Guest Post: Mr. Bee Buzzes About Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Guest Post: Mr. Bee Buzzes About Lyndon Johnson and the American DreamLyndon Johnson and the American Dream by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Published by Open Road Media on August 4th 2015
Genres: American Government, Biography & Autobiography, Executive Branch, Political Science, Presidents & Heads of State
Pages: 438
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
An engrossing biography of President Lyndon Johnson from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Team of Rivals Hailed by the New York Times as “the most penetrating, fascinating political biography I have ever read,” Doris Kearns Goodwin’s extraordinary and insightful book draws from meticulous research in addition to the author’s time spent working at the White House from 1967 to 1969. After Lyndon Johnson’s term ended, Goodwin remained his confidante and assisted in the preparation of his memoir. In Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream she traces the 36th president’s life from childhood to his early days in politics, and from his leadership of the Senate to his presidency, analyzing his dramatic years in the White House, including both his historic domestic triumphs and his failures in Vietnam. Drawn from personal anecdotes and candid conversation with Johnson, Goodwin paints a rich and complicated portrait of one of our nation’s most compelling politicians.

The following review was written by my husband, editor, and fellow bibliophile, Mike:

I have always been a big fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin. I went to a lecture that she gave when I was in college; I have always enjoyed her TV appearances; I have read her books. I have joked to my wife that I could just sit and listen to Goodwin talk for hours on end and never be bored.

I never had the opportunity to read her first book, Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, originally released in 1976, and rereleased in 1991. I had read about the book and how it came to be. I knew it provided a unique perspective on Johnson due to Goodwin’s access to Johnson during the end of his presidency and his retirement (to help him with his memoirs). I was finally given the chance to read it when it was released as an e-book in August of 2015.

Simply put, I was not disappointed. While I wish it had provided a bit more detail on some of the historical events that involved Johnson, it did prove to be an interesting psychological study. This was due to the author’s access to Johnson. He opened up to Goodwin during the memoirs project more than he had to any other journalist or writer. I also always think it is interesting to read someone’s first book after having read all of his or her other books to see how their writing style changed or evolved.

It takes years or decades to make a proper assessment of a president. That has to be kept in mind while reading this book, due to the fact that it was released only 3 years after his death.

Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream is a good companion piece to Robert A. Caro’s epic Johnson biography series. Both provide great insight into Johnson’s rise to power as U.S. Senate Majority Leader, his frustrations as Vice-President, and his assumption of the presidency following JFK’s assassination. The multivolume Caro biography goes into more detail, but Goodwin’s book has Johnson’s first hand account.

Any fan of presidential history, or any of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s previous works will be interested to read this book.


Heather Bee’s Book…Tube?

Here’s my first attempt at BookTubing! I’ve seen a few other bloggers posting videos, and thought I’d give it a try. In this, I talk about some of the books I’ve read from the 2016 Tournament of Books shortlist, including The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra, The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard, Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, and The Sellout by Paul Beatty.


As this is a new endeavor, I welcome any feedback from you, readers (and seasoned BookTubers) so I can make my videos better (and one day be an Internet celebrity). 😉

A Few Thoughts on Fates and Furies

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Published by Penguin LCC US on 2015
Pages: 390
Format: Hardcover
Source: West Florida Public Library
"From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia, an exhilarating novel about marriage, creativity, art, and perception. Fates and Furies is a literary masterpiece that defies expectation. A dazzling examination of a marriage, it is also a portrait of creative partnership written by one of the best writers of her generation. Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years. At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love, and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity, and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive, and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart"--

When a book is described as one of the best books of the year, there’s not a whole lot I can really say that might persuade others to read it. So, instead of writing a standard review, I would like to share a couple of my favorite moments, which will involve minor spoilers.


I loved the character complexity of both Mathilde and Lotto, but I found myself admiring Lotto in the same way a host of minor characters did. I relate it to his unfailing ability to find beauty in others, from his long list of lovers to his wife to the operatic composer with whom he was determined to collaborate.

My absolute favorite moment in this book was during the artist’s retreat, when Lotto had a pity party of epic proportions. He and Leo had been working vociferously on their opera. Suddenly Leo takes leave to compose the music, thus abandoning Lotto to languish alone (and after he has extended his time away from Mathilde and missed Thanksgiving to boot). It went on for a couple of pages, but this concisely sums it up:

“He would starve here. On the shelf he had one apple kept back from a lunch, a box of skinny-person granola bars that Mathilde had packed, one last ramen cup. He would bleed to death from his cheek. The tailbone fracture would go septic inside him. No electricity and he’d burned up all his firewood in his gluttonous frenzy last night: he would freeze. No coffee either, caffeine withdrawal the real tragedy here.”

Groff exquisitely demonstrated Lotto’s proclivity for dramatic flair during this scene. Poor Lotto, cold, alone, cut off from everyone he loved. Poor, poor Lotto. I laughed out loud reading this.

Near the end, Groff beautifully describes the difficulty Lotto experiences when faced with a dissenter. Despite overwhelming praise and adoration, Lotto allows one person’s negative opinion to dash his confidence. This struck me quite forcefully. In that moment, I recognized myself in Lotto, that streak of perfectionism that sometimes allows a small blemish to mar my achievements (particularly my written work during my master’s degree). Seeing it before me as a narrative allowed me an opportunity to reflect and I intend to use this newfound insight the next time I start to “Lotto out” over a thesis draft. And I doubt I’m the only one out there who can relate to this.

So, to sum up, it’s a book that made me laugh, made me think, and made me stay up half the night to finish it. Read it!

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Readers of Broken Wheel RecommendThe Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
Published by Sourcebooks on January 19th 2016
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Humorous
Pages: 400
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
The International Bestseller #1 Indie Next Great Reads January 2016 #2 LibraryReads January 2016 Once you let a book into your life, the most unexpected things can happen...Broken Wheel, Iowa, has never seen anyone like Sara, who traveled all the way from Sweden just to meet her book-loving pen pal. When she arrives, however, she finds Amy's funeral guests just leaving. The residents of Broken Wheel are happy to look after their bewildered visitor -- not much else to do in a small town that's almost beyond repair. They just never imagined that she'd start a bookstore. Or that books could bring them together and change everything.There's a book for every person ... and a person for every book.

Imagine you’ve travelled thousands of miles to meet your pen pal… and arrive to find she’s just passed away. That’s what happened to Sara, yet instead of running home straight away, she turned what seemed to be a dreadful experience into rather an adventure.

Central to the story is the opening of Sara’s bookshop in the little Iowa farm town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. Her shop is exactly the kind of dream bookstore I’d love to run. I love the tenacity and perseverance she shows in proving that there is a book out there for everyone (a point on which she and I heartily agree)!

In opening the shop, Sara discovers a newfound sense of belonging that she’d yet to find on her past endeavors, and this seems to produce a ripple effect in the town–the people of Broken Wheel appeared to be developing their own senses: of self, purpose, conscience, etc.

There was a strong presence of Jane Austen throughout the story; her books are mentioned several times, and Sara even finds herself relating to Pride and Prejudice at one point. I would go further to say that the author styled some of her characters after those from Austen’s own work, most notably Tom, who seemed to have a taciturn disposition not unlike Mr. Darcy, and perhaps there was a little bit of Emma Woodhouse in the pesky councilwoman, Jen.

Although the reader never gets to directly meet Amy, her letters to Sara are interspersed throughout the story. Through these letters we discover a charming person who loves books as much as she loves her hometown, and it’s easy to understand what propelled Sara towards her American adventure. The letters also introduce us to characters in the same way Sara was, so that we are on equal footing with her when she starts meeting Amy’s friends and family. This was one of my favorite parts of book book. And it makes me miss pen pals.


The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend can be best described as a sweet story, one that begs you to plop into a comfy chair with a mug of cocoa (or in a beach chair, if the weather is warmer). It was also full of references to other books, often prompting me to add books to my TBR list.

Magical Mondays: Books from Hogwarts

by JK Rowling, Kenniworthy Whisp, Newt Scamander
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Source: West Florida Public Library

I’m still coming down from my recent #Potterbinge. In the last few months of 2015, I listened to the entire Harry Potter series narrated by Stephen Fry. I know I’m repeating myself, but it was glorious, and everyone should listen to his version! Between falling down the Wizarding World rabbit hole whilst Potter-binging and the news surrounding the upcoming Fantastics Beast and Where to Find Them film, I decided it was finally time to delve into the three books published for Muggles after the the series concluded. These books were absolutely adorable and a lot of fun to read.

41899Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander

This is a reprint of the textbook used by Harry Potter for his Care of Magical Creatures class. Not only does it provide a A-Z overview of the various magical creatures, the introduction explains some of the history behind what constitutes a “beast,” and magizoology. Also, because this is Harry’s book, the Muggle reader sees his (and Ron’s) annotations as well.

I really liked the content of this book. I read this while listening to one of the Harry Potter books (can’t recall which), and I found I was already familiar with some of the creatures the students were studying, such as bowtruckles. Unfortunately, though, it left me wanting. For a children’s book, there’s too much text and not enough illustration. It reads like a list, and I can see how some kiddos might lose interest in a creature book without loads of creatures to look at. I have no idea whether a fully illustrated version exists (or will exist soon as the film release approaches), but that would be bloody brilliant.

111450Quidditch Through the Ages by Kenniworthy Whisp

Quidditch Through the Ages comes to us Muggles via the Hogwarts Library, and Prof. Dumbledore shares in the forward a quote from Madam Pince, the Hogwarts library, that this book is “pawed about, dribbled on, and generally maltreated” nearly every day. This book provides the developmental history of the game, the various teams around the world, and a little instruction on many in-flight manuevers.

I admit that I initially selected this book out of obligation. Hermione is my spirit witch, so it may not be surprising that I preferred reading about charms, potions, and transmutation over quidditch (don’t get me wrong – it’s still a rather nifty sport, and I would *love* to be able to play).

The only book in the Hogwarts Library that Hermione didn’t check out.

I was very pleased to find myself enjoying this book as much as I did Fantastic Beasts. I love the detail in which the history of the sport was crafted, and I enjoyed learning that there are other wizarding sports around the world. One of my favorite moments is the description of the Crudely Cannons, that their “glory day many be considered by many to be over, but their devoted fans live in hope of a renaissance” and that the league changed their motto from “We shall conquer” to “Let’s all keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.” I immediately thought of the Chicago Cubs and their legion of devoted fans.

4020390The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling

This is a book of wizard children stories first introduced to Muggles when Prof. Dumbledore bequethed his copy to Hermione in his will. I suppose wizarding children have their own fairy tales just like Muggle children do. The Tales of Beedle the Bard includes a selection of these stories, including “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” “Babbity Rabbitty and Her Crackling Stump,” and “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” Of these three books, this was definitely my favorite.

First, one of my favorite scenes from all of the movies is the animated telling of “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” I love that type of animation, and I feel like it’s beautifully done.

Because I am a lifelong reader, I loved (and still do love) many stories from my childhood. Being able to experience children’s stories from the Wizarding World made me a little nostalgic, yet I also got to feel the excitement of experiencing a new story. What’s more is there was commentary provided by Prof. Dumbledore, to explain the background and morals behind each story. If I ever have children, I will definitely add these stories to the myriad others of which I am so fond. (I intend to contribute to the next generation of Potterheads. 🙂 )
In short, these are three, fun, little books that any Muggle can easily enjoy! We may have never gotten our own Hogwarts letters, but at least get a little glimpse with these books.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret AtwoodThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 29th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction, Humorous, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
Margaret Atwood puts the human heart to the ultimate test in an utterly brilliant new novel that is as visionary as The Handmaid's Tale and as richly imagined as The Blind Assassin.     Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.     At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.From the Hardcover edition.

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that, althoughThe Handmaid’s Tale has been on my bookshelf for over ten years, it wasn’t until 2015 that I finally read my first Atwood book. Upon closing that book, I became an instant fan, and was super stoked to check out her latest novel, The Heart Goes Last. (I’m also quite embarrassed that I read this book months ago and am just now getting around to writing my review).

One of the things that enthralled me about The Handmaid’s Tale was the terrifying yet realistic landscape in which the story takes place. Nearly 30 years after its publication, I found myself thinking about how easily the world today could become Offred’s Republic of Gilead. In The Heart Goes Last, Atwood was able to recreate that sense of foreboding. I think about the world today and the issue of income inequality, and I can see the distinct possibility of one day living in the same world as Stan and Charmaine.

Something else I like about Atwood’s style is that she doesn’t fill in all the details. Atwood alludes to Char’s troubled past and Stan’s tumultuous relation with his brother, but she doesn’t spell it out for the reader. I really like that. I think this adds to the realism of such a story. In real life, we are rarely privy to all the gory details about a person. This way it feels like the reader is part of the story, existing as a member of this dystopian society, and not merely viewing it as an outsider.

While I basked in the realness of the world and its characters, the plot was a less realistic to me. I felt like Stan and Char bought into this Consilience scheme a little bit too easily. And from that point the story, the events that unfolded seemed increasingly unbelievable. Entertaining, yes, but utterly unbelievable.

There’s more I could say about this book, but I will refrain in order to avoid spoilers. I will say that after finishing the book, I found myself arguing internally about some of the goings-on in the story. Whenever this happens, I feel it is a testament to the book if it can stay in your head well after you’ve returned it to the shelf. This book definitely did that.

I definitely recommend this book, especially if you’re a Margaret Atwood fan, but also if you like stories set in in well build worlds (even if they can be a bit scary).

Also, I have definitely been added to the ranks of Atwood admirers.


Wrong Time, Wrong Place: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

Wrong Time, Wrong Place: Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill CleggDid You Ever Have A Family by Bill Clegg
on 09/01/2015
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: West Florida Public Library
On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

From the couple running a motel on the Pacific Ocean where June eventually settles into a quiet half-life, to the wedding’s caterer whose bill has been forgotten, to Luke’s mother, the shattered outcast of the town—everyone touched by the tragedy is changed as truths about their near and far histories finally come to light.

Lately, I’ve been having tremendous luck finding library books that are on my TBR list: The Shore, Dietland, Fates and Furies, A Little Life, etc… And, although I already had a little pile on my nightstand, I decided to also grab Did You Ever Have A Family off the new fiction shelf. I remembered seeing several other bloggers reading and writing about it recently and thought I would see what it’s all about. I read the dust jacket and thought it sounded a little more solemn than my usual read, but I thought I’d give it a try.

I was about 75 pages into it when I realized that now was not a good time for me to be reading this book.

These last two months have probably been the most difficult of my adult life. My husband and I are both without work, and both having difficulty securing new jobs. Fortunately, with some lifestyle changes and a little savings, we’re managing, but we are both experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety.

With my current circumstances being quite stressful and often depressing, I found it difficult to enjoy this book. It’s not that I identified with the characters or their tragic losses, but reading such a sad story worked to bring my mood down even further. I kept reading, hoping for some uplifting turn of events. And while I did like the interconnectedness amongst the characters, and how it came together in a circular fashion in the end, I closed the book feeling much the same. It was just so very sad. And so was I.

Beyond my own feelings, there was also something about the way Clegg writes that didn’t jive with me. The way some parts were written in present tense was weird and it made it difficult for me to follow. But what bothered me most was Clegg’s propensity for writing never-ending sentences. For example,

“There’s safety in numbers, Lydia’s mother would say as she blew clouds of smoke through the kitchen from behind the Formica table where she sat each night with her schnapps, like a general at her battle station making speeches to the troops.”

Yet I wonder: would this have bothered me if I wasn’t having such a strong reaction to the story?

Ultimately, I can’t help but wonder how differently I might have perceived this book if I’d read it at a different time, when my personal life was a little less chaotic. Would I rave about it like my fellow bloggers? Should I read it again down the road to see if my mind changes? I just don’t know.  And that’s why I won’t give this book a rating. It’s like when a couple splits up, and the one doing the splitting says, “it’s not you, it’s me.”

Sorry, Did You Every Have A Family, the problem was with me, not you.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. MartinA Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R. R. Martin
Published by Random House Publishing Group on September 29th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Epic, Fantasy, Fiction, Short Stories (single author)
Pages: 368
Format: Hardcover
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER Taking place nearly a century before the events of A Game of Thrones, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms compiles the first three official prequel novellas to George R. R. Martin's ongoing masterwork, A Song of Ice and Fire. These never-before-collected adventures recount an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living consciousness.   Before Tyrion Lannister and Podrick Payne, there was Dunk and Egg. A young, naïve but ultimately courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals--in stature if not experience. Tagging along is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg--whose true name is hidden from all he and Dunk encounter. Though more improbable heroes may not be found in all of Westeros, great destinies lay ahead for these two . . . as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits.   Featuring more than 160 all-new illustrations by Gary Gianni, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a must-have collection that proves chivalry isn't dead--yet. Praise for A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms   "Readers who already love Martin and his ability to bring visceral human drama out of any story will be thrilled to find this trilogy brought together and injected with extra life."--Booklist   "The real reason to check out this collection is that it's simply great storytelling. Martin crafts a living, breathing world in a way few authors can. . . . [Gianni's illustrations] really bring the events of the novellas to life in beautiful fashion."--Tech Times

I came across this book at the library (along with a couple of other great finds – I love my library), and, having heard good things from a friend, decided to give it a go. As it so happened, it turned out to be a great book for digging myself out of this blogging slump. So, here goes!

A Knight of the Seven Kindoms consisted of three novellas set in Westeros about 100 years prior to the events in A Game of Thrones. These three tales follow Ser Duncan the Tall, a wandering hedge knight, and his unlikely squire, Egg. Over the course of the three stories, they travel, serve, fight, and generally find their way into (and out of) trouble.

Like with ASOIAF, I was utterly amazed at the world building that takes places in this story, with all the lords with their sons and banners and whatnot. These stories are enriched with a level of descriptive detail that allows to reader to see exactly how GRRM sees Westeros, yet they felt different from the larger works. I think the novella format allowed for a more straightforward way of telling the story, rather than the alternation between characters’ points of view in the series.

I really enjoyed the character of Ser Duncan AKA Dunk. He was born to nothing, and was lucky enough to become a squire. The reader is introduced to Dunk around his 16th year, having just buried his master and taken up his shield and sword. It is obvious that Dunk had little education beyond his knightly training, and I found it a little irritating that Dunk’s repetitive thoughts and the recycled phrases of his old master kept finding their way onto the page. At first, I thought the use of such a device was a bit lazy, then realized that was probably a true representation of how someone like Dunk would really think – that’s pretty brilliant.

Dunk may not have been the most intelligent man, but he proved over and over again that he is a good man. He stays true to his word in a world where such a quality is rare, and manages to stick his neck out to help others, even it is costs his own. I also really enjoyed the relationship he cultivated with Egg throughout the course of the stories. Initially, I found Egg to be a mouthy little brat, but it was clear that he cared deeply for Dunk, and their differences complemented each other.

The only issue I had with these stories was following the who’s who of the Blackfyre Rebellion, which broke out between rival parts of the Targaryen family about 16 years prior to these stories. Because the family names are often similar, if not the same, it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad. This is probably a common issue in these epic fantasy series, I just haven’t read enough of them to properly acclimate.

So, if you are a fan of epic fantasy or the ASOIAF series, you’ll probably enjoy this. Just be prepared to reread it in 10 years when the next set of novellas might be published! 😉


Magical Mondays: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Magical Mondays: Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen ChoSorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Published by ACE CHARTER on September 1st 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction, Historical, Literary, Romance
Pages: 384
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
In this sparkling debut, magic and mayhem clash with the British elite... The Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers, one of the most respected organizations throughout all of England, has long been tasked with maintaining magic within His Majesty’s lands. But lately, the once proper institute has fallen into disgrace, naming an altogether unsuitable gentleman—a freed slave who doesn’t even have a familiar—as their Sorcerer Royal, and allowing England’s once profuse stores of magic to slowly bleed dry. At least they haven’t stooped so low as to allow women to practice what is obviously a man’s profession… At his wit’s end, Zacharias Wythe, Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers and eminently proficient magician, ventures to the border of Fairyland to discover why England’s magical stocks are drying up. But when his adventure brings him in contact with a most unusual comrade, a woman with immense power and an unfathomable gift, he sets on a path which will alter the nature of sorcery in all of Britain—and the world at large…

Being an unabashed Anglophile and proud Potterhead, I thought this book would be right up my (Diagon) alley. The author took quite an interesting approach to magical England, a kind of 18th century Harry Potter meets Parliament. Not surprisingly, I found certain parts of Sorcerer to the Crown quite enjoyable, but it had some pitfalls that kept me from falling in love with it.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book was the way it was written–it was delightfully British. I think this particular sentence exemplifies it perfectly:

“Despite these brave prophylactics against disappointment, Prunella was inclined to be crestfallen when she drew out of the valise a sheaf of old papers–newspapers and torn receipts, of no account.”

(Translation in American: “She was sad because there was nothing in the bag.“)

The vocabulary was also quite dazzling, but became tedious the further along I read (seriously, my Kindle dictionary was no match for some of these words). Initially, it felt as if the author was just trying to show off her mad thesaurus skillz, but upon further reflection, I appreciated her use of archaic terms that truly enhanced the historical feel of the book.

I also enjoyed how the author created a world parallel to 18th century England, with all its white, patriarchal privilege, and then chose to create main characters who defy those cultural norms. Zacharias, the freed slave, held the highest magical position in the land. He faced overt discrimination from the magical society despite his true claim as Sorcerer Royal (as well as being a gifted thaumaturge), with his adversaries looking for any way to unseat him. There was also a restriction on women using magic, which made the feminist in me bristle. Although I generally disliked Prunella’s character, I enjoyed her complete dismissal of these rules, rising to heights previously unattainable to low born, mixed race women.

So, yea, this book totally matches what I usually enjoying reading. But there were a couple of things about it I couldn’t overlook. First of all, it was slooooow at times. I almost gave up on this book around the 1/3 mark. But what I truly struggled with was supporting the story’s heroin. Despite my earlier remarks about her, Prunella was reckless and rash, and something about her character rubbed me the wrong way. I also felt that she took advantage of Zacharias, whose temperament reminded of Jane Bennett and who was completely naive when it came to women.

The verdict: good, but not great. It looks like this might become a series, and I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll read the next book.

Plato for Plumbers by Francis Gideon

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Plato for Plumbers by Francis GideonPlato for Plumbers by Francis Gideon
Published by Less Than Three Press on 9/7/2015
Genres: LGBTQIA, Romance
Format: eARC
Source: Netgalley
The week before an important philosophy conference, Kenneth is struggling to finish both the last chapter of his book and the paper he's writing for the event. His efforts are thwarted by a leaky faucet—and his life as a whole is turned upside down by the plumber who shows up to fix it.

One of the items on Book Riot’s Reader Harder Challenge 2015 is to read a book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ. So, I thought a good place to start was the LGBTQIA section on NetGalley. I hadn’t read anything from this genre before, so I was looking forward to what might be out there. And what I found was a short story titled, Plato for Plumbers by Francis Gideon.

I found this short story very entertaining. It was easy for me to identify with the main character, Ken, with his life in academia, and with his self-consciousness in failing to do “real people” things, like fixing a leaky faucet. The story was fun, if not a little predictable. But I think that’s the way romance stories work, right? After some will-they-won’t-they, Ken gets the guy, and everything works out in the end with a neat little bow?

After I finished, I checked out some reviews posted on Goodreads. Some readers posted complaints about a lack of sexual content. Although I was surprised that there wasn’t more sexual content, I can’t say that I’m disappointed in the lack thereof. I don’t think providing the explicit details of the characters having sex would have fit with the overall flow of the book. Again, I’m not very familiar with this area of fiction, but wouldn’t that be erotica and not romance? For a short story, I think the author nailed the appropriate level of detail.

Overall, I enjoyed this. It was a super quick read, the characters were relatable and, of course, they lived happily ever after. This is definitely not my usual cup of tea, and I can’t say I’ve been won over to the romance genre, but it was fun, and if you’re into romance and/or LGBTQ+ lit, you might want to give this short story a try!

The best part about reading this story was a little bit of self discovery and reflection. When I initially read the description on Netgalley, I realized I had stereotyped all LGBTQIA romance novels to be between two female characters. It was one of those automatic beliefs you don’t even realize you have until some stimulus makes you consciously think about it. I’m glad to have stumbled upon this very book to be that stimulus so I can work on eliminating such an erroneous belief.