#136 ~ The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

January 19, 2009 at 12:53 pm | Posted in Books, Reading | 5 Comments
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The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Before the movie hype, I’d never heard of this short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I’m not necessarily sure that I knew that he wrote short stories.  With the exception of The Great Gatsby, which is one of my all-time favorite novels, I never studied Fitzgerald in college or grad school.  I’m not sure if this was because of the courses I chose or if his writing wasn’t in favor at the time.  Either way, I’m planning on reading all of his short stories this year.

For those of you who do not know, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” tells the story of life of Benjamin Button.  Unlike all other humans, he was born as an elderly man, not as an infant.  The doctors, nurses, and his father are all shocked and quite disgusted by this.  Benjamin being only himself, found nothing out of the ordinary in his condition.  The unlikely circumstances of his birth continued on throughout his life.  He continued to grow more youthful as his life progressed.  He did not age.  He did just the opposite, though only those who knew otherwise seemed to be aware of his condition at all.

What stood out the most for me was that his mother was no where to be seen.  We witnessed his father’s reactions throughout his “growing up” years, but we hear nothing from the woman who gave birth to him.  She survived the birth, but how was that accomplished without killing her?  Did she love him despite his oddity?  Are we to assume by the fact that she was removed from the text that she abandoned him emotionally?  If so, how does Benjamin feel about this?  Did it not concern him because one’s mother is typically deceased when one is an elderly man or is that why Benjamin hides the truth from his wife?

Being only 30 pages, this short story was a quick read, although I’m not sure whether I can say I liked it or not.   I would be interested in reading papers published on this short story.  I believe it did highlight the responsibilities that surround raising children and caring for the elderly in a different way.  When you are a new parent, you can ask for other people’s advice, but you still are in many ways on your own.  No one else has ever raised your child.  On the other side of the coin, elderly care is also a question.  While many people do what is right by there parents, aren’t those who don’t just as irresponsible as those who might abandon a newborn?  It’s all the same for Benjamin.

*****

To buy this short story, click here.

#135 ~ My Lady of Cleves

January 14, 2009 at 11:41 pm | Posted in Books, Henry VIII, Historical Fiction, Reading | 9 Comments
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My Lady of Cleves: A Novel of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves by Margaret Campbell Barnes

Anne of Cleves was the most unlikely of all of Henry VIII’s wives. She did not especially want to be queen, she was not physically beautiful, and she was rather forced upon him in order to produce an heir. Yet, along with Katherine of Aragon, she is a wife to which Henry should have cleaved to permanently. She is also my favorite. The first time I learned of her and found out that she was from a territory that is now the Netherlands, she had a special place in this Dutch heart of mine. Therefore, when I first heard of this novel on Reading Adventures, I new that I had to read it. I couldn’t have been more pleased when a wonderful co-worker of mine gave it to me for my birthday. Thank you, Poorna!

From the beginning, Barnes covers the known facts about the search for Henry’s fourth wife, Anne’s betrothal, her first regrettable moments with Henry, their short marriage, and swift divorce deftly. As much as I loved The Boleyn Inheritance, it is the author’s interpretation of those events that make this novel such a delight to read. For example, Barnes’ Anne did not want to leave her country, her family, or her people. This is just as well because her sister Amelia was prettier and was excited by the prospect of becoming queen. To her surprise, Hans Holbien, the artist sent to paint the portraits of the royal daughters of Cleves saw a beauty in her that most missed. The way this quality was painted is exactly what captured Henry’s eye. Unfortunately, Henry couldn’t see that when they met in person. The way in which the events surrounding their divorce played out in this novel was interesting and this view of Anne was endearing. I like to think of her in this way.

There was one lost opportunity in this novel. After Henry chooses Anne, we next find her on her journey to England. We do not experience how the news of Henry’s choice impacts Anne, her family, or the people she serves. We do not see her leave her home for the last time. We do not see how being overlooked by a king affected Amelia. As Anne’s life in England as it pertains to the throne are well known, it is precisely those missing details that would really grab and inspire my imagination. Certainly I can make up my own scenes, but I read historical fiction to have those undocumented moments come alive on the page. This was a minor drawback. It did not keep me from enjoying this novel at all. Still, the mild disappointment over what could have been, especially with an author so skilled, remains with me.

My Lady of Cleves is a novel I will always cherish. She was a strong woman who had to work hard to overcome her looks, which always felt like a shortcoming to her. I can’t quite place my finger on a specific passage, but Chapters 17 and 18 were beautiful in the way in which they depict the turning point in Anne’s life. What was accomplished there made the novel and solidified Anne’s place in my heart among Henry’s wives. She deserved the freedom and solitude that she found at Richmond. I’d wager that she was the only woman deeply involved with Henry who died happy and content with her life. I am glad that the author chose to bring Anne to the forefront. Historical figures do not have to be tyrants or tarts to be compelling. Sometimes a heroine with just a dash of fire when scorned is exactly what is needed to satisfy. This novel is a must for Tudor fans, but would be a delight for any reader.

*********

To buy this book, click here.

#134 ~ Loving Frank

January 13, 2009 at 11:28 pm | Posted in Books, Historical Fiction, Reading | 10 Comments
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Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

In search of a home of his own, Mr. Edwin Cheney of Chicago convinced his wife Mamah to agree to commissioning a local American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to design and build their family home. Mr. Cheney gained his house, but he couldn’t have known that he would ultimately lose his wife to the architect. Loving Frank tells the story of the love affair of Mamah and Frank from Mamah’s perspective. Mamah’s decision to leave the husband for which she never had any passion cost her as well. In her time, adulterous women lost custody of their children and their reputations to boot. Her story is one of heartache, sensuality, and the discovery of who she is and who she wants to be.

Loving Frank reads like a story out of 19th feminist literature like The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Awakening by Kate Chopin. In so many ways, unfortunately, Mamah is the embodiment of Edna Pontellier. She finds her self dissatisfied with domestic life and agonizes over the realization that she really knew beforehand that she shouldn’t have married Edwin. Although he respects her father and cares for her family, he is not a creative soul. Frank Lloyd Wright is. As he, too, has grown unhappy in his own marriage, it’s only a matter of time before the two begin an affair. After leaving her family to run away with her lover, she comes face to face with the reality of living with Frank. Frank may be a man of vision, but he is all too human. He has deep character flaws that cause her distress and embarrassment. The guilt of leaving her children and the ill effects of being under the harsh spotlight of a the scandal loving media start to take their tole. It is only after attending a speech by Ellen Key, a feminist writer famous in Europe, that she starts to understand that the secret to her own happiness and fulfillment can come from no place but within herself.

Mamah and Frank are both self-centric people and are often unlikable. They both want the fairytale life, but tend to whine when it isn’t handed to them on a silver platter. Although he thought of Mamah as his intellectual equal, Frank was dismayed repetitively when she wanted to leave his side to pursue her own goals. Mamah continually found it difficult to love Frank through his human weaknesses. They both wanted nothing more than to express their creativity. Neither really cared to get their hands messy with the work of keeping relationships together. Had fate not intervened in the end, it seems doubtful that their relationship could have survived after the drama created by their scandalous relationship died down.

This review was difficult to write. I enjoyed Loving Frank , despite the fact that portions of the novel seemed long and dry. Given their personalities, it was often difficult to sympathize with Mamah and Frank. That being said, to enjoy a novel, it is not necessary to like the main characters. Lolita is one of my favorite novels, but I do not like nor agree with Humbert Humbert. The exploration of feminism in the early 2oth century through Mamah’s growth as a woman was very interesting. In that day and time, a woman lost her place as mother when she willingly gave up her place as wife. For women with children, personal freedom came at a huge cost. As the narrative tended to wander off course in some areas and then the author included too many unnecessary details in other, there were loose ends that were not tied up in the end. What could have been a brilliant, emotional and powerful conclusion to Mamah and Frank’s story fizzled. I would still recommend this novel, most especially for a class about early feminist literature. Although this is a work of historical fiction, it would provide the perspective of a woman living in America at the time.

*******

To buy this novel, click here.

The Sunday Salon ~ I’m Back!

January 11, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Books, LIfe, Reading | 17 Comments
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The Sunday Salon.comAfter a week of computer frustration, I am back! This afternoon I actually felt like picking my laptop back up and getting back to work again. I’ve missed you guys!

While I’ve been away, I have been getting some things accomplished. I got rid of all my half.com books. I sold them all for $10 and then promptly bought The Reader. Yes, it’s true that the last thing that I need is a book. Still, what a nice trade against boxes filling the back of my Grand Caravan? With the room I’ve made, I’ve been able to able to box up my sprint and summer clothes and put them on the top shelf of my walk-in closet. My clothes will no longer be wrinkled the moment they’re hung up. This also is making more room for my my stamping supplies. I’m not finished organizing the space, but I’ve made some great progress.

I’ve also been reading. Since the New Year, I’ve read My Lady of Cleves, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Etta, and Tomato Girl. My Lady of Cleves and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button are both books off of my Just for the Love of It Reading Challenge. Because I’ve also joined the January is ARC Reading Month, I will be reading ARCs the rest of the month. It felt good to be reading non-ARCs. It’s re-energized me for the rest of the month. Etta and Tomato Girl are books off of my 2009 ARC Reading Challenge. I’m well under way. I’m currently reading Mermaids in the Basement for an upcoming book tour and author interview. This is another one for the ARC Reading Challenge. But that’s not all! I forgot about my first read for the War through the Generations Reading Challenge ~ The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I’m listening to it on my Zen Creative (which I LOVE) and enjoying it.

I’ve got a lot of reviews to catch up on now that I no longer get hives touching a computer after work. First up will be my last book of 2008 ~ Loving Frank. Loving Frank is the first book we read in my Facebook Historical Fiction Lovers Book Club. 64 people have signed up and I’m really happy about that. The book for February is Soul Catcher by Michael White. If you want to join in on the fun, there is plenty of time. Most of all, we’d be happy to have you.

The New Year is a time to make resolutions. As someone who is overweight, my resolution is either to lose weight or, when I’m feeling more confident, to learn to love myself. This year I wasn’t sure what I wanted. Over the past 11 days, I decided that I wanted to live healthy – and doesn’t that accomplish both? I joined SparkPeople (Lithousewife is my username). It’s a really cool free site where you can set your goals and meet others getting healthier. Best of all, there is a Bookworm community for those who want to devour more books while easting less. :) You know that’s right up my alley. I’m watching the first episode of this season’s The Biggest Loser and it is very, very motivating.  I look forward to giving you updates on my healthy me challenge as the year progresses.

I hope that all of you are doing well. I will be back on the blogs tonight – right after I do a Wii Fit workout.

25811 ~ A Look Back at 2008

January 3, 2009 at 1:44 pm | Posted in Books, LIfe, Reading | 18 Comments
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After manually compiling the books I read last year, I’ve come up with the following statistics:

The Basics

Total Books Read: 78 (24 more than 2007)
Total Pages Read: 25811 (4800 more than 2007)
Average Number of Pages: 331 (54 less than 2007)

By Category:

Total Books Loved: 23
Total Books Liked: 34
Total Books Neutral: 15
Total Books Irritating: 3
Total Books Hated: 3

Literate Housewife’s Top 10 Books Read in 2008

Of the 23 books I loved last year, I’ve chosen the following as my favorites (displayed in no particular order):

water Gardens of Water by Alan Drew
cover-of-witchs-trinity-pb The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman

lobster Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’Nan

cover-of-the-last-queen The Last Queen by C. W. Gortner

cover-of-the-seamstress The Seamstress by Frances De Pontes Peebles

gargolye The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

cover-of-capote-in-kansas Capote in Kansas by Kim Powers
cover-of-reluctant-widow The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer

cover-of-the-front-porch-prophet The Front Porch Prophet by Raymond L. Atkins

cover-of-finding-nouf Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris

#133 ~ The Sister

January 2, 2009 at 6:04 pm | Posted in Books, Family, Historical Fiction, Reading, Secrets and Lies | 4 Comments
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The Sister by Poppy Adams, read by Juliet Mills

Virginia Stone, a 70 year old spinster, lives alone with her moths at Bulburrow Court, her family’s mansion.  She is an eccentric old woman who grew up during WWII and its aftermath.  She is peculiar, most especially about time and tea.  To say she is set in her ways would be an understatement.  When her younger sister Vivien returns to Bulburrow Court after leaving the family home and her sister for London nearly 50 years earlier, Ginny reflects on her life, from her alcoholic mother  Maud, her lepidopterist father Clive, who mentored her in the study of moths, and her love for her absent sister.  She approaches her history with the same unemotional scientific eye that she uses with her moths and other insects.  It doesn’t take long to start questioning Ginny’s reliability as a daughter, sister, and narrator.  This novel held my interest from the beginning with Vivi’s tragic, near-fatal fall and the numerous mysteries and questions that continued to come up to the surface.

Poppy Adams is an extremely detailed writer.  Her use of entomology and the study of the moth clearly stem from a great deal of research.  While Ginny loves to go into lengthy and often gory detail about her science, the minutia she shares with the reader provides important insights into Ginny’s morality, mental state, and obsessive compulsiveness. There is an interesting passage about a colony of ants taken over by a butterfly larva that still has me thinking about Ginny and what the truth about her family might have been.

This is the first audio book I truly enjoyed.  No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July and Savannah by John Jakes (which I couldn’t finish) were complete flops for me – both because of the narration.  In addition to the story itself, The Sister had what the others so far have not – the perfect reader.  Juliet Mills’ voice and reading was such a complement to Ginny that I can’t image there being a more perfect vocal performer for the novel.   The way she enunciated “pupal soup” throughout the novel was both sickening and dead on for Ginny’s character.  She expertly read dialog for the other characters as well.  There was a scene where Maud, drunk, could not hold her tongue to Ginny about her opinions of Albert, Vivi’s boyfriend.  That exchange between Maud and Ginny was wonderful and riveting.  Although I’m tempted to read the physical book the next time around, I can’t imagine reading it without hearing Mills’ voice.

This novel, because it is narrated by Ginny, does not provide answers to all of the questions that are raised.  Who exactly is the sister?  What exactly did the rest of the family and the village of Bulburrow know about Ginny that she did not?  If she has been mentally ill her entire life, why in the world would Vivi and Albert entrust her with their family in the way that they did?  Did she truly carry on Clive’s work after he retired? What exactly went on with Dr. Moyse?  At first, this made the ending fall a little flat for me.  However, upon further reflection, it would be impossible to know what Ginny did not and this is made even that much more difficult as she had a talent for blocking out the unpleasant portions of stories and conversations.  Truly, this novel is open-ended, allowing the reader to discern the truth from the delusion.  The Sister invites additional readings.  It would be very interesting to read this a second time to see what I might have missed the first time.  While under no circumstances would I ever sit down for tea with Ginny Stone, I’d love to study her in more depth.  She is a fascinating character whose voice, like that of Vida Winter from The Thirteenth Tale and many of Patrick McGrath’s narrators, will stay with me for a long time to come.

*******
To buy book in audio, click here.
To buy this book, click here.

#132 ~ The Conqueror

December 28, 2008 at 9:13 am | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Reading | 6 Comments
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The Conqueror by Georgette Heyer

The Conqueror tells the story of William the Conqueror, from his bastard birth, to his life as the Duke of Normandy, and finaly to his triumphant rise to the throne of England. Given the circumstances of William’s life and the political climate of both Normandy and England in the 11th century, this is quite an undertaking.

After reading The Reluctant Widow, I was very excited to start The Conqueror. My thinking was that if I loved her Regency Romances, I would really love her historical fiction. I was mistaken. Unlike The Reluctant Widow, this novel took me over a week to finish. This was mainly due to the slow and inconsistent pacing of the plot. While much time and energy was spent on William the Conqueror’s numerous battles, very little was spent on his relationship with Matilda or who he really was as a man. This lack of character development was true throughout, filling pages with numerous supporting characters between whom I could not readily distinguish. For me, they further bogged down the story and made it seem even that much longer than it really was.

There were flashes of Heyer’s brilliance when she tells of the circumstances of William’s birth, when she introduces Raoul, the fictional man through whom we meet William as a man and learn of his exploits, and when she tells of William’s “courting” of Lady Matilda. I also found it interesting to learn of ways in which William modernized the warfare of the day through strategy and the inclusion of archers. Clearly, William is a man capable of capturing the imagination of readers nearly a full century after his full and adventurous life. Unfortunately, this potential was lost to me amidst the superfluous characters and many of the battles in Normandy that did not add to the plot or provide any additional insight into William or, for that matter, Raoul or Matilda.

While The Conqueror did not engage me or take me away to time and places of William’s life, I am glad to have read it. This novel is best approached as one to read over a period of time. It would be interesting to read this in chapters or sections as a prelude to a thorough biography. I am curious to learn more about William, Matilda and and the lives of their children. In that way, this novel was a success. I hope to find a good book that focuses on the life that William and Matilda shared. If you have any suggestions, I would be most appreciative.

******
To buy this novel, click here.

#131 ~ The Jewel of Medina

December 21, 2008 at 12:43 pm | Posted in Books, Culture, Historical Fiction, Reading, Religion | 9 Comments
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The Jewel of Medina by Sherry Jones

A’isha is a 6 year old girl who, after her parents betrothed her to Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, was required to remain in her family home until she had her first menstrual period.  For an adventurous girl such as herself, she is tortured by the limitations placed on her simply because she was betrothed.  She dreamed of escaping to freedom with the Bedouins with Safwan, her childhood friend during the entire length of her purdah.  When she witnesses a woman from her clan dragged away by a man who would disgrace her as well,  A’isha can barely contain herself from taking up a sword and defending her neighbor herself.  She may have been young and she may have been a girl, but she had the heart of a warrior.   It was this spirit which caught the eye of Muhammad and changed her destiny.

I first heard about this novel in August when it was reported that Random House was pulling its publication for fear of angering Muslims and perhaps inciting violence.  This reminded me of the events surrounding Salmon Rushdie and The Satanic Verses.  I found the decision disappointing.  Self-censorship out of fear of what might happen is in some ways worse than forcible censorship because it isn’t always as visible.  How many other books have never been published out of fear?  Thankfully, it was finally published by Beaufort Books in the United States.  When I snagged a copy of this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, I was very curious to see just what it was that caused such a large publisher to back down.  This is a novelization of a portion of Muhammad’s life through the eyes of his most notorious wife.  Still, he was portrayed with warmth and empathy.  His charisma and love of Allah are obvious, but so is his humanity.  While I suppose any fictionalization of Muhammad may anger some Muslims, no offense was intended.  Canceling this publication was much ado about nothing.

As most established religions have struggled against the treatment of women and their roles in society, A’isha’s character is especially interesting as (to Western eyes) Muslim women seemed to be the most imprisoned by their faith, family, and spouse.  The only issue I had with this novel was the story line surrounding the way in which the rules surrounding facial covering became part of Muslim life.  Making a vision seem convenient to Muhammad felt like an “easy out” that was not at all in line with his character.  I do not know exactly how this came to be part of the Islam faith, but it seems to have sprang more from the existing culture than from Allah.

The Jewel of Medina is a fast paced and engrossing look at the beginnings of Islam through the eyes of a young girl who eventually becomes the third wife of the Prophet Muhammad.  At the beginning I was reminded of The 19th Wife because of the common themes of plural marriage and being married to a prophet.  The 19th Wife and The Jewel of Medina are both ambitious novels attempting to provide insight on the origins of world religions through the stories of the women involved.  Interesting that both novels would be published this year.  For me, Jones’ novel worked where Ebershoff’s did not.  From the moment that A’isha is married to the much older Muhammad, I could not put the book down. This novel’s insights into living among sister-wives were more compelling and, as there is only one voice telling the story, the reader is always fully aware of the opinions coloring the story.  While we can’t truly understand today without knowledge of the past, by leaving the modern out of The Jewel of Medina Sherry Jones brought early Arabic culture and the roots of Islam to life without much of the  cynicism of today.

I cannot recommend this novel enough.  It is a wonderful way to learn about the origins of Islam through the eyes of a complex and strong young girl and then woman.  A’isha does not conform to my ideas of a typical Muslim woman anymore than she did during her day and age.  She had to fight for her place in Muhammad’s harim and for the place of women in her society.  Being so much younger than her husband, A’isha’s story does not end upon Muhammad’s death and I am eagerly waiting for the sequel.  The Jewel of Medina, like all of the historical fiction I’ve enjoyed, has peaked my interest in Islam, Muhammad and his wives.  I absolutely enjoyed the adventure and I’m sure you will, too.

******
To buy this novel, click here.

Historical Fiction Lovers Book Club

December 19, 2008 at 6:57 pm | Posted in Books, Reading | 10 Comments
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I really am enjoying Book Clubs on Facebook!  I set up a book club for historical fiction called Historical Fiction Lovers and our first novel is going to be Loving Frank by Nancy Horan.  One of my high school classmates suggested it a few months ago.  I’ve been to Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Fallingwater near Ohiopyle, PA, but I had no idea that he was involved in a scandalous affair while working on a house in Grand Rapids, MI – my hometown!  This makes me even more excited to read this novel.

What’s nice about having the book club on this application is that it allows for a wall like your Facebook profile, has a discussion board, and has a neat built in discussion guide form that each member can fill out.  Based on everyone’s responses, you can really start some great conversations.  I definitely like this more than just a stand alone forum.  I think you will, too.

So far, ten people have signed up, but there’s always room for more!  We’re going to begin our discussion on January 5th.  If you’d be interested in joining us, here is a link to the club.  You do need to be a member of Facebook, but it takes just seconds to join.  I’d love to have you.  If historical fiction isn’t your thing (for shame!), there are currently 52 other book clubs.  Best of all, you can always add your own.

2009 ARC Reading Challenge

December 19, 2008 at 10:20 am | Posted in Books, My Life with Books, Reading | 10 Comments
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So Many Precious Books, So Little Time is sponsoring a reading challenge specifically for ARCs.  This is right up my ally since I’ve been trying to make my pile more manageable over the past couple of months.

arc-reading-challenge

Here are the rules:

1. To sign up, leave a comment (here) and a direct link to your blog post about this challenge that includes your list from rule #2.

2.  List all of the ARC’s that you have to read right now.  Then throughout the year, you must continue updating that list as you receive more ARC’s.  (This is important). You should also strike out the ones that you finish.

3 a.  All of us who have or will have more than 12 ARC’s must read and review 12.
3 b.  All of us who have or will have less than 12 ARC’s must read all of the ARC’s we have.  Note, that if you have 11 ARC’s and then receive a 12th one you will be bumped up to category a.

4.  You don’t have to make a list of which ARC’s you plan to read, but you can if you want.

5. Crossovers with other challenges are allowed and Audio-books are allowed as long as they are ARC’s.

6. Read the books and review them on your blog. If you don’t have a blog, you can post your review on sites like Powells, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. Leave a comment on this post with a link to each of your reviews.

7. Please subscribe to my blog, as I will be posting updates to the challenge periodically.

8. Enjoy!

Note of clarification:  The term ARC is used loosely. Anything sent from a publisher or author is an ARC for this challenge because they are sent to us with the expectation that we will review them.

Here are my ARCs:

a. Tomato Girl
b. The Triumph of Deborah
c. Kept
d. Revolutionary Road
e. The Second Elizabeth
f. Broad Street
g. Etta
h. The Sound of Butterflies
i. The Book Borrower
j. Annette Vallon
k. Bedlam South
l. The Sinners Guide to Confession
m. Death and the Devil
n. Soul Cather
0. The Grass Singing
p. The Firemaster’s Mistress
q. A Silent Ocean Away
r. With Violets
s. The Jewel Trader of Pegu
t. Mermaids in the Basement

That’s 20 books, so I’m definitely in the read 12 books category.  My plan is to read them in this order through the end of January.  After that, I’m going to mix them in with other books from my library.  If you have ARCs, I’d love it if you would join us!

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