-winning novelist Steven James explains how to trust the narrative process to make your story believable, compelling, and engaging, and debunks the common myths that hold writers back from creating their best work.

Ditch your outline and learn to write organically. Set up promises for readers – and deliver on them. Discover how to craft a satisfying climax. Master the subtleties of characterization. Add mind-blowing twists to your fiction. When you focus on what lies at the heart of story – tension, desire, crisis, escalation, struggle, discovery – rather than plot templates and formulas, you’ll begin to break out of the box and write fiction that resonates with your readers. Story Trumps Structure will transform the way you think about stories and the way you write them, forever.

Dialogue

The long-awaited follow-up to the perennially bestselling writers’ guide Story, from the most sought-after expert in the art of storytelling.

Robert McKee’s popular writing workshops have earned him an international reputation. The list of alumni with Oscars runs off the page. The cornerstone of his program is his singular book, Story, which has defined how we talk about the art of story creation.

Now, in DIALOGUE, McKee offers the same in-depth analysis for how characters speak on the screen, on the stage, and on the page in believable and engaging ways. From Macbeth to Breaking Bad, McKee deconstructs key scenes to illustrate the strategies and techniques of dialogue. DIALOGUE applies a framework of incisive thinking to instruct the prospective writer on how to craft artful, impactful speech. Famous McKee alumni include Peter Jackson, Jane Campion, Geoffrey Rush, Paul Haggis, the writing team for Pixar, and many others.

October’s Challenge: #AmReading Modern #Gothic

Quick note before I post October’s choices: My September author newsletter is out. I gave subscribers a first look at what I’m calling my Omnia Dicta list, which is every Latin phrase every used in the Noon Onyx series. (Maybe I should call it the Omina Dicta list?) I also shared a deleted scene from Pocket Full of Tinder, which showed that, just because I outline and have a general idea of where a story is going before I begin writing it, the opening sometimes needs to be rewritten. For anyone new here, you can subscribe by clicking here. If you want to sample first, just use my contact page to tell me to send you a copy of September’s newsletter.

Now, on to the Reading Challenge

This month’s theme is modern Gothic. My choices are listed below, but feel free to suggest others in the comments — or just let me know what you’re reading.

October Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads)

Black Rabbit Hall

Ghosts are everywhere, not just the ghost of Momma in the woods, but ghosts of us too, what we used to be like in those long summers . . .

Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family’s country estate, where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, of course, it does.

More than three decades later, Lorna is determined to be married within the grand, ivy-covered walls of Pencraw Hall, known as Black Rabbit Hall among the locals. But as she’s drawn deeper into the overgrown grounds, half-buried memories of her mother begin to surface and Lorna soon finds herself ensnared within the manor’s labyrinthine history, overcome with an insatiable need for answers about her own past and that of the once-happy family whose memory still haunts the estate.

Stunning and atmospheric, this debut novel is a thrilling spiral into the hearts of two women separated by decades but inescapably linked by the dark and tangled secrets of Black Rabbit Hall.

The Girl from Rawblood

Iris and her father are the last of the Villarca line. For generations, the Villarcas have been haunted by “her.” Her origins are a mystery, but her purpose is clear: when a Villarca marries, when they love, when they have a child—she comes, and death follows.

Confined in their lonely mansion on Dartmoor, Iris makes her father a promise—to remain alone all her life. But when she’s fifteen, Iris breaks that promise. She dares to fall in love, and the consequences of her choice are immediate and heartbreaking. From the sun-spotted hills of Italy to the biting chill of Victorian dissection halls, The Girl from Rawblood is a lyrical and haunting historical novel of darkness, love, and the ghosts of the past.

The Witch of Painted Sorrows

Possession. Power. Passion. New York Times bestselling novelist M. J. Rose creates her most provocative and magical spellbinder yet in this gothic novel set against the lavish spectacle of 1890s Belle Époque Paris.

Sandrine Salome flees New York for her grandmother’s Paris mansion to escape her dangerous husband, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is mysteriously closed up. Although her grandmother insists it’s dangerous for Sandrine to visit, she defies her and meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing young architect. Together they explore the hidden night world of Paris, the forbidden occult underground and Sandrine’s deepest desires.

Among the bohemians and the demi-monde, Sandrine discovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter. Then darker influences threaten—her cold and cruel husband is tracking her down and something sinister is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s become possessed by La Lune: A witch, a legend, and a sixteenth-century courtesan, who opens up her life to a darkness that may become a gift or a curse.

The People in the Castle

Here is the whisper in the night, the dog whose loyalty outlasted death, the creak upstairs, the half-remembered ghost story that won’t let you sleep, the sound that raises gooseflesh, the wish you’d checked the lock on the door before dark fell. Here are tales of suspense and the supernatural that will chill, amuse, and exhilarate.

 

Petrosinella, the Caterpillar, and some other bookish thoughts (#amreading and watching #movies)

Below are my thoughts on two of my July picks, a couple of movies I saw over the summer, and a bonus book for any middle grade readers you know.

The Singing Bones

I loved this because it was different. The fairy tales in this book are 3D retellings, specifically sculptures — beautiful, wonderful, evocative, imaginative, interesting sculptures. There are seventy-five of them in all, each made from papier-mache, clay, and/or wax. The colors are as deceptively simple as the forms — black-as-pitch shoe polish, bright red acrylic, shiny golds, and muted earth tones. Each sculpture is paired with an excerpt from a fairy tale.

There’s a forward by Neil Gaiman, an essay by fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes, an afterward by the artist, and an annotated index, which includes a brief summary of each fairy tale. More than a few times, I found myself flipping to the back of the book to read more about the stories that inspired the sculptures. I tried, unsuccessfully, to figure out how the artist decided the order of the sculptures and accompanying excerpts. (If you’re familiar with the book, please let me know in the comments.) My favorite sculpture was Rapunzel (Rapunzel was the tower), but the collection as a whole is the real masterpiece.

Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone interested in art, especially sculpting, and/or fairy tales. At $24.99, the book’s retail price is steep. If you want to read it but are worried about the cost, see if your local library has it. Mine does!

Bitter Greens

No one can tell a story without transforming it in some way; it is part of the magic of storytelling.” —Kate Forsyth

This book was terrific and part of the reason I took so long to post my thoughts on it was that I wanted to write something better about it. But I ran out of time. Better to share my jumbled notes than nothing at all.

~

The author builds her story around the inquisition, the plague, religious freedom, women’s rights, torture, murder, rape… and yet, the entire book isn’t weighty. Whole sections are devoted to fashion and court life and the fairy tale retelling is written simply at times, especially the dialog. But it’s obviously intentional and it works. Late in the book, another minor character seems to be a stand in for the author herself when she describes how the character weaves her web of words: “It was a vivid tale, filled with reversals and unexpected twists and Henriette-Julie told it with all the drama and simplicity of a good storyteller.”

A great lesson in how to make a good villain. It’s not enough to give the villain as much if not more strength than the heroine. It’s not enough to give the villain a good, or even great, motive. The best villains are people who have the potential to be heroines.

“Three women searching for freedom and love”… is the author testing the theory that a woman can’t have both at the same time?

Wonderfully written. I couldn’t have done it, but if I had, I probably would have left the ending ambiguous. 

Would love to see this adapted by BBC or whoever adapted The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End.

Lots of new vocab words! 🙂

Poniard

Snood

Fontanges

Chopines…

Also found myself looking up Venice’s history and notable people:

Tiziano Vecellio

Charlotte-Rose de la Force

And, of course, Petrosinella

~

Fun fact: while I was reading Bitter Greens, my MIL texted me a picture of this “parsley-eating caterpillar” (who was crawling amidst the thyme) and asked what she should name it. Obviously, I said Petrosinella!! 😀

Movies!

Everybody Loves Somebody

The movie, like its characters, is bilingual (about half of it is in English and the other half is in Spanish). Clara is a successful, devoted obstetrician working in LA who asks her handsome co-worker to be her date for a family wedding back in Mexico. Then her ex (who she still carries a major torch for) shows up.

Lots of romantic comedy tropes could have made this movie a ridiculous cliché, but the acting, a couple of unforeseen plot points, and its non-Hollywood feel (it was written and directed by Catalina Aguilar Mastretta) meant I was laughing with it, not at it.

Who would I recommend this movie to? Anyone looking for a rom com that feels genuine.

Beatriz at Dinner

Should you watch this? Absolutely. Is it getting great reviews? Yes. My take? Hated the ending, but haven’t yet come up with an alternate ending I would have liked better. Have you seen this yet? What did you think?

*Bonus Middle Grade Graphic Novel Recommendation*

Cats in Space!!!

E read these. I tried to get her to review them, but was unsuccessful. I thought about insisting, but was afraid that would take away from her enjoyment of them.

So why am I mentioning them? Well, because (1) Cats; (2) In Space! (3) E really enjoyed them; and (4) Cat astronauts!!! Come on, how could anyone — regardless of how old they are — not want to read these?!

Who would I recommend these books to? Middle grade readers, reluctant tween/teen readers, cat lovers, anyone who wants a gritty, realistic look at what life in space is really like… (okay, maybe not that last group 😀 ).

My thoughts are with those of you in Irma’s path. Stay safe!

 

September Reading Choices: Epic, Weird, and Irresistible

September’s Reading Challenge Choices

(descriptions from Goodreads)

Epic Bike Rides of the World

Discover 200 of the best places to ride a bike in this beautifully illustrated hardback. From family-friendly, sightseeing urban rides to epic adventures off the beaten track. Destinations range from France and Italy, for the world’s great bike races, to the wilds of Mongolia and Patagonia. These journeys will inspire – whether you are an experienced cyclist or just getting started.

The book is organised by continent. In the Americas we join a family bikepacking trip in Ecuador; we pedal the Natchez Trace Parkway and stop at legendary music spots; we ride the Pacific Coast Highway in Oregon and California; go mountain biking in Moab and Canada; and explore the cities of Buenos Aires and New York by bicycle.

European rides include easy-going trips around Lake Constance, along the Danube and the Loire, and coast-to-coast routes; routes in Tuscany, Spain and Corsica; and professional journeys up Mt Ventoux and around the Tour of Flanders.

In Asia, we venture through Vietnam’s valleys; complete the Mae Hong Son circuit in northern Thailand; cross the Indian Himalayas; and pedal through Bhutan. And in Australia and New Zealand we take in Tasmania and Queensland by mountain bike; cycle into Victoria’s high country and around Adelaide on road bikes; and try some of New Zealand’s celebrated cycle trails.

Each ride is illustrated with stunning photography and a map. A toolkit of practical details – where to start and finish, how to get there, where to stay and more – helps riders plan their own trips. There are also suggestions for three more similar rides around the world for each story. Each piece shows how cycling is a fantastic way to get to know a place, a people and their culture.

You’re Never Too Weird On the Internet

In the tradition of #Girlboss and Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?—a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir from online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks,” Felicia Day, about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood.

The Internet isn’t all cat videos…almost.

There’s also Felicia Day—violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world…or at least the world of Internet-geek fame and Goodreads book clubs.

Growing up in the south where she was homeschooled for hippie reasons, Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an instant Internet star.

Felcia’s short-ish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Now, Felicia’s strange life is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism—just like her memoir.

Hilarious and inspirational, You’re Never Weird On the Internet (Almost) is proof that everyone should embrace what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now—even for a digital misfit.

Irresistible:

The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

Welcome to the age of behavioral addiction—an age in which half of the American population is addicted to at least one behavior. We obsess over our emails, Instagram likes, and Facebook feeds; we binge on TV episodes and YouTube videos; we work longer hours each year; and we spend an average of three hours each day using our smartphones. Half of us would rather suffer a broken bone than a broken phone, and Millennial kids spend so much time in front of screens that they struggle to interact with real, live humans.

In this revolutionary book, Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at NYU, tracks the rise of behavioral addiction, and explains why so many of today’s products are irresistible. Though these miraculous products melt the miles that separate people across the globe, their extraordinary and sometimes damaging magnetism is no accident. The companies that design these products tweak them over time until they become almost impossible to resist.

By reverse engineering behavioral addiction, Alter explains how we can harness addictive products for the good—to improve how we communicate with each other, spend and save our money, and set boundaries between work and play—and how we can mitigate their most damaging effects on our well-being, and the health and happiness of our children.

Cork Dork:

A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste

For readers of Anthony Bourdain, Susan Orlean, and Mary Roach, a surprising, entertaining and hilarious journey through the world of wine.

Like many of us, tech reporter Bianca Bosker saw wine as a way to unwind at the end of a long day, or a nice thing to have with dinner and that was about it. Until she stumbled on an alternate universe where taste reigned supreme, a world in which people could, after a single sip of wine, identify the grape it was made from, in what year, and where it was produced down to the exact location, within acres. Where she tasted wine, these people detected not only complex flavor profiles, but entire histories and geographies. Astounded by their fanatical dedication and seemingly superhuman sensory powers, Bosker abandoned her screen-centric life and set out to discover what drove their obsession, and whether she, too, could become a cork dork.

Thus begins a year and a half long adventure that takes the reader inside elite tasting groups, exclusive New York City restaurants, a California winery that manipulates the flavor of its bottles with ingredients like Mega Purple, and even a neuroscientist’s fMRI machine as Bosker attempts to answer the most nagging question of all: what’s the big deal about wine? Funny, counter intuitive, and compulsively readable, Cork Dork illuminates not only the complex web of wine production and consumption, but how tasting better can change our brains and help us live better.

Physics of the Future:

How Science Will Shape Human Destiny and Our Daily Lives by the Year 2100

New York Times bestselling author of Physics of the Impossible — gives us a stunning, provocative, and exhilarating vision of the coming century based on interviews with over three hundred of the world’s top scientists who are already inventing the future in their labs. The result is the most authoritative and scientifically accurate description of the revolutionary developments taking place in medicine, computers, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, energy production, and astronautics.

In all likelihood, by 2100 we will control computers via tiny brain sensors and, like magicians, move objects around with the power of our minds. Artificial intelligence will be dispersed throughout the environment, and Internet-enabled contact lenses will allow us to access the world’s information base or conjure up any image we desire in the blink of an eye.

Meanwhile, cars will drive themselves using GPS, and if room-temperature superconductors are discovered, vehicles will effortlessly fly on a cushion of air, coasting on powerful magnetic fields and ushering in the age of magnetism.

Using molecular medicine, scientists will be able to grow almost every organ of the body and cure genetic diseases. Millions of tiny DNA sensors and nanoparticles patrolling our blood cells will silently scan our bodies for the first sign of illness, while rapid advances in genetic research will enable us to slow down or maybe even reverse the aging process, allowing human life spans to increase dramatically.

In space, radically new ships — needle-sized vessels using laser propulsion — could replace the expensive chemical rockets of today and perhaps visit nearby stars. Advances in nanotechnology may lead to the fabled space elevator, which would propel humans hundreds of miles above the earth’s atmosphere at the push of a button.

But these astonishing revelations are only the tip of the icebergKaku also discusses emotional robots, antimatter rockets, X-ray vision, and the ability to create new life-forms, and he considers the development of the world economy. He addresses the key questions: Who are the winner and losers of the future? Who will have jobs, and which nations will prosper?

All the while, Kaku illuminates the rigorous scientific principles, examining the rate at which certain technologies are likely to mature, how far they can advance, and what their ultimate limitations and hazards are. Synthesizing a vast amount of information to construct an exciting look at the years leading up to 2100, Physics of the Future is a thrilling, wondrous ride through the next 100 years of breathtaking scientific revolution.

Stay tuned for more bookish thoughts tomorrow. Hope everyone had a nice summer!

To the seas! (what random dude from ROBIN HOOD would say if he were a pirate): #amreading August’s Reading Challenge Choices

“Live in the sunshine, swim in the ocean, and READ in the wild air.”

Okay, all of you English Lit majors out there, what’s the meaning behind Emerson’s Merlin’s Song? I was a biz major and, as such, have absolutely no idea, but loved his “live in the sunshine, swim in the ocean” idea, probably because I haven’t been to the beach this summer. Bummer.

August’s reading challenge theme is “beach reads.” Initially, I thought I’d choose some contemporary romances or a batch of interesting-looking-but-dissimilar books (potential choices: News of the World, The Marsh King’s Daughter, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine), but then I decided… It’s a pirate’s life for me — at least in August. Below are this month’s reading challenge choices. (I’ll post my thoughts on my July choices soon. I very much enjoyed what I read!)

Quick reminder for anyone new: at the start of each month, I post the month’s reading theme and a list of possible books to read, then at the end of the month, I share my thoughts on at least one of them. YOU are invited to read along by picking whatever book on the list appeals to you and sharing your thoughts –OR– by picking some other book that fits the theme and sharing your thoughts about that.

Also… following up on my earlier post about how I select my choices… another thing I try to do is pick books that have less than 10,000 ratings on Goodreads. The one exception this month is Magic of Blood and Sea, which is actually a duology.) When I first started searching for choices for this month, I felt uninspired. But then, once I hit on the lady pirate idea, I found a surprising number of good picks. So lots to choose from this month!

August’s Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads or Amazon)

Magic of Blood and Sea

A pirate princess and a cursed assassin find their fates intertwined in this gorgeous and thrilling adventure.

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to an ally pirate clan. She wants to captain her own boat, not serve as second-in-command to a handsome and clueless man. But her escape has dire consequences when she learns that her fiancé’s clan has sent an assassin after her.

And when this assassin, Naji, finally finds her, things get even worse. Ananna inadvertently triggers a nasty curse—with a life-altering result. Now, Ananna and Naji are forced to become uneasy allies as they work to complete three impossible tasks that will cure the curse.

Unfortunately, Naji has enemies from the shadowy world known as the Mists, and Ananna must face the repercussions of betraying her engagement that set her off on her adventures. Together, the two must break the curse, escape their enemies, and come to terms with their growing romantic attraction.

Child of a Hidden Sea

One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles.

The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies—and a language different from any Sophie has heard.

Sophie doesn’t know it yet, but she has just stepped into the middle of a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered… her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.

But Sophie is stubborn, and smart, and refuses to be cast adrift by people who don’t know her and yet wish her gone. With the help of a sister she has never known, and a ship captain who would rather she had never arrived, she must navigate the shoals of the highly charged politics of Stormwrack, and win the right to decide for herself whether she stays in this wondrous world . . . or is doomed to exile.

Steel

Sixteen-year-old Jill has fought in dozens of fencing tournaments, but she has never held a sharpened blade. When she finds a corroded sword piece on a Caribbean beach, she is instantly intrigued and pockets it as her own personal treasure.

The broken tip holds secrets, though, and it transports Jill through time to the deck of a pirate ship. Stranded in the past and surrounded by strangers, she is forced to sign on as crew. But a pirate’s life is bloody and brief, and as Jill learns about the dark magic that brought her there, she forms a desperate scheme to get home—one that risks everything in a duel to the death with a villainous pirate captain.

Jill: Love the heroine’s name! 😉

Daughter of the Pirate King

Sent on a mission to retrieve an ancient hidden map—the key to a legendary treasure trove—seventeen-year-old pirate captain Alosa deliberately allows herself to be captured by her enemies, giving her the perfect opportunity to search their ship.

More than a match for the ruthless pirate crew, Alosa has only one thing standing between her and the map: her captor, the unexpectedly clever and unfairly attractive first mate, Riden. But not to worry, for Alosa has a few tricks up her sleeve, and no lone pirate can stop the Daughter of the Pirate King.

Frenchman’s Creek

Jaded by the numbing politeness of Restoration London, Lady Dona St. Columb revolts against high society. She rides into the countryside, guided only by her restlessness and her longing to escape.

But when chance leads her to meet a French pirate, hidden within Cornwall’s shadowy forests, Dona discovers that her passions and thirst for adventure have never been more aroused. Together, they embark upon a quest rife with danger and glory, one which bestows upon Dona the ultimate choice: sacrifice her lover to certain death or risk her own life to save him.

Jill: Who knew Daphne du Maurier wrote a pirate book?!

Cinnamon and Gunpowder

The year is 1819, and the renowned chef Owen Wedgwood has been kidnapped by the ruthless pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot. He will be spared, she tells him, as long as he puts exquisite food in front of her every Sunday without fail.

To appease the red-haired captain, Wedgwood gets cracking with the meager supplies on board. His first triumph at sea is actual bread, made from a sourdough starter that he leavens in a tin under his shirt throughout a roaring battle, as men are cutlassed all around him. Soon he’s making tea-smoked eel and brewing pineapple-banana cider.

But Mabbot—who exerts a curious draw on the chef—is under siege. Hunted by a deadly privateer and plagued by a saboteur hidden on her ship, she pushes her crew past exhaustion in her search for the notorious Brass Fox. As Wedgwood begins to sense a method to Mabbot’s madness, he must rely on the bizarre crew members he once feared: Mr. Apples, the fearsome giant who loves to knit; Feng and Bai, martial arts masters sworn to defend their captain; and Joshua, the deaf cabin boy who becomes the son Wedgwood never had.

Wondering what the heck I was referring to in my title? Who remembers this?

Hope everyone’s having a great summer!

#AmReading Modern Fairy Tales (July’s Reading Challenge Choices)

This month’s theme is fairy tale retellings. There are A LOT of them out there. Good ones, bad ones, and everything in between. But I tried to pick a few that were either different or hadn’t yet received as much attention as some of the others — not that my choices are unheard of!

July’s Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads)

Bitter Greens

The amazing power and truth of the Rapunzel fairy tale comes alive for the first time in this breathtaking tale of desire, black magic and the redemptive power of love.

French novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the court of Versailles by the Sun King, Louis XIV, after a series of scandalous love affairs. At the convent, she is comforted by an old nun, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the tale of a young girl who, a hundred years earlier, is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens…

After Margherita’s father steals parsley from the walled garden of the courtesan Selena Leonelli, he is threatened with having both hands cut off, unless he and his wife relinquish their precious little girl. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Tiziano, first painted by him in 1512 and still inspiring him at the time of his death. She is at the center of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition.

Locked away in a tower, Margherita sings in the hope that someone will hear her. One day, a young man does.

Award-winning author Kate Forsyth braids together the stories of Margherita, Selena, and Charlotte-Rose, the woman who penned Rapunzel as we now know it, to create what is a sumptuous historical novel, an enchanting fairy tale retelling, and a loving tribute to the imagination of one remarkable woman.

The Bear and the Nightingale

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Singing Bones

A unique and alluring art book showcasing Shaun Tan’s extraordinary sculptures based on the timeless and compelling fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm.

In this beautifully presented volume, the essence of seventy-five fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm is wonderfully evoked by Shaun Tan’s extraordinary sculptures.

Nameless princes, wicked stepsisters, greedy kings, honourable peasants and ruthless witches, tales of love, betrayal, adventure and magical transformation: all inspiration for this stunning gallery of sculptural works. Introduced by Grimm Tales author Philip Pullman and leading fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes, The Singing Bones breathes new life into some of the world’s most beloved fairy tales.

Thorn

For Princess Alyrra, choice is a luxury she’s never had … until she’s betrayed.

Princess Alyrra has never enjoyed the security or power of her rank. Between her family’s cruelty and the court’s contempt, she has spent her life in the shadows. Forced to marry a powerful foreign prince, Alyrra embarks on a journey to meet her betrothed with little hope for a better future.

But powerful men have powerful enemies–and now, so does Alyrra. Betrayed during a magical attack, her identity is switched with another woman’s, giving Alyrra the first choice she’s ever had: to start a new life for herself or fight for a prince she’s never met. But Alyrra soon finds that Prince Kestrin is not at all what she expected. While walking away will cost Kestrin his life, returning to the court may cost Alyrra her own. As Alyrra is coming to realize, sometime the hardest choice means learning to trust herself.

The #Fae versus #Demons – a few quick thoughts

June’s choices were all awesome and I’d like to continue reading more books featuring the fae. Demon-like in their malleability, they can be anything their creator needs them to be. Karen Marie Moning really used that trait to her advantage in Darkfever. The fae in that book were all varied and imaginative. Unlike demons, however, the fae come with a ready-made uniform mythology for any author to use as backstory if they choose. (There are the dark fae of the Unseelie Court and the light fae of the Seelie Court for starters, this backstory courtesy of the fae’s European origins. Some might consider the fae a subset of demons — Europe’s collective pre-Christianity take on the concept. The light fae seem to share some characteristics with fallen angels whereas the dark fae seem to resemble true demons. Perhaps the Seelie/Unseelie courts are a result of pagan Europe’s inability to imagine a world governed by any structure other than royal houses…?) I’ve often thought about writing a future series featuring fae characters (versus demons or some other type of monster), but it’s always seemed to me, that outside of certain circles, no one’s ever heard the term “fae.” They get a blank look when I mention the word.

So those are my semi-deep, very un-academic thoughts on fae versus demons. If you disagree, have thoughts to add, or want to share a link to an interesting source that discusses this too, please take the time to comment! I’d love to hear from you.

Okay, on to my more specific thoughts on the books.

Darkfever

MacKayla Lane is a young Southern bartender, who initially reminded me of Sookie Stackhouse, which made me curious about who came first. (Sookie. But that’s where the similarities end — at least as much as I can remember. It’s been a long time since I read Charlaine Harris’ first Southern vampire mystery.)

Moning opens her Fever series by introducing readers to Mac, a blonde, pink-loving, cell phone-toting, matching accessory-wearing twenty-something from Georgia whose naiveté comes off as charming, funny, or endearing rather than annoying. (Other readers may feel differently, but I doubt anyone who reads this blog will. We here are appreciative of characters with large growth potential and we don’t have a problem remembering we were all young once. Nobody is born wise.) Mac’s older sister is horrifically murdered and when the local authorities quickly close the case as unsolvable, Mac decides to travel to Ireland to see what clues she can find herself.

I liked that Moning’s fae were true monsters. Even the pretty ones were evil. I was surprised by how much was left open/unsolved/unresolved in the end, but I never felt like Darkfever dragged or didn’t move fast enough. Instead, it seemed to nicely set up future books. I imagine future stories will focus on Mac and Barrons tracking down and killing the Unseelie baddies while simultaneously searching for a way to seal the otherworld door they’re using. (If Jaws had been Darkfever, it would have ended at the part where Brody says, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”)

A Court of Thorns and Roses/A Court of Mist and Fury

Although published by Bloomsbury USA Childrens, my library shelves these under adult SFF, which is where I’d put them too. No doubt, some books can be hard to categorize. Librarians do their best, weighing many things before making their decision. The romantic scenes are well written, but detailed enough to possibly take some younger teen readers by surprise. (Teens who read new adult fiction will be fine.)

Loosely based on Beauty & the Beast with a whiff of Tam Lin and a smattering of Persephone/Hades. There’s also a lot of original worldbuilding, which keeps it interesting. The book opens with the starving Feyre killing a wolf for its prey — a deer. Turns out, the wolf isn’t really a wolf. It’s a faerie and Feyre gets dragged off to a fae court where she is held captive as punishment for killing it. Her captor? Tamlin… whose face is obscured by a jeweled mask.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Arguably the best written of the three (it’s been nominated for, and won, many prestigious awards, including the Hugo and the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel), but not for everyone. It’s long and dense, packed with footnotes and written in a voice that evokes bygone British authors. Set in an alternate 19th century England where magic exists but has long been dormant, the book is written in three parts. The first two are named after the titular characters and the third after the missing Raven King, the man who brought magic to England nearly a millennia ago, whose disappearance caused the gradual withdrawal of magic from England. It’s been adapted into a BBC TV series. Has anyone seen it? If so, tell me what you think in the comments!

June’s Reading Challenge – The #Fae

I’m going to continue to be generally offline through the summer. I’ll still be posting the previously scheduled 5 Photos posts and my monthly Reading Challenge posts, and I’ll be sending out an author newsletter toward the end of the month, but that’s about it. Enjoy your summer! Hope it’s full of lots of reading and writing!!

June Reading Challenge Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads)

A Court of Thorns and Roses

Feyre’s survival rests upon her ability to hunt and kill – the forest where she lives is a cold, bleak place in the long winter months. So when she spots a deer in the forest being pursued by a wolf, she cannot resist fighting it for the flesh. But to do so, she must kill the predator and killing something so precious comes at a price …

Dragged to a magical kingdom for the murder of a faerie, Feyre discovers that her captor, his face obscured by a jewelled mask, is hiding far more than his piercing green eyes would suggest. Feyre’s presence at the court is closely guarded, and as she begins to learn why, her feelings for him turn from hostility to passion and the faerie lands become an even more dangerous place. Feyre must fight to break an ancient curse, or she will lose him forever.

Darkfever

When her sister is murdered, leaving a single clue to her death—a cryptic message on MacKayla Lane’s cell phone–Mac journeys to Ireland in search of answers. The quest to find her sister’s killer draws her into a shadowy realm where nothing is as it seems, where good and evil wear the same treacherously seductive mask. She is soon faced with an even greater challenge: staying alive long enough to learn how to handle a power she had no idea she possessed—a gift that allows her to see beyond the world of man, into the dangerous realm of the Fae.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

At the dawn of the nineteenth century, two very different magicians emerge to change England’s history. In the year 1806, with the Napoleonic Wars raging on land and sea, most people believe magic to be long dead in England–until the reclusive Mr Norrell reveals his powers, and becomes a celebrity overnight.

Soon, another practicing magician comes forth: the young, handsome, and daring Jonathan Strange. He becomes Norrell’s student, and they join forces in the war against France. But Strange is increasingly drawn to the wildest, most perilous forms of magic, straining his partnership with Norrell, and putting at risk everything else he holds dear.

What about my May choices?

I didn’t do as much reading last month as I wanted to. Karin A. suggested I read A KISS OF STEEL, so I started with that one. I’m enjoying it, although it’s more vampire romance than steampunk. I like the characters and the world. So far, it seems like a great start to a terrific PNR series. But I’ll need to find time to dig into my other steampunk choices at some point…

What about you?? Did you read anything interesting last month? Are you taking a vacation this summer? Where are you going? Any fictional worlds you wish you could visit?

Out with the New, In with the Old – May Reading Challenge Choices (#steampunk)

I have a confession to make. I’ve never read steampunk – at least not that I can remember. Sure, I’ve read books with light steampunk elements. But never anything that was solidly in the steampunk sub-genre. So the books below aren’t new releases. They’re books that have been on my TBR list for a long time. But that was one of the reasons I wanted to do this reading challenge. To be more purposeful with my reading choices this year.

Quick recap for anyone new: For 2017, I’m doing a Reading Challenge. At the start of every month, I’ll post a list of possible books to read and then, at the end of the month, I’ll share my thoughts on at least one of them. YOU are invited to read along by picking whatever book on the list appeals to you and sharing your thoughts –OR– by picking some other book and sharing your thoughts about that. Easy, right? And, hopefully fun too.

May’s Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads)

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Alexia Tarabotti is laboring under a great many social tribulations.

First, she has no soul. Second, she’s a spinster whose father is both Italian and dead. Third, she was rudely attacked by a vampire, breaking all standards of social etiquette.

Where to go from there? From bad to worse apparently, for Alexia accidentally kills the vampire–and then the appalling Lord Maccon (loud, messy, gorgeous, and werewolf) is sent by Queen Victoria to investigate.

With unexpected vampires appearing and expected vampires disappearing, everyone seems to believe Alexia responsible. Can she figure out what is actually happening to London’s high society? Will her soulless ability to negate supernatural powers prove useful or just plain embarrassing? Finally, who is the real enemy, and do they have treacle tart?

Kiss of Steel by Bec McMaster

When Nowhere Is Safe

Most people avoid the dreaded Whitechapel district. For Honoria Todd, it’s the last safe haven. But at what price?

Blade is known as the master of the rookeries—no one dares cross him. It’s been said he faced down the Echelon’s army single-handedly, that ever since being infected by the blood-craving he’s been quicker, stronger, and almost immortal.

When Honoria shows up at his door, his tenuous control comes close to snapping. She’s so…innocent. He doesn’t see her backbone of steel—or that she could be the very salvation he’s been seeking.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Prince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

After the Iron Duke freed England from Horde control, he instantly became a national hero. Now Rhys Trahaearn has built a merchant empire on the power – and fear – of his name. And when a dead body is dropped from an airship onto his doorstep, bringing Detective Inspector Mina Wentworth into his dangerous world, he intends to make her his next possession.

But when Mina uncovers the victim’s identity, she stumbles upon a conspiracy that threatens the lives of everyone in England. To save them, Mina and Rhys must race across zombie-infested wastelands and treacherous oceans-and Mina discovers the danger is not only to her countrymen, as she finds herself tempted to give up everything to the Iron Duke.

Wicked as They Come by Delilah Dawson

When nurse Tish Everett forced open the pesky but lovely locket she found at an estate sale, she had no idea she was answering the call of Criminy Stain, from the far off land of Sang. He’d cast a spell for her, but when she’s transported right to him, she’s not so sure she’s ready to be under the spell of another man. (It didn’t go so well last time with controlling, abusive, domineering Jeff.) If only Criminy wasn’t so deliciously rakish….

Half the inhabitants of Sang are Pinkies—human—and the other half are Bludmen, who in Tish’s world would be called vampires. But they don’t mess with any of the bat/coffin/no sunlight nonsense. They’re rather like you and me, just more fabulous, long living, and mostly indestructible. (They’re also very good kissers.) But when the evil Mayor of Manchester (formerly Bludchester) redoubles his efforts to rid Sang of the Bludmen once and for all, stealing Tish’s locket in hopes of traveling back to her world himself for reinforcements, Criminy and Tish must battle ghosts, sea monsters, wayward submarines, a secret cabal, and thundering Bludmares to get the locket back and allow Tish to return home…but has she found love with Criminy? Could she stay in Sang forever?

Happy reading!

Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner (#amreading #foodiefiction)

Below are my thoughts on my April Reading Challenge choices. Tomorrow, I have another 5 Photos guest and then I’ll post May’s Reading Challenge choices on Thursday.

Sweetbitter

I’ve mentioned before that I’m no foodie. I’ve waitressed, but never anywhere nice. I also never wanted to live in New York, although I really like that city and have always enjoyed visiting. But I get what it’s like to feel a calling to do something difficult. To learn the idiosyncrasies of a career that only a small portion of people do. Which is a lot of what this book is about – the inner workings of an upscale restaurant in NYC, as seen through the eyes of newly arrived twenty-two year old Tess.

She lands a job as a back waiter possibly because she’s pretty, but also because she’s a “fifty-one percenter.” (My book club friends and I had a lively discussion about what that term meant. The publisher’s definition is less cynical than ours was.)

In the beginning, Danler seemed to treat food and wine more intimately than her characters, but eventually (like it or not), we got to know Tess and the rest. None of them made good choices, but that makes for interesting reflections/discussions. Tess is provocative, the book even more so. People seem to love or hate it, which was probably Danler’s intent. Sweetbitter’s thesis seems to be that good and bad should be equally savored because both are necessary for experiencing a full-bodied life. What do you think?

Eat Like a Gilmore

Because last month’s theme was food, I included three awesome cookbooks in my choices and then challenged everyone to make something from them. (Did you? If not, did you make anything else last month that was interesting or exciting?) Not having much time or kitchen skills (Panera is to me what Luke’s is to Lorelai), I decided to pick something from Eat Like a GilmoreBeef-a-Roni. It was awesome. Everyone loved it. The last picture is actually from the book. I was too busy eating to take a pic of my bowl, but it looked just like that!! 😀

Wondering about my headline? Who remembers the old “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” commercials??

Feed your brain, fill your stomach – #eat #read #behappy (April Reading Challenge)

I noticed a couple of my new followers last week had foodie bios. (Did I mention how much I love new followers? I do! Welcome! I also love my long-time followers too, of course. 🙂 ) I’m thinking the timing is probably pure coincidence, but it makes me feel better to ‘fess up now – I’m no foodie. I’m kind of terrible at All Things Domestic. I do the bare minimum… vacuum, dust, do a load of laundry once in a while. And I can cook meatloaf, boil spaghetti, make tacos, and reheat a rotisserie chicken… but that’s about it. I do, however, love to go out with foodies to foodie places. They know where to go and what to order. And I love watching foodie films. Bizarre, right?

Why I am confessing all this? Because my Reading Challenge theme this month is food, which, btw, is as unoriginal as the meals I cook. BCPL’s reading challenge theme this month is also food, and some of my reading choices were pilfered directly from their list.

But many of you know me. I gotta tinker with things. I can’t just do what I’m told. So I’m also adding a few fun cookbooks to my Reading Challenge list.

THIS MONTH’S READING CHALLENGE IS A DOUBLE DARE:

#1 – Read one of the books

#2 – Make something from one of the cookbooks

Hey, if I can make something out of these cookbooks, you can too! 🙂

April Reading Challenge Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads or Amazon)

Sweetbitter

A lush, raw, thrilling novel of the senses about a year in the life of a uniquely beguiling young woman, set in the wild, alluring world of a famous downtown New York restaurant.

“Let’s say I was born when I came over the George Washington Bridge…”

This is how we meet unforgettable Tess, the twenty-two-year-old at the heart of this stunning first novel. Shot from a mundane, provincial past, she’s come to New York to look for a life she can’t define, except as a burning drive to become someone, to belong somewhere. After she stumbles into a coveted job at a renowned Union Square restaurant, we spend the year with her as she learns the chaotic, punishing, privileged life of a “backwaiter,” on duty and off. Her appetites—for food, wine, knowledge, and every kind of experience—are awakened. And she’s pulled into the magnetic thrall of two other servers—a handsome bartender she falls hard for, and an older woman she latches onto with an orphan’s ardor.

These two and their enigmatic connection to each other will prove to be Tess’s hardest lesson of all. Sweetbitter is a story of discovery, enchantment, and the power of what remains after disillusionment.

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl

Alba loves her life just as it is. She loves living behind the bakery, and waking up in a cloud of sugar and cinnamon. She loves drawing comics and watching bad TV with her friends.

The only problem is she’s overlooked a few teeny details:

Like, the guy she thought long gone has unexpectedly reappeared.
And the boy who has been her best friend since forever has suddenly gone off the rails.
And even her latest comic-book creation is misbehaving.

Also, the world might be ending – which is proving to be awkward.

As Doomsday enthusiasts flock to idyllic Eden Valley, Alba’s life is thrown into chaos. Whatever happens next, it’s the end of the world as she knows it. But when it comes to figuring out her heart, Armageddon might turn out to be the least of her problems.

Outlander Kitchen

A cookbook of recipes inspired by the Outlander characters—a culinary retelling of Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling series.

Readers and cooks time-travel from Outlander through A Breath of Snow and Ashes, and along the way encounter authentic recipes, modern interpretations, and creative dishes that are both doable and delicious!

Claire’s first lonely bowl of “Mrs. Fitz’s Porridge” in Castle Leoch

“Roast Beast for a Wedding Feast” after her hasty marriage to Highlander James Fraser

A comforting batch of “Mrs. Bug’s Buttermilk Drop Biscuits” at their home on Fraser’s Ridge in North Carolina

Eat Like a Gilmore

The infamous appetites of the Gilmore Girls are given their due in this fun, unofficial cookbook inspired by the show. Fans will eat up the delicious recipes honoring the chefs who fuel the science-defying metabolisms of Lorelai and Rory Gilmore. Whether you’re a diehard fan or new to the scene, author Kristi Carlson invites you to pull up a chair and dig in. Luke’s diner menu, Sookie’s eclectic inn fare, Emily’s fancy Friday Night Dinners, and town favorites are the key influences behind these tempting dishes. One hundred recipes, covering all the bases from appetizers and cocktails to entrées and desserts, invoke key episodes and daily scenes in the Gilmores’ lives.

With beautiful photos, helpful kitchen tips, and fun tidbits about the show, this cookbook is a must-have for any Gilmore Girls fan. Easy-to-follow recipes make it possible to cook and eat your way through Stars Hollow. So don your apron, preheat the oven, and put on your favorite episode. It’s time to eat like a Gilmore!

Cook Korean!

Fun to look at and easy to use, this unique combination of cookbook and graphic novel is the ideal introduction to cooking Korean cuisine at home. Robin Ha’s colorful and humorous one- to three-page comics fully illustrate the steps and ingredients needed to bring more than sixty traditional (and some not-so-traditional) dishes to life.

In these playful but exact recipes, you’ll learn how to create everything from easy kimchi (mak kimchi) and soy garlic beef over rice (bulgogi dupbap) to seaweed rice rolls (gimbap) and beyond. Friendly and inviting, Cook Korean! is perfect for beginners and seasoned cooks alike who want to try their hand at this wildly popular cuisine.

Happy reading… and eating! 🙂

When all else fails, join the circus… or just read about it! (#amreading #magical #books)

Below are my thoughts on my March Reading Challenge choices…

Girl on a Wire: The cover is fantastic! Eye-catching and immediately conveys what the story is about. Absolutely loved it. Really enjoyed the story too, although I read it a long time ago and, unfortunately, didn’t take notes. (When I read, I often take notes on my phone’s note app. How about you? Do you take notes on the books you read?) This was a circus redux of Romeo and Juliette (the main character is Jules; her love interest is Remy). Fun fact I remember: the MC is a tight rope walker who idolizes Bird Millman, a real life high-wire performer who toured with Barnum & Bailey/Ringling Brothers back in the day.

Caraval: This was exactly what it was pitched as (The Night Circus meets The Hunger Games) with one caveat – to me, the feel of it (tone, style, etc.) was more similar to Kiera Cass’ The Selection. Initially, I put this book on hold at my library, but it took a while to come in so I bought the digital version for my Kindle. Then, when I was only a couple of chapters in, the print version arrived at the library for me, which gave me a chance to compare the two. (I’ve been doing more of that lately – reading two different versions of a book at the same time. Do any of you do this? I talk to a lot of readers who go back and forth between print and audio versions, depending on whether they’re in the car or not.) My thoughts? Formatting matters. This is a book with lots of letters and a map. Best to experience it in print! 🙂

Writers are illusionists who work in words.”

—Greer Macallister

The Magician’s Lie: The print version I bought a long time ago, but I also read parts of the digital version, which I checked out of the library via OverDrive. This book toggles between two timelines – the present, where a magician is being questioned by a policeman about the death of her husband, and the past, which tells the story of her life. In the book extras, Macallister was asked how she melds historical facts with a fictional story. I loved her answer. She said her intent was to “integrate history in a way that enriches and expands the story” but she didn’t want to feel “hidebound by exactly what happened to whom and when.” Hear, hear! It was interesting seeing how she worked in real people, tricks, and events like Adelaide Herrmann, the Bullet Catch, and the Iroquois Theater fire. Also worth noting: along with the central question (did the MC kill her husband?) there were other small mysteries that propelled the narrative forward. My favorite was whether or not Arden was capable of real magic. Was that question answered? You’ll have to read to find out. 😉

How about you? Did you read anything good in March? I hope so!

The Show Must Go On: March Reading Challenge Choices

circus, theater, fiction, reading challenge, Jill Archer

March’s Reading Challenge Choices

(Descriptions from Goodreads)

Caraval

Whatever you’ve heard about Caraval, it doesn’t compare to the reality. It’s more than just a game or a performance. It’s the closest you’ll ever find to magic in this world . . .

Scarlett has never left the tiny island where she and her beloved sister, Tella, live with their powerful, and cruel, father. Now Scarlett’s father has arranged a marriage for her, and Scarlett thinks her dreams of seeing Caraval, the far-away, once-a-year performance where the audience participates in the show, are over.

But this year, Scarlett’s long-dreamt of invitation finally arrives. With the help of a mysterious sailor, Tella whisks Scarlett away to the show. Only, as soon as they arrive, Tella is kidnapped by Caraval’s mastermind organizer, Legend. It turns out that this season’s Caraval revolves around Tella, and whoever finds her first is the winner.

Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance. But she nevertheless becomes enmeshed in a game of love, heartbreak, and magic with the other players in the game. And whether Caraval is real or not, she must find Tella before the five nights of the game are over, a dangerous domino effect of consequences is set off, and her sister disappears forever.

Girl on a Wire

Sixteen-year-old Jules Maroni’s dream is to follow in her father’s footsteps as a high-wire walker. When her family is offered a prestigious role in the new Cirque American, it seems that Jules and the Amazing Maronis will finally get the spotlight they deserve. But the presence of the Flying Garcias may derail her plans. For decades, the two rival families have avoided each other as sworn enemies.

Jules ignores the drama and focuses on the wire, skyrocketing to fame as the girl in a red tutu who dances across the wire at death-defying heights. But when she discovers a peacock feather—an infamous object of bad luck—planted on her costume, Jules nearly loses her footing. She has no choice but to seek help from the unlikeliest of people: Remy Garcia, son of the Garcia clan matriarch and the best trapeze artist in the Cirque.

As more mysterious talismans believed to possess unlucky magic appear, Jules and Remy unite to find the culprit. And if they don’t figure out what’s going on soon, Jules may be the first Maroni to do the unthinkable: fall.

Station Eleven

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as The Travelling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. Sometimes terrifying, sometimes tender, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.

The Magician’s Lie

Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband’s murder –and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.

The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.

But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless—and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

Are you new here? Click here for more info on my 2017 Reading Challenge.

#amreading: Jane Austen-inspired #fantasy (Feb’s 2017 Reading Challenge)

I’m sharing my thoughts on my February 2017 Reading Challenge picks, but first…

Wondering how I pick my books, where I get them, and how I choose which ones to read?

My Reading Challenge choices are based on personal interest and the fact that they fit my monthly theme. Then I either check them out of my local library or buy them. (If you’re wondering, it does help authors to check their books out of a library – it keeps that book in circulation longer and helps the library’s collection department know that at least one of its patrons is interested in that author, which might make it more likely the library will buy their next book.)

I’m not able to read all of my monthly choices (I wish) so, just because I’m giving my thoughts on some and not others, doesn’t necessarily mean they were the best of the bunch. And my site’s not monetized, so I don’t make any money if you choose to buy these books. (That’s why I often link to Goodreads, although not always).

I encourage everyone to get their books from a wide variety of places. Amazon, sure. We all do. But try to make it a point to buy from other vendors from time to time — and remember to check books out of your local library! It supports both the author and your library. 🙂

IndieBound: Find books at local independent book stores.

WorldCat: Find books at local libraries.

Shades of Milk and Honey

Features Jane Ellsworth, master glamour manipulator, and her sister, Melody, an au naturale beauty.

Months ago – just after the New Year – this was the first book I grabbed after the insanity of the holidays. It had been on my TBR list forever and I thought it would be interesting, fun, and even somewhat soothing after December’s mania. I was right. (Unfortunately, I didn’t know I’d be doing a reading challenge at the time, so I didn’t take good notes.) I do, however, remember liking many things about the book:

The magic – I love glamour magic. Fara Vanderlin from my Noon Onyx series also works with glamours and I love to see what other authors do with this type of magic. I liked that Jane refused to enhance her own appearance but was fantastic at creating sensory tableaus that incorporated not just the visual, but also other senses like sound, smell, and touch. It was fascinating that, in this society, people used galmourists like interior decorators. The richer someone was, the better glamourist they could hire. And the way the magic worked — weaved, woven, layered — was pretty cool.

It wasn’t a retelling – the story was set in an alternate version of Regency England, but it wasn’t based on any specific Jane Austen novel. I love a good redux, but it’s more impressive when writers use their inspirations as jumping off points.

The cover to the next book! There are a total of five books in the Glamourist Histories series. The cover of the second, Glamour in Glass, features a Regency heroine (I assume Jane) in… well, shades of milk and honey – but with bubbles. Makes me curious to say the least.

Heartstone

This was a retelling… of Pride and Prejudice, but with dragons. Tell me you can resist that. 😀

In the beginning, there were a lot of creatures and names to keep straight. There were wyverns, dragons, gnomes, and gryphons… beoryns, lamias, nakla, khela… Tekari, Shani…

There were Brysneys instead of Bingleys, Bentaines instead of Bennets, Daireds instead of Darcys, but I became immersed in the story soon enough.

The Fourfold God was interesting: Janna—Provider, She Who Sustains; Mikla—Protector, Shield of the Faithful; Odei—Creator, He Who Begins; and Thell—the Unmaker (i.e. Death).

And I liked that none of the characters seemed to be an exact replica of their match in P&P.

After reading it, I wished two things:

  1. That I’d chosen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, instead of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters as my third book choice for February; and
  2. That I’d had time to read another book in February.

It would have been neat to see how Elle Katherine White’s retelling differed from Seth Grahame-Smith’s. (Have you read P&P&Z? What did you think? Are you wondering why I picked Sea Monsters over Zombies? Because the cover reminded me of Bill Nighy’s Davy Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean. And because I felt like Zombies had gotten more than enough attention with the movie.) 

In lieu of my thoughts on Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, I offer you its You Tube book trailer link. Absolutely worth the two minutes or so it takes to watch.

My final thought on Heartstone: Giving the Drakaina (the dragon queen) some of the characteristics of Lady Catherine de Bourgh was a nice touch.

So, how about you? Did you read any of my Feb 2017 Reading Challenge picks? Are you reading anything else? Can you think of any other Jane Austen-inspired fantasy? If so, let me know in the comments! Tomorrow, I’ll share March’s reading picks.

February’s Reading Challenge – #JaneAusten Inspired #Fantasy

For 2017, I’m doing a Reading Challenge. At the start of every month, I’ll post the month’s reading theme and a list of possible books to read, then at the end of the month, I’ll share my thoughts on at least one of them. YOU are invited to read along by picking whatever book on the list appeals to you and sharing your thoughts –OR– by picking some other book that fits the theme and sharing your thoughts about that. Easy, right? And, hopefully fun too.

Jill Archer, 2017 Reading Challenge, books, fantasy, Jane Austen

February’s theme is:

JANE AUSTEN INSPIRED FANTASY

and the choices are…

(descriptions are from Goodreads)

shades-of-milk-and-honey-by-mary-robinette-kowal

Shades of Milk and Honey

by Mary Robinette Kowal

The fantasy novel you’ve always wished Jane Austen had written

Shades of Milk and Honey is exactly what we could expect from Jane Austen if she had been a fantasy writer: Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. It is an intimate portrait of a woman, Jane, and her quest for love in a world where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality.

Jane and her sister Melody vie for the attentions of eligible men, and while Jane’s skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face. When Jane realizes that one of Melody’s suitors is set on taking advantage of her sister for the sake of her dowry, she pushes her skills to the limit of what her body can withstand in order to set things right—and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.

heartstone

Heartstone

by Elle Katharine White

A debut historical fantasy that recasts Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom: gryphons, direwolves, lamias, banshees, and lindworms

They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.

Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.

Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.

It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.

Elle Katharine White infuses elements of Austen’s beloved novel with her own brand of magic, crafting a modern epic fantasy that conjures a familiar yet wondrously unique new world.

sense-and-sensibility-and-sea-monsters

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters

From the publisher of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies comes a new tale of romance, heartbreak, and tentacled mayhem. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters expands the original text of the beloved Jane Austen novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, and other biological monstrosities.

As our story opens, the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. While sensible Elinor falls in love with Edward Ferrars, her romantic sister Marianne is courted by both the handsome Willoughby and the hideous man-monster Colonel Brandon.

Can the Dashwood sisters triumph over meddlesome matriarchs and unscrupulous rogues to find true love? Or will they fall prey to the tentacles that are forever snapping at their heels? This masterful portrait of Regency England blends Jane Austen’s biting social commentary with ultraviolent depictions of sea monsters biting. It’s survival of the fittest — and only the swiftest swimmers will find true love!


So there they are — February’s reading choices. Get to it, people! 🙂

2017 Reading Challenge: January – Books about Books or Bookstores (#amreading #books)

New followers, I’m doing a 2017 Reading Challenge. At the beginning of every month, I’ll post a few books that fit the month’s theme and, at the end, I’ll give my thoughts on at least one of them. Interested in participating? It’s easy! Click here for my 2017 themes + January’s choices. See below for my thoughts on two of this month’s books. At any point during the year, read along with me, share your thoughts on the books I list — or any other. The only thing that matters is that you KEEP READING! 😀


Jill Archer, 2017 Reading ChallengeThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Book lover Sara travels from Sweden to a small town in Iowa to meet her pen pal, Amy, but when she arrives, she finds out that Amy has passed on. Having planned to stay a while, Sara isn’t sure what to do, so she temporarily moves into Amy’s house (the improbable plot point somehow works) and then opens a bookstore with Amy’s massive collection of books. She spends the next month pairing people and books, while the town tries to pair her with its most eligible bachelor. It’s a cute, whimsical story that sacrifices credibility for sentimentality.

The town of Broken Wheel kind of reminded me of Gilmore Girls‘  Stars Hollow or Pigeon Creek (the town that Melanie Carmichael/Smooter is from in Sweet Home Alabama), which is why I started thinking about what this book might look like if Reese Witherspoon bought the film rights. For fun, here’s my casting:

Caroline: Reese Witherspoon

Jen: Jennifer Garner

Tom: Jake Gyllenhaal

Sara: some unknown Swedish actress because both Noomi Rapace and Alicia Vikander seem too intense for the role. Sara’s not a bookish character that becomes a badass. She stays sweet.

Have you read The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend? What did you think?

Are you from Iowa? What did you think of Bivald’s depiction of Broken Wheel?

Jill Archer, 2017 Reading ChallengeThe Bookshop on the Corner

English urbanite librarian Nina loses her job due to staff cuts. Unsure of what her next move should be, she makes a spontaneous decision to buy an old truck and move to Scotland. She makes arrangements with a train conductor (another improbable plot point; they seem more glaring outside of fantasy) to have her vast book collection sent north and she proceeds to turn the old truck into a mobile bookshop (the title was misleading; there’s no bookshop on the corner… Nina’s truck is her only transportation and she drives it everywhere).

Although different in its own way, it felt similar to The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend. They were both cozy stories for book lovers who like sweet romances. I don’t mind cozy stories or sweet romances, but after two I was ready for something stronger. (I chose Amanda Bouchet’s A Promise of Fire and was not disappointed. If I have time, I’ll do a full post on it later.)

Have you read The Bookshop on the Corner? What did you think?

Do you like books about books? Which ones would you recommend?


Tomorrow, I’ll post February’s book choices. Until then, happy reading!

#amreading: My 2017 Reading Challenge – Who’s In?

For 2017, I’m doing a Reading Challenge. Yes, I know lots of other people, publishers, libraries, etc. do them. But I wanted to pick the topics and books myself. So here’s how mine will work: at the start of every month, I’ll post the month’s reading theme and a list of possible books to read, then at the end of the month, I’ll share my thoughts on at least one of them. YOU are invited to read along by picking whatever book on the list appeals to you and sharing your thoughts –OR– by picking some other book that fits the theme and sharing your thoughts about that. Easy, right? And, hopefully fun too.


Jill Archer, 2017 Reading Challenge

2017 Categories

January – Books about Books or Bookstores

February – Jane Austen Inspired Fantasy

March – Set in Circus or Theater

April – Foodie Fiction

May – Steampunk

June – The Fae

July – Fairytale Retellings

August – Beach Reads

September – Nonfiction books that aren’t about writing

October – Modern Gothic

November – Written during NaNoWriMo

December –  Angels & Demons


January Book Choices

Jill Archer, 2017 Reading Challenge

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen…

Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her pen pal, Amy. When she arrives, however, she finds that Amy’s funeral has just ended. Luckily, the townspeople are happy to look after their bewildered tourist—even if they don’t understand her peculiar need for books. Marooned in a farm town that’s almost beyond repair, Sara starts a bookstore in honor of her friend’s memory.

All she wants is to share the books she loves with the citizens of Broken Wheel and to convince them that reading is one of the great joys of life. But she makes some unconventional choices that could force a lot of secrets into the open and change things for everyone in town. Reminiscent of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, this is a warm, witty book about friendship, stories, and love.

Jill Archer, 2017 Reading Challenge

The Bookshop on the Corner

Nina Redmond is a literary matchmaker. Pairing a reader with that perfect book is her passion… and also her job. Or at least it was. Until yesterday, she was a librarian in the hectic city. But now the job she loved is no more.

Determined to make a new life for herself, Nina moves to a sleepy village many miles away. There she buys a van and transforms it into a bookmobile—a mobile bookshop that she drives from neighborhood to neighborhood, changing one life after another with the power of storytelling.

From helping her grumpy landlord deliver a lamb, to sharing picnics with a charming train conductor who serenades her with poetry, Nina discovers there’s plenty of adventure, magic, and soul in a place that’s beginning to feel like home… a place where she just might be able to write her own happy ending.

Jill Archer, 2017 Reading Challenge

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

The Great Recession has shuffled Clay Jannon away from life as a San Francisco web-design drone and into the aisles of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. But after a few days on the job, Clay discovers that the store is more curious than either its name or its gnomic owner might suggest. The bookstore’s secrets extend far beyond its walls.

So, whadya think? Ready to read more in 2017? Remember, you don’t have to pick one of the books I list. Just use my list of categories as inspiration. Or, if nothing else, just stop by every now and then and tell me what you’re reading. I really don’t care what it is — so long as you keep reading! 😀