This is a Good Book Thursday, January 2, 2020

I really like typing “2020.” Such a pleasing symmetry, plus that nice double bounce on the keyboard. I read the first six of the Kurland mysteries, mainly for the community. I wish Lucy and Robert would stop bitching at each other, but they’re still interesting protagonists, and the population of the country is good, bitchy fun aside from the high percentage of murders. The seventh one comes out next month and I’ll probably order that one, too. That’s the thing about series: even if you weren’t crazy about the last book, you still want to check in to see how people are doing.

So what are you reading? New year, new books, let’s go!

67 thoughts on “This is a Good Book Thursday, January 2, 2020

  1. Still deep in fanfiction territory, with some excellent authors who have been blessedly prolific over the holiday period. Also, re-reading The Blue Castle for the zillionth time.

    1. The Blue Castle is an annual read for me too. But I do it as a summer-on-the-dock read. Though yes, there are some lovely winter-by-the-fire bits as well.

      1. It’s summer where I am, and rapidly fluctuating between comfortable weather and too-hot-to-breathe weather. And today is too-smoky-to-breathe. Blue Castle is providing a good distraction.

    2. So funny, was just thinking it’s time for a re-read of The Blue Castle. I’ll take this as a sign that it’s definitely time to dig it out!

  2. Just read The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez. Really different romance – he wants kids and she’s infertile (the medical stuff is really well done), which is unusual enough as a premise but there’s loads of other interesting stuff going on + it’s really funny AND emotionally true + a dog who is integral to the plot. I was surprised to find out it it’s only her debut and already have her new one on pre-order.

  3. I really like typing 2020, too! Those were the first words of my morning words this morning, actually — literally, “I like writing 2020.”

    Andrea Host released a new short story set in the world of the Touchstone trilogy yesterday and I read it, then read it again, then read it a third time, and I think now I’m probably going to be rereading all the books in the series. I could absolutely list off their flaws — I could even start with yesterday’s short story — but I just really like spending time in that world. I find her books so interesting. They capture me, in a way that books that are objectively far more… well, rule-abiding, if that makes sense… fail to do.

  4. I’m reading “I write what I like” by Steve Biko, South African Black Consciousness leader (1946 to 1977). He was murdered in detention.

    As with the others from my TBR pile, I bought it three years ago and am trying to get through all of these before I buy anything new. So, the book buying moratorium is in effect again. Firmly!

    I chose this book because of the current RWA problems. I also find myself searching for articles to deepen my understanding of racial oppression. Example –

  5. After three duds (including ‘Death Comes to the Village’!), I’m really enjoying ‘The Seeds of Power’ by Jilly Wood. I’m halfway through, and she hasn’t put a foot wrong yet. Fantasy with a bonus gardening element, but really a romance/self-determination story, in a convincing world that’s sketched in as and when you need to know about it. The author’s new to me, and it’s the start of a series (?a trilogy), so lots to look forward to.

      1. Jenny, Seeds of Power was written by one of your McDaniel students and she thanks you in the acknowlegement.

    1. Seeds of Power goes on my list.
      I finished the Jacoby series and will reread at some point (“It’s not good,” I admitted. “But I am still hopeful.” “No you aren’t,” said Hatum, waving the needle as though she were swatting the words away like fruit flies. “Hoping is a thing that other people do while people like you are rolling up your shirtsleeves and getting to work.” The Dire King, William Ritter.)
      And Murderbot which is fantastic!
      I’m not quite sure what’s next. I have some non-fiction that I should get into.

      1. OK. I looked at my library’s one electronic copy in this series, Jackaby, and it’s in German. Which I do not speak. So much for instant gratification.
        Then I looked at Changling, the other Ritter ebook they have, and read a few pages, and I will be downloading it as soon as I leave this page. Love the voice.

  6. I finished of Miss Buncle’s Book last week. Thanks for the recommendation I found here. It was a very pleasant interlude in the English countryside.

    I then picked up a book from my TBR and started it. When I realized it was book 4 in a series, I thought that it might now matter. But the more I got into it, the more I realized I was missing the previous stories. So, I’ve put those first books on order, and let this one sit.

    At that point, I picked up where I left off with Burn Out. It’s been such a long time since I read the first part that I should probably go back and reread the beginning. It’s about how to deal with stress and stressors, particularly focused on how women are affected by everything. (The interesting tidbit from last night is that male and female rats respond differently to some stress tests. There’s definitely more inner strength with the females, in my interpretation.)

    1. I thought Burnout was an excellent book, one of the best nonfictions I’ve ever read. Will have to reread it. Her “Come as you are” is also brilliant, and made me both laugh and cry several times while reading it. Much like Burnout, actually.

  7. I’ve been looking forward to 2020 since Barbara Walters first hosted a program in the 70’s or 80’s with that title. And not to forget the late Gilda Radner mimicked her so well.

    This morning for my “reading” I went to delete all the junk mail in my emails and instead of just emptying it out I looked to see if there was anything I had missed and much to my surprise I found SBTB in junk mail. OK, December was a busy month and I hadn’t thought of it, at all. So I moved some over to my in folder and had an interesting morning. The segments I like the best are HABO (help a bitch out) that’s the section where someone is trying to find the title and author of a book she hasn’t read in a while and everyone tries to lend a hand with their thoughts. And also Coversnark where readers come up with comments on book covers. I think Gary has a website of remarks and new titles of books from the covers. Very funny!

    1. Am I the Gary to whom you refer? As the center of the universe, I must assume so. 🙂

      I don’t have a website about romance book covers, although there is a page or two in my LiveJournal archives. Mostly, I was sent by SBTB to “Longmire Does Romance Covers,” where I laughed myself buttless. I was even inspired to create a cover (or several) of my own:

  8. As previously mentioned I finished Jilly Wood’s Seeds of Power and really enjoyed it.

    I also read Emma Jameson’s new Lord and Lady Hetheridge mystery Blue Christmas (all the books have Blue in the name), which was good but I didn’t feel it was quite as good the previous books.

    For those fans of Fred the Vampire Accountant there’s a new one called Undeading Bells, by Drew Hayes. As a part of the overall arc there’s a bunch of new information revealed/discovered that’s interesting and has lots of future ramifications but not much plot.

    I read Marion G. Harmon’s new Wearing the Cape book, A Christmas Carol. I guess it’s kind of a lightening up after the previous book’s rather grim intensity, which isn’t a bad thing. It felt more like a short story that had gotten away from the author. An interlude where you get to see the characters interact at Christmas time, and then more stuff kept popping up that didn’t quite seem really necessary or well thought out.

    Hmm. These last three aren’t exactly glowing reviews for books that I actually would recommend, but they are all around the 6th or 7th books in their respective series, each of which had multiple 5 star books, and these are only 4 stars in my opinion. I don’t generally post about the books that I read that I wouldn’t recommend, it’s supposed to be *good* book Thursday after all.

  9. I liked Twenty One Truths About Love by Matthew Dicks. It’s written entirely in lists one guy makes as he’s in distress. He quit his job to run a bookstore, the store is not going well, and his wife’s pregnant, so what’s he going to do about it? The gimmick worked for me, I don’t know if it would for others.

  10. Just devoured The Bride Test all in one (long night) read, and I immediately want to read it again. Honestly, with two toddlers who only both slept for at least 7 hours straight a grand total of once in 2019 – sleep is always at such a premium for me that the fact that I picked reading it straight through over sleep is probably the most ringing endorsement in and of itself – but to give a little bit more about why I found it so enjoyable:

    Helen Hoang’s characters and world building and writing in general are just amazing and fun.

    Yes, a lot of the conflict in this particular story is of the “big misunderstanding” type, but it makes sense that characters on the autism spectrum would have “big misunderstandings” as they navigate new relationships – so it feels understandable and not like a typical “big misunderstanding” plot point. Plus, I really appreciate how when it clicks for the characters that they have missed something, they work on those issues and learn about each other and how to communicate better.

    And, I got to get a fun check in peek at characters from her book The Kiss Quotient too. (another book I highly recommend that I also read voraciously and then immediately reread before the library due date just so that I could enjoy it again after the binge.)

    1. I liked this author’s books, the first one more than the second. With The Bride Test, I was constantly angry at the mother. When she brought a bride for her autistic son, she should’ve told the girl about his disorder. All those ‘misunderstandings’ come from the lack of knowledge on the heroine’s part and could be avoided. There are books written about the disorder, and knowing what to expect is key to communication with those afflicted by the autistic spectrum. Keeping it a secret could only end in disaster for all parts, as it almost did in the book. I didn’t quite believe its happy ending.

      1. I’m a voice of dissent, but honestly, given how many ‘top’ lists this book appeared on for 2019, I’m pretty sure it’s me, not the book!

        I feel like I’m missing out though! I just kept getting annoyed by the characters, and also that what we were told about the characters, wasn’t backed up consistently in action? (E.g ‘smart’ characters not showing any evidence of this in their actions, for instance, or Olga’s eg above). I really wanted to love it, but argh. Keen to hear after your re-read whether you still love it as much!

        1. I had problems with it, too, so you’re not alone. It did interesting things, but I remember getting annoyed, too, and not because of the autism, which was interesting. Krissie loved it, though, so we may just be looking for different things in our reading.

        2. Do I think on a technical level, her first book worked better of the two.

          I’ll try to explain why I liked it and where I thought it could have been stronger without being too spoilery –

          I love her characters regardless of the strength of the plot because to me she really develops their internal lives, and I really liked them and felt like I understood them and wanted to know them and hang out with them.

          I do think some of her plotting could have been stronger in this book. For example, I think she could have spent more time on the plot points about My’s father or about My’s educational journey or shown more of her assimilation struggles with fitting in on a class/cultural level and had a stronger overall story. But I also think some of the unevenness was because the story was half Khai’s and so much of his main conflict was essentially an internal big misunderstanding of the past and his own feelings, so maybe the author was pulling back on some of My’s external challenges to better highlight his internal one?

          I actually wonder if she had further developed Khai’s external conflicts – like yardwork conflict with his rude neighbor, or some of his less successful interactions with family and friends, or more of his worklife – or if we had gotten more of his backstory not as just backstory but something we experienced more with him in real time, if it might have been better shown through the actual events in the story how they might both feel like outsiders instead of sort of just having the characters internally reflect on some of that.

          It might have better underscored how despite their differences, they had a similar experience of trying to navigate a world where they were constantly trying to translate and apply the norms of the dominate culture through their very different filters and experience.

          Like in my idealized plot for this book, those types of external pressures would have brought them together earlier and given them room as they started to become more honest with each other to come clean about their pasts so they could ultimately come together as a team to resolve the plot points regarding her father – all the the conflict about whether or not marriage was a good idea for them would have still been there, we just could have gotten to it with fewer misunderstandings (although obviously still some, because some of them were necessary and made sense) but with more opportunities for them to learn about each other and to figure out how to be more honest with each other and how to work together through their different communication styles so that they could ultimately understand the bigger truth of their internal conflicts.

          Frankly, as written – Jade’s introduction to Khai felt like an after thought. Like, either cut Jade from the story entirely (she was a good complication, but not a strictly necessary one) or make her a bigger part of the earlier complications…which probably would have felt more realistic. Like for example imagine Khai becoming worried about including Jade in his life because of the responsibility he feels for Andy…especially if we had a better understanding about his relationship to Andy earlier. Totally believable, and would have created a great complication for the plot.

          But despite this criticism (and if this is the kind of critique I give for a story I like, you can imagine how life must be for my poor husband) – for me, the fun of the story was just that I wanted to spend time with these people and get to know more about them.

          I didn’t really think any of the characters were ever being stupid – I thought they were often handling things differently than I would have – whether that was because of cultural differences or sensory/emotional processing differences -but their actions always made a sense to me from within their framework.

          For example, it didn’t bother me that the mother didn’t mention the autism, because my sense from the book was that the mother herself didn’t seem to have a full acceptance of her son’s autism or how to handle it – she just dealt with everything by being an overbearing force of nature or bringing in someone else to fix it (ie Quan) if her blunt overbearingness wasn’t working, so it felt in character to me that she wouldn’t be upfront about that – she figured just bringing in My (and her perceptions at the time of the kind of person My was) would “fix” it. And she glossed over a lot of things about Khai – including his work situation, etc. So I thought in terms of the mother’s personality and what she was doing, the omission made sense.

          Plus the book is super funny – it doesn’t feel mean spirited, but the story mines the fact that My and Khai each have to deal with certain things that they haven’t had much experience with previously to great comic effect. It treats them gently enough so you’re never really laughing AT someone, you’re laughing at the situation, and the character also comes to understand the absurdity and learn how to navigate it better.

          I think the writing is really clear and lovely too. But, yeah, if these particular characters aren’t necessarily people you’d want to hang out with, the lovely writing and the humor might not be enough to get past the story arc issues.

  11. I started a book I really wanted to like, in part because it was written by a fellow alumnus I kinda/sorta knew in college, and I just loathed it. Unsympathetic protagonist and not particularly interesting in his unlikeable-ness. Plus a whole lot of fat phobia where the worst thing that could be said about some antagonists was that they were fat.

    So I won’t recommend that. Instead, I’ll suggest that for those who haven’t read MC Beaton (a/k/a Marion Chesney when she wrote Regency romance), it’s time to do it. I enjoyed the first few Agatha Raisin books and read a few more as comfort reads, although at some point, I kinda’ drifted away. I wasn’t as attached to the Hamish MacBeth series, but I know a lot of people who love it.

    Oh, and the reason for the recommendation — it kind of got lost in all the other craziness in romancelandia over the holidays, but Beaton died a few days ago.

  12. On the ninth day of Christmas
    My true love sent to me
    Nine Ladies Dancing
    and a list of other stuff from earlier, you see.

    So how do dancing ladies apply to the 2020s? I’ve never seen Black Swan – that might be the ticket. Rise of Skywalker? Some impressive choreography, but just the one lady, mostly. Frozen II? No. There was a pole dancing competition… maybe that was it. Yeah, that’s the ticket.

    Nearly all my reading last week was re-reading. It was all good, but I’ve had these twenty short stories on hold. I need to start them and binge.

  13. Finishing up The Grammarians, a novel about twins and editing, by Cathleen Schine. Very amusing. Happy this is not her first book and will look for more by her.

  14. Huh. Reading this over before hitting send and seeing that I’m in series mode in a big way.

    Read Susan Mallery’s Meant To Be Yours, Nora Robert’s Rise of Magicks and Stephanie Bond’ s 2 Bodies for the Price of 1. I’m currently re-reading Gail Carriger’s Soulless; I loved the Parasol Protectorate series.

  15. By a strange coincidence, I’ve also been reading Catherine Lloyd’s Death Comes… series. Just finished #3, and I have to confess: I’m not sure I want to continue with the next book of the series. I think the quality of the books have been steadily deteriorating, with the #1 being the best.
    Also read one of Susan Mallery’s latest, When We Found Home, and enjoyed it.
    Of the oldies, just read (for the first time) Mary Jo Putney’s One Perfect Rose, first published in 1997. What a tear-jerker of a novel. Loved it.
    And I’ve been rereading Anne Bishop’s The Others series. Again. I’m toying with the idea of a fan-fiction short story or a novella, based on the world of The Others. Not her characters, just the world. I have almost the entire story mapped out in my head by now. The only thing left is to write it.

  16. I just finished Arcadia by Di Morrisey (a popular Aussie author and one who always tells a good story.) The setting is a Tasmanian forest with a bit of whimsy, slight thread of romance, and a mystery. Having been born in Tassie it was an especially good read for me, and now I want to visit again.

  17. Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert, which is one of the loveliest books I have read in a long time. Interracial couple, chronically ill heroine, and a (sorta) Big Misunderstanding actually done well. I loved everything about it.

  18. Sad to hear this. I met her once and she seemed a fun and warm as well as a witty lady. Just for balance I am more of a Hamish fan myself…

  19. Amongst my best reading from the last few weeks were: The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts and True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop by Annie Darling. I’m always telling myself that I will buy and read no more books with titles like the cute/sweet/little blah-shop of wherever because I have become rather sick of the idea of redemption through hard work in a small retail business. I always exclude Jenny Colgan from that vow anyway because she rises above and I’m glad I also softened over these because I really enjoyed them and the 2nd more than the first.
    I had to work a bit to love the 1st because the hero is a bit of a rude entitled rich boy and because of the afore-mentioned issue with redemption through retail three hole binder plot line but it was well-done and seduced me. The second book went down easier because the heroine is a member of staff… and an introvert.
    Anyone who likes Jenny Colgan or Trisha Ashley should enjoy these.

  20. Dreyer’s English, Benjamin Dreyer (copy chief of Random House). “An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.” The right degree of snark, and what he prescribes is right by me.

    My annual reread of An Old-Fashioned Christmas, “Sweet Traditions for Hearth and Home” Ellen Stimson. Prose is last century, but the recipes are the thing. My kind of fantasy.

  21. I read several in the John Pickett series by Sheri Cobb South. They are Regency-era mysteries with a mismatched (socially speaking) pair of protagonists. Good stuff.

    Also read Under the Dragon’s Tail by Maureen Jennings. It’s the second in a mystery series about late Victorian-era Toronto. They’re good, solid mysteries, quite dark.

    Also Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen, one of the Royal Spyness books. I found this one particularly interesting as it takes place in Kenya in the 1930s. It made me try reading Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen again, which is slow going but fascinating now that I know more about what went on there.

    Lastly, Death at Victoria Dock by Kerry Greenwood. When I need something exciting and fun, I go for a Phryne Fisher story. 🙂

  22. I read the first book in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series, Just One Damned Thing After Another, by Jodi Taylor. I liked it so much that instead of rereading it, which was my plan, I started the second book in the series.

    Thanks for the mentions of MC Beaton. I’ve seen her name come up here and there and have been meaning to try one of her books. I’ll bump her up on my list.

    1. I read the entire series a couple of months ago. Once I started I could not stop. I had purchased a handful of them in 2016, and read the first one, then I stopped because I did not have the time to read for days on end. I found the books on my kindle and read A Symphony of Echoes (#2), and decided I needed to reread the first one. I could not believe I had stopped after only one. I read all of then in publication order along with all the shorts. Since some events are dependent on others this is the way to read them. Around 11 or 12 books and 14 or 15 shorts.

      In case you do not know the series… The Chronicles of St. Mary’s is where a group of historians explore major historical events in contemporary time. Do not call it time travel. If something can go wrong it will. Very funny series. You do not have to be an historical nut to enjoy – Jodi Taylor explains what should happen, and what doesn’ without a lot of tedious details. I pre ordered the latest Christmas short, it delivered on Christmas day, and I read it the next day.

      I am not a big re-reader of books, however, I will definitely read this series again at some point. That being said I have read all of Jenny’s books several times, both in paperback and on my kindle.

  23. Someone here must once have recommended WR Gingell. I found a sample of her Spindle and started reading this week and have since read the trilogy and a companion book. One is sort of a retelling of Sleeping Beauty with a touch of Rapunzel, (really more about what happens when she wakes up), another is a version of Beauty and the Beast which I particularly like because the heroine with little magic outsmarts lots of wizards. And two books that might not have a particular fairy tale origin. Very funny although all the heroes are annoying in how they avoid answering questions and ignore the heroine’s wishes.

    1. That may have been me. Spindle, Blackfoot, Staff and Crown and Masque are the four books in the Two Monarchies sequence by W.R. Gingell. Very enjoyable. My wife loved them too. The heroes do need to be smacked upside the head frequently. Fortunately the heroines are equal to the task.

  24. I just finished The Affair of the Mysterious Letters by Alexis Hall, which is one of the most delightful Holmes-inspired books I’ve read. Fantastic world (the Holmes character is a sorceress named Shaharazad Haas), witty and beautifully written. Sparkling and fun.

  25. Almost finished reading a YA SF by the amazing Maria V. Snyder. This is the second one in the series, Chasing the Shadows, and I highly recommend both it and the first one. Truly original writing, vivid characters, and even if you don’t normally read YA, I think you’ll like it.

    1. Oooh. I loved the first one. I didn’t know the second one was out. I also love Maria V. Snyder’s stuff in general. If you don’t like YA then try her Poison Study, or even if you do.

      1. FYI – Navigating the Stars and Chasing the Shadows are YA Science Fiction (starships, computer hacking, aliens) and Poison Study and sequels are High Fantasy (romance, mystery and intrigue not swords and sorcery)

  26. I’ve been in a funk. I usually read a couple/few books a month, but I’ve been mainly surfing the web. I just read an article on squeegee storage on Houzz. I am now concerned. I need to get out more. Maybe a library of Barnes and Noble.

  27. It’s been an excellent reading week for me!

    The Raven Boys was fabulous. So much love for these characters, and stories – I finished book 4 this week. Four not-your-average teenagers on a quest (it’s low fantasy) found family, fun and thoughtful and imaginative, and did I say, great characters? I highly recommend it (you must read in order) and thanks to whoever recommended it here already!

    Also read T Kingfisher’s Swordheart, which had been recommended, but the premise didn’t appeal (love story, where one character is trapped in a sword). I was so wrong, it was delightful and laugh out loud funny. Not flawless, but so much fun.

    Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavours by Sonali Dev – an ‘oh no not you’ romance which was readable, but won’t be a reread, still, given my recent lack of patience, that’s a win!

    The afore-mentioned Get A Life Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (romance, really really good, definitely a rereader).

    Four books in a week. I love holidays.

  28. I’m a voice of dissent, but honestly, given how many ‘top’ lists this book appeared on for 2019, I’m pretty sure it’s me, not the book!

    I feel like I’m missing out though! I just kept getting annoyed by the characters, and also that what we were told about the characters, wasn’t backed up consistently in action? (E.g ‘smart’ characters not showing any evidence of this in their actions, for instance, or Olga’s eg above). I really wanted to love it, but argh. Keen to hear after your re-read whether you still love it as much!

  29. Anika’s mention of “Get A Life, Chloe Brown” last week made me, too, one of many (I’ve seen) that read this book. I read an interview on Goodreads with the author about this book in early 2019 and directly marked it as to read, because it sounded so good. I might have had too high expectations, but it didn’t hit any 5-star-buttons for me… which is not to say I didn’t like it, but I’m having kind of mixed feelings about it. Some things were also a bit confronting, for instance her friends leaving her because of her disability which makes her distrustful and reluctant to try and find new ones. 🙁
    My favourite parts were the emails and sms-conversations. Those made me smile the most.

    About series: Sven and I just started reading the 3rd part of the “Children of D’Haran”-series by Terry Goodkind: Wasteland. Thing is, we both loved his Sword of Truth-series, but after that… the quality has been decreasing more for every book. I think this is sad for he is, was, a great storyteller and I loved his characters, world and magic system, but now the writing is becoming less catching, the characters are doing non-characteristic things and – in this last series – he’s suddenly changing rules in his magic system. It annoys me in all sorts of ways (especially since I’ve been so in love with his male protagonist since 2005-2006-something) and we’re at this point only reading further to see what will happen… without the love we ones had for the characters and series. So, so sad. 🙁

    Currently reading “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett and loving it. Sometimes smiling at the cute scenes, then get so angry because this discrimination and racism have really happened to people, and happen still. Really, really good book, definitely recommending it.

  30. A few weeks ago, in a discussion of short stories, someone brought up Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery. Then there was a discussion of the mess at the RWA. Both of them made me think of a paragraph I had read in The Guardian recently. I’ve just tracked it down. It said: “In Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story The Lottery, the inhabitants of a small town gather every year to randomly stone someone to death. If only Jackson had known about Twitter. It’s much more efficient.” This cracks me up. The link is here:

  31. I have been reading lots of posts about the RWA mess. And I just sent a link to my husband, who gives trainings on corporate governance, to give him ideas of things not to do to include in his case studies. It’s a rich source.

  32. Happy New Year! what’s a couple of weeks between friends, right?

    I’ve been re-reading a lot of your books over December (they’re just perfect on a cold day!), and I realized, I don’t think I’ve seen a new book from you in aaaages. Help a fan out: when are you thinking your next book will be released? You seem to have some interesting stories in the works, like Haunting Alice, or the one with the sister from Hot Toy … I’d love to read more of your work!

    1. Oh, that’s a whole big drama (g).

      I finished a book, my publisher rejected it, I’m rewriting it, got a phone meeting with my agent scheduled this week. This blog community knows everything first, so when I know it, the Argh people know it.

      Thanks for missing me!

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