Tuesday, January 21, 2020

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Newest Additions to Shelves




Top Ten Tuesday topic today is the most recent additions to my shelves. This will give me a chance to write some mini-reviews of books I've recently finished, and a chance to look forward to some books upcoming. Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Arty Reader Girl - check her blog out for links to other participants, and to find future topics.


  • To the Land of Long Lost Friends: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #20  by Alexander McCall Smith (Jan 17)
  • My library has been slow to add this to its catalogue, but I finally got myself on the waiting list, should be a few weeks til I get to spend some lovely time in Botswana with some old friends.



Still Midnight by Denise Mina (Jan 11)
I'm listening to this great Scottish police mystery, the first of five books with Alex Morrow as the tortured lead character. With only two hours left to read, I definitely will listen to more of these books.


  • Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell (Jan 5)
  • Quick graphic novel read that takes place on the last night of pumpkin season at a pumpkin patch with two high-schoolers who will be heading off to university. It's a sweet friendship book, with amazing food as the two friends make it a night to remember.



  • We Met in December by Rosie Curtis (Dec 30, 2019)
  • Cute little British rom-com that I listened to to start the year. (Should have read this in December, obvs) Two great main characters sharing a flat with other housemates but are interested but know they shouldn't get involved - it's actually a house rule. But as the year proceeds...


The Art of Theft: The Lady Sherlock Series, Book 4 by Sherry Thomas (Dec 29, 2019)

This series does not disappoint at all! Charlotte and her merry gang of misfits head to France to try and obtain a painting that may contain some blackmail information about a client. We learn more about Mrs Watson's previous life, Charlotte's sisters continue to be a part of the story, and Charlotte and Lord Ingram continue their back and forth. Moriarity's are still always in the background. Fans of Sherlock Holmes should enjoy.


  • We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin (Dec 25, 2019)
  • I borrowed the audio book after seeing this book on the Tournament of Books 2020 play-in list. I think I get what the author was aiming for, but I found it too bleak, and upsetting to enjoy. Set in a slightly future America, where race relations have not improved like you might hope, a father is trying to get his mixed race son surgery to prevent his birthmark from spreading. I didn't like the father and his blaming, and the author knew readers wouldn't like him and he even gives a speech defending his decisions, but it didn't help me. 


The Huntress by Kate Quinn (Dec 9, 2019)
  • My neighbour teacher brought this historical book in for me, with great recommendations and I can't wait to get to it. 


  • Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li (Dec 5, 2019)
  • I'm in the process of reading this book, a longlist book from last year's Bailey's Prize for Fiction. Set in Maryland, a Chinese-American Jimmy is trying to open up a new restaurant, separate from the family Beijing Duck House. There are a bunch of characters, and I'm not completely sure what the main plot is yet. It is okay so far, and it reminds me of another book that I haven't quite been able to recognize.



  • Disappearing Earth  by Julia Phillips (Dec 5, 2019)
Now this book had a lot to recommend. First of all, the setting was in the far east of Russia, in the area known as Kamchatka Peninsula. I was not familiar with this, wouldn't even have thought people lived in this area; luckily a map is included. Bonus. The book starts with the disappearance of two young girls that we read from their perspective. The rest of the book, one chapter for each month, seems to become a series of stories about other characters in the area. Some of these characters are connected to each other, and then near the end, everything starts to come together in a satisfying way. 


  • A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (Dec 3, 2019)
  • I did enjoy this book but I read it in the weeks before Christmas, and I didn't get to get absorbed in in time-wise, which is too bad, because Chevalier is one of my favourite authors, and in another time, I should have loved this one because it had embroidery. Chevalier writes historical fiction so well, and her research on a topic is always enjoyable.
  • Set in the early 1930s, after WW1 in London, our main character, Violet has lost her brother and fiance in the war, and is a spinster. She is expected to look after her mother, with no regard to her choices. She rebels a bit, and gets a job in a nearby town, lives on her own, and gradually begins to make a life. She discovers a group of embroiderers at a cathedral, and finds her artistic side. She also makes friends with a male bell-ringer at the cathedral, and we get to learn a lot about bell-ringing. Chevalier covers a lot of social territory and commentary, including family obligations, women's roles in society, lesbians, unhappy marriages that won't divorce so lead to affairs, single mothers, and friendships. I would recommend this one especially for fans of historical fiction, England between the wars, and women's fiction. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

TOP TEN TUESDAY: New (female) Authors from 2019





Top Ten Tuesday topic for this week, my first week of 2020 posting, is a bookish discovery from last year. I'm choosing to highlight the new authors I discovered, and they all happen to be women. Some were so good I read more than one of their books.
For more topics, and links to other posts, see That Artsy Reader Girl, who hosts this weekly meme. 



1. Sherry Thomas
Author of the Charlotte Holmes mystery series, I really, really enjoyed this series. The first book, A Study in Scarlet Women, read the delightful Kate Reading, was a good start, and I had fun seeing how Thomas would feminize all the roles from the classic Sherlock Holmes series. By the time I got to the second and third books, I did the unusual for me - I listened to them back to back. I never do that with series! But A Conspiracy in Belgravia ended on a cliff hanger, and I was enjoying my walks with Charlotte, so I immediately downloaded the third book, The Hollow of Fear, and it picked up exactly where the other book ended. I walked a lot that day! This series is funny, exquisitely plotted, and has a large cast of delightful characters. I've already started my year by listening to the fourth edition, The Art of Theft. 



2. Dervla McTiernan
Cormac Reilly is my favourite new Irish detective. The tone feels a bit like Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad, and Robert Galbraith's Cormoran Strike. I read both of McTiernan's books, The Ruin and The Scholar, and both were excellent. Waiting for the next book...


3. Sally Rooney
I became aware of Normal People when it was on the Bailey's Prize for Fiction longlist and ended up reading this as an ebook from Netgalley. I quite liked Normal People, enough to listen to Conversations With Friends as an audiobook. Both books didn't have the nicest people, but I liked the Irish vibe. 


4. Elly Griffiths
I heard about the Ruth Galloway archeologist series all around Librarything, and once I decided to read the first one, The Crossing Place, I proceeded to read another three. The personal life of Ruth is far more interesting than the mysteries she gets called in to consult on. Her relationship with the police DCI, Harry Nelson is the best part of the series, along with everyone's favourite druid, Cathbad. For some reason, books five, six and seven are missing from the libraries - both book and online, that I use. I'll have to find them somewhere.


5. Jacqueline Woodson
I listened to this blank verse memoir read by the author. It was engrossing, and lyrical, and excellent. A little girl growing up in South Carolina and New York, during the 60s and 70s, with the Civil Rights movement in the background. Just so well done.
I'm already on the waiting list for her latest book, Red at the Bone.


6.  Lisa Genova
I would definitely read another book by Genova, even if they all seem to be a disease of the week type books. I think she is more famous for Still Alice, about Alzheimer's that many people have recommended to me. Inside the O'Briens is about a Boston father who is diagnosed with Huntington's disease, a horrible hereditary disease. How the grown children and his wife, and he himself react and deal with their new reality is realistic and heartbreaking. I'll look for one of her other books for sure - Still Alice, Left Neglected, Every Note Played.


7. Melanie Benjamin
Benjamin seems to take real people and writes about their lives, but writes them as fictional, which makes a great narrative. The Swans of Fifth Avenue is about Truman Capote (and I'm reading Furious Hours right now, about Harper Lee, and Capote comes up). I loved the crazy 1970s setting of New York City and the decadent lifestyle of Capote. Some of her other books cover people like Tom Thumb, Alice Liddell (Alice in Wonderland), Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Mary Pickford and Frances Marion. 



8. Susan Orlean
I love finding a new nonfiction author that tells a great story. Like everyone else, I liked the Library Book in how it covered many connected topics - the fire at the LA library, the history of libraries and librarians, all the good book stuff. I have her book Rin Tin Tin to read, the biography of the famous dog, and her more famous book, The Orchid Thief. 


9. Jasmine Guilllory
I'm not really much of a romance reader, but listening to The Proposal just before Christmas was the perfect book to listen during the craziness of December. The Proposal is actually the second book in this loosely connected series. The first book, The Wedding Date, has characters who are friends withe the main characters in The Proposal. The story was light, and you obviously hope they will get together, but my ultimate takeaway was how glad I'm not in the dating scene.


10. Rachel Kushner
The Mars Room was a well done story about women in prison, and while it wasn't an uplifting story, it was well written, and I liked how all the strands came together. Kushner has another book, The Flamethrowers, that I'd like to read. 

Lots of great new authors with many more books to look forward to by them. Sigh, So Many Book, So Little Time.




Saturday, January 4, 2020

LIST: Best Books of 2019

Top Five Books of the Year
1. Milkman
2. Where the Crawdads Sing
3. Murder at McDonalds: Killers Next Door
4. A Conspiracy in Belgravia
5. Olive, Again

25 nonfiction: 112 fiction = 137 books
90 female     46 male;  1 collection of assorted; 1 husband and wife;
78 audiobooks      16 ebook  26 library   


Best Mystery
A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas (+ the other 2 in the Charlotte Holmes series from this year) What a fabulously fun series!

Honourable Mentions Best Mystery (because I read a lot of mysteries)
The Ruin, and The Scholar by Dervla MacTiernan
Well done mystery series set in Ireland, Cormac Reilly, is my new favourite police detective

Best Start to a Series 
Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths
I read the first four in the Ruth Galloway series


Best End to a Series
The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley
I was glad the Flavia series ended, but it ended well after ten books

Best Historical Series
Irish Country Wedding by Patrick Taylor - 
I'm still loving the Irish Country Doctor series (1960s Ireland) 
Also Hugh de Singleton (1300s England) I read 3 more in this series this year

Best Recommended Book 
Bad Blood by John Carryou and Educated by Tara Westover were both highly recommended during Nonfiction November the year before, and they lived up to their hype

Best Childrens 
Al Capone Shines My Shoes, and Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko 

Best Young Adult 
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson
Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon

Best Book by a New to Me Author
The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Truman Capote and the original housewives of New York, based on true events, and fabulous!

Favourite Characters
Lara Jean, Margot, and Kitty Song, the three sisters from the Jenny Han series, To All the Boys I've Loved Before. 

I read PS I Still Love You, and Always and Forever, Lara Jean to complete the series.


Best Science Fiction/Fantasy
Saga by Brian K Vaughan
- I read Vol 8& 9, but these were the only sci-fi/fantasy books I read this year, clearly not a genre I read much of

Best Historical Fiction 
The Chillbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan
The Gown by Jennifer Robson
- love some British mid-century fiction!

Best  Book by a Tried and True Author 
I didn't realize how reliable Ann Patchett was, but the two books I read this year: Commonwealth, and The Dutch House were excellent and are sending me on a hunt for her backlist, other than State of Wonder and Bel Canto which I've read.

Best Apocalyptic/Dystopian
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker


Best Short Story Collection 
I'll throw Olive, Again in this section because she has to go somewhere. I was a little worried to read this as I so loved Olive Kitteridge, but this collection of connected stories, all connected somehow to Olive was as excellent as this first one. I do love Olive.

Best Short Story 
The only short story I listened to this year was from the Irish Country Doctor series, a short called Home is the Sailor by Patrick Taylor

Funniest 
The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde was probably the funniest book I read, although it was a ghost story.

Most Heartbreaking
Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
The patriarch of a Boston family gets a terrible hereditary disease.

Creepiest Novel
You, by Charles Benoit
This was a YA Sync from the summer, and was a second-person POV, and dealt with disturbed teenagers. Creepy, but quick.

Best Debut Book
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson
Lovely epistolary midlife crisis story told through letters between a British farm wife and a Danish museum curator. 


Best Re-read
This one is easy - both The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery, and The Guernsey Literary and Pototo Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer were as good on rereads as they were the first times I've read them 

Best Audiobook 
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, and read by the author was a delightful experience. I'm not generally a poetry fan, but this was done in a blank verse style and was very moving
The Dutch House gets honourable mention for best audiobook because it had Tom Hanks narrating, and I'd listen to him read his grocery list

Most Unique Book 

Milkman by Anna Burns
I hesitate to recommend this one, but you would know very early on if the writing style worked for you, and it really worked for me. I loved the voice of the main character, a twenty something girl, with a boyfriend, trying to survive the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. Very Irish stream of consciousness style, with no proper names ever used. It could have been annoying, but I got caught up with the style and her voice, and how she tried to manage living and the circular style of story-telling. 


Best Nonfiction (since I read so many nonfiction this year, I have broken this down a little more)
  
Best Nonfiction: science/history
A Force of Nature: The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford by Richard Reeves
I really enjoyed this biography of the physics/chemistry famous scientist from the early 1900s.

Best Nonfiction: nature
Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer
  
Best Nonfiction: memoir/autobiography
Troublemaker: Surviving Scientology and Hollywood by Leah Remini
If you've watched the TV show Scientology, you should try this book. I liked hearing more of Leah's experience; she's a hoot.

Best Nonfiction: true crime
Murder at McDonalds: Killers Next Door by Phonse Jessome
This was a local book, based on a murder in Cape Breton that was horrific over twenty years ago. 




A few books I loved by couldn't find a category for!
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty does great with large casts of how-are-they-related characters that have lots of twists and come together at the end

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
This could have been best mystery, best nature book, best book about loneliness, best audiobook (Cassandra Campbell was a narrator), best heartbreaking book and best book to live up to its hype.  For all these reasons, it was one of my favourite books of the year.



Wednesday, December 18, 2019

VIRTUAL ADVENT TOUR: Nan's Frying Pan Cookies


Hello, and welcome again to the Virtual Advent Tour, hosted by sprite writes. Check her blog everyday for a new Advent post from all over the world.


When my children were quite young, every Christmas Eve, my mom and I would bundle them up and we would to to visit my paternal grandmother, whom we called Nan. She lived forty-five minutes away from us, an easy drive on a winter day. The great-grands called her Great Nan. Because she was a Great Nan, and the name was perfect.

We would be taking some presents up to her, and she would have a little lunch for us as well. She had presents for all her great-grandchildren, numbering around 21. As we entered the house, heads bumping on the wind chime as we passed into the dining room (a little noise to let her know someone had arrived) and the children would run to the candy dish. 

The famous china candy dish, always kept full of little treats. I remember not wanting my kids to gorge themselves on the candy and nuts (all choking hazards!) and worrying that they would break the china. But I couldn't be the only one to move the candy dish, so, just like when I was young, treats and candy and sweets were a part of a visit to Nan's. 


Not quite the same, but this is the style, with separate china sections, all potentially breakable!
After a chat, and catch up, Nan would put out a little lunch for us. A homemade meat pie, smothered with mustard pickles, and a plate of sweets for dessert. The sweets would include shortbreads with a dollop of icing and half a walnut, peanut butter balls, and my favourite, Frying Pan Cookies. There was also dark fruit cake, but just like red wine and dark rum, the dark foods are an acquired taste, and it seems to take until your forties to enjoy these darker foods. While I didn't eat dark fruit cake then, I would now. 

But this post is meant to be about the Frying Pan Cookies, my traditional Christmas cookie. I got this recipe from her when I was young and love to make, and eat them. It would be easy to make a gluten-free version, if you have a gluten-free rice crispie type cereal.

Frying Pan Cookies

1 1/2 c. chopped dates
1 C white sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 cap full of vanilla

1/2 tsp salt
2 C Rice Krispies
1.5  C walnuts, chopped fine
1 bag coconut - I like unsweetened but use your favourite type
Mix dates, sugar and eggs in frying pan. Cook 10 minutes, smashing the dates down or until dates are soft. Cool some, then add vanilla, Rice Krispies and walnuts and mix well till it's all stickey.

Butter your hand well, roll mixture into balls then roll balls in coconut. Makes 4-5 dozen, depending on how large you roll them. These freeze really well, and can become your favourite frozen treat to sneak from the freezer.


Tuesday, December 17, 2019

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Winter TBR


Top Ten Tuesday topic this week is your winter TBR. I love making a list and this list is partially based on another list, the Tournament of Books shortlist for 2020. Between requesting a bunch of those books at the library, and books in my mystery series, and then my own books, there is no shortage of ideas for this winter TBR. For future topics, visit That Artsy Reader Girl.





Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Akner-Brodesser
TOB shortlist, was a publisher review book


On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
TOB shortlist book requested from the library


Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson
loved her Brown Girl Dreaming


Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
requested when it was on the TOB longlist and intrigued me



We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin
TOB shortlist, audiobook requested from library


Rest Not in Peace by Mel Starr
#6 in the Hugh de Singleton 14th century England series


Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood
Will this be the year I get to this book? I really liked the second two books in the trilogy


Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal
One of those Kindle Daily Deals that looks good and I should read



Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
One of my last YA Sync books from last year


Heretics Anonymous by Katie Henry
Another YA Sync book from last summer. Audibooks are great for walking, and I'm definitely listening to more audiobooks as I try to walk more.


Friday, December 6, 2019

VIRTUAL ADVENT TOUR: A Little Sparkly


Welcome to my turn posting on the Virtual Advent Tour! I've been a part of the Virtual Advent since I started blogging, back in 2007. It's a part of blogging, and Christmas that I look forward to.

As an update from the Advent Calendar post about Advent Calendars from last year, I found a cheese advent calendar for my husband and I to enjoy. Each evening we share the cheese and maybe a cracker or two on the countdown til the 25th. Oldest child, 22, has a Lindt chocolate advent calendar, middle child, 19, has a Hello Kitty Opi mini nail polish advent calendar, and youngest, 16 has a homemade (Bulk Barn) full of nuts and dark chocolate wafers. We've come a long way from the single calendar my sister and I used to share.

One of the things I like about Christmas is taking the extra effort to fancy things up.

So it's the time of year when I put some icing on the cookies, or make cookies that require rolling, and then coating in something extra or putting the maraschino cherry on the ginger cookie.

Decorating around the house and outside, and bringing out some fancy dishes to serve some h'ordoeuvres. Heck, even making the h'ordoeuvres in the first place is a step up and represents the extra effort, like the year I made Sprite's grandmother's Mushroom Turnovers. Yum!

This year, as an extra sparkly effort, I had my daughter, the aspiring esthetician, paint my nails. It is actually homework for her in her course to practice painting nails often. So I requested a Christmas red, with a bit of sparkle for the Christmas season. My accent nail has a layer of silver sparkle and I am all ready for some Christmas events.


Do you do extra things at Christmas to sparkle up your life?

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Holiday Reads

Winter is starting early here in PEI, and I've been feeling Christmas-y as a result. I have actually already read a Holiday book or two. There are plenty of great seasonal books that I've read, and some I would like to read. Check out the links to all the Top Ten Tuesday posts at That Artsy Reader Girl, and also check out the future topics.

Also in the holiday season, sprite writes is hosting the Virtual Advent Tour again this year. It is a wonderful way for sharing your holiday traditions, or songs, or ideas, really, anything you like. Sprite links it all up at her blog, and everyday there is a new post. There is lots of days to sign up for, so head to Sprite's to check out the details. I'm on tap for December 6th, and I've participated in the Advent Tour for a long, long time. It's one of my favourite Christmas (or your holiday) traditions. One year, I wrote about the Christmas books by Anne Perry, and another year, I focused on the Christmas editions of my favourite mystery series'.


My True Love Gave to Me (twelve holiday stories by young adult authors)
I've had this one I've had for a while from the library, and I am slowing reading the stories. I can't wait to get to the Jenny Han story as I've read her To All the Boys series throughout this year, and they are delightful.



A Christmas Message by Anne Perry
I've read many of Perry's Christmas novellas, as she has come up with a great concept - using minor characters from her Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Victorian police mystery series, stand-alone mysteries occur at Christmas. They are light, with characters that are somewhat familiar. This was my least favourite of the bunch, as much was set in Bethlehem, and there was too much religion and philosophy for my taste, not enough murder, although there was one murder. I'll still listen to or read another in this series, as they are quite short, but I hope the next one I read is better.



Alaskan Holiday by Debbie Macomber
I read this holiday book last year, and it was my first Macomber book ever. Sadly, probably my last, as I spent most of the book being annoyed by the characters and the gaping plot points. But to be fair, I don't read a lot of romance books for exactly this reason, and it was kinda fun to yell at the characters, like a Hallmark Christmas movie. It was alternately narrated by a male and female, and one of the voices did an annoying voice for the 'comic' character, which didn't help. Oh well, now I don't have to read any more Macomber books, and she is very prolific!


Christmas on the Island by Jenny Colgan
Now this was a great Christmas read from last year. I picked this up at Indigo last year, purely based on the pretty cover and the simple description. I'm sure it had nothing to do with me living on an Island as well! This was set on an island off Scotland, and is part of a series (yay!) by an author who writes a nice, character driven style of book, reminding me of Maeve Binchy. Not a romance, not a mystery, just a nice story. I haven't read another Colgan book, but I definitely will.


Almost Midnight by Rainbow Rowell
Here's another book I read last year. A nice, easy read, these Two Festive Short Stories by Rainbow Rowell were very cute. One of them is actually in My True Love Gave to Me, my book from this year. I loved Eleanor & Park by Rowell,

Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
This is now a Netflix movie that I haven't seen yet, but I never mind taking the opportunity to recommend this delightful book. Each author wrote a short story, but the three stories are all connected in some way. It has been a long time since I read this, but it left a positive impression on me.

Here's a few new books on my radar:


Christmas Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
I was just noticing that I haven't read a Sophie Kinsella book in a long time, and once upon a time I read her new books as soon as they came out. This appears to be the lastest in the Shopaholic series, and I think I might have missed a couple. Kinsella books are so much fun, and I want to get back to reading her delightful books.


Christmas at the Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean
I didn't realize this book was newly published, containing five never published Christmas stories? Dave Cooks the Turkey is one of the funniest stories ever! It's hard to believe that it has been almost three years since Stuart McLean died, but at least his writing lives on.

We Met in December by Rosie Curtis
What is it about the British and their Christmas stories? This looks like it could have been one of the plot lines from Love, Actually, which is one of my favourite Christmas movies.
"Following a year in the life of a twenty-something British woman who falls hard for her London flat mate"

That's it for books from this year and last, and a few potential Christmas books. Here's a post I did last year of some of my favourite Christmas books. Some pretty awesome reads on that list!