31 January 2023

Books Completed Since January 1

book icon  A Memorable Christmas, compiled by Leon R. Hartshorn

book icon  A Sussex Christmas, compiled by Shaun Payne

book icon  Miracle on 34th Street: The Perfect Christmas Classic, from "Life"

book icon  How to Make a French Family A Memoir of Love, Food, and Faux Pas, Samantha Vérant
This is Vérant's sequel to Seven Letters from Paris, about how she eased into life with her new French family: her husband Jean-Luc and his two children, teenage Elvire and ten-year-old Max. They're no sooner back at Jean-Luc's home in France than they discover the house full of fleas from the Bengal cat Samantha bought as a gift for the kids. Soon Samantha has to make friends with her new stepchildren, learn to get along with her French neighbors and in her French neighborhood, learn to cook something everyone will love, and make some friends (she eventually forms a group of women who married French men). Her ingredients for making this work? Communication, friendship, adventure, passion, and love.

I enjoyed this more than the original book, which was full of annoying references to designer clothing, as Sam learns to integrate into her new life in France. Sometimes it's quite funny, and a few times very touching.

book icon  Sword-Bearer, Jennifer Roberson
I was so happy to see another Tiger and Del book after ten years that I pre-ordered it the moment I saw it. I bought Sword-Dancer simply due to the arresting cover and immediately got sucked into the world of the Sandtiger, former slave and now expert sword-dancer, and his counterpart, Del (Delilah) from the north, who became a sword-singer (the northern discipline). Tiger starts out feeling very superior because he's a man, but Del soon puts him in his place; later they become traveling partners, then lovers, then have a child together.

The current story takes place six weeks after the previous book ended, in which Tiger has absorbed the content of a magical book in order that no one else can use it for evil. The pair is raising a lively two-year-old, Sula, plus training Neesha, the adult son Tiger just learned he had, to be a sword-dancer at their training school for the discipline. But Tiger's hidden magic has come to the attention of someone, and now freak weather conditions are striking their home, destroying the nearby town and eventually killing people; to stop the magically-summoned storms they'll have to follow where Tiger's instincts tell them to go. Their odyssey will take them through storms and strange land, including back to Del's old home where the fate of her daughter may hang in the balance.

There's a neat twist at the end of this that makes up for being a bit ambling in the middle. And Roberson says she's thinking of more adventures for them. Yes!

book icon  Le Road Trip: A Traveler's Journal of Love and France, Vivian Swift
After finding Swift's When Wanderers Cease to Roam with her lovely watercolor illos at the book sale last spring, I felt I had to hunt up a decent but inexpensive copy of her book about her honeymoon in France—and it seemed doubly needful since I was in the middle of writing a story that took place in Paris.

This is the story of Vivian and James' honeymoon trip, illustrated with Swift's wonderful watercolor drawings alà Susan Branch, starting with Swift's first trip to France in 1975 and her packing advice, then chronicling life on the road from Paris to Normandy to Brittany to Bordeaux to the Loire Valley to Chartres and finally back to Paris, illos of food, fashions, windows, doors, and most of all the houses and the countryside. If you love watercolors, at like Susan Branch's, and/or France, you will adore this book.

book icon  Loathe to Love You, Ali Hazelwood
Ah, more romantic fluff from Hazelwood, author of The Love Hypothesis and Love on the Brain. Mara, Sadie, and Hannah have been friends since graduate school, even after they go on to their respective scientific professions. In these three novellas collected into one volume, Mara goes to Washington DC to start a job with the EPA and claim the home left to her by her graduate school mentor, except her mentor didn't tell her that half the house was also the property of her nephew Liam, a lawyer for Big Oil; Sadie, an engineer with a green building firm, meets and likes Erik Nowak, a handsome dude who gave up a special croissant for her—until she thinks he's betrayed her, when she decides she will stay far away from him, but they end up trapped in an elevator together; and Hannah, a reluctant student who nevertheless became fascinated with space science and now wants to design exploration vessels for Mars missions. But Ian Floyd (Mara's cousin) seems to be throwing obstacles in her way, and when she goes behind her back to take a research mission to Svalbard, it seems she's come into dangerous waters.

Romantic fluff with science overtones. Some nice smut scenes, but do all of Hazelwood's heroes say nothing but "f*ck" while having sex? And biting your hand to stifle screams during orgasms? Sounds painful.

book icon  Fox and I, Catherine Raven
I usually love nature books, and I love most of this one, but I had some problems with the chapters she wrote from Fox's point of view. For that reason, it took me ages to finish (2 years), spending most of its time waiting for me to pick it up again.

Raven grew up with a neglectful parent who told her right out at age 12 that he couldn't wait for her to leave home. She did so at age 15. Despite this horrible start in life, Raven found work with the National Park Service and eventually gained a PhD in biology, and made a home for herself in the wilderness where she was happiest. One day a fox began appearing on her property at the same time every day. While observing her visitor, Raven and the fox became friends—not that she fed or tried to make a pet of it; instead she tried to imitate his behaviors. And she read to him.

Raven's narrative is best when she's describing her work, nature around her, etc. The parts where she sees herself, the magpies that hang around her cabin, and the territory around her cabin through the fox's eyes come off, to me, as a little "cute," although not "cutesy." I just didn't think it worked well. YMMV. The book is still well worth reading from the nature angle.

book icon  The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish, Katrina Yan Glaser
I've read all the Vanderbeekers books, but this one by far is the best, although I was wondering at the beginning what was going to happen.

It's Papa Vanderbeeker's 40th birthday and the kids (twins Isa and Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney) are ready to party. Before the party Papa and Oliver will be going camping together. Then Papa's best friend in the Midwest loses his mother and Papa must miss the camping trip to help his friend. Oliver's understandably bitter, until Mama's parents arrive and the kids band together against Grandma's constant criticism. Besides, they are planning a great birthday gift: they discovered Papa never went on the college graduation trip planned by his father, known as Pop-Pop, so they're going to find the place he was supposed to go and take him there.

What follows is a chaotic, sometimes sobering, and ultimately heartwarming story as the kids find out more about their paternal grandfather, but also about mysteriously silent Grandpa and grumpy Grandma. There's joy in a subway ride, a bicycle excursion across the Brooklyn Bridge, Oliver and Laney trying to dye their cat to prove they should dye their hair, the discovery of clues in the search for Pop-Pop's past, but mainly in the revelations eventually revealed by their maternal grandparents, which may make you cry. It did me!

Oh, and we finally find out Papa's name, Derek! Have they ever mentioned Mama's name?

book icon  Grace, Mary Casanova
Grace Thomas, who loves to bake like her grandparents who own a bakery, is hoping to earn money during the summer with her two best friends. Then her mom is summoned to Paris to help her pregnant sister who married a French baker and takes Grace with her. Can Grace get along with her cousin Sylvie, who misses her late mother, learn French, help out in her uncle's bakery, and maybe, just maybe, adopt the cute stray French bulldog who's hanging around the bakery?

I grabbed this book basically because I'm writing a story that takes place in France and it looked like it would be a reference to everyday life in France. The phrase book at the end was quite helpful and reminded me that my characters would not get bread and pastries in the same store like they would in Italian bakeries in the U.S. The American Girl "Girl of the Year" stories are okay. I like the historicals better. Looking forward to Claudie Wells!

10 January 2023

A Baker's Dozen of Favorite Books of 2023

book icon  Gulp, Mary Roach (informative and funny study of taste, digestion, and elimination)

book icon  Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer, J. Michael Straczynski (not only writing, but publishing and afterward)

book icon  The Dead Romantics, Ashley Poston (sweet romantic as well as a family love story)

book icon  Bryant & May: London Bridge is Falling Down, Christopher Fowler (the last of the series, although not the last of the Bryant and May books)

book icon  Twelve Moons of the Year, Hal Borland, edited by Barbara Dodge Borland (daybook containing the best of Borland's nature columns)

book icon  Ghost: My Thirty Years as an FBI Undercover Agent, Michael M. McGowan and Ralph Pezzullo (title's self-explanatory)

book icon  Confederates in the Attic, Tony Horwitz (history of "the lost cause" and how it still clings in the southeastern US)

book icon  Movie-Made America: A Cultural History of American Movies, Robert Sklar (how society affected the movies and vice versa)

book icon  Notes from the Underwire, Quinn Cummings (the former child star talks Hollywood and adulthood and raising a child)

book icon  Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language, Mark Forsyth (linguistics fun)

book icon  The Love Hypothesis, Ali Hazelwood (fun romcom taking place in a STEM environment)

book icon  Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, Ibram X. Kendi (bravura study of racism through classism from Greek civilization to the present)

book icon  Wintering, Katherine May (beautifully written memoir of May's season of quiet after a series of disasters)

Honorable Mentions:

book icon  Distilled Genius: Quotations, Susan Branch (regular quotations, but illustrated with Branch's beautiful watercolor art)

book icon  How Y'All Doing?, Leslie Jordan (the late actor/comedian's humorous memoir; just his chapter on Ronnie Claire Edwards is worth the price of the book)