Monday, December 31, 2018

2018 in Books

Normally I'm not a fan of the "Year in Review" type of thing.  Whether it is "Looking Back on" a year in the news, the year in photographs in the newspaper, or any version of this, I tend to skip it and move on.  Then a friend shared a link to The Book Stop's "2018: My Year in Reading and Blogging" and I started thinking about the whole retrospective idea in a different way.  So I've decided to give it a try and look back at my 2018 through books.

The last few years I've done the Goodreads Challenge for how many books you plan to read in a year. For 2018 I aimed to read 120 books. A bit of a lofty goal, but since I frequently read more than one book at a time and have been aiming to read enough new books to keep this blog interesting, I thought I had a shot.  I ended up reading 168 books. Ok, some were novellas- but not that many.  How did I manage such a larger than average reading list?

1) No TV.  I'm not generally a huge TV watcher, but when you have access, you tend to watch something.  So when I no longer had access through work (and am probably one of the only people alive who hasn't gotten into streaming yet) I read more in the evenings.

2) No job. In September I left my job at the Imperial Valley Desert Museum and moved back to New York for medical reasons.  Long story short, for several months I was focused on health and not even looking for my next job. Think about the last time you had a doctor's appointment.  How late was the doctor? You know you got way more reading done in that waiting room than at home where people kept interrupting you.

3) NetGalley. I definitely discovered more new authors or books scanning NetGalley this year than anywhere else.  Between one thing and another I didn't spend much time browsing bookshelves at my library or favorite independent bookstore. But the magic of NetGalley and the internet still introduced me to some of my new favorite books

A few surprises . . .

30 History/Biography
Thanks to NetGalley I read more biographies and histories than usual. From Napoleon to U.S. Grant, politics before the Civil War to the sinking of the Indianapolis, I enjoyed discovering more histories and have definitely been recommending them to people!

18 Fantasy/Sci-Fi
I was surprised to add these up and find I read fewer sci-fi and fantasy books than usual. Not sure why that happened, but I will be trying to read more in 2019!

20 Mystery
I also expected to find I'd read more than 20 mysteries. Maybe the year as a whole was too dark for heavy murder mysteries?

67 Romance
This didn't really surprise me. 2018 was definitely a year I wanted to read books with happy endings.

In the end, I ask myself the same question that curlygeek04 asked. Does reading and writing about books really matter in the big scheme of things?  Between politics, the environment, and all the things that are meaningful and impactful, do books make a difference?  To me, the answer is: yes.  We turn to books for escapism, for happiness, for familiar friends and worlds.  We learn about people, food, and cultures.  At the end of a bad day we turn to books for comfort.

Books matter. So if my blog introduces someone to a book they'd never heard of that becomes their new favorite, that makes me happy too.  Which is sort of the point, isn't it?

Sunday, December 23, 2018


Untouchable (Cutler, Sutter & Salinas Book 3) by [Krentz, Jayne Ann]

Untouchable (Cutter, Sutler & Salinas #3)- Jayne Ann Krentz
Berkley/Penguin Group
Release Date: January 8, 2019


Synopsis: Jack Lancaster, consultant to the FBI, has always been drawn to the coldest of cold cases, the kind that law enforcement either considers unsolvable or else has chalked up to accidents or suicides. As a survivor of a fire, he finds himself uniquely compelled by arson cases. His almost preternatural ability to get inside the killer's head has garnered him a reputation in some circles--and complicated his personal life. The more cases Jack solves, the closer he slips into the darkness. His only solace is Winter Meadows, a meditation therapist. After particularly grisly cases, Winter can lead Jack back to peace. 

But as long as Quinton Zane is alive, Jack will not be at peace for long. Having solidified his position as the power behind the throne of his biological family's hedge fund, Zane sets out to get rid of Anson Salinas's foster sons, starting with Jack.

For the last few of Jayne Ann Krentz's books (When All The Girls Have Gone, Promise Not To Tell) readers have been following the foster sons of retired cop Anson Salinas as they struggle with traumatic childhoods and the ghosts of the past. All four men have been sure that one of those ghosts- murderer, con man, and pyromaniac Quinton Zane- is still alive.  In Untouchable Jack Lancaster finds himself on the front line in the battle against Zane, because Zane knows Jack may be the most dangerous of them all.

Jack is a delightfully tortured hero whose very strengths when it comes to working cold cases make for less than ideal relationship material for the average woman.  He worries that each case he solves is bringing him farther into a darkness that one day he may not be able to come out of with his sanity intact. Jack prides himself on being able to calculate the odds of anything, and never considering anything 100% until it has already happened.  Fortunately, Jack finds his way to the little town of Eclipse Bay and to Winter Meadows.  Winter is one of those very rare individuals who sees reality plainly, and still manages to put a positive spin on situations.  For all her positive thinking, Winter is not an annoyingly chipper or bubbly person, but a perfect match for Jack.  She has her own secrets but is now setting up in Eclipse Bay as a meditation instructor.  When Winter is attacked by a crazed stalker, Jack realizes that things are more than they seem, and the stalker is only a pawn being controlled by none other than Quinton Zane.

Untouchable is an exciting suspenseful thriller from start to finish, bringing Jack and Winter from tiny Eclipse Bay to trendy California to the mysterious San Juan islands as they chase leads.  Long-time Krentz/Amanda Quick readers will be happy to revisit Eclipse Bay and Burning Cove, and will cheer cameo appearances by Arizona Snow, Max Cutler, Cabot Sutter, and Anson Salinas.   As always, you can count on Jayne Ann Krentz to keep you glued to the page with her delightful blend of dry wit, crackling chemistry, and edgy suspense.  An excellent finale to this trilogy, new readers won't feel like they jumped into something halfway through the action and devoted readers won't be disappointed!   


Monday, December 10, 2018

Bringing Down the Colonel

Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the "Powerless" Woman Who Took On Washington by [Miller, Patricia]

Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age & the "Powerless" Woman Who Took on Washington- Patricia Miller
Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Release Date: November 13, 2018


Synopsis: In Bringing Down the Colonel, the journalist Patricia Miller tells the story of Madeline Pollard, an unlikely nineteenth-century women’s rights crusader. After an affair with a prominent politician left her “ruined,” Pollard brought the man—and the hypocrisy of America’s control of women’s sexuality—to trial. And, surprisingly, she won.

Pollard and the married Colonel Breckinridge began their decade-long affair when she was just a teenager. After the death of his wife, Breckinridge asked for Pollard’s hand—and then broke off the engagement to marry another woman. But Pollard struck back, suing Breckinridge for breach of promise in a shockingly public trial. With premarital sex considered irredeemably ruinous for a woman, Pollard was asserting the unthinkable: that the sexual morality of men and women should be judged equally.
Nearly 125 years after the Breckinridge-Pollard scandal, America is still obsessed with women’s sexual morality. And in the age of Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein, we’ve witnessed fraught public reckonings with a type of sexual exploitation unnervingly similar to that experienced by Pollard. Using newspaper articles, personal journals, previously unpublished autobiographies, and letters, Bringing Down the Colonel tells the story of one of the earliest women to publicly fight back.

In the era of the Me Too movement, women are looking towards history and politics and wondering: are we the first to stand up?  We know women fought for the right to work, the right to vote, and we earnestly want to know not only what those women went through, but why.  Why did society and politics need the push they needed, and why did it succeed sometimes but not others?  What were all the unwritten currents for and against these pioneers?

Patricia Miller does an excellent job answering these questions in Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the "Powerless" Woman who Took on Washington.  Here she tells the story of Madeline Pollard and Colonel Breckinridge, and the unlikely lawsuit that helped turn of the century America question their double standard of men, women, and sexual morality.  Pollard was in a relationship with Breckinridge for at least ten years while he was married to another woman- and always claiming that were it possible, he would marry her.  But when his wife died, Breckinridge married another woman instead.  Madeline Pollard did what few women of the time were brave enough to do: she publicly admitted the relationship and her "ruin" and sued Breckinridge for breach of promise.  The resulting scandal not only forced society to ask questions it had never asked before, but brought down an elected official and brought thousands of Southern women into the political fray.

As fascinating as the story is by itself, Miller fills modern readers in on the backstory- the social norms of the time and those that were changing- to flesh out a complete world for her readers to understand.  Women were beginning to enter the workforce in increasingly large numbers.  Fathers and brothers were beginning to have to face the idea that a woman unchaperoned in public wasn't announcing her sexual availability, because their own wives, sisters, and daughters were now in those public spheres.  It was not 'just' the radical women who were asking for work equality and the right to vote, or to stand up to abuses happening around them. Miller explores the economic and educational environments that had begun to change, and does a solid job of helping the reader to understand why the mid-1890s was a time ripe for the changes Pollard and others pushed for. 

 Madeline Pollard forced the conversation of sex into public, into politics, and into the home.  She forced society to look at foundling orphanages, homes for fallen women, and the manipulations and social conventions that powerful men used to keep an entire class of women vulnerable to them.  She inspired the first movement of women who (though they couldn't vote) used their opinions and influence to ensure that a sexual predator was not reelected to a government position.  Pollard and the women who financed her battle took on Washington and inspired a generation of women to demand conversations and change in society and politics, morality and ethics.  The Pollard trial certainly didn't end the sexual double standard, but it did begin the conversation we still carry on today.

Although occasionally dry and repetitive, Bringing Down the Colonel is an inspiring, well-researched book, and gives readers an excellent understanding of how women have fought the 'battle of the sexes' - and gives an excellent historical reminder of how far we have come, and how equality is always relative. A must read!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Defending Chloe

Defending Chloe (Mountain Mercenaries Book 2) by [Stoker, Susan]

Defending Chloe (Mountain Mercenaries 2)- Susan Stoker
Montlake Romance/Amazon Digital Services
Release Date- December 4, 2018


Synopsis: Gorgeous women don’t just stumble onto Ronan Cross’s remote property. But this one—vulnerable, victimized, and needing the kind of help only Ronan can offer—tells a story that makes his blood boil almost as hot as his need to protect her.

Since her father’s death, Chloe Harris has become a prisoner. Her own brother, a flesh peddler and low-level player in the Denver Mafia, is forcing her to sell her body for an endgame Chloe never saw coming: control over a vast fortune. Her only way out is to run—straight into the arms of the one hard-bodied man she can trust.
Defending Chloe could rain punishment down on the Mountain Mercenaries. Her brother has Mob connections and the local police in his pocket. But Ronan still has an edge—the unshakable loyalty of his deadly teammates. As well as an unquenchable thirst for retribution…and Chloe.

Readers can count on Susan Stoker (Claiming Felicity) to give us alpha heroes dedicated to protecting their team and the women they love, strong heroines overcoming incredible odds, and (usually) incredibly disturbing villains (I still regret reading some of the villain's scenes in Defending Allye at night just before turning out the lights).  Defending Chloe is no different.  Ronan "Ro" Cross is a British member of the Mountain Mercenaries with scars in his past that he hasn't shared with anyone.  Chloe not only brings out all his protective instincts, she gets him to share his burdens and see them in a new light.  He's the kind of guy you want at your side: good instincts, a man who treats women with respect, and doesn't play games- but is still fully capable of messing things up while thinking he's doing the "right thing".

Fortunately, even after everything Chloe's been through, she remains strong enough to handle Ro.  After years of abuse from her brother and his girlfriend she should be a broken, terrified, mess.  And she is smart enough to be terrified of her brother's Mafia bosses, and scared of her controlling, amoral brother.  But Chloe is also smart enough to know a good man when she sees one, and she trusts Ro and his friends to help her escape.  Both Chloe and Ro are endearing characters, well-written and three dimensional.  You're cheering for them from beginning to end.

Defending Chloe is a fast-paced thriller, full of edge of your seat action.  As with all of Stoker's books, it is part of a larger series (this is book two in the Mountain Mercenaries series) but it can be read as a stand alone book.  The rest of Ro's team and Allye do show up, but I don't see any new readers getting lost if they start with this book.  I find it fun to reader Stoker's series in order if possible because I find it makes the cameos of other characters more fun for me as a reader but long-time fans of Susan Stoker or those starting with this book will enjoy it and be waiting eagerly for the next one! 

received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review