When the Moon is Low

This one took me a loooooong time to listen to. Started it in April then finished it in October.

When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi is about a family in Afghanistan who become a target of the Taliban regime. Forced to flee with forged papers, Fereiba’s only goal is to bring her children to her sister’s in London when the unthinkable happens: her son, Saleem is separated from the rest of the family.

The beginning of the book was wonderful. All about Fereiba’s youth in Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban. It was fascinating! I learned so much! It helps that the narrator (Sneha Mathan) has a beautiful voice. However, the narration suddenly switches to Saleem’s story, which makes sense by the end, but the transition felt so forced at the time. We had so much time invested in Fereiba’s story– from her youth to adulthood– that to switch to a new voice, with very little background on the character outside his mother’s observations was odd. Also, Neil Shah’s voice seemed particularly grating after Sneha’s.

Like I said, the narration switch eventually makes sense, but it threw me off, and I took a loooong break from listening for a while. Once I got back into the swing of the story it was fine. Although I do think it ended rather abruptly given the amount of buildup and background on Fereiba.

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A Royal Spyness Rundown

For the last month I’ve been living in the aristocratic world of England between the wars.

Once I finished On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service I realized I couldn’t really remember how Darcy and Georgie began. So I started listening to the first book again, and next thing I know, I’ve listened to the whole series (On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service twice) from September 1st through September 26. It helps that my husband was out of town one weekend and I spent the whole weekend working on his awesome custom (not biased at all here) cornhole and kubb set. Now when I talk to myself in my head I sound British (I know you probably all think I’m nuts now) and I really wish we could use phrases like “you’re a brick” and “old bean” today.

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Listening to all the books again, I have a few, not very well formed thoughts, that I’m mostly going to copy and paste from my Goodreads “reviews.”

  1. Katherine Kellgren is an amazing audio narrator. Reading the books without Darcy’s Irish accent in my ears or the aristocratic drawl of the supporting characters when they say things like “Old bean” and “what ho, (insert name)” is not nearly as much fun.
  2. I love Georgie. She does some really stupid things, but overall I think she’s a very realistic character.
  3. The attention to detail, whether it’s fashion, description of the architecture, or manners of the day is wonderful.
  4. Darcy vacillates between being overly bossy, not involved, and too perfect. Yet, I still love him. He is definitely one of my favorite book heroes.
  5. The consistent interactions with Wallis Simpson are great. She is a fascinating, if unlikable, person.
  6. Queenie’s character, who is introduced to us in Royal Blood is both a welcome inclusion in the world (she’s brave and funny and comic relief sometimes) but in some installments the character falls flat and the comedy can seem mean spirited.
  7. Bowen flirts with the supernatural a bit in a few of the installments. Heirs and Graces and Malice at the Palace mostly. I don’t necessarily mind ghosts etc, but it can seem like an odd inclusion at times.
  8. Until the last three books Belinda’s character is very flat and underdeveloped. Still a delightful character, but seeing her growth in later installments is nice.
  9. Overall, Georgie becomes more confident and her character does grow. However, her continual distrust of Darcy and his intentions with other women gets old by the 11th book. Some installments play up that insecurity, while it’s ignored in others, depending on the story. While I get it, Darcy was a bit of a player and she’s constantly hearing that he’ll never settle down, but trust has got to be in the relationship too.
  10. Despite all the flaws (I tend to nitpick more when I like something), I still love the series and will continue to listen. I just hope it has an ending in sight(ish) and isn’t one of those never ending series that needs to die. Although, I will be sad when that happens.

If you’ve made it this far, I’m impressed. My last comments deal with favorites. I’m biased since I listen to The Twelve Clues of Christmas every Christmas since I started the series, but it’s still my favorite. Otherwise, Her Royal Spyness, Royal Pain and Royal Flush are tied for next best with Crowned and Dangerous. At first listen I did not like Crowned and Dangerous, but now I appreciate it for the conflict and growth it gives Darcy and Georgie. Meeting his family and seeing him in his natural space is also important for both Georgie and the readers. On the flip side, Heirs and Graces is the worst, followed closely by Queen of Hearts. For me, neither felt true to the series, either in mystery or in character development/actions.

On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service

Over Labor Day Weekend I listened to the newest installment of Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series, On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service (I just realized I didn’t blog about Crowned and Dangerous, which I also read this year. Oops). During a meeting with the Queen to discuss Georgie’s renouncement in the line of succession and her (hopefully) upcoming wedding, it’s discovered that Georgie plans on visiting Italy to be with Belinda who is soon to have her baby. Turns out the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson will also be in the area, and the Queen asks Georgie to do a bit more spying on the Prince and “that woman.” As one cannot say no to the Queen, and the potential permission to marry Darcy (a Catholic) is on the line, Georgie agrees.

Of course, our whole cast of characters finds their way to Italy in one way or another and antics ensue. In many ways this installment is more serious than the others. Hitler’s threat becomes more real, Bowen begins to discuss the Prince of Wales and Wallis Simpson’s alleged Nazi leanings, Belinda is having a baby in secret, and Georgie and Darcy are finally planning a wedding. Despite the serious subject matter I found On Her Majesty’s Frightfully Secret Service to be one of the better chapters in Georgie’s adventure. It didn’t rely as much on cheap jokes and fantastical situations (ghosts in Malice at the Palace and Vampires in Royal Blood come to mind).

I’m very curious to see where the series will go from here. I did some research and King George passes away in January, 1936. Our story here ends in spring 1935. We all know from history class and The King’s Speech that the Prince of Wales abdicates the throne to marry Wallis Simpson, and shortly(ish) after World War II breaks out. Will the series continue once the Prince and “that woman” are married? It’s such a plot point that I hope it doesn’t. However, it would be interesting to see what Georgie and Darcy get up to during World War II. I imagine all kinds of spying missions…

The War that Saved My Life

Oh my goodness. Why did I read this book so late? Seriously, it was so good! I already had my eye on it to fill a few spots in my reading challenges, but it also fit in perfectly with the class I took a few weeks ago. So, I downloaded the ebook off Cloud Library. At first it took me by surprise, since the narrator also narrated I’ve Got Your Number, which is a very different style of book.

The War that Saved My Life is about Ada, a young girl in 1940s London who was born with a club foot. Ada shares an apartment with her younger brother and her Mam, and while Jamie (her brother) and her mother can leave the apartment, Ada is confined to the one room at all times, because of her foot. Her foot is so bad she cannot walk and she crawls around the apartment. When Jamie comes home one day saying his school friends are going to be evacuated to the country because of World War II and the inevitable bombing of London, Ada decides it her opportunity to escape. She steals her mother’s shoes and she and Jamie slowly make their way to the train station. Once in the country, the two siblings are taken under the wing of Susan Smith and Ada learns not only how to read, write, and walk, but also about the power of love and family.

Ada’s story is absolutely heartbreaking. From being convinced her foot is her fault, to the beatings from her mother, to learning what grass is and how trees lose their leaves in winter. My only complaint is that the ending of the book wrapped up really quickly. I think it did a disservice to the lovely relationship building and introduction to the story.

PopSugar: A book by or about someone with a disability

Book Riot: A book about war

Holiday Reading

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I’m running a bit behind on this year’s Christmas-y listens, and haven’t quite finished The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen, but since it’s about the 12 Days of Christmas and those go beyond Christmas Day, I figure I’m good. The Twelve Clues of Christmas is the 6th installment of Her Royal Spyness series, and one of the most grisly. Our fearless gang finds themselves in a quaint English village for Christmas were a death a day occurs in the order of the 12 Days of Christmas song. Doesn’t sound very Christmas-y, nor very quaint, but I love it. Probably because Georgie and Darcy finally make some headway in their “relationship.”

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I started with my annual re-listen of Lauren Willig’s Mischief of the Mistletoe. I believe I’ve mentioned my love of Willig’s Secret History of the Pink Carnation series before, and I think this is one of my favorites! It’s so hard to decide sometimes… Mischief of the Mistletoe is the only one in the series not to include Eloise and Colin, our modern day frame story couple. When I first started reading the series I really enjoyed the Eloise storyline. I was also a student in England and could appreciate several of the dilemmas Eloise found herself experiencing. However, as the series went on, I found myself skipping the Eloise and Colin chapters (much harder to do in audio), so I really appreciate not having to deal with them in this version. Also, I love Turnip. He certainly isn’t a swashbuckling hero, but a nice, loyal, (if goofy one), which is a nice change of pace.

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Since my parents moved up north we have a 4 (ish) hour drive each way. To pass the time I checked out The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, which is my husband’s favorite Christmas book. Maybe it was lack of sleep (we hosted my high school friend’s annual holiday party the night before), or maybe it’s the cultural/political climate today, but I almost cried at the end. I don’t remember having that kind of reaction in the past.

*updated for pictures and links*

Lonesome Dove

I do apologize for my long blogging absence… My husband and I have several new(ish) house projects and an adorable new(ish) puppy dog that are taking up lots of our time. However, I have been reading! And listening.

A while back I downloaded Lonesome Dove onto my Audible account. At the time it seemed like the best way to tackle the 945 page saga. Then when I read through  the 2016 Popsugar Reading Challenge categories I decided I would use Lonesome Dove to check off “a book that’s more than 600 pages” and “a book and it’s prequel.” Generally I decided not to use a book to check off more than one category, but in this instance, I made the exception, since any of the two prequels were also 900+ pages.

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In the end, I decided not to use Lonesome Dove or Comanche Moon as the “book and its prequel.” Mostly because I waited too long to start Lonesome Dove and it took me more than a month to listen to it, even while painting kitchen cabinets and walking the dog. I certainly couldn’t cram it in the last few weeks of December.

This is all really pointless and muddled information, but it’s all kind of related…

As for Lonesome Dove, I loved it. Lee Horsely narrated the audible version and he is fantastic. Sometimes, when I listen to a book I can’t read it simultaneously because I need the narrator’s voice, or it feels wrong. This is one of those instances. Horsely really made the story for me.

I can’t quite explain why I liked the story so much. Maybe it’s because the “main” characters are older, which seems to be uncommon today. Maybe because McMurtry skillful creates a multitude of believable characters, and tells the story from each of their perspectives. Maybe because I could really sense his love of the American West throughout his writing. Maybe it’s because the concept of driving cattle from Texas to Montana with no roads or modern amenities is completely foreign to me and I admire their strength and determination. Maybe because the writing is so vivid and the characters so timeless I felt like I was on a cattle drive in the 1800s.

While there are flaws (I wish the Native characters were given a stronger voice, for example), it is overall a skillfully written saga of the American West as told by a multitude of historical viewpoints. I can completely understand why it won the Pulitzer Prize.

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The miniseries on the other hand, did nothing for me (except that Robert Duvall reminds me of my grandpa). I felt it was way too short and unless you read the book you have no understanding of most character’s motivations. Also, Tommy Lee Jones is practically impossible to understand, he mumbles so much. I wish Lonesome Dove and the rest of the series were turned into a real TV show like Outlander or Game of Thrones.

Popsugar Reading Challenge Roundup

Book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with:

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

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While perusing the Goodreads reviews on this book, I noticed it received a lot of comparisons to the Little House series. While it is certainly a similar time period and the illustrations are reminiscent of the Little House series, I don’t think it’s fair to compare the two. Each are wonderful in their own way.

For me personally, I enjoyed reading about life on Madeline Island in the 1800s. It’s so very different from today (obviously) and being able to visualize the beautiful island really helped put  me in the story. Despite growing up in Minnesota and spending most of my life in the area, I know very little about the Ashinaabe culture, and this book definitely piqued my curiosity.

Now to read Erdich’s adult novels… and visit her book store.

Book with a Blue Cover:

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

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I am a bad youth librarian. I started listening to Between Shades of Grey back in 2012 and never finished the book, despite the massive amounts of praise and accolades it received. I’ve also been in a bit of a reading rut, and came across the audio version of Salt to the Sea and decided to check it out and hopefully get out of my rut.

While I can’t say I got out of my reading rut (still have several books at home piling up), Salt to the Sea definitely kept my interest and taught me about an incredibly important event in history that is, unfortunately, often skipped.

The narration style initially confused me– I couldn’t keep the characters straight, but after the first CD I was hooked. Knowing the ending of the story, historically anyway, also added an element of desperation as a listener. You want the group to reach their destination safely, yet we know the boat sinks. This,combined with Sepetys’ no holds barred style of writing really kept me on the edge of my seat throughout the audiobook.

War is horrible, and while reading about a baby’s diaper frozen to his poor bottom is not pleasant, it is the reality, and I think it does a great disservice to our young people to gloss over these horrors.

A Book you haven’t read since high school:

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

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I read this book in high school for our Mother Daughter Book Club and I remember loving it. This time around, not so much. Sidda is obnoxious and overly dramatic (melodramatic?) in her reminiscing and the love scenes between her and Connor are totally cringe worthy. I’m glad I re-read it, since it opened my eyes to a lot of issues I did not remember. This might be one of the rare occasions where the movie is better than the book.

A book that takes place on an island:

The Rumor  by Elin Hilderbrand

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I have to admit, I passed over this book many a time when I saw it at the library. I assumed it would be the fluffiest of the fluffy and poorly written. The cover does the book no favors. I know, I know, we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but everyone does. If you say you don’t, I bet you’re lying.

Anyway. I liked it a lot more than expected, I actually couldn’t put it down for a while. While I can’t say I loved all the characters, they seemed very real. It also cemented the fact that I could never live in a small community like that– the gossip train stressed me out!

Book published in 2016:

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

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I really really really really wanted to like this more than I did. Going into reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child I knew JK Rowling did not write the script, but gave input. Given the input factor, I was disappointed by some of the characterizations. The portrayal of Ron seemed like a caricature, and he deserves better. Also the chemistry between Ron/Hermione and Ginny/Harry was off entirely (although it’s arguable they never had any). I’m willing to concede my latter complaint since the original series took place in high school, the age of angst and feelings with capital F, but I’m not willing to budge on the treatment of Ron. I had one other HUGE issue, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers. It has to do with a certain dark wizard…

A big complaint I heard about Cursed Child  is the script format, which confuses me. I thought it was very clear when I first heard about the publication that this would be in script format. It is, the script of the London play, after all. And secondly, many people found reading script difficult. This was also odd to me, since most people (public school Americans anyway) had to read at least Shakespeare in high school. Script format is nothing new.

I can empathize with the complaint that script format left out details so common to the previous seven books. Maybe I find the other issues with the play so frustrating I don’t have time to take issue with the format. It also makes me think schools need to do a better job of incorporating a variety of texts in the Literature curriculum.

Book that takes place where you live:


The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy E. Reichert

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I found this book while shelf reading at work. While I no longer live in Milwaukee, I did at one point. Since I already read The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and The Rumor and Wuthering Heights I decided to read a book that takes place in every place I lived. I still have to read a Minnesota book…
All I say about The Coincidence of Coconut Cake is that it made me miss Milwaukee. Other than that, the writing is awful and the characters are incredibly one dimensional. If I did not have the Milwaukee investment, I’m don’t think I’d make it past the first few chapters.