Tag Archives: fiction

Fantastic Voyages

My family didn’t really take vacations when I was growing up. We’d go on day trips instead, packing the car with a picnic lunch and some beach supplies, then tooling around northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania looking for adventures. Most of the time we’d end up at either Pymatuning State Park or Conneaut Lake Park. Both are magical, fun places, and I highly recommend that you visit them. However, now that I’ve just returned from my first real vacation (complete with oceans, tasty food, and intense scrutiny from airport security), I’m completely hooked on the experience, and am planning/saving for the next one.

Spotted at Tahoe Unveiled.

Spotted at Tahoe Unveiled.

Taking a cue from Melissa, I brought along some beach reads, leaping at the chance to spend some quality time with the kind of books I like best: fantasy and speculative fiction. If you like that sort of thing, or are open to trying it, these fun, fantastic reading picks will keep you entertained as you lounge on the beach, by the pool, or under a palm tree, sipping your tropical beverage of choice.

awareThe Aware, Glenda Larke. Book one of the Isles of Glory trilogy introduces us to Blaze Halfbreed and her piratical lifestyle, forced upon her by the constraints of island society. Thanks to her mixed parentage, she’s denied citizenship in the Isles, and must work as an adventurer-for-hire to earn her keep. Luckily, her ability to sense magic makes her valuable to the various political factions who rule the islands. One faction, the Keepers, has recently hired her to find a runaway princess, fleeing from an unwanted marriage. As the plot thickens, however, Blaze learns that there are some things she just can’t do, even for a chance at full citizenship. Filled with swordplay and nautical shenanigans, this adventure yarn will appeal to readers who like salty language, strong female characters, sexy situations, and, perhaps, Suzy’s recent pirate post.

Chicks Kick Butt, Rachel Caine, ed. Curious about urban fantasy, but not ready to commit to a whole novel? Try this short story buttsampler on for size. Caine–an accomplished fantasy writer with several successful series to her credit–has assembled stories from various writers in the genre that showcase its greatest strength: the tendency to feature heroines who kick butt rather than kiss it. My favorite piece was Karen Chance‘s “In Vino Veritas,” which features a high-stakes paranormal drinking contest (trust me, it’s hilarious), but the whole volume is solid, and will open up a whole pack of new authors for you to try, if this is your first stab at urban fantasy.

magePaper Mage, Leah R. Cutter. Historical fiction fans will want to try this tale on for size. Our heroine, Xiao Yen, is on a quest to fulfill a promise she made to her aunt: win glory, and bring home an immortal peach. Because she’s a highly trained paper mage, Xiao Yen can make beautiful origami creations that come alive, which is useful when you need, say, a tiger to protect your campsite after dark. On her current assignment, bodyguard to a delegation of foreigners, Xiao Yen accidentally offends a goddess in disguise, and amends for her error by taking up the immortal lady’s quest as well as her own. The pace is slow and stately, showcasing the manners and customs of ancient China while exploring a very different sort of magic. Lovely, sad, and haunting.

zombieMy Life as a White Trash Zombie, Diana Rowland. Closer to home, on the Louisiana bayou, Angel Crawford wakes up in the hospital with no clue as to how she got there. When she checks out, she receives a brown paper bag with a change of clothes, several jars of what looks like iced coffee, and instructions to report to the morgue on Monday to start her new job. What the heck? Angel soon learns that her accident was a lot worse than she thought, and that what’s in those jars? Isn’t iced coffee (though it is delicious). As Angel adjusts to being one of the undead, she finds–much to her surprise–that her afterlife has the potential to be a whole lot better than her human life…unless, of course, whoever is killing all the local zombies catches up with her. If you’re willing to suspend your belief a teensy bit and have a good time, Angel will take you for a great ride. It’s an outrageous premise, but it’s got lots of heart, and I’ll definitely be looking up the sequels.

What can I say? There’s nothing I find more relaxing than a book about girls saving the world, especially if there are magical/paranormal elements involved. What do you like to read on vacation? Are super-powered super-heroines up your alley? Or is there some other genre that spells “beach read” for you?

–Leigh Anne

with apologies to Lakeside and  Coolio

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A Sonnet for the Spellmans

In honor of my favorite book series, Lisa Lutz‘s The Spellmans,(sorry, Dresden Files and Song of Ice and Fire), I have written a sonnet. Yes, me! The 30-mumblemumble-year-old who just learned to somewhat appreciate a few poems has now written one.

Shall I compare thee to any series?

Thou art more beloved by me than most books.

Why this is so I have many theories

And forever in me you have your hooks.

Thou art far more witty and have more heart

Than so many books before you I’ve read.

You are wacky, wonderful, you are smart.

Reaching the end of you I do so dread.

Lisa Lutz, your author, is wise, ’tis true.

Relationships and family struggles,

Love, grief, regret, hilarity make you

Enthralling for some books full of Muggles.

You are dear to me, Spellman family.

Devoted to you, I will always be.

There are six books in the series so far. The most recent, The Last Word, came out earlier this month.The books are about a family of private investigators who live in San Francisco. Izzy, the main character, is not really where she’d like to be, but has no idea where she’d like to be. Rae, her younger sister, is a little too into private investigating. David, her older brother, is a straight-laced lawyer, frequently embarrassed by his family. Since Spellman Investigations is a family business, Izzy works for her mother and father. The supporting characters like Morty, an octogenarian who’s Izzy’s lawyer and friend, and Henry Stone, a cop who both Izzy and Rae get very close to, add to the charm and honesty of the books.

I wrote about Trail of the Spellmans in our Best Books, etc. 2012 post and The Last Word will definitely be one of my favorite books of 2013. The series is usually one of the first things I think of when people ask me for a book recommendation and they’re one of the few books I read over again.

The Spellman Files  Curse of the Spellmans  Revenge of the Spellmans

The Spellmans Strike Again  Trail of the Spellmans  The Last Word

If you’ve never read the series, do so immediately if for no other reason to see what could inspire me to write a poem.

-Aisha

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Book Report

Sometimes I find myself in a reading wasteland, when nothing is appealing and I feel a little blah about everything I pick up to read.  But then there are those great times when the opposite is true, and I have giant stacks of things on my to-read pile.  Lately the latter has been the norm;  I’m having a hard time keeping up with my reading stack, and have been enjoying everything I’ve started.  Here are a few of my recent picks:

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves: It is difficult to describe this novel without giving away the twist, which is revealed fairly early on, but it was still a surprise to me.  (If you would like it to remain a surprise, avoid reading the description of the book on Amazon!)  The story is about Rosemary, her sister Fern, who was sent away for mysterious reasons during their childhood, their brother Lowell, who is on the run from the FBI, and their parents.  The shake up of the family dynamic when Fern leaves has a lifelong effect on the remaining siblings.  Years later Rosemary finds herself thinking more and more of her sister, whom she has largely avoided thinking about, and after a surprise visit from her brother Rosemary begins to come to terms with her past.

The Silent Wife: This story is told in alternating chapters from the point of view of Jodi and Todd, a married couple with some big problems.  We know from the start that Todd will be the victim, but Jodi isn’t such a clear-cut villain, and knowing the outcome doesn’t detract from the ending.  The characters are simply amazing in their ability to avoid conflict.  Although that trait makes them fairly difficult to relate to, their façade is just fascinating.

Ten Things I’ve Learnt About Love: Alice returns home to London for the death of her father after another one of her excursions to a far part of the world.  Daniel is a homeless man who has spent years searching for his daughter, knowing nothing but her name after his lover leaves him to stay in her marriage.  This book also uses alternating chapters to tell Alice and Daniel’s story, and whether they will ultimately connect is the big question of this novel.  Poignant is a word that gets tossed around a lot in literary criticism, but in this case it really is the most appropriate word for this story.

You Are One of Them: Those of us who were children in the 1980s surely share a particular kind of memory about the Cold War.  My memories are more of the later part of the decade, when glasnost and perestroika were in the headlines, but even I remember the Cold War as something that just kind of loomed over everything during the 1980s.  In this novel, two friends write letters to Yuri Andropov asking him to not use nuclear weapons.  One of the girls, Jenny, becomes a world-wide celebrity after her letter is published in a Russian newspaper and then becomes an international sensation, while Sarah’s letter is lost to history.  Jenny and her family are killed in a plane crash in 1985; Sarah grows up and finishes college and decides to go to Russia after learning that the plane crash was a possible hoax and Jenny may still be alive.

Some people go for breezy beach reads in the summer; apparently I go for dark and thought-provoking.  Who else has been reading anything good lately?

-Irene

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Punny Side Up: Clever Titles, Fun Summer Reads

The only thing better than a good pun is a bad pun, the kind that leaves you doubled over, groaning. When you spot a pun in a book title, it usually means you’re in for a good time, reading-wise. And since it’s summer, why not put aside the ponderous reads for a while and take a chance on something silly? Here are a few titles to try on for size.

apocalypsecowApocalypse Cow, Michael Logan. Everybody takes it on the chin in this snicker-worthy, satirical horror tale about a government experiment gone horribly wrong. The cows of Scotland have turned zombie, and the virus responsible leaps quickly to other animal species. Look out humanity: now you’re the snack! As the country descends into chaos, three extremely unlikely heroes–a teenage math geek, a slaughterhouse worker, and an inept journalist–do their best to save the day. Which pretty much means humanity is doomed, but you’ll have a lot of fun watching the train wreck. Terry Pratchett enjoyed this book enough to give it a prize in 2011, so now that it’s available in the U.S., you should check it out, too; I expect you will find it very moo-ving.

Sleeping With the Entity, Cat Devon. Daniella just wants to open a cupcake shop; is that so wrong? Nick, the head of the local entitybusiness association, doesn’t want Daniella or her cupcakes anywhere near his neighborhood, which actually serves as headquarters for Nick’s vampire clan. Somehow immune to Nick’s mind control techniques, Daniella barrels on ahead with her business plan anyway, which leads to peril for her, exasperation for Nick, and plenty of sexual tension smoldering between them both. Devon’s paranormal romance is as fluffy and luscious as buttercream frosting, and once you’ve savored it, continuing on to The Entity Within will be a piece of cake.

hexHex and the Single Girl, Valerie Frankel. Unlike Devon’s novel, which is slightly silly and mostly steamy, Frankel’s tale of a matchmaking witch is a full-out wacky romp. Emma has used her psychic gifts to hook up countless happy couples, but despairs of ever finding a love of her own. Enter William, a wealthy software developer, who finds Emma utterly fascinating. Too bad Emma’s trying to fix William up with one of her clients…especially since she finds him pretty interesting, too. Replete with bad puns and composed of a cast of colorful New Yorkers (magical and otherwise), this is a screwball romantic comedy that will scramble your brain in egg-actly the way a summer read should.

Too Many Crooks Spoil the Broth, Tamar Myers. Tart-tongued Magdalena Yoder and her sister Susannah converted their family farm into a crooksbed and breakfast after their parents died. Now the Mennonite siblings, with the help of some of their Amish friends and neighbors, run the PennDutch Inn, a popular stop for folks touring Pennsylvania Dutch territory. The only thing is, there’s a corpse on the bed, and it’s ruining Magdalena’s quilt, and this simply will not do. Add in a shady politician on vacation, a pack of vegetarians who are driving Magdalena’s cook crazy, and enough food descriptions to give George R.R. Martin a run for his money, and you have a nice cozy-folksy mystery–part of a series!–that also contains recipes (the broiled bananas dessert looks particularly ap-peel-ing).

If you haven’t thrown up your hands in despair and moved on to looking at cute cat photos, you are clearly the target audience for more puntastic goodness. Terry Pratchett, Piers Anthony, Diane Mott Davidson, and Donna Andrews are just a few authors who dabble in groan-worthy titles; you’ll find these and other suggestions via this Goodreads list. My personal favorite title at the moment is Giles Smith’s  Midnight in the Garden of Evel Knievel, which I plan to acquire and read despite having less than zero interest in sports (anybody that punny deserves my consideration).

Your turn: does a punny book title send you to the checkout counter, or running for the hills? Have any fun examples you’d care to share?

Leigh Anne

also currently giggling over Polar Bolero

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So Far, So Good!

2013 is half over already? How did that happen? Flipping through my reading notebook in an attempt to answer that question brought the past few months into sharp relief for me. “Oh yes, April, when this, that and that happened, and I was reading XYZ.” In some ways more private than a diary, and yet in other ways more revealing, a reading log can give you a pretty good snapshot of what was going on in your life, as well as make it easier to recall and share titles when you run into somebody who might also enjoy that story you liked.

thousand_lives

Spotted at LetterMidst

In the spirit of Amazon’s “best of 2013 so far” list, here’s my own tally of favorite titles this year, plus a few extra.

rulemurderJanuary: A Rule Against Murder / Louise Penny. The dead of winter is a wonderful time to wend your way through a mystery series, especially when the book you’re currently on is set in the middle of summer! The charming, courtly Inspector Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie are on holiday, but murder finds them anyhow. Although this is the fourth in the series, it works beautifully as a stand-alone because of the “locked-room” quality of the plot (the victim, and all the murder suspects, are guests at the same resort with the Gamaches). It’s also a great introduction to the beautiful Canadian landscapes Penny paints; reading her descriptions makes me want to pack a suitcase and head for the wilds. Try it on for size, and then, if you like it, go back to the beginning with Still Life.

February: Code Name Verity / Elizabeth Wein. Chosen for her excellent command of German–she was reading it at verityUniversity before the war–Verity is a spy for the Allies, despite her tender years. Maddie, whose natural aptitude for flying earned her a spot in the air, is both her best friend and her pilot on a dangerous mission. But when the plane crashes and Verity is taken prisoner by the Gestapo, both the mission and the friendship are put to the ultimate tests of interrogation and torture. War stories don’t normally do much for me, but Wein spins a layered, gripping narrative that kept me up late to finish this book in one gulp. And surprise: it’s for teens, though grown-ups will definitely enjoy it as well.

yogabitchMarch: Yoga Bitch / Suzanne Morrison. This hilarious memoir mostly takes place during Morrison’s extended yoga retreat in Bali, a trip she took because she wanted to be more spiritual and peaceful like her teacher, Indra. Instead of inner peace, however, Morrison found all of the hang-ups and emotional problems she thought she’d left behind in Seattle right there on the mat waiting for her. Oh, and everybody else at the retreat keeps trying to convince her to drink pee (wait, what?). Let go of everything you think you know about yoga and laugh like hell as Morrison Figures It All Out (Sort Of).

April: Life After Life / Kate Atkinson. I know, I know: everybody loves this book and can’t stop talking about it. There are lifeafterlifereasons for that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right book for you. I tend to describe it to people as a mash-up between Downton Abbey and Doctor Who, and if you’re willing to go along with the premise that a person can live the same life over again until she gets it right (whatever that means), then you are going to eat this up like a jar of Nutella. Otherwise, you can move along. I loved this book so much I went out and bought it; it is the most perfect thing I’ve read all year.

messudMay: The Woman Upstairs / Claire Messud. Nora Eldridge is furious, and when you finally find out why, mere pages away from the end of the novel, your jaw will drop. However, to really appreciate the big reveal, you have to wend your way through Nora’s long, tortured story. Over forty and frustrated with her life–she wanted to be an artist and ended up as an art teacher instead–Nora struggles to recapture her lost dreams and not give in to self-pity, but it’s hard. A new friendship with Sirena, a practicing artist, appears at first to be the kind of boost Nora’s been looking for. However, as Nora comes to know Sirena and her family more closely, the green-eyed monster keeps rearing its ugly head. A powerful novel about learning to live for yourself, and not through other people. And the reveal really is worth it, I promise. Wow.

June: The Humanity Project / Jean Thompson. The Great Recession didn’t do anyone any favors, but for the characters in humanityThompson’s small California town, the situation is pretty dire. A man and his son are on the brink of losing their home. A troubled teen who survived a school shooting is meeting her father for the first time. A clinic nurse grows more cynical by the day as the noble ideals she tries to uphold seem like so much baloney in the face of non-stop human suffering. And then, a wealthy widow proposes a project that will change their lives in ways they don’t expect, possibly for the better…depending on how you define better. Readers who like realistic fiction will appreciate the snipped-from-the-headlines, they-could-be-us quality of Thompson’s characters, who quietly learn that the money they crave can fix their surface issues, but not what lies beneath.

Some runners-up worth noting:

The Next Time You See Me / Holly Goddard Jones. A tough-talking, blue-collar broad goes missing, and nobody in town really cares, except her married-into-the-middle-class sister. Also, middle school kids treat each other like crap.

The Dinner / Herman Koch. The most uncomfortable family dinner ever, held at a pricey restaurant in Amsterdam, reveals just how far one set of parents will go to protect their son.

Calling Me Home / Julie Kliber. An elderly woman asks her hairdresser to drive her from Texas to Ohio for a funeral. Warning: the ending is a weeper.

The Fault In Our Stars / John Green. There are not enough tissues in the whole world to wipe away the tears you will shed for two bright, sarcastic teens with cancer who, despite their odds, fall in love anyway. Read it regardless.

Your turn: which books really rocked your world in 2013? Is it too early for you to pick a favorite?

–Leigh Anne

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June is Bustin’ Out (Great Books) All Over!

Let’s pretend that as a middle-schooler, I wasn’t a “townsperson” (read: not-very-talented extra) in my hometown’s production of Carousel, and get right to the point…  June is a great month to to bust out and  publish a doozy of a book.

Do we have some doozy summer reads for you?  We do!  Check them out today, and then add them to your Summer Reading account.  They will help you become eligible for fabulous prizes.  And don’t forget to check eCLP to read some of these titles on your tablet, laptop, or smart phone!

http://www.syndetics.com/index.aspx?isbn=9780374280406/LC.JPG&client=einet&type=hw7

Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell by Katherine Angel is a “genre-buster.”  Is it poetry?  Is it biographical?  Oprah lists it  as a must-read for the summer – for fans of experimental literature and/or Anaïs Nin.

http://www.syndetics.com/index.aspx?isbn=9780316216852/LC.JPG&client=einet&type=hw7

The Shining Girls is already being compared to Gone Girl.  In this summer’s page turner, bright young girls are stalked by a serial killer in  a house that just happens to have time traveling tendencies.

http://www.syndetics.com/index.aspx?isbn=9781606996362/LC.JPG&client=einet&type=hw7

This stray jumps right into the meat of big human questions, in a graphic novel with simple art work and fable-like story telling from Graham Chaffee.  Share Good Dog with the whole family!

http://www.syndetics.com/index.aspx?isbn=0062278592/LC.JPG&client=einet&type=hw7

You can call this one a double doozy! Parade says of The Ocean at the End of the Lane: “A young boy discovers a neighboring family’s supernatural secret. Soon his innocence is tested by ancient, magical forces, and he learns the power of true friendship. The result is a captivating read, equal parts sweet, sad, and spooky.”

http://www.syndetics.com/index.aspx?isbn=9781781162644/LC.JPG&client=einet&type=hw7

Stephen King is back at it with Joyland.  According to The Telegraph, “American imprint Hard Case Crime is a deliberately retro pulp paperback press, and Joyland is Stephen King’s second deliberately retro pulp paperback written for it.” Also, Mr. King discusses the book in an interview with Neil Gaiman.

http://www.syndetics.com/index.aspx?isbn=9780307878007/LC.JPG&client=einet&type=hw7

TransAtlantic is the newest effort by Colum McCann. What do Frederick Douglass, Alcock and Brown, and Senator George Mitchell have in common?  Their stories are woven together by the talented Irish author of Let the Great World Spin.  Lit fiction fans, get ready to drool.
http://www.syndetics.com/index.aspx?isbn=9780062253804/LC.JPG&client=einet&type=hw7
Big Brother is a fiction novel that Lionel Shriver decided to write after losing her big brother to obesity-related illness. This novel dives right into all of the social and personal sticky, sticky wickets that accompany any discussion of food, weight, and health in America.

Happy Summer Reading!

Holly

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What’s New in Austenland 2013

“No man is offended by another man’s admiration of the woman he loves; it is the woman only who can make it a torment.”  Henry Tilney to Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey

janeausten

Jane Austen, watercolor by her older sister, Cassandra

Guess what? It’s that time once again when I highlight some of the newest titles in Jane Austen scholarship. As I’ve happily written about for the last two years, Austen continues to be an endless inspiration for writers to discover new and different topics of discussion about the celebrated early nineteenth-century author. Nearly 200 years after her death in 1817, how many authors can you say that about?

cultscultures

 Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures by Claudia L. Johnson. Just how popular is Jane Austen? Well, there are two JASNA* chapters in the state of Pennsylvania; Pittsburgh is one of them and I’m proud to say that I am a member. Austen scholar Claudia Johnson traces Austen’s fame throughout history, from soon after the author’s death through the Victorian period, and into the middle of the twentieth century when landmarks began to be set aside and preserved for their historical affiliation with the novelist.

everybodysjane

Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination by Juliette Wells. Similar to the above, however, Wells’s focus is on the present day amateur madness for all things Austen, from book spin-offs–into diversities as graphic novelszombies, vampires, mysteries, and even (gasp!) erotica–to the tourism industry of Jane Austen’s England tours, and  individual collectors and their impressive collections.

emma-an-annotated-editon-by-jane-austen-and-edited-by-bharat-tandon-2012-x-250

Image source: austenprose.com

Emma: An Annotated Edition edited by Bharat Tandon. Harvard University Press has produced yet another gorgeous coffee-table edition of annotated Austen novels. These are truly gift editions for the Austen aficionado. Reproductions of period fashions, maps, advertisements, and artists‘ portraits provide an understanding of not only Austen’s arguable masterpiece, but also early 19th century England.

realjaneausten

The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things by Paula Byrne. Paying attention to the smallest details of Austen’s brief life, such as her topaz cross (a gift from a beloved brother), a shawl, a hat, and other personal artifacts, Byrne attempts to go beyond the published literature and delve deeper into the novelist’s personal life.

whatmattersinjane

What Matters in Jane Austen: Twenty Crucial Problems Solved by John Mullan. In this elegantly written and fascinating book, many interesting facets of Austen’s novels  are discussed with intriguing chapter titles such as: “Is There Any Sex in Jane Austen?”–yes, there is–, “What Do Characters Say When the Heroine Isn’t There?,” “How Much Money is Enough?,” and “Why Do Her Plots Rely on Blunders?”

Same time next year!

~Maria

*The Jane Austen Society of North America

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At Sea

I miss the ocean. As a sailor in the USN I had the good fortune of being stationed on a ship out of Japan that sailed the picturesque waters of the Pacific Ocean. I remember  stealing many moments out on the sponson decks, enjoying a smoke while flying fish skittered across the placid waters  painted in orange and mauve as the sun slowly set behind the wide horizon. I grew up in Pittsburgh and had never really traveled at all before my enlistment. Everywhere you turn here there is a hill in your face. Seeing something two or three blocks away qualifies the scene as  “panoramic.” Thus it is was that the immense space of the ocean really took hold of me. As a junior enlisted my life revolved around painting, cleaning, and liberty, but of course the navy was once much different. I am referring to the age of sail and thanks to a healthy niche market there is an abundance of fiction that can take you back to the days of wooden ships and iron men.

midshiphornblowertv

The king of the genre has to be C. S. Forester. Born in 1899 Forester was himself from a different era and his smooth, formal prose helps to transport the reader to bygone days. His most famous character,  Horatio Hornblower, enjoyed a storied career stretched out over 11 novels, from seasick midshipman all the way to Admiral in charge of everything. A&E produced a fantastic TV adaptation of the early novels starring Ioan Gruffudd.

masterThe Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brian constitutes another highly successful series. The adventures of Captain Jack Aubrey and his friend Stephen Maturin, naturalist, doctor, and sometime spy will provide hours and hours of amusement.  The series inspired 2003’s Master and Commander The Far Side of the World starring Russell Crowe which is worth a view.

kydd

The Kydd series from Julian Stockwin stands out in the field by the author’s choice to follow the adventures of an enlisted sailor in the British navy. Thomas Paine Kydd joins up the hard way, kidnapped by a press gang and initiated into the brutal life below decks.

Before enlisting yourself, landsmen and landswomen out there may wish to read up a bit on the stunning array of terminology associated with sailing the tall ships. Sailing these vessels required immense knowledge and precise coordination.  During my time at sea I had to learn how to wax the floor just right but it’s not really in the same league.

Sky

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Belle of the Ball or Wallflower?*

‘wallflower’
2. a. a person who from shyness or unpopularity remains on the sidelines of a social activity (as a dance) Merriam Webster dictionary

I was a wallflower. You know, one of those women who go unnoticed (deliberately or not) in a room for whatever silly reason. Perhaps she’s bookish, doesn’t like (or know) how to dance, or is simply shy.

The theme of the wallflower is a popular trope in fiction, especially in historical romance. And there are several unique twists to that trope. But, oh, how I love that moment when the wallflower shines and is appreciated for just who she is by the handsomest gentleman in the room.

onegoodearl

One Good Earl Deserves a Lover by Sarah MacLean

Lady Philippa (Pippa) Marbury is a bluestocking–”I’m odd” she  declares–from a well-heeled family who wants to learn more about exactly what happens on a wedding night before her actual wedding night in two weeks. She approaches her brother-in-law’s notoriously scandalous friend, Cross, an earl in hiding from his past to aid in her “scientific research experiment.” What follows is a battle of wills, witty dialogue, and an unforgettable heroine. Funny and poignant, I found myself rooting for Pippa’s happy ending all the way. This is the second in MacLean’s very entertaining and engaging Rules of Scoundrels series about four owners of a successful Regency England gambling hell.

charmschool

The Charm School by Susan Wiggs

Isadora (Dora) Peabody is a misfit, an ugly duckling overshadowed by her talented and attractive aristocratic Boston family. She longs to escape her life and herself, so she maneuvers her way into a high seas adventure much to the dismay of the arrogant Captain Ryan Calhoun, a man who prefers to run away from his problems rather than face them. Along the way, Dora’s charm and  power are revealed and she befriends everyone she meets, effectively coming out of her shell. Calhoun comes to realize and appreciate her strength of character as well as her courage in the face of hardship. Note: Wiggs has said that Dora is “modeled after yrs truly.” Book one in a series.

mistress

Mistress by Midnight by Nicola Cornick

Lady Merryn Fenner is only interested in academics and has long given up girlish dreams of love and marriage after watching her dearest brother destroyed by it. And she’s determined to bring down the man she believes is responsible: Garrick, the Duke of Farne. When a freak accident traps them alone together forcing their marriage, they discover the truth about the past as well as their conflicting feelings for one another. I especially enjoy how Cornick’s stories are inspired by real life historical events. Book three in her provocative Scandalous Women of the Ton series.

reasons

The Reasons for Marriage by Stephanie Laurens

This is an early Laurens’ novel and I think it’s one of her best. Jason, the Duke of Eversleigh, needs to marry after the death of his eldest brother, the heir, and he sets his sights on his friend’s sister, Lenore Lester. Miss Lester is perfectly content to be mistress of her brother’s large household in the country, with her books and her gardens, and has no reason to marry; in fact, she adopts a dowdy exterior just to discourage suitors. But the Duke sees through her ruse and is determined to win her and show her the real reasons for marriage. Book one in the Lester family series.

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Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean

“On-the-shelf” spinster, Lady Calpurnia Hartwell, has had enough of her dull life. So she creates a list of things she wishes to accomplish: learn fencing, gamble at a gentlemen’s club, and fire a pistol to name a few. She also needs the help of someone not afraid to break the rules: the scandalous–and handsome– Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston. First in MacLean’s Love by Numbers series.

week

A Week to Be Wicked by Tessa Dare

Geologist Minerva Highwood is on a mission. Well, make that two missions. She is determined to present her research to an academic society in Scotland and also to prevent a certain roguish lord from marrying her beloved and fragile sister. She approaches the wicked Colin Sandhurst, Lord Payne, and proposes he escort her, thus avoiding marrying her sister, for which she will pay him handsomely. And so begins their hilarious road trip in a tiny carriage where they will confront their fears, their secrets, and their passion. This is the second book in Tessa Dare’s delightful Spindle Cove series, about a militia that comes to a seaside English village where mostly spinsters reside. Note: Dare (a librarian) has said that her inspiration for this series was Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, when the militia came to Meryton, thus causing the youngest Bennet girls to go crazy for the handsome officers.

~Maria

*This post is the first in a series highlighting my favorite historical romance novels, my new favorite genre, because it is filled with only happy endings,  history, wonderful stories, enchanting characters, and amazing writing. Many thanks to Eleventh Stack bloggers Jess and Sheila, for inspiring me to try them, and to the authors themselves for writing stories I love to read.

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Introducing the Red Herring Book Club!

red herring_generalThe mystery book discussion group at the Main Library has been recently re-branded and re-introduced as the Red Herring Book Club. As a special kick-off for this new look, and to try to attract a few additional group members, our theme for the books we’ll be reading over the next 4 months is “Mysteries of Pittsburgh.” (Because there’s nothing Pittsburghers like to read/do more than talk about Pittsburgh!) Each of the novels will be set in our fair city.  Serial killers, murders, mobsters and mayhem abound!

We’ll be discussing the first book in the series, The Burnt District by Gary Link, this Friday at 1pm in the Teen Meeting Space on the First Floor. All are welcome to join us. We’ll talk about the book (and its setting, of course!), plus you’ll be able to pick up and check out a copy of June’s book, Thou Shalt Kill by Daniel Blake.

Besides the four books on our agenda, many other mystery authors have chosen to set their books in our interesting and diverse city. Here are some more options for your reading and puzzle-solving pleasure…

Steel Ashes by Karen Rose Cercone

Never Buried: A Leigh Koslow Mystery by Edie Claire

Compass in the Blood by William E. Coles, Jr

Vengeance for a Stranger by Mary Ellis

Simple by Kathleen George

Resolve by J.J. Hensley

The Prophecy by Chris Kuzneski

Snake Skin by CJ Lyons

Murder in Pittsburgh: A Redmond and Jennifer McClain Mystery by Walter McKeever

Time of Death by Gary Madden

A Toast to Destiny by Ceane O’Hanlon and May Tantlinger

Mirror Image: A Daniel Rinaldi Mystery by Dennis Palumbo

The Headline Murders: A Story of Murder and Deceit Set in the City of Pittsburgh by David W. Rees

Bitter Waters by Wen Spencer

Tonight in the Rivers of Pittsburgh by Brian Lee Weakland

And one for the kids:  The Great Smith House Hustle by Jane Louise Curry

May all your mysteries be easy to solve. (And set in Pittsburgh!)

-Melissa M.

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