Sunday, June 28, 2020

Catching up on Book Reviews...

One would think with a pandemic going on that I would have tons o' time for reading, but, unfortunately, this has not been the case. Perhaps it's the time I've been investing in our homebrew of Dungeons and Dragons with a strong whiff of Elder Scrolls (we are playing our twentieth session this afternoon!). But it's been more a mental laziness.

I've been pushing myself through teaching my classes, finding concentrating difficult and time-consuming. I adore my students and love my classes, but just everything is taking more effort. Even reading. I am in a re-reading kind of mood, wanting something familiar rather than new to read. I've been depending on Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) and historical mystery series for the most part, but even these familiar characters are a bit of a challenge.

I find myself watching too much CNN and MSNBC on YouTube, then turning to re-runs of Critical Role's second D&D campaign (and the first new episode to stream in over one hundred days is due out this Thursday!). So I got real and reduced my Goodreads Reading Goal for 2020 from 80 (I read 96 books in 2019) to 50 which will likely still be a stretch as I have only read 17 or 18 books thus far.

Here are some thoughts about books I read earlier in the year and posted on Goodreads. I'm not posting many full reviews this year--mostly just giving a book its rating and the dates I read it, and then I move on. Ugh! I hope that the brain fog will clear and I can once again have my usual somewhat scattered but always book-hungry mind back for the second half of 2020.

To Conquer Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Variation To Conquer Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Variation by Jennifer Altman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful variation of Austen's most popular novel finds Darcy and Elizabeth encountering one another at an inn during a snowstorm. When the coach sent by Elizabeth's uncle does not arrive because of snowy conditions after she sent off the conveyance provided by the Collinses, Mr. Darcy offers her a ride in his carriage so that she doesn't have to face staying in the inn by herself. But the snow doesn't stop even for Fitzwilliam Darcy, and from this point, drama ensues.

Jennifer Altman provides a lovely tale of Elizabeth's growing regard for Mr. Darcy after she comes to know him much better during their stay in an empty hunting cottage after a serious accident with Darcy's carriage. The novel is very well-written, and the pacing is just right. I am often frustrated by some Austen variations (including Austen's original novel) for not giving us readers enough time to enjoy Darcy and Elizabeth as a couple before the novel ends. But this novel provides plenty of time to enjoy the love of Darcy and Elizabeth which is highly satisfying.

A Pressing Engagement A Pressing Engagement by Anna Lee Huber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An intriguing novella, popping into the Lady Darby mystery series between Books 4 and 5. This one relates the engagement of Kiera to the man she first despised and then grew to love: a man of secrets hidden so deeply that Kiera couldn't help but wonder if she would ever really know the enigmatic yet oh-so-charming man she had agreed to marry.

But Kiera, despite knowing that her soon-to-be second husband is nothing like her first, the cruel Lord Darby who had forced her to use her considerable artistic talents to illustrate his anatomy textbook--the only reason he married her. Under threat of his breaking her fingers so that she could never hold a paintbrush again, Kiera reluctantly creates the illustrations for the well-known anatomist's textbook, gaining much knowledge of death and murder as a result.

While this knowledge proves invaluable in her partnership as an investigator, it was hard-won at the price of Kiera's ability to trust men. After all, her first husband has seemed perfectly amiable and kind...until they married. Although Kiera knows in her head that her fiance truly loves her, fear does creep in, causing her head knowledge to not quite reach her heart.

Will she be able to marry this man who adores her? Whom she adores? Or will both of their pasts come back to haunt them over and over again?

I am utterly entranced by this historical mystery series set in the early 1830s, and ranging from the wilds of Scotland to Ireland, to England, and even to the London ton. Kiera is a heroine worth knowing: she is intelligent, intuitive, talented, perceptive, and reads people sometimes too well. She knows her weaknesses all too well and hopes that she will not be mistaken in this marriage as she was in her previous one.

But she truly loves her fiance, unlike the mere friendliness she had shared with her first husband who had been chosen by her father. So we hope with Kiera that all will be well in this auspicious marriage!

  As Death Draws Near As Death Draws Near by Anna Lee Huber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now married, Kiera and Gage are forced to leave their honeymoon in the Lake District as Gage is sent by his father, Lord Gage, to investigate the death of a nun in Ireland. Despite the incomplete information provided by Lord Gage, Kiera and Sebastian are on the case almost immediately, but they are also accompanied by the extremely annoying Lothario, Lord Marsdale, who insists on assisting with the case.

Kiera and Gage find themselves in the middle of Irish rebellion against the English who are taxing the Irish above and beyond what is usual. Secret passages, secret cousins, secret relationships--all make Gage and Kiera's investigation fraught with danger.

It's another amazing mystery featuring Lady Darby--now Mrs. Gage, and Sebastian Gage, truly partners in marriage as well as in solving crime.

A Brush with Shadows A Brush with Shadows by Anna Lee Huber
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Forced to leave Ireland in a rush at the behest of Gage's grandfather, Gage and Kiera now travel to Dartmoor, to the home where Gage was raised and has not returned to in fifteen years, since the burial of his mother.

Gage has been estranged from his mother's family: his grandfather (his mother's father), his cousins Alfred and Rory, and his widowed aunt Vanessa. So this request to come to the moors from his grandfather is not welcome, but out of duty, they travel as quickly as they can from Ireland.

Mysteries abound. Gage's elder cousin, his grandfather's heir, has been missing for ten days, and it isn't clear whether he is in hiding or if something has happened to him. Gage is on edge constantly, arguing with his bedridden grandfather, his haughty and mean-spirited aunt who seems quite upset at Alfred's disappearance, and his rollicking cousin Rory who seems much more responsible than his missing elder brother, the heir.

The curse of Gage's family, the danger of the moors, and the feeling of being distinctly unwelcome despite Lord Tavistock's request for their presence, all combine to create a prickly feel to daily life in the beautiful old home. But does more danger lie in wait for both Kiera and for Gage?

Another edge-of-the seat read, courtesy of Anna Lee Huber and the Lady Darby mysteries!!

A House of Ghosts A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is an incredible read. Part classic British country house mystery, part World War I spy story, part exploration of the paranormal, and part romance, I was extremely disappointed that this author apparently has not published any other books. The balance of all of these genres is exquisite and compelling. The switching of third-person point-of-views throughout the novel is smooth and extremely insightful; I felt as if I received the whole story. By retaining the third-person point-of-view, the writing style remains smooth and consistent while providing enlightening details from various characters' viewpoints.

I rarely give "5" ratings to books that are not classics by Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, and the Bröntes, but this book was definitely a "5" on my scale. It's a complex novel while remaining clear and concise, and was extremely difficult to put aside and go to sleep at night; I'd rather keep reading. Truly, an extraordinary novel, and I truly hope it is the first of a series as the ending may suggest.

Let me know what you're reading this summer!!!

Reading with you (at least a little),


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