Monday, July 9, 2018

What I Read in June

LO has inherited both my love for reading and the inability to hear anyone coming while reading, resulting in many startled glances, such as this one.

June was...tough. There was just so much bad news in the world and so many heartbreaks and horrors, and I wish I could have spent more time lost in a good book. 

June also coincided with one of my regular book ruts. I get these fairly regularly, when I simply cannot force myself to read something new, and so I look back to old favorites to reread. My problem with book ruts is that I often get stuck rereading the same books over and over until old favorites have become dry as sawdust and I can squeeze no more pleasure from them.

I used to be very ashamed of my book rut rereading habit, but I've come to realize that it's part of what made me a writer. By rereading books until I have them nearly memorized, I have given myself a class in how stories are constructed. But I still get annoyed at myself for being bored with old favorites and unwilling to try something new.

All that said, I did read a decent number of books in June (in between my ruts)--just nothing like my January and February records. And if you discount rereading old books (which I do), I have continued my streak of only reading books by women authors throughout 2018. I'm pleased with that, although I would like to be reading more authors of color. White women writers are very much within my comfort zone, so I can't pat myself on the back too much for a reading list that is 90% white women authors overall (and 100% white women authors in June).

So here's what I read in June:

31. Life Skills for Adult Children by Janet Woititz and Alan Garner

I am a fan of advice columnists, and have been for pretty much my entire life. I used to read Dear Abby and Ann Landers every day, and I love the excruciatingly polite snark that Miss Manners has managed to perfect. But my favorite advice columnist, by far, is Carolyn Hax.

And Hax is the reason why I read this book. She has recommended it many many times over her advice-giving career, along with The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. I read The Gift of Fear several years ago and found it incredibly insightful and helpful in navigating the world, so I thought I'd get a similar level of insight from Lifeskills.

As it turns out, I really didn't need to read this book. I knew everything the authors discussed, and I was a little overwhelmed to realize there were adults out there who did not know these things. For that reason alone, I'm glad I read it. This will help me to be more sympathetic and forgiving of people who do not know how to navigate social situations and other interpersonal relationships. They truly may not know how.

Started: May 31, 2018
Finished: June 2, 2018

32. The Last Necromancer by C.J. Archer

I straight up HATED this book. As in, wanted to throw something; wanted to call up C.J. Archer and ask her what was wrong with her; wanted to scrub the vestiges of this book from the earth; HATED it.

You may recall that I absolutely loved The Watchmaker's Daughter series by this same author earlier this year. I was casting about for a new audio book to listen to, and I saw that the first three books of this ten (TEN!!) book series were packaged together on Audible and could be purchased for a single credit. So I bought the three-book package and got started.

I really liked the beginning of the book. Charlie/Charlotte Holloway is 18 years old and has lived on the streets of 1880s London for five years, surviving by disguising herself as a boy. She was thrown out of her father's house for accidentally bringing her mother back from the dead, because Charlie is a necromancer. So far, so good. Gritty London setting, dark magic, and a heroine who is a born survivor--these are all like my catnip.

Then Charlie is kidnapped by the "hero" Lincoln Fitzroy, who is the head of the Ministry of Curiosities. Their mission is to protect England from magical threats, and they need Charlie to help them locate a dangerous man who wants to use her necromancy to create a zombie army.

Again, this would not have been a problem, except that Fitzroy is an abusive, gaslighting, power-hungry asshole from beginning to end. Charlie repeatedly states that she has no interest in helping the Ministry and would just like her freedom, please and thank you. It doesn't take long for Fitzroy to discover she is a woman. When he does, he's so furious he walks in on her naked (that's NOT how he figured it out) and completely humiliates her.

He then dresses her as a woman and takes her to Whitechapel (where the Ripper murders were) and drops her off with no money and none of her protections that she counted on while on the streets. He hires someone to scare her to convince her to come back to his "protection" and the vagrant he hires actually tries to rape her, although he "rescues" her by killing the would-be rapist in the nick of time.


By the end of the book, he offers her the chance to continue to live in his house, working AS A MAID! There is absolutely nothing wrong with that kind of work, but it just further entrenches the power differential between these characters, and I cannot imagine how anyone could feel happy flutters over a man who has done all of these things. Yes, he stops another Ministry board member from beating Charlie, but absence of specific kind of cruelty is not the same thing as kindness or decency.

This book was so bad that I returned the three-book package to Audible to get my credit back, and I started rethinking whether or not The Watchmaker's Daughter was as good as I thought. (India and Matt are equals in those books, thank heaven, and Matt is not a sociopath.)

I'd advise you not to read this book, except that I'd love to have someone who will rage-complain about it with me.

Started: June 12, 2018
Finished: June 15, 2018

33. Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

This was my book club's June reading pick. It was, in a word, delightful. The Waverly family is magical, and everyone has a different gift. 

Claire can make people feel things with her cooking. She can help you to remember a happy time or see things from a different point of view. 

Her sister Sydney can tell what kind of person you are based on your haircut. She's also gifted at creating the hairstyle that will most suit you. 

Cousin Evanelle has the best gift of all. She gives people things right before they need them. She comes to Claire's house with an extra set of sheets and a box of strawberry Pop-Tarts just before Sydney arrives home for the first time in 10 years, with her 5-year-old daughter Bay in tow. Evanelle gives another character a quarter the day before she finds herself needing to make an emergency phone call from a pay phone. I loved reading about Evanelle's gifts. She never knew why her recipients would need her gifts--she just felt compelled to give them, and they always turned out to be exactly what was needed.

Finally, 5-year-old Bay has the gift of knowing where things belong, which means I could use her in my storage closet.

My book club is a romance book club (The Book Club for Feminist Fans of Romantic Fiction is our official title), and this book is technically a romance. Both Claire and Sydney end up with guys at the end. But the male characters were so much less fleshed-out than the women (and girl) that I didn't really pay much attention to them. For me, it was all about the family love among the Waverly women, and their unique magical gifts.

Started: June 16, 2018
Finished: June 18, 2018

34. The Fifth Doll by Charlie N. Holmberg (Despite her masculine name, this author is also a woman)

I was on my way home from a conference and needed a new audiobook to listen to when I found this one while scrolling through Audible in the airport. This book was really wonderful, although the ending had aspects that were a little tough to wrap my head around. (The explanation of the magic wasn't totally clear, but it didn't really matter).

Matrona is a 26-year-old woman in a small village in rural Russia. She has just gotten engaged to the butcher's son and isn't quite sure how she feels about it, because she has an intense crush on Jaska who is only 19 years old and whom she used to babysit. 

One day, she discovers a cache of nesting dolls in the house of Slava, the local tradesman, who is the only villager who has ever left the town. Each of the dolls looks like one of the villagers, and when Matrona handles her father's doll, she comes home to find him acting strangely. Slava ends up letting her know that the dolls are connected to each villager, and asks her to open her doll. When she does, everyone in the village suddenly knows her secrets, including her longing for Jaska. Things get weirder from there.

I really appreciated the way the love story between Matrona and Jaska played out. It is unusual to see an older woman in love with a younger man (although Jaska fails the half-your-age-plus-seven  rule for dating someone younger than you). I also liked that Jaska had not thought of Matrona that way until her secrets are revealed by opening the doll. It felt realistic for him to come to recognize how much he liked her once he knew she liked him. (As much as a book about magical nesting dolls can be realistic). 

As I said, the magic logic falls down a little bit at the end, but I was enjoying myself so thoroughly that I didn't really care. I'll definitely be reading more by Charlie N. Holmberg. (And hopefully she won't pull a C.J. Archer on me.)

Started: June 29, 2018
Finished: June 29, 2018

What did you read in June?


  1. I love the Waverly family!

    I get in reading ruts too. The thing that is guaranteed to keep me in one is trying too hard to get out of one.

    1. You just blew my mind about what keeps me in a book rut.

      I think that's what happens to me, too, but I never really realized it.

  2. I really enjoyed Garden Spells when I read it a few years ago and I need to pick up more by that author.

  3. Havent heard of any of these but they sound interesting!

  4. oh no, bummer about the C.J. Archer book! i think i added the other series after you recommended it. i hate when that happens! garden spells is on my list!

  5. I LOVED SARAH ADDISON ALLEN! I've enjoyed every book I've read by her but Garden Spells is definitely my favorite. I love the magical realism :)

  6. I really enjoyed Garden Spells! The Fifth Doll sounds like a good read.

  7. You know one reason why we're friends? Because you feel as passionately as I do about books and do not mince words when you hate one of them.

    1. Aw, thanks! In some ways, it's almost more fun to hate a book for this blogging project. Almost.

  8. Book ruts happen, but it took me a while to accept that too. Interesting to read that you don't "count" re-reads; neither do I, but that seems an uncommon opinion.

  9. I've had Garden Spells sitting on my bedside table for way too long! I need to pick it up soon because it sounds like such a good book!