I’ve been trying to think up different topics for blog posts (the other option is incessantly bombarding you with just genealogy all the time). In a few days, you’ll see a writing thread blog post that I hope to keep ongoing. In the meantime, if you can think of any other topics you’d like me to cover, about anything, do leave a comment and let me know.
Books. I wanted to write more about books, and a recap of what I’ve read so far this year is about due. I set my Goodreads goal for the year to 25 books. Which is super low, I know. But I didn’t want to fail, and 25 seems like a good starting number. Here’s what I’ve managed so far:
#1) The Jewel by Amy Ewing
Synopsis: The Jewel means wealth, the Jewel means beauty—but for Violet, the Jewel means servitude. Born and raised in the Marsh, Violet finds herself living in the Jewel as a servant at the estate of the Duchess of the Lake. Addressed only by her number—#197—Violet is quickly thrown into the royal way of life. But behind its opulent and glittering facade, the Jewel hides its cruel and brutal truth, filled with violence, manipulation, and death.
I’m a part of Harper Collins’ Epic Reads First Five, which basically sends me the first five chapters of a book they’ve published or will publish. The Jewel was a First Five and one of only a few I’ve liked. (Generally, they’re just rank with bad writing and poor plots) I liked the first five chapters enough to buy the Kindle version.
Unlike most recent YA (read: after Hunger Games), this isn’t just a lame rehash of a dying world and a girl who can save it if she just stands up for herself. The Jewel, while it does have overtones of that, is well-written and interesting.
2-5) The Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mysteries (you knew genealogy was going to pop up sooner or later, didn’t you?) I talked about these books already, in a separate post.
I’ve read all four books pictured below.
6-7) The Memoirs of Lady Trent: The Tropic of Serpents and The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan:
These are books two and three in a series; I read book one last year. The synopses may be spoilers if you haven’t read book one.
Synopses: (ToS) Three years after her fateful journeys through the forbidding mountains of Vystrana, Mrs. Camherst defies family and convention to embark on an expedition to the war-torn continent of Eriga, home of such exotic draconian species as the grass-dwelling snakes of the savannah, arboreal tree snakes, and, most elusive of all, the legendary swamp-wyrms of the tropics.
The expedition is not an easy one. Accompanied by both an old associate and a runaway heiress, Isabella must brave oppressive heat, merciless fevers, palace intrigues, gossip, and other hazards in order to satisfy her boundless fascination with all things draconian, even if it means venturing deep into the forbidden jungle known as the Green Hell . . . where her courage, resourcefulness, and scientific curiosity will be tested as never before.
(VotB): Six years after her perilous exploits in Eriga, Isabella embarks on her most ambitious expedition yet: a two-year trip around the world to study all manner of dragons in every place they might be found. From feathered serpents sunning themselves in the ruins of a fallen civilization to the mighty sea serpents of the tropics, these creatures are a source of both endless fascination and frequent peril. Accompanying her is not only her young son, Jake, but a chivalrous foreign archaeologist whose interests converge with Isabella’s in ways both professional and personal.
Science is, of course, the primary objective of the voyage, but Isabella’s life is rarely so simple. She must cope with storms, shipwrecks, intrigue, and warfare, even as she makes a discovery that offers a revolutionary new insight into the ancient history of dragons.
I adore this series. It’s brilliant, it’s witty, it’s every dragon-lover’s dream. The characters, plot, worldbuilding, and pacing are flawless.
8) The Blackthorne Key by Kevin Sands
Synopsis: “Tell no one what I’ve given you.”
Until he got that cryptic warning, Christopher Rowe was happy, learning how to solve complex codes and puzzles and creating powerful medicines, potions, and weapons as an apprentice to Master Benedict Blackthorn—with maybe an explosion or two along the way.
But when a mysterious cult begins to prey on London’s apothecaries, the trail of murders grows closer and closer to Blackthorn’s shop. With time running out, Christopher must use every skill he’s learned to discover the key to a terrible secret with the power to tear the world apart.
This book is set in a semi-medieval England sort of world (I don’t remember– it might have been England in our world), and it starts off with cannons. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t resist a book that includes ciphers and codes and cannons.
9) Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
Synopsis: Shades of Milk and Honey is an intimate portrait of Jane Ellsworth, a woman ahead of her time in a version of Regency England where the manipulation of glamour is considered an essential skill for a lady of quality. But despite the prevalence of magic in everyday life, other aspects of Dorchester’s society are not that different: Jane and her sister Melody’s lives still revolve around vying for the attentions of eligible men.
Jane resists this fate, and rightly so: while her skill with glamour is remarkable, it is her sister who is fair of face, and therefore wins the lion’s share of the attention. At the ripe old age of twenty-eight, Jane has resigned herself to being invisible forever. But when her family’s honor is threatened, she finds that she must push her skills to the limit in order to set things right–and, in the process, accidentally wanders into a love story of her own.
My husband bought this book for me for Christmas and it’s darling. Jane Austin plus magic. I mean, honestly– all the heart-eyes.
10) Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
Synopsis: Tuesdays at Castle Glower are Princess Celie’s favorite days. That’s because on Tuesdays the castle adds a new room, a turret, or sometimes even an entire wing. No one ever knows what the castle will do next, and no one–other than Celie, that is–takes the time to map out the new additions. But when King and Queen Glower are ambushed and their fate is unknown, it’s up to Celie, with her secret knowledge of the castle’s never-ending twists and turns, to protect their home and save their kingdom. This delightful book from a fan- and bookseller-favorite kicks off a brand-new series sure to become a modern classic.
I’ve been eyeing this book for years, because it just sounds adorable. And it is adorable. Not spectacular, but still adorable.
11) The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Synopsis: Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam–a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion–a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.
“There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .”
On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.
But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .
Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?
Okay, so this one was hard for me. It, unlike so many historical fiction novels, felt authentic. It felt real. And I loved it so much… at first. There’s a tantalizing mystery, there’s round, fantastic, inegmatic characters, there’s just so much about it that I loved.
(If you wish to avoid spoilers, go ahead and skip to #12. I’m not going to hold back)
But when Johannes was revealed to be homosexual, everything went downhill for me. Nothing happy happened after that. The story descended into darkness and despair (though it was still impeccably written). You think I’m joking, but I’m not. Nothing good happens after that part in the story. The mystery is never really solved. There’s no conclusion.
If you want a realistic-feeling historical fiction set in Amsterdam in the 1600s, this won’t disappoint. Just don’t expect it to be a light, happy read because it’s NOT.
12) A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab.
Synopsis: Kell is one of the last travelers–magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.
There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King–George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered–and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London–a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
I loved this story as well. It’s thievery and trickery and brilliance. There is a bit of language, so be aware of that. Kell and Lila are two of my most favorite characters in the world of literature, and that’s saying a lot.
13) Love, Lies, and Spies by Cindy Anstey
Synopsis: Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She’s much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she’s determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish their research.
Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana’s traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself.
So I bought this story 100% because of the cover. It, too, is charming but not fantastic. Worth a read, but probably not two.
I’ve also read two short stories, but that hardly counts when you’ve got a 25 book goal. You can see my Goodreads challenge here.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think?