Author Archives: Christine

This Week in Books: Week 6

I know it’s the 7th week, and I’ll be doing a second post after I finish this one, but I never got around to week 6. My father-in-law was in the hospital, and life intervened! That also means that I actually didn’t get a lot of reading time, so I only finished 3 books.

Dying is my BusinessDying is my Business
by Nicholas Kaufmann
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Dying is my Business #1
Publication Date: October 8, 2013
Genre: fantasy, YA
Pages: 369
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard

Given his line of work in the employ of a psychotic Brooklyn crime boss, Trent finds himself on the wrong end of too many bullets. Yet each time he’s killed, he wakes a few minutes later completely healed of his wounds but with no memory of his past identity. What’s worse, each time he cheats death someone else dies in his place.

Sent to steal an antique box from some squatters in an abandoned warehouse near the West Side Highway, Trent soon finds himself stumbling into an age-old struggle between the forces of good and evil, revealing a secret world where dangerous magic turns people into inhuman monstrosities, where impossible creatures hide in plain sight, and where the line between the living and the dead is never quite clear. And when the mysterious box is opened, he discovers he has only twenty-four hours to save New York City from certain destruction.

This was a lucky spin book that had been on my TBR since March, 2017. It’s a piece of urban fantasy, and I ended up enjoying it, although it hasn’t really stuck with me in the two weeks since I finished. There is a second book in the series that has been published, and the author had a third book planned, but I think that it didn’t get picked up for publication, and that’s been almost 10 years ago at this point. I enjoyed it, but not enough that I am going to seek out book 2, especially since book 3 never made it into print.

What Darkness BringsWhat Darkness Brings
by C.S. Harris
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #8
Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Genre: historical mystery
Pages: 349
ReRead?: Yes
Project: 2024 read my hoard

London, September 1812. After a long night spent dealing with the tragic death of a former military comrade, a heart-sick Sebastian learns of a new calamity: Russell Yates, the dashing, one-time privateer who married Sebastian’s former lover Kat Boleyn a year ago, has been found standing over the corpse of notorious London diamond merchant Benjamin Eisler. Yates insists he is innocent, but he will surely hang unless Sebastian can unmask the real killer.

For the sake of Kat, the woman he once loved and lost, Sebastian plunges into a treacherous circle of intrigue. Although Eisler’s clients included the Prince Regent and the Emperor Napoleon, he was a despicable man with many enemies and a number of dangerous, well-kept secrets—including a passion for arcane texts and black magic. Central to the case is a magnificent blue diamond, believed to have once formed part of the French crown jewels, which disappeared on the night of Eisler’s death. As Sebastian traces the diamond’s ownership, he uncovers links that implicate an eccentric, powerful financier named Hope and stretch back into the darkest days of the French Revolution. When the killer grows ever more desperate and vicious, Sebastian finds his new marriage to Hero tested by the shadows of his first love, especially when he begins to suspect that Kat is keeping secrets of her own.

And as matters rise to a crisis, Sebastian must face a bitter truth--that he has been less than open with the fearless woman who is now his wife.

This is 8th (out of 19) book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series, so I’m still in the books I’ve read before. I am not doing a full reread, but I don’t remember the number of the last book that I read, so I started at book 7 and am reading from there. My mom also reads these books, and we share a kindle account, so turning to GR isn’t a fool-proof way of determining where I am in the series.

I enjoy this series a lot, especially Hero, but this wasn’t my favorite installment so far.

With my TBR project, I started a new practice that I wish I’d been doing all along – I drop a note on the first page of the book with my name & the date that I read the book.

Old God's TimeOld God's Time
by Sebastian Barry
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: March 1, 2023
Genre: fiction
Pages: 261
ReRead?: No
Project: booker prize

From the two-time Booker Prize finalist author, a dazzlingly written novel exploring love, memory, grief, and long-buried secrets

Recently retired policeman Tom Kettle is settling into the quiet of his new home, a lean-to annexed to a Victorian castle overlooking the Irish Sea. For months he has barely seen a soul, catching only glimpses of his eccentric landlord and a nervous young mother who has moved in next door. Occasionally, fond memories return, of his family, his beloved wife June and their two children, Winnie and Joe.

But when two former colleagues turn up at his door with questions about a decades-old case, one which Tom never quite came to terms with, he finds himself pulled into the darkest currents of his past.

A beautiful, haunting novel, in which nothing is quite as it seems, Old God's Time is about what we live through, what we live with, and what may survive of us.

Old God’s Time was a Booker Prize long-list finalist that didn’t make it onto the short-list. Sebastian Barry is an Irish author, and this felt like a very Irish book to me, and one that I didn’t entirely enjoy. Barry is tackling difficult subjects – trauma, and the deep legacy of child abuse within the Catholic Church. It’s told from the first person perspective of a retired police officer, Tom Kettle, who has essentially outlived everyone he loved, and who has made a sort of complacent existence for himself.

Tom is an unreliable narrator, so I’m still not entirely sure about the truth of his reality. I would read more Barry, though.

This Week in Books: Week 5

Two days into February, and I’ve already finished 30 books this year, 18 of which (according to GR) are part of my “Read My Hoard” challenge. This week, I finished 6 books, and I’ll be talking about 5 of them. I’ll be doing a post on A Time of Gifts, Between the Woods and the Water and The Broken Road, once I finish The Broken Road, which I will start sometime this month.

Death at the Deep EndDeath at the Deep End
by Patricia Wentworth
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Miss Silver #20
Publication Date: January 1, 1951
Genre: mystery: silver age (1950-1979)
Pages: 342
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard

Miss Silver searches for a lonely young woman who has disappeared

Anna Ball has disappeared. For a year she has moved from one job as a nanny to another, unable to settle or make friends. After just a month with her last family, she walks down the road, steps onto a bus, and is never seen again. No one notices she has gone. Almost no one. There is one woman who cares about Anna: a long-ago school pal named Thomasina, with whom she would trade a weekly letter. When the letters stop, she panics, knowing that if she doesn’t help the girl, no one will. She seeks out Maud Silver, the kindly spinster detective, and asks for her help. A lonely girl has disappeared without a trace, and Miss Silver smells a whiff of murder in the air.

I bought most, if not all, of the Miss Silver mysteries for my kindle as they came up on sale, as well as a pretty significant number of Wentworth’s stand-alones and other, smaller, series entries. I started off reading them in order, but got bogged down with The Brading Collection, which I found boring. According to GR, I have it marked as finish, but that may be wrong, since I don’t recall making it to the end. In any case, after that one, I sort of soured on Miss Silver, which really isn’t fair, because any series can have installments that are less engaging to specific readers. When this one popped up as a random selection for me, I decided not to worry about order of reading, since it doesn’t really matter.

This was a middling Miss Silver for me – not as enjoyable as some, but still engaging enough that I never flagged reading it, and I’m looking forward to making my way through the rest of the Patricia Wentworth kindle books that I have accumulated over the years.

The St. Ambrose School For GirlsThe St. Ambrose School For Girls
by Jessica Ward
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: July 11, 2023
Genre: YA
Pages: 368
ReRead?: No

Heathers meets The Secret History in this thrilling coming-of-age novel set in a boarding school where the secrets are devastating—and deadly.

When Sarah Taylor arrives at the exclusive St. Ambrose School, she’s carrying more baggage than just what fits in her suitcase. She knows she’s not like the other girls—if the shabby, all-black, non-designer clothes don’t give that away, the bottle of lithium hidden in her desk drawer sure does.

St. Ambrose’s queen bee, Greta Stanhope, picks Sarah as a target from day one and the most popular, powerful, horrible girl at school is relentless in making sure Sarah knows what the pecking order is. Thankfully, Sarah makes an ally out of her roommate Ellen “Strots” Strotsberry, a cigarette-huffing, devil-may-care athlete who takes no bullshit. Also down the hall is Nick Hollis, the devastatingly handsome RA, and the object of more than one St. Ambrose student’s fantasies. Between Strots and Nick, Sarah hopes she can make it through the semester, dealing with not only her schoolwork and a recent bipolar diagnosis, but Greta’s increasingly malicious pranks.

Sarah is determined not to give Greta the satisfaction of breaking her. But when scandal unfolds, and someone ends up dead, her world threatens to unravel in ways she could never have imagined. The St. Ambrose School for Girls is a dangerous, delicious, twisty coming-of-age tale that will stay with you long after you turn the last page

Another “dark academia” book that I checked out of the library – this one more successful than the last one, This Is How We End Things. Fancy boarding school stories are catnip to me, especially when told from the perspective of an outsider. The blurb for this one says “Heathers meets The Secret History,” which is a bit of a stretch – The Secret History is really the standard by which all dark academia is judged, and it continues to largely stand alone. But, this book was entertaining enough, and I’m not sorry I read it.

by Benedict Jacka
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Alex Verus #6
Publication Date: August 4, 2015
Genre: urban fantasy
Pages: 296
ReRead?: No


Alex Verus is a mage who can see the future, but even he couldn't have seen this day coming. Alex has agreed to join the Keepers, the magical police force, to protect his friends from his old master, the Dark Mage Richard Drakh.

Going legit was always going to be difficult for an outcast like Alex, and there are those in the Keepers who aren't keen to see an ex-Dark mage succeed. Especially when Dark mages are making a play for a seat on the council, for the first time in history.

Alex finally has the law on his side - but trapped between Light and Dark politics, investigating a seedy underworld with ties to the highest of powers, will a badge be enough to save him?

It looks like 3.5 stars is the rating of choice for this week. Veiled is the 6th book in the Alex Verus series, which I have been reading for years now. The first 5 are on my book club account, but I’ve read all of those, so I decided to pick up the series by checking this book out of the library. There are currently a total of 12 books in the series, and Jacka just released the first installment in a new series, so maybe that means that the series has concluded? Anyway, this wasn’t my favorite installment – a bit more magical politics that I’m interested in, but I really enjoy urban fantasy, and this was no exception. I’ll be continuing with the series, I’m just not sure when.

God Save the QueenGod Save the Queen
by Kate Locke
Rating: ★★½
Series: The Immortal Empire #1
Publication Date: July 1, 2012
Genre: fantasy
Pages: 383
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard

The Year is 2012—and Queen Victoria still rules with an immortal fist.

She's the undead matriarch of a Britain, where the Aristocracy is made up of werewolves and vampires, where goblins live underground, and mothers know better than to let their children out after dark. A world where technology lives side by side with magic, where being nobility means being infected with the Plague (side-effects include undeath) and Hysteria is the popular affliction of the day.

Xandra Vardan is a member of the elite Royal Guard, and it's her duty to protect the Aristocracy. But things get complicated when her sister goes missing. Xandra will not only realise she's the prize in a dangerous power struggle—but she'll also uncover a conspiracy that threatens to topple the empire itself.

This was another random number generator selection for me, which had been on my TBR since July 4, 2012. The plot summary turned out to work better for me than the book itself, which I found to be a bit lacking. The writing felt undercooked and a bit juvenile, like someone’s NanoWriMo manuscript that could have used more editing. It billed itself as steampunk, but those elements were almost non-existent, and the romance between the main character and the love interest was not particularly convincing. Overall, I was disappointed, and will not be reading on with the series.

Navajo AutumnNavajo Autumn
by R. Allen Chappell
Rating: ★★★
Series: Navajo Nation Mysteries #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 151
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard

Thomas Begay is found dead-drunk under the La Plata Bridge ...not unusual for Thomas Begay. What is unusual, is BIA investigator Patsy Greyhorse, found lying beside him ...not drunk, or even a Navajo, but very dead nonetheless. Long time friend Charlie Yazzi, fresh from law school, risks his career ...and even his life to help his old schoolmate. The Answer seems to lie with the Yeenaaldiooshii ...should one choose to believe in such things. In the far reaches of the reservation there still are traditional Navajos living their lives with few concessions to modern mores. Guided by their strong sense of cultural heritage these outliers remain a strong anchor for the Navajo Nation. This story follows the lives of such people, caught up in a plot that could have far reaching implications for the entire tribe.

My dad had purchased this entire series back in 2014, so when the random number generator gave me #8 in the series, I decided to go back to book 1 and try it out. I’m still not sure if I will read on or not. This was quite a short mystery, so I blew through it in a couple of hours. I liked the setting, I liked the main character, and I found the writing to be quite readable, especially for a self-published mystery. For now, I’m leaving the rest of the series on my TBR.

Friday Reads 2.2.24

On my agenda for this week/weekend:

I’m finishing up God Save the Queen before I start any of these books, and I’m still slowly reading Beloved and Our Mutual Friend. I’ve made solid progress on both.

  • Centennial by James Michener: this is the book that I’ve pulled off of my set aside shelf. I am currently at 22% and hope to either finish or be about 3/4 finished by my next Friday Reads post.
  • The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold: this is a piece of urban fantasy that I stumbled on while I was making my digital TBR. It’s not a book I owned, but it came up during the process and I thought it looked fun. I’ve been enjoying the UF that I’ve been reading, so I put it on hold at my library and here we are.
  • Navajo Autumn by R. Allen Chappell: this is a self-published series that my dad bought for our kindle library before his death. He must have liked them, because he bought – and presumably read – all 8 of them. It’s a short mystery, under 200 pages. If I like it, I have the rest of the series to read. If I don’t like it, I’m taking the entire series off the TBR.

I finished all of the books that were on my Friday Reads post for last week!

Checking in on the Challenge

It’s almost the end of January, so I thought that this would be a good time to check in on Read My Hoard. So far, I’ve read 13 books from my TBR:

  1. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
  2. Billy Boyle by James R. Benn (I have decided that I will not be continuing with this series; the book itself is in the bag of books I am collecting to take to the UBS)
  3. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (this book is also headed to the UBS)
  4. Beast in View by Margaret Millar
  5. Miss Plum and Miss Penny by Dorothy Evelyn Smith
  6. Babel by R.F. Kuang
  7. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest
  8. Where Shadows Dance by C.S. Harris
  9. How to Fall by Jane Casey
  10. When Maidens Mourn by C.S. Harris
  11. Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
  12. Spelunking through Hell by Seanan McGuire
  13. Death at the Deep End by Patricia Wentworth

Spelunking through Hell and Death at the Deep End were random picks delivered to me by the universe and the random number generator. Thanks, universe!

I decided to spin for five more, to be read or deleted in the month of February:

  1. The Tree of Hands by Ruth Rendell (on the TBR since March 2, 2017)
  2. God Save the Queen by Kate Locke (on the TBR since July 4, 2012)
  3. Dying is My Business by Nicholas Kaufmann (on the TBR since February 4, 2014)
  4. Navajo Nation by R. Allen Chappell (this is book 1 of the Navajo Nation mystery series, acquired and read – I think – by my father. There are 9 of them on the TBR, and I actually spun for #8, but I’m going to read #1. I’m not at all sure about this series, so this will either motivate me to read the series, or will clear 9 books in one fell swoop).
  5. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis (on the TBR since August 15, 2014)

I’m well on my way to slay Smaug!

This Week In Books: Week 4

I can’t believe that it is already almost February! January is a month that has historically dragged for me, but this year it is just chugging along. January 5 was my six month semi-retirement anniversary, and I’ve settled into a groove.

So, this week wasn’t quite as spectacular as my 8 book week last week, but it was still a fine reading week in which I finished five books. I can also report back that I finished my digital TBR, and between the two accounts, it stands at 1605 books.

How To FallHow To Fall
by Jane Casey
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Jess Tennant #1
Publication Date: January 1, 2013
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 352
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard

Sixteen-year-old Jess Tennant has never met any of her relatives, until her mom suddenly drags her out of London to spend the summer in the tiny English town where her family's from. Her mom's decision is surprising, but even more surprising is the town's reaction to Jess. Everywhere she goes, people look at her like they've seen a ghost. In a way, they have—she looks just like her cousin Freya, who died shortly before Jess came to town.

Jess immediately feels a strange connection to Freya, whom she never got to meet alive. But the more Jess learns about the secrets Freya was keeping while she was alive, the more suspicious Freya's death starts to look. One thing is for sure: this will be anything but the safe, boring summer in the country Jess was expecting.

I started the week with this YA mystery that had been on my TBR since August of 2014. I’ve read other books by Jane Casey, from her Maeve Kerrigan series, and have enjoyed them, which is why I perked up when I saw this one. I have no recollection of the discussion that led to its purchase on my book club account.

For some reason, it seems that mystery has a bit neglected in YA publishing – there is a lot of YA fantasy and romance, but not a ton of YA mystery. I don’t know why this would be, since mystery is the second most popular genre after romance, but there is probably a reason. Anyway, I liked this book fine – it wasn’t a great mystery, but it also wasn’t a bad mystery. Some of the characters were a bit over the top, but I have found that to be true in YA generally, so that’s not surprising. There are two follow-up books which are available through my public library, but I haven’t yet decided if I will be continuing.

These Names Make CluesThese Names Make Clues
by E.C.R. Lorac
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Robert MacDonald #12
Publication Date: January 1, 1937
Genre: mystery: golden age (1920-1949)
Pages: 272
ReRead?: No

"An invitation to a "treasure hunt" open to thriller writers and lesser mortals confronts Scotland Yard's Chief Inspector Macdonald with two baffling deaths."— Kirkus Reviews

It's all fun and games (and fake names) until someone ends up dead…

Amidst the confusion of too many fake names, clues, ciphers, and convoluted alibis, Chief Inspector Macdonald and his allies in the CID must unravel a truly tangled case in this metafictional masterpiece, which returns to print for the first time since its publication in 1937. This edition includes an introduction by CWA Diamond Dagger Award-winning author Martin Edwards.

"Should detectives go to parties? Was it consistent with the dignity of the Yard? The inspector tossed for it—and went."

Chief Inspector Macdonald has been invited to a treasure hunt party at the house of Graham Coombe, the celebrated publisher of Murder by Mesmerism. Despite a handful of misgivings, the inspector joins a guest list of novelists and thriller writers disguised on the night under literary pseudonyms. The fun comes to an abrupt end, however, when "Samuel Pepys" is found dead in the telephone room in bizarre circumstances.

This was a clever, puzzle-y Golden Age Mystery that I checked out of the library. It was reprinted by the British Library in their Crime Classics line, which are notable for their wonderful covers.

I have previously read 4 Lorac titles: Fell Murder, published in 1944, Fire in the Thatch, published in 1946, Checkmate to Murder, published in 1944, and Post After Post-Mortem, published in 1936. I also read Crossed Skis, published under the name Carol Carnac in 1952, which has been my favorite so far. I have universally enjoyed everything I’ve read by Carnac/Lorac and will read more as they are reprinted, or as I acquire them. Some, but definitely not all, of them are available through my library.

Spelunking Through HellSpelunking Through Hell
by Seanan McGuire
Rating: ★★★½
Series: InCryptids #11
Publication Date: March 1, 2022
Genre: urban fantasy
Pages: 352
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard

Love, noun:

1. An intense feeling of deep affection; may be romantic, filial or platonic.

Passion, noun:

1. A strong or barely controllable emotion.
2. Enthusiasm, interest, desire.
3. See also “obsession.”

It’s been fifty years since the crossroads caused the disappearance of Thomas Price, and his wife, Alice, has been trying to find him and bring him home ever since, despite the increasing probability that he’s no longer alive for her to find. Now that the crossroads have been destroyed, she’s redoubling her efforts. It’s time to bring him home, dead or alive.

After I completed my digital TBR, I decided that it would be fun to – from time to time – let chance choose my next read. I used a random number generator, which gave me number 995. Turning to the list, I found this book.

This was a very lucky pick for me, because this series happens to be one of my favorite – if not my favorite – urban fantasy series. I’ve been reading it since the first book in the series, Discount Armageddon, was published all the way back in 2012. Rather than focusing on a single character, McGuire has focused this series on a family of cryptozoologists – the Price family. The series started with two books focused on Verity Price, and she remains my favorite character. There have been books about her two siblings, Alex & Antimony, her non-biological “cousin,” Sarah (a Johrlac/cuckoo) and now, with this one, her grandmother, Alice Price.

I think I may have somehow missed book 10, Calculated Risks, and I’ll be going to back to pick that one up in the next couple of weeks. The 12th book, Backpacking through Bedlam, is also out, and I’ll catch up before book 13, Aftermarket Afterlife, scheduled for publication in early March.

Lucky pick for me, though!

I read a couple of other books, which I’ll be talking about (hopefully) in future posts:

  • When Maidens Mourn by C.S. Harris
  • Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson (a post about this one is imminent)
  • Live Bait by P.J. Tracy

As for what I’ve got going now:

  • Between the Woods and Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor: I’m reading the print edition published by NYRB. I finished A Time of Gifts last week, and promptly moved onto the second installment.
  • Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens: this is a current classics long read, which I am reading one chapter a day (most days). I’m at 32%. This is a great way for me to read Dickens.

Friday Reads: 1.26.2024

This week’s Friday reads includes 2 library books & a random pick:

  • Death at the Deep End by Patricia Wentworth: I decided to use the TBR number generator to pick me a book, and this is what turned up as book #995. So far, I’ve been having good luck with this – my last number generator pick was the book I am reading right now, Spelunking through Hell by Seanan McGuire. This one is book 20 in the Miss Silver series. I’m not sure what number I am at on this series, but it’s also not a series that needs to be read in order, so it doesn’t really matter. I acquired this book on February 1, 2019.
  • Live Bait by P.J. Tracy: This is book 2 in the Monkeewrench series. A friend mentioned that she really liked this series in a conversation on another space, which reminded me that I wanted to continue on with the series after reading the first book.
  • The St. Ambrose School for Girls by Jessica Ward: This is at least the second time I’ve checked out this book. At this point, I’m either going to read it or take it off the list. Hopefully it will be more successful than my last “dark academia” library borrow, This is How We End Things, which I thought was pretty lame.

As you can see from my sidebar, I’m currently reading Between the Woods and Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor and Spelunking through Hell by Seanan McGuire. I expect to finish Spelunking through Hell in the next couple hours, and will probably finish Between the Woods and Water over the weekend. I’m also continuing with my chapter a day approach to Our Mutual Friend, which may be the perfect way for me to read Dickens – I’m at 32%.

This Week In Books: Week 3

I had a very successful reading week – I finished a total of 8 books, which is kind of crazy, but included 3 books that I had set aside and decided that it was time to either finish or DNF. I’ll start with those three.

by Cherie Priest
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Clockwork Century #1
Publication Date: June 1, 2009
Genre: fantasy
Pages: 416
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard

In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.

But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.

Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenaged boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.

His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.

This book had been on my “set-aside-will-come-back” shelf on GR for the longest – maybe as much as 5 years. When I started the TBR project, I decided that this shelf was some low-hanging fruit to jump start things. I was at around 50% in this book, so I re-downloaded it to my kindle and finished it in about 2 hours.

I am still on the fence with whether or not I will continue with this series. I seem to like the idea of steampunk more than I like the actuality of steampunk. Also, this book had zombies and I overdosed on zombies about eight years ago and no longer read zombie books. I’m not sure that all of the books in the series have zombies, though, so I might enjoy the next one more. If I decide to move forward with the series, will check it out of the library.

by R.F. Kuang
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: August 23, 2022
Genre: fantasy
Pages: 544
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard

From award-winning author R. F. Kuang comes Babel, a historical fantasy epic that grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of language and translation as the dominating tool of the British Empire

Traduttore, traditore: An act of translation is always an act of betrayal.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel. The tower and its students are the world's center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver-working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as the arcane craft serves the Empire's quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide . . .

Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence?

This book is so (theoretically) within my wheelhouse that it might have been written for my wheelhouse. It has so many of the things that I love – dark academia, Oxford, magic, alternate-history. Nonetheless, I struggled with this book, so much that I set it aside for months.

I think that my problem is that the beginning really dragged. Kuang was building her magic system and world and introducing her characters in a way that some people would call leisurely, but I might, were I feeling uncharitable, call nearly interminable. I was bored. I didn’t expect to be bored.

I found the second half a lot better than the first half, though, so I’m glad I stuck with it. I also have her entire Poppy War series on my TBR, but who knows when I will get to those?

Miss Plum and Miss PennyMiss Plum and Miss Penny
by Dorothy Evelyn Smith
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1959
Genre: fiction
Pages: 214
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard

"I do not anticipate for one moment that Miss Plum has been murdered, though I should have some slight sympathy with her assassin if she had."

Miss Penny is a middle-aged spinster living a cheerful, contented life, complete with perfect housekeeper, in an idyllic English village. Her romantic life consists of an annual Christmas card from her old flame George, and her social swirl involves Stanley, a prissy neighbour who keeps her in mind for a future wife, and Hubert, a neurotic widowed priest with an alienated son.

Into this stable life comes Miss Plum, whom Miss Penny saves from drowning herself in a duck pond and takes into her quiet, orderly home. The villagers embrace the perpetually weepy, forlorn young woman-at first. But soon her welcome wears thin. With joyfully dark comedy, hilariously odd locals, and an unexpected reappearance from long-lost George, Dorothy Evelyn Smith brilliantly evokes the havoc wreaked by social niceties, misplaced sympathies, and keeping up appearances-not to mention the urge to defend one's peaceful existence!

And now for something completely different!

I started Miss Plum and Miss Penny during Dean Street December, but got sidetracked with other things. In my focus on clearing the decks, I went back to it and finished it. I’ve never read anything else by Dorothy Evelyn Smith, although O The Brave Music – reissued as part of the British Library Women Writers collection has been on my radar for a couple of years.

This was an odd book, but I really liked it. It was acerbic and witty and I loved Miss Penny’s independence. Miss Plum was deeply annoying, and I was wholly unsurprised with how it ended – more or less happily for all concerned.

I also read the following books, which I will (hopefully) circle back to later:

  • Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly
  • Children of the Revolution by Peter Robinson
  • Saint Peters Fair by Ellis Peters
  • A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor
  • Where Shadows Dance by C.S. Harris

My ridiculous TBR and the 2024 “Read My Hoard” challenge

Preliminary to the discussion of my challenge, at the beginning of the year, I decided that it was time to try to get a handle on my preposterous personal library of unread books in all of the different formats that I own: kindle, print & audio.

Years ago, I started an Amazon kindle account with a group of 6 friends – one has fallen by the wayside and one passed away last year (a great personal loss), but the remaining 4 of us (5 total) have been going strong since January, 2012. That account has a total of 1177 titles. I also have a family account that I share with my parents, my daughter, and one of my nieces. That account sits at 2799, and goes back to 2009, when I bought my first kindle.

I’ve been grappling with what to do with all of the books sitting on those accounts for a years. At the beginning of January, I decided that it was time to make a list of the books that I haven’t yet read, and that are sufficiently within my wheelhouse that I might some day read them. I’ve finished the smaller of the two accounts, and that came to about 600 books that I haven’t read, and might someday read.

I’m at about the halfway point of the family account, and, in terms of chronology, I’m in June, 2013. What that means is that in the first 5 years of owning a kindle, we (ok, let’s be honest, it’s me. I’m the problem. It’s me) bought half of the books, which is twice as many as I bought in the subsequent decade. The books that actually interest me have become fewer and further between as I go backwards.

A lot of the books were bought by my dad, and they are bad, self-published military thrillers, westerns and other books that I will never read. He passed away a few years ago, so if he didn’t read them before he passed, they will never be read, as there is no one else who will read them. I’ve considered clearing them out, along with anything that is now available for free from KU, but I haven’t made a decision on that yet. And, as well, a lot of these early books were freebies that I picked up in my initial glee over owning a kindle that I am never, ever going to read.

In conclusion, my digital TBR is at 1257 kindle titles, with 5 years left to go on my family account. I am expecting to end up at around 1600 titles, total. This doesn’t include my physical library or my Audible account. The Audible account is much smaller – around 450 titles – and most of those have been read either by myself or by my husband &/or son, who are the big audio book consumers in the house. I am a comfort listener, which means that I listen to the same books/series over and over. I am probably not even going to bother with the audible account. I may or may not do the physical bookshelves – because I am constantly interacting with them, books don’t get lost there the way that they do on my kindle.

Which brings me to my only challenge of 2024: the “read my hoard” challenge. This is basically exactly the same as the Mt. TBR challenge, but with dragons. Because rather than thinking of my tbr as a mountain to be scaled, I think of myself as a dragon, and my books as the glittery bits that dragons collect, love and obsess over.

The levels (named after various dragons of fiction & other media) of the Read My Hoard challenge are:

  • Toothless: 12 books
  • Saphira: 24 books
  • Falcor: 36 books
  • Mushu: 48 books
  • Temeraire: 60 books
  • Smaug: 75 books

I am trying to slay Smaug, and if I get there, I will circle back for one or two of the other dragons. My goal is quite simple:  is to limit my book buying this year to fewer books – print or digital – than I manage to remove from my TBR. This is of dubious achievability, so I’ll see what happens. Once I finish the entire spreadsheet, I will have a baseline from which to work, and will be able to determine if I end the year with fewer books than I started with – fingers crossed.

Because I used a spreadsheet, that means that I can re-sort the books by any category that I’ve entered into the spreadsheet – author, series, when I bought the book, etc. It also numbers each row automatically. I thought it would be fun to add a bit of randomness to the process, so each month (not January, because there are only 10 days left) I am going to use a random number generator to pick me two books to read.

In addition, the purpose of this project is not only to read the books I’ve collected, it’s also to make a decision on the books. As such, I am not *required* to finish a book in order for it to count. It’s enough to read a few pages, or even just the description, and decide “nah, I’m never going to read this book,” to take it off the list. The goal is to get through the list. If the conclusion is to DNF or DNR, that’s absolutely fine. I was fairly inclusive in making the list – if my immediate reaction wasn’t “that sounds completely awful” or “I will NEVER read that” then I added it to the list.

This Week in Books: 1/7/24 through 1/14/24

I finished 5 books this week.


The Name of the RoseThe Name of the Rose
by Umberto Eco
Translated from: Italian
Rating: ★★★★
Publication Date: January 1, 1980
Genre: fiction, translated fiction
Pages: 536
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard

The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. His tools are the logic of Aristotle, the theology of Aquinas, the empirical insights of Roger Bacon—all sharpened to a glistening edge by wry humor and a ferocious curiosity. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey, where “the most interesting things happen at night.”

A spectacular popular as well as critical success. The Name of the Rose is here reprinted for the first time with Umberto Eco's delightful and instructive postscript.

I’ve had this book on my TBR list for years. I can’t remember when I bought my copy – and I think that this might be the second copy I’ve owned, with the prior copy ending up a victim of a book purge at some point. I’ve started the book several times and gotten bogged down and never returned to it. This time, I was determine either to finish it or to take it off the TBR forever.

I ended up giving it 4 stars, although that’s at least partly because it is such a feat of writing. Apparently Eco was an Italian professor of semiotics. I googled and read about semiotics at least three times while I was reading The Name of the Rose and I still don’t really understand what it is. But, credit where credit is due, this is a book that is chock full of symbolism and references. It’s set in a medieval monastery, and it did feel very authentic to me.

I’m pretty sure that I’ve also seen the movie at some point in the past, because I vaguely remembered the solution to the mystery. It’s a journey to get there, and I’m not sorry I took it, but the mystery definitely is not the point of the book. And the, at times, overt misogyny of the medieval church was hard to take.

In conclusion, I’m glad I read it and I will never read it again, so my paper copy can go into the bag to take to the UBS to sell back. I also think that this will likely comprise my entire experience with Eco. As a side benefit, it’s translated fiction from the Italian, so I can chalk one up for my goal of reading more translated fiction in 2024.

This Is How We End ThingsThis Is How We End Things
by R.J. Jacobs
Rating: ★★½
Publication Date: September 12, 2023
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 300
ReRead?: No

Riley Sager meets If We Were Villains in a compelling new psychological thriller by RJ Jacobs, following a tight-knit group of graduate students studying the psychology of lying. When one of them is discovered dead after an experiment, everything the group thought they knew about deception crumbles...

Campus is empty, a winter storm is blowing in, and someone is lurking in the shadows, waiting for their chance to kill again.

Forest, North Carolina. Under the instruction of enigmatic Professor Joe Lyons, five graduate students are studying the tedious science behind the acts of lying. But discovering the secrets of deception isn't making any of the student's more honest though. Instead, it's making it easier for them to guard their own secrets – and they all have something to hide.

When a test goes awry and one of them is found dead, the students find themselves trapped by a snowstorm on an abandoned campus with a local detective on the case. As harbored secrets begin to break the surface, the graduates must find out who's lying, who isn't, and who may have been capable of committing murder. It turns out deception is even more dangerous than they thought...

A foreboding new dark academia thriller of deception and suspense, This is How it Ends follows the unraveling of a close group of students as they contend with what it means to lie, and be lied to.

Oh, what a disappointment. I am a huge fan of the dark academia aesthetic, so when my hold finally came up on this book, I was excited to read it.

Such a very meh reading experience for me. A mediocre thriller with a twist that I saw coming for miles.

Two Kinds of TruthTwo Kinds of Truth
by Michael Connelly
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Harry Bosch #20
Publication Date: October 31, 2017
Pages: 417
ReRead?: Yes

Harry Bosch is back as a volunteer working cold cases for the San Fernando Police Department and is called out to a local drug store where a young pharmacist has been murdered. Bosch and the town's 3-person detective squad sift through the clues, which lead into the dangerous, big business world of pill mills and prescription drug abuse.

Meanwhile, an old case from Bosch's LAPD days comes back to haunt him when a long-imprisoned killer claims Harry framed him, and seems to have new evidence to prove it. Bosch left the LAPD on bad terms, so his former colleagues aren't keen to protect his reputation. He must fend for himself in clearing his name and keeping a clever killer in prison.

The two unrelated cases wind around each other like strands of barbed wire. Along the way Bosch discovers that there are two kinds of truth: the kind that sets you free and the kind that leaves you buried in darkness.

I’ve been spending much more at the gym on the treadmill recently – I’m trying to walk for an hour in the morning, 4 to 5 times a week since mid-December (admittedly, however, we are in the middle of major icy winter weather, so I’ve been unable to get there for two days, which is bumming me out). As such, I’ve been listening to audiobooks while I walk my 3 miles. I am a huge Bosch (the television series and the book series) fan, and love the way that Titus Welliver has narrated the later Bosch mysteries. In addition, I really think that Connelly has been on fire for his last few Bosch books – I thought that The Dark Hours was exceptionally good. So, I’ve been revisiting the audiobooks while I work out and clean and craft.

Women Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1950sWomen Crime Writers: Four Suspense Novels of the 1950s
by Charlotte Armstrong, Dolores Hitchens, Margaret Millar, Patricia Highsmith, Sarah Weinman
Rating: ★★★★
Series: Women Crime Writers: Library of America #2
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Genre: mystery: silver age (1950-1979)
Pages: 848
ReRead?: No
Project: 2024 read my hoard

In place of the mean and violent streets evoked by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, the pioneering women crime writers of the 1940s and ’50s uncovered the roots of fear and mania in a quiet suburban neighborhood or a comfortable midtown hotel or the insinuating voice of a stranger on the telephone. This volume, the second of a two-volume collection, brings together four classics of the 1950s that testify to the centrality of women writers in the canon of American crime fiction. Each in its own way examines not only an isolated crime but the society that nurtures murderous rages and destructive suspicions.

Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief (1950) stages a parental nightmare in a midtown Manhattan hotel, as an out-of-town mother reluctantly leaves her child in the care of a stranger so that she can accompany her husband to a banquet where he is the guest of honor. This fateful decision unleashes the barely submerged forces of chaos that haunt modern urban life.

In The Blunderer (1954), Patricia Highsmith tracks two men, strangers to each other, whose destinies become intertwined when one becomes obsessed with a crime committed by the other. Highsmith’s gimlet-eyed portrayals of failed marriages and deceptively congenial middle-class communities lend a sardonic edge to this tale of intrigue and ineptitude.

In Beast in View (1955), Margaret Millar’s intricately constructed tour de force of insidiously mounting tension, a voice from a woman’s past unleashes a campaign of terror by telephone. As the threats mount, the facades of ordinary life are stripped away to reveal unsuspected depths of resentment and madness.

Two teenagers fresh out of stir after a bungled robbery set their sights on what looks like easy money in Dolores Hitchens’s Fools’ Gold (1958)—and get a painful education in how quickly and drastically a simple plan can spin out of control. The basis for Jean-Luc Godard’s film Band of Outsiders, this sharply told tale is distinguished by its nuanced portrait of a sheltered young woman who becomes a reluctant accomplice and fugitive.

I bought this omnibus and it’s companion – the one with the books from the 1940s – last year when they both went on sale for $1.99 each for the digital editions. I’d like to read both of them in their entirety by the end of the year, but we’ll see.

This is a review for Beast In View by Margaret Millar, which is the third book in the collection. Apparently Millar was married to Ross McDonald, another author of American hard-boiled/noir style mystery. I thought that this book was excellent – quite twisted with unreliable narration. I can only hope that the other 3 books in the collection reach the level of this one & I will be a happy reader, indeed. Stay tuned for more!

Watching the DarkWatching the Dark
by Peter Robinson
Rating: ★★★½
Series: Inspector Banks #20
Publication Date: January 1, 2012
Genre: mystery: modern (1980-present)
Pages: 416
ReRead?: No

DCI Alan Banks reluctantly investigates DI Bill Quinn with Inspector Joanna Passero. Quinn, convalescing at St Peter’s Police Treatment Centre, was killed by a crossbow on the tranquil grounds, and left compromising photos. Quinn may be disreputable, linked to a vicious crime in Yorkshire and to a cold case – English Rachel Hewitt 19 vanished in Estonia six years ago.

I actually forgot that I had read this one. I thought it was better than the last Inspector Banks that I read, with a pretty good plot, and enjoyed the section of the book where Banks gets out of England and goes to Estonia to try to figure out how a long-ago disappearance impacted his current murder.

What you can expect for next week:

I’m currently reading A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor. My daughter and I have a very informal two-person book club where we slow read a book and get together for coffee at least a couple of times during our reading to discuss where we are at – these tend to be classics or more difficult books. Right now, we are reading Beloved by Toni Morrison, which has been on my TBR for twenty years, at least. I’m listening to Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly. And, finally, I still have The Invisible Bridge on my desk, waiting for me to pick it up and get it finished.

Friday Reads: 1.12.2024

My plans for next week:

A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor: this is part of my #readmyhoard challenge for 2024. It is a reread, but I bought a copy of the NYRB edition for my bookshelves after reading a library borrow. I also bought the next 2 books in Fermor’s narrative, which I also plan to read this year. I didn’t want to pick up the continuation without revisiting this one.

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope: Also a reread. I read the entire Chronicles of Barsetshire about 5 years ago and thoroughly enjoyed them. So much that I decided to revisit them in 2024, and, hopefully, move onto the Palliser novels after I finish up Barsetshire.

Saint Peter’s Fair by Ellis Peters: A theme has developed for next week – I am planning rereads. Several years ago, I bought all but the first 3 Brother Cadfael mysteries when they went on super sale for my kindle. I’ve read a number of them, but I’m not quite sure where I let off. I really loved the series and want to finish it, so, again, I’m embarking on a reread of the books on my account.

All of these books qualify as comfort reads for me. I’m looking down the barrel of ice, snow, and extremely cold weather. My husband & I just made sure that our water pipes are insulated, we’ve unhooked the outside water to avoid frozen pipes, and he’s testing our generator right now. We have plans to hunker down to ride out the winter storm. Hopefully we can avoid a power outage, but if needs must, we are prepared.