June 2016: A Month in Review


June 2016

During June, I’ve been attempting to step up my reading game to put me (closer to being) on track for my Goodreads goal of reading 65 books by the end of the year.  Even though I’m still 5ish books behind, I’m at least not falling further behind anymore.

This month I read and reviewed the following books:

During July, I’m probably going to focus on shorter books and/or novellas.  I’m going to be traveling a lot both for work and personally.  I’ll be in Boston, Chicago, and PA this month, and three trips is a lot of travel in not very much time.  So I’ll probably be reading more of what’s on my Kindle, as well as more things that I can finish in smaller amounts of time.  And of course, I’d really like to finish some of the books that I’m currently reading:

  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – on loan from a coworker, and I’m taking 5 ever to return it–that’s one more than 4 ever
  • The Immortal Crown by Keith Merrill – epic fantasy with lots of potential winners, but only one can be the prophesied
  • The Last Woman Standing by Thelma Adams – set in the wild west
  • Rebellion by Karen Sandler – book 3 in a trilogy, but it’s falling flat so far

What are you planning to read this month?

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New Acquisitions: 6/29/2016


New Acquisitions is a feature where I talk about books I’ve purchased, borrowed, or received for review.  These are some of the books that I’ve purchased over the past few weeks.  I’ve been frequenting quite a few used book stores these days!  And as usual, all descriptions are taken from Goodreads.

Some vintage pulps I bought over the weekend. #bookstagram

A photo posted by Grace Troxel (@bookwithoutpics) on

Conan the Adventurer by Robert E Howard

Introducing Conan – heroic fantasy’s mightiest adventurer from the wilds of Cimmeria

Thief, pirate, mercenary, warrior and general, he stands invincible – even when the full forces of the supernatural are unleashed against him.

Set in the imaginary Hyborian age between the sinking of Atlantis and the beginnings of recorded history, these four stories of the exploits of this larger-than-life hero are the ultimate in tales of swashbuckling adventure:

* The People of the Black Circle
* The Slithering Shadow
* The Pool of the Black One
* Drums of Tombalku

The Cosmic Rape by Theodore Sturgeon

From the stars, from the cosmos, it came…

the Medusa, the galactic man of war, the hive-minded creature that was a billion creatures. It dropped its wrinkled spore into one man on earth, through him expecting to conquer mankind… to absorb into itself the strangely separate and stubborn creatures that called themselves men…


Carmilla by J. Sheridan LaFanu

A classic Victorian vampire novella, which influenced Bram Stoker’s later treatment of the vampire mythos in Dracula.


Tam Lin by Pamela Dean

In the ancient Scottish ballad “Tam Lin”, headstrong Janet defies Tam Lin to walk in her own land of Carterhaugh . . . and then must battle the Queen of Faery for possession of her lover’s body and soul. In this version of “Tam Lin” Janet is a college student, “Carterhaugh” is Carter Hall at the university where her father teaches, and Tam Lin is a boy named Thomas Lane. The book is set against the backdrop of the early 1970s.


Faces Under Water by Tanith Lee

From the world-renowned fantasy author of The Secret Books of Paradys comes a chilling new fantasy series of alchemy and horror. In this new series, Tanith Lee weaves intricate plots around the elements of water, fire, earth, and air. The first in this new series, Faces Under Water immerses readers in the timeless beauty of Venice and the secret terror that lies beneath.

In the hedonistic atmosphere of an eighteenth-century Venice Carnival, gaiety turns deadly when Furian Furiano happens upon a mask of Apollo floating in the murky waters of the canals. The mask hides a sinister art, and Furian finds himself trapped in a bizarre tangle of love, obsession, and evil, stumbling upon a macabre society of murderers. The beautiful but elusive Eurydich holds the key to these murders and leads him further into a labyrinth of black magic and ancient alchemy. For all readers who fell in love with Lee’s Paradys series and for all those enchanted and terrified by the fantastical, Faces Under Water will be sure to thrill.

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“Black Butler Vol. 1” by Yana Toboso


“Black Butler Vol. 1” by Yana TobosoBlack Butler, Volume 01 by Yana Toboso, Tomo Kimura
Series: Black Butler #1
Published by Yen Press in 2010
Genres: Graphic Novels, Fantasy
Pages: 192
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
View on Goodreads

Black Butler by Yana Toboso is an alternate history fantasy manga set in Victorian England.  The orphaned Ciel Phantomhive is the heir to the Funton Toy empire.  He is attended by a butler named Sebastian with seemingly supernatural abilities to run the household, make delicious desserts, and kick bad guy butt–all before dinnertime.

For those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, you’ll note that this is the first manga that you’ve seen me review, and only the second graphic novel.  It’s a type of writing/art that I’ve never really gotten into, but have been wanting to explore.  I decided that Black Butler is probably the best starting point for me, because I adored the anime version and am very curious about the source material.

Volume 1 is good, but is definitely mostly an infodump.  It introduces you to the characters and sets the scene, but it isn’t until the end of the book that we start getting into a glimpse of the Sebastian that I know and love.  And of course, seeing that glimpse is enough to make me want more, and I’m doing that whole “I should be saving money but I want to buy Vol. 2 but I have a bunch of books on my shelf” thing.  I know I’ll crack eventually.  I’m also excited that Season 3 of the anime is finally out, and trying to decide whether to wait for it to come to one of the streaming services that I already have or to cave and buy the DVD.

Volume 1 has four chapters, the first two of which have their own story arcs.  I like that a lot, as it’s easy to come up with good stopping points, even though graphic novels are quicker reads than books without any pictures.  (See what I did there? Ba dum bum.)  In the first chapter, we see a typical day on the Phantomhive estate.  We see the other servants, Finnian, Mey-rin, and Baldroy, cause domestic chaos right before an important visitor arrives.  The second chapter introduces us to Elizabeth, Ciel’s betrothed.  The third and forth chapters start getting more into the meat of the story as Ciel gets entangled with the Italian mafia and Sebastian comes to save the day.  This is also the point where we finally start seeing more of the homerotic undertones between Ciel and Sebastian.

At this point, the manga is very close to what happens in the anime, although I anticipate that the two will diverge from each other pretty quickly.

Since this is a manga, I should probably say something about the art style.  While I enjoyed it, I don’t have much to compare it with, so I’m not going to go super in-depth on that.  There were a couple places where the fonts were very small, but usually that was for sidenotes and things that weren’t super important to the main plot.  There are also a lot of pictures of desserts that Sebastian concocts, which made start digging around in my hoard of candy that I usually forget exists.  Dieters beware!

I enjoyed my first real manga experience, and am looking forward to reading more.  Does anyone have recommendations?

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“The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin


“The Fifth Season” by N.K. JemisinThe Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1) by N.K. Jemisin
Series: The Broken Earth #1
Published by Orbit in 2015
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Pages: 449
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Buy on Amazon
View on Goodreads

I’ve been an N.K. Jemisin fangirl ever since I heard her do a reading at the New York Public Library while I was at Book Expo a few years back.  I was blown away by her writing, and the way that her fantasy stories felt so fresh and un-Tolkein-like.  So when my book club decided to read Jemisin’s latest novel, The Fifth Season, I was delighted.

The Fifth Season is set in a futuristic Earth where due to some prior cataclysm, there are now frequent life-ending catastrophes known as Seasons.  We’re talking years of darkness and acid rain, pestilence, and apocalyptic events, which can (and do) wipe out entire civilizations.  This has been going on for long enough that mankind has adapted (sort of), and now pockets of individuals have survived Seasons and repopulated the Earth.  There are also X-men type mutants who known as orogenes, who have the ability to manipulate seismic events.  The orogenes have the power to make or break a community’s safety, but because they’re so powerful, they are mistrusted, oppressed, and enslaved.  Against this backdrop, we meet a woman named Essun.  She’s secretly an orogene, and so are her children.  Her husband finds out that her son is an orogene and beats him to death, then flees the village.  Essun worries about her daughter, and so she takes off after them.  And that’s as much information as I’m going to give you here, because it’s way too easy to go into serious spoiler territory.  Instead, it’s time for some bullet points!


  • An rule-based magic system featuring earthquakes and floating obelisks from a dead civilization
  • No giant infodumps
  • Diverse characters
  • Exploration of thorny social issues
  • ROCK PEOPLE!  Seriously, they were my favorite.


  • The Fifth Season jumps around a lot in time and space, giving readers very little solid ground as an anchor (‘solid ground’ – see what I did there?)
  • The story sometimes uses second person narration, which can be jarring.
  • There aren’t any sympathetic characters.  It’s hard to sympathize with Essun once she starts killing people.
  • There aren’t any infodumps, and so readers have to infer a lot about the world and how it works.  There are no answers.

It was an interesting experience for me to read this book as part of a book club, because even though I’m an N.K. Jemisin fangirl, I was much more critical of this book than the Inheritance Trilogy or Dreamblood books.  It jumped around a lot, and it wasn’t until about 300 pages in that things really started coming together and feeling a bit more cohesive.  Once I got to that point, I was hooked.  I finished the book, silently raged that my questions were not answered, preordered the next book, which comes out in August, and raged that it is not August yet.  I’m dying to find out more about the rock people and to see where this story will go next.

Out of our book club group, I was the one that liked the book the most.  Some people in our group didn’t like it at all, and others were on the fence.  So my general conclusion here is that while I enjoyed The Fifth Season tremendously, it probably isn’t for everyone.

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New Acquisitions: 6/22/2016


I haven’t done a New Acquisitions post in a while, and since I’ve been acquiring books like nobody’s business, it’s long overdue! Here are some of the books that I’ve recently received for review.  All descriptions are taken from Goodreads.

Today’s #bookmail: Gods of Nabban by K.V. Johansen. #bookstagram #bibliophile #pyr #nekoatsume

A photo posted by Grace Troxel (@bookwithoutpics) on

Gods of Nabban by K.V. Johansen

The fugitive slave Ghu has ended the assassin Ahjvar’s century-long possession by a murderous and hungry ghost, but at great cost. Heir of the dying gods of Nabban, he is drawn back to the empire he fled as a boy, journeying east on the caravan road with Ahjvar at his side. Haunted by memory of those he has slain, Ahjvar is ill in mind and body, a danger to those about him and to the man who loves him most of all. Tortured by violent nightmares, he believes himself mad. Only his determination not to leave Ghu to face his fate alone keeps Ahjvar from asking to be freed at last from his unnatural life. Innocent and madman, god and assassin–two men to seize an empire from the tyrannical descendents of the devil Yeh-Lin. But in war-torn Nabban, enemies of gods and humans stir in the shadows. Yeh-Lin herself meddles with the heir of her enemies and his soul-shattered companion, as the fate of the empire rests on their shoulders.


My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fifth grade, when they bonded over a shared love of E.T., roller-skating parties, and scratch-and-sniff stickers. But when they arrive at high school, things change. Gretchen begins to act…different. And as the strange coincidences and bizarre behavior start to pile up, Abby realizes there’s only one possible explanation: Gretchen, her favorite person in the world, has a demon living inside her. And Abby is not about to let anyone or anything come between her and her best friend. With help from some unlikely allies, Abby embarks on a quest to save Gretchen. But is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?


The Last Woman Standing by Thelma Adams

Two decades after the Civil War, Josephine Marcus, the teenage daughter of Jewish immigrants, is lured west with the promise of marriage to Johnny Behan, one of Arizona’s famous lawmen. She leaves her San Francisco home to join Behan in Tombstone, Arizona, a magnet for miners (and outlaws) attracted by the silver boom. Though united by the glint of metal, Tombstone is plagued by divided loyalties: between Confederates and Unionists, Lincoln Republicans and Democrats.

But when the silver-tongued Behan proves unreliable, it is legendary frontiersman Wyatt Earp who emerges as Josephine’s match. As the couple’s romance sparks, Behan’s jealousy ignites a rivalry destined for the history books…

At once an epic account of an improbable romance and a retelling of an iconic American tale, The Last Woman Standing recalls the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral through the eyes of a spunky heroine who sought her happy ending in a lawless outpost—with a fierce will and an unflagging spirit.


Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio

Kim Addonizio is used to being exposed. As a writer of provocative poems and stories, she has encountered success along with snark: one critic dismissed her as “Charles Bukowski in a sundress.” (“Why not Walt Whitman in a sparkly tutu?” she muses.) Now, in this utterly original memoir in essays, she opens up to chronicle the joys and indignities in the life of a writer wandering through middle age.

Addonizio vividly captures moments of inspiration at the writing desk (or bed) and adventures on the road—from a champagne-and-vodka-fueled one-night stand at a writing conference to sparsely attended readings at remote Midwestern colleges. Her crackling, unfiltered wit brings colorful life to pieces like “What Writers Do All Day,” “How to Fall for a Younger Man,” and “Necrophilia” (that is, sexual attraction to men who are dead inside). And she turns a tender yet still comic eye to her family: her father, who sparked her love of poetry; her mother, a former tennis champion who struggled through Parkinson’s at the end of her life; and her daughter, who at a young age chanced upon some erotica she had written for Penthouse.

At once intimate and outrageous, Addonizio’s memoir radiates all the wit and heartbreak and ever-sexy grittiness that her fans have come to love—and that new readers will not soon forget.

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Giveaway: “Bukowski in a Sundress” by Kim Addonizio


image001 (1)

Many thanks to the kind folks at Penguin Random House for offering today’s giveaway of Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio.  Bukowski in a Sundress is a humorous memoir written by a modern poet, and it looks like it will be fantastic summer reading!

A dazzling, edgy, laugh-out-loud memoir from the award-winning poet and novelist that reflects on writing, drinking, dating, and more
Kim Addonizio is used to being exposed. As a writer of provocative poems and stories, she has encountered success along with snark: one critic dismissed her as “Charles Bukowski in a sundress.” (“Why not Walt Whitman in a sparkly tutu?” she muses.) Now, in this utterly original memoir in essays, she opens up to chronicle the joys and indignities in the life of a writer wandering through middle age.

Addonizio vividly captures moments of inspiration at the writing desk (or bed) and adventures on the road—from a champagne-and-vodka-fueled one-night stand at a writing conference to sparsely attended readings at remote Midwestern colleges. Her crackling, unfiltered wit brings colorful life to pieces like “What Writers Do All Day,” “How to Fall for a Younger Man,” and “Necrophilia” (that is, sexual attraction to men who are dead inside). And she turns a tender yet still comic eye to her family: her father, who sparked her love of poetry; her mother, a former tennis champion who struggled through Parkinson’s at the end of her life; and her daughter, who at a young age chanced upon some erotica she had written for Penthouse.

At once intimate and outrageous, Addonizio’s memoir radiates all the wit and heartbreak and ever-sexy grittiness that her fans have come to love—and that new readers will not soon forget.

Giveaway Rules:

This giveaway is US only.  The winner will be randomly chosen, and will win a copy of Bukowski in a Sundress.  The giveaway closes on July 4, 2016.  To enter, please use the Rafflecopter below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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“Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance” edited by Mitzi Szereto


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

“Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance” edited by Mitzi SzeretoRed Velvet and Absinthe by Mitzi Szereto, Kelley Armstrong, Zander Vyne, Charlotte Stein, Ashley Lister, Sharon Bidwell, Claire Buckingham, Giselle Renarde, Cary Williams, Tahira Iqbal, Bonnie Dee, Rose de Fer, Janine Ashbless, Elizabeth Daniels, Anna Meadows, Even Mora
Published by Cleis Press in 2011
Genres: Paranormal Romance, Erotica, Romance
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Source: the publisher
Buy on Amazon
View on Goodreads

Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance is a collection of fifteen erotic short stories featuring ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and things that go bump (see what I did there?) in the night.  The stories draw on the gothic literary tradition, which at its heart has always paired romanticism with apprehension of the unknown.  This is one of those books that I’m not sure I’d have been drawn to in a store, but was gifted to me as the nice folks at Cleis Press were packing up their booth at Book Expo a couple years back.  I’m so glad I got a chance to read it, and ended up enjoying it a lot!

Usually when I read short stories, I have a hard time transitioning from one to another.  My immersion gets broken as one story ends and the next begins, and so I end up reading a collection over the course of several months, reading a story here and a story there, but not at the same pace that I’d read a novel.  Red Velvet and Absinthe was completely different.  While each of the stories was unique, they all shared a sense of mystery and sensuality that kept me reading even as one story ended and the next one began.  I finished the book in three sittings, which is so much faster than usual for me when reading short fiction.

Now let’s look at the stories themselves.

Snowlight, Moonlight by Rose de Fer

This was one of my favorite stories in Red Velvet and Absinthe.  A mad scientist tames a newly turned werewolf woman into submission.  It reminded me of something that ought to be a Jonathan Coulton song.

Cover Him with Darkness by Janine Ashbless

A girl grows up in a tiny village, and her family has a secret.  They’ve been guarding a man who is chained to a rock for thousands of years, and now it’s Milja’s turn to take over.  Milja is attracted to him, but has been warned about the consequences of unleashing such a being.  Weird and dark and wonderful, Cover Him with Darkness leaves you asking questions and begging for more.

A Rose in the Willow Garden by Elizabeth Daniels

A vampire falls in love with a woman whom he’s about to turn, but maybe he’s wrong about who is the predator and who is the prey.

The Bood Moon Kiss by Mitzi Szereto

A crew is filming a show about a vampire turning his human lover.  The lead actor is actually a vampire, and is about to turn his leading lady.  So meta.

Painted by Anna Meadows

This is the story of a mysterious painting and the woman who lives within it.

Dolly by Charlotte Stein

Delightfully bizarre.  A woman creates a golem and begins a relationship with it, while feeling a sense of guilt about sleeping with her creation.

La Belle Mort by Zander Vyne

This one is weird.  Through a series of encounters with a visiting stranger, a condemned woman learns how to (sexually) welcome Death.

The Persistence of Memory by Evan Mora

One common idea you see in vampire literature is whether or not a supernatural creature should become involved with mortals, or whether they cause more harm than good.  A vampire struggles with this as he has several encounters with one woman, but each time causes her to forget.  Meanwhile, she feels that there is something missing in her life that she can’t quite put her finger on.

Scratched by Ashley Lister

More sexy werewolves!  The protagonist’s boyfriend thinks he’s been turned into a werewolf, so he secludes himself in the woods.  Of course, his girlfriend doesn’t believe him and comes to him right as his transition begins.

Bitter and Intoxicating by Sharon Midwell

An artist is inspired by his muse.

Tea for Two by Claire Buckingham

Another strange one.  After reading some books about the occult, a professor tried to sacrifice his unborn child to give his wife immortality.  Now she’s a lonely ghost.

Milady’s Bath by Giselle Renarde

This was one of my favorite stories in Red Velvet and Absinthe.  Each month, a woman sneaks out of her home for a violent sexual rendezvous with what is presumably a werewolf.  After each encounter, her maid/lover prepares her a bath and nurses her wounds while wondering what compels her mistress to deliberately seek that pain.  Quite lovely.

The Way Home by Carrie Williams

A motorcyclist stops at a bar and ends up banging the bartender, who happens to be a vampire.  While the story had a strong start, the ending was weak and left far too many unanswered questios.

The Queen by Tahira Ibqal

Can this one please be a full-length novel?  Pretty please?  Amelia is one of the vampire King’s mistresses.  One day, the King and other mistresses are murdered, and Amelia sets off on a journey to take her place as the vampire Queen.

Benediction by Bonnie Dee

Set in the afterlife, a man learns to let go and to forgive himself for his sins.

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“The Woman in the Photo” by Mary Hogan: Blog Tour


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

“The Woman in the Photo” by Mary Hogan: Blog TourThe Woman in the Photo: A Novel by Mary Hogan
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks in 2016
Genres: Historical Fiction, Fiction (General)
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: TLC Book Tours
Buy on Amazon
View on Goodreads

The Woman in the Photo by Mary Hogan is a new historical fiction/contemporary novel that explores the Johnstown Flood.  In the late 1800s, a bunch of rich Pittsburgh industrialists (Carnegie, Frick, etc.) had a private lake in South Fork, PA.  The lake was man-made, held in place by an earthworks dam.  The industrialists did not maintain the dam, and in 1889, after a particularly rainy Memorial Day weekend, the dam burst.  Thousands of people downstream died, and nobody was held accountable.

The story of the Johnstown Flood is one that’s close to my heart, as I was born in Johnstown, PA and grew up in one of the small towns nearby.  I’ve been to the Flood Museum on many occasions, and have gone hiking in the bed of the valley that was once Lake Conemaugh.  Despite the fact that Andrew Carnegie is viewed as one of the heroes of my profession (so many Carnegie libraries), all the philanthropy in the world could not make up for the lives lost through carelessness and irresponsibility, and I was filled with silent rage every time one of my library school professors sang his praises.

When I first heard about The Woman in the Photo, I was excited and nervous, especially as the book jumps between the Johnstown of the past and the Johnstown of today.  I hoped that the author would be able to get Johnstown right–it’s a city full of proud and hardworking people, despite the fact that the economy there isn’t what it used to be (when the 2008 recession happened, nobody really noticed it, because after the mills and the mines closed 20 years before, there wasn’t much of anything left to crash).  It’s a city filled with history, with resolve, and with the will to persevere even when times are hard.  I was heartened the moment that I read the book’s dedication:  To the resilient people of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.  Past and present.

Now, enough backstory.  On to my review.

Elizabeth Haberlin’s father is a physician who treats Pittsburgh’s elite.  Her family has a cabin along Lake Conemaugh, where they escape each summer to a world that’s entirely carefree.  As we hear Elizabeth describe her pursuit of the handsome Mr. Tottinger, we see her gradually come to realize her position of privilege, and her isolation from the rest of the world.  This becomes especially obvious after a chance encounter with Eugene Eggar, a local mill worker, who warns her about the dam’s dangerous potential.

Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Lee, a young woman living in California.  She had the grades to go to an Ivy League school, but then the recession hit.  Her family lost everything, and her father and brother left town.  Lee and her mother are now living in the pool house of the rich lady for whom Lee’s mom works as a maid.  Lee is also adopted, which is where her story intersects with Elizabeth’s–although it was a closed adoption, Lee sees a photo in her file of a young woman standing next to Clara Barton standing in a pile of rubble.  Lee begins researching the photo trying to find clues about her birth family’s identity.

As I mentioned earlier, I had some initial concerns about whether The Woman in the Photo would really get the story right.  That was especially true as I started reading about Elizabeth, and found it an interesting choice to use a protagonist who was an insider at the Club.  However, Mary Hogan managed to strike a good balance in creating a character whose eyes are opened as the story progresses, and who eventually has to make hard choices about what her own values are.

While Elizabeth and Lee are two very different people from two very different worlds, they have many similarities.  Each of them struggles with issues of social class–Lee as she begins to fall for a Beverly Hills boy, and Elizabeth as she begins to leave her sheltered world to confront the much harsher realities of life.  The two women are both independent, free-thinking, and resilient, and it’s a pleasure to see each of them make their way in the world.

The one major weakness in The Woman in the Photo had to do with shifting protagonists and points of view.  Elizabeth and Lee were the main point-of-view characters, and were excellent.  However, two other characters had point-of-view moments–Lee’s mom and Clara Barton.  Lee’s mom’s moments were usually embedded within Lee’s own chapters, and seemed unnecessary.  And Clara Barton was a tertiary point-of-view character who didn’t show up until midway through the book, and whose character could have used some expansion.

The Woman in the Photo was a solid read, and I will recommend it to friends and family without hesitation.  It joins a handful of other books in sharing the story of the flood, only some of which I’ve read.  These include:

  • In Sunlight, In a Beautiful Garden by Kathleen Cambor
  • The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough
  • Julie by Catherine Marshall
  • Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards

Mary Hogan AP

About Mary Hogan

Mary Hogan is the NAPPA Award-winning author of seven young-adult books. Two Sisters is her first novel for adults. She lives in New York City with her husband, Bob, and their dog, Lucy.

Find out more about Mary at her website, and connect with her on Twitter.

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Literary Cocktails at the Petworth Citizen and Reading Room


It all started with the pirogi. I grew up on delicious homemade pirogi manufactured by the ladies in the church basement, but now I live in the DC area.  DC is a generic city with generic people and generic food, at least when it comes to Eastern European food, and there are only two places in the DC/MD/NoVA area where I can find delicious (albeit overpriced) pirogi that come even remotely close to the real thing.  One of those places, Domku, is going out of business this month because the rent is too damn high, so of course we had to go back there, even though Petworth is way out of the way.  And of course WMATA had a bunch of delays and our group didn’t fully assemble until much later than expected, and so I arrived early and ducked into the bar next door.  This led me to discover a marvelous new (to me) place completely by accident: The Petworth Citizen and Reading Room.  When I walked inside, I thought I’d died and gone to bookish heaven.

The Reading Room is a small room tucked at the end of the bar, and it’s lined with floor to ceiling bookshelves.

#latergram #petworthcitizenandreadingroom #literarycocktails #getlit #bookstagram #bookishbars

A photo posted by Grace Troxel (@gtroxel) on

Each weekend there are literary cocktails themed around a particular author.  This weekend’s theme was Roald Dahl, whom I adored as a child.

After much deliberation, I decided to try the BFG, a blend of in, peach bitters, cucumber syrup, lemon, egg white, Gordy’s brine, and cornichon.  I have no idea what cornichon even is, but this cocktail was delicious.

#literarycocktails #getlit #roalddahl #bfg #bookish #bibliophile #latergram

A photo posted by Grace Troxel (@gtroxel) on

If you’re ever in the DC area on a weekend and are looking for some bookish fun, I’d definitely recommend checking this place out!

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It’s that time again… Mini-Reviews!


It’s that time again… Mini-Reviews!City of Stairs (The Divine Cities, #1) by Robert Jackson Bennett
Series: The Divine Cities #1
Published by Broadway Books in 2014
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 452
Format: Paperback
Source: Gift
Buy on Amazon
View on Goodreads

Every now and then my backlog of read-but-not-reviewed starts getting ridiculous.  That’s currently the case, and I want to clean house before the weekend comes so I can cosplay as Hermione Granger while not feeling guilty over the shit I should have done on my blog (stressing over unfinished work would be totally in character for Hermione though).  So, time for some mini-reviews!

I’ll start with City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett.  This was a damn good book.  So much fantasy falls into a Tolkein-like paradigm, and then every now and then you come across something fresh and exciting and different that makes you realize why you fell in love with the genre in the first place.

City of Stairs is the tale of the city of Bulikov, which has been conquered by the Saypuri and had it’s entire history, culture, and identity erased through Orwellian mindfuckery.  The Saypuri were originally Bulikov’s slaves, and the people of Bulikov were able to become oppressors because they had the gods on their side.  But then the Saypuri discovered the gods’ weaknesses, killed them all (presumably), and the roles were reversed.  You’ll note my use of the word “presumably.”  That’s important.

When a Saypuri professor studying Bulikov’s past is murdered, secret agent Shara Thivani takes it personally, and begins to probe deep into Bulikov’s secrets.  She also uncovers some secrets that her own government has been keeping.  It’s a cross between a spy novel and an archaeological treasure hunt, and Shara finds that not all of the gods are as dead as the Saypuri think they are.  And because there are so many generations worth of baggage coming from both the Saypuri and the citizens of Bulikov, it’s a political/cultural/anthropological puzzle for Shara to solve, a challenge which she readily accepts.  The complexity of those social issues and the way that Robert Jackson Bennett presents them within this fictionalized situation have real-world importance for understanding 21st century America, and that’s how I like my fantasy–dark, magical, and yet despite of (or perhaps because of) the magic completely on the nose in uncomfortable topics that we like to try to avoid.


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

It’s that time again… Mini-Reviews!Heart's Blood: A Story of The Twelve Kingdoms by Jeffe Kennedy
Series: The Twelve Kingdoms #3.5
Published by Brightlynx Publishing in 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 82
Format: eBook
Source: the publisher
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I won a copy of this book during Armchair BEA, which is fitting, considering that’s how I first discovered Jeffe Kennedy’s writing several years ago.  Heart’s Blood hits everything I want in a cozy comfort read–romance, magic, revenge/poetic justice, and a happy ending.

Heart’s Blood is a retelling of the Goose Girl.  The novella starts out as Prince Cavan worries about his upcoming political marriage, but determines that he will do his duty to his country and make the best of it.  Then his bride Princess Nathilde shows up, and she’s a monster from hell.  She’s basically all the evil stepmother witch bitch stereotypes rolled into one.  But she has a secret–she isn’t really Princess Nathilde.  She beat and raped and seriously fucked up the real princess, who is now posing as her servant and has taken the name Nix.

Prince Cavan is perplexed about what to do with Nix, since Princess Nathilde doesn’t want her as a maid.  Nix finds a place tending the geese, and being surrounded by nature gives her a chance to start to heal.  And I’ll stop there since I don’t want to get all spoilery, but there’s some good old-fashioned comeuppance for the fake Nathilde, and everything ends as it should.  I enjoyed this one a lot, but it does get a bit dark, so if you’re bothered by graphic sexual violence, you may want to steer clear.


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

It’s that time again… Mini-Reviews!Gambit: An Irish Tale: Episode I Cashmere by Timothy R Lyon Jr
Series: Gambit: An Irish Tale #1
Published by Black Harvest in 2016
Genres: Thriller, Historical Fiction
Pages: 47
Format: eBook
Source: the author
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One of the really cool things about eBooks is the ability to be untethered from traditional writing constraints such as length, and instead experiment with different styles, such as serialized fiction.

Gambit: An Irish Tale: Cashmere by Timothy Lyon Jr. is one such example.  It’s about the rivalry between the Irish mob and the Italian mob at the Cashmere Casino.  The story starts out as the Italian mob sends a brutal message about the lengths that they’re willing to go to preserve their dominance.  Then we are introduced to the Irish mob, and the threat of impending yet still avoidable warfare between the two.

I liked the actual structure of the story–the opening scene is super dark, and leaves readers with genuine worry about the fate of the woman who is at the mercy of the mob.  We return to her character at the end of this installment, and so she serves as a nice bookend around the body of the episode.  But in general, I had the impression that although the story itself has potential, it wasn’t quite ready for publication.  The story is written like an action movie, and so we don’t see enough motivation or insights into the characters.  And while you can visualize exactly what’s going on in the action scenes and feel like you’re in the room watching, those same scenes tend to feature unnamed characters who act as extras, but who are described repeatedly by one character trait, to the point that they feel like caricatures.  The grammar itself could use also some cleanup, especially around comma usage.  All of these issues could be solved with some extra editing, and would make it a much stronger piece of writing.

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