Another quick and dirty multi-book review post

My backlog of books read has gotten pretty huge, and I’ve been doing a terrible job of keeping up with the reviews. Honestly, I’ve been doing a terrible job of keeping up with everything…the thing is, I’m pregnant, I’ve been nauseous literally all the time since the week after I found out, and even though I’m in the second trimester now, I haven’t yet had that day my friends who have had kids before tell me about where you wake up and magically feel ok and can eat normal food again and stuff. My stomach can’t even take tea right now, other than small cups of this one white tea with peppermint. I actually miss tea more than chocolate. And that’s saying something.

On the plus side, my retail job has been slow, and I’ve gotten sick at work enough that they generally don’t make me do too much that involves moving around. So I am getting quite a bit of reading done.

Also, my husband is amazing because he hasn’t once complained that I haven’t been able to cook a meal for months, other than noodles and canned chicken boiled in chicken broth to make cheater chicken soup for myself. Even though it means he’s essentially been living on frozen pizza and chicken nuggets. I picked a winner. But I digress.

So, in the interest of getting caught up so I can have a fresh start with this blog for 2015, here’s what I’ve read since vacation, in as close to the order I did it in as I can remember.

50. Doctor Who: The Shakespeare Notebooks by Justin Richards. I’ve long had a soft spot for Shakespeare, so this timey-wimey parody was a fun read. Though I think I would have honestly enjoyed it more if I’d been more familiar with certain of the plays that were mentioned. If I were to read this again, it would probably be in fragments, as I read the plays referenced.

51. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. First in the Stormlight Archives series, and one I’d planned all year to save for the slower autumn time at work. As a result, even though it’s a thick epic fantasy, I got through it fairly quickly. I loved it, though I honestly wasn’t expecting otherwise, since I’ve loved every single book I’ve read of his so far.

52. Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. The sequel to the previous book, still loved it. I think this pretty much cemented Kaladin as my favorite character in the series so far. My only regret about reading this was now I have to wait impatiently for the next book in the series, just like everyone else! (Among others. I’ve also badly been wanting a sequel to The Alloy of Law, and am quite excited to see that he is working on one.) Fortunately, I have three more of his books in my possession that I have yet to read, not counting what will end up on this list.

53. A Matter of Magic by Patricia C. Wrede. I was interested because I loved the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and the premise was magic in Regency-era England. And you know I’m a sucker for that time period, thanks to Jane Austen. There wasn’t actually that much of a resemblance to Austen, since the main character was a London street urchin who disguised herself as a boy for survival reasons/ended up apprenticed to a magician whose cart she broke into, and the plots were more whodunit than romance. (I say plots, because this Kindle book was actually 2 books in one, Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward.) A fun read overall.

54. The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnson. I actually sort of “know” this author, via a mutual friend, though we’ve only ever chatted online via Twitter or LiveJournal comments. So it’s been fun to follow along and see the success she’s having with her first published book, even though I didn’t get around to reading it until months after the release. It was a fun read overall, I loved that the narrator was a musician (and a later important supporting character was a flutist! Yes, I’m biased). I will definitely be picking up Prairie Fire when it comes out. Also, I should probably thank my hockey-loving husband, because since the story is set in Canada, all of the sports references were hockey, and I found them a lot funnier than I would have in my previous days of being willfully clueless about sports. (Especially since one of the teams he dislikes the most is the Detroit Redwings. But you’d have to read the book to understand why it’s funny.)

55. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. A re-read, and a big enough part of holiday pop culture that I don’t need to sum up the plot. But it was December by this point, I was at work, and I wanted something festive. (I read this in its entirety there and had time to start the next book on the same day.)

56. Which was… The First Christmas Carol by Marianne Jordan. Essentially the same plot as the previous book, but set in Bethlehem on the first Christmas. I probably shouldn’t have read this one back to back with Dickens, but again, I wanted something festive, and this was already on my Kindle from being a previous freebie. I should probably check and see if there’s any more free Christmas books on there, because I pretty much ran out of options after this.

57. A Winter’s Knight by Elizabeth Cole. Another Kindle freebie, which turned out to be more of a short story than a novel. And also not Christmas. Just winter. (Now I’m in the mood for Narnia.) Basically, a fluff Regency-era romance. Which was decent enough for what it was, at least it was clean, but I wouldn’t read this again.

58. The Ugly Stepsister Strikes Back by Sariah Wilson. Another one I got for free at the time. It’s basically a modern, YA retelling of Cinderella, with a few twists. The “ugly” stepsister, Mattie, was likeable (as was Ella), and though I can’t say the plot was unpredictable, it was an enjoyable ride to get there.

59. The Princess of Egypt Must Die by Stephanie Dray. A short story, but since I enjoyed Lily of the Nile, I thought I’d check it out. I’d never heard of the princess in question, but it was an interesting read. (Also, this one is still free on Kindle.)

60. The Buggy List by Cortney Rice Gager. Another fluff read that was free at the time, basically, but I figured since I’m pregnant myself, why not? I probably wouldn’t read it again, but it was enjoyable enough to pass a few hours at work.

61. Georgiana Darcy’s Diary by Anna Elliot. Obviously, a takeoff of Pride & Prejudice, but set afterwards and focusing on Darcy’s younger sister. And Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s attempts to force eligible bachelors on her. Several of the characters from the original story pop up–Darcy and Lizzie, of course, since it’s set at Pemberley, but her cousin Anne, Caroline Bingley, and Colonel Fitzwililam also play significant roles.

62. Pemberley to Waterloo: Georgiana Darcy’s Diary, Volume 2 by Anna Elliot. Yes, I managed to snag both volumes when they were still free. Go me. A continuation of the previous story, but this time, Georgiana and Kitty Bennet get caught up in the events surrounding Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. I actually found this one more interesting than the first one, due to the tie-ins with historic events. And it was also fun to see a continuation of what became of certain characters.

And since I finished that last one on Monday, that gets me caught up. Until I finish the next book.

Edit: Ooh, I can’t believe I almost forgot this one! Somehow, it didn’t end up in the Kindle collection. I know I read it after the Christmas Carol books, but I can’t remember exactly which books it was between, so let’s just call this…

63. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. This one falls under more of a YA, in a future version of America where there are people with superpowers (called Epics)…but they’re the bad guys. And it’s up to a group of ordinary humans, who call themselves Reckoners, to try and stop them. The plot focuses on David, a teenager whose father was murdered by Steelheart on the day he first took over Chicago, who has dedicated his life to finding the Epic’s weakness so he can finally be killed, and his quest to join the Reckoners. It looks like I read this one just in time, too, since the sequel is coming out in January!

Books 48-49

Catching up on the last of the vacation books. Hopefully it’ll work this time, since I tried posting this yesterday and the entire post got lost!

Title: Lily of the Nile

Author: Stephanie Dray

Genre: Historical Fiction/Fantasy

Length: 368 pages

Read: 9/28/14

Summary: From Amazon: To Isis worshippers, Princess Selene and her twin brother Helios embody the divine celestial pair who will bring about a Golden Age. But when Selene’s parents [Marc Antony & Cleopatra] are vanquished by Rome, her auspicious birth becomes a curse. Trapped in an empire that reviles her heritage and suspects her faith, the young messianic princess struggles for survival in a Roman court of intrigue. She can’t hide the hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her hands, nor can she stop the emperor from using her powers for his own ends. But faced with a new and ruthless Caesar who is obsessed with having a Cleopatra of his very own, Selene is determined to resurrect her mother’s dreams. Can she succeed where her mother failed? And what will it cost her in a political game where the only rule is win-or die?

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? A friend recommended this one to me awhile back, so I picked it up with a gift card I’d specifically received last Christmas to use on Kindle books.

Rating: 5/5

Would I read it again? Yes, and I know the series continues with at least two more books, which I will need to look into.

Other notes: While this is largely historical fiction, I’m also classifying it as fantasy due to the strong magic elements that play into the story (those aforementioned self-carving hieroglyphics, among other things. Which I won’t tell because spoilers.) 

Title: Loki’s Wolves (The Blackwell Pages, book 1)

Author: K.L. Armstrong/M.A. Marr

Genre: Children’s/Mythology

Length: 374 pages

Read: 9/28/14

Summary: From Amazon: “The runes have spoken. We have our champion…Matthew Thorsen.”

Matt hears the words, but he can’t believe them. He’s Thor’s representative? Destined to fight trolls, monstrous wolves and giant serpents…or the world ends? He’s only thirteen.

While Matt knew he was a modern-day descendent of Thor, he’s always lived a normal kid’s life. In fact, most people in the small town of Blackwell, South Dakota, are direct descendants of either Thor or Loki, including Matt’s classmates Fen and Laurie Brekke. No big deal.

But now Ragnarok is coming, and it’s up to the champions to fight in the place of the long-dead gods. Matt, Laurie, and Fen’s lives will never be the same as they race to put together an unstoppable team, find Thor’s hammer and shield, and prevent the end of the world.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? I’ve very much enjoyed Rick Riordan’s books over the last several years, and this sounded like it was in a similar vein except involving Norse mythology. (Incidentally, I’ve heard Riordan is working on a Norse series now, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for that!)

Rating: 5/5

Would I read it again? Yes

Other notes: It did have its similarities to Riordan’s work, but there were differences, the main one being the gods’ general lack of involvement (due to them being long-dead and all). The manifestation of the kids’ powers based on who their ancestor was was interesting, and I particularly liked that there was a little more ambiguity between who’s good and who’s not, no matter who someone was descended from. You know, since it’s usually Thor=good, Loki=bad. (Even if Loki is one of the best parts of the Thor/Avengers movies.)

I believe that finishes up the last of my Christmas haul books, since this was also one I purchased with that gift card. That also basically finishes up my vacation reading– I flipped through a couple of non-fiction ones quickly since there wasn’t a massive amount of time left on the flight after reading these two, but I’m not really going to count them as Empty Shelf since it was basically just information about meal planning and such. I’d intended to really get a system down for that after I got home, but that hasn’t happened. Oh well.

Book #47: Charlotte Collins

Title: Charlotte Collins: A Continuation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Author: Jennifer Becton

Genre: Historical Fiction

Length: 256 pages

Read: Somewhere in the vicinity of 9/21/14

Summary: Takes place several years after P&P. Charlotte is now a widow, but is content with her life and the small cottage she’s managed to secure for herself. When her sister, Maria, asks her to be her chaperone, Charlotte is forced out of her quiet life and into a series of dances and dinners–and the path of two eligible bachelors. When one of them forces her into a socially compromising situation that puts her at risk of losing everything, she’s forced to re-evaluate her ideas about love.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? As you probably know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m a sucker for books that expand on Jane’s stories. Also, vacation read.

Rating: 4/5.

Would I read it again? Yes

Other notes: I have to admit that it was different reading a book that focused on one of the more minor characters (usually these stories tend to focus more on Lizzie, for instance), but I think the author did Charlotte justice. Apparently she also has a book that continues the story of Caroline Bingley, so that might be interesting to check out at some point.

Book #46: Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun

Title: Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun

Author:  Lois Winston

Genre: Mystery

Length: 247 pages

Read:  9/19-9/20/14

Summary: From Amazon: When Anastasia Pollack’s husband permanently cashes in his chips at a roulette table in Vegas, her comfortable middle-class life craps out. She’s left with two teenage sons, a mountain of debt, and her hateful, cane-wielding Communist mother-in-law. Not to mention stunned disbelief over her late husband’s secret gambling addiction, and the loan shark who’s demanding fifty thousand dollars. Anastasia’s job as crafts editor at American Woman magazine proves no respite when she discovers a dead body glued to her desk chair. The victim, fashion editor Marlys Vandenburg, collected enemies and ex-lovers like Jimmy Choos on her ruthless climb to editor-in-chief. But when evidence surfaces of an illicit affair between Marlys and Anastasia’s husband, Anastasia becomes the prime suspect.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? I generally like to keep my vacation reading on the lighter side, and I do have a soft spot for fiction books with a crafty spin.

Rating: 3/5. It was ok, but not really all that memorable, IMO.

Would I read it again? No

Other notes: It was free when I picked it up. Not the best crafty mystery I’ve read– I definitely preferred the two Cricket McRae “Home Crafting Mystery” books that I read last year or so.  (Also Kindle freebies, but way more craftiness! I really should continue that series sometime, they were great fluff books. And sometimes, a girl just needs to read some fluff.)

Book #45: The Nourished Metabolism

Title: The Nourished Metabolism

Author: Elizabeth Walling

Genre: Nonfiction/Self Help

Length: I forget and I’m too lazy right now to get my Kindle and look it up.

Read: mid-September

Summary: It’s basically a book on how to improve your health through balancing your diet, exercising, and reducing stress.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? I got it as part of a Kindle book bundle on “healthy living” that I purchased, and it looked like a good overview-type book to start on.

Rating: 5/5

Would I read it again? Probably mostly in pieces as a reference, but yes.

Other notes: I’ve seen books and blog posts on healthy living before, but I quickly get turned off by authors that are really preachy about what you should and shouldn’t eat/sugar and gluten are Satan’s favorite foods and you should never eat them/etc. (What can I say–bread and chocolate are two of my favorite foods!) This one seemed a lot more doable to me, since it was more about balancing your diet on an overall basis while still being able to eat the things you enjoy most in moderation. I also thought the part about managing stress was really useful, since I am not a calm person by nature and stress is something that happens to me quite easily.

Book #44: The Gauguin Connection

Title: The Gauguin Connection

Author: Estelle Ryan

Genre: Mystery

Length: 436 pages

Read: Early September

Summary: From Amazon: As an insurance investigator and world renowned expert in nonverbal communication, Dr Genevieve Lenard faces the daily challenge of living a successful, independent life. Particularly because she has to deal with her high functioning Autism. Nothing – not her studies, her high IQ or her astounding analytical skills – prepared her for the changes about to take place in her life. It started as a favour to help her boss’ acerbic friend look into the murder of a young artist, but soon it proves to be far more complex. Forced out of her predictable routines, safe environment and limited social interaction, Genevieve is thrown into exploring the meaning of friendship, expanding her social definitions, and for the first time in her life be part of a team in a race to stop more artists from being murdered.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? Since I was gearing up for the France vacation, I was looking for something I already had that had a connection to that and was shorter than, say, Les Miserables. I actually started a different book that I’d gotten free on the Kindle first, but got bored partway through and quit. (That’s my rule with Kindle freebies–if it doesn’t grab my interest by about 20-30% in, I give myself permission to move on to something else.) This one was set in Paris, though, so it fit that craving pretty nicely.

Rating: 4/5

Would I read it again? Probably not, but I enjoyed it enough to say I’d read further in the series if the opportunity comes up.

Other notes: For me, one of the most intriguing things about this book was that it was written first person from the perspective of the autistic protagonist. Autism isn’t something I’ve had a ton of experience with, other than regularly watching The Big Bang Theory and a couple I’m friends with that has a son with Aspergers’. So it was interesting for me to get a glimpse inside the mind of someone who has to live with something like this.

Books 41-43: In which I read non-fiction stuff.

Not so exciting as fantasy by a modern master, obviously, but I still read them, so I’m still posting about them.

41. Advanced Penny Pinching, by Tabitha Philen

42. 100 Financial Tips from the Proverbs 31 Woman, by Shari Popejoy

43. Your Grocery Budget Toolbox, by Anne Simpson

I read all 3 of these at work sometime in early September (possibly in the same day)– my husband and I were discussing trying to crack down on the budget stuff once we got back from the vacation we’d planned for the end of September. I’ll be honest and say that we haven’t actually done any work together on that yet–life gets crazy, and just trying to keep it real here–but I was trying to glean some tips that might help me figure out some ways that I can cut back in the spending areas I have a little more control over. Especially since I do normally deal with most of the cooking and grocery shopping that goes on around here.

I’ll be honest and say that I don’t really remember a whole lot of what I read in these, but they were all on my Kindle, so I’m sure I highlighted things that I might want to go back to later.

On to the next book…

Book 40: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

I am SO late with this review. So late, in fact, that I actually read this before several of the other books I’ve already mentioned on here and somehow overlooked it. I’m at the point now where I have over a dozen books I’ve read and haven’t written up, so it’s time I got back on the ball and started reviewing some of this stuff before I forget what it all is!

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Fantasy

Length: 259 pages

Read: Somewhere in the vicinity of early to mid-August.

Summary: From Amazon: Forty years ago, our narrator, who was then a seven-year-old boy, unwittingly discovered a neighboring family’s supernatural secret. What happens next is an imaginative romp through otherwordly adventure that could only come from Gaiman’s magical mind. Childhood innocence is tested and transcended as we see what getting between ancient, mystic forces can cost, as well as what can be gained from the power of true friendship.

New or re-read? New read

Why did I pick it up? Because Neil Gaiman, obviously.

Rating: 5/5

Would I read it again? Yes

Other notes: The book is described as an adult fairy tale, and elements of this definitely wouldn’t fall under the category of kid-friendly, even though much of this happens when the protagonist is 7. It was a beautifully crafted story, though.

Catching up

It’s been a really busy last couple of weeks. The great thing was that my husband and I took a vacation to France! I’d never been to Europe before, and aside from a few hiccups (which every trip has), we had a great time. I may have more to say later about that. We’ll see.

For now, I’m trying to ease my way back into my normal life, and started back to my usual work schedule yesterday. I’m still trying to get over the jet lag, which has been a little rough. Everything I’ve read said that it’s usually easier to adjust when traveling east to west, which we did on the way home, but it seems I’m having the opposite experience! I think it’s passing, though. This is the first day all week that I haven’t felt non-stop nauseated. So it’s a start.

In the meantime, I’m terribly behind on books, and have been winging it all week on food. Today’s the first time I’m cooking again. (And by “cooking”, I mean “throw a bunch of things into the crock pot so that it will hopefully turn into a passable chicken tortilla soup”.) We spent most of the week living off of pasta that my husband was kind enough to make while I was teaching a lesson, and pizza that we ordered because I was too jet-lagged to cook ground beef for the intended tacos. Seriously.

Hopefully I’ll get back to the books soon. I’ve got a dozen books I need to add–though, to be fair, one is a book I’d read before the last batch of posts and somehow skipped over, and several of them were quick non-fiction ones. (Still counts.)

Speaking of pizza and books, how cool is this? I’d love to register for that, since I loved Book-It! as a kid. I’m currently getting error messages about having problems with my city and/or state, which is sad. (And weird, because I checked their map and there is one pin dropped for my town! Which isn’t me.)

It’s autumn baking time!

Several of the food-related blogs I follow/pins that pop up on my Pinterest are way into the healthy eating thing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it really does seem like a lot of people are pushing for “clean” eating and gluten free and eliminating everything resembling sugar from one’s diet. I know that there’s some people who have to live that way for health reasons– my mom is one of them. But it’s hard sometimes to not be made to feel guilty if you’re not overhauling your entire diet to match these trends. I’m realizing that a better approach for me is baby steps and moderation. While cutting back would probably be good, I’m not at a point where I’m ready to, or even have a desire to, cut sugar and gluten completely out of my life.

That being said, I’m feeling pretty good about the dessert I made for my family gathering at my grandmother’s house today. The majority of my mom’s side of the family definitely has a sweet tooth, and when we get together, there’s usually plenty of desserts to pick from. And now that it’s unofficially fall, though not quite late enough in the season for the really good pie apples, I figured that kicking off pumpkin everything season would be the way to go. I tried this Pinterest recipe out last fall, so I know it’s good. And since it has pumpkin and all of the flour is whole wheat, I feel like this can be considered relatively healthy.

You can find the recipe for this chocolate chip pumpkin bread on recipegirl.com. And it was pretty easy to make!

All of the ingredients, minus the butter. I let that soften so long that it was starting to ooze onto the stovetop, so I just dumped that in my mixer bowl instead.

See that one random brown egg? I had to steal it from my mom–I went ahead and doubled the recipe, so I could use up the entire can of pumpkin. (It’s about half a cup short of what the recipe calls for, but it’s also hard to use up 2/3 of a can of pumpkin, so I was willing to make the trade.) But that left me one egg short, and I don’t use up eggs quickly enough to buy another half-dozen for just one egg.

The other nice thing about doubling the recipe is that I was also able to use the entire bag of chocolate chips. Of course, I needed to use the entire bag in the bread, so I didn’t have any left to sprinkle on top of the bread. So I grated a little piece of a candy bar that I had in the fridge on top of it. It melted right into the bread, so we’ll see if it makes any difference or not. But still–yay for no partially used bags of chips that aren’t even full enough to make cookies!

And here’s what they looked like after baking. Yum. I’m bringing the second loaf to Bible study tomorrow night, since we usually do a potluck-style dinner and Sunday afternoon rehearsals usually leave me scrambling to see what I can find already prepared at the grocery store. But I’ll be quite happy to eat any leftovers from both loaves for breakfast this week. If there are any leftovers. This one was pretty popular the last time I brought it to Bible study.

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