Five reasons to read the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger


MADEMOISELLE GERALDINE’S FINISHING ACADEMY FOR YOUNG LADIES OF QUALITY was established 1820 as an institution of finer learning, higher manners, and social graces for young women who wish to present their best selves to society. Our young women learn modern languages, dance, music, household management, etiquette, and finishing from the finest instructors on land or in aether. And each morning, after breakfast, every student recites, with religious solemnity, the school motto, ut acerbus terminus: TO THE BITTER END.

Our students don’t just learn to curtsy—they learn to finish—both the right kind and the wrong kind of finishing. But please note that our alumni are not simply assassins. A graduate of Mademoiselle Geraldine’s would never complete an engagement in a way that was messy, unbecoming of a lady, or attracting of attention. They are discrete, they are subtle: they are ladies of quality.

(from the Finishing School website,

Want to have a heap of fun? Step one: Get your hands on Etiquette & Espionage. Step two: Keep reading until you’ve read all four book in the series.

And better yet: Get the audiobooks! These books deserve a nice, relaxed listen.

I read Etiquette & Espionage years ago, when it first came out (review), and had a deliciously lovely time with it. So why did I stop? I’m not exactly sure, except (a) my dreaded aversion to series-reading raised its ugly head and caused me a fatal lack of interest by the time book #2 was released, and (b) somehow in the interim, I’d convinced myself that the series had too juvenile a tone to appeal to me in the long run.

Wrong on both counts. What was I thinking?

All these years, I’ve managed to believe that I wouldn’t enjoy the Finishing School series, and as a result, I ended up depriving myself — until now! — of the pleasure of reading these super silly yet totally wonderful books.

Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

So, if any of you either haven’t heard of the series, or heard of the books but aren’t convinced that you should give them a try, here are five reasons why they need to be at the top of your MUST READ or MUST LISTEN lists, ASAP.

1) Fantastic world-building: The world of the Finishing School is full of Victorian manners, proper English ladies and gentlemen, lots of tea, and all sorts of supernatural beings — who are an accepted and honored part of society, thank you very much. Vampires, werewolves, and ghosts exist, mingle with humans, and are received in the finest of homes. A steampunk sensibility is in the forefront throughout, so expect lots of gears, dirigibles, mechanical servants and soldiers, valves, frequensors, and the like.

2) Strong female characters: The finishing school of the series title is a floating school housed in a dirigible, in which “young ladies of quality” become finished — in the dangerous arts of espionage, artifice, and assassination, among other important subjects. The most talented of the girls may have careers ahead of them as intelligencers, or may be destined to marriage to high ranking gentlemen so they can work their wiles behind the scenes. In any case, the young women we meet have backbones and brains, are handy with all manner of weaponry (I love Sophronia’s bladed fan), and can out-think any and all bad guys on a moments’ notice. Main character Sophronia and her best friends Dimity, Agatha, and Sidheag aren’t afraid to fight, scheme, flirt, and lie in order to protect each other and the people they care about. What’s more, Sophronia especially doesn’t particularly care about the rules of society, and is determined to set her own course and grab her own destiny, no matter whether others want to take her choices away.

3) Sense of humor: From the smallest of touches to the sublimely ridiculous, Gail Carriger’s writing has just enough arch humor to make every moment fun without crossing the line into dumb jokes. The conversations and descriptions all add to the overall sense of never taking things seriously, broken only when there are moments of true sorrow or tragedy, which the author is equally good at conveying. For snippets of the awesome writing and dialogue, check out some of my Thursday Quotables selections — here and here,

4) Terrific narrator: This is why I so highly recommend the audiobooks. The narrator is amazing! Moira Quirk captures the wickedly funny nature of the dialogue through her sharp-edged delivery, phrasing, and rhythms. She lends distinct voices to Sophronia and her friends, as well as to the oh-so-amusing vampire Professor Braithwope and the countless other unique characters, capturing the class differences with ease… and making me laugh out loud on a regular basis. (Note to self: Stop listening to funny  audiobooks in public.)

5) Visits from familiar friends: Prior to writing the Finishing School books, Gail Carriger had already collected a devoted following of her Parasol Protectorate series (which I adore). Although Finishing School is set approximately 25 years before the start of Soulless, book #1 in the Parasol Proctorate, there are quite a few familiar characters who appear in both series. Conveniently, since we’re talking about supernatural beings, there’s no reason why everyone’s favorite vampire, Lord Akeldama, can’t be a major player in Sophronia’s world too — looking as fashionable and fabulous as always, of course. Some of the others making appearances, large or small, in the Finishing School books are Sidheag Maccon and Genevieve Lefoux, plus a few others we see more or less in the shadows, going unnamed, but awfully familiar, like an inscrutable butler and a sandy-haired Beta werewolf.

Convinced yet?

In each book, the storyline builds on itself, adding to our knowledge of the characters’ inner lives and personal strengths, and then showing them in action as they team up to stop the bad guys and pretty much save the world, or at least, the British Empire. As this series is YA-targeted, the main steam in the story comes from the boiler rooms, not from sexytimes — if you’re looking for adult sexual encounters, check out the Parasol Protectorate books. Still, the Finishing School books contain some truly spectacular romantic moments, a love triangle that’s more than your typical YA three-sided geometry, and a crossing of class and race lines that make Sophronia a woman far ahead of her own time.

But let’s not get too serious about all this. The Finishing School books are good, silly, fun  — amazing characters, dynamic plot, loads of steampunk detailing, and dramatic, hair-raising escapes and adventures.

Please, please, please go check this series out! You’ll thank me. I promise.



Serious series reading: A look behind and a look forward


Resolutions come, resolutions go… but one that I’ve been getting better and better about sticking to over the last few years has to do with reading book series.

Last year, one of my bookish resolutions was:

I resolve to (attempt to) read series as a whole — all books in a row — rather than reading them as they come out and then forgetting all the details in between volumes.

This was not meant to be an absolute, of course. I do have some ongoing series that I’m crazy about, and I’ll continue to read those whenever new installments become available. But the intent of the resolution is clear — whenever possible, I want to resist the urge to start new, incomplete series, and focus instead on series that are already published and complete, so I can enjoy them as a whole instead of in bits and pieces.

How did I do? Let’s take a look at the series I read in 2016:

Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs: I had read the first book in the trilogy years ago, but had lost interest by the time the 2nd came out. This year, I listened to the audiobook of book #1, then continued in print with the 2nd and 3rd. (These books really must be read in hard copy in order to get the full experience, since the illustrations are really a part of the story.)

final peregrine banner

The Kate Shugak series by Dana Stabenow: I got involved in this excellent series in 2015, and finished up the 20th and most recent book (as well as the four books in the spin-off series) by mid-2016. Such a fantastic reading experience — and I’m thrilled that #21 will be out in 2017!

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The Magicians by Lev Grossman: This is another series that I started years ago, and just came back to this year. Prompted by the TV adaptation, I decided to give The Magicians another chance, reread book 1 and then went through 2 and 3, and ended up loving the trilogy as a whole.

The Magicians MAgician King 2 Magician's Land

The Wrath & the Dawn and The Rose & the Dagger by Renee Ahdieh: I didn’t love this duology nearly as much as everyone else did, but I’m still glad that I read them together.

Wrath & the DawnRose & Dagger

The Giver by Lois Lowry: My son read The Giver for school last year, and I realized that I remembered almost nothing about it — so I went ahead and reread The Giver, then read the rest of the books in the quartet.


And now, looking ahead…

Series I plan to read in 2017:

This is partially a plan, partially a wish list. I really do want to read all of these, but we’ll just have to wait and see how many I can actually commit to while still reading everything else that grabs my attention. My priority series for 2017 are:

Old Man’s War series by John Scalzi: I love Scalzi’s writing, and now that I’ve read all of his stand-alones (I think), it’s time to finally dive into the series that’s supposed to be his masterpiece!


Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch: After reading and loving Dark Matter this year, I absolutely have to check out this trilogy!


Bill Hodges trilogy by Stephen King: I’ve had Mr. Mercedes on my shelf since it was published. At some point, it seemed to make more sense to wait for all three books to be available before starting. And now, I’m out of excuses!


And maybe…

I have a few series openers that I’m interested in — but not quite ready to commit to at this point.

leviathan-wakesrosemary-rueTemeraire 1

Last but not least…

Let’s not forget two series I’m already committed to, and look forward to continuing in the New Year:

Ross PoldarkThe Poldark series by Winston Graham: I’ve read the first five books so far. That’s five down, seven to go! I find that I need to space these out, and I don’t want to get too far ahead of the TV show, so perhaps I’ll just tackle another one or two in 2017.







And my very, very favorite:

silence_fallen_layout.inddThe Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs! Silence Fallen, the 10th Mercy book, will be out in March, and I cannot wait. I hope Patricia Briggs continues to create adventures for Mercy (as well as her spin-off series, Alpha & Omega) for many, many years to come.







Anyone else read series as a whole, rather than as they come out? What’s your preferred approach to reading book series? And what series are you most looking forward to in 2017?

Whatever your series-reading style, here’s wishing us all a fantastic year of reading!

Shelf Control #36: His Majesty’s Dragon

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Welcome to the newest weekly feature here at Bookshelf Fantasies… Shelf Control!

Shelf Control is all about the books we want to read — and already own! Consider this a variation of a Wishing & Waiting post… but looking at books already available, and in most cases, sitting right there on our shelves and e-readers.

Want to join in? See the guidelines and linky at the bottom of the post, and jump on board! Let’s take control of our shelves!


My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Temeraire 1Title: His Majesty’s Dragon (Temeraire, #1)
Author: Naomi Novik
Published: 2006
Length: 353 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Aerial combat brings a thrilling new dimension to the Napoleonic Wars as valiant warriors ride mighty fighting dragons, bred for size or speed. When HMS Reliant captures a French frigate and seizes the precious cargo, an unhatched dragon egg, fate sweeps Captain Will Laurence from his seafaring life into an uncertain future – and an unexpected kinship with a most extraordinary creature. Thrust into the rarified world of the Aerial Corps as master of the dragon Temeraire, he will face a crash course in the daring tactics of airborne battle. For as France’s own dragon-borne forces rally to breach British soil in Bonaparte’s boldest gambit, Laurence and Temeraire must soar into their own baptism of fire.

How I got it:

I bought it!

When I got it:

Last year, right after I finished reading Uprooted.

Why I want to read it:

Uprooted was one of my very favorite books last year, and as soon as I finished, I knew I needed to read more by Naomi Novik. I picked up book one in the Temeraire series (which is 9 books in all, I think), and just need to finally read it!


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 below!
  • And if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and have fun!

For more on why I’ve started Shelf Control, check out my introductory post here, or read all about my out-of-control book inventory, here.

And if you’d like to post a Shelf Control button on your own blog, here’s an image to download (with my gratitude, of course!):

Shelf Control

Catching up with Kate: A view from the halfway mark of the Kate Shugak series

for_white_backgroundsIf you read my blog from time to time, you may have noticed how often I seem to be reading a Kate Shugak novel. Kate Shugak, for those who don’t know, is the main character in an ongoing mystery series by Dana Stabenow. The series is currently 20 books strong, and the author is supposedly working on #21.

How did I get started with the Kate books? I honestly don’t know.

Perhaps I picked up the first one due to my obsession with Alaska.

Or maybe I picked up book #1 after seeing the series mentioned by Diana Gabaldon in her Methadone List.

Either way, something just clicked for me — and here I am a little over a year later, just wrapping up my read of book #10, Midnight Come Again.

I started the Kate Shugak series via audiobook, and enjoyed the first several volumes that way until I decided that I really wanted to gobble up the stories at a faster pace than the audiobooks allowed. Fortunately, my local library has kept the hard copies coming, so I was able to get the next book pretty much as soon as I put down the last.

The first book in the series, A Cold Day For Murder, was published in 1992. I listened to it in March 2015, and here’s what I had to say about it at the time, according to my Goodreads review:

I just finished the audio version of this book, and truly enjoyed it. A murder mystery set in the Alaska Bush, A Cold Day for Murder includes offbeat characters, gorgeous settings, politics, greed, snowmobiles, mines, shotguns, roadhouses, and so much more. The audiobook narrator does a great job of giving the various characters distinct voices, and the whole story moves along at a fast pace with never a dull moment. Main character Kate Shugak is a tough-as-nails crime investigator with local roots, family and clan loyalties, and an unerring sense of justice and the ability to sniff out clues.

Highly recommended for mystery fans, as well as for anyone wanting a little taste of Alaska.

I continued onward, and grew to love Kate herself as well as the sprawling cast of supporting characters more and more with each book I read. Kate is a smart, tough loner, a damaged soul, and a woman committed to justice and truth. She lives alone on a homestead miles from anyone, within the borders of a fictitious national park in the Wrangell area of Alaska. After a brief career in the district attorney’s office in Anchorage investigating horrible crimes, Kate seeks solitude and quiet, with just her enormous companion Mutt — half wolf, half husky — at her side throughout the Alaskan winters.

Kate is also a member of a large Aleut family, and her relationship with her grandmother, the domineering and well-respected tribal leader, forms a major theme throughout the books. Kate continually gets pulled back into the world of crime investigation, and each book has Kate at the center of one crime or another, not always willingly.

Through Kate’s experiences, we travel the state, from the Park to the Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea, to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay and the fishing harbors of Prince William Sound. Besides providing an up-close view of the natural wonders and man-made curiosities of Alaska, the books also weave into the story the ongoing corruption, political maneuvering, and favor trading that goes on behind the scenes. We get a crash course in Alaska politics and hot-button issues, like the exploitation of resources, the battle to keep tribal rights to subsistence fishing, the tourist and fishing industries’ impact on local economies, and so much more.

You can tell that my enthusiasm for Kate’s adventures stayed strong by reading my comments on book #4, A Cold-Blooded Business:

Another excellent addition to the Kate Shugak mystery series! Kate herself is a magnificent main character, tough as nails, ultra smart, and with a fierce love for her people and her land. In this book, Kate is hired to investigate drug dealing at the Prudhoe Bay oil facility, which means we get to see Kate outside of her comfort zone, in an entirely new setting, but still doing what she does best. It’s a surprisingly nuanced look at the impact of the oil industry in Alaska, as well as a terrific, dangerous adventure. Highly recommended!

What’s funny is that I’m not usually a mystery reader. In fact, while I generally enjoy the crime story in each of the Kate books, what truly draws me back over and over again is the people angle. I’ve just really fallen for Kate and the gang — Chopper Jim, Bobby Clark, and the rest of the folks living in and around Niniltna and hanging out at Bernie’s Roadhouse. And, as I mentioned, I’ve got this thing about Alaska. I’ve been for a few visits now, and can’t wait to go back… and meanwhile, the next best thing to being there is traveling there in a book!

Okay, but then I got to the 9th book, Hunter’s Moon, and I almost threw the damn thing across the room:

Damn you, Dana Stabenow! How could you do that? My heart is broken into a million teeny pieces right now. I love this series, but this one is just devastating. NOOOOO.

Ahem. That said, bring on the next book!

Not to be spoilery or anything, but man, that book just killed me. I won’t say why. Read it yourself and find out!

I couldn’t stop there, of course, so I continued on with #10, Midnight Come Again, which I finished (much) earlier today:

Appropriately, I finished Midnight Come Again just past midnight. It’s one of those books that is best read straight through, even if it means giving up a little sleep.

Midnight Come Again is an installment of the Kate Shugak series that’s hard to put down — less for the mystery than for the character development of Kate. The mystery is kind of “meh” in this book — Russian mafia, money laundering, involvement of FBI and state troopers. The personal side, though, is terrific.

Kate is dealing (not well) with the aftermath of the events from the previous book, Hunter’s Moon — and no, I won’t be forgiving Dana Stabenow for that any time soon! She’s a mess who’s shut down emotionally, living under a false name in the tiny town of Bering. When Jim Chopin — Chopper Jim — gets assigned undercover work in Bering, he’s instrumental in cracking Kate’s shell and helping her start her slow crawl back to life.

Kate is an amazing character, and she’s been through hell. I can’t wait for the next book, and plan to keep reading the Kate Shugak series until I’m all caught up!

Of course, I’m going to continue onward with #11 just as soon as my library hold request comes in. Meanwhile, I’m thrilled to have reached the halfway mark… and also, to have finally made it out of the 1990s! I have ten more books to go before I’ll be all caught up (#20, Bad Blood, was published in 2013). I’m not binge-reading or anything. I think of the Kate Shugak books as my reading comfort food (although the last two were about as far from comfort as I could imagine). I like to pick up a volume or two in between other things, both for the sake of getting a long-distance taste of Alaska and for the opportunity to check in with Kate.

Kate is one hell of a terrific character, and I’m invested in her life! I want that woman to be happy. Are you listening, Dana Stabenow? Ha, just kidding, don’t worry about me. A happy Kate probably wouldn’t have nearly as much drama in her life.

For those of you who’ve read further in the series — don’t tell me anything! For those who haven’t given the books a try yet, consider this my recommendation, yet again. The Kate Shugak books have heart, humor, drama, adventure, an amazing setting, and truly quirky and wonderful characters. Not to mention the odd grizzly bear.

Bundle up, light a fire, pour some hot cocoa, and curl up over at Kate’s homestead!

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Series Wrap-Up: Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children

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I just wrapped up my series read of the Miss Peregrine books by Ransom Riggs. What a fun and frightful journey it’s been!

I first read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children when it was published in 2011. Such a unique book! The plot itself is created to incorporate a treasure trove of vintage photos, each one weird and trippy — invisible children, one girl with two reflections, mysterious shadows, you name it. The creepy, odd pictures are strewn throughout the book, each one relating to the plot in same way.

The plot? The plot centers around an ordinary teen-aged boy named Jacob Portman growing up in a pretty standard suburb in Florida. His family is rich, and he’s bored and fairly friendless. Jacob has a strong bond with his grandfather Abraham, but as Jacob has gotten older, he’s stopped having patience for Abraham’s fantastic tales of monsters and strange beings — the tales that he believed whole-heartedly as a small child. When Abraham is murdered, Jacob’s family believes that he’s had a mental breakdown, insisting on having seen a grotesque three-tongued monster and sure that his dying grandfather gave him cryptic instructions for some sort of quest.

Finally, in an attempt to free Jacob from his delusions, Jacob’s father takes him for a visit to Cairnholm Island off the coast of Wales, where Abraham spent his youth during World War II as a refugee from Poland. On the island, Jacob stumbles across a secret portal to another time — literally. He enters a time loop, where it’s always 1940, and meets the peculiar children under the care of Miss Peregrine, a motley assortment of kids who all have bizarre gifts — the ability to fly, create fire, and control bees, among others.

But there are monsters as well, and Jacob eventually must choose between returning to the dull life he had before or staying and fighting alongside this group of new friends who’ve started to feel like a second family to Jacob.

The second book Hollow City, and the third, Library of Souls, continue Jacob’s saga, with non-stop action as Jacob and the peculiar children must rescue their mentor, fight truly disgusting horror-show bad guys, and yes, try to save the world. As with the original, all three books include generous helpings of vintage photos that illustrate the weird and indescribable other world of the peculiars.

As I mentioned, I read the first Peregrine story back in 2011, and always meant to finish the series. I faithfully bought books 2 and 3 when they were released, but by then, a few years had gone by and I didn’t remember much at all. So finally, I decided that this would be the year! I revisited book 1 by listening to the audiobook, then continued onward with the hard copy versions of books 2 and 3.

Overall, I enjoyed the books very much… although I have to admit that the conceit wears a bit thin by the third book.

The first book is full of quirky charm and delight. It’s a brand new world, and the author does a marvelous job of building that world, establishing the odd array of characters and the mysteries of the time loops. It’s weird and fantastical, but pretty terrific all at the same time. And even though there’s plenty of horror and conflict, it definitely has the tone of a plucky band of outsiders coming together to confront the forces of evil. Go, weird kids!

Perhaps the problem for me was reading all three books in a row, but somewhere along the way the specialness wore off and the series became just another adventure story. A good adventure story, but not quite as special. The 2nd and 3rd books lack the quirk and delight of the new, strange universe introduced in book 1. The middle and end volumes are good fun reads, but the peril and chase scenes become a bit tiring after a while. Even the use of vintage photos starts to feel old by the end, shoe-horned into the story as a necessity rather than being an extra and unexpected ingredient.

My inclination lately has been to binge-read series, but I do believe that wasn’t the right approach with the Peregrine books. Yes, I enjoyed them as a whole, but I might have enjoyed them more individually if I’d taken breathers in between.

Still, I’m mightily impressed with the world Ransom Riggs has created and the peculiar people who live in it. I recommend this series for readers from advanced middle grade level up to adults. Anyone who enjoys fantasy worlds and timey-wimey set-ups will have fun with Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children.

And a nice bonus for me is getting to look forward to the movie version, coming in the fall of 2016! I do hope the adaptation manages to capture the quirky flavor of the books.


Have you read the Miss Peregrine books? Will you see the movie?




Thursday Quotables: Library of Souls


Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

NEW! Thursday Quotables is now using a Linky tool! Be sure to add your link if you have a Thursday Quotables post to share.

Library of Souls

Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
(published 2015)

The final book in the Miss Peregrine series throws us right into the action as of the very first page::

We were boxed in, a wall hard to one side and glass shin-deep on the other, two strides from a creature whose only natural instinct was to disassemble us — and yet it made no move to close the gap. It seemed rooted to the floor, swaying on its heels like a drunk or a sleepwalker, death’s head drooping, its tongues a nest of snakes I’d charmed to sleep.

Me. I’d done that. Jacob Portman, boy nothing from Nowhere, Florida. It was not currently murdering us — this horror made of gathered dark and nightmares harvested from sleeping children — because I had asked it not to. Told it in no uncertain terms to unwrap its tongue from around my neck. Back off, I’d said. Stand, I’d said — in a language made of sounds I hadn’t known a human mouth could make — and miraculously it had, eyes challenging me while its body obeyed. Somehow I had tamed the nightmare, cast a spell over it. But sleeping things wake and spells wear off, especially those cast by accident, and beneath its placid surface I could feel the hollow boiling.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (, if you’d be so kind!
  • Click on the linky button (look for the cute froggie face) below to add your link.
  • After you link up, I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

Top Ten Tuesday: My top 10 settings for historical fiction

Top 10 Tuesday new

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is:

Top Ten Historical Settings You Love/ Ten Historical Settings You’d Love To See or Top Futuristic Books You Love/Ten Futuristic Societies I’d Love To Read in Books — basically this week is all about the past or the future….spin it however you choose!

I do love historical fiction, but I almost decided to skip this week’s topic. Part of my problem is that I enjoy reading about lots of different times and places, but if I read too much of any one in particular, it’s like sensory overload, and I end up having to avoid it ever after. Problems, problems… what’s a reader to do?


Still, I have certain favorites when it comes to historical eras and faraway lands. Here are my top 10, along with a stellar example or two for each:

1) Scotland, 1700s, especially around the time of the Jacobite Rising.
Top pick: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (obviously)


2) Colonial America
Top pick: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Witch of Blackbird Pond

3) Civil War
Top pick: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell or I Shall Be Near To You by Erin Lindsay McCabe


4) Women’s suffrage movement (US) – early 1900s
Top pick: The Cure For Dreaming by Cat Winters

Cure for Dreaming

5) World War I – battlefield dramas or hospitals or post-war mysteries — all good!
Top pick: Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear or In Falling Snow by Mary-Rose MacColl

Maisie DobbsIn Falling Snow

6) World War II
Top pick: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr; The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult; The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes… (the list is endless, but these are three recent ones that I read and loved)

All the LightThe Storytellership of brides

7) Tudor England
Top pick: Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

wolf-hallbring up the bodies

8) Australian history
Top pick: The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

Thorn Birds

9) French Revolution
Top pick: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Tale of Two Cities

10) 1400s Spain
Top pick: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks or Incantation by Alice Hoffman

People of the BookIncantation

Do you have any recommendations for historical novels set during my favorite eras?

Please share your links so I can check out your TTT posts!

If you enjoyed this post, please consider following Bookshelf Fantasies! And don’t forget to check out my regular weekly features, Shelf Control and Thursday Quotables. Happy reading!


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!


Top Ten Tuesday: Top ten series I want to read in one gulp

Top 10 Tuesday new

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is a freebie, meaning we can choose whatever we feel like writing about. Since I’ve still been thinking about my New Year’s resolutions and whether they’re going to end up being doable, I thought I’d tie my top 10 list this week to one of my resolutions: Reading new-to-me series all in a row, rather than reading individual books in a series as they become available. You can read more about this resolution here.

Here are the series I’ve yet to start (or in some cases, continue past the first book to the end) — but when I do finally read them, I want to read them all in one big gulp, bingeing from start to finish:

Note on images: With the exceptions of #1 and #10 below, all photos are taken by me. What can I say? I was bored and felt like playing!

1) Curse Workers series by Holly Black: I’ve heard these are great, and I’m looking forward to finally reading them!


2) Miss Peregrine series by Ransom Riggs: I’ve read the first book, but by now I’ll need to start again at the beginning if I want to appreciate the rest of the trilogy.

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3) The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss: Friends have been pushing me to start this series for years now, but I refuse to begin until I know the final book is on its way

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4) Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie

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5) The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh: The second book of this duology comes out this spring, and I’m going to wait until #2 is available before I start the first book.

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6) The Last Policeman by Ben Winters: I’ve had these books for a while now, and just need to convince myself to get started.

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7) Buffy, season 9 graphic novels: I have all of season 9 and most of season 10, but haven’t read any yet. I enjoy these most when I read a complete season all the way through… and I just need to pick a week to do 082

8) The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch: I guess this series isn’t completely finished yet, but I suppose I could read the first three and then see if I want to stay on the bandwagon.

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9) The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny: I read books 1 – 5 of this series so long ago, but never read 6 – 10. I think I should start over again at the beginning and see it through, finally.

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10) The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante: I haven’t read any of these, although I do have a copy of My Brilliant Friend on my Kindle. I keep hearing how wonderful these books are, and I think I should make a point of at least starting the series in 2016.



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Series Wrap-Up: The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede

Enchanted Forest collage

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede encompasses four novels set in one world — and be warned ahead of time: Your enjoyment of this series is by no means guaranteed just because you liked the first book. Each book is quite different, and that’s not necessarily a good thing.

First things first: If we were only talking about book #1, Dealing with Dragons, my enthusiasm would be much higher. In Dealing with Dragons, we meet Cimorene, a princess who doesn’t want the typical Happily Ever After with a handsome prince, fine gowns, and a kingdom to be pampered in. So Cimorene runs away and finds herself a large dragon, Kazul, who just so happens to need a princess of her own. In this world, princesses serve dragons — some willingly, some not so much — usually until they are rescued by a brave knight who comes to free them from “captivity”. Cimorene has no patience for such nonsense, and soon finds herself an indispensable assistant to Kazul, keeping house, observing dragon politics, learning about magic, and warding off dangerous wizards who want to steal the dragon’s magic. The book breaks gender roles in all sorts of interesting and unusual ways; my favorite is that the leader of the dragons is called King, which denotes a position, not a person. Kazul is a female dragon, but is still able to vie for the position of King…. and woe to anyone who mistakenly refers to her as the Queen.

Unfortunately, in my view, the focus shifts from book to book. Dealing with Dragons is the only book of the series I rated as 5 stars on Goodreads. I loved Cimorene’s courage and brains, the clever wordplay, and the way Cimorene defies expectations to become the person she wants to be. But suddenly, in book #2 (Searching for Dragons), Cimorene is a supporting player, and instead, the story is told from the point of view of Mendanbar, the reluctant king of the Enchanted Forest. Mendanbar’s story intersects with Cimorene’s as they go on a quest together to find out who is draining magic out of the Enchanted Forest and to rescue the kidnapped Kazul. Mendanbar and Cimorene have good chemistry, and Mendanbar is a fine leading man, but unfortunately, the zippiness of Cimorene’s grrrl power is a bit more subdued here.

In Book #3 (Calling on Dragons), we barely see our familiar characters at all, as the focus shifts once again, this time to the witch Morwen, a supporting player in the earlier books. I came close to abandoning the series altogether early on in this book. True confession: I have a dislike for talking animals, particularly when there’s an overabundance of them — and this book has more than enough to go around. Within the first few chapters, we meet all twelve of Morwen’s cats, each of whom has a name and a distinct personality and contributes to conversation, as well as a bewitched bunny named Killer who transforms first into a six-foot-tall bunny and eventually into a blue, winged, flying donkey. Killer is meant to be the comic relief, but is more annoying than funny most of the time. There’s a quest and an adventure that ends up involving Cimorene and Mendanbar, but they’re quite peripheral. The magical adventure aspects of the book become more enjoyable by the end, but there’s a lot of space taken up by new characters, odd magical rules, and never-ending journeying.

And then we come to the final book, Talking to Dragons, in which there’s a brand-new main character, Daystar, who must travel into the Enchanted Forest and figure out for himself what the purpose of his quest is. There he meets a temperamental young fire-witch named Shiara — clearly there as his love interest — and encounters talking lizards, elves, dragons, and dwarves before arriving at a climactic battle scene. I won’t tell you how Daystar’s story intersects with the characters from the earlier books (spoilers!), but they are all connected and come together for an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

As a series, the Enchanted Forest Chronicles feels a bit disjointed. The shift in main characters from book to book didn’t really appeal to  me. I suppose the intent is to broaden the scope of the world of the Enchanted Forest, but in my opinion, Cimorene and Kazul are the most interesting characters — and once they leave center stage, the story loses some of its charm. I was never bored exactly (although I was awfully close during the talking cat chapters), but I did find my attention wandering from time to time, and I found it a challenge to get into each new book, where we readers are required to leave behind the characters we’ve become fond of and start fresh with with a whole bunch of new ones.

All that said, let me now point out that I read this series in partnership with my 12-year-old son — and from that regard, I’d say the series was a success. My kiddo is a very reluctant reader, and so to encourage him, we read these books in tandem. He enjoyed the stories quite a bit, liked the action sequences involving dragons and wizards especially, and liked that there were plenty of funny scenes, humorous dialogue, and even some hints of danger (nothing too life-threatening, but still risky business).

Bottom line: While the Enchanted Forest Chronicles doesn’t strike me as strong enough to really hold adult attention, I do think it’s a great choice for middle grade readers, either to read on their own or as a very fun parent-kiddo reading partnership. And as an alternative for those who aren’t looking for a multi-book series or don’t like the sound of the focus changing from book to book, I think Dealing with Dragons would work perfectly well as a stand-alone. As the best of the bunch, it’s certainly a great read — and maybe if I’d stopped there, I’d have avoided the frustrations I had with the subsequent books.

The Trouble with Trilogies

I have a problem with trilogies. But not just trilogies.

Sequels, series, you name it. Anything that’s to be continued is just trouble for me right now.


Because after a certain point, I just don’t care. If I have to wait a year to find out what happens next, most of the time, I simply won’t still be interested enough to bother with it.

Why are there so many trilogies in the YA fiction world now? Why is it practically the norm to turn every potentially good story into a series? Whatever happened to a beginning, middle and end all in one book?

I loved The Diviners by Libba Bray. I preordered book 2, which was supposed to be out this summer. Lo and behold, the release has been delayed until 2015. Guess what? By the time Lair of Dreams comes out, I don’t know that I’ll feel like bothering any more. Sure, I loved the characters and the setting of the first book. The plot was different and interesting and made me want to know more. But I was also mostly satisfied with how it ended, and in fact my only quibble about the book was the fact that it was clearly building up to an ongoing story, even though the main plot of The Diviners did have a pretty great wrap-up.

Another example: I just DNF’d a book that concludes a YA trilogy that I’d enjoyed so far, by an author whose writing I admire very much. But yeah… I read the first two books, and I liked them a lot. But time has gone by, and I don’t feel a burning need to know more about the story, and when I read the first couple of chapters, I realized I’d be totally fine with not reading the book. Just. Didn’t. Care.

So what’s this mini-rant all about? I guess I’m just fed up with stories being stretched into three (or more) books when they could be told in one. The trilogy I just walked away from could have made one really good book, and I can think of a few others where the same would be true. Is it just publishers wanting to sell more books? Does a series have a glamor to it that a stand-alone doesn’t?

Look, I do read series. Take Outlander or A Song of Ice and Fire, for instance. These books are huge, and the worlds they contain are vast, and each book is an event. Or, for example, some of the great ongoing urban fantasy series, such as the Dresden Files books or the Mercy Thompson series. Each book in these is a new chapter, a new adventure, in a carefully created world that continues to grow and expand. I love all of the above — and will keep reading them until the authors are done, or until an asteroid wipes out life on Earth, or something equally cataclysmic occurs.

The problem with so many of the series out there, particularly (but not exclusively) in YA, is that a lot of them feel like filler. With many of the YA trilogies I’ve read over the years, the story is stretched and padded and chopped in order to make three books out of a story that, with some good editing and tightening up, could have been one great book. I’m tired of the “to be continued” ending that exists just to keep us coming back for more (or, to put it more cynically, exists just to keep us taking out our credit cards).

Not that my complaint is about the money, really: It’s about the storytelling. Tell me a great story, make me care, introduce me to amazing characters, and have a compelling story arc. With an ending.

Like I said, some series are great and deserve every page and every volume. But sadly, there are a lot that miss the mark by a long shot.

So, yeah, today I walked way from book 3 in a trilogy that I actually thought had a pretty good start.

If it’s been a year and I haven’t thought about the earlier books in all that time, even if I liked them when I read them, then chances are when the big finale finally rolls around, I won’t be around for it. Because I just won’t care any more.

Just something to think about.