Tag Archives: 2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge: Jane Austen Related

You’ve all been lovely about my inundation of book-related posts but I am going to put you through one more: the best and worst Jane Austen related books of 2019. Because here is a fact: if there is one saturated genre, it is the spin-offs, reimaginings, and retellings of Jane Austen’s works. And I read a lot of them this past year. So here are a few of my favorite and least favorites from the past year that maybe did not make 5 stars, but proved memorable. 

Listed from best to worst: 

  1. Pemberley: Mr. Darcy’s Dragon by Maria Grace (a surprisingly delightful P&P retelling starring dragons!)
  2. Longbourn: Dragon Entail by Maria Grace (sequel to Pemberley) 
  3. Netherfield: Rogue Dragon by Maria Grace (final book in the trilogy) 
  4. Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin (P&P with a Muslim twist. Keep your eye out for a longer blog post contrasting this one with Unmarriageable and Pride and Prejudice and Other Flavors)
  5. Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal (P&P in Pakistan)
  6. Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale (sequel to Austenland and better than the original but not as good as the movie)
  7. The Jane Austen Handbook by Margaret C. Sullivan (good beginner read but gives advice like the author is Caroline Bingley which is weird.)
  8. All Roads Lead to Austen: A Year-long Journey with Jane Austen by Amy Elizabeth Smith (an interesting premise–American professor leading Austen book-clubs in South America–but execution fell flat) 
  9. Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken (basically Mansfield Park 2.0 but with a gutsier heroine)
  10. An Assembly Such As This by Pamela Aidan (P&P from Darcy’s POV)
  11. First Impressions: A Tale of Less Pride & Prejudice by Alexa Adams (imagine Darcy and Elizabeth did not take an instant dislike to one another. What would happen?! With this plot, nothing interesting.) 
  12. Murder at Mansfield Park by Lynn Shepherd (took forever to get murdering!) 
  13. A Weekend With Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly (hated it)
  14. Bespelling Jane Austen by Mary Balogh and others (4 short stories–1 decent, the others trash)
  15. The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn (see my 1 star posts)
  16. Undressing Mr. Darcy by Karen Doornebos (so bad I did not finish)

Cozy and Popular How?!: My 1 Star Reads from 2019 (Part 4)

LAST ONE I PROMISE. 

The Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig

An expanded universe where the Scarlet Pimpernel retires and the Purple Gentian and Pink Carnation take over as British spies in post-revolutionary France? Um, yes. But alas, no. The story switches between a pointless side story about a modern day woman working on her PhD trying to undercover the identity of the Pink Carnation and actual story of the Pink Carnation. The former bored me. The latter is a trashy, bodice ripping romance novel whose very existence besmirches the name of one of the greatest works in the English language. Poor, maligned Percy. 

The Perfect Kiss by Anne Gracie

I moderately enjoyed the first book in this series and decided to give it one more try with The Perfect Kiss. It sucked. The heroine was fine, I guess, but the lover boy was a pushy jerk who couldn’t take no as an answer. Decent writing could not make up for a trash story. 

The Spy Who Loves Me by Julie Kenner

Walter Mitty meets the female James Bond. They fall in love because reasons. The end. Oh wait, no, there is a Bond level villain who wants to start WWIII because reasons? He has a sexy, evil female sidekick who will try and seduce the main lead because…reasons? The end. No? There is a super predictable mole within the agency that the reader will figure out in chapter 1 because..reasons? None of this made sense.

Tightrope by Amanda Quick

Don’t judge this lovely book by its cover. It is terrible. It cannot make up its mind what year it is set in, the dialogue feels super forced, and the romance is insta-lust. Oh, and it is also book 3 in the series but nothing on the book will inform you of this. Sigh. So pretty. So terrible.

The Duke’s Marriage Mission by Deborah Hale

Take the worst parts of The Secret Garden, add it to the worst parts of Jane Eyre, then multiply by ten. I give you this book. Nothing spectacularly wrong with it but also nothing spectacularly right. The couple’s immediate attraction, stupid misunderstandings, and lame fights left me irritated. And the “moral” of the story (marriage doesn’t mean giving up freedom!) came as subtle as a fence post to the head.

Temple of the Dawn by Anne Hampson

I wanted to find some books set in Bangkok, Thailand and I found it surprisingly challenging to do so. This book did not actually disappoint me much there. It was fun reading about places I’ve visited. But the romance! The romance was beyond terrible. I almost did not finish with 6 pages to go. The climax/conclusion of the book was so out of nowhere that to even hint at it would be a big spoiler. But if you want the spoiler, check out my full review on Goodreads and avoid this one.

 


Cozy and Popular How?!: My 1 Star Reads from 2019 (Part 3)

In which I pay penitence by confessing to all the books I finished and hated in 2019. Part 3.

How To Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn

I won’t repeat my Goodreads rant about novels that create heroes only barely better than villains but I will say that this otherwise mediocre Regency romance irritated the snot out of me with an entitled jerk for a hero who rages until the heroine agrees to wed him. 

Starting Now by Debbie Macomber

I really need to take a vow not to read any more books that have a female attorney as the main character. They are universally terrible. This was a mediocre read that jumped right onto my “hate” list by having a stereotypical female attorney as the main character and tackling questions about career and motherhood with a heavy-handed horribleness that left me wanting to go work more billable hours. Awkward and overdone and all the romances sucked.

Naughty Neighbor by Janet Evanovich

I give the relationship a year. I thought maybe I could shuffle this one under 2 or 1.5 stars but the ending just left me gagging. The “political thriller” bit totally fell apart. The relationship itself is all lust and hormones. It won’t last. And if it does? Well, I’d be sad for the heroine. She gets the short end of the deal. She should dump the loser and go to law school. 

The Big Kahuna by Janet Evanovich

Despite the fact that Evanovich appears on this list twice, I actually was really enjoying her Fox and O’Hare series. They consistently received 4 stars from me. Then this book happened. The biggest problem? This is a heist series but this is not a heist book. The jokes fall flat and the characters pretend like the last two books never happened. Evanovich switched co-writers for this one and I’m wondering if that is where it went wrong. 

Rumble on the Bayou by Jana Deleon

In general I enjoy Jana Deleon’s cozy mysteries but this one fell quite flat. It is basically a reverse Louisiana Longshot. Instead of a female government agent in a small Louisiana town sparking up a romance with the overly qualified and good looking male deputy, it is a male government agent in a small Louisiana town sparking up a romance with an overly qualified and good looking female deputy. Even the towns come across interchangeably. Except where Louisiana Longshot keeps things lighthearted and funny with a series of quirky side characters, Rumble on the Bayou focuses on the couple and not for the better. 

Belle of the Ball by Pam McCutcheon

Her name means beauty but Belle is not beautiful. Her sister’s name means charming but Charisma is not charmig. Her other sister’s name means grace but Grace is not graceful. If that is the kind of heavy-handed characterization you like, you might like this book. It is full of on-the-nose plot points and awkward, overstated jokes. The best thing this book has going for it is its $0 price tag. 

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray

All the technical plot points are there to make this an exciting, fun adventure story but it falls quite short. The problems are twofold: annoying characters and unclear plotting. The heroine demonstrates all of two reactions at any given moment: seasickness or judgment. She’s got the soul of a poet but keeps it firmly in place in case she finds herself tempted to crack a smile. She is joined on her journey by the sort of person one meets so regularly in fiction and so rarely in real life: the irresistible man. And that is about all the depth his character has. Wrapped up with some unclear plot-lines (ghosts? time travel?), this story truly misses the mark.


Cozy and Popular How?!: My 1 Star Reads from 2019 (Part 2)

It is the time of the year where I get revenge on all my least-favorite books! Begin Part 2 of Amy’s Least Favorite Reads of 2019. 

This Pen for Hire by Laura Levine

The minute the heroine explained her name was “Jaine Austen” because her mother loved Jane Austen but couldn’t spell, I knew this wasn’t a mystery for me. But I unwisely kept reading anyway. Jaine likes eating, mocking skinny people, drinking margaritas, and whining about her lack of love life. When not doing any of the above she solves a murder. Her motivation made no sense and I found the book in general really irritating. 

Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

Virginal descendants of Alexander the Great who go around killing unicorns? Heck yeah. If only the plot lived up to its amazing premise. Alas, the execution of the story is rather mediocre. The characters are underdeveloped and the villain downright cartoonish. Finally, a behind-the-scenes rape added solely to push the story along left this book solidly into one star territory. 

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I did not connect with this book on any level. And I feel kind of bummed about that fact. I appreciate the way the author kept certain information and slowly released it. It made me wonder if I somehow missed something but actually I just hadn’t been told it. But that is about the nicest thing I can say about this book.  I did not like the writing; I did not like the commentary about sex. I did not like any of the characters. I didn’t so much hate it as feel generally disappointed and disgusted. 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

So, admittedly, the problem partially lies with me because I was under the impression this was a middle school novel. It most definitely is not. It also contains a whole list of thing I personally dislike: precocious children (à la The Little Prince and Be Frank With Me), child narrators for adult readers, attempted profoundness, confusing plots that jump everywhere, multiple unclear narrators, casual discussion of a sexual encounter, kissing…sisters?, angst, so.much.angst.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

Unfortunately, this book lost me pretty quickly and never regained ground. I stayed perpetually irritated right up until the end. Not even turning the Beauty and the Beast plot into the story of Psyche and Eros (my favoritest myth ever) salvaged it. The hero is as bland as butter. The heroine is a moron who does literally the opposite of what she is told no mater the consequences. Lots of lust-fueled attraction. Not a series I will continue with. 

Bespelling Jane Austen by Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard, & Janet Mullany

Jane Austen retellings with a paranormal twist. The Northanger Abbey retelling was clever. The other three made me want to gouge my eyeballs out with a spoon. Very TMI.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn

So, you are part of an elite team of scientists sending two people into the past to retrieve a long-lost manuscript of Jane Austen’s, do you:

A. Send two people who actually look like the siblings they are posing as
B.  Find two people mature enough not to give into their lust and endanger the entire mission by becoming lovers while posing as siblings
C.  Choose two people who won’t run afoul with the racist and anti-Semitic attitudes of Regency England
D. None of the above

What? None of the above? Well, you would get along fine in this book! The rest of us will stand over here rolling our eyes. 


Cozy and Popular How?!: My 1 Star Reads from 2019 (Part 1)

Did you know the first time I compiled a list of worst reads, I only had five 1-star books? That blows my mind. I have 27 for 2019. Many were cozy mysteries. Many are quite popular with other readers. But while I finished all of them, each definitely earned its place on the list for “Worst Reads of 2019.”

The Unscrupulous Uncle by Allison Lane

It started off promisingly enough. Cinderella-like, the orphaned heroine acts as housekeeper for her garish relations and marries a hero with barely a conversation. If you think I’m giving much away, that’s just the first few chapters. Unfortunately, those were the most interesting chapters in the book. The remainder involves predictable misunderstandings, constant rehashing, and underdeveloped scenes. Most damning of all, the plot sets up the main couple as ‘like brother and sister’ and then spends the rest of the book trying to explain why they actually were never like brother and sister. But the lady protests too much and the result is something much more awkward than it otherwise would have been

To Catch a Bad Guy by Marie Astor

A book that cannot decide which angle it wants to take. It is a legal thriller…no! It is a paper trail of corporate espionage…no! It is a spy story…no! It is a chick flick…no! It is a psychological thriller about really uninteresting characters….nah, I’ve got nothing. While any of those alone might sound interesting, together they create a mishmashed story where every character gets a backstory (no matter how irrelevant their role in the book) and a POV. The main couple’s horrendous insta-love is just icing on the cake. 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke

Joanne Fluke is a fairly iconic cozy mystery writer and I was looking forward to reading her Hannah Swensen series. I barely made it through this one. Disjointed and repetitive, the story hits all the cozy mystery cliches (Midwesterner, small business owner, hassled sister, hints of a love triangle, etc.) without really adding much. The murderer was obvious. I suppose the only thing that makes the book somewhat interesting is the interspersed cookie recipes, but I do not bake so didn’t help much.

The Cinderella Deal by Jennifer Crusie

Basically, your typical opposites attract storyline with main characters suffering from lust and parental issues (not necessarily in that order.) The main character randomly goes on about how much she loves the book of Job (and apparently she has a copy of it lying around? Like, just of the book of Job. Not a Bible) and for a moment I thought maybe I accidentally stumbled into a Christian romance. Then it got super sketch. I skimmed the last quarter. Not worth it. 

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Possibly the most universally popular book I hated this past year. I think I literally liked nothing about this book. The story follows a severely messed up woman who twenty-five years earlier starred at her mother’s murder trial by naming her brother the culprit. When some new evidence crops up, she joins forces with a secret society set on clearing her brother’s name. The story switches from present day to the day of the crime. Despite the interesting premise, I found the book vulgar and excruciatingly boring. The twist further irritated me with its very senseless and pointlessness. 

A Weekend with Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly

I think this book made me hate Jane Austen, just a tiny bit. The premise intrigued me because it involved a professor who loves both Jane Austen and trashy Regencies. So many Jane Austen spinoffs involve heroines who act like they wouldn’t know a Harlequin if it bit them on the bottom. So I figured, worth a shot. But it wasn’t. I hated the insufferable characters, the over-the-top quotations, the ridiculous plot. I hated the predictability of it all. Do yourself a favor and watch the movie Austenland instead. (Or read the book, but the movie is better.)

The Barefoot Princess by Christina Dodd

Been ten months but I still feel the heat of my rage towards this book. Forget setting women back a decade. The Barefoot Princess sets women back to the stone age. The hard part is the book contained enough potential to make me think an actually decent story lay under the surface. The heroine starts off strong and her name is Amy! But the asshole hero and their seriously unhealthy relationship left me disgusted. The conclusion was a travesty. Avoid! For a better book involving a princess named Amy, try The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye.


2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 7 (The Re-Reads)

François Mauriac apparently said, “If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads.”

Well, I don’t know what the list says about me, but I re-read 58 books over the last year. 30 of them were 5-star reads. I’ve decided to provide a list of them. There are too many for a write-up but I recommend them for a good read!

Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Persuasion by Jane Austen
In Another Girl’s Shoes by Berta Ruck
The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer
The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer
False Colours by Georgette Heyer
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
Arabella by Georgette Heyer
These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer
The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer
Sylvester by Georgette Heyer
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
Frederica by Georgette Heyer
Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer
The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer
The Falconer’s Knot by Mary Hoffmann
The Iliad by Homer
The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
Bargain Bride by Evelyn Sibley Lampman
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker
Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diane Peterfruend
Just One Wish by Janette Rallison
Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster
Dear Enemy by Jean Webster


2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 6 (Mary Stewart!)

Some authors woo you slowly. Erudite and witty, you don’t fall at first glance, but you eventually come to love them. Other authors never quite win you. The spark should be there but no matter how many of their books you read, it never becomes more. More rarely, but infinitely precious for it, you fall for an author at first glance and, more marvelously still, stay in love with them past the cover or the opening line.

That would be me and Mary Stewart. It was love at first read and 9 books later, I am still obsessed. 7 of her books got 5-stars from me, the remaining 2 got 4-stars. I decided the five-stars deserved their own blog post. Two caveats: Mary Stewart is mostly known for her Arthurian fantasies. I have not read those yet. I have only read her romantic suspense novels. Second, she writes romantic suspense novels primarily aimed at women. They lack mystery, but they make up for it with awesome, Gothic atmosphere and kick-butt females. So, if you read her books, don’t go in expecting a whodunit. 

That said…I present my favorite books from my favorite ‘new’ author! (But also not so new as she wrote these mainly in the 1950s and ’60s.)

 Madam, Will You Talk? 

WW2 widow Charity Selborne decides to take a leisurely vacation in France to pull the pieces of her broken life back together. When she arrives at her hotel, she befriends a terrified boy on the run from his enigmatic, possibly murderous father. The book is full of eerie settings and long, descriptive passages. Character pause constantly to drink cognac or smoke cigarettes. Yet despite the slow, descriptive nature of the book, it is also an adventure novel and abounds with murderers, neo-Nazis, and exciting car chases. And best of all, you can listen to a brilliant audio version for free on YouTube.

This Rough Magic

When failed actress Lucy Waring agrees to join her sister for a vacation on Corfu, the last thing she expects is to get entangled with murder. Complete with communists, scenic beaches, and loads of Shakespeare quotes, this is probably my favorite Mary Stewart novel.

The Ivy Tree

While on vacation in England, Mary Gray gets accosted by a gentleman who says she looks just like his cousin, Annabel Winslow. Annabel disappeared years ago but her grandfather still refuses to leave his wealthy farm to anyone but her. He asks Mary to pretend to be Annabel and convince their grandfather to leave the farm to him instead. But mystery surrounds Annabel’s disappearance and Mary quickly realizes she might be in over her head.

Nine Coaches Waiting

When Linda Martin first accepts a position as an English-speaking governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, she assumes her ability to speak French won’t matter. But she quickly learns that the Count’s French guardians intentionally advertised for an English speaker and that more is going on than meets the eye. When her young charge nearly dies, she decides it is up to her to save the day.

Airs Above the Ground

Vanessa March quarreled with her husband and now feels dreadful about it. But he’s off on a business trip in Stockholm so there is no use fretting to death…until she sees him in the background of a newsreel at a fire in Austria clutching a very pretty girl. Then all bets are off. And if she happens to get embroiled in the mystery of who set the fire while tracking down her missing husband? Well, that’s just a bonus. 

The Moon-Spinners

Nicola Ferris, secretary at the British Embassy on Crete, decides to take a walking holiday and further explore the beautiful island. But things quickly go awry when she stumbles upon a severely injured man in an abandoned shepherd’s cottage and learns there may be more to the nearby village than meets the eye. 

Touch Not the Cat

Bryony Ashley of Ashley Court has a secret. For as long as she can remember, she has shared a psychic bond with one of her cousins. The problem is, she doesn’t know which one. When her Father dies and leaves her a cryptic warning, she hurries home to find out once and for all who her mysterious ‘lover’ is and what dark secret Ashley Court holds. I particularly enjoyed this one because the whole ‘psychic bond with a stranger’ plot reminded me of Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan which was one of my favorite reads of 2016. 

 

 

(Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BETHANY!!!! ❤ )