Nonfiction — Festive Fun

I think we can all agree that 2020 stunk.  For everyone, everywhere.  But strangely enough, this holiday season, I’ve been excited about the decorating, the cooking, the watching of beloved holiday movies, and the listening to favorite songs.  So I thought what better way to say Happy December than to share some holiday themed books from my personal collection.

The Real Rudolph: A Natural History of the Reindeer by Tilly Smith is an interesting look at an animal that is not well-known outside of it’s native areas.  There’s the biological side explained, as well as a look at the cultural histories of people/reindeer interactions.   Some of Smith’s focus is on the history of and her experiences with Scotland’s famous Cairngorm herd, the only free-roaming reindeer herd in the UK.  A fun, informative read, and a must-read for any animal lover!

Christmas Trees: Fun and Festive Ideas by Peter Cole, Frankie Frankeny, and Leslie Jonath truly is a fun and festive little book.  This how-to handbook is filled with some non-traditional ideas, like a glowing snowball tree, a beachside sand tree, even a tree to make for your fish tank (I’m thinking of making one for my betta’s tank next year using his blue and purple coloring as inspiration).  Added bonus:  recipes to make your own edible tree from brownies, cupcakes, or sugar cookies.

Santa’s North Pole Cookbook by Jeff Guinn offers more than just cookies and cocoa.  Since Santa is a world traveler, this cookbook contains holiday favorites from around the globe and brief histories of the dishes, as well as some insights to various celebrations.  From Sweden to Cuba, India to Mexico, and the places in between, there are recipes for breakfasts, main courses, side dishes, beverages, and, of course, delicious desserts.  While many of the recipes are more festive fare, there are several that can be enjoyed year round, like banana walnut bread, flaming ginger prawns (which I’ve made a few times, minus the gin, thus making them non-flaming but still delicious), Ethiopian chicken stew, corn and tomato casserole (another one I’ve made a few times, especially in the summer with fresh produce), and so much more!   A great cookbook to have on hand, for holidays and daily use.


I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!  Stay safe, Happy Reading, and I’ll be back again in the New Year!

Weekly Mash-Up #100 Getting Festive!

When I started writing this a couple of days ago, I had planned on sharing a festive photo of our Christmas tree.  But, because it’s 2020 and I should know better than to plan anything too far in advance, I will share this instead from one of my all-time favorite shows, Schitt’s Creek

Even with the strangeness of 2020 I’m still enjoying decorating the house and baking way too many sweets!  Or maybe it’s a much anticipated trip to a real bookstore for my birthday (staying safe, of course! ) that has put me in a good mood.  Like many of you, I haven’t been able to visit the library, let alone a book store, in a looooooong time, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that things work out.   🙂

It’s not that I don’t have a lot to read already on hand though.  Here are my latest…

The Week in Books

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami — 4 out of 5 stars

Anyone familiar with Murakami’s works will know what to expect from this: strangeness abounds, whether it’s murder or sex or leeches raining from the sky.  And I really can’t describe this novel any better than that!  I really liked it, but I honestly don’t know who I would recommend it to.

Christmas Carol Murder by Leslie Meier — 2 out of 5 stars

I’m trying to be nice in these difficult holiday times so I’m not giving this story the negative stars it deserves.  It’s been a few years since I’ve read anything by Meier.  I do remember her using her main character, Lucy Stone, as a personal soapbox in past novels, especially when it came to what made a better mother (if you didn’t breast feed your kid, you were setting them up for failure, for example).  I always shrugged these things off since there was always a decent mystery to solve.  Welllll…that flew out the window with this installment.  This was beyond a minor soapbox issue, this story went full tilt into the world of politics and preaching about politics, and just bitching period, be it about the price of organic carrots or the fact that her POS car could get blown up if she doesn’t confront a suicide bomber.  It would be one thing if the main character wasn’t a pushover nervous Nellie and actually had some semblance of common sense, but the dialogues and arguments went into the ridiculous area that made me just want to throw this book in the trash.  Needless to say, this series is off of my to-read list for the foreseeable future.

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

Bones Are Made to Be Broken by Paul Michael Anderson — 4.5 out of 5 stars

What an awesome collection from Anderson!  There really is a bit of everything here, including a vampire’s familiar who wants more; a sci-fi ghost story; a haunting tale of two brothers with bleak futures; a mother willing to do anything to save her child from repeating her mistakes.  If you’re looking for haunting, disturbing, and strangely entertaining, you need to read this collection!!

Christmas Cupcakes and a Caper by D.E. Haggerty — 3 out of 5 stars

Not bad, but a quick note to the author:  do not guarantee “100% laughs” on the title page.  That’s just setting yourself up for disaster.  Was it fun? Yeah. Did it make me laugh out loud? Nowhere close.  I’m not sure where the laughs were at—the rape references?  The dumbass bimbo stereotype as a sidekick?  The mystery and writing were decent so I’m giving it a very low 3 stars.

Poetry

Cradleland of Parasites by Sara Tantlinger — 5 out of 5 stars!

I’m going to put this out here now: I am not a poetry connoisseur.   I grew up thinking poetry was stuffy crap we had to study in high school, words that rhymed but were incomprehensible.  But thankfully I was introduced to the good stuff, so to speak, a few years ago by a friend.  And Sara Tantlinger delivers the really good stuff (and my apolgies right now to Ms. Tantlinger, I consider myself pretty well-read but I still don’t know the difference between free verse and narrative, so I’m not sure how to properly describe your poetry! ).  This is a collection of poems that focus on The Black Plague. This is a timely piece of work that made my skin crawl and several days after reading it I am still haunted by the imagery.  This is not for everyone, but one of those works I think everyone should read.  Highly recommend.


And so until next time, stay safe and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #99

It’s December!!  Let’s get festive!!

I’ve spent the days since Thanksgiving cleaning the house and bringing out the Christmas decorations.  I must say, it’s put me in a much better mood than I’ve been in; there’s something about twinkly lights and evergreen boughs that just make me happy this time of year (or at least distract me enough to ignore the bad stuff for a bit).

I took some time on Friday to take advantage of some great Black Friday shopping deals on kindle books!  I picked up several freebies from new-to-me authors (mostly nonfiction and horror), and was super excited to find some of my wish list titles on sale for under $2!  In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt, The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa, The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters, just to name a few!!  I’m thinking of these as some early birthday books and I can’t wait to start them!!

I was going to participate in a readathon over the weekend, but I wound up only getting a couple of hours of reading time.  *Sigh* Next time for sure!!  But even with the busy holiday cooking, cleaning, and decorating, I was able to finish a few stories.

The Week in Books

The Red Door by Charles Todd — 3 out of 5 stars

With the exception of the Sue Grafton alphabet series, I have a tendency to pick up a multi-book mystery series in random order.  When I can pick up a new-to-me series in the middle and feel comfortable with the characters and ongoing situations, then I will continue to go back and read more.  Sadly, this was not the case with The Red Door.  I almost DNF’d in the first twenty pages or so because of the sheer amount of characters introduced and ambiguous references to things I’m still not clear on!  The mystery itself was pretty good, and the writing was fine, but this is definitely one of those series that you need to start from the beginning to fully understand and appreciate.

Children of the Miracle by Daniel Weisbeck — 3 out of 5 stars

One hundred years after a plague nearly wipes out civilization, a potential cure is in the works involving the mixing of animal and human DNA.  The premise of this story got my inner sci-fi nerd super excited (even though the whole plague thing hits a little too close to home at the moment).  The attention to detail in the science aspect was great, both believable and coherent.  However…I just wish the same attention would have been paid to developing the characters and action sequences.  By the mid-point, the narrative began to feel stilted and the characters all seemed to blend together.  The storyline still intrigues me enough to want to continue the series, hopefully with more fleshed-out characters and  action in the future.

Novellas, Short Stories, and Anthologies

Boo and the Boy by Wayne Barrett — 5 out of 5 stars!

This was listed as horror but it’s not (unless fairies and wise-cracking rattlesnakes terrify you).  This fable-like short story actually had this cynical old heart breaking a bit at the end.  Highly recommend.

The Final Haunt by R.J. Spears — 4 out of 5 stars

The title of this nine page kindle freebie pretty much sums this up.  Think of it as a very condensed ’80’s slasher movie!


I hope you all are safe and well.  Until next time, wear a mask, and Happy Reading!

December — Cozy Christmas

It’s December!  Time to sit back, relax a bit, and hopefully put aside the crappy feelings that were a staple of 2020 (at least for a little bit).  My reading tastes this month are pretty simple:  holiday-themed cozy mysteries!

I’ve read a few of Leslie Meier’s holiday-inspired cozies featuring small town journalist and aspiring sleuth Lucy Stone.  This one sounds like it has a bit of A Christmas Carol vibe so it should be fun reading.

I also have some holiday cozies lined up on my kindle, including The Silence of the Elves by Beth Muldoon and Christmas Cupcakes and a Caper by D.E. Haggerty.  Bring on the eggnog!

I am also hoping to finish a couple of my current reads, which are titles I chose for my “20 To Read In 2020”.  They are novels that require my full attention, though, so we’ll see what my reading mood is as the month goes on.

Goodreads Group Reads

Two books from my Goodreads groups stand out this month, both I highly recommend.

If you are a fan of historical fiction/literature, A Gentleman in Moscow is definitely worth checking out.  It’s one of those quiet, unassuming novels that sweeps you back in time and helps you forget the present.

 The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is what I would categorize as magical realism, with a fairy tale-like quality.  A beautiful and poignant story that fits in well with the holiday season.


Here’s to finding some fun reading for December, I think we all deserve it!

Stay safe, wear a mask, and Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash_up #98 Happy Thanksgiving

It’s a couple of days early, but to everyone celebrating Thanksgiving (SAFELY!!!!) on the 26th, I say to you, that no matter what…

Sure, it’s going to be different this year for many of us, but what’s one Thanksgiving compared to the ongoing health of your loved ones??  Is Aunt Shirley’s root vegetable cheesecake and Uncle Earl’s drunken rants about the latest conspiracy theories really worth risking your health?  Of course, I can’t answer that for you, and I can’t hand out common sense.  But I truly hope everyone celebrating will stay safe…and thanks to zoom, you can still listen to your drunken uncle’s rants (and your stomach will thank you for not having to sample the questionable cheesecake).

Even though 2020 has been “a giant dumpster fire” (thanks to Tosh.O for the perfect synopsis!), I have still found things to be thankful for.  Family and good friends of course.  The love and companionship of my dogs and cats.  The knowledge that I still have the strength to find good hidden in a giant crap pile of bad.  Homemade raspberry jam.

But I think I’m most thankful for the bookish community.   To my fellow bookdragons, those I’ve known for years and those I’ve only just met, whether you are a fan of romance or horror, whether you review or write or just simply share with me your love of reading, you’ve helped me to keep my focus and my sanity this year, and for that I want to say thank you and much love to you all.

The Week in Books

Wormwood by Chad Lutzke and Tim Meyer — 4.5 out of 5 stars

Rounded up to 5 stars on Goodreads.    As you all know, I love me some Lutzke, so when I heard this new story was going to be a part of my November NightWorms package, I was beyond excited!  This is one of those stories that I could feel the vibes from the two authors (Lutzke does more emotional horror while Meyer is known for his pretty graphic scary stuff), but that doesn’t take away from the story…and if I didn’t just spoil that for you, you probably never would have known…sorry!!!  A coming of age story where who you pick as your friend really does have consequences.  Probably not for everyone but I highly recommend.

The Things That Last Forever by Peter W.J. Hayes — 4.5 out of 5 stars

Rounded up to 5 for Goodreads.

Vic Lenoski is a cop with a gravely injured partner, a missing daughter, a marriage on the rocks, and a need to find answers.  Taking matters into his own hands, he follows some leads to North Dakota, where he will face the blurred lines between right and wrong.

This novel has everything I love about a good thriller/mystery, from solid characters to head-spinning twists.  Although I hadn’t read the first two books in the series, the author provided enough back-story to inform me without bogging down the narrative. I really have no complaints about this one; highly recommend.

Trial By Fire:  A Devastating Tragedy, 100 Lives Lost, and a 15-Year Search For the Truth by Scott James — 4 out of 5 stars

I will be writing a review of this and a similar book, Killer Show by John Barylick, in February 2021, the morbid anniversary of the deadliest rock show in American history.   I will say this now though:  if you read true crime or have an interest in how screwed up certain laws are, or just want to read some truly amazing survivor stories, you can’t go wrong with Trial By Fire.


Respect your fellow humans…wear a fucking mask!!

Until next time, Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #97 Has It Been Two Years Already?!?!

Yes, believe it or not, this week (the 18th to be precise) marks my 2 year blog-aversary!!!

I wish I could tell you I’ll be hosting zoom interviews with favorite authors, or giving away books but, well, yeah, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

However, I look forward to continuing to share my love of books, no matter the genre, and letting you know exactly how I feel about every book I read.  And most importantly, I look forward to talking to YOU!!  Please feel free to share your thoughts on whatever books I profile, or just stop by to say hi!!  I truly look forward to hearing from you!!

The Week in Books

Jedi Summer With the Magnetic Kid by John Boden — 4.5 out of 5 stars

Part of my November NightWorms package, this little novella truly hit a few of my usually numb nerves.  John Boden is quickly becoming one of my go-to fan grrrrl authors as he knows how to create characters and scenarios that not only resonate with those of us of a certain age but also for those too young to know why White Snake’s video was the hottest thing ever made.  This is one of those heart-breaking coming of age stories that also incorporates some supernatural aspects, and I loved all of it.  Highly recommend.

Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings by Liz Ireland — 4 out of 5 stars

I love cozies that take a different direction, and this one certainly fits the bill!  April finds herself living a fantasy life at the North Pole (well, Santaland to be precise) as Mrs. Claus after a whirlwind romance with Nick Claus.  However, all the sugar plums and spiked eggnog can’t hide the dark side: a murdered elf and a melted snowman, all in the few days before Christmas!  And with Detective Jake Frost (for Pete’s sake don’t call him Jack!!)  on the case, things should get sorted out in quick order, right??   This was a fun, sugary-sweet read that I really needed right now.  If you’re looking for a pun-filled good time to usher in the holidays, I recommend checking this one out.  And I’m looking forward to reading more in this series!    Thanks to Kensington Books and Goodreads for sending me an ecopy for review.


I’m participating in a read-a-thon this week, I can already tell you I’m excited to share the books I’ve already finished and will be completing by Sunday night!

 

Keep reading to keep your sanity!!  Stay safe, wear a mask, and until next time, Happy Reading!!!

Weekly Mash-Up #96

What a crazy, headache-inducing week…

But for the first time in a long time, some positivity is coming to the surface, and in this hell year of 2020, we should grab every little bit that comes our way.

Surprisingly, I was able to concentrate on reading…at least for short spurts here and there!

The Week in Books

Miami Noir: The Classics — 4.5 out of 5 stars

I’ve had the pleasure of reading 30+ books in the Akashic Noir series, and this one is definitely in my top 5!!  Classic is the name of the game, with stories from 1925 up to 2006.  The variety is great, from gumshoe-type tales to spousal revenge.  And let’s not forget the amazing lineup of authors including Edna Buchanan, Elmore Leonard, Zora Neale Hurston, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Vicki Hendricks, John Dufresne…..you get the idea.  Whether you’ve read other titles in the series or this is your first one, I highly recommend it!

Handling the Undead by John Ajvide Lindqvist — 4 out of 5 stars

Lindqvist brings us the human side of zombies in this novel, raising the question, “What would you do if your cherished loved one came back from the dead?”  Not really an easy one to answer.  The story does meander at times, but offers a different take on the zombie trope…and a strange twist that ties it all together.  There are some icky moments, but if you’re looking for a milder form of zombie story, give this one a try.

Old School by Tobias Wolff — 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is what I consider a “quiet” novel, and something that I embraced after the stress of the past week.  It’s a well written tale of a teen trying to fit in at a prestigious boarding school, with the main focus on trying to win a coveted spot with a favorite author who will be visiting the school and picking a winning story from the students.  I’m a fan of Wolff’s writing, and while I don’t rank this one among my favorites of his (probably because I’m  still in a reading funk since March!!   🙂   ), I do recommend it, especially if you are new to his works.


Stay safe and sane, and Happy Reading!

 

Weekly Mash-Up #95

Another Halloween in the books, and I can say this literally, haha!  I managed to meet my personal goal of reading 31 Halloween-inspired books (see my #31 below) and enjoyed a quiet weekend watching movies and reading.

Then there’s tomorrow.

I am posting this on the eve of the November 3 US Presidential elections.  I vowed to keep my blog politic-free when I started it, but I have to tell you all, for the first time with such an election I am truly scared.  No matter the outcome, there will be fallout for months, if not years.  I’m going to try to stay off of social media and avoid news channels tomorrow, watch some of my favorite sitcoms I have on DVD, and only come out of my self-imposed shelter when I have to.  **Deep breath**

But enough about the bad, lets focus on some good!!!

The Week in Books

The Dark Game by Jonathan Janz — 4 out of 5 stars

Book 31 of my Halloween challenge, I finished this around noon on Halloween!  One thing I love about Jonathan Janz is seeing him grow as an author.  While I didn’t really care for The Sorrows, one of his earlier works involving a bunch of people staying at a haunted castle on a remote island, The Dark Game (which has a bunch of people on a writer’s retreat/contest at a remote castle-like mansion in the woods) is so much better in so many ways.  Sure, there are the usual stereotypes, what horror story doesn’t have those, but they weren’t as cartoony (for lack of a better word) and the evil aspect was much more interesting.  Great read for Halloween!

Purple People by Kate Bulpitt — 3.5/4 out of 5 stars

3.5 stars, rounding up.  The UK government is turning criminals who engage in anti-social behavior purple, and Eve Baxter, a journalist with a tabloid-like news agency in the States, returns to her hometown to figure out the how and why behind the purpling.      There was a lot I enjoyed about this book, from the wit, the satire, and the prose.  What brought it down for me (and this is all personal opinion and nothing to do with the author’s writing) was the random focus on lost love opportunities.  It seemed like every time I came across a two page paragraph focusing on this, my mind would shut down and I would put the story away for several days.  Other than my own personal tics with the storyline, I thought this was well-written, entertaining, and great at social commentary without shoving it down the reader’s throat.  Recommend.

A Sick Gray Laugh by Nicole Cushing — 3 out of 5 stars

Not since Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves have I been so utterly confused, yet strangely fascinated, with a book.  I can’t begin to explain this book, other than there are three distinct parts, and you’re basically reading a story as told by a mentally ill person spiraling into psychosis.  If you like a challenge, you might want to try this one.

Short Stories, Novellas, and Anthologies

Halloween is a great day to find horror freebies, and while it’s been hit or miss in the past, I managed to find some diamonds in the rough…

The Dark Side of the Room by Tyler Jones — 4 out of 5 stars

First, I want to thank BookDad Andrew for promoting this free novella on Halloween, I am now looking for anything written by this author!!  It’s a story about the descent into madness, or is it?  What’s real and what’s part of the dark corner??  I can’t describe this one in the way it deserves so I’ll just say read it and let me know what you think!!

Dollhouse by JC Bratton — 4 out of 5 stars

A man buys an antique dollhouse, complete with three dolls and a handwritten journal telling their eerie tales.  Only 25 pages long, this short story intrigued me and has me hoping Bratton will be writing longer stories in the future.  I saw a lot of potential in these tales and wished they were a bit longer to really create the creepy doll feel.

Sour Milk:  A Short, Sharp Horror Shock by Morgan Delaney — 4 out of 5 stars

An orphanage/school run by a sadistic woman and “Mr. Leonard.”  There’s a definite Psycho vibe going on, and trigger warning for child abuse.  But overall, it was a strange, horrific read and I would recommend it as long as you  make sure to read the author’s notes at the end of the book!!!


Please stay safe, stay healthy, and I will continue to say Happy Reading!!!

November — No Theme But Great Reads

At the end of July, I had my son pick out some books for my August theme, which I then postponed due to, well, shit hitting the fan around here.  Since I didn’t really have a theme set up for November, I thought I’d use my son’s picks for November…

After nearly two months of focusing on horror for my personal Halloween challenge, I have to say I’m really looking forward to these titles!  Ghost Girl and The Red Door are crime fiction/mysteries, both dealing with old crimes brought back to light.  Old School sounds like a nice quiet literary fiction choice, focusing on an out-of-place student at an exclusive prep school and a writing contest.    I asked my son how he decided on these three, the answer was simply “The titles.”  Can’t argue with that!

I’ll also be focusing on some recent giveaway wins, including the anthology Miami Noir: The Classics and Mrs. Claus and the Santaland Slayings (doesn’t that sound like a fun one?!?!)

Goodreads Group Reads

My groups have some great reading choices for November.

These three are ones I’ve read in the past, currently featured in different groups, and I recommend them all.  Fair warning though, The Vegetarian is a bit odd, no, just downright strange, but well worth the read.

Some other titles featured for November that I have put on my personal want-to-read list include:

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig — I really enjoyed Haig’s The Humans, so I can’t wait to read this fantasy about the universal library that holds all of our stories, even those not chosen, and raises the question “Would you be willing to change/redo your life?”

In My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg — If my local library hold on this wasn’t months long I would read this tomorrow.  And this coming from me, a person who avoids political-based memoirs as often as possible.  But I think this may be a book that, in this day and age, really needs to be read by everyone.


So what will you be reading in November?  Do you have a list or are you just taking it day by day?  Feel free to drop me a line and let me know, I love seeing what everyone is reading!  Until next time, stay safe, stay healthy, and for my American friends with the upcoming presidential election, please stay sane and get out there and vote!!!!

Happy Reading!

Weekly Mash-Up #94

It’s almost here, the most haunting day of the year!

And I’m not talking about the presidential election!!

Our plans may be minimal (carving pumpkins, watching scary movies, eating candy and making caramel popcorn), but they will keep us entertained.  Added bonus is turning the clocks back one hour to standard time–an extra hour of sleep!!

The Week in Books

Finders Keepers by Stephen King — 4 out of 5 stars!

It wouldn’t be the Halloween season without a Stephen King novel thrown in the mix.  It’s been a while since I read Mr. Mercedes, the first in this trilogy, so I was worried I may have forgotten some key elements.  But not to fear, this is it’s own story, just with some of the main, unforgettable characters from the first book.  Fast paced, with the lurking evil and fiendish twists that makes King the master of the genre.  (28/31)

The Malan Witch by Catherine Cavendish — 3.5 out of 5 stars

This witchy novella started out great.  Cavendish does a wonderful job of bringing to life the isolated location (you can almost smell the salt water and feel the wind).   But, as things moved along and strange occurrences started popping up, it felt like it was written by a different person.  The conversations were abrupt and at times felt a bit off, and the little details that sucked me into the story at the beginning pretty  much disappeared.  In short, everything started to feel rushed and unfinished, and at the end I was left scratching my head over a few things (especially the disappearance of a certain character.  Why not more behind that?).  My copy was labeled as 2nd revision so I don’t know if any more was changed or if this was the final copy.  I do recommend giving this a try, though, especially if you’re looking for a dark tale for Halloween but without the blood and gore of other horror stories.  (29/31)

When the Lights Go Out – Ink Slinger’s Halloween Anthology — 3 out of 5 stars

One thing I love about anthologies is the diversity of authors and writing styles that are showcased in one book.  I was a bit confused with this one though.  Some of the stories were written like they were aimed at Middle Grade or YA readers, then suddenly there’s a story featuring weird beastiality or extreme violence.  Overall, of the 25 stories, I found only a couple to be in the 4-star range, most were 3, with several 2’s mixed in.  Not terrible, but not something I would recommend.  (30/31)


Ooooh, do you see that?  Only one more book to meet my goal of 31 books for Halloween!!  Hmmm, will Jonathan Janz’s The Dark Game be the one?  Or will Brian Keene’s The Ghoul come from behind?  Or will I go a totally different direction?????  Stay tuned…….Happy Reading!