Jayne’s Best of 2018
Sugar and Snails by Sarah Tsiang and Sonja Wimmer
A novel twist to a classic rhyme.
Who says that little girls are made of “sugar and spice and everything nice?” Or that boys are made of “frogs and snails and puppy dog tails?” What if girls were made of “boats and snails and dinosaur tails?” And little boys of “flowers and swings and bumblebee wings?” When the traditional rhyme just doesn’t seem to fit the boy and girl visiting their grandpa, he comes up with a list of unusual alternatives. Soon the children are coming up with their own versions that challenge the old stereotypes with a whimsical list of ingredients. To add to the new quirky version are lively illustrations that beautifully capture the children’s imaginative flights of fancy. Young readers will delight in the small details of Sonja Wimmer’s vibrant art, and be inspired to think of their own silly examples of what ingredients they might be made of themselves.
Oh I love this book. Just look at the cover. It mixes clever and inventive rhyme with gorgeous illustrations to turn gender stereotypes upside down. Because what if you’re a girl who doesn’t like to wear dresses and who likes monkeys and dirt and lemon dessert? Or if you’re a boy who doesn’t like frogs but loves mutts and newts and rubber rain boots? Is there a book for them? Yes and this is it. I just read it again and love it as much as the first time I read it. A
Love Game by Maggie Wells
She’s earned her position
Kate Snyder is at the top of her game. She scored her first national championship at Wolcott University in her undergrad days, and now she’s the coaching legend of the #1 college women’s basketball team. No one knows the meaning of the phrase “work your way up” better than Kate. So when the university hires a football coach trying to escape scandal—paying him a lot more than she earns—Kate is more than annoyed.
He just sailed into his
Danny McMillan had hoped for a smooth transition at Wolcott, but fiery Coach Snyder made that impossible. Every time he and Kate are in a room together, snark and sparks fly. Danny gets her frustration, but her pay grade isn’t his problem, right? When Kate and Danny finally see eye to eye, their sparks turn into something even hotter…and they need to figure out if this is more than just a game.
There are a whole heck of conflicts sprinkled throughout the book and Kate and Danny take them all on. They’re older, wiser and it’s a joy to see them use their knowledge. They do strike sparks but they also use their heads and intelligence when it counts. Danny does occasionally say some things that Kate ought to have got her hackles up over but as she says, “Danny respected her. More than that, he liked her. And she liked the note of wonderment in his voice… He sounded almost as if he couldn’t believe his luck.” And that’s his luck in winning her. For those who notice, he’s the one who realizes and admits to love before she does. He’s the one she saves and she’s the one who does it by popping the question. When Kate stands up for what she deserves, Danny watches her in admiration and delight.
The corner that Danny is backed into is real and the stakes are high. As several friends and Kate remind him, he’s got a lot to lose if things go sour but to him, Kate and their relationship is worth it and Danny doesn’t hesitate to let people know that. He realizes when he’s flubbed Something Major and makes it right, even if his knees are protesting. I cracked up at why Danny chose the ring he does and how he describes another one – “like little footballs” – but then he’s a football jock.
Knees aching, he tried to glare at her, but the smile on her face told him he’d come up short. “You know I’ve had this knee scoped three times, right? You’re going to have to seal the deal, or we’ll need a winch to get me back on my feet.”
She pulled a face. “Maybe I should look for a model in better condition.”
“Like you have any room to talk.”
“True,” she conceded.
“Take me as I am?”
“It is a pretty ring.”
This was awesome. A-
Dear Mrs. Bird by A. J. Pearce
An irresistible debut set in London during World War II about an adventurous young woman who becomes a secret advice columnist— a warm, funny, and enormously moving story for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Lilac Girls.
London, 1940. Emmeline Lake is Doing Her Bit for the war effort, volunteering as a telephone operator with the Auxiliary Fire Services. When Emmy sees an advertisement for a job at the London Evening Chronicle, her dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent suddenly seem achievable. But the job turns out to be working as a typist for the fierce and renowned advice columnist, Henrietta Bird. Emmy is disappointed, but gamely bucks up and buckles down.
Mrs. Bird is very clear: letters containing any Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. But when Emmy reads poignant notes from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong men, or who can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she is unable to resist responding. As the German planes make their nightly raids, and London picks up the smoldering pieces each morning, Emmy secretly begins to write back to the readers who have poured out their troubles.
Prepare to fall head over heels for Emmy and her best friend, Bunty, who are gutsy and spirited, even in the face of a terrible blow. The irrepressible Emmy keeps writing letters in this hilarious and enormously moving tale of friendship, the kindness of strangers, and ordinary people in extraordinary times.
I knew eventually things would catch up with Emmy and when they did, the story moved into a deeper layer of emotion. Emmy does some growing up and soul searching as she grapples with continuing her letter replies and faces a tragedy. Emmy might not always make the best choices but she stays herself and acts true to character. Even as things go pear shaped, I couldn’t have seen her doing any differently. I would have liked to have seen, and was surprised that I didn’t, her parents and brother weighing in during the Last Bit of Unpleasantness. Also the book ends on a positive note but with unresolved issues. Perhaps that means a there will be more adventures in a second book for Emmy and the others? Yes, please I hope so. A-
Cleo and Cornelius by Elizabeth Nicholson, Janine Pibal, and Nick Geller
Adventurous Cleo and couch potato Cornelius live in ancient Egypt, where cats are worshipped like gods and goddesses. After Cornelius accidentally boards a boat departing on a voyage across the sea, Cleo and Cornelius find themselves in the faraway city of Rome, a place where dogs are treated like kings. In Rome, the activities never end! Cleo and Cornelius race chariots, play games, perform in a theater, and more. Do they even want to return to Egypt? A spin on Aesop’s classic fable “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse,” Cleo and Cornelius is teeming with hungry hippos, toga-clad dogs, and dancing cat mummies, bringing new excitement to a timeless tale.
Kitty cousins Cleo and Cornelius are living the good life in Egypt. Golden amulets and being treated like gods and goddess? Yeah, sweet. But a boat and barrel of fish catch Cornelius’ eye and soon he’s sailing away. But maybe eating that fish, or sailing, or eating that fish while sailing wasn’t such a good idea. Cleo desperately tries to join him but doesn’t quite leap far enough – to the annoyance of a passing hippo.
Clever Cleo, bored with five meals and six naps a day, misses her cousin. Then she has a brilliant idea. Soon she’s in Rome too with Cornelius showing her the sights. She’s a fearless chariot driver at the Circus Maximus channeling her inner “Ben Purr.” But there’s also the theater and Roman baths to see as well as playing pounce.
Heading back to Egypt, they arrive just in time for the festival of Bastet. Cleo, being a native, can of course ♪ “walk like an Egyptian.”♫ Will our cousins settle back into their pampered life or has the lure of adventure caught them?
This is darling. Seriously, OMC darling. I just want to pick Cornelius up and cuddle him while I’m sure I’d be shooing Cleo away from my curtains then trying to keep her entertained. Read it for the cute cats then go back and look for all the details. Then read it again. A
The Bookshop Girl by Sylvia Bishop
A whimsical delight, crafted with quirkiness and a touch of classic charm
The Joneses have just won the Great Montgomery Book Emporium in a contest, and it’s every book lover’s dream! The pull of a lever calls forth a room full of marvelous wonders—from the Room of Woodland tales with its squirrels and mice, to the rocket ship in the Room of Space Adventures, and the aquarium ceiling in the Room of Ocean Tales.
But there is more to the Emporium than its thousands of books in extravagant displays. In fact, the previous owner is hiding something that could destroy absolutely everything for the Joneses.
Property Jones has a whopper of a secret too—and it might just be the key to saving her family and their bookshop from the clutches of a nasty villain.
Sylvia Bishop’s exceptional and fantastical U.S. debut features a cast of memorable, quirky characters, including the resourceful Property Jones herself and her cantankerous kitten side-kick, beautiful descriptions of the tactile pleasures of books, and the magical transporting quality bookstores can have for readers.
What a scrumptiously adorable story. Abandoned Property Jones (her adopted brother Michael, not knowing what to do with a five year old, had stuck her in his mother’s lost property cabinet) becomes part of the family of bookstore owner Netty Jones and her young son. When they are picked to win an amazing raffle and get the world’s most amazing bookstore – for free! – they can’t believe their luck.
Well, I know that I want to visit the Great Montgomery Book Emporium. What reader wouldn’t? I love that young Property, a girl who observes everything, is the key to thwarting a villain and gets to be the heroine. The unconditional love of the Joneses is heartening too. I already have a fierce gray cat but I’m giving Gunther a home in my imagination. A-
Sweetheart Braves (Crooked Rock Book 3) by Pamela Sanderson
Tommy Weaver wants to stay sober and that means steering clear of challenging situations, avoiding difficult people, and staying away from personal relationships. Unfortunately, he has a cousin unsuccessfully rehabbing in his spare room while Crooked Rock demands more than he can give, and in the midst of his growing troubles, the irresistible Elizabeth appears.
Elizabeth Lewis couldn’t wait to finish college and get back to the security of her home and family on the reservation. But when her granny, a well-known Indian activist, seeks to right a family wrong, Elizabeth finds herself back in the city and seeking assistance from Crooked Rock. She convinces Tommy to join her and as her mission grows more complicated, he never leaves her side.
Neither of them expected to fall this hard, so what happens when it’s time for Elizabeth to go back home?
This is book 3 in the Crooked Rock Urban Indian Center series
What I’ve really loved about these books is that they are rooted in Native/Indian/Ind’n culture and traditions. When Granny talks about bringing home her dance dress and what it means to their tribe, it’s “this is our heritage and what it means to us” not just “it’s a pretty artifact.” When Elizabeth, Tommy and the others talk about rez life, they’ve lived it and know it. Arnie might sigh when his mother appears to check out his guest shortly after he gets home but he knew his cousins would immediately tell her and what she’d do. When Linda has to drive a rez car for a few days, she knows she’s going to have problems with it.
Linda and Arnie’s long term friendship with issues continues as they try and move back away from the precipice they neared in the last book. For the good of the Center, they’ll put their contentious feelings aside but there’s a cliffhanger here that has both of them thinking hard. I’m looking forward to seeing what book 4 will bring. A-
For the Love of Laura Beth by Aubrey Wynne
The Korean War destroyed their plans, but the battle at home may shatter their hearts…
Laura Beth Walters fell in love with Joe McCall when she was six years old. Now she counts the days until Joey graduates from college so they can marry and begin their life together. But the Korean War rips their neatly laid plans to shreds. Instead of a college fraternity, Joey joins a platoon. Laura Beth trades a traditional wedding for a quick trip to the courthouse.
The couple endures the hardship of separation, but the true battle begins when Joey returns home. Their marriage is tested almost beyond endurance as Laura struggles to accept the tragedy thrown in their path. Joey watches as the woman who has kept him anchored slowly crumbles. With the same steadfastness his wife has always shown him, he faces the invisible enemy with the heart of a soldier. He will fight anyone or anything…for the love of Laura Beth.
Spoiler (Trigger Warning): Show
This novella broke my heart … and then put it back together. The period detail of the late 1940s/early 1950s is just enough, but not too much, to put me in a different time and place. Joey’s dad had enlisted in WWII so Joey has no illusions about being a hero or covering himself in glory. His thoughts of going to war are grimmer, much more realistic and probably those that most men secretly grapple with.
Laura Beth is the strong one. From helping Joey’s family cope with the death of his mother to standing up for what she knows is the right thing for her, she’s a rock. So to see her begin to crumble under the weight of what happens is almost as shocking to the reader as it is to her family. Yet, her reasons, emotions and fears are those that mothers facing terrible losses must also fight with and overcome.
As her father-in-law tells her, his wife completed him and Laura Beth and Joey complete each other. Their love is sweet, layered and deep. The epilogue shows that they’ll make it and I’ve no doubt had it been set 50 years after the main story, I’d still believe these two are deeply in love. This one made me cry but ultimately also made me smile. A
Forsaking All Other by Catherine Meyrick
Love is no game for women; the price is far too high.
Bess Stoughton, waiting woman to the well-connected Lady Allingbourne, has discovered that her father is arranging for her to marry an elderly neighbour. Normally obedient Bess rebels and wrests from her father a year to find a husband more to her liking.
Edmund Wyard, a taciturn and scarred veteran of England’s campaign in Ireland, is attempting to ignore the pressure from his family to find a suitable wife as he prepares to join the Earl of Leicester’s army in the Netherlands.
Although Bess and Edmund are drawn to each other, they are aware that they can have nothing more than friendship. Bess knows that Edmund’s wealth and family connections place him beyond her reach. And Edmund, with his well-honed sense of duty, has never considered that he could follow his own wishes.
With England on the brink of war and fear of Catholic plots extending even into Lady Allingbourne’s household, time is running out for both of them.
Although the growing relationship between Edmund and Bess does progress in a stately fashion, once these two realize their feelings, there’s no doubt of it or their desire. They are, as a friend tells Bess, obviously two halves of one coin. It’s because of the earlier non-romantic view of marriage both Edmund and Bess hold to that when they finally believe they’ve found that rarity, it packs more of an emotional wallop for me.
They stood in the dark, staring into each other’s eyes, breathing the same breath.
By then Edmund’s lips were on Bess’s, gentle now but insistent, and nothing else mattered. It was as if she had not existed until this moment and from now there was no life that was not with Edmund Wyard.
His lips were against her forehead. She could feel his heart beating against hers. ‘Bess,’ his voice was low and breathless. ‘I love you.’
There was one answer, the words she had not dared to form. ‘I love you, Edmund.’ She began to weep slow, quiet tears.
He held her face between his hands and kissed the tears away. ‘I am going to marry you. Nothing will stop me.’
And nothing did. A-
All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1) by Martha Wells
“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”
In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.
But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.
On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid — a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.
But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.
Yes, I know this was released in 2017. But to have the last three novellas on my list without this one seemed silly.
Murderbot is the real star of show and I loved it. It has a deadpan, sarcastic sense of humor and its interior monologues are hilarious. It is smart enough to have hacked itself in a way that hides this has been done and prefers to be watching its downloaded serials which sound like futuristic reality shows and soap operas.
I like that the book didn’t end with hugs and feels since that makes Murderbot deeply uncomfortable. What will Murderbot do next now that it’s been freed from being a Company drone? I have no idea but I’m definitely waiting eagerly for part two in the Murderbot Diaries. A-
Artificial Condition (The Murderbot Diaries #2) by Martha Wells
It has a dark past—one in which a number of humans were killed. A past that caused it to christen itself “Murderbot”. But it has only vague memories of the massacre that spawned that title, and it wants to know more.
Teaming up with a Research Transport vessel named ART (you don’t want to know what the “A” stands for), Murderbot heads to the mining facility where it went rogue.
What it discovers will forever change the way it thinks…
but you may have noticed that for a terrifying murderbot I fuck up a lot.
Yes, I know this is the only B+ grade I have on my list this year but I’m going for the set here.
There’s action here though not as much as in “All Systems Red.” Murderbot does its thing again protecting those it takes a contract with but there’s a new slant. Murderbot is not just doing what it’s contracted to do and losing itself in reruns of Sanctuary Moon. This time it’s thinking about who and what it is and making its own plans. It’s studying and improving its ways of passing as human as it seeks answers to its past. It also realizes that it can’t sink back into the ennui that it floated through life on before. If I was going to follow my plan, such as it was, I needed to care.
Murderbot still gets twitchy about humans getting into its space and finds them deeply, deeply weird and frustrating at times – they just will keep doing idiotic or homicidal things. Murderbot gets to practice its annoyed sighs and eye rolling. It also discovers information at the moon site that opens new questions. And in trying to act more like humans and pass for (at least an augmented) human, Murderbot has to face humans wanting to treat it like a person, talk to it – about its feelings or worse – hug it. It will have to shift from enjoying watching humans in serial entertainment and move to interacting with them. It will also have to ponder some things it realizes about itself and decide whether to go ahead with its plan. Maybe it will follow ART’s suggestion. Be careful. Find your crew. I’m already anticipating the next installment. B+
Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries #3) by Martha Wells
Martha Wells’ Rogue Protocol is the third in the Murderbot Diaries series, starring a human-like android who keeps getting sucked back into adventure after adventure, though it just wants to be left alone, away from humanity and small talk.
Who knew being a heartless killing machine would present so many moral dilemmas?
Sci-fi’s favorite antisocial A.I. is back on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah’s SecUnit is.
And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good.
Over the course of the story, Murderbot discovers just how much it misses ART. Sure ART sometimes needed its “hand” held during emotional and tragic episodes of Sanctuary Moon, but ART was a great backup. As it is, Murderbot will have to “invent on the fly” aka lie its ass off to get to Milu then improvise like mad to keep from being destroyed (it doesn’t have access anymore to a MedSystem to put it back together again). Despite Murderbot’s nausea at Miki’s naiveté and calling Don Abene its friend, there are times when Murderbot needs a moment to deal with some intense emotion. No, don’t call it jealousy.
The shit goes down in this story with plenty of Murderbot sarcastically doing its (intelligent and often violent) thing. Good thing it never dumped a few important files it downloaded (ahem) from clients over the years in order to store more media and that when needed, it can pull some dialog and audio from its vast storage files of Sanctuary Moon. It’s also the bomb at juggling feeds and reacting quickly unlike some human security agents.
It also gets exposed to another load of human emotions and – oh hell no, it couldn’t be – bot emotions. Had Miki really been designed to be that pet like, that child like or had its code changed in response to how it was treated? Miki even puts the bot equivalent of emoticons in its feed.
And this is what I think the main takeaway here is – that Murderbot continues to evolve emotionally. After it finds a memory clip with some interesting information, it makes a decision and ponders the relationship between Miki and Abene.
“I hate caring about stuff. But apparently once you start, you can‘t just stop.“
And the nod to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” had me literally laughing out loud. That alone is priceless. A-
Exit Strategy (The Murderbot Diaries #4 by Martha Wells
Murderbot wasn’t programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?
Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah—its former owner (protector? friend?)—submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit.
But who’s going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue?
And what will become of it when it’s caught?
By now Murderbot’s efforts to stymie the evil GrayCris Corporation ought to be known. At first it was just preservation of the humans it was currently on contract to keep from being killed – both by the flora and fauna of the planet they were surveying and also just because humans are dumb and do stupid things that could get them killed. Then after that all blew up – literally – Murderbot went in search of the truth behind the event that led to its own name coinage. To everyone else it was a SecUnit but it called itself Murderbot – something only a few humans knew.
But now it’s got options and possibilities. It’s had all the emotions it wants to handle right now. In thinking about why “The Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon” is its favorite serial – and thank goodness it stored the whole series because you’ll see why, it admits a few things to Dr. Mensah that a one second feed delay might have prevented. What Dr. Mensah replies to Murderbot might be a possibility now – legally. Putting together its love of media and a movement that has begun in the Preservation Alliance, Murderbot has options and better, a place to be while it figures those out. A-