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.

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Popsugar 2016

I’m posting these a bit backwards, oh well…

Well, I did it! The last month and the last few categories were much more difficult to fill than expected. Earlier, in late summer/early fall I hit a big reading rut, and nothing appealed to me. Which, I think, explains part of my scramble in December, and my lack of updates and reviews.

1. A book based on a fairy tale Rump by Liesel Shurtliff
2. A National Book Award winner Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
3. A YA bestseller Looking for Alaska by John Green
4. A book you haven’t read since HS  The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
5. A book set in your home state Forever by Maggie Stiefvater
6. A book translated to English Jane, The Fox and Me by Fanny Britt
7. A romance set in the future The Elite by Kiera Cass
8. A book set in Europe Wrapped by Jennifer Bradbury
9. A book under 150 pages I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
10. A New York Times bestseller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
11. A book that’s becoming a movie this year The Circle by Dave Eggers
12. A book recommended by someone you just met Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead
13. A self-improvement book The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight
14. A book you can finish in a day P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han
15. A book written by a celebrity Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
16. A political memoir A Game for Swallows: To Die, To leave, To Return and I Remember by Zeina Abirached
17. A book at least 100 years older than you Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
18. A book that’s more than 600 pages Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
19. A book from Oprah’s Book Club Open House by Elizabeth Berg
20. A science-fiction novel These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman
21. A book recommended by a family member The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
22. A graphic novel Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson
23. A book that is published in 2016 Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling
24. A book with a protagonist who has your occupation Excape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein
25. A book that takes place during Summer Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm
26. A book and its prequel The Prince and The Selection by Kiera Cass
27. A murder mystery No Wind of Blame by Georgette Heyer
28. A book written by a comedian Why Not Me by Mindy Kaling
29. A dystopian novel The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard
30. A book with a blue cover The Royal Wedding by Meg Cabot
31. A book of poetry The Good Braider by Terry Farish
32. The first book you see in a bookstore The Hopefuls by Jennfer Close
33. A classic from the 20th century Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
34. A book from the library Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
35. An autobiography The Glass Castle by Jeannette Wells
36. A book about a road trip Mosquitoland by David Arnold
37. A book about a culture you’re unfamiliar with The Birchbark House by Louise Erdich
38. A satirical book American Housewife by Helen Ellis
39. A book that takes place on an island The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand
40. A book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy The Lizzie Bennet Diaries by Bernie Su

Overall, I appreciated the challenge for making me read some books I normally would not have read (These Broken Stars and The Circle and The Red Queen were probably the biggest genre leaps for me).  However, I did not like the similarity of many of the prompts. Probably because I don’t generally like dystopian and sci fi, so having to read several irritated me.

My absolute least favorite book read this year for the challenge was The Prince by Keira Cass for the prequel and it’s sequel. Firstly, Maxxon was super creepy talking about the girls as his, and calling everyone sweetheart was just as creepy and stupid in the prequel as it was in The Selection. Secondly, The Prince really added nothing to the series story and was basically the same dialogue from the early scenes in The Selection but with the “he saids” and “she saids” switched accordingly.

This brings me to my second least favorites. The Selection series in general (I stopped after 2) and The Red Queen (absolutely no interest in reading the rest of the series). YA Dystopian novels just need to go away. They aren’t original anymore and the writing is just awful. At least The Hunger Games brought something new to readers, instead of rehashing the same old tropes over and over over again.

My favorites included Astonish Me, Brown Girl Dreaming and Lonesome Dove. I realize I never wrote about Brown Girl Dreaming, mostly because I wanted to compare it The Good Braider since they are both novels in verse, and on such different levels quality wise. However, I could never quite get the words right. Suffice to say, I totally understand why Brown Girl Dreaming won the National Book Award. It’s flawless.

 

Popsugar 2017

Despite feeling a little stuck in the challenge last year, I’m going to give it another go this year. I’m not sure I’ll do the Advanced Challenge, but we’ll see. A colleague of mine read only books written by women or people of color last year, and I’m going to try and do a similar challenge, along with Popsugar. My goal is that of the books I read this year, 75% will be written by women or people of color, with the remaining 25% by white men.

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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.

2016 Popsugar Reading Challenge

Popsugar is a great resource for book recommendations and workout ideas (I’m know there is more, but that’s why I use the site). When I saw that Popsugar had a reading challenge I knew I must participate. I’m trying to get friends and family to join me as well.

Since I was still trying to read all the Maud Hart Lovelace nominees, I had a lot of crossover. But I’m excited to start reading adult books again soon! I’ll update my progress, but so far I’ve read y books fitting these categories. I’m trying to not use a book for more than one category and also use adult and YA books, or at least longer juvenile books.

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Currently reading: I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron for “a book that’s under 150 pages” and The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick for “a book that’s guaranteed to bring you joy.”