Starting a Series in the Middle

In the not-so-distant past, I always started a series with the first book, and if I enjoyed that first book, I’d read the rest of the series as long as new books were published. I didn’t skip books or mess around with the order, and I pushed through books that focused on side plots that didn’t interest me at all simply to be able to say that I’d read the whole series.

All of that changed over the last couple of years, and I haven’t been able to pinpoint any reason for it. Maybe it’s because I buy fewer books and no longer have that compulsion to own all the books in a series and to display them together on my shelves. Maybe I got tired of series that felt bloated with more and more books coming out that never matched the sparkle of the first few. Maybe I realized that spending any time reading books I didn’t enjoy wasn’t time spent well.

Archangel's Blade by Nalini Singh

My recent binge read of the Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh was the catalyst for thinking about how I read series. I’ve had lots of people suggest the series to me, but nothing about the blurb for the first book screamed “Read me!” to me. It’s harder to interest me in an urban fantasy these days after reading so many of them back-to-back a few years ago. I’ve also learned that I’m more of a vampire and shifter fan than an angels and demons fan, so a series about an Archangel didn’t entice me. Angels do, however, create vampires in the Guild Hunter world, so that caught my eye.

The final push to start the series came from a conversation on Twitter where multiple people called Dmitri from Archangel’s Blade their book boyfriend. He sounded dark and gruff, and I’m a sucker for that. My only hesitation was that the book is the 4th in the Guild Hunter series, but I finally decided that I didn’t want to read 3 books to get to the one I thought sounded good. Instant gratification scored a win when I saw my library had the ebook on Overdrive, so I began reading immediately. I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t stop reading.

If I read and loved the 4th book, I must have been wrong about how much I’d enjoy the series, so I had to read the rest! I did read the entire series, and it turns out that I was actually right about my lack of interest in the overall series. The story of Dmitri and Honor in Archangel’s Blade is my favorite of the series so far, and the focus of most of the other books (Elena and the Archangel Raphael) doesn’t do a thing for me. I would have missed out on a really great read if I’d started the series with the first book because I would have never made it to the 4th book. After reading 2 books I really enjoyed (Archangel’s Blade and Archangel’s Storm) and 5 that were okay but not among my favorites, I’m looking forward to reading book 8 later this year only because the blurb for that one doesn’t mention Raphael and Elena. It feels a little weird to have overall good feelings about a series while having no interest in the core couple.

Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet by Susan Cain

I’ve been known to call myself a “hardcore introvert” because I almost always test at the maximum possible on any test of introversion/extroversion, so I thought I’d enjoy a book titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking more than I did. I just never connected with the material except for the personal anecdotes from various people she interviewed and the brief history of how society moved from an inward focus on character to an outward focus on a selling personality. Maybe it’s because so much of this was old news to me after years as a psychology student and a love of personality tests.

I felt like Susan Cain wanted me to be amazed by all these positive facts about introverts as though I always felt inferior in a world of extroverts, but that’s not my experience. Quiet might appeal more to an introvert who actually struggles with that because of his/her chosen career or some other reason like friends and family who don’t understand his/her needs. I can definitely see it being a good introduction to understanding yourself, colleagues, friends, and family members if you’re unfamiliar with the topic. One strength of the book is that it talks more about how each person can work with what they have rather than tearing down extroversion and building up introversion as the new king.

“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers – of persistence, concentration, and insight – to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems. make art, think deeply.”

Although I connected with the early anecdotes and case studies, I became tired of them by the time I reached the last section of the book. (The book is divided into 4 parts – Part 1: The Extrovert Ideal; Part 2: Your Biology, Your Self?; Part 3: Do All Cultures Have an Extrovert Ideal?; Part 4: How to Love, How to Work.) That section with all its relationship talk screamed self-help book, and while I do read and enjoy some self-help books, it didn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the book. By that point, the book was beginning to feel a little disjointed and like it was trying to be everything at once.

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m new to audiobooks. Quiet is only the second audiobook I’ve been able to finish, and Kathe Mazur, the narrator, is someone I would definitely recommend. She has a calm, smooth reading voice that complements the book. I’ll check to see if my library or Scribd has more audiobooks narrated by her that interest me.

5 Picture Books about Women

I have a few friends who are homeschooling their children, and I love talking with them about the different themes they’re using in their curricula. Recently, they were talking about adding more books to their reading lists that would be good for women’s history topics because of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, and I came up with a few favorite picture books that seemed relevant.

Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs (Author) and Paul O. Zelinsky (Illustrator)

Swamp Angel by Anne Isaacs
Angelica “Swamp Angel” Longrider didn’t seem like much when she was born. I mean, she was barely taller than her mom, and she didn’t build her first log cabin until she was two years old! This tall tale is set in the Great Smoky Mountains of east Tennessee, and I love to read it out loud because the rhythm feels like home to me as someone who grew up in east Tennessee. If you want to move beyond Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan, Angelica Longrider is a perfect choice. Her story can also be used to talk about the real role of female pioneers.

Fanny’s Dream by Caralyn Buehner (Author) and Mark Buehner (Illustrator)

Fanny's Dream by Caralyn Buehner
This is another story that could work with lessons about frontier women.
If you’re looking for a bit of a twist on a Cinderella theme, then you might enjoy Fanny Agnes, a farm girl in Wyoming. She’s convinced that if a fairy godmother helped one girl find Prince Charming, then a fairy godmother can also help her marry the mayor’s son and never farm again. As she waits in the garden for her fairy godmother to take her to the mayor’s ball, she instead gets a marriage proposal from the boy next door. She chooses her own happily ever after and when the fairy godmother does show up late, Fanny turns down her help.

Frida by Jonah Winter (Author) and Ana Juan (Illustrator)

Frida by Jonah Winter
If you’re familiar with Frida Kahlo, then you may be aware that she used her painting to deal with chronic pain and depression. You may feel that’s too heavy a topic for children, but I think Winter and Juan handle her story beautifully. This could be a springboard to talk to kids about sadness and artistic inspiration in addition to Frida Kahlo’s impact as an artist.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown (Author) and Frank Morrison (Illustrator)

Little Melba by Katheryn Russell-Brown
Melba Liston was a musician who overcame gender barriers to become a famed trombonist and arranger. I’d never heard of her until I was introduced to this picture book through a segment on NPR. Kids will enjoy seeing Melba succeed after being told at the age of seven that the trombone is just too big for a little girl to play.

The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins (Author) and Jill McElmurry (Illustrator)

Tree Lady by Hopkins
Kate Sessions grew up in Northern California in the 1860s, and she loved trees and getting dirty. She eventually earned a degree in natural science and moved to San Diego. San Diego was a dry desert town, and she missed the big trees back home, so she introduced hundreds of trees through leasing agreements with the city. Today, she’s sometimes referred to as the mother of Balboa Park.

Tuesday Tidbits: Roller Coaster Weather Edition

We did get the snow that I mentioned was predicted in my last post, and it’s mostly melted now. Yesterday’s high temperature was in the 60s, and today we’re not even reaching the 40s. Tomorrow’s forecast calls for a high in the 70s, and the day after tomorrow has the possibility of snow. My weather app’s temperature chart for our area looks like a roller coaster.

I just barely squeezed in a nonfiction book for February to keep up with my 2015 reading goals. I borrowed David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell as an audiobook from the library. I usually give up on audiobooks within the first 30 minutes, so finishing this one is quite the accomplishment for me. The book was read by the author, and I think that helped because I’ve enjoyed watching his presentations and interviews in the past.

"We have become obsessed with what is good about small classrooms and oblivious about what also can be good about large classes. It’s a strange thing isn't it, to have an educational philosophy that thinks of the other students in the classroom with your child as competitors for the attention of the teacher and not allies in the adventure of learning." - Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants

February’s featured cookbook was The Kitchy Kitchen by Claire Thomas. It’s maybe a little heavier on entertaining than what I like, but overall, it’s a lovely book both in appearance and in content. The recipes are rated according to difficulty from Yum (easy) to Showstopper (more complicated), and there are several basic recipes where suggestions for variations are made. Her advice on stocking a kitchen and pantry is great and is part of the reason why I can definitely see this in a gift basket for newlyweds or someone moving out on their own for the first time. Our favorites from the book were Caramelized Oatmeal with Sautéed Bananas, White Corn Chipotle Soup, Full-Blown Tortilla Soup, and Lavender Shortbread Cookies. (Can you tell February called for hot, comforting food?)

I found The Kitchy Kitchen through makeupTIA (Ashley) on YouTube. Ashley is one of my favorite people to watch because she seems so sweet and produces beautiful, relaxing videos. As you might tell from her channel name, her focus is beauty and makeup, but she also talks about planners, books, food, and general wellness, and those are all topics near and dear to my heart.

Looking Ahead: March 2015 Releases

I live in the southern United States, and we’ve gone from not having much of a winter to having snow accumulations twice over the last two weeks with 3-6″ or 4-8″ or 8-12″ of snow predicted tonight depending on what weather forecast you watch. I don’t really mind snow because I have a warm cozy house with no place I really have to be and plenty of food and books along with a husband who can work from home. The thing that has me a little cranky is the fact that the local school system was closed 4 days last week and will most likely be shut down 4 days this week too.

Why do I care about school closings since I have no children? Because our newish neighbors next door have four school-aged sons who appear to live outside and communicate in loud screams whenever they’re not in school. I think the fact that my office where I spend a large chunk of my day is the room closest to their yard doesn’t really help my state of mind. What does help my state of mind is thinking ahead to the lovely book releases in March when perhaps the schools will be up and running again.

I get monthly emails from Goodreads with new releases from authors on my shelves there, and I was a little surprised to see 111 titles on that list for March 2015. Thankfully, there are less than 10 books that I really want to read because I’d feel a little overwhelmed if I added 111 books to my wishlist!

Top 5 book releases for March 2015

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

Title: Shadow Scale
Author: Rachel Hartman
Release Date: March 10th

Shadow Scale is the sequel to Seraphina, and I have been waiting for this release since August 2012. This is definitely my most anticipated release this month, possibly this year. You can expect mathematical dragons, musicians, a royal family, and a murder investigation along with some war and love.

Soaring by Kristen Ashley

Title: Soaring
Author: Kristen Ashley
Release Date: March 16th

Soaring is the second book in the Magdalene series. I haven’t read the first book yet because I’ve been hoarding the last few Kristen Ashley releases for some unknown reason, but Kristen Ashley releases are always on my radar. She’s an auto-buy author for me. From the summary blurb, it looks like we have a divorced heiress falling in love with a firefighter while she fights to spend time with her kids.

Rock Hard by Nalini Singh

Title: Rock Hard
Author: Nalini Singh
Release Date: March 10th

This book is the second in the Rock Kiss series. It’s a contemporary romance between a wealthy businessman (and former rugby star) and his shy assistant. Nalini Singh is pretty close to auto-buy status for me.

Hearts of Fire by L.H. Cosway

Title: Hearts of Fire
Author: L.H. Cosway
Release Date: March 9th

L.H. Cosway writes romances that are simply beautiful to read. The characters are always a little unusual, and they make me think. This release features Jack, the long-lost brother of Jay from Six of Hearts. Jack is a knife-thrower and fire-eater in a circus, so I’m assuming we’ll have some great side characters. The cover is very fitting for the circus setting.

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

Title: Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Release Date: March 17th

I like Gretchen Rubin’s writing, and the topic of habits and rituals interests me. I’m on a waiting list for this one at my local library, and I’m high enough up the list that I should get it fairly quickly. Because of that, it’s likely that it will be the first book on this list that I read even though it’s not my top pick. You can’t dawdle with library books!

5 Romance Novellas

While reading Explains Why Novellas Are The Future Of Publishing, I started thinking about my own reading habits. I have loved shorter fiction over the years, and my shelves contain every year of the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthology series (1987-2008). I’ve become pickier over the years though, and I buy and read far fewer anthologies unless I really love at least a couple of the included authors. I’m also much more willing these days to skip a story completely if it’s not working for me, which is something I’d never do just a few years ago.

I do feel like more and more novellas are being published because of the increasing ease of publishing e-books, and I have sometimes almost felt cheated when I grab a story and then realize after the fact how short it feels. I pay more attention to word counts and estimated page numbers now to avoid that. For me, novellas can be fun, depending on the author, but I read quickly enough and have enough time available for reading that I prefer getting to sink into a longer reading experience most of the time.

Because February is a short month with a love and hearts theme, I’m sharing a list of the first five romantic novellas that came to mind as I thought about my novella reading habits. I’ve rated all of these 4 stars on Goodreads. They are all around 100 pages and available online for $2.99 or less.

  • Seduced By a Pirate by Eloisa James: This is a companion story to The Ugly Duchess but can be read alone. A man goes out to drink on his wedding night before consummating the marriage, accidentally becomes a pirate, and returns to his wife 14 years later to find that she has three children.
  • Take Me, Cowboy by Jane Porter: Jenny is left standing at the altar in a dress she can’t even afford after her fiancé sees where she grew up, and she gets a ride away from the mess from an old childhood crush who is now a rodeo champion.
  • Bound To You by Beth Kery: A movie star goes off on her own for a hike and ends up falling into a cavern with a local blind man. She’s terrified of the dark, and he helps her calm down, but they both wonder what will happen when they’re rescued.
  • Here There Be Monsters by Meljean Brook: This is an introduction to the world of the Iron Seas steampunk series. Ivy is a blacksmith who makes a deal to leave London with a pirate, but then she escapes before fulfilling her part of the bargain. Two years later, the pirate finds her. She’s scared because of his reputation, but he is determined to show that he cares for her.
  • Hearts in Darkness by Laura Kaye: Two strangers spend four hours in a dark elevator and discover how much they have in common. Will they feel the same when the lights are back on?

Favorite Romantic Quotes from Books

I’m a girl who loves love, books, and quotes, so I thought I’d combine all of those to share some of my favorite romantic quotes from books. These aren’t necessarily my favorite books or even favorite authors, but the snippets I’m sharing have stuck in my mind over time.

“In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you.” – Jane Austen, Persuasion

“Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” – Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

“Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an
old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps… perhaps… love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.” – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

“I knew the second I met you that there was something about you I needed. Turns out it wasn’t something about you at all. It was just you.” – Jamie McGuire, Beautiful Disaster

“Your lies didn’t stop me loving you; your truth hasn’t stopped me either.” – Rachel Hartman, Seraphina (The sequel Shadow Scale finally releases next month after almost 3 years of waiting!)

“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.”
― Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park

The Supergirls by Mike Madrid

The Supergirls by Mike MadridThe Supergirls by Mike Madrid was published in 2009 and has been on my shelves since 2010. Why did it take me so long to read it? I can’t really give a reason, but I’m glad to be able to mark it as read and move it off my shelves. It was a decent read but not one I feel a need to keep. Madrid starts with comic heroines of the 1940s in his decade-by-decade discussion, and the first chapters were surface-level descriptions that didn’t interest me. Despite a subtitle of “Fashion, feminism, fantasy, and the history of comic book heroines”, there’s not a lot of analysis. That improves in later chapters, but I don’t think it ever lives up to the subtitle.

The limited analysis reflects mostly on how comic book heroines haven’t received the same attention as their male counterparts. They’re often viewed as sidekicks and/or girlfriends in spite of their own powers, and those powers are generally understood to be inferior to the guys’ powers. He specifically mentions the abundance of women with “stand and point” powers where they can stay outside the men fighting and never mess up their hair. I get his point, but as I recall, the heroes also rarely look worn out or roughed up after a fight. I’ll admit that it’s been a number of years since I followed graphic novels like I did in the years that my brother and I would pool our allowances for weekly trips to the local comic shop.

The most interesting bits of information came when Madrid discussed the evolution of superheroines and how they reflected the times. I wish he hadn’t sounded so derogatory about artists like Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears when he talked about how their sexualization influenced heroines like Supergirl in the late 1990s and early 2000s. His flippant dismissal of those women was unnecessary and distracted from his other points.

Given the subject, it’s a real shame that the cost of licensing didn’t allow for illustrations. I did, however, discover that Mike Madrid created a website with illustrations organized by chapter: The Supergirls Visual Guide.

Tuesday Tidbits: Birthday Sprinkles Edition

I’m having an unfocused day with my brain running all over the place in an “Oooh shiny!” way. To go with that, I decided to write my first post in a series I’ve been calling Tuesday Tidbits in my head. These posts will happen on Tuesday (but probably not every Tuesday) as the name implies, and they will just cover a number of small things that are on my mind.

  • Today is my 39th birthday, and it feels odd. It’s not bad at all, and I’m definitely not bothered about the number or getting older in general, but “last year of my 30s” sounds strange to my ears. The past is always closer and farther away than you think it is is another person’s take on their 39th birthday this month, and it resonates.
  • I’ve decided not to track all the cookbooks I’ll be trying to go through this year on Goodreads because it feels like I’d be artificially inflating the numbers of book that I read even though I do read them cover to cover. Instead, I’ll mention here on the blog each month the cookbook I brought off my shelves for some new meals.
  • This month, I read Come Home to Supper by Christy Jordan from Southern Plate. I love her website because she feels like family and makes food that reminds me of home. We liked the chicken tortilla soup and the slow-cooker fiesta chicken and rice from this cookbook, but I’d suggest her first book Southern Plate to someone over this one because I think you see a little more of her personality and get more stories along with the recipes.
  • I don’t reread many books, but I find myself randomly remembering lines from the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery, so maybe that’s a sign. “There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person. If I was just the one Anne it would be ever so much more comfortable, but then it wouldn’t be half so interesting.” I read those books over 25 years ago, and here’s another place where being 39 feels so strange!
  • I’m using Pinterest more lately. Scrolling through some pretty pictures seems like a nice way to start unwinding at the end of the day. There’s no worry that I’ll see a bunch of sad headlines or people arguing.
  • Did you know that Rider Strong (Shawn Hunter from Boy Meets World) co-hosts a podcast about books? Literary Disco is one in a very small group of podcasts that holds my interest. I should do a post about the few and the proud that keep me company on Podcast Republic.

Kindle Freebies: January 23, 2015

Two books I’ve read and enjoyed are free for a very limited time on Amazon.

The Very Best of Charles de LintCharles de Lint is my favorite author, and he has a short story collection titled The Very Best of Charles de Lint set as free for a limited time (through January 24). The book contains 29 stories that were chosen by polling his readers on social media. These fan favorites make a great place for someone new to Charles de Lint to start, and as someone who has read them all before, it’s nice to have them collected in one place. His stories tend to make me believe in magic and want to check behind every door for faeries and crow girls.

On Guard by William Lane CraigOn Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision by William Lane Craig may only be free for the rest of today. This book is an introduction to apologetics, defined by Craig as “that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith”. It is a shorter and easier-to-read version of his book Reasonable Faith and has illustrations, logic maps, and sidebars to aid in understanding the text.