This is a Good Book Thursday, November 5, 2020

I read a set of three linked books and I’m still bemused by them. They were well-written books about complicated people, technically romances I think, but I realized when the male lead from the first book died at the end of the third book and I thought, “Yeah, we could spare him,” that I’d become annoyed with all of them. I think it might be because the writing was detached, almost cold, even though the characters were emoting all over the place. It might also be because I couldn’t get a grip on the romance contract; there were triangles in two of the books and I didn’t care.

Then as an antidote I read a very, warm, sweet romance where the contract was clear with a good quirky cast of supporting players, but since everything was lovely all the time, at the end the author had to pile Big Misunderstanding on top of Big Misunderstanding and that was just annoying: if you people don’t trust each other any more than this, if you can’t TALK to each other to find out the truth, then I don’t care if you’re pregnant at the end and beaming at each other. Not to mention all the protagonist’s problems fell away at the end because all the other characters made such great decisions that accomodated her . . .

All of which is to say, I was difficult to please this week, although thanks to somebody on here, I read A Deadly Education, which had a protagonist I loved, and I’m reading the new Bloom County collection and laughing like a loon, so there is hope.

But the best thing I read this week was the NYT’s essay on Durer and the self-portrait by Jason Farago.. And I’m thinking maybe it’s time to try another self-portrait. Or maybe Anna will.

What did you read this week?

86 thoughts on “This is a Good Book Thursday, November 5, 2020

  1. I love the sound of Anna making a self portrait. I wrote “trying” first, then thought nope, she’s the kind who’d succeed.

    I can’t read the article because of their paywall, but I love Durer’s self-portrait. He looks so dignified, and yet you can see pain in his eyes. I wish I knew what was going on in his head when he painted his incredible monster paintings.

  2. I’ve been reading Pratchett’s The Last Continent with my eleven year old, which has been fun, and I’m a few chapters into Dokkaebi: Vicious Spirits by Kat Cho and enjoying it so far. I really liked Gumiho: Wicked Fox, which was the first one in that series.

  3. The Survivors, by Jane Harper. Set in Tasmania, probably one of the best books I have read this year.

  4. I read A Treason of Truths by Ada Harper. F/F sci-fi romance. Follows on from A Conspiracy of Whispers.

    A solid read. Protag is a former/spy/intelligence agent so it can seem over plotty but the action rules!

  5. Following a recommandation on another site, I picked up the first volume of M. C. A. Hogarth´s dreamhealer series, Mindtouch. It’s available for free so it wasn’t a difficult decision. I am now on volume 3 and I am really enjoying the gentle pace as the two protagonists relationship evolves. It’s sort of domestic SF if that’s a genre but apparently the author has multiple books in the same universe which are very different. Not sure what to go for next. She seems very prolific.

  6. I’ve just been picking my way through The 4 Hour Body by Tim Ferriss. I mentioned yesterday I was calorie counting? I was so damn proud of myself when I went into dinner with over 700 calories left (typically between 350 and 450), and then I ATE A POTPIE THAT WAS 900 CALORIES WITHOUT REALIZING IT!!! I literally made a noise when, after I ate it, I looked at the stupid calories….

    Otherwise, I’m in a hard core reading funk. I have a YA from the library I must start now in order to finish before the due date, buuut this is the second time I’ve had to check it out bc I’m not picking anything up.

    In other news, my mom and I share a library card for ease of use, so I get to see her audio book choices. She’s totally re-listening to The Cinderella Deal. 😀

    I haven’t even been motivated to read many things online. I need something to jog myself out! I should just grab a book from my huge TBR pile at this point and start.

      1. I think we’ve all been there with pies. If you want to put the maximum amount of calories in something, pastry is a good start.

        1. What I’m fixating on is that 900 calories were consumed with no exclamations of “Wow, that was the tastiest diet pie. I wonder how they did that?” It means the calories, or the experience, or whatever, was insufficiently enjoyable to allow an “Oops” to cover it.

          1. Ut was most definitely not a diet pie hahaha it was our normal Marie Callender pot pie. Cause who knew it was 900 caloires.

          2. Oh, those things are insidious. I try really hard not to buy ready-made things, but Marie’s pot pies are one of those comfort food, like mac and cheese where you know it’s not good for you, but sometimes you just gotta. But yeah, she does go heavy on cream and butter.

          3. Yeah, definitely less keen to eat it again now. It was one of our lazy meals for the week.

            I’m now one of those people looking at calories in store. Sigh. Sugar free jello? 4 calories. Regular? 90! So I got sugar free. I shouldn’t even have gotten that, but ah well. Occasional need for sweetness.

            I had lentils for the first time in place of my English muffins. Not sure how I feel about them, and I’m not a huge bean person to start. But I’ve had an upset stomach all day, could be that. Then, round 5 (2-3 hrs before dinner yet), it was like my stomach was eating my ribs, and I went and made myself a protein smoothie.

            TLDR: Diet changes are hard. But two pounds down!

            This weekend, we’re going kettlebell hunting, since weights are mythical beasts in store right now.

            You ever have that moment here your brain just flips a switch, and suddenly it’s time to make the big changes? It feels like that happened. I shall touch base in 3 weeks to see if it’s maintained ha

      2. I made a gratin for dinner and cut the cheese by one third, used low-fat buttermilk instead of sour cream and used ricotta instead of creamed cheese to see if we really needed all that extra fat. It was tasty but my husband said “This is weird. I feel like I need to put a pat of butter on this”.

        1. It needs a bit of getting used to the new taste. Do persevere wirh sny new thing/taste/method for at least 7 days before evaluating it. Old routines and tastes aren’t easy to get rid of.

          1. Fortunately, at 78 he is still bicycling everywhere and working on house and other physical projects all the time. Takes no meds for anything. I work on cooking mostly and some gardening. He needs the extra fuel. I do not. I am going to have to look at this again.

  7. I’ve read several good ones recently (and in fact I’m deeply regretting the fact that I didn’t just take this week off, build myself a blanket fort, and plow through a bunch of my TBR pile).

    -Set Fire to the Gods, by Sara Raasch and Kristen Simmons (m/f fantasy enemies-to-lovers romance, selected in part because that title is just a whole 2020 mood). It felt to me like it started a little slow — I’m not sure why, because it worked just fine on a technical level — but once it got going, whew! Definitely waiting on the sequel, but this first book stands just fine on its own.

    -The Savage Legion, by Matt Wallace (fantasy adventure w/ multiple viewpoints and some really interesting worldbuilding, and a focus on the lies societies tell their people). Really looking forward to the sequel, due out on July 20.

    -Holidays With The Wongs by Jackie Lau (series of 4 romance novellas; m/f – so far – with a different Wong sibling for each and a wonderfully quirky, intrusive family). Beautiful Wife got me started on these, and I just finished the second one. They’re quick, sweet, and fun without being shallow; and the author is self-consciously playing with various romance tropes and clearly enjoying the hell out of it. Plus, the grandparents are hilarious.

    -Legendborn by Tracy Deonn (YA m/f romance with hints of a m/f/m triangle developing, Arthurian urban fantasy w some unexpectedly deep themes that tie in in ways that aren’t immediately obvious). If I haven’t recommended this one already, I’m doing y’all a disservice.

    1. I think I’ve gone at least a decade (maybe two) without hearing the words “blanket fort” and this week I’ve noticed it multiple times from very diverse sources. It seems that we all want to run and hide someplace cozy!

    2. Jackie Lau is WONDERFUL. She skilfully weaves the tropes in with very necessary modern-day awareness. She just makes me happy. And the descriptions of food help too!

  8. Thanks so much for the Durer article link. So calming. And it’s good to think long term.

    Still re-reading the Meg Langslow series for the community.

  9. I gulped down “Any old diamond” by KJ Charles on Sunday. Very smooth writing.
    Dipped into her other books (by reading the excerpts), but didn’t get hooked immediately.
    One of the other excerpts I read and liked was of “Date me, Bryson Keller”, but I refrained from getting it a) because it cost more than I want to pay for an e-book and b) I stumbled over the controversy of plagiarism around this title (seemingly the author more than got inspired by a manga with the same concept).
    Then yesterday I remembered a Texas-based romance that I read years ago (of which I tracked down a second hand hard cover copy, that’s how much I liked it) by Lorraine Heath and raved about it to dear husband: “Always to remember” has conscientious objector and eventual sculptor as hero (Civil War) and it’s got real depth to it.
    So I tracked down her back list and stayed up far too long reading “Texas Splendour”. I’m not sure about it yet, but with a hero having been imprisoned wrongly for murder and trying to build his life up again, it’s interesting.
    Almost all the cover illustrations of her books (Always to remember being an exception) are rather hilarious, though. I don’t want to be caught reading those… Which I will be when sharing my kindle with the kids or dear husband, sigh. The foreign language edition covers – especially the French ones – are more fitting imho.
    The newest Penric and Whalen Turner still sit on the shelf /Kindle shelf. I’m too tense for anything but escapism these days.

  10. Haven’t read anything this week. My concentration is too scattered. But I did start a new podcast: A Gentlemen’s Guide to Rom-Coms. It’s just two guys (I believe they’re both screenwriters) analyzing rom-coms and talking about why more men should give them a shot. Not anything revolutionary, but it’s a fun, smart, gentle podcast about a genre I love.

  11. I just started Dying With Her Cheer Pants On: Stories of the Fighting Pumpkins by Seanan McGuire, an anthology of stories about a supernatural squad of cheerleaders. So far, so much fun. I know that a lot of the stories are available on line from her website for free but I enjoyed the first one so much I bought the e-book.

  12. Currently reading: In Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior which I have to keep putting down because blood pressure. Trust by Mayor Pete which is full of good stuff. What Unites Us by Dan Rather. Yes, there’s a theme. I also have 2 Can Keep a Secret, after 1 of Us is Lying. Having a hard time with rom right now, I keep wanting to bludgeon everybody in the cast and I’m pretty sure it’s just me. Oh, also the Sector General SF series was on sale this week, so those too. With all these books I should be able to focus on something for more than a few pages at a time but *waves hands at the world*

  13. I have nothing to report except in our town’s facebook page someone posted a picture of a license plate that reads 2020 -WTF.

    1. As you get ready to exit our local landfill, in the pile of political signs across the road is “Giant Meteor 2020…Just end it already” Makes me giggle every time I see it.

      1. My favorite is the one that says, “Bye, Don” in the same colors and font as the Biden/Harris signs.

  14. I’ve read several things in the past week that were not good. Let’s just pass over those. Also an anthology of historical M/M short stories, mostly good, ‘Another Place In Time.’

    Better: ‘A Holiday by Gaslight’ by Mimi Matthews. Sweet Victorian Christmas romance, novella with a lot going on.

    Also: ‘The Last Wolf’ by Maria Vale. A very thoroughly imagined and unusual take on the werewolf thing. Not quite a romance though there is a strong love story in it. Earthy, sensual, violent, and a bit exhausting.

    ‘American Christmas’ by Adriana Herrera, a cute take on ‘Gift of the Magi.’

    And the week’s winner for me (to the point that I immediately bought two more in the series), ‘What He Really Needs’ by Ryan Taylor and Joshua Harwood. A DC-set M/M romance with a bit of suspense, about two lawyers, by two lawyers.

  15. I read Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh over the weekend. Very much enjoyed it. On hold for the next book at the library.

    I also read Nigella Lawson’s Emergency Brownie recipe, and then I made them. Excellent decision on my part.

    And honestly, except for the day job, I am mostly just reading Twitter, checking websites, and watching a combo of MSNBC and CNN as the Georgia and Pennsylvania vote margins narrow and the Nevada margin widens and not bothering with Arizona because it isn’t going to matter.

  16. I’ve reached the sixth and final book of the Bellisarius series by Drake and Flint. It all gets resolved in this book, and I’ll be crying along the way.

    I’m in book three of the Alexis Carew “Hornblower In Space” series. I don’t think I’ll be buying the rest of the series. I’m not sure I’ll finish book three.

    The books I’m enjoying most just now are the ones being “snippetted” on Baen’s Bar. “Snippeting” is publishing on the web of partial chapters of the book in its prior to final editing format. Depending on the author(s), there may be a few egregious mistakes left. Anyway, those books are first, 1637 No Peace Beyond The Line, through Snippet 46. That snippet began with “*This book should be available now, so this is the last snippet.*” By snippet 46, you’ve probably read half the book. They’ve hooked you. You’ll be buying the rest. This is a part of the Ring of Fire alternate history series.

    The second is The Macedonian Hazard, which is the sequel to The Alexander Inheritance by Flint, Goodlett and Huff. It’s up to snippet 6. Technically, this is also an offshoot of the ring of fire, in that the cause of transposing a small West Virginia mining town to 1631 Thuringia Germany also cause a 2040 Oceanic Passenger Liner to go to the Mediterranean shortly after Alexander the Great died but before his wife and child and brother were murdered. Pre-diodochi, you see. Things change.

    Finally, there is Two Cases For The Czar by Gorg Huff and Paula Goodlett, which is only at snippet 2. Notice Goodlett and Huff in both the latter two books. It’s getting so I’ll read anything they write. Anyhoo, this is also Ring of Fire, the Russian branch, and is a sequel to A Holmes for the Czar. Murders happen. Miroslava “Holmes” solves them. She was gifted with that last name by order of the Czar. It’s implied that she is mildly autistic in a way that makes her extremely observant.

    That’s what I’ve read.

      1. argh! They have a great deal of the 1632 series available online (which I have been wanting to re-read) but only as recorded books. I cannot STAND to listen to books, no matter how great the narrator. (They do have The Alexander Inheritance, but only in paper, and I have been getting tired of how troublesome it is to schedule a pick-up during my lunch hour. I will probably do it sooner or later, but not immediately.)

          1. At this point in my financial life, I don’t buy things I haven’t read, not even Crusie. Not even Murderbot.

          2. If you followed that link, you would have noticed a button labeled “SAMPLE.” The sample Baen allows is 1/4 (25%) of the book. In the case of Alexander Inheritance, that’s Maps, Prologue, and Chapters 1 through 6.

            Back in the “old days,” the maps would have been included with the prologue, and you might have gotten chapter 7 with your sample.

            Is that enough to decide whether or not to spend money?

            If not, can we figure a way for me to buy it for you?

  17. I’m attempting to start The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. It’s supposed to be very good with its roots in mythology. I’m excited get further into it so hopefully it’ll be good as the masses say. I’ve also been thinking of rereading some of my comfort reads, including your Bet Me novel (probably tied in with Anybody But You as my favorite of your novels). I think we need some comfort this week as the race keeps going.

  18. I just finished reading “You Deserve Each Other” by Sarah Hodge, in which an engagement has gone brutally sour primarily because of the groom’s overbearing mother, and how they get romantically back together again. By god, the author makes that premise WORK. Like, near-genius on making that work. I recommend.

  19. I read ‘He’s Come Undone: A Romance Anthology’, recommended here. Mostly good, and I really liked the Olivia Dade story, so went on to read her ‘Teach Me’, which was excellent except for being a bit too long/over-egged. But great characters, world and humour.

        1. I think it’s lovely. I remember hearing “chuffed as fluffy balls” for the first time in Australia and just being so delighted. “Over-egged” gave me the same feeling: new words for something that’s kind of indescribable.

  20. I managed to finish The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix. There wasn’t anything wrong with the book, just my attention span. Lately I seem to only manage to stare mindlessly at either my iPad or the tv screen. I did pick up a book that was on hold for me at the library this evening. Maybe The Lost for Words Bookshop by Stephanie Buckland will help end my “not reading” streak!

    1. I read it when I could barely finish an article, so I have high hopes that this might be the next one you finish.

  21. I haven’t visited here for three weeks – have been very ill – and I missed these posts. Finally, I seem to be recovering, but it is so slow, I want to rave at the universe. I’ve still been reading when I could. So here is my ‘report card’.

    L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle was first published in 1926. It was slow (of course), old-fashioned, but a surprisingly nice story.

    Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Dance Away with Me – I loved it. A classical SEP of the best kind.

    Ilona Andrews’s Iron and Magic was a fast and furious novel, lots of blood and entrails but no real depth. Still it was an engaging read, especially as I tried to forget my illness.

    And finally, Lois McMaster Bujold’s Masquerade in Lodi, the latest Penric novella, was a delight. I enjoyed the story and its collection of memorable characters, but I think the city of Lodi, constructed on the blueprints of Venice, was the best character of all. It was simply unforgettable, and even Penric paled in comparison in this particular novella.

    1. So glad you’re back. Hope your recovery speeds up, at least faster than American election results.

  22. We have been watching Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. My partner was skeptical, but I told him that Stephen King recommended it. And it’s really good. The interesting thing is that I couldn’t tell you why it is good. It should be deadly boring… I am fascinated by its competency.

    I am reading the newest Milla Vane, slowly. Steadfast characters who are good people in difficult situations with magic and dinosaurs. I am enjoying it.

    Forthright put out another short story this week, but I am hoarding that for an emergency of comfort.

    I have also started listening to the news again after many months. I feel like I need to know what is happening in the world beyond this country.

    1. I liked The Queen’s Gambit too. And I know what you mean–I did a one sitting marathon of it, it was compelling, but why?

  23. I loved A Deadly Education and can’t wait for the sequel. Naomi Novik is one of the bright lights in fantasy. Her linked two books Spinning Silver and Uprooted are lovely and fresh. And her Temeraire series (Napoleonic dragons) was so good. What’s most interesting about these three series is that they all possess completely different voices. You’d never know it’s the same author and that’s quite the feat.

    Went on a Sherry Thomas binge of her historical romances this week. Not as strong as her Lady Sherlock series but still…filled the void.

    And remember all, if you need an Emotional Support Canadian this week, one will be assigned to you…

      1. If I need to come north, can you claim I am a relative so the government will let me in? I don’t think I can take 4 more years of the jackass braying through his butt.

      2. Ditto another Canadian here for you argh guys who have truly made my life more enjoyable. Thank you and wishing you well (ala Nero Wolfe)

    1. I adore Sherry Thomas’ book The Magnolia Sword. I’ve re-read it several times over the past month, and it hits all my comfort reading marks. It’s a YA version of the Ballad of Mulan, but this Mulan is a young woman who has trained hard every day of her life to be ready to face a duel that is fought in every generation with a rival family. Instead, war happens, and Mulan finds herself in the army, trying to find a way to meet her promise to her family to stay safe. It doesn’t quite work out that way. The competence porn in this one is strong without being too overpowered – she and everyone around her have had to work for their skills and there are moments when fear and uncertainty overwhelm them. There’s a good bit of espionage going on, and just enough of the right kind of romance to keep me very happy. And I love this Mulan as well as the whole cast of characters around her.

    2. Thank you to all the Canadians! I wish to apologize on behalf of my country for being such lousy neighbors. You all are the best!

      Also, I live in Michigan, so I may just try to sneak across the border if needs arise. Please don’t start patrolling until springtime. 😉

  24. I just finished “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” by V. E. Schwab. I highly recommend it, really a great break from the current reality in the world.

  25. I’ve been reading OHIO TOWN, by Helen Hooven Santmeyer, a thinly-disguised non-fiction story about Xenia, Ohio. HHS wrote a book called . . . AND, LADIES OF THE CLUB, also about a small Ohio town (probably Xenia, but less clearly identified), which is a total page-turner for me. It opens in, I think, 1867 — right after the Civil War, in any case — and the heroine dies at the end, in 1932. I should have mentioned it pre-election, because the only elections in the book are 19th century, and it does pull you in to a small town of the period. My suffragette grandmother loved it.

    For the genealogist or historian, I’m also reading ROYAL BASTARDS, Illegitimate children of the British Family, by Peter Beauclerk-Dewar and Roger Powell. This one is serious (forward by HRH The Duke of Gloucester) and is divided into Tudor, Stuart, Hanover, and “Royal Loose Ends.” The Tudor section includes children of Edward IV and Richard III as well as the Tudors.

    And for the Egyptologist, A WORLD BENEATH THE SANDS, the Golden Age of Egyptology, Toby Wilkinson. Nineteenth century, so be prepared for rabid nationalism, colonialism, and racism. Goes with the history, alas.

    WEIRD PARENTING WINS, by Hillary Frank. Toddlers driving you crazy? Feed yours in the bathtub to make clean-up easy, and other hacks to deal with crying, screaming, potty issues, etc., etc. VERY creative!

    THESE IS MY WORDS, the Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901, by Nancy Turner, said to be based at least in part on memoirs in the author’s family, and located around the Tucson, Arizona, area.

    If you’re in Australia, Kerry Greenwood’s new Phryne Fisher mystery, DEATH AT DAYLESFORD, has now been released. If you’re elsewhere, you can order it through The Book Depository:

    Check carefully for the release date, because it lists a paperback release 3 November, a large print edition release 11 November, and a couple more releases in June 2021.

  26. I know we’re not about The Thing, but in general (not specific to the thing at all) this way if holding a protest make me happy happy.

    Since I’ve commented, now feel I need to recommend a book, except I’ve had Murderbot on repeat (audiobook this time, he does a pretty great job, book 4 especially, so pissy). and pretty sure we’ve all read that. Um ok hold on…

    Historic recommendation then: if you’ve never read the Sevenwaters series by Juliet Marillier, I recommend it. My fave is bk 2 (Son of the Shadows). Very strong women, and a storytelling style that seems deeply imbued with the stillness of the forest she writes about. Best read in order (but I think not absolutely essential if you don’t mind spoilers for bk 1 while reading book 2)

    Huh. I’ve actually just realised that Jenny’s description above could almost be this series, except I don’t find them cold, just yes maybe a little distant. And I can’t remember exactly who dies at the end of bk 3 (I always default to bk 2).

  27. I read about this week. It was set up as a small bookshop answer to Amazon. Lots of bookshops work through it — turns out, three in my area are affiliated. I’m not sure how it works, but I’m going to give it a try.

  28. Speaking of, I love Tbe Strand Bookstore in NYC, it’s almost a century old, and right now it’s struggling. For those of you who might not know it, it’s just off Union Square and it has everythilng hidden in a delightful warren to explore; new books, used books including great mystery and SFF and art sections, and a rare book room upstairs. They just got a huge influx of orders after the news broke about a week or two ago. But they will need help down the road …

  29. I’ve stopped hyperventilating thanks to Nate Silver/528 and Steve Kornacki, but dear god this has been awful.

    And now we’ve got to deal with The Biggest Loser complaining that the only reason he lost is that they counted all the votes.

    1. Steve Kornacki:

      (I had to Google, but ha! We had Tova O’Brien and Paddy Gower. And then Tova got up the next morning, gave a loser the chance to say something, then annihilated him when he used the platform to spread misinformation. It was gold. She pretty much started with ‘I’ll never be inviting you on this show again, now’s your chance to explain yourself).

  30. Just finished Agnes & the hitman
    I wanted to say thank you for helping me escape COVID-19, Brexit. & chores.
    Now I need to find another romantic caper to read.

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