Book Review: The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon

Title: The Boyfriend Project
Author: Farrah Rochon
Publisher: Forever
Publication date: June 9, 2020
Length: 345 pages
Genre: Contemporary romance
Source: Purchased

Rating: 4 out of 5.

If you love Jasmine Guillory, Abby Jimenez and Talia Hibbert, you’ll LOVE Farrah Rochon!

What happens when three women discover , thanks to the live tweeting of a disastrous date, that they’ve all been duped by the same man? They become friends of course!

Samiah Brooks never thought she would be ‘that’ girl. But a live tweet of a horrific date just revealed the painful truth: she’s been catfished by a three-timing jerk of a boyfriend. Suddenly Samiah – along with his two other ‘girlfriends’, London and Taylor – have gone viral online. Now the three new besties are making a pact to spend the next six months investing in themselves. No men, no dating, and no worrying about their relationship status…

For once Samiah is putting herself first, and that includes finally developing the app she’s always dreamed of creating. Which is the exact moment she meets the deliciously sexy, honey-eyed Daniel Collins at work. What are the chances? When it comes to love, there’s no such thing as a coincidence. But is Daniel really boyfriend material or is he maybe just a little too good to be true?

This book (and the trilogy as a whole) had been highly recommended to me, and I finally had a chance to dive in this week… and found it just the positive, friendship-centric romance that I needed.

In The Boyfriend Project, discovering a boyfriend is a cheater and a scammer is a blessing in disguise, as it brings together Samiah, Taylor, and London, three amazing women who have had terrible luck in finding worthy romantic partners. They’re each talented, smart, caring individuals, but somehow, the dating market in Austin seems to lead them nowhere.

After their confrontation with the cheater goes viral, the three connect and bond, and decide to devote the next six months to their own personal goals without the distraction of looking for a man. For Samiah, who has the starring role in this book, it means carving time out of her already busy life to focus on the app she’s dreamed of launching, although she already works around the clock at her demanding but fulfilling tech job.

Complications arise when she meets her company’s newest hire, Daniel, who’s clearly smitten with Samiah. What she doesn’t know — but we readers do — is that Daniel isn’t who he appears to be. Through chapters told from Daniel’s perspective, we learn that he’s a federal agent working undercover to bust a money laundering scheme running through Samiah’s company. He knows better than to get involved while on a case… but there’s no denying the connection the two feel, or their amazing chemisty.

The Boyfriend Project works well as a romance, but it’s also a terrific celebration of women’s friendship and the power it provides. I loved the way Samiah, Taylor, and London come together after their discovery of how they’d all been catfished — no cattiness or blaming, but instant support, empathy, and a shared sense of humor and encouragement. Taylor and London are supporting characters in this book, but I know that they each get their own starring roles in the other books in the trilogy, and I’m so looking forward to spending time with each of them.

I could quibble with a few elements of the book (and, okay, I will), but really these are essentially minor issues:

  • A little too much time spent on the tech details — I suppose it lends authenticity to Samiah’s work, but I didn’t need quite so much of the specifics.
  • Ditto for the details of the money laundering scheme. I’m not sure it all made sense, and maybe it’s meant to give substance to Daniel’s work, but this part of the story felt like a detour from the romantic plot (and mood), and I just wasn’t interested in the crime story aspects.
  • The sex scenes are graphic (per my steam factor ratings), which I can abide even though it’s not my preferred approach… but some of the writing in these scenes was just too cringey.

None of these quibbles stopped me from enjoying the book as a whole, and I still look forward to continuing the series.

Overall, The Boyfriend Project does a great job of keeping friendship at the forefront, even while focusing on the romance and the ups and downs involved with Samiah and Daniels’ story.

Next up in the series:


Book Review: One Summer in Savannah by Terah Shelton Harris

Title: One Summer in Savannah
Author: Terah Shelton Harris
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication date: July 4, 2023
Length: 464 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A compelling debut that glows with bittersweet heart and touching emotion, deeply interrogating questions of family, redemption, and unconditional love in the sweltering summer heat of Savannah, as two people discover what it means to truly forgive.

It’s been eight years since Sara Lancaster left her home in Savannah, Georgia. Eight years since her daughter, Alana, came into this world, following a terrifying sexual assault that left deep emotional wounds Sara would do anything to forget. But when Sara’s father falls ill, she’s forced to return home and face the ghosts of her past.

While caring for her father and running his bookstore, Sara is desperate to protect her curious, outgoing, genius daughter from the Wylers, the family of the man who assaulted her. Sara thinks she can succeed—her attacker is in prison, his identical twin brother, Jacob, left town years ago, and their mother are all unaware Alana exists. But she soon learns that Jacob has also just returned to Savannah to piece together the fragments of his once-great family. And when their two worlds collide—with the type of force Sara explores in her poetry and Jacob in his astrophysics—they are drawn together in unexpected ways.

One Summer in Savannah is a difficult book to describe. It’s the story of Sara, a woman in her mid-20s who swore she’d neve return to her home town of Savannah. At age 18, she was raped and then vilified at the trial that convicted the rapist, the gifted son of a very powerful old-money family. Upon discovering that she was pregnant, Sara fled to a state that doesn’t allow rapists parental rights and kept her daughter’s existence a secret from the Wyler family. Eight years later, when Sara’s father is ill and has limited time left, she reluctantly returns, still intending to keep Alana hidden from the Wylers.

Meanwhile, Jacob — identical twin to Daniel, the rapist — also returns to Savannah. Daniel is dying of leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant, and although Jacob cut his entire family out of his life after the trial, he can’t deny his brother the help he desperately needs.

As Sara and Jacob encounter one another, she recognizes his kindness and his own painful past, and allows him to begin tutoring Alana, a genius who needs the inspiration and guidance that Jacob can provide. Sara and Jacob each navigate their own paths toward healing, seeking ways to move forward after pain and loss.

I have to be honest — at 30%, I was about ready to put the book down. The writing style did not especially work for me — very stilted in places, and then overly reliant on imagery and metaphor in others. Beyond that, there were plot elements that seemed jarring or unlikely, such as:

  • Sara’s father has spoken only in poetry since her childhood. I mean, ONLY in poetry. He conducts conversations by reciting lines of poetry that are relevant to the situation, and those who are close to him seem to be able to understand and parse his meaning.
  • There’s also the fact that the main character ends up falling in love with the identical twin of the man who raped her. Jacob is a lovely, wonderful person — but the relationship never truly felt believable.
  • Everyone in the book is super special. Sara becomes a poet; Jacob is an astrophysicist; Daniel, we are told, was destined for great things (his mother insists that he would have cured cancer, if not for that awful girl who told lies about him and ruined his life); and Alana is a genius who solves unsolvable math equations and taught herself three languages by the age of eight. It’s all a bit much.
  • Another complaint — there are plot points that are referred to, but not shown. For example, Jacob helps Sara’s father write a letter to Sara which has a huge emotional impact on her, but we don’t see the letter. Another example — Daniel gives a TV interview in which he owns up to what he’s done, but we only hear about it in passing, rather than getting to glimpse what he said.

Meanwhile, Daniel and his mother Birdie remain fairly terrible until close the end, when they both get a sort of redemption, but I’m not sure we saw enough to feel that they actually earned it.

Themes of redemption and forgiveness are dominant throughout the story, and some scenes are moving — but overall, this book just didn’t work well for me. Too many discordant notes, too many details that felt false, and a writing style that keeps the characters at a distance for much of the story.

The Monday Check-In ~ 6/5/2023


My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.


It was not a good week last week…

I guess you could call it the domino effect of COVID. My husband returned from an overseas trip and was experiencing his usual jetlag… until we realized it wasn’t just jetlag. We had an emergency room visit due to COVID complications, but he’s now on the mend, thank goodness. Two days later, my son tested positive, and then over the weekend, it was my turn.

Amazingly, neither my son nor I had had COVID before — but admittedly, we were pretty lax about wearing masks and keeping our distance around the house.

In any case, after a miserable few days, we’re all bouncing back. On the plus side, my head has cleared enough for me to be able to start reading again!

What did I read during the last week?

The Serpent in Heaven (Gunnie Rose, #4) by Charlaine Harris: Such a great series! My review is here.

Queen Charlotte by Julia Quinn & Shonda Rhimes: A lovely read. My review is here.

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson: A memoir in graphic novel format, by the author of Nimona. I enjoyed it.

Half a Soul (Regency Faerie Tales, #1) by Olivia Atwater: Really enjoyable tale with unusual characters. My review is here.

One Summer in Savannah by Terah Shelton Harris: Review to follow.

And… one DNF:

Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling: I quite at 20%. Grim and confusing — and when I realized I just didn’t care enough to keep going, I felt relieved to put it down.

Pop culture & TV:

Due to the craziness of this week, I did very little streaming of any sort — but prior to all that, I finally got around to watching Downton Abbey: A New Era. Meh. It was basically a family reunion in search of a plot. Nice to see all the familiar faces again, but that’s about it.

Fresh Catch:

No new physical books this week, but I did pick up a few books from my wishlist thanks to Kindle deals:

Puzzle of the week:

This one was a lot trickier than I expected… although I worked on it while I had COVID, so that’s maybe a factor…

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon: I really needed something upbeat this week, and this seems to be a great choice.

Now playing via audiobook:

The Mostly True Story of Tanner & Louise by Colleen Oakley: I got through about 75% of this audiobook before I got sick, and haven’t gotten back to it yet. I’ve been loving it so far! Looking forward to finishing up in the next few days.

Ongoing reads:

My longer-term reading commitments:

Until our next group classic read starts, I’m down to just one ongoing book at the moment:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’re doing a group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. Coming up this week: Chapters 132 and 133 (of 155).

So many books, so little time…


Book Review: Half a Soul (Regency Faerie Tales, #1) by Olivia Atwater

Title: Half a Soul
Series: Regency Faerie Tales #1
Author: Olivia Atwater
Publisher: Orbit
Publication date: March 29, 2020
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

It’s difficult to find a husband in Regency England when you’re a young lady with only half a soul.

Ever since she was cursed by a faerie, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear or embarrassment – a condition which makes her prone to accidental scandal. Dora hopes to be a quiet, sensible wallflower during the London Season – but when the strange, handsome and utterly uncouth Lord Sorcier discovers her condition, she is instead drawn into dangerous and peculiar faerie affairs.

If Dora’s reputation can survive both her curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world. . . but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul.

Bridgerton meets Howl’s Moving Castle in this enchanting historical fantasy, where the only thing more meddlesome than faeries is a marriage-minded mother.

Pick up HALF A SOUL, and be stolen away into Olivia Atwater’s charming, magical version of Regency England!

Half a Soul is a fun, light-hearted romantic caper set in Regency England — and yet, there’s a darker element that’s unusual for this type of book, and it makes it very much worth checking out.

Dora is captured by a Lord of Faerie as a young child, and loses half her soul to him — only saved from losing her entire soul by the intervention of her devoted cousin Vanessa. But from that point onward, Dora experiences all emotions on a very low setting. She’s aware of feeling warmth toward her cousin, aware of things that seem wrong or might bother her, but it’s all very distant.

As a result, Dora has a hard time following society’s rules — she has no in-built filter to make her feel uncomfortable when she steps out of line (which is often).

After the Napoleonic War, England’s head magician, known as the Lord Sorcier, is both a hero and an object of scorn. High society is forced to accept him, but they neither like nor trust him. Still, he may be the only person who has a shot at restoring to Dora what was lost — but as their paths cross, their focus instead turns to the wretched conditions in London’s workhouses and an insidious, seemingly incurable plague that strikes the poorest of children.

The plot of Half a Soul is interesting and offers new twists on tales of enchantment and the dangers of being stolen away to the world of Faerie. Dora and Elias (the Lord Sorcier) have a strong connection, and I enjoyed seeing them work together to solve problems, right wrongs, and reclaim Dora’s missing soul.

The supporting characters are quite enjoyable too, and I appreciated how Dora and Elias are united in their commitment to force their friends and relatives to see the underlying ugliness and imbalances of their world and take action to help.

Half a Soul is a quick, light read, with entertaining plot twists and interesting approaches to the conflict between the human and Faerie worlds. As a bonus, the book also includes a novella, Lord Sorcier, that provides a prequel look at Elias’s backstory — it’s very good and sheds new light on on how Elias became who he is in Half a Soul.

Half a Soul is the first in a loosely-connected trilogy (Regency Faerie Tales), and I’m looking forward to reading more!

Book Review: Queen Charlotte by Julia Quinn & Shonda Rhimes

Title: Queen Charlotte
Authors: Julia Quinn & Shonda Rhimes
Publisher: Avon
Publication date: May 9, 2023
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Julia Quinn and television pioneer Shonda Rhimes comes a powerful and romantic novel of Bridgerton’s Queen Charlotte and King George III’s great love story and how it sparked a societal shift, inspired by the original series Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story, created by Shondaland for Netflix.

“We are one crown. His weight is mine, and mine is his…”

In 1761, on a sunny day in September, a King and Queen met for the very first time. They were married within hours.

Born a German Princess, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was beautiful, headstrong, and fiercely intelligent… not precisely the attributes the British Court had been seeking in a spouse for the young King George III. But her fire and independence were exactly what she needed, because George had secrets… secrets with the potential to shake the very foundations of the monarchy.

Thrust into her new role as a royal, Charlotte must learn to navigate the intricate politics of the court… all the while guarding her heart, because she is falling in love with the King, even as he pushes her away. Above all she must learn to rule, and to understand that she has been given the power to remake society. She must fight—for herself, for her husband, and for all her new subjects who look to her for guidance and grace. For she will never be just Charlotte again. She must instead fulfill her destiny… as Queen.

Fans of the Bridgerton series will absolutely want to grab a copy of this prequel, which focuses on the early love story of Queen Charlotte and King George III.

As a preface by none other than Lady Whistledown herself makes clear, this isn’t meant to be a history lesson… so go into this romantic, often heartbreaking and just as often uplifting story with an open mind, and accept that this book is not attempting to stick to the historical facts.

First, the context: Queen Charlotte (the Netflix series) has already aired, so I would guess that most people reading the novel have already watched the series and have the basics of the story firmly in mind. Yes, the book was written by Julia Quinn based on the scripts written by Shonda Rhimes — and yet, it’s a fully developed novel with fresh perspectives and points of view, not just a rehash of what we’ve already seen on the screen.

In the novel, Queen Charlotte’s story is told through four shifting points of view: We get chapters from the perspectives of Charlotte, George, Agatha (Lady Danbury), and Brimsley, Charlotte’s faithful servant. Through their thoughts and voices, the story opens up in ways not possible on the screen, and getting scenes from these shifting perspectives offers insights that might not otherwise have been apparent.

Interestingly, the novel sticks with Shonda Rhimes’s vision of the ton as shown in the Bridgerton TV series — a thoroughly integrated society including all races. This is decidedly not the case in Julia Quinn’s original Bridgerton books, but in Queen Charlotte (the novel), we’re sticking with Shonda’s version. Here, we get the origin story — Queen Charlotte has brown skin and is of African descent, which is most shocking to Princess Augusta, mother of the King.

What to do? Look foolish and admit that she wasn’t aware of this when the bargain for the marriage was struck? Or, make it look intentional by launching “the Great Experiment” — essentially, claim that it was the Crown’s intention to integrate society all along, and marrying Charlotte to the King is an important first step in achieving this goal. Hastily, on the day of the royal wedding, upper class black members of the London world (but not the ton) are elevated to nobility. How can anyone doubt the Crown’s intentions, when there are so many new Lords and Ladies as proof?

The true heart of the story is the romance between Charlotte and George. While meeting only on their wedding day, they find connection and chemistry and seemed poised for true happiness — until George pushes Charlotte firmly away with no explanation, insisting that they live separately.

I won’t go into further plot details — the “madness” of King George III is well known as historical fact (although a specific diagnosis has never been completely established). George’s mental illness is the central tragedy of this story, driving a sharp wedge between him and Charlotte even as she struggles to understand. Their love proves to be unshakable even in the face of this unconquerable barrier. The book captures all the powerful romance of the TV version, and it’s lovely.

I loved getting to know Brimsley more through his chapters, and Agatha Danbury is just as wonderful here as expected. Some elements of the TV version are omitted, most notably the friendships and interactions between the women characters later in life; Violet Bridgerton is completely absent, and the related storyline involving Agatha is omitted as well. That’s fine, though — the book is still strong and full of emotion, and doesn’t feel like it’s missing anything.

Having finished the book within 24 hours of starting it (I dare you to put it down once you start!), I’m really pining for more time with these characters… and have a feeling I’ll be doing a rewatch of the TV version before two long.

Meanwhile, for all the Bridgerton fans, Queen Charlotte is a must-read!

Book Review: The Serpent in Heaven (Gunnie Rose, #4) by Charlaine Harris

Title: The Serpent in Heaven
Series: Gunnie Rose, #4
Author: Charlaine Harris
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: November 15, 2022
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Fantasy / speculative fiction
Source: Library

Rating: 4 out of 5.

#1 New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Charlaine Harris returns to her alternate history of the United States where magic is an acknowledged but despised power in this fourth installment of the Gunnie Rose series.

Felicia, Lizbeth Rose’s half-sister and a student at the Grigori Rasputin school in San Diego—capital of the Holy Russian Empire—is caught between her own secrets and powerful family struggles. As a granddaughter of Rasputin, she provides an essential service to the hemophiliac Tsar Alexei, providing him the blood transfusions that keep him alive. Felicia is treated like a nonentity at the bedside of the tsar, and at the school she’s seen as a charity case with no magical ability. But when Felicia is snatched outside the school, the facts of her heritage begin to surface. Felicia turns out to be far more than the Russian-Mexican Lizbeth rescued. As Felicia’s history unravels and her true abilities become known, she becomes under attack from all directions. Only her courage will keep her alive.

Ah, I love this series, and book #4 is a great addition to the ongoing story! Because I’ve basically read them all in a row, I didn’t bother reading the synopsis before starting The Serpent in Heaven… and was very startled to realize that we’d shifted main character and point of view!

In the first three books in the Gunnie Rose series, all events have been narrated by (and centered around)… well… Gunnie Rose herself. Lizbeth Rose, a sharpshooter/gunslinger from the nation of Texoma, whose skill with guns keeps her and her crew safe and protected, has been the focal point of the series, even as we meet her network of friends, allies, and (in book #1) her previously unknown half-sister Felicia.

The 3rd book ends with Lizbeth happily married and relatively safe with her beloved Eli back in Texoma, after a dangerous rescue mission in the Holy Russian Empire (our California and Oregon), so I suppose it shouldn’t have been a complete surprise to see the focus shift elsewhere. Let Lizbeth have a little downtime!

In this 4th book, Lizbeth’s younger sister Felicia takes center stage. Felicia has always been something of a question mark. When we first meet her, she appears to be about age 10 or 11, raised in poverty in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico by an unreliable father — a Russian grigori (magician) barely getting by, with a very shady past, who also happens to be Lizbeth’s father. When Lizbeth discovers Felicia, she’s on her own and unprotected, and Lizbeth decides to see her safely sheltered in San Diego, where she can get an education at the grigori school… and also fulfill her destiny as a blood donor for the ailing Tsar.

What’s been hinted at, but finally becomes clear here, is that Felicia has a store of great magical power herself, and that she’s also quite a few years older than she appeared to be. With her father’s influence now gone, the anti-aging spells he’d placed on her have dissipated, and Felicia has quickly grown into the size and appearance of her true age, fifteen.

Felicia also becomes the subject of a botched kidnapping plot, and soon learns that her mother was the descendant of a powerful magical family in Mexico, who now want Felicia back. What follows is a dangerous scheme to gain control of Felicia, involving raids on the school and other types of interference and infiltration. Meanwhile, the school and the city are ravaged by the Spanish influenza, and Felicia finds herself needing to draw on her strange new powers in order to survive and protect the people she cares about.

As the story unfolds, Felicia really blossoms as a lead character, and her alliance with the older, powerful grigori Felix as well as her puppy-love first romance with Peter give her interesting characters to bounce off of (and get into trouble with). The involvement of her maternal family adds a huge element of threat and conspiracy, and the action is quite good and unrelenting.

While the main plot threads are mostly tied up by the end of the book, there are many open questions still to be resolved. I really enjoyed Felicia as the main character, although I missed spending time with Lizbeth and Eli and can’t wait to see them back in action.

The series continues with book #5, All the Dead Shall Weep, to be published in September. At this point, I’m totally invested and can’t wait for more (so I may need to read the ARC for #5 early, rather than waiting until the publication date is a little closer).

I’m so glad I was introduced to this terrific series thanks to my book group. Highly recommended!

Up next: All the Dead Shall Weep – #5 in the Gunnie Rose series

Top Ten Tuesday: Things That Make Me Instantly NOT Want to Read a Book

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Things That Make Me Instantly NOT Want to Read a Book (what are your immediate turn-offs or dealbreakers when it comes to books?). I read pretty broadly, so it’s hard to come up with absolute dealbreakers — but there are some genres, covers, and other elements that tend to be big NOs for me.

My top 10:

  1. This kind of cover:

Book covers with shirtless men are SO unappealing to me (and how hilarious is it that there are websites that provide templates exactly for this purpose?)

2. Overly dramatic historical romances: I do enjoy Regency fiction, so no disrespect, but in general, Regency or other historical romances that are serious (as opposed to humorous or spoofy) rarely appeal to me. So… the book on the left might be a maybe for me, but the book on the right would not. (Of course, there are exceptions, such as the fact that I gobbled up the entire Bridgerton series…)

3. Gimmicky comparisons — if the blurb says that a book is the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games, chance are (a) I won’t believe it and (b) I won’t read it.

4. Literary fiction: Not a hard and fast rule, but I’ve learned over the years that the big award winners tend not to be my kind of books.

5. Spies and/or military action. No tanks or submarines for me, thanks (although I had a brief Tom Clancy phase many, many years ago).

6. Crime/thriller/domestic thriller genres: There are exceptions, but overall, I’m just not into it. No interest in murders, blackmail, cheating spouses, corporate drama, nannies with secret identities…

7. Movie tie-in covers: This isn’t a deal-breaker… but movie tie-in covers are a big turnoff for me, and I won’t pick them up unless I really and truly want the book and there are no other options.

8. Lack of worldbuilding: This applies especially to science fiction or fantasy, but if the world-building or basic scene-setting isn’t strong enough, I’m not going to stick with the book (or I’ll finish, but I’ll be mad about it.)

9. Sequels that come out so many years after the first/previous book that I’ve stopped caring. (Pretty self-explanatory, right?)

10. Plotlines about social media influencers: This is a minor issue and easy enough to avoid, but if I pick up a book to consider and see a character described as an influencer, I put it down in a hurry. Nope, nope, nope.

That’s all I can think of! It was hard to get to 10… I guess there really isn’t all that much I’d consider an absolute dealbreaker when it comes to picking up a book.

How about you? What instantly makes you not want a book?

If you wrote a TTT post, please share your link!

The Monday Check-In ~ 5/29/2023


My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.


After two weeks of solitude, people are back at my house! It’s nice to hear other people bustling around once again. (Of course, I did do quite a bit of reading and TV watching while I had the house to myself, but I still prefer it when my family is home.)

What did I read during the last week?

The Woman Beyond the Sea by Sarit Yishai-Levi: A novel about family secrets and trauma that carry down through three generations. My review is here.

The Russian Cage (Gunnie Rose, #3) by Charlaine Harris: I’m loving this series! My review is here.

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein: My books group’s pick for May. I really enjoyed this classic sci-fi adventure! My review is here.

Pop culture & TV:

I went out to another movie! This time, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy, vol. 3 — and found myself pretty unengaged most of the time. The novelty has worn off, I guess, and the movie seemed to drag on forever. Maybe I’m just done with Marvel at this point?

For streaming this week, I watching XO Kitty on Netflix, which was quick, light, and cute. It’s the story of the little sister from To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, now a high school junior who impetuously decides to study abroad in Korea for the year (mainly so she can be with her long-distance boyfriend). It was very entertaining, and it actually went in some directions that I didn’t anticipate!

Also this week, I watched the Survivor (season 44) finale, and definitely had thoughts. You can check out my reaction, here.

Fresh Catch:

I bought used copies of my book group’s next two classic reads:

We’ll be starting Cold Comfort Farm in June, and will likely start Daniel Deronda sometime in early fall.

Puzzle of the week:

I’m back on a roll with doing puzzles! This was a fun, bright 1,000-piece puzzle from Eeboo — and I jammed through it about a day.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Queen Charlotte by Julia Quinn and Shonda Rhimes: I’m so excited to start this book!

Now playing via audiobook:

The Serpent in Heaven (Gunnie Rose, #4) by Charlaine Harris: How could I resist? After this book, I’ll be caught up with the series until the new book comes out in the fall.

Ongoing reads:

My longer-term reading commitments:

Until our next group classic read starts, I’m down to just one ongoing book at the moment:

  • Go Tell the Bees That I Am Gone by Diana Gabaldon: Over at Outlander Book Club, we’re doing a group read of BEES, reading and discussing two chapters per week. Coming up this week: Chapters 130 and 131 (of 155).

So many books, so little time…


Book Review: Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein

Title: Citizen of the Galaxy
Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Publication date: 1957
Length: 282 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Purchased

Rating: 4 out of 5.

In a distant galaxy, the atrocity of slavery was alive and well, and young Thorby was just another orphaned boy sold at auction. But his new owner, Baslim, is not the disabled beggar he appears to be: adopting Thorby as his son, he fights relentlessly as an abolitionist spy. When the authorities close in on Baslim, Thorby must ride with the Free Traders — a league of merchant princes — throughout the many worlds of a hostile galaxy, finding the courage to live by his wits and fight his way from society’s lowest rung. But Thorby’s destiny will be forever changed when he discovers the truth about his own identity…

What a treat to “discover” a classic sci-fi that I might have missed if not for my book group. This was an unusual choice for us, but we do like to mix things up on occasion, and I’m so glad Citizen of the Galaxy made this year’s list!

Citizen of the Galaxy is the story of Thorby, a boy captured and enslaved at such a young age that he has no memory of anything else. Alone, mistreated, and hopeless, he’s sold at auction to a beggar named Baslim the Cripple, who is not at all what he seems. Baslim raises Thorby with love, morality, and an education. Upon Baslim’s death, teenaged Thorby must escape from the repressive planet they lived on and find his own way, assisted by subliminal messages implanted in his mind by Baslim. From there, Thorby’s adventures take him to a family of Free Traders, a military ship, and finally back to Terra, where he discovers his true origins once and for all.

This is a fast-paced book, and Thorby is a sympathetic, likable main character. His adventures take us into unusually structured societies which are fascinating to read about. Ultimately, as he reclaims his heritage on Terra and assumes adult responsibilities, he realizes that freedom isn’t about running off to follow his heart’s desire, but taking on the job he knows he needs to do in order to fix at least some of his family’s wrong-doings.

I had a great time reading Citizen of the Galaxy, although the final sections bog down a bit in untangling corporate schemes and dealing with the legal system. Still, this is a top-notch science fiction from an earlier era of sci-fi writing, and I appreciate the messages and themes tucked in amidst the fun and action.

It’s been ages since I’ve read any Heinlein, and Citizen of the Galaxy has sparked my interest in reading more.

Are you a Heinlein fan? Any favorites to recommend?

TV Time: Survivor, Season 44

Another season of Survivor has come and gone — and color me surprised, but this was a good one! While I felt fairly unenthused during the early episodes, by the back half of the season, I was all in.

Mainly, I think this is due to particularly good casting this time around. While the players eliminated in the first half have already completely been erased from my memory, the players who made the merge and beyond were, for the most part, interesting, entertaining, and full of surprises.

For the most part… there were still a few in there who made zero impression, but overall — great job, casting team!

Cast from SURVIVOR Season 44. — Photo: Robert Voets/CBS ©2022 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Survivor has been around a LONG time by now, and while the show continues to add new twists, some basics remain. There are challenges, there are alliances, there are players making overly orgasmic sounds when Jeff mentions food…

Fortunately, some of the most annoying gimmicks from past seasons were not included this time around — fire tokens, redemption island, the prisoner’s dilemma option. One fun new element this season was the appearance of locked bird cages with advantages inside — seeing the players frantically try to find keys, figure out their options, and either conceal or reveal their advantages was goofy and silly entertainment.

By the end, there was a core trio who worked their way from underdog status, outnumbered by members of other tribes, to running the game, and I loved them. Carolyn, Carson, and Yam Yam were delightful — solid alliance, really interesting and quirky people, and great game play.

Unfortunately, Carson lost the fire challenge, making him the final jury member rather than earning a seat in the final three. I would have loved to see these three (#TikaStrong #ThreeStooges) battling it out at final tribal, but sadly that was not to be. Instead, a player who I never particularly noticed, Heidi, ended up at the final, and the win went to Yam Yam.

I was mostly okay with the end results. I was a Carolyn fan all the way, and can’t believe she didn’t get a single vote. I liked Yam Yam, and had he not been up against Carolyn, I would have been excited for his win. I can’t quite figure out what the the jury was thinking, except maybe they didn’t see the amount of strategy Carolyn was applying day by day. The TV edit made it clear that behind her outbursts and kookiness, Carolyn was super smart and was on top of every element of the game, but who knows? Maybe the jury just didn’t get that from the tribal council sessions.

My main complaint about the current Survivor format remains the fire challenge — once it’s down to four players, the person who wins the final immunity challenge picks one person to make it to the final three, and the remaining two have to compete to see who makes fire faster. And that’s just a dumb way to have people get to the end.

In this season, Heidi won the last immunity challenge, and made the decision to give up immunity and build fire against Carson, giving Carolyn and Yam Yam seats in the final three. Heidi did this, apparently, to build her Survivor “resume” and show the jury what a great competitor she was. A couple of problems with this: She played a really lackluster game throughout — I never particularly paid attention to her, or noticed anything special about her strategy. She also chose Carson to go up against in fire building, and it was clear that all four of the remaining players knew he was weakest at fire.

So yes, you could call it a risk to give up immunity and do the fire challenge, except I’m sure she realized that Carson wouldn’t have much of a chance. If you want to really go big, battle Carolyn or Yam Yam!

As expected, Heidi won the fire challenge, and then was declared to have set a record for making the fastest fire in Survivor history. But… who cares? She kept bragging about it at the final tribal, but how does that matter? It’s one fire. What about the rest of the season?

Fortunately, the jury ultimately wasn’t impressed enough to vote for her (except for Danny, who was her closest ally all along), and the win went to Yam Yam. He’s terrific, and like I said, I’d be happy for him in any other season.

The winner of Survivor 44

Funny, all of my real life friends who watch Survivor were Team Carolyn all the way to the end, and we all were shocked at the outcome. I hope they bring her and Carson back for future seasons. Justice for Carolyn!

See the bottom of this post for more Carolyn love and some great news!

Re Carson, I loved his enthusiasm, his nerdy dedication to the game, and how much he blossomed playing the show. This is the engineering student who 3D-printed past Survivor puzzles at home prior to playing, so he killed it every single time he had a puzzle to do. Good for Carson — he was smart to give himself every possible advantage — but I hope Survivor now retires all past puzzles and starts fresh!

My #1 plea to Survivor production: Get rid of the fire challenge! It’s been done to death at this point, and is such an unsatisfactory way to determine who gets to the final. I’ve talked about this before, so I’ll just copy and paste my earlier thoughts on this here:

There’s got to be a way that’s better than a fire-making challenge for determining the final three. Maybe when it’s down to four, you have one person win immunity, then let the remaining three battle it out for the next two spots? Otherwise, the one who wins that particular immunity challenge gets an outsized amount of power.

I hate seeing weak players at final tribal, with great players voted out (or eliminated by fire) in the 4th or 5th position. I get it — you want to win, so you try to make sure you’re sitting next to someone you can beat. But wouldn’t it be cool to have three amazing players at the end, each with a really strong argument to pitch to the jury?

The fire challenge has to go. The tribes make fire at camp every single day. So making one fire on one day, faster than your competitor, doesn’t make you more deserving of the Survivor prize. It just means you got lucky that particular day.

If I wanted to dwell on a #2 complaint (which has nothing to do with gameplay), I’d say ditch the immediate reading of votes and the afterparty. Granted, it must suck to be a player and have to wait a year for the reunion show and reading of the votes, as they used to handle this pre-pandemic. Still, how can the finalists — especially the two who didn’t end up winning — get into the mood of the party when they literally JUST found out they lost, and they’re still sitting there unwashed and tired after 26 days? Let them at least take showers and put on clean clothes first!


All in all, a fun season to watch. Jeff Probst’s hosting remains terrific — I love his play-by-play narration of the challenges and the way he handles tribal council. The emergencies early on added some drama, and overall strong casting made this group really entertaining to watch week after week.

I still intend (at some point) to go back and watch one or two earlier seasons that I missed. Meanwhile, I’ll look forward to whatever fresh twists show up in season 45 this fall!

And now, back to the person I truly thought deserved to win this season…

Here’s a quick scene that shows just a little of Carolyn’s personality and quirkiness:

On the #JusticeforCarolyn front, it was welcome news to hear she’d received the Sia Award! (Sia is a huge Survivor fan, and awards money to her favorite player each season). This time around, Sia gave three awards — the biggie went to Carolyn ($100,000), with two smaller awards to Carson and Lauren ($15,000 each). Great choices, no question. Here’s Carolyn’s reaction to the news, being (as always) very Carolyn about the whole thing:

And here’s an entire piece on the glory of Carolyn:

Wrapping it all up:

Despite some unevenness early on, this ended up being one of the best Survivor seasons in recent years. As I mentioned, many of the folks voted off in early episodes are completely gone from my memory, but the second half of the season more than made up for an earlier duds.

The next season airs in September. As always, I feel pretty skeptical when I watch the trailer for the upcoming season — these always feel kind of samey. But, after the fun of season 44, I’m willing to remain open-minded and hope the casting pays off once again.