Review: To Have and to Hoax by Martha Waters

I live for a good regency era romance. 

Okay, I really live for Jane Austen retellings, Jane Austen novels, and novels based on side characters in Jane Austen novels that also have super romantic plot lines. 

It’s my comfort zone. I have no shame. 

So when I heard about To Have and To Hoax I was immediately drawn in. Debut author. Regency romance. Husband and Wife in a love/hate relationship hellbent on tricking the other into respecting them again?

Sign me up. And then sign me up for the reread, the book club discussion, the blog post, and the general fangirling. 

Needless to say I bought To Have and To Hoax for my kindle immediately. And then I spent a week immersed in the absolutely crazy schemes of Violet and James Audley.

And that is basically all To Have and to Hoax is about. Violet and James have fought. They haven’t spoken meaningfully in 4 years. Now both have plans to get the other to crack. 

Waters does a fantastic job of creating and writing comedy. Nothing about her first novel feels serious. The occasional trope is discovered and canceled out by more cunning (or ridiculous plans.) The dialogue between Violet and James is perfect. Witty banter is the star of the show. 

I will say some of the scheming is a bit over the top, but it fits in perfectly with the tone of the story. 

If you’re looking for a quick, fun read from a new author please check out To Have to Hoax. It will fill the Jane Austen void in your life and give you some great laughs.

On Rekindling my Love of Physical Books

One of my earliest posts to this blog was about my love of audiobooks. It is a topic I retouch on often. Same with ebooks. Book format over the last several years hasn’t mattered much to me. I find audiobooks are great for listening to while I work, cook, clean, and take long meandering walks in my neighborhood. Learning to love audiobooks gave me a new way to explore my reading, and gave me a way to fit in reading time during time I considered lost, like my morning commute. 

I have a similar relationship to ebooks. I’ve had a kindle for years. I’ve love how easy it is to carry around several books with just a light device. It is amazing I can sync the kindle app on my phone with my physical kindle, so even if I have left my kindle at home I can continue a story. I love that I can read my Paper White in bed with the lights off. I’m not a great sleeper and regularly find myself up around 3am while my boyfriend snores. The low light lets me read without waking him up or leaving the comfort of my pillows and blankets. 

But the last few weeks I have had a hard time getting into any book on my kindle. I’ve started several audiobooks just to let them languish half finished. I began to worry that the lack of focus I had back in march

Except, I’m still reading. I still enjoy falling into a story. I just need it to be with a physical book. 

I’ve spent a significant amount of time this past week talking with my cowokers about how they are balancing the work-from-home life with normal home life. We were not readily able to work from home before our shut down, so everything about the last two months has been new. That includes creating offices out of kitchen tables, dogs as coworkers, and more screen time than ever. 

It seems like now my world is mostly screens. I have nothing but virtual meetings, which are exhausting on a social and physical level. I am in several group chats with friends and family, and have a few friends that I know I need to check in on as they quarantine alone. This means I’m on my phone more often. Plus any music, podcast, or audiobook is accessed through my phone. All of my news comes from push notifications or twitter scrolling. 

Oh, and of course the TV is almost always on in the evenings. In fact the boyfriend and I are watching MASH. We’re watching a lot of MASH. The sole benefit to having so much TV time right now is that we find watching Hawkeye and company is engrossing enough, and late enough in the evening that our phones aren’t buzzing and we don’t feel compelled to check them. 

This is all to say that when I really need to decompress, I need to do it with something that isn’t backlit. I still want to spend time wrapped up in a good book, but I am finding I have to revert back to the early 2000’s, to when ebooks and audiobooks weren’t my main form of book consumption and reading time was sacred, planned, and an escape. 

So I am still reading. In fact I’m reading more than I have in years, but I am doing it almost exclusively with physical books. I can see my own personal library growing and my shelves sinking under the book orders I have made. I may not have a lot of space but I know these books will represent another shift in my reading habits, and will always leave a mark on my library as quarantine reads.

Review: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Remember when we could all go out to bars, into our offices, and when nursing homes didn’t seem like the frontlines of a warzone?

Just had to check in, because so much of The Flatshare reads as something that can only happen in the years before Pandemic.

Mostly because, well, would you be willing to share a bed with a stranger right now?

Exactly. 

The Flatshare is the story of Tiffy and Leon. Both are in rough patches. Leon needs money to help out his imprisoned brother. Tiffy has just broken up with her boyfriend *again* and needs a new place to stay. So when Tiffy sees an ad to share Leon’s one bedroom flat she is skeptical, but the price is right. There will be rules. Leon works nights, Tiffy works days. They split time in the flat down the middle. They should never meet. But what happens when they do?

The Flatshare surprised me. I expected a cotton candy style romance with little substance, but really the character growth of Tiffy and Leon is leaps and bounds more present than anticipated. Leon has his own goals, his own demons, and is razor focused. Tiffy is a bit of a mess, post break up, but she reads as true, as if she is trying to get over the situation and put herself back together. Add in the realization that her ex was emotionally manipulative, and that Leon is just coasting through life and you have two characters that have worthy stories in their own right. 

And then Tiffy and Leon start leaving each other notes. I’m a sucker for written communication in books. Give me all the text exchanges, emails, and letters. Notes left on kitchen counters? Yes, please! Tiffy and Leon’s voices come across so strongly during these exchanges, and they are less a plot device as more insight into their characters. 

Of course, this is a contemporary romance, and it doesn’t fall flat. There is a slow burn, and the actual scene where Tiffy and Leon inevitably meet is a bit of a letdown, but their chemistry is real. Their relationship has all of the classic twists, turns, and cute scenes and is exactly as sweet as it is billed. 

Overall the Flatshare hit the spot. More complete than just a romance novel but with enough meet cute energy to make the coldest heart see stars. Check it out if you’re looking for a good read that is just heavy enough, with a side of swooning.

On Missing My Libraries

I’m getting a little annoyed. 

As a librarian working from home life is weird. I’m no longer helping patrons do reacher, but instead working on producing digital content, managing my collection from home, and generally working on administrative tasks that aren’t fun on a good day. 

But I still have a job. I am grateful for that. 

But I am still annoyed. My special collection doesn’t keep an ebook collection. We don’t need one. It would be cost prohibitive. I helped write the policy. 

But my public library does keep ebooks. They just aren’t buying very many.  I find myself checking every day for books that have been out for weeks. I’m clearly not the only one. I’ve been waiting to get my hands on the new Sue Monk Kidd book since its release. Unfortunately on the day it showed up on Libby I was too late. I’ll be able to read it sometime in October if the app’s predictions hold true. 

I love to keep up with new releases. I’m an early adopter and like to be part of the first wave to love books.  My library used to help with this. Being able to pull from a large library system was really a treat. Having a physical copy in my hand held me accountable. But now I am left at the mercy of the library budget that doesn’t seem able to keep up with a new way of life.

Professional I understand.

Personally, I am pissed. 

New books are very expensive. Even more so now that I am trying to exclusively support the independent bookstores in my community. 

So I need my local library to step up. 

Please?

On Guilt: With Books and Snacks

I’ve been fairly lucky. Aside from a weed in early March where I couldn’t focus on anything for more than five minutes my reading habits have never been stronger. I’m sure in the next week I’ll recap my 2 full months of the Michigan Stay at Home order with all of the books I’ve finished. 

I know many people have not been as lucky. Earlier in the pandemic I wrote about the grief I’m experiencing as the world changes. Early days were not great for my coping. 

But now I have more of a routine, my book clubs are meeting more regularly than they did when we all needed to find a day to actually go to someone’s house. I’m doing more buddy reads and speeding through new releases and TBR backlog almost faster than goodreads can log. 

So why do I feel so guilty? As a person with eclectic book tastes I find that while I am reading more, my tastes are a bit…stagenent. Instead of picking up difficult classics or long reads I’m reaching for love stories, YA adventures, and historical fiction that doesn’t challenge my understanding of the world. 

As a rational person with a completely rational brain I know I’m being too hard on myself. The fact that I haven’t used the last eight weeks to finish Don Quixote is not a personal flaw.  I don’t need to be running a 5k every day, cooking all meals from scratch all while keeping up with the news and learning Italian. I don’t. But I feel like I should be doing all of those things, including reading all of the long stodgy books on my TBR. 

But the truth is I’m enjoying love stories. I’m having fun traveling to different countries and experiencing them with fanciful stories. Literary fiction is great but so is the whole enemies to lovers trope. 

Life is about balance. I listened to Beowulf a few weeks ago so now I get to read about vampire  boyfriends and road trips. It is the rules. At least it is my rule.

I’m taking this rule to other parts of my life too. As a rule I try not to snack. We don’t keep a lot of sweets in the house because no one here can see a cookie and not eat it. Chocolate doesn’t last a day. Cake? No way. I love to bake but in general I don’t keep sweets at home. I’m not the cleanest of eaters but I try.

But now I can’t run to a bakery after a bad day at work. I can’t go on an impromptu date to the ice cream parlor. I can’t treat myself with a burger and fries at my favorite bar for completing a goal, or eat my favorite mac and cheese at trivia with my friends. All of the small treats that used to make weeks bearable are gone. 

So are my restrictions for treats at home.

I keep ice cream in the house now. I make banana bread because I want it, not to give it away. I cover popcorn in chocolate and toss in some marshmallows for good measure. I make grilled cheese as a snack instead of a guilty carb filled meal.

I bought oreos. 

And flowers. 

Life is too short and times are uncertain. It should include sweets, tots, and frozen treats. I don’t want to wake up one day to find that I’ve been chasing a smaller pant size while I could have enjoyed a big buttery bowl of popcorn with my boyfriend on movie night. 

So if anyone else is beating themselves up over their lack of serious reading, their snacking habits or really anything else. We’re still grieving. We’re living through a historic event. 

Eat the damn brownie.

Review: Hex by Rebecca Dinerstein Knight

Sometimes expectations get the better of us. Sometimes a description is so well written, the reviews by other authors so promising, and the buzz so enticing that there is nothing to do but raise your hopes for the occasion.

That is what happened to me with The Hex. Wow. This is not the book I thought it would be. It certainly wasn’t the book I wanted it to be. 

For starters I would like to direct you to the goodreads description of Hex. It is lush, full of drama and some very interesting botany. 

A more adequate description would read “an expelled PhD student continues to obsess over her advisor, loses all motivation, sort of tries to do something with toxic plants? Maybe? And there are somehow lots of love triangles and shitty relationships all in a brief 250ish page stream of consciousness novel.”

See how my expectations may have been artificially raised? As a lover of Circe, Outlander, and other books with women working with herbs and plants I really thought Hex would be a tour de force. I wanted a descent into madness over plants that could kill, and a quest to find antidotes out of some goodness. None of that happens. 

In its place there is Nell. Nell who isn’t even interested in her own PhD research. Nell who is in love with her advisor, Joan, but not her boyfriend. Nell, who is only upset about her expulsion because it means she see’s less of Joan. Joan, Joan, Joan. It would help if there was anything remotely interesting about Joan, but she is just a normal person in academia. There is no impressive CV mentioned, no indication that her teaching style is anything other than intimidation and harsh grading. Nothing. She’s just a person, once who Nell cannot even describe in a way to make the reader mildly curious about her, let alone obsessed over her ourselves. 

The stream of consciousness writing was admittedly beautiful. Paired with short diary entry style chapters it is easily the start of the book. Without these choices by Knight I am sure this would have been in my DNF pile within pages. Instead it is one of my most highlighted kindle books of the last few months while also being my most disappointing read of the spring. 

I’m curious to read other bloggers thoughts on Hex. Let me know if you’ve posted a review and I’ll be sure to check it out! 

On Time Traveling Through Quarantine

Anyone else want to just get up, take a big stretch, and time hop? I found myself the other day listening to the Counting Crows and telling my boyfriend I wanted to live through the 90’s. He reminded me I did, in fact, live through the 90’s, but as I was a child I don’t think it really counts as the real experience. It is also far enough back to still have legit medicine but without a majority of this internet nonsense. 

Anyway I digress. This came up because I was eyes deep in Outlander 4: Outlanding in America (what I affectionately call Drums of Autumn.) Despite having to cancel our fall trip to Scotland I can still enjoy snippets of the highlands through Gabaldon’s work. 

I can also enjoy a time where no one is fighting about “fake news” or making Tik Tok videos. 

Last week I spent my reading time in Siena, both medieval and current. I learned about delicious sounding Italian food, frescos, and bad ass women. I learned more about scribes. Okay, the black death was there too, but it was so far removed that I didn’t even feel bad reading about an actual plague while being stuck in my house because of…well…you know where this is going. 

Anyway, if you’re interested in conspiracy, Medichi’s, medieval romance, and time travel check out The Scribe of Siena. It’s a really great read. 

Reading Drums of Autumn and The Scribe of Siena so close got me thinking about some of my other favorite time travel stories. Claire and Beatrice are such singular, amazing women. In my time travel reading I’m used to more men and aliens jumping through eras. The Time Traveler’s wife is an obvious jump here. Henry jumps through time, always rooted to his future/current wife. But what about Harry Potter? It took me a minute to remember that Hermione and Harry are the ones doing the time traveling, albeit in hours, not in years. 

I used to think owning a time turner would be the best. Now there is so much unaccounted for time I think I’m okay moving at normal pace. 

The other time travel stories I’ve read and loved have been more supernatural in scope. Slaughterhouse 5 has time traveling aliens. So does the Chaing short story Story of Your Life, which is just as gut wrenching as it’s movie counterpart Arrival. Oh, and how could I forget A Wrinkle in Time with all of its time and universe jumping? 

I’m hoping to see more women like Claire and Beatrice in time travel fiction in the upcoming years. I suspect I am missing a few noteworthy women as I write this post and look forward to meeting them through their pages as well. 

In the meantime I’m grabbing How To Lose the Time War for my kindle and hoping to enjoy all of the bumps and battles along the way.

Oh, and if you have a favorite time travel story please leave it in the comments! I’d love to continue exploring this genre with more than just google recommendations.

Review: House of Salt and Sorrow by Erin A Craig

Holy Book Club Discussion Batman. 

I put off reading House of Salt and Sorrow for about a year. I saw it on all of your blogs. I read your reviews. It popped up on goodreads all the time. I thought, 12 dancing sisters, meh. 

Part of me still thinks I was right to wait. Especially since reading House of Salt and Sorrow for my now virtual book club was easily the best experience of my quarantine. 

For starters I should point out my book club is now biweekly, as we have nothing better to do and large TBRs. That meant we were all actually reading on the same schedule. Our group chat BLEW UP. Salt and Sorrow is many things but sane, predictable, and slow paced are not qualities it possesses. 

So the texts were amazing. The number of us who stayed up late reading and then could not sleep due to terror were not insignificant. Even our members who don’t traditionally read YA were SO HERE FOR THE DISCUSSION.

I say all of this because without my lovely friends to direct all of my DID THAT JUST HAPPEN energy too I think the whole experience would have been very lackluster. 

Let me back up. House of Salt of Sorrow is, as I mentioned, a retelling of the 12 dancing sisters myth. Except in this version the sisters aren’t just dancing, they are dying. There is a step mother, a potential love triangle, and a whole new mythos that was honestly unexpected out of a novel of this size. 

Annaleigh, the sister whose story we follow most closely, is a sane and likeable enough girl. But woah, that is not true of all of her family. Her step mother is annoying enough – per fairytale tradition, her current eldest sister, Camilla is intolerable. Her baby sister Verity is basically like every off child in a horror movie. Oh, and I mentioned a love triangle? Fisher is lacklust – which ends up being an appropriate characteristic, and Cassius is equal parts suspicious and swoon worthy. 

I give you these characteristics to not give away too much of the plot. The plot. Wow. I’m not sure this is a book I could say I liked. I’m not sure I enjoyed my time with the pages. I certainly was compelled to keep reading. I wanted to know what happened next. The twists, of which there were many (maybe too many?!) always fit within the story. Nothing felt forced, but it didn’t feel entirely cohesive either. It was a rollercoaster, but one where you couldn’t see the track with drops and twists out of nowhere! 

Salt and Sorrow was the type of story I had to share with others. If I had read it on my own I would have been angry, confused, disappointed, and a smattering of other negative emotions. Now I can look back at it fondly and remember the crazy gifs and texts that went back and forth between my book club at lightning speed. 

I honestly don’t fully get who the audience is for this book? Fairytale lovers? People who like unexpected horror? Dancers? Anyway, I suggest if you think House of Salt and Sorrow sounds interesting that you tackle it with a friend! 

On Reading with Purpose instead of for Distraction

This weekend I did something I try to do every April. I got together my TBR. I prepped snacks and ordered take out. I sat down with my pup and I read. I read and read and read. Every year I try to participate in at least 1 of the Dewey 24 hour readathons. I started back in college, close to ten years ago. 20 year old me had a completely different life with different obligations, and a much messier sleep schedule. Dedicating 24 hours to reading then was a fun challenge, but not one that required marking up my calendar months in advance. 

Over the last few years I find myself missing most readathons. I don’t have the time, and my schedule usually fills up weeks, if not months in advance. In the past few years even if I had a readathon day free it would include meeting friends for coffee, running to the store, or hosting an impromptu game night. 

In short, it is really hard to cancel plans with real people just to read. 

But plans are nonexistent right now, but my TBR pile is still very real. Prior to Saturday I was in the middle of 6 books. Now I’m at 3. 

For the first in close to a decade I approached this readathon with purpose, and it changed the way I read. 

The last couple months have been full of distraction reading, skimming paragraphs to finish a story, and barely keeping characters straight in my head. Distraction reading isn’t immersive for me. The things I am trying to avoid are always there, just below the surface. It is easy to stop to scroll twitter, to go bother my boyfriend, to walk my dog. The story is there as a crutch, not as something I actually care about. 

This weekend I turned my distraction reading on its head. I appreciate every book with purpose. When I sat down I sat down to read, not to pass time, not to forget about the pandemic outside my door, not in place of doing something productive. 

And my quarantine reading experience completely changed. I forgot how freeing reading with purpose could be. That falling into a story is possible, and that I am still entirely able to binge a book without issue. 

I also found the book doesn’t matter. I took this readathon to cull  my ever growing “Currently Reading” pile, so I was almost exclusively attacking books I’ve been reading for weeks, if not months. I finally finished The 4th Outlander book, and found that I could actually retain the events that happen in the last quarter of the book with some detail instead of a foggy sense that something weird just happened. I finished a tongue and cheek romance that I auto-bought the day it was released because it sounded so perfect. It turns out it was pretty perfect, my lack of interest in it over the last few weeks had more to do with my lack of purpose in my reading, not in a lack of story. 

I was able to feel connected to characters, appreciate motive, and to not just go through the motions. 

So I am taking this lesson with me for the rest of this week. My reading will not be for five minutes between meetings, or as a hold over when I am too bored and lazy to do anything else. I will pick up my books because I want to enjoy them. And hopefully that means I will get more out of them. 

Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel

Has anyone else found their ability to recommend books has changed during this pandemic? I, for one, have spent the last few years singing the praises of Station Eleven to anyone with a love for any type of fiction. I’ve given copies to a few self proclaimed “non-readers” too. I find it is easy to read, love, and digest. That is until our society was also hit with a virus, and then suddenly the fictional tales of a post apocalyptic event seemed less appropriate.

Luckily for me Ms Mandel released another powerhouse of a book at the end of March. The Glass Hotel is both nothing like Station Eleven and yet still everything that I needed it to be. 

At once a tale of a woman floating through life, the people she touches, the great recession of the early 2000’s, and a Ponzi scheme The Glass Hotel is Mandel at her finest. Even without the pandemic that made her National Book Award Finalist novel so powerful she is able to convey the messiness of being human. The choices we make, for better or worse, and the people we encounter. 

I’ve always felt that Mandel’s work is like meeting an old friend in the street. I never go in expecting to be utterly captivated. Her plots always sound a bit far off, but then I start reading and it is the only place I want to be. She is a transporting writer. Her settings are very real and atmospheric. Her characters, while not always likeable, feel like people that exist in this world. 

After spending time at The Glass Hotel I want to travel to Vancouver Island, visit Toronto, and wander around New York. I wanted to spend time with Vincent, just for a day. Basically I wanted to spend a day in the life of The Glass Hotel. Not the days I did experience as a college student during the 2008 financial crisis, but a day in the world of these characters, I wanted to experience it through their eyes.

Clearly I loved this novel. I think everyone should read it. The writing is crisp. The characters are heartfelt but not perfect, and the story is compelling without becoming overwhelming.