Let there be rejoicing across the land

A.  Stanley Cup Playoffs begin TODAY!  I’m excited.  And I’ve priced tickets to Saturday’s Game 2 twice (#sleepisfortheweak, I can get to Easter dinner Sunday, no problem) despite reminding myself that they aren’t necessary in the month preceding Paris.  Ridley posted an awesome comparison of the playoff teams to romance novels at Love in the Margins.  I kind of take issue with some of her editorializing about why to love/hate particular teams, but I like her romance choices.  (Among other things, do not get me started about Iginla “deserving” a Cup, alright? That’s a specious argument that could also be applied to Alfredsson, too.)

B.  I’ve got reservations in a macaron-making class in Paris.  And at Le Cinq.  And grounds passes/Court 1 for two days of Clay Court Magic at Roland Garros. 

C.  On the reading front, I’ve finished two books.  Within a single week.  That hasn’t happened in months!  Rejoice for me, fellow genre fiction readers!  Well, only one of them is genre fiction, but still. 

The books in question:  Andrew Conte’s Breakaway: The Inside Story of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Rebirth and K.A. Mitchell’s Bad Influence.  Conte’s book and its description of the arena/moving drama made me wonder:  if Lemieux sold and stayed in Pittsburgh while the team went to Kansas City, would Sidney Crosby still be who he is?  I mean, yes, the raw talent was there, but would he have developed the same way without living with the hockey legend for years?  And if ownership had changed, would he have been pressed to return to hockey sooner rather than being able to stay on IR until his brain case actually seemed healed and he could skate without being dizzy?  Also, Ray Shero, ILU and your lamenting the cost of Dupuis once Hossa was injured.  If only you knew at that time that he’d turn out to be the best part of that deal in the long term.

Bad Influence - I really liked it as I read but need to go back and re-read to appreciate it.  But I loved the Old Bay ice cream and chipotle chocolate ice cream.

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bah humbug, get off my lawn

A while back, Sunita posted at Dear Author asking if genre fiction was creating a market for lemons.  The post generated a lot of discussion.  I didn’t contribute anything, but was nodding along as I read it.  There’s so much “noise” about new work, much of it through non-traditional venues or sources, that as a reader I find it hard to sort through it meaningfully and am often not impressed by what is touted as the great new thing.  It’s gotten to the point that there are very few reviewers whose recommendations I’ll take seriously.

But even as I’ve taken a pretty big step back in the volume of bloghopping and other social media I use, I am still seeing loads of marketing of new self-published books.  Is it successful?  Maybe others are buying these SPAs but I am not, because the samples I read are loaded with basic grammar and spelling errors, faulty sentence construction, character cliches, and info-dumping.  Why waste my reading time and cash (not even $0.99) on books that will make me pity the delusions of these authors and weep for the future of readers everywhere (if they think that dreck is as awesome as their squeeing indicates)?

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Since I’ve taken to browsing via tablet, I’m much less likely to comment or engage.  Maybe I need to rethink my browsing habits.  I miss interacting with other readers online more.  But I also don’t want to get sucked into drama, and the online community feels (to me) prone to drama and kerfluffles more today than I remember it being in the past.  Or maybe I’ve got a lower tolerance today.  *shrug* 

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Amazon Prime is bumping up the price.  Once I would have said it was worth even $99 per year based on the volume of books I bought with the free shipping.  It’s still worth that to me…but not because of books’ shipping costs.  I still buy paper books there, mostly text books and gifts, even though my Kindle purchases have dwindled almost to nothing; my bigger use is of the streaming and of shipping for other goods, mostly stuff that I can’t find easily locally.  (Seriously, I love Luna’s Chocolate Cherry Almond bars but none of the grocery stores near me stock them; just peanut butter and cookie dough — what is up with that?)

On a similar front, I keep getting emails from B&N to come back.  *sigh*  No.  I’m sorry, but no. 

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Another plug for the Budget Bytes cookbook and website: the one pot stroganoff turned out well.  I added an onion and some spice, and think it would probably be excellent meatless.  The vegetable “curry” was good, although it seemed like I ate it forever.  The banana cocoa baked oatmeal still ranks #1 among favorites (tied with the maple dijon chicken thighs and roasted sweet potato), although the coconut-applesauce-pineapple baked oatmeal isn’t bad.  I’m going to try the pumpkin version next.  (Yes, I like oatmeal for breakfast.  And I really like being able to make it on Sunday and pop a serving into the microwave all week for a good breakfast with minimal effort.)

Also on the food front, marzipan is still my favorite sweet.  Tienda had huesos de santo “cookies” on sale.  Yum.

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On the technology front, I’ve switched from an iPhone to an Android phone.  I’m still adjusting but have to say that I very much like the size — not the largest phone out there but larger than Ignacio who was a 3G (old, very old).

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Recently read: The Wedding Ring Quest by Carla Kelly

Ms. Kelly has long been a favorite historical romance writer of mine.  I found her through a recommendation back when Signet was still publishing trad Regencies.  Her books were a little unusual for trads in that most of the heroes and heroine were not titled, or if they were gentry they had often fallen on hard times.  Ms. Kelly is now published in the Harlequin Historical line for “regular” romance, with inspirational romances published by what I believe is an LDS publisher.

The Wedding Ring Quest is the story of Mary Rennie, an orphan lady of spinster-ish age who has been sent off in pursuit of an heirloom ring that was tossed into the batter for Christmas fruitcakes by her feckless cousin to whom the ring was given.  As she pursues the ring, she meets Captain Ross Rennie and his son, who are en route to Scotland for the holidays.  Napoleon has recently been sent to Elba and Captain Rennie is ashore after long “employment” by the Corsican.  After comparing family trees, it turns out that Mary and the captain are distant cousins.  Intrigued by the idea of chasing a ring in a cake (and also perhaps looking for an excuse to avoid his sister’s post-war plans for him, they join in the pursuit, which takes them to York and beyond. 

Mary as a character confused me.  She has no significant dowry but is described as pretty.  Her guardians aren’t oppressive but they also aren’t engaging or encouraging.  She hasn’t been treated as a drudge but she also hasn’t been treated as an equal to their daughter.  She’s unmarried…because? Because of a lack of men due to war? She was sympathetic is a sort of generic way, but I never really cared about her.

Captain Rennie was also sympathetic: a fish out of water in a way, now that he’s on land, suffering from grief and also maybe PTSD.  His relationship with his son was lovely. 

The pursuit of the ring ended (for me) rather predictably.  The thing I had not predicted was the captain’s response, which came out of left field and was shocking.  Unless you chalk it up to PTSD maybe? And a later bit in Scotland felt not very believable.  The ultimate ending, while suitable in the sense of a fresh start for everyone, felt somewhat strained.  (I’m being purposefully vague because I don’t want to spoil anyone.)

As an example of Ms. Kelly’s work, the text or prose is fine — she has a talent for painting word pictures without being verbose.  But I never felt entirely engaged by the plot or the characters.  Still, I was very pleased to actually read a book (any book!) from start to finish without feeling bored or setting it aside for long stretches.

B- from me.

 

On The Great Book Purge:  PB Ryan’s Gilded Age Mystery series (Nell Sweeney) has been added to the “to go” pile.  As has my copy of Alex Beecroft’s debut Age of Sail novel (which I loved when first published) and several old Mary Jo Putney and Jo Beverley historicals.

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Drive by – new Patricia Briggs, ongoing book purge, etc.

The good news:  I managed to finish a book.

The bad news:  I was not impressed by the book and am taking the series off auto-read and auto-borrow at the library.

I love Briggs’ Hurog duology, and I really liked the Mercy Thompson series when it began.  I like Briggs’ voice generally.  But I’m bored by Mercy as Mary Sue who gathers ever-more magical powers out of the blue in order to permit her to save everyone single-handedly.  I could probably have let that slide, but ongoing “the Pack hates Mercy” and the glacially moving other-magical-beings politics just aren’t holding my interest, and the one-and-done villains are getting stale.  Add in an ex-wife who is villified for being manipulative (as manipulative as Mercy but in a different way) and the way she was slut-shamed?  Yeah, done.

Also on the former auto-buy front, I downloaded the sample for the new In Death book.  Meh.

I’ve cleared out another bookshelf (a small one) that had mostly been filled with the (aged) backlists of Susan Napier, Emma Darcy, and Robyn Donald Harlequin Presents.  I accumulated them over years via library sales and paperbackswap.com, but many of them were not worth re-reading (for me) once I buckled down and gave them the 20 page test.

I was sorry to read of the death of Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of the Two Fat Ladies.  Must dig out her memoir, Spilling the Beans, and finish it.

Cookbook on my horizon:  Budget Bytes by Beth Moncel.  The Biochemist pointed me to the website when I was looking for a relatively simple but not boring menu for a birthday dinner (the guests included a very picky eater).  She likes the Honey Sriracha Chicken Thighs, but the Maple Dijon Chicken Thighs went over well with my guests, along with the Maple Roasted Sweet Potato with Pecans.  And the Banana Chocolate Baked Oatmeal is almost like dessert for breakfast.  I cut the recipe in half and bake in a cupcake pan.  Yum.

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The continuing book purge and other things

Well, my reading has continued to be Not Good lately.

Apparently I auto-wishlisted Josh Lanyon’s The Hell You Say at paperbackswap.com back when I still used the site regularly, so a copy arrived in my mailbox last week.  It was okay?  I mean, I read the ebook years ago when I was glomming Lanyon’s work.  My perspective has shifted a little bit and I’m not sure why exactly.  But my patience with Adrien as narrator has thinned, both in terms of Adrien as amateur sleuth and also with what I perceive as his passive approach to the people in his life (no, I’m not talking about Jake specifically but how he interacts with everyone).  Eh.  I’m kind of curious to see what would happen if I went back and re-read the entire series but I’m a little afraid of spoiling a series that I have recall with fondness in general.

In an effort to kill the slump, I’m extending The Great Book Purge of 2013 into 2014.  Sooner or later one of the books I skim for the keep-or-discard test will grab me.  Or that’s my hope/theory.

So I’ve pulled these books from the shelves:

  • The Courageous Heart by Jane Marnay — a Harlequin Romance from 1957
  • The Twilight of Imperial Russia by Richard Charques — from 1958, dated but of interest in light of a lot of things going on in what some people might consider the new imperial Russia
  • Dangerous Men and Adventurous Women edited by Jayne Ann Krentz
  • Walter Isaacson’s biography of Benjamin Franklin
  • Dana Stabenow’s A Grave Denied

Books already put on the discard pile are NR’s Whiskey Beach, The Wife of Martin Guerre, and Queen of Shadows by Edith Felber.  I thinned my collection of the backlists of Susan Napier and Robyn Donald’s Harlequin Presents before moving but may circle back.

I’m also reading the oh-so-fascinating (not really) The Law of Financial Institutions for a night class.  The lecture is pretty good, if kind of bouncing around at this point.

Cara Black’s Murder in Montmartre has been put on my nightstand, to keep Scahill’s Dirty Wars company (some day I’ll be finished with it, dammit, but I’m reading about 20 pages/week right now so it’ll be awhile).  I liked an earlier installment in Black’s mystery series set in Paris in the 1990s. 

Unrelated:  does anyone have recommendations for language acquisition software?  I would like to learn enough French to be able to understand airport/train/metro announcements, and to be able to ask people for directions to the closest metro/cab stand/bar/etc or for the check or to be able to order simple things at a restaurant or bar. 

 

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SBD: what I’m reading right now

What I’m reading right now:  The Food of Spain by Claudia Rosen.  It’s a gift book, one that I asked for.  It’s a cookbook but includes narrative about culture and history.  Will I cook many any of the recipes?  That remains to be seen.  But the book is a beautiful object and I have enjoyed paging through it so far.

The other thing I’m reading:  Imogenedisease’s original fiction set in a slightly alternative NHL.  This is all The Biochemist’s fault: she linked to the first story and also somehow conned me into becoming a hockey fan.  Some of it might qualify as gay romance, while other stories not so much.  I’m ambivalent about hockey RPF in some ways, both the tropes and self-insertion (the back button is my friend), but there is some thoughtful writing there, hiding among the porn.

Other bookish things:

For the first time since 2001 (I think?), I did not renew my B&N membership.  It’s just not worth it for me at this point: the coupons aren’t accepted at the bookstore closest to me, and the largest one nearby has a poor selection of books (but lots of toys and Nook accessories) that diminishes my interest in browsing.

Aside from Roden’s book, I did not ask for any books for the holiday. I gave two Isabel Allende books as gifts.  B&N gift cards, which have long been a gift staple, were neither given nor received this year.

Last week, JA Konrath’s Cherry Bomb appeared on Amazon’s self-publisher list of best sellers, according to Media Bistro.  I’m kind of confused/curious about who determines what is self-published and how it is done.  I get that Konrath has the rights to the electronic book and self-published the ebook…but it was originally published by Hyperion in 2009.  Does the initial publication via traditional publisher not matter when they are determining who/what is self-published?  I would expect that the book’s long tail and probably a fair portion of the readers of that series were cultivated by the original publication, not the self-published iteration.

 

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Wrapping up 2013

2013 ended on a pretty low note, reading-wise.  I tried to read two Eva Ibbotson novels and wound up DNF’ing both of them.  A Countess Below Stairs failed the 50 page test; The Morning Gift fared slightly better, but also ended up on the discard pile (for the end of The Great Book Purge of 2013…which is morphing now into TGBP13-14).  While I was interested in the story and Ibbotson’s treatment of Jewish refugees in England in light of her own life experience, I found the heroine to be pretty Mary Sue-ish.

Earlier in the month I finished Garry Disher’s Whispering Death, a mystery set on Australia’s Mornington Peninsula.  I enjoyed the mystery as I read it, especially the way the disparate threads all tied together in the end.  I even liked the way some questions were left unanswered about the history that came for a few of the characters outside the scope of the book.  I do think there may be some backstory to Inspector Hal Challis that might impact how readers perceive him in this book, so it might be worth reading the series in order.

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I haven’t finished my post on AAR’s Top 100 list; it’s about half finished.  Starting from my posts the last time they did the poll was tempting, but since my opinions of various books have changed over time, I decided to start from scratch.

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Best of 2013 (published in 2013)

  • Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch — I’m not sure it’s fair to include this book, since it won’t be published in the US until February 2014, but it was actually published in the UK in 2013 so it counts.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  There were some technical flaws in this book that tighter copy editing would have helped, but I do think Aaronovitch is an excellent storyteller.
  • American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics by Dan Savage.
  • Spook Squad by Jordan Castillo Price
  • I’m still inching through Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars; I can’t read too much at a time because I find it demoralizing.

Best of 2013 (published before 2013)

  • My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger
  • Sacred by Dennis Lehane
  • Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale

 

Strictly speaking, none of these books are genre romance, even though a couple of them have been widely read or recommended by romance readers.  I’m not entirely shocked by this, since I’ve been less enthused about what’s getting published by romance imprints this year.  I’ve got some hope for the coming year, since Carla Kelly has a new historical coming out.

Several series that I usually anticipate have edged off my auto-buy list:  the In Death series feels like it has come to a resting place for me as a reader; I’m bored by the Archie/Gretchen dynamic in Chelsea Cain’s series (unchanging, feels stale); etc.

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