Backlist: The Stranger in the Woods

Title: The Stranger in the Woods

Author: Michael Finkel

Star Review: ♥♥♥ /5

 

Hey folks!  I figured that in addition to new stuff, it would be great to give you an idea of some of the backlist I’m reading in case it helps you to make future library and purchasing decisions!  The first book from my backlist that I read in 2019 was this one.  From the Goodreads blurb:

Many people dream of escaping modern life, but most will never act on it. This is the remarkable true story of a man who lived alone in the woods of Maine for 27 years, making this dream a reality–not out of anger at the world, but simply because he preferred to live on his own.

Intriguing, and this selection checks some boxes for me – I grew up in New England and I love reading about that extremely singular backwoods Maine way of life and culture.  I listened to this book on audio, which was a good medium for the writing style.  I think that the author did respectable work with an interesting subject.  He had several hours of exclusive 1:1 interviews with Christopher Thomas Knight, the “Hermit” in question.  Additionally, he extensively spoke with police, victims of Knight’s thieving, and psychologists and other “expert witness” types.  Overall, Knight is not a person who is easy to categorize, and I think Finkel remains true to that while still providing a useful account of Knight’s life in the woods and subsequent capture.

This book, and many like it that come from the “exclusive access” angle, suffers from a touch of presumptuousness in understanding the subject.  Finkel seems to intimate a deep understanding of Knight that I don’t think is there, and attempts to play up the importance of their relationship in order to lend credibility to the text.  It seems, for Finkel, that this may be even more important, since it seems clear that Knight was at least in some part an unwilling participant in his fame.  Finkel seems to use his thoroughness as a journalist and empathetic connection to the subject to avoid the appearance of paparazzi-like intrusion.  I get that, but it feels disingenuous to me.

Overall, I think this is a solid read, especially if listened to on audio while cleaning or completing other tasks.  If its objective was to rock my worldview, it did not accomplish that, but I learned about something interesting from an anthropological or sociological viewpoint.

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Mahimata

Title: Mahimata (Asiana #2)

Author: Rati Mehrota

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Mahimata and its predecessor Markswoman take place in Asiana, which is meant to be a far-flung future time on Earth, after the arrival and subsequent departure of alien life (The Ones) and our own self-destruction at the hands of guns and armed violence. There are Orders that protect the common people and provide law and order, and the evil influence of guns is prohibited.

This book continues where the first leaves off. In the first book, Kyra has had only one quest for as long as she can remember: because he killed her clan, Kyra must kill Kai Tau. While she grows ready for this all-important mission, Kai Tau grows an army and arms them with forbidden weapons, ready to take over Asiana. The first book was a significant investment in worldbuilding and character development. As Kyra matures, her singular mission becomes more complicated. The people in her life harbor secrets, and the pieces of the puzzle start to slowly come together.

That makes this book so much more compulsively readable – by book two, the reader knows the characters, the world, its history and the mission. The writing in this story is an excellent vehicle for a world that can be sparse and rough, but beautiful nonetheless. It felt a little ambitious, by the end – it was squeezing a lot in – but invested me in the story for all characters involved. I am unsure if this is a trilogy or a duology, but there remains more to say, so I hope I’ll get to follow Kyra into a third book.

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy

Title: Once Ghosted, Twice Shy

Author: Alyssa Cole

Star Review: ♥♥♥ /5

This novella, out  tomorrow, makes for a wonderful quick getaway in Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series.  While the other books in the series (which I highly recommend!) have at least one member of the romance who is a member of royalty or nobility, this one does not.  Instead, it follows the delightfully dapper and painfully honest Likotsi, Advisor Most High to the Prince of Thesolo, and her once-fling-come-around-again Fabiola.  When Likotsi last stayed in New York City, she met Fab, and fell “just a little bit” in love with her.  After only a few days today, they said goodbye – well, at least Fab did.  Likotsi found that she had been ghosted.  Only when she was back in NYC and trying to get over the memory of the brief but magical romance between the two, Fab appeared and a whirlwind rekindling began…

The central question of this novella becomes whether these two will be able to navigate their shared history, while also sharing parts of themselves they held back before?  If they do, could their relationship have a chance at survival?  I liked this narrative and felt its honesty in the telling of it.  The writing was solid, and there was enough witty banter to keep it moving for me.  It came to a satisfying conclusion.  I wished that Likotsi had gotten her own full-length story, because more than anything, this narrative felt rushed.  So, while I breezed through it, and I liked it while I was there, it suffered from its brevity.  I would recommend this to fans of Reluctant Royals – and I would recommend Reluctant Royals to those interested in modern romance well-written by a great voice on the scene!

This year has started off with lots of romance!  I’m twisting back into my niche with some fantasy next – I can’t wait to share the next two books I have in store for you!

This Scot of Mine

Title: This Scot of Mine

Author: Sophie Jordan

Star Review: ♥♥♥ /5

Those of you who know me know I love a good historical romance.  Historical romance in particular is what I read when I am in a reading slump, or when I am in between holds at the library.  I find them to be quick, entertaining, and intellectually engaging. In the world of romance, Sophie Jordan is on my auto-buy list, along with Sarah MacLean and Eloisa James. I hope you’ll go and check out her works if you’re thinking about diving into historical romance – she may become your new favorite author!

This was, as the starred rating might indicate, not my favorite Sophie Jordan book but was still quite good. There are many positive aspects to the book that mean I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one to a friend. The basic premise is that a young lady, ruined despite her high-profile engagement, is fleeing to the Scottish countryside to avoid the scorn of the ton. Was the really ruined? Not all is as it seems. And when the handsome young man she saw punching his way through the crowd at an earlier inn turns out to be a friend of her brother’s, things get interesting quick. There’s some confusion, secrets are kept and spilled, and something about a curse…

This is one of only a handful of Scottish to English love stories that I thought have been handled appropriately. The hero was not treated like meat and while he had his “rugged” aspects (such as first meeting our heroine mid-brawl over a bull, but you know), he wasn’t the “barbarian” figure that I detest. The author neatly handed the question of Culloden, for a historical nod, and everyone got on with the business of being men and women in love. Of course, there is witty repartee. The sex is steamy and fun to follow. There are great supporting characters, including the Brother. I can’t remember the last time a brother in a story was kind and supportive of his sister without being oppressively protective! I loved it!

I think what really knocked this one down in my esteem was that cutesy names were used for anatomy (a pet peeve of mine) and a couple of phrases were repeated in multiple sex scenes, which took me out of the scene for sure. Overall, this is definitely a read that I enjoyed, and finished in one day! Great for folks who are interested in some female self-determination and Scottish brogues!!

I was given an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This book comes out February 20, 2019!

The Bird King

Title: The Bird King

Author: G. Willow Wilson

Read harder Challenge: I don’t think so… I toyed with the idea of defining this as colonial lit but I don’t think it fits.  It’s amazing though.

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥♥ /5

I was captivated by this book – in every sense of the meaning of that word. The premise, when written, fails to evoke the exceptional richness that this book possesses. A king’s chosen harem member in the last vestiges of Moorish Spain befriends the castle’s mapmaker. But this mapmaker is far from ordinary, and the ways in which his maps can bend reality are dangerous in Ferdinand and Isabella’s Catholic Spain. Interwoven in the story is a very important question – what happened to the Bird King? This book vividly portrays tough choices, wrestling with who you are and what to do and where to go and why people make the choices that they do. This book includes many magical elements, but is all the real for that fact. The prose is beautiful, the characters are complex, and the story fascinating and haunting. I cannot think of a better book I have read in recent memory, and I’ve already pre-ordered two copies to give as gifts. I don’t often gush about what I read, but this book was a really amazing experience to read.

I was given an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  This book comes out March 12, 2019.

Reincarnation Blues

Title: Reincarnation Blues

Author: Michael Poore

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥ /5

This book defies genre. It took me months to read it, but each time I picked it up, it was as if I had never left it at all. Milo is a man in a dangerous predicament – he keeps being reborn, but he is nearly at the upper limit of chances he has at rebirth before he must achieve Enlightenment, or cease to exist. Milo – and his crazy entourage (which includes his girlfriend Death) try and figure out the exact right conditions for him to achieve Perfection in each life. This style of writing on this is very wry, which contributed to its feeling of being extremely readable. The worlds built and the life scenarios that Milo experiences are diverse and imaginative. At times, I wasn’t a fan of the arbitrariness of juvenile, sexual, or graphic jokes that were thrown in – it took me out of the experience. Overall, I enjoyed this read and think others would enjoy it as a totally unique experience in itself!

I received a copy of this book freely in exchange for an honest review.

The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke #2)

Title: The Governess Game (Girl Meets Duke #2)

Author: Tessa Dare

Read harder Challenge: Yes, a book of romance by/about a POC (MC is mestiza)

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥♥ /5

“If she possessed any wisp of rationality, she wouldn’t have made such a fool of herself with the Bookshop Rake.”

I can’t exaggerate how much I enjoyed this book. When a Bookshop Rake is introduced on the first page, you’re going to have a good time. Parts were laugh aloud funny, parts tugged every available inch of my heartstrings, and parts were super steamy. Overall, it was a compulsively great read that I finished in a day – but will want to go back to squeeze more goodness out of.

Tessa Dare generally writes exceptionally good historical romance – light, funny, with well-researched components and ladies who both fit into and recognize the constraints of the time period. In the Girl Meets Duke series, readers have been following the BEST group of female friends I have ever had the pleasure to acquaint myself with. In the last book, Emma married the Duke of Ashbury (who was also an amazing character, but I digress). Emma is a lady with a living, and a stutter, and the main character of this book, Alex, is also a woman who is used to making her own way. She sets clocks for a living and is in a bookstore pursuing her favorite hobby, astronomy, when she meets the Bookshop Rake. While she attempts to forget him and their brief encounter, the paths collide again some time later. Of course, sparks fly, and the book is spent figuring out what these two must do in order to end up together. Penelope and Nicola, the last two in the Fearsome Four of Female Friends, are lovely support for Alex as she tries to get it together.

Hilarious and interesting details abound. The hero is in charge of two possibly orphaned wards who do normal ward things like have a daily funeral for a doll – which the Duke, Chase, and Alex must attend, and instead of having class, they learn how to be pirates. Conveniently, Alex was raised on the high seas, so they do receive some expert training in that regard.

So – heartwarming womanly friendship is clutch. The fact that these women are outcasts who love each other conditionally – also clutch. Tessa Dare makes a deliberate choice, in this book as in the previous one, to have a male hero who must make himself deeply vulnerable in order to accept what our heroine offers him. While I preferred Ashbury as a hero (I thought he was funnier), there was something absolutely endearing about Alex’s hero Chase and his messy relationship with his wards and everyone else who happens to care about him. What sets this book apart is, after all, the relationships the characters have with each other, which are vivid, loving, and as complicated as real life. Throw in a pair that the reader knows is Meant To Be Together, and some spicy, spicy loving, and you’ve got a recipe for a compulsively readable romance.

My one question, which may make its way into the final copy of this book, is about astronomy. It plays no small role in this one, and I’d love a little note at the end with some information about astronomy during the time period and what about the events in the book are real and which are imagined. It seems clear Tessa Dare did her research in this regard and I’d love to know more about it!