sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

May 31, 2022

top ten comfort read qualities
posted by soe 1:07 am

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic from That Artsy Reader Girl invites us to share comfort reads — either titles if you have specific books you return to week after week or the qualities that you look for when the world is hard.

Here are ten things I’m considering when I need a book not to be one of my 99 problems:

  1. A reread of a book I’ve loved. These are all over the place in terms of audience and genre, but they were all five-star reads.
  2. A happy ending. I don’t want ambivalent and I don’t want tears.
  3. Cozy mysteries are often good for the previous item.
  4. As are romance novels.
  5. Retellings of traditional tales — such as Jane Austen’s works, Little Women, and the Sherlock Holmes series — are often solid contenders. Much like the previous two items, retellings have a generally reliable structure.
  6. 350 pages or fewer. This is not the time for a sweeping saga.
  7. Likable main characters. Overall, I prefer this anyway, but an unlikable main character is immediately getting that book put down when I’m in a mood.
  8. Sometimes combining words with pictures — like in a collection of comics or a graphic novel — is called for. But that one can be tricky, and it only works singly. I never binge read more than one.
  9. A new book in a favorite series or by a favorite author can help a grumpy mood.
  10. When all else fails, I turn to middle grade fiction.

How about you? What do you look for in a comfort read? And do you have particular ones you turn to in times of trouble?

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May 30, 2022

into the stacks 2022: historical fiction, part 1
posted by soe 1:35 am

Back in February, I joined Marg’s Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, and that was the last we spoke of it publicly here on the blog. However, it’s not the last I thought of it, and I’ve been diligently reading historical fiction ever since. These are the six titles I finished between February and May.

Fortune Favors the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

Set primarily in New York City in 1945, this is the first of a fun detective series, Pentecost and Parker, about two female PI’s. Lillian Pentecost is on a case that’s very personal to her when her M.S. acts up on a job and a young circus performer, “Will” Parker, saves her life. Impressed by the girl’s wherewithal — and subsequent tight lips when interviewed by the police — Lillian offers her a job as her secretary and apprentice. As this case begins, Will’s been with Lillian for three years and has become more of a junior partner and surrogate daughter. A wealthy woman died in a locked room. A spiritualist Lillian’s been keeping an eye on over the years had been telling fortunes immediately before, which means Pentecost and Parker are on the case. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that the dead woman’s grown daughter has caught Will’s eye.

If you’re a fan of Sherlock Holmes retellings or reinterpretations, this is a fun series by a D.C. author and a good listen if you’re on the hunt for an audiobook. It’s not a direct retelling, but Holmes and Watson (and Moriarty) are definitely relatives.

Audio. Library. 321 pages

A Rogue of One’s Own by Evie Dunmore

The second in the League of Extraordinary Women romance series set in Oxford during the British suffragist movement, this novel focuses on Lucie, who is heading a group of women attempting to buy a publishing house with the secret goal of printing a treatise about women and voting. When they finally get the paperwork, though, they discover a hiccup: Lucie’s longtime nemesis, Lord Tristan Ballantine, has also purchased the publishing house, and he and Lucie will have to sign off on all decisions. Can Lucie bring noted lothario Tristan around to their feminist cause? It’s going to be a tough sell, because Tristan’s abusive father has threatened to send his mentally unwell mother to an asylum if he doesn’t shape up publicly — and fast.

While I didn’t find this installment of the interconnected novels to be as enjoyable as the first, there is still plenty to charm and inform in this book. Dunmore includes an author’s note at the end to share where her fiction has diverged from history.

Paper. Library. 448 pages

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

Set in Edwardian England, genial Robin is a muggle, if you will, unaware that magic exists — until he accidentally gets placed in a minor governmental position that has him reporting instances of magical goings-on to the Prime Minister. Prickly Edward is his magical counterpart, but he’s barely able to perform spells and only if he has a physical aid to help him focus his magic. When Robin is cursed by a stranger on the street who seems to think he knows something about the disappearance of his predecessor, Edward must take Robin home to his family estate’s library to help remove it. While there, the two men find they have more in common than they’d originally thought — and that the fate of magic itself may rest in their hands.

I really enjoyed this first book in a new fantasy-romance series and highly recommend it. I will note that, as with some of the hetero romances I read, this would decidedly fall into an “R” rating, and you might not want to, say, pick this as an audiobook to listen to with your parents on a road trip.

Audio. Library. 377 pages

The Daughter of Sherlock Holmes by Leonard Goldberg

In the first book of this series, it is 1914, Sherlock Holmes is dead, and Dr. Watson an old man. But he is well loved by his son, John Jr., a doctor who visits him frequently. When the elder Watson is asked to consult on an apparent suicide by the dead man’s sister, they are introduced to quick-witted Joanna Blalock, whose young son witnessed the defenestration. As you might guess from the title, we learn that she’s not just an above-average widow, but is also the late detective’s illegitimate daughter, placed with an adoptive family by Dr. Watson so many years ago.

This was a pleasant enough spin-off of the original Arthur Conan Doyle series, but isn’t my favorite Holmesian work. However, you can absolutely listen to this with your parents.

Paper. Library. 305 pages

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In this retelling of Mexican folklore, Casiopea is a Cinderella-like young woman stuck in a small town, forced to wait on her tyrannical grandfather and cousin because her mother married below her class and her father then had the nerve to die. One day when the rest of the family is away, Casiopea opens a wooden box and accidentally releases Hun-Kamé, the Mayan god of death, who’d been imprisoned there by her grandfather in service to the other twin god of death, Vucub-Kamé. She is then forced to accompany him on a sweeping trip across Jazz Age Mexico in an effort to collect his other missing bones and to return him to his otherwordly throne. But his brother didn’t dethrone his brother just to give up without a fight.

While it took me two years to finish this book, that’s only because it lived in my beach bag and I only read it by the ocean — and we just didn’t make it to the shore quite often enough. This is a very well crafted story of the intersections of religions, familial rivalries, and believing in yourself, and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Paper. Personal copy. 338 pages

An Impossible Impostor by Deanna Raybourn

In the latest Victorian-era Veronica Speedwell detective novel, the head of the Special Branch, Sir Hugo Montgomerie, asks Veronica and Stoker to investigate whether a man who has shown up at his goddaughter’s estate home claiming to be her long-lost brother is legitimate or if he’s a phony. Veronica may be the only person in the world who can verify his identity, since she traveled with him as a very young woman and last saw him as he headed off toward Krakatoa on an ill-fated exploration. When the man and family jewels disappear the same night, the family makes assumptions, but Veronica may know more than she’s letting on.

A solid contribution to a reliable series. If you haven’t read any of them, start at the beginning, as there is continuity that will be disrupted by reading ahead, although Raybourn does reference with footnotes which books key events happen in should you be jumping into the middle of the story.

Paper. Library. 325 pages

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May 28, 2022

into the stacks 2022: january and february
posted by soe 1:48 am

I finished five books during the first two months of the year:

Christmas with Anne and Other Stories by L.M. Montgomery

Anchored by chapters from two of the Christmases at Green Gables from the Anne series, this collection of holiday stories is everything you’d expect from L.M. Montgomery. There are orphans whose stories end happily. There are reunifications with long-lost family members and healed feuds with bosom friends and good deeds aplenty. There is lots of tugging on the heartstrings, some of which are tuned rather melodramatically. But in the end, we don’t want Christmas stories that end with meanness or want or death. And L.M. Montgomery will give you only Christmases that end with laughter and family and warmth.

If you have liked other compilations of Montgomery’s works, you’ll also enjoy this one. If you’re allergic to sentimentality, I’d give this a pass.

Audio. Library. 224 pages

The Holiday Switch by Tif Marcelo

Set in a town where one of the most famous Christmas romance movies was filmed, a high school senior and a college freshman are thrown together in a workplace enemies-to-friends holiday YA novel. She’s trying to earn some extra money for college. He’s staying with his aunt for the holidays and being guilted into helping out at her hotel gift shop. One day, they inadvertently pick up the wrong phone and discover each other’s guiltiest secret.

A sweet Filipino-American holiday romance. I’d recommend this one to anyone looking for something heartwarming to read over cocoa in between repeats of The Holiday and this year’s newest made-for-tv Christmas films.

Paper. Library. 272 pages

Meet Me in London by Georgia Toffolo

A young designer turned bartender turned fashion instructor meets a man she thinks is managing the holiday opening of the high-end department store on her block. He offers to showcase her designs and to let her students put on a show on their launch day … in exchange for her pretending to be his fiancee for a few weeks until his parents come to town. But first, it turns out that his family owns the store. And second his ne’er-do-well cousin and her skeevy ex seem to be teaming up to tear down their maybe-no-longer-so-fake relationship. And, finally, she has a secret she’s convinced will ruin things anyway.

This was … fine. Honestly, I’d forgotten that I’d read it. But if you’re looking for a holiday romance, there are worse.

Paper. Library. 336 pages

Faith: Taking Flight by Julie Murphy

Apparently (and I didn’t know this until I finished the book), Faith is a superhero who appears in a number of comic books put out between the early ’90s and today. Julie Murphy, who excels at telling stories of young working class women, imagines an origin story for this queer, plus-sized teenager who lives with her grandmother, hangs out with her two best friends, writes for the school newspaper (and anonymously runs a blog about her favorite tv show), and works at the town’s animal shelter. But unknown to her loved ones, she has also survived an experiment that has imbued her with the ability to fly, a talent which she’s trying to keep under wraps, at least until her grandmother wanders off, a classmate disappears, and one of her BFFs is charged with murder.

Murphy does a great job imagining how a newly awakened superhero might struggle with maintaining a secret identity and being a teenager. Since I haven’t read the comics featuring Faith Herbert/Zephyr, I can’t speak to how true this feels to the original character. But now that I’ve read this book, I would read the comic, so I hope that says something.

Paper. Library. 304 pages

Blackout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon

This collection of interconnected romance stories follows six Black teens or teen couples as a blackout strikes New York City. There’s the story of two exes who show up to compete against each other for an internship in Harlem who have to walk all the way back to Brooklyn. Two classmates get stuck in the same subway car. Childhood friends are locked in the library (maybe sort of on purpose). And more.

I’m not a huge fan of short story collections, but this one was fun. You catch glimpses of the other characters as you make your way through the book toward the final scene where they all find themselves back in Brooklyn. While some of the stories were more self-contained than others, each of them solid enough on its own and well-integrated as a combined entity.

Recommended for any reader who likes teen love stories.

Paper. Library. 256 pages

More to come as I try to get caught up with my reading reports before midsummer.

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May 27, 2022

ref, character, and family
posted by soe 1:00 am

Another Rainy Day, Another Rainbow (or Two)

Honestly, it’s been a hard week for all of us. But these are the weeks when we have to find the things that give us light. Here are three beautiful things from my past week:

1. My Saturday volleyball league is helmed by a really nice guy, John, who brought a case of water with him and made sure we paused in between sets to cool off in the shade and rehydrate on the hottest day of the year so far. Plus, he carried that water and a volleyball net plus a solar charging pad, battery, and other assorted odds and ends to the field on his scooter.

2. As I was walking to the farmers market yesterday, I passed a cyclist who looked to be about my mother’s age. His bike was outfitted with spoke beads and a music speaker, and he was sporting a velour duster and a blue mohawk bike helmet.

3. My brother and brother-not-in-law are visiting the northeast this week, and my brother texted me a photo of them and my parents together.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world lately?

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May 26, 2022

posted by soe 1:02 am

“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —

And sweetest — in the Gale — is heard —
And sore must be the storm —
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm —

I’ve heard in in the chillest land —
And on the strangest Sea —
Yet — never — in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of me.

      ~Emily Dickinson

Category: arts. There is/are 1 Comment.

May 24, 2022

three bookish quotes
posted by soe 1:24 am

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic from That Artsy Reader Girl invites us to share quotes from books. While I love to quote books (ask Rudi how often I demand he stop doing something to listen while I read aloud), I don’t often record them someplace permanent. So instead of ten items, as would be normal on a Tuesday, I give you three: two quotes from my current reads and one from 2001, when I had a reading journal with a section for favorite passages:

“Literature duplicates the experience of living in a way that nothing else can, drawing you so fully into another life that you temporarily forget you have one of your own.” – Barbara Kingsolver, High Tide in Tucson

“The willingness to take a beating: That’s how you know you’re dealing with a man of substance. A man like that doesn’t linger on the sidelines throwing gasoline on someone else’s fire; and he doesn’t go home unscathed. He presents himself front and center, undaunted, prepared to stand his ground until he can’t stand at all.” – Amor Towles, The Lincoln Highway

“There were more books than the space seemed to allow. This is not unusual. Books, after all, have their own peculiar gravity, given the collective weight of words and thoughts and ideas. Just as the gravitational field around a black hole bends and wobbles the space around it, so, too, does the tremendous mass of ideas of a large collection of books create its own dense gravity. Space gets funny around books.” – Kelly Barnhill, The Ogress and the Orphans

How about you? Do you have favorite passages from books?

Category: books. There is/are 4 Comments.