The Long Drive: More Mysteries

The Long DriveIt’s been a travel-heavy few months. Thank goodness for audiobooks! They haven’t all been great, but that’s the risk you take.

The Kingdom

The Kingdom, Clive Cussler with Grant Blackwood(By Clive Cussler with Grant Blackwood, read by Scott Brick)

The adventures of Sam and Remi Fargo continue in Nepal, where the couple is racing to discover the location of a sacred artifact ahead of sociopath billionaire Charlie King. Cussler’s novels are just so much fun, and narrator Scott Brick is phenomenal. May these books never end! 5/5 stars

All That Remains and Cruel and Unusual

All That Remains, Patricia Cornwell(By Patricia Cornwell, read by Kate Burton)

All That Remains centers around a serial killer, Cruel and Unusual around a serious case of mistaken identity. I remember enjoying Cornwell’s novels in high school, and was surprised to find myself disappointed with both books. Characters were flat or downright annoying, and Cruel and Unusual in particular felt rushed and incomplete. 2/5 stars

What audiobooks are you obsessed with right now? I’d love to get some recommendations!

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Review: Strange Gods

Strange Gods, Annamaria AlfieriVera McIntosh is Scottish by heritage, but her heart belongs to the people and land of British East Africa — she cannot be the well-bred, meek Scottish woman her mother wishes she could be. Inside her lurk feelings no “good” lady would have: a love of independence, a desire for adventure, and lingering thoughts of police officer Justin Tolliver.

When Vera finally sees Justin again, it’s not the tender reunion of which she’s dreamed. Her uncle, a skilled doctor and local hero, has been found dead in a nearby field with a spear sticking from his back.

Justin is determined to find the killer…as is Vera. Their investigation will take them through villages and towns, and eventually into the wilds of British East Africa. Can they discover the killer, or will he or she — like Vera’s love for Justin — remain a secret forever?

A sweet story

Well, not the murder part. That actually awful. But Vera and Justin’s story isn’t. They’re both good people, in love with each other and the wild country in which they’ve found themselves. Vera’s a spitfire, something I can always get behind, and Justin is intelligent and fair. They’re easy to root for.

Another excellent character is Kwai Libazo, Justin’s lieutenant. He listens twice as much as he speaks, the perfect recipe for outdoing those around you. Kwai is a great character, and comes close to stealing the show from his still-pretty-darn-British-even-if-they-think-they’re-not co-stars.

The mystery itself is well done, with suspects creeping out from under every rock. We’ve got a lush, a cuckolded husband, an angry uncle, a humiliated medicine man…everything you need to keep things interesting.

Lacking some spine

As you might have guessed from “British East Africa,” Strange Gods is set in the early 19th century when England still controlled huge swaths of Africa — the tensions between white colonists and African natives is a major theme in the story.

For the most part it’s handled well, everything from high-ranking police officials’ dislike of the natives to Justin’s kind-but-better-than-thou treatment of Kwai. Unfortunately it felt like the author couldn’t decide whether to make it central or peripheral to the story, so it kind of ended up as both, which made the story feel weaker. I’m not saying that race should have been the central conflict, but I don’t think the idea of falsely arresting and hanging an African just because it was convenient was treated with enough care.

Overall, though, Strange Gods is a solid novel and a great start to my 2016 reading challenges.

(I read this book as part of the Monthly Motif Challenge. January’s challenge was to start the year with a Who Dunnit/mystery read.)

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Review: Uprooted

Uprooted, Naomi NovikLike everyone else in her village, Agnieszka has always known that the Dragon will choose her best friend — graceful, brave, intelligent Kasia — as his companion. He’s not a real dragon, but he is the only thing standing between the village and the Wood, a twisted forest full of ancient evils.

But when something unexplainable happens at the selection ceremony, the Dragon chooses Agnieszka instead of Kasia.

It seems the Dragon isn’t happy about his choice either. Agnieszka’s domestic skills are worse than lamentable, and she always bungles the strange lessons the Dragon tries to drum into her head. The words she learns to say cause amazing things to happen, but she doesn’t understand what it all means.

And when Agnieszka bravely, stupidly ventures into the Wood to save the captured Kasia, she sets in motion a chain of events that may leave her world in ruins.

Not your mama’s YA

I love young adult literature that doesn’t feel like it. Forget the love triangles, the moping, and the girl drama, let’s go on an adventure with a total badass!

The Dragon considers Agnieszka a lost cause, but it’s clear from the beginning that she’s something special. She’s smart, brave, and the perfect level of hot-headedness to shake up the Dragon’s neat little world.

The Wood casts a shadow over everything in Agnieszka’s life, and she’s determined to discover why. Was it always corrupted? Can she use her magic to release those who have been imprisoned there? Is it possible to heal the Wood entirely?

Uprooted takes Agnieszka from the muddy lanes of her village to the treacherous grandeur of the capital, the horrifying heart of the Wood to the heat of battle, but never lets the reader forget the power of believing in yourself. The writing is spot-on, and the secret in the Wood is well-crafted.

This isn’t Novik’s first brush with dragons. If novels about war are your thing, check out her Temeraire series. The first, His Majesty’s Dragon, has some really great moments.

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Writing Prompt #1: Cleaning

Writing Prompt(This month’s prompt is Cleaning: Write about doing laundry, dishes, and other cleaning activities.)

I’ve always liked cleaning. Something about the process — clean mirrors first so drips don’t ruin a just-wiped counter, sweep then mop, wash dishes during cook time so you’re not left with a pile just before dinner — soothes my anxiety-riddled brain. Cleaning involves clear-cut steps, and takes you from a messy bathroom or kitchen to a sparkling one.

Doing laundry is my favorite. I love sorting things by color, running them through the washer and dryer, and bringing them out fluffy and sweet-smelling. Out of chaos, there is order.

My mother-in-law insists that there is a specific gene that determines whether or not you can fold clothes, and readily admits that neither of her children inherited it. So I fold, as well as wash and dry.

I like knowing that I can take care of myself. In college my suitemate found my roommate washing her underwear in the bathroom sink because she didn’t know how to use a washer or dryer. How do parents not teach their kids these things?

Doing laundry is also a way I show my husband that I love him and want him to look his best. I love it when he thanks me for what I do. Which must be hard sometimes, because I mock him mercilessly about his “wittle sensitive baby skin” and how we have to use the “free and gentle” stuff so his clean shirts don’t make him itchy.

And if there’s a better feeling in the world than sliding between clean sheets with freshly-shaved legs, I’ve yet to find it.

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2015 End of Year Book Survey

2015 End of Year Book SurveyEarly every December I realize I’m officially sick of whatever year we’re currently in, and start dreaming obsessively about how much better the next year will be. This is doubly the case with 2015 — some awful stuff happened, and lately I’ve spent a lot of time worried about…well, everything.

Fortunately we’re on the cusp of the New Year, a time to look back, keep what you find good and valuable, and dropkick the detritus out into the snow. I try do this in all areas of my life, and here on the blog I get the chance to focus on my reading.

Best Books in 2015

1. Best book you read In 2015?

2. Book you were excited about & thought you were going to love more but didn’t?

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, by Caitlin Doughty. It was a good book and I’m a big fan, but it didn’t focus on the information I thought it would.

3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2015?

The Castaway Lounge, by Jon Boilard. My first review at Insatiable Booksluts, and not something I thought I’d end up enjoying as much as I did.

4. Book you read and recommended to people most in 2015?

Lincoln’s Melancholy, by Joshua Wolf Shenk. I’ve loved reading about Lincoln for about a year now, and Shank’s book has some amazing insights into our 16th president’s mental challenges. As someone who struggles with similar feelings, it was inspiring to read about how Lincoln dealt with his depression and anxiety.

5. Best series you discovered in 2015?

Karen White’s Tradd Street series. The House on Tradd Street was a great way to recapture a little bit of that Charlestonian feel I had when visiting South Carolina with my mom in 2014.

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?

Deborah Blum! The Poisoner’s Handbook was one of my favorite reads of the year. She’s a meticulous researcher and excellent writer.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

The Castaway Lounge focused on seedier topics than I normally read about, but ended up being a great read.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2015?

Thanks to a ridiculous commute to and from work, I’ve been listening to a ton of audiobooks. My library has a lot of options, and in the last few months I’ve rediscovered my love of Clive Cussler novels. Dirk Pitt will always be my favorite, but the Kurt Austin and Sam/Remi Fargo series are also excellent. They’re action-packed and so much fun!

9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Pioneer Girl, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s annotated biography. It’s packed full of so many details that I’m sure I missed lots. And once I read that again, I’ll probably cycle back through the Little House series for the nine millionth time.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015?

I’m going to cheat a little on this one — it’s an entire book of book covers. Jane Austen: Cover to Cover is a beautifully designed book on its own, and it includes some amazing examples of her novel’s covers.

Jane AustenCover to Cover, Margaret Sullivan

11. Most memorable character in 2015?

Theodore Roosevelt (not a character, but definitely a character). The guy was a machine, comprised of teeth, glasses, and adventure. I’ve read a couple biographies on TR in the last couple years, and just finished watching Ken Burns’ documentary The Roosevelts.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2015?

The Unpublished David Ogilvy, by David Ogilvy. God damn, the guy could write.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2015?

Again, Lincoln’s Melancholy. It felt so good to see that I and a man I admire had some of the same mental challenges. Lincoln’s method for dealing with his issues has had a great impact on me, and I like to think I’m better for having read the book.

14. Book you can’t believe you waited until 2015 to finally read?

None in particular. I feel like I got just the right kind of reading at just the right times this year.

15. Favorite passage/quote from a book you read in 2015?

First up is a quote from Kathy Reichs’ Déjà Dead:

When summer arrives in Montreal it flounces in like a rumba dancer: all ruffles and bright cotton, with flashing thighs and sweat-slicked skin. It is a ribald celebration that begins in June and continues until September.

And then from The Unpublished David Ogilvy:

Develop your eccentricities while you are young. That way, when you get old, people won’t think you’re going gaga.

16. Shortest & longest book you read in 2015?

  • Shortest – The Woman in Black, by Susan Hill (176 pages)
  • Longest – Colonel Roosevelt, by Edmund Morris (784  pages, audiobook)

17. Book that had a scene in it that had you reeling and dying to talk to somebody?

It didn’t make me reel, but I found Shopping, Seduction, and Mr. Selfridge endlessly interesting. It made me want to pal around with marketing folks and “talk shop.”

18. Favorite relationship from a book you read in 2015 (be it romantic, friendship, etc)?

I loved the relationships between the main characters in The Legend of Eli Monpress. The team of outlaws (Eli, Joseph, and Nico) obviously care for each other a great deal, and do some amazing and stupidly dangerous things to save each other.

19. Favorite book you read in 2015 from an author you’ve read previously?

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Pioneer Girl. It’s annotated, but the original words are Wilder’s, and I’ve loved her stories since I learned how to read chapter books.

20. Best book in 2015 you read based solely on a recommendation from someone else?

The only book recommended to me this year by someone I know personally was The Legend of Eli Monpress, and it was a total success.

21. Genre you read the most from in 2015?

This year it’s back to mystery/thriller (26 books), with history in a far second (17 books).

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2015?

I’ve got a little bit of a thing for Garrett from Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink. He’s a know-it-all nerd, but he’s also sweet and good.

23. Best 2015 debut you read?

I don’t know if I read anything that came out this year.

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2015?

The Legend of Eli Monpress, for sure. A beautiful, harsh, fully-realized world that I’d love to spend time in.

25. Book that was the most fun to read in 2015?

Any of the Clive Cussler audiobooks I listened to. They’re brain candy for smart people.

26. Book that made you cry or nearly cry in 2015?

The Butler: A Witness to History (audiobook) got me a little choked up. Eugene Allen was a butler to eight US presidents, and lived long enough to see President Obama’s inauguration.

27. Book you read in 2015 that you think got overlooked this year (or the year it came out)?

I don’t pay too much attention to what other people say about the books I read. Generally only when I’m feeling conflicted about a book will I purposefully search out others’ reviews.

Looking Ahead

1. One book you didn’t get to in 2015 but will be your biggest priority in 2016?

My mom’s been on me for years to read Allan Gurganus’ The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.

2. Book you are most anticipating for 2016 (non-debut)?

None in particular. My reading plans have been pretty organic this year, something that will continue in 2016.

3. 2016 debut you are most anticipating?

I don’t think much about debut dates, but see below.

4. Series ending you are most anticipating in 2016?

Currently the only series I’m reading through is the Tradd Street series, and the next one doesn’t come out until 2017 (boo!).

5. One thing you hope to accomplish in your reading/blogging in 2016?

To enjoy books and reading as they happen, and talk about them with other bookish people.

What are your 2016 reading goals? Let’s talk!


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