Off I go… see you soon!

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go.

It’s vacation time!

I’ll be away for the next few weeks — although perhaps not really entirely off-line. Because hey, there’s still the internet, wherever I go!

I’m off on a multi-part trip, first stop New York, where I’ll be doing THIS:

and also:

Yup, two Tony-award-winning shows over three days. Woooo!

Since I’m traveling with my teen-aged son, we’ll also be doing some top 10 tourism, like the Empire State Building, Central Park, and (if I can convince him), the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

From there, we’ll spend a few days visiting family in the area, before getting on yet another plane to go visit my husband’s family… and spend (I hope) a bunch of glorious days at the beach, enjoying sun, sand, good food, and plenty of books!

I won’t be posting on a regular basis, and I won’t be doing a whole lot of visiting other blogs and saying hello — but somehow I have a feeling that I won’t be completely absent either. No commitments!

And now I’m off to make sure my Kindle is charged and my designated beach paperbacks are stuffed into my suitcase.

Happy Summer!

Shelf Control is taking a little break!

Shelves final

I have some family visits and travel plans for the next few weeks, and while I may still do some blogging, I won’t be able to stick to a schedule or keep up with my regular weekly features. Shelf Control will be offline for about 4 weeks, returning in early July.

But, please, do me a favor! If you write a Shelf Control piece, I’d love it if you’d leave me a link here in the comments, so when I get back, I can catch up on everything I’ve missed!

Wishing you all a wonderful start to summer. See you soon!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 6/11/2018

cooltext1850356879 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.

Life.

I’m heading off on a journey this week, so this may be my last reliable post for a few weeks. Between some vacation-y travels and visits to family, I’ll be on the go for about three weeks. I’ll pop in when I can, but if you don’t see me around the blogosphere much — now you know why!

What did I read during the last week?

Dietland by Sarai Walker: An interesting read, but a little scattered and messy as well. It’s a great story, and I’m actually really enjoying the new AMC TV series adaptation.

Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg: Clever and funny. My thoughts are here.

A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer: Because I can’t seem to get enough Georgette Heyer. My review is here.

Quidditch Through the Ages by J. K. Rowling: I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Andrew Lincoln (who does an amazing job). My review is here.

And, in book group news — we finished our group read of Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade! While I’ve read the book before, reading and discussing it with the group over the last several months has been a fun and eye-opening experience, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Fresh Catch:

New books arrived this week:

I treated myself to a non-fiction guide to the world of Georgette Heyer, which looks like it’ll be so handy. I also finally gave in and bought myself copies of Mira Grant’s Parasitology books, so now I have zero excuses left for not reading these.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See: My book group’s June pick. I’ve read 30%, and I’m loving it so far.

Now playing via audiobook:

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire: I love this book so much. I’ve read it before, but thought I’d try the audio version as well, and I’m so glad I did. It’s narrated by the author, and it’s AMAZING.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week… and we have a long way still to go.
  • Starting another Lord John story! We’re beginning Lord John and the Haunted Soldier this week, a novella found in the Lord John and the Hand of Devils anthology.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer

 

Can the wrong bride become the perfect wife?

Adam Deveril, the new Viscount Lynton, is madly in love with the beautiful Julia Oversley. But he has returned from the Peninsular War to find his family on the brink of ruin and his ancestral home mortgaged to the hilt. He has little choice when he is introduced to Mr. Jonathan Chawleigh, a City man of apparently unlimited wealth and no social ambitions for himself-but with his eyes firmly fixed on a suitable match for his only daughter, the quiet and decidedly plain Jenny Chawleigh.

Another great addition to my Georgette Heyer library! Considering that I only read this amazing author for the first time last year, I’ve quickly become a fan.

A Civil Contract is quite fun. Poor Adam, whose father the Fifth Viscount was a gambler and a flagrant spender, is left to deal with overpowering debts upon his father’s death. The family faces financial ruin, including the lost of their beloved country home. What’s more, there is no possible way for Adam to marry his beloved Julia, as he has no means to support her, and even if she claims to be ready to live with Adam in poverty, would never be allowed by her parents to do so.

For a titled gentleman with money problems, there’s really just one acceptable solution: He must marry an heiress. Jenny Chawleigh is the respectable daughter of a very rich merchant whose only aim in life is to see his beloved girl elevated into the upper crust of society. Mr. Chawleigh is able to settle the Lynton debts, and Adam is able to provide Jenny with a title. They’re a mismatched pair, but Jenny’s sweetness and calm competence pave the way for the two of them to begin their married life together.

Of course, Adam never quite gets over his passion for Julia, but Jenny is clever enough to be able to take the drama out of the foiled romance, and she and Adam settle into a pleasant and companionable relationship. It takes the course of the novel for Adam and Jenny to truly develop into a strong couple, but it’s oodles of fun to see them getting there.

The novel contrasts the drama of young, ardent love with the steadiness and support of more mature married affection, and comes down decidedly on the side of the latter. While it irked me that Adam never actually contradicts Jenny when she says she’s not pretty, he treats her with respect, with appreciation, and with affection. Over time, it’s their shared interests, their little jokes, and their alignment in the important things that show that they’re actually well suited after all.

There are plenty of funny moments, especially all the scenes of Adam and Mr. Chawleigh butting heads. Jenny’s father is crass and blunt, but he’s mad about his daughter, and shows his love by buying her the best of everything, even when the best is gaudy, over the top, and simply not what truly elegant people would do. Adam is dignified, born and bred to the upper crust, and it’s constantly amusing to see his reactions to Mr. Chawleigh’s effusiveness. (The bathtub he installs for Jenny is hilarious — I won’t say more than that, but you really need to read about it to appreciate it.)

I love Heyer’s Regency romances, with their depictions of the social classes and the minutiae involved in playing the games of the nobility and gentry. The only downside for me in A Civil Contract were the overlong descriptions of the war against Napoleon — yes, the war is very much on Adam’s mind and has an impact on his fortunes, but I had a hard time keeping my mind from wandering whenever we strayed back into politics and war news.

Of course, if you’ve read and enjoyed other books by Georgette Heyer, this is another excellent one to pick up. It’s sweet and entertaining, and I found it refreshing to read a Heyer book with such a simple and unpretentious heroine.

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The details:

Title: A Civil Contract
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Publication date: 1961
Length: 422 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

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Laughing too hard to actually write a review of Texts From Jane Eyre

 

Hilariously imagined text conversations—the passive aggressive, the clever, and the strange—from classic and modern literary figures, from Scarlett O’Hara to Jessica Wakefield.

Mallory Ortberg, the co-creator of the cult-favorite website The Toast, presents this whimsical collection of hysterical text conversations from your favorite literary characters. Everyone knows that if Scarlett O’Hara had an unlimited text-and-data plan, she’d constantly try to tempt Ashley away from Melanie with suggestive messages. If Mr. Rochester could text Jane Eyre, his ardent missives would obviously be in all-caps. And Daisy Buchanan would not only text while driving, she’d text you to pick her up after she totaled her car. Based on the popular web-feature, Texts from Jane Eyre is a witty, irreverent mashup that brings the characters from your favorite books into the twenty-first century.

Ha ha ha.

Man.

This book is just so much fun. Author Mallory Ortberg has reimagined classics of all ages, from Medea and Gilgamesh to Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, and has put them together in a book that’s almost too great to read in one sitting (but I did it anyway). 

From Circe defending certain poor choices she’s made:

… to Mrs. Bennet being very Mrs. Bennet-ish:

… this book captures the heart and soul of the stories it includes, and makes then just too damned hilarious.

 

What’s really amazing is that the author clearly knows her stuff, because she absolutely nails the key elements of the stories and the characters, the things that make them unique and recognizable. The texts are clever and so well done — I just couldn’t get enough.

Sure, some of the bits on certain classics went right over my head, since I don’t know the originals, but that didn’t take away any of the enjoyment. This will be one of those books to keep handy and just open up at random once in a while, especially when I need something to brighten up my day.

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The details:

Title: Texts From Jane Eyre
Authors: Mallory Ortberg
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Publication date: November 4, 2014
Length: 226 pages
Genre: Humor
Source: Purchased

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Shelf Control #124: The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: The Story of a Marriage
Author: Andrew Sean Greer
Published: 2008
Length: 208 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

From the bestselling author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli, a love story full of secrets and astonishments set in 1950s San Francisco.

“We think we know the ones we love.” So Pearlie Cook begins her indirect and devastating exploration of the mystery at the heart of every relationship, how we can ever truly know another person.

It is 1953 and Pearlie, a dutiful housewife, finds herself living in the Sunset district of San Francisco, caring not only for her husband’s fragile health but also for her son, who is afflicted with polio. Then, one Saturday morning, a stranger appears on her doorstep and everything changes. All the certainties by which Pearlie has lived are thrown into doubt. Does she know her husband at all? And what does the stranger want in return for his offer of $100,000? For six months in 1953, young Pearlie Cook struggles to understand the world around her, most especially her husband, Holland.

Pearlie’s story is a meditation not only on love but also on the effects of war—with one war just over and another one in Korea coming to a close. Set in a climate of fear and repression—political, sexual, and racial—The Story of a Marriage portrays three people trapped by the confines of their era, and the desperate measures they are prepared to take to escape it. Lyrical and surprising, The Story of a Marriage looks back at a period that we tend to misremember as one of innocence and simplicity.

How and when I got it:

I bought a copy after reading The Confessions of Max Tivoli (which I loved), probably about 10 years ago!

Why I want to read it:

I’ve had this book for so many years! I’ve read two other books by this author, Confessions and The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells (also loved!), and I want to read Less, which just won the Pulitzer Prize. It’s about time that I go back to The Story of a Marriage. I always love reading books set in San Francisco, and this one is set in my neighborhood! The synopsis sounds really interesting, so all in all, I have high expectations for this book!

__________________________________

Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Audiobook Review: Quidditch Through the Ages

 

A perennial best seller in the wizarding world and one of the most popular books in the Hogwarts School Library, Quidditch Through the Ages contains all you will ever need to know about the history, the rules – and the breaking of the rules – of the noble sport of Quidditch. Packed with fascinating facts, this definitive guide by the esteemed Quidditch writer Kennilworthy Whisp charts the game’s history from its early origins in the medieval mists on Queerditch Marsh through to the modern-day sport loved by so many wizard and Muggle families around the world. With comprehensive coverage of famous Quidditch teams, the commonest fouls, the development of racing brooms, and much more, this is a must-have sporting bible for all Harry Potter fans and Quidditch lovers and players, whether the weekend amateur or the seasoned Chudley Cannons season-ticket holder.

Narrated by Andrew Lincoln, this is the first audiobook edition of Whisp’s book ever to be released

My Thoughts:

I read the Hogwarts schoolbooks ages ago, and thought they were good silly fun, if a bit inconsequential. BUT, when I heard that Pottermore was releasing an audio version narrated by Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes, yo), I was all in.

Rick is an avid Quidditch fan.

So was it worth it?

Well, yes. Clearly, this is a fans-only book for Potter-philes. A passion for the Potter-verse is required! An interest in the minutiae of Quidditch play might be helpful too. The book itself covers the history of Quidditch, modern teams, Quidditch equipment, the evolution of the racing broom, and famous (or infamous) examples of unusual World Cup tournaments.

The audiobook includes material not found in the original printed edition, but (I believe) available via the Pottermore website — coverage of the 2014 Quidditch World Cup, as told by the Daily Prophet’s sports reporter Ginny Potter, with occasional social commentary from gossip columnist Rita Skeeter. The Skeeter bits are particularly funny; Ginny’s coverage of EVERY SINGLE GAME in the tournament, which initially amusing, gets old really fast.

This was a good, fairly entertaining companion on my daily commute. Definitely doesn’t require much concentration! It’s a bit long for what it is — the concept wears out its novelty pretty early on. Also, the production includes sound effects (all sorts of whooshes, as if Quidditch players are zooming by… constantly), which I found annoying, but a less grumpy listener might find these amusing.

All in all? A fun listen, not essential, but not a bad choice for escapist fare while your mind is mostly elsewhere.

Worth noting: Proceeds from Quidditch Through the Ages benefit Comic Relief and the Lumos Foundation. It’s always nice to support a good cause while indulging Potter obsessions!

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The details:

Title: Quidditch Through the Ages
Author: Kennilworthy Whisp (J. K. Rowling)
Narrated by: Andrew Lincoln
Publisher: Pottermore
Publication date: Audible edition released March 15, 2018; originally published 2001
Length (print): 56 pages (2001 edition)
Length (audio): 3 hours, 10 minutes
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Purchased via Audible

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The Monday Check-In ~ 6/4/2018

cooltext1850356879 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.

What did I read during the last week?

The Outsider by Stephen King: Awesome. Stephen King absolutely delivers in his ultra-disturbing new book. My review is here.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson: I finished the audiobook this past week. A fascinating look at the phenomenon of public shaming — why people do it, how the internet has made it so easy, and how people who have been shamed either move on, or don’t. Jon Ronson narrates the audiobook, and he’s terrific — he really brings his own curiosity to life, and lets us feel connected to the various people he highlights. Definitely worth either reading the print book or listening to the audio version.

Fresh Catch:

Ooh, such fun book mail this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Dietland by Sarai Walker: After seeing commercials for the upcoming TV series, I just had to give the book a try. I’ve read about 75% — really enjoying it, and now I can’t wait to see how they translate it to TV.

Now playing via audiobook:

Quidditch Through the Ages: Narrated by Andrew Lincoln! His narration is really fun — but the book does seem to go on way longer than necessary.

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

Finally, the final week for one of these two!

  • Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade by Diana Gabaldon: Heading into the home stretch! We’ll be finished this week.
  • Classic read: My book group’s current classic read is Middlemarch by George Eliot.  We’re reading and discussing two chapters per week… and we have a long way still to go.

So many books, so little time…

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Book mail highlight: Oxford Illustrated Dictionary of 19th Century Language

I bought myself a wee giftie this week:

Oxford Illustrated Dictionary of 19th Century Language
(published 2018)

After seeing this book mentioned somewhere (on a blog post? I’m thinking maybe via Gail Carriger?), I had to get myself a copy! For readers who delight in 19th century fictional realms, this book promises to be a must-keep-close-by sort of reference book.

Besides an A-to-Z dictionary format, there are also multi-page layouts on hot topics such as “Rich and Poor”, “Childhood”, “At Home”, and so much more. It’s all laid out in an easy-to-use alphabetical format, with eye-catching fonts and illustrations.

Oh, I am absolutely going to have a blast with this one!

And hey, you never know when you’ll need to know the definitions of poltroon, clodpole, oleograph, or diablerie.

Book Review: The Outsider by Stephen King

 

An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

 

I’m a Stephen King fan, no question about it, but I sometimes find that his books don’t stick the landing. I’ll be absolutely fascinated, glued to my seat, on edge, for 75% of the book,,, but when the ending finally arrives and all answers are provided, I can find myself feeling a bit let down.

No so in The Outsider. This is one terrific (and horribly disturbing) read, start to finish.

From the start, the premise is tantalizing and well-executed. A horrible, disgusting crime is committed. There are reliable eyewitnesses who definitively ID the perpetrator, a beloved public figure in their small town. Terry Maitland’s fingerprints are all over the crime scene and weapon and the interior of the vehicle used to commit the crime. He’s seen leaving the area, covered with blood. DNA at the crime scene is his. Ralph Anderson, lead detective on the case, is so outraged and infuriated that he orders the arrest to be made in as public a way as possible. There’s no doubt that Maitland committed the crime, and the public is aghast and infuriated.

But wait. Maitland has an alibi, and the more Ralph investigates, the more unbreakable the alibi seems. He was with other teachers at a conference out of town, and not only will they all attest to his being there, but he’s actually caught on video at the event at the same time of the murder. Can a man be in two places at one time?

By the time enough doubt has come up, more tragedies have piled on top of the initial murder. An out of town investigator is brought in, and soon, the trail seems to point to not only more crimes with a mystery double involved, but a fact pattern that can’t be explained by anything in the realm of what’s considered normal.

Wow.

This book grabbed me from page 1, and just didn’t let up. If pesky things like work and sleep hadn’t interfered, I’d have read it straight through — it’s that good, and that compelling.

I was particularly delighted by the appearance of…

MINOR SPOILER FOR KING FANS AHEAD!

STOP HERE IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW!

(BUT NOT A SPOILER FOR THE RESOLUTION OF THE OUTSIDER)

Holly Gibney, the memorable, remarkable, oddball heroine of the Bill Hodges trilogy, who has carried on with Finders Keepers, the detective agency she founded with Bill, even after Bill’s death at the end of the trilogy. Holly is brought into the investigation here on the recommendation of one of the Maitland family lawyers when a strange set of facts emerge about a family trip months earlier. Holly jumps in, unearths enough odd clues to start connecting some seriously weird dots, and ultimately is the one who gets the investigatory team to consider answers that lean more toward the supernatural than any of them could possibly have considered on their own.

I loved seeing Holly again. She brings a humanity to the proceedings that’s a breath of fresh air, and her offbeat demeanor and unlikely acts of courage are what’s needed to crack the case.

The entire cast of characters is well drawn and quite strong. Ralph is a great leading man, and I loved his relationship with his wife Jeannie. The lawyer, the DA, the investigator, the state policeman — all are quite good, and really emerge as individuals rather than stock characters in a legal drama.

But it’s the unfolding plot, with its mystery and creepiness and outright scenes of horror, that propels The Outsider at such a dynamic pace. I don’t want to say much more about what happens or why — but this is top-notch King, and you shouldn’t miss it.

A final word of caution for King readers: If you haven’t finished the Bill Hodges trilogy, but you plan to, you might want to hold off on reading The Outsider. The plots aren’t connected, but in conversations, Holly and the detectives discuss the cases she and Bill handled, and basically give away major plot point resolutions from the trilogy.

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The details:

Title: The Outsider
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: May 22, 2018
Length: 561 pages
Genre: Horror
Source: Library

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