Tuesday, December 29, 2015

CHALLENGES: The Nonfiction Reading Challenge 2016

I enjoyed the nonfiction challenge for 2015, finding myself reading a greater variety of nonfiction than is my usual habit. However, there are still some books on my shelf that I intended to read and didn't get to. Luckily, The Introverted Reader is hosting a nonfiction challenge again next year.

Similar to last year, here are the rules:

The Challenge:  Read any non-fiction book(s), adult or young adult. That's it. You can choose anything. Memoirs? Yes. History? Yes. Travel? Yes. You get the idea? Absolutely anything that is classified as non-fiction counts for this challenge.

Challenge Levels:

Dilettante--Read 1-5 non-fiction books

Explorer--Read 6-10

Seeker--Read 11-15

Master--Read 16-20

This challenge will last from January 1 to December 31, 2016. You can sign up anytime throughout the year.

You can also link to a review you wrote on another site, such as GoodReads or LibraryThing.

Crossovers with other challenges are acceptable, and feel free to read your books in any format you like.

The Introverted Reader will have a separate post with a linky for reviews and permanent links to both posts in the sidebar.

I'm going to Explorer level once again, shooting for 10 books. Maybe I'll get to those older ones waiting on my shelf this time around!

Links to reviews of the books I read are here:

1. America in the Gilded Age by Sean Dennis Cashman
2. Health and Wellness in 19th-Century America by John C. Waller
3. It Ended Badly. 13 of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright
4. Dead Wake. The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
5. An Anatomy of Addiction by Howard Markel
6. 1493 by Charles C. Mann
7. Fiend. The Shocking True Story of America's Youngest Serial Killer by Harold Schechter
8. How the Post Office Created America by Winifred Gallagher
9. Belgium. Long United, Long Divided by Samuel Humes
10. Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba
11. Chivalry and the Medieval Past edited by Katie Stevenson and Barbara Gribling
12. American Gospel by Jon Meacham
13. The Gene. An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
14. Victoria The Queen by Julia Baird

BOOK REVIEW: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

I’m a sucker for novels about books and book lovers. If there is an epistolary component to the novel, even better. So I was excited to get hold of The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. This novel contains all the necessary elements. There is a protagonist who works in/owns a bookstore and who is more comfortable in fictional worlds than the real one. She has read widely and so much that she can match the perfect book to sometimes unlikely readers with uncanny success. There are a host of quirky secondary characters with their own problems who are, initially, not readers. However, when introduced to the protagonist’s world view, they find their own lives are enriched, even if their problems are not necessarily solved. And there is a love interest who appreciates the protagonist on her own terms.

The protagonist, Sara Lindqvist, is a young Swedish woman who worked as a clerk in a small bookstore until it closed. She had struck up a correspondence and book exchange with an older American woman, Amy, who lived in the tiny town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. Unbeknownst to Sara, Amy was quite ill. Amy invited Sara to visit, and finding herself with nothing else pressing to do, Sara decides she needs an adventure. She will go to Broken Wheel and meet her friend, as well as all the people Amy has told her so much about. However, when Sara reaches Broken Wheel, she is shocked and dismayed to learn that Amy has just died.

The townspeople rally around their visitor, knowing that this is what the much beloved Amy would want. Sara finds herself lodged and fed, visited by Amy’s friends, and comforted by Amy’s vast collection of books. But Sara needs something to do. When she learns that no one else in Broken Wheel reads, she decides to open a bookstore, even though that is technically a violation of the provisions of her visa.

As she slowly becomes part of the community, she is drawn to Tom, a rather withdrawn and world-weary man who, being handsome and single, is a source of interest to the busybodies of Broken Wheel. They have already decided to pair him with Sara. This causes them both a good deal of embarrassment. Nevertheless, something clicks between them.

Sara is such a sweet character, despite her initial lack of social graces, that the town falls in love with her, with her store, and eventually, with reading. But tragedy is looming: Sara’s visa is about to expire. Can the town find a way to keep her?

Initially published in 2013 in Swedish and translated by Alice Menzies, the novel starts a bit slowly and clunkily, which is something I’ve found in a couple of contemporary translations. But it doesn’t take long for the story to catch hold. (I stayed up way too late on a work night to finish it!) It doesn’t seem very true-to-life; the characters are more types than real individuals, but it has a lovely fairy-tale quality to it. The small town inhabitants are salt-of-the-earth people. Even the outsiders who play the roles of bad guys are not so bad. Conflict comes in the form of the slow death of small town America and the disappearing habit of reading. Rediscovering the joy of books highlights the best qualities in these neighborly folks, and helps to breathe life back into Broken Wheel. For all fans of books about books, this is highly recommended.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

I had never read any of Louisa May Alcott’s books except for Little Women, which I read long ago and loved. At least, I remember loving it, but I’m afraid to re-read it because I might not like it as much the next go round. Instead, I thought I should try one of her other novels, because she actually wrote quite a few. I chose Eight Cousins.

This was a disappointment. The premise is: a young girl, thirteen years old, is orphaned and must go to live with her great aunts while awaiting the arrival of her guardian-uncle, Dr. Alec. She is quiet, frail, and timid, scared of horses, boats, and noisy boys. This is a problem, since she has seven boy cousins now living nearby, who are noisy and who love boats and horses. Her aunts want to shelter and coddle her. She is sinking fast until her cousins come to cheer her and she sees they are not as terrifying as she feared. (They are extraordinarily chivalrous boys.)

When her uncle appears and takes charge, her life changes. He prescribes healthy food, plenty of fresh air and exercise, and comfortable clothing instead of corsets and tight belts. Shortly, the girl, Rose, grows into a happy, healthy child. All well and good. A sweet if saccharine tale.

But this dated novel quickly takes this moral lesson and pushes it farther. When Rose wants to learn more, to find an occupation (despite being an heiress–just in case she becomes poor and needs to fend for herself) her uncle points her in the direction of housekeeping. There is no higher calling for a young lady and nothing that would please him more. When one of her cousins becomes ill, she nurses him back to health. When another, older cousin, falls in with a bad crowd and falls out with his more stable cousins, it is Rose who brings him back in line. For love of her, to stay in her good graces, these boys will do anything. And Rose discovers that this is what women are for: to take care of boys.

She also pours out her charitable goodness on an orphaned maid in her aunt’s house. The maid is so good-natured and full of gratitude, that she is an inspiration to all- at least, I suppose she is supposed to be the model for the subservient underclass.

The book is a period piece that may have served as an instructive morality tale for children in the late 1880s or early 1900s--and I don’t take issue with the insistence that girls as well as boys need exercise and good food--but it’s difficult to embrace the more stifling messages these days. If these were the lessons girls and boys were supposed to take to heart in those days, I pity them.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman

The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman is my 40th historical novel read this year and it’s a perfect way to wrap things up because it was fantastic! Set in Bristol, London, and the surrounding countryside in the 18th century, it was not an obvious choice for me because the plot centered on street fighting. But don’t be put off by the topic. Freeman is a superb writer who takes you right into the gritty world of poverty, hard-living, vice, and extremes of human nature: good and bad.

There are three narrators. Each is fully fleshed out and very real, as are the secondary characters.

Ruth is our heroine. Daughter of a madam, raised in a brothel alongside her beautiful sister, Dora, Ruth is a scrappy mess. Jealous of her sister’s earning potential, Ruth despairs of ever being able to follow in her footsteps, not understanding the utter awfulness of such a goal. One day, a patron catches her fighting (physically fighting) with her sister. Impressed by her determination and fearlessness, he arranges for her to begin a career of street fighting with his backing. (He essentially owns her.)

It’s a miserable existence: bloody, violent, crude—yet she loves it, craves the excitement, despite her many injuries and losses. Moreover, her indomitable spirit inspires the love of a good man.

The second protagonist is George. The fourth son of a gentleman, George didn’t have much of a future except what he could make for himself. Yet he started with significant advantages: a respected family name and remarkable good looks. He was sent to boarding school where he met and was assigned to room with another younger son, Perry. They became fast friends. Over time, they became lovers. Over more time, George grew caught in a web of mutual dependence that he could not or would not escape. Compared to those who started out with nothing but who built lives for themselves, the self-interested George squandered a life of potential.

Finally, we meet Charlotte, Perry’s sister. Scarred by small pox, she survived the epidemic that claimed Perry’s older brother and made Perry heir to a fortune. Life experiences made her timid. Her scars keep her hidden from society. Her brother’s cruelty turns her cruel in return, but he is her only target. She tries to escape from her prison by marrying, but knows no one but friends of her brother. Perry will not let her have George. She is forced to marry a wealthy (new money) man named Granville.

Granville is a despicable, grasping character. He doesn’t want Charlotte to be unhappy, but he doesn’t want to put himself out to please her. He is absorbed by his own pursuits: gambling on street fighting and visiting his mistress. The mistress happens to be Dora. And Granville is the patron who owns Ruth, pushing her into ever more dangerous bouts.

It’s hard to explain why this novel is so wonderful, when so much of what these people face, or what they do, is unpleasant. The lives of the disadvantaged characters are unbearable to contemplate, and yet, their resilience and determination give them an advantage over the well-to-do, who are horrible people. Street fighting, despite the sordid settings and brutality, lend the fighters a nobility and source of pride in accomplishment, even when they lose.

Freeman’s use of the slang of the gutters, her descriptive settings, her ability to show the psychology of the characters, their suffering and their hopes, bring this tale fully to life. The unflinching way she presents the reality of their lives make this story impossible to put down.

Thursday, December 24, 2015


Lights Under Louisville

Happy Holidays!
I'm not much of a photographer, but, in my defense, this was taken with my phone from the window of a slow moving car inside a large man-made cavern. One of my favorite traditions is going to Lights Under Louisville to see the splashy light displays and listen to the piped in holiday music. It's a bit weird, but it gets me in the holiday spirit.

Enjoy your holidays!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Even though this is the one challenge I didn't manage to complete this year, I'm not deterred from trying again. I love picking out the classics I want to read--and hope that putting them on this list will make me actually read them.

The challenge is hosted by Books and Chocolate, once again. Head on over to sign up. At the end, one lucky winner will receive a $30 prize from Amazon.com or The Book Depository, courtesy of the wonderful host.

Here's how it works:

The challenge will be exactly the same as last year, 12 classic books, but with slightly different categories. You do not have to read 12 books to participate in this challenge!

  • Complete six categories, and you get one entry in the drawing
  • Complete nine categories, and you get two entries in the drawing
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you get three entries in the drawing
And here are the categories for the 2016 Back to the Classics Challenge:

1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.

2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1966. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later.

3.  A classic by a woman author

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language.

5.  A classic by a non-white author. Can be African-American, Asian, Latino, Native American, etc.

6.  An adventure classic - can be fiction or non-fiction.

7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. Dystopian could include classics like 1984.

8.  A classic detective novel. It must include a detective, amateur or professional. This list of books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction is a great starting point if you're looking for ideas.

9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title.  It can be the name of a house, a town, a street, etc. Examples include Bleak House, Main Street, The Belly of Paris, or The Vicar of Wakefield.

10. A classic which has been banned or censored. If possible, please mention why this book was banned or censored in your review.

11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college).  If it's a book you loved, does it stand the test of time?  If it's a book you disliked, is it any better a second time around?

12. A volume of classic short stories. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories. It can be an anthology of stories by different authors, or all the stories can be by a single author. Children's stories are acceptable in this category only.

And now, the rest of the rules:

  • All books must be read in 2016. Books started before January 1, 2016 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by December 31, 2016. Links will be posted for each category the first week of January which will be featured on a sidebar at Books and Chocolate for the entire year. 
  • You must also post a wrap-up review and link it to the challenge no later than December 31, 2016. Please include links within your final wrap-up. 
  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by1966 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously.
  • E-books and audiobooks are eligible! You may also count books that you read for other challenges.
  • Books may NOT crossover within this challenge. You must read a different book for EACH category, or it doesn't count.
  • If you do not have a blog, you may link to reviews on Goodreads or any other publicly accessible online format. 
  • The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2016.  Please include a link to your original sign-up post, not your blog URL. 
  • You do NOT have to list all the books you're going to read for the challenge in your sign-up post, but it's more fun if you do! Of course, you can change your list any time. Books may also be read in any order. 
  • The winner will be announced the first week of January, 2017. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending on the number of categories completed. One winner will be selected at random for all qualifying entries. The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US currency) from either Amazon.com OR The Book Depository, and the winner MUST live in a country that will receive shipments from one or the other. For a list of countries that receive shipments from The Book Depository, click here

So, here are my choices (reviews will be linked when the books are done.):

1. 19th century:  Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
2. 20th century: Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. Woman Author: The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
4. Translation: Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
5. Non-white Author: The Living is Easy by Dorothy West
6. Adventure: Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
7. Science Fiction: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
8. Detective Novel: Penhallow by Georgette Heyer
9. Name of a Place in the Title: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
10. Banned or Censored: Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
11. Re-read a classic: Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
12. Short Story Collection: A New England Nun and Other Stories by Mary Wilkins Freeman

Wish me luck!

Monday, December 21, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Elizabeth Strout is an amazing writer. Olive Kitteridge, Abide with Me, The Burgess Boys—I loved them all. So, of course, I intended to read her latest book: My Name is Lucy Barton, due out in mid-January, 2016. Thanks to Netgalley, I got a sneak preview.

This is the story of Lucy Barton, a writer, who "came from nothing." Nothing refers to her economic situation: her family was dirt poor. It certainly does not refer to the wealth of her experience—painful isolation, the disdain of her classmates, the desperate escape into books and homework, as well as her utter lack of exposure to popular culture in her formative years. This cultural naivete left her bewildered when she ventured out into the larger world. But bravely she did venture out. She met and married a man who, for a while, she loved. And she had two daughters who became her world. From these experiences she found a story to tell.

But Lucy could not escape what she came from. She lacked the certainty that she had been loved by her mother and that confusion haunted her. Loneliness and insecurity followed wherever she went.

The book is centered on a two-month hospitalization that Lucy endured while still a young mother, courtesy of complications of acute appendicitis. For a period of five days, her mother visited and during this time, they talked.

The theme of much of her mother’s conversation was people they had known whose marriages were troubled or ended. Her mother was trying to tell her something without actually saying what she meant. From this visit and their conversations, Lucy came to understand her mother’s flawed but deep love.

Lucy did not go on to a happily-ever-after ending. Her life after her hospitalization was filled with life’s disappointments. A steady state of unhappiness pervades the novel. And yet, Lucy is able to see beauty in small moments and to appreciate kindness as it comes.

As always, Strout is able to create characters of astounding emotional depth. This is a quiet novel comprising vignettes of life that kept me glued to the pages. I found I could both pity and admire Lucy Barton.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

YEAR END CHALLENGE WRAP-UP: Back to the classics challenge- 2015

The 2015 Back to the Classics Challenge was hosted by Books and Chocolate. (They will be hosting the 2016 challenge as well--I'm picking out my books now.)

I'm sorry to say I didn't complete the full twelve classics this year. (The culprit may be my new addiction to Netgalley.) But I'm determined to do better in 2016.

Here are the seven books I did complete:

1. 20th century classic: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

2. Classic in Translation: The Drinking Den by Emile Zola

3. Classic Novella: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

4. Classic with a Person's Name in the Title: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

5. Humorous or Satirical Classic: A Damsel in Distress by P.J. Wodehouse

6. A Forgotten Classic: Sir Nigel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

7. Classic Children's Book: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Thanks again to Books and Chocolate for hosting this wonderful challenge. It's a great incentive to read some of the books I've always wanted to read!

Friday, December 18, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Because I’ve read some marvelous historical mysteries recently, I’ve started looking for more. Murder Most Malicious by Alyssa Maxwell follows two sleuths in a post-WWI English manor. The setting attracted me and I was pleased to be approved for this novel by Netgalley.

Lady Phoebe and her lady’s maid Eva are the stars of this fast-moving mystery. Having worked together on homefront projects during the war, and both understanding sacrifice and loss, the two are friends rather than servant and mistress, though Eva shows the requisite reticence to drop all boundaries.

Phoebe’s older sister, Jane, is a beauty whose title, wealth, and good looks attract men in a way that Phoebe can never hope to do. At a family Christmas houseparty, guests have gathered expecting the announcement of an engagement between Jane and the neighboring Lord Henry Allerton. However, Henry is a brute. Jane refuses him. Phoebe overhears a nasty argument.

The next morning is Boxing Day. Eva and a couple of other servants along with a couple of tradesmen in town receive gifts from the manor. In the boxes, each finds a severed finger and a valuable personal item. The fingers and expensive items belong(ed) to Lord Allerton.

Understanding him to be dead, Phoebe and Eva are determined to find the killer, especially after one of the footmen is falsely arrested. (The investigator is incompetent and rude. Fortunately, he has a young Irish assistant who is more open-minded.) They don’t know who can be trusted. Phoebe is concerned that her sister may somehow be involved or, at least, she feels she should come clean about the argument. The other houseguests are also suspect.

The plot twists and turns make this an enjoyable read. It isn’t very hard to guess the likely culprit, but the misdirections help keep the outcome in doubt.

Phoebe and Eva are feisty and determined, and put the clues together cleverly. However, they are, for much of the novel, oblivious to personal danger, which makes some of their actions, particularly Phoebe’s, seem unlikely. In addition, the peripheral characters are flat, filling the usual murder mystery roles without standing out. It keeps the interpersonal relationships less interesting than they would be if the people around Phoebe and Eva were more roundly drawn. Still, in order to keep motives murky and suspicion muddled, the reader needs to be distant from the other characters. This looks to be the start of a series, and now that the reader sees who is to be trusted, it’s likely the supporting players will be fleshed out in future books.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer

It was bound to happen sooner or later: a novel by Georgette Heyer disappointed me. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t the delight I’m accustomed to when I pick up one of this author’s novels.

The Corinthian follows the adventures and inadvertent courtship of Sir Richard Wyndham and Penelope (Pen) Creed.

Sir Richard is a Corinthian—in the Regency period this label is given to a gentleman whose main concern is to always be dressed in the most up-to-date, expensive fashion, with cravat intricately tied, hair styled to perfection in a way difficult to mimic, and to be well-built so the fashion suits him (generally requiring some sort of manly exercise, like boxing in the correct club, while pretending no actual effort.) In fact, the effort to appear effortless is important. He has to properly accessorize (ie. a quizzing glass that he uses to great effect). He must have a wonderful hand with horses, owning the best, and winning at all races he undertakes in his fashionable conveyance. And he must gamble in the best clubs, and win or lose great sums with nonchalance. He is in society, but bored by it. Everything except playing the part bores him. He is a cynic and master of the witty set down.

Richard is all of this and much admired for it. (And this was one of my difficulties with the story. Richard seemed shallow and uninteresting.) However, he is approaching thirty and is not married. He’s never even shown any interest in a female, and his sister and mother are getting impatient. Of course, he needs to settle down and beget an heir. It’s time for him to propose to Melissa Brandon, a pretty woman with the proper family name, who has been waiting for him for years. Their families have a long acquaintance and it’s been more or less accepted that they will eventually marry. Richard is the only one unaware of how settled the issue seems to be.

Richard is anti-marriage because he believes all females of his acquaintance are interested in his money and name, not in him. Still, he dutifully pays a call on Melissa (whose family is deep in arrears with an alcoholic father and two wastrel brothers) only to be informed, by her, that his money is the only thing she cares about. It’s her responsibility to provide for her family. He can continue to live as he does, so long as she gets a hold of his purse.

He does not offer for her, but plods away in a funk and gets drunk.

Fortunately, as he is stumbling home late at night from his club, he comes across a youth escaping from a high window of a home. Richard helps the youth and discovers a girl in boy’s clothes. This is Pen Creed. She is a wealthy heiress, just turned seventeen, who is being bullied into marrying her cousin. She doesn’t like the cousin and is far too independent-minded to be bullied by her aunt. So, she is running away to her childhood home to reconnect with her old friend Piers. Long ago, they said they would marry when the time was right. She hasn’t seen him or heard from him in five years, but she considers the time to now be right.

Aghast, amused, and drunk, Richard decides he must escort her as a protector. They’ll keep Pen dressed up as a boy. Pen has a lively imagination and works up a story of their relationship. And they should travel by public conveyance to throw her aunt off the trail.

Many adventures ensue. The plot involves thievery, trickery, Bow Street runners, a murder, alarmed and misinformed family members—everything is thrown into the mix.

Richard is a complete gentleman the whole time, able to handle anything thrown into their path. Pen is a complete innocent, embroiling them into absurd difficulties by her naive faith in her plans and in Richard. She just doesn’t see bad in the world and has no idea that she has placed herself and Richard in a compromising situation.

The novel should have been more fun than it was. The elements of a typical Heyer novel were all there. Maybe that was the problem: it seemed phoned in. The plot was a little too complicated yet predictable, Richard was a bit too much of a "character"; his personality was swamped by the "Corinthian" role. And Pen was too naive and freshly fun to take seriously. Richard’s patronizing attitude also wore a bit thin.

So, if I had to make a list of Heyer books to read, this would be low on the list, but reading a novel by Heyer is never a bad way to spend the afternoon.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

I Love Libraries Reading Challenge 2016: CHALLENGES FOR 2016

My second challenge for the new year is the "I Love Libraries" challenge hosted by Bea's Book Nook, formerly hosted by Book Dragon's Lair.

My local library is a lifeline for me. For research, they are able to get a hold of just about anything. It's a great way to learn how useful a source may be without buying it. (I can buy it later if I need to keep referring to it.) And, since my bookshelves are filled to the brim, I've started making a conscious effort to use my library more for books I read for entertainment as well. This challenge is great for keeping track of how often I use my library.

For this challenge, use your library to check out reading material - books, magazines, any sort of reading material that you are allowed to check out, physical or digital. The challenge runs January 1, 2016 to December 31, 2016.

The details:

  1. Put a sign up post on your blog and link it here. (Bea's Book Nook)
  2. If you don't have a blog, make a dedicated goodreads shelf (or LibraryThing), make sure it's public, and link it below. 
  3. Any reading material that can be checked out of your library counts - print books, audio books, digital books, magazines, etc. 
  4. As part of your sign up post, briefly write why you like using your library - free books, internet access, a quiet place to work, whatever draws you to the library. If you don't have a blog platform, post it in the comments below.
  5. Write a review - 2 sentences or an essay, whatever works for you, but there is a minimum of 2 sentences. Not sure what to write? How about something like, "The characters were a delight but the story was slow and confusing. It was disappointing." 
  6. There will be a post each month where you can link your reviews. Each linky will run for the calendar year.
  7. Pick a level from the list below. You can move up as needed but you can't move down.
  8. Books may overlap with other reading challenges.
  • board book - 3
  • picture book - 6
  • early reader - 9
  • chapter book - 12
  • middle grades - 18
  • Young adult - 24
  • adult - 36
  • just insert IV - 50

I'm going with early reader (so I don't go too overboard with challenge commitments.)

Here are the books I've read with links to reviews:

1. Dissolution by C.J. Sansom
2. America in the Gilded Age by Sean Dennis Cashman
3. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg
4. The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor
5. Health and Wellness in 19th-Century America by John C. Waller
6. It Ended Badly. 13 of the Worst Breakups in History by Jennifer Wright
7. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
8. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
9. An Anatomy of Addiction by Howard Markel
10. The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante
11. Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom
12. A Friend of Mr. Lincoln by Stephen Harrigan
13. The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson
14. quiet neighbors by Catriona McPherson
15. Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante
16. The Passion of Dolssa by Julie Berry
17. An Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor
18. The Infinities by John Banville
19. The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
20. Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
21. Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig
22. Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
23. As Death Draws Near by Anna Lee Huber
24. The Gene. An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
25. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

Monday, December 14, 2015

CHALLENGES FOR 2016: E-Book Reading Challenge

It's December: time to wrap up my 2015 challenges and start thinking about 2016. As a sign of how times have changed, this year I'm entering the e-book challenge hosted by Annette's Book Spot. I'm reading more and more on my ipad apps, especially since signing on with Netgalley, and my e-reader is getting as backed up as my real bookshelf.

So here it is:

Time to clean up those e-readers! (sign up page for the 2016 EBook Reading Challenge!)

Challenge Guidelines:

This challenge will run from Jan 1, 2016 – Dec 31, 2016.

Anyone can join, you don’t need to be a blogger. If you don’t have a blog, feel free to sign-up in the comments at Annette's Book Spot. You can post reviews to any book site (i.e. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Goodreads, etc).

Any genre or length of book counts, as long as it is in ebook format.

You can plan your books in advance or as you read them.

When you sign up in the linky, put the direct link to your post about joining the E-Book Reading Challenge.

Sign-ups will be open throughout 2016, so feel free to join at any time during the year.


1. Bits – 5 ebooks
2. Bytes – 10 ebooks
3. Megabytes – 25 ebooks
4. Gigabytes – 50 ebooks
5. Terabytes – 75 ebooks
6. Empty the Cloud – 100 ebooks

At the beginning of each month there will be a roundup post for you to add your reviews for that month. The linky will remain open for the remainder of the year, so if you forget, feel free go back and add them when you remember.

I'll be going for the Bytes level, 10 books, and I'll list them here with links to reviews.

1. The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
2. The Lion and the Cross by Joan Lesley Hamilton
3. The Vatican Princess: A Novel of Lucrezia Borgia by C.W. Gortner
4. At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier
5. Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham
6. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
7. Remember the Ladies by Gina L. Mulligan
8. The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church
9. Happy People Read and Drink Coffee by Agnes Martin-Lugand
10. Mr. Eternity by Aaron Their
11. The Spy of Venice by Benet Bandreth
12. Saint's Blood by Sebastien de Castell
13. The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe
14. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
15. And I Darken by Kiersten White
16. Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler
17. The Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan
18. Lions by Bonnie Nadzam
19. A Pressing Engagement by Anna Lee Huber
20. An Untimely Frost by Penny Richards
21. The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders
22. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
23. Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba
24. The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers
25. Someone to Love by Mary Balogh
26. Chivalry and the Medieval Past edited by Katie Stevenson and Barbara Gribling
27. Death Comes to the Fair by Catherine Lloyd
28. Victoria The Queen by Julia Baird

Saturday, December 12, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

I heard the buzz a few months ago about the newly released (in the U.S.) historical novel The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth and put it in the "must read" category. Having just completed it (explanation to follow) I have to agree with all the superlatives that have been flung at it. This is a truly original and astounding work of art.

The novel, a tale of England in the days of the Norman Conquest, is narrated by Buccmaster of Holland, a small freeholder whose grandiose self-importance is not supported by any actual influence in his tiny hamlet. When the wars start and England is swarmed by Normans, Buccmaster’s world is destroyed. He becomes a guerilla warrior of sorts, the self-proclaimed leader of a reluctant band of men as broken and defeated as he is.

I had anticipated a more inspiring story of resistance against oppression. But Kingsnorth is more inventive than that. He gives us a painful, horrifying story of violence, selfishness, and hopelessness.

Not content with providing a brilliant account of a frustrated and rather depraved anti-hero, an unreliable narrator whose true nature is slowly revealed over the course of the book, Kingsnorth is determined to immerse the reader fully. For that, he needed to use language appropriate to the time. It was not enough to weed out modernisms, because all our language is too modern. He invented an Old English shadow language and put the whole narration in the mouth of the protagonist. This is a difficult book to read, but worth every bit of the effort.

So here’s my confession. The effort was not mine. We read the book as our family read-along choice. At this point in the evolution of our family’s evening reading-together-time, this means that my husband read the book aloud to me and my teenaged son. (The language got a bit uncomfortable, but it isn’t like my son doesn’t hear worse at school.) Hearing the book is a wonderful way to fall into the rhythm of the language. It took a short while for the pronunciation to gel, and for us to grasp the meaning of the unfamiliar or vaguely familiar words, but once accustomed to Buccmaster’s voice, it became easy to slide into this world that was at once surreal and all too real.

For literature lovers, historical fiction and history fans, this book should be on the must-read lists.



Monday, December 7, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Having so enjoyed Henry James’ lengthy novel, The Bostonians, I thought I could easily squeeze in another back-to-the-classics challenge read—James’ The Turn of the Screw, which was my choice for classic novella.

This is a classic ghost story, set up by a narrator who promises an ugly, dreadful tale and has his audience quivering with anticipation. However, it’s more than your typical round-the-campfire scary story. The participant, a governess, is sent to a remote estate to care for two orphaned children by an attractive wealthy man who is their uncle. The uncle’s sole request is that she never bother him with any details. Anxious to earn his approval, she sets out to obey.

The young children are uncannily beautiful and well-behaved, but there is the odd circumstance that the boy has been expelled from school for reasons the headmaster did not make clear. The governess is unable to believe the boy guilty of any wrong-doing, and his goodness is corroborated by the housekeeper, Mrs. Grose, who has known the children a long while.

Not too much time passes before the governess begins to see apparitions: an evil man and woman who she can describe in such detail that Mrs. Grose recognizes them to be Quint and Miss Jessel, the uncle’s previous valet and the children’s previous governess. Both these people are dead.

While it’s possible (and as been proposed by some literary critics) that the governess is simply insane, there are too many things that point to her credibility as a witness.

She tries to protect the children from these evil influences, but becomes aware that the children are, in some way, in collusion with the ghosts.

Bravely, the governess tries fighting back against the ill-intentioned specters (just what their intentions are is left deliberately ambiguous) but her attempts to win control of the children has disastrous results.

To a modern reader, this book is not as terrifying as it might have once seemed, but it is still eery and full of suspense. I’m not a big fan of horror, but this one, superbly written, is worth the read.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Longest Night by Andria Williams

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Two things that require daily maintenance, careful tending, and honest communication are a marriage and a nuclear reactor. In Andria Williams’ beautiful novel, The Longest Night (to be released in January), we see the terrible results of neglecting both.

Set in Idaho Falls in the early 1960's, at the site of the nation’s only fatal nuclear reactor accident, the novel follows specialist Paul Collier and his wife, Nat, as they try to make a life for themselves as a military family. Paul has brought Nat and their two young daughters to this remote town on a two year tour that he hopes will establish his career and stabilize their economic situation. Paul grew up poor and abused, and wants with all his heart to do right by the family he loves. Nat grew up on the San Diego beaches. More of a free spirit, with a loving generous nature, she is stifled by the expectations of proper military wife behavior. She and Paul don’t quite fit in to the culture in Idaho Falls, but they pretend for each other’s sake.

At work, Paul is oppressed by his supervisor, Master Sergeant Richards, a bully and a drunk, who does anything but supervise. When problems arise at the reactor, which they do frequently, Richards wants them quietly taken care of without alerting anyone up the chain of command. They are supposed to cook the logbooks so that it appears everything is fine. This breakdown of procedure and coverups of dangerous equipment malfunctions is horrifyingly realistic.

The book also shows us the voice of Richards’ wife, Jeannie. Outwardly the consummate military wife, Jeannie is a seething ball of resentment. She despises her incompetent, womanizing husband. Still, she defines herself as the perfect example of supportive housewifery. Every detail of her homemaking is a notch above. Jealous of Nat’s "happy" marriage, she keys in on Nat’s awkwardness and capitalizes on it—a grown-up example of a mean girl.

If Paul and Nat were able to talk openly about their insecurities, the cracks in their marriage would not split so wide. If Paul were able to report the problems at the reactor to someone who cared more about safety and responsibility than passing the buck to protect his own flailing career, a fatal nuclear disaster might have been averted.

This is a wonderful portrayal of flawed but mostly sympathetic characters. Sometimes their mistakes are painful to read because you can see the train wreck coming. Yet their justifications as they are struggling to do their best in bad situations are poignant. And when it is too late to sidestep the wreckage, they must live with the consequences of situations they helped to create.

Monday, November 30, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Bostonians by Henry James

After finishing a YA fantasy adventure that was unexpectedly plodding, I needed something completely different. I grabbed The Bostonians by Henry James from my TBR-pile. Not much happens in this intensely inward-looking novel, but it is oddly compelling, demonstrating once again how great writing can draw you in.

Olive Chancellor embodies the word spinster. A youngish, unmarried and glad-to-be-so feminist of comfortable means, an inhabitant of the late 1800s Boston upper society who shuns all that, Olive reaches out to a southern cousin. Basil Ransom has moved from Mississippi to New York to try his luck. (Doesn’t that name scream villain?) A young, handsome lawyer, Basil isn’t having much success in the big city; he comes to Boston to meet her. The mismatched pair don’t hit it off. Olive takes him to a meeting, regretting that she invited him, where a renowned feminist speaker will be holding forth. There, Basil and Olive are treated to the debut of the beautiful, charming ingenue, Verena Tarrant, who gives an impromptu speech on women’s rights and the suppression thereof. Olive and Basil are both immediately smitten.

Basil must return to New York, where his fortunes continue to decline. He becomes more and more resentful and curmudgeonly. He becomes more and more convinced of the rightness of his antiquated views and is perturbed that no one wants to hear them.

Olive, meanwhile, takes young Verena under her wing. Verena is charming but not particularly educated and Olive means to remedy that. She also wants to be sure that the attractive girl is not swayed from the path by any of the young men who have discovered her charms. They love to hear her talk, even if they essentially ignore the content of her speech. Olive wants her to vow she will never marry, but at the same time, wants her to make the decision for herself, not only to please her mentor.

The novel is an in-depth psychological study of these characters who become caricatures of the ideas they represent. As unpleasant as they are, and surrounded by people who are equally un-admirable, they nevertheless ground a story that I had to keep watching unfold. Naturally, Basil and Verena’s paths cross again, and he is able to weasel his way into her confidence. For some unfathomable reason, Verena falls for him.

Olive was overbearing and possessive, so it is not Verena’s escape from her influence that is distressing, but rather her flight to so repugnant a man. Still, Verena is as shallow as a puddle. A pretty mouthpiece for Olive’s cause, she never possessed the courage of her convictions.

This is supposed to be one of Henry James’ funniest novels, and it’s true, the irony, particularly at the beginning of the book, is quite amusing. Eventually though, the cynicism wears away the gentle irony, and the novel becomes sad. You want to believe these stereotypes are overdrawn, but in truth, they are more likely spot on.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

If you like historical romance but are looking for something a little bit different, try The Forgotten Room by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, and Lauren Willig.

There’s a new trend where writers within genres will band together to write a novel, usually as an interconnected set of short stories. I’ve been intrigued by how this works, so I was happy to be approved for this book through Netgalley. In this tri-authored novel, transitions between who wrote what are seamless, even though it comprises three separate but interwoven tales.

Set in three time periods, Kate in 1944, Lucy in 1920, and Olive in 1892, we hear the stories of the love lives of daughter, mother, and grandmother. Strong women all, they become increasingly independent as history permits, and class distinctions wear away (but do not completely disappear.)

The women are all remarkably beautiful and strongly identifiable as related, with daughter and grandmother resembling each other so much that they could be mistaken for one another, a fact that is at the heart of the story.

Each woman loves and is loved by a man with whom she should not be involved for varying reasons. The men are also clearly related to one another in some way, and that mystery drives the overarching plot.

It’s sometimes hard to keep the characters straight because their relationships are so similar–eerily similar–but it became easier for me when I thought of them by time period rather than by name or progression of the individual love stories. Then it fell into place.

The three interwoven tales center around a hidden room at the top of a mansion, a room that holds secrets for each of the women. Following them as they work through misunderstandings and mistakes in order to conclude with the requisite happily-ever-after is a thoroughly enjoyable way to pass the reading hours.

Monday, November 16, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

I won’t succeed this year in finishing the Back-to-the-Classics challenge and I’m very annoyed with myself. I had such good intentions starting out. But I had to get at least halfway through, so I decided to read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, as my twentieth-century classic. I’ve heard that this is one of those books that true bibliophiles should read. And my kids studied it in school, making it even more imperative that I read it.

I knew a few things going in. 1) 451 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper (books) will burn. In this futurist/dystopic story, the protagonist, Montag, is a book burner until he sees the light. And 2) the story doesn’t end well.

I dived in.

The future world created by Bradbury is ruled by noise and distraction, constant movement and large, wall-sized T.V.’s that dull people’s brains with constant sound bites. There are wars going on endlessly, but no one pays them any mind. In order to ensure that the masses are "happy," books have been banned. The thinking and emotional range inspired by books are the real targets.

Montag is a fireman. His job is to burn books and the houses of those who harbor the contraband. He takes a perverse pleasure in his job, but he’s discontent. His wife, wholly absorbed by the emptiness of the world she lives in, is also miserable but too numbed to realize it. One day, Montag meets a teenage girl who refuses to participate in the mass numbing. It starts him thinking. Then, while burning a house along with its occupant, Montag steals one of the books he is supposed to destroy. This may not be the first time he has done this. But this time, it’s transformative. He starts reading.

While this awakens Montag, it sets in motion a series of tragedies for those around him. Or maybe he releases them from the tragedy of their lives. But he can no longer go on as he did.

Fahrenheit 451 is a fast read and there are parts that are vividly exciting. There is no subtlety to the message, but subtlety is not really needed. It’s one of those dystopias that leads a reader to draw parallels with what is happening today–and cringe.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Susanna Kearsley has been on my must-read list for a while now. Unfortunately, my must-read list is so long that I’ve been slow getting around to her. Thanks to Netgalley, I had an excuse to bump one of her novels to the front of the list: A Desperate Fortune, released earlier this year.

The book provides two stories in one. First, there is the contemporary romance. Sara Thomas is a computer programmer with Asperger’s, who has not had much success with her love life. Or her life, for that matter. She doesn’t work well in teams and so is currently between jobs. Her cousin Jacqui is the opposite. An editor who works with famous authors, Jacqui is a people person. Jacqui has always considered herself Sara’s protector. (She was the one who helped guide Sara to her diagnosis.) Now, Jacqui is helping Sara find a job. One of her writers needs help decoding an old diary that was written in a cipher. Sara has to go to Paris to do it because the woman who owns the diary won’t release it to be studied.

With some trepidation, Sara takes on the job and settles in with the woman who owns the diary, her housekeeper, and the next door neighbor, Luc. Luc is gorgeous and extremely supportive. Sara discovers the key to the cipher and decodes the diary. Along the way, she falls for Luc.

The meat of the story is what is contained in the diary. Mary Dundas is the daughter of Jacobites, but she has been raised in the safety of her aunt and uncle’s house, away from court intrigues. Her older brother, who she has not seen in many years, sends for her out of the blue. Thrilled to feel she was finally remembered by the family that abandoned her, she soon finds out that her brother is not really inviting her into his home. Rather, he has volunteered her for a secret mission–to help a mysterious man, a Jacobite, hide from English foes.

Mary is to go to Paris and pose as this man’s sister. This is more difficult than it seems. A dangerous-looking stranger is living across the street, watching them. And no one discusses what is really going on. When someone betrays the whereabouts of the Jacobite, Mary is forced to flee along with him. They are accompanied by her chaperone and by a fierce, cold, bodyguard--Hugh MacPherson, who is an accomplished killer.

The small group is in constant danger as they make their way to southern France and then to Rome, seeking protection from the exiled would-be king.

Mary shows herself to be a strong, clever, loyal woman, up to all the challenges thrown at them, including the possibility of falling in love.

The sweeping scope of the novel meant it was a bit slow to get going as all the pieces were set in place. However, once I got caught up in it, I couldn’t put it down.

Im general, I steer away from dual narrative novels where one of the storylines is contemporary, using either a diary or other framing device or time travel in order to direct the reader into the historical part of the book. I tend to like my historical fiction straight up and the contemporary parts fall flat. In this book also, I was a bit impatient with Sara’s story, which hinged so much on her Asperger’s that it almost seemed like a lesson on the syndrome. However, Mary’s story made it all worthwhile. It’s an exciting adventure and beautiful romance.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston is a spellbinding YA fantasy. I love retellings of old classical stories, so this new adaptation of One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights) caught my attention. It’s beautifully done.

The heroine is unnamed. In fact, most of the characters are unnamed except for the king, Lo-Melkhiin. Others are referred to by their relationships to the protagonist or to the king. Names of other important characters have to do with the tasks they perform. It lends an air of other-worldliness to the fantasy. That, and the other first person voice in the story is that of the demon possessing Lo-Melkhiin.

It is the demon who has turned the king into a powerful man, able to rule in a way that keeps the men safe and enriches them. But their prosperity has a price. The king is entitled to a bride, and he has had more than three hundred of them, all of whom died within days to weeks of their marriage. The demon destroys them, sucking power from their fear and from what he has done to the king.

The men in his domain have grown used to the need to sacrifice their daughters. The rule is that he can only choose one wife from each of the villages and can not return for another until he has taken one from every village in the land. The women are not so resigned.

When he comes to the village of the heroine, everyone expects that he will take her sister, a girl of striking beauty. But the protagonist tricks him into taking her instead. This sacrifice is the beginning of her power, because the sister left behind builds an altar to her. As time wears on, the story of her bravery builds, and all the women in the land are sending her power with their prayers.

She needs this strength to resist the demon. Day after day, she lives to see another and her power grows. But so does his.

Although expecting the story to conform to some degree with its model, and that the protagonist will win, preserving her life, there is enough divergence to keep the story compelling. The demon is brutal, remorseless, and strong. If there is a good man left inside Lo-Melkhiin’s body, he is cowed enough by all that has happened that the heroine can expect no help from him.

Magic permeates the story. It’s woven in well enough that the use of it does not come across as a deus ex machina to resolve the crisis. The language is lovely and helps bring the reader into this strange, magical world. A retelling that is original enough to be more than a retelling—fantasy readers should enjoy this charming tale.

Monday, November 2, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: The Desert Queen by Janet Wallach

I’ve just (finally) finished Desert Queen. The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell: Adventurer, Advisor to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia by Janet Wallach. The title pretty much says it all, and is good preparation for the biography. This is our history/historical fiction book group’s next book, and it should generate some lively discussion.

Gertrude Bell was an amazing person. Brilliant, well-traveled, fluent in multiple languages, and extraordinarily self-confident, she blazed trails where few Europeans and no Victorian-era women had ever been. Fascinated by the Middle East, she began her career as an archaeologist, visiting, mapping and writing about several important ancient sites. She ventured out among the Arabs, meeting and befriending them. Her physical stamina and mental capabilities were truly astounding.

At the outbreak of WWI, Great Britain needed information about the Middle East. She had already broken so much ground that, despite being female, she was drawn into Britain’s Intelligence Service and served, throughout the war, as a collector of vital information. She advised the men in charge, whether they wanted her opinions or not. After the war, she continued on in a semi-official to official capacity and was instrumental in drawing the boundaries for nascent nations. She pretty much hand-chose Iraq’s first king.

This is all important history and helps the reader to understand why things are such a mess today. It was hardly a stable area even before the English and French meddled in their affairs, but such a messy bit of meddling--necessary, of course, in order to ensure access to Middle Eastern Oil--was unlikely to have a nice, clean outcome.

Wallach packs a lot into this book. At times, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees as the big picture is obscured by somewhat repetitive detail. It’s almost a day-by-day account of the "notables" Bell took coffee with and dazzled with her intelligence. Numerous excerpts from her letters home are interspersed. She dotes on her father and seems desperate to impress him with her success in establishing herself as a "Person." Wallace also plays up, in sometimes jarringly melodramatic prose, the details of Bell’s unhappy love life.

In the end, despite Bell’s impressiveness and the importance of the history, it was a slow read. Hailed as the definitive biography of Gertrude Bell, this book is worth the effort for those who want a full account. If you just want to familiarize yourself with this important historical figure, the afterword summarizes the highlights in about 4 ½ pages.

And I’ve now concluded the nonfiction challenge!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Those Who Stayed Behind. Rural Society in Nineteenth-Century New England by Hal S. Barron

In keeping with my attempt to read diverse nonfiction for the 2015 challenge, I picked a work of nineteenth century social history from rural Vermont, a book first published in 1984: Those Who Stayed Behind. Rural Society in Nineteenth-Century New England by Hal S. Barron.

This is a study of how social, political, and economic forces effected changes on a small Vermont agricultural community, Chelsea. It reflects similar changes throughout rural New England. As Barron states in his preface:

The majority of people in nineteenth-century America lived in rural communities, but most of the social history of nineteenth century American is not about them. This book is. Instead of following the long-standing emphasis on the frontier, however, I have written about those who stayed behind in settled rural areas.

I admit, when I think of farmers in that time period, I tend to think of pioneers, westward expansion, the bold and adventurous people who struck out to settle new lands. I have a Little House on the Prairie view. I’m guilty of forgetting about those who stayed behind.

Barron challenges the more conventional view that everything interesting was going on along the frontier, and that older rural communities suffered nothing but decline as the population decreased, the farmland grew exhausted, and economic opportunity dried up. Instead, he paints a picture of stabilization and homogenization. The people bemoaning the downfall of rural New England communities were not the people living there, but outsiders looking in. Rather than looking to "get rich quick" or even not so quick, the settled rural population was looking for contentment. And the people who stayed were the people who had, for the most part, found it.

This is a short book at 135 pages plus notes. It’s academic and a bit dry, but nevertheless easy to read. He makes a good argument. Although I went into the book hoping for more day-to-day details of rural life, I ended up very pleased with this bigger picture synthesis. If you’re curious about life in old New England towns, this is an interesting read.

Friday, October 23, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Death Comes to Kurland Hall by Catherine Lloyd

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

I have been overly eager for the release of the third book in Catherine Lloyd’s Kurland St.Mary Mystery series. I loved books one and two: Death Comes to the Village and Death Comes to London. Book three, Death Comes to Kurland Hall is due out in November. If you like cozy historical mysteries, I recommend you dash out and get the first two books.

The detecting couple in these novels comprises 1) a "managing" female, Miss Lucy Harrington, daughter of Kurland’s rector who has raised her siblings since the death of their mother. She’s also had her hands full with her self-centered father. And 2) the lord of their little village, Major Kurland, a war hero who was badly injured fighting Napoleon. He’s still rather grumpy about the whole thing and hates being physically limited by a bad leg and a somewhat crippling fear of horses. They’ve solved two murder mysteries in the past and grown very fond of one another in the process. But each is wary of letting the other know just how fond.

As this novel begins, a wedding is in the works. Lucy’s dearest friend is marrying a close friend of Major Kurland, and the wedding is to take place in their village. Relatives and friends are invited to stay at Kurland Hall and at the rectory. Included in the mix is Kurland’s ex-betrothed, Miss Chingford, and her sister and mother. The mother, Mrs. Chingford, is a malicious gossip and busybody, who immediately sets everyone’s teeth on edge. Also present is Mrs. Fairfax, the widowed stepmother of Thomas Fairfax, Kurland’s exceedingly efficient new land agent.

Immediately following the wedding, the irritating Mrs. Chingford is found dead at the bottom of a staircase. Is it another murder or an unfortunate accident?

Much as Kurland and Lucy would like to dismiss it as accidental, (especially as no one seems too broken up over her death), there are too many inconsistencies to let it go. And so, they are off again in detective mode.

The plotting of the mystery is solid, with clues ferreted out and false leads to keep the tension high. It isn’t too hard to guess who the villain will be, but having the detectives discover all the connections takes time, and it’s charming to go along for the ride. The romance proceeds in fits and starts. In this third installment, the fighting and misunderstandings between the two was getting a bit wearisome. It was much more entertaining in the first two books. Now it seemed dragged out for the sake of dragging it out–particularly on Lucy’s part. She seemed to willfully fail to understand Kurland’s feelings and was almost petulant in baiting him. But since their slowly developing relationship is so integral to the storyline, it does make sense that they have to carry on as they did earlier, at least through the bulk of the book. And they do make progress!

The series remains compelling. Lucy’s no-nonsense approach to solving cases and her tenacity make her an appealing protagonist. I will certainly be reading the next in the series to see how their partnership plays out.