Non-Fic Goodness: The Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson

  • symphonyTitle: Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
  • Author: ¬†M.T. Anderson
  • Published: ¬†September 2015, Candlewick Press
  • Source: Library,¬†Scribd
  • Format:¬† Print and audio (narrated by author)
  • Length: 456 pages (10:20 on audio)
  • Tropes:¬†Music Nerdery, History Geekery, Russian Misery Porn
  • Quick blurb:¬†Social, political and cultural history of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7
  • Quick review: All music and history lovers should read this book RIGHT NOW.
  • Grade:¬†A

After reading The Bronze Horseman, I went on a Russian binge.  I wishlisted and bookmarked and downloaded anything and everything. I wound up glancing through most of it. Except this one.

I may or may not have GEEKED OUT when I saw it. I glommed the hardcover from the library, then immediately got the audio as well.

It’s a young adult title by the author of the Octavian Nothing series (which I didn’t realize until just now). It won boatloads of awards. It’s a magnificent mashup of social, cultural, military and political history, And biography. And musicology. And fantastically good story-telling.

I love it when people write books just for me.

Yes, it has all the Russian misery porn you’d expect from a history of Stalin’s terrors and the siege of Leningrad. But instead of a meandering melodrama, Anderson¬†gives us context and empathy and humanity. The story builds through all the horrors and then we get the TOTAL DRAMA PERFORMANCE and we cry and feel all the weltschmerz¬†lift away.

It’s art against evil. And art wins.

Dear god, this was sappy. Ignore all of that up there, Just read the damn book. No, wait ‚ÄĒ listen to Symphony No. 7 first, then read the book. Then read the book again while listening to the symphony. ¬†Unless you’re a newbie to classical music, in which case you should¬†read the book first. I am available via email or DMs for one-on-one suggestions/discussions.

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The 2016 Year-End Page O’ Lists

In my usual slacker style, here’s my belated 2016 wrap-up. Nothing kicked off an emotional and obsessive spate of full-snark bitchery¬†last year, so¬†that change in meds must be working. There was that one (see below) but that was only one post that I throw at everyone who put it on their¬†Best of 2016 list so it really doesn’t count.

Also a quick note: as usual, no LGBTQ titles because of the side job with Riptide, but I read a few absolute gems. Mostly¬†from Riptide or Riptide authors, of course, because I’m completely spoiled and snobbish like that. Shoot me an email or DM if you need recs!

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My absolute favorite reads of 2016:

I think the number one slot has to be a tie:

barry_earthbound  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25814323-the-study-of-seduction

To quote myself on Earth Bound: 

I loved the others in the series, but this one KILLED ME DEAD <dead>. Good lord, this was utterly fan-freaking-tastic. Definitely one of my top reads this year, and it’s poking at my DIK shelf. I need a moment to recover just remembering that telephone call scene in the restaurant *swoon*.

To quote myself on The Study of Seduction:

a marriage of convenience between a grumpy hero who makes lists and a secretly-smart social butterfly, and adds in a truly creepy stalker who cooks up some creative blackmail over Deep Dark Secrets, and just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

I can’t say more without spoilers, but Seduction was especially memorable because of the social butterfly heroine’s Deep Dark Secret, which made the consummation of the marriage…heart-wrenching.

Jeffries is a romance veteran who just keeps giving me everything I need in ways I never expected. Barry/Turner are relative rookies who keep giving me things I never knew I needed.

But WAIT.

It’s a three-way tie. Or would it be a five-way tie? Who the hell cares, because YOU NEED TO READ THESE TRUST ME:

Must Love Time Travel series by Angela Quarles, narrated by Mary Jane Wells

  

Breeches has Ada Lovelace as an important secondary character. Chainmail has a kick-ass heroine and a stunner of a climax (the story kind, not the other kind, you pervs). Kilts has a charmingly-dopey-but-secretly-complex-and-vulnerable hero. And the narration was perfection. READ THESE TRUST ME HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY IT. Continue reading

The 2016 Holiday Romance Wrap-Up

It’s still the holidays.

The must-reads:

parker_duesouth anthology_wish anthology_sprinkling adams_edenmanor warfield_dangerousnativity

Due South by Tamsen Parker – I think this might be the¬†best office romance I’ve ever read.

Wish Upon a Snowflake by Christine Merrill, Linda Skye and Elizabeth Rolls – loved all three stories, this is a fabulous anthology that will be a re-read every year.

A Sprinkling of Christmas Magic by Elizabeth Rolls, Bronwyn Scott and Margaret McPhee – another practically perfect anthology with three very different, very entertaining stories.

Christmas at Eden Manor by Noelle Adams – I kind of wish Adams wasn’t so prolific, because I want to read everything and I can’t keep up. This is a lovely, just-angsty-enough¬†age gap romance.

A Dangerous Nativity by Caroline Warfield Рa completely charming lord-in-the-cute-village novella that is FREE FREE FREE (hint hint hint). I immediately bought more by Warfield (see below).

anthology_holly allen_countess anthology_onceuponaregencychristmas anthology_countrychristmas anthology_silverbelles

An Open Heart by Caroline Warfield (in Holly and Hopeful Hearts: A Bluestocking Belles Collection)– a Jewish couple at a country house party. It starts out like Carola Dunn’s Miss Jacobson’s Journey, but it goes in a different direction and ends up with a soul-satisfying HEA. I haven’t read the rest in this anthology, but this one story is so worth the NINETY-NINE (99) CENTS (hint).

His Christmas Countess by Louise Allen – I found this on Scribd and was a little wary of the blurb, but holy cow, this was fantastic. Caz at AAR did a great review. READ THIS TRUST ME. I immediately bought the rest of the series, which led to the nearly-epic WTFery of the earl who assigns himself an undercover spy job as a hermit on the heroine’s father’s estate. But we’ll discuss that one later because it needs our full attention.

Once Upon a Regency Christmas by Louise Allen, Sophia James and Annie Burrows – another great anthology from Harlequin. I am a complete sucker for these and they give me the happysighs nearly every time.

A Country Christmas¬†by Josi Kilpack, Carla Kelly and Jennifer Moore – OH LOOK A CARLA KELLY HOLIDAY NOVELLA HERE JUST TAKE ALL MY MONEY. ¬†Do I care that it’s another half-pay retired naval officer and another penniless widow? NO I DO NOT.

Silver Belles: An Over-40 Holiday Anthology by Sarah M. Anderson, Ros Clarke, Laura K. Curtis, Yasmine Galenorn and Suleikha Synder – I love it when authors write stories JUST FOR ME *hearteyes*.

quinlan_singlegirl robinson_unwrappingrancher kirst_sheriffschristmastwins

The Last Single Girl by Bria Quinlan – this a New Year’s Eve story and it’s adorable and you should read it right now trust me.

Unwrapping the Rancher’s Secret by Lauri Robinson – reunited by a blizzard? OKAY. And, oh look, he’s shirtless (see above).

The Sheriff’s Christmas Twins by Karen Kirst – ignore the dopey cover and see Miss Bates’ “real comfort” review.

The good:

  • Vicar’s Daughter by Betty Neels¬†– DO NOT ASK how many Neels I bought after I read this.
  • Holiday with a Twist by Shannon Stacey
  • My Scandalous Duke by Theresa Romain
  • His Housekeeper’s Christmas Wish ¬†by Louise Allen
  • A Midwinter’s Scandal by Erin Knightley
  • A Match Made in Mistletoe by Anna Campbell
  • We Need a Little Christmas by Sierra Donovan
  • A Regency Christmas Carol by Christine Merrill
  • Greetings of the Season ¬†by Barbara Metzger
  • Father Christmas by Barbara Metzger

The take-them-or-leave-them:

  • The Cowbear’s Christmas Shotgun Wedding by Liv Brywood – not nearly the WTF factor I was hoping for.
  • A Christmas Dance by Alissa Johnson
  • A Countess for Christmas by Christy McKellen
  • Christmas at the Castle by Melissa McClone
  • A Convenient Christmas Wedding by Regina Scott
  • The Billionaire’s Christmas Proposal by Victoria James
  • Miss Mistletoe by Erin Knightley

The duds:

I DNF’d¬†all of these. What the hell what I thinking with all these “princess” titles???

  • Let it Snow by Jeannette Grey
  • His Jingle Bell Princess by Barbara Dunlop
  • A Royal Christmas Princess by Scarlet Wilson
  • Once Upon a Royal Christmas – Robin Bielman
  • Lord Lansbury’s Christmas Wedding by Helen Dickson – I’m giving up on Dickson. Her stuff is dry.as.dust.

The as-yet-unfinished:

  • Christmas in America: Historical Romance Anthology by Holly Bush, Piper Huguley, Joanna Shupe and Donna Thorland – I’m savoring this slowly.

The I’ll-try-again-next-year:

  • Miracle on 5th Avenue by Sarah Morgan – I know, I know. I just wasn’t in the mood for a perky heroine¬†when I tried it.

TBR Challenge: No Proper Lady by Isabel Cooper

This month’s theme was Paranormal or Romantic Suspense ‚ÄĒ¬†my book was both!

  • No Proper Lady by Isabel CooperTitle:¬†No Proper Lady
  • Series:¬†Englefield, #1
  • Author:¬†Isabel Cooper
  • Published:¬† 2011
  • Source:¬†Purchased
  • Format: Ebook
  • Length:¬†329 pages
  • Tropes:¬† Kick-Ass Heroine, Beta Hero, Villainous Villain,¬†Impending Apocalypse, Demons & Other Icky Things
  • Quick blurb:¬†Magical warrior from the future drops into Victorian England to stop an Evil Warlock from unleashing the Powers of Darkness.
  • Quick review:¬†Suspenseful and fun, and it made me yearn for an audio version
  • Grade:¬†B

“You’re in a hell of a lot of trouble here, Simon Grenville.”

This one wasn’t in my TBR for long ‚ÄĒ I purchased it in May when it was on sale for $1.99. A bunch of people on Twitter raved about it, and after I read Cooper’s¬†story¬†to the utterly glorious Gambled Away anthology, I knew I’d be in good hands for a temporary foray back into the paranormal world.

The blurb does a fantastic job of setting up the story:

When a half-naked woman suddenly appears on his country estate, Simon Grenville doesn’t have time to be shocked. Demonic beasts are hot on his heels until the beautiful stranger unsheathes several knives strapped to her skin-tight trousers and kills them.

Our heroine Joan is a kick-ass warrior from the future, on a mission to save mankind from evil and bad guys and slobbering hellhounds and whatnot.

“…she’s quite…rugged.”

Simon was the bad guy’s best friend until the whole badness stuff got out of hand. Simon¬†blames himself for everything because he introduced Tom Riddle to magic when they were obnoxious teenagers.

Simon and Joan compare weapons both metal and magical, and decide she needs to stay in England and cuddle up to the bad guy so Simon can destroy the Secret Book of Secrets his ex-bestie stole from this other baddish-but-not-nearly-as-bad guy.

This is a book about magic. So of course I had to match up everything with Harry Potter for it to make sense in my brain. Simon is obviously brooding reluctant hero Harry. Joan is Hermione with tattoos and poison darts¬†in her underwear. Simon’s de-demonized little sister is Ginny. The Big Book of¬†Scary Stuff¬†is a horcrux.

Got it? OK.

In the midst of all of this, Joan gets a ¬†makeover into a Prim and Proper Victorian Miss and it goes about as well as you’d expect, what with the full-body scars and the flashgun attached to her boobs and all (I still have no figure out that one and it makes my cleavage hurt every time I think about it). She shows tremendous bravery when cozying with the bad guy to divert his attention from Simon.

“You kiss,” said Joan, “like a goddamn squid.”

Simon, meanwhile, gathers evidence and visits an old professor (Slughorn) and nearly gets his magical aura flayed off by a Slobbering Hellhound of Exceptional Smelliness and he gets splinched during an escape but his little sister saves him with a blood sacrifice.

There’s a big showdown with ricocheting spells and¬†exploding fireplaces and the bad guy shriveling up¬†like Gollum (yes, I’m mixing my Movie Metaphors, shut up about it) and an HEA. There are some lovely moments of angst and reconciliation between Simon and his little sister, and the sexy times built from insta-lust into a great working relationship and romance,

There’s also some fantastic moments of wonder and yearning from Joan of Dystopia as she tries to process a world with sunlight and clean handkerchiefs¬†and the color green.

This was a world in the summer of its time, and the people here moved and talked liked leaves on the wind.

But don’t worry – there’s plenty of snark, too:

“And how do you see the universe, Miss MacArthur?”

Like an outhouse the morning after a hard party, Joan thought at first.

No Proper Lady¬†was pretty damn good. But I think I would have liked it better as an audiobook ‚ÄĒ with the playback speed bumped up to about 1.25x. A strong but familiar¬†narrator like Kate Reading or Kristen Potter would have forced me to stay in the story more, instead of allowing my brain to wander off in search of HP spells. When the world-building gets otherworldly, I need an anchor.

If you’re a regular PNR reader, this is a must-read. If you’re not, read it anyway and tell me what Harry Potter match-ups I missed.

DNF: Playing It Cool by Amy Andrews

Playing It Cool by Amy Andrews

  • Title: Playing It Cool
  • Author:¬†Amy Andrews
  • Published:¬† September¬†2016
  • Source:¬†NetGalley
  • Length:¬†163 pages
  • Tropes:¬†Frat-Boy Alpha-Holes
  • Quick blurb:¬†Rugby player gets the hots for a jiggly chick.
  • Quick review:¬†NO THANK YOU and please pass me a moist towelette.
  • Grade:¬†DNF with extreme prejudice

I’ve enjoyed several of Andrews’ other books, but it’ll be a while before I try another one. ¬†This one was a big ol’ NO GO from the get-go. I barely made¬†it through the first scene.

Dexter Blake liked a woman with some junk in her trunk. And the tall, curvy chick on the sidelines was packing a whole lot of booty. She had one of those itty-bitty waists, too. And her cups floweth’d over.

Staring at her chest was practically a religious experience.

That’s how the book opens. With a sideline full of sweaty manwhores slobbering over Jessica Rabbit. It got worse, quickly.

The Alpha Male Testosterone Levels were so high I could barely breathe ‚ÄĒ¬†the jock talk about the heroine, both internal and dialogue, was repulsive douche-bro dickbaggery. I felt just plain icky as I read the first few paragraphs.

And uff da, the trope cliches….

And, sadly, as much as sideline-chick ticked every box, her ass was off-limits. One look at her told him she was the kind of girl a guy loved. Got into a relationship with. The kind he married. Made babies with.

She was the commitment type.

Over a decade of avoiding romantic entanglements had alerted Dex to the signs, and this woman had I don’t do casual¬†written all over her.

And he didn’t do commitment.

The “hero” takes ONE LEERING, DROOLING LOOK¬†at the heroine’s ass and immediately¬†knows she’s husband-hunting. On page one. I’m not making this up.¬†Maybe the author could just drop an anvil on our¬†heads to make sure we catch¬†the “But He Has Trust Issues” subtext.

el_coyote_y_el_correcaminos_2_by_winter_freak

[ETA: The heroine doesn’t wear obvious makeup, just a touch of sparkly lip gloss, so she’s definitely not a slut. That would just be wrong.]

I’m assuming (hoping) Andrews¬†eventually dials down on the “I only like women as¬†sex robots hur-hur pass me a beer” frat-boy mentality, but I wasn’t willing to invest my time in finding out. Gross.

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Another ETA: If you want good rugby romance, read Kat Latham. She has the BEST heroines (I want them all as BFFs) who would have put the smackdown on these fuckwits right quick.

Summer Reading Wrap-Up

IT’S STILL TECHNICALLY SUMMER, DAMMIT.

Minimal snark this time, but maybe a little¬†squee here and there. Maybe more than a little. It’s a long list, so get comfy.

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A bunch of stuff by Joan Wolf

wolf_americanearl wolf_londonseason wolf_lordrichard wolf_pretenders

*ahem* NEW AUTHOR CRUSH

The American Earl made my heart happy and I loved every word of it so just buy the damn thing and read it already so you can be happy like me.

I also loved¬†The Pretenders (friends-to-lovers fake engagement) and A London Season (friends-to-lovers angst-o-rama) and Lord Richard’s Daughter (missionary’s daughter falls in love with ¬†enigmatic rescuer).

The Arrangement and The Guardian, both “reluctant guardian” tropes, were good, but leaned a bit too¬†heavily on the average-par suspense.

Royal Bride (re-released as The English Bride, age gap, friends-to-lovers marriage of convenience) started out good, kind of fell apart in the middle, and finished up with some political drama.

I have White Horses in the TBR ‚ÄĒ¬†and that’s going to make me want to read that one Mary Stewart book with the horses and then I’ll have to read ALL THE MARY STEWART and then I will whinge about why we can’t get Mary Stewart in ebook or audio.

Anyway.¬†Last summer I read Joan Wolf’s Esther story during my FSAT take-down, and it was BY FAR the best Biblical novelization I’ve read. I might reade her others, but only after I finish her Regencies and Dark Ages books.

ALSO: I want those old Signet covers to make a comeback.

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TBR Challenge: Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark

  • Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya ClarkTitle: Good Time Bad Boy
  • Author: Sonya Clark
  • Published: Self-Published, June 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 316 pages
  • Tropes: Good Ol‚Äô Boy, Smartass Heroine, Small Town, Music, Dysfunctional Families
  • Quick blurb:¬†Country singer on the skids has to make amends for getting hometown barmaid fired.
  • Quick review: New-to-romance author needs to write more romance.
  • Grade: A-

This month’s TBR Challenge theme is Recommended Reads, and boy howdy, do I choose my friends wisely.

I bought Good Time Bad Boy last year when everyone else (e.g., Sunita and Janine at Dear Author and others) was raving about it. And of course it got buried pretty quickly because I rarely make an effort to keep contemporaries at the top of the queue.

I finished it in one night.

I haven‚Äôt read Liz‚Äôs review¬†yet, but I‚Äôm sure she‚Äôs done her typically smart things with it.¬†I’ll just do my usual thing because otherwise we’ll be here until next Tuesday.

The premise is pretty simple ‚Äď the heroine is a small-town barmaid who puts the smackdown on a handsy drunk customer, who just happens to be the hometown celebrity. He gets his shit together enough to make amends and there‚Äôs an HEA and a crap-ton of angsty-yet-fun goodness in between.

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