Tuesday, 5 February 2019

#CBR11 Book 4: "Pipe Dreams" by Sarina Bowen

Page count: 336 pages
Audio book length: 9 hrs 34 mins
Rating: 2 stars

Lauren Williams used to love hockey, but after Brooklyn Bruisers goalie Mike Beacon suddenly dumped her without warning, she stays far away from the game, and is very grateful that her boss, Nate Kattenberger, has her running his office in Manhattan, so she can focus on moving on and building a life for herself on her own. She's about to graduate from college, with a lot of bright career prospects in her future and she's planning on having a baby, by herself. She's none too happy when Nate's former assistant, Becca, who now helps manage the team gets a concussion, so Lauren has to help cover for her and brings her up close to the hockey team on a daily basis again.

Mike Beacon got married to his high school sweetheart after he knocked her up, and while he never regretted the daughter he got, his wife never really wanted to be married to a top athlete, and their marriage suffered. When they finally separated, he made his move on Lauren, who he'd dreamed about for years, but kept things professional with until it was clear his marriage was a thing of the past. Mike and Lauren spent a deliriously happy year together, but just as Mike's divorce was about to come through, he discovered that his soon to be ex-wife had terminal cancer, and the situation was unbearable for his little girl. Making the difficult choice to move back in with his wife and daughter, he didn't really tell Lauren the severity of the situation (he kept claiming to have a good reason for this - I never really got what the heck he was thinking).

Now, two years later, Mike is raising a thirteen-year-old and regretting screwing things up with Lauren. Since she appears to still be single, he decides to try to win her back, but he has his work cut out for him, both with Lauren, and his daughter, who because of malicious gossip from other players' wives believes Lauren to be some evil home wrecker.

I hadn't read any Sarina Bowen for a long time when I picked up Brooklynaire, which turned out to be a fun, if a bit flawed, read. Since I still had about a week left on my Audible romance deal, I decided to check out the previous book in the series, with a plot that clearly runs at least partially concurrently with the sequel. I was surprised at how much overlap there actually was, and if I'd read these in order, I probably would have rated Brooklynaire lower, since there were whole scenes that were more or less repeated entirely. I read them in the right order, though, as there is no way I would have wanted to pick up the sequel if I'd read this one first.

This was, to be honest, quite a slog. While I liked Lauren as a supporting character in Brooklynaire and she was a perfectly agreeable romance heroine in her own right, I didn't really care for Mike at all, nor his plot moppet adolescent with her temper tantrums and jealousy fits, even though her male nanny/live in violin teacher was pretty cool. His reasons for going back to his wife were noble enough, but the way he handled things with Lauren was abysmal, and he certainly didn't deserve to have her back in any way. I didn't care for the way he pretty much nagged his way back into her good graces, and her heart. If you see nothing romantic or attractive about the book's hero, the romance isn't really going to work. That was the case here.

MINOR SPOILER! Also, I never thought that I'd find something worse than the still frequently occurring "pregnancy epilogue". This book, however, ends with an actual, extended description of childbirth, which is no one's idea of a good time. That was pretty much the final nail in the coffin for me, and I think Sarina Bowen is on extended hiatus for me again.

Judging a book by its cover: You can tell that it's a book about hockey because the burly, muscular dude on the cover is holding a hockey stick. Of course, the hero of this book is a goalie, so should really be wearing a lot more padding. In general, this guy is wearing way too little for a hockey player, even in a friendly team practise, I would think going on the ice wearing nothing but some dark trousers would be inviting all sorts of injuries. But how could we tell it was a romance if there wasn't man titty on the cover?

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

#CBR11 Book 3: "The Girl in the Tower" by Katherine Arden

Page count: 395 pages
Rating: 4.5 stars

Spoiler warning! This is book 2 in a trilogy, and the story pretty much follows on directly from the ending of the previous book. This book, while very good, doesn't really stand on its own, you would do much better to start at the beginning, with The Bear and the Nightingale

There are roving gangs of bandits travelling the countryside around Moscow, pillaging and burning the villages and abducting young girls. Prince Dimitri sends his cousin, brother Alexandr, affectionately known to his family as Sasha, to investigate. Sasha has been out travelling the land, and brings an injured and exhausted priest he found on his travels to his sister Olga's household for tending. Neither of them know about Father Konstantin's connection to their family, and are therefore shocked when the priest tells them of the strange events surrounding their father's death and their sister Vasya's disappearance and likely demise.

As Sasha believes his sister to be dead, he's certainly not expecting to find her riding hell for leather, pursued by bandits, disguised as a boy, with three young girls clinging to her for dear life. Reunited at the monastery where Sasha and Dimitri spent part of, where the men are resupplying while out searching for traces of the bandits, Sasha is forced to lie to his cousin about Vasya's identity, presenting her as his younger brother Vasily. As they return to Moscow, Olga has no choice but to support Vasya's deception either, as their sister has chosen to flout all the conventions of society. In a world where women either marry and get locked up in terems, or go to convents (and get locked up there), Vasya's refusal to conform to the gender norms is unacceptable and eventually gets her (and her family) into more trouble.

It will come as no surprise to any reader that our brave and non-conforming heroine's deceptions are eventually revealed (in a very public and rather breathtaking scene). As well as the jealous malice of Father Konstantin, she's up against a new antagonist in this book. The man behind the raids on the villages is eventually revealed, and he has an unexpected connection to Vasya's family and ambitions that could cause problems for Prince Dimitri, Sasha, Olya, as well as Vasya herself.

Vasya's sister Olga was a supporting character for a while in the first book, but then disappeared out of the story as she was married off to a Prince in Moscow. Here we get to see much more of her life, as the head of a noble household in Moscow. We also get to spend a lot more time with Sasha, Vasya's beloved older brother, now a famous warrior monk and the right hand adviser of his cousin, Prince Dimitri of Moscow. Obviously Sasha is massively uncomfortable having to lie to his cousin and best friend about Vasya, but his younger sister's behaviour is so at odds with everything expected and accepted of women in that time that he doesn't really have a choice. Women don't dress up as boys and run away from home. Women don't infiltrate bandit camps and rescue kidnapped girls. Women don't pretend to be folk heroes, go to parties and accept challenges for public horse races.

In a lot of cases, the second book in a trilogy is a bridging book, with not much actually happening. That is absolutely not the case here. Interestingly, while Vasya is mostly the focus of the first book (certainly after the first half that tells of her backstory), it's clear that her family are just as important to the overall series, especially Sasha, Olya and Olga's little daughter Marya, who like her aunt can see the nature spirits, although their presence is much more muted in the city than in the woods of Vasya's old home. We also discover more about Vasya's ancestry, and find out what happened to her grandmother, as well as why Morozko, the winter king, is so drawn to her.

While he's not a big part of the story, as in the first one, Morozko's presence is felt and the scenes between him and Vasya are probably the best in the book. I was initially displeased to see Father Konstantin reappearing in the story, but trust that Ms. Arden knows what she's doing.

I love how Arden makes us both sympathise with Vasya, who not unreasonably doesn't want to become a wife and mother, a nun or just die, but rather forge her own path and become an adventurer and a warrior, yet we also feel for her sister and brother and worry about the consequences of her rash actions. Part of what makes me love these books so much is the vivid descriptions of the setting. When Vasya is riding alone through the forest, you feel the cold settling in your bones. You can almost see and feel the bustle of the closed off women's quarters of the terem and the raucous, smelly gatherings of the Prince's palace. As a historian, who specialised in European medieval history, getting all these details about Russian society and folklore, as well as the gripping and exciting main story is great.

The Bear and the Nightingale ended up being one of my favourite reads of 2017. I waited to read this until I knew the third book was already out, as I was pretty sure I would want to dive into the next book right away after finishing this one, and I was not wrong. These are such great fantasy books, with a fascinating cast of characters. Now that the trilogy is completed, there is no excuse not to start the series.

Judging a book by its cover: The cover on this book is so incredibly lovely, and the image fits nicely with the story within, without spoiling anything. I don't know who the cover artist is, but they've knocked it out of the park.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Reading Challenges for 2019

Last year, 2018, was a pretty momentous year for me. I became a mother, a goal I had worked towards for the best end of eight years. Recovering from a c-section and keeping said child alive required a lot of energy. Returning to work in November, after having been away for more than a year was much harder than I was expecting.

So the fact that I read a lot less than I had at any point in the same eight years or so was probably not too surprising. I didn't really take part in any reading challenges last year, if you don't count the Cannonball Read, the CBR10 Bingo or the Goodreads Challenge. In previous years, I have found that various reading challenges not only motivate me to read more, but force me out of my comfort zone and make me read more diversely. So this year, I'm going to sign up for a bunch more challenges again. In all honesty, a lot of these challenges just let me collect credit for reading things I would absolutely be doing anyway. I looked through a lot of lists of challenges, and mainly settled for ones I was pretty sure I was going to be able to tackle without too much effort. I hope I'll manage to read more this year than last year, but we'll see. My baby will be a year old in less than two weeks and he's already frightfully mobile, even before he's graduated to the toddler stage. Fingers crossed that I can find the time for reading and reviewing enough.

1. The Cannonball Read: Be the first to read and review 52 books in a year, in memory of AlabamaPink, one of the original two Cannonballers. As I write this, someone has already, before the end of January, crossed the finish line with their first Cannonball. I am going to try to complete a double - 104 books reviewed by the end of the year.

2. The Goodreads Reading Challenge: I've signed up for 104 books.

3. The Audiobook Challenge 2019, hosted by Caffeinated Reviewer: I have a LOT of audio books in my Audible account that I have yet to listen to, so I want to try to motivate myself to listen to books more. I signed up for "Socially Awkward" - 15-20 books.

4. The Backlist Reader Challenge 2019: Books have to be published in 2017 or earlier and they have to have already been on your TBR.

5. Beat the Backlist: Books have to be from 2018 or earlier. Books have to be started and finished in 2019 to count.

6. #Bookiary 2019 Challenge: Read and review at least 52 books in a year. Books have to be more than 100 pages long. Reviews have to be at least 150 words long. Comics and graphic novels don't count.

7. Color Coded Reading Challenge: Read at least nine books, one per category (blue, red, yellow, green, brown, black, white, any other colour, implies colour). The book's title has to feature the colour, or dominate the cover of the book. I always enjoy this one, especially since the rules were changed so the colour can be the main one on the book cover.

8. Contemporary Romance Challenge: Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Read contemporary romances. Romances with elements of historical, paranormal, time travel, fantasy, science fiction, mystery/suspense/thriller) will not count. Books/novellas have to be at least 100 pages. As I have a huge amount of unread straight contemporaries on my TBR list, I've signed up for "3rd base" - 11-15 books

9. Diversify Your Reading 2019: Each month of the year is given a different category, and the goal is to read at least one book from each of them. Personally, I think November's goal, of reading a book of poetry, may be the most "outside my wheelhouse" of the list.

10. 2019 Diversity Reading Challenge: Read more diversely. Read books featuring characters with or by authors including, but not limited to People of colour/non-caucasion background, Native American or other indigenous background, LGBTQIA, gender fluid/transgender/non-binary, refugees, ethnic or religious minorities, mental illness, neuro diversity, feminist issues, physical/mental disabilities.

11. E-book reading challenge: Read e-books. I've signed up for the "Terabyte" - 75 books.

12. For the love of E-books Challenge: Pretty much the same as above. Read e-books. Preferably ones you already own. Here I've signed up for "Phase 5" - 40+ e-books.

13. Finishing the Series: The goal is to finish series you've already started before 2019. For an ongoing series, the goal is to catch up to the most recently published book by the end of 2019. I have signed up for the "B-list" - finish 5-8 series over the course of the year.

14. Historical Fiction Reading Challenge: As a big fan of historical fiction (especially romance), this is one of my favourite challenges. This year, I've aimed a bit lower than in previous years, and signed up for "Ancient History" - 25-50 books.

15. Literary Pickers Challenge 2019: Pretty much a literary scavenger hunt of sorts. Books need to be romance or have a strong romantic element. Only one item per book is allowed. I've signed up for level 2- "Garage sale guru" - 25 items or more

16. Monthly Keyword Challenge: Each month, you get a bunch of keywords. The goal is to read at least one book per month that features one (or several) of the words. I always like this challenge, as it allows me to make a very extensive list each month with books from my TBR list.

17. Monthly Motif Challenge: Each month is assigned a motif or theme. Try to read at least one book a month that fits.

18. 2019 New Releases Challenge: To make myself feel slightly less guilty about reading new and shiny books, I signed up for this challenge. I chose level "New Release Pro" - 31-60 books.

19. Outdo Yourself Challenge 2019: I really do feel better when I read, and have been upset at how little I read in 2018. Hence this challenge. I have signed up for the "Breaking a Sweat" category - Read 11-15 more books or 2750-3999 more pages than in 2018

20. Pages Read 2019: While I want to read more than in 2018, I also need to be realistic about the chance that it may not happen. Hence I have aimed lower than I might have done on this challenge, and chosen "Dwarf Peach" - 36 000-48 000 pages

21. Pick a Theme: I've picked historical romance, and because I read enough of that each year, I couldn't really aim lower than the highest level, "Expert" - 8+ books.

22. 2019 Retellings Challenge: I absolutely love retellings of all kinds, and have so many on my TBR list already. So this challenge pretty much seemed made for me. I've signed up for level 2 - "Warrior Princess" - 6-10 retellings.

23. #Tackle My TBR: I always strive to cut down a bit on my TBR every year. Hence a challenge like this. I've signed up for level "Field Goal" - 37-48 books.

24. Virtual Mount TBR Reading Challenge: Same as above. "Mount Munch" 36-48 books.

25. You Read How Many Books? - Here I've signed up for "Teen" - 104 books

26. Reading Challenge Addict: Out of This World - 16+ Reading Challenges signed up for and completed

Saturday, 26 January 2019

#CBR11 Book 2: "Becoming" by Michelle Obama

Page count: 480 pages
Audio book length: 19 hrs 3 mins
Rating: 4 stars

During the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency, it became clear to me that Michelle Obama was a statuesque and beautiful woman, who was also clearly intelligent, caring and wanting to make a difference alongside her husband. Being part of the first African American Presidential couple in the White House and basically raising her young daughters more or less in the public eye cannot have been easy. Nevertheless, I didn't know all that much about Michelle Obama, which was why this autobiography was so interesting to me.

The book is divided into three sections - the first covers Michelle's childhood and early life, growing up in Chicago. The second section covers her life with Barack Obama from they met until he became president of the Unites States, and the third is all about their life in the White House. To me, the first two thirds of the book were absolutely the most fascinating. Of course hearing stories about being the First Lady, trying to get used to the Secret Service, travelling the world and meeting heads of state and famous people was interesting, the more compelling narrative to me was what made Michelle Obama the formidable woman she is.

Some of the things revealed in this memoir was probably more well known to an American audience. But to a Norwegian, who frequently tries to avoid too much current event news and especially politics (because even before 2016, it was pretty damn depressing), much of the things I learned in this book were new to me. I knew Michelle was from Chicago, but nothing much about her family background. I knew both she and Barack had legal training, but not that Michelle never really enjoyed the profession and how much more suited she was to different work. I knew very little about their life together before they became known on the world stage. It was a revelation to me that her two little girls are both the product of IVF. I suspect I will always feel kinship with women all over the world who, like me, have gone through fertility problems, and it made me feel a bit closer to this very impressive and accomplished woman.

I didn't realise just how against her husband's political career Michelle actually was, as she always seemed like such a supportive and enthusiastic spouse.  I can't really blame her for not wanting to share her husband with first a large constituency and then the entirety of the United States. Staying optimistic, idealistic and brave in the face of so much harassment and abuse online, both during her husband's campaigns and his time in office. She states outright towards the end of the book that she has no intention of EVER running for any kind of political office, and who can blame her? I think the Obamas have already sacrificed more than enough, thank you very much.

The final third of the book was also difficult to listen to in today's political climate, because the Obamas worked so hard, weathered so much criticism and abuse, because they genuinely wanted to make the United States a better place to live for as many people as possible. And since the election in 2016, that horrible orange toddler currently in the White House, not to mention the spineless, selfish, elitist supervillains in the GOP have done whatever they can to not just undo pretty much everything the Obamas accomplished, but they've made things much worse than before Obama even ran for President. Election night in 2016 was devastating to so many, but I can't even imagine how the Obamas must have felt. Michelle covers it briefly in the book, but doesn't go too deeply into it, exactly because you can tell that it's a very difficult subject for her, and also, because she's classy and still manages to go high when the temptation for mere mortals would be to go low.

If I recall correctly, even though it came out in late 2018, Becoming ended up being one of the best selling books of the year, not just in the USA, but ending up topping the bestseller lists in a lot of other countries world wide as well. I'm not entirely sure what Michelle Obama and her husband are doing with themselves these days (going to guess Michelle is going on a pretty extensive book tour, at least), but I hope they are relaxing and enjoying themselves, still trying to make the world a better place, on a quieter and smaller scale.

Judging a book by its cover: Michelle Obama is a beautiful woman. She looks happy and relaxed in the cover photo for her book. I like the font she's chosen for the title and that there's not too much going on here. The book doesn't need it.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

#CBR11 Book 1: "Brooklynaire" by Sarina Bowen

Page count: 452 pages
Audio book length: 9 hrs 39 mins
Rating: 3.5 stars

Rebecca "Becca" Rowley has worked for tech billionaire Nate Kattenberger for more than seven years. She managed his office while he and a few friends were still an optimistic start up. For the last few years, she's gone from being his personal assistant to managing the hockey team he bought, the Brooklyn Bruisers. Foolishly walking onto the ice to personally deliver a message, Rebecca falls and gets a concussion. Several weeks later, she's still not well and fretting terribly about her inability to get back to work. Not helping her recovery, which requires that she rest a lot and stay in a peaceful environment, is the fact that Rebecca shares an apartment with her younger sister, her infant nephew and the baby's father. Not exactly restful surroundings.

As the weeks progress and Becca doesn't recover, Nate not only insists she see a specialist, but he whisks her away to his six-bedroom mansion, so she can relax properly and be taken care of by his household staff (his housekeeper is amazing!). Becca worries that she's taking advantage of their long friendship, being the only person in Nate's organisation who's still unaware of his true feelings for her. Nate's massive crush on Becca has apparently been obvious not just to his current personal assistant, Lauren, but most of the hockey team, as well as several of their mutual friends. When she's injured and has a difficult recovery, his protective feelings towards her pretty much drive him crazy.

I'm not spoiling anything when I say that Becca and Nate eventually hook up and share a very steamy night together. However, while Becca strictly speaking works for the hockey team, Nate, as the owner of the team is still her boss, so it's a difficult situation, and the power dynamics are certainly unfortunate. Becca has a bunch of self esteem issues and can't really believe that someone as rich, brilliant, handsome and important as Nate would really want someone like her. She also doesn't want to be accused of trying to further her career by sleeping with her boss. Nate, on the other hand, is only too aware of how inappropriate sleeping with your former executive assistant is. He moved Becca to help manage the Brooklyn Bruisers specifically so he wouldn't have to share an office with her daily and obviously lust after his employee.

I saw this book on a number of "Best of 2018" romance lists at the end of last year. I also had a chance to try out the Audible Romance add-on for free for a month, and this was one of the books offered. While I don't see myself actually wanting to pay money monthly for the extra Audible subscription (with very few exceptions, pretty much all the books of the romance authors I really like, and would have wanted included in such a deal, aren't actually available, and have to be purchased separately), it was a fun enough book. There were a lot of good things about it. The "friends to lovers" trope was executed well enough. I liked a lot of the supporting cast, especially Nate's housekeeper. His robo butler/alternative to Alexa/Siri was also pretty cool. There was good banter and nice chemistry between the protagonists.

However, there were also things that could have been a lot better. The book occasionally flashes back to seven years ago, showing us the start of the friendship between Nate and Becca. When Rebecca is hired by Nate, as the office manager of his little start-up, his business partner, who deals with the finances asks if Becca will be given stock options as part of her salary. The answer is "not for clerical staff". Yet it becomes clear from the book's present day sections that Becca became pretty integral for the smooth day to day running of the company that eventually went huge and netted Nate his eventual billions. That she became a lot more than just his "assistant". So it seems both strange and incredibly unfair that Becca was never given even a few shares in his hugely successful venture, and as a result, was cheated out of a very comfortable life.

At the start of the book, Becca is fretting about a possible rent increase on her apartment (she doesn't get one because SPOILER - of course the building she lives in is owned by one of Nate's many holding companies) and she certainly worries about her medical expenses when seeing specialists and having very necessary physical therapy isn't covered by her insurance. This would be needless worries if she owned just a few shares in Nate's tech empire. I frankly wasn't super happy with the rather heavy-handed way Nate dealt with her medical bills either. While he was acting from a place of worry and wanting to take care of Becca, he pretty much just went over her head and put her in an embarrassing position.

I haven't read any Sarina Bowen in a long time. This was a fun enough book, but if it's a top ten romance of 2018, it's yet another sign that 2018 just wasn't a very good year for romance, historical or contemporary. Not sure if the book made me want to read more of the Brooklyn Bruisers series or not. There is one more book in the series available in the Audible romance package, about Nate's other assistant, Lauren, which I may check out before my free month runs out - but I haven't quite decided yet.

Judging a book by its cover: Considering the rest of the covers in this series features the rather laughable concept of very brawny shirtless dudes (with parts of their heads cropped off, cause you don't want to see their actual faces) with some random hockey gear visible, this one is even more hilarious. Since Nate is a geeky tech billionaire and merely the owner of the hockey team, they can't really go with sports paraphernalia, but we can't get away from our shirtless dude. So instead we get a hipster dude doing his best blue steel (looking half asleep behind his glasses) having inexplicably lost his shirt (but not his suit jacket or tie) somewhere along the way. Oh, and the Brooklyn Bridge in the background, just in case you were unsure of where the book is set. Stay classy, romance covers.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

2018: My year in review

Another year has come to an end (at least in my time zone). At the start of 2018, I was genuinely not sure how much I'd be able to read, and certainly not if I was going to find enough time to review much. This time last year, I was pretty heavily pregnant and on sick leave from work because of my pelvic girdle pain. I had a c-section at the beginning of February, where I had complications during surgery, leading to a slower recovery than many have, as well as anaemia for about two months. I gave birth to a very sizable baby boy and keeping him alive and happy has been both mine and my husband's number one priorities.

To begin with, I listened to a lot of audio books while I nursed the baby both during day- and nighttime. As my attention span was a bit shot, I mostly relied on comforting re-reads. I also bought a Kindle (my faithful Sony Reader didn't have a backlit screen), which enabled me to read without turning on the lights, so as not to disturb the husband or the baby during the night. Being unsure of how much I'd manage to review, I signed up to the Cannonball Read for a measly quarter Cannonball (13 books). In the end, I surpassed all my expectations and not only finished a double Cannonball (104 books), but ended the year with 108 books reviewed. I was even in the top 10 for the whole year, something else I certainly hadn't expected.

Being a Mum is wonderful, weird, demanding and occasionally rather boring. We've been incredibly lucky, our son is a mostly very cheerful and sociable little dude. Until he was around five months old, he slept a lot and he's usually never cried much, except when he's hungry, tired or in pain. Once he started teething at around six months, his sleep patterns got a bit more erratic, but thanks to the wonderful Alexis Dubief (author of Precious Little Sleep and my online friend), we got him sleep trained when he was about nine months old. Now, barring very few exceptions, he sleeps through the night in his own room and I get a chance both to read more before bed, and sleep for longer stretches of time without having to nurse him.

I went back to work full time as a secondary school teacher in early November, having been away for more than a year. While I'd been promised a fairly gentle start, things rarely go according to plan, and instead I was thrown in, off the deep end, one day before the end of term tests started. So many new kids to get o know, names to learn, not to mention piles and piles of essays to correct and grade. For the first month, I was pretty much exhausted by the time I got home every afternoon, and had to fight not to fall asleep while waiting for dinner. By Christmas, it was getting better, but it's still a time-consuming and challenging job, and juggling it with motherhood to an almost toddler (he can pull himself up against the furniture and cruise along now, constantly reaching further along tables and shelves) takes a lot of my energy.

In non-reading, not making a new human news, being new parents have given the husband and I a lot of excuses to watch a lot of TV and movies. Like for any right-thinking human, The Great British Bake-Off and Netflix' Queer Eye have been amazing shows for soothing my soul and helping me briefly forget all that is sucky in this world (and there's so much - just when you think 2018 couldn't get suckier, it kept just getting worse). Thanks to Oslo cinema's baby friendly matinee screenings, I watched more movies in the first half of the year than in a very long time. Particular highlights were Black PantherCoco, Love Simon and The Death of Stalin. In September, I got to go see Crazy Rich Asians in New York with my BFF, and it's one of those rare adaptations that's just SO much better than the book. I am ALL for the return of the romantic comedy, with Netflix helping the cause along nicely with good comfort movies like Set It Up and To All the Boys I've Loved Before. 

When it comes to TV, one of the surprising highlights of the year was the second season of Netflix' Iron Fist. I didn't even watch the first season, and found the character mostly annoying on the ensemble show The Defenders. Neither the husband, nor I had expected to enjoy it as much as we did. Of course, then Netflix promptly cancelled it. I also got very into The Magicians, which I avoided for many years because I really didn't like the books. Now it's one of the shows I most look forward to returning in 2019.  Typical. Bob's Burgers and The Good Place continue to be great.

Westworld season 2 was a huge disappointment (I tried SO hard to like it). Likewise the most recent season of Doctor Who. I wanted the first female Doctor to have a good run, but Chris Chibnall just isn't up for the job, and while Jodie Whitaker is delightful, she's not given a lot to work with, and after the season is concluded (with the exception of the New Year's special tomorrow), it's just not very good. Having three companions means neither one gets the focus and attention they deserve, and even though the show is more diverse than possibly ever before, cast wise, most of the serious emotional character development was given to the middle aged white guy. Riverdale hasn't just jumped the shark, it's pretty much taken off into space. I stopped watching after about four episodes and now only read the increasingly more ludicrous plot summaries.

As well as having and raising a baby, we had our traditional Norway day visit from my BFF Lydia, her husband Michael and their two boys in May. Just before they came, baby Moomin had his first trip abroad, when we went to London for a long weekend. Long before I got pregnant, I had pre-ordered tickets to Hamilton: the Musical, which was possibly even better than I had hoped for or imagined, possibly because I already knew all the songs and seeing it all on stage, performed by an excellent ensemble was just beyond my powers of imagination. We caught up with old friends, as well as had an afternoon together with my parents- and sister in law and our two nieces, who came down to London for the day just to see us. My parents in law have also visited us here twice, doting on the grandson. In September, we took advantage of the fact that I was still on maternity leave and my husband can translate just as well in the US as in Norway, and spent three weeks with Lydia and family in New York. During that visit, we also spent nearly a week in Canada (new country!). The whole trip was excellent, but as the baby turns into a toddler, it's getting more challenging to fly with him, and we'll have to see how much we will be taking overseas trips with him in the year to come.

Back to books, every year since 2008, I have logged all the books I read (and re-read) and tried to keep track of how many books and pages I read. I keep super nerdy statistics for myself, and use them to try to challenge myself to diversify my reading more. I try to read a hundred "new to me" books each year. Only two of the years from 2008 to 2017 did I read fewer than 50 000 pages over the course of the year. Until 2018. To be fair, this year has been an absolute garbage fire and the endless cycle of super depressing "we're all going to die" news can make anyone depressed and super anxious. I discovered while pregnant that I simply could not handle anything too challenging or dark when it came to my reading. Peril to or the death of children - big ol' nope. That continued into 2018. The reason I didn't manage my goal of a hundred new books is that I consciously chose to re-read a lot of books, old favourites I knew were "safe". In the latter half of the year, I still got some proper challenges, as the Cannonball Read launched their first Book Bingo. Pretty much all of my "worst of the year" books were read while working to complete that Bingo Card. Not only did I complete it, and had a lot of fun doing so, but I won a prize - a signed copy of Bellweather Rhapsody. 

I got 223 new books in 2018. 189 were e-books, 21 were audio books, 15 were physical books (9 of those were comics/graphic novels). Of the 223, five were gifts and eight were freebies in other ways.

Total pages read: 37 945 pages
Total books read: 110
New books read: 81
Audio books: 16
Comics/graphic novels: 2
Novellas: 8
Re-reads: 29

Of the books I read, 80% were by female authors, a mere 4.5% were by male authors and 17% were by a husband and wife team (Ilona Andrews - yes, I read a LOT by them. I can't help it if their books are awesome). 25% were by persons of colour.  I would like for that number to be higher next year.

Genre breakdown for 2018:
Romance (historical and contemporary): 39%
Paranormal/urban fantasy: 24.5%
Young adult: 16.5%
Fantasy: 4.5%
Science fiction: 4.5%
General fiction: 2.7%
Historical fiction: 2.7%
Non-fiction: 2.7%

With the exception of the Cannonball Read Bingo, I didn't really complete any reading challenges this year. I kept a few lists for my own amusement, but didn't officially sign up for anything. Sadly, only 18% of the books I read were books I already owned before 2018, and I need to be better about that next year.

Last year,  I did a top ten best books of 2018, and another top ten for books published before that. I don't feel like I've read enough new books this year to do that. My top ten will include both books published this year, but mostly books published earlier than that. I've also included five books in my honourable mentions, they were good, but didn't quite make the cut into the top 10.

Best books I read in 2018 (in the order I read them - can't be bothered to rank them all):

  • Hamilton: the Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter. I finished this rather impressive tome the night before we flew to London, which seemed very appropriate. Reading about the process of writing and staging the musical while getting ready for and anticipating the seeing the show was great. This book has won a bunch of awards, I don't need to tell you how good it is.
  • Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. Is this book of speculative fiction science fiction? Is it historical fiction? Is it magical realism? It doesn't really matter. I've had this book on my shelf for several years, knowing it was probably going to be good, but a bit too daunted to give it a chance. Luckily, the Cannonball book club gave me the push I needed. Absolutely one of the more "difficult" and at times unpleasant books I read this year, where I mostly tried to read only safe, fluffy books. Absolutely excellent.
  • All Systems Red by Martha Wells. I also made the acquaintance of Murderbot this year. The winner of several awards and huge amounts of critical acclaim, Martha Wells' sci-fi novella about the misanthropic and introverted security android, who hacked their own programming and only wants to be left alone to consume entertainment is one of those things I didn't know was missing in my life. I still have three more novellas to read about Murderbot's adventures, and I can't wait.
  • Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia. This young adult novel about creativity, fandom, web comics, friendships, difficult family relationships and love is one of the novels that really surprised and touched me this year, and it's one of the books that have really stayed with me in my memory. Such a lovely book.
  • Iron and Magic by Ilona Andrews. Something that started out as a joke for April Fools' Day a few years ago became one of the most surprising and enjoyable reads of the whole year. Taking one of the biggest villains of their Kate Daniels series and turning him into a credible romantic hero, without really ret-conning or downplaying some of the horrible things he's done in the past is a remarkable achievement. If anyone could do it, it would be Ilona Andrews, though.
  • Magic Triumphs by Ilona Andrews. Another achievement from this husband and wife writing team, they finished up their long running paranormal fantasy series with the tenth and final book. I've seen some people being disappointed and let down by the ending, I thought this was a very good conclusion to possibly my favourite paranormal/urban fantasy series for the last few years.
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This book had been on my TBR list pretty much since it came out. I knew I was going to have to read it eventually, and I knew it was going to mess me up when I did. The trailer for the movie adaptation had me in tears (not going to go see it in the cinema, that's for sure) and this book turned out to be just as impressive and important as I had expected. I'm going to be using this to help me illustrate #Blacklivesmatter in class in years to come.
  • The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. For someone whose stats show that she read less than 5% sci-fi this year, there sure are a disproportionately high number of sci-fi books in my top 10. It's been said that Chambers writes "cozy" genre fiction, and I can absolutely get behind this description. A great cast of characters, not too much focus on the space or the technology (which tends to be what bores me). I can't wait to read more from her.
  • Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating by Christina Lauren. It's not been a great year for romance. I don't think any of my standard favourites delivered a book that will really stay with me, and there were quite a few books that were merely OK or fine, none that really blew me away. This book was sweet and funny and entertained me more than pretty much all the other romances I read and had a very good slow burn romance at the centre.
  • Tante Ulrikkes vei by Zeshan Shakar. This book has been a publishing sensation in Norway since it came out, and I'm not surprised, as it's a very important novel in a country that is still so predominantly white and privileged, struggling to integrate its immigrant population in a good way. The young men at the centre of this book rang entirely true to me. I have seen many of them in my classroom over the years, and it will go badly for the country if we don't adapt and give them the futures and opportunities they deserve, on equal footing with "those who were here first". 
Honourable mentions:
  • The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran. Not your traditional cozy historical romance, there is a lot of pain, angst and mutual recrimination in this book. I very much enjoy Duran's usually slightly darker take on historical romance, and this one didn't disappoint.
  • When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. This YA novel about a couple of Indian teens whose parents want them to marry meet up and are forced to work together at a programming camp in San Francisco. Dimple rebels against her parents' expectations, Rishi is, initially at least, quite happy to accede to their wishes. Dimple wants to hate Rishi, but of course can't, because he's adorable.
  • Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn. The third and final book in this trilogy came out this year, which finally gave me the motivation to read the series. This first entry is absolutely the strongest of the three, about female superheroes in San Fransisco. A funny, exciting, empowering read about diverse and interesting women. 
  • Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley. I would not have believed that a non-fiction book about marathon running was going to be one of the most enjoyable books I read this year. While I doubt I will ever become a runner, this book made me understand why some people find it such a rush, and keep doing it, even when they can get horribly injured along the way.
  • Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah Maclean. After several rather disappointing books in a row, Maclean finally wrote a historical romance I really enjoyed again. She even made the "I shall use this woman to get revenge on another dude" trope work in her favour, mainly by having a heroine who was more formidable than either of the guys wanting to use her. 
Worst of the year:
  1. Kilmeny of the Orchard by L.M. Montgomery. Anne of Green Gables and The Blue Castle are lovely books that have given me much pleasure. When I had to find a book that was more than a hundred years old, it seemed like a stroke of luck when I found this one (which is also in the public domain and therefore free). Oh no, it's absolutely awful. A horrible protagonist, a dreadful "heroine", sexism, racism, as well as a mostly very unremarkable and dull plot.
  2. A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole. I probably wouldn't have rated this so low, if so many other people and review sites hadn't been so impressed with it. I was expecting great things (and the cover is so pretty) and instead I got a badly researched mess of a book, with a deeply dislikable hero, a veritable Mary Sue of a heroine, annoying Scottish  "vernacular", the promise of sword making (which was never delivered on). Seriously Ms. Cole, you could have written a better book after a ten minute Wikipedia search.
  3. The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy AND Between the Bridge and the River by Craig Ferguson. The Cannonball Read is basically founded in memory of AlabamaPink, who died of cancer before she was able to complete the first one. What this year has shown is that based on the few books she managed to review before her passing, we have vastly different taste in reading material, and I will be happy if I never have to read anything from her list ever again. I'm especially disappointed in the Craig Ferguson novel, because I was one of the people who voted for it for Book Club, since I'd enjoyed his autobiography so much a few years ago. 

Friday, 28 December 2018

#CBR10 Book 108: "The Other Miss Bridgerton" by Julia Quinn

Page count: 384 pages
Rating: 3 stars

Miss Poppy Bridgerton is visiting a cousin at the coast when she stumbles upon a strange cave, which happens to be full of smugglers' goods. When she's shortly after discovered by two of the smugglers, she finds herself drugged and abducted onto a ship, where the very handsome captain tells her that she can't be released until after the ship has been to Portugal and back. Poppy is none too happy about this, obviously, but doesn't really have a choice. She just has to hope that her reputation isn't completely in tatters by the time she returns.

While he has to present himself to Poppy Bridgerton as a privateer, Andrew Rokesby used to have a career in the navy, and now secretly works for the British Government, ferrying secret messages to exotic locations. Not even his own family knows what he really does, and while he's not happy about the idea, he can't have the stubborn Miss Bridgerton revealing to anyone what she has found in the cave, so whether he wants to or not, she has to be his unwilling passenger to Portugal and back. He only hopes he can complete his mission swiftly and return her to England before anyone realises she's been gone - or he'll most likely have to marry the infuriating woman.

This is the third book in Julia Quinn's prequel series to her extremely popular and successful Bridgerton novels. With each book, I keep hoping that she'll return to the magical storytelling of her earlier books, and with each successive book, I keep being let down. This book is fine. Poppy Bridgerton is independent, headstrong, much more intelligent than is seen as entirely attractive in a woman in the Georgian era, and mourns a dead brother. Andrew Rokesby is the younger of several sons and wants to serve his country, but chafes at the fact that he has to keep the truth hidden from his family in order to do so. Oh, and at some point in the story, Quinn decides that he clearly wants to be an architect instead, so she throws in this scene where he nerds out about building techniques and the special ways to construct some house in Portugal, just so Poppy (and we, the readers) can see how wrong it is for him to even be a sea captain, let alone a clandestine diplomat.

Set aside the hugely problematic "meet cute" of this novel - that the heroine is literally drugged and abducted by the hero's crew members, and then she's held prisoner in his cabin for over a week, and there is some good banter and flirting here. But in every interaction, it was difficult for me to remember that Poppy was not on this exciting ocean adventure by choice, she was abducted. Doesn't really matter how handsome the hero is, or how infuriating he finds the situation, he still went along with kidnapping a young woman away from her family.

There's also the fact that apart from the initial abduction, very little happens. Poppy complains about having to be cooped up in the captain's cabin. They flirt. She befriends the boy who brings her food. She and the captain flirt some more. He keeps saying he needs to keep her confined - then takes her up on deck to show her the stars. He needs to keep her on the ship when they get to Portugal, but goes against his better judgement and takes her on a tour of the city. Then they BOTH get abducted, by villains wanting ransom money.

As I said, some of the dialogue and banter is rather cute, if I could have forgotten that our dashing captain was also a kidnapper! His worry that he might end up married to our heroine was difficult to sympathise with, since he was the one who was responsible for completely crushing her reputation, by whisking her on a several week long journey on a ship without a chaperone. He's lucky he fell in love with her, as he would have been honour bound to marry her no matter what.

I should probably just give up on these books, and wait until online reviewers tell me Quinn is back to her old sparkling self again. But I love her earlier novels so much, and keep hoping that her books will be really great again. This book is merely ok, which is sad, as it's the last book I'm likely to read this year, and it's only the second book I managed to finish in all of December. (I may be broken, you guys). I would have liked to end the year on a more satisfying note. Alas, it was not to be.

Judging a book by its cover: There's really not much to say about this cover. There's a cute young woman, in a pretty dress. There's a ship in the background. Happily, the woman's dress is not unlaced most of the way down the back, showing her mysterious and anachronistic lack of undergarments, nor is she showing off most of her legs by lying draped awkwardly over furniture in some way. So I guess I should be thankful for small mercies.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.