Books with Relationships for People who Don’t Love Love

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m not a big fan of most romances in books. I don’t read the romance genre anyway, but even in other genres, romance isn’t my thing. Every now and again I’ll read a book with a loving relationship that doesn’t make me want to roll my eyes or giggle like a little kid (yes, I really am that immature). By loving relationship, I’m thinking more than just the romantic kind. It could be a loving family dynamic, or even a relationship with good friends. Anyway, on a day when love is in the air (or something like that), here are a few books with love in them that I…LOVE.

The House in the Cerulean Sea

Linus Baker leads a quiet, solitary life. At forty, he lives in a tiny house with a devious cat and his old records. As a Case Worker at the Department in Charge Of Magical Youth, he spends his days overseeing the well-being of children in government-sanctioned orphanages.

When Linus is unexpectedly summoned by Extremely Upper Management he’s given a curious and highly classified assignment: travel to Marsyas Island Orphanage, where six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must set aside his fears and determine whether or not they’re likely to bring about the end of days.

But the children aren’t the only secret the island keeps. Their caretaker is the charming and enigmatic Arthur Parnassus, who will do anything to keep his wards safe. As Arthur and Linus grow closer, long-held secrets are exposed, and Linus must make a choice: destroy a home or watch the world burn.

An enchanting story, masterfully told, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about the profound experience of discovering an unlikely family in an unexpected place―and realizing that family is yours.(taken from Amazon)

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune has the sweetest relationships! While there is a bit of a love story going on, it’s the found family aspect that I absolutely adore. Add to the fact that Linus also learns to love himself a little in this wonderful novel, and it has all the makings of a perfect book featuring love. Find my review here.

The Mammy

Mammy” is what Irish children call their mothers and The Mammy is Agnes Browne—a widow struggling to raise seven children in a North Dublin neighborhood in the 1960s. Popular Irish comedian Brendan O’Carroll chronicles the comic misadventures of this large and lively family with raw humor and great affection. Forced to be mother, father, and referee to her battling clan, the ever-resourceful Agnes Browne occasionally finds a spare moment to trade gossip and quips with her best pal Marion Monks (alias “The Kaiser”) and even finds herself pursued by the amorous Frenchman who runs the local pizza parlor.Like the novels of Roddy Doyle, The Mammy features pitch-perfect dialogue, lightning wit, and a host of colorful characters. Earthy and exuberant, the novel brilliantly captures the brash energy and cheerful irreverence of working-class Irish life.(taken from Amazon)

The Mammy by Brendan O’ Carroll has the most fun family dynamic! A little dysfunction, a dash of zaniness, and a whole lot of love make this series a great one. Again, the book doesn’t have the typical romancy type of relationship, but it’s fantastic to read.

The Crocodile on the Sandbank

Amelia Peabody, that indomitable product of the Victorian age, embarks on her debut Egyptian adventure armed with unshakable self-confidence, a journal to record her thoughts, and, of course, a sturdy umbrella. On her way to Cairo, Amelia rescues young Evelyn Barton-Forbes, who has been abandoned by her scoundrel lover. Together the two women sail up the Nile to an archeological site run by the Emerson brothers-the irascible but dashing Radcliffe and the amiable Walter. Soon their little party is increased by one-one mummy that is, and a singularly lively example of the species.

Strange visitations, suspicious accidents, and a botched kidnapping convince Amelia that there is a plot afoot to harm Evelyn. Now Amelia finds herself up against an unknown enemy-and perilous forces that threaten to make her first Egyptian trip also her last . . .(taken from Amazon)

I love this series so much! This actually has a romantic relationship that I enjoy reading about, one between Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson. She’s stubborn and nosy, and he’s cantankerous. This whole series is a blast and the relationship between these two characters is a big part of that.

The Night Circus

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance. (taken from Amazon)

I’m pretty sure this is the most “traditional relationship” on this list. The writing in The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is brilliant, including that of the romance. It’s far from mushy, or angsty. I loved everything about this book, romance included.

The Oddmire: Changeling

Magic is fading from the Wild Wood. To renew it, goblins must perform an ancient ritual involving the rarest of their kind—a newborn changeling. But when the night arrives to trade a human baby for a goblin one, something goes terribly wrong. After laying the changeling in a human infant’s crib, the goblin Kull is briefly distracted. By the time he turns back, the changeling has already perfectly mimicked the human child. Too perfectly: Kull cannot tell them apart, so he leaves both babies behind.

Tinn and Cole are raised as human twins, neither knowing what secrets may be buried deep inside one of them. When they are thirteen years old, a mysterious message arrives, calling the brothers to be heroes and protectors of magic. The boys must leave their sleepy town and risk their lives in the Wild Wood, journeying through the Deep Dark to reach the goblin horde and uncover who they truly are. (taken from Amazon)

The relationship between the boys and their mom is perfect in The Oddmire: Changeling! When the twins, Tinn and Cole, go into the Wild Wood, their mom goes charging in after them as any loving mom would. Being a mom of boys myself, I could totally relate. It’s a great book in what is shaping out to be an awesome series. You can find my review for The Oddmire: Changeling here.

The Living Waters

When two painted-faced nobles take a guided raft trip on a muddy river, they expect to rough it for a few weeks before returning to their life of sheltered ease, but when mysterious swirls start appearing in the water even their seasoned guides get rattled.


The mystery of the swirls lures them on to seek the mythical wetlands known as the Living Waters. They discover a world beyond their imagining, but stranger still are the worlds they find inside their own minds as they are drawn deep into the troubles of this hidden place.


The Living Waters is a Sword-Free Fantasy novel featuring an ethereal love story, meditation magic, and an ancient book with cryptic marginalia.

This was such a refreshing surprise! A calm and beautiful book with hidden depths, The Living Waters shows new facets of love. You can find my review here.

So, here you have it. Five books that focus on loving relationships that are more than worth the read. What books do you enjoy that feature love in some form?

Dragonlance Buddy Read: Dragons of Autumn Twilight by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

In case you’re not yet sick of hearing me rave about it, let me just say: I love Dragonlance! The Dragonlance Chronicles- comprised of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning– were my gateway to adult fantasy. I remember opening Dragons of Autumn Twilight for the first time (longer ago than I care to admit) and knowing from page one that what I held in my hands was special. I was immediately drawn into a world of magic, of misfits coming together to accomplish something bigger than themselves, and of dragons. Oh, the dragons! I devoured the Chronicles. Then, I read every other Dragonlance book that had been published at that point.

I still find myself returning to the world of Krynn at least once a year, opening those almost-memorized pages of Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Rereading that trilogy is like seeing an old friend, one who’s stuck with you through thick and thin.

This year’s reread is doubly special: I got to participate in a buddy read! Myself, another Dragonlance veteran, and two new Dragonlance readers all got together and dove right into Dragons of Autumn Twilight. It was wonderful getting new perspectives on the characters (Fizan is a favorite! People are divided on Raistlin), and chatting about all things Dragonlance.

My thoughts remain pretty much the same (I’m boring like that): Laurana grows in leaps and bounds between books and is still one of my favorites for that reason (plus, she does some pretty hardcore things at later parts). Raistlin is still flat-out awesome, and I credit him for my love of complicated, morally ambiguous characters. Also, I want to travel to the Inn of the Last Home for some of Otik’s Spiced Potatoes. However, here’s the fun part: what those who read with me thought!

Sue’s Musings:

Dragons of Autumn Twilight is the first book in a trilogy set in the land of Krynn. It is pure fantasy escapism. A light and easy read. I would recommend this book to fans of epic fantasy who like comical characters and unlikely situations. There are dragons too and strong friendship between the band of unlikely friends embarking on a journey to find out what’s happening ‘up north’ – rumours of war. The land of Krynn is being overrun by hoards of ‘draconians’ in thrall to the dragon overlord Verminaard and Pyro, the dragon he rides. The main characters are all very different and fully realized, such that you know how each of them will react in each situation they are faced with. The world building is descriptive and well done. I will definitely read the other books in this trilogy.”

Fantasy Book Nerd:

“The day was hot as I stood waiting for the taxi. How would I feel reading a book that I had loved over twenty five years ago? Would I still feel the same? Would that spark still be there? Would I feel the same as I flipped through the pages? Would I still be able to devour the book as I had once done, many years ago.

“It’ll be fine” Jodie from W&SBookclub said, smiling warmly. “I read it all the time, I still love it!”

Sue from Sue’s Musings looked at the copy that she held in her hands, “It’s got dragons in. And there’s a snarky wizard! What’s not to love?”

Carrie, who had recently joined the buddy read from her website in Canada, icanhasbooks, glanced nervously at the sky “Do you think it’s going to snow? Those clouds look menacing to me! I can tell you that they are snow clouds. Look that one is even shaped like a snowflake!”

I turned swiftly to them all, trying to keep my attention focussed on the slowly moving traffic. “It’s not that, it’s just I can’t remember a thing about it. I know that it is good and I really enjoyed it. It’s just that….” I shrugged my shoulders.

“Well, you know!” Carrie rolled her eyes “ I don’t know what you’re worried about. It’s only a book! I mean it’s not like you have the same problems as me. I mean look at them clouds! I’m going to be snowed in soon. Half an hour and this place will be covered, covered I tell you!” She held up the new book that she had just bought at the local bookshop. “Well, at least you’ll keep me entertained for a while!”

Shortly afterwards, after discussing hair and laughing when we all had all joked about what the characters would look like as Goths in the Twitter message room, I settled down with my customary cup of tea and flicked open the first page. It wasn’t long before I was gripped by the story of the book. Laughing at the antics that Tasselhoff Burrfoot got up to, accidentally pinching everything that wasn’t nailed down. I loved the fact that it moved from one adventure to another, barely stopping for Tanis’s party to get something to eat. I mean this book had all sorts going for it, Dragons, Elves, Unicorns, ghosts all sorts. It was great, everytime I read it, I couldn’t wait to get back to twitter and tell everyone about it. If we had any questions, Jodie could come up with an answer just like that. Sue and Carrie told me all sorts of stuff. Sue even showed us a video on youtube about goths getting dressed. And Carrie was an old goth too. Jodie showed us some pictures of her new hair. Everyone complimented her on how great she looked. Soon, I was getting to the end of the book. I reflected on what I had read. I needn’t have worried about revisiting the book, it was a fantastic read. I think, looking back on it, it’s a bit of an ensemble piece with each of the characters getting their time in the spotlight. My favorites were the sulky, snarky wizard, Raistlin. But then there was Fizban, the mad old wizard who can never remember the fireball spell and does not get along with trees. So, we all got together after finishing. Everyone giving their thoughts about their own favourite parts of the book and decided. We can’t wait to read the next part of the trilogy!”

I Can Has Books:

“Welcome to the world of Krynn…. It has been 5 years since our characters have last seen one an other, vowing to meet again at the Inn of the Last Home in Solace. All having their own stories and secrets to keep, some seem different, changed. Little did they know that after all this time they would be adventuring together, finding new friendships and enemy’s along they way. Stars are missing, and dragons, children’s tales are coming to life. Things that haven’t been seen since before the cataclysm. A magic staff and corrupted clerics. Has the Queen of Darkness returned? So if you are dork like myself you will instantly love Dragons of Autumn Twilight. If you like doing quests, if you like grumpy dwarves, a kender who will make you giggle, but do watch your purse around them. Cheesy songs that are beautiful regardless. You will enjoy this. If you love elves, magic, adventure, mystery, monsters, dragons, friendship and found family, you will enjoy this. D&D, RPG’s you will enjoy this. Dragonlance in my mind, was world that I new I had to visit to someday, it always screamed to me as being a staple in not only the genre of fantasy but in the overall nerd/dork/geekdoms. This book has been sitting on my shelf for many a year. And sometime during 2020 I kept on placing on each monthly tbr to only have it collecting more dust, (and no there were no draconian killed on top of it) Then thanks to Twitter and my scrolling I somehow ended in a buddy read with some great folk… I look forward to my next adventure. To learn more secrets, to see if my thoughts on certain characters are right. Also to see what else Flint complains about.”

We will be continuing our buddy read with Dragons of Winter Night, book two in the Dragonlance Chronicles. And it is the perfect time to be reading these books because it was announced today that Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman are returning to the world of Krynn with a new triliogy! To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement. If you haven’t yet experienced the world of Dragonlance, now is the time. Happy reading!

The Tropening: Book Tropes that I love (or hate)

“Colloquially, people use the term trope to mean recognizable elements of storytelling that audiences associate with specific genres. Like clichés, tropes act as storytelling shorthand and can apply to both plot lines and character types.“- SuperSummary.com

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things I love (or hate) to see in books. There are clichés that I see as overdone and lacking, but there are also some that I’d love to see more of. I’m kind of changeable that way. It’s always just a matter of preference, of course, but here are some that I love and some that I’m sick to death of. That being said, there are exceptions to all of these for me. As long as the trope is well written, I’m flexible.

“I’m immortal!“- Authors spend a ton of time on their characters, so of course it’s hard to say goodbye. However, when a character is being constantly put into situations that they shouldn’t survive, and they survive anyway, it lessens the stakes of a book. If you don’t want to kill your character (completely understandable), maybe don’t chuck them into the depths of hell, light them on fire, and have a squad of rabid Jello Jigglers attack them.

On the flipside- I love when a character is brought back from the death, or the brink of death (once!) and it changes either them or another character irreversibly. Used correctly, that makes for some major character development. An author that knows when to save a character and when to let go is awesome.

Mental illness as a criminal motive- I’ve read a few mysteries/thrillers in the past year where the villain’s sole motive was that they were “psychotic” or had a mental illness of some sort. To me, that smacks of lazy writing, not to mention that it perpetrates a harmful stereotype. People with mental illnesses are not automatically dangerous or violent. Dovetailing off of this: I would love it if authors wouldn’t use suicide as revenge. Just stop.

On the flipside- I love when mental illness is represented accurately and well. So many people struggle with mental illness of some sort (myself included) that it is a breath of fresh air to see it written as something other than an excuse for horrible actions. Some authors that have done this amazingly are Ricardo Victoria, author of The Withered King, and Heidi Heilig, author of For a Muse of Fire.

Love Triangles (octagons, hexagons, or other shapes)– Of course I have to mention this. I can’t stand one person mentally making a pro/con list regarding which of their wanna-be lovers is best. Let me say something: if you’re waiting with bated breath for someone to choose you over ye random rival, just walk away. No one should be compared to someone else like that. And Wishy Washy obviously isn’t mature enough to be in a relationship anyway.

On the flipside- I love seeing a friendship grow into something more. Not as a main plot point; I think it’s pretty well established that I’m crotchety regarding literary romance. But seeing two characters who respect each other and enjoy spending time together become closer is pretty great.

One person against the world- I can’t stand it when a character immediately loses every single person they care about and it becomes the catalyst to take on the world. Alone. That’s boring. Give me a tragic backstory, sure. I’ll even take a whole slew of corpses left behind, but give the character someone to interact with.

On the flipside- If the main character picks up allies/co-workers/found family after losing someone or even on the way to take bloody revenge for losses, I’m totally good with that. I just want to have a chance for that character to grow.

The dreaded info dump- I’m not a “here it all is at once” kinda girl. I’ll either lose interest or miss something incredibly important. My brain just doesn’t work well with a ton of new information all at once.

On the flipside- I absolutely love it when information is shared naturally throughout a book, especially when a world is fully developed. I love reading about different histories and mythologies in fantasy or science fiction books, I just don’t want all the information to be chunked at me at once.

Anyway, there’s really no point to this post, except as a way to generate conversation. What do you think? What are some tropes that you love? What about tropes you hate?

Why is Sherlock Holmes So Popular? It’s Elementary

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Every once in a while, a book character comes along and changes things. Not just for one reader (although that is also a huge accomplishment), but for society in general. This character moves from the page to everyday culture. This is what has happened with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
Phrases like, “The game is afoot,” and “no s***, Sherlock” are ubiquitous. Almost everyone at least knows who Sherlock Holmes is. Now, the question is: why? Sherlock himself is actually a very unlikable character. He’s too smart for his own good, is constantly making everyone else look less-than-competent, and is less demonstrative of his feelings than others often are. So, what makes this unlikable character so darn likable?

I think a good chunk of his charm is the way he was written. Arthur Conan Doyle was fantastic at bringing his characters to life. He could also craft a mystery like no other. Even though some of the conclusions Holmes comes to border on the impossible, Doyle makes the reader want to suspend disbelief. We like thinking that there is someone out there who can solve the difficult problems and can bring the bad guy to justice. Of course, it does bear mentioning that literary Holmes did not, in fact, solve every case. That only serves to make him an even more interesting character. Contemporary mysteries almost always end with “good” prevailing. Seeing know-it-all Holmes be wrong every once in a while only serves to make him a more three-dimensional character.

Whatever the reason, Doyle’s famous detective has given birth to many books, movies, plays, and TV shows that all aim to do one thing: show their love of Sherlock Holmes. There are books that are at least partially inspired by Holmes, such as Jackaby by William Ritter and A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro; books that include their own versions of the actual characters, such at the Young Sherlock Holmes series by Andy Lane and Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (although, I would never have thought of Mycroft in the way he’s written); and of course, more TV and movie adaptations than you can shake a stick at. Basil Rathbone’s version, and the incredible BBC TV show happen to by my favorites on screen.

At any rate, I’ve noticed something rather odd: it seems that more people are enjoying the things based on Sherlock Holmes than reading the original itself. Honestly, though, I think it’s important to read the original Conan Doyle stories. Aside from the fact that they are fantastic, they will bring a deeper appreciation to the other versions that we all enjoy. If, like me, you have a love of the one and only Sherlock Holmes, I’ve listed a few new takes on the famous detective below. However, if you haven’t read the original Sherlock Holmes, I implore you to give them a go.

– A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Thodora Goss (I haven’t read this one yet)
-The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes edited by John Joseph Adams
Moriarty by Anthony Horrowitz
Mycroft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Jackaby by William Ritter
– Young Sherlock Holmes by Andy Lane
Sherlock Holmes- The Improbable Prisoner by Stuart Douglas

Which ones have I missed that I need to read?

The Ultimate Book Tag

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I saw this great tag on both Way too Fantasy and the Irresponsible Reader’s blogs, and just had to do it myself. Check out their answers: they’re fantastic. Here’s mine. I’m sure I’ll ramble, so brace yourself.

Do you get sick while reading in the car? Nope. Well, I did when I was pregnant, but pretty much everything made me sick, so I don’t think that counts.

Which author’s writing style is completely unique to you and why? The first name that comes to mind is Chuck Palahniuk. His writing is flat-out bizarre. Although, I recently read an excellent book called You Favorite Band Cannot Save You by Scotto Moore that also had that Palahniuk vibe (that’s a good thing). So…I’ll probably go with Luke Arnold’s The Last Smile in Sunder City. I’ve seen movies with that Sam Spade-type narration, but I’ve never read a book with it, much less a fantasy. My husband has informed me that I have to read Dashiell Hammett, who created Sam Spade. Either way, Luke Arnold is a fantastic author. I definitely suggest reading him.

Harry Potter or Twilight? Give Three Reasons Why? With apologies to all Twilight fans, Harry Potter:

1. I thought Twilight was a trilogy and didn’t read one of the books, either the second or the third one. It made zero difference to the story, which says a lot about its importance (or lack thereof). I still haven’t read whichever book it was.
2. It was very much a romance, which isn’t my bag. Also, it was an icky romance.
3. The whole werewolf imprinting on Bella’s kid thing is just weird.

Do you carry a book bag? If so, what’s in it? I don’t carry one anymore. Anytime I do use a purse, it has to be big enough to fit a book. My favorite purse looks like a copy of Alice in Wonderland. It’s pretty perfect.

Do you smell your books? (*Sniff* ) I’ll never tell.

Books with or without illustrations? It depends on the type of book. I’m a big fan of children’s fairy tales, and I’m a sucker for any book with dragon art in it. If it’s a novel, though, I’m partial to maps.

What book did you love while reading, but discovered later didn’t have quality writing? The Mortal Instruments and the Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare are pretty poorly written. I wouldn’t say that I discovered that later on,though. I was pretty much aware of that from the beginning. I love them anyway. They’re my guilty pleasures. I blame Magnus Bane.

Do you have any funny stories from your childhood involving books? I was around twelve years old or so, and it was Christmastime. I was sitting in a chair next to the tree, completely engrossed in my book. I still remember what I was reading: Kindred Spirits by Mark Anthony. The tree slowly toppled over and encased me in a cage of pine needles and ornaments. It wasn’t funny at the time, but it cracks me up looking back on it.

What is the thinnest book on your shelf? Um, not counting the many picture books we have floating around? Probably Queens of Fennbirn by Kendare Blake, or Hollow Men by Todd Sullivan. By the way, both of those books are good and you should read them.

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What is the thickest book you own? War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy is pretty hefty. It’s a good one, though. The Tanakh is also big, as is The Light of All that Falls. Which book do you think wins “thickest book” title? Please ignore my horrible photography skills.

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Do you write as well as read? Do you see yourself becoming an author in the future? What, writing for a blog doesn’t count? Psshaw! As for writing a book, if I ever have an idea that I feel needs to be written, I’ll go for it. Right now, though, I’ve got nothing.

When did you first get into reading? I can’t think of a time when I didn’t have my nose in a book. I remember trips to the library being amazing expeditions when I was young. Before the pandemic, my husband and I would take our kids to the library every weekend. I really miss it. They do too.

What is your favorite classic book? Oh, that’s a hard one! I think I’ll go with The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas. Excellent book. Read it.

If you were given a book as a present that you’ve already read and hated, what would you do? I would thank the person. How I felt about the book is unimportant; that someone thought to give me a gift will always be appreciated.

What is a lesser known book you know of that is similar to the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games series? I can’t really think of anything similar to the Hunger Games off the top of my head, but the Magisterium series by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is very similar to Harry Potter. They’re meant for middle-graders. School for Psychics by K.C Archer is an adult series that reminded me a bit of Harry Potter as well.

What is a bad writing habit you have? I have an unfortunate penchant for parenthesis. I use them way more than any one person ever should.

What is your favorite word? Exacerbate. There’s a story behind that, involving dragging someone into a bookstore to prove that it was, in fact, a real word. What’s more, I did this while on a date. My date is a glutton for punishment: he married me.

Are you a nerd, dork, or dweeb? Yes. Oh- I have to pick one? I’m most definitely a nerd, and I’m proud of it.

Vampires or faeries? Why? I like vampires in theory, but I can only think of three vampires I like: Lestat (of course), Armand, and Spike from the Buffy tv show. Faeries, on the other hand, have a broader range: they are rich in variety, from the mischievous to the regal, to the downright dangerous. There is a lot that can be done with them, and I love reading the origins behind the different variations.

Shapeshifters or angels? Why? I love skinwalkers and changelings, and I once played a were-jaguar in a D&D campaign, so that’s the answer right there.

Spirits or werewolves? Um…I guess I don’t really have a preference. I read more books with ghouls and ghosts than I do books with werewolves. I’ve noticed that werewolves mostly live in romance novels, and I am not a fan of that particular genre.

Zombies or vampires? Why? Vampires, of course. If I wanted to see a dead, shambling, drooling husk of a human, I’d just look into the mirror before I drink my coffee.

Love triangles or forbidden love? I don’t love love. In books, I mean. I prefer forbidden love to love triangles, I suppose. Just keep it buried under tons of fantasy violence, and I’m good to go.

Full-on romance books or action-filled books with a little romance? I’m pretty sure my answer to the question above also answers this one. Give me some background romance and I’m fine, but I find myself rolling my eyes if the romance takes center-stage.

Wowza, that was a long one! I’m not tagging anyone here, although I might nag a few people on Twitter. If you do it, please link back to me so I can see your answers.

Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes by Nicky Raven and John Howe

Hardcover Beowulf : A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes Book

The exhilarating epic blazes to life — featuring illustrations by a lead artist on the LORD OF THE RINGS film trilogy.

“Look into the flames and let your minds empty. . . . For this is a tale of blood and heat and ashes.”

It is a tale that has been retold countless times through the centuries — and here, in an enthralling edition illustrated by a noted Tolkien artist, the mighty Beowulf is well set to capture new legions of followers. This contemporary retelling of the ancient epic — narrated with a touch of banter by the faithful Wiglaf and featuring vividly dramatic illustrations — follows the mythic hero from his disarming of the gruesome Grendel to his sword battle with the monster’s sea hag mother to his final, fiery showdown with an avenging dragon. (taken from Amazon)
I love Beowulf. I have read a few different versions of it, as well as some novels that are inspired by this epic poem. When I found out that there is a retelling that includes illustrations by the artist John Howe, I just had to have it.

Like with any classic, there are translations and retellings. This would fall more under the “retelling” category than a full-blown new translation of the original text. It flows a little bit more like a fairy tale than like the epic itself. It’s also a bit simplified, which makes it more accessible to a broader age range. It’s a fantastic retelling, but in no way can it replace the original.

To be honest, what sold me on the book are the illustrations. Most of you know who John Howe is. For those who don’t let me give a little example of his fantasy cred: he was a concept designer for The Lord of the Rings movies (his style is very apparent in the Fell Beasts), has created cover art for many fantasy novels, worked on other movies such as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and his art can even be found on Magic the Gathering cards (sadly, my own Magic cards don’t have his art on them). I personally also love his art in A Diversity of Dragons. And let me tell you, his popularity is well-deserved.

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His art in Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes is phenomenal. The depth and atmosphere he brought to the book elevates it from a story to something more. It drew me in. My oldest will be reading Beowulf  (Seamus Heaney’s translation) this school year and I am going to have him also read Beowulf: A Tale of Blood, Heat, and Ashes. I am positive it will deepen his appreciation for the original, as well as give him an opportunity to enjoy some stunning artwork.

I highly suggest reading this book. Actually, just buy it and add it to your collection. I guarantee you’ll want to own it.

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Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic' Review: Silvia Moreno-Garcia Reinvigorates A ...

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.   
 
Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.
 
Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness. 
 
And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind. (taken from Amazon)

I don’t usually give trigger warnings in my posts. However, I’m going to give one here because I really wish I’d been given one. This book contains more than one instance of sexual assault. If I had been aware of that going in, I would not have read this book. So. There’s that.

In many aspects, this is a typical gothic novel. It contains many of the things often found in creeptastic books. Isolated rundown mansion? Check. Help staff that has been there forever and is eerily silent? Check. Possible mental illness? Check. Tragic, violent past? Check. Hallucinations-or are they hauntings? Check.

However, Noemi is a fresh take on the heroine. She’s a little spoiled and quite used to getting her way. Being thwarted at every turn only serves to increase her determination to figure out what’s going on. I liked that it explained why she wouldn’t cut and run when it became clear that something wasn’t right.

The other cast of characters were original spins on the usual tropes. There’s Virgil, who personifies the word “vile”; Florence, a strict woman who really dislikes Noemi; Howard, the old and wizened patriarch; Frances, the pale tortured young man; and Constance, the cousin who might be having a nervous breakdown.

In case you haven’t realized it by now, I didn’t care for this book. I was disgusted by the sexual aspects in this book, I was not surprised by any of the “twists,” and the final reveal bordered on the ridiculous. That being said, the descriptions were well done. The author made sure to use all the sense when describing the setting, which made it feel much more real.

If you can handle harsher content, you might enjoy this book. As for me, I was underwhelmed.

 

The Last to Die by Kelly Garrett

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Sixteen-year-old Harper Jacobs and her bored friends make a pact to engage in a series of not-quite illegal break-ins. They steal from each other’s homes, sharing their keys and alarm codes. But they don’t take anything that can’t be replaced by some retail therapy, so it’s okay. It’s thrilling. It’s bad. And for Harper, it’s payback for something she can’t put into words―something to help her deal with her alcoholic mother, her delusional father, and to forget the lies she told that got her druggie brother arrested. It’s not like Daniel wasn’t rehab bound anyway.

So everything is okay―until the bold but aggravating Alex, looking to up the ante, suggests they break into the home of a classmate. It’s crossing a line, but Harper no longer cares. She’s proud of it. Until one of the group turns up dead, and Harper comes face-to-face with the moral dilemma that will make or break her―and, if she makes the wrong choice, will get her killed. (taken from Amazon)

This was an oh dear book for me. The premise – a small group of friends, and the murderer is one of them – seemed interesting, but it lacked something in the execution. I’ll try to put my issues with this book into words, but please bear with me. My train of thought often jumps its track.

I will say that the author made a gutsy choice: not a single character is remotely likeable. I’m pretty sure that was deliberate. It was tough to read a book filled with horrible people, though. The closest thing to a decent character is the main character’s sister, Maggie. Unfortunately, she was side character who wasn’t in the book nearly enough to balance the feeling of ick the other characters ooze.

As horrible as the characters all are, the main character is the absolute worst. Her internal dialogue is filled with scathing insults of her “friends,” she starts fights, frequently thinks about ways she can make people mad, and is flat-out horrible. One line in the book reads, “Nah, she wouldn’t kill herself. No way. She’d find some other way to get revenge.” How flipping awful is that? I think that line was the breaking point for me. I can’t stand when books imply suicide-as-revenge. That trope needs to go. I kept reading in the hope that one of the characters would grow a moral compass, but it never fully happened.

In this book, a group of privileged, bored teens take turns breaking into each other’s houses on a dare. They steal from their rich parents and get a rush out of it. Eventually, that starts to bore them too, so they decide to steal from someone outside their clique. That leads to murder, and suddenly anyone in the group could be next. The final motive felt a little forced to me. I couldn’t figure out what the impetus was, everything switched up so quickly.

I will say that the author’s idea was an interesting one. It just really didn’t work for me. As much as I can understand why this book might be enjoyable for many people, there were too many things that rankled at me. I won’t go out of my way to read anything else by this author, although I wish her the best of luck with this book and her writing career.

Eight Bookish Awards for the First Half of 2020

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I’m pretty sure everyone could use some good right about now. Something to cheer us up, or distract us a teensy bit. Joe at Black Sail Books came up with a fantastic idea: why wait until the end of the year to celebrate some awesome books? Let’s talk about some of our favorite books so far this year! He runs a truly amazing blog, which you can find here. If you’re not already following him, you should drop everything and go do that. I’ll wait.

Let’s hand out some awards, shall we?

1. MVB (The Most Valuable Book Award)
Awarded to the book that has been my favorite so far, one that has stuck with me. The winner is…

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

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Welcome to Sunder City. The magic is gone but the monsters remain.
I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:
1. Sobriety costs extra.2. My services are confidential.3. I don’t work for humans.
It’s nothing personal–I’m human myself. But after what happened, to the magic, it’s not the humans who need my help. (taken from Amazon)

Everything about this book is just awesome. The main character, Fetch, is a Sam-Spade type in a fantasy world. You’d think it wouldn’t work, but it does. Brilliantly. This was one of the first books I read in 2020: it started my reading year off with a bang and gave me a wicked book hangover. I’ve waxed enthusiastic about the it here. Read this book. You won’t be sorry.

Honorable Mentions: The Rome of Fall by Chad Alan Gibbs and Feathertide by Beth Cartwright.

2. The Narrative Genius Award
Awarded to the book whose narration was unique and added an extra level to the book. The winner is…

Your Favorite Band Cannot Save You by Scotto Moore

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I was home alone on a Saturday night when I experienced the most beautiful piece of music I had ever heard in my life.

Beautiful Remorse is the hot new band on the scene, releasing one track a day for ten days straight. Each track has a mysterious name and a strangely powerful effect on the band’s fans.

A curious music blogger decides to investigate the phenomenon up close by following Beautiful Remorse on tour across Texas and Kansas, realizing along the way that the band’s lead singer, is hiding an incredible, impossible secret. (taken from Amazon)

This book is deliciously bizarre. The narrator adds to the feeling of falling down the rabbit hole, so to speak. Seeing him go from dubious to terrified makes the book that much more memorable. You can read my original post on the book here, if you are so inclined.

Honorable Mentions: The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allen Poe and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

3. The Comfort Zone Expansion Award
Awarded to the book that helped me step out of my comfort zone and appreciate a new type of story. The winner is…

Thornhill by Pam Smy

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Parallel stories set in different times, one told in prose and one in pictures, converge as a girl unravels the mystery of the abandoned Thornhill Institute next door.

1982: Mary is a lonely orphan at the Thornhill Institute For Children at the very moment that it’s shutting its doors. When her few friends are all adopted or re-homed and she’s left to face a volatile bully alone, her revenge will have a lasting effect on the bully, on Mary, and on Thornhill itself.

2017: Ella has just moved to a new town where she knows no one. From her room on the top floor of her new home, she has a perfect view of the dilapidated, abandoned Thornhill Institute across the way, where she glimpses a girl in the window. Determined to befriend the girl and solidify the link between them, Ella resolves to unravel Thornhill’s shadowy past. (taken from Amazon)

I don’t often read graphic novels. There’s something about them that my brain just can’t follow. I suspect it has to do with my epilepsy.  I was able to read this book, though. I think maybe the fact that the pictures weren’t colored, combined with the lack of speech bubbles is what worked. At any rate, I loved it! You can read my original review here.

Honorable mentions: Fences by August Wilson and Craigslist Confessional: A Collection of Secrets from Anonymous Strangers by Helena Dea Bala

4. The “They Are Who We Thought They Were” Award: 
Awarded to the book that I tried, knowing it was outside my comfort zone that ended up being what I thought it was.

One? by Jennifer L. Cahill

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It’s London in the mid-noughties before Facebook, iPhones and ubiquitous wifi.
Zara has just moved to London for her first real job and struggles to find her feet in a big city with no instruction manual. Penelope works night and day in an investment bank with little or no time for love. At twenty-eight she is positively ancient as far as her mother is concerned and the pressure is on for her to settle down as the big 3-0 is looming. Charlie spends night and day with his band who are constantly teetering on the verge of greatness. Richard has relocated to London from his castle in Scotland in search of the one, and Alyx is barely in one place long enough to hold down a relationship let alone think about the future. One? follows the highs and lows of a group of twenty-somethings living in leafy SW4. (taken from Amazon)
Let me first say: this was not a bad book. I just don’t read lighter fiction. I stepped outside my comfort zone to give this one a go and was reminded that this genre really isn’t my thing. However, if you like lighter, romantic fiction, you’ll enjoy this book.

Honorable mentions: no others considered

5. The New to Me Award
Awarded to the book that introduced me to a new author that I’ve fallen in love with. The winner is…

We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

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In the midst of a burgeoning war, a warrior, an assassin, and a princess chase their own ambitions no matter the cost in Devin Madson’s propulsive epic fantasy.
War built the Kisian Empire. War will tear it down.
Seventeen years after rebels stormed the streets, factions divide Kisia. Only the firm hand of the god-emperor holds the empire together. But when a shocking betrayal destroys a tense alliance with neighboring Chiltae, all that has been won comes crashing down.
In Kisia, Princess Miko Ts’ai is a prisoner in her own castle. She dreams of claiming her empire, but the path to power could rip it, and her family, asunder.
In Chiltae, assassin Cassandra Marius is plagued by the voices of the dead. Desperate, she accepts a contract that promises to reward her with a cure if she helps an empire fall.
And on the border between nations, Captain Rah e’Torin and his warriors are exiles forced to fight in a foreign war or die.
As an empire dies, three warriors will rise. They will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood. (taken from Amazon)

Wow, Devin Madson can write! I need to read everything she’s ever written, and everything she writes from here on out. I heard this book was great: man, was that an understatement! You can read my original review here.

Honorable Mentions: Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall and Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

7. The MVC (Most Valuable Character) Award: 
Awarded to the character who represented the make-or-break point in a book I liked. The winner is..

The Rome of Fall by Chad Alan Gibbs

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A mixtape of Friday Night Lights, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and early ’90s nostalgia blasting through fifteen-inch speakers.

After Marcus Brinks left mysteriously two decades ago, financial ruin and his dying mother brought him back to his hometown of Rome, Alabama. Brinks, the former lead singer of ’90s indie-rock band Dear Brutus, takes a job teaching at his old school, where years ago, he and his friend, Jackson, conspired to get Deacon, the starting quarterback and resident school jerk, kicked off the football team.

Now it’s Jackson, head coach of Rome, who rules the school like Caesar, while Deacon plots his demise. This time Brinks refuses to get involved, opting instead for a quiet life with Becca, his high school crush. But will dreams of domestic black go up in flames when the repercussion of the past meet the lying, cheating, and blackmail of the present? (taken from Amazon)

Chad Alan Gibbs created the perfect characters for this book. It could have gone in an overtly smushy (that’s a word, right?) or angst-ridden direction, but instead Gibbs’ characters brought both heart and humor to this book. Silas, in particular, made The Rome of Fall a joy to read. This is easily one of my favorite books this year. Check out my review here .

Honorable Mentions: Rizzel in Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall and Fable in The Unready Queen by William Ritter.

8. The Audio Hero Award:
Awarded to the narrator who brought the audio book to life. The winner is…

You tell me! 
I don’t listen to audio books. I can’t concentrate enough (also, it’s way too noisy most of the time, since I have kids at home). What book do you think wins this award?

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There it is! According to my Goodreads, which I’m trying to be better at updating, I’ve read 70 books this year. These ones have found a place in my heart. I hope you give them a go. What books would you give these awards to?

 

 

May the 4th Be With You: Star Wars Literature is Strong with this One

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May fourth is lovingly known as Star Wars Day (“May the 4th be with you, always”) to fans of the movies. Even though Firefly is my jam, I still have some love for Star Wars, as does my husband and kids. In honor of the day, here’s a list of Star Wars favorites in our house:

The Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn:

From Book 1: It’s five years after the Rebel Alliance destroyed the Death Star, defeated Darth Vader and the Emperor, and drove the remnants of the old Imperial Starfleet to a distant corner of the galaxy. Princess Leia and Han Solo are married and expecting Jedi twins. And Luke Skywalker has become the first in a long-awaited line of Jedi Knights.
 
But thousands of light-years away, the last of the Emperor’s warlords, Grand Admiral Thrawn, has taken command of the shattered Imperial fleet, readied it for war, and pointed it at the fragile heart of the New Republic. For this dark warrior has made two vital discoveries that could destroy everything the courageous men and women of the Rebel Alliance fought so hard to build. (taken from Amazon)

Star Wars ~ The Thrawn Trilogy: (Vol. 1) Heir to the Empire ; (Vol ...

My husband and I both loved these, although I must admit it’s been a while since I’ve read them. I am not sure if they’re still considered canon, but I don’t care all that much: good is good.

Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson

After devastating losses at the hands of the First Order, General Leia Organa has dispatched her agents across the galaxy in search of allies, sanctuary, and firepower—and her top spy, Vi Moradi, may have just found all three, on a secluded world at the galaxy’s edge.
 
A planet of lush forests, precarious mountains, and towering, petrified trees, Batuu is on the furthest possible frontier of the galactic map, the last settled world before the mysterious expanse of Wild Space. The rogues, smugglers, and adventurers who eke out a living on the largest settlement on the planet, Black Spire Outpost, are here to avoid prying eyes and unnecessary complications. Vi, a Resistance spy on the run from the First Order, is hardly a welcome guest. And when a shuttle full of stormtroopers lands in her wake, determined to root her out, she has no idea where to find help.
 
To survive, Vi will have to seek out the good-hearted heroes hiding in a world that redefines scum and villainy. With the help of a traitorous trooper and her acerbic droid, she begins to gather a colorful band of outcasts and misfits, and embarks on a mission to spark the fire of resistance on Batuu—before the First Order snuffs it out entirely. (taken from Amazon)

Amazon.com: Galaxy's Edge: Black Spire (Star Wars) (9780593128381 ...

Delilah S. Dawson is a fantastic writer. I really enjoyed Kill the Farm Boy, so of course her take on Star Wars is worth reading. My oldest loved it.

Wookie the Chew by James Hance

‘Wookiee The Chew’, in the style of the original Pooh books tells the adorkable tale of the little biped that belonged to Chrisolo Robin (and Chrisolo Robin belonged to him). 24 pages of affectionately crafted adventure, brand new b&w illustrations and sneaky Star Wars references- a tribute to the combined genius of George Lucas, A.A.Milne and E.H.Sheppard. Suitable for jedi apprentices of all ages! (taken from jameshance.co)

Let’s all pause for a collective “Aww”. This book is as absolutely adorable as it looks. It’s great for any age, and is definitely worth the read.

The Origami Yoda Files by Tom Angleberger

Not so long ago, in a middle school not so far away, a sixth grader named Dwight folded an origami finger puppet of Yoda. For class oddball Dwight, this wasn’t weird. It was typical Dwight behavior. But whatis weird is that Origami Yoda is uncannily wise and prescient. He can predict the date of a pop quiz, guess who stole the classroom Shakespeare bust, and save a classmate from popularity-crushing embarrassment with some well-timed advice. Dwight’s classmate Tommy wonders how Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. With contributions from his puzzled classmates, Tommy assembles this first case file in the blockbuster bestselling Origami Yoda series, hailed bySchool Library Journal as “honest, funny, and immensely entertaining.” (taken from Amazon)

Amazon.com - The Origami Yoda Files: Collectible 8-book Boxed set -

Oh, the hundreds of origami Star Wars creations that have graced our house since my oldest discovered this series! These books are a lot of fun, and the step-by-step directions for making your own origami Star Wars characters inspire creativity. Plus, Tom Angleberger rocks: my oldest has written him two fan letters, and Tom responded both times! It meant the world to my oldest (it means a lot to me too).

Goodnight, Darth Vader by Jeffrey Brown

It’s time for a Star Wars bedtime story in a galaxy far, far away, and Darth Vader’s parenting skills are tested anew in this delightful follow-up to the breakout New York Times Star Wars books bestsellers Darth Vader™ and Son and Vader’s™ Little Princess. In this Episode, the Sith Lord must soothe his rambunctious twins, Luke and Leia—who are not ready to sleep and who insist on a story. As Vader reads, the book looks in on favorite creatures, droids, and characters, such as Yoda, R2-D2, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Darth Maul, Admiral Ackbar, Boba Fett, and many others as they tuck in, yawn, and settle down to dream. As ever, Jeffrey Brown’s charming illustrations and humor glow throughout, playing on children’s book conventions to enchant adults and kids alike. This Star Wars makes a fun, unique pregnancy gift, a new Dad gift, or funny new parent gift! (taken from Amazon)

Goodnight Darth Vader (Star Wars Comics for Parents, Darth Vader ...

There are several Star Wars books like this by Jeffrey Brown, but I read Goodnight Darth Vader first. It’s a lot of fun, and the illustrations are so cute!

Star Wars OBI-123 by Calliope Glass, Caitlin Kennedy, and illustrated by Katie Cook

ONE, TWO, THREE, FOUR
Counting with Star Wars is hardly a chore!
From the chosen ONE to a transport of TWENTY
This book is full of numbers aplenty!
So, Padawans, prepare, get ready, get set
For a numerical lesson you’ll never forget! (taken from Amazon)

My toddler tornado loves this book for the colorful pictures, and the fun rhymes. I love it because it actually goes up to twenty, instead of stopping at ten, which is rare in counting books. It made teaching number recognition easier and more fun.

What are some Star Wars books you love? Have you read any of these? May the 4th be with you!