The Monday Check-In ~ 2/5/2018

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 last week?

Feed by Mira Grant: I am in love with this book. And YAY ME for finally reading it, after having it on my “want” list for so many years.

The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander: This novella defies description — it simply must be read. My review is here.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah: I was totally blind-sided by how much this book affected me. My thoughts are here.

And in audiobooks:

I finished Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire, the first book in the October Daye urban fantasy series. Loved it! My reaction is here. Moving on to book #2!

Pop culture:

Trying to cram in a few Oscar-nominated movies before March! I managed to watch one this past week:

The Shape of Water was beautiful! I can’t stop thinking about it.

Fresh Catch:

Oops – I may have gone a bit overboard with my Newsflesh obsession:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

I’m planning to get through a couple of ARCs before returning to zombies…

Now playing via audiobook:

A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire: October Daye, #2 — loving this series so far!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: Our group read of this novella ends this coming week. Next up: Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade
  • My book group’s next classic read is Fences by August Wilson, starting this week.

So many books, so little time…

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Audiobook Review: Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire


October “Toby” Daye, a changeling who is half human and half fae, has been an outsider from birth. After getting burned by both sides of her heritage, Toby has denied the Faerie world, retreating to a “normal” life. Unfortunately for her, the Faerie world has other ideas…

The murder of Countess Evening Winterrose pulls Toby back into the fae world. Unable to resist Evening’s dying curse, which binds her to investigate, Toby must resume her former position as knight errant and renew old alliances. As she steps back into fae society, dealing with a cast of characters not entirely good or evil, she realizes that more than her own life will be forfeited if she cannot find Evening’s killer.

Rosemary and Rue  is the first book in the ongoing October Daye series — and as the first book, it has a lot of heavy lifting to do, in terms of establishing characters, building a world, and setting up the rules of the supernatural system that dictates the possibilities of plot from the starting point onward. Fortunately, Seanan McGuire is supremely talented and inventive, and in Rosemary and Rue, she’s more than up to the challenge of creating a world we’ll want to stay in.

Set in and around San Francisco, R&R starts with a pretty ominous set-up for Toby (October) in the prologue. While chasing her liege lord’s enemy (who’s also his twin brother), Toby walks into a trap and loses the next fourteen years of her life. I won’t say why or how — it’s just too much fun to find out for yourself.

We re-meet Toby in chapter one after she’s returned to a version of her former life, having sworn off anything to do with the world of the fae, determined to live as simply human and ignore the other half of her changeling identity. She’s been burned too badly and has lost far too much to be able to stomach the idea of returning to the intricate systems of fae courts and allegiances and territories. But Evening’s murder sucks her back in against her will, and soon enough Toby is brought face to face with old allies, lovers, and enemies. Her own life is on the line as she tries to solve the murder. If she fails, Evening’s dying curse will take Toby’s life as well.

The plot of R&R follows Toby’s search for clues and her reinvolvement with characters from her past, some well-meaning, some clearly not. As a changeling, Toby’s magical abilities are only so-so, and each time she engages with a pureblood, she’s at risk. As you’d expect in an  urban fantasy series, Toby is a smart-ass, tough woman with her own set of abilities, not least a talent for thinking on her feet, reading a room, and figuring out how to get what she wants. Still, she has vulnerabilities too, both physical and emotional, and she certainly suffers throughout the book as all sorts of baddies are out to get her and stop her investigation.

I love Toby as a character, and love the odd assortment of changelings and purebloods we meet along the way. Also excellent is the use of San Francisco as a setting. While some of the location descriptions didn’t quite gel with the reality of the area, others (such as the use of the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park) are just brilliant.

I have to give a shout-out to the most endearing and adorable magical creature in the book, a “rose goblin” named Spike. Picture a cat with thorns instead of fur, and you have the basic idea. Just loved it.

I did wish that Toby’s backstory was spelled out in a little more concrete detail. As with many urban fantasy stories, we start in the middle of the action and learn about Toby’s difficult past through various references as we go along. It’s enough to give a general timeline, but I still have questions. What does it mean that she’s a knight? What was the process to become one? How did she first join Sylvester’s court? Maybe future volumes in the series will provide more specifics.

Even thought the solution to the murder wasn’t that difficult to guess, I still enjoyed the revelations, Toby’s realizations about the various people in her life, and the reasons behind the events. The plot is fast-paced and exciting, and I enjoyed the adventure start to finish.

Narrator Mary Robinette Kowal brings her talents to the variety of characters, with accents and intonations and pitches that distinguish them and make it easy to identify the speaker at any given point — not always easy in audiobooks. As with the Indexing books, she does a great job of making the story flow, and I enjoyed her depiction of Toby’s inner life.

Rosemary and Rue was really a fun listen, and I’m planning on diving right in with book #2.

Note: Woo hoo! I’ve started another series from my reading goals list for 2018!
_________________________________________

The details:

Title: Rosemary and Rue
Author: Seanan McGuire
Narrator: Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: DAW Books
Publication date: September 1, 2009
Length (print): 346 pages
Length (audiobook): 11 hours, 20 minutes
Genre: Urban fantasy
Source: Purchased

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Book Review: The Great Alone


Alaska, 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.
For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

In this unforgettable portrait of human frailty and resilience, Kristin Hannah reveals the indomitable character of the modern American pioneer and the spirit of a vanishing Alaska―a place of incomparable beauty and danger. The Great Alone is a daring, beautiful, stay-up-all-night story about love and loss, the fight for survival, and the wildness that lives in both man and nature.

The Great Alone is many things — a portrait of life in rugged Alaska, a story of the damage done by war, a tale of the horrible secrets lurking underneath a family’s facade… and also, a story of love and devotion and commitment.

We first meet Leni as a 13-year-old who never fits in anywhere, thanks to her parents’ inability to settle. Ever since her father returned from his years as a POW in Vietnam, Leni has been pulled from home to home and school to school, as her father’s instability and nightmares make him unable to keep a job or stay put for very long. Meanwhile, Leni’s mother Cora remains madly in love with her husband Ernt, and constantly tells Leni that she wishes she could remember how he was before. Out of options, Ernt comes up with a seemingly crazy idea — they’ll move to Alaska, to a plot of land left him by a war buddy, and live off the land, off the grid, as homesteaders.

Leni, of course, has no say in this, just as she has no say in most of what happens in her life. Cora is desperate to find the answer to making Ernt happy again, so off they go in their battered VW bus, completely unprepared for the realities of the life ahead of them. When they finally reach their land in Kaneq, they find a falling-down dirty cabin, and not much else. Fortunately, the neighbors in this tiny community rally around to teach them what they need to know, with an emphasis on the all-important preparations for their first Alaskan winter.

The land and its surroundings are breathtakingly beautiful, of course… but the winter is harsh, leaving the small family isolated in their cabin for months on end. For Leni and Cora, life becomes increasingly dangerous, not because of the natural threats such as wildlife and climate, but because of the man they live with. Ernt does not do well in the dark, under stress, and he takes out his inner demons on Cora.

Over the years, the family becomes intertwined with their neighbors, and Cora and Leni develop deep bonds with their new friends, but Ernt becomes more and more obsessed with survivalism, his paranoia and nightmares becoming more and more intense. Leni grows up in the shadow of domestic violence, witnessing her father’s brutal treatment of Cora, but unable to do anything to stop it.

And as Leni matures, she falls in love with the boy who was her first friend in Alaska — but her father hates his father and everything he stands for, and it’s clear that the relationship must be kept hidden from Ernt before it pushes him into even more violence.

I have to be honest and admit that I wasn’t so sure about this book for the first third or so. I was interested, but it was slow-going. The description of Alaska and what it takes to build a life there are intriguing, of course, but I’ve read other stories about life in Alaska, so this wasn’t exactly new. I had a hard time at first with the viewpoint, as this section of the book is seen mainly through 13-year-old Leni’s eyes, and there was just something a little limiting about that. Still, it was sadly fascinating to see Leni’s experience of her parents’ toxic marriage — the loving moments, when the two were so obsessed with each other that they couldn’t see anyone else — and the explosively painful moments, when Ernt’s rage would boil over into fists and abuse.

Later, when Leni is an older teen, her story becomes much more compelling. Suddenly, I couldn’t put the book down. (Seriously, I read the 2nd 50% of the book in one sitting.) Leni’s love story builds along a Romeo and Juliet trajectory, and while we can see the inevitable tragedy looming ahead, it’s still a shock when Leni’s life is turned upside down.

In some ways, the story of Ernt’s violence is simply tragic. It’s hard not to hate him as the years go by and his craziness and violence escalate — but there’s an element of pity, too. In today’s world, his PTSD would be recognized for what it is and he’d be able to get help. In the early 1970s, just back from hellish years as a captive in Vietnam, not only was there no psychological help, but he also was subject to the derision of anti-war America when he returned. It might be easy to view Ernt as simply an evil character, but we can’t. He is horrible and abusive and destructive, but his horror stems from his own status as a victim of war and torture. We can absolutely condemn his behavior and his treatment of his family, but I can’t help but feel sorrow too for how different this man might have been without the trauma of Vietnam.

The depiction of domestic violence is harrowing but has a ring of truth. At that time, there was much less support for “battered women”, and a woman who fought back could easily end up either dead or behind bars, without much in the way of legal defense or public awareness. Seeing Leni’s need to protect her mother, and Cora’s inability to find a way to leave, is painful and tragic.

At the same time, I loved the way Leni’s life in Alaska grows. She becomes a part of the community, part of Alaska itself, and this stays with her and changes her in deep and unalterable ways.

I won’t say more about the love story or its outcome, other than WOW and SOB and TEARS and… well, read it yourself to find out!

The Great Alone is powerful and moving, with a unique setting and memorable characters. Check it out.

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Great Alone
Author: Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: February 6, 2018
Length: 448 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Novella: The Only Harmless Great Thing


In the early years of the 20th century, a group of female factory workers in Newark, New Jersey slowly died of radiation poisoning. Around the same time, an Indian elephant was deliberately put to death by electricity in Coney Island.

These are the facts.

Now these two tragedies are intertwined in a dark alternate history of rage, radioactivity, and injustice crying out to be righted. Prepare yourself for a wrenching journey that crosses eras, chronicling histories of cruelty both grand and petty in search of meaning and justice.

The Only Harmless Great Thing is weird and wonderful, cruel and beautiful. Can you possibly believe that two awful chapters from history — the “radium girls” and an electrocuted elephant — would fit together in one story? Author Brooke Bolander pulls off this seemingly impossible task in a new novella that almost defies description — you just need to experience it.

The narration shifts between elephant and human characters, in language that’s often hauntingly strange and beautiful.

At night, when the moon shuffles off behind the mountain and the land darkens like wetted skin, they glow. There is a story behind this. No matter how far you march, O best beloved mooncalf, the past will always drag around your ankle, a snapped shackle time cannot pry loose.

The human parts of the story are heart-breaking and outrage-inducing… but so are the elephants’ sections. As I read, the story of the radium factory workers’ treatment left me feeling furious. The involvement of elephants in the radium story is startling but makes sense in this alternate world in which humans and elephants converse via sign language, and the elephant language (Proboscidian) is taught in universities.

Then came the Atomic Elephant Hypothesis.

The Only Harmless Great Thing is a quick but powerful read, unusual and a little crazy and definitely something that will stick in my mind for quite some time. It made me angry and sad, and also made me think. Highly recommended.

But chains can be snapped, O best beloved mooncalf. Sticks can be knocked out of a Man’s clever hands. And one chain snapping may cause all the rest to trumpet and stomp and shake the trees like a rain-wind coming down the mountain, washing the gully muddy with bright lightning tusks and thunderous song.

PS – The story of Topsy, the elephant electrocuted at Coney Island, is changed and reinvented here in this novella — but yes, there was a real Topsy, and she really was put to death in 1903 by being electrocuted in front of a crowd as part of a public spectacle. It’s a horrible story that seems too outrageous to be true, but sadly, it really happened. You can read more about Topsy’s awful fate here.

PPS – Reading this novella reminded me that I picked up a copy of the non-fiction book The Radium Girls (winner of the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for history and biography), and really need to read it!

_________________________________________

The details:

Title: The Only Harmless Great Thing
Author: Brooke Bolander
Publisher: Tor
Publication date: January 23, 2018
Length: 96 pages
Genre: Alternate history
Source: Purchased

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Shelf Control #107: In the Land of the Long White Cloud

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: In the Land of the Long White Cloud
Author: Sarah Lark
Published: 2007
Length: 717 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Helen Davenport, governess for a wealthy London household, longs for a family of her own—but nearing her late twenties and with no dowry, her prospects are dim. Responding to an advertisement seeking young women to marry New Zealand’s honorable bachelors, she corresponds with a gentleman farmer. When her church offers to pay her travels under an unusual arrangement, she jumps at the opportunity.

Meanwhile, not far away in Wales, beautiful and daring Gwyneira Silkham, daughter of a wealthy sheep breeder, is bored with high society. But when a mysterious New Zealand baron deals her father an unlucky blackjack hand, Gwyn’s hand in marriage is suddenly on the table. Her family is outraged, but Gwyn is thrilled to escape the life laid out for her.

The two women meet on the ship to Christchurch—Helen traveling in steerage, Gwyn first class—and become unlikely friends. When their new husbands turn out to be very different than expected, the women help one another in ways they never anticipated.

Set against the backdrop of colonial nineteenth-century New Zealand, In the Land of the Long White Cloud is a soaring saga of friendship, romance, marriage and adventure.

How and when I got it:

I bought this book several years ago after spotting a Kindle price drop.

Why I want to read it:

I was fortunate enough to travel to New Zealand about 10 years ago, and it was an absolutely incredible trip. Since then, I’ve been keeping an eye out for historical fiction set in New Zealand. The plot sounds terrific — definitely something I’d enjoy — but I think I’ve been hesitant to actually start the book because of its length, and the fact that it’s the first in a trilogy (and all three books are looooong). One of these days…

__________________________________

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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Top Ten Tuesday: I can’t believe I read that!

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. Each week, there’s a new top 10 theme — check out the host blog for a list of upcoming topics.

This week’s topic is Books I Can’t Believe I Read

I could go a lot of ways with this topic — books so bad that I can’t believe I read them; books so huge… books so out-of-the-norm-for-me…

… so, I decided to do a little bit of everything:

First, books that I’m impressed with myself for reading; as in, “these books are big and daunting — I can’t believe I read them!”

1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville: I read this book last year, via Serial Reader, and I really enjoyed it!

2. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo: Years ago, I was settling into a new home in a new town, didn’t have a job yet, and had just seen a stage production of Les Misérables… so I figured, why not? Let’s read the book!

3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: Call me crazy, but at some point during my senior year of high school I decided it would be fun to read Anna Karenina. Yes. For fun.

 

Then there those books that are so awful or cringe-worthy that I can’t believe I spent my precious time and brain cells on them:

4. The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond: This is a pretty recent read for me. I expected a thriller; I didn’t expect the near-torture-porn levels of sadism.

5. The Fifty Shades books by E. L. James: I admit it — I read them all, in the course of one intense weekend when I absolutely had nothing else to do. Why did I keep going? It was just too hard to look away, even when I knew I should.

6. The Twilight series: Okay, I completely loved these books at the time, don’t get me wrong. It’s only in retrospect that I question my devotion to the books and how I could have gotten so caught up in them. I mean, I really was into these books! But over time, the glory fades, and little things like nonsensical plot developments make me wonder how I ever got through four of these books.

Next, books outside my usual reading zone — topics and genres that I normally wouldn’t voluntarily read:

7. The Blind Side by Michael Lewis: I read a football book! I am one of the least sporty people you’ll meet, and I don’t give a fig about football or other spectator sports. I read The Blind Side after hearing a discussion about it on the radio, back before the movie was made. I thought the book was fantastic, and I was completely engrossed from start to finish. But really, I still can’t believe I read a football book!

8. Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow: I enjoy history, but I rarely sit down and read history books start to finish, expecially not 800+ page history books! But in this case… HAMILTON! I started listening to the soundtrack of the Broadway musical, and then I got tickets, and before going to see the show, I just had to know more. I ended up really enjoying the book — but I can’t believe I made it all the way through!

9. Vietnam by Stanley Karnow: Years ago, I got caught up in watching the TV series China Beach, and I decided I didn’t really now enough about the Vietnam War. So I read this BIG, detailed book, and learned a ton. Fascinating… but I still can’t believe I read it.

And finally, one truly nostalgic pick:

10. The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss: My first romance novel! I read this at about age 13, and found it so wicked (and amazing)! Luckily, no one in my family ever monitored what I was reading or made any attempt to censor me… still, I blush to think what my grandmother would have thought! This one is definitely a “I can’t believe I read this at that age and got away with it!” book.

 

Have you read any of my “can’t believe” books? Have any great picks of your own?

Please share your thoughts and share your links!

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 1/29/2018

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 last week?

Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions by Amy Stewart: Fabulous audiobook! My review is here.

Still Me by Jojo Moyes: Loved this follow-up to Me Before You and After You. My review is here.

Started and stopped:

I don’t know if it’s even worth mentioning, but I read the opening chapters of two very different books last week — one for book group, one just because — before deciding that I just wasn’t in the mood to continue:

Maybe I’ll go back to one or both at some point… but for now, they’re back on the shelf.

Fresh Catch:

One new book this week:

The cover blurb made me laugh — find out why, here.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Feed by Mira Grant: Woooo! I’m so excited to finally be starting the Newsflesh books… because a) I’ve wanted to read these for a long time now, and b) this was actually one of my series reading goals for 2018!

Now playing via audiobook:

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire: Time for a little urban fantasy… and the start of another series from my reading goals list!

Ongoing reads:

Book group reads:

  • Lord John and the Succubus by Diana Gabaldon: Our group read of this novella continues — contact me if you’d like to join in.
  • My book group’s next classic read will be Fences by August Wilson, which we’re starting next week.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: Still Me by Jojo Moyes


From the #1 New York Times bestselling author Jojo Moyes, a new book featuring her iconic heroine of Me Before You and After You, Louisa Clark

Louisa Clark arrives in New York ready to start a new life, confident that she can embrace this new adventure and keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive across several thousand miles. She steps into the world of the superrich, working for Leonard Gopnik and his much younger second wife, Agnes. Lou is determined to get the most out of the experience and throws herself into her new job and New York life.

As she begins to mix in New York high society, Lou meets Joshua Ryan, a man who brings with him a whisper of her past. Before long, Lou finds herself torn between Fifth Avenue where she works and the treasure-filled vintage clothing store where she actually feels at home. And when matters come to a head, she has to ask herself: Who is Louisa Clark? And how do you reconcile a heart that lives in two places?

Funny, romantic, and poignant, Still Me follows Lou as she navigates how to stay true to herself, while pushing to live boldly in her brave new world.

Still Me is the third Louisa Clark story, taking the young woman we know and love and putting her in a decidedly new and strange environment — New York’s Upper East Side.

In the beautiful Me Before You, Louisa’s life changes through her relationship with Will Traynor, a man she loves but cannot save. In After You, we see Louisa grieve and suffer, finally starting to rebuild a new version of a life as she allows new friends and connections into her world and begins to open up to the possibility of a new love.

Still Me picks up right where After You leaves off, as Louisa leaves her family and new boyfriend Sam behind in England to accept a job working for a super posh family in New York. The Gopniks are incredibly rich and live a life of utter luxury and intense busy-ness, with husband and wife requiring personal assistants to keep their days on track and to get them from one charity event to another. Lou’s role is to be Agnes’s companion as well as assistant, providing reassurance and steadiness to the young wife who is scorned by the more established society matrons.

Lou and Sam plan to continue their relationship, but as we all know, long-distance relationships are tough, no matter the good intentions. Misunderstandings crop up. Communication is strained. Sam’s visits to New York never seem to work out as wonderfully as planned. And then a disastrous visit home leads to even more trouble.

Meanwhile, back in New York, Lou’s career as a companion takes an unexpected turn… but soon new opportunities and friendships come her way. And Lou — finally, slowly — begins to understand that she has the opportunity Will always wanted for her: the chance to decide for herself who she will be, and what she wants her life to look like.

I won’t say any more about the plot — who wants to give away the good stuff? Louisa is, as always, an original — a funky, upbeat, unusual young woman who’s headstrong, loving, creative, and assertive; who also drinks too much when nervous, rolls with the punches, but is decidedly vulnerable too. Will Traynor will always be an indelible influence on her life, but Sam holds her heart… or does he? And is he as devoted to her as she’d like him to be?

Still Me introduces some memorable, delightful new characters, especially Mrs. DeWitt — the feisty, slightly mean old woman who lives down the hall from the Gopniks — and her dog Dean Martin, a pug who’s got just as much of a bite as his owner.

In her New York setting, Louisa gets a new chance to shine, whether wearing her unique style of outrageous fashion or finding her way around Fifth Avenue. It’s fun and heartening to see “our” Lou turn into this new version of herself, whistling for cabs like a New York pro.

In some ways, Still Me could almost be a stand-alone. There are many sections that read like a fish-out-of-water story. Take one small-town English girl and place her in the world of New York billionaires — it’s bound to be entertaining. And yet, for those of us who have read the earlier books, it’s especially heart-warming to see the unsure, broken-hearted heroine of Me Before You finally coming out the other side of a world of grief and taking steps toward becoming who she’s meant to be.

Still Me wraps up a lovely trilogy that’s full of pathos, humor, warmth, and characters who feel like real people, flawed but lovable all the same. I’d love to think that Jojo Moyes might continue writing about Louisa Clark — I haven’t seen anthing that says, one way or the other, whether Still Me is the end of Louisa’s story. I hope not! I think I’d be happy following Lou through the many glorious years ahead of her. Still, if Still Me is the final Louisa Clark book, we can all take satisfaction in seeing the life Louisa has built for herself by the end of the book, and imagine the great things yet to come.

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The details:

Title: Still Me
Author: Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
Publication date: January 30, 2018
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

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Funny? Or is it a cultural thing?

I saw a book blurb this week that cracked me up, and my initial reaction was a combination of giggles and a bit of Inigo Montoya (substituting “phrase” for “word”, of course):

Okay, here’s the culprit: I just received a book I ordered in the mail – a guide to the world of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books. So exciting! I’d seen this book in a used bookstore a while back, but when I returned to buy it, it wasn’t there. Thanks to the glory of near-instant gratification via online shopping, I was able to find it from a used book site, et voilà! My book arrived this week.

The book looks amazing, full of info on characters, places, social structures, and more. Check out the table of contents:

Okay, so here’s the cover of the book. Notice the sticker that says “Exclusive at Waterstone’s”? (It was published by London Scholastic in 2007.)

Excuse my messy desk!

So now that my long-winded introduction is out of the way, here’s what cracked me up. Let’s zoom in on the bottom right of the cover, shall we?

Does this have a different meaning in the UK than in the US? Because when I read “I can’t recommend it too highly”, it sounds like a negative to me. “Hmm, it was okay. Not great. I mean, you might feel differently. But for me, I can’t recommend it too highly. Maybe just a little bit.”

Which I’m sure was not Philip Pullman’s intent! I’m assuming it was meant to convey: “This book is amazing. Astonishing. Super-duper-fantastic. There is no amount of superlative recommending I could do that would be too much.” I’ve been known to say things like “wow, I can’t say enough great things about this book!” in a review here or there, and I assume that’s what this blurb is supposed to convey. But to me, it doesn’t.

So what do you think? Am I guilty of misinterpreting? Being too literal? Is it a cultural thing? Or just awkward phrasing, or perhaps a line taken out of context?

Whatever. It made me laugh today, so I guess that’s a good thing.

Aubiobook Review: Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions

 

The feisty, fiery Kopp sisters are back in another unforgettable romp by international bestseller Amy Stewart.

Deputy sheriff Constance Kopp is outraged to see young women brought into the Hackensack jail over dubious charges of waywardness, incorrigibility, and moral depravity. The strong-willed, patriotic Edna Heustis, who left home to work in a munitions factory, certainly doesn’t belong behind bars. And sixteen-year-old runaway Minnie Davis, with few prospects and fewer friends, shouldn’t be publicly shamed and packed off to a state-run reformatory. But such were the laws — and morals — of 1916.

Constance uses her authority as deputy sheriff, and occasionally exceeds it, to investigate and defend these women when no one else will. But it’s her sister Fleurette who puts Constance’s beliefs to the test and forces her to reckon with her own ideas of how a young woman should and shouldn’t behave.

Against the backdrop of World War I, and drawn once again from the true story of the Kopp sisters, ‘Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions’ is a spirited, page-turning story that will delight fans of historical fiction and lighthearted detective fiction alike.

My Thoughts:

The third book in the Kopp Sisters series is another terrific adventure starring Deputy Sheriff Constance Kopp and her sisters. In this installment, the main trouble is young girls looking for freedom and purpose, and the fear the authorities seem to have at the prospect of “waywardness”. Blameless girls can be scooped up and put in jail at the request of their parents, simply for leaving home without permission. Constance becomes convinced that there has to be another way, and does her best to find it.

I love the characters in these books. Amy Stewart does an amazing job of bringing to vibrant life these audacious, unusual women, and shows us the incredible biases they faced on a daily basis. It’s great fun knowing Constance was a real person, and I couldn’t help but admire her devotion to her principles and her job, even while being scoffed at for doing “men’s work”.

Book #3 isn’t perfect, though: The plot itself is a tad flat compared to the previous two books, which featured dangerous criminal cases, pursuits, threats, and imminent risk to the Kopps. Here, it’s a quieter sort of story, as the plights of Minnie and Edna are interwoven with Fleurette’s own escapade. The story is never dull, but it lacks the adrenaline and speed of the previous two.

Still, it’s absolutely worth reading. The characters continue to be delightful, and it’s interesting to see how the looming involvement of the United States in WWI begins to cast a shadow over the events in the story. I definitely want to see what happens next!

A final note: I listened to the audiobook, and it’s wonderful! Narrator Christina Moore has a gift when it comes to these characters, making each sister distinct, as well as the rest of the characters, whether working class New Jersey girls or New York cops or traveling vaudeville stars. Their voices are sharp and funny and full of personality, just like Amy Stewart’s characters themselves.

If you have had the pleasure of reading the Kopp Sisters books yet, start with Girl Waits With Gun, and then keep going!

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The details:

Title: Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions
Author: Amy Stewart
Narrator: Christina Moore
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: September 5, 2017
Audiobook length: 10 hours, 4 minutes
Printed book length: 365 pages
Genre: Detective story/historical fiction
Source: Audible download (purchased)

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