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 — 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.

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 – a 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: Guilty Pleasures by Laura Lee Guhrke

The November Challenge was historical romance. Well, if you insist…

  • Guilty Pleasures by Laura Lee GuhrkeTitle: Guilty Pleasures
  • Series: Guilty, Book 1
  • Author: Laura Lee Guhrke
  • Published: January 2004
  • Source: Purchased
  • Format: Ebook
  • Length: 388 pages
  • Tropes: Plain Jane, Bespectacled Bluestocking, Stuffy Duke, Deep Dark Secrets, Secret Longings
  • Quick blurb: Plain-Jane bluestocking finds her voice and stuffy duke loses his shit.
  • Quick review: Kelly’s Book Crack
  • Grade: A

Amazon informs me I purchased this on July 5, 2012. I waited four and a half years to read this book, and I could have been reading it EVERY MONTH for FIFTY-ONE AND A HALF MONTHS. Why do I do this to myself?

On the other hand, I bought High Energy by Dara Joy at the same time, and I have no regrets about leaving that unread.

I loved Daphne and Her Duke. And I say this as a cynical side-eyer of Dukes-A-Million historicals. Nearly everything about this book was perfect. I’m sure there was something iffy about it somewhere, but I’m too enamored right now to really care.

Daphne is our orphaned, plain-Jane, bespectacled bluestocking heroine. She’s working as an antiquities curator for a scholarly duke who’s excavating Roman ruins on one of his estates.

Anthony is our stuffy dukish hero who became dukish way too young and expects everyone to fall at his feet.

She’s had a secret crush on His Noble Shirtlessness (he lifts things, you know, with his muscles) and can do no more than stammer in his presence. But then she overhears him describing her as a stick insect, and her self-esteem mechanism finally kicks in. She cries it out, and then she gets mad.

You can hear the Kelly’s Book Crack Radar pinging from all the way over here, can’t you? IT JUST KEPT GETTING BETTER.

She decides to quit, he orders her to stay. She mouths off, he negotiates an extension. And he keeps negotiating. He starts paying attention to her to determine how he can get more work out of her.

“I am toying with you because this is a game. I will not let you win, but I can teach you how to play.”

Something in those words made her shiver with excitement. “I really do not know what you are talking about.”

“The real question is, what do you want? Do you want to be a proper young lady, or do you want to be Cleopatra?”

“Both.”

“Ah. That is an interesting answer, and brings with it an even more interesting question. Can a young lady be captivating and alluring, and still be proper, do you think?”

“Why not?”

“Why not, indeed.” His lashes lowered until his eyes were half-closed. “If I do give you back your spectacles, what do I receive in return?”

“The satisfaction of doing the right thing?”

He laughed low in his throat. “Not good enough.”

“What, then?” she asked. “What do you want?”

His gaze moved to her mouth, lingered there. “What are you offering?”

Daphne licked her lips, and she heard his sharp in-take of breath. “Three days,” she whispered. “You may have three more days.”

<swoon> *thud*

And OF COURSE they wind up having sex on the workroom table and breaking a priceless ancient vase and he insists they marry and she slams the door in his face and he woos her with flowers in front of all of London and then there’s this ending that’s all like OH DEAR GOD <swoon> *thud*.

I adored every minute of this book, and it took me hours to write this half-assed squeeing review because I had to sneak-read the whole damn thing again at the dayjob.

You should read this book. Trust me.

Recent Reads

A visual depiction of a single parent with two kids and two jobs at the end of a school year:

Looney Tunes gif - Sylvester sliding down stairs

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Let’s see, where were we? Ah, yes — books. I’ve…read a lot more than I thought. And nearly all of it was soul-satisfying. It’s not hyperbole to say books can keep us sane.

I’m dumping everything in one stupidly long post so I can clear out my NetGalley Wall of Shame.

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Only Beloved and Longing by Mary Balogh

Only Beloved by Mary Balogh  Longing by Mary Balogh

I was a little wary of the last of the Survivors’ Club books because I did not like Ralph and Chloe’s story (so distressingly repetitive, especially on audio, and it added nothing of value to the series), but I knew Balogh would pull out the Big Guns of Angst and Drama for Stanbrook’s Deep Dark Secret. It’s set on a cliff-top in Cornwall, for crying out loud. I loved Dora, but I really wish she had a different name.

Speaking of Big Guns of Angst and Drama…. Longing is chock full of both. This is a stand-alone title, more of a “historical with romantic elements” than a straight rom-dram. Widowed mine worker becomes governess for widowed mine owner’s lonely daughter, with Chartist labor intrigue and unrest keeping them apart. The setting in the depths of an isolated Welsh valley is my favorite character in this story; Balogh’s usually understated brilliance at world-building is front and center here — it’s atmospheric and vivid and  tactile and completely enveloping.

Someday I will write up my feelings about Balogh. But it will likely just be the word “effortless” over and over and over.

Only Beloved »  |  Longing »

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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’ 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’t read Liz’s review yet, but I’m sure she’s 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 – 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’s an HEA and a crap-ton of angsty-yet-fun goodness in between.

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Audiobook Update: The Kearsley Binge

The binge is done. I have no more new Kearsley audiobooks. *sob*

I started my re-reads even before the binge ended. I listened to Winter Sea again first, because I had to prepare myself for the re-read of Firebird.

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

I love this book. I have I mentioned this before?

Firebird was even better the second time, because I allowed myself to just sink in and wallow in it.

WALLOW. IN. IT.

pig-wallowing

Wallow: to indulge in an unrestrained way in
something that creates a pleasurable sensation.

My facial expressions while reading this book are even dopier. Except when I’m ugly-crying, and no one needs pics of that.

tweets

Also, I really need to go to St. Petersburg.

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More Sappy Holiday Goodness: No Christmas Like the Present by Sierra Donovan

  • No Christmas Like the Present by Sierra DonovanTitle: No Christmas Like the Present
  • Author: Sierra Donovan
  • Published: Zebra, October 2014
  • Source: Library (and then purchased)
  • Length: 257 pages
  • Tropes: Mysterious Man of Mystery, Lady Scrooge
  • Quick blurb: A glorious mash-up of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. No, really.
  • Quick review: BUY AND READ THIS RIGHT NOW TRUST ME
  • Grade: A

I don’t use gifs (except for Tessa Dare books), but this one calls for a gif.

Belle gif

This is only $1.99 and everyone should read it immediately. The premise could have been horribly wrong, but it’s everything right. So of course I had to live-tweet it.

NoChristmasLikeThePresent

Accessible (screen-reader friendly) version

TBR Challenge: A Pirate for Christmas by Anna Campbell

  • A Pirate for Christmas by Anna CampbellTitle: A Pirate for Christmas
  • Author: Anna Campbell
  • Published: Self-published, October 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 150 pages
  • Tropes: Mysterious Man of Mystery, Virtuous Village Vixen, Madcap Meddling, Snowbound
  • Quick blurb: A pirate and a vicar’s daughter and a recalcitrant donkey.
  • Quick review: BUY THIS RIGHT NOW TRUST ME
  • Grade: A-

I cheated. Again. This wasn’t in the TBR, but it’s so ridiculously charming I couldn’t not share the squee.

A Pirate for Christmas by Anna Campbell

Accessible (screen-reader friendly) version

I read Campbell’s Her Christmas Earl last year and loved that one too. I feel another Author Binge coming on….

Big Fat Book: Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

  • Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor - 1st ed, Macmillian, 1944Title: Forever Amber
  • Author: Kathleen Winsor
  • Published: Macmillan, January 1944
  • Source: Purchased (in hardcover, paperback and digital)
  • Length: 976
  • Tropes: Everything you could possibly think of
  • Quick blurb: And you thought Scarlett O’Hara was bad….
  • Quick review: The ultimate anti-heroine in all her gaudy, garish glory.
  • Grade: A

“Madame,” he said finally, “your future is of singular interest. You were born with Venus in separating square aspect to Mars in the Fifth House.” Amber solemnly absorbed that, too impressed at first even to wonder what it meant. Then, as she was about to ask, he continued, having reached his conclusions as much by looking at her as at his charts: “Hence you are inclined, madame, to over-ardent affections and to rash impulsive attractions to the opposite sex. This can cause you serious trouble, madame. You are also too much inclined to indulge yourself in pleasure — and hence must suffer the attendant difficulties.”

Forever Amber is…”a bawdy bestseller”…”a torrid potboiler”…”a bawdy, lusty costume epic”…”a crude and superficial glorification of a courtesan”…”a big, fat tombstone of a bestseller”…”a naughty literary relic”…”a preposterously long and sumptuously naughty book”…”a love story of immense driving force and a magnificent, all-inclusive picture of an era”…”swoony with ill-defined sex”…”a glamorization of immorality and licentiousness”…”a colorful picture of Restoration England in all its immoral finery”…”Moll Flanders with, as it were, knobs on”…”a splendidly evocative guide to the events and mores of the time.”

Also:

…”the story of a slut’s progress.”

And, my favorite:

…”Opium on a gigantic scale.”

Every one of those descriptions is accurate. Set in Restoration England, Amber St. Clare’s story begins in 1660 with our 16-year-old heroine throwing herself at a Returning Cavalier, and ends (heh) 10 years later with our heroine throwing herself at the Jilting Cavalier.
In between, our heroine…

…Runs off to London with Cavalier. Gets pregnant. Gets scammed into marriage with a fortune hunter. Gets thrown into Newgate for debt. Escapes with infamous highwayman. Becomes con artist. Escapes a con-gone-wrong, winds up with impoverished second-son aristo, charms her way onto the stage. Sleeps with the king. Steals rival’s protector, then goads him into a fatal duel with the Returning Cavalier.

At this point, we’re only a third of the way through the book.

…Duel makes her more popular, sleeps with the king again, gets preggo again, gets abortion. Goes to Tunbridge Wells to recuperate and seduces filthy rich aging widower with 14 children. Resumes affair with Returning Cavalier (again), gets pregnant (again), finds out Cavalier also got 16-year-old stepdaughter pregnant. Husband dies, cavalier returns (again).

…THE PLAGUE. (this deserves a paragraph by itself)

Halfway done. Hang in there with me.

…Cavalier still refuses to marry her, she marries Evil Earl in revenge to gain title and access to Court. Evil Earl drags her off to the country, where she seduces his son in revenge. Evil Earl discovers them, poisons his own son.

…GREAT FIRE OF LONDON.

We’re now at page 666. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.

…Finagles a post in queen’s bedchamber, sleeps her way through the courtiers. Gets pregnant by the king; he makes her marry a nobody. Various intrigues with courtiers. King makes her a duchess. Builds ridiculous mansion. Goes ballistic when Jilting Cavalier returns with new wife. Dresses as half-naked Venus at ball for spite. Fakes duel letter from cuckolded husband. Affair with Cavalier resumes (AGAIN), more hissy fits. Confronts Cavalier’s wife; he (finally!) throws her out.

And then…

…BEST UNRESOLVED CLIFFHANGER EVER.

I’m not kidding.  This was a one-hit wonder of a book, and a much-discussed sequel never appeared, so poor Amber is left perpetually chasing after her One True Love.

IT’S GLORIOUS.

It’s a swashbuckling melodrama stuffed with fashion and poverty porn. It’s a sex-positive feminist manifesto.  It’s a full-blown and blowsy historical soap opera that unapologetically dismantles every “heroine” trope while coating it all in the glossy-yet-sleazy veneer of Restoration England.

Scarlett O’Hara and Becky Sharp can just take a seat. The gleefully amoral Amber St. Clare is the ultimate antiheroine.

This book is EPIC…. All I will say is that after finishing this book, I called my mother in a rage, and she said, “For lord’s sake, read Kathleen Woodiwiss and call me in the morning.”

~ Maria (Maya) Rodale, “Romance Novels 101: The Infamous Book List That Changed My Life,” Huffington Post, May 27, 2015

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Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Carla Kelly Backlist Binge

I expanded it from a day to weekend because I am Having Ideas.

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Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla KellyWhy I Am A Carla Kelly Fangirl:

1. The historical worldbuilding. Total immersion book trance, every single time. No one does military romance better than Carla Kelly, and from what I can tell, her accuracy is nearly flawless.

2. The joining of equals. The heroines always have — or find — their agency, and their heroes are quietly heroic in the best possible way.

3. The mix of drama, high comedy, adventure, angst (and more). Nearly every heroine is a direly impoverished (see below) orphan or widow, and nearly all the heroes are stoic military men, but the width and depth of CK’s storytelling is truly impressive.

The must-reads:

Channel Fleet Series
(Marrying the Captain, Surgeon’s Lady, Marrying the Royal Marine)
My first and truest loves. Connected, but each is unique in story, tone and romance. On my DIK list. A+ for all three. (Harlequin Historical, 2008-2010)

The Wedding Journey
A marriage of convenience between an army surgeon and a dying officer’s daughter who’s threatened by a lecherous major. If you liked Marrying the Royal Marine or Balogh’s Beyond the Sunrise, you will love this one. (Signet, 2002)

With This RingWith This Ring by Carla Kelly
Plain Jane debutante volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers and finds herself in a fake engagement to a lordly major. It’s a glorious road-trip comedy with a lengthy rest stop at a friendly village where the heroine opens a barbershop (no really). (Signet, 1997)

The Lady’s Companion
A penniless companion and her employer’s cranky bailiff. Quietly funny and achingly romantic, with a great side story about the lonely aging dowager who schemes to bring them together. Added to my “Best Beta Heroes” list. (Signet, 1996)

Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind
A poor relation caring for her orphaned nephew slowly learns to appreciate the mill owner who lives nearby. A slow-building romance (on her side) and Deep Dark Secrets (on both sides) make this a really compelling and memorable read. (Signet, 1998) Continue reading